10 Ocak 2009
As the events of the week show, we are indeed very discreet people, with a discreet government and a policy of discretion.
Take, for instance, the way we have appointed, discreetly at midnight, a new chief negotiator for the European Union.
After several years of speculations on whether Foreign Minister Ali Babacan was just too busy for the hefty EU file; after endless suggestions by the EU partners that may be, just may be, this was the case; after months of speculations on whether the new negotiator would be Mr Egemen Bagis, or one of the favourite foreign ministers of the past or one of the dashing young dynamos of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), yes, the decision is taken Ğ it is Mr Bagis. But would we be so blunt to shout it from the rooftops of the EUSG?
No, of course not.
In the manner of a country which has ever so discreetly approved the new NAAP, or the National Programme for Alignment with the Acquis, during the New Year holidays, our ever-so-discreet PM made the mini cabinet shift and our even-more-discreet President approved it.
It seems that we observed the same discretion when it came to returning the Turkish nationality of one of Turkey’s greatest actors and directors. Yilmaz Guney, whose film Yol has been the first Turkish film seen by many foreigners, were deprived of Turkish nationality in 1982. He was, however, returned his Turkish nationality in 1993 - nine years after his death of cancer in 1984. His wife, Fatos, announced this week that she did not know this was the case. Neither did we, those of us who argued fervently that important Turkish figures who had been estranged by the Turkish regime of their time, should be returned their Turkish nationality.
According to Hurriyet, Turkey’s flag carrier is looking for foreign pilots Ğ ever so discreetly in the internet. This is largely due to the fact that many of the THY pilots have left for private companies and it wants to cover the shortage by employing good foreign pilots. But one could hardly expect the THY to go around with the tactics of a soccer club looking for star coaches or players. The vacancy is discreetly announced on its website. What can one say, except to hope that enough people sees it.
Aysun Kayaci, Turkey’s most gaff-prone beauty who crept to the front pages by saying that it was unfair that she should have the same right of vote as a shepherd, is also learning to be discreet. In the talk show that she shares with three other women (a journalist, a writer and a politically-engaged actress) she was warned not-too-subtly against discussing the Ergenekon case.
Mum is the word nowadays...
3 Ocak 2009
The article, lovingly penned by the boss’s wife-to-be after consultation with the best-known psychic in the capital, would be pulled to the front page. In all fairness, the psychic did predict trouble in the Middle East (always a sure bet) and the resignation of the Turkish foreign minister (a less sure bet but one that did materialize.)
Possibly out of habit, I never fail to read the read the so-called psychic articles that unfailingly appeared on January 1st and on one rare instance, wrote one interview with a psychic, who predicted that Mr. Sarkozy would indeed win the French presidential elections (right) and PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would become president (wrong).
Predictions by the astrologist
After this long explanation of the tradition, let us take a look at the 2009 predictions by Hakan Kırkoğlu, the astrologist of the Milliyet daily. Mr. Kırkoğlu, after predicting a good year for the Leos and a better one for the Scorpios, went onto his star map for Turkey and the world.
Let us share it: As Mars approaches the turn of Capricorn, wrote the esteemed astrologist, there is going to be considerable violence both in the relations between states and in the country, that is, terrorism. Putting aside the economic crisis, terrorism would be on top of the agenda for Turkey.
The effects of the planet Pluto would confront the Turkish foreign policy with the need of transformation and innovation, he adds, saying that this corresponds to the developments on the Cyprus question, the developments in northern Iraq and the relations with Armenia.
The star Antares will also be influential in Ankara, he says. Antares, a bright and dense star, symbolizes rage and quick reactions in astrology.
In short, says Kırkoğlu, we are moving toward critical times.
The report, needless to say, was carefully read by the relevant circles, at least those of the relevant circles who stayed in Ankara during the New Year.
"You really need to get your Antares under control this year, Sir," said an unnamed adviser to a Prime Minister who shall remain nameless.
"How can I, when the Sun is such a strong influence and when Pluto gets in my way?" asked the Prime Minister. "Alright, alright. My new resolution is to pay less attention to Mars and more to the balance between the four elements." "And if I may suggest, Sir, a touch of Venus may work wonders. You know how well it worked in Paris," added the unnamed adviser.
"No, I do not think Emine would like that Ğ and God knows, her Antares is worse than anyone else’s," said the Prime Minister.
In the elegant rooms of a European Union member state’s embassy, a man with a tired and relived expression turned to his colleague. "Oh we have managed to get it over with before Mars hit the fan," he said. "Now good luck to you."
"Mars will be quite influential in my own capital, too," said the colleague. "It seems that the influence of Pluto in Ankara would be toward the east and not the west. Anyway, my New Year Resolution is to be calm."
And what is your New Year Resolution?
27 Aralık 2008
"I am the Isolated Man," said a female friend after she watched the movie. "I am afraid of commitment, I loathe the idea of big weddings even when they are not my own and try to find faults with someone as soon as I grow attached to them ... I am more and more alone, not to mention lonely." Ooops, Mr. Irmak, you have done it again. After your "My father and son," we were all victims of the 1980 military coup. After "Ulak" (The Envoy), we were all travelers. And now, we are all the Isolated Man. Erospolis, always ready to bow to popular culture, hands out the Isolated Man Awards of 2008 as we conclude the year. Isolated Man Award in Politics "Everybody hates me, no one votes for my party, in the last elections, people said that my party would get more votes even if it had no president after all," said Deniz B. as he received the award in the shape of six arrows. He stressed that he agreed with Irmak’s "The Isolated Man" because he knew women to be trouble: "You embrace a woman with a headscarf and you are in trouble ... You integrate a woman in your circles and she embarrasses you with racist remarks." Isolated Woman Award in Politics
"No one understands me since my husband passed away," said Rahşan E. as she took the award shaped like Rodin’s Kiss. "To be honest, I was under the impression that even he did not understand me too well in his last few years. Having said that, perhaps he did not understand, period. My party has completely abandoned me and me, them. Gone are the days that young politicians came to me before they went to see my husband. Ah, it used to be said that we had a party of two, my late husband and I. I’d like to say we were two people with a single mind. Does anyone appreciate that nowadays? The only recent letter of thanks I received was from a rapist who thanked me for his freedom due to an amnesty in my name."Isolated Man Award in Culture"I shot a film and my whole life changed," said Can D. paraphrasing the famous sentence of Orhan P., who won last year’s Isolated Man Award. He refused to say anything else as he received his award shaped like an Oscar.Isolated Woman Award in Culture "This is the first year that I did not have a new husband," said Yeşim S - (ex-I, ex-U, ex-I, ex-I) as she took the award shaped like a diamond necklace. "People think I am a gold-digger, but nothing could be further from the truth. My fortune is made with my musical career. All my husbands agreed that I sang well. I no longer have a lot of encouragement. 2008 was not a good year except for this award."Isolated Man Award in Foreign Politics No one was given the award because the top candidates rejected it. Mr. S said he was no longer isolated and had found (again) the woman of his life whose voice should sink a thousand ships. Mr. B said he was not isolated; he still had his father, B Senior. The last candidate, Mr. Havel K. said he would be too busy sabotaging the EU from within in the next six months to bother with awards. Isolated Woman Award in Foreign PoliticsThe award was sent by post to Mrs. Rachida D, who had sent a brief message to apologize for not being there. "I am on a permanent maternity leave," said the Justice Minister of France. "It is true that I am afraid of commitment in private life but the commitment and the loyalty I would like to see in public domain is not there either."
20 Aralık 2008
The poisonous dish...er, TV show... is realized through the participation of five strangers, self-proclaimed gourmets, who are trying to impress each other with their culinary skills. The winner will get YTL 10,000.
The program is modeled after an international format which has been shown in the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Hungary and Denmark. But one wonders whether the national temperament added something to the international style.
Ah, but one food leads to another, and our group of five, presently three women and two men, not only taste each other’s food, but test their beliefs and lives.
Storm in a soup bowl
Take the episode in which Birgül, a housewife in her mid-50s, has to host the other four "gourmets." True to form, she opted for a typically Turkish meal of Ezo Gelin Soup, paçanga börek, veal, vegetables and "chicken rice and chick puree," the rice is shaped like a chicken and the potato puree is shaped like chicks, all laid out on a gaudy, glittery table that reminded you the shop window of French bargain-shop Tati at Christmas.
It was during the meal that Birgül learned that three of the participants do not eat pastırma, a highly seasoned, air-dried cured beef which is the main ingredient of paçanga, two guests hated veal, another two hate soup and a fourth does not eat vegetables. A hostess’ nightmare, only rivaled by one of my distant memories of a Western hostess offering eel soup to the wife of an Justice and Development Party, or AKP, minister.
"Why did you join this gourmet program if you do not eat anything at all," asked one of the competitors, the one who does not eat vegetables, to the two ladies at the table after they passed on the soup and merely touched the veal. One also did not eat the tomatoes, saying they were badly washed.
The sweet smell of pastırma
"I have never tasted pastırma in my life," said a guy whose suit was a cross between an unsuccessful Blues singer and the cliche of small Mafiosi. "Let me do it now," he added with good-humor as he tasted it, to note that it was neither as smelly nor as spicy as he thought it would be.
"You do not eat pastırma but go for Mexican food, huh? What has happened to our national food and traditions," said the guy who had already chided the girls for not eating the soup. "What is wrong with Mexican food, it is delicious," said one of the girls.
"And why are you defending it, are there Mexicans in your family?" asked the guy. At that moment, I felt grateful that the food was coupled with coke, rather than wine. If there had been alcohol involved, and believe me, this girl knows something about drunken arguments, then there would have been blood drawn!
It appears that the five-member group is divided into two: those who favor traditional Turkish cuisine and those who have tried to cook other country’s food. The musician fellow has cooked Mexican, greatly disliked, and the young girl cooked Thai the night before, only marginally liked.
The debate on pastirma went on for a good 15 minutes, giving way to other debates in the vein of, "If we stop eating kokoreç, Turkish dish of Balkan origin, made of seasoned, skewered lamb intestines, on the way to the European Union, would we lose our identity?"
And it was right at this moment, gentle reader, I threw up!
13 Aralık 2008
If you are a man, please stop reading at this point, before I go on explaining who Everard't Serclaes is and what he does. Today’s column is one that is strictly for women - about foie gras, champagne, frivolity, underwear during a woman’s travels to the greatest Erospolis of all (Paris, bien sur) and Ethospolis (Brussels, naturlijk).
Everard't Serclaes, known in history as the Lord of Cruyckembourg, has recovered Brussels from the Flemish. His statue now lies in the corner of the Grand Place, the world’s largest theater as Victor Hugo called it when he visited Brussels.
The tourist myth is that if you rub his arms and make a wish, it will come true. So many tourists have touched, or rather rubbed, the statue, and this constant polishing keeps the body depicted by the statue a shining color compared to the rest of the sculpture. Other parts are also touched frequently by tourists such as the face of an angel, a dog and one of the shields. I, never one to go halfway, touch it all around and often!
No need to say, Everard't was not delighted to see me.
"I am sick of you," he said coldly, trying to turn his stone-made back. Really, one expects better manners from someone in Brussels, the center of consolidation and conciliation.
"I told you last time, no more wishes. I cannot deal with self-contradictions. Go make your wishes with your Turkish deities - tie knots around Telli Baba, or pour water on your water deity, wherever he is. Throw coins in Italian fountains, just leave me alone, casse-toi, pauvre conne (Just leave, you jerk), as one great European leader said," he added.
Then, with venom that politicians save for journalists, he explained how I managed to make a fool of him, "You came here and made a wish to come back to Brussels in early 2004. Like the fool I was, I granted your wish. Three months later, you came to me in tears and asked for a job back in Ankara, saying you could not bear Brussels. Never one to resist a woman in tears, I provided you with a job in Ankara. I do not even try counting your inconsistency when it comes to wishes about men and love."
I blushed in shame, rather like a European Union candidate which has been told that it has made no reforms for two years.
"Well, my wish is to live for six months in Paris with an easy, part-time job or preferably no job at all. I would just go museum-hopping, to afternoon sessions of old movies in Rue Cujas, a stroll in the Palais Royal, shop in Aubade and end up writing a book about the French." "Bravo. This is among the top 10 wishes of the last three years," said Everard't. "All English, American and Dutch women ask for it. My God, are women ever original?"
Turks and hopes
"Do many Turks come and see you?" I asked him.
"Not so much," he conceded. "You see, I had collected a number of them over the years. In 1997, right after the tragic Luxembourg Summit, there was this bright fellow with a pensive expression who came to wish for Turkey getting the candidate status. I granted his wish in 1999."
Turkey’s ambassador to the European Communities then, I said silently. "He is now in Venezuela," I pointed out.
"Mmmm, I do not remember him making a wish in that direction," said Everard't Serclaes. "In 2002, a fellow with a mustache came and wished for the opening of negotiations between Turkey and the EU. You know, the one who is soft spoken." "He is in the presidency now," I said. "Has he come here lately?"
"Not really," said Everard't Serclaes. "Some time ago, another one, a garrulous fellow with a jaunty walk, came and asked to play soccer with the EU leaders. Naturally, I granted his wish." He sighed. "I guess I made a mistake. He gave quite a kick to the Austrian Chancellor, who felt the Turkish fellow was a mean player and a sore loser."
"Turkish media feels the same way," I said. "Has a chubby, baby-faced fellow rubbed your hand recently?"
"Yes," admitted Everard't. "But his wish was about a UN seat, not about the EU. At any rate, I would have suggested that he went to Saint Sulpice in Paris to make that wish - or perhaps to Church St Hoch, which is closer to Elysee."
"The problem with you Turks," Everard't mused, "is that your wishes are neither specific nor long-term enough. You ask for candidate status, you ask for the opening of negotiations. But no one actually asked for membership."
"They might have supposed that once negotiations were opened, then the membership would come," I said, becoming a bit peeved with him. "Not at all," he replied. "Accession is an open-ended process. Do they not teach you anything there in Turkey?"
"And my wishes..." I tried again.
"Oh, alright," he said. "I will grant you some of them. Do not think it will please you, for being a woman, you will feel restless."
At least, he smiled. "You will get what you deserve. Now rush off to your national deities and leave me and Saint Sulpice alone."
I walked off to shop before he could change his mind.
6 Aralık 2008
"Yes, yes," he said. "Pick one."
I reflected: "Potency?"
"Good one," he conceded. "What I had in mind was a sense of humor."
Ah, but it is the rarest gift of all. Even if we leave aside the lover, for the politician who fears ridicule as the worst possible end, the ability to laugh at oneself is not so very easy.
"Look at the way French President Nicholas Sarkozy reacted to the voodoo dolls made in his image," said D. "He wanted to have those dolls banned and took the matter to court."
Now, honestly, this would be unthinkable in Turkey. Nobody would actually object to voodoo dolls in the image of Sarkozy being sold with a set of 12 pins and a manual explaining how to put a curse on him.
"It is even marketable, you know," said D, three generations of business administration in his genetic makeup. "All we have to do is to add a quote about Turkey where he can be poked."
With Mr. Sarkozy’s determined silence on Turkey ever since he took over the European Union presidency, a recent quote may be difficult to find, but who am I to argue with a business genius?
Take me to court
Mr. Sarkozy, not too unlike Mr. Erdoğan, in his haste to hit back at offenders in press and business, has already opened six lawsuits.
Ms. Royal, who recently lost her party chair after her loss of the French presidency, also has a voodoo doll in her image, but decided not too sue the company. "One has to have a sense of humor," she said, while expressing amazement that the presidency "had the time" to deal with such trivia as voodoo dolls.
A Paris court threw out the request, on the grounds that the doll was protected by the right to humor Ğ even when provocative.
In a country which has created the "Guignol d’Info" Ğ a political satire with life-size French politician’s puppets Ğ and international model of political humor "Charlie Hebdo," the decision hardly comes as a surprise.
Toying with politics
The idea of political toys is a good one. One wonders whether it would be advisable to have Karagöz-Hacivat puppets of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and main opposition leader Deniz Baykal. Mrs. Çiller, Turkey’s ex-prime minister, would also make a wonderful cabbage patch doll. How about paper dolls that can alternate between headscarves and wigs, according to the "public space" and "private space" debate?
And how about a board game, in the style of "snakes and ladders" to describe Turkey’s path to the European Union? Throw the dice and come across: "You have just amended Article 301. Go forward three places;" "Ooops, Parliament blocked new law on associations. Go back two places," or worse, "Political/ constitutional/ economic crises have erupted. Stay at your place and do not touch the dice for two years!"
This, of course, presupposes a good sense of humor and let us be fair, just imagine what would have happened if we had Erdoğan voodoo dolls. We are talking of the man who sues cartoons Ğ a far cry from late President Turgut Özal who framed caricatures and pictures of himself, including one that showed him and his family as gaudily dressed country singers.
"Just imagine a t-shirt, which uses the O in Erdoğan’s name as a target for bullets," said D. "He would sue immediately," I said.
"Yes," said D. "That is what Sarkozy did."
Those two may have more in common than we believe in terms of sense of humor and other virtues.
29 Kasım 2008
It is winter, the undisputed time to go to the movies. What better way to forget your troubles: the economic crisis, the political crisis, another virginity control at a girls’ boarding houseÉ
The film is, of course, "Quantum of Solace," with Daniel Craig as "Bond, James Bond" Ğ a line he does not actually utter in this movie at all.
"You are hopelessly out of date," I am tempted to say to this cool couple. "The cinema world has discussed whether Craig was Bond enough and came to a conclusion. The guy is the new Bond, less Oxford and more Liverpool, more sentimental and has an emotional attachment to M rather than to Moneypenny."
Ah, but there are two things, gentle reader, that you should know about us Turks: One, we are very good at debating issues ad nauseam after the rest of the world has stopped even thinking about the whole thing. Two, we like our heroes to be invincible, indestructible, totally immortal and if possible, a bit of a macho.
And if you have not discovered this already, please re-read the endless comments on Can Dündar’s documentary on Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. One is inclined to think that if only there had been some scene where Atatürk narrowly escaped death in the battlefield due to supernatural powers, there would be less people who would cry out that the film offends the nation’s founder by, "showing him as too much of a mortal man."
No, we like our heroes to be super-human, in perfect health, in a body of iron. That possibly explains why our politicians, from the historical to the current, have desperately hid their illnesses from the public and tried, somewhat desperately, to appear larger than life.
Then, there is the anti-hero, again to be found in the Turkish cinema: "The Isolated Man" from the young and talented director Çağan Irmak. Irmak is a prolific director who can tease the public with a romantic TV series called "Asmalı Konak" (Vine Mansion), and woo the Turkish intellectuals with his brave "Babam ve Oğlum" (My Father and Son), which takes a very critical look at the 1980 military coup. It is that movie which has placed Irmak as a very politically engaged director.
"The Isolated Man," like Orhan Pamuk’s "The Museum of Innocence," is more about love and the sign of the times than of politics. And like Pamuk’s book, Istanbul is more than a setting, it is an actual character in the plot. But here, as Dorothy Parker would say, the similarity ends.
The anti-hero, Alper, "The Isolated Man" is about a Beyoğlu restaurant-owner/chef and collector of Turkish pop records from before the 1980s known for the cheesy lyrics that focus on love, pain and loneliness. Then the lonely anti-hero meets the exuberant girl and the question hangs in the air: Will our anti-hero be able to love and in the jargon of today’s youth, be able to "connect?"
In the crowded Ankara theater, half the female population left the movie with serious mascara running down their cheeks. Some men cleaned their throats noisily, the accepted male sign of sentiment.
My companion, who only tapped his feet in a bored fashion while I sat there weeping, asked me: "Why were you so touched by the guy? I mean, he was so unreal."
I bit back a swift response about the isolation of the modern man, the metropolitan life and the inability toÉ er, connect. "It is just that he seemed more human than many men I know," I told him coldly.
22 Kasım 2008
My friend, a suave Italian who watched a soft-spoken woman turn into a monster before his eyes, tried tugging at my arm with a dubious "Calm down, it’s OK."
But, as any man knows, he’ll have no fury like a woman. Period.
"Let me speak in the language you understand," I repeated, sounding less like Charlotte Gainsbourg and more like Clarice Sterling before she went soft on Hannibal. "You immediately take me to the destination I want, through the route I want, with the taximeter on. If you will not, I am calling the police immediately." For good measure, I took my mobile phone out and start punching 155.
The poor Italian, unable to understand the words but aware that this harsh tone left little to doubt, tried to cut in: "How much is it, I will pay, then we get out..."
Twice the price
The cabdriver was unmoved by my fury: "I will have to take the highway. There is a soccer game that is blocking all downtown routes," he told me, shamelessly claiming that a soccer match on the Anatolian side would effect the traffic in Etiler, where he proposed to take me for 60 YTL, about twice as much as I would pay under normal conditions.
After 15 minutes of mutual threats, cursing and name-calling (He: Stingy and Anal Retentive Bitch, Frustrated Old Maid; Me: Shameless, Bullying Scoundrel, Small Mafia-dog), I was dragged out of the taxi. "I thought he would beat you up," said my Italian friend.
No, Turkish men do not beat up women in public. Little did he know that he had escaped danger, as the Turkish habit is not to beat up the offending female but her male escort. Lesson number one: In almost anywhere in the world, taxis are challenges for tourists.
Lesson number two: If you have to take a taxi, do not even think about taking one near the Covered Bazaar in Istanbul or the Inter-city Bus Station in Ankara.
"Ankara cab drivers are nice," said a friend. "It is just that they do not know the city. Istanbul cabdrivers, on the other hand, think it is perfectly alright that they do not know their way around, and also, they are aggressive and play around with the taximeter."
"Basically, we ask for two main functions from a cab," complained another. "To know where he is going and to look where he is going. Anything else, such as good music or a good odor in the car, is an extra."
Yet, many of the cabbies resist both driving safely Ğ much less parking civilly Ğ and learning their way around the city. "I need you to take me to Turgutlu Sokak. Do you know where it is?" you ask.
"Well, it is somewhere near Gaziosmanpaşa, right? Can you describe the way?" the cabbie replies; confident that you, or someone else, will show him the way.
No, I bloody do not want to describe the way, nor do I want to see you turning down the same street, with the taximeter running while you search someone to ask for directions. I simply want to talk on my mobile phone the whole way, confident that the driver will take me there via the most rational and cheapest way possible.
’A universal phenomenon’
But no, instead, it is the driver who talks comfortably on his mobile phone, while you desperately try to convey to him directions through taps on his shoulder.
"It is a universal phenomenon," said my Italian friend. "You should see the drivers of the Place Agora, near Grand Place, in Brussels."
Well, I have seen them: this is the Iranian constituency that would not allow taxi-drivers of other nationalities to take customers on their spot and would charge you double. If you object, they have a ready retort: "You are racist!"
"How can I be racist, I am Turkish!" I shouted back once.
Let us admit it, Turkey is a country where the "Traffic Monster" in each and every one of us gets out far too easily Ğ sometimes with fatal consequences. Thus, any attempts to diminish the road deaths, be it the Turkish campaign "Trafikte Dikkat, Onbin Hayat" (Attention in Traffic, Let Us Save 10,000 Lives) or an attempt to adhere to the "European Road Safety Charter" are welcome.
But the Chamber of Taxi Drivers and the traffic police also have their part to play in saving our lives or, on a lighter tone, saving our sanity. At least, for those of us who do not have chauffeur-drive cars!