Tuesday, 23 February 2010

brave mel - not me

i sleepwalked to school for a morning class and was not able to think straight because of a massive headache. the top floor of the school feels like the waiting room of a dentist. it smells like one too. on the walls there are three or four posters of famous movies. as i was waiting to enter my class, i kind of blanked - staring at mel gibson looking back at me with his trademark mad eyes.

every man dies, not every man really lives

it said, behind mel's left shoulder.
i read and repeated in the blur my head was.
it is fascinating how hardly anything can sound impressive and glorious when you are tired.

i guess...
sleepheart, really...that's me.

p.s. btw...allegedly, we almost had a coup d'etat in the country a couple of days ago.
i asked my students what they knew about this and they did not seem to care that much. they sounded as affected by the news as i would be by some impossibly lengthy explanation on quantum theory.
no allende around here any time soon - i am afraid...

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

eat your peas

i hope that it is not because of some kind of petty, predictable form of cultural exoticism that i now walk around my neighbourhood with the curiosity and amusement of someone observing a newly discovered micro-universe.

the fact i speak a rather "me tarzan - you jane" turkish induces a type of isolation that i have learnt to appreciate.

especially in a context where people tend to -

voice anything they feel, think, despise and adore;

not to mention:

provide unwanted advice to any passer by; greet eagerly; bless profusely; justify adamantly; bicker furiously; sweet talk shamelessly; bargain with a passion - (you name it...)


being unable to communicate cajoles you into a sort of "locked-in syndrome state" without much room for interaction, let alone a proper verbalisation of your ideas.

initially i considered this a rather unfortunate circumstance - whereas now i enjoy observing, silently.

social niceties are a must here and if you greet a street vendor once - you will have to greet him every other time you bump into him - else, he will resent it forever.

also, there must be an unwritten rule here imposing as compulsory the use of superlatives.

how are you today? calls for - nothing short of "excellent!!" or "amazingly well!".

i am starting to suspect that answers like "ok" or "fine" can be given only by the terminally ill or by anyone affected by some dangerous deviance.

another classic is (to a foreigner): what do you think of turkey? do you like it here? - which calls for any hyperbolic explosion of ecstatic admiration, preferably paired with some opera like move suggesting you are about to faint or throw up, overwhelmed by emotion.

another unwritten rule is that children trigger exceptional public displays of joy and love - the younger they are the better. if you happen to walk around with a little one - people will stop you, pay compliments, look like they are about to weep, bless him and usually reach out to touch him, stroke him. at times i ponder that, should something like this happen in the u.s. - parents would go psychotic and think they are being hambushed by a bunch of molesters, potential kidnappers and members of some wacky hare krishna sect.

my list of "unwritten rules" could go on for a while - especially because the concept of community is engulfing here: people in fact spend most of their time eating, meeting and socialising...out, in markets, streets, cafes, shops - and from a very young age. this leads to what i perceive as innate street wisdom, with all its less appealing facets of emotional opportunism, killer talent for business, white lies and drama.

yet i find that people here are genuinely very giving, very sensitive, very generous and perhaps less self absorbed and artificial than most people in western countries - and certainly less aggressive, less bitter, less paranoid and prejudiced. i see in them, even in the most comedy, unchecked situations - a very rooted human touch.

i was thinking about all of this on my way home this morning and i stopped by the tiny shop where i buy my fruit and vegetables.

it is run by two brothers - identical twin brothers.

there is something bizarre about identical twins - they might have been cute and interesting as children, but if you see them one next to the other when they are fifty or so - you always get the feeling they are part of some peter sellers' prank. peculiar, to say the least.

these two can be told apart only because one of them always wears a hat.

"oranges. three kilos. please." i said in my broken turkish.

as i was paying one of them asked "how do you like turkey then?".

so i took a deep breath and trying to sound convincing (to both!) i just said -

beautiful!, very beautiful!, so so beautiful! - stretching my eyes so open i could feel my skull's sockets vibrating.

jam session

i feel like a walking episode of "casualty" - in a week i have managed to succumb to a terrible sorethroat, lose my voice completely (still speaking in a rather raspy falsetto that makes me sound like a donkey with asthma), burn my right hand while roasting some salmon in the oven and come down with viral flu.

then waking up this morning i realised i could not open my left eye, safely glued together by a sudden bout of conjunctivitis.

naively, on sunday i had the very bad idea of expressing some perplexities on my poor state of health with my students.

they looked at me with solemnity and proclaimed "it is because of envy" - explaining that if you are too well liked and admired people envy you to the point of wishing you and consequently causing you heaps of misfortune. i tried to laugh it off - "c'mon, you cannot believe in that stuff, can you?"

to which they looked at me with the face harrison ford makes on his indiana jones movie posters. "you should not joke. it is true. take refuge in Nazar, the Evil Eye. you should wear one."

in turkey, anywhere you go - in any shop, office, home, cafe - you always see up on the wall, in full display, the traditional blue-eye bead used for protection against envy, also known as Nazar, or Evil Eye. people also wear it on bracelets, necklaces; they sew it on the inside layer of their jackets and skirts; they keep one in their wallets, cars, bags, etc.

slightly startled by how homicidally certain my students sounded i tried to ask the opinion of other fellow teachers; then asked the school director, then the two secretaries at the office and finally the cleaning lady of the school building.

comically, yet tragically at the same time, not only each and every one of them believes in the envy conspiracy - but they all seemed eager to provide horrific examples of the devastating effects of not trusting the traditional faith in Nazar, while at the same time reiterating that "you must get protection from the Evil Eye as soon as possible".

call me gullible.

but not to jinx it 100% - i now wear 9 (nine) Nazar beads on my right wrist (just below the scar inferred by the weapon of mass destruction i use for baking);

a huge pendant around my neck with a blue eye the size of a compact disc;

a tiny one inside my purse.

yet - this morning conjunctivitis proves that Nazar is (blatantly) still failing me.

perhaps he does not like me much.

perhaps he senses my lack of faith in his creed.


as i was 'seeing life through rather sticky and hazy lenses', i decided it was high time i overcame my coercively induced state of fear and superstition and put myself in the safe hands of science.

namely, i finally resolved to make an appointment with our family gp, doctor cem (interestingly - to be pronounced as "jam").

the single reason we chose him as our gp is that he speaks english fluently. having said that, i have seen this doctor three times and have yet to understand whether he is a truly good practitioner. and it is my fault actually - since whenever i meet him i tend to get distracted by his appearance.

he is a beefy, stocky man, with coarse skin on his face, square hands and huge, purple lips. there is something invariably bored and kind of sleepy in his glassy gaze, hidden behind the heavy, dark frame of his glasses. he breathes slowly and deeply and combs his hair to the side, yet his hair is so thick and dark that it is hard to see it parting anywhere on his head.

he always wears chekered shirts where the checkers are too big and too red. all in all, i would say he looks like a transylvanian lumberjack - and behaves as one.
with very abrupt, sudden sentences - yet uttered with the sense of benign bravado and comradery of someone who is telling you with pride he has just killed a wild boar with his bare hands.

today, after confirming my conjunctivitis and emphatically ruling out pneumonia, bronchitis and irriversible mutism - he wrote a long prescription and then concluded - with his thick lips smiling with benevolence "all in all - you only have flu. you understand the word FLU?" he asked, his voice spelling the word for me like a slow thunder.

"i guess", i answered.
at 31, i think my wordliness can still stretch to that - fortunately.

as i shook his thick, dry hand on the way out - he grinned pointing at my right wrist and said cheerfully "good on you! you carry nazar. veeeery good idea".
i nodded - looking up at his square face through my foggy eyes.
of course.
very good idea indeed.

Monday, 15 February 2010

a fortunate read

Spent the afternoon reading "A Fortunate Man" (The Story of a Country Doctor) by John Berger.

It is a very unusual, mesmerising book that uses beautiful, journalistic photographs and a very direct, unheroic style of writing to offer a memorable portrayt of a man, a doctor - that leaves you feeling immersed into thoughts of how precious life truly is - even through its most devastating, painful and inexplicable aspects.

I keep on going back to its pages and think that, any young person reading it would be enlightened, moved and motivated to become a doctor.
And not because of any fake mythology created around gp's and their daily life.
On the contrary.
I found "A Fortunate Man" an extraordinarily deep reflection on human ideals, hopes, downfalls and failed expectations.

This is a short book, modestly described by the author as an ‘essay’. In it a GP working in the Forest of Dean in the mid-1960s comes to life. We read about his encounters with patients and his struggle to respond to their illnesses and lives.

The demanding and fallible humanity of John Sassall, the doctor, is described without holding back any detail. As if this were not enough, the book's photos by Jean Mohr are the visual equivalent of a choral passion. They are nothing short of exceptional. With their silent black and white tones, they portray Sassall at work and in conversation, his patients as individuals and in groups, and the ever-changing dialogue between sky and landscape, both beautiful and full of foreboding.

Sassall began as a blood-and-guts "one-man hospital," performing emergency appendectomies on kitchen tables. He had contempt for distress he judged not real. Gradually, his work made him rethink his values. Sassall began to attend to psychosomatic illnesses. He underwent his own crisis, read Freud, and held his office open evenings, when he offered psychotherapy. Sassall was what Berger called a "master mariner," Odysseus, perhaps, a man with broad curiosity about the nature of the human circumstance - armed with diverse skills and ready for all adventures. The general practitioner was, in Berger's telling, the existential man, facing down death and his own demon.

I found this book astonishing and am only waiting to read it again.
And again.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

title 1 or title 2 (discuss)

i love to read what my students say in their essays.
today i gave them two titles to choose from.
number 1 was: "young people should take an active interest in politics".
number 2 was: "is english really the language of the future?"
here are some extracts of what some of them wrote.

(i) "...politicians change their country' s situation in the world. politicians' behaviour is very important for their country's image. first of all, as a country - we want to become better. but to do this we should choose younger politicians. in today our politicians are very old and terrible. also, they put their feelings first in how they manage the country. they always argue. so, they are bad and ridiculous ..."
(ii) "...i don't like this situation...while we are speaking and learning english, i guess we forget our language. today if you want attention - everything is english word. for example cafe's name, supermarket's name, restaurant's name...and another things. i like english. it is a pleasure to speak english and i need to speak english very well..."
(iii) "...we can ask ourselves - what is the thing made english very important and so common? i think the answer is in the establishing of U.S.A. - because U.S.A. became a big power since of their beginning. thus, they forced other countries to speak english and england supported this process because of dominating france. french was the most important and common language until 18th century. that's why they don't like to speak english today. they also do not like the people who speak english or try to. in addition, they also still imagine that french will be the language of future generations. in my opinion this is impossible..."

Friday, 12 February 2010

valentine's day allergy cured by poetry

Uninvited, the thought of you stayed too late in my head,
so I went to bed, dreaming you hard, hard, woke with your name,
like tears, soft, salt, on my lips, the sound of its bright syllables
like a charm, like a spell.

Falling in love
is glamorous hell; the crouched, parched heart
like a tiger ready to kill; a flame's fierce licks under the skin.
Into my life, larger than life, beautiful, you strolled in.

I hid in my ordinary days, in the long grass of routine,
in my camouflage rooms. You sprawled in my gaze,
staring back from anyone's face, from the shape of a cloud,
from the pining, earth-struck moon which gapes at me

as I open the bedroom door. The curtains stir. There you are
on the bed, like a gift, like a touchable dream.

I am stuck in traffic in a taxicab
which is typical
and not just of modern life

mud clambers up the trellis of my nerves
must lovers of Eros end up with Venus
muss es sein? es muss nicht sein, I tell you

how I hate disease, it's like worrying
that comes true
and it simply must not be able to happen

in a world where you are possible
my love
nothing can go wrong for us, tell me

If these lines that I
see appearing on my face
were the lines of a map,
I would be with you now.
If the distance between us
were as tangible as the ice
that I feel, you would see me
sliding toward you, full of
joy at having found you, sorrow
at having been gone so long.
If my memory had the body
of a servant or thief
I would pursue it until it
returned what it had stolen:
already it blurs your face
with the faces of strangers.

holiday guide - turkey (daily telegraph)


subliminal message

went to teach yesterday evening with a terrible sorethroat and feeling quite drab.
my students were in the mood for compliments and one of them said: "my friend and i think you look like...liz taylor..." -

to which i did not know where to look.

to me, the name liz taylor conjures up a series of images that are, say, kind of far from flattering. some of them include: alcohol, triple chin, poodle with fuzzy white fur matching fuzzy and over the top hairdo, dodgy friendship with michael jackson etc etc.

so, well... i must have looked not 100% chuffed when i heard that one.

noticing my puzzlement - he added "you know liz taylor? from lord of the rings movie??" with the rest of the class nodding vigorously.

it was then clear they were actually talking about liv tyler and not liz taylor.

yet - i still do not know which of the two comparisons is more far fetched.

got home and measured my temperature realising my fever was up at 38.8 degrees.

hence - liz taylor was definitely more the case!

fever aside, i keep on finding the local perception of beauty and looks quite fascinatingly... different.

more then once i have heard the term "fat as an english man" used to describe someone. and that certainly is a blatant result of the exposure to the not-so-classy crowd that arrives here every summer - booked on an all-inclusive booze fuelled holiday courtesy of easy jet.

another funny thing is how people here always look much older than their real age. i have met a good number of 20something that could easily pass for 40something.
especially men.

this goes hand in hand with the perception of age most people - including younger generations have.

when i try to explain that people back home marry later in life and have babies when they are 35 or older - the reaction is always appalled to say the least.

"no, nooo teacher...not possible!" they laugh - thinking i am joking or something.

when i confirm - they protest "no, noooo... teacher...but this very... veeeery baaaaad".
that's why - i have a feeling they actually did mean liz taylor and not liv tyler...!
great (subliminal) message!
long day ahead for feverish old bag a.k.a. myself!

regina spektor - imogen heap

hooked on two great singers:
regina spektor
imogen heap
great music - about as quirky and different as their names!
cannot believe it is already thursday...
days go by so fast i hardly realise it.
house was turned into a bit of a sick bay this week - hope the e.r. mode will disappear soon.
check these out:
"man with a thousand faces" (r.s.)
"hide and seek" (i.h.)

Monday, 8 February 2010

everlasting driving

found out that to say "pen" in turkish - you use a term meaning "everlasting pencil"...which i consider a little linguistic gem!

it does not make learning turkish any easier - but it does make me smile...
and think of willy wonka's Everlasting Gobstopper!

getting very damp, rainy and cold weather.

went to urla, a tiny fishing village outside of izmir on saturday night and ended up in a tiny wooden hut by the beach. there was a fireplace and a traditional band playing.

it was quaint - and looked like a randomly executed cross between a sirtaki school, a skying lodge up in the mountains and some fuddy duddy diner in texas.

i guess the most exciting bit was the actual drive to reach and leave urla.

it felt like one of those illegal night races they organise outside of naples. pitch dark all around and a rather interesting average speed of 180 km/hour.

luckily i was far too tired to be scared!

Friday, 5 February 2010

mason + blue sky

beautiful, perfect day out - crisp air, wind, the bluest sea, clear sky, bright sun.

i found this quote from mason cooley and it made me smile...

"beauty is the outside of a dream"

he is the same author that said:
"everyone values the good nature of a man with a gun"
"failure makes us envious. success makes us greedy"
"to understand someone. find out how he spends his money"
"the egg is the symbol of perfection...do you want an egg??"
"the bathroom scale knows nothing of extenuating circumstances"

time to go out for a long walk!

weather forecasts (on cellulite)

so, as the topic "are women and men equal?" was a real hit with my wednesday class - i tried to use it again, with an interesting outcome.

one of the students came out with a delirious theory on why women in mediterranean countries are "inferior" to men.

"it is because of the weather. we have warm weather.
instead...people in the north... the weather always cold...very cold there... so the men are cold... the women are cold too... everyone is cold... and the women are stronger... they are like men".

good old claude levi strauss was listening from his grave, i think!

as i was taking in my student's infos - i thought back at my university years. in our linguistic anthropology book - the chapters i enjoyed best were the ones quoting eccentric scientists who had conducted tests on the effects of different climates on the phonetics and pronounciation in different languages. some experts basically claimed people enduring cold weather kept their mouth less open to let in less freezing air.

needless to say i loved reading about these experiments and bizarre theories.

problem is that...
going home from my class i started to conduct some mental equations on the effect of different climates on myself.
my reasoning kind of started from phonetics and then it sort of derailed...
dilemma number 1 -
had my cellulite increased since moving from singapore (equator) to izmir, turkey (southern mediterranean)?
dilemma number 2 -
yet - why had my skin been so bad in auckland, new zealand?
objection number 1 -
still - i had experienced less circles under my eyes when we were in holland.
dilemma number 3 -
and what about my hair?
(etc etc)

well, i guess everyone prioritises in very different ways.
and lots of kisses to mr. claude!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

"your ex lover is dead" by Stars (love this)


great lyrics too:

God that was strange to see you again
Introduced by a friend of a friend
Smiled and said 'yes I think we've met before'
In that instant it started to pour,
Captured a taxi despite all the rain
We drove in silence across Pont Champlain
And all of the time you thought I was sad
I was trying to remember your name...

This scar is a fleck on my porcelain skin
Tried to reach deep but you couldn't get in
Now you're outside me
You see all the beauty
Repent all your sin

It's nothing but time and a face that you lose
I chose to feel it and you couldn't choose
I'll write you a postcard
I'll send you the news
From a house down the road from real love...

Live through this, and you won't look back...
Live through this, and you won't look back...
Live through this, and you won't look back...

There's one thing I want to say, so I'll be brave
You were what I wanted
I gave what I gave
I'm not sorry I met you
I'm not sorry it's over
I'm not sorry there's nothing to save

I'm not sorry there's nothing to save...


topics for english b

i am not always great at choosing the right topic for a class.

my students are kind enough to display blatant signs of near-comatose boredom if i pick something they dislike.

recent topics / reception they received:

1. is fast food addictive?
strenuous defence of burger king and kfc. less solidarity for mc donalds. enthusiastic updates on local mobile phone operator that offers promotion at a number of fast food outlets (you can get 2nd menu for free).

2. facebook.
religious reverence for facebook in all of its forms (games, gossip, spying on ex boyfriends, pictures, videos...)

3. globalisation - are you in favour or against it?
looooooooong (slightly aghast) silence. polite (but firm) request to talk about something else. please. now.

4. are you in favour of turkey entering the e.u.?
comments included -
"we are very much in favour of this".
"very good idea".

but "france and germany hate us".

5. short story by william boyd.
(never again).

6. daily telegraph article by gossip columnist celia walden
(they were more amused by how funny I kept on saying it was - but could not tune in to her dry sense of humour).

7. interview with rihanna on glamour uk
(major success).

8. would you be happy if this country hosted the next olympic games?
(initial puzzlement, subsequent enthusiasm).

9. stress and today's lifestyle.
(nobody saw the point).

10. trash-rubbish-litter-junk-garbage-etc what's the difference?
(most approved part - the example "britney spears is often labelled as white trash")

11. tipsy-drunk-wasted-out of it-merry-etc
(they loved this).

12. financial times articles comparing the crisis of japan airlines and the success story of turkish airlines.
(never again)

13. group activity on "time" magazine
(favourite bit: article on the first gay marriage in latin america (celebrated about one month ago). especially because of pic of newly weds french kissing).

14. speech and drama class inclusive of limericks
(mixed reactions...)

15. public speaking exercise - imagining to give a presidential campaign speech
(everyone loved starting with the sentence VOTE FOR ME BECAUSE).

16. are women and men equal?
(girls could not wait to say something about this. guys were 50% amused, 50% uninterested - as well as oddly diplomatic).

17. lyrics from beatles' song
(this one was well received. but nobody knew who the beatles were).

munchausen syndrome

sounds like fun...! (i know at least eight people who are definitely suffering from this)

In Münchausen syndrome, the affected person exaggerates or creates symptoms of illnesses in themselves in order to gain investigation, treatment, attention, sympathy, and comfort from medical personnel. In some extremes, people suffering from Münchausen's Syndrome are highly knowledgeable about the practice of medicine, and are able to produce symptoms that result in multiple unnecessary operations. For example, they may inject a vein with infected material, causing widespread infection of unknown origin, and as a result cause lengthy and costly medical analysis and prolonged hospital stay. The role of "patient" is a familiar and comforting one, and it fills a psychological need in people with Münchausen's. It is distinct from hypochondriasis in that patients with Münchausen syndrome are aware that they are exaggerating, whereas sufferers of hypochondriasis believe they actually have a disease.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

the royal tenenbaums (chas)

Chas’ room looks like a businessman’s office, except it is
very small and has bunk beds. There is a desk with an Apple
II computer and an electric coffee pot on it. There is a
water cooler in the corner, with a paper cup dispenser.
Chas stands talking on the telephone while Etheline brings in
his lunch on a tray.
Chas Tenenbaum had, since elementary
school, taken most of his meals in his
room, standing up at his desk with a cup
of coffee, to save time.
On a shelf in an alcove there are ten cages connected
together by plastic tubes. White mice with tiny black spots
all over them race around outside the cages. Chas feeds one
of them a drop of blue liquid from a test tube.
In the sixth grade, he went into
business, breeding dalmatian mice, which
he sold to a pet shop in Little Tokyo.
There are twenty-five pinstriped suits in boys’ size twelve
and an electric tie rack hanging in the closet. Chas pushes
a button on the tie rack and the ties glide along a track.
He started buying real estate in his
early teens and seemed to have an almost
preternatural understanding of
international finance.
There are a small weightlifting bench and punchbag in the
corner. There is a set of exercise charts neatly drawn with
felt-tip pen tacked on the wall. Chas bench-presses about
fifty pounds on a small barbell.
He negotiated the purchase of his
father’s summer house on Eagle’s Island.

Monday, 1 February 2010

two (2) songs for today

"trouble is a friend" (lenka)

"5 years time" (noah and the whale)

when we are not sure, we are alive.

it is a very damp, colurless day here. still half asleep as i was fixing breakfast this morning i heard my son say "where are all the clouds? are they switched off?" - which i thought was a little gem.
yes, the clouds are switched off today - as is the sky, falling flat and grey on the sea and only broken by random, sudden showers.
went for my monday swim today.
the pool is at the back of a rather swanky hotel. i will never get used to how nosy people are here - and the staff at the entrance is no exception.
"how is your job going?" is today's first question from the cheerful man at the reception desk.
"alright" i try to keep it short.
"but where do you teach?" he insists.
"i can't remember the address...i am afraid" i say, trying to sound as simple as possible.
without even disguising his annoyment, he calls a colleague for some support - as if i am playing some kind of cluedo game here.
"like...is it...around this part of town? - like behind the hotel...?" he suggests...
"...no, it MUST be the one by the church...there is a church next to it, right?" his colleague presses me.
"no, no church" i tell them innocently - while rather enjoying the situation.
"...so - where, then??" the first one asks again.
i am dying to enter - i can feel the smell of chlorine in the air and just want to dash away from the bloody reception desk.
so i say... "do you know where the sea is?"
and they eagerly nod "of course" one of them concedes.
"it is kind of next to it" i conclude with a faint smile "can i have my locker's number?"
the place is busy but quiet at the same time - in the changing room people say hi and smile, like old aquaintances. i hide from the overenthusiasm and head to the steam room, then to the sauna - and finally swim for a good hour.
i always swim in the early afternoon - and for some kind of bizarre reason, this is a rather geriatric hour. i seem to be the only person under the age of 78.
from the water, looking up - every now and then i catch a glimpse of the people sashaying past. sequences of body parts that are either protruding, thinning, wrinkling or, in other words, decading. i must confess i am starting to develop a fascination for varicose veins - especially the blue ones.
when i am not intent on pondering on the different physiologies of ageing - i look out of the immense window opening onto the garden and its trees or simply...
i loose track of time and follow the chlorine tide...
up and down...
up and down... -
and down again