Soldering Practice and Target Practice

After a two weeks hiatus, it was time for jewelry class again. I've wanted to set aside some time to make more jewelry at home or at least design projects that I can bring to class and work on in between other projects, but haven’t been very successful. A big part of me (the wide eyed child side) wants to take the bigger leap into buying more tools and committing to truly learning the craft, but another part of me (the more responsible and rational parent side) worries about accumulating heavy tools and whether or not I'll seriously put in the time. The argument I'm having in my mind reminds me of the discussion now going on in my uncle's family between my cousin, who wants to start playing the trumpet, and his father, who thinks this is a passing desire and envisions paying hundreds of euros for a horn, that will lay unused and whose case will just become a resting place for books. 

While in Udine, I visited a jeweler’s studio with my aunt. This jeweler is someone who's been making jewelry for her and who she's been buying from for quite a long time. One of the skills he specializes in is enameling and I wanted to see some of his work and take a look around. When we walked in, he was attending to two ladies, who were checking out engagement rings, and we waited for our turn. Quite suddenly, one of them- the bride-to-be, took a seat, turned the color of boiled cabbage and began to fall backwards, eyes rolling inwards. Thankfully, her friend caught her in time and we helped lay her on the floor with her legs up. Her friend went to get her some tea, while she recovered. The episode lasted a long time, but while she waited for her beau to come pick her up, the jeweler was able to talk to me a minute about his craft and business. He looked at me with a weary look and said, "Look, I would discourage anyone trying to enter the profession right now." Because of the economic crisis, it seems that many jewelers have had to close down shop in Italy and the odds of making it as a career jeweler seem dishearteningly small. I didn't tell him that I wasn't thinking of making jewelry as my only profession, because it felt as if I were taking it too lightly and as if it were somehow disrespectful, but just absorbed his dose of reality. Again I thought that it does seem silly to invest in a lot of tools for something that is essentially just something I really enjoy going and don't plan on making a living from. I left doubting how seriously I should launch into putting together a complete jewelry studio.

After all the dire news about the future of jewelers, I hoped that a session at Caferağa Medresesi would assuage my doubts and remind me of why I wanted to take this more seriously in the first place. As always, stepping out of the bustle of Sultanhamet into the tranquil, familiar atrium of the school was a relief. Now, that I have come to know people there, I also look forward to greeting them and exchanging a few words before class, especially now that I know a few more phrases in Turkish. Here, I am not just another tourist- I have a context and am building relationships.  When I come here, people don't use friendly questions as stepping stones into my pocketbook and conversations don't quickly steer to what rug I'd like to buy. I make eye contact here, instead of putting on my faraway purposeful city gaze.  I appreciate having been able to find this kind of space in Istanbul. 

The focus of yesterday's class continued to be to practice soldering. I finished making the heart that I'd started two weeks ago and went on to make a triangle. Although I'm still a little shaky with soldering in general and am working on the timing- I still can't seem to put the solder in, so that it balls up, breaks off onto the seam, and flows. I still heat it too much and the solder curls up into a large blob that inelegantly spreads everywhere in and around the seam. It's like the kids in my old class, who would empty out half the Elmer's glue bottle to join two pieces of paper, leaving blobs of glue to ooze from every side. So, yes, I am still mastering the basic coordination of flame and solder, still learning to match one with the other at the critical point where magic is made- an effortless connection. The way I’m working it now, flame and solder are still making awkward conversation at the bar, set up by their well-meaning friends, who said they would “really hit it off.” I have yet to make sparks fly between the two, as they say.

The family, who takes the class with me, brought me a few gifts of flux (borox) and the chemical used for “the pickle,” to clean off the silver after soldering. They are so sweet and I was touched that they’d thought of me. In a few weeks, they said they would take me to buy a torch. There’s a market on the Asian side, where it seems that one can buy tools for good prices. It seems that I’ll be putting together a studio after all!

Midway through the class, we took our usual break. I had missed our weekly ritual and so had made muffins for the occasion- kuru üzüm ve tarçın (raisin and cinnamon). We have a new student in class, who is getting initiated into the rhythms of the group. She is very friendly and speaks a little English, which is helpful.

At the end of class, the calligraphy teacher stopped in to have a chat. A while back, he had told me about a project he had of recreating an Ottoman bow and I asked him about it. His eyes lit up and he asked, “Do you want to see it?” He had it in the trunk of his car, along with a homemade target and an arrow.  It was beautiful- rigged with pulleys and strings, small parts that looked like insect legs to support the arrow, and a phosphorescent peep sight. Before long, he was hauling the target, bow, and arrows back to the atrium with my teacher, to demonstrate the precision of his bow. Just like that, two grown men had morphed back to boys, transformed by the excitement of a cool new toy. I have to say that I was pretty excited to see it in action myself. The atrium cleared and the target was set on one side. Everyone crowded the columns on the sides in the evening light (even the cats had the good sense to get out of sight), while the calligraphy teacher loaded his bow, aimed, and released in one smooth shot that lodged itself straight into the target. He repeated the action and passed the bow around to admiring hands, eager to feel its weight and attempt to pull the string back.

And so, having started the evening with soldering practice, it ended with target practice. I said my goodbyes and walked home, since the weather had cleared,  filled with renewed certainty that I should keep this jewelry thing going. The sun was setting on Istanbul- Midas turning buildings to gold. It was a stunning sight to end the weekend.

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