Honey on the long narrow road

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July 1, 2013 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground 

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste.)

 

Once upon a time, or as the Turks sometimes begin their stories,

“There was once and there was not (once upon a time), many were faithful to God. Inside past time when straw was a cradle, when the camel was the town crier, when the flea was a barber, when I was pushing my mother’s cradle, and the cradle said ‘tinger minger.’”

In that straw cradle time when the flea was a barber, I lived in the village of Degirmindere on the Gulf of Iznit.

Iznit is the Turkish name for what had been Nicea, which is where the Nicean Creed was developed.  In 1331, Orhan captured Nicea from the Byzantines.   I had memorized the Nicean Creed in Bible studies when I was a child at the Silver Lake Presbyterian Church.

There were cherry trees and hazlenut trees surrounding Degirmendire.  When the gypsy women harvested the fruit, I sent my children – then about four and six years old, down to the orchards.  The gypsy women filled their aprons with cherries and hung cherries from their ears.  In the early spring, the gypsies sold cucumbers, parsely, later artichokes and eggplants, in the marketplace.  Thirty years later, Degirmendire was the epicenter of the Marmara earthquake and almost completely destroyed.

At first, we rented an apartment near one of the orchards.  In March, snow fell across the dirt path in front of the building – a small cinder block building – and then I saw that it was not snow but cherry blossoms.  The original tenants returned, and we moved to another small cinder block building, a new one.  We were the first and only tenants.   If I stood in the kitchen window, I saw a field.  A sheepherder stopped in the field, turned his cap backwards, lay a small carpet on the earth, and prayed.

Before June, though, before the terrible day Johnny Grant, honorary mayor of Hollywood California, announced on our radio in English, when it was still sometime in the spring, I put my children to bed and washed the dishes, boiled rags for cleaning dishes, and boiled water.  We had an Ipra-gas, which was a gas tube that I took to the market and replaced from time to time, and on top of it was a ring for cooking.   We had no refrigerator, so I bought food fresh almost every day.  It could last two days if I brought the food to a boil the second day before serving.

We had pilav, of course, and coffee with milk for the children, and bean soup, a dish called “garbage” that had everything in it, stuffed peppers, koefte sometimes when my husband was home, stuffed tomatoes, the-priest-fainted, yogurt, tomato and cucumber and parsley and onion salad.

Across the field was another small cinder block building.  I saw a woman come out of the house carrying an oud and she sat on her balcony.  She cradled the instrument in her lap, and she played it.  I drew a chair to the window and sat there till the small hours of the morning listening to her.  She played every night after that, and I sat in front of the window night after night.

To be Turkish means to know the traditional songs and poetry.  I don’t know what music she played those nights.  I frequently got words wrong, and I don’t understand dialect words.

Forty years passed.  My ex-husband recently wrote to me and asked me to help him translate an ozan to give to our oldest grandchild.   As it turned out, he wrote most of it.

An ozan is sung by traveling musicians called Ashik, which means “a passionate lover.”  He writes that veysal is an ozan, a narrative composed as a musician plays.  The singer and author of the song is Aşık Veysel Şatıroğlu (October 25, 1894 – March 21, 1973), also known as just Âşık Veysel,  who was a Turkish minstrel and highly regarded poet of the Turkish folk literature. He was born in the Sivrialan village of the Şarkışla district, Sivas Province, on October 25, 1894 and died on March 21, 1973. He was an ashik, a poet, songwriter, and a bağlama virtuoso, the prominent representative of the Anatolian ashik tradition in the 20th century. He was blind for most of his lifetime. His songs are usually sad tunes, often talking about the inevitability of death. He uses a wide range of themes for his lyrics, which are the themes of morality, values and constant questioning on issues such as love, care, and belief.

 

A baglama, the Turkish stringed instrument

Before writing, there was poetry so that people could remember.  The tradition in Turkish poetry and the troubadour singing that both antecedes the arrival of the Turks and probably antecedes the arrival of the Greeks, of repeating the same words comes from that time.   The beat is 2-4.  The regular simple beat reflects the past: the nomadic past, walking or riding an ungulate animal.   Troubadours composed the poetry/songs as they walked or rode across long distances.   The human mind then as now becomes bored easily.  Going across long distances, migrating across the earth with animals goes back about 13,000 years.  This is how we occupied the planet: meditating, singing, and making up poetry in our heads.

The idea of being on a road is both real – the singers were on roads, they did stop at “hanlar” or inns – and metaphorical.   The long thin road is the road to paradise, and this metaphorical road demands exquisite morality and caring.   The word “han” is related to the proto-Germanic word for home, and may be the beginning of the names for the Chinese people and their distant relatives who live in Alaska near the Canadian border.

In this ozan, the two-doored han means life.  You come in by one door and go out by the other.

The name of the road in this ozan can be translated as the long narrow road, but ince (pronounced “indje”) can also mean “fine,” as in a fine gold chain, very delicate.  The idea of the narrow (or fine, with that specific meaning of fine) gate corresponds to a passage in Matthew 7:13, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.”

Below is a literal translation.  The musicality disappears when the words are turned into English.

Uzun Ince Bir Yoldayim. 

 

I am on a long narrow road. 

 

Gidiyorum gündüz gece

I am going day and night.
Bilmiyorum ne haldeyim

I don’t know how I am.
Gidiyorum gündüz gece

I am going day and night.

Dünyaya geldiğim anda

At the same time as I was born.
Yürüdüm aynı zamanda

I walked at the same time.
İki kapılı bir handa

In the two doored inn
Gidiyorum gündüz gece

I am going day and night.

Uykuda dahi yürüyom

I am walking even asleep
Kalmaya sebep arıyom

Without stopping I look for a reason.
Gidenleri hep görüyom

I am seeing all of those who go.
Gidiyorum gündüz gece

I am going day and night.

Kırk dokuz yıl bu yollarda

Forty-nine years on these roads.
Ovada dağda çöllerde

In the lowlands, on the mountains, on the hills.
Düşmüşem gurbet ellerde

I have fallen into this place far from home.

 

Gidiyorum gündüz gece

I am going day and night

Düşünülürse derince

While thinking deeply
Irak görünür görünce

Far it seems upon seeing
Yol bir dakka miktarınca

Along the road that is a minute-long.
Gidiyorum gündüz gece

I am going day and night.

şaşar Veysel hep bu hale

Awe brings Veysel to this state
Gah ağlaya gahi güle

Crying laughing

 

Yetişmek için menzile

To arrive at the goal
Gidiyorum gündüz gece

I am going day and night

~Aşık Veysel

 

My interpretation of it into American culture is, among many possible such interpretations:

 

I am on the narrow road

 

I walk the exquisite road to paradise.

I go day and night, night and day without knowing where this road goes.

I walked it since the moment of my birth.

I don’t stop, and I can’t stop.  I look for answers.  I see all of those who leave the road.  I am on the road now for forty-nine years.

I go day and night, night and day.

 

I walk the lowlands.  I walk in the highlands and on the mountains.

I go day and night, night and day.

 

I am so far from home.  My destination seems far away but this road is only a minute long.

 

I go day and night, night and day within this two-door inn.

I think deeply.  I go day and night, night and day.

Things seem far away to me along this road that is a minute long.

 

I go day and night, night and day, filled with awe, crying and laughing both until I will reach my destination.   I go day and night, night and day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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