Wednesday, 28 July 2010

four seasons in one day

yesterday was a typical turkish day for me.

sent nico to school in the morning and was welcomed rather pompously by the kindergarden's director - behind him i could see a new kid; his mother next to him was dressed expensively - (the child even more so)... she sported a worried, hopeful look. the director introduced me in turkish and explained we were foreigners and then he dangerously addeded hyperbolic details on the fact nico was "trilingual" (untrue). the lady was scanning me with a soft smile and curious eyes, in the way you look at an exotic bird that can dance tip-tap while juggling eight basketballs.

that's turkish marketing for you!

headed for my morning class straight after that and met the class with the lad sporting the glass eye. topic for the day was "popular culture and traditions" and that proved to work out ok. as we were talking about family being the centre of turkish life and society, few of them mentioned how they did not want their brothers or sisters to get married "because of jealousy". as i was saying to me it seemed an odd and bizarre concept one girl replied "because turkish people when they love - they really REALLY love...and so they are jealous". one boy bluntly added "if my sister marries she is not MINE anymore. i want her to be MINE. like now" -

i was about to tell them i personally see jealousy as a hideous form of selfishness, pettiness and sad insecurity - but the boy with the glass eye (obviously a reactionary) kind of shot out of the blue "you know what? i hate china. they... killed the international economy". which somehow seemed fitting.

on the way back met two american friends over a cold drink. they were slacking by the main pedestrian area in a crowded pub - one of them had just got back from the greek island of chios. "will you be around till october, then?" i asked them and they said they might even prolong their turkish stint. "we might even stay longer", one of them explained. then, looking into his beer he said softly "if i go back to the states... now...what exactly is there for me? had a job in finance before...might go back to something similar...will buy a house, get married, have kids..." (he kind of left the sentence pending while the other guy nodded vigorously while not too subtly mimicking a gun pointed to his throat) then he concluded "yeah, how boring is that? will i ever travel after that...? like...real travel? like real life?...errrr... i don't think so" his voice sounded flamboyant and brash - but i kind of found it funny. mainly beacuse they seemed oblivious to the fact i did fit the exact same "zombie" bill they had just pictured!

went back home straight after that - cutting throught the dry heat slightly shaken by some clean wind. fought for an hour or so with the plants i am trying to grow on our balcony and discovered to my despair that three (3!) lavender pots were very dry and very dead... this will bring immense relief to our housekeeper - who makes no mystery of her total dislike of any form of flower / green-thing-with-leaves-you-are-supposed-to-water-and-treat-with-care... mostly because she does not see the "point" of any of it.

later in the day -

spent three entertaining hours with my evening class - they are a lovely, upbeat bunch of older students and we very often laugh our heads off. one of them is writing a book and yesterday proudly announced "i am at page 128. the book will be over around page 400".

as i was leaving the school building i bumped into one of my husband's colleagues. he was having dinner with his (extended) family in one of the restaurants of the neighbourhood. they were sitting around a long table and i was introduced to every single person there, namely: his wife, his wife's sister and her husband, his wife's mother and father, his wife's aunt, his wife's cousin number one, his wife's cousin number two + her husband + their newborn son + two or three (additional) unidentified relatives. his mother-in-law was eager to state immediately that she was french and could speak italian - she then switched immediately to italian, however maintaining to call me "madame". i said bye after answering an endless quantity of questions on where we lived / what we did / where i was working etc ... - i left thinking it was THE typical night out for a married turkish couple with kids: family and family and...that's it. i also tried to think of myself back home having the same type of "fun" (surrounded by relatives and in-laws) and i kind of pondered "i would rather shoot myself!"...which oddly brought my mind back to my american friend and his ruthless take on "smug marrieds with kids" as bridget jones would aptly put it!

it was a beautiful night out and crowds of people were eating, strolling and sitting around by the sea and i went for my late evening run. there was a fantastic, cool, quiet wind and i felt like singing and jumping aorund... there were beautiful lights peppering the other side of the gulf and the last ferry boats for the day were slowly leaving their decks.
all around you could see young people sitting in circles, beggars sleeping on the grass, gipsy women stopping couples to read their hands along the usual line of cafes and restaurants swarming with people...
on the way home i jogged past a family with three kids. they were dressed poorly and the younger child walked awkardly, his legs crippled with poliomyelitis. sometimes turkey hits me by surprise and reminds me suddenly of things that back home existed perhaps only 50 if not 60 years ago.

finished off the day by watching "genova" by director michael winterbottom. it tells the story of an english academic (colin flirth) who decides to relocate from chicago to genoa, italy with his two young daughters after the sudden death of his wife in a car crash. found the movie heartbreaking with its disarming simplicity and mesmerising portrayt of the two girls. colin flirth, living through the grief and difficulties of his new life as a single father with dignified yet intense poise is simply amazing. there is nothing banal or plain about this film and i also loved the fact it is set in an "unusual" italian location - very far from the too often cliched "romantic" tuscan / roman / venetian settings the english and american writers and film makers are so partial to. perhaps too easily so.

Friday, 23 July 2010

the lives of turkish others


the summer heat seems to make everyone a tad more eccentric here. the fact i now tarzan-like manage to communicate more with the locals - inevitably appears to involve me more in the every day oddities of the micorcosmic turkey i have started to know up close. alongside the usual encounters with my (old and new) students at school, never failing to provide food for thought and genuine sources of bittersweet, amusing, unexpected anectodes and opinions.

hence - the bulletin for the past month could include some of the following quasi-darwinian notes:

(i) the man selling towels in the main street after the mosque where i walk every day has bought a pitbull "for some company". i cannot remember seeing an uglier "pet" in my life.
he named the dog "A N G E L". when i daftly asked why - he replied matter-of-factly "because she is a girl".

(ii) the widow running the newsagent below our house has shaved her hair and now lives with a very hostile looking woman.

(iii) i have a new class on monday morning with a group of university freshmen. one of the student sports a glass eye. i must confess i am fascinated.

(iv) during an evening class a girl told us that on her first day in primary school the headmaster summoned her parents and asked: "under which name did you register your daughter?" to which they replied "cecile" -
"what kind of name is that?" the headmaster questioned them.
"it is a french name...we...liked it" they explained.
"exactly. it is not a turkish name" he blasted " i will register her as SESIM and you should change her name on her other documents too". which they did without any objection.

((to me this anectode tells everything about the come-what-may flippant fatalism that seems to enable local people to accept as "normal" basically anything - starting from the very frequent misuses of any (alleged) form of authority and power)).

(v) most of my students believe that international trade and globalisation are in truth a conspiracy to fund and support israel. i was told: "everybody knows that nestle', coca cola, tesco, nivea (??) and mac donalds are owned by israel". they kind of take it personal and give me very stern and offended looks when i clearly find these comments highly entertaining and funny.

(vi) our neighbour died last weekend aged 47. he died during a volleyball match on the beach after downing two glasses of whisky. he owned a furniture factory, had two young children and a socialite wife. we learnt about his death while reading the daily in the cafe' next to our place, two floors right under his family's pad. interestingly, our surprise - and the usual somber faces that come with news of such kind - were quickly neutralised by the waiter's comment: "he never came to drink our coffee anyway..."

(vii) taught a couple of times a girl who had to go through few years of speech therapy. was i ever to go back to any form of studying i would love to learn more about speech therapy. not for a mere phonetical curiosity, but mainly because speech and language difficulties are often caused by delicate emotional patterns - and i truly think that good speech therapy can make a real (tangible, lasting) difference.

(viii) going through a bit of an (unprecedented!) 80's extravaganza and listening to heaps of revival / oldies music. as part of this craze, i have felt the very sudden urge to take up aerobics and am now totally hooked. this might eventually make up for years of dancefloor awkwardness - but the clumsiness is definitely still all there, so i would not be too optimistic after all.

having said that - my current top three work-out songs are:
pet shop boys' flamboyant /
depeche mode's enjoy the silence
new order's thieves like us - an absolute masterpiece.


I've watched your face for a long time
It's always the same
I've studied the cracks and the wrinkles
You were always so vain
Well, now you live your life like a shadow
In the pouring rain
Oh, it's called love
Yes, it's called love
Oh, it's called love
And it belongs to us
Oh, it dies so quickly
It grows so slowly
But when it dies, it dies for good
It's called love
And it belongs to everyone but us

I've lived my life in the valleys
I've lived my life on the hills
I've lived my life on alcohol
I've lived my life on pills
But it's called love
And it belongs to us
It's called love
And it's the only thing that's worth living for
It's called love
And it belongs to us
It's called love
Yes it's called love

Oh, love is found in the east and west
But when love is at home, it's the best
Love is the cure for every evil
Love is the air that supports the eagle
It's called love
And it's so un-cool
It's called love
And somehow it's become unmentionable
It's called love
And it belongs to every one of us
It's called love
And it cuts your life like a broken knife

Friday, 2 July 2010

alice in wonderland

the day so far has been a string of logistics' nuisances.
my private class was postponed last minute when i had been rushing all morning to kind of fit errands, school drop-off and groceries in a frantic schedule. then i was supposed to have lunch at 1pm and even then got postponed to 2.30pm. bummer!
resorted to making the most of the waiting time by cooking and immediately forgot about all delays and mishaps as soon as i started deseeding and marinating some tomatoes.
i love cooking and relish it almost as a form of art therapy. i enjoy the silence and the loneliness that comes with it and the fact that my usually flippant attention spam becomes super focused and molecularly careful to the slightest scent, colour, volume and noise as soon as i get started around the kitchen.
as i was busy slicing and chopping i started thinking of alice b. toklas - the lesbian lover of gertrude stein who colected her recipes and peculiar anectodes in the very famous "the alice b. toklas cookbook". i love that book - it is funny, a tad mad (including recipes for hashih based brownies) but never tedious. it also ends up offering a great portrayt of the very same ms. toklas - her circle of artist friends, her love for stein, her overenthusiastic culinary investigations - like when she embarks on a rather futile chase for the perfect gazpacho recipe in spain.
what i adore about her pages is that she always seems to lose herself into her cooking - and when she is cooking for her guests she tries whatever she can to adapt to their tastes, even with improvised bouts of sudden artistic hyperactivity.
A short time before serving it I covered the fish with an ordinary mayonnaise and, using a pastry tube, decorated it with a red mayonnaise, not coloured with catsup – horror of horrors-but with tomato paste. Then I made a design with sieved hard-boiled eggs, the whites and the yolks apart with truffles and finely chopped fines herbes. I was proud of my chef d’oeuvre when it was served and Picasso exclaimed at its beauty. But, said he, should it not rather have been made in honour of Matisse than me!

her book has become a classic - to me rightly so... but i find her writing especially striking more than for her cooking tips, for the admirable dedication and passion for food (and life) she never fails to express.

Thursday, 1 July 2010



my schedule at school is very different during the summer. most university students have left town - so the classes are now filled with older students, professionals, company managers.

teaching older students is sometimes easier, sometimes harder - but it definitely grants me a wider array of topics to pick from: relationships, parenting, work etc.

seemingly, in a class filled with 30somethings and 40somethings there is always a greater variety of perspectives and feelings, expectations, perceptions of society and priorities. oddly, i keep on finding that turkish working women are very different from their european, let alone american counterparts. first of all because usually women here quit work as soon as they start a family and secondly because they appear to be of just two (2) kinds: either very exhausted and silent or very ambitious, arrogant and opinionated.

when i am doing trainings for companies - it is mainly for some big multinational names that have their production lines here in izmir. textile, food, baking products, tyres, spare parts, jeans, tobacco groups - there are legions of factories nested around izmir's airport... and i always enjoy learning about how they work and what kind of working environment they offer.

i also like talking about my students' family life - what they hope for their children, what kind of relationship they have with them.

i often tell myself i am very grateful for this job - what i enjoy best about it is that it keeps my eyes opened on other people's feelings, hopes and opinions. many people i know, especially after having children, seem to live in a kind of one-way lane; never turning their eyes to glance a little bit further and rarely thinking out of their box - and out of their pockets too. so far, somehow i seem to have collected a long list of jobs lacking both career stature and future prospects - but they all have indeed allowed me never to grow up much, which might not be too bad, after all.


days are long, full of light and heat and as i write this the wind is blowing fast and dry.

summer is a beautiful season around here and i enjoy being outdoor - as long as i am granted my daily, humongous portion of watermelon.

i could eat myself into a coma with watermelon! and here the slices you get are huge, sweet and as red as blood.


got a call from my former boss the other week. it was a lovely surprise and i was smiling from ear to ear + he was in such a good and silly mood that i kept on laughing. i am the type of person that treasures immensely small things like that. i usually go out of my way to stay in touch and to keep in contact in a very personable, sharing, open way. i could spend hours writing emails to friends and receiving news and nice messages from them is perhaps one of the best parts of my daily life. some people seem to have a gift for staying in your heart and living abroad and away often calls for a level of generosity, humour and spontaneity in relationships that few people are able to communicate. but if they do - that is about as special as fresh watermelon in the blazing heat of turkish summer!