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Sounds, colours, streets. Kemeralti


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Posted 23 February 2005 - 12:11

Perhaps Kemeralti in Izmir where eastern and western goods mingle in the emporiums is a black hole of colour and sound in the world of memories...

We always used to enter that bewitching place through the same door. The history books say that it got its name Konak, or mansion, from the ancient arch by the entrance, although I never saw it. We used to make our way along the thronged streets, going in and out of shops selling all and sundry. It was probably the market's secret hands that placed little 'bonuses' strategically so that children would not explode with boredom and heat in the crowds in this fascinating unfathomable maze that I never deciphered until I grew up and could walk around by myself. Just past Ali Galip confectionery, whose wondrous flavours were a magnet for children, comes the unforgettable Meshur Konak sherbet seller on the corner of Birinci Beyler. Not being able to remember the taste of the ice-cold black mulberry sherbet would be like erasing my past.


And what about Veysel Çikmazi, the blind alley on the left with the sock depots and the restaurants serving customers night and day. When we wanted to see my uncle we would start looking for him from the blind alley where he would meet up with his old friends. The blind alley that fascinated me as a child is not 'blind' any more, because the locked iron gate at the end of the alley that limited my horizon is now open. The Dogu Karadeniz Restaurant where we sit with my uncle is still there in the same alley.
THE GREAT MEETING
Anafartalar Caddesi, where I used to keep a firm grip on my mother's hand to avoid getting lost, is the trigger of the historical journey that stretches from my childhood to today. The narrow streets to right and the left are like small undulations in my memory. Mind you, I don't know if it is for the people who walked along these streets in their childhood or more for those who have just become part of this mysterious place, but I recommend that you turn your head upwards away from the crowds below and look up to the second floors, where the old façades and windows are such a contrast from the monotony of the modern shop fronts.


History keeps looking at us from those vine covered mezzanine floors with their disintegrating plasterwork and weeds, and its nostalgic call has not gone unanswered. The Kemeralti Communique recently passed by parliament and Greater Izmir Municipality's Kemeralti Design and Landscaping Project are important steps on the way to protect this old shopping district's identity. Dogan Kuban, the architect who prepared Izmir's first conservation plan in 1971, does not exaggerate when he says that Kemeralti is the city's backbone. This is the heart of Izmir; the city that Western travellers knew as the Jewel of the Mediterranean. The emporiums surrounding Kemeralti like a belt was where they first encountered the camel caravans that brought exotic eastern wares from the far end of the Spice Road and saw the handmade goods that preceded the industrial revolution of Europe. They drank their mortar-ground coffee among flower and bead sellers in vine shaded Hisarönü coffee house together with the congregations leaving Kestanepazari Mosque and the synagogue on Havra Sokak, where today a profusion of colourful goods are on sale.


ON THE EDGE OF THE INNER HARBOUR
Firmly holding on to my mother's hand while watching out curiously and also a little warily, I would walk amidst the street sellers shouting their wares, women hurrying to finish their shopping for the coming religious festival, young girls blushing in the excitement of trying to choose material for their wedding dresses, and porters crushed under the weight of enormous baskets. As usual we would take a break in my uncles' tailor's shop in the arcade on the corner of Kestelli Yokusu, a hilly street where there were shops full of trainers, sweat suits, and all kinds of balls hanging in bunches. After having played for a while among the bow shaped wooden rulers, the unfinished jackets that had not yet had their sleeves sewn in hanging on the walls, the bolts of cloth lying peacefully on the shelves and the enormous scissors, I could finally get on with my real game, which was sitting in front of the window drinking my soda and watching the sea of people that I had just been part of myself. For a while I'd enjoy the pleasure of being in the only place where you could look down on the street from above.


In the fish market there is a small child among the gilt-head bream and the sargos doing his best to avoid getting his trousers wet from the water running from the counters and the puddles on the side of the wet cobbles. Maybe a little further along he will enter the wonderful shop with his father where everything from eggs to aubergines have been pickled. Or maybe they will take a look in the shop where all kinds of wooden goods are sold-from rolling pins and mortars to spoons and traditional low dining tables, from coat hangers to tiny stools-inhaling the smell of wood and varnish.
I remember now the amazement I felt when at university I discovered that the wide bow of Anafartalar Caddesi once lay on the shore of an inner harbour that had become filled with alluvium. How many people know that these warehouses whose architecture is peculiar to Izmir and contain shops and small workshops are the entrepôts that surrounded this harbour? When strolling along here it is hard to believe that we are walking alongside a former harbour where once galleys, galleons, and sailing ships lay at anchor.


JOURNEY IN THE WORLD OF MEMORIES
Havra Street to the right of Sadirvan Mosque meant for me our relations' honey shop, the cackling chicken lying on the counter with their feet tied, and the nutshop at Ikiçesmelik. The left side of the mosque meant nearing the end. Because passing between the colourful shops selling circumcision and wedding clothes and coming to Hisarönü Mosque meant the end of this great journey. That wasn't of course the only reason that I liked the flower sellers that filled the area in front of the mosque, the bead sellers all around, the prayer bead sellers and the shops selling lovely backgammon boards in many different designs. They were the little celebrations for tired legs after this long walk.
We are getting nearer the end as we pass Kizlaragasi Han, which was a ruin when I was a child but was later restored and reunited with Kemeralti. The unequalled ice cream of Mennan Pastane used to help me walk on and return home cheerfully. And how wonderful it is that the vine covered street still lives on with the little tables lined up along the side where people eat their ice creams.


Maybe Kemeralti really is a child's game. It is a true labyrinth, full of surprises, with entrances on all sides but from where it can be hard to get out again if you don't work out the road plan. The minute you take one step into the madding crowd you completely resign yourself to your fate. You might come across a deserted fountain where the old men slowly perform their ritual ablutions. Another step, and you might be in a passage where the bright circumcision clothes dazzle you; or you can sit with the young apprentices as they rest and eat their lunch in a three hundred year old courtyard. Or you might gaze in a daydream at the long shiny flexible tubes of a water pipe reflecting the sun. And strangely, there is no end to this manner of life. However much you advance, so does Kemeralti. Maybe it is a 'black hole' of sound and colour in the world of memories.


TEXT: BARIS DOGRU
PHOTO: Ö. FARUK ÜRÜNDÜL



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