Tuesday, February 7

Love in the Hamam, Part One

Kadifeden kesesi.
Kahveden gelir sesi.
Oturmuş kumar oynar,
Ah ciğerimin köşesi.

Aman yala, Beyoğlu’na yala,
Haydi yala, İstanbul’a yala.
Yala, yala, yar yala.

His kese is made of raw silk.
I hear his voice in the coffeehouse.
He’s sitting, playing cards.
Be still my heart.

Aman, let’s go to Beyoğlu,
Come on, let’s go to Istanbul,
Let’s go, love, let’s go.

The above lyrics are from an old Anatolian folk song by the name of “Kadife” (“Καντηφένιο/Καδιφής” in Greek), which means “raw silk.” I recently came across a translation with “kesesi” erroneously rendered as “his purse,” which makes little sense. Not that there’s anything wrong with a man carrying a purse.

However, in Turkish, a “kese” is also the scrubbing mitten worn by the talak (masseuse) in the hamam, and it is often made from raw silk, all the better to scrub you clean and exfoliate all that dead skin. Juxtaposed with “kadifeden,” it makes much more sense to translate “kesesi” as scrubbing mitten, than purse.

Correctly translated, what we have then is a love song sung by a patron of the hamam to the talak who so lovingly massaged and scrubbed him with his kese-clad hand. In the coffeehouse, he hears the voice of the talak with whom he has fallen in love. He wants to run off with the talak to Istanbul—to Beyoğlu—where they can live together.

Beyoğlu (pronounced “Bey-OH-loo”—the “g” is silent) is on Istanbul’s European shore, across the Golden Horn from the Sultanahmet section (where Haghia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapı Palace are all located). It was also Istanbul’s Frankish quarter where more liberal attitudes prevailed and all manner of outcasts and bohemians could be found.

Beyoğlu has gone from being fashionable to seedy to fashionable once again. In the past decade it has undergone widespread gentrification. Today it is home to chic cafés and some of Istanbul’s trendiest gay bars.

Beyoğlu’s Tünel district also boasts an entire street lined with music stores. It’s where Joe bought his oud.

I’ll be featuring the Greek version of “Kadife” for February’s Rembetiko of the Month. Additionally, there was also a Ladino version of the song. Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish, is the language that was spoken by the Sephardic Jewish communities of Greece, North Africa, and the Near East. It is still spoken by the Jews of Turkey and the Sephardic communities in Israel.

“Kadife” is a good example of how the same melody could be known among the various ethnic groups of the Near East, as cross-cultural contact was not uncommon in Ottoman times. All three versions (Turkish, Greek, and Ladino) were recorded in 2003 by Hadass Pal-Yarden in Yahudice: Urban Ladino Music from Istanbul, Izmir, Thessalonica and Jerusalem.

Click here to listen.

Hadass begins her rendition with a Hebrew prayer:

,אגדלך אלוהי, אלוהי כל נשמה
.ואודה לך ברוב פחד ואימה

I have faith in you,
Oh G-d, ruler of all creation.
With honor and fear, I thank you.

I have included Pal-Yarden’s Turkish lyrics above. The Greek and Ladino lyrics follow:

Στο καντηφένιο σου οντά θέλω νά’ρθω μιά βραδιά
γιά νά διώ τα δυό σου μάτια που μ’ανάψανε φωτιά.

I want to come into your silken chamber one evening,
to look at your two eyes that have set me on fire.

Tus kaveyos sedas son,
Kortados a lá Garson,
I kuando sales de’l kuafer,
Tu alegras, tu alegras el korason.

Your silky hair,
cut a lá Garson,
when you leave the salon,
makes hearts rejoice.

Interestingly, the Ladino version’s reference to a haircut “a lá Garson,” meaning “cut like a boy’s” suggests gender non-conformity. As for the “silken chamber” referred to in the Greek version, I know a couple of boys whose silken chambers I’d like to enter.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Chris said...

giggle.

1:12 PM  
Blogger Blog Off said...

I just wanted to say "hi" and I enjoyed reading your blog. Good work!

Alan x.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Sandouri Dean Bey said...

An online friend of mine from SF (and frequent reader of my blog, but who is too shy to comment) told me that "garson" in Ladino means "boy," similar to French, I guess. So in this context it means "with your hair cut like a boy's." Very interesting...

6:42 PM  
Blogger Will said...

Your friend is indeed correct. The French is garçon with the ç pronounced as s. The term for such a woman in French would be "gamine" meaning a woman who was somewhat to very androgynous.

The French appreciate this sort of gender bending a great deal and there is a long-standing tradition in the French theater and opera house of teenaged males being portrayed by a woman, especially one who is very gamine. Mozart picked up on this tradition when he set Beaumarchais's play "The Marriage of Figaro" and cast the horny teenaged lad Cherubino as a mezzo soprano.

The great French actress Sarah Bernhardt played numerous young males on stage.

12:16 AM  

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