Friday, 27 August 2010

sand in the european sea

have started a "discussion forum" with my more advanced classes twice a week. the students attending are incredibly nice and bright and are all in their first year at uni.

what i keep on noticing during my lessons - but even in conversations with locals - is that turkish people have a rather significant minority complex whenever europe is involved: they feel rejected and underestimated and bear a bit of a sulk about it.

hence - yesterday i asked my "forum" group to share their ideas on: "what i really do not like about europe". interestingly - answers included the following ones:

"i hate that europeans think that turkey is a third world country...

do you think we are??"

"germany and france hate turkey. they are terrible. they have many problems...but they think we are the problem"

"my friend is working for the summer in england as a service ((waiter)) and he says life is too complicated there. people are difficult"

"europe people are foolish, i think. i know everybody goes to therapist in europe. turkish people do not do that. they think it is foolish. you pay somebody to talk about your problems. it is strange. if you have family and friends and you are smart you do not do that. but i think people have too much money to spend - they have money like sand in the sea, we say in turkey...

they are foolish. and lonely".

"people in europe think we are like malaysia because we are muslims".

"people in europe do not know our university graduates are very good".

"gay people in europe - i do not like. you say they can have children - how? they adopt?? but it is very bad. if i am the son of my father...together with another, it is impossible. if nature says you cannot have that...why do you force? you say it is "gay rights" but i do not think you can say "rights" ...they want to have the only thing that nature cannot give them. it is disgusting"

"english people drink a lot".

"germany does not want us. it is because of germany and france that we cannot enter europe. they always vote against us".

"europe does not understand that the government people we have are all liars - like a puppet of america"

then at the end of the discussion one students asked (with the typical disarming, abrupt bluntness they use here): "teacher, i want to know what you admire about turkish people". i had just finished a class with an "ab initio" group of students and made the macroscopic mistake of cracking a joke about turkish pop music - saying that each and every song sounds the same, always the same, again and again...which was one of the worst faux pas i could have come up with. they would have displayed less aghast faces had i peed under my desk in front of the whole class... so i pondered the question with a somber face and said:

"now that i think of it - i came to turkey for the very first time exactly one year ago. turkey is definitely different from any other country i have visited, let alone lived in. initially i just noticed how cut off you are from the "globalised" countries. i must be honest - one thing i still have a hard time with is that...nobody travels here. very few people have actually been away, abroad...and this is a bit of a tragedy - especially for people like yourselves... having said that - in many ways you are better than europe. you are a young country - full of young people. europe is old and tired - in comparison... and your attitude, your behaviour - i actually would describe it as more "genuine"...i kind of understand when you say you have the feeling life in europe is "complicated". well - on one hand we have problems in europe that you have no experience about - immigration, for cannot even begin to imagine how hard a multicultural, democratic society can be. yet, on the other...yes, i mean, you are right...we take ourselves too seriously - we scream about our alleged "rights" and rush to the therapist because we are lonely...and buy only organic food and waste our money on things that make us feel worldly and sophisticated, when deep down we just remain...mean and unhappy".

they kept on nodding - and as the class was drawing to a close - i had the distinct feeling nobody had understood clearly what i was rambling about... as... i was talking about some place and some habits and some stuff... they were most probably going to experience (first hand) only by looking at their children...if not grandchildren - generations perhaps destined to end up...
like sand in the sea.

Friday, 20 August 2010


prepared a class on different english accents. the topic was met with enthusiasm - to the point that i got a bit carried away and, while talking about manchester and its mancunian "potato-in-the-mouth" quirky english...i hesitatingly asked "do you know the pop band oasis, right?" - and they all nodded and smiled approvingly...which left me wide-eyed with ecstatic, unexpected happiness. "you know them? oasis? the gallagher brothers??" i asked again in disbelief - having had too often students prone to wondering who on earth leonard cohen, the beatles, margareth thatcher, tony blair, kingsley amis, winston churchill, mick jagger were (much to my most juvenile despair) ...
" know their songs??" i kept on questioning them. "of coooooourse..." they shot back, somehow amused. wow!, i thought - finally a bunch of wordly, sophisticated connoisseurs of my beloved world of brit pop. WOW.
wow...i thought - next class we can talk about the whole "cool britannia" thing and then maybe we can watch together some "little britain" and then... wow. i was starting to look at them as if i had just discovered they were good pals with stella mc cartney or writing their phd dissertation on ken loach.
"and what is your favourite song from oasis?" i then asked - and they told me "c' is the SAME for everyone..." - which i found a tad misleading - "really??" i said "meaning...?"
and then they all spontaneously broke into a loud rendition of....
LIVE IS LIFE (1985!?) - BY AUSTRIAN (??!!!!!) BAND... OPUS!!!!!!!!!!!

life is life! NA - NA - NA - NA - NAAAAAAAA
LABADAB dab dab LIFE (na-na-na-na-naAAAAAAAA)
Liiiiiiiife (nanananana)

two of them clapped along. my jaw dropped and kind of froze for a moment or so...

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

the heights - peter hedges

have recently become a fan of the work of writer peter hedges - who directed "what's eating gilbert grape", "about a boy" and the brilliant, hilarious "dan in real life".
he is an outstanding scriptwriter and seems to have a talent for unique characters.
his next project will be adapting for the big screen his latest book, "the heights" - a fantastic novel about a young middle-class american couple that provides a very amusing, witty portrayt of modern (married) life without being too predictable or idly harsh.

peter hedges' website is:

and the following article comes from the WASHINGTON POST >>

Book review: Susan Coll reviews 'The Heights' by Peter Hedges
By Susan Coll
Wednesday, March 10, 2010; C04

By Peter Hedges
Dutton. 295 pp. $25.95

What's best about Brooklyn Heights is the view, says Kate, the young wife in Peter Hedges's third novel, which is as much an ode to a beloved neighborhood as a tale of contemporary marriage. "Standing on the Promenade, a slight breeze blowing, the whoosh of traffic racing below on the BQE, looking across New York Harbor at majestic Manhattan and where the Twin Towers had once been, I had the distinct feeling this place could be home." This tony cluster of historic brownstones, cobblestone streets and quaint eateries is just as important a protagonist as the hedge-fund-manager dads and stroller-pushing moms depicted in this quirky, amusing book.

Kate's husband, Tim, is a history teacher at an elite private school. He's a modern, sensitive man who practices yoga and shops for his wife's favorite organic milk. He's also prone to tears: He cries the first time he and Kate have sex; he cries at their wedding; he cries when he hears of a successful incidence of potty-training at home. Despite such excessive devotion, he is not immune to the charms of an enigmatic new neighbor, Anna, and what develops between them provides the tension in this chronicle of "a great, ordinary love," set in the "bumpy, broken early years of the twenty-first century."

As Wall Street types snap up neighborhood real estate, Tim and Kate struggle to pay their phone bill and coexist with two small boys in a cramped apartment. When Kate gets a lucrative position at a nonprofit, Tim takes a leave of absence to work on his dissertation. He also replaces his wife in the coffee klatches and playgroups, enabling Hedges to observe the eccentricities and excesses of modern parenting through Tim's wide-eyed lens. Around the table at the preferred gathering spot, Muffins and More (the local moms avoid Starbucks across the street), Tim mingles with the likes of "Grateful Dead Mom," "Cindy McCain Mom" and "Milk Mom, who, rumor had it, still breast-fed her five-year-old boy." At a birthday party for a 4-year-old, an alienated Tim sees "too many guests, too many presents, too much candy and cake for any one kid."

Culturally and geographically, Hedges is a long way from the small Iowa town of his breakthrough 1991 debut, "What's Eating Gilbert Grape." Yet the author brings with him a similarly earnest Midwestern sensibility, which is what's most notable about this book. There's a surprising and possibly refreshing lack of cynicism here. If you like your male-driven domestic novels dark (think Tom Perrotta's "Little Children," or more recently Jess Walter's "The Financial Lives of the Poets"), "The Heights" may lack bite. But if you've had enough suburban nihilism, Hedges brightens things up, even if his conclusions are not all sweetness and light.

moon eats star


the school's secretary (the one with a penchant for heavy, fluorescent, aubergine coloured eye shadow) learnt that i have a passion for graphology and immediately demanded for me to see her handwriting. well-aware of the local mania for anything to do with palmistry / fortune telling, before starting i went on and on and on about the scientific base of the analysis and study of handwriting; i then firmly stated graphology had nothing to do with stuff like horoscopes, face reading, coffee cup reading and superstition; i repeated myself a couple of times along these lines - while she was nodding vigourously and conceding very bored "tamaaaam", "ta-maaaaam" (alright, alright...) at every sentence i uttered. when i decided i had made my point very loud and very clear - to the extent i was starting to sound tedious to my own ears - i asked her "...right, so...anything you want to ask before i check your page??". she gave me a broad smile and excitedly said:

"yes. yes. i want to know - how many children will i have?!!!!!?"


ramadam is in full swing and everything seems slower than usual. being august - the temperature is unbearably hot and it is shocking to think that - because of ramadam - apart from not eating all day people are requested NOT to drink ANYTHING either. had i to try anything of the kind i would collapse around 9.15 am! having said that - apparently most people trick the monstruous task by sleeping most of the day (!). the rest of them - if they are actually keeping up with the no-food no-water plan display visible symptoms of lethargic and confused behaviour. i see it especially with older vendors, shoe-polishers, waiters...they all seem to sport a dazed expression. the most blatant example is offered by our greengrocer - whom, for the past three days - has been glued to a chair in the shade down in the street with half opened eyes and an unshaved face. he stopped saying hi and greets everyone with a faint smile, sinking deeper and deeper in the back of his chair. he is starting to look like a patient trying to survive the effects of electrocution.


am working with two doctors who are preparing to go to berlin for an international conference on psoriasis. the topic and nature of the material we cover in class are nothing short than unusual - yet i find it extremely interesting to learn more from them and sit back and listen. they are full of drive and passion and they really want to prove themselves. turkish doctors and medicine students definitely "get my vote" and unconditional respect and admiration. i see many qualities in them that i hardly see in most doctors back in italy or europe - regardless of age and career status. so...these two new students are a joy to teach. the only difficulty i have with our hours together is that - they are husband and wife and, possibly because of the shared profession...they seem to have a comedy tendency to compete with each other. which translates in petty and childlike exchanges like: " talk TOO MUCH... let ME explain for once!...c'mon, let me answer this one...ok, NOW it is my turn..." it makes me smile...but i feel like telling them...they should relax...i will never let any cat out of the bag with their professors in berlin. let alone with the nobel prize committee...


teaching a secondary school class now - a gentle reminder of pre-pubescent awkwardness / clumsiness and disputable dress sense.

interestingly - they share the usual obsession with facebook of their older co-students...but they tend to be more subtle about it, avoiding to ask straight if you do have an account too. hence, they try to ask: "teacher, what is your surname? we have your name but not your surname..." which you do not need, i promise - i always answer, trying to drag back their minuscle attention span to "good, better, best" and "bad, worse, worst" and usually receiving as immediate feedback: "teacher. is your husband a turk?"

yesterday - on the way back from kindergarden - i was startled by the following sentence coming up from the pram i was pushing:

"mum...look at the red flag...the moon is EATING the tiny star!!"


the owner of angel the pitbull has decided to scream something nutty every time i pass by. mainly for the amusement of the three elderly ladies running the bakery next to the shop where he sells towels. i have learnt to duck my head and speed my pace up - but he should definitely be cast for some fellini remake as he hollers:

"you know i like you sooooo much!!!" - "every time i see you i feel soooo good!!" - "hello - i love you!" - "you know i miss you when i do not seeeeee you!!".

judging from his energy - i kind of have the feeling he is not following much the whole ramadam routine...

Thursday, 5 August 2010

never judge a book by its (gourmet) cover - or beauty sash!


a major sensation at work was created by a new student, a guy called E., who allegedly won a beauty pageant a couple of years ago, shooting to fame. this stirred up a storm of excitement among the teaching staff (all women) - and as i joined in for a drink over the weekend i seemed to be the only simpleton who was oblivious to E.'s history of glam and hunkiness.

"you must be joking" they screamed at me in despair "you have actually NOT noticed him...??" they just overplayed their disbelief - "no way! he is sooo HOT". i made things worse by adding "well...i just noticed he is polite...and shy..."

"AND HOT!" they all chorused at the top of their lungs.

"plus - he never said to me anything about any freaking beauty pageant - he actually said he was unemployed...and i guess he is married too" i added, only digging myself into a much deeper hole. "no way!" one of them was adamant to explain "he knows all the celebs on tv!".

three days later i walked into mr. beauty-pageant king's class and kept on picturing him wearing a tiara and some flashy, gordy sash screaming diagonally across his fuzzy torso MISTER TURKISH BATH or something like that. although that peculiar image would not leave me - i kept on hearing a voice inside my head going off in a mantra "not hot - very plain - not hot - very plain - very very plain..."

i guess the only major surprise about him is the fact he is the very first king of a beauty pageant i know that (being turkish) is very definitely not gay.


i love shopping for groceries in turkish supermarkets. there is something upbeat and loud about the labels they choose for anything - from cheese to cereals. plus - i will never get over the fact that a major brand of toothpaste here carries the name of a sexually transmitted disease: CANDIDA. how cool is that??


tried to waddle my way through a class on equal opportunities and naively explained that in europe and america it is very common for new fathers to help with their newly welcomed offspring(s) by feeding them, changing them and even taking time off from work to look after them. i had to stop when i noticed everyone pulling their necks very hard to listen carefully - it felt like being circled by giraffes stretching for higher leaves to munch. then they all asked me in a loud, loud voice "AND WHYYYYYYY DO THEY DO THAAAAAAAAAAAT???"

i very often think that the idea they are getting from me about the western ("civilised") society is that europe and america are far, FAAAAR worse than hell and totally twisted.


i love restaurant guides and publications with reviews about different eateries and cafes - so, i was ecstatic when i saw in the local daily that a IZMIR GOURMET GUIDE was on sale in bookstores - and with an english edition too! wow...sounded too good to be true! i made sure to check out what the hype was about and went to look for a copy. while living in singapore i used to enjoy buying the local restaurants guide and read with a passion lengthy descriptions about service quality, items on the menu, ambience, choice of location etc for the city different outlets. i could not wait to finally do something similar here too. so, after heading to the bookshop round the corner, i immediately grabbed an english copy. from the outside it looked like the most promising thing - glam and sleek. however, as soon as i opened it...i was let down to the point of breaking into laugther. inside it was just like the yellow pages! with 5 or 6 bistrots, cafes, "lokantas" per page and just the address and telephone number of the place + a rather ludicrous section headlined "specialties"...enlightening instances read along the lines of: restaurant so-and-so....specialty: eggs // cafe so and so....specialty: turkish coffee // bakery so-and-so...specialty: bread and biscuits.

grand! - i left the bookstore empty handed, but in a jolly amused mood.


tried to explain to my students about the very serious immigration issues europe has to strenuously battle every day. they looked at me in puzzlement. "WHY??" they could not get it. so i tried to tell them that "of course you do not get you are not experiencing any of it. are all walk around and there are very few yabangi (foreigners) walk around the streets here and you see nobody from africa, asia or...i do not see different skin colours, different races - ..." i was starting to sound rather poetic (in a slight nazi fashion) when one of them smiling to me as if i knew nothing of the "facts of the real world" interrupted me:

"but no, we do have MANY foreigners - tourists LOVE VISITING turkey!"


the (famous) student with the eye glass wants a future as a politician. "you want to change things in your country??" i daftly asked.

"no" he very quietly answered "i just want people to acknowledge i exist and do things ok" - which sounded so sad and spontaneous...and bloody real... that i kind of broke a little bit inside and somehow suddenly related to 100%.