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Without whose enduring friendship I would never have gone or returned to Turkey




A Love Affair

Dan Elliott



without whose enduring friendship I would never have gone or returned to Turkey

and for


who found the same and a very different country

Table of Contents

Sailing to Byzantium


William Butler Yeats

A Few Notes about Turkish (




Turkey 1977-8

Journey East 1985

Sea Coasts 1989

West to East and Back 2002

The Tour Guide 2004

No Country for Old Men 2011

Why Has Your Hair Turned White, My Friend

Sailing to Byzantium by William Butler Yeats

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

A Few Notes about Turkish (



Turks insist that their language is the hardest on earth to learn. As one who has formally studied it and some Russian, Spanish, and German, I can state that it is undoubtedly the easiest of those. As one who has taught English, I am thankful each day I am a native speaker. Turkish is 100% regular (the verb “to be” is a slight exception), and there are no bothersome plurals or genders to memorize. It is totally phonetic. Basic roots are used for all parts of speech, and word formation is very easy and easily understandable once you get the knack.

There are a few consonants that are not in standard English or are pronounced differently.

c is pronounced as a “j” (j is actually a non-Turkish consonant used in borrowed words and pronounced as a “j” or a “zh”)

ç is pronounced as “ch”

ş is pronounced as “sh”

ğ lengthens the vowel in front of it as a kind of bridge (k becomes a ğ between two vowels)

There is also a capped “a”, â, that is going out of style and a holdover from Ottoman. It is pronounced like a growling “ya”—though I am not sure if I ever got it down completely.

Turkish is a very melodious language due a fairly strict principle of

vowel harmony

(foreign borrowings are exceptions). Of the eight vowels, four are formed in the front of the mouth and four in the back, hence front and back. Four are made with lips either pursed or not, hence rounded and unrounded. Go ahead and try them; you will see.



i ı


ü u

Take special note of the undotted i (ı)—pronounced like “uh.”

  1. Back vowels are followed by back vowels; front vowels are followed by front vowels.

    Do not cross the back/front boundary with your suffixes.

  1. Unrounded vowels are followed by unrounded vowels.

3. For rounded vowels it is open season and usually depends on the suffix. (There are actually rules which—like tying a bowtie—are easier to put into practice than to explain.)

The more seemingly more complex


refers to suffixes added to a root to indicate person, number, possession, tense, passive, negative, mood, and so on.

el = hand

eller = hands (hand + plural)

elim = my hand (hand + first person singular possessive)

elin = your hand (hand + second person possessive)

ellerimiz = our hands (hand + plural + first person plural possessive)

ellerimizden = from our hands (as above + from suffix)

şapka = hat

şapkam = my hat,

şapkanız = your hats

şapkamızda = in (or on) our hats.

(Notice how we keep the principles of vowel harmony.)

Verbs, though, are really fun.

gel is the root for come (and also the command)

gelmek (gel + mek) = to come (come + infinitive)

geliyorum (gel + iyor + um) = I am coming (come + present continuous tense + I)

gelmiyorum (gel + mi + [i]yor +um) = I am not coming (come + negative + present continuous tense + I)

gelebileceğim (gel + ebil + ecek + im)= I will be able to come (come + ability modifier + future tense [the k turns into a ğ between two vowels] + I)

gelemiyeceğim (gel + emi +y+ ecek + t + im)= I won’t be able to come (come + negative ability modifier + bridging y between two vowels + future tense + I)

gelmiyecekmiştim (gel + mi + y +ecek + miş +t +im)= It was said that I would not be coming ( come + negative + future tense + reported speech + past tense + I)

So the longest word in Turkish is


or “You are said to be one of those that we couldn’t change into a Czechoslovak.” That’s ten or more suffixes on a noun that becomes a verb and then a compete sentence.

I could give many more examples but would just be showing off. And I bet already made mistakes.

Let’s see, word order is noun, object, verb, unless you want to emphasize, say, the object then it would be first. Stress is usually on the last syllable except for borrowed words when it falls on the next-to-last, though place names are variable (as in İs


bul and


kara). [Note the dotted İ of vowel harmony in the first. I am dispensing with that in this word and the ü that really should be in Türk.]

Atatürk (a combination of “father + Turk.”) way back in the 1920s was instrumental in eliminating the many Arabic and Persian words of Ottoman Turkish, bringing back or inventing standard Turkish words, and changing to the Latin script which befits the language more than the Arabic/Ottoman. Turkish has changed so much since that Atatürk’s speeches have had to be “translated” three times over so the populace could understand them. Foreign language borrowings are now the major exceptions to Turkish “purity.”

Now that I have thoroughly confused you, let’s get on with the story.


“The best way to enter Istanbul is by sea,” I had read not long before I first made my way to that charmed city. I tended, and still do, to take such pronouncements—if they come from an even vaguely authoritative source—at face value and plan accordingly. So that was why I, still blissfully unaware of Yeats’ masterpiece, was standing on the deck of a Turkish Maritime liner in the Marmara Sea as it headed into the Bosphorus, that little sliver of water that connects the Marmara with the Black Sea in the late morning one day in early March1977.

How did it come to pass that I was sailing then to Byzantium? And why am I, an older and hopefully wiser man, still trying to unravel the tangled threads that led to that trip, my extended stay, and my life-long fascination with that land? Like Yeats in his later years (but for vastly different reasons), I perceive that literal journey as a metaphorical one. Mostly for the good, my post-sojourn life was invariably colored by experiences in that foreign country.

While on the deck, I did not think I was particularly young a month before I was to turn 27. I also did not think I was totally unprepared for starting a new life in this celebrated city. I had several hundred dollars in travelers checks—a fortune in my mind—in my pocket and foolishly expected that to last me about six months. If I did not find work, I would turn tail and return to the states. I had two years of Turkish language studies under my belt, had read extensively in Ottoman and Turkish history and culture, and was something of a maven of Byzantine architectural history. Better equipped than most who ended up here by accident, I was ready, wasn’t I?

It was wonder, trepidation, excitement, and any number of other emotions that coursed through my brain that morning. There was also nostalgia—in the sense of longing for an idealized past, very Yeatsian—that doesn’t trouble me as much now when I am in or think about this city that straddles two continents. Now it is embarrassment and amusement about how green I was and unprepared for the glories I would encounter.

From the boat deck, I was ogling remnants of the ancient defensive land and sea walls, domes and minarets aplenty, the Beyazit and Galata towers, the storied hills of this New Rome, the mouth of the Golden Horn, the bobbing Galata Bridge, the frenzied ferry traffic in the waterways, the scruffy nape of the Bosphorus, the incongruously modern Atatürk Bridge, the delicate lonely Kız Külesi on her own little island, the Hydarpaşa train station holding court on this westernmost spit of Asia, and the misty silhouettes of the Princes’ Islands off to my right.

Did my virgin eyes and consciousness take in all this? Probably not—it is simply too much. This is a view “for old men.” One doesn’t need the sea voyage to enter Istanbul; one just needs to get there the first time. On subsequent visits, these sights will stir you to the core in more fundamental ways. Istanbul—like all great cities—has to be experienced at street level first before one can really appreciate its many charms and complexities from afar.

In some ways that I will attempt to elucidate, I was then “a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick.” I was believing of absolutes and certainties that four further decades of life ex-periences have worn thin to the point of transparency. Yeats the poet, saw Byzantium as an “artifice of eternity” and a paradise. The younger me would have agreed; the present me now in my seventh decade of life knows it is just as much eternal artifice, and I love it all the more.

I hadn’t always yearned for and loved this city that graces two continents, two seas, and two navigable slivers of water, and—some might say—two religious currents. I trace my fasci-nation back to the sixth grade when a chance remark from a classmate set the wheels of my fate in motion. He and I were lounging near the basketball court of the new junior high we would be entering that fall when he turned to me and asked, “What city has three names?” Though a star in geography and history, I was stymied. Then he smirked, “Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul.”

For many of you, like Yeats, those three words conjure up a magnificent world of “hammered gold and gold enameling,” “moonlit dome[s],” and “monuments of unageing intellect” (an apology for really misusing all of his metaphors). It is possible those place names may have triggered similar images for the wet-behind-the-ears youth I was then.

Or maybe that all came later.

This sixth grade thing is significant, I now realize, for at that prepubescent time I was blissfully unaware of the “complexities, [t]he fury and the mire of human veins.” Though my female classmates were sprouting little nubbins of breasts and overtaking the boys in height, it wasn’t until the next year that my fellow males so progressed. Then they too quickly overtook me whose voice hadn’t cracked, whose body was still as hairless as a newborn babe, and whose musculature remained insignificant. Oh, sixth grade was the glorious end of those golden years, the days before hormones and sexual yearning held us in sway. It took me years, nay decades, to catch up, if I ever have. I might never have gotten as far as I have if I had not set sail to Byzantium.

Be that as it may, I cleared junior and regular high school as a not unpopular student who was more than a little eccentric. I liked to read—even back then I was devouring massive novels in lieu of football and basketball practice and weekend nights out. Second shortest of the boys in the school, I had furtively seen in gym class that the only other I had a bare inch on in height was more significantly accelerated in his manly development than I. I had chaste dates to the junior and senior proms but otherwise was without a consort.

My biggest break before the Orient1 was going off to Indiana University and spending the first of many nights away from my childhood home. Bloomington may have only been 60 miles from my hometown, but it might as well have been in another dimension. I was still physically and sexually at the back of the pack and a too quixotic student, but a whole new world of academics and experiences opened up. I started learning Russian and studying art and architectural history. Somewhere along the line—shades of that sixth grade casual query?—I fancied myself a lover of the Byzantine.

As a senior I had course hours to fill with electives and decided to study another language. Though Greek would have made more sense, I enrolled in an introductory Turkish class. Actually since by this time my Byzantine fixation was almost exclusively centered on Hagia Sophia, the sixth century Justinian marvel of Constantinople/Istanbul—a building I knew I would visit one day—this was maybe an understandable choice.

The Russian language, in those cold war years, was considered an appropriate area of study—but Turkish had a totally different cachet, one that I was proud to trumpet. After earning my B.A., I spent another year doing advanced Turkish and Inner Asian studies. I may have still been physically in Southern Indiana, but in many ways I was already meandering amongst the minarets of the ruined Ottoman Empire if not trotting on the steppes of Central Asia.

A move to Washington, D.C. soon after should have been a professional and social high water mark. But I ended up in a satellite office of a University of Miami conservative think tank.2 Though hired as a Russian and Turkish translator/scholar who was to flesh out their research on the Turkic speaking peoples of the then Soviet Union, I was more valuable because I could remove the jams from our recalcitrant copy machine and remember how our few but well-heeled donors took their coffee when they occasionally visited the office.3 For this they paid me a seemingly obscene amount of money which fueled a relatively sedate lifestyle and allowed me to fairly quickly pay off most of my college loans and save for the next phase of my education/life.

I was still not dating but considered myself straight as an arrow. I lived in a 13-story apartment complex on the fringes of Dupont Circle in a building that housed many of the prostitutes who walked the nearby streets of Logan and Scott Circles. The other prominent demographic was a platoon of interesting and handsome homosexual—I don’t think the term gay had been appropriated quite yet by general society; more pejorative terms were used—men. The highlight of the building was the rooftop pool where the boys cavorted on the northside deck most sunny summer weekend afternoons. A few hookers and I quietly took second stage on the opposite side—the ladies of the night to recharge their batteries, and I to dig into yet another hefty tome.

I had many acquaintances and one good friend, a hopelessly straight man named Matt who I had befriended on bus rides into the city when I had briefly been a commuter from my sister’s home. Matt was desultorily pursuing an engineering degree as he worked full time as a manual laborer. Roughly handsome, genuinely genial and just a year or two younger, he too hailed from a large Catholic family. While my high school years were taken up with student council and pep rallies, Matt had taken the alternative route of bad boy high jinks. I was endlessly fascinated with his tales of roaring around Corning, NY on his motorcycle and leaving a shower of sparks when he planted his nail-studded boot heels to the ground. He had drunk and caroused a lot, had years ago given up his virginity, and had already had a long and ultimately semi-tragic love affair. Living life by proxy was I.

We spent most weekends together and even more time when he moved into my studio apartment after he lost his lease. Matt’s presence (as well as the example of the swimming pool crew) was ever so gradually prying open the closet door I desperately wanted firmly shut and also blasted to blithereens. But our relationship more closely resembled Oscar and Felix of “The Odd Couple” than the torrid dynamic I may have preferred of Stanley Kowalski and Blanche DuBois. Had I made a tentative move of gentle groping, Matt may have not resisted whether out of curiosity or, more likely, pity. Another dear friend just three years earlier had allowed just that, my only remotely shared sexual experience up to then.

But Matt provided more than a foil to my suppressed yearnings. You see, Matt, in ad-dition to all those non-Dan activities, had also travelled on a shoestring in Europe and Asia and had some grand tales of hippie Istanbul cafes and characters that easily outstripped those from my academic studies. Under his guidance and assurance, I soon had the essentials for inter-national travel: a backpack, substantial hiking shoes—my Swiss mountain boots were seemingly large enough to ferry me across the waves had they not weighed two pounds each—a passport, and a ticket out of town.

So on a snowy mid-February morning after a champagne and homemade cream puff bon voyage party at the institute, I took the second airplane journey of my life away from the only country and the only continent I had known up to then.

In Paris, I was met by two recently-married friends from university who were doing their dissertation research on French Gothic churches. They babysat me for a few days as a way easing me into the new linguistic and cultural world I was now immersed in. My first forays on my own were not very auspicious. I was sure my rudimentary French would greatly offend, but the lure of patisserie wares, delicious coffee, and proximity to many of the monuments and paintings I had studied, had a way of blunting my well-honed midwestern reserve.

Five days each in Paris, Rheims, and Clermont-Ferrand; then I was really off on my own. I took a train to Marseille to rendezvous with that Turkish liner coming from Barcelona. I had dearly wanted to travel steerage (as first class was out of the question), but the agent in Paris was only authorized to issue a one-step-up third-class berth. Only a dozen fellow passengers were aboard. I still remember the Turkish brothers who studied in France and were heading back for a family visit. I got to practice my more scholastic Turkish with them and the more numerous crew. Two recently discharged U.S. Army soldiers had, like me, saved up for the journey they were embarking on. They were planning to get to Istanbul, go overland to India then Japan while “fucking as many cheap whores” as they could along the way.

A two-hour stay in Naples where could do little more than try the pizza, a stormy pass along Italy’s boot, a mercifully short dock on the Pireaus piers, then on to Istanbul.
2014-07-19 18:44
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