King Midas’s Ears

Atatürk Kültür Merkezi
Image by Sean_Marshall via Flickr

Last week we saw a Turkish opera, of course at the Ataturk Cultural Center, called “King Midas’s Ears.” It tells the touching story of how Midas judged a musical contest between Apollo and Pan, picked Pan as the better musician, and was punished by Apollo making Midas’ ears grow huge. In Act I, everybody makes fun of Midas for having big ears. In Act II, he begins to pride himself on his huge ears, so Apollo takes them away, so everyone makes fun of Midas for having small ears. I think you can see why Turkish opera composers won’t exactly overthrow the Italian masters anytime soon. But as I type this, I can recall clearly the music of every single Turkish march we sung tonight on Bagdat Street. It’s not terribly surprising, I suppose, that Turkey’s marches would be considerably better than their operas.

Now one would think that, except in a Marx Brothers film, a night at the opera would be a nice quiet affair. But not this time. Because in front of the opera house, in a nice, wealthy, European area of Istanbul, there was a huge line of riot police. They obviously weren’t there because of the Pan-Apollo controversy – they were there because inside, at a fundraiser in the downstairs hall, was Turkey’s President Demirel. Only once in my entire time here have I ever left Heybeliada without my Turkish ID, and it had to be this night, but thankfully, I wasn’t questioned as I entered the theater. (I was only ever asked for ID in the east when we drove through Kurdistan.) We saw a 6-year-old gypsy girl selling little packs of tissues. We asked her about her family, and she said her father left them and she needed money. (Elif is quick to report that that was a gypsy family, and that would never happen with a Turkish man, because it’s dishonorable.) She said she needed shoes, and we asked how she could afford new shoes selling tissues at 50,000 lira (15 cents) a pop? Her face beamed, and she smiled and said with perfect confidence, “I’m going to sell lots and lots of them!” As the Jews say: “Volume…”



Last week we went to the mainland to meet a friend of Elif’s from high school named Nasl?. Her name means “someone who plays hard-to-get, saying no before actually giving in” – a very interesting name for a woman! However, what is even more interesting to me, given the fact that I am an extremely subtle and sophisticated person, is the fact that she has a huge nose – this lets me call her Nostril, which rhymes with her name, and therefore provides me with much amusement! In fact, I sometimes call her Nasal, which doesn’t really rhyme with Nasl? but it sounds just fine to me! What makes it even better is that the woman is actually insufferable – something of a party girl, giggling her head off, tossing her terrifying bleach-blonde hair. Now, if I were God, one of the first decrees I would pass would read: “Thou shalt not have blond hair if thou hast Mediterranean blood.”

A few days ago, Nasl? called announcing that her birthday is coming up and that she was going to have a party on a boat, so we said, of course we’ll come! Then, she called back and said that the boat was too expensive to rent, and that we’ll all meet in a loud smoky nightclub instead – wouldn’t that be great? But suddenly, Elif at the last minute felt too sick to come, so we couldn’t go! And as soon as she hung up telling the bad news to her friend she felt 100% better!

Now the reason I’m going into this story about Elif’s friend, Nosehair, is because of the following interesting tidbit which she mentioned about Elif’s ex-husband, Mehmet Gun, when we were together. He’s a brilliant artist and a was a thalidomide baby; they were married for three months back in 1993. Not only was his mother Elif’s vocal coach, but his father was the opera director – so after Elif got divorced, she left her singing career in the Turkish opera (after rocketing to stardom and get the lead in the Entfuhrung performed at Topkapi Sarayii) and came to America. The first thing Nasli told us is that he and Jacques Derrida have finally started their university in Paris, and he’s there teaching right now; the second thing we heard is that his new book, published in Turkish and German, is, according to Nasl?, about my wife. Elif wants no part of it – she’s sure it’s a combination of his art (I’ve been flipping through program books from his exhibits: extremely interesting stuff – lots of burnt objects, glasswork, engravings, writings, piranhas) and his art-philosophy (undigested Nietzsche), which are intertwined in his work. She doesn’t care whether the book is about her, or her philosophies of life, or their relationship, or if it’s an angry rant like Philip Roth’s book about his ex-wife, or if she’s barely in it at all. My German and Turkish aren’t quite at the point where I could get through such a book. But the voyeur in me (that is to say, me) is curious.