Monday, May 30, 2011

Black Vest and White Shirt

‘The months before a wedding are a nightmare,’ a married friend told me at lunch the other day. ‘Finding a house, moving, buying furniture, managing the relatives, invitations and everything else—it’s a hot pit of stress and strain.’

We have one thing taken care of at least. We have decided to stay in Delal’s old apartment out near Çamlica hill. Her uncle repainted it for us this past week and on Saturday, we dropped by to pay him and say thanks. The usual round of tea drinking and chatting ensued. A picture on the wall of her uncle’s parents inspired him into talking about his grandmother, an Armenian who escaped the genocide by hiding among the Kurds. Her name was Makrik.

‘Weeks before the genocide began,’ Delal’s aunt began, her eyes wide with amazement at the story she was about to tell. ‘She had a dream that she was drowning. She saw a man in a white shirt and a black vest reach down in the water and lift her out, saving her. Later, when the soldiers came, everyone in her family was killed. She and her sister escaped by hiding under a pile of corpses. Then they covered themselves in mud and fled down the river, breathing through reeds. Her sister died but his grandmother found our village. She was making a living by sewing for people. Oh, but she could sew! She knocked on the door of his grandfather and there stood the man from her dream. Black vest and white shirt, just like she had seen him. Now he was already married but he told his wife, ‘There’s this girl, an Armenian, very handy with a needle and threat. She is in big trouble.’ His wife said ‘Go bring her here! At least she can help me with all these children and the housework. I can’t manage it alone.’ They married and she converted to Islam. And like that, he had saved her, just like in the dream!’

The friend I was having lunch with is married to a Turkish woman, and when I brought up the topic of the genocide he just kind of shrugged and said, ‘I think it was all just a civil war that got out of hand.’ It’s not the first time I’ve heard a foreigner buy into the Turkish government’s line, but it’s always disappointing. Marrying into a Kurdish family, I don’t really have to worry about any friction over historical matters. Delal’s aunt and uncle say ‘genocide’ rather freely. They’re from the land where it happened. They come from a people (Kurds) enlisted to help in the slaughter, whom, as far as I can tell, don’t have the same squeamishness about admitting what happened and why. Perhaps because the same thing would be attempted to some degree against them. (From the stories I’ve read of the Dersim massacres alone—the piles of bodies, the escapes down river, the excuses made for the killings—the parallels are legion)

A small step was made this past week when an Turkish-Armenian singer, Sibil Pektorosoğlu, had her song broadcast in Armenian. It was a huge first on the national channel. The comments on the newspaper article making the announcement were the usual nationalist claptrap—‘Why are we being so nice to these people?’ one asks. Referring to the celebratory tone of the article ‘Why do we go to them like beggars showering praise over their songs when Turkish singers publish great songs every day?’

Her song is here, and its a bit sugar poppy, but its a huge first in a country where admitting that more than one language exists on native soil sometimes risks a jail sentence or an assassination attempt.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Everyday Morning Walk to Catch My Ride

Thrown against the curb in a sprawl of gray and white feathers was a seagull. Its head turned toward me as I approached, the eyes like glass, but no, not like glass--alive, but reflecting a mind that was utterly alien. A cat batted the tips of its wings, a small little thing. This was just a prelude. There would be others—the streets swarmed with them--and one would certainly kill it. The bird bore the cat, seemingly indifferent, tilting its head up at me as I passed. There was no sign of blood, or injury, or fear. Its feathers were as white and clean as milk. Its beak curved and yellow and as flawless as newly minted plastic.

The sky was a powdery blue and pink--all the warm luxury of summer mornings here. The man at the cheese shop was sweeping the sidewalk. I nodded as I passed.

There is a rhythm to my walk—this white-frocked owner of this cheese shop, the rhythm swishes of his broom, the fat young man waiting for his service bus, the ruins of the Byzantine tower, the smells of poğaca wafting from the bakery, the blue minibus at the light, the doting mother and her little boy waiting for their own service, who wore jackets no matter how hot the weather, the smoking taxi drivers at the four way.

And today the gull.

Death was settling around that bird like snow. It fell slowly, and covered more with each passing second.  The animal waited with the same momentum that had made it circle our rooftops in search of food and fucking. What the hell is the magic word that animated this thing that soon would be a pile of bloody meat, and then bones, and then nothing?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Karabaş Otu

We weave among the weeds, among puffs of pollen yellow and white. A path cuts through the underbrush. In the brush, we gather lavender flowers. Their soapy smell soaks the air and our fingers and our shirts.

‘It’s not regular lavender,’ she says. ‘It’s called ‘Black Headed Lavender’. You boil it to make blue tea, which, everyone on the island tells me is, great for memory.’

The path ends on the red cliffs. There is a red rock stairway in the cliffwall and we zig zag sliding down, back and forth among the thistle and juniper and brine. A green peninsula of grass and rocks just out into the sea back toward the other islands and Istanbul. There’s no garbage yet because the season hasn’t started. We are alone.

A boat teeters against the white sinking sun, the shape of the sail blotted out by light. I take off my shirt, and for the first time in months, feel the touch of ultraviolet on my chest. Every cell tingles and unfolds itself to the sun. She sits beside me. I rest my head on her shoulder—the wool fibers of the sweater hot from the same light that heats the rocks.

‘This is Martha’s Beach. There was a family that used to live in that stone house there, just inside that copse of cedar or pine or whatever. The mother was Lebanese-Armenian, and everyone kind of made fun of her for being Armenian. And she was different in other ways, too. They said she would go swimming here in the nude, do different crazy things. And so they made fun of her, you know, for like a long time until one day, she went out into the water and drowned herself.’

‘And now it’s Martha’s beach.’

‘Now it’s Martha’s Beach forever.’

The shore crackles with waves on white stone streaked with sharp stripes of rust orange. We call out ‘Martha! Martha!’ A seagull sits motionless on a rock in a puddle of light.

‘I wouldn’t say that too loud,’ she says. ‘Martha’s children still live in the house.’

The stone cottage is surrounded by garbage—plastic chips bags, a blue pipe, an armless doll with the eyes burnt white by the sun and sea. Two teenagers are camping beneath a clearing in the pines. They poke sticks in the water and wave as we pass. The boy has a long scruffy dark beard, the girl puffs and puffs of tight curly hair. They wear black concert T-Shirts.

‘In the summer, all sorts of people stay here. They build rock shelters in the trees or wood huts.’

‘And the kids don’t mind?’

‘Those guys?’

‘No. Martha’s kids.’

The path that leads up to the road is guarded by a pony-sized white dog. He is not looking at us, but sniffing the wind, his ears down and his eyes half closed. He belongs here. As we pass, he moves in front of us and leads us up another flight of stone stairs that are now wearing away and crumbling. We slide over pine straw and gravel—hang on to shrubs as we move up. The dog looks back when we struggle.

At the top, he turns back and starts the return descent. Between twig and branch and trunk and shrub, you can see an orange plasmal glitter—the kids have started a fire in the beach.

The wind is cold up here on the hill. It swirls down past the houses, runs along the empty streets and loses itself in the wall of trees that hide the paths to Martha’s Beach. We follow the road down toward houses, past an old monastery, past the almond trees and their pink blossoms and the caretaker’s shack with gourds hanging on strings.

The sun is setting—the city across the water is being swallowed in a pink smog. The sun is spinning down into the horizon and everything is filled with the sound of wind moving through it as if the breaths of the island itself were withdrawing back down into the way we came, into the rock and weed and stone and sea.

I pull her close to me and bury my face in her black hair. She smells of heat and cut lavender and gathering bees. There once was a whole field of lavender, on the opposite side of the world. The girls were just eight then—it was before almost everything. And the swaying purple reached all the way to the low green hills and there was ice cream and a horse for the tourists and a woman in yellow shading her eyes and old friends laughing as they sank deep deep into the flowers and remained there, waiting all this while.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Wedgie Defense




At some random time in the middle of each semester, we have a day called ‘Veli Toplantıs Day, or the meeting with the wali (the original Arabic version of the world—Turkish has no W).

Wali is an interesting word, being the Arabic for ‘enlightened one’—or ‘friend of God who is without fear or sadness’. So, of course, we use it for Parent’s Day—parents, those mystical beings who without fear descend upon the school to demand to know why I have destroyed everything their divine prodigy has struggled to build. Of course, Veli also means ‘guardian’ in Turkish—‘one with authority over the child’--and I guess it is vague enough to cover grandmothers, uncles, lesbian lovers, godfathers, robot maids and whoever else might take care of the wee ones. (Incidentally, in conservative Turkey, no Mehmet has two mommies. It’s far more likely that a non-robotic maid will come in to speak for the parents, though I have confused the two. One girl’s mommy brought in her maid to the meeting, and I was convinced for a while that she cleaned more than the house. But she apparently served more of a Mrs. Garrett role than an Ellen DeGeneres one.)

In any case, the parents of one of my sixth graders came to me toward the end of the day very miffed looking. ‘Our son says he is being harassed at school,’ the father says with controlled rage as the mother nods indignantly behind him. ‘He’s a good boy! He behaves! The others are very naughty, but he follows the rules and does his work.’ More backseat nodding. Their son Efe often echoes the same sentiments in class. ‘But I didn’t do anything! They did it! But that’s not fair!’ Just the other day, I watched Efe slowly rip apart a page in a notebook and then sprinkle it around his desk like sugar on a giant cookie. When I held him after class to clean it up, he said ‘But I didn’t do it!’ ‘I watched you do it,’ I countered, and the debate culminated in a screeching fit, a kicked wall, and a trip to the principal.

‘Look,’ I told the father, ‘Efe’s a good kid. I’m not saying that he’s not. I just want him to learn to take responsibility for his actions:’

‘Well,’ said the father. ‘Taking responsibility is not part of Turkish culture!’ The mother nodded enthusiastically and smirked.

Now this is a sweeping generalization of course, which offended several very responsible Turkish friends that I told it to, but I do see a certain tendency at times, on a general cultural level, to never face up to the havoc one has wreaked and is often standing in the wreckage of—with bloody hands. Let’s take another incident.

Despite having learned that a middle schooler can take any good deed or virtue and twist it into evil, I encouraged one of my seventh grade boys to read. This was—let’s call him Mark. His name is close enough to it and the slant rhyme joke that his class mates torment him with ( Fart Mark, Mart Fart) still works. Mark eagerly takes up literary pursuits and updates me daily on how much fun he is having reading. He has started with the Captain Underpants series, a volume of books I also found amusing when I was reading them with my 5 year old godsons. About one week into Mark’s bibliophilia, I walk into class to find three boys clutching the backs of their trousers and groaning as two more hold another down in the corner of the room. There are screams, shrieks of rage and defiance. ‘Mr. Gibbs make him stop!’

Mark has discovered ‘wedgies’ and shared the knowledge, Prometheus like, with his unlearned friends.

I pull the two boys in the corner off their prey and lift the victim to his feet. He starts to pick his boxers out of his ass.

‘There will be no wedgies in this class!’ I tell them.

‘But we weren’t doing anything!’

‘I suppose his underwear crawled up his butt on their own?’

They stifle giggles.

‘Well he was making fun of us.’

‘I don’t care. That doesn’t mean its okay to torture him like that.’

They point to all the other boys prying out their undies.

‘But look, everyone else was doing it!’

I resist the classic every-one-off a cliff response and say instead, ‘So that means you, by law, have to do it too? That you’ll go to prison or perhaps burn in hell for not giving a wedgie?’

‘Yes. And anyway it’s all Mark’s fault for bringing in that book. He gave us the idea!’

There’s a murderer on trial now using the same defense—I’ll call it the Wedgie Defense. Four years ago he shot Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. His first explanation was ‘I shot the infidel!’ (In other words--he deserved it!) These days, his argument has moved to phase three of the Wedgie Defense. He didn’t really kill Dink. The media did, because the media published articles and broadcast shows that implied Dink was a traitor. ‘I am not guilty,’ he said. ‘The guilty ones are the headlines that made me think Dink was a traitor.’ Arrest those headlines! (This indeed is true enough—one of the things that made Dink a traitor in the eyes of the Turkish media was his suggestion that Atatürk’s adopted daughter, Sabiha Gökçen, was an Armenian herself, orphaned in 1915—by what, no one is saying. Apparently, heroes can only be full blooded Turks.) So you see, Ogün Samast pulled the trigger and then later posed with police in front of a Turkish flag to celebrate the killing—but he didn’t do it. The newspaper headlines did it, because they gave him the idea. This would probably be just something to roll the eyes at if the Dink family wasn’t having so much trouble getting the case prosecuted and if it didn’t look like several state officials were involved in the assassination as well. And that’s where things get sticky.

Dink never publically mentioned the Armenian Genocide—which I am assuming is still a crime of sorts in Turkey (Look at me! I’m a felon!) But his very existence begged the question. The odd thing is the deniers of the Armenian Genocide (felon again!) also use the Wedgie Defense—or at least the first two arguments of it. It never happened, they say. And if it did, they deserved it for fighting with Russians.

Taking responsibility—as an American, who am I to talk? I mean, how much does it mean that President Clinton went to Africa and apologized publically for the slave trade, or that Obama gave a tacit apology for Bush Era exploitation, or that again, Clinton, wrote a letter of apology to the Japanese held in internment camps and sent it accompanied by 20,000 dollar reparations checks? And the letters were pretty explicit as to why it happened—we were racists and failed you as leaders. (Read it here-- These apologies were too little too late in many cases, more political than sincere, and met with disapproval in a lot of segments of society and we do new things to apologize for every day. kind of sets a standard at least. It implies we SHOULD apologize. That these things were wrong. That we should feel bad afterward. Maybe Clinton didn’t feel bad for these things, maybe we should feel bad BEFORE we do things and not do them rather than AFTER, but when the apologies go in the papers and the history books—it says--this is the ideal. Yeah, maybe we are not living up to it, but this is what is right. And it becomes a guide we can refer to when judging our future behavior—not by hiding it or justifying it or denying it or dismissing it as unimportant or crying foul or pointing fingers—but by saying we’re sorry, we were wrong.

In Turkish, as one commentator for the Radikal pointed out, the word used for apologies is much different than the English ‘I am sorry.’ ‘Sorry’ is an adjective—and the only person involved in the sentence is you. The ‘being sorry’ is a quality you benevolently take on. In Turkish the word is özür dilerim. And dilerim can mean ‘I wish’ or ‘I beg of you’, and ‘I beg’ implies a loss of face and honor, a lowering of oneself—as if you are surrending your army to the conqueror. The whole phrase means something like ‘I beg to be excused.’ In other words, you are kneeling and waiting for their ‘özür’ to be lowered onto your penitent head. And so that’s why so many Turks were enraged at the Özür Dilerim campaign that began in 2009 to amass the signatures of people on a petition officially apologizing to Armenians for the ‘Great Disaster’ of 1915. Conservative and ‘Liberal’ alike screamed that it was an affront to Turkish honor (and thousands of people simply signed). And if you are wondering why liberals would be so fascist—well, me, too. The secularists here call themselves ‘liberal’ but they only mean in terms of drinking alot and hating religion, I think—they are the same ones that made me read the Prayer to Ataturk from two entries back and the same ones who were upset that the prayer was not crazy enough. A history teacher said huffily that it was wrong to call him ‘Mustafa Kemal’ because, using a run of the mill name implies he was an ordinary man. He must be called Atatürk!

Anyway, as Turkey confronts its Armenian issue with the Wedgie defense, I tried a new tack on my wedgie givers.

‘Boys,’ I say. ‘Now you know how touchie feelie the counselors are here. I have seen you guys use it to your advantage, exaggerating some silly little incident so that you can sit in the her office and talk about your feelings instead of going to class.’

No one denies this. Smirks all around.

‘So I wonder what would happen if I went into the counselor’s office and put on my best worried face, asked to go to the private room, and then explained that say, Mark, had started touching other boys’ underwear. I would shake my head, say how it had come on suddenly. I would ask if there was perhaps a problem at home, if maybe they were having feelings they weren’t sure how to handle. There would be meetings. People would draw up behavior charts. We would set up times for you to regularly meet with the counselor and talk about your progress. ’

And Mark interrupts, ‘Come on Mr. Gibbs, we’re not closet queens!’

I had asked him to bring in a slang book. I told him it would help him understand The Outsiders (our novel for the term). I thought it would help him improve his colloquial vocabulary. Like I said, middle schoolers can twist everything into something wicked and evil.

Monday, May 2, 2011


I have a good, fairly tightly organized piece coming up about wedgies and genocide, but until then, I would like to offer up this messy bit about May 1st—International Labor Day. This is not a holiday that the average American knows about—which is a bit odd since it started with us. I had somehow associated it with the founding of the Communist Party and Soviet Russia, but it actually commemorates the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago way back in 1886 when police fired on demonstrators who were holding a strike for an eight hour work day. The Turkish left celebrates in a huge way. Today, more than a million people converged on Taksim Square and sang leftish fist pumping marches in Turkish and Kurdish, gave (to my mind) rather longwinded speeches, waved banners written in Turkish, Kurdish, and Armenian, and of course, danced the Halay. I was one of them.

I am not sure I can say Delal comes from a leftist family—but her father is definitely leftist and he brings home the political bacon, thus not going to the May Day celebration would be a bit like my family not celebrating Christmas. The trick is, of course, that it’s been forbidden in Istanbul for quite some time. Last year was the first time in decades marchers were allowed in Taksim—May Day, like most everything else remotely interesting, was made illegal after the coup of 1980.

Our cortege was the BDP—the Peace and Democracy Party which is made up mostly of Kurds. Yes, ‘cortege’. I had no idea what that was either, and yet that’s the word in the Turkish English dictionary for kortej and it baffled everyone why in the hell I couldn’t understand what it was. It’s in the damn dictionary! I am rather left leaning American—far left for a good many of my relatives, and yet in the rest of the world that means I’m slightly right of center and so I am pretty unfamiliar with the jargon of demonstrations. The cortege, if you wallow in decadent capitalist ignorance like I do, is the column you march with. Your comrades. The BDP are new this year because they didn’t exist last year. Before that they were the DTP (The Democratic Society Party), and before that the DEHAP (The Democratic People’s Party) and before that...well you get the idea. The Turkish government has a fun time banning the Kurdish party and making it reshuffle its initials to incorporate under a new name. This year is special though, because, as I explained in the last entry, several of their candidates were banned from the elections a few weeks ago (and reinstated after bloody protests) and the turnout today was meant to be a show of solidarity and strength—the triumph of democracy and all that.

We woke up at eight in the morning. Delal’s grandfather wakes with the sunrise and was impatient with all of us ‘young’uns’ sleeping the day away. He was very excited. When I came out of the shower he’d turned on Roj TV—a Kurdish channel broadcasting out of Denmark--and explained excitedly to me about the post-coup days when the Kurdish language was formally forbidden. ‘Imagine!’ he said. ‘You can’t teach your own children their mother tongue!’ Grandfather had attended last year’s celebrations when Delal and Zelal marched the 81 year old villager up and down the hills on the European side for nearly six hours. While visions of workers of the world uniting danced in the heads of most, sore legs and feet danced in Grandfather’s head. Our ‘You coming with us?’ was met with a wave, a shove out the door, and ‘Have a nice time!’

We had a light breakfast and then hit the street—me; Delal, and her sister Zelal. Down at the wharf we met their cousins Yağmur and Yasemin, along with two of their friends, then took the ferry across the water to the European side. I was just a tiny bit apprehensive. The Turkish May Day has a checkered history. There was a massacre in 1977 where over thirty people died in a stampede. Some blame the police, some the Maoists, some (as always and maybe with a ring of truth) the ‘Deep State’ and CIA. Plus demonstrations just two weeks ago had been met with tear gas bombs (over 200 on Istiklal alone) and water canons, and rightwingers were angry with the Kurds. Moreover, the TV that morning had announced some39,000 security forces deployed around the city. (Before we left, I had asked Delal, with a bit of my smarmy American humor, what we should do if we were hit by tear gas. ‘Rub lemon in your eyes,’ she’d answered with a straight face, then pulled a lemon from the fridge, and put it in my hands.)

The streets around leading up to Taksim were closed to traffic and empty except for Gypsy musicians on the drum and zurna trying to make a buck (or a lira) off the people winging their way up the hill toward the square. We passed through the first police checkpoint—men and women were divided up and frisked. I was patted down by no less than a line of twenty policemen who formed a sort of tunnel of uniformed groping arms and fingers. I felt like I had just finished a little league baseball game and was tagging the other team’s players.

On the other side was a man standing on a barricade holding a fountain pen high in the air, turning it left and right, and clicking the top. Now in Turkey, everybody’s got a conspiracy theory—you can tell a lot about a person by knowing what group they secretly believe is controlling the country—but I couldn’t quite figure out any reason for this man to be clicking a pen in the air except that he was a plain clothes security agent taking not-so-secret photos of the crowd.

There was a huge stage next to the Marmara Hotel (from which shots were fired in ’77)—flags and banners and plankards were everywhere you looked—red and yellow and more red and a couple of blue ones. A gigantic banner of a socialist realist worker with giant arms covered the Ataturk Culture center. The main flag bearers were DİSK (The Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey), who had organized everything (as they had in the 70s) and marched around in smart Che Guevara berets, patrolling the crowd. There was also KESK (The Confederation of Public Workers' Unions)—a Union with affiliates all throughout Europe. The Worker’s March called, I guess, ‘May the 1st’ blasted from every speaker and each band that took the stage lead with that song so that by the end I had memorized it and now cannot drive it out of my head even—I suspect—with a chainsaw lobotomy.

Bİr Mayis! Bir Mayis! Işçinin emekçinin bayramı

Bir Mayıs! Bir Mayıs! Işçinin emekçinin bayramı

Or in Kurdish:

Yek Gulan! Yek Gulan!

Or in English:

The first of May! The first of May! The holiday of workers and laborers!

Granted, the lyrics are not all that poetic but the music is rousing enough. I felt dropped into a socialist rally right out of the 60s. The Proletariat unite!

I must stop for a moment and say something rather personal—Delal was particularly gorgeous today. She chanted and belted out songs and danced and pumped her fist to slogans—this must have been how Woodstock felt—only without the sex and drugs. She was filled with such energy and life and enthusiasm that it made her whole body glow. I felt I had caught a glimpse of her in her early twenties. And her black hair and black eyes were breathtaking—maybe it was something about the long awaited warm weather stirring my blood.

We joined a halay going on in the middle of the square. I don’t quite get the politics of the halay. It’s a folk dance found, in one form or the other, all across Eastern Europe and the Middle East. When I tell my students at the elite richy school, they sneer and smirk and make disparaging comments. It‘s like telling your friends on the Harvard crew club that you do line dancing. I get the impression the dance, like everything else here, marks your politics in some way. People on the left (Kurds, socialists, the intellectual poor, bleeding hearts and artists) dance the halay. Or rather I should say ‘Pull.’ In Turkish, you don’t use the word dans but rather halay çekmek which means ‘pull the Halay’ or even oyun oynamak which means ‘play the game.’

In the middle of our Middle Eastern socialist line dance, we ran into one of my old students (how I will never know, given the two million pushing shouting people thronging every nook and corner) and together we cleared a space and pulled halay like taffy on carnival day.

Engin is Kurdish and an activist and was delighted at my T-shirt which I had bought in Diyarbakır. It has a picture of a dengbej singer on the front with the G and B in caps standing for ‘Gigabyte’ to commemorate the legendary mnemonic powers of these Kurdish story tellers. Engin has just finished starring in Press, a movie about the harassment of reporters from Özgür Gündem (Free Agenda). It’s hitting the international festivals soon, and I highly recommend it. Engin plays Alişan, the young reporter who gets shot in the end (that’s not much of a spoiler—almost no one on the newspaper staff survived the nineties—it’s the whole point of the film).

Engin and I were talking about the strange religious reverence for Ataturk in Turkey. ‘When I was a kid,’ he told me, ‘I remember my preschool teacher telling me that Ataturk lived inside all of us. Well I imagined a tiny little Ataturk clone living in my stomach, so for three days I wouldn’t drink any water because I thought it would drown this Great Man Who Saved Us All and my parents had no idea why I had suddenly gone mad. That’s how deeply these ideas infect you, and how early they start!’

I thought this was a very funny story and not particular indicative of any dangerous idolatry, yet Engin was deadly serious. And of course, to be honest, though this seems like some cute anecdote of how mixed up kids can be, at the same time another friend’s two year old daugther is being taught to memorize her basic shapes which apparently include a circle, a square, a triangle, and Ataturk’s profile (she triumphantly identified the strange shaped blob next to the triangle on her homework paper to the bafflement of her American mother), and, sorry if this offends you and makes you want to shoot me, or insults your whateverishness, but it’s weird. Just profoundly freakishly weird. And as one offended Turk said, ‘You will never understand because you are not a Turk!’ I have to agree-- a cult is often incomprehensible to the people outside the cult.

We ended with a picnic under Galata Tower, the 1st of May March still echoing in my head. I kind of have a special relationship with Labor Day—I was born on it, the first Monday in September in the United States at least (I am not sure my mom ever thought of the pun on ‘labor’—she celebrates by showing me the scars on her stomach that mark the C-section that brought me into the world—‘See, this is what you did to me.’). And despite its rather homely associations with picnics and veterans parades and the opening of football season, it was once a celebration of America’s Worker until our own Red Purges, I suppose, made suspect any sympathy with the working stiff. (In fact in 1949 May 1st was proclaimed rather unsubtly ‘Loyalty Day’) Our US Labor Day commemorates the massacre of demonstrators by Federal troops during the Pullman Strike and was set up by then President Grover Cleaveland to placate the fury of the labor movement. You still get your occasional wacko and foreigner trying to get them some May Day stuff going in America—but like with our system of measures—I am sure they will never get it changed to fit with the rest of the world.