Old Friends of Cemil Meriç

Written by Ümit Meriç

Cemil Meriç is a well-liked person. He is constantly surrounded either by the interest of his students or his cordial friends very dear to him.

Although their friendship is not very well known, Asaf Hâlet Çelebi was friends with Cemil Meriç. “You could come across him on the ferry from Beylerbeyi to Eminönü in the mornings, at Çukur Pudding Shop at Grand Bazaar in the afternoons, and at Küllük Coffeehouse in the evenings. A medium-built, plump man with a low bushy mustache that reminds one of the pictures of the Chinese on tea boxes.” Cemil Meriç would read the following verse from AsafHâlet who looked like a spice trader from India:

“If I had not met you, I would become Buddha. But I met you and I became a fool.” Asaf Hâlet, from whose “overcoat the Second

New poets emerged”, leaves his Beylerbeyi house surrounded with pine trees and skinny cats where armadillos lived under Maltastones, which was located on a slope street now carrying his name, the day his father passed away and his world turned black. Upon arriving at Cemil Meriç’s house in Fethi Paşa, he says, “Cemil, my father died!”. His father had raised him “in childhood dreams mixed with fairy tales”, and he had started learning French and Persian at a very young age. Mister Cemil immediately dresses up, taking the arm of his grieving friend, he shares his sorrow until his father is buried and prayers were said. Was the poem:

“Those who look at me,
See my body.
I am somewhere else,
Those who bury me.
Bury my body,
I am somewhere else”. written on that day?

Asaf Hâlet had a wide double world from stretching from China to Lisbon, and was the first person to talk about Indian literature in Turkish literary history before Cemil Meriç. Maybe the world they shared because of French language, maybe conversations they had in the library of Psychology Department or in their offices at Gün or Yeni Adam magazines, brought these two tender souls closer. Let’s leave Asaf Hâlet, who lost his 19 year old son, alone with the question: “Abraham,

Who broke my heart taking it for an icon?”, and meet with the new faces in Cemil Meriç’s circle of friends.

Cemil Meriç’s house was frequently a setting for friendly visits. Cemil Meriç was a wellliked, well-respected man with friends from all ages and walks of life. So, many people visited his house, and Cemil Meriç also paid visits to some of his elderly acquaintances, most of which lived also during the Ottoman era. But there is a figure who had known and appreciated Cemil Meriç since his teenage years: “Philosopher” Rıza Tevfik.

Cemil Meriç visited his old friend Rıza Tevfik’s house on Rızapaşa Street in Moda. Two friends planned to write a “Philosophy Dictionary” together for which Cemil Meriç would prepare French terms and Rıza Tevfik, English and German terms. Rıza Tevfik quoted parables from the Bible he was then reading during a visit and their joint project of writing a book ended before it even began with Rıza Tevfik’s passing on 31 December 1949.

Sabih Şevket Çengeloğlu was a pasha’s son. His father Çengeloğlu Tahir Pasha was a chief admiral in Abdulmecid period and got his surname from Çengelköy district, and his mother was the daughter of a chief admiral. Just like Mister Cemil, he was a French lecturer in Foreign Languages School. This personality from the Second Constitutionalists Period who “crashed the windows when he laughed”, was the head of Istanbul Tramway-Tunnel Administration. Confirmed bachelor with a strong voice spoke English and French like his mother tongues, and began his sentences with “Say!”. In every moment of his long life, he desired to fill his life comb with honey. For long years, he lived in a large room at the entrance of an Egyptian princess’ mansion in Feneryolu. He would get cold showers in the mornings and evenings, and crossing over railway’s wire fences with his walking stick with a silver mace, he would walk to Kalamış, watch the sunset and return to his tiny home. He used to prepare a binge*, take his oud down from the wall, and spend the night steeped with music hosting his friends. This old-time gentleman carefully entrusted Mister Cemil with the lecture notes of Cevdet Pasha, who taught in Law School.

Years later Meriç family went to Şile to swim with their common friends Suphan and Fuat Andıç in two cars, and on the way back they visited another common friend Mister Halil in his villa in Erenköy smelling of honeysuckles, and sang the song “Rain don’t pour, wind don’t blow, I have a passenger on the road” with Mister Sabih at the piano after dinner. This expected passenger never came to Mister Sabih’s room buried under details of all sorts of memories. He would take out the Kasimirski translation of ‘Koran’ he carried in his pocket all his life and was not shy to point out the contradictions he detected with his Second Constitutionalist perspective to whomever was around. A bank put 85 years old Mister Sabih on a lifelong salary -probably because he would pass away soon-, and he lived happily ever after, seeing many more springs. This proud atheist, surrounded only by female students from Erenköy Nursing School he once taught in, lifted his head saying “God I don’t want to die” and gave his last breath at the age of 94. Cemil Meriç was fond of but rather angry with him. Because he had said “Live the life with all its pleasures,” to Ümit and Mahmut Ali when they were around 15 years old, he wrote the furious article “Youbrought this country to ruins!” for ‘Jurnal’.

Among Cemil Meriç’s visitors was İskender Fikret Akdora, who would leave Moda in his Alfa-Romeo with a boat-tail difficult to come by then, and pick up and bring along Salih Zeki, the poet with a white mane. For children in the neighborhood playing on the streets or garden alleys, this car climbing the hill in just one breath and stopping at Meriçs’ garden gate was as peculiar and amazing as a spacecraft taking off from the moon and landing on the earth. Both poets elaborately signed for and inscribed their very thin poetry books to Cemil Meriç, and used this an excuse for a visit. Poet with white mane Salih Zeki with his spiritual portrait made by little brush strokes in ‘Bu Ülke’ (This Country) under the title “Yunan’a Kaçış” (Escape to Greek), wrote the following on Cemil Meriç: “He considered himself the last Greek living in this country. But he was Turkish to the bone. With his pride, joys and weaknesses,”. As a matter of fact, this old boy who could not do without his monocle was Eastern enough in his pleasures, to fill his glass with vermilion pickled beet juice at a table prepared by Madame Fevziye and to drink it with joy to the end.

Refik Halid (and his wife) also visited Meriçs, illuminated the house of this young writer with last sparkles of the sun of life which was about to set, and liked Ümit who had recently finished and enjoyed Refik Halid’s ‘Nilgün’ in three volumes as well as their cat, Pamuk.

Hasan Ali Yücel who had not lost his glory despite leaving Board of Education, would visit Cemil Meriç to have a chat, with the tips of his eyebrows climbing up to the sky, order him a translation or a copyrighted work, and leave with as much dignity as he arrived. Ümit saw the first five hundred liras of his life in Hasan Ali Yücel’s hand, who brought it as payment for a translation her father had made.

Rest in peace all these friends commemorated and Cemil Meriç who met them in “a sea no ships sailed”!

This text is an excerpt from the extended version of the book ‘My Father Cemil Meriç’ currently being edited by Ümit Meriç.

About the author

Ümit Meriç

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