Franny Golden Franny Golden ~ Artist

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FG: First Person
Erenkoy, Istanbul
My Kabaci and his family
Spring l993
Villa Garden, Below Istanbul	Studio
Villa Garden, Below Istanbul Studio

Three months before I vacate my studio-flat, there begns an altogether remarkable ritual: Sunday morning breakfast with my Kabaci and his wife. In most Istanbul apartment buildings there is a kabaci, literally, a gatekeeper.

Figuratively, a concierge--a servant, who lives on the premises, often in meager subterranean quarters, or in small postern structures. In addition to keeping watch, the Kabaci (and his family, if he has one) collects utility bills and rent, shops (often several times a day) for building residents, enables minor repairs, runs errands, maintains the building and its grounds, and conduits neighborhood gossip.

There are Kabacis and there are Kabacis, and not all are as enchanting, sincere, considerate, or as honest as Muharrem and his little family, who live in the cramped shed, behind the Geranium pots at the rear of our intimate ten-unit building. Since I am the neighborhood ubanci (foreigner) and--more to the point-- an unmarried woman who lives alone, everybody knows my business.

Normally, I leave a note for Muharrem outside my door, when I depart mornings. At night (when neighborhood Rumor-Control has informed my return) he schlepps the buldging bags of onions and water up to my door, rings the bell, then turns to his little red spiral notebook (curled in his hip pocket), adding-up a column of byzantine figures. Whatever he tells me, I pay. And when he has collected from all the tennants, he returns to the corner market, where the owner has his own little curled spiral notebook (in which he logs the local kabacis' IOUs). There Muharrem pays his tab. Such daily dance is always accentuated with tenor tones of football scores and neighborhood tales.

Other circumstances makes our street more intimate than most Istanbul neighborhoods: notably the residence of a retired Pasa and the twenty-four hour guards who occupy a vine-covered sentry in the building's front garden. These guards number two to twelve, depending upon the political climate of the day. The remarkable breakfast ritual has its beginnings, here: early one Sunday in late winter, in the company of the Pasha's guards.

I remember throwing up from the putrid-smelling Istanbul winter. An ugly, opaque umber sky in the looming morning agitates the saliva. I shake my head in disbelief; how much rancid coal has this city's swarms of concrete burned through the night; and how many stinking cigarettes have guards puffed in the night; and how much lead fuel has transportation suffocated through the night. I view an offensive accumulation of sulferous soot on the inside of my kitchen window sills and consider the absurd sight of my neighbor's clean laundry, hanging on the balcon next to mine--covered in coal dust.

I have trained myself to hold my breath the four flights downstairs, forever in hope of fresher air below. I have also learned why Muslim women really wear scarves (to screen their mouths and noses from the rancid smell) and why they hide thick black plastic trash bags in the pockets of their long, pleated coats (to conceal their faces while ejecting their steamy vomit).

In Istanbul winters I always wear a bandana around my neck, bandit-style, pulling it up, when the smell grows unbearable.

No amount of cover-up, though, will do that Sunday morning. Within minutes of leaving my building I pause and vomit in the presence of the eight military police who guard the Pasha's apartment building three doors from mine. My shoulders heave. My trapezius contracts. My neck jerks, and my eyes water. Out spews last night's dolmas and patlajan, this morning's fruit (including the seeds), followed by piping-hot coffee that scorches my palette. When I blink my eyes clear and begin to rummage for something with which to wipe my mouth, one of the huddled sentry guards emerges through the small garden and hurdles the iron gate with his gloved hand extended; in his splayed palm is a small package of kleenex. "Kaden," he places his camaflauged arm around my shoulder (the butt of the M-16 in his other hand, bangs my jaw.) "Gel, gel," he urges me toward the cramped, steamy, smoked-filled sentry, where the smell of foul cigarettes and nasty body odor give rise to more peristolisis and disgorging.

The young guards shake their heads and whisper in sympathic idioms. One thrusts a steamy caye glass in my bloodless hand. They chorus, in tenor voice, "Affeytodosen, getcshmish olson." I sip and translate their hushed conversations: that I am the ubange oretman who lives in Gul Apartmente, the one who makes gymnastic on the Sahil, who makes her own grocery shopping, who bleeds too much and Erol Bey drives her to hospital. I nod. The thick caye, sweet with lots of white sugar, tastes delicious.

For three years we have acknowledged each other. Now and then, they lift weights in the front garden, near the sentry. I waive my own small hand weights on my way to the Bosphorus and joke that they shouldn't smoke--at least, not while lifting weights. They laugh and waive me on. They drink caye, smoke Turkish cigarettes, read tabloids and respond to their echoing walkie talkies. I've seen them pace our one-way street, investigating stray trash and car interiors. I watch from my balcon, how they encircle the thick Pasha and his plump, coiffed wife when the couple leaves the building to climb into their tinted black Mercedes. I watch the young soldiers wash and polish that car--relentlessly--daily. I hear them signal with mouth whistles in the night. And I hear them fire their guns in the night--shooting neighborhood dogs and cats. (In the morning we see the dead animals in the curbs.)

Now, one signals his whistle a distinctive pitch, and within minutes my Kabaci appears. His hands are red raw and he smells of coal and disinfectent, which means, he's been mopping our building. We are as intimate as any Kabaci family and Ubanci can be, and I understand that he and his wife, Nasife, feel responsibe for me. This is the second time he has come to my rescue, and he thrusts a small cloth saturated with lemon scent to my face. I breath slow Yoga breaths and listen to the fugue of voices evaluating my condition: I am too thin; I have no blood; a good Turkish breakfast of feta and honey and tomatoes and brined olives and bread and much sweet caye is what the doctor will say.

It is not yet nine o'clock when Muharrem and I return to his family's wee shack out back in the garden, where sweet Nasife has already set her elaborate breakfast on a frayed card table. No one in Turkey goes hungry, I recall Ustun's words. And so begins the ritual.

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