Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lobgesang auf die feierliche Johannisloge

I have no idea what the title means, especially since Google translate is a joke; Paean to the solemn Johannisloge. Can you believe people actually trust it to translate from English to other languages and get the result tattooed on them?? Anyway, I figured a Mozart-related title would best befit our Salzburg, Austrian adventure.

The trip started at 5 am last Saturday morning. My family, a 100+ orchestra, along with our staff (the Borusan Art and Culture staff), various invited guests, and members of the press all checked in at the airport in Istanbul. We actually had to reserve/rent a whole plane to ourselves as well as a couple private planes and another that connected through Munich to get there. The occasion? The Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra was invited to be part of the opening festivities for the Salzburg Music Festival, the most prestigious classical music festival in the world. Not to mention, the Austrian government was awarding my uncle Ahmet with the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art because of his contributions to the respective fields. Our orchestra was to perform at the festival along with Fazil Say, a re-known Turkish pianist who was premiering his original composition Nirvana Burning.

When you put my family with a large group of friends and then expect us to travel, a million things can and do go wrong but it's also the most fun time ever. First off, my sister wore a blazer to the airport and though she looked stylish, Miami Vice became the running joke of the weekend between us and the head of the Borusan Music House who is also a friend of ours. Have I ever posted a picture of our Music House? It's right on Istiklal Caddesi:

Secondly, Fazil Say's, the pianist's, manager looked so much like Tom Petty that every time we saw him, which was all the time, my sister and I would keep a running commentary of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' songs, i.e." So do you think he's "Learning to Fly?"" "Noo, he's "Free Falling."" "Well it's to be expected, it's his "Last Dance with Mary Jane,"" and so forth.

The plane ride there was pretty subdued since it was the crack of dawn and everyone was sleepy and rather nervous for the days ahead. Except for our family friend and CEO of Borusan, our company who would. Not. Stop. Talking. We love our Agah abi but sheesh. He doesn't have a soft voice to begin with and when you're sitting right behind him and trying to sleep it's like verbal sonic booms constantly exploding over your head. We managed to arrive and get through passport control with one orchestra member sneaking in a blanket he stole from Turkish Airlines. It was about 38 degrees Celsius in Istanbul and 18 degrees and pouring rain in Salzburg, so you can't blame the guy. Though, it was their crappier blankets, not the nice, soft, fleece ones that I smuggled off a previous flight. My kitty loves them. But of course, the one suitcase that didn't show up was our maestro's, our conductor Sascha Goetzel's. Of all people. His first job was to go shopping as soon as he got to the hotel. We weren't all staying at the same hotel; the orchestra was in one, the staff another, and us in another with Sascha and Fazil Say.

Anyway, we got through and as we emerged into the rain, a rather matronly lady in traditional Austrian garb was waiting to greet us. She snatched me and my sister away from my parents, dumped us in a car, and proclaimed she was ours for the day.


As the car drove away, we looked back to see our parents getting loaded into another car. We must have looked pretty impressive, our train of dark cars gliding through Salzburg but at the time we were half wondering if we were getting kidnapped. The lady was under the impression she was going to take us sight-seeing and her demeanor pretty much made it clear that she was going to teach us about her city whether we liked it or not. Luckily, my parents dissuaded our "guides" of their notions, politely telling them we had been there before (fifteen years ago but shh). Our hotel was the Sacher Hotel and if you know anything about Austria it's that they're famous for their sweets, especially Sacher tortes. I'm not a fan, it's too rich for me, but my sister is and she was in diabetic coma wonderland since the hotel had tortest coming out of every orifice. Each room had complimentary large tortes along with mini-ones waiting to greet us and half the lobby was the most picturesque little cafe with Sacher tortes lined up everywhere. There was a big lunch organized for everyone but we didn't really want to go and as it turned out, neither did our famous piano man so he tagged along with my family and the five of us had wiener schnitzel and beer at the hotel because what else are you going to eat/drink there?

After a short nap (read: Mina and I passing out in our bed while watching German-dubbed 16 and Pregnant on German MTV), the rest of our cousins arrived and we had a nice little reunion in one of our bedrooms. We all met up with the rest of the family and guests/friends in the cigar room in the lobby, which we took over for the weekend, and indulged in tea and treats. One little cousin of mine was so hell-bent on Sacher torte she ate maybe 4 pieces and a couple mini ones throughout the weekend. We were taking bets on when she'd throw up but she never did. We have iron stomachs. That night there was a reception at the Turkish consulate but it's an open-air area and it was still gushing rain so everyone was huddling under makeshift tents. I chatted with Sacha's manager whose always been very sweet and kind to me and she introduced me to a friend who used to work in publishing. He and I had a nice conversation about books and publishing and I told him about the places I'd applied to and we bonded over our mutual love of Mad Men. He wished me luck and I hope he brings me some. Us cousins ran away early from the reception and went and had a nice dinner back at the hotel.

I keep saying cousins and aunts and uncles but I'm counting second cousins and their parents, who are technically my mom's cousins, but we're so close in my family that we don't make any distinctions. I mention this because most of the family was on the trip so I'm generally not referring to the same people. One "aunt" had her 60th birthday that weekend, so we had a makeshift birthday celebration in the hotel lounge after the reception. We sneakily stole a candle from the restaurant and bought a slice of torte from the cafe and walked into the lounge singing, "Happy Birthday." We spent the rest of the night sitting around just talking and having fun and enjoying each other's company. It was so reminiscent of the family cruises we used to take every year; everyone together somewhere foreign laughing at everyone that wasn't, "us," and just having a good time. I really miss those cruises and all I've wanted this summer was a chance to be with my family and I got that this weekend. One aunt couldn't make it though and we missed her but we did call her every two seconds.

Sunday was the day of the concert and it was kind of odd getting so dressed up and made up at 10 in the morning. I wore new platform heels that I had managed to find the day before leaving (I had a wardrobe crisis and ended up wearing my mom's dresses for both the reception and the concert but I didn't have shoes so the Friday before we left, my mom and I went on a hunt and found a pair, by pure luck, in the second store we looked at), and they were a good 5 inches and so surprisingly comfy. I pretty much loved towering above everyone else. We all headed to the concert hall and my cousin and her husband who live an hour away, just outside of Munich, drove in so they joined us there as well. My mom was nervous, she's the chairperson of the art and culture department and keeps a close eye on the orchestra and this was the first concert I'd ever seen her get nervous before. I can't blame her, it was a pretty big deal. Plus her big brother was getting a huge honor as well! It's such a milestone for not only us and our orchestra, but our country as well. Istanbul was named the 2010 Cultural Capital of Europe and I'm so proud that we could contribute to upholding this title. However, in the program, whomever wrote made sure to mention that though Istanbul was 2010's capital, Salzburg is the eternal cultural capital. You kind of have to laugh at how uppity some people can be. Personally, Salzburg, you're a quaint town with a rich history and though I have fond memories of you (the cousin who drove down got married there at the house where The Sound of Music was shot and I have vivid memories of my sister and I running around screeching because we were so bored because the grown-ups were enjoying a seven course meal and completely ignoring us), we could take you.

The concert itself was beautiful. They opened with, "Köçekçe," which is an old Turkish composition and my favorite piece they play. I accompany my mom to most of the concerts when I'm home and I've heard them perform this piece four times now and I never get sick of it. Fazil Say's original piece, "Nirvana Burning," premiered right after and it was such an interesting piece that kept dipping between sweet and whimsical to dark and vaguely threatening. A Mozart piece (of course) finished off the first half. After the intermission, my uncle was awarded the badge and of course all us cousins whooped and cheered in a most un-professional concert-goer way and took a lot of pictures. Two more pieces rounded out the concert and at the end both Fazil Say and our maestro Sascha recieved standing ovations. I get goosebumps thinking about now as I did seeing it then, but we got a standing ovation at the Salzburg Music Festival. These are Austrians, they never show emotion! But that might be unfair, Sascha is Austrian too and we definitely saw him tear up onstage because he was so overwhelmed. They got applauded so much that they went into an encore performance of "Köçekçe," with Sascha doing his best, conductor-with-ants-in-his-pants impression. He is so fun to watch. He's not stiff and unpersonable at all, he moves and smiles and shares in-jokes with the orchestra and it's just as much his performance as those playing the instruments'.

We had lunch and kind of all hung out again for the rest of the day. Most of us were returning early in the evening so we did a little walking around the town (the sun finally came out), had some more last-minute tortes and schnitzels and strudels and beer, and packed up to go home. It was a little bittersweet though. As one cousin mournfully put it, what are we going to do back home, we got used to being around each other after 48 hours straight.

The flight was a lot more relaxed now that we'd basically conquered Salzburg. The orchestra was chattier, happier, and deservedly proud of themselves. They always look to my mom when they're playing and she always secretly waves and smiles at them too, her surrogate kids, and even they had noticed she was nervous on their behalf but it all worked out. There were impromptu horns playing in the airport lounge and the entire flight was like a school trip coming home; so much shrieking and drinking and singing and laughing. Our stewardess had kind of a stick up her ass though. She didn't let one person use the bathroom since we were "landing." We were not. Then she turned off the lights to get people to shut up and sit down. It didn't work. My mom's two best friends had also come with us on the flight there and back and they were so silly, they seriously reminded me of seventh grade field trips with the stewardess as the default exasperated teacher. When she huffed around, they imperiously raised their hands and asked if they were allowed to sing. It was the weirdest, most fun flight I've been on in recent memory.

Not for my sister though. Her eyes had swelled up for no reason that weekend and she was kind of miserable. I bought her a little stuffed animal lemur at the airport because it had such a cute smiley face and the dark shading around its eyes made it look like it too was swollen. She didn't appreciate that detail but I think she liked the lemur. At one point the noise and confusion was just too much as she...started talking to the lemur.

We got back home around midnight, unpacked, re-packed and left at 9 in the morning to come to Bodrum in southern Turkey, where our family's summer home is. In the airport lounge we ran into a beloved, and really well-known Turkish comedian, Cem Yilmaz, who worked with our orchestra at one concert and my mom got to tell him about Salzburg and he said he wished he could work with us again. I hope it happens. They (we) are really making a name for themselves (ourselves) through the music and all the accomplishments and there are so many opportunities that lie ahead.

Now, my mom, sister, two cousins and uncle (and as of today, my dad) are all here in Bodrum. My grandparents had this house built so that we could all stay here together so there are rooms for everyone and we brought my cat along too and I'm enjoying my last few days in Turkey here. My grandparents arrive on Friday so I guess I'm getting my wish of family time, even though I got it in Salzburg. We're right by the sea and the days are spent swimming, playing games, watching movies. The other night everyone was doing their own thing but we were all together in the living room, including my Egglet who was sprawled on the floor, and my uncle was softly singing, "The Sound of Silence," and it was just one of those moments that made me appreciate how lucky I am, for being who I am and for having the family that I do.

The view from our front balcony.

Congratulations to the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra and to my family but as my uncle said in his acceptance speech, "This is only the beginning."


My uncle delivering his speech.

My mommy and uncle with his shiny new badge.

With Sascha Goetzel, our conductor.


My snazzy-lookin' mom and dad.

Impromptu airport concert.

The delightful staff.


  1. your family sounds so lovely and your stories about them are absolutely heartwarming.

    and side note: you look wonderful at the concert (and tall! i would probably break an ankle in 5 inch heels - work it, girl!).

  2. The title by Mozart is the opening line of his song, which is a "song of praise" for a Masonic lodge on the feast day of its patron, Saint John, which could be either the evangelist, Dec.27, or the Baptist, June 24. (Both are Masonic patrons.) It was written in his late teens, years before he became a Mason. Both the score and the whole poem are on the net. Start at imslp.org. (free sheet music) BTW, I've been to Salzburg and loved it. Mozart hated it. (political reasons)


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