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LISTENING FOR THE PAST:WIRELESS SETS
2001 /MARCH
On a grey winter's day in Istanbul, I was walking through the old streets of Balat on the Golden Horn. The rain was drizzling silently and the wind blew in a melancholy mood. Above the door of a dilapidated grocer's shop hung nailed old tin advertisements for fizzy lemonade. Brightly coloured washing hung on lines across the street and the smell of fried fish and freshly peeled onion pervaded the air.
I had come to visit Nusret Berisa at his repair shop here in Balat, and found him peering through his thick spectacles working on an old wireless set with almost spiritual devotion. A light bulb hanging from the ceiling cast a pallid yellow light over him and the radio. 'No radio fails to work after I've repaired it,' he declared confidently. 'I know these radios inside out, just like you know your own house.
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LISTENING FOR THE PAST:WIRELESS SETS
2001 /MARCH
I know where they were made and when, and even which craftsman did the solders. It just has to stand on my workbench once, and that is enough!'

Nusret Berisa has no time for transistor radios at all. Just as Istanbul today is a stranger to the Istanbul of his youthful days, so transistors are strangers to him.When I asked the price of these old wireless sets, he avoided the word 'price' as if it belittled them, insisting on talking about their value. It turned out that they could be bought at a 'value' of thirty to seventy million lira (45-100 dollars). On the shelves around him were scores of old radios. Perhaps this place was the last where they would be regarded with the respect they had enjoyed when they were new.

'You can get old appliances going again, but you cannot bring back the past,' said Nusret Berisa thoughtfully. 'I have lived in Istanbul as long as I can remember. I love the past, not the present.
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LISTENING FOR THE PAST:WIRELESS SETS
2001 /MARCH

I miss caramel sweets, oldfashioned lemonade, horse-drawn carriages decorated for feast days, the market gardens full of cos lettuces, the days when no one walked through Beyoglu without a tie, the way people smiled in greeting at complete strangers, and the beauty of Cahide Sonku as a young girl. Every time I hear clear sound coming out of a radio I have repaired, the past seems to come alive again. It happens every time. That is the joy I get out of it. Perhaps I am deluding myself, but what is that to anyone else!'

As he talked his tired eyes shone with memories of the past: the days when dolphins wintered in the Golden Horn and snow lay knee deep in the streets; spring months when the lindens, judas trees, clematis and basil bloomed luxuriantly in the large gardens around the old houses; Greek girls with pearly complexions walking along the seashore, and clumsy rowing boats with peeling paint crisscrossing the waterway between Fener and Kasimpasa.

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LISTENING FOR THE PAST:WIRELESS SETS
2001 /MARCH

He recalls evenings at Kilburnu Café on the edge of the water between the two quays, its coloured lights glittering and gramophone music playing out onto the shimmering sea, which echoed to the faint sounds of oldfashioned Turkish songs.He sighed sadly. 'The Golden Horn was not stagnant and polluted like it is now, when people turn their heads away as they cross it. The finest mussels and red mullet were caught here. And in my youth a girl's parents would ask if a prospective son-in-law had a radio before they would consent to the marriage.'

In Balat's heyday there were large Greek and Jewish communities in this area. At the Byzantine Agora Tavern the customers would sit at wooden tables drinking the so-called 'blood wine' with meze and listening to the music of Hamiyet Yuceses.

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LISTENING FOR THE PAST:WIRELESS SETS
2001 /MARCH

The brass door knockers were brightly polished, the Jewish tradesmen looked out from their shops with smiles, and geraniums and four-o'clock flowers adorned the balconies.
That was a time when the family wireless set had pride of place in the house.
A damp chill filled the air of the shop. Nusret Berisa got back to work on the radio, whose brand-name had long since broken off. The silence was suddenly broken by a strange crackling sound, and the dark tuning panel shone green. A presenter's voice resounded through the workshop: 'Now we present folksongs and folkdance tunes...'
Nusret Berisa's face lit up with the joy of bringing the dead radio alive again. He hurriedly sat down, his fingers trembling slightly. As if revealing a secret he had kept to himself for years, he confided: 'I am seeking the past, the radios are just an excuse.'

Selahattin Ayyildiz is a journalist.

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