Guide to SKOPJE

Dance Me till The End of Love in Istanbul


Balkon3 report from Leonard Cohen’s concert in Istanbul

They say that travel broadens one’s horizons and travelling to far off places surely broadens one’s perceptions. Istanbul, a city of unofficially 20 million souls surely broadens one’s perceptions and definitions of what big means. A vibrant and densely populated city, it is constantly in motion, day and night, with endless labyrinths of streets, buildings, busy traffic and rivers of people. It is impossible to describe its day life as much of what happens and its distinctive atmosphere is beyond any description or suitable words. Istanbul is the true crossroad where the West and East meet. Situated on two continents, it is divided by the Bosphorus Strait. It is also divided by such stark contrasts as seen through windows of numerous busses and mini vans. Site locations that indicate that once it was the capitol of two great empires, whereas today a cultural and political centre of modern Turkey.Since the reason for me being in Istanbul for such a brief moment was the concert of Leonard Cohen I couldn’t stray away much from the set out plan I had in the first place – finding accommodation near the area where Ulker Sports Arena is, the location where the concert was taking place, finding and arriving at the hall on time and then safely returning to the main bus station (Buyuk Otogar) at Bayrampasha. Navigating through a megalopolis such as this ancient city, through its vast networks of busses (oto-busses), metro, mini vans (dolmush) is at the same time an adventure and a challenge especially, when rarely anyone knew any word of English.

Mostly, all of the signs and directions are written in native Turkish. This being the situation, one should not let logic interfere with the communication with people in the streets. Naturally, one has to speak fluently with one’s hands and gestures and know the names of locations wishing to get to. But the Turks happened to be one of the most forthcoming, nicest and helpful people I have ever met. Google map can be of help in order to visualize where point A is and how to navigate to where point B is, but the amount of time to reach those destinations was tremendously huge. Again, it’s the people you turn to along the way. Actually, all of the people I encountered really made sure I was on the right track, on the right bus, on the right direction. Their incredible kindness moved me all the more because I had not expected it in Istanbul.

The Ulker Sports Hall is an indoor arena located in the area of Ataşehir. It is a beautiful rounded building with a capacity for 15.000 people and beside hosting sports events, it was one of the stops on Leonard Cohen’s current Old Ideas World Tour. The last time I attended one of his concerts was in Belgrade, Serbia and it was a momentous, emotional occasion. That triumphant tour ran for over two years and earned rave reviews. When it was over in 2010, with 247 concerts behind, Cohen, immediately began working on his next output, Old Ideas. That tour, from 2008/10, and the new album proved that despite his steadily increasing years, Leonard Cohen remains a powerful and bewitching performer and author. Leonard Cohen does not play songs – he plays feelings. Besides being blessed with the “gift of a golden voice” he is blessed with the power to communicate with huge crowds of people. That is actually the secret of a man whose songs, poems and novels have, for many, become little guides into the innermost and darkest workings of their own hearts and souls.

For both band and a delirious crowd, each song was an event. Regardless if he never had a top 20 hit single, no one would notice that from the crowd’s joyful reaction to this man’s songs. It is not an everyday sight to see the 79 years old Leonard Cohen skipping on stage with impish pleasure and kneeling to sing “Dance Me till The End of Love.” It’s this humor, tremendous energy and humbleness that had the people hypnotized and mesmerized. Witnessing the souls laid bare by the performers at the venue ensured a sumptuous match between performer and location, both immersed in hushed reverence. The songs that were performed came from all corners of Cohen’s illustrious career and the news songs boded well. Among classic songs such as “ “The Future,” “Bird on A Wire” “Everybody Knows” “In My Secret Life” “Suzanne,” the band also played “Darkness,” “Amen,” “Going Home,” “Anthem” from Old Ideas and were all well received.

Noticeably, he did something that people in this part of the world value as one of traits of a great man. He showed traits of humbleness and modesty expressed as is expected from someone of higher ranks. Most of the time he was taken aback by sheer power of music and mostly he sang on his knees or bended on one knee. He responded kindly to people in the audience and thanked them when they wished him a happy birthday. As a true leader he often stood mesmerized and listened to his band playing, taking off the fedora when someone shone so brightly on their instruments. The backing singers were also given a spotlight to shine. The Webb sisters sang “If It Be Your Will” while Sharon Robinson, whom Cohen addressed her as “incomparable” several times during the concert sang a beautiful and soulful version of “Alexandra Leaving.” The concert ended with 2 encores, after 3 hours of playing.

But the night did not end with the concert. Someone took the opportunity to propose a marriage to his girlfriend outside the arena gates. I met a cute girl from Teheran, Iran who came specially to attend the concert. Also, I had a backstage pass for the concert and was taken there by Sharon Robinson, who introduced me to the band members.

Sharon Robinson is a beautiful soul of a woman, and it was great to meet her after the interview we did. Naturally, to meet Leonard Cohen in person was one of the greatest thrills one could have. After 3 hours of playing and singing he was still full of energy and enthusiasm and probably he could have played another 3 hours. He got interested in the place I come from, the language we speak, the languages it is related to, what makes it special. Too little time to explain everything. but I did leave them a pack of CDs, something they could treasure.

The lights that have been illuminating the walls of Ulker Sports Hall began to dim, while the impression of Leonard Cohen’s music burned as bright as ever. He might ache in the places where he used to play after long shows of this scale, but to hear from him is ever a pleasure to treasure.

Nenad Georgievski