Asian Journey (2)-Maden Daği

Among my dog-eared souvenirs

In our travels we would occasionally meet people who, once they had ascertained that we were actually English, would delight in impressing us with their own versions of famous speeches from William Shakespeare et al… One of these was an elderly gentleman who was the principal receptionist at the hotel where we stayed, in Istanbul, this first year of our joint travels – the Hotel Sumer in Gedik Paşa.

Gedik Paşa is an area of the city not far from the famed hippy-haunt of Sultanahmet, and close by the equally well-known Grand Bazaar – or Kapali Çarsi, to give it its Turkish name.

“Aah, ‘To be or not to be – to be, to be true'”, this gentleman would intone each time we passed his desk on entering or leaving the hotel. As we would find again years later with another acquaintance, who inflicted a different but similarly grievous act of sabotage on the same quote – attempts at correction were futile.

“No, ‘To be or not to be, that is the question!'”, we would say with increasing desperation as the days went by. “Yes meester, thank you. Aah, ‘To be or not to be – to be, to be true'” would come the reply.

But the memory from Turkey that has lingered longest, is the music – broadcast continuously on long-distance coaches as you are carried from one city to the next, spilling out from shop doorways, orchestrated or simply sung… an outpouring of the soul of a people, a whole new world of sound to the western ear.

On one early morning walk in the vicinity of the Hotel Sumer, we were making some enquiries in a workshop where there was a printing machine, being operated by a young man who was singing a plaintive song to himself. Long before the days of the ubiquitous mobile phone, we nevertheless had with us a miniature dictaphone, and were able to make the following impromptu recording of voice and accompanying printing press:

Travelling further east from Istanbul we arrived, after a two day coach trip, at the city of Erzurum, in the north east of Turkey, over towards the Iranian border. It was the late afternoon, daylight was fading, and just as we entered an interesting, slightly gloomy-looking waiting-room/cafeteria, attached to the concourse of Erzurum bus station, the lights suddenly went out! Assured as we were by all and sundry that it was only a temporary power failure, nothing to worry about, still we decided – after some ten minutes had passed – to try our luck in the town itself which, sitting not so very far off, could be seen basking in the light denied us at the bus-station!

In the town we soon ran into an office which was a sort of provincial out-post of the tourist industry that had, as it seemed, sprung up to service the needs of the India-by-land devotees who for many years (it was by now already 1978) had been passing across Turkey, en route to those glittering destinations of Kabul and Kathmandu.

Sensing a rather cynical attitude to us, we made our own way through the narrow streets in the twilight, finding eventually an invitingly unpretentious small hotel of the type we always looked for, catering to the nomadic workforce of a still largely pre-industrial economy, and clearly not aimed at the tourist trade.

As the evening wore on, a drama developed around a rather rough-looking countryman who it seemed was not welcome to stay at the hotel – whether because he couldn’t afford a bed for the night, or for some other more obscure reason, we never discovered. He was ejected, and walked away, but some time later returned to the street, and through an open window- from the lane outside – serenaded those of us inside with a song. He seemed to melt the hearts of the management, and of another guest in particular, because he soon resumed his place in the small room which served as a foyer, and continued his song, alternating his vocal with periodic bursts on an improvised comb-and-tissue-paper instrument – eventually retiring to the room that had been given to him for the night.

The song had a striking and memorable chorus, “Deloy loy, deloy loy..”, which lodged itself somewhere in our heads. A few years later, on another stay in Turkey, we happened to make friends with the owner of a music shop selling cassettes of Turkish popular music, in the night-club area of Istanbul called Beyoğlu. On an impulse Mike chanted “Deloy loy, Deloy loy….”, and asked our new friend if he recognized that snatch of music. “You mean Maden daği!” he said triumphantly, and produced a vinyl single from one of the racks, which he then played for us. It was the same song.

Cassette of traditional songs by Izzet Altinmeşe,, from the same period as his first recording of Maden Daği

Having only the one disc left, he ran us off a copy of the song on a spare cassette, and also sold us a different cassette from the same singer, Izzet Altinmeşe. Time and wear over the years have rendered these cassettes unplayable, but by a miracle of the modern world, the same recordings can be heard today on YouTube – as can a later, more upmarket version of Maden Daği , sung again by the same Izzet Altinmeşe (unsurprisingly, a little older now).

Does the autobus still drive two days and nights along those partially unmade roads from Istanbul to Erzurum? And does the bus driver’s son still come round with little glasses of Turkish tea for the assembled passengers, at one of the periodic refreshment breaks? Or has that world disappeared forever? I’m not sure I really want to know.


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