Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Day With America!/yerkruT htiW yaD A

This is inspired by a story book I read as a kid, A Day with Mommy/A Day With Daddy. The book told two stories, one about a girl monster tooling around town with her monster mom, and the other (if you flipped the book over and started from the other end) about a boy monster cruising with his monstrous dad.

So you want to visit Turkey!/So you want to visit the United States!

First step--Your Plane Ticket
Buy a plane ticket. No matter where you go, you'll have to go through Istanbul and it's a nice city anyway, so just make that your destination.

First step--Your Plane Ticket
Book a plane ticket. You will need to do this well in advance of your visa application. It will easily cost you your whole month's salary--so start saving in advance. Stock up on perishable foods for at least a year in advance so you can devote all your money to your flight. Sell some family jewelry. Perhaps do a contract for the mob (But be very very quiet about it! It would be an awkward topic at your visa interview). Once you get a copy of your ticket, have it notarized. You will need this for your visa interview. If you don't have definite and paid-for proof of return, your visa application may be rejected. Of course, if you buy it and then get rejected you lose the aforementioned month's worth of salary. Sucks to be you, but then there are people dying of war and famine and all sorts of ugly things in Afghanistan and those other places, so don't whine. Compared to them, you're very very lucky.

Second Step--Visas, Part 1: Documents.
You'll need a passport.

Second step--Visas, Part 1: Documents
First, you must set up an interview with the U.S. consulate. Do this early because the appointment times can be completely full months in advance. You will have to pay one hundred and thirty-one dollars each time you apply, and take a day off of work because it's almost always a weekday morning (Call in sick the first time, because you may be back several times and if your boss won't give you the day off, it's better to pretend your sick the first time than the last, since they will already smell what's up.) The visa officer is going to assume you are trying to become an illegal alien--they are instructed to believe this in their training--so you're job is to prove you're not lying about wanting to only stay temporarily. It's a little like trying to prove you're not crazy when someone already assumes you are. "Oh, so you were muttering to yourself the other day? Perhaps you were hearing voices in your head. No? Well, of course you would say that. A crazy person always denies they're crazy. Oh you DID hear voices? See? You're nuts." Or maybe it's like proving you're not a witch. If someone ties a stone to your foot and throws you in a river, but you don't die, then you're a witch. If you die, well, then, you're a God-fearing Christian woman and oops...well, we were wrong. Wish we could say "sorry", but you're dead. That's life, as the saying goes. Or that's the end of life at least. For you. Next!

Anyway, to prove you're not a liar, you'll need to gather a lot of paperwork from your job. You'll need a bank statement (If you don't have at least 10,000 dollars in your bank account, your visa could be refused). You'll need something stating your salary. (If you don't make at least S3000 a month, you could be denied). Try to get a letter from your boss swearing that you are indispensable to the company and must return (This could be tricky when you are timing it with the fake sick day). If you are taking care of any sickly grandparents or children, get medical reports and take pictures of them looking helpless or sickly. If you have friends in the states, have them write invitation letters promising to pay for you and go to jail for you if you have any problems. They will ask lots of personal questions about anyone that invites you, so make sure you intrude upon them and embarrass yourself by asking them first. Most importantly, know how much money they make per year!

The rules change all the time, especially the unofficial ones, so surf the net as much as possible hoping against hope that someone is putting up the latest requirements.

Third Step: Visas, Part 3: The online application
There is no visa application, dipshit. Just make sure your passport is up to date.

Third Step: Visas, Part 3. The Online Application
You will need information about your entirely family, including their birthdates and salaries. You will get to answer all sorts of interesting queries about how you amuse yourself, such as "Have you ever participated in a genocide or do you plan to conduct a genocide while in the states?" "Do you plan to conduct terrorist activities while in the U.S.?" "Have you ever, or do you plan to, engage in prostitution while you are in the U.S." Answer no to all of these, even if you have just come back fresh from the killing fields. Don't attempt any cute answers like, "Well, no, not genocide. I just want to kill random people." They frown on sarcasm.

Fourth Step--Visas, Part 4: The interview
You don't have any interviews! God, get it through your head. Maybe make sure your passport is up to date again?

Fourth Step: Visas, Part 4: The Interview

You will not be able to take anyone with you, not even your American friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend though they are American citizens. They will be stopped at the door. All of your answers will be given into a microphone and the entire room will hear you as you answer all sorts of personal questions about your relationship with your American lover whom you are obviously using your the free visa. But don't get nervous! As the website points out, any signs of being nervous can result in an immediate denial. Also make sure your voice is not too loud or too soft, this will also result in a denial. Sound confident, the official consulate website advises. "Though," and I quote, "ultimately the decision to grant or deny your visa is up to the whim of the visa officer." If this seems arbitrary to you, then take comfort in the fact that, again, as the website explains, "Our visa officers are highly trained professionals and have learned to make complex decisions with a minimum of information." They do not specify how one is trained to make a decision on a random whim--but have no doubts or show no doubts because you will be denied. Probably. Unless their sixth sense, or the spirit they channel during past life regression, or the invisible midget who lives in their purse tells them otherwise. If you are denied, you most likely will not be given a reason more than "You are not appropriate" though everyone in the office will swear that you must have been given a reason. They often deny you right then and there, sometimes they let you stew a while in your own filthy hope. If denied, you may start this whole process all over again by paying another 131$ (you don't get that first 131 back, so don't ask). At the second or third or fourth interview, if they don't hate you immediately, you will be told to wait for your answer. You will be mailed your answer in a few days. Sometimes, they will mail you a request for extra documentation. After you mail this back to them, it could take up to sixty days for them to process it. Buy some booze to kill time and emotions, and keep in mind, they can still say no. If you haven't paid for your ticket, do so now, because, damn, those prices are going up!

Fifth Step--the Airport: Remember, stand in the visa line and pay your 20$! After that, just hand over your passport and wait for the guy to stamp it. Welcome to Turkey!

Fifth Step--The Airport: You'll be asked a lot of questions like "Oh you're from the Middle East, does that mean you get all your oil for free?" Though you are from Turkey (a country the U.S. depends on for bases to conduct its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) and not from the Middle East at all, and though this is a silly question no matter where you from, you may not make the smartass answer you're dying to make. Just smile and say something friendly or they'll turn you away and send you back home at your own expense. You're bag may be thoroughly searched in a random profiling of Muslims. Once you're over this hurtle, you're in!

Welcome to the U.S.!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Off and away, or Uf and Away

So for the first time, I got the point of this monkey training camp called a 'school'. The girl's basketball team had their final championship game and the whole high school trucks down to the courts in Kadıköy to watch. Our boys (and some girls) formed a formidable wall of trash talking hooligans at the railing that pissed off every free throw attempter on the other team. During a break between quarters they turned to me and started chanting my name as everyone in the stands turned to see what the hell a Jeff was. The last minute of the fourth quarter it was 60 to 60. The other team scored 2, we scored 2. They scored 2 more and we scored 2 more. When the buzzer sounded it was tied and we went into over time. The rivals got 8 points ahead, our coach turned bright purple from screaming, and then we caught up with a 3 pointer and then another 3 pointer and then a regular old slam dunk. We were at the last 5 seconds again and again we were tied--no one could make any headway, basket after basket was blocked. Then Özge, one of my favorites and third from right in the top row, threw the ball. It was in the air at 4, 3, went through the net at 2 and we were on our feet at 1, cheering wildly and loudly enough to drown out the buzzer at 0. The other team literally collapsed to their knees in disbelief. I felt for these girls...they had played ferociously. All in all, a stunning game, and better than any Celtics match I have seen.

A week later.

It is the last day of exam's week, before the April 23rd holiday (Children's Day). I took my 8th period class out on the field for conversation class. There were only three of them and I didn't feel like bullying them into a lesson. First was too-cool-for-school Doğukan. He kicked back in the soccer dugout and watched the dance the 10th grade girls were preparing for a festival in May. 'They look so retarded,' he says. Then he gestures to the 11 grade boys playing soccer. 'And what the heck are those bozos doing.' Tuğba, the star of the girl's basketball team (sitting, second from the right), told me the gossip the students spread about different teachers. Ismet, for example, can be easily distracted from the lesson and has different sized ears--one enormous, the other like a little mushroom. The third student is Kaan, who keeps running over to the elementary school kids and trying to take their soccer ball. The field is carpeted with bright butter yellow flowers. It is absolutely breathtaking. I must admit, the 10th grade girl's dance routine cooked up by the kooky music teacher and her male companion, is a little on the stupid side. We watch them go through their routine with all the enthusiasm of a cat taking a bubble bath. Sun, cold wind, and vendors voices calling from the bazaar across the street. There's a gymnasium being built though no one's worked on it since September. A huge wall separates us from the construction site. 'See that wall,' Doğukan says. 'That's our own personal Berlin Wall. Totally stupid.' 'You're the living example of too cool for school,' I say. 'You know that? You don't do sports, don't join in any of this festival stuff. What do you do exactly while everyone else is busy?' 'I chill,' he says. 'And I surf.'

Sunday, April 18, 2010

If I have any readers....apologies. This next one gets a little egg headie--it almost sounds like a term paper--but I couldn't help it.
Sezen Aksu


Rumor has it that Turkey's version of M.I.T, I.T.U (Istanbul Technological University--called E-2 for short, rather like one of R2D2s distant relatives) is going to be giving classes entirely in English--not just the graduate school, but the undergrad progam as well.

"Bullshit!" says my Turkish teacher, Sevim. "They won't rest until everyone is babbling in English and Turkish is dead."

Possibly. People will do anything to "practice their English". If I walked around with a kitten and asked people to strangle it for five minutes of English conversation, I'd probably have a line out the door. And yet the idea of me learning Turkish seems almost bizarre, like I was trying to dig a hole through the earth to get back to America instead of hopping on a plane. A lot of people here have absolutely no respect for their own language.

And it's not just the usual Turkish paranoia. ("Why is everyone out to get us?" is the title of a recent article in Hurriyet)

Recently, Sezen Aksu, the High Priestess of Turkish pop gave a concert in Washington D.C. Now Aksu is one of those rare birds who most Turks can agree on. From leftist freak to rightwing madman--everyone thinks she is a great singer. Other musicians, like everything else in Turkish life, are adored or despised based on their politics--Neset Ertas, the great folk singer, is a dangerous gay communist and a hopeless throwback to Turkey's primitive past. OR, he is a brilliant folk musician preserving and developing Anatolia's rich heritage of music in spite of the growing hegemony of Western pop. Duman is a hopeless copy of Western bands, demonstrating Turkey's lack of respect for its own culture or, a really cool modern pop group giving international street cred to Turkey's music scene.

Anyway, NPR wrote an article about Aksu which included an interview with Turkish pianist and composer, Fahir Atakoglu. "Turkish is not a good-sounding language," Atakogul says. "You know, it's not musical like French or English. But with singers like Sezen, for the first time, the Turkish words became much more musical. It started saying something really deep; it wasn't simple anymore."

When I read that, I punched the computer screen (which is why it rattles now). Moron. How could a musician, someone who supposedly possessed a sensitivity for sound and a leader of his culture look down on his own language? Not "good sounding"? Sezen made it deep, so that it's not "simple" anymore? I bet he was preening as he delivered these lines in his prissy English. Cocksucker. If anything, Turkish, with its vowel harmony--basically grammatically mandated poetic assonance--and its endless endings--which ensures tons of accidental rhymes--is inherently musical. And as for being "simple".... Well, maybe this is all just the resurrection of that old-school Ottoman envy of the West, which seemed to be bafflingly better able to seize the reigns of the future than the former world empire. Maybe its also partly the work of the Turkish Language Society--the organization that Ataturk established to transform Ottoman into modern Turkish back when the Turkish Republic first popped out of his open womb.

Ah, the great Language Reform. People will tell the visiting foreigner, "Before the War of Liberation we spoke Ottoman. After the war, Ataturk created Turkish." As if an entire language just materialized out of Mustafa Kemal's brain along with all the other miracles he performed. I've always been very curious about this. How can a guy just 'create' a language and then get a whole country to start speaking it?

The Language Society was more than just a committee to reform Turkish. Like everything else in that period, it was charged with creating a Turkish identity. In short, to give dignity to the idea of being a Turk. In 1910, the word "Turk" was an insult. It would have been akin to calling someone a "hick" or a "redneck". People were Ottomans, not Turks. The language they spoke (in the then capital Istanbul) was Ottoman, based on Turkish, but filled with Persian and Arabic vocabulary and Persian even grammatical structures to pretty it up. Some "Ottoman" poets wrote pages and pages entirely in Persian, and called it "Ottoman" because they might have a Turkish dir (is) scattered here and there. Turkish was considered too crude for anything with any kind of sophistication.

The guy I'm speaking of here was Narbi, an 18th century poet. A linguist whose name differs from mine only in that he forgot to tag an S at the end (his name was J.W. Gibb!) said that "Nabi wrote verses which by courtesy alone can be described as Turkish". In his faux-Persian, Nabi even had the cajones to write--"O, you who sell outlandish words wrapped in poetry! A book of odes is not a copy of the dictionary." He was ranting about all the people putting on airs by using big words from Persian and Arabic by using big words from Persian and Arabic. So the sense of inferiority mixed with nationalist outrage runs deep, historically speaking.

Apparently when the Turkic tribes first invaded Anatolia and established an empire back in the days of the Selchuks (whose empire kicks off in 1040) the former nomads needed words for their new sedentary lifestyle--for poetics, and government and for the new religion they had adopted. So they borrowed from the peoples they'd conquered, from the Persians and Arabs. (Rather like the intellectual vocabulary of English is almost entirely Greek and Latin). Of course, the mark of an educated person was their ability to use these borrowings. If you didn't want to be considered an ignorant hillbilly, you abandoned your village Turkish for one full of Persian borrowings. Eventually, while the common Joe in Anatolia still spoke the old Turkish, the elite in Istanbul were spouting sentences like, "I am enamored of your maternal parent's domicile; it is tres bien!" instead of "I like your mother's house. It's nice." In the end, the literary and official language became completely unintelligible to the average guy. And worse, it was written in Arabic, which didn't really fit the Turkish sounds and which most people found difficult to learn anyway, so when Ataturk established his secular republic, he decided things had to change (although people had been clamoring for--and even attempting--that change for some one hundred years).

Thus was born the Turkish Language Society. The first thing they did was create a new alphabet--based on our Latin one--in which each Turkish sound corresponded to one Turkish letter. (Imagine the long "a" sound in pay, sleigh, maid, made, and fey, all being combined into one new letter, Ã, borrowed from the language of an old military rival.) Then they began to purge the vocabulary. At first, they were sane. Every word in Persian or Arabic that had a perfectly usable Turkish equivalent was ditched--dil for "language" instead of the Arabic lisan. They also tried to bring in words from Anatolian dialects, Old Turkish, and other Turkic languages to replace the old foreign borrowings (ulus for "nation" comes from Mongolian). They also began to make up words. The word egitim for "education" was a created out of thin air to replace the Arabic maarif. They then enforced these changes by making them mandatory in all government documents and newspapers and by forcing schools to teach them as well.

Imagine, one day saying, "We are going to be required to take a foreign language next semester" and the next being taught by your teacher to say, "We are going to have to learn an outcountry tongue next halfyear." From now on, you must, by law use the native English "tongue" and "have to" for the Latiny "language" and "require", and the created words "out-country" and "halfyear" to replace the old outcountry words "semester" and "foreign".

Like everything else in Turkey, the nationalistic impulse went wild--perhaps understandable after centuries of being taught you were inferior to Persians and Arabs, and then finally to French and English. Every word with a foreign origin was purged even though there was no equivalent and words used by the average Turk for a millennia were suddenly replaced by silly sounding made-up Frankenstein words, unleashed upon the populace just because they were "Pure Turkish". Okul, the word for school, is completely made up. And of course, the people creating these words were not necessarily experts, but just some guys with a political ax to grind.

And thus, just like your favorite singers, which words you fancy can often reflect your politics. Are you a rabid Islamicist bent on introducing Iran style shariah law and obliterating everything Ataturk struggled for? Then you might say lugat for dictionary. (Since the Quran is written in Arabic, the outlawing of the Arabic alphabet and terms greatly reduced, overnight, the average person's ability to understand their holy book). If you are a modern, decent person who respects all that your ancestors fought and died for in the great War for Liberation, you'll honoe your race use the word devised by the patriotic society Ataturk founded to make the language pure Turkish, sözlük.

Of course, all this begs a few questions. One: when I'm learning Turkish, what the hell language am I learning? One with a history and natural development or a bunch of words made up by overzealous fascisty dudes in the 1930s and 40s? Does that even matter? In English, so much of my vocabulary is fairly recent--television, geek, chatrooms, internet, surf, cool, online, etc. etc. Maybe it's the same idea. Second, why did they get rid of all those Arabic and Persian words in the first place instead of just educating their people to learn them? It seems that by keeping Ottoman around you could have had a wealth of synonyms to choose from, each with different shades of meaning, just like you do in English. And yet, reading back through this thing that is starting to seem like a school essay, how many fancy-assed Latin words have I used and how much could my family understand. I can hear my niece now, saying "I didn't understand a word he wrote." Hell, maybe we should purge our language--make it pure American. President Palin? What do you think? Maybe make your babble law? "Ain't" will officially replace all forms of be and have. It's nonuse punishable by castration (deballing? Wait no, that would be a Latin prefix. Beballing? Like beheading?) or death. Finally, when I write down vocabulary from the books I'm reading, how the hell do I know if its real or just a fad word that the Language Society introduced one day and that lost popularity the next. The word denli for "as much as" appeared in an Aziz Nesin story recently. Most people just say "kadar", another Arabic borrowing, but I guess Nesin was feeling Turkic enough to use the newly minted denli though you never, ever hear it in conversation. And some people poo poo it in writing as just another Frankenstein bullshit term concocted by the Language Society.

The Language Society has been accused by a lot of people of butchering Turkish. At one point, as a joke, a newspaper published a fake mandate supposedly from the Society advocating the word "foot pusher carry thingy" for "bicycle". And people couldn't tell they were joking, being so used to the cockamamy neologisms that popped up from time to time. Supposedly, despite all the changes in the newspaper and political and artsy Turkish, the language spoken by the green grocer is mostly the same today as it was a hundred years ago. In any case, the society was be-balled sometime ago and now doesn't have the power to legally enforce a damn thing. They are more of a cultural society these days, of which I just became a member. They send me a mail every day, teaching me a fancy Turkish word, a useful foreign borrowing (I am, myself, a useful foreign borrowing so I know most of these already) and a folk idiom. It helps my language learning a lot, although I don't know if I am being taught by someone who wants to revive the classical Ottoman, who wants to purge Turkish, or who just likes different kinds of words. In other words, are they still propagandizing? In any case, here's an idiom for you, recently sent to me from the Society.

Düşük çeneli. "Drop-jawed" for someone who never shuts up.

I have become a little düşük çeneli at this point, so let me wind her up.

I started getting interested in this because I put so much effort into learning Turkish and then got so much resistance when I tried to speak it. And then, people's desire to learn English seemed, at times, to take on the passion of a good solid mental illness. And I couldn't figure out why. It seems to have a long historical precedent, doesn't? I wonder if your eleventh century Turk was desperately going to Persian language schools and chasing after Iranians saying "Hello! Hello! Can I practice my Persian with you?"

This attitude is ridiculous, of course, every language has an internal beauty--and yet politics dictates a different attitude. English, which I love, is the name of the game these days not because of any aesthetic qualities but because of money. Ataturk's language reform was a reaction to that centuries long inferiority complex, which is perhaps, sadly, not even remotely a thing of the past, if ITU's move to make all their classes in English and Atakoglu's comments are any indication. The secret to spreading respect for your tongue is not to have Sezen Aksu sing pretty songs, but to get rich and powerful.

By the way, much of my information on the history of the Language Reform is from Geoffrey Lewis's "The Turkish Language Reform."

Sunday, April 11, 2010 continue

An addendum to yesterday's post--and I haven't planned this, just winging it. So the new Republican governor of Virginia has declared April Confederate History month, and of course, a whole host of people have their panties in a wad. Many are upset at the idea of "commemorating" a regime that supported one of the greatest crimes in human history. (The governor made no mention of Slavery). And another lot are pissed because the first lot are pissed. Why can't they let us remember our heroes in peace?

I suppose that's what the Turks are asking as well.

Again, I find the Americans and the Turks very similar. (In a Civil War documentary I watched, Southerners were described by a prominent writer as, I quote, "Proud, warm, brave, loyal, too swift to act at times. They value honor, but are incapable of analysis, have a tendency to act on feelings rather than thought, and are prone to suspicion. They have a violent nature." All these are stereotypes I see tossed around about the Turks, too. Particularly the warm emotional bit and how they act on feelings rather than thought.)

Well, why can't we remember our heroes in peace?

Because us celebrating an event that happened one hundred and fifty years ago says something about who we are today. Why did this Virginia governor decide to commemorate the Confederacy, now? In 2010? Why not ever before? Is it Obama's presence in the White House? Is it just another sign of the divisive extremes American politics have gone to? Why NOT mention slavery. The governor said he wanted to focus on significant issues facing the state of Virginia today, by way of explanation. Does that mean he thinks there is some relevance to the Old South's position that the Federal government was imposing policies that conflicted with their way of life? Opposition to Obama's presidency is problematic. There is on the one hand, a simple opposition to his policies, which is normal. But there is a racial element to it as well, and something I think a little bigger, a resurfacing of fundamental differences in attitude that date back to the Civil War. (I am thinking of the South's essential conservatism, the idea that reform and change are dangerous to society--that a government pushing social justice is a dictatorship dangerously imposing its reckless ideas on an essentially just and peaceful society in tune with God and Nature's law.)

There is of course a continuity here--the Civil War, to Jim Crow, to the Civil Rights Movement, to the rise of the conservative movement, to Obama and the opposition to Obama and maybe where you stand on the Confederate commemoration is a symbol of where you stand on these other issues.

Similarly, why are the Turks in such a tizzy about the Armenians? There is a continuity there, too--from the genocide, to the nationalism of War of Independence, to the ethnic cleansing in Dersim, to the Greek purges when all the Rum were driven out of Istanbul in the 50s-Fascist style, to the massacres of Alevis in the 70s, to the current heavy-handed handling of the Kurdish situation. (Using their language has only recent become legal and yet people are still being arrested and jailed for speaking it. Mehdi Tanrıkulu was imprisoned for insisting on making his courtroom defence in Kurdish.) Policies toward non-Turks then and the attitudes and paranoia that informed them have not changed all that much today. In part, these things are taught in how history is taught. And one way history is taught is through commemoration.

I saw in the newspaper the other day what I thought was a rather dated statement, "The only friend of a Turk is another Turk." In other words, don't trust outsiders. If you're taught from the beginning that your people were heroes, that the minorities were splittists trying to destroy the Fatherland, then, well, it explains why the murder of Hrant Dink was necessary, why the Kurds must not be negotiated with, ever, why you must constantly be on the lookout for Anti Turkish thought. Why anyone who disagrees with this is an enemy, as all non-Turks inevitably must be.

I don't know how, maybe it was a natural result of my personality, maybe I was taught in school, but I came out of Civil War studies feeling very ugly. The issue of race was everywhere. As a kid, I used to argue with my Dad, who called the Civil War "The War Between the States". He insisted it had not been about slavery, when to me, that was the central horror that simply could not be ignored. He said it was about economics (an economics based on slavery). It was about state's rights. (The right to keep slavery). It was about the Federal government imposing laws that had no relation to a people's way of life. (The keeping of slaves). It was about a fundamental difference of values between a greedy, industrialized North, and a genteel, agrarian South. (A hierarchal social system created, in part, to justify slavery).

But I was taught that slavery and the government that created it were shameful parts of our history, and I think that helped set me up for my future attitudes about Civil Rights, race, and equality. Who can see the pictures of the back torn apart by whippings, the stories of children taken away from their parents, the maimings of runaways, etc. etc. without feeling a deep revulsion to the whole business? And taught about these things, it was easy to see that the attitudes that made slavery were not dead. When my uncle talked of "hating the niggers" or my grandmother expressed shock that those "Cosby niggers" were on TV, I could see that this evil still lingered. And the revulsion I felt about the past could apply to today as well, and help me decide what stand to take when family members start talking about "keeping the uppity niggers where they belong."

On the one hand, getting all up in arms about this silly announcement by the Virginia governor seems like nitpicking. Who but a few nutballs and reenactors are going to celebrate anyway? But Slavery is one of the top ten crimes against humanity in world history. You can't waffle on it, anymore than you can "look into the justification" of the Holocaust (or, yes, the Armenian Genocide) without seeming a demonic.

One of Virginia's black politicians, Douglas Wilder, received a call of apology from the Governor. Wilder said, "Okay, cool." But he also reminded the governor that "Your actions project an image." An image that teaches how to feel about the past and how to form ideas today. Wilder has also been Virginia's governor. He commemorated the War, too. "But I made central the issue of slavery, describing exactly what the war was about, and did not celebrate the beginning of hostilities. And that what we should do is talk about the ending of the war, that we have moved on."

The history is there. Don't ignore it, but don't get selective either. Don't sweep one of the ugliest stains on our conscience under the rug. In commemoration, you teach people how to think about the past, and about how to think about the lingering effects of that past on the issues of today. You also teach your society what values it should hold dear. So yeah, have your Confederate History month--talk about Robert E. Lee and Jeff Davis and the weeping widows and fallen ancestors, but be honest. Also talk about the central issue that drove the Confederacy--the torture, enslavement, and centuries long humiliation of millions of people that still haunt the US today. And yes, commemorate your WW 1 Turkish heroes, but be honest about what else they did.

I want to end with a quote by a black writer from NPR. He helps explain why I feel so conflicted about this issue as well--on the one hand, who cares? Get your PC asses out of here and do something useful. On the other hand, why in the hell is he bringing up this Old South attitude in 2010. Shut up. I think it also parallels what many Turks feel when Americans and Europeans start talking about the Genocide.

"But, strangely enough, I think I understand part of the spirit behind what these Confederate heritage people are saying. They haven't been allowed to be proud of their history. White southerners are frequently mocked and looked down upon as intellectual inferiors by cultural and political standard keepers. They're widely maligned as racists by people in the North -- some of whom don't really do all that well with race themselves. Their acceptance within many circles of power is often conditioned on them rejecting their heritage. Frankly, that's not all that different from what black people go through."

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Saturday Protest

A quick update on the tomb of Kemal the Martyr I mentioned a few entries back. I was out running this morning. It was twice the usual Saturday traffic with every lunatic driver in Istanbul hysterically honking their horn at red lights, at other stopped cars, at pedestrians. Something was gumming up the works. Police were blocking the main street, and the usual deluge of cars was being diverted down side streets. I went my usual route down past the stadium, along Poop River (they're building a esplanade along the shore, but its still littered with trash, jelly fish, and yes, poop), and up toward ol' Willow Fountain Mosque (Sogutlu Cesme). Then, as I was coming down the sidewalk next to the cemetery, I saw a group of people carrying Turkish flags and signs from various parties, including the "Worker's Party". They held a banner that said, "We did not do the Armenian Genocide. We were defending our country." Which of course, begs the question, what do you mean? How were you defending your country? Ugh. But it's always this circular reasoning...we didn't do it, and they deserved it. Never mind that this "defending our country" bit is always the justification. The KKK were defending their country when they lynched and terrorized black people. Hitler was defending his country from the Jews. The Hutus were defending their country from the Tutsis. The 9/11 attackers and Oklahoma bomber were defending their respective countries. No one commits atrocities because they're bored. ANYWAY, this is April 10th, the day that Kemal was executed. (Again, for something that never happened, its strange to me that people get so worked up about it a century later, worked up enough to shriek hysterically in the street on a perfectly lovely day. Kemal is an interesting case all around. The testimony that convicted him was not from Allied toadies or political opponents but from ordinary villagers where he was stationed, including the mufti, all of whom were horrified at what he had done in their name). So wherefore all the hubbub? A lawyer in Ankara has called for recognition of the genocide and the removal of names like Talaat Pasha and Kemal Bey from street signs. Also, of course, the US government is going to vote (down) a proposal to officially recognize the genocide. I hate cowering to the whackjob in the street, but I don't think the US should vote yes. Turkey is slowly lightening up, it seems, on the issue. The lawyer in Ankara may get himself shot, but his stance is kind of unprecedented. And just last week, the Turkish government itself gave permission for Armenian schools to use books in their own language. Maybe the Turks will learn to work this out on their own, like Americans with our, ahem, checkered past. Well, then again given the recent revision of textbooks in Texas to once again emphasize the idealistic settlers (whites) bringing democracy and whatnot to the wilderness (the Native Americans) without reference to the slaughter and rape that went on for the next three centuries....who knows.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ahmet Telli----Turkish Poet

Ahmet Telli, another poet who was arrested after the September 11th coup. Here is one of his poems that a friend recommended to me as her favorite....translated by me, of course. Like many Turkish poets, the poem is more for oral recitation than reading. I'm not sure the English quite comes across.

The Last Ballad of the Little Star

The stars of the Milky Way, like a herd of sheep loping after their shepherd, struggled up the slope of the sky. One of the smallest ones in the herd had long ago become tired of this silvery cycle, of the stillness and the silent trips round and round to the other side. She was restless. The scratchings of boredom were drawing blood in places. So one sky-day, she quietly slipped out of the herd. This little star was like a runaway leaving home in shorts with scraped knees. She jumped and leaped far, far from her herd. Then suddenly, she was hit with the emptiness and lonesomeness. She began to hum one of the universe's folk songs, one her friends had taught her. She worried about them: how could they stand it, her friends back in the galaxy, spinning their whole lives at the edge of the universe! She was stunned. She didn't want to believe that it was possible for stars to live without dreams. Then she forgot about all of this. About the past, about the future, about everything. The little star had this thought.
The universe is smaller than loneliness,
but it is dreams which are endless.

As she went on, time gathered on her foot like a snowflakes, and turned the exhilarating feeling of travel into something with a more a mystical flavor. The little star discovered hidden valleys. She wandered black holes. She boarded ships of fire and got off on the sea of magnetic winds. She had long been an expert at bringing trouble down upon her head. She was like a threat against herself. The bodies of asteroids were riddled with holes from encounters with meteor showers. They looked like lepers. "Death" said the little star, "I'm going to learn a way to disappear before you ruin me." Then she leaned into the wind whistling from a far away galaxy. Sliding between nebulae, she sang a folk song, a star song.

The universe is also smaller than hope.
But unhappiness seems bigger.

Once, while passing among dead stars, the little star thought of the herd she'd rejected. She thought of her friends, shining bright with joy. She thought of the wizards and soothsayers. If she returned she could lengthen her life and renew the light she was rapidly shedding to the void. But it didn't occur to her even once to return. She didn't mind spilling her light like diamond dust. She created her own environment and destroyed it. She would never be buried in the cemetery of dead stars. When it was necessary, she would turn to ash and scatter herself. Now, of course the Milky way had noticed hundreds of light years ago that the little star was lost. But it had never even considered going down that little goat path that had opened thousands of light years ago and looking for her. She had left to try the impossible.

The universe
Embraced by the eighth color
seems to have become a metaphor

As she passed through the regions of darkness, she was both as close to herself as a firefly and as faraway. Then, she dragged herself to the other end of the universe. Stars are the builders of dreams but now she felt that dreams must build something as well. There must be a utopia for stars, too. But she was being exhausted. She was quickly losing her light. Black holes might swallow her, dead planets could pull her into them. She wandered through dangers you hear only in old people's tales. But she didn't care about any of them. She was alive, mortal and fugitive. That was all.

The universe is also smaller than nothingness, it seems
Enough only to memorize life and death.

Then one light year later, she saw the Earth beneath the torn layers of the ozone. Humans looked like larvae squirming in mud. The little star stared in horror. And right at that moment, her foot was caught on a meteor and she began to slip across the sky. She fell. There was nothing in the universe to grab hold of. The time had come to say farewell to both her light and her self. Then she thought, "What does farewell mean?" It was utterly meaningless. Farewell was the shape of the feeling of falling to Earth. And she continued to slip across the sky. She exerted one final effort to avoid falling into the filth of the earth below, and was saved by a hair.

The universe
Is smaller than an ocean, it seems
On the edges are the sinking sailboats

And as she gave up her flight through the heavens, her last ballad went like this.

I am s falling

s c
t t
e r
i n

s m
f c
a a
l t
t e l
r n i n
g g

Sketches from a "Muslim Country"

Last night, the rain cleared right after the sunset, and the sky was that soggy murky orange color in the west, while dark winter gray above. The streets were already dark, and in the apartment building across from us, a young couple had thrown their curtains open. They've just moved in and they have no furniture except for a chair and a table with a single desk lamp, which was making a pale yellow light that looked warm against the rain snaking down our window pane. The woman was working on her laptop, face blue in the computer light, and suddenly she stood, and they began to dance across their bare parquet floor. It looked like an attempt at a waltz, and the man was clearly instructing her; both were looking down at their feet. She was laughing and shaking her head as if to say, "I can't! I can't". He had a huge bush of curly hair, so I could not see his expression at all. Meanwhile, I was in my own room, curtains also thrown open, dancing around to the Cure. At some point, both of us stopped, looked out the window and caught each other's eyes. They blushed, broke apart, and the girl sat down. I did the same. The man went to the window, propped his head against the pane and looked down at the rainy street. I saw he wore a black heavy metal shirt, though I couldn't quite make out the band.
There's a teacher at school who bears a remarkable resemblance to a squirrel. She flits around the teacher's room, chattering nonstop, singing whatever song I have, at some point in my life, been driven nearly insane by. (Yesterday, for example, she somehow lighted upon Billy Joel's "We Didnt Start the Fire"--a song that drove me up the wall me in college. This morning she comes out with "You Spin Me Right Round" which was the bane of my junior high years.) She has an odd habit of rinsing out her coffee cup in water from the water cooler, and then dumping it out the window. Now we're on the third floor, right above the entrance to the school, so the other day a teacher comes storming up to our department and furiously bangs on the door. (He could simply have opened it, but apparently, he knocked for dramatic effect). Squirrel opens the door to see the biology teacher glaring furiously at her with a soaked head and shirt. "Why in God's name are you throwing water out the window?" "It's clean water!" she says. "Look, it's straight from the water cooler! How can you get wet?" He blinks, trying to process this answer and then storms away muttering, "Good God! What in hell...."

School pictures came out today. My teacher's room of women fretted over their hair and make-up. This photo makes me look fat. This one shows my wrinkles. I have a slightly Mongoloid look. Everyone vows not to buy a year book and to avoid the photographer next year, but then they surround each other. "No, no! You look so good in that picture!" And faces brighten, people change their minds. Everyone buys pictures to distribute to their nearest and dearest. This has been a week of new hairdos, so the pictures rather candidly reveal the results. The 10th grade teacher who streaked her hair feels she looks like a striped cat.

The service bus to school is driven by a very odd woman with bushy blonde hair and a laugh like Dr. Hibbard from the Simpsons. This morning, the literature teacher climbed aboard and the whole bus erupted in a chorus of clucking and cooing. "How is your mother?" "When is the operation?" "How are you holding up?" The teacher nods appreciatively, says everything is okay, and then the driver shouts from the front, "Honey, everything will be okay. You know why?" The teacher looks up and shakes her head' "Why, canim?" "Because I learned this prayer that can cure people." And without any other sort of introduction, she launches into a long incantation that may or may not be from the Quran. Bismillah hayrullah hadullilah... This has the immediate effect of silencing all the babbling in the bus. You could hear an electron circling an atom, it gets so quiet. Everyone is looking at each other as if someone has just let off the biggest fart in history. The driver keeps reciting the prayer, Joker grinned, looking back at us in the mirror and seemingly oblivious of the looks of horror the bus full of women have turned on her. Imagine, Americans, being at a business meeting with a group of power-executive career women and the woman giving the presentation suddenly launching into a chorus of "Jesus Loves Me". Your modern Turkish woman has an allergy to religion of any kind--the mention of the word "God" can give them diseases as quickly as can a breeze from an open window--and here was this woman launching into a full-on spell.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Turkish offering...Türkçe bir yazı

Sorry to anyone reading in English. Here is a piece I wrote for my Turkish teacher. It is about my childhood in Florida. English translation is at the end.

Jeff Gibbs

Mart'ta İstanbul'daki ikinci yılım dolmuş olacak. Buraya geldim geleli pek çok şey gördum. Serüven yaşadım, yeni dostları edindim. Hatta sevgili bile buldum. Çok eğlenerek bu iki yılı geçirdim. Lakin bazen Florida'yı çok düşünüyorum, yani sıla hasreti çekiyorum. Elbette arkadaşlarımı ve ailemi de özlüyorum ama içimde en çok hissettiğim hasret Florida'nın sesleri.Ben çocukken, babam kuzey Florida'da ormanların ortasında gölün kenarında büyük bir evde oturuyordu. Onu ziyaret etmeye gittiğimde, her zaman akşamları balık tutmaya giderdik. Güneş gölün ötesindeki çam ağaçlarının ardında battıktan sonra, gök hala kıpkırmızı bir ışıkla yanarken, biz balık takımı ve olta kamışları alıp,tahta iskeleye çıkardık.

Geç saatlere kadar oradaydık, fakat bir balık bile tutup tutamadığımız hiç umurumuzda olmazdı. O iskelede oturup, balıkları bekleyerek muhabbet etmekten çok zevki alırdık.(Babam annemle çok önce boşlanmıştı. O yüzden, geceler bu kısa zaman içinde birbirimize anlatmak çok şeyimiz olurdu). Birinci özlediğim ses bu gecelerdeki babamın sesi. Onun sesi gayet pesti ki söylediği kelimeler ve konuşmaları tıpkı hafif hafif bir gök gürlemesine benzerdi. O gürul gürul sesiyle benimle astronomi, edebiyat,matematik, memleketimizin tarihi, hatta kızlar bile hakkında konuşurdu. Biz konuşurken arada sırada bir balık kendisini simsiyah sudan fırlatıp, bir şıpırtıyla gecedeki gölünün sessizliği bozuverirdi.

Bütün Florida aynen koskocaman bir bataklık gibi. Yani, her yerde su var, su gelip geçiyor. O yüzden yılan, kaplumbağa, kurbağa, ve meşhur timsahlarımızla dolu. Bilhassa babamın oturduğu gölün etraflarında kadim, dev gibi selvi ağaçları var ve bu ağaçların arasında çiftleşmek isteyen binlerce kurbağa yüzüp, hopluyor. Onlar çok gürültülü ve yüksek sesle vıraklayarak eşlerini büyük bir patırtıyla çağırırlar. Sesleri o kadar yüksektir ki yatak odasının pencerelerini kapatsan bile gürültüsünden uyuyamazsız. Sanki dışarıda bir orkestra varmış gibi duyumsarsınız. Florida'da yüzlerce kurbağa türü vardır. Minicik ağaç kurbağaları, yeşil kurbağalar, kahverengi kurbağalar, kocaman karakurbağalar, benekli panter kurbağalar vesaire, bunların hepsinin sesleri de çok çeşitli. Birinin kanarya gibi öterken bazıları şişman bir adam gibi geğirir. Bazıları tiz bir düdük gibi, bazıları çırçır böceği gibi öter. Davul gibi seslenenleri de var! Hep beraber vıraklarında adeta koskocaman bir kurbağa korosu olurlar. Çok sıcak olunca ritim hızlanır. Hava soğudukça bu ritim daha yavaşlar. Yani kurbağalardan havanın kaç derece olduğunu anlayabilirsiniz!

Florida'nın yazın geceleri çok özel bir zaman. Florida dağlık bir yer değil. Küçücük tepe bile yok. Dümdüz bir ülke olduğu için, her yerden ufuğa kadar görebilirsin. Yazın ufukta sessiz şimşekler çakar geceleri. Doğudan batıya kadar zikzak çizen şimşekler fırlıyor. Hem korkunç hem de güzel, nefes kesici bir şey. Çok çok parlak olduğu halde hiç sesçıkmaz. Biz bu şimşeklere 'ısı şimşeği' diyoruz zira fırtınadan değil, Floridanın gündüz olağan üstü sıcağından yaratılırlar. Tabiattan gelen bizim özel havai fişeklerimiz. Ah, bu sessiz şimşek ve gölün hafif hafif çarpan dalgaları, kurbağaların orkestrası ve babamın sesiyle dolu fevkalade geceler unutmak ne mümkün! Florida hemen hemen tropikal bir bölge olduğu için, doğru dürüst bir kış yaşanmaz. Yıl boyunca her yer yemyeşildir. Bir de kar hiç yağmaz. Tam şubatın ortasında ısı yirmi dereceye ulaşabilir. Kısaca 'dörtmevsim' yaşanmaz burada. Mevsim'le değişen tek bir şey vardır: o da sesler.

Yazları kurbağa sesleri ve gök gürlemesi doldururken sonbaharı da kuş sesleri doldurur. Özellikle gece kuşları. Benim en sevdiğim 'Chuck Will's Widow' adlı kuştur. (Chuck Will adlı adamın duludemek) Ötmesinden bu adı verilmiş. Bu kuş Türkiye'de de bulunan keçisağanın türüymüş. Bu kuşlar ya çam ağaçlarından düşen iğne yaprakların arasına yada bataklık bitkilerinin arasına yuvaların kurarlar, yani yuvarlarını yere yaptıkları için öterken sesleri yerin altından geliyormuş gibi oluyor. Bu kuşun sesi çok acayip. Bazen bir hayaletin inleyişe, bazen de ağlayan bir kadının sesine benziyor. Sisli karanlık ormanın kenarından geçerken çok ürperiyorsun. Başka bir sonbahar kuşu var. Ona da 'Bob White' deniyor çünkü onun ötmesi de 'Bob White' der gibi geliyor. Bu kuş bir bıldırcının türüymüş. Babama göre, eskiden Florida'da genç,güzel bir kız varmış. Bob White'e aşık olmuş ama orada bir cadı yaşıyormuş. Bu cadı kızı kıskandığı için bir kuşa çevirmiş. O kız halen sevgilisinin adını ‘Bob White’ diye kıyamet günüye kadar söyleyecekmiş.

İşte ben bu kırlarda büyüdüm. Ormandan, göllerden başka hiç bir şey yoktu, ama bu göller, ağaçlar kemiklerimde hissedebilirim. Yok, hatta daha kendime yakın. Şimdi dünyanın en coşkun hareketli şehirlerinden birinde yaşıyorum. Her akşam konserler var, oyunlar var, partiler var. Yapacak şey çok. Ama hissedecek şey az. Gittiğim konserleri, turistik yerleri, camileri, hepsini unutacağım, bir gün. Bazılarını zaten unuttum. Ama o 'hiç bir şey olmayan' yer de duyduğum kurbağanın,kuşun, ve özellikle babamın sesi aklımdan, ruhumdan asla silinmeyecek.

Things I Miss
by Jeff Gibbs

This March marked the start of my third year in Istanbul. Since I came here, I have experienced many things. I have had adventures, made new friends, and even found a girlfriend. All in all, I've had quite a fun two years. But sometimes I think longingly of home, of Florida. Of course, I miss my friends and family, but the thing I miss most are Florida's sounds.

When I was a boy, my father lived in a huge house on a lake in the middle of a forest in North Florida. Whenever I went for a visit, we'd go fishing at night. After the sun had set behind the pines on the opposite shore, when the sky was still a flame-red, we'd take our tackle and cane poles and head out to the dock. There, we'd stay until the wee hours, but we didn't really care if we caught anything or not. We had fun simply sitting out and chatting as we waited for something to bite. (My father and mother had divorced long before, so those short nights were our only chance to catch up on everything that had happened since we'd last seen each other). The first sound I miss is my father's voice. It was pretty deep and low, so low that his every word sounded like a faraway roll of thunder. With that rumbling voice, he'd talk to me about literature, math, astronomy, history, and even girls. And as we talked, every once in a while, a fish would hurl itself out of the black water and break the silence with its invisible splash.

Florida is basically one gigantic swamp. There is water everywhere, coming and going and flowing over the ladn. Because of this, there are snakes and turtles and our famous gators. And in particular around my Dad's lake, among the giant cypresses were thousands of tiny frogs, jumping and swimming and trying desperately to mate. They made such a horrendous racket all croaking together, trying to call a mate. It was if there were an orchestra outside. There are hundreds of species of frog in Florida. The tiny tree frog, the green frog, the brown frog, the giant toad, the leopard frog. And their croaks were all different. One of them sounded like a fat man belching, another like a shrill whistle, another like a cricket, another like a thumping bass drum. And when they all croaked together, they formed a humongous frog chorus. When the temperature rose, the rhythm of their croaking sped up. When it got cooler, it slowed down. You could actually tell the temperature from the speed of their voices.

Florida nights are very special. There are no mountains in Florida, not even a hill. Because it's such a flat land, you can see right to the edge of the sky. In the evenings, lightning bolts fly off the horizon. They hurl themselves in a zigzag from east to west. It's a breathtaking sight, both frightening and beautiful. And although it is blindingly bright, it makes no noise. We call this "heat lightning," because it comes not from a storm but from the insanely powerful Florida summer heat. They were our own natural fireworks. Ah, this silent lightning and the soft gulping of the waves and the frog chorus and my father's voice made the nights unforgettable.

Because Florida is a tropical place, there is no proper winter. It is green year round, and snow almost never falls. Sometimes, it stays near 65 degrees for all of February. We don't get the classic four seasons nor their changes, but one thing that does change with the seasons are the sounds.

While summer nights are filled with the sounds of frogs and thunder, the autumn nights are filled with bird song. My favorite one called a Chuck Will's Widow. It got its name from its call. This bird is apparently a relative of the Turkish nightfar. This makes its nest in pine needles or in swamp brush, in other words, on the ground. When it calls, it sounds like its voice comes from under the earth. And it's song is so strange; it sounds like a moaning ghost or softly crying girl. Whenever I'd hear it while passing near a foggy strand of dark forest, I'd get the shivers. There's another bird called the Bob White, because it's song sounds like the word "Bob White." It's a kind of dove. According to my father, in Florida, a long time ago, there lived a beautiful young girl who fell in love with an old cracker cowboy named Bob White. There was a swamp witch who loved him, too, and jealous of the girl, she changed her into a bird. The girl is still calling her lover's names and will do so until Doomsday.

I was raised in these woods. There was nothing in them but forest and lake and tree and swamps, but I feel those forests, lakes, and swamps in my bones. No, they are even close than that. I now live in one of the most colorful, exciting cities in the world. Every night there are parties and concerts and plays. There are thousands of things to do, but almost nothing to feel. I have forgotten all the concerts and plays I've been to while here, but in that nothing place of lake and swamp, the sounds of birds and frogs and fathers will never be erased from my memory.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Paskalya Kutlu Olsun (Happy Easter)

Easter morning in Istanbul: sunny and warm as it hasn't been yet this year. Delal and I went down to Surp Takavor (Saint Takavor), the Armenian church in the center of Kadikoy. I have wanted to come here since first arriving in the city, but since I always used to work weekends, an opportunity never came up.
The curtains close on the altar when we enter. An unseen choir is singing (the music is all the more haunting for being invisible, behind the curtain, the priest sings in a resonant tenor, when his voice rises to its crescendo and holds this aching, long, minor note, it's like something pops at the center of my chest and spreads tingles up over my face. My eyes shut) When the curtain opens, the altar is revealed, decorated in gold and silver and scarlet. Gold candlesticks, gold lamps, gold amulets, silver trim on the portrait of the infant Christ. Mary's arm and Jesus's legs are also silver. A gold sun hangs above them. Everything glitters and sparkles. With the music, it has a strange effect--a sudden revelation of light, a resurrection, a glimpse of the invisible. One of the altar boys smiles and waves toward us--a huge toothy grin. The man next to me--his Baba--waves back with a more subdued flutter of fingers. They prepare Communion. The host is covered in scarlet and gold cloth. The priests robes are scarlet, too.
Outside, they are selling decorated eggs for charity. Everything is written in Armenian and Turkish both. A man at the booth asks Delal her name. When she tells him he says, "Ah, that means 'Beauty of Great Worth.' She is pleasantly surprised. "But," she tells me, "The Kurds and the Armenians have been mixed up with each other for a long time. So, it's normal that we know about each other." He asks me in English where I'm from and smiles when I say Florida. "A very beautiful place!"
Afterwards, we go down to the seashore and play Go. The sea is sapphire blue. The grass and trees luminous green. Delal says, if we ever have a house, we should have a Go table. That sounds nice, a home, an intelligent wife, playing Go in the evenings when it's quiet. The cherry trees are still scattering blossoms everywhere.
On the way home, we stop by an Armenian bakery and I buy a "Paskalya Corek". An Easter pastry. It's a braid of sweet bread with a colored egg in the middle. (I have seen these somewhere in Boston, too).
"The church is so much less stinky than a mosque," Delal says. "Mosques smell like feet."
"If the Christians took off their shoes, churches would smell like feet, too. Plus, they keep spreading the incense."
"You know," I add. "This is the first time I've seen Armenians gathered in a group in Turkey. I kind of got what the Genocide meant. They wanted to murder all those people today...or at least people like we saw today." I thought of the little boy waving at his Dad. In one town in the East, all the boys had their throats slit by the gendarmes.
"The Armenians were such a intelligent people," Delal says. "Turkey lost a lot when it got rid of them. They were a hardworking, industrious people. I remember an old graveyard back home, an Armenian graveyard. On each gravestone was a carving of the dead person's profession. If you were a tailor, there'd be scissors. If you were a carpenter, a hammer and a nail. There were so many of them! They were all massacred there back in the 1800s. But this wasn't a genocide. The Ottomans were just hoping to weaken the Armenians' power. Not get rid of them altogether."
A wind picks up. It's getting cold again as we walk down Bahariyye Street, along the trolley tracks and past the opera house and the ruins of the Greek hamam.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

One of Istanbul's Good Sides

.Tonight, in the warm lights of the Limon Cafe as the rain comes down outside. Outside, raindrops make rings in puddles. I'm playing backgammon with Padraic and losing, but the salep is warm, thick, and cinammony, and the sounds--the murmuring of voices, the click of the tiles, the dolloping rain, is hypnotic.

On the way home, the rain is sluicing over brick and tile. Cats dash out of my way. A dog is looking for a dry place to sleep, and the only non-libatory place open is the old Antique book store, Osmanli Esyalar, where I buy an old picture of the city after rummaging through a mound of antique maps and pictures. Two cats slept on a pile of books on either side of the cash register. Outside again. Rivulets glittering with the lights of bars and cafes and restaurants. On the corner, where the narrow road suddenly turns steeply down to emerge at the mosque is a corner bar, all windows, filled with lone men facing forward and nursing beers. Most of them are young, black hair and black eyes, the rain drops blurring their figures a little, the neon lights extra bright in the rain.