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 firstname.lastname@example.org.