"Somehow I came across Anthony Bourdain; a chef that lives in New York, USA. He wrote a book called ‘Kitchen Confidential’, it’s available in Turkish as well. In this book, he describes how hard -very enjoyable but difficult- profession it is to be a chef. So for example, even when you enter the kitchen of a wonderful restaurant, it can be very depressing... extremely hot, even hotter on summer days... with boiling waters, food cooking, ovens, grills, and etc. How all their arms and hands are covered with burns and cuts- do our chef has those? As you see, it’s covered in those. Anthony Bourdain says that they are like signs of rank. ["They say it’s a sign of mastery"] And that for him, a chef is as valuable as their scars. He describes it so well. He explains why a chef’s cooking is better than a meal at home."
"I mean- do I call myself a musician? No, I do deal with music, but I don’t think I am a musician. Maybe it is a controversial subject, I don’t know... ["What do you say then, do you say “I am interested in music”?"] I say that I sing, I deal with music, I get on stage. I just count some facts but I don’t form a definition, as a roof over my head. I could say I am a musician, but it feels like it is beyond me. Because I don’t create anything, I just interpret. You can be a musician being just a interpreter. İ didn’t say that because I am against the idea, I said it because I am not that deeply involved in it. I don’t spend that much time or energy on it. That is why it would feel like I’m being unfair to those who give themselves to it, if I called myself a musician. I already have another profession that takes most of my time; this is what I think."
"I was an amateur, since the beginning. And I stayed an amateur, because I couldn’t do it professionally. Basically, I have an interest in the field of photography, and I try to commit myself to it whenever I have time-, whenever I have free time."
"Which means-, how long? How many hours per day?"
"I try to give 1 or 2 hours a day, especially this last year."
"I guess it is longer for you Selim?"
"It is longer, but we need to keep in mind that quality is more important than quantity. Still, I take about few hours a day to look at photographs, edit my own, read on photography, or read about other disciplines and think about how they could reflect on my photography; maybe even longer."
"And how much of your time do you give to table tennis?"
"In the summer months, when -those we call- professionals never play, I think lies the biggest difference. It seems like the professionals are only doing this for money. When the league is over in June, they throw away their racket, and they don’t pick it back up until a month before the league starts again. This is not true for us, we play all the time. We play whenever we get the chance, so there are no seasonal or daily changes for us. Our time spent in training is close to the professionals. But here it is important to make the definition; we, amateurs, do not play in the level of the super-league players, but still we compete within our age-groups in tournaments for the veteran. Here, we are separating the amateur and the professional into two categories, but this is actually not accurate. I could give an example through football: there is the professional football league, the amateur league, the local league, and those that play in their own neighborhood on the astro pitch. It can be divided into 3 or 4. The same goes for table tennis; here, we are in fact representing only two of several categories."
"When it comes to poetry, it may be problematic to differentiate the amateur and the professional right away."
"Yes, it is hard to distinguish one from the other. Mathematically it is said that if you make money from what you do, then you are a professional. If not, you are an amateur. However this is not possible for poetry. But I believe the search for competence, without losing that spirit -that state of the amateur-, is the most important path of the poet. This is why- Of course here in this juxtaposition I prefer to place myself under the amateur title, considering my correspondent to be a master. I think this would deepen the conversation."
"No, but here-. Apart from you and me, and this juxtaposition; there is a thing that we call the literary world. And that has its own norms and sensitivities; it has certain dynamics that were formed over time. This differentiation happens there accordingly, whether we like it or not."
"Actually, to set the frame right, I should say this: when we talk about Fenerbahce Sports Club, or Galatasaray Sports Club, they have their football branch, basketball branch and volleyball branch, which are considered professional sports. And then they have their amateur branches: swimming, rowing, table tennis, taekwando, karate... all of these are assessed and defined as amateur branches. However when you regard Fenerbahce’s female table tennis team, they have become the European Champion."
"They have very serious-, very serious contracts ["They have brought players from China, and Yugoslavian-"] of course, their trainer is foreign, Armenian: almost all the players are foreign. They have one local player-"
"For sure, it is a branch with an annual budget of 300-500 thousand euros, but it is considere an amateur branch."
"Isn’t this unfair?"
"The branch is defined as amateur in Turkey, much like other similar branches... there are very few branches that are considered professional and are autonomous. (SE: football, basketball and volleyball. This is a definition made by the government.) Yes, this is the government’s view and evaluation. Right, right."
"So only 3 branches are professional."
"And that is the state’s view on it."
"I see, so this can be different in other countries. It all depends on that government’s point of view; each has its own standards."
"I think one of the most important qualities of a chef is... For example as an amateur chef myself- let’s not say that... as an amateur that enjoys cooking, my biggest short-coming is that I would make a meal three times, and they would turn up differently each time. Why? Because I don’t have a standard, I am not consistent."
"Maybe you wouldn’t want to have a standard, anyways."
"Maybe that’s true. However, I guess that is the biggest difference between a professional and an amateur. A professional can keep a standard if he/she wants to. I am not consistent, even if I wanted to be. I believe a chef would be able to do this if they want to."
"I do this to make myself happy. I do not think about what the other person will think, whether they will like it, or if my voice will be off tone. I sing however I feel like. I am aware that my techniques is not so good, maybe I am going off tone, or that my voice cracks up, but I don’t really care. I sing as I feel. That is why I enjoy it this much."
"And for you?"
"In fact, for most art branches -especially for performative branches- the best ones are the ones you do to make yourself happy. There are times that I get on the stage to make myself happy, without any financial worries. The performances I enjoy the most are the ones when I sing whatever I want. Maybe 4 of the 400-500 concerts I was talking about where like this. But they were the most memorable. However being a professional means something else. You prioritize others. For example, to get your tunes on the radio, you need to keep those people happy; to get your CD sold, you need to satisfy the production company. You end up trying to make everyone else happy, you end up miserable. Because you cannot regard it as art anymore, you regard it as a job. This is where the problem lies... for some reason I started to about my troubles... But of course I become ecstatic when I sing, especially the song that I love."
"Is there a period when you called yourself an amateur in photography?"
"When I didn’t earn any money from it, of course I called myself an amateur. Because there is a sense of naivety within the word ‘amateur’, and I care for it. The word ‘professional’ doesn’t have this. Just yesterday they were telling about some statistics at a seminar. It said that people who are interested in art and art theories, look less at the artworks. I always sense the danger in that ratio, so I do not use the word ‘professional’ to define myself most of the time. I am a photographer."
"What do you think about this definition Kaan?"
"This is something I also care for a lot. When someone improves in a field, and becomes professional, they lose that amateur spirit. That spirit should never be lost, and photography is not something that has an end, something you can say I learned it all, it’s over. It is like a constant journey."
"Have you ever considered doing this as a profession? In the future?"
"A lot, I think about it all the time. I am 45 years old, and any moment I could drop everything, burn all the bridges, and get its education. And there are great schools in Istanbul. Of course this is a profession that requires a lot of energy; it’s a physically tiring job. So, I don’t know how long it would take me to say I have learned it – I’m done. And if I would have any more energy left after that, but I would love to do it as a profession."
"Since I am also a teacher, I know that talent is actually like, first taking the dust off a stone and then making it nicer, depending on the stone you are processing. Some students progress faster, some progress slower... I studied at the conservatory. And apart from the musical knowledge and theory, the most important thing I learned was the vision. Like, many different musicians’ perspective, the way they played the instruments, how they sang, the comments we got from our teachers, these are the biggest values I gained but once you take a step towards the real life, there is a different world out there."
"Well, I think the technique of singing can be learned ["Yes"] right? ["But to learn that is also a talent"] I don’t know. I feel like, if you are talented, let’s say you can learn in three years. If you are not talented and if you work really hard you learn in fifteen years, one way or another. This is the way it is for every branch of art I think…That is why- [" but they don’t reach the same level-"] Of course a person who works for three years will continue working- ["But the level one gets in 3 years will still be better than the other’s level in ten years"] Maybe, I don’t know. But I still think it can be learned up to a point. However when music is concerned, I think the technical side of it can be learned, but conveying the feeling is a different story."
Y"At this point I should ask, can poetry be taught? I mean, can there be an education where you learn how to write poems? And if there is such a thing, what kind of education did you get? And with that in mind, do concepts such as talent, and genius keep their validity?"
"There is something that we call ‘study of poetry’. So, there are certain things you can learn about poetry. Such as: what is prosody, what is assonance. However these are results, forms. And these forms are -firstly- practical means to use, but more importantly, they are instruments that the poet needs dismantle, tear down, improve and grow to reveal a poem. Can poetry be taught? Truth be told, if this was possible, people like poetry critics-. You know, they see many things a poet can’t. They see all the psychological whirls, inquiries and discoveries about humans, or reveal certain linguistic structures.. In that sense, critics or academicians should have been able to write poetry very easily."
"Yes, of course an education is possible. However any person that strives for poetry, should always seek to learn. And, not only about the study of poetry, they should try to get knowledge from many different ways of being/living. They need this, so that they can put forth new forms from that knowledge."
"Esra, this question is for you, since you are the professional: is there seniority in culinary arts? How do you proceed? How do you progress? According to what?"
"Yes, there is definitely seniority, and it is needed. Sometimes, my friends from the corporate world says: “You have such an enjoyable job, how nice!”. But the kitchen is-; I was shocked the first time I went in. There is a kind of military hierarchy. You start at the bottom, you cannot even touch the food. Normally, it takes about few years to touch a hot meal, or at least that’s how I think it should be. So, first you start by buying the ingredients, you learn those. And with every step comes new knowledge. First you learn about the ingredients, then you wash the vegetation until your hands get wrinkly ["Great! I got awarded, now I can wash the parsley!"] You are always the apprentice, the busser at that time. But you progress by learning something new from everyone. You learn about speed from a chef/master, you learn about cleanliness from another master, you learn how to cut from another... and that is how you proceed. And that process never really ends."
"I know that when working on something professionally, there are impediments and it is not as pleasurable as it seems from outside. Therefore, I keep music on a distance; music is always like a platonic love that I can never reach. For this reason, it is always beautiful; every time I am on stage it is so beautiful."
"For me, table tennis never came first. I prioritized work, family, health... then table tennis, when I had free time.
Suna Kafadar: Do you have other hobbies? Other club memberships or different pursuits?"
"Of course I have hobbies. I like to play bridge. I like to play pool, go to the movies and the theater, those kind of stuff. We experience those, but we don’t contribute anything to them. There is a table tennis club that we devote a lot of time, I have duties in both the club for disable people, and the club for the masters. I also have a place in the international association, but mostly in managerial positions. We work on the development of table tennis."
"And for you? What are your hobbies?"
"When you say ‘hobby’, I have a conceptual problem with that word. The word ‘hobby’ brings to my mind, a group of retire women gossiping at a painting course. It is better to say ‘areas of being’. Because, only when we are able to change in between different states of being-, when we step out of our professional pursuits, can we form a good way of living. I mean, if we are a manager at work, a manager at home, a manager on the streets, we cannot say that we are forming a true relationship with life. If we succeed in becoming different states of being, can our lives get richer. When I say ‘areas of being’, for me, it’s cinema; I don’t need to become a director, but I strive to be a good watcher; I strive to be a proper reader, proper listener of music. I am interested in these, but I don’t call them ‘hobbies’. I enjoy employing those states of being, I call them ‘areas of endeavor’."
"I am a photographer. I can be an amateur or I can be a professional. I can make money too. Sometimes I’ve made my living with photography, sometimes I completely let it go. I do not enjoy being limited; for myself and for others as well. Entering the realm of language, the way it shapes you, the way it possesses you... When you say ‘professional’, recalling all the things you know about professionalism, and how you put me in a stereotypical form, actually annoys me. Same goes for amateur. This is why I say I take photos. I also do other stuff. But the most important thing, I believe, is the artworks, the projects. The language, these definitions lose their meaning. The process itself is much more valuable than the definition."