Büyükada v. bustle

Greetings from Büyükada, the largest of the Prinkipoi, or Princes’ Islands, in the Sea of Marmara, where we sit nibbling Armenian biscuits in the white timber-fronted family home of our pal Pelin, while she translates the poems of Zöe.

We all made it somehow to a sunny, mild Istanbul – me rushing as I anticipated through terminals, explaining to every single official about the snow falling outside and how it might contribute to a lack of promptness; Canutic Richard attempting to hold back the plane while I somehow got through by a circuitous route, arriving at the Departures gate before him.

We’ve been working steadily through the first few poets with Efe, discovering as always that by following the kinks in meaning smoothed over by the preceding translator, we get closer to the feel, the actual movement of the poet’s imagination. It always takes more time than we have.

When totally baffled, we consult the wise bearded parrot who lives in the lobby of the Megara Palace Hotel. When totally exhausted, we drink our raki, listen to late night rain drum its several hundred fingers on the awning, and try to resist parodies.

This morning we dashed to Kabatash for the ferry to the islands, then watched Agia Sofia recede while thinking about the link between lighthouses and minarets; and listened to the waiter with long swept back black hair, in his shirt sleeves and a crimson waistcoat, bellowing, ‘Cappucino, Turkish coffee, salep!’ Ah, salep: the unset polyfilla of the Middle East.

The isle, which is supposed to be full of cats, brought there to be abandoned, actually features plenty of dogs, including one poor mangy golden retriever with open wounds on its side who leads the way to Pelin’s house.

She now has a three month year old baby, Idil (as in ‘idyll’), and the house, with its high panelled ceilings, helices of banisters ascending between three floors, and many paintings, is also decorated with toys, including a magnificent fluffy fish.

The Armenian biscuits, which have my full attention, are, variously, macaroons with walnuts, half moon shortbready things, and little folds or rolls filled with marmalade or, magically, lokum.

Soon – too soon – we’ll have to take the ferry home. It’s an interesting rhythm to move from intense focus to the passive business of being carried by the waves; from the somehow urban act of engaging as a team of minds with a succession of texts, to the separate serenity of a quiet room on a car-less island.

Crows call, children squabble in the street, the call to prayer goes up – then silence returns, as though this island, contrary to Caliban but in tune with our creativity, is actually full of silences.

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About Bill Herbert

Poet and pseudo-scholar W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961, educated there and at Oxford, where he completed his DPhil thesis on Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, and now lives and works in Newcastle. He is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and his books are published by, among others, northern publisher Bloodaxe Books. He is also the Dundee Makar, or city laureate.
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One Response to Büyükada v. bustle

  1. Quelle belle évocation !

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