Tuesday, 28 December 2010

"once in a house on fire" - andrea ashworth

"once in a house on fire" - by andrea ashworth is the best book i have read this year. the book is an autobiographical tale of ashworth's upbringing in manchester. the uniqueness of the book stands in the fact that, despite being a story about neglect and abuse - it is written with child-like candor, a quality that fills every page with enchantment. as you read...especially when ashworth describes her teenage years and her decisive struggle to leave her sad past behind through her giftedness - you find yourself, as a reader, to cheer and hope for her. the final happy ending (ashworth entered oxford and later pursued a career there) is a joy to read about.

"once in a house on fire" achieves the impossible result of describing pain and desperation without ever ceasing to sound deep down full of life. it is an extraordinary book that celebrates the triumph of a young girl over hatred and ugliness - all thanks to the strengh of her inspiring spirit.

Monday, 27 December 2010

...THAT'S LUCKY, I THINK! (scattered notes after christmas)

(1) will quit work in approx. ten days and i cannot even begin to say how sorry i feel about this. i will miss teaching. when we first moved here i kind of dreaded the idea of a teaching job - picturing a future of idle time spent with bratty, unbearable students. which was not the case in the end (quite the opposite, actually) and i now know i will miss being at school immensely. teaching has allowed me to gain unique insight into turkey and turkish ways - but it has also been a very enjoyable professional and personal experience. all in all, i do have a strong sense of gratitude for a merely accidental job that has made me more curious about others and happy to read more, do more and do better.
(2) my topic for this week is "advantages and disadvantages". this time around i am asking my students to point out at the positives and negatives of different conditions. e.g. being a university student versus working; being a man versus being a woman; being born in turkey instead of somewhere else; etc.
collected some interesting answers so far. remarkably, most students - when questioned about the advantages and disadvantages of their nationality tend to state that the major con about it is "being looked down at by other countries" - whereas they very often mention as a pro the "geographical position we have" (?) alongside "our very long and heroic history".
girls tend to get kind of quiet when they have to explain what they enjoy about being women. they all seem to complain about how easier things are for men - usually described as "stronger... more dominant... and much, much freer...". also...one guy in my class tonight came up with the most extravagant idea - saying that the pain of labour experienced by women giving birth is a piece of cake if you compare it with the excruciating pain of circumcision. plus, he added with a serene smile - "even if you work... with pregnancy...what you get is a long holiday - that's lucky, i think".
fascinating. almost mesmerising.
(3) christmas was a quaint affair - and a working day for me. waking up to the sight of my baby boy opening his presents was exciting and sweet... but i will forever be grateful for yet another relatives-free christmas. just exchanging wishes over the phone with family members i never hear from for the rest of the year (including my older brother) did somehow manage to depress me slightly. call me a rotten consummerist - but i seem to enjoy the festive atmosphere (lights, decorations, carols, snowy landscapes, pretty cakes, candles...) more than the actual core of christmas rituals, namely: family rounds, embarassing moments of awkardness, overcrowded parties you never wanted to attend to begin with and the silliness of forced rethorics about the joys of family life. something that, if it is real and sound...will never need to be celebrated - let alone blabbed about.
(4) with 2010 drawing to a close - i find myself looking back and thinking it was a very eventful year. it kind of took off in a rather uncertain, confusing / slow way - but it had very many precious moments. summer was amazing to say the least - and very rarely i can recall another sunny season filled with so much beauty and real, utter relaxation. turkey does have some gems of places to visit and enjoy.
overall, i would say it was a very different year. it did make me a better person - more capable of truly enjoying smaller things; more capable of listening; more into sports; more passionate about cooking, reading, writing; more into movies; more "there" for the friends i really care for; more practical. and somehow happier - i would dare to say...even if some aspects of my new turkish life still baffle me - like the bizarre, unglobalised, unexplainable social ties and life i seem to put up with here. on a more intimate note...emotionally - my feeling is that i keep on giving (and giving in!) while receiving only indirectly and from unexpected sources (like students, whom - if you put it into perspective - are in truth little more than strangers) and receiving zero (if not mediocrity) from people i was naively hoping more from. something natural, i figure -- perhaps (anthropologically) fascinating, at times...but hardly fun, at the end of the day.
yet... after all i have recently learnt that everything is relative - even grief... and, as my student tonight had the cheek of pointing out -- no pain can compare to the pains of circumcision! (..."and that's lucky, i think!")...
(5) looking forward to receiving soon visit of friend landing here on wednesday and coming to celebrate new year at ours.
(6) two days before xmas, i fell asleep during introductory visit to private clinic where i will give birth in a couple of weeks. the place had the tacky grandeur of some of the public buildings built in romania under the dictatorship of leader ceausescu. the staff seemed lovely. the rest of the soon-to-be mothers taking part in the introductory session - were safely sided by their respective husbands who looked 50% bored and 50% clumsy. perhaps... as i could relate more to these feelings of puzzlement - as soon as i sat down on a couch i fell asleep. only to be awaken by a nurse commenting in a soft voice "look at this one. god bless!!".
(p.s.) concept of "privileged geography" of turkey still escaping me.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

"questi giorni quando viene il bel sole..."

i was in starbucks after class tonight and there was some music playing. it took me a while to realise why it sounded soooo familiar...and then i finally nailed it. it was an instrumental version of "on days like these". wow. i was floored. i whistled its tune walking back home and picturing the super famous scene that goes with the song - which actually opens the classic "the italian job" with matt monro's velvety and uber60's voice butchering any resemblance of the italian language..."kwesteeeee johnny kwandoWWW v-eeee-E-NNNNeeee eeeLLL BEL SOW-LE"
((...i am such a sucker (and a softie) when it comes to retro music / movies!))

...............Questi giorni quando viene il bel sole
On days like these when skies are blue and fields are green
I look around and think about what might have been
and then I hear sweet music float around my head
as I recall the many things we left unsaid
its on days like these that I remember
singing songs and drinking wine
while your eyes played games with mine

on days like these I wonder what became of you
maybe today you are singing songs with someone new
I'd like to think you're walking by those willow trees
remembering the love we knew on days like these
its on days like these that I remember
singing songs and drinking wine
while your eyes played games with mine

on days like these I wonder what became of you
maybe today you are singing songs with someone new

Questi giorni quando viene il bel sole

Monday, 20 December 2010


Am currently hooked on the cult British series "7 Up" ...and because of its beauty and unique, heartbreaking, thought-provoking ingredients - am starting to consider it sheer genius.

The Jesuit motto: "Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man" is the inspiration for the 7 Up documentary series, which has been interviewing the same group of British people at seven year intervals since 1964, when they were each seven years old. (so far the series' documentaries include: 7 Up!;7 Plus Seven; 21 Up; 28 Up; 35 Up; 42 Up and 49 Up).
The children were selected back in 1964 to represent the range of socio-economic backgrounds in Britain at that time, with the explicit assumption that each child's social class predetermines their future. Every seven years, the director, Michael Apted, films new material. Filming for the next installment in the series, 56 Up, is expected in late 2011 or early 2012.

7 Up is a landmark in British television, consistently voted Britain’s most influential documentary of all time, as well Europe’s.

The children involved in the project came from differing backgrounds. There were four rich children
- three boarding school boys (blonde, stuffy John Brisby, geeky Andrew Brackfield, and cute Charles Furneaux);
and a girl from a wealthy family (snobby Suzy Dewey);

- two boys from a children’s home (black Simon Basterfield - and white introverted Paul Kligerman);

- four children from the poor working class East End of London - a boy (short, cheeky jockey wannabe Tony Walker)
and three would-be lifelong girlfriends (blond ugly duckling Jackie Bassett, quiet Lynn Johnson, and tall, motherly Sue Sullivan);

- two middle class boys from Liverpool suburbs (outgoing, bright Neil Hughes, and average Peter Davies);
and two ‘wildcard’ kids, who would turn out to be the most self-fulfilled of the fourteen.
The first (Bruce Balden) was an upper middle class sensitive blonde boy whose father abandoned him to the English boarding school system, and wanted to be a missionary when young. The last was the only one from the English countryside... Nick Hitchon, who had a bit of a glow about him from even the first film.

7 Up has the kids at their precocious best. The three rich boys, later dubbed The Three Wise Men, by Apted, already display signs of snobbery, if not outright bigotry, and rich Suzy is certainly a bigot. Poor, short Tony seems a hooligan in the making, and shy, big-eared Bruce seems doomed to be a male wallflower. But there are surprises in store. While the rich boys remain snobs, they are not as predictable as one might think, and while cute and perky at seven - Neil is slated to go on a ride through mental illness and paranoia later in life.

In the first film, they are seen in sharp black and white, bouncing off the walls and full of quips like pre-school Beatles. At age 21, we see them in the gauzy colour of 70s film stock. They are faux-rebellious chain-smokers, reflective and cool-headed, with all the time in the world to spare. At 28, they are still young, but they've made choices that cannot be unmade. They are like adults-in-training. At 42, they are heartbreaking. Youth has quietly slipped away. Spouses have come and gone.
All throughout the footage - one ends up feeling some kind of hypnotic effect, as repetition (of questions and faces) heightens the domino propulsion of events that bear out the Jesuit motto’s truth. The extroverts and introverts as children are extroverts and introverts in middle age. Those with silver spoons have done well, while those with less struggled, even as their lives are more interesting. Yet, the success of the rich was not for anything special, but their many advantages and priviledged education brought some kind of immediate quality to their lives. It is interesting to note the plethora of lawyers the film follows- John, Andrew, and even Peter, as well as Suzy’s husband. Not surprisingly, they are the least imaginative of the subjects, thoroughly homogenized by what Charles, in 21 Up, called the conveyor belt mentality of British society that spits the upper class kids through boarding schools and Oxbridge colleges. However, this is far more than the class-based polemic of its roots.
How forty or so minutes of scattered quotes by a person (at 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49...regardless)
can so intimately convey such huge portions of their character, as well fate, amazes. Most of this is due to Apted, since... while everyone has a story, you need a great artist to tell it, and even when he errs in trying to foreshadow things, or tries to contrast rich Suzy with the working class girls, he never condescends to his subjects, nor his viewers. The art of selection and contrast comes into play in ways any singular film cannot match, as the intercutting forces introspection. This lends itself to irony, as well the foreshadowing implicit in the series’ motto. Watching the films in sequence, in a short period of time, heightens these feelings, while watching them a second time, especially the earlier films, brings a sense of déjà vu to these characters, as you recall things from their past (and yours) while knowing what will befall these people that their onscreen selves are clueless of.

By watching all the films in a row one sees the formation of patterns that, even though none of these people are exceptional, are utterly human and relatable.
Their lives twist in surprising ways at times. The result is that even the most insignificant tic or twitch takes on seeming relevance.

What the series does best is parallax not only the lives of the individuals filmed, but those of the viewer. We are forced to ask where our families or we were, externally and internally, during the time periods each film captures, as well the corresponding life stages each film represents, and it is almost impossible not to be bound up in this pursuit. Inner character may not fundamentally change, but the seven year intervals always make you feel success, happiness, love, heartache, loss could be just around the corner- ...for the fourteen people featured in the documentary.
And yourself.

Friday, 17 December 2010

lucy honeychurch far better than self-help books

been exchanging few emails with a friend who always provides interesting tales on his rather happening sentimental life. yesterday, after a year of new names of random girlfriends coming up every two months or so -- and after receiving punctual updates on their ways, tantrums, qualities and flaws... i suggested it could be easy to compare them to famous literary characters.

one of my main frustrations about teaching in turkey is that people here are 100% oblivious to any modern and contemporary literature... and to any modern and contemporary notion of western / european history. this kills me a little bit -- as literature to me is one of the major sources of cohesive observation and understanding of the people we meet and live with. forget self help books, forget therapy, forget agony aunt's columns, forget psychology tests in glossy magazines. i believe books, poems, short stories - if read with an open heart can fill our minds with ideas and references to look at others with a clearer vision: which, i trust, can translate in an improvement of our empathy... as well as a massive enhancement of our sense of humour.

history - as a subject, as a planet - is a form of literature in the extended sense. a kind of endless novel...with a legion of characters and a continuous addition of chapters and narrative twists.

having said this.
this morning i sent an email to my womanising friend and noted that:

-- new flame I. could well be a character from Oscar Wilde's best pages. fickle, funny, ditzy;

-- long lost love C. could be a woman out of one of the early Alain de Botton's books. cerebral and with plenty of ambition;

-- disappointing K. did remind me of a F. Dostojevski's character. sheer ambition and not much else;

-- much adored E. on the other hand did make me think of Jo March in Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott... or some Jane Austen's heroine, like Emma Woodhouse;

and that (finally) S. was a tad like Lucy Honeychurch (too aware and respectful of conventions...afraid of letting out her true self) -- yet before meeting George and ending up becoming "transfigured by Italy"...
(now...enough morning blabbing...time to go for a long swim!)

Thursday, 16 December 2010



It was a face which darkness could kill
in an instant
a face as easily hurt
by laughter or light

'We think differently at night'
she told me once
lying back languidly

And she would quote Cocteau

'I feel there is an angel in me' she'd say
'whom I am constantly shocking'

Then she would smile and look away
light a cigarette for me
sigh and rise

and stretch
her sweet anatomy

let fall a stocking


I didn’t get much sleep last night
thinking about underwear
Have you ever stopped to consider
underwear in the abstract
When you really dig into it
some shocking problems are raised
Underwear is something we all have to deal with
Everyone wears
some kind of underwear
Even Indians wear underwear
Even Cubans
wear underwear
The Pope wears underwear I hope
The Governor of Louisiana wears underwear
I saw him on TV
He must have had tight underwear
He squirmed a lot
Underwear can really get you in a bind
You have seen the underwear ads for men and women
so alike but so different
Women’s underwear holds things up
Men’s underwear holds things down
Underwear is one thing
men and women do have in common
Underwear is all we have between us
You have seen the three-color pictures
with crotches encircled
to show the areas of extra strength
with three-way stretch
promising full freedom of action
Don’t be deceived
It’s all based on the two-party system
which doesn’t allow much freedom of choice
the way things are set up
America in its Underwear
struggles thru the night
Underwear controls everything in the end
Take foundation garments for instance
They are really fascist forms
of underground government
making people believe
something but the truth
telling you what you can of can’t do
Did you ever try to get around a girdle
Perhaps Non-Violent Action
is the only answer
Did Gandhi wear a girdle?
Did Lady Macbeth wear a girdle?
Was that why Macbeth murdered sleep?

And the spot she was always rubbing -
Was it really her underwear?
Modern anglosaxon ladies
must have huge guilt complexes
always washing and washing and washing
Out damned spot
Underwear with spots very suspicious
Underwear with bulges very shocking
Underwear on clothesline a great flag of freedom
Someone has escaped his Underwear
May be naked somewhere
But don’t worry
Everybody’s still hung up in it
There won’t be no real revolution
And poetry still the underwear of the soul
And underwear still covering
a multitude of faults

in the geological sense -
strange sedimentary stones, inscrutable cracks!
If I were you I’d keep aside
an oversize pair of winter underwear
Do not go naked into that good night
And in the meantime
keep calm and warm and dry
No use stirring ourselves up prematurely
‘over Nothing’
Move forward with dignity
hand in vest
Don’t get emotional
And death shall have no dominion
There’s plenty of time my darling
Are we not still young and easy?
Don’t shout.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

shrimps and the new yorker

found online one of my favourite tukish recipes: "karides güveç" (shrimp casserole)

•4 bell peppers, finely chopped
•2 medium tomatoes or 1 tablespoon tomato paste or canned tomato
•1 bay leave, paprika, salt
•1 glass water (250ml)
•150 gr. mozzarella or kasar (cheddar) cheese
•1 tablespoon of vinegar
• olive oil
•1 kg. shrimps
•1 can of mashrooms, drained
•50 gr. butter
•1-2 cloves garlic, crushed

Wash and drain well the shrimps. Boil them for 5 minutes in water, vinegar ans salt.
Once they are cold, break the shells off.
Heat the olive oil and add crushed garlic and chopped bell peppers. Sauté for a few minutes.
Add chopped tomatoes, shrimps, mushrooms and butter. Cook for 10 minutes.
Place shrimps in an ovenproof dish with bay leave and paprika.
Pour grated cheese on top of it. Bake for approx.10mins.
Serve hot.
spent some time tonight on the new yorker's website (www.newyorker.com) -- and was fascinated by the BEST OF 2010 section... in it - a very enjoyable link provides the list of the "songs of the year" from 1925 till 2010...the titles mentioned are the following ones - and youtbe features even a "playlist" with all the tracks featured...
1925: “Collegiate,” by Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians
1926: “Fat Meat and Greens,” by Jelly Roll Morton
1927: “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” by Louis Armstrong
1928: “Statesboro Blues,” by Blind Willie McTell
1929: “That’s How I Feel Today,” by The Little Chocolate Dandies
1930: “It Happened in Monterey,” by Ruth Etting
1931: “Farewell Blues,” by Cab Calloway
1932: “Night And Day,” by Fred Astaire
1933: “Tea for Two,” by Art Tatum
1934: “Moonglow,” by Benny Goodman
1935: “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter,” by Fats Waller
1936: “Summertime,” by Billie Holiday
1937: “Sweet Home Chicago,” by Robert Johnson
1938: “Begin The Beguine,” by Artie Shaw
1939: “Moonlight Serenade,” by Glenn Miller Orchestra
1940: “New San Antonio Rose,” by Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys
1941: “Jumpin’ Punkins,” by Duke Ellington
1942: “Sleepy Lagoon,” by Harry James
1943: “Paper Doll,” by The Mills Brothers
1944: “Swinging on a Star (Single),” by Bing Crosby
1945: “Scorpio,” by Mary Lou Williams
1946: “Choo Choo Ch’boogie,” by Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five
1947: “Serenade of the Bells,” by Jo Stafford
1948: “Nature Boy,” by Nat King Cole
1949: “Just Friends,” by Charlie Parker
1950: “The Fat Man,” by Fats Domino
1951: “Rocket 88,” by Jackie Brenston
1952: “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” by Lloyd Price
1953: “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” by Hank Williams
1954: “Work With Me Annie,” by Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
1955: “Folsom Prison Blues,” by Johnny Cash
1956: “Strode Rode,” by Sonny Rollins
1957: “Mona (I Need You Baby),” by Bo Diddley
1958: “Rock Billy Boogie,” by Johnny Burnette
1959: “Along Came Jones,” by The Coasters
1960: “Walk Don’t Run,” by The Ventures
1961: “Shout Bamalama,” by Otis Redding
1962: “Return To Sender,” by Elvis Presley
1963: “Be My Baby,” by The Ronettes
1964: “Nadine (Is It You?),” by Chuck Berry
1965: “I Can’t Explain,” by The Who
1966: “Day Tripper,” by The Beatles
1967: “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” by Gladys Knight & The Pips
1968: “White Light / White Heat,” by The Velvet Underground
1969: “Israelites,” by Desmond Dekker
1970: “Spirit in the Sky,” by Norman Greenbaum
1971: “Family Affair,” by Sly & The Family Stone
1972: “Superfly,” by Curtis Mayfield
1973: “The Payback,” by James Brown
1974: “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” by Stevie Wonder
1975: “The Ballroom Blitz,” by The Sweet
1976: “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker),” by Parliament
1977: “Got to Give It Up—Pt. 1,” by Marvin Gaye
1978: “Miss You,” by Rolling Stones
1979: “Rock Lobster,” by The B-52’s
1980: “Cars,” by Gary Numan
1981: “Rapture,” by Blondie
1982: “Buffalo Gals,” by Malcolm McLaren
1983: “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” by Michael Jackson
1984: “Head Over Heels,” by The Go-Go’s
1985: “Perfect Way,” by Scritti Politti
1986: “Walk This Way,” by Run-DMC
1987: “Housequake,” by Prince
1988: “Express Yourself ,” by N.W.A.
1989: “Me Myself and I,” by De La Soul
1990: “Love Will Never Do Without You,” by Janet Jackson
1991: “Mama Said Knock You Out,” by LL Cool J
1992: “Rump Shaker,” by Wreckx-N-Effect
1993: “Return of the Crazy One,” by Digital Underground
1994: “Whatta Man,” by Salt-N-Pepa
1995: “California Love,” by 2Pac
1996: “Where It’s At,” by Beck
1997: “Hypnotize,” by The Notorious B.I.G.
1998: “Intergalactic,” by Beastie Boys
1999: “Vivrant Thing,” by Q-Tip
2000: “Music,” by Madonna
2001: “Get Ur Freak On,” by Missy Elliot
2002: “Without Me,” by Eminem
2003: “Crazy in Love,” by Beyonce, featuring Jay-Z
2004: “Yeah,” by Usher, featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris
2005: “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House,” by LCD Soundsystem
2006: “SexyBack,” by Justin Timberlake
2007: “Umbrella,” by Rihanna
2008: “Paper Planes,” by M.I.A.
2009: “Heads Will Roll,” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
2010: “Monster,” by Kanye West, featuring Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj and Bon Iver

Sunday, 12 December 2010

snow on the water, palermo and blooming briggs

in less than three days -- the temperature went from a surreal 22 degrees to a rather sudden 2 degrees...saturday morning a little magic surprised everyone. the mountains on the other side of the gulf were all dusted with snow. to see the clear emerald sea, under a slight hint of wintery white was a real sight...just beautiful. then last night a storm broke at sea -- with a very strong, blizzardy wind sounding like an old train with broken brakes...

despite having read plenty of negative reviews - i finally got a chance of watching "palermo shooting" by wim wenders. a friend reccomended it and bought it for me. i must say i liked it - even if some undertones and metaphores are kind of over the top and overdramatised. yet, visually, musically - it is a thunder of a movie: lyrical, surreal, unconventional, dreamy and using colours and light in the most sophisticated way. must add that the main actor chose by wenders, german singer campino, is charming to say the least - in a rather scruffily manly way. pity about the too many tattooes...but cannot complain about the rather intense rest.

yesterday also watched "the end of the affair" - the second cinematic rendition of graham greene's homonymous book. i was let down by the movie just about as much as i loved greene's original work. the story remains gripping -- but there is something too distant in the acting. or perhaps greene's wry, merciless pace is quite impossible to translate into a film.

over the weekend, in between classes... walked around the two or three streets in town that host the most "in" shops and stores... inside, scattered glimpses of christmas trees and yuletide-ness...the more global names (gap, marks and spencers, zara, mango, sephora) displaying, reassuringly, random slogans - in english - about "giving" and "what i really want for christmas..." -- right...
yeah, what do i really want for christmas??
oddly - for the past couple of days i have had just rather consummeristic hopes for the festive season and i keep on daydreaming about eccentric presents showing up around 25th: red coats, furry vests, ushankas with pon pons, beanie caps, boleros with feathers, exotic perfumes, dandy boots, retro knits with apres-ski motifs, shearling boots, angora and mohair cardigans, bobble hats, leopard-print ponyskin court shoes, lurex blazers...
but i guess father christmas is far more sensible than that... and i will need to kind of reset my daydreaming...

A lovely thing about Christmas is that it's compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together.
-- Garrison Keillor "Exiles," Leaving Home (1987)--

come to think of it -- not all father christmases are sensible, reassuring specimens. one father christmas i absolutely adore is the very grumpy and super british one created by raymond briggs, a fantastic author. his 1973's "father christmas" is a total classic and portrays santa claus as a tired and unhappy old man who dreams of exotic holidays, fancy french food ("with ketchup!") and whinges peevishly about his job, the weather and...anything really.
"Blooming chimneys!!
Blooming soot!! Blooming cats!!!!
Blooming cookers!!! Grrr! Getting a blooming cold now..!"

in a "guardian" interview - the very same author writes about his 1973's character...
Father Christmas has a terrible job. Can there be anything worse? Coal mining, perhaps? But even that is a dry, warm and matey job. Whereas Father Christmas works all alone, outdoors, at night, and in the depths of winter. Half the time he is flying through the freezing air, enduring rain, snow, sleet and fog. The other half, he is slithering down soot-encrusted chimneys, breathing in clouds of coal dust.

The work is a cross between that of a sweep and a milkman, filthy dirty, cold and lonely.

What do we know about him? He has a white beard, so he must be old, well past retirement age. Also, he has been doing this job for years, so he must be fed up with it. He is bound to be grumpy.

We also know that he is fat, so he probably enjoys his food and drink.

It is a working-man's job, so he lives in a working-man's house. He has probably lived in it for most of his life, so it is very old-fashioned with few modern comforts. There is no central heating and there is still an outside lavatory.

A few peculiar people complained about seeing Father Christmas on the lavatory. One American vicar's wife wrote that she was "upset to see one of the pictures portraying Santa performing an act of personal hygiene. Also the notations indicating that he cursed. The entire story is negative and very depressing." But that was more than 30 years ago, and besides she was religious. Children love the lavatory picture. It is always their favourite bit.

My Dad appears as the milkman in the book, saying to Father Christmas: "Still at it, mate?" The milkman's van has the number plate ERB 1900, which are my Dad's initials and the year of his birth.

As Father Christmas hates the cold so much, he is bound to love warmth and the sun. His house is decorated with posters for sunny places: Majorca, Malta and Capri. This started the idea for a book about his summer holiday. After the death of my wife, Jean, kind friends asked me to their house in France. Another friend asked me to her father's house in Scotland, on the shores of Loch Fyne. This is where we regularly watched a seal swimming past the kitchen window. We also had a fright, while swimming in the loch, at seeing the fin of a shark cleaving its way towards us. Luckily, it turned out to be a harmless basking shark. So these two incidents went into the book.

Then my American publisher asked me to New York and to a conference in Las Vegas. So these three places - France, Scotland and Las Vegas - were where Father Christmas went for his summer holiday. When he arrives home, he cries: "Hooray! Home again!"

After the lunacy of Las Vegas, I felt exactly the same.

blooming xmas shopping! blooming loud fashion (dream) buys! -- i feel like a cartoon from briggs' lovely (and real) world...

Friday, 10 December 2010

tangerines (ten out of ten)

have no talent for statistics, but, after teaching izmir youth for more than one year now - i have started noticing that, when it comes to some topics...young people here seem to follow predictable patterns. their ideas, tastes, fears - are, in stark contrast with their european counterparts, quintessentially even, solid, untouched by any doubt and expressed with an incredible mix of candor and stubborness. after meeting many uni students and young professionals, i have come to the conclusion that about 10 out of 10 of them will (at some point) state the following:
  • istanbul is too crowded and not a nice place to live;
  • sleep is my main occupation in my spare time as i lead a very tiring life;

  • life in turkey is very stressful - unbearably so;

  • izmir is the best city ever. it is modern and free and there is the sea here;

  • i love my country and am proud of it;

  • the education system we have is unfair and terrible;

  • money buys you respect in turkey;

  • policemen in turkey are lazy. and corrupted;

  • i am very close to my siblings and love my parents;

  • jealousy is a the biggest sign of true love;

  • i hate politics and i do not know much about it. but i hate our prime minister;

  • our prime minister wants us to be like iran;

  • i love fast food - especially burger king;

  • i love starbucks;

  • i love shopping malls;

  • turks born in germany are not like us and are embarassing;

  • european countries hate us and think turkey is like iran;

  • my father's best friend lives in germany (/switzerland) and will fix a summer job for me;

  • turkey's biggest problems come from america

in addition - i would also say that 10 students out of 10 tend to:

  • overuse the adjective "normal" ("my week was normal...my birthday was normal...my job is normal...my holiday was normal...my boyfriend's presents are normal..." etc)

  • overuse the verb "to love" ("teacher we love you... i love my friend...i love my mother... i love my boss")

  • have zero interest for their political situation and seem to have a scattered knowledge about their own political parties;

  • have zero knowledge about international organisations and seem oblivious to the existence (and reason for existence) of institutions like: the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Health Organisation, the European Commission, the World Intellectual Property Organisation, the United Nations Development Programme, etc;

  • have a very vague knowledge of contemporary history outside of Turkish borders and seem to associate each and every country to (maximum) one historical figure. i.e.
    France -> Napoleon; Germany -> Hitler; England -> the Queen; America -> Lady Gaga; Italy -> Berlusconi.
  • become speechless when introduced to concepts like: recycling; fair trade; sustainability; vegetarianism; organic products; green policies; sustainability;
  • struggle majorly (and eventually give up) when confronted with notions like: gender studies; equal opportunities; parental leave for fathers; political correctness; welfare system; minority rights; international understanding; social tensions.
  • look ill at ease and stern when homosexuality is brought about;

  • refuse to discuss anything involving: the cyprus issue; kurds and armenians;

  • appear to have an innate tendency to mocking other races and making childish jokes about them;

  • melt when you say anything about -- grandparents or children;

  • look lost when you explain different people in different countries have different ideas about their privacy and their private space ("why?" they ask - as they are used to a rather exuberant interpretation of privacy and etiquette).

  • bring their breakfast to class (if it is early in the morning) -- usually a sesame bagel with a huge chunk of cheese.

  • bring tangerines for everybody to share (if it late in the evening) and place two or three where the teacher usually sits.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

walcott, brodsky, knight


The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

I wish you were here, dear, I wish you were here.
I wish you sat on the sofa
and I sat near.
the handkerchief could be yours,
the tear could be mine, chin-bound.
Though it could be, of course,
the other way around.

I wish you were here, dear,
I wish you were here.
I wish we were in my car,
and you'd shift the gear.
we'd find ourselves elsewhere,
on an unknown shore.
Or else we'd repair
To where we've been before.

I wish you were here, dear,
I wish you were here.
I wish I knew no astronomy
when stars appear,
when the moon skims the water
that sighs and shifts in its slumber.
I wish it were still a quarter
to dial your number.

I wish you were here, dear,
in this hemisphere,
as I sit on the porch
sipping a beer.
It's evening, the sun is setting;
boys shout and gulls are crying.
What's the point of forgetting
If it's followed by dying?


Shiny record albums scattered over
the living room floor, reflecting light
from the lamp, sharp reflections that hurt
my eyes as I watch you, squatting among the platters,
the beer foam making mustaches on your lips.

And, too,
the shadows on your cheeks from your long lashes
fascinate me--almost as much as the dimples
in your cheeks, your arms and your legs.

hum along with Mathis--how you love Mathis!
with his burnished hair and quicksilver voice that dances
among the stars and whirls through canyons
like windblown snow, sometimes I think that Mathis
could take you from me if you could be complete
without me. I glance at my watch. It is now time.

You rise,
silently, and to the bedroom and the paint;
on the lips red, on the eyes black,
and I lean in the doorway and smoke, and see you
grow old before my eyes, and smoke, why do you
chatter while you dress? and smile when you grab
your large leather purse? don't you know that when you leave me
I walk to the window and watch you? and light
a reefer as I watch you? and I die as I watch you
disappear in the dark streets
to whistle and smile at the johns

Monday, 6 December 2010

600 grams tuna

*** getting the first days of chilly weather... finally! the sky is still bright blue and we are still getiing mornings full of light -- but the wind is sharper and the temperatures are definitely less summery now. there is an air out, especially when i step out in the morning or go out for a jog late in the evening that makes me feel strangely alive and kind of euphoric.

*** had my usual round of classes during the weekend and tutored a new student on sunday. he is a 25 year old former basketball player and now works as a model, while trying to finish off (not very successfully) a degree in business management. i would add he is not exactly the sharpest tool in the box and all he can talk about is his fitness schedule + "his" catwalks in istanbul + what seems like an endless list of girlfriends. on top of that -- his clothes are boy band material. think take that in the 90's or backstreet boys in one of their embarassing dance routines: white tank top, open shirt, baggy jeans, "gangsta" snickers and big watch. yesterday i nearly collapsed laughing when he informed me about his daily diet. his list went on as follows.

1 litre of milk + cornflakes (one box...500 grams)
protein shake

600 grams of canned tuna
1 litre of milk
protein shake

500 grams of grilled chicken
protein shake

your poor kidneys! -- i wanted to say... but then i - less humanitarianly so - noticed with a mix of horror and amusement he had a flock of in-growing hair peeking at me from his chest.


*** asked one of my groups of students to imagine they could be someone or something else for a while... "if you could be anything or anyone for a day or a week... a famous person, an animal, an object, a politician, one of your friends... who would you choose?" i thought this could be a great conversation starter - but it was received with rather lukewarm answers... some of the students who made an effort came up with things like...

- "i would love to be jessica biel (justin timberlake's girl) -- because he is gorgeous and i would love to live with him. stay in the swanky places where he stays... ";

- a rather stern guy said "i would love to be a woman for a couple of months. just to understand what women feel and how they think..." ;

- a goody-two-shoes 22 year old girl said "i just pray i could be a student somewhere else, living on my own. and free. because now i live with my parents. and they check on me all the time and my dad never lets me go out after 9 pm" ...

- the "intellectual" lad of the group said he wanted to be a stage actor for some time to perform in theatre;

- a couple of them nodded vigorously while explaining they would be "ataturk!" any day;

- a tabby, smiley girl said she dreamt about being a hero saving lives and helping the poor.

- someone commented "if you ask this question to any woman in turkey...you have to know... - any turkish woman's real wish is to be a man".

- the cutey of the class, a skinny minnie with interesting neon ear-rings and 80's hairstyle said she wanted to be a supermodel in milan for a week or so.

- a somber, shy student stated she wanted to be the "president of wall street... or some other stock exchange".

then the jessica biel wannabe (still grinning from the thought of mr timberlake) asked me what i wanted to be... and i said i had too many ideas in my head...then changed the subject by cheekily adding: "but what if justin does not shower much?" which made everyone laugh. needless to say...my mind was still having a hard time getting over the in-growing problem of mr. "600grams of tuna for lunch"...
yesterday night -- as i was out jogging... i started thinking about the conversation about "being something / someone else" and could not stop coming up with ideas.
what would i be? (the wish list is endless...)

>> for a day...an actress with talent - performing on stage or working on a movie set;

>> for few hours...a professional athlete;

>> for a couple of days...kate moss twenty years ago, ten years ago and ten minutes ago;

>> for two or three hours...a swimmer in a stunning sea water pool by the ocean i saw in sydney, bondi beach;

>> for a week or so... a fly on the wall in the life of the people i do not understand. to see if they are happy. to see what their face looks like when they are at home / out having dinner / listening to their colleaugues or walking along the street by themselves;

>> for a week or so...somebody travelling a lot for their job - someone like alex, the character played by vera farmiga in "up in the air". (ok, partly because she gets george clooney...but mainly because she is uber cool).

>> for a month or so... a food writer or a food photographer;

>> for a couple of months... a professional photographer. no war zone. no fashion. no ads. no balinese landscapes. just portrayts;

>> for one day... my son. to see how he thinks. what he fears. what he likes best. how his sense of humour works;

>> for a couple of weeks... elizabeth abbott (tilda swindon in "the curious case of benjamin button") smashing fashion sense, sheer grace and amazing class;

>> for life... somebody who can speak any language in a fluent and natural way (turkish would be enough...at the moment);
((and so many other things, really...))
but -
>> for now... someone who keeps on wondering about stupid, useless questions of this kind!
(the image of that pool has fortunately replaced the in-growing hair issue...!)

*** PLUS... must now start working on other wish lists -- but of a terribly more banal (and xmas-y nature)... which i find hard to do... especially when i keep on hearing in class that "christmas is on 22nd december, teacher...but people in europe celebrate it on 31st too"

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

(1) woman (singular) - ...

spent some time today with a colleague to kind of cheer her up. today she had to take her elderly mother to a psychiatric hospital. her mum spent three months there a couple of years ago because of severe depression and is now being tested as, in short, she is just acting crazier and crazier by the day.

personally - while i must confess i still have a hard time accepting the self indulgent and pathetic overuse of therapy now so in vogue in the west...i have an endless respect for real mental illness and its multifolded nature.

mental illness is sad. at times, for close family members it is even sadder. i have yet to figure out how mentally ill people are treated in this country -- especially considering you see many of them roaming around town, screaming, wearing funny outfits or banging their heads on the concrete pavements. i see three or four of them every day -- they are all homeless and the state of poverty and dirt they live in is appaling to say the least.

my colleague is finding it hard to cope. to the point she feels guilty about her mum's condition and gets frustrated by her mood swings and constant telling wacky stories.

"she is just somewhere else" she said to me today, on the way back from the psychiatric hospital --

"we were in the car and as i was driving she started going on about that puppets story again". "what story is that?" i asked, half out of sincere empathy - yet half out of genuine curiosity (mad people think and feel in fascinating ways, i find).

so she told me..."ha. for quite some time now - she has been telling people she has some creatures...like...puppets...swimming and growing in her stomach. she says they move around and tell her stuff..." -
which prompted me to immediately say, pulling a stupid face - "but, I SWEAR! i do that ALL - THE - TI-MEEE....! see?" and pointed at my pregnant stomach. "there you go... you should not worry after all. she is about as nuts as i am, i promise"
which had her in stitches for a couple of minutes.
and it was kind of heartening to see her amusement - and to join in laughing for a bit.

(2) ... WOMEN (plural) ...

have no interest in feminism and feel far from political about gender issues... however -- on the world economic forum's homepage -- came across the global gender gap report (published in october 2010) and was kind of shocked.


the report looks at issues like: wage parity, labor-force participation, career-advancement opportunities and leadership for women... and -- if you check the rankings published... it is interesting to see how different countries perform.
turkey ranks 126th!
...and italy 74th...
found these numbers rather depressing -- the rankings alone put me off reading the whole report...

feels suddenly appealing to move to countries like tanzania (66th), the kyrgyz republic (51st) or perhaps lesotho (8th)... !!?