Sunday, 25 April 2010


"Spring Moon"

Moon in a town sky,
Half shut, dark one way from the middle,
Above a creek with spring peepers.

Homeward all alone, after joy,
Hands in pockets, making a thoughtful way
Over the bridge, down the street.

No voices, no women,
Only peepers,
And a solemn unsteadiness of all things.

--George Johnston

"Language as Self-Defense"

Downsizing, his boss calls firing my friend.
Restructuring. She wants him to think
it's not a
problem; it's an opportunity.

In the same vein, doctors call agony
Mom called death
passing away.
The women my friend tries to date

say they're
busy the same way his mother
husky when the world saw fat.
After rain, my desert tortoises drag

from their burrow: mud-caked, living rocks
amid the dandelions and devil grass
I call my
lawn. An hour of sun,

and the male will be chasing the female
around the yard. He'll bite her feet,
and ram her shell to show who's boss;

then they'll
make love, my neighbor calls it
when she protests the male's loud
the primal scene "my kids might see!"

"It's so easy for turtles," my friend says,
means, "Nothing's easy for me."
He's right. He's not even my

actually --just a guy who won't let me
forget the
discomforts of junior high.
Today he talks of
checking out.

And though I tell him,
Hang in there.
Getting canned could be a blessing in disguise,
I want to say, "You're right. Death

would be good for you." when I'm with him,
my well-paid job, pretty wife, and bright
prospects shake like an image in water

slapped by wind. I invent places
I've got to go, things I've got to do,
and tell him,
It'll all work out, I promise you.

---Charles Harper Webb


The storm broke, and it rained,
And water rose in the pool,
And frogs hopped into the gutter,

With their skins of yellow and green,
And just their eyes shining above the surface
Of the warm solution of slime.

At night, when fireflies trace
Light-lines between the trees and flowers
Exhaling perfume,

the frogs speak to each other
In rhythm. the sound is monstrous,
But their voices are filled with satisfaction.

In the city I pine for the country;
In the country I long for conversation --
Our happy croaking.

--Louis Simpson


Sabbath breaks with the swish and plop
of leaping salmon, pressing against the slush
of river bend, bloated with seed and egg.

Elated by her crazy muscle and fin
she tries to fly across the bow, but plats
on the slippery deck among the tackle, rope and rubber.

Scaled, the salmon's belly is soft,
the knife parts the blue black skin
spilling viscera -- this riot of blood animated

like the bubbles of air breeding in the wake
of the cutting propellers plow through the sea
We salt the tender flesh in the Bay

and bake her dripping lemon and honey
on an abondoned rock beach. and on this blue
ecumenical morning we break red flesh

with bread on our scaled knees, eyes glazed
with gratitude. The sun settles above
the upturned cone of pine trees; the hill

for a moment is black, and then light
washes its slopes with tender green.
For what we are about to receive . . .


--Kwame Dawes


I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be Heroes, just for one day

And you, you can be mean
And I, I'll drink all the time
'Cause we're lovers, and that is a fact
Yes we're lovers, and that is that

Though nothing, will keep us together
We could steal time,
just for one day
We can be Heroes, for ever and ever
What d'you say?

I, I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim
Though nothing,
nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, for ever and ever
Oh we can be Heroes,
just for one day

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can be Heroes, just for one day
We can be us, just for one day

I, I can remember (I remember)
Standing, by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns shot above our heads
(over our heads)
And we kissed,
as though nothing could fall
(nothing could fall)
And the shame was on the other side
Oh we can beat them, for ever and ever
Then we could be Heroes,
just for one day

We can be Heroes
We can be Heroes
We can be Heroes
Just for one day
We can be Heroes

We're nothing, and nothing will help us
Maybe we're lying,
then you better not stay
But we could be safer,
just for one day

Oh-oh-oh-ohh, oh-oh-oh-ohh,
just for one day

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

ape shall never kill ape

preface 1)

the school i work with has an idiosyncratic / zero tolerance "no jeans" policy.

when they hired me they informed me that "you can wear jeans only on sunday...the other days please wear a skirt" - (which would sound a bit awkward / sexist / odd / you name it... pretty much anywhere else on the planet, wouldn't it?...)

made once the major mistake of turning up in jeans (under a dress, with heels) for a thursday evening class and that was considered a major act of reactionary defiance.

oddly - i later noticed that ALL teachers show up on sunday morning wearing jeans and converse shoes...

preface 2)

on tuesday morning i have a class with a group of ladies in their late 40s...

they are indeed the ultimate local equivalent of the type of women you see in "desperate housewives".

50% suburbia - 50% prone to social smugness.

which usually implies a tendency to overdisplays of louis vuitton bags; massive tom ford specs and the amount of expensive bling that could easily cover and light up the humongous christmas tree in times square.

preface 3)

i received a phone call yesterday telling me that today's class with the aforementioned bling ladies was cancelled and postponed to thursday.

fair enough - i thought... i will have more time to go outdoor for a good jog.

so, today (breezy, sunny, perfect weather) i went- quite happily dressed down in my tracksuit pants, gym shoes and worn out "bathing ape" t-shirt... a t-shirt with a silly japanese logo with three "baby milo" monkeys and the slogan APE SHALL NEVER KILL APE on it.

very grown up.

at 11.05 am, already in sweats and with my ipod blasting pet shop boys' "flamboyant" - i heard my mobile phone ringing and picked up.

it was the school secretary - agitated, screaming at the top of her lungs like somebody trying to escape a rapist, a deadly fire or hannibal lecter.

"where are youuuuuuuu??... your students heeeeeeeeeere?!!!!!?..."

taken aback to say the least i kind of mumbled "i thought ...the class was ...cancelled?". but i was told that the class was definitely on - that i was late AND expected to show up in 5 minutes.

i dashed to school, then picked up my register, rushed up the stairs and made my glorious entrance in what (like every tuesday) looked like a louis vuitton showroom.

"holy crap" i kind of thought to myself "i must look like an absolute pillock".

the faces receiving me kind of confirmed my suspicion - they seemed amused to say the least.

i was in sweats, looking flustered - with baby milo saying hello from my chest and the breathing ease of somebody trying to survive a violent asthma attack.

"you may kind of gather i was in the midst of doing something else" was my opening line - which put the bling crowd in an even better mood and had them laughing and elbowing each other for a couple of minutes.

then the conversation went on - with me trying to look as casual and relaxed as possible -
so, how is your pilates going?
sure, your acupuncturist sounds terrific
any plans for the summer? a cruise to portugal - wow...
organic shops round here? i wouldn't know, i am afraid
while instead deep down i kept on focusing on the annoying feeling my knickers were glued with sweats to my bottom.

not very suburban.

and - i am sure - not standing a chance to become any tom ford material any time soon.

comically, on the way out, as i was dropping my attendance papers at the office i jokingly said to the secretaries staring at my outfit "well, at least i am not wearing jeans, right??".

the sense of humour of which went rather unnoticed - with one of them stating:

" your hair...

your hair very veeeeeery nice today".

Sunday, 11 April 2010

every student says i love you

it' s sunday again -

i have overdosed on caffeine again -

but today was "present day".

my intermediate class bought me a bracelet to protect me against the evil eye;

and this morning one of my students passed me a bag during one of our breaks - inside there was a book in a red wrapper.
i could not help but smile while reading the dedication:

"remember me while you are reading... your student, kadir (i hope my gramar is ok)"

the book is "the forty rules of love" by elif shafak.

"too many presents! you spoil me" i jokingly chided all of them - to which they looked at me with deadly serious faces and explained

"it is because we love you...we LOVE you veEEEry much" -

and i somehow could not get round explaining that, should they ever (eventually) end up going to england or the u.s. they are to kind of tame their exuberant use of the sentence "i love you". they are a tad too keen on employing it...
(quite often scaring the crap out of me, i must add...)
then after lunch i had only one student attending my conversation hour and we kind of forgot about grammar and vocabulary tips and spoke about music - comparing notes on "never win" by fischerspooner (a personal absolute favourite) + leonard cohen, morcheeba, chopin's nocturnes, air, trip hop, trance and electronic music and his passion for pink martini songs.
on his way out he said "teacher i am sooooooooo sorry my english is not very good.........
............but i am veeeeeery happy you like fischerspooner's music!".

Friday, 9 April 2010

lokma meets gecko meets kgb kontakts

april is the cruellest t.s.eliot put it...
but -
it is sunny and windy every day and every day the sea is flawlessly beautiful...
and i must say i feel great.
especially after a good run or an even better swim.

i know it kind of sounds like my priorities in life are comparable to the ones of a gecko.
but that might be actually a very good thing.

i admit it.
i use daily contact lenses.
every day.
that did not seem too much of a crime before coming to turkey.
but now...
oh boy... you would NOT believe the perils i have to go through to actually purchase my lenses.

every time i get told by the optician i need to book them in advance; then he always asks me bizarre questions.
every single time...he looks at me with worried eyes as i list the brand name and the power i need.
then -he always (ALWAYS) picks up his mobile and has a long, veeeery long and animated conversation with some person (far away seemingly. underground perhaps. living in a cave, i may assume - by the air of secrecy and conspiracy this implies) that needs him to repeat the infos about 28 times. this person on the other end of the line also seems in desperate need of explanations like: " is for a foreigner. yes. a lady. yes. no, not american. italian. but teaches english. lives round here. yes. has a baby. very cute baby. yes. teacher. no, husband not with nato".
all of this while i am standing with a face that is half imploring and half wondering what the heck can be wrong this time.

being well aware of this i dropped by the optician three days ago.
oddly, he precisely told me to come and fetch my lenses today, at 5 pm.
and so i did.
the optician looks like one of the guys from metallica (the one with the longer beard) and seems constantly in a good mood.
he is however nosey - like all people here - and appears to be more interested in my own business than in selling his products.
as usual our conversation today was as follows:
"hey, hi, how are you today? i came as you lenses". i started, already feeling ill at ease.
"lenses? but how come you are buying them again? you have already finished the others?" he replied, looking very concerned.
(jesus - why does he care? ... a voice said inside my head. why?)
so i confirmed that, indeed - i really needed the stuff. the pair i had on was my last one.
he responded in a bit of a belligerant tone...:
"yeah... but why tomorrow you don't wear glasses?????
i saw you two days ago. with frames. black frames. you look good. don't use lenses - use glasses".
i tried to say "i know...but i would like to get my lenses...anyway...if that is possible" and realised i was sounding like a heroine addict with severe withdrawal symptoms...
and then the best part came.
he explained the lenses were out of stock.
nowhere in the whole city i would find them.
(izmir, population: 4 million people, not exactly a village on some remote mountain)
nowhere, he repeated five times.
somebody was taking them for me (!!!) from istanbul, he added - lowering his voice, as if it was some kind of fbi detail.
(yeah. right. travelling on a donkey perhaps - the little voice inside my head commented...) he must have read my mind - because he gave me a big smile and then concluded, with the most fatherly of voices.
"i told you...
wear your glasses young lady"

have yet to figure out how i manage every month to spend 70% of my salary on frocks and dresses.
cant figure it out but do not intend to stop either.


have yet to figure out how locals manage to spend days on end sitting down for a chat sipping tea while chain smoking.
what surprises me the most is that you see this type of thing at every corner, in cafes, outside of shops, outside of schools, at the bus stop, at the taxi stand and even around chemists.
chemists are actually perhaps THE most poular venues for catching up. they put around the prescription counter two or three lines of chairs and people sit there for hours.

have yet to figure out if there is ANY expat life in town at all.
i was told the ecko pub / bar is THE place to go if you want to get together with other foreigners...
but if the place (two blocks from our home) looks seedy and sad during the day - it does even more so after dawn, with crowds of men only drinking beer with faces reminding you of some movie on vietnam vets.
not too promising, i guess.

tomorrow (saturday) i teach italian in the evening.
my italian students are an interesting bunch.
and the reasons why they joined the course are even more interesting.
for instance...
one of them is an opera singer who, after graduating from the conservatory here and finding no paying job now plays the guitar in a band ("we do weddings and salsa clubs") -
he studies hard and makes the most naive questions. whenever i see him his main worry is to buy me an espresso. if i decline he gives me a lost look under his mop of unruly, curly hair and says "...but you HAVE to!"

then there is a girl who wants to learn italian to write postings in italian on facebook.
which is rather wacky.
but she is always attending with amazing dedication.
she also knows by heart all the lyrics by tiziano ferro - a dreadful singer who well rivals eros ramazzotti over here in terms of sloshiness and predictability of his songs.

then there is an engineering student from the black sea. a goodlooking, quiet boy who wears a constant smile and seems half asleep all the time.
he explained that he wants to learn italian because he wants to be (brace yourself):
"like an italian man... sleek, charming, cool".
and - cherry on the already "peculiar" pie -
"i want to speak italian because my greatest dream is to work with FIAT".

which made the facebook motivation seem totally legitimate and appropriate.

when someone dies in turkey - families organise a stand in the street and call a catering team to fry on the spot hundreds of doughnuts that are distibuted for free to the people passing.
long queues wait to receive the sweet treat - a traditional way to share with the community about the loss, while asking god to look after everyone (i am told).

apart from living close to the dingy ecko pub - we live cose to the neighbourhood hospital.
and every day - outside of the hospital there are dozens of people lining up for their lokma plate...
as i zigzag through the crowd waiting for their doughnuts under a big sign with the name (or names) of the dead - i always see my optician standing on the door of his shop with his long, greying hair tied back and that usual smile.
"how are you?" he calls out.
"i am great - how are you?" i shoot back.
"i am great too" he says with his constantly amused voice.
and then i pass the baker with the monobrow.
"how are youuuuu?" he shouts.
"i am great - how are youuuuu?" is my reply.
"i am great toooooo" he says.
and then i walk past the guy who sold me one umbrella four months ago;
and then there is the man selling towels;
and then, before the crossroad, a guy looking like a siamese cat - pressing oranges in his bar;
then there are three men who get money to guard cars parked illegally around a building site;
then the whole lot of taxi drivers having tea around their station;
then there is the chemist who smokes inside her shop...
and i could go on forever.
"how are you - i am greaaaaaat - how are youuuuuu - i am great tooooooo"

truth is...
it's ok. i can say that all day.
besides priorities.
gecko has prerogatives too.
((but i will avoid the lokma queue for now...))

Monday, 5 April 2010

"the blue film" - GRAHAM GREENE

"Other people enjoy themselves," Mrs. Carter said.

"Well," her husband replied, "we've seen --"

"The reclining Buddha, the emerald Buddha, the float-
ing markets," Mrs. Carter said. "We have dinner and
go home to bed."

"Last night we went to Chez Eve. . . ."

"If you weren't with me," Mrs. Carter said, "you'd
find . . . you know what I mean -- Spots."

It was true, Carter thought, eyeing his wife over the
coffee cups: her slave bangles chinked in time with her
coffee spoon: she had reached an age when the satisfied
woman is at her most beautiful, but the lines of discon-
tent had formed. When he looked at her neck he was
reminded of how difficult it was to unstring a turkey. Is
it my fault, he wondered, or hers -- or was it the fault of
her birth, some glandular deficiency, some inherited
characteristic? It was sad how when one was young,
one so often mistook the signs of frigidity for a kind of
"You promised we’d smoke opium," Mrs. Carter said.
"Not here, darling. In Saigon. Here it’s ‘not done’ to smoke."
"How conventional you are."
"There’d be only the dirtiest of coolie places. You’d be conspicuous. They’d stare at you." He played his winning card. "There’d be cockroaches."
"I should be taken to plenty of Spots if I wasn’t with a husband."
He tried hopefully, "The Japanese strip teasers…" but she had heard all about them.
"Ugly women in brassiéres," she said. His irritation rose. He thought of the money he had spent to take his wife with him and to ease his conscience—he had been away too often without her—but there is no company more cheerless than that of a woman who is not desired. He tried to drink his coffee calmly: he wanted to bite the edge of the cup.
"You’ve spilt your coffee," Mrs. Carter said.
"I’m sorry." He got up abruptly and said, "All right. I’ll fix something. Stay here." He leant across the table. "You’d better not be shocked," he said. "You’ve asked for it."
"I don’t think I’m usually the one who is shocked," Mrs. Carter said with a thin smile.
Carter left the hotel and walked up towards the New Road. A boy hung at his side and said, "Young girl?"
"I’ve got a woman of my own," Carter said gloomily.
"No, thanks."
"French films?"
Carter paused. "How much?"
They stood and haggled awhile at the corner of the drab street. What with the taxi, the guide, the films, it was going to cost the best part of eight pounds, but it was worth it, Carter thought, if it closed her mouth forever from demanding "Spots." He went back to fetch Mrs. Carter.
They drove a long way and came to a halt by a bridge over a canal, a dingy lane overcast with indeterminate smells. The guide said, "Follow me."
Mrs. Carter put a hand on Carter’s arm. "Is it safe?" she asked.
"How would I know?" he said, stiffening under her hand.

They walked about fifty unlighted yards and halted by a bamboo fence. The guide knocked several times. When they were admitted it was to a tiny earth-floored yard and a wooden hut. Something—presumably human—was humped in the dark under a mosquito-net. The owner showed them into a tiny stuffy room with two hard chairs and a portrait of the King. The screen was about the size of a folio volume.
The first film was peculiarly unattractive and showed the rejuvenation of an elderly man at the hands of two blonde masseuses. From the women’s hairdressing the film must have been made in the late twenties. Carter and his wife sat in mutual embarrassment as the film whirled and clicked to a stop.
"Not a very good one," Carter said, as though he were a connoisseur.
"So that’s what they call a blue film," Mrs. Carter said. "Ugly and not exciting."
A second film started.
There was very little story in this. A young man -one couldn’t see his face because of the period soft hat -picked up a girl in the street (her cloche hat extinguished her like a meat-cover) and accompanied her to her room. The actors were young: there was some charm and excitement in the picture. Carter thought, when the girl took off her hat, I know that face, and a memory that had been buried for more than a quarter of a century moved. A doll over a telephone, a pin-up girl of the period over the double bed. The girl undressed, folding her clothes very neatly: she leant over to adjust the bed, exposing herself to the camera’s eye and to the young man: he kept his head turned from the camera. Afterwards, she helped him in turn to take off his clothes. It was only then he remembered—that particular playfulness confirmed by the birthmark on the man’s shoulder.
Mrs. Carter shifted on her chair. "I wonder how they find the actors," she said hoarsely.
"A prostitute," he said. "It’s a bit raw, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you like to leave?" he urged her, waiting for the man to turn his head. The girl knelt on the bed and held the youth around the waist—she couldn’t have been more than twenty. No; he made a calculation: twenty-one.
"We’ll stay," Mrs. Carter said. "We’ve paid." She laid a dry hot hand on his knee.
"I’m sure we could find a better place than this."
The young man lay on his back and the girl for a moment left him. Briefly, as though by accident, he looked at the camera. Mrs. Carter’s hand shook on his knee. "Good God," she said, "it’s you."
"It was me," Carter said, "thirty years ago." The girl was climbing back onto the bed.
"It’s revolting," Mrs. Carter said.
"I don’t remember it as revolting," Carter replied.
"I suppose you went and gloated, both of you."
"No, I never saw it."
"Why did you do it? I can’t look at you. It’s shameful."
"I asked you to come away."
"Did they pay you?"
"They paid her. Fifty pounds. She needed the money badly."
"And you had your fun for nothing?"
"I’d never have married you if I’d known. Never."
"That was a long time afterwards."
"You still haven’t said why. Haven’t you any excuse?" She stopped. He knew she was watching, leaning forward, caught up herself in the heat of that climax more than a quarter of a century old.

Carter said, "It was the only way I could help her. She’d never acted in one before. She wanted a friend."
"A friend," Mrs. Carter said.
"I loved her."
"You couldn’t love a tart."
"Oh yes, you can. Make no mistake about that."
"You queued for her, I suppose."
"You put it too crudely," Carter said.
"What happened to her?"
"She disappeared. They always disappear."
The girl leant over the young man’s body and put out the light. It was the end of the film. "I have new ones coming next week," the Siamese said, bowing deeply. They followed their guide back down the dark lane to the taxi.
In the taxi Mrs. Carter said, "What was her name?"
"I don’t remember." A lie was easiest.
As they turned into the New Road she broke her bitter silence again. "How could you have brought yourself…? It’s so degrading. Suppose someone you knew—in business—recognized you."
"People don’t talk about seeing things like that. Anyway, I wasn’t in business in those days."
"Did it never worry you?"
"I don’t believe I have thought of it once in thirty years."
"How long did you know her?"
"Twelve months, perhaps."
"She must look pretty awful by now if she’s alive. After all, she was common even then."
"I thought she looked lovely," Carter said.

They went upstairs in silence. He went straight to the bathroom and locked the door. The mosquitoes gathered around the lamp and the great jar of water. As he undressed he caught glimpses of himself in the small mirror; thirty years had not been kind: he felt his thickness and his middle-age. He thought, I hope to God she’s dead. Please, God, he said, let her be dead. When I go back in there, the insults will start again.

But when he returned Mrs. Carter was standing by the mirror. She had partly undressed. Her thin bare legs reminded him of a heron waiting for fish. She came and put her arms round him: a slave bangle joggled against his shoulder. She said, "I’d forgotten how nice you looked."

"I’m sorry. One changes."

"I didn’t mean that. I like you as you are."

She was dry and hot and implacable in her desire. "Go on," she said, "go on," and then she screamed like an angry and hurt bird. Afterwards she said, "It’s years since that happened," and continued to talk for what seemed a long half hour excitedly at his side. Carter lay in the dark silent, with a feeling of loneliness and guilt. It seemed to him that he had betrayed that night the only woman he loved.