Thursday, May 29, 2008

It's Not Gay!

As June approaches, Turkey is gearing up for the Big Oiled Turk Wrestling Festival. You might notice my ambiguous placement of the word 'big' in the previous sentence, but I stand by it-- both the festival and the Turks who participate in it are big. I've always wanted to attend this festival. Who wouldn't want to watch a bunch of strapping men who've doused themselves in olive oil grappling with one another?

Every year, my husband and I have a conversation that goes something like this:

Him: "The Oil Wrestling Festival is starting."
Me: *snicker*
Him: "It's not gay! Foreigners think everything is gay!"
Me: "*snicker snicker*"
Him (increasingly consternated): "It's not gay! It's an ancient manly tradition blah blah blah..."
Me: *tuning out*

Every year it never fails that the newspaper indignantly reports that some gay-friendly travel agency in Britain is running special package tours to Selcuk for the oil wrestling festivities, and every year there are people scratching their heads wondering why gay foreigners should want to descend on their country to watch the ancient manly wrestling tradition. I've tried to explain this to BE with a clever analogy:

Me: "If Thailand had an ancient traditional festival of oiled women's wrestling, wouldn't you want to go?
Him (warily): "Yeah..."
Me: "So you, as a straight man, would like to watch Thai women douse themselves in oil and wrestle together."
Him (eyes starting to glaze): "Oh yeah..."
Me: "Okay, so if you're gay it means you like men, right? So if someone likes men, wouldn't he like to watch them douse themselves in oil and wrestle together? You see where I'm going with this?"
Him: "Baah! It's not the same thing! In Turkey it's an ancient manly tradition blah blah blah..."
Me: *tuning out*

It's not that I'm being immature or intolerant about homosexuality that I snicker. It's because I know how het up BE is going to get about any implications that there could be anything gay about the Big Oiled Turk Wrestling Festival. He's really easy to tease sometimes. And I find it absolutely hilarious that anyone could fail to see anything gay about this:

Just to be clear, those are leather pants they're wearing. Really, really tight leather pants.

With regards to tolerance of gay people, Turkey is somewhere around 17th century Salem. Okay, so maybe it's not that bad, but it's pretty bad. Of course there are plenty of gay people here, and there are even a few gay bars, but homosexuality is so far underground that 'underground' doesn't even begin to describe it. Think 1950, complete with the bathhouses. Except here, there are thousands of bathhouses with just a few that are understood to be gay, and even some of those are only understood to be gay at certain times. I've known a few straight foreigners who have run into some rather uncomfortable situations in bathhouses because of this tacit Turkish understanding.

Being gay is something that, if you were to come out, you would stand to lose not only your family and your friends, but there's also a good chance you'd be run out of your neighborhood if your neighbors found out, and you could also lose your job. A gay foreign friend of mine actually had it written into his teaching contract that he would be fired if he were found out to be participating in any gay activities. I don't expect this is too uncommon, especially for teachers. Gay is like the Big Bad Wolf. Gay men are considered to be deviant, predatory, and even pedophilic. So it's no wonder they keep their heads down.

Sometimes I think the idea of 'gay' here means something much more than 'someone who is attracted to people of the same sex.' I've actually heard gay Turkish men say things like, 'I'm not gay, I just like to have sex with men sometimes, ' or 'I'm married with kids, so how can liking men make me gay?' A mutual friend of BE's and mine is gay. He's what is considered 'out' here-- everyone knows he's gay except his students, his Turkish co-workers, his bosses, and his family. BE has known him for longer than I have, so naturally I assumed BE knew this guy was gay. I once mentioned it in passing and BE went absolutely ballistic. First he got mad at me for insulting the friend. Then he got mad at the friend for betraying him somehow. Then he got worried the friend would try to make him gay. After a week or so, he calmed down, realizing that he liked this friend very much, and had known him for ages, and the fact that he was gay didn't change much. But BE's way of accepting this all strikes me as odd. He seems to think something like 'My friend is very nice and a good friend, so he can't be gay. He has sex with men which I'd rather not think about, but he isn't gay. Not really gay.'

The feeling of betrayal is something I can understand a little bit. Turkish people are much more physically affectionate than Americans, and Turkish men are extremely affectionate with each other. You will often see men hugging and kissing each other, beyond greetings, I mean. They often kiss in the middle of conversations just to show they liked what the other said. They walk on the street with their arms linked or with their arms over each others' shoulders. And even very old men can often be seen joyfully wrestling and playing together without that testosterone edge that can make the game turn bad at any moment. When I first came here, I kept thinking, 'Wow, what a surprise to see so many openly gay men in a Muslim country!' It turns out I was quite wrong. Men just prefer each others' company. Men and women are rarely friends. Women are for coming home to, but men are for hanging out with. And men need not be ashamed about showing their friends how much they love them. It's refreshing, actually. But at the same time, I can see how a man in this culture might become very, very disturbed if the friend he kisses all the time turned out to be gay. One of BE's fears about our friend was that our friend would think BE was gay because they'd hugged and kissed so many times.

I should point out too that this rabid homophobia seems only to apply to men. Lesbians are off the hook, if not somewhat exotic and interesting. And if you really want to get into it, it seems 'gay' only applies to men who are bottoms. There doesn't seem to be much skulking around being done by the men going to pick up the rent boys who line Taksim Square in the evening, nor for the truck drivers picking up the transvestite prostitutes along the road. I mean, I'm pretty sure the drivers know the prostitutes aren't women-- the full facial stubble is a bit much even for a hirsute race whose females are rather obsessive about plucking and waxing. Even the swearing reflects this negativity about who's on top. In English, we say, 'Fuck you,' which to me seems stripped of any agency. In Turkish it's more like 'I'll fuck you,' or 'I'll fuck your cunt,' (said to both men and women, though I've only heard men saying it to other men) or (one of my favorites) 'I'll fuck your brain.'

And then of course there's Tarkan, the ubiquitous Turkish international pop star.

Don't worry, I'd never heard of him either before I came to Turkey, but I guess he's also big in Eastern Europe. I have it on plausible authority that Tarkan is gay, though I'd worked this out before I heard this bit of gossip from a friend in the States. My friend was like, 'Have you heard of Tarkan?' and I was all, 'Have I heard of Tarkan? How could I not have heard of Tarkan? He's everywhere!' and he was like, 'Because my friend in San Francisco works in the same company with Tarkan's boyfriend. I guess he's supposed to be really famous in Turkey,' and I was all, 'Hee!' But most people in Turkey refuse to hear that Tarkan is gay. To say so earns you the same defensive, knee-jerk denial as mentioning certain other things that Never Happened. Tarkan apparently lives in the US most of the year, probably because the paparazzi don't care about him there and perhaps also so he can be gay in peace. Every summer he stages a glorious return to Turkey with some or another supermodel on his arm, leaking rumors of engagement, and every now and again there are deniable but somewhat compromising photos of him with a man on a boat or a nude beach. But, just as many Turks will vehemently deny that Freddy Mercury was gay, so will they also deny it for Tarkan. Sometimes people might venture that Tarkan is bi, but then they take it back.

I don't expect that homophobia in Turkey is going to change anytime soon. I try to do my best to set people straight (heh) when I can, by calmly informing them that pedophiles are the ones who like children, or that gay parents don't cause their children to become gay, or that 'gay' isn't somehow catching, but I feel my efforts are generally in vain. I've worked really hard on BE too, and even though he doesn't really have an issue with gay people personally, the whole idea still freaks him out. So, just to tease him a little extra when I tell him I've posted about the Big Oiled Turk Wrestling Festival, I'll include some more photos:
It's not gay.No way.
Definitely not.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Pooptastic Poopsplosion*: LE's Worst Poo Ever**

*The title of this post is shamelessly lifted from Bri.

** Note To Readers: This post is all about poo. If you're not the sort of person who deals with someone else's poo several times on a daily basis, you might not care for this one.

Last night, LE had his Worst Public Poo Ever Since Starting Solid Foods. By this, I mean he's never actually exploded poo outside of the house that wasn't harmless and relatively scent-free breastmilk poo. No, indeed. It was a proper poo, with clear evidence of both unchewed raisins and corn. And man, was it stinky.

It wasn't the first poop-splosion of the day, though LE wasn't guilty of the first. We'd gone to visit BE's army friend, his wife, and their three month-old daughter who was born a year to the day after LE. I was holding the baby and chasing LE around their house keeping him out of bottles of bleach and dangling cords when the girl erupted. Her mother and I shared a silent 'Poop or fart?' moment. But because the girl had been carefully dressed in her most adorable outfit complete with pink tights, it had to be a poo, the kind that seems to get worse and worse as the diaper change unfolds, as you discover that not only did it leak a bit from the legs, it also made it up the girl's front and back. And naturally the girl spit up all over just as her dress came off. She had a good laugh about all of this. Her mother and I kind of did too, wondering if anything else was going to come out one or the other end of her.

It's odd the things that become not only mundane but funny when you're around babies a lot.

So after the visit, we went to a restaurant for dinner. LE happily sat in the restaurant's high chair and ate and ate and ate. It's unbelievable what that kid can pack in. It was early so the restaurant was quiet, and waiters started to hover around LE making him giggle and playing with his hair. There was one waiter LE took a particular shine too, and as we were having our coffee, he came to get LE and carry him around for awhile. He let him down on the floor and LE started scampering around squealing, much to the delight of the few diners there, one middle-aged couple and a man with two prostitutes. Prostitutes are another thing one tends to get used to here. Anyway.

I should have known nothing good was in our future because LE was sporting one of his most adorable outfits, a pair of blue plaid overalls. He'd also had a bit of bran for breakfast, and he'd only pooped one other time that day, about eight hours earlier. I went off to the toilets and when I came back, I noticed a telltale wet patch on the side of his leg. 'I think he's stinky,' I said to BE. BE picked him up and sniffed LE's bottom, a habit of mine BE finds quite amusing and has started doing himself, especially when other people are watching. He made a face. 'Ho ha,' he said. In Turkish and in this context, this means, 'He is indeed stinky, and how!' When he set LE down, a little piece of poop dropped out of LE's pants onto the floor (that was the corn), and I discreetly removed it with a napkin and collected his diaper changing stuff. BE asked the waiters where I could change the baby.

Ironically, before the waiter had taken LE away, BE and I had been discussing the lack of changing tables in public places in Turkey, and the business possibilities therein. I had thought of this last year when we took a road trip down south to Akçay, going the long route via Trakya because it was prettier and more interesting. There wasn't a single changing table the entire way, and changing a baby in the back seat of the car is murder on my back. Plus, a lot of the places we stopped at were the rest stops for a lot of the big coaches, and I wondered what mommies travelling by bus do when they don't have a car to change diapers in. Lay the baby on the asphalt? The bathrooms aren't really an option, since they rarely have countertops, let alone ones with enough space for even a newborn, and the floors are usually soaking wet. A few times I changed LE on unused tables in restaurants, but honestly, I'm not really sure I'd want to eat off a table that was being used to change diapers on all day. I'm pretty darned tidy about diaper changing, but judging from the state of public changing tables in the US, lots of other people aren't so fastidious.

I'd already talked myself out of trying to make money by introducing changing tables into the Turkish restaurant owner common consciousness because I figured we'd sell a few before the big restaurant suppliers caught on and started selling them way cheaper. BE wasn't convinced. In any case, this is a really stupid thing here, a country where the government is encouraging people to have at least three kids but where people have been doing this quite well on their own without suggestions from their leaders. People seem to take pride in how much they love kids in Turkey, and what a wonderful place it is to have them. Restaurants like the one we were at encourage people to bring little ones by supplying play areas, either indoor or outdoor, and there are always the sweet waiters who'll carry your kid off for awhile so you can have your coffee in relative peace. But, no changing tables.

The waiter told us I could change LE on the floor in the playroom, which was fine with me. I'm always equipped with a fold-up changing mat. But, oh my goodness, this poo was a mess. Halfway down his legs. Partway up his back. I went through about ten baby wipes before I even got the diaper off. I had to phone BE for backup to ask him to bring the extra change of clothes for LE. Bran, though full of healthy nutrients and fiber, is a bitch to clean off skin because it comes out in virtually the same form it goes in, and each flake is sticky, or else it falls off and sticks someplace else. The playroom had a large window, and I could see waiters walking by and peeking in with disgust on their faces at poor LE all naked and squirming and crying and covered in his own feces under the fluorescent light. I was thinking it was a good thing he charmed everyone so thoroughly before this happened.

After the change was done and LE was looking silly in his spare clothes (I only pack ugly clothes I don't like as spares, since he rarely uses them), he wanted to play on the slide a bit so we did. He immediately forgot about the trauma of the twenty-minute change because there was a slide. Outside the playroom, however, the manger was madly spraying air freshener and giving us dirty looks.

Honestly, a changing table wouldn't have done much in this situation except confine the poop and its odors to the bathroom. But still, even though none of it was my fault and I certainly did my best given the situation, I was so terribly embarrassed. It was almost as if I was the one who had done the poo. And this is probably another taste of what's to come, feeling personally responsible for or embarrassed about the actions of my child (the other time was when a new girl came to our playgroup and LE walked up to her and poked her in the eye), whether he can help it or not. I expect most mothers feel this at one time or another, and it's really hard to know which things are our fault and which are not.

Who knows, LE could end up in a belltower one day with a semi-automatic rifle, and there I'll be on CNN, hiding my face in shame going, "But he was such a nice baby, how could this have happened?"

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Trip To The Park

Parks in Istanbul are few and far between. Nice parks, I mean. There are lots of places called 'parks,' which are in fact miserly patches of hard dirt which may or may not have had grass on it at one time. There may or may not be some sort of play structure, new-ish or in a state of increasing neglect, and this 'park' will invariably be crowded with about 8,000 children, and the ground will be strewn with spit-out sunflower seed shells, cigarette butts, popsicle wrappers and sticks, and other things LE really wants to eat but probably shouldn't. As often as not, a creepy man will be leaned up against something in or near the park. You're never sure if he's there checking out the kids or their mothers.

For our playgroup though, we finally found a decent park. It's huge, clean, and well-maintained. We'd driven by it a bunch of times, but never realized it was a public park because from the outside, it looked much too nice. Real, green grass. Flowers. Relatively empty, at least on weekdays. We figured it was some sort of posh holiday village.

So yesterday we packed up our little ones in a caravan of strollers laden with snacks, and went off to this park. We found a play structure that wasn't too crowded, and let the kids go. The play structure had limited appeal for toddlers because after a few minutes on the swings and a couple of trips down the slide, they lost interest, not being able to climb around on everything. So they started running off. Naturally this pleased us. Running means tired kids who sleep better. LE doesn't even like me when we're outside, since all I seem to do is spoil his fun by not letting him eat things he finds on the ground, and because I keep him off of roadways and away from jagged metal and out of prickly bushes. So I tail him at a polite distance, only there to hold his hand and help him up and down curbs or up and down hills. It's so nice how he stands with his little hand up waiting for me.

Near the play structure was the go-cart course. Both LE and his little friend love watching cars pass by, so that got their attention and, squealing with their arms in the air, they both hurried over to have a look. The mommies followed, and we stayed over near the go-carts and started wrestling in the grass. LE played 'knock Mommy over' while his friend played 'throw grass at Mommy.' Everyone was delighted on this balmy May afternoon.

A security guard approached us. She said, 'Çimler... No! (çimler means 'grass')' We all stared at her. I thought she was talking about LE's friend throwing grass. So I asked her to clarify. It turned out she was telling us we weren't allowed to be on the grass. Miles of clean, green grass as far as you can see, but you're not allowed to be on it. Naturally there are no signs to this effect. My friend told her this and the security guard just shrugged and pointed to the play structure. I said, 'But these are just babies, what are we supposed to do, trap them in there and have them cry all day?' All around us people were walking on the grass, and I pointed out a few of them. Again she just shrugged and started back to her security guard place, where I couldn't help but notice another ten male guards were standing around smoking and drinking tea. Typical. It's just like when you go to the police to get your residence permit renewed-- eight working computers, twelve male cops having tea, and one female cop with a foot-high stack of passports feverishly entering data with one finger while a three-hour line sits outside.

So we decided to leave the grass until she went away. Back in the play structure, there was a little girl about four running around while her mother and two other women made tea and ate. LE headed over to the swings and the girl ran towards him and knocked him over, causing him to bang his head on a metal bar. I said (in English), 'You stupid girl!' and picked up a crying LE to comfort him. The previously over-attentive women had suddenly found something very interesting to stare at in other directions, as they did later on when their girl pushed, hit, and hurt two other toddlers. This is another thing that happens here that drives me mad, when mothers won't discipline their kids, or even apologise when their kids hurt other ones. They just look away and act like they didn't notice. They sure as hell notice, though, if you bawl out one of their kids for hurting yours.

Partway into our picnic a horde of about 200 big kids (perhaps eight or nine years old), probably from some school field trip came swarming up from the seaside road, covering in seconds the play structure, the two neighboring ones, and all of the nearby grass, so we gathered up our food and our little ones and moved on. We noticed a bunch of the kids playing football on the forbidden grass (ironically in front of signs that said 'Please don't play with balls on the grass') while the hapless security guards looked on. The woman guard wasn't among them so it was easy to see why they were unable to do anything about this. We found another play structure that was empty of big kids. LE and his friend found some freshly dug up dirt, so all seemed well.

But then another group of ten or so kids, these ones about twelve or thirteen, came running to the play structure and started going down the slides all at once, ignoring the little kids at the bottom. Fortunately, the park's ample signage was in our favor with a sign that said, 'This park is for children under 10.' One of the mothers went to the big kids' minder and asked if he could please take the kids away because it was too much for the little ones. He said 'They're all nine.' Yeah, nine with breasts and changing voices. Remember my previous post about lying? Anyway. After a few minutes a few minutes he and his rowdy group were driven off by the glares from the mothers and grandmothers holding onto squirming, screeching toddlers who just wanted to play.

LE and my friend's daughter L started to play on the two swings. Another little girl came up and asked whiningly, 'What shall I do?' and then pouted. 'You're going to wait,' I told her. 'But I want to swing,' she whined. 'Well, you have to wait,' I told her. 'These kids got here first, and they're small. You're big and you can wait.' She stuck her lower lip out even farther, then started pushing L in the swing, nicely at first, but then rather roughly. L looked nervous and gripped the chains. I told the girl to take it easy and not push so hard, so she gave the swing a good shove and L decided it wasn't fun anymore and ran off. The girl jumped into the swing and looked at me, waiting for me to push her. LE decided he wanted to be under the swing with the girl in it, so I took him to go push a metal donkey he found very fascinating. That all worked out nicely, as there was another boy who wanted to sit on the donkey and he thought it was wonderful that LE wanted to push him. So at least there was one nice kid at the park yesterday.

And the moral of the story? One, is that parks here suck. For all the fuss Turks make over kids, there is very little public policy devoted to making kids' lives better and few public places that are truly kid-friendly. The public places that are good for kids are woefully overcrowded. The other moral is that I, with a few exceptions, just don't like kids very much, particularly spoiled or undisciplined ones, or kids in large numbers. I suppose these are just things I'll have to get used to. But it doesn't mean I have to like it.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Turkish Food I Don't Like

In the pursuit of still having not much to say, I've settled on the topic of Turkish food. I decided to talk about the food I dislike not because I'm in a slag-off-Turkey mood, but because I like pretty much all the Turkish food I've ever had. To list and describe the food I do like would take too long.

Turks tend to believe that their food is famous the world over as the best food in the world. Periodically, a newspaper makes a claim to this end. On this I have to disagree. I still think Italian is the best, but that's neither here nor there. One thing that happens to me here is that, even though I really like Turkish food, I get really tired of Turkish food all the time. Americans are spoiled this way, in that we can have pretty good food from almost anyplace in the world, often only a phone call away. A few years ago, I remember getting really excited when the McDonald's near us started delivering, because it presented a new way to be lazy. I'm not even a big fan of McDonald's, but that's another thing that happens here-- food like McDonald's or Domino's that tastes pretty much exactly the same no matter where you go starts to be like home-food or comfort food. I ate way more double cheeseburgers than I'm comfortable with in the last trimester of my pregnancy mostly because I was homesick. Then I'd go home and guiltily eat a lot of fruit and raw vegetables to make up for it.

Another note on Turkish food is that there are some foods here that Americans know as Greek food. Baklava and dolmas come to mind offhand. Obviously this is because of a shared cultural history and border and population shifting, and it's probably because we have a lot more Greeks with restaurants in America than Turks that the Greeks have claimed these foods in our minds. But any Turk will adamantly and angrily tell you that every food you ever thought was invented in another country is, in fact, Turkish (and I'll certainly give them dolmas, because dolmak and doldurmak are both Turkish verbs about stuffing and filling). I'm sure the Greeks are just as adamant.

And now, to the list of foods I don't like:

1) İşkembe: This has to be number one because it's one of the most disgusting things I've ever eaten. It's tripe soup. Now, that in itself I don't hold against it, though I'm not a big fan of offal in general. I've had kokoreç (fried, spiced tripe) and it was all right, though the smell is nasty and I wouldn't go out of my way to have more. I've even had the bits of sheep's head on a platter (brain, cheek, and tongue) in more than a few drunken hazes, and while I wouldn't call it yummy (though the cheeks were pretty good), it also wasn't as bad as it sounds. But işkembe is foul. It's like they just boiled the tripe in milky water and served it up. You're supposed to mitigate this boiled tripe taste by loading the soup with garlic, vinegar, salt, and other spices, but that barely helps because the original tripe taste remains, and lingers for another 24 hours in your burps. There is a nice habit here of eating soup (or sheep's head or sheep's head soup) after a night out drinking, so you can always find a 24-hour soup place. I was brave once about the işkembe, but after that, I'll stick with lentil soup. Soup after drinking is sensible. Challenging your friends about how many you can eat of the wickedly hot peppers at the soup place is less sensible, but fun. Being hungover burping garlicky tripe taste is not at all sensible. I don't think it's a coincidence that işkembe and işkence (torture) sound so similar.

2) İğde: Apparently, this fruit is called oleaster in English, which wasn't very helpful for me (though I notice Wikipedia also points out it doesn't taste very good). This is one of the foods in Turkey that falls into the powdery, tasteless family. About the size of an almond, it has a rubbery, papery skin that's hard to chew, with a fuzzy, powdery inside that sucks all the moisture from your mouth, is really hard to get out of there, and has virtually no taste. Perhaps it's one of those things that is sublime fresh from the tree, but the one I ate took two hours before all its traces were gone from my tongue, and it felt kind of itchy, sort of like if you scraped a spoonful of fuzz from a peach and ate it. Other members of the powdery tasteless family include leblebi and another hard, dry, white pea-like thing whose name I don't know. These last two are like the beer nuts of Turkey, in that they're served in bars in small dishes. Leblebi are roasted chick peas. All the moisture and taste have been roasted out of them, and the powder quickly turns to a sticky paste in your mouth that's hard to swallow, even with beer. Many Turks affectionately recall eating sweetened leblebi powder as kids, and frankly, it makes me thankful we had Fun Dip and Pixie Sticks. As for the white pea-like thing, it's so hard it hurts to chew, and it also tastes like nothing. In my mind, leblebi and the pea-like thing are best used as tiny projectiles rather than food.

3) Dut: Mulberries. I always thought mulberries were an imaginary fruit only there for the monkey to chase the weasel around in the song. It turns out they're real. They look like albino blackberries. I don't find them at all exciting. While they're not quite powdery and tasteless, they're not as juicy as they look and the taste is hard to locate. On the subject of food I'd only heard of but never seen before coming to Turkey, purslane falls into this category. I'd read about purslane before, but I'd never seen it. It's pretty good, served here in a nice appetizer of garlic yogurt. I once tried to make a purslane soup recipe (it's similar to cress) from Joy of Cooking, but it failed dismally. I did learn, however, from Joy of Cooking, that purslane was Ghandi's favorite food.

4) Amerikan salatası: I think a translation isn't necessary. This is an appetizer made of cooked-to-death peas, carrots, and potatoes mixed with mayonnaise. There could be some lemon juice in there. That's it. Yuck. Most Turks don't believe me when I tell them we have no such salad in America, at least not that I've ever seen, and America is home to some pretty gross salads, like those involving any combination of Jell-O, marshmallows, and pineapple. I've heard that Amerikan salatası used to be called Russian salad, but they changed the name during the Cold War, and unlike Freedom Fries, this political re-naming stuck. My friend who did her Peace Corps stint in Russia confirmed that this salad can be bought by the vat there, so it's probably true that this salad was originally Russian.

5) Starches: One thing that's great about a Turkish meal, in my opinion, is that no one seems too concerned about having four different kinds of meat in one sitting. Fine with me. Great even. Americans should take heed and just go ahead and do this, because probably most of us secretly want to anyway. Another Turkish habit I'm not keen on though, is having three different starches in one meal. One starch is okay. Even two starches work if one of them is bread and the bread is good. After that it gets silly, with bread on the table, plus fries and rice on your plate. Sometimes it's even fries, rice, and mashed potatoes. After I've admitted my love of the meat thing, I won't be hypocritical and claim my issue with starches is about health-- it isn't. I recognize it's cultural, and just as I used to think it was 'wrong' to have chicken, beef, and lamb in one sitting, I think it's 'wrong' to have all the starch. I just like meat better than rice and bread. And as for bread, the baguette kind you get here is lame. Wonder Bread tastes better. It's like Kleenex. I'm not sure why they adopted this foreign kind of bread when the various traditional pides are great. And I'll never get how one person can eat an entire baguette of this Kleenex bread at every meal. People are always on my case that I don't eat tons of bread, especially when I was pregnant, but I still refuse to accept that plain white bread is anything other than a stomach-filler and certainly not a source of nourishment.

6) Kuru fasuliye: Literally, this means dried beans, but when referring to a prepared food, people are talking about an unpleasant concoction of white beans in oily red water with bits of meat. A similar dish can be made with chick peas (nohut), which isn't good either. Kuru fasuliye is one of those dishes people get really excited about, but which aren't the least bit exciting.

7) Falım: This is a brand of chewing gum BE loves. Falım means 'my fortune,' and each piece of gum has your fortune written on the wrapper. The gum is hard, only slightly sweet, and would taste like it's right out of the rubber tree if not for its faint flavor of something like spumoni. I figure if I want hard gum with no taste, I might as well chew something I find under the seat on the bus, though admittedly that gum doesn't have my fortune on the wrapper.

8) Zeytinyağlı mezeler: Zeytinyağı is 'olive oil,' and mezeler is 'appetizers.' Specifically, this refers to a family of appetizers involving a vegetable that has been cooked so much it's pretty much a mushy, gray cellulose ghost of its former self, which is then served in olive oil and lemon. No matter what the vegetable originally was, it turns out tasting like olive oil and lemon. Not terrible, but not thrilling either, and certainly not worth having more than one at your table because they all taste the same.

9) Ayran: A drink made of water, yogurt, and salt. Okay, I've actually never tried ayran because it looks like milk and I have an issue with milk. I hate milk so much I gag from the smell of it and can make myself nauseous if I think about it for too long. I get the willies having milk on my skin. I don't like drinking out of a glass I know had milk in it once. I don't like touching a cold glass of milk with condensation on the outside caused by milk. And I definitely will not drink anything that has the word 'milk' in its name or that looks anything like milk. Ayran looks just like milk. And it sounds gross anyway.

And that's it. Those are all the foods in Turkey I don't like. I told BE the subject of this post when I asked him how to spell 'iğde.' Naturally, he was immediately indignant that I don't think all Turkish food is the best food in the world, but he felt a little better when I told him I like pretty much every other Turkish food I've had besides these. But each food I've chosen here is near and dear to his heart, and he clucked and gasped in disbelief at me as I listed each one, and then took it all a little personally. That's a funny thing, how much people absolutely love these foods and get really excited about them, even though they're short on taste or unpleasant in texture or downright nauseating like işkembe.

I know I've said negative things about some of the more beloved and sacrosanct Turkish foods. I hope no one finds this post too upsetting. Turks have a way of getting overly upset about surprising things, so fingers crossed I don't find myself getting busted for insulting Turkishness or some such nonsense.

But that's another topic altogether.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I Have Nothing To Say

It's true. I'm out of ideas. The boy has started with these lengthy naps, leaving me all the time in the world for writing posts, and I can't think of a damned thing to write about. So here are some random short things that have been preying on my mind:

1) The other day at the gas station, there was a sudden hullabaloo of guys shouting and running. I looked, and a gas tanker truck was whipping out of the station with a station worker still on top. The driver didn't know he was there. The hullabaloo died down, and BE had a good giggle about it with the guy pumping our gas. It was funny, but I was also afraid the tanker was headed for the freeway with the guy on top. I watched for a few minutes, and pretty soon the guy from the top of the truck came back. He was swaggering and grinning and looking around waiting for everyone to give him a triumphant welcome, but everyone had forgotten him by then. He slunk off into an office. I should say something snide here about the Turkish attention span. I guess I just did.

2) I continue to be uncomfortable leaving LE with the MIL for babysitting. She's just too scatterbrained. Really, I would love to leave him with someone every now and again, but BE thinks I won't leave him with MIL because I don't like her and that I'm just martyring myself to this end (he also refuses to get a sitter, as MIL would get wind of it and get her nose all out of joint). This weekend at their house, LE followed her into the kitchen. After a few moments I heard silence from the kitchen, and the sound of clinking teacups. This was not good. When MIL is silent around LE, it means she's not looking at him, because when she's looking at him, there is a stream of bone-hurting, high-pitched baby talk coming from her mouth. And when LE is silent, it usually means he's up to no good. I couldn't stand it and went to the kitchen to peek. MIL was preparing a tea tray and LE was happily unloading the contents of the lentil-rice-beans cupboard. When I walked in, he had just picked up a giant glass jar of sugar cubes and was preparing to to hurl it to the ground in front of him. I jumped at him, which made MIL jump at him screeching, and in her panic she tripped and almost fell on him. Without a word, I picked him up and took him from the kitchen. BE saw the dark look on my face, but refused to accept this event as evidence that his mother doesn't keep a good eye on the baby.

3) Turkish people have this thing about kids and jealousy. I don't care for it. Whenever a bigger kid gets a new sibling, or is around a smaller kid, everyone starts going, 'He's jealous, he's jealous,' and attributes everything the bigger kid does to jealousy. I think that even if the bigger kid wasn't jealous to begin with, he's sure to become jealous because everyone is saying so, especially because he will soon realize that all bad behavior is sanctioned by his being jealous. MIL's neighbor has a new baby and an 18-month old boy. This boy now appears to be very disliked by all because he is very 'bad' due to his extreme jealousy. One very 'bad' thing he did was when his mother accidentally fell asleep with the baby in his basket and the toddler on the loose. The toddler went to the baby, gave him his bottle, and unzipped his pajamas. His mother awoke to the toddler rocking the baby in his basket. 'It was a disaster,' said my MIL. 'D is very bad because he's jealous.' Which is weird because it seemed to me the toddler was just being curious and doing some nurturing things to the baby that he'd seen his mother doing. Poor bad D came over while we were there. He and LE started pushing each other and giggling. MIL screamed at D so loud for pushing that LE's lip trembled as he got ready to cry. They started pushing each other again. LE fell over giggling and MIL yanked D away, telling him how naughty he was and telling everyone else how jealous he was. Then D banged the hell out of his head on the table, and looked around for a reaction, ready to cry. I asked him if he was okay and kissed his head. MIL said, 'Oh, he's used to it. He's very bad, the little thug.' Seconds later, LE lightly bumped the side of his head on the sofa and she scurried over, swooped him up, smothered him with kisses and sympathy, and started hitting the sofa, telling LE the sofa was very bad for hurting him. Just in case D wasn't feeling jealous enough yet...

4) LE has invented a little game in which he comes up to you like he wants to be held, then runs away. It's a very good game. This morning we were playing it, and he fell and bashed his face on the edge of the credenza, splitting his lip. Poor guy. It's the worst thing ever when the kid is giggling and squealing with pure baby joy and then hurts himself. His sweet little lip looks like a grape, plus there's a red line of a forming bruise from his nose to his chin.

5) The weather's cleared up today but I'm afraid to leave the house. One reason is because my key has randomly stopped working in the door. BE came home and rescued me yesterday (he'd just dropped us off). There's a good chance I was turning the key the wrong way. I've been known to be an idiot like that. The other reason I'm afraid to leave the house is that two people have gotten trapped in the elevator in the last twelve hours. I can hear them ringing the bell and shouting helplessly. I sure as hell don't want to be the third person trapped in there, with LE and the stroller, and with my luck, having to pee. But I'm also unwilling to climb seven flights of stairs with the baby, even if I leave the stroller in the foyer. So at the moment I'm balancing this fear with my guilt about LE not having gotten to go outside since Sunday (it was raining yesterday) and my desire to have him sleep better at night after having had a good run during the day.

A lot of words about nothing. I am fomenting a couple of weightier posts, and debating fomenting a third. Until then, it's back to this great time-wasting game I've discovered.