Thursday, January 13, 2005

Hit Me With Music

After a satisfying week of work and a somewhat less satisfying day buying my ticket from Berlin to Paris and back, I went over to Blaise's house last night because his landlord's girlfriend was having some people over, and, since they're interesting folks, I figured it'd be a good evening.

It was: I showed Blaise how to cook my famous hamburger curry (not one of those yellow curries, but a weird dish, allegedly Burmese, although it isn't, that was the first thing I learned to cook, and is closer to chili), and he showed me some of his latest paintings, which have amazing color and textural things going on in them and make me think he's definitely on to something these days.

We then went over to Rainer and Rike's apartment, and Blaise was given the job of making Buñuel Martinis. Not being much of a martini maven, I'm not sure what made these different, unless it was the touch of Angostura bitters, but they were real good. A few of Rike's filmmaking colleagues were over and as the evening progressed, we talked about a whole range of things. Rainer gave me an impassioned speech about how he's astonished that he can stay in one place and watch the drama of the world, and how the Internet (something most Germans have only recently discovered) gave him access to a huge range of things that he'd always hoped to be able to know, all for free. At one point I recommended he check out the Worldchanging blog as an example of what the medium he calls "der vay vay vay" (which is how you say www in German) has to offer. (I recommend it to you, too, of course).

Then we ranged on to other things, Rike put on Eno's Another Green World
and Rainer said his two musical heroes were Frank Zappa and Brian Eno, so I told him the story about the day Brian Eno came to my house in Calfornia to do an interview but had laryngitis and spent the time nibbling nasturtium leaves, which caused him to roar with laughter (well, there's a lot more to it than I just let on). Eventually, we were all pretty toasted, and I noticed it was 2:15 and remembered I had a FedEx package coming today. Well, you know the rule: if I'd gone to bed at midnight, the package wouldn't have come til four in the afternoon, but if I went to bed at 3am, it'd be here at 7, right? So I said my good-byes and left.

Blaise told me there was a taxi stand down by the hospital nearby, and although there were taxis on the street, I wasn't 100% sure where I was in relation to my house, so I figured that would be the best place to go. It was only two blocks, so it wouldn't have made much difference one way or the other. Sure enough, after a bracing, frosty walk the lights of the taxis appeared. There was one in front, and the driver had two other people in his car -- probably other drivers he was chatting with, I thought.

As I walked up on it, I saw he was Turkish, and so were the other guys. He saw me, said something, and the other two started to leave. I got up to the taxi just as they got out, and I panicked. Both were holding heavy sticks, with a knob at one end. Baseball bats! Something was definitely wrong. Not much baseball gets played in Berlin, but a lot of baseball bats get sold, mostly to young hooligans on the right and left who find them most useful in skull-cracking. But what were Turks doing with them?

Nothing, as it turned out, because by now the taxi driver was out, and he had a violin in his hands and was rushing to the trunk to stow it. The baseball bats suddenly turned into very odd flutes, with a ceramic or plastic knob facilitating blowing into one end, and I'd say they were dilsiz kavals, although one might have been a dilli kaval or a ney. Clearly, I'd interrupted a jam-session. So I turned to the two kaval players and said "I'm American, so I know nothing about Turkish music. Are those flutes?" The guys said no, they were (something). "That's real interesting," I said, lamely. "Our friend plays the fiddle," one of them said, "and if you want to learn more about Turkish music, I suggest you get in his cab and talk to him. Have a good evening."

The driver was much younger than the two guys who'd been jamming with him, and got very uptight when I asked him whether he played Turkish music. "I'm studying the violin," he said, "and I love all kinds of music. I play Turkish music, yes, but I also play jazz. And my great idol is Paganini." Ah, I said, but we don't know what he really sounded like. "People said he was the devil," the driver said, "so he had the power to entrance people who heard him. That's what I want to do." On the stereo was a Turkish violin player, very emotional, with a synthesizer set to sound like a kanun accompanying him, and I asked if it was a santur. "No, santur is Iranian instrument," the driver said. "This is more like what the Germans call a zither, a kanun." The violinist we were listening to, he said, was the greatest violinist in Turkey, and had been his teacher. Then he asked me if I'd ever heard of Chiat Askin. "Is he Turkish?" I asked. "Syrian Kurdish!" the driver snapped back, but he added that he, too, was a great musician.

It was about then that I realized I wasn't quite sure where we were, but the meter was still pretty low, and the driver asked me why I was so interested. I told him I was a music journalist and wrote about all kinds of music, but, being American, I didn't know much about Turkish music because there aren't many Turks in America. (Whenever I remind the guys at the Döner Kebap stand in front of my house about this fact, their eyes fill with dollar signs; I wouldn't be the least surprised if one of them eventually heads to the States to turn people on to this staple of German lunchtime). He had a hard time believing this, and went back to praising Paganini. That was when I snapped to the fact that, being a young guy, he didn't want me to think that just because he was hanging around with two old men who played shepherds' instruments, he was "country." And confirmation came very shortly, just as Alexanderplatz swing into view (whew!).

"Uhhh, I haven't been driving very long. This is my third day," he said. "No problem, I know just where we are and how to get back to my house from here." He sighed with relief. In fact, I'd say he hadn't even been in the country very long, but he did sort of know how to drive (or perhaps he drove like they do in Turkey, ie, even worse than Germans), and we got back to the house safely.

As I paid him, I gave him a big tip. "Young music students need to eat, too," I said. "You bet," he said, and drove away.

No comments: