Monday, 28 February 2011

low season, alibis and lullabies

izmir is receiving a massive number of tourists these days and i keep on wondering why. every two days there is a cruise reaching the harbour here + eight to ten coaches of german visitors stop by every day. i find it odd. the weather is cold and temperamental; the city looks at its worst; there is no special event going on; there are hardly any memorable monuments around town.

i trust that the real attractions are offered by the tourists themselves, especially as most of them seem keen on walking about with peculiar outfits (hawaii meets frosty the snowman - sort of), looking aimlessly at tiny maps.

however - i was kind of thankful last night for this unexplicable wave of hapless low season visitors...for, as i was going out for my jog - a massive, humongous "costa" cruise ship was slowly leaving the main port. with all its bright, illuminated decks and just looked like the grandest thing. some kind of fellini-inspired hallucination venturing into the dark. plain fantastic.

have read a couple of essays from "other colors" by orhan pamuk and must say i find his writing and his notes incredibly impressive. despite having been awarded the nobel prize for literature, pamuk is considered by his fellow nationals a controversial voice of contemporary turkey. mainly because of his novel "kars" - where he basically "opened a can of worms" by dealing with topics that are neither usually nor happily discussed by the average turk in the street (i.e. the kurdish issue; religion; the cultural and social gap existing between the east and west of turkey). i enjoy the format of the book (short essays + some short stories) - it makes it easier to read, more cutting in its views. seemingly, a good pick to understand better the contradictions of turkey today.

am starting teaching again this week. starting with some private classes first...then planning to head back to school for a busier schedule. trying to figure out what is the best way to go about this -- basically trying to see exactly how it is best to get organised about going back to work. am in no rush to overdo things...yet, as my baby turns one month today...i kind of feel..."the earlier the better".

there are certainly many aspects that are rather stressful and logistically challenging about managing two very young children - but i would never want to end up "using" them as an alibi not to do things...or hide behind a sudden self-proclaimed vocation for motherhood. i sense that "doing more" as a woman, refusing "the easy, more comfortable way"especially here, in turkey, where most women show no interest in actually keeping a life after starting a family is even more crucial. also - i miss teaching. i miss the diversity it brings about. i miss stretching myself to adapt to different people / different expectations / different priorities. plus...i kind of need a schedule to keep focused - it does help with my very poor concentration skills.
otherwise easily swept off their feet by fellini-like boats cruising the gulf with all their bright lights!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

ten CONCLUSIVE signs i am a "VERY strange" mum (for turkish standards)

1. i walk too much. i never take cabs. i never drive. i walk to the shops and the supermarket. i walk my son to school. i walk if it rains. i walk a lot and seem to enjoy it. an extravagant habit to people here.
2. i very often wear a baseball cap. when i am off-duty i do. (odd...very odd for turkish standards).
3. i seem to be very much into sports. (kind of exotic over here).
4. my baby boy wears his hair kind of long and uncombed. (unusual...)
5. it is traditional here to keep newborns at home for forty days. i went out with newborn in tow after one week. (i keep on getting told off about this one...!)
6. i generally use a baby carrier - which creates a major sensation in the streets (with many people staring in utter, absolute shock... ) ... i figure it is rather easy to cause a sensation over here.
7. i sometimes leave my kids with our cleaning lady. and usually get questioned about it. "who is looking after them?" - "is she reliable?" - "where did you find her?" - "how much do you pay her?" - etc.
8. i never seem to visit the hairdresser. i never dye my hair. i never sport over-the-top hairdos and hair accessories. (in turkey this is unheard of).
9. i kind of seem reluctant to have relatives / parents / in-laws visiting. let alone looking after my kids. (unacceptable).
at the end of the day
ALL boils down to the fact that...
10.ultimate sign of wackiness.... (no surprises here...):
......................i am a foreigner!
(which kind of...but only partly!...excuses all the "weird" habits i seem to have. it eventually makes turkish people smile of your "oddities"...but with a slight expression of disapproving pity...).

two short stories by a. checkhov

went back to reading some short stories by checkhov. what prompted this was my current lack of sleep. meaning: i suddenly recalled one piece of writing by the russian author that to me is perhaps the cruellest portrayt of sleep deprivation... when it actually leads to rather extreme moments of madness. now, even though i certainly do not relate to the unlucky protagonist of the short story (varka, a poor 13 year old maid) -- i went back to reading "let me sleep" and found it even more repulsingly scary than i remembered it to be. its ending is plain merciless... you have to owe it: there is a realism in checkhov's writing that makes him awfully contemporary.
many of his pages are memorable and he certainly was a very prolific author...personally, apart from "let me sleep" -- i find his "oysters" piece quite outstanding. both stories describe poor people: their dead end lives in the hands of richer, unfeeling others. there is no much room for either hope or joy in these tales, but the way they are told is intense and startling at once. especially as they talk about children and the unbearable odds they are left to battle with.

I NEED no great effort of memory to recall, in every detail, the rainy autumn evening when I stood with my father in one of the more frequented streets of Moscow, and felt that I was gradually being overcome by a strange illness. I had no pain at all, but my legs were giving way under me, the words stuck in my throat, my head slipped weakly on one side … It seemed as though, in a moment, I must fall down and lose consciousness.
If I had been taken into a hospital at that minute, the doctors would have had to write over my bed: Fames, a disease which is not in the manuals of medicine.
Beside me on the pavement stood my father in a shabby summer overcoat and a serge cap, from which a bit of white wadding was sticking out. On his feet he had big heavy goloshes. Afraid, vain man, that people would see that his feet were bare under his goloshes, he had drawn the tops of some old boots up round the calves of his legs.
This poor, foolish, queer creature, whom I loved the more warmly the more ragged and dirty his smart summer overcoat became, had come to Moscow, five months before, to look for a job as copying-clerk. For those five months he had been trudging about Moscow looking for work, and it was only on that day that he had brought himself to go into the street to beg for alms.
Before us was a big house of three storeys, adorned with a blue signboard with the word ” Restaurant ” on it. My head was drooping feebly backwards and on one side, and I could not help looking upwards at the lighted windows of the restaurant. Human figures were flitting about at the windows. I could see the right side of the orchestrion, two oleographs, hanging lamps… Staring into one window, I saw a patch of white. The patch was motionless, and its rectangular outlines stood out sharply against the dark, brown background. I looked intently and made out of the patch a white placard on the wall. Something was written on it, but what it was, I could not see…
For half an hour I kept my eyes on the placard. Its white attracted my eyes, and, as it were, hypnotised my brain. I tried to read it, but my efforts were in vain.
At last the strange disease got the upper hand. The rumble of the carriages began to seem like thunder, in the stench of the street I distinguished a thousand smells. The restaurant lights and the lamps dazzled my eyes like lightning. My five senses were overstrained and sensitive beyond the normal. I began to see what I had not seen before.
”Oysters…” I made out on the placard.
A strange word! I had lived in the world eight years and three months, but had never come across that word. What did it mean? Surely it was not the name of the restaurant-keeper? But signboards with names on them always hang outside, not on the walls indoors!
”Papa, what does ‘ oysters ‘ mean?” I asked in a husky voice, making an effort to turn my face towards my father.
My father did not hear. He was keeping a watch on the movements of the crowd, and following every passer-by with his eyes… From his eyes I saw that he wanted to say something to the passers-by, but the fatal word hung like a heavy weight on his trembling lips and could not be flung off. He even took a step after one passer-by and touched him on the sleeve, but when he turned round, he said, ” I beg your pardon,” was overcome with confusion, and staggered back.
”Papa, what does ‘ oysters ‘ mean?” I repeated.
”It is an animal . . . that lives in the sea…”
I instantly pictured to myself this unknown marine animal… I thought it must be something midway between a fish and a crab. As it was from the sea they made of it, of course, a very nice hot fish soup with savoury pepper and laurel leaves, or broth with vinegar and fricassee of fish and cabbage, or crayfish sauce, or served it cold with horse-radish… I vividly imagined it being brought from the market, quickly cleaned, quickly put in the pot, quickly, quickly, for everyone was hungry… awfully hungry! From the kitchen rose the smell of hot fish and crayfish soup.
I felt that this smell was tickling my palate and nostrils, that it was gradually taking possession of my whole body… The restaurant, my father, the white placard, my sleeves were all smelling of it, smelling so strongly that I began to chew. I moved my jaws and swallowed as though I really had a piece of this marine animal in my mouth…
My legs gave way from the blissful sensation I was feeling, and I clutched at my father’s arm to keep myself from falling, and leant against his wet summer overcoat. My father was trembling and shivering. He was cold…
”Papa, are oysters a Lenten dish?” I asked.
”They are eaten alive…” said my father.
“They are in shells like tortoises, but… in two halves.”
The delicious smell instantly left off affecting me, and the illusion vanished… Now I understood it all!
”How nasty,” I whispered, “how nasty!”
So that’s what “oysters” meant! I imagined to myself a creature like a frog. A frog sitting in a shell, peeping out from it with big, glittering eyes, and moving its revolting jaws. I imagined this creature in a shell with claws, glittering eyes, and a slimy skin, being brought from the market… The children would all hide while the cook, frowning with an air of disgust, would take the creature by its claw, put it on a plate, and carry it into the dining-room. The grown-ups would take it and eat it, eat it alive with its eyes, its teeth, its legs! While it squeaked and tried to bite their lips…
I frowned, but… but why did my teeth move as though I were munching? The creature was loathsome, disgusting, terrible, but I ate it, ate it greedily, afraid of distinguishing its taste or smell. As soon as I had eaten one, I saw the glittering eyes of a second, a third… I ate them too… At last I ate the table-napkin, the plate, my father’s goloshes, the white placard… I ate everything that caught my eye, because I felt that nothing but eating would take away my illness. The oysters had a terrible look in their eyes and were loathsome. I shuddered at the thought of them, but I wanted to eat! To eat!
”Oysters! Give me some oysters!” was the cry that broke from me and I stretched out my hand.
“Help us, gentlemen!” I heard at that moment my father say, in a hollow and shaking voice. “I am ashamed to ask but—my God!—I can bear no more!”
”Oysters!” I cried, pulling my father by the skirts of his coat.
”Do you mean to say you eat oysters ? A little chap like you!” I heard laughter close to me.
Two gentlemen in top hats were standing before us, looking into my face and laughing.
”Do you really eat oysters, youngster? That’s interesting! How do you eat them?”
I remember that a strong hand dragged me into the lighted restaurant. A minute later there was a crowd round me, watching me with curiosity and amusement. I sat at a table and ate something slimy, salt with a flavour of dampness and mouldiness. I ate greedily without chewing, without looking and trying to discover what I was eating. I fancied that if I opened my eyes I should see glittering eyes, claws, and sharp teeth.
All at once I began biting something hard, there was a sound of a scrunching.
” Ha, ha! He is eating the shells,” laughed the crowd. “Little silly, do you suppose you can eat that? ”
After that I remember a terrible thirst. I was lying in my bed, and could not sleep for heartburn and the strange taste in my parched mouth. My father was walking up and down, gesticulating with his hands.
”I believe I have caught cold,” he was muttering. ” I’ve a feeling in my head as though someone were sitting on it… Perhaps it is because I have not… er… eaten anything today… I really am a queer, stupid creature… I saw those gentlemen pay ten roubles for the oysters. Why didn’t I go up to them and ask them… to lend me something? They would have given something.”
Towards morning, I fell asleep and dreamt of a frog sitting in a shell, moving its eyes. At midday I was awakened by thirst, and looked for my father: he was still walking up and down and gesticulating.


NIGHT. Varka, the little nurse, a girl of thirteen, is rocking the cradle in which the baby is lying, and humming hardly audibly:

"Hush-a-bye, my baby wee,
While I sing a song for thee."

A little green lamp is burning before the ikon; there is a string stretched from one end of the room to the other, on which baby-clothes and a pair of big black trousers are hanging. There is a big patch of green on the ceiling from the ikon lamp, and the baby-clothes and the trousers throw long shadows on the stove, on the cradle, and on Varka. . . . When the lamp begins to flicker, the green patch and the shadows come to life, and are set in motion, as though by the wind. It is stuffy. There is a smell of cabbage soup, and of the inside of a boot-shop.

The baby's crying. For a long while he has been hoarse and exhausted with crying; but he still goes on screaming, and there is no knowing when he will stop. And Varka is sleepy. Her eyes are glued together, her head droops, her neck aches. She cannot move her eyelids or her lips, and she feels as though her face is dried and wooden, as though her head has become as small as the head of a pin.

"Hush-a-bye, my baby wee," she hums, "while I cook the groats for thee. . . ."

A cricket is churring in the stove. Through the door in the next room the master and the apprentice Afanasy are snoring. . . . The cradle creaks plaintively, Varka murmurs -- and it all blends into that soothing music of the night to which it is so sweet to listen, when one is lying in bed. Now that music is merely irritating and oppressive, because it goads her to sleep, and she must not sleep; if Varka -- God forbid! -- should fall asleep, her master and mistress would beat her.

The lamp flickers. The patch of green and the shadows are set in motion, forcing themselves on Varka's fixed, half-open eyes, and in her half slumbering brain are fashioned into misty visions. She sees dark clouds chasing one another over the sky, and screaming like the baby. But then the wind blows, the clouds are gone, and Varka sees a broad high road covered with liquid mud; along the high road stretch files of wagons, while people with wallets on their backs are trudging along and shadows flit backwards and forwards; on both sides she can see forests through the cold harsh mist. All at once the people with their wallets and their shadows fall on the ground in the liquid mud. "What is that for?" Varka asks. "To sleep, to sleep!" they answer her. And they fall sound asleep, and sleep sweetly, while crows and magpies sit on the telegraph wires, scream like the baby, and try to wake them.

"Hush-a-bye, my baby wee, and I will sing a song to thee," murmurs Varka, and now she sees herself in a dark stuffy hut.

Her dead father, Yefim Stepanov, is tossing from side to side on the floor. She does not see him, but she hears him moaning and rolling on the floor from pain. "His guts have burst," as he says; the pain is so violent that he cannot utter a single word, and can only draw in his breath and clack his teeth like the rattling of a drum:

"Boo--boo--boo--boo. . . ."

Her mother, Pelageya, has run to the master's house to say that Yefim is dying. She has been gone a long time, and ought to be back. Varka lies awake on the stove, and hears her father's "boo--boo--boo." And then she hears someone has driven up to the hut. It is a young doctor from the town, who has been sent from the big house where he is staying on a visit. The doctor comes into the hut; he cannot be seen in the darkness, but he can be heard coughing and rattling the door.

"Light a candle," he says.

"Boo--boo--boo," answers Yefim.

Pelageya rushes to the stove and begins looking for the broken pot with the matches. A minute passes in silence. The doctor, feeling in his pocket, lights a match.

"In a minute, sir, in a minute," says Pelageya. She rushes out of the hut, and soon afterwards comes back with a bit of candle.

Yefim's cheeks are rosy and his eyes are shining, and there is a peculiar keenness in his glance, as though he were seeing right through the hut and the doctor.

"Come, what is it? What are you thinking about?" says the doctor, bending down to him. "Aha! have you had this long?"

"What? Dying, your honour, my hour has come. . . . I am not to stay among the living."

"Don't talk nonsense! We will cure you!"

"That's as you please, your honour, we humbly thank you, only we understand. . . . Since death has come, there it is."

The doctor spends a quarter of an hour over Yefim, then he gets up and says:

"I can do nothing. You must go into the hospital, there they will operate on you. Go at once . . . You must go! It's rather late, they will all be asleep in the hospital, but that doesn't matter, I will give you a note. Do you hear?"

"Kind sir, but what can he go in?" says Pelageya. "We have no horse."

"Never mind. I'll ask your master, he'll let you have a horse."

The doctor goes away, the candle goes out, and again there is the sound of "boo--boo--boo." Half an hour later someone drives up to the hut. A cart has been sent to take Yefim to the hospital. He gets ready and goes. . . .

But now it is a clear bright morning. Pelageya is not at home; she has gone to the hospital to find what is being done to Yefim. Somewhere there is a baby crying, and Varka hears someone singing with her own voice:

"Hush-a-bye, my baby wee, I will sing a song to thee."

Pelageya comes back; she crosses herself and whispers:

"They put him to rights in the night, but towards morning he gave up his soul to God. . . . The Kingdom of Heaven be his and peace everlasting. . . . They say he was taken too late. . . . He ought to have gone sooner. . . ."

Varka goes out into the road and cries there, but all at once someone hits her on the back of her head so hard that her forehead knocks against a birch tree. She raises her eyes, and sees facing her, her master, the shoemaker.

"What are you about, you scabby slut?" he says. "The child is crying, and you are asleep!"

He gives her a sharp slap behind the ear, and she shakes her head, rocks the cradle, and murmurs her song. The green patch and the shadows from the trousers and the baby-clothes move up and down, nod to her, and soon take possession of her brain again. Again she sees the high road covered with liquid mud. The people with wallets on their backs and the shadows have lain down and are fast asleep. Looking at them, Varka has a passionate longing for sleep; she would lie down with enjoyment, but her mother Pelageya is walking beside her, hurrying her on. They are hastening together to the town to find situations.

"Give alms, for Christ's sake!" her mother begs of the people they meet. "Show us the Divine Mercy, kind-hearted gentlefolk!"

"Give the baby here!" a familiar voice answers. "Give the baby here!" the same voice repeats, this time harshly and angrily. "Are you asleep, you wretched girl?"

Varka jumps up, and looking round grasps what is the matter: there is no high road, no Pelageya, no people meeting them, there is only her mistress, who has come to feed the baby, and is standing in the middle of the room. While the stout, broad-shouldered woman nurses the child and soothes it, Varka stands looking at her and waiting till she has done. And outside the windows the air is already turning blue, the shadows and the green patch on the ceiling are visibly growing pale, it will soon be morning.

"Take him," says her mistress, buttoning up her chemise over her bosom; "he is crying. He must be bewitched."

Varka takes the baby, puts him in the cradle and begins rocking it again. The green patch and the shadows gradually disappear, and now there is nothing to force itself on her eyes and cloud her brain. But she is as sleepy as before, fearfully sleepy! Varka lays her head on the edge of the cradle, and rocks her whole body to overcome her sleepiness, but yet her eyes are glued together, and her head is heavy.

"Varka, heat the stove!" she hears the master's voice through the door.

So it is time to get up and set to work. Varka leaves the cradle, and runs to the shed for firewood. She is glad. When one moves and runs about, one is not so sleepy as when one is sitting down. She brings the wood, heats the stove, and feels that her wooden face is getting supple again, and that her thoughts are growing clearer.

"Varka, set the samovar!" shouts her mistress.

Varka splits a piece of wood, but has scarcely time to light the splinters and put them in the samovar, when she hears a fresh order:

"Varka, clean the master's goloshes!"

She sits down on the floor, cleans the goloshes, and thinks how nice it would be to put her head into a big deep golosh, and have a little nap in it. . . . And all at once the golosh grows, swells, fills up the whole room. Varka drops the brush, but at once shakes her head, opens her eyes wide, and tries to look at things so that they may not grow big and move before her eyes.

"Varka, wash the steps outside; I am ashamed for the customers to see them!"

Varka washes the steps, sweeps and dusts the rooms, then heats another stove and runs to the shop. There is a great deal of work: she hasn't one minute free.

But nothing is so hard as standing in the same place at the kitchen table peeling potatoes. Her head droops over the table, the potatoes dance before her eyes, the knife tumbles out of her hand while her fat, angry mistress is moving about near her with her sleeves tucked up, talking so loud that it makes a ringing in Varka's ears. It is agonising, too, to wait at dinner, to wash, to sew, there are minutes when she longs to flop on to the floor regardless of everything, and to sleep.

The day passes. Seeing the windows getting dark, Varka presses her temples that feel as though they were made of wood, and smiles, though she does not know why. The dusk of evening caresses her eyes that will hardly keep open, and promises her sound sleep soon. In the evening visitors come.

"Varka, set the samovar!" shouts her mistress. The samovar is a little one, and before the visitors have drunk all the tea they want, she has to heat it five times. After tea Varka stands for a whole hour on the same spot, looking at the visitors, and waiting for orders.

"Varka, run and buy three bottles of beer!"

She starts off, and tries to run as quickly as she can, to drive away sleep.

"Varka, fetch some vodka! Varka, where's the corkscrew? Varka, clean a herring!"

But now, at last, the visitors have gone; the lights are put out, the master and mistress go to bed.

"Varka, rock the baby!" she hears the last order.

The cricket churrs in the stove; the green patch on the ceiling and the shadows from the trousers and the baby-clothes force themselves on Varka's half-opened eyes again, wink at her and cloud her mind.

"Hush-a-bye, my baby wee," she murmurs, "and I will sing a song to thee."

And the baby screams, and is worn out with screaming. Again Varka sees the muddy high road, the people with wallets, her mother Pelageya, her father Yefim. She understands everything, she recognises everyone, but through her half sleep she cannot understand the force which binds her, hand and foot, weighs upon her, and prevents her from living. She looks round, searches for that force that she may escape from it, but she cannot find it. At last, tired to death, she does her very utmost, strains her eyes, looks up at the flickering green patch, and listening to the screaming, finds the foe who will not let her live.

That foe is the baby.

She laughs. It seems strange to her that she has failed to grasp such a simple thing before. The green patch, the shadows, and the cricket seem to laugh and wonder too.

The hallucination takes possession of Varka. She gets up from her stool, and with a broad smile on her face and wide unblinking eyes, she walks up and down the room. She feels pleased and tickled at the thought that she will be rid directly of the baby that binds her hand and foot. . . . Kill the baby and then sleep, sleep, sleep. . . .

Laughing and winking and shaking her fingers at the green patch, Varka steals up to the cradle and bends over the baby. When she has strangled him, she quickly lies down on the floor, laughs with delight that she can sleep, and in a minute is sleeping as sound as the dead.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

random turkish delights

been getting very stormy, rainy weather for the past few days. i never cease to find funny how the rain changes the city dramatically... every time you get heavy rain here - all the streets turn immediately into war zone... with exploding sewage systems, mud everywhere, insane traffic and flooded ground floors, shops, cafes and streets - making it impossible to walk anywhere if not armed with sturdy wellies.
i reckon there are very few places where the streets and sidewalks are worse than here...where it seems normal to see holes in the concrete and walk on bumpy tiles and shaky pedestrian areas. and when it rains - all these bumps and cracks easily turn your way into a bizarre, wobbly, squashy survival boot camp. great fun if you are under the age of eight... big mess if you are wearing normal clothes... disaster if you are actually treading about in a skirt and heels.

with the weather being this fowl and unpredictable - and with my schedule depending on feeding times and nappy changing - have gone back to doing a lot of baking and cooking. i always find the kitchen a de-stressing area and i do love to try new recipes. plus, the local cuisine offers plenty of inspiration and the products you buy here are just the best. it is indeed a pity that turkish food is internationally celebrated only for kebabs... as it is indeed one of the best i have ever tried, bringing together arab, mediterranean and balkan traditions.

have also recently discovered how delicious the real turkish delight actually is. the first time i had it was in england - and i found its taste ghastly... but when you actually try the one they make here locally... wow, it is actually something lovely.

this morning, dashing through the aisles of a rather empty supermarket -- found another couple of amusing local brand names. i was already familiar with the unfortunately named CANDIDA toothpaste. and today i saw on a shelf another interesting example: the "DEPEND" adult nappies. come to think of it... our washing machine is from the prominent turkish brand ARCELIK (try to read that aloud)... and as you walk around town, you can easily see many signs that are meant to sound funky and all-american...but only manage to be humorous.

the rain usually gives us a break when it gets dark. i try to go out then - for a quick jog by the sea and find an immense pleasure in looking at the many ferries sliding away on the water. their lights are so bright and clear and they pass by quietly. there is something so peacefully beautiful in living so close to the sea - its boats; its colours in the sun during daytime...its lights at night, its wind.

realised my mind seems to work in typical izmir mode. the other day, caught myself counting the weeks till the sunny season starts again. may, that will be -- even beginning of may. a crucial turning point for people here... for their trips to their "summer houses", for any business to slow down, for the end of all schools' terms, for the weather to be "too hot to bother". am really looking forward to all of that... and i smile just thinking of it!

watched "the kids are alright" yesterday night - the story of two teenagers (joni, 18 and lazer, 15) who finally meet their biological father, a sperm donor their two lesbian mothers used to conceive them. on paper the plot sounds difficult and complicated, but the movie deals with it in a very happy, uncompromising and intelligent way. as i was watching it (the acting is fantastic)...i kept on wondering in the back of my head whether a movie of this kind will ever be released in turkish cinemas. i expect not - since the whole gay theme is a major tabu over here. a pity, really - even if, in truth, i guess the public here is in no way interested in stories of this intensity and scope. it would be fascinating to see when (and if) that changes. here and in other countries too.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

fred astaire

stumbled upon this new music find -- a voice i find very happy: emma wallace.
the tunes she sings are super sweet, witty and rather upbeat...have been playing a lot her second album "temptation"... i kind of feel that its songs mirror my mood and state of mind these days.

am particularly fond of her "fred astaire". just cannot seem to get its catchy tune out of my head + the lyrics are just smashing...

" i live day to day...most of us live that way -
with jobs to work, and chores to shirk, and those bills to pay.
i've tired of this routine. i want a different scene . . .
to sit and sigh as life goes by just isn't for me.
i'll dance backwards in high heels and perfect hair,
twirl my twirls inside a negligee if you'll be my Fred Astaire..."

a cool website to sample this track (and the rest of the album - "temptation") is this one:

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

michael's speech

the movie "the king's speech" keeps on receiving recognition both in terms of public and awards and seems to be destined to collect its share of oscars after winning seven BAFTA's, last sunday.
the movie's topic - the lifelong struggle of elizabeth II's father to overcome his stammering - recently created a new spark of interest over speech therapy.
a couple of days ago i found this article by michael palin (best known for his travel documentaries and as a member of monty python) in the daily telegraph - where he explains how his father inspired him to found the "michael palin's centre for stammering children".

Sunday, 13 February 2011

ok, when i picked "my life without me" i did so without expecting too much from it and mainly because its director, isabel coixet, had also filmed "elegy" (starring ben kingsley and penelope cruz), a personal favourite.
from what i could gather online before checking it out -- "my life without me" seemed the very typical "few-weeks-lefts-to-live" tale...with the main character who discovers he /she is about to die and hence wants to live fully every single moment left.

what i can say now, after actually watching it - is that, yes, the theme of the movie is a recurrent one -- yet isabel coixet does develop it in the most moving and realistic way, with gentle touches and great characters...adding here and there an eerie sense of poetry and romance that had tears streaming down my face. plus... crucially: the cast for the film is outstanding; the screenplay is beautifully written - with dialogues that always appear very natural; and the soundtrack is impressive by all means.

"my life without me" tells the story of anne, a 23 year old woman who lives in a trailer parked in her mother's backyard with her two daughters and her husband don, her high school sweetheart. anne works as a janitor during the night and left school at 17, when she had her first child. not exactly american dream material, so to speak... although, significantly - anne does talk quite a bit about "dreams" - maybe as she had to give up all of hers. after finding out she is terminally ill (and deciding the news will be kept secret) -- she makes a list of things she intends to do before the end of her "sleeping with another man just to see what it is like" - "smoking and drinking as much as i want" - "doing something with my hair...and getting fake nails" - "making someone fall in love with me" - (etc)... the way she comes up with these entries and the way she tries to make them happen is both convincingly realistic and unworldly, magically touching.

the result is a fragile journey in which anne finds love in its purest form, sharing a moving romance with bookish lee (played by mark ruffalo). along the way, there are countless tender moments... like the fantasy sequence where, in a busy supermarket where anne's voice ponders about death, staff and shoppers start waltzing through the aisles to the music of "senza fine" by gino paoli. surreal but mesmerising.

"my life without me" goes well beyond not being a predictable "weepie": it is a beautiful tale about love, hope and (oddly enough) happiness - a gripping story leaving you with an amost magical sense of awe.
i must also add - i found the choice of "senza fine" - used both for anne's first kiss to lee and the already mentioned daydreaming at the supermarket - absolutely heartbreaking. perfect - intensely moving, romantic, unforgettable.

Friday, 4 February 2011

so...long live the baklavas!

some events in life seem to be socially and conventionally acknowledged as "major steps". getting married, graduating from university, getting a good job, having children - these could all be examples of changes in everyone's life that are perceived as "important" by family / friends and society in general. i find it very fascinating to observe closely how people react to others going through moments of this kind.
quite often -- the manner some behave towards you when something important happens to you gives you ample measure of their true personality, their insecurities and, ultimately, their real feelings towards you. in addition, there is also a cultural factor that goes with the feedback you can receive to some "good news" coming your way and this factor is quite a relevant one if you consider turkey as the backdrop to the said happy news.

our baby girl was born less than one week ago - and i immediately informed family and friends, over the phone, via email etc + we came home from the hospital straight away -- much to the delight of friends, colleagues and neighbours here. the attention a new baby receives in turkey is overwhelming. news spread immediately and everyone seems to have the greatest urge to come and visit; to knit something for the baby; to wish and pray and bless. there is a lovely side to this and there is a very strange, stressful aspect to it too. namely -- people show up at your door, they expect to be entertained and hosted for a couple of hours, they are keen to be served tea and ask loads of questions. it does not matter if you are dead tired and sleep-deprived...a lot is expected from the new mother: you have to look overjoyed to see them (even if they pop by un-announced), you have to put the kettle on and dig out some treats for the guests, you have to sit down with them, beam and act super cool and polite. the hardest bit (at least for me) is the overload of advice people give you. if they are elderly women you have to accept to be patronised and looked down at and listen carefully to a list of things you are definitely doing wrong. from breastfeeding to nappies -- they all have a set of opinions they shove down your throat...and the best thing to do is... smiling and keeping veeeery silent. i must admit i find these dynamics utterly stressful - and surely consider these visits at home of the most invasive nature. the first few people that showed up literally terrified me and i can only thank sleep deprivation for making my mind numb enough to blag my way through all the small talk and the preaching about "what you should do".

comically, on day 2 - we were also introduced to a new practice.

the housekeeper from the block next door came by to ask "where are the pastries then? in turkey it is traditional to buy pastries for the whole neighbourhood when you have a new baby" to our cluelessness he impatiently added "give me 50 liras, i will call my friend and arrange it for you. meet me tomorrow at 5 pm and you will walk around door to door and give out the pastries". and of course we obeyed...! he sounded so bossy and conclusive that we could have not done any other way -- and the day after 5 kilos of baklavas went around the neighbourhood, including cafes, restaurants and shops.

anyway, this is just to say that a new baby / a new step in life is a big fuss in turkey. mainly as "the community" takes a massive interest in what god is blessing you with (they say). as i have already mentioned...there is a nice side to this and there is a rather unpleasant side to it too. the conclusion i have come to -- is that perhaps over here people do not have much happening in their OWN lives...and so they really dote on other people's happiness. and it does not matter if that implies behaving in a super-nosey fashion.
the reaction from friends and family back home or living in other countries is less predictable, more diverse. it is kind of funny to see how different people phrase different types of feedback. you get enthusiastic, ecstatic, over-the-top responses in the same measure as very cold, fake and uninterested ones.
however, the most interesting factor i have seemed to notice is how "western" friends tend to (directly or indirectly) read your happy news in terms of "success" and / or achievement, in a way... something that is fairly alien if seen from here, where people demand sweets and entertainment - basically wishing to share some of the excitement, of the emotion, of the unexpected novelty. maybe i am wrong -- but people back home seem to congratulate you (as if it was some bingo or lucky draw win) whereas here people cherish the event...for the mere sake of cherishing it and celebrating "something".

it is maybe just my own personal impression, sure... or -- come to think of it -- (and to put it down in very turkish terms!) the involvement of food might make all the difference...
and people with a stomach full of baklavas are more oblivious to any concept of "success in life"!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

...turkish kitchen...

spending long hours at home, looking after our newborn baby girl. before her arrival, the idea to be "grounded" without much time (nor freedom) to go out was rather daunting. when i had my first child, i found the limitations of being forced at home rather unbearable. we were leaving in singapore at the time and i remember i would look out of the window and think i was missing out. i had the constant feeling (/fear) there was a whole world outside where many things were happening; where people were doing super interesting stuff and going places i could not reach. this made me restless - and anxious to feel "normal" as soon as possible.

oddly, this time around i have none of the feelings i have just described. if i look out of the window - there is a beautiful sea, beaten by a sharp wind and brightened by the clearest light from the cloudless sky. the usual ferries come and go; few ships slowly leave the harbour to my right; rare cruises come early in the morning from the entrance of the gulf to my left. down in the street - some waiters linger around for their cigarette break, a man is selling chestnuts and few students are strolling around in their uniforms.

the main feeling is that - nothing is in fact happening... which, in truth, gives a very peaceful, stress-free meaning to the whole atmosphere.

during the day there is a stilness around the house that seems to put a constant smile on my face - despite my very sleep deprived nights and the bags i am sporting under the eyes - who could easily make me eligible as the next poster girl of some heroin-chic trend.

in the morning i walk my son to school. am trying my best not to deprive him of much attention. since the arrival of his little sister at home...he has been very cool about everything, but trying to "check on me" - basically to see whether "mum still cares" kind of thing. so, i am happy to take him to school and kind of melt inside every time i notice how special that makes him feel.

on my way back, i always leave the main road and venture in a couple of side streets to buy food for lunch. there are some tiny "lokantas" (small outlets, bakeries, miniscule restaurants) where you can buy home-made food. more than restaurants i would describe these places as "kitchens" - since you literally open the door and step inside an old kitchen where usually two or three ladies are potting around huge pans and trays - filled with steaming vegetables and soups. the dishes you can buy are very simple, hearty recipes like: baked beans, stewed spinach, roasted aubergines, lentil soup, fritters etc. these are served in small portions they wrap for you to take away. i always love to see the ladies cooking - with their huge skirts, their flowery scarves, their tubby bodies, their red faces, their hands cutting and mixing, washing and pouring, wrapping and turning...they look at you quietly, with something childish as they gaze somewhere behind you - and even behind the window door - and behind the cloud of steam and heat seeping out, slowly in the cold day.
they look like chechnyan matrioskas - i always think to myself... bothering very little about how proper (and accurate) this fancy metaphor can actually be. and, as i think that. they must be looking at me and suspect (fair enough) those bags under my eyes are a total give away of some shady, unhealthy addiction.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Yevgeny Yevtushenko

My love will come
will fling open her arms and fold me in them,
will understand my fears, observe my changes.
In from the pouring dark, from the pitch night
without stopping to bang the taxi door
she’ll run upstairs through the decaying porch
burning with love and love’s happiness,
she’ll run dripping upstairs, she won’t knock,
will take my head in her hands,
and when she drops her overcoat on a chair,
it will slide to the floor in a blue heap.

I fell out of love: that’s our story’s dull ending,
as flat as life is, as dull as the grave.
Excuse me-I’ll break off the string of this love song
and smash the guitar. We have nothing to save.

The puppy is puzzled. Our furry small monster
can’t decide why we complicate simple things so-
he whines at your door and I let him enter,
when he scratches at my door, you always go.

Dog, sentimental dog, you’ll surely go crazy,
running from one to the othe like this-
too young to conceive of an ancient idea:
it’s ended, done with, over, kaput. Finis.

Get sentimental and we end up by playing
the old melodrama, 'Salvation of Love.'
'Forgiveness, ' we whisper, and hope for an echo;
but nothing returns from the silence above.

Better save love at the very beginning,
avoiding all passionate 'nevers, ' 'forevers; '
we ought to have heard what the train wheels were shouting,
'Do not make promises! ' Promises are levers.

We should have made note of the broken branches,
we should have looked up at the smokey sky,
warning the witless pretensions of lovers-
the greater the hope is, the greater the lie.

True kindness in love means staying quite sober,
weighing each link of the chain you must bear.
Don’t promise her heaven-suggest half an acre;
not 'unto death, ' but at least to next year.

And don’t keep declaring, 'I love you, I love you.'
That little phrase leads a durable life-
when remembered again in some loveless hereafter,
it can sting like a hornet or stab like a knife.

So-our little dog in all his confusion
turns and returns from door to door.
I won’t say 'forgive me' because I have left you;
I ask pardon for one thing: I loved you before.