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…”

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