On the third night of Şevval in the month of October the city of Constantinople, whose fame had spread with great fanfare and felicity to the world’s four corners and seven seas, lay sprawled like a slumbering colossus beneath a canopy of cimmerian cloud.
The date was approximately 1080 years after the faithful of our Lord the Prophet and his holy book were forced by Mecca’s idolators to embark on their hijrah to Medina. This corresponds, we can say, to 1670 years after the time of Jesus, May his Name be Praised!
A wildly gusting wind that had been wreaking havoc in the sky since first light suddenly slowed and dropped. The heavy theatre curtain of cloud parted and the full moon’s silver light poured down like a waterfall over Galata and bathed in a sublunary glow the majestic buildings of the Arab Mosque, the churches of Surp Krikor and Aya Nikola with its soaring tower and pitch black stone parapets that had cost the Genoese merchants dear at 48,000 gold pieces. In the silence left behind by the baying wind an owl shook it’s wings as it roosted on the crescent that topped the minaret of the Kılıç Ali Paşa mosque.
Oh! If it were only possible to hear the silence and to see in the dark, then we would hear the clack-clack of the prayers beads of believers, the hurls coming from the chest of the drunk bequeathing his meal to the pavement at the corner and the whispers pouring off the lips of invokers of magic tucked away in darkened recesses. We would see the eyes shining in the light that streams from the fortunes made of tens of thousands of gold pieces, the red lamps hung at the doors of dens of vice that tinkled with coquettish laughter and we would make out the gleaming blades pulled out by dirty hands on deserted street corners. Were the full moon that night to slip once again behind the black curtain of cloud, the district of Galata would not be plunged into darkness; because from within the many double padlocked iron chests hidden in the blackest vaults of stone-built houses the pale glow of ill-omen that flowed from the hundreds of thousands of Florins, Viennese Ducats and Hungarian Zloty continued to light up ever-hungering eyes and to warm up solid cold hearts.
At that time of night a money lender was busy at work shovelling the gold in his vault to make way for the takings of that day. Little did he know, singing a lively song as he worked, that each and every one of these gold pieces could tell a story of its own, however tragic it may be.
The Viennese Ducat, for example, that lay under the foot of this avaricious fellow was a fortune saved up over 9 years of hard toil by a street porter named Big Migirdiç and had remained sown into his waistcoat for the next 40 years. On becoming confined to his bed, as a result of so many years of back-breaking labour, Big Migirdiç used this gold piece to pay off his bill, acquired over a period of four years at Karagöz Kirami Efendi’s grocery store on Voyvoda street. This coin was added to 18 others in the purse of the grocer and was soon passed on to join the tens of thousands lying in the vault of the money lender. However, the grocer was unable to pay the remaining half of his debt and was imprisoned in Galata jail for nine long years.
One should mention though that life was not all kindness to the money lenders of Galata. Take for example the case at the docks of Galleon Clerk Yağlıkazık Recep Ağa, who had taken out a debt to build his son-in-law a wooden house at Azap Gate. In order to get out of repaying his debt he bribed the Head Chandler to set his guards on the money lender Salamon Efendi. After ordering him to write off the debt of the Galleon Clerk the Guards persisted in hammering upon his door each time they made their rounds and extorted a small fortune from him over a number of years. Over time his treasury decreased in size from 100,013 to 99,997 gold pieces.
Once his fortune had fallen from six to five figures the poor fellow suffered a nervous breakdown and made the first fiscal miscalculation of his life. He took upon the idea that his fortune had diminished by a sixth, the shock of which caused him to undergo divine enlightenment. He decided to make donations to his poor brothers of the faith and made a promise to the Rabbi that he would send donations every Saturday of 3-5 coin, delivered by his own five year old son. Whether held in strongboxes or just in dreams, money is money. In the district of Galata there was not one man from the shipowner to the landlord, the drunkard to the devout and the nightwatchman to the Chief Guard who did not spend his days in pursuit of money and who could not be bought and sold. Well, apart from the Crazy Carpenter!
(c) İhsan Oktay Anar 2005
(c) Translation Caroline Stockford 2013
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Copyright: (c) İletişim Publications, 2005, Istanbul. Currently in its 12th edition.
|Yayın No||İletişim – 1116|
|Dizi||Çağdaş Türkçe Edebiyat – 155|
|Baskı||12.Baskı Şubat 2013, İstanbul (1.Baskı Ekim 2005, İstanbul|