Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Song of Istanbul

The Song of Istanbul

Listen.  It’s a symphony.  An all-day symphony.
Beginning at the moment when dawn lifts its puffy eye lids .
Wait – even before first light it begins.

The prelude: andantino
Rhythmic steps of the Imam on his way to the mosque.
The click click click of his heels on the dew-slick cobblestones.
The electric clack as he turns on the microphone in the minaret's black chamber.
“Allah akbar!” he sings out at the precise moment when the sun slips its red-polished fingernails
over horizon’s gray wool blanket.

 The 1st movement in our symphony commences. Adagio

One after another after another after another, muezzins call the faithful to first prayer, 
                                      their voices
in a helical
waltz of sound.

A primal elementary song of soul-searing Truth wafting through dawn’s damp. Its notes playing along oriental meridians, pushing mystic pressure points.

At Galata Tower, thick brown dogs lift their heads from slabs of cardboard placed there for them by doggy lovers.  They blink, yawn, raise themselves off their night time beds and howl along with the imam, welcoming the new day.

Mauve doves, gray-blue pigeons, and sea gulls ruffle their dew-coated feathers and flap flap flap their wings rising up to circle the Tower.
Seagulls dip and pivot, cawing their first entry into the performance
As the doves cooo cooo cooo in velvet undertones like do-wop back-up singers.

2nd movement: Andante
The parade begins:
"Demir! Demir!"
“Demir!” “Demir” Iron! Iron! Sing out the men pushing their weathered-gray, rough-hewn hand carts, beseeching souls to donate scrap metal to their carts.

Then a hush.

Slowly from the main street the low rumbling of voices--fruit and vegetable hucksters theme song.  The sound growing and growing until the truck turns the corner, enters our street, and the amplified voice of the driver blasts out:” Tomatoes! Potatoes! Green beans! And then in a note held like the finale in a street opera: “Oniooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnnns.”

The baskets are lowered from the windows, raised again filled with red red tomatoes, or green cucumbers, potatoes or onions.

Hush. Hush. Hush.

“Kastamonu sarimsak!”  “Taze Kastamonu sarimsak!” a husky male voice cries. Fresh garlic from the garlic capital – Kastamonu.
A warble begins from the corner.  The old mustachioed Turk walks his weary walk bleating his weary cry: 
“Yatakci ci ci ci  ci…” “Bedman  man man man man.” And what does this “bedman” do?  He carries a special tool.  A tool for pulling apart the cotton that has become lumped and hardened in the old cotton mattresses.  Re-fluffing it, adding space and air, transforming it to a soft lush bed of  drowsy comfort.
“Yatakci  i i i !” sung like the sound of shivering, teeth chattering—filling you with the longing for the warmth of a cozy bed on a dark cold morning.

The sun rises in the sky.  New performers appear on the stage.
“La la la la. La la la la la la. Ay Gaz!” blares the recorded song from the natural gas truck, steel-gray canisters of natural gas bouncing about in the back of the pick-up. A sweet female voice repeats this melodic refrain over and over as the “Yatakci” bleats and the fading melody of the vegetable man recedes.

3rd movement: Allegro
(Song of the women and children)

“Fatma! Hadi!” Fatma hurry!
“Buraya gel!”Come here!
“Anne! Anne! Anne!” Mother! Mother! Mother!
Squeals giggles orders complaints pleading squabbling shouts and shrieks!
Squeals giggles orders complaints pleading squabbling shouts and shrieks!
Squeals giggles orders complaints pleading squabbling shouts and shrieks!

“Ben geldim! Gidiyorum!  Ben geldim! Gidiyorum!” I came. I’m going.  I came. I’m going. The song of the poaji man.  Cherry cheeks.  White hair.  Short and squat.  He makes his rounds of the neighborhoods carrying his two woven baskets filled with Turkish cheese pastries.  The children run and flock to him like the pied piper.  They slap his hands and circle round as he trods the dirty old streets of Istanbul trying to sell a pastry or two.

Then another hush.  Early evening’s quiet.  The rustle of pots and pans.  The sizzle of frying onions.  The clatter of dinnerware. 
The final belch!

Grand Finale: The Night’s Vivace.

In Beyoglu the finale starts its crescendo.
The popcorn man pops his corn over his portable stove: pop pop pop pop
“Sicak poacha!” sings out Murat pushing the two-wheeled cart holding the warm fresh pastries baked by his wife. “Hot pastries!”

“Taze badem! Taze badem!” Fresh almonds! Cry out the men sliding through the alleys filled with young Turks, middle-aged Turks, men, women drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, poking at plates of meze. As the almond seller lowers his tray of peeled fresh almonds on ice.

Boom! Boom! Boom! Pounds the bass from the amplified music of the bars.  Boom! Boom! Boom Boom!
Taze badem!
Sicak poachi!
Balon! Balon! Calls out the man holding a bouquet of red balloons.
And gypsy musicians beat a 9/8 rhythm on their darbukas as the clarinet wails.
The pop corn pops, the sellers yell, heels click

Until 2 am or 3am.

night’s black berka slides over the form of beyoglu, covering her curvaceous body from the eyes of the lusty, and the 2-wheeled pop corn carts are chained up, the unsold almonds tossed into trash cans, music systems shut down, and the snores of saints and sinners alike saw away at night’s stillness.


  1. I read this yesterday. I'm listening to it today.
    I will listen again, it is intriguing

  2. This is simply brilliant, Diane!

  3. I am so excited to listen to the song of Istanbul again!

  4. The call of the muezzin is my favourite music. Your depiction of it is wonderful. I don't know Istanbul's but it's on my list. As for the rest I hope to hear it someday and more so having read this.

    I looked around your site and see that you've had the Egypt experience. My favourite city is Cairo. This frequently appalls people who've been there and I'm not sure I understand it myself but there you go. I'm not so bowled over by the antiquities but the coffee is great and the taxi rides are thrillingly scary. It's worth going to see some antiquities just for the thrillingly scary taxi ride that gets you there.

    Anyway I'm very glad to have found this blog and thank you for your very kind comment on mine. I post weekly and if you subscribe you will get an email when I do. I would have subscribed here but I can't see how...