As the days go by…
DIARIES FROM SPLIT
The light of Split
“You sometimes meet people you had no intention of meeting, or go places you had never
thought you’d be going. One autumn seven years ago, two friends and I were on a tour of
the Balkans when we had found ourselves in Split. It could have been on the way; we were going to stop there briefly before continuing on to Zagreb. Hakan parked the car we had rented from Sarajevo, and we strolled through the deserted autumn painting that was Split in November.
I said an autumn painting; I could have said a migration painting. There are places that when summer leaves, almost all life leaves; there is summer and only summer. Am I dismayed at this? From an utterly selfish point of view, no; but I know the summer is the fruit, the tree, the blue, the good, the pretty, the love when it comes to children, youth and women.
That’s why I would rather it didn’t end. But it does, and when it does, my own summer
begins: autumn. You could love autumn for a leaf, or in absence of mind. Seven years ago,
I had loved autumn because of Split’s own state. It is a blessing that the group of people we call ‘tourists’ simply tour and love and go, and not try to settle. Had the tourist been a settler, we could find no town that we could love, miss, and be left alone with, even if only in our dreams.
We spent two days in Split and saw that the autumn had a different sea and sky. I called
it the autumn light; it shines just where summer meets autumn and has more in the way of
autumun than summer. How do I know? I don’t; but as an autumn’s child, you sometimes
remember yourself and want to remind the autumn: “Am I not your son?” When in Turkey,
I had written on the lights of 40 cities I had seen around the world, and now I understand
that cities exist with their lights; we love them and we miss them with their lights. I miss
Barcelona with its light, and I miss Istanbul. This tells me that I pine for some cities for their people, and some for their light.
You could be attracted to another person’s darkness as well as their light. It is not always
summer’s light that blinds our eye; sometimes autumn’s light blinds our heart. That light
will awaken and shine again every now and then. If man does not forget that light, the light will one day reilluminate his heart and his eyes. We are back in Split where we had just stopped over 7 years ago; back then, we were not ‘tourists’ but ‘transients,’ now we are still not ‘tourists’ but ‘residents.’ Not for too long; we will reside for 1 month.
Autumn light is also poetic light, or they have some brotherhood of light between them.
Love, poetry and light. Don’t you feel the color, sound, fluidity and affinity of autumn light in all of them too? Autumn light shines the most on poetry, I think. In the summer, when Sezer Duru asked me whether I’d travel to Split in the autumn, I was blinded by that autumn light once more. ‘Yes,’ I said right away; ‘autumn and Split; I’d travel to both.’ We arrived on September 15 and we return on October 15. I wish it were a little later; a little more autumn, a little more light, autumn light.
I will write at length about Split in the December issue of Varlık. Last summer, my dear
friend and a master of the written word and literature as proven by her latest novel Civan, Müge İplikçi had visited Split. This is the ‘Writers in Residence’ program of two translation initiatives, Traduki and Udruga Kurs, that extends to 30 writers and poets from Turkey and Eastern Europe. Writers spend a month in the city and find the opportunity to write. The program is managed by two great people: Maja and Edi. In return, Croatian writers and poets visit Istanbul and stay in Galata.
At Diskursjia, the reading and discussion event in Split, I quoted a story from Müge İplikçi’s
column in the Vatan daily: The Mayor of Split regards all writers as ‘poets who can’t make
money.’ He asks every writer he meets how many books he has written and how much
money he has made, and then makes profit and loss calculations like a businessman. I quoted this from Müge, and then said, ‘I hope the Mayor isn’t aware that I am here.’ It turns out his wife was there; we met.
Autumn light will see us off from Split. The Mayor will never understand why ‘poets’ never
make any money. How do you make money out of autumn light anyway?”
The part above had appeared in my column in Cumhuriyet, and this is the Split article I had promised there. I –or we– lived Split under autumn light, but it seems like Split is summer light for most. Perhaps it has some “lightinbetween” as there is both sun and shade, dark and dawn. Perhaps that is what I like; that is the illusion I have come to know as autumn light. No matter. Neither autumn nor summer would take offense at that. That won’t be a mistake; just a reflection of two opposites.
Back in Turkey, I revisited that piece on “light” in my book EskiYazı. This is what I had
written in the piece titled “Journey to the Cities of Ithaca” (why hadn’t I titled it “Journey to the Lights of Ithaca”?): “SPLIT: I feel like not every city –it would have been great if all did– but some cities decide on where they will call at, where they will settle, what area they will look best in by themselves. I say this mostly for the Spanish cities I have seen so far, and now for Split. It is both like the İzmir in Croatia, and, also like İzmir, it somehow remains independent. It is as if it too has chosen not to make a commitment to anything or anyplace other than itself. I can’t say it it committed to itself either. It is not trying too much; it could quickly tire of itself if it did. I like these cities, they make you resemble them in a matter of days, and even transients end up diligently, noncommittally laidback.
Split is calling you, my soul; I know that you feel like it too.”
To feel like: you sometimes “feel like” a city; just like you “feel like” a friend that we have missed for too long, or a beloved. Like someone close. Maybe we haven’t told them, but we have promised ourselves that we would go see them again. Even if we haven’t told them, do they secretly, fleetingly expect us to revisit them? This is pleasant even if it is a misconception. Maybe we should call that a misconviction; something that you’d like to convince yourself but doesn’t depress you, exhaust you, devastate or scare you, break you. In a way, it is like saying “That’s how it must have happened.”
Just when I was feeling like Split, Sezer Duru asked me whether I’d go there, and I had
thought “Split was on time” like Heinrich Böll’s The Train Was On Time, just there and then.
It was summer when Sezer asked, but it was as if autumn had descended instantly. It was as if the journey had already started and we had already started on the journey.
Journey and man: brothers in fluidity. Two good things that are similar in nature, that are
both fluid in nature. They could flow side by side, together, face to face, within each other, lip to lip. We could call the journey our nature, our fluidity, our flow. First we dream about it, then we do it. Split is one of the goodnatured cities too. It settled on the coastline so that its brethren could see it as they passed, because it would be dismayed if its brethren were to pass by and not see it. You could cross waters to be brothers with it; or you could cross plains, meadows and hills. Whatever the way, it will greet you with its blue nature.
Bluenatured Split. Maybe I made this up after seeing Split, or maybe I made this up just
for it. The simplicity, genuineness, openness, oldness, newness, complete contention with
being a part of all times, being an almost “retrocity”, and of course sharing the silence with men, women, girls, boys and children like breaking a secret. A secret could not be shared more than this. Can a secret ever be shared? Yes if you are in Split; you will share it and, uncannily, it will remain a secret. I don’t know if I will be able to share Split with you, with the inspiration I got from there.
Traduki and KursTraduki is an organization that aims to build cultural ties across Eastern Europe. Its main
contributors are Germany and Austria. One of the larger institutions funding Traduki is
Germany’s leading publisher S. Fischer, and they are one of the reasons Turkey is included in this project because S. Fischer is closely interested in literature in Turkey.
Other large supporters of Traduki are the Robert Bosch Stiftung, Austrian Kulturkontakt, and
the foreign affairs ministries of Germany and Austria.
The Udruga Kurs in Split is the Croatian chapter of Traduki, and aims to build bridges
between Balkan countries, or rather, their languages. There is a writer exchange program.
While they were sending 20 writers from 12 countries to various other places, they invited some to Split. I met a poet and a novelist who had visited Istanbul. I met Branko Cegec, who had stayed at the writers’ house in Galata last year at the Voix Vives–From the Mediterranean to the Mediterranean poetry festival in Sete this summer. He is a very
important and famous poet. He lives in Zagreb and publishes a journal called “Tema.”
After that encounter in August, I met my peer Branko again in October, at the “Ars Poetica” international poetry festival in Bratislava, Slovakia. The other guest is the novelist Renato Baretic, who stayed in Galata this summer. Renato is a very good and a bestselling novelist who lives in Split.
I was sent to Kurs by Sezer Duru, dubbed a “true cultural ambassador” by Müge İplikçi and I think everyone else in literature, because she is the representative of Traduki in Turkey. Kurs is led by Maja Vrancic and Edi Matic. Edi is a writer and photographer, and Maja is also a photographer. One of Edi Matic’s stories was printed in the August issue of Varlık. Titled “Flowing Conversation,” the story was translated by Mehmet Işıker.
Maja had told us that the trip from Zagreb to Split took 5 to 6 hours by bus.
Kurs is, like I said above, the initiative that invited me, meaning that I went to Split for Kurs.
On the morning of Saturday, September 15, we flew Turkish Airlines to Zagreb, where we
boarded a bus for Split. It is a long trip, yet utterly short! It is a trip in fluidity; or rather,
the road was flowing like water and life was flowing along both sides; life and mountains,
pastures, villages, plains, valleys and the tired cliché of “breathtaking” marinelands – islands, islets.
Six years ago, my friends and I we had arrived in Split from Dubrovnik. Of the two cities
that are worlds apart, one proud and the other, shall we say, haughty, we had liked the
former better, of course. After an aloof city like Dubrovnik, Split had felt like our own
neighborhood. That is why I liken Split to İzmir; that is why I love it all the time and praise it out of nowhere. Besides, as you approach Split, you get closer to Zagreb as well, and I have always loved Zagreb – who wouldn’t, with the “Lili Marlene song playing on Zagreb radio,” with Attila İlhan writing its poem and Ahmet Kaya singing its song?
There are few cities and towns where the sea and the land, or the inside and the outside of the blue are so close, warm and friendly to each other. Two siblings, one who chose to be the sea, the other to remain on land so that they would never be too far from each other. Two sisters, even. Look at one from the other, or from the eyes of the other, and you will see them wink at each other, look at one another with love and warmth. You will have your share of that joy and beauty – a brother’s share. Remember how I said Split makes you resemble her in a matter of days? She makes him her brother. I now consider myself Split’s blue brother.
Dearest Maja, the director of Kurs, greeted us. She’s absolutely a summer woman; from her floral dress to sandals, from the way she talks to the way she smiles, she is summer light. I was traveling with my wife İdil and daughter Nar, and we had an assortment of suitcases and bags with us when we left the bus terminal near the port and entered through the gates of the old town in great anticipation. We had stayed here the last time we were in Split. We were to find out that the Croatians called this place “centar.” The old town is the city center. We settled in a small, twofloor house with a courtyard. Maja paid my royalty up front, in the Croatian currency Kuna which will no longer be in circulation as of July next year. Croatia too becomes a full member of the EU in June 2013. Here’s wishing half the same on us, but which half, I can’t say.
The first thing we did next morning was to visit the marketplace I’d been to last time. The “green market” opens every morning seven days a week, and closes at 1 pm. They sell every imaginable fruit, vegetable, bread, cake and pastry, and the merchants are women. A great majority of them; about 90%. We ended up visiting the market every day, so the merchant women came to know Nar and would sometimes offer her a fruit or a handful of nuts. And Nar with her tiny hands was taking photos of the “grannies”; this was a project she needed to complete with her mother. At first she was shy and uncertain, but once she saw that the grannies were eagerly and happily posing for the camera, she started shooting with ease.
Who knows, maybe the next time we visit Split, we’ll have an exhibition of Nar’s “Grannies at the Market” photos right there in the marketplace! It would be very appropriate to the subject of the collection, and we would get to see the beloved Split of Croatia, which will require visas starting next July.
Later on, the Croatian national TV station HRT made an interview with me; I spoke of Split’s light and told them I loved the marketplace the most, so some of the shooting was there, while Nar and I bought things from merchant grannies. Split’s light was autumn light, but the market’s light was green light. There was another light in Split, which as Müge İplikçi puts it, is a city of old stones – the “light of the stones.” This was not as bright as it was in Dubrovnik, because there the light is that of “new stones” and it is garish and blinding; while in Split, the stone light of the city with four gates had been glowing since much earlier, almost in the way of a lighthouse. It was a drop of light, not bright but dreamy, raining on the past and the present, the sea and the Marjan forest.
Split in the eyes of the tourist
If you think that I’ve felt like a tourist for half the month I spent in Split and like a poet and writer for the other half, you would be wrong; you feel like a resident, a denizen of Split!
That is why you can do away with bold objectives like conquering the city and discovering its secrets, and actually enjoy the city.
What I loved the most there were, of course, the streets of the old city where we stayed, its buildings, gates, the fish market, the low prices of fish and seafood, the taste of breads, the deliciousness of pastries, the sweetness of cakes, the Fife restaurant on the coastline – both a tourist attraction and impeccable cuisine, the hills of Marjan, Hvar and Brac islands, and particularly Bene. Not to mention the serenity, warmth and helpfulness of its people. It’s nigh on impossible to live in Split and not be serene.
In case you were wondering what Bene was, let me explain: In Split, I saw buses that were
older than the veteran (in both senses!) streetcars going around the Field Marshall Tito
Avenue in Sarajevo, and I doubt I will ever be able to see older buses. Bene was a 15minute ride away on one of these buses. I was overjoyed because the place reminded me of old Yugoslavia. It looks like a resort built for working people to take some rest, have some fun, swim and stroll around in forests. We went to Bene almost every weekend and kept our longing for old Yugoslavia alive. We weren’t alone in this matter: the writers we spoke to and the directors of Kurs shared our sentiments. The only gift I bought myself in Croatia was the album of Tito I bought from the Stari Grad Island, which we reached with a 30minute bus ride from the overly opulent, highsociety island of Hvar. Looking at Tito, I reminisced about and pined for Yugoslavia. In bitterness, I thought of how a country was divided and another attempt at socialist autonomy was stifled.
As I said, Hvar was more like an island for the glitterati. It was beautiful but too American;
there were few Europeans there. We asked around; there were tourists from Australia and
New Zealand as well. I feel like they are the same thing; those places are like America and
those people like Americans. Hvar was sort of a capitalist island. Stari Grad, on the other
hand, seemed like it was preserving its socialist identity – socialism being but an island
lately. I would choose Stari Grad. Considering that I bought the Tito photo album from
a used bookstore there, we could say that socialism lives on on some islands. Visiting old
socialist capitals makes me excited yet dejected; that is why I love Zagreb.
Split: This city feels like an outdoor cinema. There were outdoor summer cinemas in Turkey in my childhood and youth; I think we fell asleep on the seats and lived the rest of the film in our dreams. Does Split have an outdoor cinema? I did not see. I wish there were; it would suit the city well. I saw a film at the Split Film Festival; it was about the old Split, and its director was a resident of Split.
Meeting with the Croatian President
I met with Edi or Maja frequently at Gallerjia, the café in the Museum of Modern Arts. In
one of those meetings, Edi told us to be in town on Friday because the “president” would visit. I thought of Alida Bremer, the president of Traduki; to tell you the truth, I never thought of a president of the republic. The next day I asked him whether the “president” was the President of Croatia, and they said yes.
Kurs also has a project aimed at photographers, who come to spend time in the city with
the support of the Austrian Kulturvermittlung Steiermark. A French photographer was
visiting between September 15 and October 15, when I was there. President Ivo Josipoviç
visited the residence he was staying at, and there was a small gathering of Traduki and Kurs directors, my EnglishtoCroatian interpreter Katja Grcic and some journalists. The President stayed for half an hour, spoke to Henry the photographer and me. Kurs directors told him about their latest work. A President who is a professor of law, a man of arts, a composer, pianist and socialist. That last part made me doubly happy: I had had all sorts of presidents, including junta leaders, but never a socialist one, and I was not likely to have one in the future.
I started a children’s/youth novel in Split. This will be my first novel and its title will be
something like The Istanbul of Two Children, after the novel that was my childhood favorite, Le Tour du monde de deux enfants. I wrote a few pages; I intend to finish it in Istanbul this winter.
Nar is five years old. She went to the Kam Hram Circus School, an alternative civic center
in Split. She hopped, she jumped, she climbed, she rolled. I think she made the most of
I think just the residents and poets remain in Split in November. Next time, I want to visit
in winter or November; perhaps this time the city will enchant me with its winter light.
Besides, it’s a great place for retirement. The sea, the woods, the coast, the serenity; plus it’s inexpensive. This could all change after EU, of course. Anyway, I couldn’t find a better place to write retirement poems than Split. Going to Split is the same thing as going to İzmir!
I should conclude this essay like my friend Müge İplikçi, who had gone to Split last summer,
concluded hers: Hvala Split! (Thank you, Split!)