Sunday Sawing and Kismet (Fate)


Sunday, the day of my metalworking class, I woke up with a sense of urgency in spite of the huge sinus headache that was anchoring me down. I needed to learn Turkish words for jewelry tools and useful phrases around the workshop! I wanted to be prepared… and most of all, I did not want to be told that I couldn’t survive in the class. So I sat in front of my computer, webpage opened to the Turkish translator, sketchbook on my lap, and began to take down words that came to mind: translations for “solder”, “gauge”, “hammer”, “bezel”, “stone”, “file.” I also looked up phrases like, “I am ready to solder” and verbs like “cutting,” and “heating.” The problem was that each word I typed in came up with more than one translation and nothing on the translator tool indicated which of the multiple meaning words was the one I needed. So, I wrote down the first one, usually, and figured I could resort to pointing for the ones that were completely off the mark. I also spent a good chunk of the morning drawing- sketching out ideas for pendants and earrings. I wanted to be ready.

When the time came, I made my way over to Sultanhamet. Found the Hagia Sophia and the small cobblestone road to the workshops. I bumped into the woman from administration, who had insisted that I couldn’t take the class, and she looked at me with a slight shake of the head and a smile, “Ah, Emilie,” she said, a mix of exasperation and amusement in her tone. I showed her my translation page and some of the designs I had made. “Very nice,” she said smiling slightly. I sat in cool seclusion of the atrium to have a coffee, surrounded by students waiting for their workshops and counting my blessings for being allowed to be a part of such a wonderful place. The waiter remembered me from the day before and said, “So, you are taking the class?” Maybe word of our persistence had gotten around. “Evet,” I replied. Finally, it was time for class to begin.

We trickled into the tiny studio. It was truly a teeny tiny little studio- with a work table in the middle, no bigger than a dinner table, with six works stations around the table. There was just enough room to squeeze between the chairs and shelves that lined the room’s perimeter. I met the two other women, who would be taking the class. One of them spoke English very fluently (she teaches Turkish to several English speakers) and was my lifesaver throughout the class. We chatted a bit before starting and she asked if I had done jewelry before. “I’ve taken classes in the past,” I replied, “But I’ve mostly done it just as a hobby.”

Our teacher walked in and introduced himself. He began to talk and talk and occasionally, I would catch my new friend’s eye and she would quickly summarize what he’d said. After his first long string of words, I looked at her and she said, “He said that for him jewelry is everything and that he wants to teach us to learn the skills of a jeweler. If you’re here just as a hobby, he says don’t waste his time.” I suddenly felt embarrassed and very thankful that he didn’t speak English and hadn’t been able to understand my earlier comment. He continued to introduce himself: He learned to make jewelry at 8 and has been making jewelry for the last 24 years. He is a firm believer in handcrafting and shuns things that are mass-produced. He even cuts his own stones. He began to pull out stones in their raw forms that he collects: chalcedony, chrysoprase, agate, topaz, quartz, fire opal, and said that he would take us to buy stones later in the course. He also showed us his jewelry. Most of it was in the Ottoman style and gorgeous- it’s hard to believe that they all start with a flat sheet of metal! Although I couldn’t understand him and could only pick out a few words here and there, he was friendly and energetic. You could tell that he was sharing what he loves.

After the introduction, it was time for the first part of the lesson: sawing. Most of the jewelry classes that I’ve taken (aside for the casting ones) have started with sawing- the building block of fabrication… and I have to say that I’m pretty good at it. Our teacher said even if I’d taken classes before, I needed to show him that I could saw. He showed us a circular design with intricate lace-like patterns inside and said that once we showed him that we could cut this in brass, we could move on to silver. A challenge! “Bring it on,” I thought. “The first person who does this in our class,” he said, “I will buy them coffee.”

The first sawing task was a straight line across our brass plate, cutting off 1/3 of it. I set out to cut first one half and when I couldn’t cut anymore because of the saw’s bar, flipped the metal plate around and cut from the other side. Plink! The chunk of plate fell to the table. “You’re done?!” my teacher exclaimed with eyebrows raised. Next task: he took a compass and drew a line across the third that I’d just cut and asked me to cut the thin strip. Saw, saw, saw… done! “Ok,” he said, “Now do this six more times.” I accumulated the six thin strips and gave them to him to examine when I was done. He inspected the line and nodded his head. “Ok (tamam),” he said in approval. He then took what was left of my bigger brass strip and a sharpie and drew the curviest line possible, like an aerial view of a river, and passed it back to me. “No problem,” I thought, enjoying this playful exchange. When I had wound my saw around and around the meandering path from one end of the strip to the other, he took the strip and drew the most jagged line I’ve ever seen, like a cartoon lighting bolt cutting straight across the metal. “I want to see how you go around corners,” he said. I started to cut and midway through, he took the saw to show me how to cut a circle in the metal. I tried it after him and he nodded his head to show I’d done it correctly. He said, “What I am teaching you is what I learned when I was 8 from the master jewelers. When I teach you their spirit lives on through you and you will always have their presence there when you make jewelry.” I nodded and smiled at this blessing- this gift of jeweler guardian angels that he was bestowing.

Soon after, it was time for a break. We gathered outside and had some tea and a delicious home-made bread that the third student had brought. Our teacher chatted and chatted, and I have to say that I have never felt more motivated to learn Turkish. I wanted to be part of the conversation, to hear the stories and jokes and to share some in return. When class resumed, I finished cutting. I had passed the first level of jewelry-making. My teacher took the design I’d made at home and glued it to the metal plate. He said to cut it at home and told everyone to continue practicing cutting during the coming week.

Leaving with everyone, I felt inspired and ecstatic. I had made it through the first class in Turkish, though it would have been very challenging without my generous translator. I was excited about what I would be learning- an ancient craft- and that it would be taught in a systematic and structured way. My heart swelled at the potential shift in careers and I began to think that maybe I had taken this job in Turkey to find this studio to learn this craft. Maybe the universe was guiding me to be where I needed to be and although I’m not usually one to be superstitious, I began to think that perhaps this was indeed fate. We have the potential to continually reinvent ourselves and maybe the time is right for just such a change.

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