We are going on a life journey with Lazari Kozmaoğlu; the founder of the one and only pork butcher in Istanbul “İdeal Salam”. He is taking us from Kuzguncuk to Dolapdere along with people from different cultures.Photography: Işık Kaya

Once I heard it from a friend of mine. “When my father wants to buy pork sausage, he goes to that pork butcher in Dolapdere. I cannot tell you how good it is.” Then, incidentally, Işık – the photography artist who takes black and white portraits for us, too – mentioned it. “Actually, you can also have an interview with the owner of that pork butcher in Dolapdere. He is the only pork butcher in İstanbul. They are an old Greek family who live in İstanbul.”

I found myself dialing the number of İstanbul’s last pork butcher, “İdeal Salam”. The founder of the İdeal Salam, Lazari Kozmaoğlu’s son, was on the line. “He would love to talk to you about his memories of İstanbul. He cannot hear well but if you talk loudly during the interview, there will be no problem. We will be waiting for you on Monday.”

On the contrary to the rainy weekday, they greeted me very warmly in this small butcher’s shop. When I introduced my name, they asked me where I was from. It turned out that they knew my husband’s late grandfather. When I looked around carefully, I realized that the ones who stood on the cashier and on the counter were Lazari’s and his brother Kozma’s children. Lazari invited me upstairs for conversation. On a small kitchen counter, the staff’s meal was being cooked. We sat side by side on the round kitchen table.

“That place has been a school for 500 years; I don’t understand why they name it Patriarchate.”

Lazari – who was born in Kuzguncuk in 1944 – went to Fener Greek Male High School – or with his own words to the Kırmızı Mektep (Red School). He is upset about the fact that the Kırmızı Mektep is now being called the Patriarchate. “That place has been a school for 500 years; I don’t understand why they name it Patriarchate.”

Muslims &Greeks &Jews  – they had a very strong relationship

They used to go from Kuzguncuk to Eyüp with the morning ferry. They played football after school, and in summers went swimming to Kuzguncuk’s shore; in fact, they once swam all the way to the opposite shore. “We had very strong friendships: Seven Muslims, a few Jewish ones and us. Whenever someone said something bad about us, our Muslim friends used to immediately defend us. The doors of the houses were always open. There was a Greek Association in Kuzguncuk. They made tours arranged to go to Polonezköy. We used to go there for 5–10 liras per head.” He had a faraway look in his eyes. “Atatürk’s relatives were our neighbors. Makbule Hanım used to visit our neighborhood. Her driver used to take us to the Çamlıca hill and buy us ice cream and corn with the money he took from his boss.”

Kuzguncuk & Üsküdar for movies

After the 60’s, two open-air cinemas were opened in Kuzguncuk. During summer, Lazari and his friends went to the cinema there and in winter they went to Üsküdar for movies. “When we went to the cinema, we used to stay there until the evening. We watched three films in a row. We would have no money left to return home, so we used to hold on to the back of the tramway.”

After that, I learned that they are fans of Beşiktaş (a Turkish soccer team) as a family. I wonder how the game adventures were back then. Were the frustrations and exultations as powerful to the core as they are today? Did the fans use to discharge during the game? “It costed 50 kuruş to go to the game. Drunks and junkies used to stand beside us. We were young kids. We used to be afraid of them.”

The bright sergeant from Istanbul

From here, I move into Lazari’s youth and I learn that he became a boss after he was only 20. “My father got sick before I went into the army; my mother started to work. For two years I served in the army. First, I was in İzmir; then, I went to Erzurum as a sergeant. Our First Lieutenant was from Üsküdar. When he learned that I was from Üsküdar too, he took me to his side immediately. I used to teach literacy to the ones who don’t know how to read and write. The Lieutenant didn’t give the discharge papers to the ones who cannot read the National Anthem by heart. Every evening, I taught them the National Anthem. I was the only one who knew it completely. I was named ‘the bright sergeant from İstanbul’”.

And right that moment our photographer Işık came. After saluting Işık sweetly with a head nod, Lazari started to talk about his business life. “For 10 years, we were in the Ayazağa town. And for the next 40 years, we have spent the time here, in Dolapdere. In Turkey, if you pay your taxes and work decently, your business succeeds.”

Sweet dispute between two brothers

Kozma came inside and asked Işık what would be photographed. Işık said that she would take portraits. “You can take them for the interview but don’t take the photographs of the shop.” Lazari interrupted and said that there was no problem. It was impossible not to notice the sweet dispute between them. I get to know this Istanbul gentleman sitting across from me better with the answer I get when I ask him what he likes to do these days, where he likes to go in Istanbul. “Before I had an infarction in 2003, I was in the casinos, in the nightclubs every night. Then I decreased the roaming, of course. I had seen so much entertainment back in those days, today’s entertainment doesn’t mean much to me. In my days, there were only a few casinos. In the nightlife, everyone used to salute one another even if they didn’t know each other. No one stared at a woman who was with a man. Now I come to work and go home, that’s it.”

When it’s time to take photographs, Işık and I catch each other’s eyes. Lazari’s natural pose when he looks out the window at the adjacent gas station reveals the sadness resulting from his life experiences. He has such an attitude that implies “What does it matter whether they take the photo or not?” When the staff meal is ready we cheer up. During the photoshoot, he offers us meatballs. We smile. Downstairs, Lazari proudly shows us his photographs with Zeki Müren in Yeşilköy coasts which he took when he was young. At that moment Kozma comes near. He shows the board where the photographs of all the celebrities who came to “İdeal Salam” are hung. “Even Eda Taşpınar came here”. Lazari says that Işık is prettier than this lady.

Casanova Lazari, a sweet brothers’ dispute, pork sausages and nostalgia…