City of the Blind (part 2)

Posted on November 26, 2011


Doubtful steps inch me across the room towards the wall my senses are telling me is there, but I never reach. Arms in a zombie stretch, I’m headed for my wife’s voice. I make it to the safety of my friends table at last, sit down next to Cari, and rest my arms on the table which…surprise, is also soaked in cold mulled wine. I begin to relax and try to enjoy this strange feeling. The scents of cinnamon, apple, and red wine and the swirling dots of light I’m watching, all trasport me to surreal place. The show has started. I hear the actor’s voices coming from the stage and then from behind me and then from across the room. They are telling the story of Komitas Vardapet, an Armenian priest and composer. He lived and worked here in Istanbul from 1910 to April 14, 1915. At which point, he was arrested and put on a train headed east. Packed with other Armenians, this train had a sinister destination, and scores of lives would be “lost” along the way. Although Komitas would survive this journey, he would lose his mind.

It was a really long concert/play, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. However, as I just said, it was seriously long. It felt even longer because you couldn’t see anything. I never knew if there was a waiter nearby, and getting up to go to the bathroom was completely out of the question. Uncomfortable, tired from a full day of teaching middle-schoolers, and blind, I spent a majority of the time with my head tilted back, eyes closed, and mouth agape. I can’t really tell you why other than it’s just how I ended up. And who cares how ridiculous I looked? No one could see me anyway. After what felt like an hour of blindness, I began to notice a floating red dot. It appeared to be on stage. I noticed it again later floating near my table as the singer was also walking past. My exhausted mind was in no condition to unravel this mystery. I simply thought it must be a signaling device for the performers who were inexplicably able to move around in the complete darkness without crashing into anything. The climax of this mystery came when it began hovering closer to my face. Now just inches away, I pondered this light still with my mouth hanging open and head thrown back. I was informed later, after the concert, to my great embarrassment, that this was a nightvision camera!

I also found out that they post video from the performances on their website.

The people operating the cameras call themselves The Blind Photographers and I’m sure they had quite a time showing this footage to their friends. No doubt, they laughed violently for several minutes until they tried to stop out of guilt, beginning to wonder if maybe I had some mental disabilities or something.

Although the concert’s length was challenging, the musical performances were as sad and beautiful as Komitas’ life. If you take away the visual element of music, you are left to focus intensely on the sound which was truly transcendent. My favorite piece was Komitas’ arrangement of the Adhan (the Islamic call to prayer). It’s interesting to me that an Armenian priest chose to rework the Adhan, and I’d like to know more about his motivations. I immediately recognized the familiar words, but the way he arranged it has a completely different vibe. I think it is stunningly beautiful. At least, it was that night in the darkness.

Here is a video of the same singer at the same venue, but luckily a different night, so you can’t see me looking bizarre and deranged in the background.

I’ve never heard a woman sing the Adhan (called the Ezan in Turkish). To me, it almost sounds bright.

Later in the concert, they performed a song about the Armenians marching into the east and into the desert. My friend translated for me. He said it was about people dropping one by one as they were marched marched, falling one by one to their death. Komitas himself was saved from this fate by a Turkish nationalist friend who sent word that he should be sent to the capital instead of the east where mass death was being administered. Still Komitas never recovered. His friends said he would often lapse into blind panic. They wrote that he “saw gendarmes behind every tree.”

So the concert was a bit of a downer, but it was also moving and beautiful. I don’t think I’ll ever forget, and I don’t think I’ll try to drink from a long stem glass while blind again either. So if you ever get a chance to go to a blind concert or a blind dinner, definately give it a try. It’s enlightening.

Here is another Komitas song I remembered hearing.