Monday, 29 November 2010

turkish taste buds?

bought this afternoon the latest issue of "newsweek". the title on the cover says: THE DINNER GAP... ("fine food is the new measure of the class divide")... something that inspired me some scattered reflections and random ideas -
mainly to do with the fact that - after one year in turkey - my taste buds and palate seem different...and now (kind of) accustomed to flavours i initially could not, even in my wildest dreams, expect to come to like.
my (turkish) culinary conversion has so far led me to embrace:
  • tea, the way the locals drink it - strong, harsh, steaming hot. something that, in the beginning, made my stomach go veeeeeery queasy...;
  • ayran -- a salty yoghurt drink that, when i first tasted it, i described as "liquid feta cheese" and kind of disliked. i now love it (to say the least) and can have it instead of water to go with any of my meals;
  • turkish soda - the fizziest drink i have ever had in my entire life. when i first tried it -- it literally "stang" my tongue. i now kind of enjoy it and find it perfect to wash down practically personal favourite is the apple-flavoured one (sweet and sour);
  • lemon juice added to a hot veggie soup - especially lentil and tomato soups. just lovely...
  • mayonnaise in unreasonable doses. turkish people add it generously to their pizza too -- which i have yet to master...but would not completely rule out;
  • the local simits (or, in izmir...gevrek) - a kind of "bagel" sold in bakeries and tiny stalls along every street. at first i found this type of bread tasteless and far too chewy... but i am a convert now, especially after discovering the flakier and softer "sutlu" (milky) variety.

but, most of all................

  • the local way of having breakfast -- a feast of eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, olive paste, thickened milk cream, sesamy sauce, fresh cheese, cheese rolls, sausage, focaccia bread, honey, cherry jam, tea, hard boiled eggs, salami omelette...

however - few turkish flavours i still seem to have a (very...) hard time with:

  • red meat -- a national passion i have yet to warm to... being especially immune to the charms of beef and steaks...
  • the local mania for carbs and pastries -- especially the ones baked with heaps of butter;
  • the countless recipes using offals, tongue, brains, liver... (just cannot. just cannot "go there"...!, honest)
  • midye (mussels) - served in their shell, stuffed with a mix of raw mussel pulp, garlic and rice and sold in the street with a slice of lemon. granted that i cannot stand any kind of clams, oysters, raw seafood or mussels in me seeing a street vendor of turkish midye around town is like seeing a billboard advertising hepatitis a! and this despite legions of local friends and students worshipping this delicacy and claiming they can eat up to 20, 30, 60 in a row...

will need to rephrase the newsweek's cover caption...: fine food is the new measure of the culture divide!

difficult questions (and even more difficult answers)

my students seem to grow keener and more curious about europe by the day. however - they tend to ask bizarre questions about the old continent. here is a selection of their most recent (and peculiar) dilemmas i was kind of puzzled by.
1. teacher, is it true that people in germany when they travel on the bus...they ALL read a book?
2. i have won my erasmus to go to holland and i will study at groningen university. can you suggest a nice hostel in amsterdam where i can stay? ((groningen - amsterdam by train = 2.5 hrs...))
3. they say italian people are exactly like turkish people. is this true?
4. when i was in france i had a lot of pork to eat and it was delicious. do people there eat only pork or something else too?
5. my sister lives in finland and people are cold there. very cold. like in norway and scandinavia. is it the same in london?
6. are german people racist like... hitler? or maybe... not now...? they are not now?
7. i read about berlusconi in the press and i think he is like god. he has many young girls. you know how old he is?
8. when you are in holland they told me you should NEVER say 'i am a turk'...because holland people hate us. what do you think?
9. france people are arrogant and rude. i think when i go to paris if i speak english maybe they know english but they do not want to speak english. is this true?
10. i want to travel to all other countries in europe and try different food. i do not like foreign food...i only like turkish food. but i am curious. what is good to eat? or i can go mc donalds every day...

my topic for the past week flopped.
everything was based on 2010 drawing to a close and questions included:
  • how would you describe your 2010 in one or two words?

  • can you tell me about a very happy memory you have about 2010?

  • is there a person that was especially important for you in 2010?

  • is there something you would change about your 2010?

  • is there one day that was very special for you in 2010?

  • what did you improve in 2010 about yourself / your social life / your education?

  • how will you celebrate the end of this year?

  • do you have any plans / anything you cannot wait to do in the new year?

i think 9 people out of ten did believed this was a bit of a pointless series of questions -- most of them described their 2010 as: ordinary ... nooooormal ... average (which coming mainly from 20somethings left me a bit taken aback). someone made a real effort and came up with definitions like: mixed... a bit good, a bit EVERY YEAR... tiring because of studying + everyone found my concept of "self-improvement" rather elusive and mysterious and three people out of four claimed they were going to have a quiet evening in for new year's -- mostly spent with family; and engaging in activities like "eating turkey for dinner... watching tv... playing tombola... or watching a movie" -- since "celebrating the new year is unnecessary".

to be honest -- while i have very clear ideas about my 2010, my 2011 and the happy times and significant people of these past months... oh well -- i still have to figure out what these less than enthusiastic answers reveal!

surely - i sometimes dread their answers and find them a trifle boring and plain. the end of the day... while i sometimes enjoy reminding myself that that flapper of zelda fitzgerald was portrayted by her sweet husband's words "she was never bored because she was never boring" -- a quick look at her biography on wikipedia is enough to learn she was in truth extremely unhappy, suffered from complexes of all kinds and was left to rot in a psychiatric ward by her (sweet only with words!) booze loving husband, the very famous creator of the great gatsby.

as most of my students would shrug it off... a tad... unnecessary - really...! (oddly enough... even tombola sounds like a better option!)

Monday, 22 November 2010

Theodore Roethke - the sloth

In moving-slow he has no Peer.
You ask him something in his Ear,
He thinks about it for a Year;

And, then, before he says a Word
There, upside down (unlike a Bird),
He will assume that you have Heard-

A most Ex-as-per-at-ing Lug.
But should you call his manner Smug,
He'll sigh and give his Branch a Hug;

Then off again to Sleep he goes,
Still swaying gently by his Toes,
And you just know he knows he knows

usage of "crowded", a red tent and the king of toothbrushes

the holiday season here is over and today everyone is back at work. our four friends said bye (the first two on tuesday, the second two yesterday) -- leaving behind a mellow feeling: it was a lovely week...perhaps the fastest of the past year. woke up today thinking it did feel like real time off -- away from everything. it is unusual for me to feel that about a holiday... a good sign, i guess -- but i am going to miss having friends around. on one hand it may be tiring: with all the preps, the tidying up, the cooking, planning and trying to be cheerful and welcoming all the time... but on the other it is amazing to have a different vibe around the house; listen to different stories and see beautiful places in good company.

we enjoyed amazing weather (verging on 25 degrees...!) which made our day trips look like easter family outings... and we also enjoyed great food and fab sightseeing. everyone said they were expecting turkey to be a great place to visit -- but all commented they were mostly impressed by how nice, friendly and cheerful turkish people are.

i always love to have guests - i love to treat and surprise them. plus, whenever i have any kind of personal interaction i always end up realising that what people need the most is a mix of attention, care and the knowledge they are being listened to. hardly ever for advice, really -- mainly for a wish to share and "let stuff out"... ((come to think of it -- the same quite often happens in your professional life too...with colleagues, students, employers, etc.)) i have a huge respect for this type of dynamics and try my best to keep my ears (and heart) available and alert. my idea is that the more diversity of messages you take in and reflect on -- the more you keep your own diversity alive...preserving your more empathetic, bubbly and curious side...keeping it on the lookout for whatever may come along.

in addition to that -- i do think different people put together (even at random) naturally create an "esprit de corp" that provides an endless stock for a good laugh and a taste of how mellow and actually light this wacky life can be.

p.s. it seems poignant to add that as a memento of turkey each and every kind guest was given a family pack of toothbrushes from leading local brand "BANAT" - to me a product that is the epitome of technological emancipation here. i did however spare everyone my initial plan to pair the "banat" gift pack with the interestingly named "CANDIDA" whitening toothpaste...

now that the turkish "holiday season" with all the religious festivals is up... i may have to think to arrange something for "our" christmas in turkey... which, as experienced last year, is a rather tamed kind of affair... however - am already focusing on the presents' side of things... and found the thing i really wanted for my 3 year old... a bright red camping tent. it is a tiny, igloo shaped tent -- ...i had been after something like this for months. as a child, i seemed to have a predilection for sleeping everywhere apart from my own bed - and would daydream about camping somewhere (even on the kitchen floor!) or building shelters up some tree... i guess my "hunt for the red tent" sprang from all these "tom sawyer"-fuelled childhood fantasies! will now need to create some special pantomime around the unusual christmas present. hope my little one warms to the enthusiasm...

have recently developed an unprecedented fascination with new york and hope to travel there at some point. never had this urge before -- but may start to collect infos and tips on the big apple and eventually check it out for myself. all those don delillo and paul auster reads on n.y. may be contagious after all, i figure!

realised by reading my students' essays yesterday evening that turkish people use the adjective "crowded" when they actually mean "impossibly messy; unbearably swarming with people; loud; out of control; insane; devastatingly chaotic and hopelessly noisy"... they in fact use "crowded" to describe wild packs of people; unruly hoards of hooligans; the traffic in istanbul and buses they never manage to catch because of the legions of people already on them; the local market populated by screaming masses and the public offices clogged with queues and angry faces. "crowded"... they say. so to speak...

was intensely engaged in my daily jog yesterday when some guy stopped me by frantically waving his arms in the air. paused my ipod (and legs) for a second and looked at him in puzzlement. "any problem?" i mumbled - expecting some major emergency on the way. he produced a digital camera and asked " problem. but... can you take my picture for my girlfriend?" which sounded surreal and in truth demanded some kind of (dignified... if not offended) reaction like "can't you see i am running? / busy? / exercising?"

but somehow managed to make me laugh. that's the thing about turkey that always manages to amuse me immensely -- how unhinged and (very!) random people and things here can be. i believe my students would dismiss it as a very "crowded" matter...

keep on thinking about a quote from "looking for eric" by ken loach. "...she nourishes everything she touches" -- which is used to describe a woman and her caring, sweet attitude to things and others. i find it very beautiful. deep but gentle. it is hard to find women you would use those words for - and perhaps it would be lovely to described like that.

on the less sweet side -- went back to listening to loads of franz ferdinand's music. terrific stuff. i remember seeing them in concert in singapore and have always been a fan. some of their lyrics kill me.

hope to make it to the pool today and forget for a couple of hours it is actually monday... no more mellow thoughts and after thoughts... no more friends around... alas...

...just hope the swimming pool will not be too... C R O W D E D.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

i like the way, the way you shake...

the weather we are getting these days could not be any more lovely than this -- there is always a perfect light, a shy but warm sun and a fantastic, chilly breeze at night. i love it.

just got back from tiny birthday party at my son's kindergarden and - like for other occasions of the same kind - ... i was stunned by the too funny for words choice of music. apart from dreary turkish pop -- people here seem to love rap and r 'n b music... and the kindergarden teachers are no exception. the only problem is that none of them know any english whatsoever - and so i am the only one slightly amused (for the wrong reasons) when i look at the wild bunch of three years old dancing like crazy and wiggling their mini-hips to lyrics like
"...i like the way...the way you shake your ass around me..."
"she is a monster...and i need her...and i want her...she is a monster -- but i don't mind".
oh well, i should not mind either.

the arrival of our guests in a couple of days has sent me in absolute overdrive about fixing things around the house -- so we had a couple of handymen over yesterday...+ am waiting for two more now and i have already endured a frantic trip to the local ikea.

it is hilarious to deal with any plommer / technician here... - partly because of my rather comedy turkish, partly because when (if) they show up - they usually arrive two hours late, enter and ask for tea before saying "hi" and - since you are clearly a foreigner (no bloody way to disguise it!) - try to cheat on the price...making any 40 liras become 65 all of a sudden.

received a call from a friend from rome yesterday and learnt there is a chance we are going to have visitors for new year's too. am so excited and happy i can hardly find the words to express it.

on the other hand - with christmas approaching - few of my foreign friends here are actually leaving turkey...and tonight there is going to be a small farewell do for a couple of them. it is sad to see them go, really. most of the american and english teachers i have met here so far are lovely people, with a real "can do" attitude and a sweet, gregarious sense of life. which is rare - and refreshing to say the least.

must dash now and fetch a couple of plants for my ever temperamental balcony. had placed two gigantic, very thorny / threatening looking fat plants at the entrance of the spot where the pigeons nested last year -- only to find out the evil beasts resorted to use another corner to nest once again... blast!
as mentioned earlier... perhaps "i should not mind either".
and ... i guess... will (happily) settle for that...

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

all i want for christmas is a babirusa

christmas is round the corner... even if i need to remind myself of it -- as here there is (and will be) no sign, no decoration, no jingle, no supermarket's bargain, no ad on nothing - to actually remind us of the festive season.
which is not too bad, after all -- i must admit...since i have always partly dreaded all the forced loveliness of it all; not to mention the compulsory family do's and gatherings one is forced and expected to attend...putting a brave smile and oddly feeling 15 again. and awkward and grumpy again.

as i was coming back home tonight -- as i said hello to the street vendor selling roasted chestnuts in the street -- perhaps mellowed by his smile and the amazing aroma his stall was spreading in the neighbourhood... i found myself thinking about winter holidays... wondering whether there had ever been a time when i had actually loved christmas. overall, if i look back to my childhood i get glimpses of my scary paternal grandmother offering stale candies; my parents quarreling over everything and a constant feeling of uneasiness. then, if i look back to my teenage years...i, once again... get glimpses of my scary paternal grandmother offering stale candies; my parents quarreling over everything and a constant feeling of boredom. and uneasiness too -- that one never left...i would still feel it today, am sure.

but yes -- there was a time when i actually could not wait for christmas. for some unknown reasons, in 1986 and 1987 -- i actually spent my christmas away from my family. my parents, perhaps for motives they would not even discuss now -- let me spend the holiday with my godfather's family. my godfather, g., a withdrawn, skinny and soft spoken man was a colleague of my father and had a beautiful house lost on a plateau next to the border with slovenia. he had two daughters, who were 4 and 2 years my senior; owned a wire-haired german dachsund named bernie and two extremely furry cats. he was the only member of his family who was not working as a zoologist, park naturalist or ethologist -- but he was a fond hunter, knew everything about the wildlife; all exitsting species of trees, animals and plants - and, the son of a painter, he had a gift for sketching animals, especially foxes, badgers, deers and pheasants. a rather hemingway-esque type of charcter - g. spoke very rarely and, when he did, he would do it in a very funny nasal pitch, almost like a reluctant child.
his clothes had something foreign and out of fashion about them - and, especially when he decided to venture out with bernie -- he looked like a prussian junker on his way to meet otto von bismarck for a beer.
to me - he and his family were the epitome of happiness. their home and the immense garden around it, skirted by a silver grey wood of oaks -- were, to my 8 years old eyes, the sound proof that life could! at the end of the day be a very full affair.

so, when his wife convinced my mother to allow me to spend the winter holidays with them -- i nearly had a heart attack because of such a massive and unexpected overload of delirious joy.

what swept me off my feet about g's family was their playfullness, their constant use of invented, improvised terms of endearment; their enthusiasm for walking for hours outdoor - just for the sake of it. their absolutely unusual way of setting priorities about life: sports came first; then travelling; then reading; then organising gregarious gatherings and trekking outings with friends. their circle of friends was unusually and bizarrely mixed - when they were all thrown together - they hardly had anything in common and it was strange to see them actually getting along and enjoying themselves nevertheless.

g's wife was a smiley woman with cheeks that looked like bubblegum and bouncy blonde hair. she always looked like someone who is about to burst out laughing and had the most wonderful of voices. their daughters were very funny and bubbly and together we used to invent nicknames for all the people we knew. most of the times -- these nicknames had some zoological inspiration...and even when we were "cursing" or mocking each other - we would come up with stuff like "hey, stop being a babirusa!" which to me was sheer genius.

their house smelt like dog at the main door; wood in the living room; old moss in the kitchen; and toasted bread in the dining area. the two daughter's room was up in the wooden garret - to me an enchanted space where the shadows of the closeby woods and the noise of the wind through the dry grass outside created a magical universe i had only read about in adventure books.

in my memories, those two christmases are most precious and special. looking back -- spending time in such a different and in such a differently serene and bubbly atmosphere - had me feeling so alive and happy i was almost afraid to breathe.

the rest of christmases i have had -- oh well...
very VERY babirusa stuff.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

funny one (by will self)

My wife told me recently that “panini” is a malapropism, being the plural rather than the singular. Think about it: every time you ask for “a panini”, you are in fact requesting several of these inoffensively phallic snacks, or speaking complete nonsense – depending on which way you want to look at it. Either way, you’re giving Italian-speaking café workers an opportunity to snigger at you behind their polythene-gloved hands as they take sundried tomatoes from one Tupperware container, mozzarella from the next, pastrami from a third, and incorporate them into the eponymous white roll.

Not that anyone could be that sad – even though Italian amour propre can be staggering, especially when it comes to the English, whose style every self-respecting Italian intellectual seeks shamelessly to emulate. I well recall meeting my Italian ex-publisher for the first time. We’d arranged to rendezvous at a pub in Kensington, and as I came cycling down the road I saw a man wearing brown corduroy trousers, a tweed jacket, a Viyella shirt and brogues. I pulled up beside him and said: “You must be my Italian publisher,” at which salutation he jumped about a foot in the air, yelping: “But ‘ow deed you know?” I can’t remember if on that occasion Carlo Brugnatelli and I ate panini – but I doubt it, as we were at a gastropub and the ethos of such establishments couldn’t be further from this foodstuff: gastropubs disguise continental European mores in the tweedy fug of the saloon bar, while panini are basically just ham-and-cheese sandwiches by Emporio Armani.

No wonder they’ve taken over the country. There’s this whiff of pseudo-sophistication about them; but more than that, they’re firm, warm and portable, and by some weird sleight-of-mind they allow otherwise health-conscious Brits to ignore that they’re eating a huge chunk of white bread. Not that warmth is intrinsic to the panino; in Italy they’re just as frequently served cold, becoming by the absence of heat and pressure merely a regional variant on the pan-European baguette. Indeed, the Italian colloquialism for a toasted panino is quite simply “toast”, yet another example of Italians’ devotion to lo stile degli inglesi.

Listen, far be it from me to promote any culinary nationalism. Quite self-evidently, as it is to all aspects of culture, so it is even more so to cuisine. Were it not for the Italian POWs who stayed behind after the Second World War and opened ice-cream parlours, cafés and chip shops, entire swaths of Caledonia would be uninhabitable due to the ghastliness of the indigenous diet. (The same is true for the rest of the Union, too.)

No less a thinker than Michael Gove has called for greater emphasis on the narrative history of these islands, and appointed no less a historian than Simon Shawarma-Kebab to smear wholesome dripping on the national Hovis. Shawarma-Kebab would do well to begin with snacking; after all, it was a noble Englishman – the Earl of Sandwich – who invented the sandwich. True, I find it impossible to imagine His Lordship’s eureka moment without recalling Woody Allen’s inspired riff on the subject: “1745: After four years of frenzied labour, he is convinced he is on the threshold of success. He exhibits before his peers two slices of turkey with a slice of bread in the middle. His work is rejected by all but David Hume, who senses the imminence of something great . . .”

But there’s nothing risible about the modern British sandwich, which has done everything in its power to keep abreast with the times by incorporating ingredients, from tandoori chicken to hummus to salt beef, into all manner of breads – seeded, sourdough, pumper-fucking-nickel.

And yet . . . and yet . . . It’ll take more than Gove’s planet-sized percipience to prevent the sense of presque vu we all still have, even when biting into a marinaded fugu with julep and endive on manna. For, somewhere not far from the tip of our collective tongue is a recollection of that national humiliation – the soggy beige triangle of unwonderful loaf, seamed with bilious cheese and garnished with wilted lettuce and E coli. We long to escape the cold misery of the sandwich, just as our valiant forefathers longed to escape Colditz. And so it is, that when we find ourselves at the lunch counter, we cast aside all thoughts of patriotism and call for panini. Lots of them.

10 + 2 + 3 (talking movies)

it is sunday, early morning and i am still half asleep! was in the other room trying to organise our dvd's and while reading some titles i started thinking what movies i enjoyed the most in the latest months.
since moving here -- we have been watching loads - some outstanding and some less memorable ones. had i to say the ones that really impressed me i would mention:
1. the lives of others (oscar winning german film. a masterpiece. a very complex, unforgettable number mixing tragedy and poetry, chilling violence and enduring love);
2. hiroshima mon amour (a deep elegy on how war can bring together and break in the same measure otherwise distant lives);
3. the man who loves (italian movie -- whose only flaw lies in the unnecessary casting of monica bellucci. an everyday story told in sequences that develop in an unexpected game of chinese boxes. beautiful, gripping acting - with the added value of spanish actress marisa paredes, a personal favourite).
4. up in the air (witty, bittersweet portrayt of modern loneliness in the corporate world. george clooney delivers a great performance here).
5. genoa - by michael winterbottom (starts off as a too sad for words tale on loss -- goes on to place the characters in an unusually realistic corner of italy -- finishes with a touch of hope and joy. splendid portrayt of two daughters).
6. the burning plain (from the same director of memorable 21 grams. painful and tragic, heartbreaking. charlize theron kills you with her self destructive character who finds a reason for redemption only at the very end. the movie is shot beautifully -- with incredible oregon landscapes in its first half).
7. dan in real life (ok, definitely a happy-ending cum happy-family package - but boy, did i laugh. it is witty, it is sweet, it is very much on the "feel good" comedy side. fantastic soundtrack too. and directed by much gifted peter hedges).
8. looking for eric (by ken loach -- fab working class tale filled with humour and wackiness and revolving around the character of eric, a hapless manchester lad who starts picturing his all time favourite football hero, flamboyant eric cantona, as his "guardian angel" in his messy, unhinged life. very funny, very touching, very upbeat).
9. the bank job (unbelievable movie based on even more unbelievable (real) event: the 1971 baker street robbery in central london. this movie is a winner for action and suspense and could well be described as some kind of ocean's eleven type of thing - only with more gripping, sharper and british-ly cooler atmosphere and pace).
10. comandante (documentary by oliver stone. this one is a quirky gem: an interview of cuban leader fidel castro. sparkles of undoubted charisma mingle with hallucinating rethorics. fascinating and different).
had i to extend this list - i would definitely add:
........the boy in the striped pajamas - a movie on the holocaust seen through the innocent eyes of a child. devastating ending.
........billy elliot - unusual, sweet tale on the ballet dreams of a young working class boy from sheffield - during the miners' strike of 1984.
plus --- three movies that i have enjoyed watching again:
-- elegy (ben kingsley is incredible. and this love story will always make me cry like a baby)
-- the curious case of benjamin button (dreamy, epic. a fab fairytale)
-- bridget jones' diary (cult comedy about how dysfunctionally irresistible 30something gals can be - without losing their self irony).

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

haircuts are OUT

by the way... i am pregnant at the moment -- which feels like a rather daft thing to say, like that, just out of the blue. even face to face or in person -- i tend to skip the topic altogether and have some kind of allergy to showing off the fact i am expecting...out of reservedness, i figure -- but also out of the conviction most people have zero time and real interest to actually put up with your detailed reports on monthly scans, amusing (right...) tales on gastric reflux and your belief epidural should be promoted by the international court for human rights...somehow, even if i am 8 months pregnant as of today...pregnancy to me still does not seem like a relevant thing to share much either in everyday life... or on this blog. however, having said that... my fondness for lists has kind of got the better of the extent that i have reached the conclusion that...a tad of interest in the whole thing may perhaps arise from some notes on what i see as the pros and cons -- for a foreigner -- to experience pregnancy in this country.
my five (5) pros would read as follows:
1. the attitude turkish people have towards children and little ones. i find it full of optimism, enthusiasm and genuine joy.
2. the quality of medical care you get and the impeccable ethics doctors have here.

3. the social and cultural approach people have towards pregnancy and childhood. meaning: there is a slightly fuddy-duddy sense of poetry everyone associates to either of the two -- which is so passe, alright...but interestingly unusual. i have noticed even young people and teenagers tend to smile and stare with starry eyes when they see a pregnant woman...while in other parts of the world being preggers has kind of become the ultimate act of de-womanisation. during one break at school i was approached by one of my students, a 21 year old lad -- who had the urge to inform me that "in our religion we believe that women have heaven under their feet...because they can be mothers"... which perhaps may sound melodramatic -- but meant to be sweet and kind. (and was received as such).

4. because of my limited turkish -- the only job i can actually have here is a teaching one. and a part time one. what a blessing! i have realised very soon that experiencing a pregnancy while working only few hour a day is an amazing luxury.
5. people sometimes use the expression "slow food" for lovingly crafted cuisine... and i sometimes think you could label life here as "slow life". there is no rush, there is no hurry, people love to keep it relaxed and laid back -- if not slacky and a bit lazy. as indulgent as it may sound -- it is the ideal dimension for the early days of a new life. plus...because of how simple (and slow!) many things are...people are still foreign to trends that seem to have taken by a storm american and european families -- cajoling them into enlightening pedagogical, nutritional and educational methods to raise better, more gifted, more self aware, more "competitive" offsprings. turkey is still very far from this type of scenario...and maintains a no-nonsense approach to kids...perhaps sticking only to two general principles:
you should shower them with unconditional love; and -- if you do not understand them 100%...oh well, boot them out in the open air and "things will work out". which is not exactly super deep -- but seems like a happy alternative after all...

on the other hand... my five (5) cons about being pregnant in turkey would be:
1. everybody touches you! everyone. from the wife of your colleague to the lady selling you bread; to the primary school kid you are giving private lessons to. everyone seems to have the irresistible urge to rub your stomach, touch your face, hug you, lift your sweater, parade you holding you by the shoulders. this bit i must say i kind of hate!
2. a slight, puzzling ignorance about any medical knowledge on what one should do vs. avoid when pregnant. everyone here seems to believe being pregnant implies you HAVE TO stuff your face 24/7; spend your afternoons sleeping; gain an average of 25 to 35 kilos and indulge in sweets, french fries and heaps of chocolate; avoid ANY form of exercise (god forbid) and take a cab even if you have to go somewhere one block away.

3. the rather poor choice of prams / strollers and some routine maternity buys. streets here do not offer a smooth ride (to say the least) -- yet... most toddlers are pushed around in prams of the same (shaky, tiny, uncool) type i used for my favourite doll when i was at kindergarden. bizarre.

4. any kind of involvement of your male significant other in any of the sequences of the pregnancy is doomed to be blasted as an eccentric, useless, abnormal bout. deep down, my feeling is that the culture here expects women to crucify themselves over maternity (and family in general). men should be left out of any of it -- and simply make sure to express their manly pride, best if while smoking their 56th cigarette of the day.

5. the comedy pieces of advice you receive by passers by in the street, by the lady queueing up behind you at starbucks, by the guy selling roasted chestnuts below your house, by the young girl waiting next to you for the green light at the crosscroad close to your job.

indispensable tips collected so far include.
-- (pointing at your (very normal) handbag): you should not carry weights!

-- in turkey we say that pregnant women should eat all the food that comes into their sight, at all times!

-- (pointing at your glass of apple spritzer): you should not drink alcohol!

-- (pointing at your cup of tisane): you should not drink caffeine!
-- ((the most gothic of far...but i still have two months to go!))
"when you are pregnant you should never get a haircut. if you cut your hair -- you will shorten your baby's life!"

need gas (and a new nose)

had some friends over for dinner last night -- but when everyone was already sitting down and ready for something warm to be served...i found out we had run out of gas in the kitchen...disaster! did manage to kind of make a little comedy number about the kitchen mishap and...eventually made use of the oven (electric oven!) and fixed some pizza and nibbles -- converting the whole "sit down dinner" concept into an improvised "chats and sofa" type of do... it was a bit rushed and unexpected, but we did have a lovely time and the atmosphere was very cozy, with the living room swarming with candles.

called this morning to get some gas and managed to explain myself in my usual tarzan-turkish with something that must have sound like: "hi, i am a foreigner - ((clever opening))
so..... ((so what??))
so... - sorry my turkish...very little. ((always a safe start))
i have a problem. ((genius))
i need new (.??!!.....) ...gas. ((about as classy as a cave woman))
my address is ----
you coming now?? what is the price? thank you and have a good day".

no wonder i feel about 4 when i engage in exchanges of this kind!

i love to have people around. in less than two weeks there is going to be a very long holiday here and we are going to get about ten days off -- it is a religious holiday and, as far as i know, it is some kind of equivalent of terms of importance and for the "family value" attached to it. four friends are coming over to visit and i cannot wait. as i am home alone with my son for this week...i am trying to use all the free time i have fixing things inside the house, buying lanterns and lamps, stocking on candles and food. i have zero talent when it comes to dyi...but, somehow, if i know i am trying and making an effort to welcome people in the best way -- it all suddenly makes sense and seems worth it. so, i am just rushing from one place to the other, buying plants for the balcony and making long lists of "to do things". once i actually start... i tend to get rather anal about details and bits...and i find myself actually pondering carefully about crucial (!) stuff like which soap can work best and what colour my guests might prefer their towels to be. to me it feels like i am planning for some major celebration. which in a way (i hope) it will be.

there is an endless value in the bond you establish with some people...the people who care for you and somehow always make sure to let you know that "they are always there for you" despite distance...despite life and all its turns...i tend to cherish that almost sacredly. deep down, i think that a lot of "adults" especially after becoming parents tend to make less room and sacrifices for the company of others. or, when they do, their heart is not fully in it - with the conversation typically reverting back to the same topics and so on and so forth. perhaps i have yet to grow up, in a way -- but i still seem to have the ability of finding others a source of ideas, points of view and amusement. as much as i can be extremely weary of some petty behaviours and the usual disappointments that come with relationships (at all levels) -- i really wish to keep the happiness i experience when i get surprised by others.

as i was finishing my "vocabulary tips" session with my group of students yesterday and i was going on about prepositions. i made the usual, daft mistake of asking whether there were any questions.

yes, one girl said:

"your nose estetik?"
(which found me a bit unprepared)
"...aesthetic???" i repeated, immediately trying to figure whether i should avoid dwelling on the matter any longer.

"noOOO...i want to know if your nose made by doctor or...naturel...because veeeery niiiice".

NATUREEELLL, i promise. i replied feeling stupid in a kind of shy way.

then turned to the whiteboard to go back to some grammar but realised i had lost track of any of the stuff i had been blabbing about till that point.

Monday, 1 November 2010

WARNING (by jenny joseph) 1961

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.