A great venue for a wedding, especially in summer
These two brothers arrived at the bottom of the market street around midday and set up their stall. They’d obviously spent the morning preparing their bags of cobb nuts for sale, taking each nut from its fringed greenery and putting them into paper bags for 2 TL each bag. I bought some and tried to ask them where they were from but they spoke no English and I have no Turkish. We sat in a cafe nearby eating the delicious fresh nuts, probably picked earlier in the day as the green fronds were not at all limp. Later I wandered over again and asked if I could take their photos. They were happy for me to do so but I couldn’t get them to smile. I was struck by how alike they were, their faces and body language, the only difference was their height.
Visiting Istanbul with a camera has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me. I have been establishing which kind of images I really want to capture and have come to the conclusion that although the architecture is of course sublime, it is the people that have drawn me in.
Here are a few of my favourite scenes, some may inspire me to write stories others are simply enough in themselves.
I have a tiny black and white photo of my uncle Peter in a boat on a seaside day out with my mother perhaps before the war. I don’t recall ever meeting him as he died when I was very small but this image draws me in. He was an artist and studied at the Slade in the 1930’s, even winning a couple of prizes. I think it is his profile that I like so much, the slightly weak chin and mouth and the refined but quirky nose, it curves down right at the tip a bit more than I have managed to capture here. Then there is the hat, a black trilby not a straw boater, an odd choice of headgear for a boat trip, I suppose it was all he had with him and wanted to shade his eyes.
I have made very few watercolour portraits, I find the medium too challenging to accommodate the endless tiny changes I always seem to need to make before the likeness feel right. However, I have painted this now about 15 times and I have nearly got it right. I chose to restrict the palette to just Paynes Grey as I was working from a black and white image. The blue/grey becomes a rich dark blue when very strong as well as keeping its colour in the faintest washes. If or when I do it again, I will paint the sky differently, I was trying to capture the way the dark hat’s edge turns white in the bright sunlight as well as the tips of brow, nose and chin disappearing into the brightness. I haven’t got that quite right here. Also there is a line of shadow along his jawline which is too harsh. I must keep trying I guess.
I am enjoying painting so much, I had forgotten how satisfying it is to capture an expression, a likeness. Two-thirds of the way through this painting, I have yet to complete the glazing and warming of the skins tones in the girl on the right and there are more tresses to add at the far left. I may also add detail to the background if I have time. (only 4 or 5 painting days left before the deadline) The sitters, I am glad to report, seem genuinely pleased. They are sisters and each of them has remarked on how good the likeness is of her sister!
I was travelling on the underground, after a couple of stops some passengers got off and I had an uninterrupted view of the young man, strap-hanging in the next doorway. I noticed his hat first, dark tan coloured felt, folded tight around his head. The unadorned, close-fitting hat set off his smooth-shaven chin and high cheekbones, his fleshy lips just a little blue at the centre. He made me think maybe he was Russian, perhaps a Cossack with his high-collared, double-breasted grey coat.
He was holding a long stemmed rose in his right hand, unwrapped and in full bloom, a bright orange rose.
It seemed odd that the rose was unwrapped, unprotected, surely not bought from a florist, had he picked it from a garden? unlikely as this was late December.
I pondered, whilst waiting for my stop, the young man’s eyes were fixed on the floor at his feet, his only movement a gentle rolling of the stem in his fingers. I wondered who he would be meeting, to whom he would present his vibrant flower, orange is a symbol of amusement, the unconventional and the extrovert.
He had dressed carefully, pressed his trousers, polished his shoes, he looked out of place amongst the majority of youths in their casual mismatched clothes, he must be meeting someone important. He seemed serious, perhaps a little anxious though not excited, eager or optimistic.
We both got off at London Bridge station, swept along by the surge of passengers eager to catch their connecting trains to Kent. I tried to keep him in my sights curious to see to whom the orange rose would be delivered, maybe here at London Bridge Station on the gleaming new concourse.
It began close to me, at first a quiet humming like the start of an overture then building into a full-throated a capella song. The young man, a few steps in front of me on the long escalator riding upward into the cathedral-like concourse, had begun to sing in a deep rich voice, a song of haunting melody, of love and warmth and joy, though in a foreign tongue the tone was unmistakeable. All around people ceased talking, stood still and listened as his voice was caught up in the atrium, echoed and multiplied as if in a great concert hall.
It was a Russian song, sung right from his heart to someone he loved.
As we rose up into the open space, the crowds parted letting the singer walk on towards the centre of the concourse where a tiny figure was waiting, dressed in an elegant fur coat and hat. He knelt at her feet holding out the rose as he finished his song. The woman smiling, took the the rose in one hand and his hand in the other and they embraced. My last sight of them was a glimpse of their backs as they made their way to Platform 2 for the 17.28 to Walmer. All seemed right with the world as the the young man slid a protective, guiding arm around the waist of his adored grandmother.
Sorting through some boxes in my loft, I found a box of letters I had written to my mother, I didn’t know she had kept them – including this tiny photo of a boyfriend from way back. (1968?) Its so interesting to see this young man – I barely recognised him at first sight, the double exposure, showing his profile made me sure.
I spent a day reading the letters, many dating from when I was 16 and gradually dwindling in numbers as telephoning became cheaper and easier. I was astonished by the fact that I seem to be the same person, the hand-writing, the phraseology, the subject matter – just as I might write today. I seem to have had a surprisingly close and frank relationship with my parents – I have always felt that it was so but its been interesting to see the proof.