Nazlan Ertan

Going for the gold

2 Mayıs 2009
"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

25 Nisan 2009
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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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

18 Nisan 2009
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

11 Nisan 2009
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

4 Nisan 2009
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

28 Mart 2009
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

23 Mart 2009
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

16 Mart 2009
"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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