“Citizens” focuses on people born and raised in Istanbul and who are masters of their domains. In this section, described as unsung heroes of Istanbul, we talk about citizens’ Istanbul, profession, yesterday and today.
Scriptwriter Ece Yörenç has somehow touched the hearts of each of us through her Tv series Yaprak Dökümü, Aşk-ı Memnu and Kuzey Güney.
Words: Sidni Karavil
Images: Nazlı Erdemirel
Ece’s father was a military officer. The first vivid memory of her childhood is of a trip from Erzurum to Istanbul. Her family had bought a house in Kızıltoprak and they had lived in Ataköy as they were waiting for their new house to be prepared for them to live in. Ataköy gave her a two years of “American movie type of childhood” in a green, sterilized environment from the age of five to seven. There she had a beautiful neighborhood where everyone lived harmoniously with one another, children bicycled with their swimming suits, swam or went to see the movies together.

The letters of childhood written to classmates
When she went to Çorlu because of his father’s office, she began writing letters to her teacher and classmates. Her teacher Hurisel read all these letters to the students every week, with tears.

“At 12, I used to go to Yalıçiftlik Charcuterie, Beyaz Fırın (Bakery), the pickle store ve the butcher at Kadıköy Bazaar and back to home by taking the bus by myself. I knew every stone on each side street.” Ece says. She complains that everything is so temporary nowadays. She tells about the hardship she experienced during the time she went to high school, Kadıköy Girls High School, because of the terrorist attacks and the armed conflicts. “I would have gone crazy if I had been a mother at that time.” she remarks.

She meets with her husband-to-be as she rows and he water-skis…
She goes on to tell how she has met her husband when it comes to her adult years. “My husband had a speedboat then. And I liked rowing a boat. He stole my heart as he was water-skiing. He wet me and my friend as he passed by. Then he held the boat. This was his first and last mischievous act in his life. And he stole my heart with it.”

She has always lived on the Anatolian side to this day. She even describes herself as a “child of Cadde”. She knew Şaşkın Bakkal’s son. “Everyone knew one another then.” she says. Ece lived on the Anatolian Side until she decided to stop living with her son and move to another house. And now she lives in Bebek. We make this interview in her house with a splendid Bosphorus view.

Legendary Series written based on the inspiration from Istanbul
Then we talk about her Tv series. She has a repertoire of Tv series scripts that somehow touched the lives of each one of us. And there is Istanbul and its cultural values in many of them.

“There is always an Istanbul in the background in any work I do. I am especially careful about that since the time my Tv series became international. I want to reflect all the colors I see in the city. I like seeing around through the eyes of a local person when I visit a different country. So I try to express our local habits in the scripts; you would always see the fish, Turkish delight, marzipan and simit of Istanbul in my series.

Ece’s Istanbul Rituals
Bebek Market, Santral Charcuterie, Bebek Fish Restaurant, Ece Bar Asmalımescit, La Boucherie, La Boom, Ulus 29, Kahraman, Kıyı, Divan Fenerbahçe, Hagia Erine Church, Hamdi Restaurant, Historical Peninsula…

“Istanbul has such a historical richness that you can even experience five different versions of the city in a single day. I have had evenings when I ate dinner at Hamdi and went to a concert in Hagia Erine Church right after.”

So does she write her own story?
She says she actually wrote her own story through the series Yaprak Dökümü. “It felt as if I was in therapy during those five and a half years in which I wrote Yaprak Dökümü. There were my mother, my father and us in that script. And there was this family table around which we sat, gathered and looked into each other’s eyes at 7 pm every evening, no matter what had happened throughout the day. Actually we all experience our own Yaprak Dökümü (Fall Foliage) in our urbanized lives. In the book, the reason was adopting the Western life style. There are many instruments in a big city for a fall foliage. I deeply felt the absence of that family table later in my life. There were days that I and my son did not see each other ever though we lived in the same house. “

We looked at İstanbul from Brooklyn with Tulya Madra, who transformed the city’s memory of colors, geometrical dreams, silent curves and poetry written on water into “porcelain”.
Words: Ali Tufan Koç
Images: Sinem Yazıcı
She is unquestionably one of the most essential, charming and anonymous characters of the city, even though in her own words, is a “İstanbulite far from İstanbul”. She has been only a short time traveler in İstanbul for years since she had moved from the city at the age of 28. She will tell you the reasons in a while. Without intending to do so.

She left Istanbul for the first time in 1996 and moved to New York. She then returned to Istanbul in 2004 only to settle down in Ayvalık after a year of camping in the city. Writing a few volumes of Ayvalık in 10 years, she reunited with New York in 2015. Even though she expresses that “these three regions are her homeland.”, İstanbul obviously has the leading role.

We view İstanbul from her studio santimetre in Red Hook, Brooklyn, reviewing the ports, streets and, shops and counters by journeying into the past… Tulya expresses that she is astonished by the fact that she now feels like a stranger to a city once she called “her homeland”. Meanwhile, she commemorates the streets and neighborhoods she used to live in, one by one (Bostancı, Nişantaşı, Bebek, Cihangir and Tünel respectively). She says “These neighborhoods have changed their forms and meaning throughout the time. I find it hard to recognize this city any more, which I knew like the back of my hand once.” Yet her voice lacks a heavy naphthalic nostalgic taste. Tulya Madra is someone who thinks and talks about the new; her concern is not about the change itself but about the methods of change. “I always dreamt that İstanbul would be a city that changes through preserving, not consuming. I wish I could return and live there while there are still close friends before the city totally transforms and gets lost for me.”

Tulya’s İstanbul is rather detail-oriented and has a rich repertoire of clues; it is a city that doesn’t readily give away its secrets. With the help of her friends’ and her own memory, she takes pleasure to focus and explore the streets at different times of the day, sidetracking the usual daily flow, and trace the İstanbul that she had left behind. “The hinterland of my design aesthetics is full of material and memories collected while surfing these streets"

She, of course, has favorite neighborhoods of which she says, “They always make me excited.” Like the Thursday Bazaar. “From one end to the other, various kinds of materials, the ideas that jump to my mind from the richly stocked shelves of miscellaneous tools and materials, the samples I collected from these stores was hard to fit in my studios”. We continue İMC, Çukurcuma, Horhor, Dolapdere, Çağlayan, Kapalıçarşı, Spice Bazaar, Tahtakale, Galata, Kadıköy Bazaar…

Geometric dreams, silent curves
Her first contact with ceramics has been in 2004 when she returned to İstanbul from New York and began “camping” at Tünel. The coordinates of this contact take us to Nuray Ada’s gallery in Tünel. “We were neighbors then. She invited me to hang around in her studio and teach me to work with the lathe. And she taught me with all her kind and calm attitude.” Tulya spent her days in this golden period of Tünel with a happy intoxication of centering the mud ball on the manual lathe, and the nights by chilling out as she danced at Bade then located at the other edge of the street.

Santimetre carries the streets of İstanbul in its genetic codes even though it was created in Ayvalık. The color memory, geometrical dreams, silent curves and the dignified looks of the city, its poetry is written on water and its whispers have always constituted the unseen colors of santimetre. All the bitter and sweet experiences gained in different studios and all the dreams collected from the counters of Perşembe Bazaar, Kadıköy Bazaar, Kasımpaşa, and Çağlayan as well as the pottery that survived in all the houses she has lived and her memory, make up the original santimetre whose spirit can never be imitated even though its design might be copied.

One should share her words on her purpose without changing a word, which should be read underlined: “When we first started to work as santimetre, our purpose was basically to make peace with the processes of production by combining the design methods with those of the existing vernacular manufacturing systems. It was mainly recognizing the theoretical and practical connections between thinking about a product and producing it; buttoning up some of those disconnections, renew the friendship between the designed product on paper and the methods of producing it. Our joy was experimenting hands-on and not having to hear the words “this can’t be produced as such!”

A Symphonic Whistle
Santimetre is a production studio with an established brand; it is a matrix of a group of products. It presents the consumer a refined and professional production infrastructure through which the consumer participates to the end result with her choice of forms and colors. She says “santimetre is only a part of my ongoing design work and its future I can’t predict.” She goes on to explain why she did not brand the company with her own name as “Tulya Madra”: “Because I didn’t want this brand to restrict my individual space of freedom… Santimetre is a field of experiments; it mimics the mass production and the marketing processes on a smaller scale and it tries to incorporate an emotional, physical and mental familiarity to the end products. It is a team effort that tries to whistle at the international market without having any other financial support other than its own production revenues. I would like to see that santimetre can survive by itself, as a team and a brand, without my lead anymore. So that I can travel between my homelands freely and once again become “a İstanbulite” from time to time.

For those who would like to start the day and color their lives or give a new meaning to their “friend gatherings” through this symphonic whistle from New York to Ayvalık: @santimetrestudio and www.santimetre.shop

As we take pictures of director Mehmet Binay at the Şişhane exit in Tünel, we learn that his short trips there in his youth reflected the dream of reaching an utterly different place by passing through the darkness.
Words: Sidni Karavil
Images: Nazlı Erdemirel
I decided to watch the last movie Mehmet Binay directed together with his spouse and partner Caner Alper, “Çekmeceler” (Drawers), as I was lying on my couch one of those evenings. It was a striking movie inspired by true stories. With my heart beating fast in various scenes, I watched this little girl slowly transforming into a bitter young woman because of the environment she was brought in, her true nature and her life conditions. I wondered if the truth effects Mehmet Binay more than dreams do.

“Each person lives her own reality. Our emotional ups and downs tend to form the stories we tell others. My husband, Caner Alper, and I, are in love with the plots that draw their inspiration from true stories. Because they give birth to an endless web of events, just like the cities do on us. There is a different İstanbul for each one of us and we all have a distinct, special relationship with the city.”

It is not a coincidence that we end up talking about Istanbul. He told me before the conversation that he had “abandoned” Istanbul for three times. Germany, Bodrum and now Los Angeles. Why did he choose such a strong word as “abandoning?” I thought of some possible reasons, but I knew it would best to hear it from him.

“I think that each time we ‘abandon’ the city, we somehow try to leave and turn our backs to ourselves. We get bored of the thousand-year-old cultural layer, the identities approved by the state and all the elements that we carry in our DNA although we didn’t choose it. So, we go after the possibility of reconstructing ourselves. The painter Modigliani says, “A person cannot be called a man if he does not reconstruct himself!” I think our effort to leave our lives behind and settle in a different city or a land has a similar motivation behind. Recreating yourself by going over the borders and losing yourself in different cultures, building a new life from scratch and then feeling a certain nostalgia keep you fresh. Ultimately, all these adventures make you go back to your city.”

So how was his relationship with the city in his youth? How did Mehmet Binay use to spend his spare time then?
“I have always lived with a longing for leaving my surroundings. Maybe because I was gay and somehow felt excluded since I was a child, but I always had this idea of migrating to a new Utopia somewhere else. I was brought up in Kadıköy. I would find myself in a literary description, imagining myself in the first moments of a journey, even if I was taking the ferry to cross over to the European side of town. I always wanted to go beyond where I was living, as someone who has multiple ethnicities in his DNA and cultural roots in each one of the three monotheistic religions. I would say my best moments were those five shorts yet incredibly long minutes when I took the Tünel, Istanbul’s first underground, from Karaköy going up to İstiklal Street. During this short journey, I could experience a sense of reaching to a different culture by passing through the darkness.”

We then took photos of how his dreams of reaching to a different place when he was in the Tünel have turned into a reality today. His face was glowing in the middle of all those people who got off the Tünel.

“I used to spend hours in Pera and Galata before weeknight German language classes at Goethe Institute. I would shuffle through the books in the German library and walk the streets inch by inch. I would try to imagine the people who had lived there before me. I would find hope in thinking that I could also move on in my life, just as they achieved this life and migrated from here.”

I couldn’t help thinking the difference between those older days and today, seeing all the people nestled in their cell phones as we were passing through the Tünel, a symbol of old Istanbul. And I asked him how he viewed and felt this difference.

“I think feeling regretful about how the city has changed over time and lost its original face or complaining that it has turned its face to the East resemble a lazy and negatively aging attitude to me. Istanbul is not a city that can be owned; at the very most, you can only witness it. The root of the word “Istanbul” is polis, which means political. I’ve just remembered the movie Politiki Kousina; it was about Istanbul’s Greek cuisine and the people who were expulsed from their homeland to Greece because of political reasons. Here, in this country, there is even politics in the kitchen: ‘my dolma (special stuffing) is different’, ‘we would never add sugar to olive oil dishes’, ‘the Turks know nothing about cooking olive oil dishes’, ‘the Greeks learnt yoghurt from the Turks’... All express an effort to exclude oneself from others and an act of false pride. These differences come to surface rather during hard times of a society. Yet a city like Istanbul should be a place where people lose their identities and feel liberated. The state’s dominating control over the fate of this metropolis tries to impose a certain constructed identity on us. How could one not want to go away?

“Istanbul is not a city that can be owned; at the very most, you can witness this city…” I want to understand this sentence in a deeper way. Having embraced various cultures for centuries and being full of historical artifacts; this city, with its giant culture, does not belong to anyone, maybe just as no other city in the world belongs to anyone. I am watching the water flowing from a fountain with all its beauty, in the midst of a road on a street with cobblestones in Emirgan. I watch it sitting there as a Jewish woman... I guess there is something true about belonging to İstanbul.

“For the last few years, I have been taking walks on Saturdays, with no particular aim, in whichever city I am. As I walk, I try to slow down the time, away from the hectic pace of the weekdays and our mundane efforts. I came to Istanbul to work at the end of January 2019 and found myself in the streets of Galata, again on a Saturday morning. My heart beat faster as I climbed up the slopes. I took a look at the Schneider Tempel, an old Ashkenazi synagogue, which was transformed into an art gallery after renovation works. There was an exhibition by the political cartoonist Tan Oral. Firstly, I studied the cartoons, and then let myself into the magic of the atmosphere in the temple.
I tried to recall the voices of the Jewish tailors who recited the Shema prayer and the modes of cantors who had those incredible voices. I thought about how they tried to reestablish their temple, which collapsed again and again, in various different ways, in distant lands; and how the Jews of Istanbul carried “the temple” in their memory no matter where they migrated. They had all come to Istanbul with great excitement and hopes to build a life. I thought that this city belongs to everyone and that it will never be the property of a particular class or race. Those who reign it will fade away one day, yet the city will always persist and be a host to new hopes.”

How is his relationship with Istanbul today? How does Istanbul turn into an inspiration, or a burden at times, for a creative soul like his, that doesn’t live here but visits the city occasionally?
“The last time I abandoned Istanbul we migrated to Bodrum by liquidating everything we had, which was followed by our decision to settle in the USA as immigrants. I had noticed that I did not like Istanbul back then; I didn’t want to see myself there anymore. After the terror attack at Atatürk Airport and the July 15th coup attempt, I was sure that this country did not want us here anymore, just like it did not welcome other minorities in the past. But the city means multiculturalism. Each time I come back here, I watch small theatre companies performing incredible plays or feel hope when I look at people who want to live life the way they want, protesting against the status quo every single day. And, I see people who have just migrated to this city. An Eritrean or a Syrian is also the citizen of this city, because we all came here as strangers. I salute all people who come to Istanbul, a city that belongs to no one. I try not to be a chauvinist.

What are his dreams and truths about turning back to Istanbul, working and creating here, and the city itself?
There is a love story called “Agunah” that we are currently working on. It starts in Sweden in 1945 right after WWII and ends in a textile workshop in Galata in 2000s. It is a story that reaches to Istanbul from Eastern Europe, about lovers who knew no physical or emotional boundaries.

Walking through the Ulus streets, amongst the people who seem to go back and forth in the bustle and pleasure of the day, we meet the accomplished pianist Cana Gürmen in her house to talk about classical music, a 60-year-old Istanbul and love...
Words: Mehlika Özge Esirgen
Images: Nazlı Erdemirel
Furnishing of a museum and chalk powder that defies 40 years

She welcomes us with laughter, and the freshness of a musician as if she is about to give her first interview for the press. You immediately feel the difference in the atmosphere as you step in the house. This is a house that hosts historical artifacts, gifts, friendships, honoring and certainly, music.

One of the walls is painted dark, with hundreds of signatures on it. Some had written a few lines of poetry, while others had left their ambiguous regards…

“Whoever comes to visit, signs the wall” Gürmen says.

“When there was a fire in the mansion in Erenköy, where my husband Nedim was born, his family sent some of the furnishing to an apartment in Taksim. There was a huge column in the center of the living room, which seemed ill-proportional. Then they had this brilliant idea of painting it black and leave it for their friends to write their little memoirs. As I listened to that story from my husband, I suggested: “Why don’t we do it too? We don’t have a column, but we have a wall!”

When I ask about the pots placed elaborately in glass showcases and the nostalgia-charged wooden dressers, she goes on to explain:
“Years ago, I began to give concerts with the opera singer Ayhan Baran, who had an extraordinary voice. He was the most acclaimed solo singer of the opera, world-famous. This historical pottery collection belonged to him. These oil-lamps and pots are all in the museum’s records, regarded as artefacts. Ayhan was cross with the museum one day and delivered this collection of 55 artefacts to me for 1 Lira.
And my father-in-law had passed on his collectorship to me as well. The furniture and the dining room set came from him. They had been brought from Italy at the time.”

A life spent with music, sitting at the piano

Gürmen left the State Conservatory last year, as a professor, which she had entered at the age of 6. She continues to give concerts, in Turkey and abroad, and give consultations in several Music Academies.

How was it like to be a “Conservatory child” at the time?

“I always went to two schools at the same time. An elementary school, later a high school, and the Conservatory. We used to go the Conservatory almost every day. We would have to wait for hours just to play for five minutes. My parents took me to extra solfege classes on Sundays because we usually made fun in the solfege classes at the conservatory, we didn’t learn much.”

When I ask about her family relations and social life, she says that she had a very disciplined family that had their three children study in the conservatory.

Filiz Restaurant and Florya Club

“We did not have many friends; we were practicing very hard. So, we didn’t have much time to have fun or make friends. But we had a ritual with the family; going to Filiz restaurant in Tarabya. On Sundays, they would pick me, my brother and sister from the solfege classes and take us to the Filiz Restaurant. Our favorite was the seabass pane, and the raspberry ice-cream. It was such a joy. Everyone was very respectful at the time. The waiters, their manners, the freshly ironed white tablecloths… Everything was so elegant. The atmosphere was beautiful, the way people saw things was beautiful too. There was respect in everything that was done.”

I ask her what has changed as she became a young girl and if there were any activities, they did every day or any favorite places they went as the teens of their time.

“I need to jump to the age of 17 to answer this question because it all started for me after I got to know my husband Nedim.”

“We used to go the Florya Club in the summer time, there was a fabulous seaside there. Most of the members of the club were doctors. I began to go there for swimming during the summer seasons when I was around 15. Of course, only when my parents would allow me to go and only after I practiced my piano.
It was summer again, that year, I was a successful student, just graduated from high school. So, I now deserved some time for sunbathing!
I was lying on the beach with my sister when I suddenly caught someone’s eye… Not knowing that this someone would turn out to be my future husband…”

“We would meet in a hidden corner, hug and hold hands for 5 minutes. And I would rush back to the house.”

So, the love stories used to begin with catching each other’s eyes…

“Yes, of course. It was Saturday. June 17, 1972.
He was playing backgammon with his friends. Our eyes met for a second and I felt very shy. You would feel shy on such occasions in those times…”

I am surprised to see that she remembers almost every detail of it…

“Oh, I can never forget…” she continues.
“Then they introduced him to me on the 26th. There was a “beer night”. My parents hardly allowed me to go out that night with two of my siblings and my uncle. The great love was kindled that night, a secret one of course.
Nedim would jump into his car and drive from Nişantaşı to Yeşilköy only to come to see me for a few minutes. We didn’t have cell phones then; he didn’t know if I could get out of the house to see him or not. So, he came for the possibility of seeing me. He would tour around the house. I would recognize the car and tell my mom a little lie to go out for a few minutes. We would meet in a hidden corner, hug and hold hands for five minutes. And I would rush back to the house. Then I would have to content myself only with the feeling of it until the next time…”

Nedim, followed his heart to Istanbul after knowing the young Cana. He left the college he had been going for 3 years in Lyon and came to Istanbul. He entered the university entrance exam in Turkey to start a new college and a new life here. Luckily, his father, who was a great admirer of classical music, softened when he heard that his intended bride was a graduate of Conservatory.

There is an anecdote her husband would tell on every occasion. When he was a teenager, he liked listening to jazz or pop music in his room, having no interest in the piano sonatas that played in the house every day. One day, the classical music lover father held Nedim and said: “I want you to listen to this sonata once, just for you to get familiar with the music. Who knows, you might have to listen to this music for some reason in the future.”

And Mr. Gürmen says; “Yes, my father was right, I would have to listen to this music, almost every day, later in my life. Yet for the most beautiful reason in my life.”

Fantastic Music Nights

They enjoyed the years very much after their marriage, spent with music and friends, as if compensating the years, they had to spend apart in their youth. I ask about their social life, the music community and Istanbul.

“We would not go out much, only occasionally for dinner. We sometimes would go to Sardunya or Şamdan, the classics of Istanbul nightlife then. We would have a drink and dance. But real dance, you know, we would rock’n roll. And sometimes we would go to some tap houses on the street behind the famous Flower’s Passage in Beyoğlu.

Out biggest entertainment was to gather in the houses to cook and play though. Our friends loved it here. Our friends were the famous jazz musicians of the time; Erol Pekcan, Selçuk Sun, Oğuz Durukan, Süheyl Denizci…
There used to be a window here behind this mirror you see now. They would carry the drums through that window into the house. The contrabass always stood here, ready to be played…” she says as she points the side of the piano.
“Such great music we played those nights… We had so much fun…It was like a dream… These music nights were fantastic…”

You should know how to really want something in life and go for it…

I feel that the secret behind her fulfilled life which embraced being a pianist performing in concerts and a conservatory professor, a marriage and motherhood at the same time, is her excitement for life and her love of music. She tells every memory with great enthusiasm, her eyes glowing with freshness.

“Your hands stop when you don’t practice a day.” She says. “Being a pianist requires a great effort. I always take my keyboard with me when I go on to a vacation. There were critics in the past years who would write any mistake you did in a performance. So, I had to spend all those years practicing very hard.”

Listening to her, I think of all the changes life has gone through in those past 30 or 40 years. So how can she preserve her joy and her love in all these rapidly changing circumstances?

“Love has always been essential in my life, in everything I did… I can still work with children because I love children. I teach with love because I love teaching. And I can practice the piano so hard because I love playing it. I love hosting guests because I love cooking! You should know how to really want something in life and go for it… When you really want and love something, it will definitely open its doors to you…And you will be amazed by the outcome…”

The early years of the painter and sculptor Mevlut Akyıldız spent in İstanbul has a big part in his humorous style of painting which portrays the contradictory life style of modernity. We first take the tramway and then metrobus together as we talk.
Words: Sidni Karavil
Images: Işık Kaya

I already begin to travel in time as I walk on the Kurtuluş streets heading to Mevlut Akyıldız’s house. It has been a while since I visited that part of the city. There is marvelous smell of historical bakeries on the streets and a warmness between the shopkeepers and clients; this is the atmosphere of the old İstanbul… I go in one of those İstanbul apartments as it begins to drizzle. His wife Aşkım Akyıldız meets me at the door. It is a very warm welcome. They have just bought fresh puff pastry to serve.

I ask him about his first memories in İstanbul.

NIGHT CLUBS AND CLASSICAL MUSIC

“We moved to İstanbul from Ankara when I was 12. We lived in Fatih for six years and came to Kurtuluş in 1973, the year I got into the Academy. I had friends from all walks of life in our neighborhood. I had a Jewish friend called Moshe, an Armenian friend, Erol and a Muslim friend called Vasil. The father of one of my friends, Yavuz from Sivas, owned bordellos in the city. Burning with the energy of youth, we would go to Tünel, the back streets of Beyoğlu where night clubs were. We would go to a friend in Gültepe, drink with the minibus drivers, listen to arabesque and chat. Academy was different of course, we listened to classical music there. So, I was in the midst of a fuse of different cultures that year. Now I can see how I was impressed by all those people I had met in those years. It was inspiring to see how those hopeless people from such walks of life had an aspiration to hold on to life, they had a circle of relationships of their own. In later years, I identified their motivation to hold on to life with my own aspiration in life.”

I look at the numerous paintings, sculptures and glass-bottom paintings around me. I am sitting in an enchanting room. All those scenes he witnessed in his early years and how he identified himself with them speak to me enthusiastically through all these works of art, yet I still want to listen it from him.

COLORFUL, VIVID MEMORIES

“I decided to paint after graduating from the Academy. I did not take part in any educational institution, I only worked and strived to be a professional artist. And I did try to hold on to life too, during that period started in 80s in Turkey. I tried to bring things that I could enjoy into my life. The lives of those people I had met when I was young, which somehow seemed absurd, have helped me to gain a totally different perspective in life. And I did not just observe these people from a different stance then; I became good friends with them, I had a humane communication with each of them. I think I kept those memories alive by painting these people I had met.”

I ask him to share some memories and tell how he related to a call girl for example.

CALL GIRL NURDAN

“There a was a luxurious brothel called Gülizar in Kireçburnu, which we would visit in the afternoons. They would serve bulgur pilaf and we would eat it. Everything was just so natural. The women who worked there were never the subject of our conversation, we would talk about ordinary stuff. The call girl Nurdan was our neighbor. She lived with her mother. We would go to their house where they would do coffee reading. They would reveal their life tragedies as we talked.

Moshe had bought a car to womanize. Yavuz was already quite free because of his father. Moshe took me to a by-street around the train station in Sirkeci once. They were doing two hour-gatherings of entertainment to cheer up the soldiers in daytime. We paid 15 TL and went in. They were shouting “open, open”. We just found ourselves to be a part of it.”

MILITARY SERVICE

“I was sent to Aydın as a reserve officer. I saw camels coming when we went up to hills one morning to exercise. I then learnt that they had camel wrestling there. So, I went after it and illustrated them in my paintings. I was in the midst of life then. I immediately went after what attracted me, just like a bee that makes honey, portrayed what I saw and tried to learn them better in every way.”

YESTERDAY & TODAY

“I now paint everything I experience naturally, yet from a higher perspective. The night life in İstanbul, the neon lights in Beyoğlu, the butcher that sold sweetbread at the corner of the Galatasaray Lycée… We once met someone there, the society man Kemal. We first made fun of him but later learnt that he was Gönül Yazar’s mother’s lover, one of these old rakes. You go into that period when you begin to question life, after a certain age. I feel anxious to go out at night now. We used to have softer relationships in the past. Everything builds on earning money today. People were more honest in the past; they would behave in more humane manners.”

I learn that Mevlut Akyıldız spends most of his time in his house and around his neighborhood as we conclude our conversation. Living in Kurtuluş feels like being a world citizen. It is walking on the Kurtuluş streets, chatting with Patriarch in Patriarchate in Balat, communicating with the people in the Jewish Museum…

 

Ayla Erduran is telling us about her life and Istanbul childhood, which she had to give up in order to become a world-famous violin virtuoso. 
Words: Sidni Karavil
Images: Işık Kaya
I was very excited when I made my way to Gümüşsuyu for an interview with the world-famous violin virtuoso Ayla Erduran. I was about to listen the story of a life that extends from a seaside mansion in İstinye over Gümüşsuyu, Paris, New York, and even Moscow; a life that is full of art, music and literature.

Considering my previous research, I wrote down what I could ask about İstanbul. A childhood that is spent in İstanbul until 11-years-old, home visits by Ayla Erduran’s father Professor-in-Ordinary Doctor Behçet Sabit Erduran’s friends from the literature world and politics, music lessons from the Hungarian virtuoso Karl Berger who settled in İstanbul in 1920’s, violin education she took while traveling all over the world with her mother and hence, longing for İstanbul. All those subjects to talk about…

I am climbing to the third floor of an old İstanbul building with a bouquet of flowers in my hand. A pretty and a well-groomed lady - who absolutely does not look in her 80’s - opens the door to me. We hug each other immediately.

“How did you know I like flowers? That’s very kind of you.”

“You are very kind to welcome us at your home.”

In the living room there are old pictures, a piano, Bosporus view and us. The first thing that hits my eye is Ayla’s photograph with her African nanny. She starts to tell immediately.

MY MOTHER DIDN’T CARE IF I BRUSHED MY TEETH, TOOK A SHOWER OR ATE MY FOOD. SHE WANTED ME TO PLAY THE VIOLIN ABOVE EVERYTHING ELSE.

“My nanny raised me. My mother didn’t care if I brushed my teeth, took a shower or ate my food. My father used to take care of his patients at his clinic. No one was engaged with me. I cried a lot when my nanny went back to her country when I was 7. My mother was born in Büyükada and studied with the violinist Ekrem Zeki Ün. She especially wanted me to play the violin. She was a good woman, but she was despotic. She put me through the wringer all my life, but I am glad that she did, otherwise I could not bear this life.”

She mentions that her mother was a very beautiful woman, she talks about her mother’s connection with violin and that she could not play it so well. Then we start to talk about Karl Berger.

“Berger was the teacher of all İstanbul. He was a great violinist. He used to make all the women fall in love with him, he was a good-looking man. I listened him playing once in my life. I used to go to Narmanlı to take lessons from him. Cigarettes, cigarettes, cigarettes… I am waiting for the lesson. He used to make a five-year-old kid wait for hours. I hated to go to his lessons. Later, he quitted playing the violin. He didn’t give any concerts either. He had two students: Remzi Atak and I. He didn’t teach us technique, he taught us music. Then, my mother insisted that I should give a concert; so I gave my first concert for the Turkish Child Protection Institution at age 11. Before I got on stage I cried my eyes out because of fear. Yet I played Mozart’ D Major Concerto and Beethoven’s Spring Sonata beautifully.”

YES, AYLA HAD A STRADIVARIUS, BUT HER LIFE WASN’T SPENT IN GLORY AS IT SEEMS FROM AFAR.

“In my childhood, we were well endowed. I was learning to play the violin by myself. Sundays were guest days and for me, they were my childhood nightmare. Among our guests, there were Princess Fahrelnissa Zeid, Yahya Kemal, Yunus Nadi, princes and doctors. ‘Bonjour Madame, Bonjour Monsieur’ and they used to put me forward to play the violin like some kind of monkey. My mother used to pressure me so much for not making any mistakes, I used to go wrong immediately.”

I was getting more and more surprised hearing the challenges such an important artist had to struggle with. I guess people who achieve high success always go through hard ways…

“I didn’t have any friends in my childhood. I didn’t go to school either. A private tutor used to come to our house. Berger told my mother that I could break my arm in the school, and this could prevent me from playing the violin. I was captive at home, I used to look at Taksim Garden and envy the kids who play freely. I used to read the dictionaries at home. In fact, that’s how I learned French. I used to listen to the records in the house. I loved doing that. I tried to educate myself. Later, we moved into a seaside mansion in İstinye. I had no friends there, yet I learned how to swim. Cemal Reşit lived nearby. He used to come to our house. I played the Spring Sonata with him.”

OISTRAKH, FRANCESCATTI, GALAMIAN, BENVENUTI…

Later Ayla Erduran and her mother made their way abroad: First Paris conservatory, then New York and Moscow. She used to see her father once in a year. She had so much difficulty at this process. However, she had the chance to study with many world-famous violin teachers. Oistrakh, Francescatti, Galamian, Benvenuti…

Her permanent return to İstanbul happened after a 17-years teaching adventure in Switzerland. Her aunt and her beloved cousin were murdered in the apartment that is upstairs of the one that Erduran currently lives in. She lost her mother due to cancer. She had to sell the Stradivarius to which she was very attached. Finally, at the recommendations, she came back to her home country. She is here for the last 25 years. While she was here in İstanbul, her records were released. Erhan Karaesmen wrote a book about Ayla Erduran which is titled as “Evlerimizi İç Işıklarıyla Aydınlatanlar Müzik ve Keman” (The Ones that Illuminate Our Homes with Their Inner Lights: Music and Violin).  She made a trio concert with Alexander Rudin. Now, she still studies violin four hours a day. When we come across in the hall, her helper at home whispers me in the ear: “I cannot tell you how well she plays.”

“BECOMING A SOLOIST IN AN ORCHESTRA BY THE TIME YOU ARE 20 YEARS OLD MEANS WAVING GOODBYE TO A HAPPY FAMILY LIFE.”

Ayla Erduran’s eyes shine and she seems like she leaks art all over the living room. I still insistently ask her about what she remembers from her childhood in İstanbul.

“The red and green streetcar I used to get on when I went to the lessons of Berger, Abdullah Restaurant, Markiz Bakery…”

I wonder if she is pleased with the road she followed in her life, no matter what.

“When I look back if they had asked me my opinion about this sort of a career, I wouldn’t accept it. Becoming a soloist in an orchestra by the time you are 20 years old and moving your career forward mean waving goodbye to a happy family life.” Indeed, 84-year-old Erduran lives in her beautiful house in Taksim with her helper. In the frames, there are monochrome pictures of the violinists she played together and her nanny.

The venues she has created echoed that era’s İstanbul spirit and introduced us the “hidden” streets. The source of inspiration for all of these is Lal Dedeoğlu’s very personal Istanbul story.
Words: Ali Tufan Koç
Images: Işık Kaya
She always seeks for innovation. Her definition of ‘innovation’ is a bit different than other restaurateurs. Rather than, adopting a popular formula that already exists in abroad or creating venues inspired by latest trends, she always creates something original that blends her unique taste, lifestyle choices and know-how.

With her venues which have shaped the city’s culture for the last 25 years, Lal Dedeoğlu is one of the unsung but profound heroes of İstanbul.

She knows ‘neighborhood’ culture, the city spirit, the ‘environment’ and the shift in understanding of ‘neighborhood’ in İstanbul, very well. Each venue she created has always been in deep and profound connections with the neighborhood in which it was located. Let’s take a moment and refreshen our memories: ‘Buz’ and Nişantaşı, ‘Bej’ and Karaköy, ‘buzADA’ and the Bosphorus line, ‘Mahalle’ and Topağacı, and now ‘Daire 1’ and Küçük Bebek.

She is an Istanbulite who knows and adores İstanbul in every way. Until she became an adult, she touched every part of İstanbul by way of the sports contests, school and family trips in which she participated; even talking about that excites her. Istanbul of her youth is both a metropolis and a resort; it is both crowded and fresh. She’s not one of those people who complain all the time; “Since I chose to stay and live here, it is better for me to find better ways to live here instead of complaining” she’s able to say. For example, she can see the traffic in Bosphorus at two o’clock in the midnight she can get excited and feel grateful, saying “Oh vow, this is life!”

Famous Sunday tables

Although she was born in Yeşilköy, she has spent her childhood and teenage years in Etiler; she defines herself as a ‘Çamlık (Pine Grove) kid’. She went to Hasan Ali Yücel Primary school. Even her going to school and coming back home accompanied by the cats and dogs of the neighborhood, makes us say “When did that old neighborhood feeling has disappear?” That house in the Çamlık Buildings, those tables, and the guests, all have a lot of impact on her life. Her mom is a figure whose elegant tables were praised, and who prepares such ‘original’ menus that didn’t exist in most of the restaurants in İstanbul. She’s the one in charge of ‘extravaganza’ tables that were always adorned with flowers and ornaments while her father was known for his ‘friendly conversations’. “In winter, they used to set a great breakfast table on Sunday afternoons. This was a table where appetizers and delicatessens predominated. The table harbored good conversations and guests all evening.” In those days, people bought delicatessens from the buffet in Topağacı, from Çerkezköy, and from ‘Kiraz’ in Etiler. In this photograph, Lal is neither in the preparation nor in the setting phase. She takes the stage after all the guests are gone, and she loves to get in the kitchen to fill her plate with the ‘remaining’ food. From time to time, she visited the addresses where people of that period ‘go to try a certain food’; people used to eat soufflé in Yekta, ‘club sandwich’ in Divan Hotel, and ‘Çamlıca Salad’ in Divan Pub.

Despite the heritage of her mother and father, the beautiful tables, generous hospitality for the guests, and the passion for being a host for long meals, Dedeoğlu says “I never thought that I could do this as a job one day when I grew up.”

First steps always hurt

Another common point of Lal Dedeoğlu projects is the passion for ‘untried’ streets. “Of course, it could be a result of my ability to read İstanbul properly. Those side streets attract me somehow. Following the other way, namely choosing a street which is more popular and familiar to people, feels a little bit like cutting corners. Shooting for the moon is the summary of my life.”

All these venues require time, and the first steps always hurt. However, even though she knows all these, she takes firm steps on the way “not to be commercial”. Some of her venues (buzADA in the Galatasaray Island) were places where she saw when passing by and say “This place lies there with no purpose. I am going to make an offer on it.” Of course, she had losses, failures, downs but eventually, she is rewarded with happiness that is the result of creating her own playground.

Although all the venues are a little bit İstanbulite in their soul, none of them exaggerates; none of them introduce itself as an Istanbul café/pub/disco. “I strove to create venues that fit İstanbul’s make up,” says Lal. For example, she does not bring an olive tree from a different city and plant it in the middle of İstanbul or her venue, merely to adjust it to suit the concept. Instead, she prefers to decorate with magnolias and hydrangeas. There are lots of details regarding İstanbul which she observed and collected since her childhood. She still travels all around İstanbul, takes trips to Mısır Çarşısı (Spice Bazaar), and in Saturday midnights she gets up and plunders the Kastamonu Bazaar in Kasımpaşa.

Timeless, surrounded

As one of the regular visitors recently said: Her last wonder ‘Daire 1’ in Küçük Bebek feels like a solo/acoustic/prime Eric Clapton who once shattered the lists and packed the stadiums: Timeless; ‘no-with an open agenda. Just like a reflection of Lal’s current mood: “Delightful and down-to-earth...”

Together with the writer and one of the most renown people in the diplomacy and the business world Aaron Nommaz, we are dreaming of Istanbul, our eyes closed.
Words: Ali Tufan Koç
Images: Işık Kaya
When you move past Kabataş is ‘Setüstü’ neighborhood, on the range of new generation local cafes … Floor is İstanbul, and the apartment Portugal Consulate. Behind the table overlooking the Bosphorus’ pure beauty with the smell of the sea, is a ‘secret’ Istanbul hero who speaks with a warm smile beneath his reading glasses: Aaron Nommaz.

When you move past Kabataş is ‘Setüstü’ neighborhood, on the range of new generation local cafes … Floor is İstanbul, and the apartment Portugal Consulate. Behind the table overlooking the Bosphorus’ pure beauty with the smell of the sea, is a ‘secret’ Istanbul hero who speaks with a warm smile beneath his reading glasses: Aaron Nommaz.

Today, the fact that he has a separate office as a private counselor in the Istanbul Consulate of Portugal which he referred to as his ‘grandfather’s country’ is only one part of his identity. Similarly is the fact that he wrote historically and culturally precious books about Jewish mark in Ottoman History even though he is not a writer (‘Yahudi Casus: Josef Nasi (The Jewish Spy: Josef Nasi)’ and ‘‘Kanuni’nin Yahudi Bankeri: Dona Gracia (The Jewish Banker of ‘Kanuni’: Dona Gracia))… Diplomat, engineer, entrepreneur, a child raised in ‘Büyükada’ and above all, an Istanbul lover.

He has profound references for his writings. He has knocked the door of many ‘great’ historians including İlber Ortaylı, made long conversations with them about the place of Jewish people in Ottoman history, and every time he asked them “I wish you publish a book about these issues”, he received the same answer: “You would be the best person to write it dear Aaron. You sit down and write; you have my support.”

SMELLS LIKE A ROSE GARDEN

He is originally from İzmir. His relationship with İstanbul which he moved when he was 9 years old is as strong as to make him say:

“No generation ever had fun as much as we did at Büyükada …” His childhood and high school years were spent in Nişantaşı; he excitedly remembers how he used to go home from school using the trolley. And ofcourse the 17.15 Büyükada Ferry: “It is the time when everyone leaves work and make their way back to Büyükada. Especially if my father had an important guest, I definitely was sent to the ferry earlier so that I can find empty seats. Those ferry rides were details with a lot to say to the spirit of those times of which everyone on it was very well-dressed and had conversations with each other …” We remember the balls where all Turkish, Jewish and Greek friends joined together; with a slightly nostalgic tune in his voice, he says: “My son has not even dreamt of them, let alone seeing them in real life.”

“Here is my country, my city,” he continues his story; he describes the color that a population seen as a ‘minority’ in all Turkey but especially in Istanbul creates, using an İnönü-Atarük anecdote: “İnönü got tired of the conflicts and the disagreements between different groups and he went to Atatürk and snapped saying ‘Let’s throw all these people out of the county ’. At that moment Atatürk, who was taking care of the flowers in the garden, told İnönü that he had a headache and asked him to come back again the next day. The next day x-comes and İnönü finds Atatürk again in the garden. ‘Sir, yesterday we had wonderful and colorful roses. What happened to all of them?’ The answer comes quick: ‘I removed them all. And I planted only tulips instead. What do you think?’“

A ‘CULTURAL’ WONDERLAND: ISTANBUL

Although he talks about lines that ‘are not visible but felt deeply’, to Nommaz, this is a kind of red line that has no correspondence among the people of Istanbul, within neighborhoods, on the streets, on the tables and only represented by the government. ‘Hodja’ jokes, food rituals, daily expressions… According to Nommaz all of them are so close, in fact so similar, that it is hard to distinguish which one has influenced the other: “We used to leave the house door open during the holidays. Our Muslim neighbors used to come by and joined our holiday rituals. While they curiously inspected our traditions, they also enjoyed celebrating the holidays with us. We used to like opening the refrigerators of each other’s houses without reserve and discover a different delight.”

The pains of living in a metropole, government policies, the naivety and the natural relationships that got lost over time… Hundreds of ‘cultural’ anecdotes that decay, extinguish, and disappear from the rich culture of the city and from the collective memory… Even though it looks like irreversible erosion, despite everything, is it possible to preserve this cultural wealth by individually holding on to it? “Of course…  The greatest privilege of living in İstanbul was the chance to discover different cultures and experience them without leaving where you are” says Nommaz. And quickly he adds: “This is a city which has so deep layers and is so multicultural that spending an ordinary day here is worth a huge ‘cultural travel’. This is İstanbul. No matter how hard they try, they cannot manage to erase some stories and some qualities from your soul.”

CITY THAT NEVER GETS OLD

At the meantime we are watching İstanbul which he describes as “the city like a school for life”. The ferry comes into the port, the traffic gets slower, the seagulls enthuse… Here’s Nommaz’ thesis: A person who graduates from this city by experiencing İstanbul with all the cultures and all the colors it contains, can deal with anything. The reason for that is simple and intelligible: “People grow up here as more understanding and more open to interaction. Their perspective and perception get richer. This is an interesting place so that even if you live 100 years on it you can learn something new from a different corner. You only need to know how to look and how to live…”

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