Monday, September 3, 2012

JAMES BALDWIN:
To begin again demands a certain silence



Photo via EBONY

The other day I mentioned I am reading a book on James Baldwin's Turkish years. The book is a couple of years old and I heard about it through Anna Clark who wrote a beautiful piece on it over at Isaak. Like I said, I knew that Baldwin had lived in France for many, many years but had absolutely no idea he had spent time in Turkey (which of course does not mean that this is some sort of big discovery). In fact, I suspect most people know about this as that's where Baldwin completed Another Country and wrote most of Blues for Mister Charlie.

In her piece, Anna points in the direction of a March 1970 article in Ebony magazine that outlines what apparently was a true love affair between Baldwin and Istanbul. Like most true love stories, it almost didn't happen but here's how it did:
James Baldwin and Istanbul, ever since their first meeting, have shared an attraction for each other. But the peculiar bewitchery of the town on the Bosphorus might never have touched Baldwin at all had it not been for a book, and for an author in search of an actor, and because a wistful-eyed young Turk, educated in the stately halls of Yale, just happened to turn up at the right time and in the right place.
Baldwin had been searching for a young man to play "Giovanni" in the Broadway production of Giovanni's Room and had been having trouble casting the right actor. Then Engin Cezzar showed up and over the years, he and his wife Gulriz would become not only leaders of the theater movement in Istanbul but also dear friends to Baldwin. Their friendship spun many years and, apparently, there exists a picture of Baldwin at Engin and Gulriz's wedding, falling asleep in the lap of an older Turkish woman. Must see!

Baldwin came and went but always loved returning to Istanbul. Charles E. Adelson describes his crowded Istanbul apartment, people coming and going. He mentions jazz musician Don Cherry and his kids (Neneh Cherry and Eagle Eye Cherry make a cameo appearance in the piece, five-year-old Neneh volunteers to give a press conference). Someone in the apartment (a guest, sounds like) asks Baldwin, "Istanbul, why?"
The Baldwin eyes fix the visitor with that particular attentive gaze. Briefly, there is a smile, lips closed. Then Baldwin says: "A place where I can find out again – where I am – and what I must do. A place where I can stop and do nothing in order to start again." [...] "To begin again demands a certain silence, a certain privacy that is not, at least for me, to be found elsewhere."
Have you been to Istanbul? Kyle and I went there for our honeymoon and absolute fell in love with it (and each other, all over again). We have been back several times since then and can never get enough. As I read Magdalena Zaborowska's book, I keep thinking about going back. The place truly is magical.

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