Aziz Nesin is a comic writer. He was born in 1915 on Istanbul's Heybeli Island (where I swim in the summer) and died in 1995. There are a few interesting stories about him--he was in the hotel that religious fanatics tried to burn down in Sivas where an Alevi cultural festival was being held (my girlfriend is Alevi). He also requested that no one be told where he was buried. His body lies in an unknown location on his foundation lands, a foundation he started in the seventies to educate, feed, and shelter poor kids. He was also a loud critic of the military government after the 1980s coup and translated the Satanic Verses. Delal compares him to Flanner O'Connor, though he is much kinder toward his characters. There is the same cartoonishness, the same sense of humor, and, as she says, you generally know where the story is going to end, but its fun getting there. Here's part 1 of "Loving Tulsu"
By Aziz Nesin
Translated by Jeff Gibbs
When you got my telegram saying "I love you, Tulsu," you must have been really shocked. What did it mean, and who was Tulsu?
It's true, it's not something someone in their right mind would have done. But I can't say that when I wrote that telegram, I was entirely in my right mind. I was like a sleepwalker that day. I sent that telegram to you almost against my will.
That night was the first in a week that I had been left alone in this city considered one of the most crowded in the world, a city in which I was a stranger. A stranger's solitude is more magnified when he's in a strange city. And because of this loneliness, it was like the air I found myself in had thickened and turned into a syrupy paste, and I was struggling to budge even an inch inside that past. In this mood, I had no other hope but to drown my consciousness in booze and lose myself. I did not want to go to the expensive restaurants and casinos around the hotel where I was staying. Their starched people, starched table cloths, and starched conversations were not what I was looking for. I just wanted to be left alone among wrinkled people, wrinkled table clothes, and wrinkled conversations.
I ducked in an out of side streets, so much so that after a time, I had lost myself inside that big city. I love abandoning myself and getting lost inside the flow of a crowd in a big city in which I am a stranger. Even if worse came to worse, I could always hop in a taxi and return to the hotel.
I found a few watering holes to my liking. I went through the doors of a few of them, and at a few of them I just looked inside the smoky window pane. I found a place with an empty table where I could be left to myself. Only one empty table remained. It had been left empty because it was on the path to the cloakroom. Even the buzzing of conversations stank of alcohol. There was nothing there to break my strangerhood. There were three women serving. One of them was a dark Mediterranean woman who came to my table to take my order. I told her I wanted white wine, a salad, and a mixed cheese plate. This dark Mediterranean also showed me the kindness of bringing a single red carnation in a small glass vase. That single carnation was not one of the huge eye-catching ones, but one of the small ones with a slightly burnt smell. I smelled it as if I wanted to take every last bit of its scent into me until there was nothing left. I drank, and slowly, gradually I began to feel like myself again. I was facing the door. I didn't see it open, but I did see the man standing at the entrance. He was about my age. He stood erect, eyes searching the room for an empty place to sit. He came up to me as if he had found what he was looking for.
"If it's not too much bother, may I sit here, too?" he said.
"Sure, go ahead," I said without much enthusiasm.
I didn't want to share my solitude, and certainly not with someone like this. I was annoyed. He thanked me and sat across from me. And just like me, he ordered a mixed cheese plate, salad, and white wine from the dark Mediterranean woman. Just like I had done, he took a long deep smell of the carnation.
"I like this this tiny, fragrant carnation much better than one of those big stuck-up ones that have all the showy display, but no scent. Although, these are like all modest things, they don't tout themselves, and how they smell! That scent--burning burning."
He raised a full glass of wine. "Cheers," he said.
I clicked his glass and said, "Cheers."
And so the conversation had opened. He told me he was a stranger here and had been here a week.
"Me, too," I said.
And because I felt the need to bring it up in the interest of getting to know one another, I asked what line of work he was in.
"I love Tulsu," he answered.
He must have misunderstood the question.
"I was asking about your job," I said.
"And I answered," he said. "My job is loving Tulsu."
He felt a need to clarify, somewhat put off by my surprise.
"Is there a job more important in this world than loving? I have loved Tulsu until this very moment, and I will love her until I die. The greatest happiness is when people do the job of loving. Yet, the majority of people are doing the job of not-loving."
When I'd asked what job he did, I had wanted to know how he made his living.
"What does it mean to say you love your job?" he asked and then again answered the question himself. "Every day, twenty four hours a day, even in sleep, I think of the thing I love."
We finished our wine and had her bring another bottle each.
The lover of a man that age! Imagine! Who could she be?
"May I ask your age?" I said.
"Like everybody, you find it peculiar that someone my age could count loving someone as his only job," he said. "I am seventy."
"That means we're the same age."
"Of course, you're curious about Tulsu, right? Everyone is curious, because a man's lover, at the age of seventy..."
"It's true. I am curious about this fortunate woman you have dedicated your life to."
We clicked our glasses together again, said "cheers" and drank.
"My first glimpse of Tulsu was like something between reality and a dream, because I only remember that first glimpse from what my father told me. I must have been four or five years old, or round about. It was late one evening, and I was sitting with my father in front of one of his friend's stores..."