Sunday, April 4, 2010

Paskalya Kutlu Olsun (Happy Easter)

Easter morning in Istanbul: sunny and warm as it hasn't been yet this year. Delal and I went down to Surp Takavor (Saint Takavor), the Armenian church in the center of Kadikoy. I have wanted to come here since first arriving in the city, but since I always used to work weekends, an opportunity never came up.
The curtains close on the altar when we enter. An unseen choir is singing (the music is all the more haunting for being invisible, behind the curtain, the priest sings in a resonant tenor, when his voice rises to its crescendo and holds this aching, long, minor note, it's like something pops at the center of my chest and spreads tingles up over my face. My eyes shut) When the curtain opens, the altar is revealed, decorated in gold and silver and scarlet. Gold candlesticks, gold lamps, gold amulets, silver trim on the portrait of the infant Christ. Mary's arm and Jesus's legs are also silver. A gold sun hangs above them. Everything glitters and sparkles. With the music, it has a strange effect--a sudden revelation of light, a resurrection, a glimpse of the invisible. One of the altar boys smiles and waves toward us--a huge toothy grin. The man next to me--his Baba--waves back with a more subdued flutter of fingers. They prepare Communion. The host is covered in scarlet and gold cloth. The priests robes are scarlet, too.
Outside, they are selling decorated eggs for charity. Everything is written in Armenian and Turkish both. A man at the booth asks Delal her name. When she tells him he says, "Ah, that means 'Beauty of Great Worth.' She is pleasantly surprised. "But," she tells me, "The Kurds and the Armenians have been mixed up with each other for a long time. So, it's normal that we know about each other." He asks me in English where I'm from and smiles when I say Florida. "A very beautiful place!"
Afterwards, we go down to the seashore and play Go. The sea is sapphire blue. The grass and trees luminous green. Delal says, if we ever have a house, we should have a Go table. That sounds nice, a home, an intelligent wife, playing Go in the evenings when it's quiet. The cherry trees are still scattering blossoms everywhere.
On the way home, we stop by an Armenian bakery and I buy a "Paskalya Corek". An Easter pastry. It's a braid of sweet bread with a colored egg in the middle. (I have seen these somewhere in Boston, too).
"The church is so much less stinky than a mosque," Delal says. "Mosques smell like feet."
"If the Christians took off their shoes, churches would smell like feet, too. Plus, they keep spreading the incense."
"You know," I add. "This is the first time I've seen Armenians gathered in a group in Turkey. I kind of got what the Genocide meant. They wanted to murder all those people today...or at least people like we saw today." I thought of the little boy waving at his Dad. In one town in the East, all the boys had their throats slit by the gendarmes.
"The Armenians were such a intelligent people," Delal says. "Turkey lost a lot when it got rid of them. They were a hardworking, industrious people. I remember an old graveyard back home, an Armenian graveyard. On each gravestone was a carving of the dead person's profession. If you were a tailor, there'd be scissors. If you were a carpenter, a hammer and a nail. There were so many of them! They were all massacred there back in the 1800s. But this wasn't a genocide. The Ottomans were just hoping to weaken the Armenians' power. Not get rid of them altogether."
A wind picks up. It's getting cold again as we walk down Bahariyye Street, along the trolley tracks and past the opera house and the ruins of the Greek hamam.

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