Tuesday, 26 October 2010

lookalikes and raspberries

much to my obvious amusement - for this new term i am teaching two students, one on sunday and one on monday - who happen to be the spitting images of two celebrities.
the sunday lookalike is the exact copy of ryan gosling in "lars and the real girl" - a surreal movie telling the story of lars... a social reject who starts a relationship with an inflatable lifelike doll he buys on the internet from an adult website. he brings her home, feeds her, clothes her and treats her like a real person, also giving her a name: bianca. it is an odd cookie of a movie - and the usually charming ryan gosling has a totally different look to portray lars lindstrom, the main character -- namely, a hideous moustache, long hair primly parted to the side and a constant, half asleep smile never leaving his face.

well - on sunday i am teaching somebody who looks and acts like that...to the point i am starting to expect him to show up at some point with anatomically correct doll bianca and her huge purple lips. adding to the comedy - he seems to have a passion for hyperlinguism... answering simple questions like "so...how was your week? and what did you do over the weekend?" with sentences like: "i would declare my week was satisfactory, yet it did not yield any remarkable outcome. in addition...yesterday night we congregated with my friends for a futile event" which, i am sure, to him sound like the dandiest way of speaking (or perhaps he just reads some old dictionary as goodnight material) -- but is received by the rest of the class as if he is speaking in sanskrit... which might be the case, after all.

last sunday i tried to explain how to pronounce best "th" (a sound that turkish speakers find hard to master) as opposed to "f"...while the rest of the students were laughing at my monkeying about with choruses like "i THHHHHHink FFFFFFrank has a THHHHHin FFFFace"...he kept on beaming at me and then raised his hand to say, sherlock holmes style: "teacher, i suspect you have attained this type of phonological information whilst completing your education as interpreter". i suspect you are right, lars -- i felt like answering.

more fashionably, my monday lookalike must be the secret turkish daughter of bollywood superstar and model aishwarya rai. a rather different case from my sunday's hyperlinguist -- when you enter her class you notice that around this girl there is a glow of beauty and sweetness. beauty in a woman is a rare thing: it does not only take looks, but is a complex mix of attractiveness, poise, mystery and kindness. granted that, aishwarya's photocopy is - in this sense - some kind of creature belonging to another planet. add to this a very gentle temper and very good manners -- and you kind of feel like wondering whether she is real, or perhaps just a painting from the italian renaissance.

weather is changing slowly here -- and even though the temperature still lingers around 23 - 25 degrees... i seem to have a clock inside telling me it is time to go back to two things: indoor swimming and baking. the first one i did yesterday -- with immense joy. as to the second one...
the whole house smelt like vanilla last night. how lovely, i thought while tucking under the covers, to fall asleep with such a divine, comforting scent. cannot eat the cake now, sure -- but smelling it seems scrumptious enough, really.

back to reading robert frost. apart from great poetry -- he did manage to leave us a couple of absolutely exquisite sentences like:
"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."

when i read this yesterday -- i kind of smile and immediately thought i could produce something equally immortal and perhaps state...

in nine words i can sum up everything i've lately learned about life:

turkish rasperry jam for diabetics gives you the runs

Monday, 25 October 2010

NL, SG, TR (and mallorca)

a couple of days ago, i watched "four last songs", a light, unassuming yet enjoyable movie with a fab cast (including marisa paredes, stanley tucci, rhys ifans) - a comedy telling the story of a rather bizarre bunch of expats coming together on the spanish island of mallorca (what a gem!, btw) to organise a (memorial) piano concert. i enjoyed the movie and the director certainly did a fantastic job in choosing the film locations - always brimming with colours and amazing landascapes.

in addition, the different reasons why the different characters find themselves on the island and - moreover - the way they live there (some hardly ever sober; some because of nostalgia; some because they have no other choice; some pursuing meditation and yoga sporting balinese sarongs)...kind of made me smile and ponder about many of the feelings and ideas i have around the much debated concept of "being an expat".

then a friend from high school sent me an email - asking for infos about singapore, a place where she is about to move with her current partner and her 8 months baby boy, thomas. "what is it like?" she asked.

singapore - what is it like? i heard my voice repeating her question.

and finally last night i stayed up till late - reading the economist's special issue on turkey - an in-depth analysis of the current state of turkish economy, society and foreign policy. alongside quite a considerable amount of promising data - the magazine very accurately pointed out the great problems both the government and the people here are very (very) unwilling to come to terms with - namely cyprus, the kurdish issue, a rampant black market, a high degree of social and cultural unpredictability plus a number of additional issues: a dithering education system, an overcentralised bureaucracy, the inability to accept and respect minorities, the major inequality between the condition of men and women in the country.

the movie, the email exchange with my friend, the economist's pages - all of these started fuelling thoughts and reflections on the different countries i have known up close in the latest years.

right after graduation (2002) i lived in holland -- but my dutch stint can hardly count as "expatriate" material. i was fresh out of university; ended up in a glamourous sounding job which in truth made me rather unhappy and tired... i did not breathe in much of the local culture / society around me -- mostly because i was too busy wondering whether life was actually all about working 9 to 5 in an open space and finding it hard to fit in with my colleagues, people that, unlike me, seemed to live with clear aims and career expectations - and an ample dose of contempt and self confidence. plus, i must admit i found the benelux region dampening my spirits. brussels and amsterdam can be extremely charming - but most of the sightseeing i did in holland and belgium only managed to depress me and bore me out of my head with the mere exception of limburg (the region outside of maastricht) which i grew fond of because of its lovely cuisine and extremely elegant chateaus.

then six years in singapore followed - which was altogether a totally different atmosphere and experience.

first, one has to note that living there for such a long time is a bit unusual. singapore is a place where people come and go. they stay for a brief time and then return home - or move onto another country. singapore remains in their heads, i sometimes imagine, like a rapid image confused by amnesia...or one of those fragments you recall over breakfast about a dream you have just had -- but that yet you never bother to eventually piece together...because you are late. and in a rush.

singapore is one of those places you kind of dislike / do not get if you are visiting - but that you usually love if you live there. the whole expat culture is taken to an extreme in singapore - especially because of its predominantly angloamerican community.

i loved my time there - and still keep amazing memories of the place and the people it allowed me to meet. while living there, the travelling was constant and mostly interesting and i had the incredible opportunity of spending long stints in new zealand and australia - something i could have never even dreamt of had i stayed in europe.

like with all the places i fall for - i must add that i cultivated with singapore a rather "physical" relationship...meaning, in a city that prides itself on its skyline and modern buildings -- and that appears to visiting tourists like a blade runner-like pile of over-airconditioned shopping centres...the places i loved to walk around were all mesmerisingly green and wild reminescences of what the city should have been when it belonged to the jungle -- or to a retro colonial urban landscape. i still remember about some secluded corners of singapore that (as strange as it may sound) always seem incredibly beautiful and sensuos to me.

i will forever miss the torrential rains you can only witness in an equatorial country... and i will forever miss some special people i met there who will always be safe in my heart.

i loved my time there - yet i must admit i always found it a place where foreigners kind of developed high flying expectations; a despicable attitude and odd routines involving pilates, educational theories about parenting + fickle fascinations with the oh-so spiritual asian exoticism (applied to art, alternative medicine, religion, you name it). i guess expat life can spoil you there and kind of cuddle you in an unreal bubble that makes you believe you are (and deserve) far better than what everyone else (surprise surprise) was allowing you back home. i have the feeling that places like dubai, singapore, abu dhabi and qatar kind of all reproduce the same type of pattern - creating business and living environments that are very expat friendly, well organised and socially accessible. yet - a tad unrealistic and self-indulgent to say the least.

and... it is turkey now...

leaving aside the technical infos i have just registered and considered thanks to the economist... i often find myself wondering whether, apart from torrential rains and memorable encounters i truly (truly) miss singapore -- having ended up in a country that is so (sooo) different (and far) from it.

the answer is yes and no.

yes -- because i will forever be thankful to those six years. i will forever feel them under my skin. they gave me so many opportunities and so much love for life. plus the diversity of people and backgrounds i had the chance to meet there is nothing short of extraordinary.

yet at the same time "no" -- because even though i have a bit of a comedy time with some of the uncouthness and craziness of turkey (whatever works here seems to work by chance)... i find this place and its people extremely... "true", real - and perhaps closer to what people were in postwar europe, with a deeper sense of what struggle might mean. sure, perhaps with some (ample) margins of opportunism and incoherence -- but with a core of genuine human touch that is very hard not to be partial to.

"four last songs" was, btw, the title of a piece of work from strauss. in the movie you can hear it playing... a mellow contrast to the booze, the balinese clad meditation sessions and the sweet eccentricities of stanley pucci's erratic initiatives.

will read again the economist pages tonight and wonder about my friend packing on her way to singapore.
i gave her plenty of tips, addresses and infos ... but she is only staying for a very short time... which means she might end up forgetting about the lion city very soon... or perhaps (like many people i know do) playing down the uniqueness of the time they spent there. and getting on with... their breakfast -

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

memory of marie a - bertold brecht

One day in blue-moon September,
Silent under a plum tree,
I held her, my silent pale love
in my arms like a fair and lovely dream.
Above us in the summer skies,
Was a cloud that caught my eye.
It was so white and high up,
and when I looked up, it was no longer there.

And since that moment, many a September
Came sailing in, then floated down the stream.
No doubt the plum trees were cut down for timber
And if you ask what happened to my dream
I shall reply: I cannot now remember
Though what you have in mind I surely know.
And yet her face: I really don't recall it.
I just recall I kissed long ago.

Even the kiss would have been long forgotten
If that white cloud had not been in the sky.
I know the cloud, and shall know it forever,
It was pure white and, oh, so very high.
Perhaps the plum trees still are there and blooming.
Perhaps that woman has six children too.
But that white cloud bloomed only for a moment:
When I looked up, it vanished in the blue.

cut the sugar

realised today i have not written anything here for the longest time...
truth is - i seem busier writing emails and letters and notes for my classes...
no time for taking some time off and reflecting on turkey and how things are going here for me.

work has been busy lately - with a whole new scenario provided by my new students + summer is over...which sucks really, considering my slight tendency towards tanorexia! i miss the sea too - some places here are just heavens of mediterranean perfection...with unique scents and colours. now that the weather has (temperamentally so) started to change - we are getting blustery storms more and more often - and the city seems to elope in a haze of grey clouds and mist... kind of mysterious and decadently fascinating...yet... no good news for my permatan vocation!

have started to know up close the national (and private) health system here and will get to learn more, i figure - especially after having unfortunately been diagnosed with diabetes. the news did not come as too much of a shock... but the most hilarious side of this new clinical chapter of my life comes from exploring the absolute void the turkish market offers to people suffering from any kind of medical condition that requires a special diet... there seem to be no alternative to the carbs laden / fat overload / sugar rave party / salt funfair that the turkish cuisine can be. sure - food here is amazing and tasty to say the least - but the entire population seems to be oblivious to the global trend of actually trying to avoid having a heart attack before age 30. namely - everyone seems to be extra fond of meat + bread and pastries + fast food + fried stuff + salt in every form or way. i guess economic development will bring in health consciousness and different habits (fitness, diets and the lot) but for the time being i find myself staring at the supermarket shelves with the look of somebody afraid of being used for some candid camera joke. never mind - i guess...but it kind of makes it harder to figure what the heck one is supposed to eat in the unlucky case he / she has some kind of food allergy or intolerance.
having said that - i will forever praise and admire turkish doctors and their flawless ethics, their kindness to patients and their sound, reliable ways. their facilities and clinics may look a bit fuddy-duddy at times - but there is no trace of any arrogance or shortness in the way people get treated here. in case of any clumsiness - the apology usually is offered with mannerism and some very welcome laughing opportunity. like ... went for a scan the other day and while picking up my papers and radiology images from the lab counter - a doctor was kind enough to explain rather matter-of-factedly: "sorry... but if you look at those pics...forget about the first six...they are from someone else's kidney" -- which somehow did crack me up... but these are all chaps who studied abroad and regularly travel for conferences in europe and america. i am becoming fonder and fonder of doctors, really - as here they seem to be the most liberal, open-minded and cultured -- plus...they have seen the world outside...whereas 96% of turks have hardly been on a plane, let alone applied for a visa to a foreign country.

clinical notes aside - have recently been hooked on a lovely retro tune passed by a friend - "where do you go to - my lovely?" by unbelievably uncool looking peter sarstedt - a poor indian bloke whose name was funked up by making it sound more (german??) european... the song came out in 1969 and has a bizarre, repeated waltz-like tune to it. i have yet to put my finger on it - but, hell, does it move me. i just cannot get enough of its unusual, melancholic vibe.

i guess i definitely have to cut back on the sugar - but still have a bit of an oversweet side deep down.