Everyday it’s changing so quickly.
One day there’s a neighborhood filled with groups of Roma children, mismatched clothes, newspapers filled with leftover scraps for the hoards of street cats, fat ladies scarved in bright floral bandanas sitting on fabric spread on the ground. Sipping tea in tiny tulip-shaped glasses, cracking sunflower seeds between their teeth. The concrete around them a mosaic of discarded black and white shells. Lines of washing waving like banners across the street.
The next day it’s unrecognizable. Chic boutiques all hard corners and edges. Black and off-white designer clothes displayed at odd angles.
Where the fuck am I?
Surely the old café filled with stooped old men sitting on woven-topped low stools, drinking bittersweet Turkish coffee from tiny doll-like cups, cigarette-stained fingers throwing tiny dice and slapping down backgammon pieces will still be on the corner.
And in its place some new European-style espresso bar.
So why do I stay, when everything around me is daily morfing into a western world I left behind?
When Dave Brubeck composed and released “Take 5,” it was hailed as a revelation. 5/4 count. Wow! How revolutionary.
The ordinary Turkish boy sits beating 5/8, 7/8. 9/8 count on his thigh as easily as he breathes. Even the ice cream vendors, and corn-on-the-cob hawkers beat rhythms on their carts as complex as a jazz virtuoso. Musicians here blend Greek , Armenian, Balkan and Turk music. The normal western music scale is comprised of twelve notes. The Turkish: fifty-rwo. Turks sing and play notes on instruments impossible for my grossly accustomed ear to even differentiate.
And when the music starts everyone leaps to his feet. Hips swivel. Shoulders shimmy. And young and old, Turk and foreigner dance together in keyfi: celebration of life.
Selim Sessler, takes his seat, lifts his clarinet to his lips, nods his head to his musicians and transports us to his village of Kesan in Thrace. In the documentary film his son Bulent made about their village, it seemed like every other person was a proficient musician. Baby boys in diapers beat sauce pans in complex rhythms. Baby girls start wiggling their hips and shimmying their shoulders before they can stand. The men who aren’t musicians are frog catchers.
Why wasn’t I born there?
I climb the 6 flights up to Araf (a world music club named for the place between heaven and hell). The lifts not working again. The wail of Selim’s clarinet pierces through to my solar plexus. I don’t even bother to sit. Just toss my bag onto the floor and start dancing. Within a few minutes I’m joined by dancers in front and back of me. Together we dance, shake, shimmy, smiling smiling. Selim’s son Bulent strums the zither, donkey-eyes sails on the gypsy fiddle, and the darbuka player’s fingers takatakatakataka in lightning speed.
There is no moment but now. And this now, is my heaven.
For some videos of selim see below.