Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rest In Peace, Virtual Friend: Or, What Modern Angst Tastes Like

Recently, a guy I know died.

At least, that's sort of how to say it. This man, who was by all accounts a really good guy, is someone I only "knew" online. So, more of an acquaintance, really, except not even that because I never actually met him.

His real name was Damian (or Damien, the spelling isn't consistent), and he was an Istanbul expat old-timer, here since the mid-80s when apparently Istanbul was some sort of expat English teacher adventure haven, because there weren't many language schools then. For expats plying my particular trade, especially those of us who have been here for the long haul, Istanbul is a very small world. Everyone knows everyone else, or knows of everyone, and of course there's all the shagging. So I know a lot of people who had met Damian. Hell, it's more than likely our paths crossed in real life, but I can't say for sure and it's likely I wouldn't remember it anyway.

I learned he was ill online, from Damian himself. I learned about the progression of his cancer from another friend I've mentioned on here before, a gentleman I've been swapping books with over the last several years, when he stops off in Istanbul on his way from Saudi Arabia to Bulgaria, and who, coincidentally, has also met up with Damian a few times on his travels. Then I learned Damian had died, from a co-worker who know him from back in the day. So that's what I mean by small world.

I never imagined I'd be the sort of person to have fake online friends. For awhile though, most of my interactions with other foreigners seemed to be through the Internet, and mostly though the Turkey jobs forum at Dave's ESL Cafe. At that time, I was the only foreigner in my department, and I was newly married living out in the sticks. I came to think of Dave's as the yabancı forum because that's also how I referred to it to BE. BE was uncomfortable, to say the least, about my having interactions with online yabancıs, but he was even more against my having interactions with real-life yabancıs so him shutting up about the online thing was what he called "compromise."

Whoops, that just started getting ugly and I don't want to talk about it anymore.

I went on the Turkey jobs forum at Dave's ESL Cafe in the first place to post a warning about a previous place of employment who was recruiting for my replacement, a cowboy outfit that's either now out of business or has been through so many names since then it doesn't matter. Damien, a regular on the forum, was the first to reply to my post, something nice along the lines of, “That really sucks, hope things are going better for you now.”

And it was going better in some ways but not in others. But I read around the forum a bit, and there was a nice banter between the regulars around there, plus lots of useful information like where to find bacon or your SSK payments. And there was an ongoing thread about EastEnders that I could always rely on for backstories. Also I had a lot of free time on my hands at work, and apparently everyone else did too. At times, it felt like the forum was the only place where I could speak normal, un-graded, real English with delicious slang and inferences and everything.

Eventually, all the chatty regulars got expelled from Dave's after a wave of heavy-handed moderation in which they were probably trying to stop chattiness and in-groupiness, plus there was an awful lot of talk all over the international jobs forums about schools that completely sucked but which were sponsoring ads on the site. So another good guy from there became David Vincent and started his own international jobs forum and ELT website, to where the Dave's exiles have since migrated.

Forums are interesting. I mean, how people behave on them is interesting. There's nothing like the Internet to bring out someone's closeted asshole so I tend to avoid most forums, especially those dominated by people who revel in their cleverness and erudite sentences, and teenagers, who are like that anyway. On the other hand, a nice forum where people are nice is okay. On Dave's, there was a fellow who was our local asshole type, except after while it became apparent he wasn't really an asshole, just a guy who liked to be one online. He had a bone to pick with a particularly obnoxious school and his incisive disdain for Turkey was a source of amusement for me as I was entering the throes of belated culture shock. This was also all back before I cottoned on to the idea of having a blog, and the forum was where most of my writing ended up. In a way, it served more or less the same purpose.

And I did make actual human friends through the forum. Not only was there my book trading friend, but there was another woman, Yaramaz, who's now in China.

A third woman ended up being one of my dearest friends here. I was lucky enough to get pregnant three months after her, so now we get to be fellow expat intercultural marriage moms of bilingual kids roughly the same age, in addition to all the other great stuff I love about her.

But Damian, I never managed to meet. As an online personality, he came off as kind and intelligently funny. He never really said anything mean about anyone, except maybe some stuff about football and EastEnders. He piped into potential battles to defuse their nastiness. My theory about Internet personalities is that, while someone who comes off as an asshole is either truly an asshole or a closet asshole, someone who comes off as decent is probably decent in real life.

And anyway, anyone who knew Damian in real life says he was lovely, and a wonderful teacher, so apparently there really wasn't any online pretension there.

I knew about his cancer for awhile. It got better, then bad again, then okay, then very, very bad. As it got worse, he went back home. Then my book friend told me how bad it had really gotten, which I'd suspected anyway because Damian had grown silent in Forumland and that wasn't really like him.

And now he's gone, and I'm not really sure how I'm supposed to feel because I never knew him for real. I mean, I know how I feel but I don't know what to call it so I figured I ought to write something about him just to make him a little more real and say goodbye.

Goodbye DMB. You are much missed and I hope Internet vibes somehow can reach the ones we've lost because everyone is saying really nice things about you, and it's not just out of a sense of obligation to the dead.

I also hope you never become a zombie, especially a running one, because that would be really scary.

Rest in Peace.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Doctor Update

A helpful commenter on a very old post pointed me to a useful website for multi-lingual doctors in Istanbul. I figured it deserved a bump.

Good luck!

My luck since that post has improved somewhat with doctors, which could be either because of experience or from relaxing a bit, but I sure have managed to land on a few decent, reasonably-priced ones over the years who are sincerely happy when someone starts requesting alternatives to antibiotics. Turns out a lot of the antibiotics thing is pressure from the customers, I mean patients, who want nothing less than powerful medicine for their money, and will just shop elsewhere if the doc doesn't deliver. It's very last century. The part of the last century before I was born, I mean.

Accordingly, the doctor the in-laws take LE to whenever he has a cough or a sniffle loads him up on at least four kinds of medicine every time. There's always one super-powerful, multi-spectrum antibiotic in there, or other signs of bizarre overkill, like Ventolin for a mild cough or Zyrtec for a stuffy nose. He knows better than to send fretful grandparents home empty-handed. Plus, he always gives LE a lollipop, so it's all good in his book. He loves going to the doctor and all the attention and candy it entails. The medicines pile up in our cupboard because it's the getting them that makes everyone happy, not the using them. I can just give them away, so that's fine.

And it's just possible I've cracked the doctor thing somewhat since I wrote that old post. I humbly offer you these tricks.

Hospital Trick Number One: Unless you really want some serious treatment and lots of tests, avoid hospitals with shiny front foyers that look like hotels. Stick with the middle-of-the-road hospitals that are a couple steps up from state but quite a few steps down from Acibadem or American Hospital. If you have private health insurance, don't mention it until things start looking costly. Despite that one ENT at Medi-Life who wanted to give me the laser surgery for a deviated septum I didn't know I had (he knew I had private health, and my husband wasn't with me, more on that later), other doctors there were fine. In particular, there was one pediatrician who was absolutely thrilled I didn't want to give LE another round of antibiotics for a recurrent ear infection. He ordered a blood test for white blood cell count first. LE didn't care for the finger-pricking, not one bit, not even when he got to have chips afterwards, but at least when the antibiotics were advisable I felt much better about the whole thing because I'd been informed and treated like a relatively intelligent individual. The doctor even thanked me for asking, and said he was fed up with people insisting on antibiotics.

Aren't Pictures Neat?
Which brings me to Hospital Trick Number Two: If you can wait until the weekend or an off-time and you don't need a specialist, try an emergency room. Those docs are usually quite good, and most hospitals are pretty empty. They'll treat you and leave the follow-up in your court. The emergency room isn't always best for babies, as some emergency room docs aren't comfortable with the very little ones (at least they'll tell you though!), but for most grown-ups it's just fine. When I had swine flu, they just gave me a shot of powerful fever reducer (Tylenol wasn't working at that point and the fever was reaching 105F) and sent me on my way with a relaxing cough suppressant I was happy to have. At a middle-of-the-road hospital, a trip to the emergency room plus treatment rarely runs more than 50 TL.

Loving the new Blogger editor for pictures...
Then there's Hospital Trick Number Three: Take your Turkish spouse, or if you're not married, bring an opposite-sex Turk to pretend to be your spouse (preferably someone that's good at negotiating, and make sure ahead of time you're on the same page about tests and stuff). This seems to stop them from going overboard to impress you with their expensive machines that go ping! and also, it helps with the language barrier. I'm not sure why a Turkish spouse seems to be more effective than a Turkish friend at stopping unnecessary costs, but it is.

The language barrier is another problem, which brings me to Hospital Trick Number Four: If a doctor sells him or herself as foreign language-speaking, you can expect to add about 200 TL to the bill because their offices are in parts of town where the parking is a gouge might cost you a day's salary, if you can find any. In any case, a lot of doctors actually speak quite decent English, but they're not very confident about using it. I think one reason is that they're uncomfortable with the way a second language shifts the power balance between doctor and patient. They're used to being the very best of the best, and it's not easy feeling stupid muddling through a foreign language with a native speaker. It isn't just for pedagogical reasons that I refuse to use Turkish with students, so I kind of get that. But if you figure out the doc speaks some English you can at least negotiate the language thing a little by showing yourself as stupid in Turkish and then meet in the middle somewhere.

So there you are, then. Thanks again to the commenter for the link. And while I'm at it, I re-read another comment on there from a doctor taking me to task for saying crappy things about doctors. The longer I've been here, the more I see how right she is, and I'm not sure if it's me that's changed or the world around me (probably a bit of both), but the whole doctor thing seems a helluva lot better than it used to be.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Pure Unbridled Joy

It probably looks a little like this:

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Wildflowers: A Post That's Educational and Stuff

Turkey is home to around 9,000 species of wildflowers, 3,000 of which are native. Many of these flowers can't be found anywhere else on earth. Just in Turkey, there are almost as many wildflower species as in all of Europe combined. Cool, right? Those are some totally useless facts I learned during my illustrious career as an Internet content writer. But it's something about Turkey I think is extremely interesting.

Can you believe these are wildflowers growing near some dormitories?

I'm also enjoying the walks on campus, where spring wildflowers abound. I managed to get in a bunch of pictures before they mowed this past week.

I've always thought of primrose as a houseplant that's been overbred like goldfish and has nothing to do with nature, but it grows all over the place here.

There are as many as 30 species of wild wheat native to Turkey. These plants are kind of like the "original" wheat, ancestors to the food wheat growing all around the world. This makes Turkey one of four gene centers of cultivated plants. Of course, genes from the ancestor plants can now be used to introduce (or re-introduce, I should say) desirable qualities like disease resistance and hardiness to cultivated varieties that have started to lose these qualities.

I'm not a big fan of biotechnology and genetic engineering of food crops, but I still think that's kind of cool.

Most of the grass around campus is what I call meadow grass-- it's really just nice, green, sensible groundcover that doesn't need much tending or water, and I doubt it's ever fertilized because why bother fertilizing what would be weeds on a manicured lawn? Meadow grass is lovely and what makes a weed is highly subjective.

As of 2007, our good and forward-thinking Ministry of Agriculture started allowing the cultivation and sale of GM foods in Turkey. Europe has been pretty strict on the growing and selling these products, but Turkey, unfortunately, has not, and instead has allowed Monsanto (a company that represents, to me, pure evil) to sell Roundup Ready seed such as sugar beets, corn, and cotton as well as many vegetable and feed crops.

Violets aren't particularly special as a wildflower, but they're delightful nonetheless.

A creepy aside to this is a few months ago, I saw the Ministry of Education on the news "informing" everyone that Israel was engaging in some sort of attempt to make Turks weak and sick with their GM crops. "Eh?" I thought. Where did they suppose the Monsanto seeds would be coming from when they let them in? They're only grown in like 5 places on earth, and Israel is the closest. Is there so little communication between ministers? At least that report went a long way towards explaining the state of education here, just as Minister Kavak's comments on gays and TV kissing went a long way towards explaining the government's ability to look after women and families.

Without getting into the evils of Roundup and Roundup Ready food and Monsanto's evil plan to rule the universe with its particular brand of obnoxious evil, I find this deeply disturbing. It's not just the cellular toxicity of Roundup (particularly on fetal cells), but the possibility of wild plants being contaminated by GM seed. Then there's the economic side of it, where Monsanto sends out its evil lawyers to sue farmers who knowingly or unknowingly grow Roundup Ready crops without paying Monsanto.

I put this picture here to lighten the mood a little because Monsanto sucks and these flowers hanging out next to the clover are an adorable opposite of suckiness.

Then I read this whole thing about conservation efforts in Turkey, and it appears some positive steps are being taken. One problem is cyclamen, specifically a rare variety called mirabile. Mirabile bulbs, as well other cyclamen and tulip bulbs, are quite valuable. Naturally, some assholes in so-called developed countries have decided to take advantage of the villagers who wildcraft these bulbs as their livelihood. The way it works is, you keep the villagers in a perpetual state of borderline starvation so they'll go slave away in the forests digging up as many bulbs as possible, by giving them as little money as possible no matter what they dig up-- relatively worthless bulbs as well as the expensive ones. The plant populations become depleted, and some guy in Europe makes a bunch of money and labels the packages with "Grown the Netherlands" or whatever so consumers don't suspect they're buying something unscrupulous.

I think these green petals are a false flower around real ones that haven't bloomed yet. They're like a gentle geometrist's ode to symmetry.

So at least there are some good conservationist people out there teaching the villagers cultivation techniques and sustainable harvest so they'll one day be able to make a bunch of money off the foreign buyers, who very much deserve to be screwed.

And this, in a nutshell, is why we poor liberals will never get it together. The causes are endless, as well as the types of people and places our hearts bleed for. Ecology, in particular, is a mess because it's never a unified cause. Didn't anyone get "The Circle of Life" stuck in their heads after watching "Lion King?" Instead, there's one group of bleeding hearts throwing money at the sea turtles while other is worrying about cyclamen. Then there are all the other folks upset about human rights and women and education and freedom of the press. Then you have to decide if you feel sorrier for the Syrians or the Bahraini Shias or the Haitians or the whole rest of Africa and most of Southeast Asia and who your favorite sad group in Pakistan or Afghanistan is this week, plus the Aral Sea and it never ends. We have a lot to be concerned about.

We have these in Oregon, too. They have soft, fuzzy leaves and can be used to wipe a little boy's nose in a pinch...

Not that people should stop helping women and journalists and villagers and sea turtles and cyclamen. I just think we'd be a lot more successful if we had a nice, simple conservative agenda: God=good, rich people and corporations=good, guns=good. Abortion, queers, communists, terrorists, flag-burners and anything weird or foreign=bad.

When I found this blue stuff by the side of the road, I was all, "Ooh, a fascinating unnaturally blue fungus of some sort!" But when I poked it with a stick, it turned out to be puke. Quite why there's so much puke along the road to the professor housing I'm not sure I want to know. And I definitely don't want to know what this puker had eaten before puking. I'm sure it had something GM in it though...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Signs of Spring?

Not our first daffodil of the season, but the one with the best angle.

I took this picture last week. That unopened green tulip in the foreground is getting ready to bloom now. It has pointy yellow petals with red veins.

Still, I'm not convinced it's almost May. Worst spring ever, since I've been here. I've heard something is amiss with the cemre. I've often wondered what cemre are, but no one is very clear on this. It appears that the cemre are something that fall, and they seem to heat various natural elements in a certain order, but everyone tells you different elements and different orders. If you ask what falls, the answer is "Well, the cemre." So.

Wikipedia is mildly helpful (from the entry "Turkish Folklore"):

End of Winter Cemre

Cemre are three fireballs that come from the heavens to warm earth at the end of each winter. Each cemre warms one aspect of the nature. The first cemre falls to air between February 19-20. The second cemre falls to water between February 26-27. The third cemre falls to ground between 5-6 March.

You see? Wikipedia is helpful because it mentions fireballs. Which means that the thing of cemre is so convoluted that introducing fireballs appears to clarify the issue.

I think the problem is one of language rather than knowledge. I can't get it in Turkish, and most people find it hard to explain in English. It's one of those things people seem to understand so intuitively they can't really give specific reasons, like when I try to explain reduced adjective clauses. It is because it is, and a good explanation is elusive at best. I'm okay with that, especially because I'm not a farmer or some poor kid trying to do the stupid TOEFL.

The real problem this year is that the cemre appear to have fallen out of order, or not warmly enough, or something. I tried really hard to relate to the minimal stuff I already know about How Stuff Works In The World, and the only cemre that makes sense to me is the ground one, maybe in relation to the air one, but the fact that cemre have specific dates on a particular calendar is terribly confusing.

In any case, it's freaking cold and shitty most days this spring and everything is happening late, nature-wise, though things are picking up speed.

In the end, I might be willing to believe the cemre thing because something around here has gone seriously awry.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Channelling MacGyver Again

The other day LE came to me asking for some glue because he wanted to look like Santa Claus. He'd found the cotton on some Christmas decorations we'd made and stuck on the window back in December, which stayed there until last week when I had the windows washed.

I know, I know. Worst mom ever-- it's almost Easter and we've still got the Christmas decorations up. Sue me for neglect already, then please shut up because the voices in my head are quite enough, thank you. It's just that I just couldn't stand to throw LE's Picasso-esque construction paper Santa and Elf into the trash, though they weren't quite worth saving until next year, either.

My ambivalence about a lot of issues is causing our house to fill up with crap I can't quite bring myself to get rid of, from crayon scribbles on torn magazine pages to the stroller and infant seat. Good thing we have a lot of storage.

Anyway, my grown up judgment told me glue probably isn't the best way for a little boy to stick cotton on his face. Turns out toothpaste, however, works a treat!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Istanbul Tourist: A Foray Into The Victorian

Ah, Victorian times-- that unsettling mix of fuss and lust, plus the distinct possibility of ghosts and strange-looking objects we no longer need. It's scary but I can't stop looking.

We had a short break last week. Before it started, I decided I was going to do way better than I did on my last very long break, which mostly entailed a lot of hanging around the house because I was afraid if we left, we would get robbed again.

This time I decided we were going to Do Something. Because it was a budget stay-cation, being Istanbul Tourists seemed the way to go.

Except it was rainy and shitty almost the whole break, causing us to cancel the Trip To The Islands and the Walking Tour Of Sultanahmet. Instead, we went to an exhibition at Sadberk Hanım Museum down the road from our house, and the Pera Palas Hotel.

Sadberk Hanım was nice, and the house itself (one of the Koç family's billions of beautifully appointed summer "cottages") was newly restored and surprisingly un-creepy and not at all haunted-feeling except for one small, strange door. Lots of exquisitely displayed but somewhat mundane stuff. At least it was old-days mundane stuff, which made it cool. And pointing out the exquisite displays is because I've seen lots of museums in Turkey with pretty haphazard displays. The strategy is usually to line up every piece available, with no distinction between the unidentifiable bits of stone and extraordinary antiquities. This was not the case at Sadberk Hanım Museum. There, a coffee cup is a Coffee Cup, and each one seems like it must be the most beautiful, graceful coffee cup in the world.

For every person in the museum (the three of us), there were two to four security guards. There was also a prohibition on taking photos and I chose not disgruntle anyone by taking photos, even though I totally could have gotten away with it because each security guard had his own chair. There was also a nice man who kept finding free stuff to give LE, like posters and slide collections. He was a blessing because LE somehow immediately cottoned on that this was an Educational Cultural Experience. After 5 minutes, he'd already declared he didn't like museums. After 20 minutes, he was trying to extract promises from us that we would never bring him to a museum again. We decided to skip the remaining five floors of archeological treasures. BE was mad because he really wanted to go there.

The reason we'd gone to the museum in the first place was because there was an exhibition of photographs and postcards from the late 19th and early 20th centuries-- well into the fall of the Ottoman Empire, but also in the thrilling early days of photography. By the third display of photos, it was obvious how people had figured out how to pose alluringly or macho-ly, as opposed to sitting still as for a portrait. I expect there were some technological developments involved there as well.

Anyway, it was really good. I love photos of old days people, with their strangely light-colored eyes. LE liked the pictures of kids, court midgets, horses, and dogs. BE liked the pictures of soldiers, even when they were pictures of royalty dressed up as soldiers. I liked the pictures of kids and midgets too, plus the ones of the eunuchs. I started to explain to LE what a eunuch is when he asked, but decided not to go too deeply into it because he's growing increasingly anxious about his sünnet. My approach to sünnet is to not lie about it, so it's pretty much the exact opposite to everyone else's approach around here. Every time we pass a photography store featuring wedding and sünnet photos, he always wants to find the kid dressed up as a sultan and wonders, "Did they cut off a piece of his penis?" Yes, honey, they did. And so it goes. I try to focus on the candy and gifts part.

So that was Sadberk Hanım Museum. The next day, we went to the Pera Palas Hotel. I've been waiting to go to the Pera Palas Hotel almost since I got here, but it's been under extensive renovation this whole time. It was totally worth the wait, and the restoration was not only tasteful, but impeccably done, down to the texture and shades of the fabrics used in the upholstery.

There were also some places in Pera Palas where photos were banned, but other places where it was okay.

This is my most favorite type of floor ever. It's blurry because I freaked out a little at the last moment when the guy in an office way in the background looked up at me, and I was afraid he was going to yell at me for taking a photo. This fantastic floor is just outside some of the nicest toilets I've ever visited, which I needed to do after having the best espresso I've had since Italy.

Here's LE with a lovely banister. We got him to the hotel in fairly good spirits by reassuring him it would be nothing like the museum. Actually, it was a lot like the museum only with hot chocolate.

One really cool thing they had in the Pera Palas Hotel was a real Victorian litter, but it wasn't at a good angle for an iPhone photo. I wonder if a Lady dealing with litter bearers had to be as on her guard as a Lady dealing with taxi drivers? Were there litter stands, with the litters and the bearers all lined up on a corner and a coordinator guy yelling "Buyurun!" where it sounds like "Bee-ron!" and telling people which litter to use? I'll bet, no matter how the litter thing was organized, there was always a fellow nearby with a swinging tea tray.

Another really cool thing was this old elevator, unfortunately no longer in service.

As I looked at the elevator, I fervently hoped this would happen:

But it didn't. Still, it's a pretty nice elevator.

**Open Letter To Tim Curry Moment**

Dear Tim Curry,

I totally have this massive guilt crush on you. Please come to Istanbul post-haste so we can take a picture together in this elevator. Or whatever. The espresso will be on me.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Sorry about that. I have this Tim Curry thing. I hope he doesn't think I'm stalking him now.

After the Pera Palas we went out for greasy chopstick Chinese. LE is truly my boy because I had to fight him for the pot stickers. Then he got ice cream from one of those guys that bangs on the ice cream drums and does ice cream tricks. I couldn't get a video of him being crestfallen over and over when his ice cream disappeared, because a group of large fellows gathered around to watch him being crestfallen, too. It never gets old, trust me. I'm very much looking forward to taking him for tourist ice cream again. It can't go wrong since it always ends with ice cream, no matter how many times the ice cream disappears.

And that was our touristing. I can't wait to do more.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Story of the Taxi Driver Who Treated Me Like A Normal Person

I don't know what made me remember this because it happened a few years ago, but there was this one time an Istanbul taxi driver treated me like a normal person.

This is not to say most taxi drivers are rude or cheeky or whatever. Most of them are nice. Especially since my Turkish has gotten a little bit better, and certainly since I got married, most guys I deal with seem to go out of their way to be perfect gentlemen. It hasn't gone unappreciated. When I first came here, I might as well have been wearing a neon sign that read, "Hi, I'm game!" or "Hi, my money tree harvest has been especially bountiful." But no more. Part of this is to do with not living in Bakırköy anymore, which is a thing in and of itself. Part of it also must be the status shift, the dulling of my Fresh New Yabancı glow, the precipitous glide towards my 40s, and since now I'm usually travelling with an adorable and bilingual little boy, my worst problem with taxi drivers is the occasional surly one.

Still, the interactions with taxi drivers have often felt scripted. It's kind of like I'm a Lady of some sort. The kind who isn't rude to the help, but who knows exactly where the line is between being polite and being friendly. Sometimes I'm the pragmatic enforcer of the line, while other times the driver is. It's weird.

I kind of like hearing their views on life and the universe and everything, and I even find their questions interesting. Taxi drivers can be just about anyone, from anyplace in Turkey or a surrounding country, and from any walk of life. A lot of them have lived all over the place, you'd be surprised. At times, I even enjoy the challenge of deciphering a thick regional accent. Nonetheless, a foreign woman ought to to remain, let's say, guarded with taxi drivers because sometimes the line between, "I'm being friendly" and "Pull over so we can have sex" is a lot finer than one might assume.

All of these things contribute to interactions with taxi drivers feeling less than "normal," whatever normal is though I can still say for sure what "normal" isn't.

So one winter night several years back in the days before LE, I went to the mall to get a giant remote control truck for BE's birthday. I was wearing this huge down coat I have, cut in about the most unflattering way you can imagine (I often hear the word Lundegaard in my mind when I'm wearing it, especially when I wear the hood), but it's the warmest coat ever and it's kind of like leaving the house wearing your nice, warm bed.

Anyway, I hailed a taxi and hoisted the massive box into the back with me and off we went. The driver was a little younger than me, and chatty, and I was feeling ever so pleased he hadn't made a fuss jumping out of the taxi to pick up the box for me. I mean, it's nice they do that but it also makes me feel silly and useless. We chatted about this and that, like normal people do, and it was all well within my vocabulary range to talk about why I'd come here, and whether America is nicer than Turkey or the other way around, and since those were the Bush years I was able to get my surefire laugh with my well-practiced lines about what a murderous idiot Bush was. The taxi driver was addressing me with "sen," and even used a few swear words here and there, all natural like normal people people swear. Since I wasn't getting even the slightest "ick" vibe from him, I just started thinking he must be very young and cosmopolitan to treat a foreign woman like a normal person.

When we got to my house, BE had just arrived home and was in the parking lot. I said, "Oh, there's my husband."

The taxi driver stopped talking and looked absolutely mortified. My hackles immediately went up, thinking I'd misread something horribly.

He jumped out of the cab and made a big fuss getting the box out for me. "I'm so sorry," he said. "I thought you were a man!"

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Zombie Calliou

For LE's much-belated 4th birthday party, I thought it would be really easy to make a Calliou cake. I mean, Calliou's just a round head with simple line-drawn features, right? How hard could it be?

Making Calliou-colored frosting wasn't too hard, but when it came time to put the face on, most of the guests had arrived so I didn't feel like dragging out the cake decorating stuff that I, in fact, do own. Thinking about what MacGuyver might have done in such a situation, I resourcefully poked a hole in the foil top of an unopened tube of Chokokrem.

Drawing Calliou with Chokokrem turned out not to be as easy as I thought it would. Still, the kids were really good sports about pretending it looked like Calliou. It's really funny seeing a bunch of 3-5 year olds humoring a grown up.

Anyway, frosting is frosting, and this was homemade buttercream spread on an instant cake so it all worked out.

Later, LE got into the photo effects app in my iPhone, and Zombie Calliou came to a fitting end.