Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Missing Musa!

Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.
~Henry David Thoreau

Introducing Musa Basaran!
We stopped for tea in an Istanbul hotel owned by friends of his.

We had it good. Really good.

Now back in Canada, it's hard for me to believe I spent a year poking around the back corners of my favourite neighbourhood in the world: Sultanahmet, Istanbul. There is no place like it in the world- the heart of the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires, home to the largest diamond in the world, the gravesite of many a person wronged, and last year, my neighbourhood. Sigh. I try not to think about it too much because my year of colour makes the current situation look slightly drab, especially because I know the tulips are out in Gulhane Park and the herons and little greens parrots are flying around in my absence. Sigh.

Anyway, among many things, Rene and I both miss our Sultanahmet landlord, Musa. I think I might be one of the only people to say I miss my landlord, But I do. Maybe you know him? Musa Basaran, carpet weaver. He's a little bit famous in Istanbul you know!

Details of weaving. Musa's latest project.

Musa spent his younger years travelling and living in London, where he was a tea boy at the London Savoy. He learned English there, and eventually moved back to Istanbul to open a machine parts shop with his brother. For creative types, selling machine parts is highly unsatisfying. So Musa started looking around and decided he might try his hand at weaving carpets. An art in this part of the world, Musa thought that if he could figure out how to weave Sumaks and kilims and carpets, soon he'd be able to make his own designs and be part of the original art market of Sultanahmet. And he was right!

When we first moved in, we felt instantly comfortable with Musa, who spent his days in the workshop below us. Often we'd be drinking our morning coffee and I could hear the thump thump thump of Musa's loom. It was nice to wake up to creative noise. Every so often I'd hear laughter floating up from the open windows below, where ladies gathered for Musa's weaving lessons, which he told me was like ladies gossiping in the hamam somedays, except he was in the middle of it all, just where he liked to be.

Musa hard at work! He told me he liked to weave in the morning because it was a nice way to clear his head for the day ahead much like a creative meditation.

Often he'd hear the heavy metal door close behind me as I came home from a day of whatnot along the streets of Istanbul.
"Melanie! Please help me with my computer." "Melanie! Can you help me answer this letter?" Melanie! Have you had enough tea today?" "Melanie!" Have you ever tried truffle stew?" "Melanie! I made too much borek. Please share some with your sister." "Melanie! How are you today?"
Dyed balls of silk. Musa dyes his own silk with natural dyes in the basement with his brother. Stop by and he'll show you all the different things he uses to make natural colours.

Sometimes we would go up on the roof and look at the beautiful view of the Marmara Sea, with the Prince's Islands far in the distance. He'd point out buildings from the roof and tell me the history of them. He took a friend of mine to meet the gypsies one day as well. Drinking sweet tea in the living room of one of the smallest houses I have ever been in. Musa was full of a special kind of simple magic. On the way home he found an abandoned cart of eggs and posed like he was an egg seller. He'd point out the various places that sold his carpets, the familiar swirls adorning the back walls of many shops.

Egg selling Musa! Cheeky!

One day when I looked in on Musa, he told me he was a little sad and worried. Musa's daughter was heading off for a year exchange on AFS.

"I was an AFS student!" I told him, and I proceeded to knock off my to do list for an hour to chat with him about the whole experience. He asked many questions, and I answered them, bringing back memories of being an exchange student in the Dominican Republic almost twenty years ago. We drank too much tea among the strings of naturally dyed silk and bottles of natural dyes and special silk carpets and talked about life. These are my favourite memories of Musa.

A few days before I left Istanbul, I popped in to say hello and found Musa watching tv, looking sad again.
"My daughter's leaving." He told me.
"Did she get accepted to AFS?" I asked excitedly.
"No, one is going to cooking school in Vancouver and the other, I don't know. Maybe she will paint some pictures. Maybe go back to university and become an art teacher." He winked.

Musa's kilims drying on the roof.
If I won the lottery, or came into a windfall of money, I would move back to Sultanahmet, take one of the cool old buildings that needed restoring and restore it. Then I would open a small guesthouse with a yoga studio in it, perhaps a funky little healthy Turkish-fusion cafe in the bottom, and Musa's carpets and my paintings all over the walls. And I would continue to pop over to Musa's from time to time, for tea, borek and a good chat.

Musa in his friend's shop in Sultanahmet. Always happy, always smiling.
For more on Musa's weaving classes and natural dye techniques, see a blog by one of his students here.

For weaving classes, carpets or to rent one of the apartment flats in his building (weekly or monthly) you can find details here.

Or alternatively, you can contact Musa directly at musabasaran@gmail.com.



  1. I have never seen that egg-selling picture before! Sweet! It goes without saying I miss Musa as well, what a guy!

  2. He sounds like a wonderful person and one of the many "characters" you meet in Turkey. I love the typical way of sharing "I made too much borek" it is so polite and tactful. When you look at the the old nomadic carpets you see those zigzag symbols showing that life goes up and down. Who knows - maybe one one day you will have your own place in Sultanmehmet. Insallah !

  3. Melanie, now I realise why you never missed Abu Dhabi. Love this story.

  4. Hi Melanie,

    My dad is a good friend of Musa and because of my sympathy for Canada, he wanted me to have a look at your and sister's wonderful experiences as indicated above. A great camera & lenses always make a good job in fostering one's thema. so what kind of a camera did you use taking all of these great pics??

  5. Peter- now you knw where you can stay when you visit Istanbul. ; )
    Gokay, I have a Canon sx10 is, and I love it. ; )

  6. yess, I knew it:) It is a DSLR:)

  7. I loved the feeling from this insight into your experience there. I have a great love for istanbul and hoping to move over there soon, i am a weaver and would love to get the chance to do so out there. I may go in search of musa.
    P.s Love the Hamam picture! :-)

  8. Musa is so much fun, I miss him tremendously! If you go, don't forget to tell him I'll be back someday!

  9. Haha, i shall pass your message on if i locate his workshop, although randomly i think i may know where it is. Your story sounds interesting e.g why you went there and what did you plan to do out there? I finished uni about a year ago and i have always had a great desire to head that direction but trying to find work for Istanbul whilst still in the uk is proving difficult. Hoping to pack up all and just go for it. Anyhow your page was inspiring to read and gave a positive attitude to it all. :o)

  10. I packed up and just went for it. I didn't work the year I was there, other than a few side jobs teaching English and yoga. But I realised if I wee to ever move back to Istanbul and live there, I'd have to do something else, so I'm back in Canada studying for an education degree to work in International high schools. Once I'm done, I hope there is a good jb waiting for me! Good luck! But you are lucky, a flight from the UK to Istanbul is a lot shorter than a flight from Vancouver! ; )

  11. A friend in Turkey passed this on to me. Musa is one of my favorite people, too. He has a way of making you feel like you absolutely matter. I'll never forget the first time I visited him with friends. He grinned as he opened the heavy metal door and said, "Come on in and take your clothes off." When we started laughing, he realized what he'd said and joined us in our merriment, blushing and apologizing profusely. I lived in Turkey off and on for seven years and visited him at least every month. I've rented his apartments many times, and I always encourage visitors to rent from him. He's an absolute treasure. I think I've bought over 25 of his kilims, and I still have at least ten of them. My guest room is my "Musa Room." Thanks, thanks, thanks for posting this lovely tribute.

  12. I just learned that Musa passed away. I'm SO sorry! Sad, sad sad!