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Nazlan Ertan

Skin-deep politics?

7 Mart 2009
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

28 Şubat 2009
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!

21 Şubat 2009
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!

14 Şubat 2009
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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Doing it...Turkish style

7 Şubat 2009

Yes, you have probably read that the Economist, with its love of a "bon-mot," has created the term "doing an Erdoğan" and defined it as "Davos-speak for hissy-fit."

B, besides being extremely well-read, is one of the calmest men in the world, who can placate furious women, indignant bosses and employees on the verge of resignation with a charming smile and a reconciliatory remark.

"Don’t you do a Gül on me," I screamed right back, tired of his "I am a mature, moderate and nice person who sees both sides of an argument" attitude.

"You know I am willing to do my utmost to come to Ankara and see you, but there are a lot of affairs here Ñ all those companies which show me on their board of executives, even if for symbolic reasons," he said.

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Manners and the Man

31 Ocak 2009
Dear Ms Manners,
I am young, beautiful, rich and famous. My face, with my sultry lips, can launch a hundred ships and it has certainly launched several businessmen. Yet, whenever I open my mouth, the press leaps on me, accusing me of blunders, political incorrectness and downright stupidity. What I can I do to prove that I am just as clever as the next model?

Dear Gorgeous,

Follow the example of the Great Garbo: keep a mysterious silence. Saying Atatürk was able to manage two women simultaneously while carrying out the War of Independence at the same time is not exactly a very analytical approach to the war. Similarly, when your audience does not cheer, it is hardly advisable to ask them whether they have just come down from the mountains of Diyarbakır. In fact, you may want to reconsider the whole idea of shunning the career of political commentator and go back to modeling. Let us admit it, no one wants to know your political views any more than they want to see Mr Erdoğan’s legs.

Dear Ms Manners,

I have just launched a call to the retired (read estranged) members of my party to invite them back for the 40th anniversary of the party. They have been painfully quiet. Is it good manners to insist? How can I tempt them without losing my dignity and the awesome standing I managed to get, after I filled in the shoes of a much revered leader?

Dear Leader,
Of course it is advisable, in view of the coming local elections, to mend broken hearts that you have left behind. It is perfectly admissible to try to woo them with gifts, but be advised that triangular plates and watches may not be the gifts after their heart. Also, your plan to have “fake money” printed for the anniversary of the party may not be the best of ideas. Perhaps if you tried real money, but in a discreet way, of course...

Dear Ms Manners,
No matter how hard I try, every one is against me! They accuse me of an hidden agenda, of supporting terrorist groups in the Middle East and of trying to cover women with headscarves. All this stress has a negative affect on my nervous system and sometimes, I want to break out. When I do, I am blamed even more. I am often accused, by my own staff, of childish and un-statesman-like behavior. How can I continue to speak what I believe in, without being accused of... well, hysteria or a permanent sugar-down?

Dear Prime... sorry, reader,
It is very clear that you need some anger management. It is not considered good manners, neither in diplomacy nor in any polite society, to accuse a colleague of being “old.” Sentences such as “I can shout louder than you” are inexcusable once you have passed the age of six. “You are raising your voice because you have a guilty conscience” and other forms of bazaar psychology is not part of diplomatic jargon. Blaming third parties, such as organizers, or storming off meetings are not considered good manners (although Ms Manners admits that they are vote-getters). Let us put it forward for once and all: There is no such thing as “Kasımpaşa Diplomacy.” Instead of saying, before flashing cameras, that you will never speak the language of retired diplomats or “mon chers,” try to learn from them. Miss Manners firmly believes that any one can be well-mannered... or at least, pretend to.
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Our town, oh, our town!

24 Ocak 2009
The identification with the hometown and "the Honor of the hometown," (God, the "H" word again) sometimes leads to absurd behavior. The people of the northern town of Rize, for example, were very peeved when the British police named a money-laundering operation after their hometown.

The Federation of the Rize Associations held a protest with kemence (their traditional musical instrument) in front of the British Consulate in Istanbul, and invited the consul-general to Rize to see "what a nice, honest town that was."

Ah, but the following development shows the British courtesy. Daily Radikal quoted a spokesman from the Scotland Yard who said that they had no idea that Rize was a town in Turkey. According to the spokesman, the name was picked out from a list and he regretted any offense caused to the people of the Turkish town of Rize.

Kars, Erzurum, Rize show same reaction
Kars has shown a similar reaction to Turkey’s Nobel-winning author Orhan Pamuk after his book "Kar" (Snow) which showed their eastern town as a gloomy, dark, conservative and xenophobic place. A critic summed up the reaction to Orhan Pamuk in Kars by paraphrasing Orhan Pamuk’s own opening line in another book, "The New Life:" "I wrote a book and the doors of a city were slammed in my face." (The original quote, from "The New Life" is: "I read a book and my whole life has changed.")

Another reaction for the town’s Honor came from Erzurum. A certain columnist, who combines an excellent knowledge of history, sociology and international relations with a wry sense of irony, wrote about his travels to this city, which he defined as "the capital of Love-it-or-Leave-it" culture. Paying a visit to the city during the fasting month of Ramadan, the columnist (no, no names today) bitterly complained about lack of open restaurants and the general signs of kitsch, conservatism and lack of tolerance. Then he observed: "If you don’t like Erzurum, go to the mountains" Ñ a reference not to the resistance but to the hedonism in the nearby skiing center, Palandöken, where you can have frivolity, food and good fÉ fun.

What is so wrong with being conservative?
Hate-mail poured in, including open letters from every civil society imaginable in Erzurum. Some objected to being labeled conservative, others asked just what was wrong with conservatism.

When it comes to the defending the beauty of their city, the girls of Adana are a good example.

Some years ago, Mrs Şirin Dürüst Yalçın, then dubbed "The Queen of Kitsch" with her gaudy style, admitted a certain admiration for Paris Hilton and said that she modeled her style on her. One sardonic member of the press wrote that although Mrs Yalçın (God knows what her last name is nowadays) cannot be Paris Hilton. "All she can be, with her exaggerated style, is Adana Hilton," he said in a nasty dig at the southern town which is known for its rather heavy food and heavy-handed ways of displaying wealth.

It was then, dear reader, letters from girls of Adana poured in, protesting the comparison!
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Imag(en)ing

17 Ocak 2009
Jokes that start with "A Catholic priest, an imam and a rabbi`’ tend to make me laugh rather than frown at their incorrectness. Blonde jokes, brunette jokes, stereotype jokes make me chuckle. I chuckled for hours at a photo that showed a baby given a pacifier with thorns on it and could not at all understand when my sister was furious. Prime ministers drawn as cats that got tangled in wool or voodoo dolls of presidents all seem to me to be jokes, rather than a case of persecution.

This is why, when I saw Entropa by David Cerny, I thought it fun... and funny.

The giant work Entropa which now stands in the entry of the European Union Council, Justus Lipsus, is an artwork by a very controversial Czech artist, who framed various representations of each member state as components of a giant multimedia model kit.

Ah, but what a representation!

Bulgaria is depicted as several Turkish style squat toilets tied together with blue and red pipes, Germany is criss-crossed by a series of autobahns that resemble a swastika; Spain is a giant construction site as a dig at its building boom (I was not able to understand the small bomb thing); and Luxembourg is a gold covered nugget with "For Sale" sign. Belgium is a box of pretty but diverse looking chocolates and Sweden is an IKEA kit.

Netherlands is under tough waters with only its minarets sticking out, Denmark is a set of Lego with the offensive image of Mohammed in a dig to the cartoon crisis. See the images at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7827762.stm

The sole problem with the installation, which was put there by the Czechs to celebrate its first-ever presidency of the EU, is not the images. Mr Cerny, it seems, promised that the work would be carried out by 27 European artists, but has chosen instead to do the whole thing himself with two friends and create fictitious artists. This is why the desperate search for the Bulgarian artist, doggedly carried out by my Bulgarian journalist colleagues, produced no results.

He knew that this fraud would be uncovered sooner or later but he wanted to know whether Europeans had a sense of humour.

Unfortunately for him, institutions cannot be expected to share my sense of crude humour. Thus, Bulgaria fervently protested the work and requested it to be taken down both to the Czech Presidency and to Mr Solana, the secretary-general of the European Council.

A spokeswoman for Bulgaria's permanent representation to the EU, said in comments reported by EUObserver.com: "It [the work] is preposterous, a disgrace. It is a humiliation for the Bulgarian nation and an offence to [our] national dignity."

I asked a friend, with a good experience of public diplomacy, whether it was common practice or even wise to protest artwork.

"Not the artwork’` said the friend. ’’You do not see officials going around in biennales and launching protests. Yet, if there is an official body involved in the commissioning or displaying the artwork that a nation finds offensive, then the diplomacy may indeed address itself to that authority."

In 2001, when French nongovernmental organization Reporters Sans Frontieres opened an exhibition that showed a map where the pictures of what the group called "enemies of the press,’’ with Turkish Chief of Staff General Kivrikoglu among them, Turkey formally protested France. While Ankara recognized that this was the work of an NGO, it was a public authority that allowed the exhibition that displayed the faces of the press enemies on the floor of St Lazare train station in Paris.

Next week, when Turkey’s prime minister visits Brussels perhaps he can give a few examples on how he and some members of his party dealt with humor and provocative (even non-provocative) art.

Remember the statue of ballerinas that were removed because they were found provocative, or nudes covered by cloth in the exhibition of an AKP municipality and rumours that the great nudes that used to be in the Ankara Art Museum, now opened after renovation, are kept in storage?
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