Çok güzelMargaret Ernst BMC ’11 | March 13, 2010
Like with much of this ten-day trip, I experienced the whirling of the Mevlevi order, the cultural descendants of a tradition started by the poet Rumi, through a 4” by 3” flip screen. I set up a tripod in the corner of the cultural center in Bursa, behind where women watch the ceremony on the second floor above the men. Lulled by the dervishes’ faces I tried to figure out how to zoom in carefully and wondered whether it would matter if I did.
On Thursday I sped down Istiklal Street in Istanbul following students from Bogazici to a smoky room up flights of wooden stairs. We shared what music we liked and clanked glasses, and soon rushed back to meet the rest of the choir for dinner.
I tried to zoom in on the ancient cherubim on the upper left of the Hagia Sophia’s ceiling. Their heads were primitive and strange, flanked by teal wings. The frescoes were only uncovered recently—visitors to the building a few years ago would have only the seen the gold of the Ottoman ceiling, which covers hundreds more years of sacred history underneath.
How do you leave a place and what do you bring with you?
We have a very different way of logging travel than a Frenchman visiting an Ottoman palace or a fifth-century Russian to Constantinople. We fly home the day after filling a restaurant with song and dancing with friends met only hours before, and can post photos with a click. No more leather-bound books filled with descriptions and diagrams after months spent abroad. After 13 hours of a plane ride that used to be a nearly insurmountable trip, I’ll be in Latin class on the Main Line on Monday morning. We whirled into Turkey, and now we are whirling out of it.
But I don’t think the modern immediacy with which I can connect back to Turkey and the friends I made here over such a short time makes leaving any easier. It’s as hard as ever to know what to do with the saffron and soap smell of the spice market, the late-night noise of Istiklal, or the longing to follow an alleyway just to see what the air feels like after you’ve found your way home.
I’m so thankful I’ve been able to visit Turkey, even just for ten days. I’ve been left with an impression that is self-evident and great: there are so many people to meet wherever you go and I don’t feel afraid to meet them.
There were moments on this trip in which other singers and I felt uncomfortable about being Americans in Turkey. They were our own feelings that were worrying us: what are we supposed to be doing here? Do they want us here? Are we perceived as imperialist or imposing? Are we imperialist and imposing?
What I will most remember from these days are the conversations with people my age, silly and sincere, where there was none of the dichotomous awkwardness expected—self and other, east and west, or any other tensions that are easier to pin down and talk about than friendship itself. I truly was made to feel like a friend, and it felt amazing.
My consciousness as an American peg being shoved into a wrong-sized hole has shifted a bit. My interactions with students at METU, Anadolu, and Bogazici have helped me realize that there are Americans I connect to well, and Turks I connect to well. There are Turks and Americans with whom I probably share nothing in common. I learned both that Turkey was a difficult place to put into a category and that I don’t have to place being American in a category either.
I bought three 50 mg bags of loose tea, three postcards of Istanbul from 1905, and a set of brilliantly blue earrings that I wore for every concert.
I’ve been left with a bond with the Chamber Singers I hadn’t felt from our rehearsals that happen at school, which pass by between essays and exhaustion, and I hope it continues.
I can say some useful words in Turkish, like the numbers 1 through nineteen and “Çakmak!”, which means “lighter”, but more importantly, “high-five!”, which I hope I won’t forget.
Thank you so much to everyone who made this tour happen. Turkey, Türkiye, is a place that now feels extraordinarily alive to me—Çok güzel.