Looking at jobs steeped in history

If only everyone had the chance to work at a job they found very gratifying Rita Ender, who took the time to interview many of Istanbul’s merchants, collected these talks in her new book, titled “Kolay Gelsin.” It’s a work that casts real light on the fabric of the city.

The importance of the work one does in life becomes clear when you think about how much time some devote to their professions. This becomes particularly pertinent to artisans who make a living through sweat and skill. In Ender’s book, the author takes a closer look at the artisans of Istanbul: hat-makers, chandelier producers, fountain pen repairers, corset sellers, book-binders and other merchants.

I asked Ender what motivated her to start these interviews. She told me that she started these interviews during a period when she was trying to decide whether or not to return to Paris and do a doctorate, or stay in Istanbul and start working as a lawyer. She recalls: “I guess it was my return from a society where, even though the fabric of that society has changed over the years, there has been an effort to preserve its sites with sensitivity It allowed me to see Istanbul in a different light. And it was also connected to my really loving the shops, their owners and the unique things being produced here. These were the things concerning me in those days when I started these interviews.”

So what sort of doors did the publishing of this book open in the intellectual world of Rita Ender? She answers: “It all made me think that in life, yes, there is a factor we can call chance, but nothing is coincidental. No one succeeds at anything by sheer luck, although of course luck can open some doors. For example, some people are born with skills that allow them to be artisans, or work at certain trades. Or sometimes, someone who’s an apprentice working with a great master can really wind up doing their job better and more skillfully than others. Being born with great skill, or encountering a great master that can teach you well these are both things connected to luck. But in the end, using your skill well, or working hard to train someone well, none of this opens doors through luck or chance.” In her book, Ender talks about how the fading away of some professions can be explained not by “chance,” but rather through events such as the relocations of 1964 or the Sept. 6-7, 1955, pogroms in Istanbul during which properties of non-Muslims were looted.

Umbrella-maker Olga Okay

No matter how dependent we may be on mass-produced umbrellas nowadays, it did not used to be like this. In fact, there was once an entire profession devoted to umbrella-making. Robenson iemsiye [“iemsiye” being umbrella in Turkish] was founded in 1882, and continues even today in the EminOnu neighborhood of the Fatih district. The company is known as being Turkey’s first nationally produced umbrella-making business. Nowadays, one section of the shop is run as a small exhibition corner by owner Olga Okay, with walking sticks, canes and umbrellas from the 1930s on display. Okay talks about wanting to add postcards and books featuring umbrellas to the exhibit here. She also talks about wanting to grow the business more in the future.

Watch repairman Mustafa Demirci

In his book “The Institute of Watch Adjustment,” author Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar talks about the special, almost symbiotic relationship wristwatches have with their owners. Which is why, when your wristwatch breaks, you wish that the person in charge of fixing it is sensitive about the important role the timepiece plays in your life. It should be noted that while wristwatches may not possess the meaning they used to have, the profession of watch repairing is carried on with great and enduring love by many. One such repairman is Mustafa Demirci, who has a small shop in Beyoilu, filled with the sounds of “tick tocks,” which he says sounds like water to him. He also says that when he turns a non-functioning watch into one that works, he feels like he has given life back to an object.

Plaque-maker Aslan Ruso

And then there are those plaques, the objects we all know from awards-ceremonies of all types. Did you know this profession also has its masters? One of these is Aslan Ruso, who has been producing plaques by hand since 1957 in Kuledibi. On the door of his shop is written the word “hakkak” or “engraver.” Ruso used to inscribe words into metal by hand, until 1962, when he got a new machine from Germany, which of course made his professional life much easier.

Hatmaker Katia Kiraci

Author Ender gave an insight into her view of hats: “Ah, those ladies and gentlemen of days long gone in Beyoilu they all wore hats. And they didn’t just ‘put on’ hats actually they would, as the French say, ‘carry hats.’ After all, wearing a hat involves a sense of belonging to the hat, or the hat to you.” Katia has worked for as a hatmaker for 26 years in a hat shop that’s now been open for 56. She notes she had originally wanted to be a doctor, but that now she is happy she chose this profession. She believes hats will never go out of fashion, and adds that royal weddings and functions in England have done much to boost people’s general enthusiasm for hats. She also says she is teaching her daughter about hatmaking, in an effort to carry this profession on as a family tradition.

A master of ‘settings’ Sevan Nizamyan

This profession is one that involves placing stones in settings in rings, necklaces and bracelets. It is a profession that comes into play after the actual piece of jewelry has been created, when the jewels or stones are set into it. After this occurs, the piece of jewelry — whatever it might be — is varnished for the final time, at which point it becomes ready. In Turkish, the profession is called being a “mihlamaci,” and don’t think it doesn’t still exist. If you see a ring on someone’s finger, and the ring has a stone or two in it, it’s most likely to have been set by a “mihlamaci.” One such master is Sevan Nizamyan, who has been doing this job for 25 years, working with sapphires and emeralds and so on.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman