Sait Faik’s Istanbul

SAİT FAİK WAS AN HONORARY MEMBER OF ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST PRESTIGIOUS LITERARY SOCIETIES, THE MARK TWAIN SOCIETY. HERE IS A NOSTALGIC JOURNEY IN HIS FOOTSTEPS TO THE ISTANBUL OF HALF A CENTURY AGO.

He was called a drifter, a man who caught butterflies. He always mixed with ordinary people. He hung out in Istanbul’s back streets and on its islands. He wrote of fishermen and people who eked out a living at menial jobs. He broke a path in Turkish literature with the fabulous short stories that emanated from his solitude. On May 11, 1954, he died in the Istanbul he had come to know at the age of 17. Every year on the second Sunday in May a series of events is staged in his honor at his museum-house on the island of Burgaz. And the 58th anniversary of Sait Faik Abasıyanık’s death this year is an excellent opportunity for penetrating the soul of Istanbul.

SAİT FAİK’S PEOPLE
Sait Faik’s Istanbul dreams began in the house where he lived near the aqueduct of Valens in the district of Şehzadebaşı. During his years at Istanbul Boys’ Lycée he got to know the beauty of Burgazada where his family had a summer home. Perhaps it was also in those years that he came to love ferries. In his first book, Samovar, published in 1936, he describes Istanbul’s ferries as if he is talking about a person: “I ran into him yesterday on the Galata quay. He looked like a finely built athlete with his body of iron and steel. I rested my chin on my hand and watched him. And I fell headlong in love with that creature that swept me away.” Did he observe only ferries? No, he also loved to watch - and listen to - people, birds and street dogs. Seagulls have a special place in his work. He finds their calls sad but is even more sad when he doesn’t hear them.  He is known, for example, to have mourned the death of a lame gull. Although he studied briefly in France and Switzerland, he never lost touch with Istanbul. When he returned in 1934, his new residence was the Rumeli Apartment building on Rumeli Caddesi in Osmanbey. His outings to Beyoğlu, which he dubbed ‘a whole world’, became more frequent in those years when he spent long hours in its arcades, cinemas and pastry shops. Anyone who happened into the Atlas Arcade on Istiklal Avenue at dusk would see him there, drinking tea in one of the cafes with tiny, low stools, because cafes were a boon for Sait Faik, who was always looking for stories in people’s faces. He has this to say about coffeehouses, which he compared to universities: “You represent Istanbul - its pain and sorrow, its taste, its wisdom, its intelligence - far better than its theaters, shops and beaches, better even than its houses.”

ISLAND TIME NOW
Sait Faik awaited his guests coming to Burgazada on the quay, in a cream-colored shirt with his straw hat on his head and sandals on his feet. If his guest didn’t show up, he took a turn around the island and then returned to the quay. The writer preferred Burgaz during the last ten years of his life, saying, “I have finally returned to my true home.” Kalpazankaya where the sunset is spread before the eyes with extraordinary beauty was Saik Faik’s favorite spot on the island. He is known to have sat here for hours, writing with the lead pencil and bits of yellow paper he carried in his pocket. Sait Faik also liked to bring his friends here, and Kalpazankaya is the second venue after the museum-house where commemorations of the writer have been held since his death.  Hristos Hill, the highest point on Burgaz, is one of the places where the writer used to come to observe the surrounding area and commune with nature. Expressing his passion for literature in the words, “If I didn’t write I would go crazy,” he wrote this about the hill: “In the open air, at the seaside, on Hristos. The autumn winds are lashing the trees, the rowboats, the walls. The masts, the ropes, the clouds are swaying. The sea flows on and on.” Although Burgaz was his favorite Istanbul island, Sait Faik frequented the other islands as well. Kaşıkadası (Spoon Island) is one where he loved to go. He tells how this island, which appears often in his stories, was chock full of old Byzantine cisterns. Sait Faik writes of the lights on the rowboats catching crabs along the shore of Kaşıkadası, which he observed from beneath the towering pines on summer nights. And he describes it so that a magnificent Istanbul panorama is conjured up before the reader’s eyes.