Photographs in Words 15 – Christmas in Üsküdar

The Christmas tree stands by the window, in the corner. The table is set. The regular guests and the first timers, most of whom won’t turn up again, are about to arrive. The turkey has been in the oven for several hours. Melek hanım’s famous bread sauce is ready.

This year Christmas coincides with Ramadan. As the sun sets in the Golden Horn on the opposite coast the old city illuminates its minarets and appears to move closer to Üsküdar. Melek hanım knows that from her window she can’t see the minarets of Şemsi Paşa mosque, her neighbour. But still she tries.

It is dark now. The lights in Melek hanım’s room are turned off, but the Christmas tree is lit, intermingling with the illuminated lights of Süleymaniye mosque. The long plays Melek hanım, then Angela, brought with her when she moved to Turkey are on the record player. No one shall talk now. Christmas music is playing: Kumbayah My Lord, The Old Year Now Is Away Fled, Noel d’Autrefois, Silent Night and Through Rocks – Through Mountains, the Islamic hymn Melek hanım’s late husband Tahir bey always wanted to be played at Christmas. (It was during Melek hanım’s first days in Istanbul that she answered the phone saying she was Tahir bey’s cezve -coffee pot- instead of zevce -wife.)

As “Let Me Call Out to You Through Rocks and Through Mountains My Lord” is playing, Melek hanım takes her viola d’amore from its place next to the century – old tiled stove and accompanies the hymn. Then, for the first time at Christmas, she plays Sarabande from J.S. Bach’s Cello Suite No 1.

When seeing off her guests, Melek hanım will ask once more, “Will we be meeting  again next year?”

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