Friday, May 30, 2008

Dispatch from Istanbul

Friday to Sunday, I had a very spiritual experience in Istanbul. As I wrote in my Overcoming Jet Lag blog entry, taking the road less traveled and sharing time with the people of a country rather than sitting in a tour bus makes a difference.

Searching on the Internet for Turkish Flute makers, I found Rifat Varol, a master player and Ney maker in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul. I emailed him and he agreed to meet me at the Firuz Aga Mosque so that we could share each other's traditional flute experiences. I told him that finding me would be easy - I would be in the door of the mosque, wearing all black and holding a Japanese flute. We met and went for tea, a great Turkish social tradition. We drank our team in a public meeting place with a domed ceiling that had perfect acoustics. I played Choshi and Banshiki on my 1.8 Shakuhachi in the key of D. He played a variety of traditional Turkish pieces on a Kiz Ney (key of B) and the longer Mansur Ney (key of A). We then tried playing to together using his Sipürde Ney (key of D), which matched the tone of my flute perfectly. The result was a harmonious blending of the two very different flute sounds. The Ney is a 5000 year old instrument and may very well have been the predecessor to the Japanese flute, having traveled as part of the spice and porcelain trade to China, then Japan. Rifat tried to play my flute and I tried to play his flute, with similar results - no sound. The Ney is blown from the side with a kissing-like position of the lips. The shakuhachi is end blown with flat pursed lips and small embesure. After an hour of practice, I was able to make a few notes. I purchased a Mansur Ney from Rifat and will carry it back to Boston, where I've identified a local Massachusetts Ney master to teach me the way of the Ney. I may not be a nay sayer, but someday I may be a ney player.

I also had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Dr. Heath Lowry, the Attaturk Professor of Ottoman History from Princeton, who is on sabbatical in Turkey. We met in the Istanbul suburb of Kabatas, and drove up the Bosphorus, half way to the Black Sea to Emirgan, where he lives. It's a amazing to travel the Bosphorus realizing that one side of river is Europe and the other side of the river is Asia. I learned a great deal about the history of the area, from Constantine to the Ottoman Empire to the Republic of Turkey.

Eating vegan in Turkey (that sounds a bit unusual) was easy - many tomato, cucumber, eggplant, olive, and mushroom dishes, accompanied by great fresh breads are available in most restaurants.

I explored the most famous sights in Istanbul - the Blue Mosque, the Aya Sofia church, the Topkapi palace, Basilica Cistern, the Archaeology/Ceramic/Ancient Orient museums, the covered bazaar, the Golden Horn waterways, the Galata Tower and numerous small mosques, sidestreets, and shops, traveling by local tram, bus, metro. The Istanbul area is very easy to navigate with many signs in English, a very welcoming people, and modern infrastructure.

Since I visit a new world city every May as a part of my teaching for Harvard Medical International, I'm thinking next year will be Budapest. I'll try to arrange a meeting with Bán György a master furulya (hungarian wooden flute) maker to arrange another cross cultural traditional flute experience.

Back to Boston in time for Monday meetings and given that I've followed my own jet lag rules, hopefully I'll be coherent.


Mark Turuk said...

"Since I visit a new world city every May as a part of my teaching for Harvard Medical International, I'm thinking next year will be Budapest. I'll have to find an Ocarina maker..."

There is a potential Ocarina of Time / in Time pun here somewhere...

Nevermind, you would have to be a Zelda fan too. ;)

Jeff O'Connor said...

I am so jealous, John! I have always wanted to visit Turkey, and I would have, too, if my family hadn't been reassigned to the United States in the summer of 1988.

It's a long story.

You need a Flickr account!