Friday, April 30, 2010

F*cked Up Movie

The filmstrip. Remember those? In school they'd wheel in the big projector and shut off the lights and you'd watch some sort of educational film about washing your hands or what to if there's a fire or why we shouldn't throw rocks at people's heads or whatever. Filmstrips were there to kill time when we couldn't go out for recess on a rainy day, or maybe because the teacher had grading to do, or whatever on earth grownups did in the old days. Who knows? It was all very mysterious.

For some reason last night, I suddenly remembered this filmstrip they showed us about this kid named Cliff who died because everyone was mean to him. We watched it several times in 6th grade, usually in reaction to someone being driven to tears by everyone else being mean to her. Fortunately for me, the Internet allows us to piece together entire chunks of information from shreds of things you aren't sure if you remember.

It's not the first time I've remembered this movie out of the blue-- I'm pretty sure I wrote a poem about it in college. The movie also contained some version of the rhesus monkey experiment, and showed baby monkeys dying from lack of love. Or lack of food after they played that dirty trick with the wire mother and the flannel mother.

So in this movie, everyone on the bus is being mean to Cliff. Then he steps off the bus and keels over dead for no apparent reason. Then it turns out the reason he died was from loneliness and because everyone is mean to him. There are flashbacks with the kids making fun of him, or teachers that don't pay attention, and his mean stepfather telling him he's an idiot all the time. And then he just dies.

I couldn't find the whole movie, but here's a trailer. As it turns out, it's a cautionary tale courtesy of the LDS.

I know I usually try to be more eloquent, but that's some fucked up shit.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Elevators, Escalators, Doorways, and An Incongruity

One thing I've always had a hard time with here is people's differing notions of how we occupy public spaces. For example, I don't think doorways and stairways are good places to sit and talk with my friends. That's because I have this crazy idea that those are places people need to use to get to other places, and if I stand in one of them looking around blankly, I'm very likely to be in someone's way and annoy them. I also think that if people keep trying to get by me and I find that annoying, I should just find somewhere else to go stand.

But that's just me.

I also was taught at a young age in places like elevators, trains, and buses that when the doors open, the people inside the thing should get out before the people outside the thing get in. It somehow makes the whole embarking/disembarking thing go so much more smoothly. But a lot of folks around Istanbul don't quite see eye to eye on with me on this one either.

Despite the obvious dicomforts, I get a kick out of riding the tram towards Sultanahmet, when it gets so breathlessly crowded you'd better start working your way towards the door two stops before yours if you're to have any chance of getting out. At each stop, there is invariably another horde of people waiting to get on and a few who want to get off. People start clucking that more people are actually going to try to occupy what little remaining air there is. But the people trying to get out have to fight this horde. And there's alwasy a self-appointed door monitor who starts shouting at the people trying to get in that they should wait for people to get off first, instead of bitching at them for being in their way. Many of them stand back respectfully while others plow on because they see no reason for simple courtesies like that when the door could close at any moment. Arguments ensue, die down, and begin again at the next stop.

It's the same on elevators.

On escalators, a surprising number of people don't know how to step on and off of them. They freak out at the worst possible moment and reel back in terror, either gumming up the works at the entrance, or causing everyone behind them to fall either up or down the stairway. I don't know how many times I've nearly been killed on an escalator by a squealing woman who got too scared to get off, or had to walk up backwards because a timid gentleman at the bottom caused the stroller behind him to tip over (oh yeah, some fools bring their strollers on escalators), and then the pandemonium... You can imagine. It's not just villagers either. I found out a couple of weekends ago my in-laws can't do escalators when both of them nearly killed LE and I in some momentary panic about the first step.

LE, by the way, is very good at escalators.

So the other day, BE and I decided we needed some technology. I wanted some cool speakers to attach to the iPhone and the laptop, and we decided it's time we got a printer, plus I needed a flash disk. So we went to Media Markt, a newish electronics superstore telling ourselves we were going to just get a flash disk.

Naturally, that didn't happen so I had to go downstairs to get a cart. Media Markt has three floors and two elevators. One goes to the main floor and the parking garage and the other goes to the main floor and the first floor where they have computer accessories and some games and a whole lot of other electronicky things that I don't know what they do. All the TVs and DVD players and stereos and stuff like that are on the main floor. Places like this are packed on the weekends with folks who've come from far and wide to take a look because they have nothing better to do and it's free to go to an electronics superstore. They're all standing in the middle of aisles getting mad at other people who might like to pass by.

Anyway, I got the cart and went to the elevator to go back up to where BE was carrying a sleeping LE, looking at games and standing near the super-cheap 3-in-1 printer/scanner/photocopier I'd found. In front of the elevator was a large family looking stumped. You see, this elevator only went up. There was one button to push. Finally, they figured it out and we got on. Inside the elevator there were two buttons: one for the floor we were on and one for the floor above. The cleverest guy of the bunch took control of the situation and started repeatedly pushing the button for the floor we were on. It wouldn't light and the doors wouldn't close and the family started getting upset, wondering out loud what on earth was wrong and was it broken? I reached around a few of them and pushed the button that made the elevator go.

The day was saved. But seriously, I couldn't help but wonder what the hell was a whole family of people who don't know how to work an elevator going to do in a warehouse-sized room of full of computer accessories and strange cords?

I got away from them before they completely blocked the area in front of the elevator so I never found out. It's probably better that way.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


In case you're the sort of person who notices such things, I've added a couple of links to dictionaries into the sidebar. That's because I've decided I'm too lazy to translate every single Turkish word I use into English. This is perhaps a bit rude for my non-Turkish-speaking readers, but I've just gotten tired of all the parentheticals. Which probably isn't a word but I don't care. And I also recognize the complete pretentious dorkiness of throwing Turkish words into English sentences, but I've been here too long to care about that either. There just aren't any English words that exactly capture "bakkal." "Corner store" is close but not close enough. Or "soba" (I'm just thinking back to my last post here). "Small coal-burning stove" is just unwieldy, and "brazier" is confusingly out-dated and it sounds much finer than what a soba actually is, plus it sounds like "brassiere."

So. The first dictionary is just your basic Turkish English dictionary. It's a bit weird because a lot of it appears to be copy-pasted from a number of sources, and there isn't always have enough regard for the realities of English (that's the best way I can think of putting it), but it gets the job done and it's the best one online I know of. I even got the free Sesli Sözlük app for my iPhone.

Oh iPhone. How do I love thee?

The other dictionary is super-cool. For turning me on to it, a heartfelt thanks to Bülent, a faithful commenter who takes the time to give additional helpful info and insight and he's never once been rude when I've said things that are wrong or mean. Ekşi Sözlük is user-generated, where people write in their definitions for words and phrases. For Turkish, it's one of neatest things I've ever found, and it's very well-suited to the nature of Turkish and Turkish people.

Of course, every language has its cultural baggage and every word has its contextual issues. You can certainly debate the meanings of words and sayings in English, but one reason I think English is becoming so quickly global is that the language itself is so low-context. You don't have to live in America to get a pretty good idea of what most things mean.

But Turkish, I don't know how people learn it outside of Turkey. Since there are fewer lexical items than in English, each word does its job and then some, with many meanings and slippery nuances that can change completely just because you raise your eyebrow or change your voice a certain way. That's why Ekşi Sözlük works so well (when I can understand it). Instead of getting one person's opinion on what a word means, it's like asking at a party and having everyone tell you what it means, and then they tell you story of its life, and then they all get into a big argument about it. At the end of a long page, I may not know exactly what it means, but instead there is some sort of consensus (or not) about what everyone thinks it means.

Which is all language is anyway, right? Have fun!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ex-Pat Questions

Thanks to Nomad for saving me from having to think up a bunch of posts. This is from his post, "Seven Questions For Expats In Turkey."

Feel free to add your own answers in the comments.

What are a few things you like most about living in Turkey?

I've been mulling over this question for days now. Not counting the days since Nomad first posted-- just the days since I started this post. My problem is everything I think of that I like, there's some big fat downside that begs to be moaned about. For example, I thought of the food culture in Turkey. The food culture is nice, especially in the summer. Long, languid meals outdoors with 40 different dishes and drinks and conversation. Sunday and vacation breakfasts go on for hours-- well into lunch and partway into the afternoon snack and Turkish breakfast food is wonderful. The food alone keeps LE entertained for a long time. There's the people-watching that goes on in a crowded restaurant or the easy comraderie between tables at a picnic place. Sometimes there are passing musicians that you don't even want to pay to go away, and some restaurants round off the night with music and singing and dancing. So that's cool.

But one big fat downside is that for regular, non-celebratory meals in restaurants, there is nothing like dining going on, even in nice restaurants. It all seems very rushed to me, and you have to always keep an eye cocked on your food and glass to make sure they don't disappear before you're done. Few restaurant staff get it that you don't want your main dish when you're only halfway through the appetizers, and I've forgotten that you're supposed to put your napkin in your lap when you sit down-- waiters in restaurants with cloth napkins get all confused because they want to clear away the napkins when people sit.

The other big fat downside is the food culture in people's houses. While I appreciate the enthusiastic hospitality, and I'm amused and maybe slightly annoyed at the insistence to eat more than is humanly possible, I hate the gender division of it all, with the women jumping up and down to fetch things, never having a warm bite themselves while the men sit back and pick their teeth and belch under their breath and don't offer to help. And I don't like these kinds of events that immediately become gender-segregated, with the women in the kitchen sneaking cigarettes (because it's not respectful to smoke in front of the menfolk-- the grown kids have to smoke in the kitchen too) and having inane discussions about illness and miracle herbal cures and which vegetables have been reported in the newspaper to be good for you and why and ways to lose weight. Meanwhile the men get to sprawl in the salon and smoke as much as they want, having water and coffee and tea brought to them by attentive women, talking about cool stuff like things that happen in other countries and politics. Even though I get it that it's totally in the women's comfort level to serve men like that, and I get it that they become horribly upset when the men try to help, I still don't like it. Getting it doesn't mean I'm okay with it, but that's true for a lot of things. Plus, it also pisses me off that I can't drink anything more than a glass or two of white wine when BE's family are around. This includes at my own freaking wedding.

So. I've been rolling over in my mind some things that I like in Turkey that don't bring on something to bitch about. Here they are:

I love Turkish. I love the sound of it and the fluidity and elasticity of it. I love its creepy veneer of mathematically precise regularity that falls apart when it wants to. I love that it's not Turkish without the context and the gestures and the tone of voice. I love how my son speaks Turkish-- he's already doing that identity thing where he's a different person depending on what language he's speaking and in Turkish he's a ham. He's more of a professor in English, probably due to the fact that I'm the only native speaker he hears on a regular basis. I feel bad that I consistently butcher this wonderful language every day, but that's not exactly a downside, is it?

I love it that the newly-opened ekolojik pazar in my neighborhood sells wildcrafted weeds with their other produce. I mean, I'm guessing they don't deliberately cultivate stinging nettle, right? I haven't had the guts to bring nettle home (there are loads of recipes for it on the Internet, with food recipes mostly from Turks) since LE stung his hand on some, but I've brought home all this other stuff that I have no idea what it is. Or rather, I can say "this is a legume of some sort" but that's about it, then I experiment with it. They also sell green garlic. I know about green garlic from my days on the organic farm, when the owners insisted on eating seasonally which meant no garlic once the winter stores ran out. The other apprentices and I discovered garlic growing in the compost heap, or in the grass around the fields from dropped bulbs and seed, and we spent many hours after work hunting for green garlic which is almost as pungent as grown garlic but a little bit different. We carried on like this until one of the apprentices hooked up with a fellow from a nearby farm in a slightly different micro-climate that had garlic earlier than we did. So anyway, last night I mixed ground beef, green garlic and some parsley-like sort of weedy herb, and it tasted exactly like lahmacun topping. That was cool.

I like it that on TV, before commercial breaks they still have the equivalent of "Stay tuned! We'll be right back after these messages." I remember they had that when I was a kid but now they don't, and I don't even remember when they stopped. But I like it that TV is still thought of as some sort of theater here, and the intermissions should be announced. And speaking of TV, there are still lots of Looney Toons here, which have mostly disappeared in the US either due to lack of interest or PC issues. But I've recovered the rare pleasure of Saturday morning cartoons via LE, who's still very impressionable so he likes Looney Toons because I do.

Bakkal deliveries. How cool is that? The other night, LE wanted some milk and we were out and I needed some for dinner. I called the bakkal and the nice kid brought it up within five minutes. Since I couldn't find any small bills (I'd forgotten to warn them to bring change), I told him to put it on our tab. Now that's some old-fashioned goodness I'd only read about in books before coming to Turkey.

Bootleg DVDs. Right now, I'm watching "Sopranos," starting from the first episode. It was on TV here, but I missed a lot of them and they were heavily edited. I'm ever so pleased.

So that's probably enough, though I've surely forgotten some things.

I've just noticed I have all these followers (well, 14, but many of them are people I don't know). So in addition to thanking all of you for bothering to read me, I'll put the question out there: What do you like about the place where you now find yourself?

And I'll deal with Nomad's remaining questions in other posts.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sucu, or the Water Guy

Turkish has some really cool noun endings. One I particularly like is the one you use to make cardinal numbers into ordinal numbers. "Bir" (one) becomes "birinci" (first), "üç" (three) becomes "üçüncü" (third), and so forth. The reason I like this one so much is that you can attach it to "kaç" (how many/how much) to ask someone which floor they live on. "Kaçıncı kat?" translates to something like "What-th floor?" Isn't that cool?

I'm going somewhere with this, I promise. Another great noun ending I like is "-cu," which you change to harmonize with the vowel and groove with the consonant, then use to make a noun into "person who does something related to the noun." It makes the words for lots of jobs, like spice-seller (baharatcı) and repairman (tamirci). It can also make a noun into "someone who really, really likes that noun," as in "şarapçi" (wino) or "tinerci" (glue-sniffer). There's room for some creativity too. For example, BE might call LE "turşucu," meaning that LE really likes pickles and hogs all of them whenever he has a chance (although as I write this I'm getting pre-emptively embarrassed that "turşucu" has a dirty meaning I'm not aware of). "Turşucu" can also mean pickle-seller.

I admit I'm not at all PC by saying things like "water guy" and "repairman," but realistically, I have never seen women in Turkey doing these jobs so I see no need to protect their feelings. I also just think repair-person sounds stupid and asshole-ish. LE is learning this way too, and whenever the doorbell rings he gets all excited and wonders aloud, "This water guy? This bakkal guy? This French fry guy?" (I'm sure I've mentioned before you can have fast food delivered to your house). And actually, he says "Fah-fwy guy," which I think is extraordinarily cute and I'm reminded that I don't gush about my gorgeous, perfect boy nearly enough on this blog. In LE's world, the doorbell usually brings some nice, harried guy delivering something wonderful and interesting to our house and LE gets to give him the money. Delivery guys always like LE, which makes them cool in my book.

So the word for water guy is "sucu." When I used to live in a more city-ish part of Istanbul, water guys walked up and down the streets with their carts calling out "suuuuuuuuucuuuuu," though to be honest I recognized water guys not by the words but the cadence, since it sounds more like, "seeeeeeeeeeeeeeyip." In fact, the only way to differentiate the water guy from the milk guy (sütçü) was the tune of the call. Not that it matters anymore-- I think selling milk on the street has been banned due to some dodgy sanitation issues. But I always thought it was funny they sold water just by going "Water guy! Water guy!" but that's because I would expect someone selling something to extol its virtues rather than simply announce his presence.

So. Our water guy. We've lived in this building for almost 6 years. We chose our water company not on the mere presence of a fellow with a water cart (sadly, our soulless neighborhood lacks cool noisemaking things like street sellers and Ramazan drummers), but based on who managed to get their fridge magnet advertisement and phone number stuck to the metal frame of our door the soonest. This whole time, we've had the same water guy.

Before my readers outside of Turkey start thinking I'm some kind of water snob that has watered delivered, I should mention that in Turkey, the tap water isn't fit to drink. It's not that it'll give you the shits (though that has been known to happen, allegedly), it's that the arsenic content is unsettling high, along with other scary chemicals and heavy metals that we frankly don't need in our lives in tap water form. Plus it tastes like crap and makes everything it touches taste like crap. The in-laws and the cleaner always go on about how great my tea is, like I'm some kind of tea-making wizard even though I rarely use Turkish loose tea in favor of good old Lipton bag-tea. People are faintly chagrined when they see the Lipton-- no wait, I just checked the cupboard and it's not Lipton in there this time but Doğan which is bag tea packaged in a Lipton-like yellow box but the real truth is I don't give a hang what tea it is. Bag tea is easier to deal with and I buy it like twice a year and then I only get whatever's on sale. Anyway, I think the secret to Stranger's Fabulous Comment-Drawing tea is the water, because a lot of people are used to tea made with tap water which tastes like crap and makes everything it touches take like crap.

So whether it's because of the taste (I've tasted yummier swimming pools than the tap water here) or the arsenic or the alleged stomach sickness, pretty much everyone only drinks bottled water. Once or twice a week we get a big bottle of water delivered to our house (they're like the big bottles on office coolers), and we put this pump thingy into it and that's where our drinking and cooking water comes from. And I admit our goldfish are spoiled because they live in bottled water. I read on the Internet that chlorine kills fish. Not that the bottled water keeps ours from dying, but at least I'm not actively killing them with fragrant chlorine and arsenic and god knows what else-- I shudder to think what the poor fish in the Bosporus are drinking, though the clouds of jellyfish seem pretty happy.

As another pointless aside, I never followed up my missing fish post with my discovery of what might have been the solution-- when I cleaned the tank a couple of months back I found a tiny, pinky-toenail sized bit of black speckled white cartilaginous material that could have been a piece of gill . So the mystery went from "Where is the fish?" to "Why on earth did Whitey Ford and Pencil suddenly decide out of the blue to completely cannibalize Fish Who Liked to Hide Under Stuff?" Fish are mysterious and troubling and they don't blink but at least they don't have creepy bird eyes. Except sharks and those scary black fish with lanterns on their heads and gaping mouths full of pointy teeth that live in deep sea chasms with aliens and the Lost City of Atlantis. Anyway.

After almost six years, it occurs to me what a strange tangential relationship I have have with the water guy. He's seen me hungover, or in my jammies, or holding back tears, or dressed to go out, or heavily pregnant, or bouncing a squalling infant, or preventing the grown infant from escaping, or tiptoeing around so as to not to wake said infant. Now LE gets really excited when the water guy comes because he gets to give the money and the empty bottle and take the change which he promptly loses somewhere in the house. The water guy manages to be delighted with LE every time he sees him. LE actually gets all excited when he sees any water guy. He goes, "Bak bak, mama, bak there water guy. That not our water guy." Except instead of water he says "wamu." Isn't that so cute?

Still, I don't know the water guy's name or how old he is or where he's from or his religious persuasion or his football team, yet he's had a weekly snapshot of my and my son's life every week for the last 6 years.

In one way I'm okay with this. Often marriage in Turkey is like a protective bubble that keeps cheeky men from asking a bunch of questions and trying to buddy up with the foreign chick. Not that the water guy is cheeky. He's never been anything but a model of earnestness and politeness. And I do enjoy being relieved of the obligation to find something to chit-chat about every time the water runs out.

Yet the relationship troubles me. I've never even discussed the weather with the water guy. The only deviation in our conversation is to wish one another happy Bayram when the occasions arise. Sometimes we share our ideas on how cute LE is, only because there's no way of avoiding that glaringly obvious topic. But there's a whole class system thing here that I've never really been down with. I, the respectable middle class matron, should never deign to talk weather with our water-delivering servant, and for him to try otherwise would be the height of rudeness. For me to attempt to engage him in conversation would embarrass a nice, earnest kid like our water guy, or be construed as an invitation by a less scrupulous fellow.

But for me to ignore the humanity of this person, I can't stand it.

On the other hand, if I had to talk to him for more than 30 seconds every week I'd probably start considering getting a new water guy. Sometimes an overly chatty service person can be a royal pain because there's no polite way to escape time-consuming conversations with them and you find yourself putting off doing things like getting water because there's too much else to do.

In one neighborhood where I used to live here, before my Turkish was up to the task of ordering water by phone, I would just walk around the block to the water shop with the empty bottle to get new water (not that they would let me carry the full bottle home). Getting water from those guys was like an hour-long affair minimum, with linden tea off their soba in the winter and regular tea (or water!) in the summer. Mostly they just wanted to inquire in a lot of different ways about what American girls were like and how could they go about marrying one of them and get a visa. Fatih with his green eyes and tight bottom might have had a snowball's chance in different circumstances, but Selcuk with the missing teeth not so much so. After a few months, their relatives from the nearby gecekondu started turning up to chat too. Those were the only middle-aged Turkish women I've ever met who swore and talked politics. Though I have to credit those guys with teaching me quite a lot of Turkish (my favorite word they taught me was "arızı" meaning "out of order, as in broken" to describe someone with mental problems-- I've gotten some good mileage from that word), there were a lot of times I'd buy a bottle of water from the bakkal and spirit it home rather than get into it with those two.

In conclusion, I have no conclusion. I'm just putting it out there. Right now I'm watching a movie that takes place in Vegas and it showed a guy walking out of casino into the bright morning sun. It reminded me of a time I was in Reno with my brothers (I grew up in Reno, by the way-- make what you will of that) and we used the $50 my grandmother had given each of us to drink for free all night in Harrah's club. I played nickel slots (they still had those at the time-- I don't know if they still do) while my brothers gambled successfully and yelled at me to get away because seriously, I'm like some kind of freak gambling jinx. I once saw a movie about people like me called "The Cooler," and I often wonder if there are real jobs like that because I'd be good at it. After drinking a skinful, we stumbled out into the dawn light, passing a few tired-looking kids like you always see at the entrance of casinos, having been dumped there by parents who aren't comfortable leaving their little ones in the Lord of the Flies atmosphere of the bigger kids casino arcades. Amid the flashing neon signs you could hear the early morning peeps of birds that nest in the nooks of the buildings. Really. You would think that a casino strip would mean the death of nature but however incongruously, nature manages to survive no matter where it lands.

Not that this last story has to do with anything whatsoever.