Şakir Eczacıbaşı

Much has been written in the wake of the cultural figure, Şakir Eczacıbaşı, who died at the end of January. It is time now to hear the story straight from the horse’s mouth.

Board Chairman since 1993 of the Istanbul Foundation of Culture and Arts (IKSV), writer, photographer, businessman and cultural figure Şakir Eczacıbaşı died on January 23 of this year. Much has been written since his death; everyone who knew him has spoken up. And it is time now to hear what the man himself has to say.

Şakir Bey collected his memoirs in a volume titled ‘Friendships, Associations, Testimonials’, published by Remzi Kitabevi. He describes the book, the fruit of three years of work, in one of the last interviews he gave: “I actually thought for a long time about whether to write it or not. But I had seen and lived through so much that in the end I decided to write it for two reasons: First, memoirs are at the same time essays. If people write about the experiments they did and the results they obtained, they give other people, especially young people, an opportunity to consider such things. I thought that I too had new thoughts and ideas I could share. The second reason was that the proceeds from the book would go to theCulture and Arts Foundation.

The Istanbul Foundation of Culture and Arts was indeed very close Şakir Eczacıbaşı’s heart. After having taken a close interest in the ‘Deniz Palas’,(Sea Palace) the Foundation’s new building at Şişhane whose restoration took three and a half years, he could rest easy even though he was unable to be present at the building’s opening due to ill health. And so shall he remain in rest now as the festival and other events continue apace...

There was a small stone-paved area just inside the door. In the summer after I started elementary school, I got the idea of opening a painting exhibition there. I told a couple friends in the neighborhood about my idea, and they rolled up their sleeves to help me and together we started getting the exhibition ready. We didn’t have enough pictures of our own to open an exhibition, so we went from door to door around the neighborhood looking at pictures by other kids and taking the ones were thought were good... We invited the neighborhood grocer, Ahmet Efendi, the baker and his apprentices, as well as our mother, Melih, Haluk, Fatma, Rashel and our cook Emine Hanım and our friends’ mothers and fathers to the opening.

We scheduled the opening for eight o’clock in the morning when my father left the house to go to the pharmacy. We had swept the stone area clean as a whistle, set up straight chairs in view of the two walls and placed a small table in front of them. On the table I had arranged the scissors from my mother’s sewing box and two crystal candy dishes full of chocolates from the guest room. We had stretched a red ribbon given to us by the grocer Ahmet Efendi across the doorway and fastened it at both ends. We also made a sign announcing the exhibition on a big piece of cardboard and hung it on the door: Children’s painting exhibition. We would like to see you there.” I asked my father to give the opening talk.
My father arrived at the door on the stroke of eight. After making a short speech about the benefits of children engaging in such activities, he cut the ribbon and opened the exhibition. The guests applauded his speech and then looked around at the pictures and congratulated us.

The exhibition stayed open for two weeks. We went up to everyone that passed by and got them to come in by offering them chocolates. I believe they came more to eat the chocolates than to see the exhibition! We held children’s exhibitions for three years. They were my first exhibitions.

It was September 1941. I was about to start middle school. I was climbing the hill to Robert College with my mother. An inscription in English was carved into a stone bench at the foot of a cypress tree where we sat down to rest. ‘Mankind is above all the nations in the world,’ it read. Those words were my first lesson at Robert College and they would never leave me as long as I lived.

Ara was a Leica buff and he turned us all into Leica buffs as well. Whenever he saw somebody with some other camera, he would say “Are you going to take photographs with that toy?” According to him, the Leica was the Rolls Royce of cameras. When our photographer friend Şemsi Güner considered getting a large format Linhof, which is used more for studio shoots, he asked Ara, “Does Guntenbein (the Leica representative in Turkey) sell Linhofs too?” And Ara replied, “No, he doesn’t sell trucks!” The day I bought a Leica from Guntenbein, I asked Ara to show me its features and we wandered around the streets together for a few hours while I watched him use it. Later when my photos were exhibited and published and people asked him about them, he would always begin by saying, “Şakir is my most talented assistant!”

The great culinary maestro Pandeli transformed cooking into an art. When his restaurant at the fish market in Eminönü was destroyed by fire on the night of September 6-7, 1955, he was so distraught that he vowed in a statement to the press never to open another restaurant in Istanbul. (The Eminönü fish market was cleared away in the mid-1950’s to make way for the road to Unkapanı.)

As soon as Prime Minister Adnan Menderes heard about Pandeli’s decision, he called the governor of Istanbul province, Dr. Fahrettin Kerim Gökay, and told him, “Pandeli mustn’t go anywhere. Find him a place and make sure he continues in his profession.” Gökay in turn made a deal with Leblebi Mehmet, who ran a restaurant in the Egyptian Bazaar and agreed to turn it over to Pandeli.

All his life Pandeli was offered brilliant recommendations by Turks as well as foreigners.

One day when I went to his restaurant at the fish market, an American was there, showering Pandeli with praise and saying:
“I’ve been to a lot of restaurants all over the world. But I’ve never eaten such good food as I have here. Why is this great maestro stuck in such a place? I’d like to go fifty-fifty with him and open a restaurant at the most popular location in New York City. I’d make the entire investment and would not bother him with the business side of it. I’m a well-to-do businessman. We’re going to make a lot of money, trust me...”

I was acting as interpreter. “Tell the gentlemen thank you very much,” replied Pandeli, “but where am I going to get the necessary ingredients?”
“I’ll have them brought in fresh daily by air.”

“Can food be made with vegetables brought in by air? Every morning I personally select meat from the butcher, fish from the fishmonger, and fruit and vegetables from the wholesale market. I know exactly where they have come from. A lovely rose only grows in the soil it loves...”

To which the American replied, “If you want something badly enough, a solution can be found. But I see that Mr. Pandeli is not willing to take some initiative and get rich. He is content to work in this old, tumbledown place.”

Pandeli turned to me. “These businessmen don’t understand cooking,” he said. “They think it’s simply a matter of money.”