Saturday, January 29, 2011

One must have a mind of (Istanbul) winter

There’s no snow, but it’s cold in Istanbul. And it’s 11:00 and though it is Friday, the streets are as quiet and deserted as 3 AM on a Tuesday. I love this about winter. The air is clear and crisp. All the stars are bristling above the buildings, the frosty air burns my lungs, but it also wakes me up. I feel very aware. There is the occasional lone figure wandering far ahead of me. Always a male, wrapped in heavy coats and sweaters and hats, bent against the wind, his hands shoved down in his pockets. But mostly I am alone. I walk the back streets of my neighborhood. There’s a green grocery sitting inside his shop. A string of naked lightbulbs hang over crates of radishes outside on the sidewalk...these are the only lights on the whole street and they glow like moons. The green grocer himself sits inside watching a small television. A space heater sits at his feet and the windows of his shop are completely fogged. Why is he even open at this hour?

Tonight Delal, her sister Zelal, her grandfather and I had shish kebab and went shopping. Tomorrow is the engagement ceremony and despite all the insistence that it’s all going to be very informal, we have spent a lot of time talking about exactly what we’re supposed to do. I have to buy gifts—earrings for her father and a book for her mother. I just typed that backward. The earrings are for her mother. Certain things must be said—my father should say them, but without a Ouija board, he can’t say a thing so a friend is going to say it in place of him. Someone must get chocolates (me). Her grandfather has suspicions that the wedding rings we have bought are actually silver and not white gold as we claim.

For weeks I have been tense about the looming wedding related shenanigans, but tonight, walking home, I just smiled and smiled. 
The streets are gorgeous when they are empty like this. Long swaths of quiet quiet shadow. A man sitting on his stoop in the dark—the orange light of his cigarette the only thing giving him away. A sudden lighted basement window in a tailor’s shop. The place is tiny—barely room for two men to stand inside. There is a Singer sewing machine on a table surrounded by scraps of cloth. A chair full of multi colored spools. It looks like someone has just left. Or like ghosts are still working here, or something else invisible.

The gypsy warren of houses are mostly empty—most of them will be down in the center of town this time of night. They’re houses are all pushed together around a central courtyard invisible from the road, all small, all leaning slightly, all patched with boards and pieces of scrap metal and painted a bright pink. There’s a bubble gum colored house at the front of the complex. All the windows are covered over in boards nailed haphazardly in overlapping X’s and crosses and then painted over in the cotton candy pink. The roof is make of a bushy vine pouring up and over the eaves. It looks like a hobbit house. A woman is hanging clothes in the courtyard. Most of the others are musicians. They will be in the restaurants drumming or singing or playing the zurna or tambur. Delal and I will have a band of them at our wedding. Gypsy music is the best. Drummer and fife.

There’s an alley way and a gigantic graffitti fork painted in luminous silver. Under it in yellow letters it says ‘Illegal Sanat’ (Illegal art). A cat jumps from the dumpster and pads away and then more silence and cold and shadow. I remember a Wallace Stephens poem I’s about snow, but it could be just as easliy about this silence here now.

It begins ‘One must have a mind of winter’ (Which tonight I do) and ends like this.

For the listener, who listens in the snow,

And, nothing himself, beholds

Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

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