Man of Action

Imagine Omer Sharif, John Wayne and Keanu "Matrix" Reeves rolled in one, with a touch of actor-director Clint Eastwood.Add the invincible fighting technique of Bruce Lee.

Put a Turkish branding on it and you get Cüneyt Arkın. "I asked myself whether I should kill myself if I remained an invalid," he told the NTV channel after news that he would have to remain in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

The man of the action movies thought that the life of an invalid was simply not worth living. The 72-year-old actor became front page news when it was reported that he was paralyzed for life.

It turned out that he only had some problems in his hands and feet and is now fine. A large public rushed to the hospital, in a display of affection to The Man Who Saved the World.It would be no exaggeration that Turkish cinefiles over the age of 40 must have watched hundreds of films starring Cüneyt Arkın, or Mr. Fahrettin Cüreklibatur as his real name goes.Between the years of 1965 and 1990, Arkın made an average of 15 movies a year ranging from historical drama to futuristic "Star Wars."

Arkin’s most notable movies are historical dramas, taking place during the first centuries of the Ottoman Empire or slightly before the Ottoman Empire, during the age of the Anatolian Seljuks.

His best known part is "Malkaçoğlu" based on a cartoon hero that fights against the "Frenk" (Christians) during the Ottoman Era.

His line in Kara Murat, the fighter of Fatih (Mehmet the Conqueror) "Catch him, Wolf" has been the quintessential line in all fights.

The joke was that Cüneyt Arkın could never be beaten. He himself laughingly told the episode that in a fight between his two sons, the younger and weaker son chided the other: "Why should you be the one always beating me up? Do you think you are Cüneyt Arkın?"

Arkın had a go at political or "socially aware" movies in the late 1970s but the role of the "poor man with a great sense of justice" was met with limited success. His attempts to be a "romantic jeune premier" also fell short. The Turkish public liked him as John Wayne, not as Cary Grant. His sentimental roles, mostly overacted, led to romantic clichŽs, such as "Nazannn, nnnoo, I say, nnnooo... annnnd nnnow I am blinnnnd."

Ironically, his fame abroad (under the name Steve or George Arkın) came from one of his poorest-quality films: Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (The Man Who Saves The World Ğ also known as Turkish Star Wars), an extremely low-budget science fiction tentatively famous for including bootlegged scenes from Star Wars.

"Now get the florescent bulb and save the world," we, as young fools, used to laugh, in a reference to Arkın’s saber in the low-budget movie: nothing more sophisticated than a long tube of florescent lights we used at home.But there was something amazingly touching in the way that Arkın related to the audience and his profession: "I have always tried to be respectful of my audience and adopt a lifestyle that they would approve of," he said. He led a very family-oriented life, even at the height of his success, with his wife and two sons.

When he appeared on the TV and told the touching story of his fears to remain an invalid, the anchorwoman said: "We would like to welcome you on this program after your treatment."

"Certainly," said the actor. "Should I come on horseback?"

A likely reply from The Man Who Saved the World.
X

Turn my wine into Ayran!

A gorgeous woman and a man with gray in his temples clink glasses as the sun sets. She looks straight into his eyes and murmurs something soft, her eyes gleaming with unpronounced hints of promise. She looks across the Bosphorus, her suntanned shoulder gently touching that of the man. The man, a cross between a young Sean Connery and Bernard Pivot in his prime, turns to the audience: "That is what I call the ending of a perfect day," he says and the brand appears: "AYRAN, strong but gentle Turkish yoghurt drink!"

Or an alternative advertisement:

Two men, with tired faces and gray, crumpled suits are sitting on very uncomfortable bar stools and are served by a disapproving bartender.

"I know I should be going home, but what do I have?" asks one to the other. "A nagging wife, a job with no promise of promotion and not a soul who loves me."

"How will you vote for the next elections?" asks the other guy, as if trying to change the topic.

"Don’t know," says the other with slightly slurred speech. "I do not think much about politics. I may vote for the AKP or for the MHP."

They stumble to their feet as the screen darkens. The final glimpse is that of a grape Ğ there is no name pronounced Ğ just like the famous Silk Cut advertisement of the 1990s.

---

This, gentle reader, is what we may end up seeing after the new regulation on alcoholic beverages. Brilliant Turkish advertisers, if you think you would love to see an ad on TV using dancing women and lots of bubbles, forget champagne. Work for cola instead!

If you want to have daring men on horseback, relaxing after a day of heroism, this would be the publicity for ayran, not rakı.

The second advertisement of two tired men, dumb as it may be, has the advantage of bypassing all the limitations of a recent regulation. The regulation drafted by the state-run Tobacco and Alcohol Market Regulatory Agency, or TAPDK, takes effect as of July, with the declared aim of bringing Turkey one step closer to the "EU standard" in terms of protecting the consumer and young people.

Let us take a look on the rules:

Thanks to the new law, do not bother associating wine with cheese or rakı with mezes or beer with chips. Scenes of a rakı table overlooking the Bosphorus or couples in suave evening clothes clinking glasses at the Four Seasons on the Bosphorus are a definite no-no. This aims to create a realistic picture: real drunkards do not mix their alcohol with their food, nor do they care for the scenery. Thus, a dark restaurant and a bare table is more than adequate.

Stop misleading the public that you will have more body by drinking wine, more of a spark by drinking champagne and more courage by drinking rakı. A very dry Martini hardly makes you James Bond, whiskey would neither make you frisky nor Sean Connery. Men seldom make passes at girls who drain glasses. Drink tea, the ultimate aphrodisiac. In the second advertisement, we see that this principle is reflected; the alcohol drinkers are not in high status by home life, professional advancement or voting choice.

Who can drink a bottle of wine and perform well anyway Ğ particularly after a certain age? Rum does not rhyme with come. Protect the minors, as well as women, from being lured by false promises.

Alcohol advertisements will be confined solely to films that are suitable for people 18 and older. The images will only be shown at the end of the film screenings in the movie theaters. Those who are interested will stay.

Would it be impertinent to call AK Party "Alcohol Kiss-off Party" now?

Last thing to watch:

The alcohol advertisements will not include sexual and pornographic elements.

Alcohol should not be shown as a status signal.

No culinary or cultural references.
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Lady Justice

Dreams are strange things: I found myself, in full gear of Roman Goddess Justitia, with scales and all, posing for a painting before General-cum-painter Kenan Evren. I was not wearing a blindfold over my eyes, probably because some Freudian authority had decided that it was hard enough for Justitia in Turkey as it is, without adding a further handicap. As it happens between painters and models often, we got to talking Ğ the architect and the leader of the 1980 coup and I. The sun was shining over his garden in Marmaris and I was sipping lemoncello.

"No one will see me behind bars," he said. "These two rascals, Erdoğan and Baykal, would not be able to agree on anything even if their whole life depended on it."

"So you think that the present attempt to lift the Constitution’s temporary Article 15 would not be realized and the coup leaders would not have to face trial?" I asked.

"No," he replied. "Most of us are too old. Or already dead, which is the worse option. Besides, the lifting of Article 15 is not a vote getter, such as shouting at Peres or cancelling credit card debts. No one remembers the coup anyway, except a few intellectuals, directors and authors. Not that the AKP would ever swing their votes that way."

"Ertuğrul Günay said that it was shame that the new generations only know you as a painter," I said, refraining from saying "bad painter."

"Turkish people have short memories," said Evren. "They remember Ertuğrul Günay as a Justice and Development Party government’s culture minister, and not as a militant of Dev-Sol, the revolutionary left."

"Don’t you have regrets?" I asked him. "After all, by the 1980 coup, you have created a lost generation, not to mention a very bad Constitution."

"Quite a few regrets actually, though I don’t whine like a ninny," he said. "I always resented that people said I was keeping my eyebrows untrimmed so that I could resemble Atatürk. I also rather hated that book, called ’Netekim,’ which pictured me as an ignoramus."

"Well, the association came naturally after you were quoted as saying that you could draw as well as Picasso," I said.

"Was I wrong? Picasso would have painted you as a neurotic woman with a distorted profile, red fingernails and bitter tears. Just look at what I have done," he said as he turned his canvas around.

"I am blonde in that painting," I said. "Come to think of it, the picture does not look at me but like singer Emel Sayin."

"Well, I always had a soft spot for her," said the retired general, not that he uses that title anymore. "You know, Atatürk had Safiye Ayla and I had Emel Sayin. But I do regret those evil tongues who said that I had her escorted to the presidential house after midnight. Never would I dream of imposing such discomfort on my young officers."

"Any other regrets?" I asked.

"I rather resented the way that the chubby fellow, Özal, would do everything to get on my nerves and pretend that we were friends," Evren said. "I tried to discourage him from politics but he would not listen to me at all, becoming first prime minister, then president after me. He is the one who started the whole transformation Ğ from the good old days when the well-read and patriotic generals could give a piece of advice to politicians without being accused of violating democracy."

"Is the painting finished?" I asked. "I am beginning to get cramps holding that scale and the book."

"Oh, the book is the Constitution; just toss it aside," said the general. "I am finished now, so off you go. I have an appointment with Gen. Pinochet and Gen. Viola in half an hour to exchange some tips on É Justitia."
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Just not that into you...

Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, authors of the best-selling book "He's Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys" (surely you have watched the film, at least) have kindly agreed to take a look at women’s troubles that dominate the agenda in Turkey. ***

Dear Greg,

As Turkey’s self-styled style icon, I have been involved for years with an older and sophisticated man. Given our very visible lifestyle, we are under tremendous media pressure to get married, but he has not yet popped the question. Do you think it is our age difference that scares him? ĞEda T.

Dear Eda,

Worried about the age difference? I do not think so. Age differences are no concern for traditional Mediterranean men, as their wives get younger and younger with each marriage.

Liz and I hesitate to use our key phrase "he is just not that into you" for his not asking you to marry him, as we believe, from all the pictures we have seen in the Turkish media, he is very much into you. On the other hand, is it publicity that he really likes? Ask yourself this question before another icon appears on the scene.

***

Dear Greg,

My estranged husband, who happens to be one of the richest men in Turkey nowadays, is still part of my life. A typical Black Sea man, he is very busy with his construction empire and his seven vintage cars, not to mention his very active and much-flaunted love life.

In a recent interview, he said that he remained married as insurance against all the young women who want to entrap him. Do you think I should expect him to resume our married life after an intermission of eight years? ĞEx-A

Dear Ex-A,

He is just not that into you if he is seeing other women.

Your ex-husband is intoxicated by his newfound power and cannot keep his zipper, or his mouth shut. Liz and I watched him on a recent TV program and were simply amazed when he announced that he "likes riding anything pretty," "would make women fly, either with his private jet or without it" and "would never touch a woman more than 25 years of age."

We also noted his magazine interview, in which he quoted his (your) daughter as being disappointed because he was dating Miss Turkey’s fourth runner up, as she thought the fourth runner up could not possibly be pretty enough for her father.

Neither are we too enthusiastic about his remarks calling his marriage "insurance" and his insistence that he is, in fact, a single man. It is time for a wake-up call: Your husband is not coming back, unless it is in search of a nurse. Give the big-mouthed playboy the treatment he deserves... by crashing his Lamborghini into his yacht!

***

Dear Greg,

Although we have been divorced for years, my husband insists that I am still his wife and that he is responsible for my "honor." Somewhat violent in his behavior, he has stabbed me several times with a knife.

He was detained, but released with just a fine. He also killed my mother while she was trying to help me escape in a moving van to the safety of another city. There are still people around me who say that I should return to my ex-husband to save my life, as he would probably be more protective of me than the state. What is your advice? ĞDesperate

Dear Desperate,

Clearly "they" are not that into you. "They" refers to the state, the legal system and all those who should be applying the law. They should be defending your safety Ğ after all, that remains one of the responsibilities of the state.

A decision by the human-rights court may be grand, but it is still sad to see political officials criticizing the decision, saying that Turkey is doing a better job combating domestic violence and the mistreatment of women than most European Union states.

Greg was particularly touched by a recent Turkish politician’s quote that "women’s elegance and motherly wisdom must touch the EU process."

It would be great if this woman’s touch could be coupled with a good domestic policy toward women and a general vision of women as individuals, and not simply a part of a family.

***

Dear Greg,

How about a question from a man for once, huh? I have been courting this evasive beauty for decades and there she is, establishing house with so many others and not with me.

Only last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of our ties, and there she is, still reluctant to make a commitment, aside from some financial arrangements and calling me a "candidate." Do you think she is into me? ĞE.B.

Dear E.B.,

What do you think? And what have you done lately?
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Back to (mis)manners

Due to the mounting demand and repetitive requests, the Daily News has invited Ms. Manners (a more political and less politically correct version of Miss Manners) to offer guidance on issues that dominate the agenda. ***

Dear Ms. Manners, what is the firm but polite way to ask someone to resign?

Bülent A. and Şaban S.

Dear boys,

Ms. Manners is a firm believer in persuasion and discretion. Calling a colleague to resign through newspaper headlines may be perceived as a hostile attitude, not to mention as a sign of weakness. Try the gentle art of persuasion to get your colleague to step down and if it does not work, try to vote him out of office. If that also fails, instead of engaging in a public game of name-calling, practice discretion and discreetly post the documented evidence of your colleague’s corruption to your favorite editor in chief.

***

Dear Ms. Manners, I have invited a group of European diplomats for dinner. I am somewhat ambiguous about what wine to serve and other dos and don’ts. Could you give a few hints? Mine

Dear Mine, the basic rule is that white wine goes with white meat, such as chicken and fish; red goes with red meat and you can serve rosŽ as a pre-dinner aperitif. However, Ms. Manners strongly advises you to drop the last option, as the European Union has had some recent trouble on whether a rosŽ is a rosŽ by any other name. Do not think about serving that wine whose production methods brought the commission at odds with some of the member states.

It would be polite to watch some Euro-etiquette at the dinner table, such as serving "real" chocolate, rather than the milky, sweet version. Despite the growing tolerance toward the curvy cucumber, please try to get a straight variety. If you have any Scandinavians at the table, do not serve foie gras, even if there are French people present. Also, please employ the rules of gender equality and make sure that women are represented equally at your table.

Ms. Manners would like to point out that a responsible hostess assures that conversation flows easily and non-controversially. Do not mention the Lisbon Treaty to the Irish; do not refer to the great works of the Czech artist David Cerny to the Bulgarians; do not say "darling" to the British; do not mention inappropriate behavior toward minors to the Italians; and do not mention the European Parliament to anyone!

***

Dear Ms. Manners, my husband, a reasonable man, has started asking since last week whether he had been my first love, whether I love him very much and whether I would marry him if I had to do it again. I cannot understand his insistence. How can I assure him, without lying, as needless to say, he is NOT my first love? Distressed

Dear Distressed, Adil Gür, who has carried out and published a much-read survey on the love and marriage map of Turkey, has a lot to answer for! Spouses started asking each other the questions in the survey. Since Ms. Manners is concerned with manners, rather than morals, she refrains from a debate on whether perfect honesty is necessary between spouses. However, she very much doubts that when more than half of the interviewees were being perfectly truthful when they said that their spouse was their first love and that they would marry the same person if they had the opportunity. It may be simple, not to mention polite, to your spouse to say that you agree with the majority of the people interviewed. "Of course there is only you" with three dots hanging in the air, may also work.

If everything fails, try therapy. With the right therapist, you may be able to re-find happiness in the arms of your now-trusting husband Ğ or those of your therapist!

***

Dear Ms Manners, first of all, thank you for your last advice, which I tried very hard to live by. I believe that I have made considerable progress in controlling my temper and this is greatly appreciated by everyone around me. I would now like to ask your advice on how to deal with misnomers. For example, if your name is JR Ewing but people call you JRE, how can you tell those shameless so-and-so’s that you want to be called JR Ewing without being rude? Angry

Dear Angry, your example is not a misnomer but a hypocorism. Of course, you can gently, I repeat gently, let people know how you prefer to be called. I regret to tell you that most polite societies would not consider calling people shames boars or threatening to sue them would be considered gentle.

Hypocorisms work in many different ways and not always according to the will of the subject. For example, Barbara may prefer to be called Barbie, rather than Bobbie, which sounds like a puppy, but this will not happen unless she looks like a Barbie. Similarly people may be inclined to call AKP "AK Party" if the party and its staff appear to them as pure as driven snow.

***

On a more personal note, Ms Manners is getting very, very irritated with your colleagues who insist that we call you and your party in a certain way while they are very good at giving a variety of names to other parties!

Dear Ms Manners, as an English speaker, I am somewhat confused with the use of "sen" and "siz," which I am told corresponds to French "tu" and "vous." Is that correct? Are there any cultural particularities that I should know about? Jane B.

Dear Jane, under normal circumstances, you "siz"zle when you talk to your elders, the hierarchically superior, people you do not know and/or do not want to know. However, there are exceptions: In Anatolia, addressing someone as "sen" also marks a sign of respect, so when your janitor calls you "sen" it is not a sign of familiarity.

In the recent political debate, think of "siz" as "you" and "sen" as "yo!" as in "Yo cannot insult me by yo-ing me!"

***

Dear Ms. Manners, I have been graciously hosted at the prime ministerial palace by the wife of the prime minister, who offered me a lavish gift. I would like to reciprocate. What is the correct procedure? Naomi C.

Dear Naomi, evil tongues here would say that you have already paid your dues by getting her to the front page in every newspaper and that you would need to make up to the First Lady instead. However, Ms. Manners does not agree. It is always polite to send a "thank you" gift or a memoir that could be enjoyed by both Mr. and Mrs. Erdoğan. Needless to say, this does not mean one of your naked photos!
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Please match me a match!

Simple fact: If you have a nine to five job, you cannot watch daytime TV. That is a mixed blessing. On the plus side, you do not have to see "Big Brother," "Would You Be My Bride?" or its more deviant derivative, such as "Would You Be My Daughter-in-Law?" On the minus side, you are painfully devoid of the "real agenda" of the people and miss out on local celebrities. Through these programs, everybody seems to get their 15 minutes of fame, although not necessarily in the way they want it. Take the case of İhsan Alkan, who participated in one of the several marriage programs. The program was going just fine when Alkan’s daughter called and announced that his father was married. "My father has been married to my mother for 29 years," said the daughter. The presenter cut the program short, saying that married men were "disqualified."

Turns out that Mr. Alkan had actually volunteered to go on the program to make his estranged wife of 29 years jealous!

If television is too public, just try the Web. Turkey’s largest virtual dating service, Siberalem, is where tens of thousands of Turks enter every day to find friendship, short-term relationships or marriage.

Just tune in and select a sample: Let us call him "adamgibiadam" (directly translated, it means a true, or earnest, man) and check into his detailed profile: "Adamgibiadam" is looking for a "true" woman who would make him comfortably in his twilight years. He is 47, a high school graduate and gives his profession as "manager." He earns between 2,000 to 3,000 Turkish liras. É It is a constant wonder to your columnist how people adhere to managerial positions without a university degree, but who am I to disagree? Adamgibiadam has been married and divorced, has a child and enjoys traveling. He hardly travels outside because "everything worth seeing is in our beautiful country," and he reads autobiographies, but would never dream of reading "Pamuk and other traitors."

And that, gentle reader, is the sort of men you would find on the screen and in the virtual world.

But do not worry, the next section will show you how to make silk purses out of sow’s ears!

. . . and make him a catch!

Take note of a very necessary improvement program: the most recent addition to the high-rating, times-are-a-changing programs is one that many women would like to see, or even participate in: "Leave your husband in our hands."

Unlike what the name indicates, it is not an open call to adultery. Couples come to the program and, in line with the desires of the wives, husbands are "re-modeled" with dancing, etiquette and conversation courses, not totally unlike Moliere’s "Le Bourgeois gentilhomme."

The women who participate in the program bring along their husbands and give some clear instructions: "Get rid of the belly," "Learn to dress," "Stop making funny sounds as you eat" and "Just talk to me, babe!"

The last one is indeed the top request.

A case of reversed identities can be compared to the Turkish movies of the 1970s, when the female lead turns from an ugly, awkward duckling to the swan.

In my mind’s eye, I see a certain woman who gives an anonymous call to the program: "Yes, I would really like you to take over my husband. Make him get rid of the belly and the temper he has. Rid him of his obsessions with the color white, or AK, as we call it in Turkish. Get him to use a more positive vocabulary, twitch less around the face. No, I cannot give names as he is likely to sue, but please understand that it would be a great service to me and to the whole world."

Oh, yes!
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Cry(obank) baby!

Despite getting its name from a mischievous toddler with a flesh and arrow and a misplaced sense of irony, Erospolis openly admits that it is no fan of children; by definition, it prefers hedonist pleasures, heavy controversy and other heavenly pursuits. Having said that, your cheeky columnist fails to understand why a child-friendly person of any sex, civil status or sexual preference cannot have a child either through adoption, surrogate mothers, sperm banks or any other ingenious methods offered by law and science Ğ provided that the parent(s) can emotionally and financially care for the offspring.

Take, for example, Güler Özkul, who decided that she would have a child through a sperm bank, or cryobank as it is called in more medical circles. Educated, intelligent and stable, she has decided, at 43, to go to a cryobank in the United States and have a child.

Even the careless readers of the magazines, not to mention the front pages, know now why she opted to do so: Her partner was not interested in fathering (still another) child, but the determined mother-to-be wanted one. So she is now pregnant, and besides the usual back pains and enlarged feet, she is also experiencing fame pains and an enlarged debate around her right to have a cryobank baby.

Güler Özkul, the daughter of a famous actor and an excellent actress in her own right, is far from being the only famous Turkish woman who decided that a bank was more reliable than a man...

A few years ago, a Turkish actress, Leyla Kömürcü, had decided to use the sperm of some nice guy that she did not know rather than some not-so-nice guy that she did. Ah, but the debate that ensued then and now dragged everyone in: the moralists, the liberals and, of course, the pious.

"The sperm bank debate divides up the theologians," said a Hürriyet headline, omitting that every single issue seems to be dividing the Turks nowadays. The General Directorate of Religious Affairs, whose snappy answers on its Web site’s question-and-answer section replies to everything from yoga to Saint Valentine’s Day, declared that a cry-o-bank baby was not approved by Islam.

"It resembles adultery," said its Fatwa line. (Your columnist is somewhat unclear about this phone line and wonders whether it is something like "dial F for a Fast Fatwa!")

The most unexpected support came from Professor Beyza Bilgin, a soft-spoken academic known as the first female "preacher" of Turkey. She objected to other colleagues who equated artificial insemination from a sperm bank with adultery.

"It is the will of God, who wants the human race to continue, that such a method is open to the people. We should naturally use this method with responsibility, but to me, it should be considered like a kidney implant rather than a case of adultery," she said.

Leyla Kömürcü, who passed a court decree on the protection of privacy of her child, said: "I think I am a lot more honest than women who simply go and steal a baby from a man through a one-night affair. Through the data in the cryobank in New York, I know that my son’s father is a 25-year-old scientist. I will give my child all those details. I think it is very straightforward."

One academic of theology said that it was not fair on the child: "When the child asks, would you simply show the building and tell the child came from a freezer there?" said one theologian.

Well, that certainly beats the lark and the cabbage story, or other forms of politically correct versions, such as "then daddy planted that little seed in mother’s belly."

One wonders whether a mother would have an easier time telling her child: "Your father is this mediatic playboy, who, while married to Turkey’s self-declared most beautiful woman, got me pregnant. During their very mediatic divorce, your daddy told all the press that he wanted me to have an abortion. Then, as soon as he learned that you were a boy, he changed his tune and now, we are married and that is that."

Let Feraye Tanyolaç-cum-Çilingiroğlu decide which is more straightforward after all.
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(First) ladies who lunch

The large, rather rococo, table was decorated with the daintiest Brussels lace and the hand-woven Estonian napkins. After much debate, the Franco-German balance was reached on the understanding that the porcelain would be from Meisen and the silverware from Christofle. The crisp salad and the saffron pilav were served in two beautiful bowls of İznik Ceramics, a contribution that dated from the 1980s, when the table became a tradition.

The women around the table, some beautiful, some ugly, most middle-aged, but a few young ones, addressed each other by pet names. They exhumed power and self-assurance, the sort that comes from living in power circles for years.

But not all of them looked jubilant: "I cannot belieeeeve that the so-and-so now asks me to apologize for my remarks to the press about heem," said the sexy-looking woman with full lips. "Eet ees not me who ees frequenting minors. Birthday, my eye... When he has not even come to the birthday of our own daughter! " The woman next to her, known in the circles as EE, simply shrugged: "You never challenge your man in front of the media. My husband says your husband is a good man and an excellent world leader." She adjusted her hair-scarf. "I am not telling you to take it lightly, mind you. When my husband first came to power, he wanted to pose with some models in Davos. É That was, you see, before he was invited to all those conferences on the Middle East, so he had more time then. Anyway, I placed myself firmly on his right and managed to appear in all the pictures."

"Are there any models in his Cabinet?" asked the full-lips.

"No, of course not. The minister of education is good looking, but no, of course no models."

"I resent that models are seen as of easy virtue," cut in who was doubtless the most beautiful woman at the table. "A model can be anything: a song-writer, a minister or a first lady."

"Carlita mia, I did not intend to offend you," said full-lips. "God knows what you must have gone through."

"Oh, one can easily deal with ex-wives and ex-ministers," said the woman referred to as Carlita. "The trick is to let him know who is more media-savvyÉand of course, taller in stockinged feet."

At the other end of the table, they heard Michelle say peevishly: "It is just too awful, you cannot wear a sheath without being compared to JackieÉ" "The thing is," said Carlita, "you are always compared to Jackie as soon as you become a first lady. Even I was compared to Jackie by your Vanity Fair. Cover story. Twice. It must be worse for American first ladies."

"I was never compared to Jackie," said Hil. "Not even when Bill was involved in you know whatÉ"

"Well, the little sidekick was no Marilyn Monroe," said full-lips. "But you see, eet ees very hurtful when your husband, whom you trust and love, decides that a man is as young as the woman he ees feeling."

"The trick is to get them before they get too powerful," said the woman known as EE. "And then keep them out of the harm’s way. If he is religious and believes that adultery is a sin, it is easier."

"And it is easier if you are younger than him," said the other headscarved women at the table, known as Hera because her name was impossible to pronounce. EE gave her a bad look, but Hera, used to ducking such dark looks from her compatriot, simply looked away. Instead she turned to Raina: "Have you thought about covering up?"

Raina, who was saying to Michelle. "No, they never compare me to Jackie, always to Princess Soraya of Iran, the sad princessÉ" replied Hera: "No, not really. Have you thought about uncovering your hair?"

"Yes," said Hera. "But I would find it difficult, because of her," with a defiant list of the chin toward EE, her compatriot. At the other hand of the table, EE was whispering to full-lips: "You know, I rather fancy that a shade of auburn would make me look younger, but how can I, as long as Hera covers herself?"
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Going for the gold

"You mean they did not ask you to play at the series Golden Girls?" I asked Z. With her ever-seductive glance and looks, she would be just right for the role of Blanche, the most seductive of the "Golden Girls," the 1980s sitcom that was a favorite with families. "No, but it seems that everybody else was asked," replied Z.

Fair enough. For three months now, we are eagerly discussing the Turkish version of "The Golden Girls," an Emmy-winner that tells the story of three older women sharing a fashionable house in Miami, Florida. The house's owner is a widow, the aging diva of Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan), who has recently been joined by somewhat simple-minded Rose Nylund (Betty White) and very gay divorcee Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur). The three were later joined by Dorothy's mother, Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty), possibly the closest that you can get to a Turkish mother in a comedy that takes place in Miami.

About a month ago, the Turkish version came down with Turkey’s stars of the 1960s playing those elder women. (And that just goes to show, ladies, there is no plastic surgeon that can stop Father Time.) Dorothy is played by Hülya Koçyiğit, whose tear-strained face created sympathy for three decades; Rose is played by Türkan Şoray, who was famous for her misty glance; actress-turned-mayor Fatma Girik plays Sophia; and the role of the seductive Blanche is taken over by Nevra Serezli, after another famous blonde of the 1960s, Emel Sayın, turned it down for health or wealth reasons.

What’s another sitcom in Turkish TV, you would say, when there are so many more exciting ones? There is, after all, the intriguing "Forbidden Love" and the nostalgic "Fall of the Leaves" and the popular/populist "Asi"É

You’d be wrong. Even before the sitcom was released, the show biz people started complaining that their project was stolen. "The project to have the Turkish ’Golden Girls’ was ours. But, fool that I am, I talked about it all the time and someone pitched the idea right under my nose," complained actress Nurseli İdiz (yes, the one who has been arrested for Ergenekon). She was far from being the only one. Oya Aydoğan, a buxomy brunette who reached fame with 1970s low-budget movies, said director/producer Ömer Durak came to him with the project some seven years ago. Durak wanted to do it with the stars of the 1970s and 1980s, the next generation compared to Girik-Koçyiğit-Serezli-Şoray quartet.

"The project could not materialize because Banu Alkan, who would have played the vamp, refused it. Then, two years ago, we thought of Bülent Ersoy who might play that part," said Aydoğan. For those who do not know, Bülent Ersoy is a very popular transsexual singer.

The remarks were shrugged off by Armağan Çağlayan, the producer of the actual Turkish Golden Girls, saying, "A lot of people may have the idea, but what is important is to get the rights from Walt Disney." However, part of the spectators reacted to the non-story. They have already established a page on Facebook, where they protest the allegations of stealing and say the present setup is the best.

It is, after all, easier to organize a demonstration on Facebook than in Taksim.
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Paying homage to Al Jaffe

This week, Erospolis pays homage to Al Jaffe, who, back in 1968, came up with a new piece for MAD magazine: Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions. For those who are not familiar with SATSQ, here is an example: Q: (from a woman just pulled over by a police officer) Did I do something wrong, officer?

A:
No, today we're giving tickets out for doing things right.

A: No, I just got tired of lugging around these heavy summonses, so I decided to give some of them away.

A: No, I'm giving a ticket to this crazy street because it's going the wrong way.

Erospolis applies the time-honored tradition to the current events of the week:

Q: (Overheard at the International Children’s Day Reception in Parliament) Did we keep up the tradition of having a child act as prime minister this year on Children’s Day?

A:
No, the prime minister was too afraid to leave his seat after the local election results.

A: We did, but nobody could tell the difference.

A: We wanted to, but gave up when we saw Melih Gökçek pretending to be a kid.

Q: (Overheard at the Foreign Ministry) Have you heard the rumors that Minister Babacan has been replaced by Ahmet Davutoğlu as the foreign minister?

A: You mean Mr. Davutoğlu was not already the foreign minister?

A: Don’t ask me, I was under the impression that Mr. Gül was still in charge here.

A: Oh, I thought something was wrong when Mr. Babacan did not turn up, but I thought he was just questioned under Ergenekon.

Q: (Asked to the Turkish representative by a member of the audience after a full day of debate on Turkish accession to the EU in a conference in Brussels) Do you think Turkey will become a member of the EU one day?

A:
As a matter of fact, I came all the way here to tell you that we Turks are no longer interested.

A: Sure. What is 50 years between friends?

A: As soon as the EU fulfills the Ankara criteria, Turks will be more than happy to accept.

Q: (Between political analysts) Why does Recep Tayyip Erdoğan want to reshuffle the Cabinet?

A:
To punish some ministers for failing to obtain the towns where the AKP absolutely had no chance to win at the local elections.

A: Because he is tired of seeing the same faces.

A: Because, much as he wants to, he cannot change other countries’ Cabinets.

Q: Does Ergenekon really exist?

A:
No, but the state really had to do something to compete with the ratings of "Valley of the Wolves."

A: Of course it does. Do you think the larks brought all those grenades?

A: I will give you my answer as soon as I get out of the jail!

Q: Have Turks been hit by the global economic crises?

A:
Mehmet Şimşek certainly has. Rumor has it that he will be losing his seat as state minister responsible for economy.

A: Of course not. All those closed shops and people fired are simply taking a break.

A: Hasn’t the prime minister said the crisis bypassed us? Do you think he would lie?

Q: Will Turkey normalize relations with Armenia?

A:
Yes. It will take a while, however, to normalize relations with Azerbaijan.

A: No. Neither of us is quite normal.

A: That’s what we told Obama, and we are sticking to it until the end of April.

Many thanks, Al Jaffe.
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Fake Bag Wave

Just at the intersection between Beymen Brasserie and Hilton, in the heart of Ankara, I was approached by a man and a woman with nondescript, easily forgettable faces. "May I help you?" I asked.

"We have come to help you," they replied. "All you have to do is answer a few questions."

"Again?" I said. "How many times do we have to go over that? I am not plotting to overthrow the government, I don’t know anyone who is involved in that, I never met İlhan Selçuk, Yeşil and even Türkan Saylan, and no, the European Union funding is not used to break up the state and regional development agencies are not hotbeds of insurgency."

"We know all that," said the man dismissively. "We have a new set of questions: Do you know Yalçın Küçük?"

"Not personally, no," I replied.

"That rules out the 10th wave," said the woman.

"Have you ever been a member of a labor union?" asked the man. "You were a journalist, you must have been, admit it."

"The labor unions had already been chased out of the newspapers when I started," I replied.

"Then we cannot arrest her under the 11th wave either," said the woman. "You must have provided a scholarship to some child," insisted the man.

"No," I said. "I was planning to, that is true, but that was before Ergenekon’s 12th wave decided to arrest women who were involved in a scheme that aimed to increase literacy among girls. God, what was I thinking? Surely, anyone can see that working hard to educate girls is an attempt to overthrow the government through clandestine means?"

"No more cheek from you," said the woman. "I can take you away on thinking of giving a scholarship to a girl."

This is hardly a laughing matter. The same forensic or medical council that declared that a 13-year-old girl repeatedly raped suffered no physical or psychological harm can surely profess to know what one thinks or plans.

"Wait a minute," said the woman. "Is that a fake bag that I see in your hand?"

"Hello, Sherlock," I said. "Of course it is a fake bag. Do you think I can afford a real croc Kelly? Oh, if you have in mind to have me arrested for cruelty to animals, this is not real crocodile either."

"No," said the woman. "This is the 13th wave. From now on, we shall be questioning people carrying fake bags."

"Why?" I said.

"Well, we arrested almost anyone else," replied the man. "We have already arrested yesterday’s non-news, retired military, transvestites, hard-drinking theater stars, labor union leaders, Istanbul’s creme de la creme, NGOs, cancer patients, judges, their wives. É We have to go somewhere from here."

"Also, it is all-encompassing criteria," said the woman. "Everybody carries a fake bag. We do not need to look for further excuses. Guilty until proven innocent and that is that!"

"Yes, but what is the point?" I asked. "Why not arrest someone wearing a fake Burberry or fake Versace, for example? Or women wearing false Laboutine’s, with the red soles?"

"Are you being condescending toward the wives of the Cabinet?" said the woman. "This will not help you at all. And for the record, what you call fake Versace is a very well established Turkish brand..."

"Yes, but what is the relationship between carrying a fake handbag and wanting to overthrow the state É sorry, the government?" I asked.

"Ah, but there is a link," said the woman. "One would never put a grenade in a real Hermes. Also, a bag tells a lot about who you are and what you think."

She then proceeded to tell me all the clues: A red Birkin bag displays a 1960s spirit, a la Jane Birkin, who has a weakness for anarchy and is thus dangerous. A beige Todd shows a quiet character, possibly fiercely republican and admirer of İlhan Selçuk. A large fake bag, ideal for guns or a computer that might carry sensitive information.

Here comes the 13th wave.
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National habits

One of the issues that troubles the minds of the contemporary nomad (that group of international civil servants, diplomats, multinational company managers and other vagabonds who have to change places every now and then) is whether there is such a thing as national characters - or is that simply an illusion?

Or, at least, this is one of the few convenient subjects after the fifth bottle or glass is consumed and when art, philosophy and politics are exhausted - and when it is too sophisticated to talk of local scandal and too trying to talk of politics.

Recently, a brilliant friend told me that she had written a paper in the past about "national illnesses" and their effects on work life. In France, for example, when someone reports a "crise de foie" on a Monday, every one understands and sympathizes and he or she takes the day off without any problem. In Turkey, it must either be a migraine (as opposed to an ordinary headache one would get when faced with ordinary red tape) or a backache.

There certainly is a whole literature around national traits, ranging from Richard Hill’s "We European" to the short-and-cruel "Bluffer’s Guides." Your columnist is one admirer of such books, hoping it would give her an insight to Danish entrepreneurship, Finnish humor, German cuisine, Spanish egocentricity, Dutch courage and, well, the mysterious way the Belgian mind works. 

A song to sing Songs, unlike books, do not take the whole gamut of national habits/emotions. Eartha Kitt, whose brilliant life came to an end last December, sang of the way that different nationalities loved in her song, "An Englishman Needs Time."

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Lack of humor

The spirit of April Fool, a taunting, pensive figure not unlike Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, mumbled to himself angrily. "I cannot believe that I, who used to be on the front page of all the newspapers in the form of the most lurid jokes on the first of every April, am totally ignored this year," he said. "Remember the good old days when Pravda said that the government had fallen, when the Daily Mirror had quoted Daniel Craig as saying that Bond would swing both ways and when a now-obscure newspaper had written that the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was allowing wine exports."

"It is not so bad," said the spirit of St. Valentine, his best friend. "There were plenty of good jokes this year. After all, the ice cream company Ben & Jerry's created a fake Web site, Cyclone Dairy, which claims to only sell milk coming from cloned cows. The UK newspaper The Guardian announced that it was shutting down both its print edition and Web site, turning instead to a Twitter-only format. Experts say any story can be told in 140 characters, it announced."

"Oh, that was a joke?" asked April Fool. "I had not realized Ğ given that most news stories are precisely that long."

Resignation jokes

"You know, it is so difficult to know what is a joke and what is not nowadays," said Jack Frost. "I was flying right over the Prime Ministry when I heard that the premier wanted to fire half of the Cabinet. I could have sworn that it was a joke, but now I understand that it is his disappointment over the local elections results."

"You mean it is real that he wants to chuck poor Vecdi Gönül out because he happens to be the deputy from İzmir, which the AKP has no chance of winning even if time stops?" asked Father Time. "And to think that time would improve the government."

"One cannot really go against one’s nature," said Mother Nature, who claimed to know more about mankind than anyone else Ğ that is, if St. Valentine did not step in to change its behavior. "I thought that the so-called resignation of the six ministers was a joke, but clearly, when the news hit the papers, the premier was not amused. He said that he would dismiss any minister who told such a story. He asked the press to prove the story and said he would put the ministers out the door."

Neither was he amused by the remarks of Cemil Çiçek, who said that the Democratic Society Party, or DTP, was neighbors with Armenia after they won the local elections in Iğdır, just at the border with Armenia.

"Now, Mr. Çiçek is quite a joker," said April Fool. "I do remember his remarks that equated flirting with prostitution, which could hardly ever be forgotten."

"I think the best jokes come from Brussels nowadays," said Jack Frost. "I loved the press statement that the EC would give awards to plans to cut red tape Ğ it almost got me."

For those who are not watching Brussels on a daily basis, The Best Idea for Red Tape Reduction Award will go to good ideas for cutting bureaucracy that so far have not been implemented.

"This was not a joke," said April Fool. "But the implementation of the plans would surely have great potential for next year’s April first."
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Falling apart

Local elections are not a time that tickles your sense of aesthetics. On the contrary, if you are one of those people who live in disdain of politics but prefer an existence dominated by beauty, it might be the best time to escape to an isolated house on some small island where the nearest neighbor would be miles away. Thus, you would be away from the honking horns of the election buses, the gaudy slogans, hand brochures in red and white, the billboards of mustached men with arms around each other, with slogans such as "Today Ankara, tomorrow Turkey." 

If you have an office in the lively street of Tunalı Hilmi, your phone conversations are often interrupted by the high-volume calls claiming your vote Ğ on the grounds of consistent service by the Justice and Development Party, or for "the change" proposed by Murat Karayalçın (and there, one tends to think of the dynamic Ankara candidate rather than the static party) or for "willingness to serve rather than clash" by the Nationalist Movement Party. This columnist would have loved to get a glimpse of the liberal Çankaya candidate of the conservative Saadet Partisi, but it seems that her path did not go through Tunali.

’Non-green’ weeks over
Whatever the outcome of the local elections, it would, at least, put an end to the "non-green" three weeks we have passed through, where our life seemed to be polluted by bad slogans, paper and balloons on the pavements and conflicting analyses on just which party would win where. (One of the most interesting analyses of the elections was carried out by Professor Fuat Keyman and Co., published in Radikal, which described the elections as "local elections that ignored any local aspect but were conducted as if they were national elections.")

But two things in the capital caught the eye of Erospolis this week, although there was nothing erotic about either.

First is the 3rd Book Fair of Ankara, which brings together many of the Turkish publishers, took place at the Atatürk Cultural Center, a building which was opened to the public in 1987, after seven years of construction by architects Coşkun and Filiz Erkan. It has been left to its own faith since then, with the hope that it would fall apart and something else would be done on the rather valuable territory around it.

From its broken marble floors to spotted carpets, this monstrosity of wood and marble is unheated, moldy and uncared for. Home to the Ankara conservatory, singers fight the cold by voice exercises and speakers who are asked to make speeches on the fringes of the book fair keep their coats on. Asked whether it would be possible to heat the hall before one conference, a desperate administrator replied: "No. If there is a large audience, they can warm the hall with their breath."

Books and food
The book fair itself is an interesting affair: Some publishers, such as Ankara-based prestige publisher İmge, will not attend it. While one notes the loss, it is rather difficult to blame the publisher (and no doubt many others) for not participating in a book fair that also hosts a "homemade food bazaar." Books, after a seven-day bazaar, start smelling like homemade gözleme or Turkish köfte.

The second urban story in the capital is, of course, theft from the Ankara Arts and Sculpture Museum. The museum, a small jewel that overlooks the opera in Ulus, was reopened last year to offer Ankara residents a lovely collection of late Ottoman and Republican paintings. It is certainly a wonderful way to spend a Saturday afternoon although there is painfully little information about the paintings.

Evil tongues have been saying that some of the daring pieces, such as nudes, were not taken out for the public to see, and that there are even greater treasures in the museum’s attic. A group of thieves certainly thought so, as they tried stealing two of the paintings by Osman Hamdi, who painted "The Tortoise Trainer." His equally powerful masterpiece, "The Weapons Merchant" is on display at the Ankara Art Museum.

The punch line is that one of the thieves was the museum guard himself, who already had a record of theft from an Istanbul museum. Instead of being fired, he was transferred to Ankara.

Now, that is what we call a capital joke!
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Monkey business

With the European Year of Innovation and Creativity of 2009, we, the politicallly naive people, might have expected TUBİTAK, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, to come to the fore with large-scale activities that placed the spotlight on some of the excellent projects they have launched in the past and present. For many Turks, the name TUBİTAK’s was long equated with very respectable research and excellent publications. Your hopelessly-unscientific columnist received her first taste of maths by reading TUBITAK’s publication of "A Mathematician's Apology" Ğ a 1940 essay by British mathematician G. H. Hardy, which is about the aesthetics of mathematics and gives the layman an insight into the mind of this interesting species called a mathematician.

But the recent debate on the institution has been far from flattering. Although the Council denied it fervently, it has been accused of censoring a story on the founder of evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin, in its popular monthly magazine Bilim ve Teknik (Science and Technology). TÜBİTAK Vice President Professor Ömer Cebeci allegedly canceled the 16-page story on Charles Darwin and the evolutionary theory, which was prepared as part of the 150th anniversary of the publication of "On the Origin of Species" (Nov. 24, 1859) and the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth (Feb. 12, 1809).

Darwin is dead

A group of academics from the University Councils Association protested the "Darwin scandal" in front of TÜBİTAK headquarters Thursday. "Stop the enemies of science," read the group’s banners.

State Minister Mehmet Aydın, usually very media-savvy, failed to calm the protests when he said that one could not argue with Darwin because "he was dead."

Turks, great at fabricating cartoons and caricatures, immediately came up with alternative "cover stories" for the Science and Technology Magazine in an e-mail that was forwarded and re-forwarded to almost anyone you know:

"Fasting: the Anti-aging Miracle" said one proposed headline, while another said: "Holy Water, Miracle Water."

One of Turkey’s wittiest writers, Çetin Altan (whom most would consider the best writer in the family, as opposed to his best-seller son, Ahmet) proposed in his Milliyet column that the statue of a "Thinking Ape" should be placed near Rodin’s "Thinker," with the words added "I am worrying about being evolved into the un-thinking man."

Websites that have covered the news, including Nature magazine’s Web site, have been flooded with e-mails that quickly digressed from the issue of TUBITAK and extended into a look at the Turkish anti-evolution circles and, naturally, the criticism of the government’s policies:

"I am Turkish and currently a post-doc in USA. The mentioned magazine (Bilim ve Teknik) is a publication of TUBITAK which was recently stripped off its independent status and were associated to a ministry therefore being under direct control and regulation of the prime minister. Both the president and vice-president of TUBITAK assignments were part of a huge discussion awhile back as they were politically motivated rather than merit based. Also this is neither the first of its kind nor an isolated issue to one magazine. There had been issues on natural history museums evolution sections before the prime-minister visited them. Access to some Web sites (like Richard Dawkins') was banned in Turkey. Some high-school teachers got punished because of the way they taught evolution in the class (it's supposed to be part of the curriculum). The ruling political party's views toward fundamentalism and promoting religion in the classrooms are also well known," said one e-mail.

But one of the most quoted observations on Darwin came from Bekir Coşkun: "Darwin’s evolution theory and methods of selection do not fit the Turks at all. If there had been any evolution, how could we explain the selection procedure that we employ, that leads people to vote for the same politicians who leave them unemployed, impoverished and uneducated?"
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Vegetable politics

"Now it is my turn," said the onion to the lemon. "I am the vegetable of the political season." "Pooh, this is only the local elections after all," said the lemon sourly. "I was the darling of national elections, not locals. Those were the days Ğ right after the merger of the centre-left under Erdal İnönü as the leader Ğ a more gallant man there never was."

For those who are unable to remember that far back, the lemon had its five minutes of glory during 1987 when the invigorated Social Democrat Populist Party (the ridiculously-compound name symbolized the merger of the two parties of the left, who did not want to abandon their names at all, let alone anything else) used the lemon as their campaign symbol. "Are you ready to be squeezed like a lemon for another five years?" asked the ad, under the picture of a squeezed lemon. This was a dig at then-Prime Minister Turgut Özal, whose liberal policies were accused of destroying the Turkish middle class and make the poor poorer while the rich got richer. Despite the campaign, Mr Özal got the mandate for another term.

The "lemon" campaign and the slogan got mixed reviews: many thought that comparing the nation to a lemon was beyond the dignity of the party’s academic-minded leader Mr Erdal İnönü. The PR agency which invented the slogan, however, thrived both in and outside Turkey.

Remembering all that, the onion did not at all defer to the lemon. "You are yellow-faced and sour ," he said. "Just like the left wing politicians of Turkey." But the lemon hardly heard the young onion. He was too busy remembering his glorious past. "In French, se presser le citron means to think, to rack one’s brains," he said proudly to the onion, trying to remember his high-school French. "Pooh, that will get you nowhere," said the onion. "The Spanish cebolla means head or the onion, so thereÉ who is brainier?"

The onion, for its part, swept to the political scene when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recited (again) poetry at Elbistan, where the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has the grip of local power for the last five years.

In a desperate move to woo the voters with poetry, Mr Erdoğan recited a quartet from the town’s local son, poet Mahsuni Şerif.

"A whole lot is fed on the nation, how can the heart stand to see this?/The brave are hard up for an onion/I do not know what to say on this?" And if you think my translation is clumsy, gentle reader, just see the original! Thus, the onion, now officially the food of the brave, put its mark to the campaign.

"Onion Literature" wrote Hürriyet in its headline news, after an opposition deputy placed a question motion to the premier: "The fact that the people are not able to find an onion to eat, is it not the result of your economic policies?"

"Erdoğan gives dry onion to the people and villas to his followers," commented Oktay Vural of MHP.

"I am everywhere nowadays, from the newspaper headlines to question motions," boasted the onion. It was clear that all this attention had gone to his cebolla. When you say Deniz Baykal, however, it is the tomato that comes to the mind. The opposition leader had been drawn in the past with a head of tomatoÑa reference to his red cheeks and the fact that he came from the tomato-rich lands of Antalya. The cucumber, which had been silent all along the debate of the vegetables, finally broke in: "Listen, you had your periods of glory, but as far as Turkish politics go, it is me, the cucumber, who reigns for good."

For those who are not familiar with the subtleties of the Turkish language, a "cucumber" means a gross, badly-behaved and slightly foolish person!
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Skin-deep politics?

Call me narrow minded, but I am so used to listening to what to politicians say rather than checking out how they look, that I was a tad surprised when I read in daily Radikal of the "beauty efforts" before the local elections. A healthy-life guru from Bursa went on to explain how the local politicians wanted to brush up their image, if not their ideology, before the local elections at the end of March.

According to the article, the candidates use the time-honored method of lipo-suction to get rid of the pot bellies and use botox to get rid of that hard look that politicians acquire after several years in the tricky business.

Dr Ender Saraç said that a recent meeting on "how to impress the public" drew many mayoral candidates, who were more than happy to embrace "ozone therapy" to look dynamic and youthful before their potential voters.

"It is basically the people around the Istanbul area that realize the importance of that," said Saraç.

The services that are offered are many: they can ask for a health programme, or go for a more radical solution of plastic surgery. They need vitamin shots, not only to keep up with the hard pace of the election period but to have a glowing skin."

On second thought, this should hardly be surprising: any Turk can remember just how far late President Özal, a chubby politician whom a foreign newspaper once compared to an "oriental carpet-seller," came in terms of a changed jacket, changed glasses and a changed mustache.

Prime fashion

Mrs Tansu Çiller, Turkey’s most beautiful prime minister, had also created her image before she made an unexpected grab for the prime ministership in the early 1990s. Out went her "Americanized professor in Boğaziçi University" clothes, to be exchanged with the simple European lines of couture that glided over a heavy waist and thick legs. Mrs Çiller, whose hot temper could only match that of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, managed (through the vitamin shots and botox that Dr Saraç mentioned) to look serene, calm and tranquilly beautiful, no matter how she screamed at her ministers and staff.

Botox, Mr Erdoğan?

As I buried myself in oysters, kriek and the European Union debate (yes, I was in Brussels) an odd item caught my eye: Mrs Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State, will be hosted by Turkey’s most fascinating talk show on NTV, which is called "Come be With Us" Ğ which is made up of three tough divas plus one.

For those who are unfamiliar with the show, the format is as follows: you have media diva Çiğdem Anad, the literary icon Pınar Kür and actress Müjde Ar (who is, for Turkey, the thinking man’s Marilyn Monroe and the wittiest woman in the country to add to the bargain). Then there is the fourth person, stunningly beautiful, delightfully young and gaffe-prone Aysun Kayacı who acts the fool. I am still unclear whether it is intentional or not. The trio-plus-one have hosted endless controversial names, from stars to politicians, always with their slightly (w)itchy style and heavy-handed criticism, despite Mrs Ar’s talent for defusing tensions.

According to Anad, the proposal to host Mrs Clinton came from the U.S. Embassy, which not only shows that the embassy’s thorough knowledge of the Turkish media but its creativity Ğ surely, one cannot imagine a better set-up for Mrs Clinton, whose own style somewhat resembles the women she will meet.

Anad also said that the group would not ask Mrs Clinton about the "Oral Office" episode and her reaction to it, although they were told that they could ask anything.

Now, unlike Mrs Anad, that is one question I would have liked her to reply. I would have liked her to shrug it off: "it was not the first time I noticed Bill had bad taste," I see her say in my mind’s eye. "But you do not impeach a good president for that."Ah, but Mrs Clinton would be too sophisticated to say what an ordinary woman would!
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A dose of weight neurosis

Someone, and, unlike the popular trend nowadays, when I say someone or "a man" I do not mean an ex-president, as in "a man threw a book and there was a crisis," recently told me that I can stand losing a few kilos. As the Turkish proverb goes, "one madman throws a rock into the sea and 10 intelligent men fail to take it out." Wise friends who assured me that I looked "just fine, even a bit on the slim side" failed to persuade me. Ever since the disastrous words, "you know, you would really look magnificent at 45 kilos," those extra lumps of fat, spoiling everything, are all I can ever think about.

Join the club, said a dietician friend. "Why do you think I have more patients than I can handle? Most of them do not need to lose weight, but to gain some. According to statistics, 52 percent of Turkish women are overweight and three percent are underweight. My customers," she sighed, "are not among the 52 percent."

Hello, middle-class, urban, weight-obsessed female of the species, who cannot be happy unless she fits in a size 34.

"Size 34 (the equivalent of size 2) is the new size 38," said a saleswoman a chic shop in Ankara. "X small is the new medium. No self-respecting woman would like to be seen nowadays wearing a large."

I should know. One of my closest girlfriends broke up with her boyfriend after he gave her a size M sweater. "Our relationship had reached the level of intimacy that he should know that I am extra small," she complained.

Lying about size

"Wait a minute," I asked a businessman friend who made a fortune over textiles for women. "Are Turkish women getting smaller?"

"No," he replied. "Turkish women are getting taller, and consequently, larger. It is just that they are getting weight-obsessed, so we are marking down sizes."

So, as a result of this weight obsession, are Turkish women getting skinnier?

Yes, said my dietician friend "at least in the chic districts of chic towns. They are also looking younger than what their mothers looked in the same age."

In case you have not noticed, Turkish women are big on plastic surgery: Anything from those love handles to crow’s feet around the eyes can be easily and cheaply be ... eradicated. Turkey, let us face it, is a plastic surgery paradise.

"Stop bothering yourself with diets," said a surgeon friend. "We will rid you of those saddlebags, rejuvenate the waist, mm, and perhaps do something to firm the bosom ... while we are at it, can we also give you the doe-eyed look?"

The doe-eyed look that every woman over the age of 50 has in Nişantaşı, Istanbul? I mean, how do those men tell their wives apart, they all look the same to me. (As one cheeky columnist said, "They don’t.")

"Is that all?" I asked.

"No," continued my surgeon friend. "We can tuck in the knees; after all, sagging knees are one of the major indicators of age. Then we can do something to the arms, even to the back. You know, you can always tell a woman’s age by her back. Then, of course, there is the chin tuck, which you will certainly need in a few years time, then perhaps a "therma" to make the face go back up, and while at it, a bit of silicon on the lips and, if you really, really want to do a total perfection ... a nose job, to make it thinner."

"You must be nuts," I said.

"No," he added. "I have done this to all the wives of my friends."

No wonder at parties, everyone looks the same. And all those years I thought it was the effect of alcohol.

"Would a total lipo cost a fortune?" I asked.

"You can never be too thin, and I can never be too rich," he replied.
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No more Dior!

"Politicians have to watch out what they wear," said a chic Parisian, who happens to be an expert on fashion culture, as we downed young Turkish wine in massive glasses intended for Burgundy’s best. After the second one of those ugly glasses of red wine, we, three friends, came to the conclusion that looking good in Darel instead of adoring Dior could have saved the career of France’s flamboyant justice minister! How is that for Bazaar Politics?

"The first lady may wear Chanel or Galliano, she is the first lady," said the expert as we nodded in agreement. "But a minister cannot look extravagant. She should know her level."

Red lipstick on his collar looks great in a screen romance, but it is out of place in a cabinet meeting, he added. Same applies for a Rolex watch.

"Swatch is only acceptable if you are a Nordic minister. Otherwise, a discreet Cartier is fine for a French minister," he added. "Not Cartier jewelry though. Just the watch."

Talking Turkey

You may think that Turkish politicians, in their gray suits, hardly had any trouble on that front. We Turks simply accept the fact that our politicians would be badly dressed and that the last Turkish statesman who was noted for his utter chic was Atatürk.

On the other hand, it would be wrong to think that Turks are indifferent to how their politicians look. Take Mrs. Çiller, with her famous white two-piece suits, stressing the point that she was opening a lily-white page in the Turkish history. (Since then, it has become a Turkish reflex to worry about corruption whenever we hear the word "white.")

Versace scarf

Then there was the Versace scarf of Necmettin Erbakan, the one-time mentor of today’s PM. Mr. Erbakan had a deep dislike of anything European, except textile from Italy and donations from Germany from the Turks who lived there.

"So what does Erdoğan wear?" asked a Belgian friend and I realized that Mr Erdağan, no matter what he wears, looks good. Not chic, but good.

More or less the same applies for President Gül, except his big error with a flashy smoking vest.

Wearing the shirt

"I do not like it when politicians wear brown," said my friend. "You can always tell the difference between a small town politician and someone destined for greater things in politics by his shoes. If it is this yellowish brown, he will remain in local politics forever."

"If you are left wing, blue shirts," said another friend who spoke briefly as an image-maker for a politician. "People think of late Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit and his honest and for-the-people image. On the other hand, if you are right wing and populist, white shirt with sleeves rolled up, the style of Cem Uzan. It gives you a self-made man look, even if you were born with a silver spoon."

"And if you really want to appear as one of the people?" I asked.

"Then you wear a crumpled suit all the time," said a friend. "President Demirel has done it for years."

On a daily basis, though, it has always been the clothes of the female members of the Cabinet who caught more attention.

"I hate it when she wears that black suit," a photojournalist said as he snapped Nimet Çubukçu, at a conference on violence against women. "When she wears color, the news makes the front page."
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Happy Ballantines!

While you are reading these lines, I am drowning my sorrow in Tudors, Ayn Rand and alcohol of any available kind, preferably good local wine and strong whiskey. You see, Turkey, even in its gray-looking, gray-thinking capital, has ceased to be a safe place for the unattached on Saint Valentine’s Day. On the shopping street of Tunalı Hilmi, love’s commercial delights are all on display. It has been a dry season with the economic crisis and sales down to seventy percent, coupled with red hearts of St Valentine, may, just may, come to the rescue of the ever (c)losing shops.

Perhaps, in this strange cultural context, there are people who take their sweethearts for a romantic dinner of tripe soup, with much vinegar and garlic. This is the only explanation that I can think of for the red St Valentine balloons marking the occasion at the windows of traditional soup kitchens! But can someone explain to me just how the Valentine hearts will have a boosting effect on pharmacy sales? "Here, my love, take an aspirin, so you will not have a headache tonight after the tripe dinner I am planning to offer you..."

St Valentine’s touch-up

"If your hair needs a touch up, do come back early for Valentine’s Day,’’ said my hairdresser as he arranged my hair into a complicated chignon. I did not have the heart to tell him that there was little chance of letting my hair down for st/C-upidity this year. Besides, I was too busy reading the Alem magazine to see how the rich and beautiful would be passing their V-Day!

So there you are, gentle reader, with a glimpse of the Turkish jet-set, bold, beautiful and in love: "My best St Valentine’s was when Gürdal sent me a truck full of rose petals," said Ivana Sert, Turkey’s version of poor gaudy Ivana Trump. Gürdal, a baby-buttock-faced businessman, who is discreet about the way he earns money but not at all discreet about the way he spends it, clearly impressed Ivana very much with this gesture. The poor girl, being Russian, was blissfully unaware that the rose petal gesture is one that is often practiced in second-rate night clubs in Ulus, Ankara; though not with such extravagance.

In other couples, it was the female of the species who came up with gestures of endearment. Ms Ronit Gülcan, of lion’s mane and permanent suntan, surprised her mature lover Cem Hakko, the heir to the Vakko shops, with tickets to a James Blunt concert in Rotterdam. No wonder Mr Hakko divorced his wife of twenty-odd years for the honey-coloured bosom of Ronit.

Alem wonders how some celebrated couples will celebrate their first Saint Valentine’s together: Derin Mermerci, Istanbul society’s very touchable Ice Queen, who broke up with her now divorced boyfriend, is presently stepping out with Mr Tolga Egemen, the ex boy-friend of model-turned-stylist Ece Sükan. Given Ms Mermerci’s weakness for unavailable men and her habit of dropping them as soon as they leave their celebrity girlfriends and wives, Egemen-Mermerci affair could be over by the time you read this. Again according to Alem, Mrs Serra Tokar will be with her boyfriend Can Verdi. A proposal may mark the V-Day as Mrs Tokar, unlike Ms Mermerci, is a marrying woman. With two husbands to her credit, she tends to marry the guy she is photographed with.

The Turkish paparazzi are also very much interested in how Ms Deniz Akkaya will spend her February 14. Ms Akkaya, Turkey’s modelled-and-remodelled top model, was no saint, until she found some stability with Efe Özbilgin, TV world’s boy-wonder. The couple had been shot recently while Ms Akkaya was shedding tears, thus signalling trouble in paradise! Let us see whether they patch things up.

Love and faith

While I tried to keep my faith in St Valentine, I could not help but wonder (ah, how very Carrie Bradshaw this sentence is) whether others were trying to reconcile their faith with St Valentine’s Day.

A quick google search yielded results from two websites that profess to offer Islamic solutions to contemporary dilemmas.

"Dear Editor, the whole world is celebrating St Valentine’s Day (or, with the Turkish Translation, Lovers Day). Can we, as believers, do this as well?" Oh, our editors are resourceful. One replies that it is fine to celebrate St Valentine as long as it is considered the day of love, rather than of lovers. "Of course you can buy a gift on that day for your wife, because there should be love in a marriage, even if you are not in love in wedlock," said one creative Islamic editor. The reply from the second website was too good not to be translated here.

"This is a special date and there is no need to refrain from exchanging gifts between newly married or married couples. But if we refer to a celebration between lovers who are not married and living in sin, this is not acceptable. In fact, it would be a sin to celebrate something that is not condoned by our religion."

Happy Ballantines, young (or not so young) lovers!
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