Friday, March 4, 2011

Neither here nor there

One of the things that seems to fascinate people the most about İstanbul is the idea of it straddling 2 continents. Some of the spark for the interest is probably the whole 'East meets West' thing, a supposed dichotomy that I honestly don't understand (don't get me started on the cultural similarities for me of tea houses and pubs...) but which is rather nice sounding and does definitely help sell the place to visitors.

But the main factor has surely got to be the sheer geographical uniqueness of the place. This is famously the only city in the world that sprawls across 2 continents. (Having said that, there's got to be a lot of other places in the world where there's people living on the continental edge. I mean, where does continental Europe stop being Europe and turn into Asia? Dollars to doughnuts there's a russian town or several lurking about the divide.)

But anyhow here the feature does rather stick in the mind. Perhaps it's having water, a proper sea channel at that, as the dividing line - the fact that you actually have to leave one side and cross something to get across. Accordingly I have read multiple guidebooks, visitors accounts, and first-few-weeks-of-posting expat blogs where folk wax lyrical about the unique experience of popping over to asia on the ferry.

But there's a fair few misconceptions about all this too. First, that it's anything other than a geographical boundary - it ain't. I remember my mum asking S before I came out here if you had to show your passport when you cross. S found the question highly amusing, grinning out a 'no, why on earth would you?' reply. It didn't strike me as that stupid a question, but I'd probably react similarly now - it is purely a matter of soil and sea; Europe to Asia is administratively no different to crossing between Essex and Kent on the Dartford crossing. [It also by the way has the similarity of those funky car reading jobbies that mean it just bleeps and takes money off a card, rather than having to slow down, pay your pennies, and shout happy birthday* to the guy in the booth like you used to in the good old days. Except with the difference that the fact that you don't need to slow down to stopping speed is read by most traffic as not needing to slow down at all, which means bombing it through the car-plus-20cm-wriggle-room toll booth bit at about 80kmph. (Not to belabour the point about turkish driving, or anything...)

*I'm not sure anyone from my family reads this blog, so this doesn't make sense to anyone, so has failed as a small circulation blog in joke. So, basically, family (on the Y side) tradition was that we always shouted happy birthday in joyous unison to the poll booth guy, on the grounds that occasionally it would be. Cool, lame, only you can decide.]

The other thing that goes very quickly is the wonder factor. Yes, the first boat across, in summer tourism sunshine, with a fresh çay and amidst the screaming seagulls is indeed lovely. And the first road crossing via one of the Big Fucking Bridges (engineering horn) is pretty spectacular in the sight and the scope of the transit.

But joining one of the rammed commuter boats and not being able to get a seat on a grey day post work is nothing special; and joining a 40 minute tailback for the priviledge of travelling your first 1k of a 15k city circuit trip to get home last thing at night is also considerably less exciting.

Lastly there's the presumption that the 2 İstanbul sides are noticeably different. I suppose there is some truth in this one; in that of course different areas of a city differ and some are going to be on one side, some on the other. So the historic peninsula, the young and trendy party central west end equivalent, and some of the main business districts are on the European side. The other side doesn't have these areas, and as a result has a reputation for being a bit more conservative. And this sort of thing, with the sort of people it attracts as residents, does lend those areas some sort of coherent character.

But the main warp and weave of the city is the same wherever - the same cafes, buffets, minarets, high fashion glass fronted shops, knackered tea houses, food hawkers, traffic, markets, noise...same fish swimming through the same seas meeting in the middle.

Maybe its on a par with the North South divide in London. A distinction without much of a difference, but still strangely important to some.

Certainly for my occasional expat drinking buddies its a standing joke that the 'asian siders' (this itself is a misnomer - nobody talks about the asian side in turkish, it's the 'anatolian continent') leave the pub early whereas the europeans stay out drinking to all hours. This also is not entirely inaccurate - but likely more related to the fact most of the drinking goes on on the western half, and the aforementioned sheer hassle of getting back across.

Anyway. All this is pre-amble to my musings a couple of nights ago, on whether it's apt or not that I seem to have fallen between the two stools on this, living as I do on an island somewhere in the middle.

I was sat on the ferry, for my gazillionth hour of ploughing a course between one side and the other, and whilst staring out the window at the 2 sides with still only the start of an appreciation of what I was looking at, I realised I can't really say like any of it feels like mine.

Plenty of people wax lyrical about İstanbul, how they fall in love with the city as much as anything else about turkish life or culture or people. And, well, I'm *fond* - but I don't think I can say that I'm in love. It is a crush, maybe, borne out of a lot of staring from a distance, but with little in the way of actual contact. And, well, too much of that sort of thing gets a bit tired after a while.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

And all that *dancing*

To quote young Miss JRME, who herself was quoting the wonderful Bernard Black. (Who, by the way, S is convinced is a long lost relative of hers. I am not unconvinced.)

I went to a kına gecesi - henna night - the other day. This is a pre-marriage traditional hen-night sort of effort, for the bride and her friends and family, whereby they do traditional things, for interesting reasons, including but not limited to something-or-other with henna, and attempting to make the bride-to-be cry. Anyway I would tell you more about it if I could, but I'm really not that sort of amateur cultural anthropologist ex-pat, and anyway this really is not that sort of blog.

It was the sister of the family that runs one of the key cafes on the island, held in and outside the cafe, so basically half the town was invited or otherwise flitting in and out. (Think an engagement party at the Queen Vic for one of the Mitchells; only with less screeching.) It was a relatively modern/relaxed version I think, which means mixed sexes and DJs - and dancing.

Which is what I wanted to tell you about.

There is A LOT of dancing here. Given a dancefloor, or not as the case may be, people will quite happily break out into spontaneous dancing.

And not just any dancing, it's a proper set of dances to which everybody knows the steps. Check out the co-ordinated blurs of the bride to be and her brothers below, for example. (Crikey that's some unintentional alliteration for you.)

It struck me as slightly bizarre the first few times I saw it, but more than a little charming. I haven't actually asked anyone where this knowledge comes from (being not that sort of ex-pat...) but I assume it's something that is just picked up in childhood. Which, ok, but we would have been taught the English equivalent when we were wee. But can you imagine a set of us on a night out stopping for a bit of country dancng? Not likely.

Anyway. The other thing about this habit that struck me, is that very often it's the boys who get up and shake their bootys, not the girls. Plus, girls don't really seem to come into why they're doing it either - it seems very much to be for the simple joy of dancing, or sometimes for impressing their mates. I hesitate about saying this, but, well, that part does come across a little bit gay. (I mean that as a compliment, by the way - again, can you imagine Ben Sherman Shirt Man getting together with his mates, holding hands, and dancing in perfect co-ordination?)

Anyway. I don't usually partake, having three left feet at the best of times and without the requisite childhood training. Instead I usually skulk about the edges, on this night drinking beer shiftily out of a plastic cup like the cultureless reprobate I am.

At least I had company in wallflower status - the chap on the right is one of the island stalwarts and unofficial convener of the Friday Night Commuter Boat Al Fresco Drinking Society. A good bloke, and likewise not one of life's born dancers.

Anyway, whatever. In other news, I'm probably going to quit my job in April, spend May doing another qualification before they strip me of all my geek points, with a view to finding something a bit less evil and hopefully actually groooooovy, man, towards the end of June. Which a) frees me up to attend the glut of weddings which are being held in the countries of the participants rather than in turkey (the inconsiderate bastards) and b) also means I could be available for hosting duty should it be required.

So who fancies a holiday to Turkey in May then?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Turkey Top Ten

I was going to do this before Christmas in the spirit of 'Best X of the Year' lists, but it appears I haven't got round to it. So I'm going to re-brand it an 'I've been here a year, and this is what one year's experience looks like' list. (I'm late for that, too, but only by a couple of weeks, and anyway you don't know that. Erm...)

So here, for the benefit of I don't know exactly who as y'all got force-fed most of this I'm sure in Christmas catch-ups anyway, is my Two Thousand and Ten Turkey Top Ten; those things I have or notably have not been able to get used to over the past year. (I'm not mentioning beer in the second category, as that's just shooting fish in a lovely, delicious, beery barrel of beer, plus I didn't get a chance to buy beer and cider on the way home which I was going to and is a source of some grief to me, so it's a sore subject.)

1. Breakfast as the main meal of the day

Admittedly for me, not on a weekday, and also admittedly, it's generally gone lunchtime before we actually get round to eating it on the weekend. But honestly, turkish breakfast is the way forward and I am a 100% convert. Being bits and bobs of mostly unheated deliciousness, it also lends itself to a leisurely grazing whilst you read the papers. A fry-up is a fine thing indeed, but congealed egg and cold beans is not quite the thing an hour or so later, whereas a selection of cheeses, olives, cucumbers and tomatoes, all of which actually taste of themselves, is the breakfast that keeps on giving.

Speaking of which,

2. Nice produce

Fruit and vegetables and food in general is very, very nice. And it may sound like a tautology, but yeah the shock of food actually tasting like it should do - this tomato tastes like tomato! Not like watered down bizarro out of season half-version of itself! ALSO, they do in season food in a big way and not out of season food, which probably earns me smug food miles points (completely inadvertently, if I'm honest. Apparently pears are in season now. Who knew?), but more importantly means that what you're buying is generally fresh and nice and how god meant it to be.

And so most turkish food, which is in mediterranean style pretty much just this nice produce cooked well, as a result, is also splendid.


3. Lack of 'nice' processed junk/food variety know, sometimes you just want a tin of Heinz tomato soup and be done with it. Processed food here, because the fresh food is so nice, is generally dire, but sometimes I really do miss it. Specially when at a low-ebb - when I get the lurgy my lucozade and ribena cravings hit the roof, and sometimes at the end of a particularly turkish day I want to come home and just whack on some foul microwaved lasagne or tikka masala. For shame.

4. Talking to randoms/kindness of strangers

Talking in the loosest sense of the word in my case. But still. I've already mentioned this, but it bears repeating - people here really do just chat, and really do volunteer help and advice to strangers without a second thought. (I think this probably does happen in the UK, but I'm not convinced often in settlements with a population over a 1000 or in age groups under 60.)

Got somewhat of a shock when I was back in UK for Christmas, imagine my joy at being able to ask someone what was going on with the weather with a breezy throw-away delivery; or to ask for directions without worrying that I was inadvertently asking them for a recipe. (Same word in turkish. I think. I *think*, but am never quite sure at the crucial moment.)

Of course, got a succession of blank looks, a 'why are you asking me don't you have a phone can't you just look it up on there, weirdo' sort of incomprehension at being asked in the first place, followed by a don't know, or briefest opinion possible.

In Turkey people would be falling over to tell you, the person next to them who you didn't even ask would chip in, if they wanted clarity they'd yell over to the next shop/vendor of choice to gauge their opinion, and all would be delivered with a sunny expression and genuinely felt eagerness to help.

Of course, half the time they'd be wrong, but that's not the point. This is possibly another sign I've been here a while, the fact I'm valuing manner over accuracy. ;-)

5. Cheek kissing/social niceties

A pain in the arse facet of the social side of things though is that there is a bewildering array of social niceties to be observed, half of them bound up with concepts of family, seniority, respect, and history. Which I think needs to be something you've grown up with, and I haven't, and I can't for the life of me get my head round it all.

When you meet, and generally on leaving too, it's the full double cheek kiss. Which, ok, do you actually kiss or air-kiss, for starters. Second, if you have 2 people wearing glasses (or a peaked cap, which is not as unusual as it sounds in my life) inevitably they bump if not actually come off in the act, which is awkward as all get out.

Then there's the fact the language has a tu/vous divide, which I *can't* get my head round - ok, so you are senior to me in age/societal role, so you are a Polite. But I know you, so you are Familiar. Or, you're noticeably younger than me, so you are Familiar, but I don't know you from adam, so you are Polite. It's a bloody nightmare, particularly working out on the hoof what it's supposed to be when I'm just trying to say goodbye, and as a result lingering on the threshold with a dumb look on my face for longer than is strictly necessary, which probably they interpret as me not being sure if I need a pee before I go and if it would be rude to ask.

ALSO, the very odd tendency of rarely actually just using someone's name. People's names always seem to be post-fixed with something - if you're being polite, there's a sort of Sir/Madam that you glue on the end of the name to show respect. Or if you're being familiar, you can similarly whack on a particle which sort of translates as 'my little'. (Make sure you use the right tone of voice with this though, or it can be patronising.) Or if you don't know someone, there's a range of familials you can use - brother or sister (but don't use these if they're not that young, they might think they're being disrespected), or aunt or uncle (but don't use these if they're not quite senior enough, you might be calling someone old/past it. Oh and for gods sake don't use paternal aunt when you meant maternal one, what a mistake)...and so on and so on.


6. The Turkish Queue

And all this politeness in a society where a queue is more semi-circular than it is linear, and with a set of queuing behaviour which, well, you know I'm going to stop calling it a queue before I get hauled in by trading standards, a set of crowd behaviour that would make the Millwall supporters club blush.

Basically, if you've got say 1 officer in an institution who people want things from - a bank clerk, newspaper stand, me in my office, it all seems to work on the same principles - and a set of people who are doing the wanting, they all pretty much simultaneously request service.

I remember being horrified the first time I saw this in action - S sorting out some of my first Turkish bureaucracy, turning up at the back of a group and pushing her way to the counter and putting her question to the suit behind the desk. "What are you doing, love, there's about 10 people before us, wait our turn!" I thought.

I now realise I'd be waiting a long time, as the next and the next person would go straight past without passing go. The bizarre thing is, the process does actually seem to work. The crowd and processing sort of self-selects. Physical size limits the number of people who have face to face access at any one time to a dealable 5 or 6. Those people who've just got a quick yes-no question get answered straight away and go away happy, those who've got a bit of paper to stamp but don't need too much in the way of interaction get that done whilst the officer is talking to the person in front of them, who is doing a lengthy bit of business involving photocopies and phonecalls elsewhere and I don't know what, and in the dead time of that transaction all the peripheries are getting requires a certain amount of impatience on the part of the servicees, and an awful lot of patience on the part of the servicer, but well, it actually does seem to result in a fairly equitable processing system.

7. Tesbihs

I do love a good tesbih, me.

These are, properly speaking, prayer beads, much beloved of both the old and devout, and the young and cocky, who walk down the street with these great big clunky versions of them, swinging and clacking them about in ostentatious fashion. Sort of like a religious and rather less violent nunchuck.

Me I just use them as worry beads, and are extremely good for keeping restless hands occupied. I would recommend them to anyone who wants to give up smoking, for example.

But I do always feel like a bit of a berk in using them. Like I say they originally are a religious thing, therefore the westernised elite probably think it's a misguided aping of a backwards conservative culture - like travellers wafting about in kaftans in an attempt to blend in.

On the other hand, the aforementioned conservatives probably think that this not just bare headed woman - but a short-haired pisshead lemon of a western lass to boot - using one is incongruous at the best, if not vaguely disrespectful.

However, you know, after extensive thought, and giving due weight to a range of culturally sensitive considerations, I've decided, well, bollox to the lot of them.

8. Turkish News

Is insane. It's like the Day Today amped up to 11. Leaving aside the less-than stellar standard of reporting (can't blame 'em, Turkey doesn't win any Reporters Without Borders awards and it's presumably difficult to evolve a quality journalistic tradition when there's a history of journalists getting legally or financially harassed, or, erm, shot) and the overly sensationalist presentation (to be fair, again of not infrequently sensational events), it's just the general vibe of the news that I can't get used to.

Every news report has continual background music, generally ominous star-trooper like doom music for the main politics or world story, sometimes stirring and emotional for the (plentiful) human interest stories about some poor boy going missing and the camera crews whacking their cameras in the faces of the distressed mother, and for the 'And finally' piece a bit of jaunty turkish kazoo equivalent. Because, you know, unless we had this handy soundtrack we wouldn't be able to figure out if the story was meant to be happy or sad.

Plus the rather disturbing habit they have of playing unedited CCTV or camera phone footage of the incidents they are reporting on, including horrific and probably fatal traffic accidents. So, basically, snuff films.

9. No pubs

Now I have learnt to love a good Meyhane as much as the next Turk, and rakı with meze, particularly the traditional combination of white cheese (feta like effort, creamy and sharp at the same time) and the melon, is a match made in drinkers heaven.

But. Still. Pubs, oh pubs, why have I foresaken you?

10. Playing it by ear

I think I've mentioned this one too. But I've hit number 10 and am fast running out of things to say that don't make me sound like I'm scraping the bottom of the tourism awe barrel (I could bang on about the call to prayer or the novelty of intracity sea transport, but honestly who can be arsed), so there we go.

It is nice not always being tied to a plan, and feeling guiltily responsible for ensuring it happens all the time. It is also nice to feel that things can be done on a whim and it's not going to put anyone's nose too far out of joint.

I think I am turning out to be a closet flake.

So. To summarise. Actually, that's quite depressing - the summary is that I like turkish food and drink, but apparently not too much, and I like turkish people and behaviour, but also apparently not too much. HMMMM! What a loser.

Target for next year, then, is to do something beyond actually the bare minimum to keep myself alive, ie eating and drinking and basic daily interactions with society. Suggestions?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I ate my head

It's time for a Turkish language post. Let's do 2 good 2 bad.


It's incredibly regular. I love it. All the grammar works how it should, there are these fantastic all purpose suffixes that are consistent and work a treat, they're usually simple to boot (we have 'in' 'on' and 'at', they only have one equivalent for instance). There is no grammatical gender which is a godsend in terms of vocabulary - how anyone remembers all that shit for French and what have you is beyond me. Actually they don't have *actual* gender either - one word does service for both he and she. Which I think might be a step too far, but on the other hand makes playing the pronoun game a damn sight easier. ;-)


It is an agglutanising bitch. Which means that instead of using more words to describe a grammatical situation, you just bung endings on to one word instead. "One of the ones that apparently might not have been able to have been explained" would be "Açıklayamayabildiklerinden biriymiş". (I think.) The first word, the only bit that actually has any independent meaning is the first four letters, "açık" which means 'open' - all the rest of it is just endings on endings to get you to your intended meaning.

That example is a little contrived to be fair - but honestly not by much. To give you a live example as it were, I'm currently reading a children's book aimed at 10 year-olds, which has in its first sentence '...geleceğimizi şekillendirecek olan tüm kültürel birikimlerimizin temel taşı sayılması gerektiğini söylemekle işe başlayayım dilerseniz.' Again generally it's only the first and second syllables of any of those words that actually carry the meaning, all the rest is glued on.

Anyway, this is Bad because it means you have to have a pretty good idea of what you want to say before you start saying it, you can't ah and erm and hum your way through a sentence word by word like in English. This is my single biggest difficulty (that and not actually making much of an effort to practice my speaking...) and basically means that in speech I am still pretty much stuck at tarzan turkish - I went there, it was nice, I was happy.

However, this is also


because it means that actually, once you've got the hang of how the endings work and learnt a few of the starting words, it means you can read reasonably well just by guesswork. Whereas English has got a word for pretty much every situation - and often several, from French, German, Greek you name it routes - Turkish pretty much just builds things up from a very simple word you probably already know. So, for instance, 'can' means life, soul, heart. From this you get

canım - dear, love (literally, my life)
canlı - alive (with life)
canan - beloved (one who is loved)
candan - sincere (from soul)
canciğer - intimate (soul-lung/liver. Erm...)
cankurtaran - ambulance (life saving one)
canlanmak - to come to life (to be made live)
canlandırmak - to personify, play the part (to make something be made live)
canlandırıcı - animator (a person who makes something be made live)

Those are just the ones listed in my concise dictionary, there's bound to be more. Anyway, point being, all those endings are easily recognisable and so given context and a bit of logic, you can work out a hell of a lot of meanings without going for the dictionary, whereas a turk reading the english equivalent wouldn't have a hope.


The sheer volume of day to day speech that is figures of speech and non-literal. This applies to English too, although I don't think I'd ever noticed before trying to translate it. This means that you're not just having to learn how to translate your english concepts into a foreign language, you're having to remember how they put it too. It really does feel like I'm learning a language from scratch sometimes, not just how to translate.

So for example, I might want to say:

'I had a crap day yesterday. I stayed up late to watch a film, but it wasn't any good. Because of it I didn't get to sleep until late, so this morning I was late too and I had to run for the ferry. Then when I got there my akbil had run out, so I missed the ferry! Christ, I nearly had a fit. Oh well, never mind.'

If you translate this literally word for word into turkish, they will not have a clue what you are talking about and you will get some very funny looks. However, if you say

'My day yesterday was from shit. I stayed up late to watch a film, but it didn't go to my pleasure. From its face I didn't lie down until late, so this morning I stayed late too and my need to run for the ferry remained. Then when I got there my money didn't stay on my akbil, so I made the ferry escape. My Allah my god, I ate my head. Anyway, give nothingness.'

it will make perfect sense. :-)

Sunday, November 21, 2010


I've got in the habit of putting my photos on facebitch, but that's evil, and means that not all of my potential audience gets properly bludgened about the face with photos of me looking pissed/pissed off in a succession of bus garages and restaurants, SO I thought I'd wop a few on here. Muwah ha haa haaaa. Plus I've got not a lot of note to write about, and am feeling marginally embarrassed about the last minute-of-silence post, so thought I'd de-bump it or whatever the terminology is with some photo bulk.

All of the below are from the trip I went on for last week's mega bank-holiday-a-thon. This time (to get in my obligatory bit of didactic spiel on things you aren't actually interested in) it was for Kurban Bayramı as it's known in Turkey, or Eid al-Adha to most of the world; either way that's Feast of the Sacrifice in English. (Or Islam's Festival of Death to the less charitable and/or animal rights conscious bloggers out's a whole big live sacrifice thang.)

Anyhow, it was 4 1/2 bank holiday days off work, which because it fell Monday pm to Friday this year happily meant that most employers including mine couldn't be arsed with the half day Monday, so everyone got the full week off work with the weekends either side. Reeeesult. So this was enough time to justify the journey to the other side of Turkey, specifically Trabzon, S's home town on the north east black sea coast of the country. So. Are you sitting comfortably?

^ Setting off

^ On the coach to Trabzon. Bit of a way by bus, 2pm til 6am I think it was, but then turkish coaches are aces. They are constantly giving you free coffee and juice and cake, and stuff like tvs in the back of the chair are pretty standard. I was particularly enamoured of the fact that this bus had a channel for a camera pointed out the front at the road, so you could get an unimpaired view of the lunatic turkish driving. (I am not being an uncharitable blogger here, they are lunatic. You know that phenomenon whereby as traffic builds it also slows and soon enough you end up with a traffic jam? Well, here it just doesn't happen. Everyone keeps going merrily along at 90kph, just with a vanishingly small gap before the car in front.)

^ Shortly after arrival, maybe 8am - the view from one of S's hangouts - a cafe by the sea where she'd drink with her buddies...sort of Crooked Billet equivalent I guess.

Aya Sofya, Trabzon version. Which was nice and all, but you know, you've seen one Byzantian church...but this one did have one particularly cool feature. Because for a long time most of the people coming to Trabzon were Greek sailors for whom it was the end or start of a long and dangerous journey, this church was where they'd go and pray thanks for, or to ask for, a safe journey. And consequently hidden round the back of the church are walls and walls of inscriptions/graffiti that these sailors have carved into the stonework - pictures of their boats, and writing, which I guess read something along the lines of Panagiotis woz 'ere, 1400.

Me with kebab. Of course.

Trabzon and sea with haze:

Inland, black sea mountains with sunset (and camera flare)

Actually you know sod it I've got loads of fairly dodgy photos of the boootiful countryside, but frankly you're not interested and if you were just image google Trabzon, you're bound to see better. Instead look at these weird wooden things below. There's some tenuous fossil connection in the area where these were taken and so I think these are meant to be dinosaurs. I *think* they are intended to look like they do, but you can't discount the possibility that this is a genuine best attempt at accurate representational sculpture...

and my personal favourite - the sign is 'Welcome'

Lovely. And this gurning wooden baffoon is looking at this view:

You'd think he'd have a bit of decorum, wouldn't you?

Anyway. That's it I think. Once again I can't think of a suitable way to sign off. So here are some Turks for you, on a rock. On a rock, on a rock, got them sitting on a rock.

That was blatantly more dodgy landscape photos wasn't it? Ah well. It was very nice.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

10th November, 9.05am

I am also enjoying living according to a different set of rhythms. The sort of cultural backdrop that you are barely even aware of because it's always there. Thinking about back home, well I remember starting with the New Year hangover, then there's nothing much until the Easter and seasonal general rebirth vibe; then you've got the Boat Race, London Marathon, and the Grand National to take you through spring into summer, where it's Test Cricket, Wimbledon, the summer bank and school holidays; then back to school time, then it's Halloween, Guy Fawkes Night, next thing you know Christmas hype is gearing up again and it's a bipolar acceleration of enforced jollity and worsening weather, til you're through the whole year again in blearing familiarity.

It is dead interesting, and really rather pleasant, to be inside a whole different set of routines. The bank holiday rota is of course different, and then there are the religious holidays which I guess culturally are the Christmas equivalents - we've got a week long one next week and the grins and letting off steam in the office is definitely gathering pace.

And then today was a moment straight out of left-field that was really rather wonderful.

Atatürk, Mustafa Kemal, the founder of the modern Republic of Turkey, and the object of no small amount of hero-worship by all colour of turks, died on the 10th of November, at 9.05am. Today shortly before this time I was in my office, which is a 3rd floor building with just the coast main road and a set of ferry terminals between us and the Bosphorus. I was settling into my normal morning routine of coffee and emails, when one of my colleagues said, hey come to the window for a bit, you ought to see this.

What?, I thought. Normal day, rush hour traffic, taxis buses and cars locked in their usual battle of death for the extra metre on the road and the 3 seconds it saves them, commuters running late jumping off the boats, flooding through to the tram for the next stage in their hurry to work.

And then the sound started. Ferry horns, that low fog horn doooooooth sound I'd recognise anywhere. Then some other notes joining them from all sides, I'm not sure where, maybe the mosques' tannoy systems or a broadcast from elsewhere, then within seconds the cars had picked up on it and started sounding their horns, and then in complete synchrony they all slowed, stopped, the drivers got out of their cars and stood motionless by their open doors.

Commuters who had been walking shoving jostling along all stopped, stood, bowed their heads, cigarettes ignored and allowed to burn down. The noise, which had built up to the sort of noise you imagine a cathedral organ making with a sack of spuds on the pedals, then died down again. Boats in the Bosphoros cut their engines and drifted.

Nothing moved.

And then, with as much consensus as with which it had stopped, everything started again. We all took a breath, a colleague wiped the start of a tear away, and we all went back to our desks, and started work.

(I apologise if that aimed at overly poetic and ended up with trite, but was quite something.)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A meze table of non-sequiturs

I can't be bothered to write a proper post. There's lots of topics I probably could turn into proper posts if I could be bothered, but I can't. So here some of them are, shrunk down into little bitesize appetiser portions. (The lack of bothering also extends to editing - I'm pretty sure much of the below is syntactically dodgy. For which I apologise. But not that much. Ner.)

If you are entertaining in Turkey, particularly with a multi-dish sort of affair like mezes or breakfast (which is a multi-dish sort of affair here, all individual pots of jam and cheeses) the terminology is that you are preparing a 'table'. I like this. Every story I hear of some host or other outdoing themselves in their hospitality involves what a marvellous table they've prepared. I always have an image of someone sanding down a wooden table leg.

I got sucked into girl logic the other day whilst shopping. I generally don't do haggling cos of the generalised shopping loathing and life being too short, but it's been pissing down with rain here recently and I have no casual shoes apart from sandals, so I had to buy some new ones, plus had nearly run out of my month's salary so money was of particular concern. I managed to bargain down some shoes which were already much reduced due to being end of line efforts found in a bargain type shop. Was so overjoyed at getting the bloke to agree to take the note I was waving at him without insisting on more that I didn't actually check the shoes fit properly. So now I have a very nice pair of very quality very cheap shoes that I can't actually walk in.

S's new hobby is turning out to be really handy. She goes out fishing for the afternoon, which not only has the not-insignificant upside of having a soothing effect on whatever the latest work disaster motivated mood is, not only gives me space for piddling about on the internets and playing guitar loudly and wailing along in accompaniment in unselfconcious peace, but also means that she brings home a nice big free bag of fish for supper. I have a theory that there is some conservation of stone-age lifestyle at work here - we may have moved into a place with central heating and therefore are not going to have to spend this winter gathering wood and then burning it for heat, but by gods we are going to hunt and catch our food.

I spend too much time on internet forums.

My turkish is getting better. Slowly, slowly, slowly. I can't believe how slowly. I am also surprised, although I don't bleedin' know why, at how binary a process it is not turning out to be. When first coming I had this idea in mind that in x number of months I'd be able to speak turkish, like they'd be a markable point before which I didn't know what was going on and after which I did. Of course not, plonker. It's an extra few words a day I'm recognising in daily talk, it's 45 minutes on a basic newspaper article instead of an hour, it's realising that - despite knowing full well I am understanding a fraction of what's being said and that I'm speaking in a horrendous bill and ben mockery of turkish, I have nonetheless negotiated entire situations successfully with the correct end result in a foreign language.

And on a final and serious bummer note - talking domestic politics with Turks is an incredibly frustrating affair. Some of the views expressed can make your head spin, coming from what seems to be such an obstinate and entrenched world view as they do. And then someone blows themselves up in the crowded central square of Istanbul on a sunny Sunday where republic day celebrations are planned, and you remember that the context here is not the same as back home, and maybe begin to understand a bit.