from Downtown: My Manhattan by Pete Hamill

And yet, in many separate ways, the people of the city express certain common emotions. The forms and details are different for every generation and every group, but certain emotions have continued to repeat themselves for centuries. One is surely greed, the unruly desire to get more money by any means possible, an emotion shared by citizens from stockbrokers to muggers. Another is sudden anger, the result of so many people living in so relatively small a place. Another is an anarchic resistance to authority. But far and away the most powerful of all New York emotions is the one called nostalgia.

The city is, in a strange way, the capital of nostalgia. The emotion has two major roots. One is the abiding sense of loss that comes from the simple fact of continuous change. Of the city’s five boroughs, Manhattan in particular absolutely refuses to remain as it was. It is dynamic, not static. What seems permanent when you are twenty is too often a ghost when you are thirty. As in all places, parents die, friends move on, businesses wear out, and restaurants close forever. But here, change is more common than in most American cities. The engine of greatest change is the cramped land itself. Scarcity can create a holy belief in the possibility of great riches. That’s why the religion of real estate periodically enforces its commandments, and neighborhoods are cleared and buildings hauled down and new ones erected, and all that remains is memory.. . . .

. . . The New York version of nostalgia is not simply about lost buildings or their presence in the youth of the individuals who lived with them. It involves an almost fatalistic acceptance of the permanent presence of loss. Nothing will ever stay the same. Tuesday runs into Wednesday and something valuable is behind you forever. An “is” has become a “was.” Whatever you have lost, you will not get it back: not that ball club, not that splendid bar, not that place where you once went dancing with the person you later married. Irreversible change happens so often in New York that the experience affects character itself. New York toughens its people against sentimentality by allowing the truer emotion of nostalgia. Sentimentality is always about a lie. Nostalgia is about real things gone. Nobody truly mourns a lie.. . .

. . .That tough nostalgia helps explain New York. It is built into our codes, like DNA, and beyond the explanation of constant change, there is another common thread in our deepest emotion. I believe New York nostalgia also comes from that extraordinary process that created the modern city: immigration.

I Am Listening To Istanbul by Orhan Veli Kanık

I am listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed
First a breeze is blowing
And leaves swaying
Slowly on the trees;
Far, far away the bells of the
Water carriers ringing,
I am listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed.

I am listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed
A bird is passing by,
Birds are passing by, screaming, screaming,
Fish nets being withdrawn in fishing weirs,
A woman’s toe dabbling in water,
I am listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed.

I am listening,
The cool Grand Bazaar,
Mahmutpasha twittering
Full of pigeons,
Its vast courtyard,
Sounds of hammering from the docks,
In the summer breeze far, far away the odor of sweat,
I am listening.

I am listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed
The drunkenness of old times
In the wooden seaside villa with its deserted boathouse
The roaring southwestern wind is trapped,
My thoughts are trapped
Listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed.

I am listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed
A coquette is passing by on the sidewalk,
Curses, sings, sings, passes;
Something is falling from your hand
To the ground,
It must be a rose.
I am listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed.

I am listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed
A bird is flying around your skirt;
I know if your forehead is hot or cold
Or your lips are wet or dry;
Or if a white moon is rising above the pistachio tree
My heart’s fluttering tells me. . .
I am listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed.

translated by Murat Nemet-Nejat

My Youth Is All Gone by Orhan Veli Kanık

Where was this melancholy in those days?
This crying inside,
Singing of faraway things?
I raised hell
Every day then;
To a dance today, to the movies tomorrow,
If I didn’t like it, to a cafe;
If I didn’t like that either, to the park;
I embellished my lover
In poems,
I took her to picnics,
A book of poems on our laps;
Where, where,
Where was this melancholy in those days?

translated by Murat Nemet-Nejat

For Free by Orhan Veli Kanık

We are living for free;
The air is for free, the clouds are for free.
Hills and dales are for free;
Rain and mud are for free;
The outside of cars,
The entrance to movie houses,
The store windows are for free;
It is not the same as bread and cheese,
But salt water is for free;
Freedom will cost you your life,
But slavery is for free;
We are living for free,
For free.

translated by Murat Nemet-Nejat

eating Chinese food in Istanbul: for Rita Wu

so far
it’s pretty far
from what I call
Chinese food
and Rita,
if you think take-out in NY
is junk Chinese food
wait till you try what’s here
it’s almost as bad
as that place outside Denver
the Silk Road started
or ended here
depending on one’s perspective
but Chinese food
has yet to arrive

on the shore 3

hopscotch and football
barbecues on miniature grills
wood smoke in the eyes
kebab in the air
a young man dives into the water
drums beat out a rhythm
hands clap
a young girl dances
simits and cay
and I get the last bench left
in the shade
a whole neighborhood is here
along with portable toilets
spring on parade
in ancient Balat

The Mermaid by Orhan Veli Kanik

She must just have left the sea.
Her hair and lips
Smelled of the sea till the morning.
Her rising and falling breast was like the sea.

I knew she was poor–
But you can’t talk of poverty all the time.
Gently, next to my ear
She sang songs of love.

Who knows what she has learned and experienced
In her life fighting the sea.
Patching fish nets, casting fish nets, gathering fish nets.
Making tackles, dropping out baits cleaning boats.
To remind me of spiny fish
Her hands touched my hands.

That night I saw, I saw it in her eyes;
How lovely the sea has risen in the open sea.
Her hair taught me about waves;
I tossed and tossed around dreams.

translated by Murat Nemet-Nejat