How pleasant, oh dear God, how pleasant
To journey on the blue sea
To cast off from shore
Aimless as thought.
I would set sail to the wind
And wander from sea to sea
To find myself one morning
In some deserted bay.
In a harbor large and clean
A harbor in coral isles
Where in the wake of clouds
A golden summer trails.
The languid scent of oleasters
Would fill me there
And the taste of sorrow
Never find that place.
Sparrows would nest in the flowered
Eaves of my dream castle
The evenings would unravel with colors
The days pass in pomegranate gardens.
– Orhan Veli Kanık – Translated by Ozcan Yalım, William Fielder and Dionis Coffin Riggs
I went to a boarding high school in Istanbul in the mid 70’s. Those were the worst days of my life. I missed my family terribly. The prison-like surroundings of that high school depressed me. After 3 years of hell in that high school I was damaged psychologically. It took me decades to recover from that ordeal.
It may be hard to imagine the conditions of that boarding high school for the younger generation. The boarding high schools in Turkey, today, are very modern and they have dormitories similar to the college dormitories in the US but my school in the mid 70’s was completely different. If you imagine something like the Phillips Exeter Academy you would be completely wrong. My high school occupied a city block in the most popular and affluent section of Istanbul known as Nisantasi. It was a square shaped building with a courtyard in the middle. There were no trees in the courtyard. We did not even have plants or flowers. Nothing! Just cement! I was not allowed to go outside during the week. They allowed me to go outside on Saturdays for 5 hours only. I remember watching the crowds walking on the most popular street in Istanbul from the windows of my classroom and feeling sad. People were free and I was not.
Our dormitory was a military style dormitory on the 5th floor. One big hall – 150 teenagers slept in that room. We were not allowed to go to the 5th floor until 9:00pm. After classes we could not go to the dormitory and relax. I went to the library instead. I spent all my free time in the library. Other kids spent most of their free time in the dining hall or in the courtyard playing basketball. Just to give you another example of how bad things were, they did not allow us take showers everyday. We were allowed to have showers on Friday nights only.
Classes were over at 4:00pm. Then we had 1 hour break. At 5:00pm we would go back to the classrooms and do homework. These study sessions were enforced. Nobody could go outside the classroom. Supervising teachers were making sure we were inside the classroom. Nobody studied, of course, except me. Kids used to talk very loudly and pull all kinds of pranks during these forced study sessions. At 7:00 pm we had dinner, at 8:00 pm we had another study session. At 9:00 pm they herded us into the dormitory hall on the 5th floor and at 9:30 pm they turned off the lights. Nobody could sleep at 9:30 pm. I wanted to sleep but I could not because of the noise.
I used to put myself to sleep in that crude environment by dreaming of sailboats. I don’t know why but the image of a sailboat had a calming effect on me. In elementary school I was drawing sailboats all the time. This is strange because I have not seen a sailboat until I was in college. Even in Istanbul sailboats were very rare in those days. I was born in a small coal mining town by the Black Sea in northern Turkey. I lived by the sea but I have never seen a sailboat in those years. The fishermen of the Black Sea use primitive motor boats for fishing. They don’t have sailboats.
Fast forward 40 years, I now live in a place where I can watch the sailboats go by. My apartment is full of sailboat reminders. I have two model sailboats as well. As for the real thing, I never bothered! I enjoy watching the sailboats but owning one would be too much work. I am a little too lazy when it comes to physical work.
I truly enjoy the the beauty in the form of a sailboat. I am attracted to the abstract idea behind the form.