Thursday, May 27, 2010

Word Photographs of an Evening Walk in Kadikoy--my house to town

The sun has winked out of the sky, and all the bright light--it's all sunset pinks and cool blues now, and boys' voices shout up from the street--a pair moving down either side calling out to each other.  The sandy slide of a ball skiffed across the pavement.  They've all bought ice cream, lemon pops, and they make their way down the narrow sidewalk tossing rocks, kicking plastic bottles, and stopping to pick up bits of shiny metal which they investigate--all the while licking at their lemon pops, dark yellow tongues--before discarding with a backward toss.  At one point, they stop to watch a cat take a shit.  One of the them squats down to get a better look.  The cat turns its back to them, its ears flattening in annoyance.  A group of teenage boys pile into a car blasting bass from giant speakers in the back.  A girl in a black tank top walks fast toward the main road, ogled from the right by a kid smoking on his stoop and waved at from the left by the middle aged man who runs the convenience store on the corner.  Old men play backgammon on tables on the sidewalk--the stones click on the board.  The neighborhood twilight has life, movement, light, sound.  It's like my old Florida neighborhood--the heat in the day breaking, we kids playing kickball in the street, neighbors shouting to each other as they water their lawns.  I barely remember being a kid--the feeling of it--but I ghosts of feeling move through me sometime, seizures of sensation, like when I see the one boy's tank top, dusty and bright blue, the iron-on letter flaking off, and then look down at his bare black feet.  More than memory is triggered.  I blink and I am there, eight again, wearing the same thing.  He shouts, "Abi, bak!"  Look man.  And his friend laughs.  The whoosh of traffic on the main road.  The beep of horns.  The sudden burst of the ezan.  Allah Akbar!

Turn down the alleyway, cross the parking lot, the right lane.

A line of roses down the median makes a stripe of red all the way down toward the peach and wine fire sky, the colors framed by the bushy green of mulberry trees that line the road and the neon sign of the Nautilus center.  The hunch back Gypsy woman--no more than four feet tall--sits and waits for the light to change so she can sell packs of tissue to stopped cars. She wears a turquoise sweater and an orange checked skirt, and nibbles sunflower seeds with a bored scowl as cars whizz past her.  She's respected around here.  Shopkeepers call her hanim and teyze (madam and auntie) when she passes.  She stops to chat with them sometimes.  She walks with a cane  because her back is bent nearly 90 degrees.  Huge black eyes like pools of dark tea.  Above her, a moon the color of luminous vanilla ice cream has just cleared the tops of the middle school on the corner.  It's brightening with darkening sky, whiter and whiter and whiter.  A screech of brakes, a cat meowing from the fence on the edge of the graveyard shadows.  The crinkle of a plastic as a man loaded down with shopping bags hops across the median and makes a dash for the other side.  The ezan is reaching a crescendo.  Haya 'alas-salaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah

Left lane.  Down the sidewalk and turn right, over the bridge.

There's a pretty Gypsy girl in green with a lithe body and dusty skin.  Her face is an all-business scowl--she's collecting cardboard boxes from piles of garbage in the street.  She has a three-wheeled cart that she pulls around with a huge white muslin sack tied to the back.  The handles of the cart are so tall that when she lets go of it, they snap up above her head and she has to jump up to pull them back down.  She wears a long flowered skirt and has long messy black hair, streaked here and there with red.  She has long, skinny pale arms that work like pistons as she rapid-fire folds the boxes into shapes that will fit into her bag.  She is collecting from a load of trash next to the parking lot where my favorite old dog lives.  Old yellow.  He sits on the pavement all day and ignoring everything around him with sleepy eyes.  Blinking and blinking, wearily.  Sometimes, I'll scratch his head and he'll close his eyes all the way until I'm finished and then walk me home.  The ezan has stopped, the last echo dying away.  There's a chorus of car engines now, the quiet chug of a cab, the high whine of a moving trunk speeding toward the light, the rattle clatter of a minibus, the muffler burps of an old Subaru.  A motorcycle bounces over a grate and honks his horn.

Down past my old school, past the bakery and minibus road onto the pedestrian walk where cars go anyway

An old tree, leafless and rough skinned, writhes from the pedestrian road next to the tea shop.  A pile of bikes tangle against a light pole.  Three teenage girls pass by with a basketball, the thick shouldered one in the lead dribbles and walks fast, making the other two have to trot to keep up.  Light radiates out in a circle of white from the cafe.  It doesn't quite reach the tree.  A woman sits at a table outside, her feet kicked up on the chair opposite her.  A little boy charges up to her, too much momentum to stop himself and so she catches him and whirls him into the chair next to her.  "Mommy!" he cries.  He's got a Sesame Street shirt on and oversized shorts.  A man in a football jersey lopes up behind him, hands digging in his shorts pocket, and says, "Ahh, so you'd rather sit with Mommy!"  The sound of spoons stirring sugar into tea glasses.  Shopping cart wheels rattling across bricks.  A man jingles keys in his pockets.  Techno music thump thump thumping from a clothes shop across the street.

A little down

A little girl in pink--shorts, T-shirt, sandals all a bright bubble gum--reads in front of a rack of purses hanging outside a women's wear shop.  A glass case filled with more purses stands behind her, illuminated in bright naked bulbs.  She brushes a swath of black hair behind her ear and kicks at the ground as she reads.  Her father--a pot bellied man in a tight white T--closes up shop behind her.  One by one the lights blink out and she bends closer and closer to the page.  She sniffs and drags a finger across her nose.  There's a chorus of footfalls, a legion of shoes.  The clunk clunk of heavy boots, the pad of a child's sneakers racing across the cement, the shuffle of sandals, the lazy snap of flip flops, the rapid click of heels.

To the end, where we empty into the main road

The Fountain of Lord Halid, 1794.  It's an old Ottoman fountain, cool white marble inscribed with flaking gold Arabic letters and floral flourishes.  The spigots have long run dry.  It has been graffitied all over.  Black letters right across its belly have all been scrawled out, save the words ederkken ("while doing") and lan (something like "hey, asshole").  There's a Wienerwald scooter parked in front--a plastic green box on the back with the white logo of a giant chicken.  To the side, the green ATM of Garanti Bank.  A girl stands on one leg in front of the screen, kind of pivoting left and right as she types a number into the console.  Beeps.  Her other leg lets her sandals almost fall, but she catches it with her toes.  Her purse hangs from her elbow.  The light from the screen illuminates her face and neck in a pale green.  A second Wienerwald cycle whizzes up and parks next to the first.  The driver wears a huge black helmet which he whisks off to replace immediately with a green cap.  He's tall and slumps as he walks, loping into the bright light of Wienerwald with his heat-sealed food bag swinging from his right hand.  He strides past a woman with dish-sponge blond hair, spooning pudding into her mouth.  Cell phone conversations.  Car horns.  The hum of the freezer of an ice cream vendor.  The electronic voice of radio news.

The sky is purple black now.  The moon a luminous ball of white over the stature of the bull.  (Everyone waits here, for lovers, for friends, for dates).  Venus hangs on the other side of the sky.   A cat stops to watch me write--a skinny black and white thing.  Its ears won't stop twitching.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fasten Your Seatbelts--Wedding Time

See full size image
"Make Friends With Your Seatbelt"

We start climbing the hill and she jerks the car into the left lane.
"I'm going to pass him!" our hapless driver says.  By "him", she means the long semi truck in front of us climbing a steep incline.
"Don't pass on a hill," Delal cautions in a voice far calmer than mine would be.
"Why not?"
"Because you can't see what's coming."
"I can see fine!  The road is empty."
"No, I mean you can't see past the hilltop."
"But there's nothing there!"
"You don't know that."  She still sounds so calm.  "Just get back into the right lane please."
Our driver reluctantly jerks the car back into the right lane, just as a truck crests the hill.
"See?" Delal says as it passes us with a violent whoosh.
"See what?" our driver says  (she's looking at the satellite navigator screen).  "Uf!  Why is this guy going so slow!"
We're heading back from Eastern Thrace, known as Trakya in Turkish, with one of Delal's old college buddies, Edibe, who, though she's had a driver's license for a few years, has not driven all that much and learned little from what driving she has done.
Trakya is pretty, or would be if not for all the industrial buildings.  The green hills roll away on either side of the road, empty of trees but filled with yellow flowers, and also with factories of all kinds--sugar, chocolate, metal.  Poplar trees line little dikes that flow between the fields.  A welcome center for a flour factor flashes advertisements--come buy direct from our store!
We are coming back from a wedding in the town of Luleburgaz, which is right in the center of Thrace near the Black Sea.  The third member of their college group, Sinem, has just gotten hitched.
Luleburgaz is not famous for much.  Bulgarians seem to like to fight there.  There was a great battle between them and the Byzantines several milennia ago (which they lost), and more recently between them and the Ottomans back in 1905 (which they won).  The area is still full of Bulgarian refugees--mostly ethnic Turks who've come to Turkey to escape anti-Muslim prejudice, or who are just trying to find a better life.  Partly because of this, there are a lot of blond heads and blue eyes in this area of the country, and reportedly a fondness for alcohol as well.
"The bride's father started drinking early this morning," the bride's brother-in-law proudly explained.  "He took a seat at the head of his table early today and guest after guest has come in to congratulate him and, of course, have a drink.  He hasn't gotten up at all except to go to the bathroom maybe.  At this point, maybe he can't get up!"  This might explain why he was such an enthusiastic dancer later at the wedding.  The bride herself got ready for the stress of the wedding with a glass or two of raki.  Her mother even makes her own wine.
Sinem's childhood home is located in the village of Turgutkoy about a ten minute drive from town.  It sits in the middle of sugar beet fields.  When we arrive, some old men are sitting in the yard playing a drum and a shepherd's kaval as several young men dance in a circle.  Thracian folk dances with influence from the Balkans, no doubt.  The family are outside in lawn chairs chatting.  The bride is inside putting on the last touches to her make up and gown.  The groom is inside, too, helping out.  There is no taboo about him seeing the bride.  Though I'm about to explode from overeating, the bride's mother gives us each a bowl of helva--one must always offer something to guests even if it's your daughter's wedding day.
There are a few lingering traditions that families here observe.  The bride leaving the house is an extremely important event, for instance.  When the time comes, the family shuts her up in the living room and refuses to let her out.  (In the old days, this indicated her modesty)  The groom's parents have to lug themselves inside and lure the bride outside with promises of gifts or money.  These days, it's only a token offering.  A sheepish looking older couple totters into the living room and knocks quietly on the door where the bride is holed up--these are the groom's mom and dad.  After a moment, the in-laws answer and ask what they have to offer for their daughter.  The mother of the groom presses something into the hand of the bride's mother.  Everyone is grinning--this is all just for play and they feel kind of shy about it.
Outside it's so green.  Orange sunset sky.  Green sprouts pushing up out of the soil.  Apricot trees and mulberry trees and a soft, cool breeze.
On the whole, it's quite difficult for the groom to extract the bride from her house.  The dancing boys have moved into the driveway, and they will not move until the groom has paid them off.  They circle and circle to the crooning kaval as the groom climbs out of the car and offers them a fiver.  Not enough.  He pulls out a ten.  They keep dancing.  (In the end, this becomes a problem.  They demand a hundred lira, which the groom says is ridiculous and refuses to pay.  We scatter them with our cars, but then the follow us to the wedding, where they lure about the cars, making vague threats until someone threatens to call the police.  'Druggies' Sinem theorizes.)
The wedding itself is held in a "wedding salon" back in the town of Luleburgaz.  There's a table up front draped in gold and white cloth where the couple will sign the marriage certificate.  There are no best men or brides maids, no ring bearer or flower girl, not much pomp and circumstance at all--just two witness who watch the signing.  The couple emerge from a room simply marked "Bride's Room" to a blasting electronic song with a throbbing disco beat and disco lights.  Everyone cheers as they take their seats.  The court official, a woman in this case, presides.  She asks the bride if she accepts the groom.  When Sinem says "yes", the DJ plays a flourish on his electric organ that makes it sound as if she just won the showcase on the Price is Right.
After the signing, the picture taking begins.  Two white ribbons are draped over the bride and groom's shoulder's and then relatives and friends line up to pin money or gold to them.  While this is happening, the surly teenage waiters take time enough away from their cell phone chats and serve up the cake.
"Whatever you do, don't eat the cake!" Delal warns.  "It's almost always nasty."  She's right.  I've put erasers in my mouth with more flavor.
After cake, the dancing begins.  A Gypsy drummer parades around the room with a drum, rocking the room to Gypsy 9/8 rhythms and local songs.  (The 9/8 rhythm is popular with Greeks, Balkans, Turks, and their local Gypsy populations.  It's also called the karsilama--meaning "face to face" for the dance you do when you play the rhythm.  It's the beat belly dancers often use--and I find it very difficult to dance to, but Delal can really get down.  The bride's male relatives really go to town, raising their arms like birds' wings and kicking out the steps. The bride hates dancing.  You can see it on her face--the resigned desperation--but she is obligated to keep it up for the next two hours to entertain her guests.)
The dancing serves a double purpose.  No one throws a bouquet or garter here--here, the bride writes the names of her single friends on her shoe.  Whoever's name is rubbed out after hours of compulsory dancing will get married soon.  Delal's name is missing only one l at the end of the night, which I'm told, means she won't get married for another four years (four letters are left).  
After the party is over, we repair to the bride's house for Champaign.  The groom smokes cigarette after cigarette, explaining, "I was a nervous wreck."  The bride is busy pulling hair pins out of her carefully coiffed hair.  One after the other.  She emerges with 44 in all.  We count them.
I don't know how we end up riding back with Edibe.  There is a promise of breakfast by the sea near her house and perhaps a swim.  She lives in Silivri, on the Marmara Sea just west of Istanbul.  In the hills east of Silivri we see a real live Gypsy camp--they have spread their tents over the plane like in the old days and women in brightly colored clothes are cooking something that sends steam billowing into the air.  I stare out the window at them.  One of the Gypsy mothers stare back.
"Watch the road!" Delal shouts.
I look forward as the car jerks right.  Edibe has her face on the screen of her navigator which is telling her to "Veer Right Now!" as we whiz past the turn off at ninety miles per hour.  A billboard says "Remember, Seatbelts Are Your Best Friend."  What timing!  I fasten mine.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fun With Paranoia, Part 3. Claim Your Prize!

Conspiracy Activities for Kids

Five Degrees of Conspiracy!
Help us finish our conspiracy chain!  The following are the first four links in the chain.  The topic is the shootings at the protests against the closing of the DTP a while back.  Complete the fifth link, email us with your entry, and you could be a winner!  Use your imagination!  Everyone else does.  First prize gets to testify with his/her theory in court.  Second prize gets his/her theory published on the front page of Vatan as "Breaking News."  Third prize gets a Turkish coffee set.  All entries must arrive a week before I decide to put up the next entry.  Guess when that is! Please include your name, address, and where your arrest would draw the least amount of attention.  Good luck!

Level 1:  What the Media is allowed to tell us
After the closure of the pro-Kurdish DTP party, the Dolapdere district of Istanbul erupted in protests.  The day before, three men in a black SUV gave a local garbage collector 500 TL to fire a gun into the crowd of protesters.  He did as he was asked, resulting in the injury of one bystander.  "If you give me the money," the suspect explained.  "I will do the same for you.  I'm poor.  I'm a garbage man.  In any case, they were blanks." (from

Level 2
After the closure of the pro-Kurdish DTP party, three nationalists working with Ergenekon and the AKP gave 500TL and a gun to a garbage collector, who then fired into the crowd.  Many bystanders, mostly children, were killed.  Nationalists hoped to make the incident look like the "spontaneous rage of the masses" in order to build support for shutting down the democratic initiative.

Level 3
After the shutting down of the radical Al-Qaeda affiliate, the DTP, Kurdish terrorists disguised themselves as government agents and gave 500TL and a gun to a local garbage man to fire into a crowd of people protesting the party's closure.  The fanatics hoped to build sympathy for their cause by making it seem as if the government was trying to kill the protesters.  Many children were slain.  Ocalan heard the news and laughed and laughed and laughed.  "I will eat the children!" he shouted.

Level 4
After the shutting down of the CIA puppet and Al Qaeda affiliate, the DTP, American Jews disguised themselves as Kurds disguising themselves as nationalist and approached a brainwashed assassin, himself disguised as a garbage man and paid him over 5000USD to fire into a crowd of babies protesting the closure.  His precision strikes killed hundreds.  The aim was to destabilize and divide Turkey, said sources.  Police found a map on his person giving large sections of the Southeast to the state of Wisconsin.  Trabzon will apparently be run by New Mexico, and the Mediterranean region by the winner of next season's reality show, "Let's carve up the Turkey!"

Level 5

Fun With Paranoia! Part 2, Take the Quiz

IS MY BOYFRIEND INVOLVED IN A CONSPIRACY?  TAKE THE QUIZ AND FIND OUT!!  (Please reverse all gender pronouns for "Is my girlfriend involved in a conspiracy?")

1.  Do you feel that your boyfriend may be involved in a conspiracy?
a. always b. sometimes c. never
2.  Does he look sleepy when he is out with you as if up late at night doing secretsy things?
a. always b. sometimes c. never
3.  Does he take longer in the bathroom than you feel he needs to?
a. always b. sometimes c. never
4.  Is he non-Turkish?
a. always b. sometimes c. never
5.  Does he never notice when you get a hair cut or when a restaurant fails to hang a picture of Ataturk?
a. always b. sometimes c. never
6.  When you say, "Why don't we play a game of solitaire," does he become extraordinarily compliant?
a. always b. sometimes c. never
7.  Do you hear voices coming from the furniture or street animals that tell you your boyfriend is "in league with the forces of darkness"?
a. always b. sometimes c. never
8.  Do you find him talking to inanimate objects such as fruit or toilet seat covers?
a. always b. sometimes c. never
9.  Does he refuse to let you have full access to all of his emails, text messages, and facebook accounts?
a. always b. sometimes c. never
10.  Does he look totally hot in black!
a. always b. sometimes c. never

Score 3 for all "a" answers, 2 for all "b" answers, and 1 for all "c" answers.  Question number 1 should be counted 5 times.

30-45:  Your boyfriend is definitely involved in a conspiracy.  A lower number indicates he is a leader, while a higher number probably indicates he is a brainwashed pawn.  Odd numbers are generally in league with the Deep State.  Even numbers are working with the U.S.  Fractions are typically part of a secret league of Jewish businessmen, while irrational numbers indicate an affiliation with Armenian business men.
15-30:  Rest assured.  Your boyfriend is a true patriot, but he doesn't need to kill anyone to prove it!  You, however, may be involved in a conspiracy.
1-20:  Your boyfriend is definitely involved in a conspiracy, but he's clever enough to try and hide it.  You need to play it safe and accuse him of insulting Ataturk.  Plant evidence if necessary.  He's dangerous, he's clever, and he must be destroyed to save the children.

Conspiracies in Turkey, part 1 in our Fun with Paranoia series.

My Top 5 ways to get prosecuated under Article 301!!
In keeping with modern hard-hitting journalism's trend of making groundbreaking Top 5 lists (or 10 if you're a zealot), I am joining the bandwagon with a slightly edgier version.  You have to match up the 5 yourself!  The following are the Top 5 ways to get prosecuted under Article 301!  The winner will get to accuse his or her person of choice with one of these crimes formally in court.

Instructions:  Failure to follow instructions will result in full prosecution under Article 301.  Let's Play!

Match the first half (PART 1) of the sentence with the second half (PART 2), and send me an email with your answers.
1.  Stand at the mausoleum of Ataturk and...
2.  Publish a book, and then at a press conference in Uganda say that...
3.  Wearing a mask of Fatih Sultan Mehmet, run naked across the FSM bridge with a tattoo on your ass that says...
4.  With your Armenian Bible in one hand, and Kurdish prison memoir in the other, go to the Ministry of Foreign affairs and proclaim...
5.  Go into the men's bathroom at your nearest türkü pub and write on the wall above the urinal that...

a. you've occasionally had doubts about whether Ataturk's face should not be carved in gold and set on the roof of the UN rather than the cheaper silver.
b. you believe the single quote style of the British system is more than enough to enclose the words 'genocide' and there's no need for the double quotes used by the "Americans".
c.  you love a good beer and plate of peas with tiny bits of ham more than you love turkey (and refuse to say whether your toshiba's shift key is broken or not).
d.  That your case of herpes was not given to you by a promiscuous Russian, nor a Kurdish terrorist, but rather by a barfly in Greece whose grandmother may have been Turkish.
e.  Mossad and the Deep State are gay lovers!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ögrenci Ürür, Kervan Yürür


Fenerbahçe Lise'de öğretirken...


Jeff Gibbs

Zor ya! Erken kalkmak zor, benim için. Bu günlerde saat beş buçukta
ayaktayım ama ne zihnim ne bedenim uyanık. Penceremden baktığımda,
gökyüzü pembe ve altın ışıkla yanıyor, Jeff yüzü bembeyaz, gözlerim
kırmızı, yanıyor. Ben her saba böyleyim. Zorla giyinir, zorla çıkarım. İşyerime beni götüren bir servis var. Saat yediyi on gece kalkar. Her sabah ben geç kalıyorum ama benim yüzümden değil sanırım. Bir sabah benim cep telefonumun saatine göre saat yediyi beş geçiyordu. Ama servisteki saatine göre on iki geçiyordu.
'Hocam, geç kaldınız! Beklettiniz!' dedi şoför, gülerek. Saatim geri kaldığını sandım. Ertesi sabah beş dakika ileriye ayarladım ama yine 'Hocam, geç kaldınız! Beklettiniz!' diye söylendi, yine
servisteki beş dakika ilerideydi. Bir iki hafta böyle devam etti.

Sevgililer günü için hediye olarak sevgilimden bir kol saati aldım. Onu kendisi ayarlamıştı. Fakat,
ertesi gün servise gittiğimde, şoför

'Hocam, geç kaldınız ya' diyerek söylendi.

Şüphelendim. Gelecek sabah uydudan saati alan bilgisayarımın saatine göre hem kol saatimi hem de cep telefonumun saatimi ayarladım. Çıktım, gittim. Şoför, yine, gülerek,

'Hocam, geç kaldınız ya!'

Allah Allah! Tamam, dedim, kendi kendime. Bir deneme yapayım. Ertesi sabah,
ev arkadaşımın saatini de ödünç alıp taktım. Yani benim ayarlamadığım iki kol saatim
vardı. Ayrıca de cep telefonumunki vardı. Yoldayken her geçtiğim dükkanın duvar saatine bakarak benimkini kontrol ettim. Yolda yürüyen birine sorarak da kontrol ettim. Tam zamanındaydım. Hatta
biraz erkendim. Saatlerimin hepsi yediyi beş gece gösteriyordu. Kendimden emin olarak servise bindim. Şoför gülerek:

'Hocam ya. Geç kaldınız! Bekledim!' dedi yine.

'Ama' dedim. 'İmkansız ya. Ben uyduya göre saatlerimi kontrol ediyorum. Uyduya'.

'Ben yalnızca bir servis şoförüm ya! Uydu muydu, ne bileyim!'

Olsun.  Bu servise (geç) binmek için, hep aynı yoldan geçiyorum. Oldukça büyük bir cadde. Öğleden sonra trafik o kadar yoğun ki, iğne atsan yere düşmez. Kaldırımda korna çalan arabalar sanki kıyamet gününden
kaçıyormuş gibi sabırsızlıkla bekliyorlar. Bu arada, İstanbullu için, her sorunun çözümü korna çalmaktır. Caddenin biri önünde dursa, korna çal. İşyerinde çok kötü gün görsen, korna çal. Arkadaşın vahim bir hastalık geçirse, korna çal. Oğlun, kızın sana kafa atsa, korna çal. Açsan, korna çal. Fazla yersen, korna çal. Hepsine korna korna korna! Bu yazımı sevmezsen de korna çal. Sevsen bile, korna çal. Derhal! Her yerde her zaman durmadan korna çalsın!

Neyse, benim çıktığım zaman, yani sabah altı buçukta, hiç trafik yok. Dakikada bir iki araba geçiyor. Bu bomboş yolda, her sabah aynı şeyi seyrediyorum. Bir köpek var, yolun tam ortasında. 'Tatlı ya!'
falan diyemiyorum. Hem uyuz hem kirli hem kulakları paramparça hem kuyruğu eğri büğrü. Sanki çok kanlı bir kavgadan yeni gelmiş gibi görünen bir it yani. Ama davranışı bambaşka. Bir asil aileden çıkıp
gelmiş gibi davranıyor. Yolun ortasındaki yeni dikilen kıpkırmızı çiçeklerin arasında oturuyor. Bacak bacak üstüne atıyor. Yok, daha doğrusu pati pati üstüne atıyor--bir pahalı Nişantaşındaki kahvehanede
capuccino içen bir hanım efendi gibi. Tam ışığın arkasında böyle bekliyor. Her gördüğü şeyi aşağılıyormuş gibi çevresine bakıyor. Bazen çok sıkılmış gibi esniyor.

Ötesinden bir araba gelip, kırmızı ışıkta duruyor. Köpek başını kaldırıp, 'sonunda garson geldi' diyen hanımefendi gibi arabaya bakıyor.

Işık yeşil yanınca, köpek beklemediğim bir hızla ayağa kalkıp, değişiyor. Bir anda tamamen çıldırmış gibi havlayıp hırlayarak arabayı kovalamaya koşuyor. Aynen kudurmuş köpek veya açlıktan ölmek üzere olan bir kurdun geyik gördüğü gibi arabayı saldırıyor. Araba ise, bu havlama karşısında birden duruyor. Şoför penceresini biraz açıp, 'Sus' diye bağırarak korna çalıyor (tabii ki). Hem de nasıl! Ama artık köpek hiç
umursamıyor. 'Benim işim bitti, arabayı durdurdum!' gibi duygusuyla, rahatlamış bir şekilde dönüp kendisini çiçeklerin arasındaki yerine atıyor. Yine pati pati üstüne atıyor, esneyerek beklemeye başlıyor, bir başka arabayı. Bir daha araba geldiğinde, bu süreç baştan başlıyor. Durdurulduğu araba ise, henüz gitmemiş oluyor. Köpeğe öfkeyle bakarak korna hala çalmaya devam ediyor.

Ben sadece on dakika seyrediyordum ama belki saatlerce devam ediyor bu işi, her sabah. Çok çalışkan bir hayvan, bu köpek. Keşke öğrencilerim ile değiştirebilirdim.

Öğrencilerim bu sokaktaki işe köpekten daha uygun olur. Sporcu oldukları için bayağı hızlı koşabilirler yani, arabayı kovalamakta üstlerine olmaz. Fakat tembel oldukları için 'Çok zor ya! Ne yapayım!'
diye yakınacaklardır. Olsun. Öyle yapsalar, arabalara rahatsız vermezler. Çiçeklerin arasında oturup, çiçekleri falan çiğneyebilirler, köpeğin yaptığı gibi. Ama o köpek ya! Sınıfta nasıl öğrenebilir. (Hiç değilse öğrencilerimden daha öğrenebilir) Tamam, evet, biliyorum. Köpek falan konuşamaz, ama eminim ki, ben köpeğin havlamalarını öğrencilerin havlamalarından daha anlayabilirdim! İngilizceleri kötü falan demek istemiyorum. ‘Havlamak’ deyince hiç benzetme yapmıyorum. Onlar aynen köpek gibi havlıyorlar. Bu sorunun çözümü nedir. Bilmem. Araba olsaydım korna çalardım ama sadece haykırabilirim. Yani yaz tatili bekliyorum.

In the center of Kadikoy is a statue of a crocodile (a small one by Floridian alligator standards, maybe 5 feet total, nowhere near the size of the 16 foot monster that took down our neighbors Spaniel one autumn night)  When the Greeks founded their first settlement several millennia ago, they discovered a spring here full of crocodiles.  Today the same area is filled with stray cats, who sat on various posts, rails, and tree stumps, all in a row, watching with twitching ears and alarmed eyes two mimes perform an odd sort of puppet show.  One of the mimes is a towering woman with a long face like the a canyon drop.  It's painted white with exaggerated black eyebrows and little red bow of a mouth.  She has long hair as straight and stiff as metal wires, which she keeps it tightly bound in a pony tail that falls past her waist.  She never speaks, but plays the violin (much to the ear twitching cats' despair) and always wears the same stern expression of a Nazi head mistress who had just walked into a room full of homosexual Jews making love to Downs Syndrome gypsies.
The man, who may or may not be her husband, has long unbrushed hair and a scraggly beard.  It alternated between brambles and bald spots from chin to temple.  He wears the same mime makeup and dances a marionette who looks just like him across the sidewalk.  The marionette lives in a small, dank room next to the alligator that has only one ratty looking chair.  It's depressed about a great many things, wears black robes, and will wail from various points around the alligator statue as the violin plays in the background.
This whole business strikes me as a very German, or perhaps a Czech thing to do.  I'm not sure why.  But these guys are authentic Turks.  The gypsy kids who usually play buckets for change in the square stare with a kind of bemused amusement.  Their hands still reach out for a lira, but they aren't looking at me when they ask but rather at the mimes...they're smiling, but they're not sure why.  They can't quite like this business.
History here is like an ant hill, give it a little kick and all sorts of unwanted surprises come pouring out.
I tried to find out if there had ever been any crocs in Turkey--i.e., what's the deal with this statue.  It turns out the croc report was written by a man named Strabo, a Greek historian from now Turkish Amasya who was penning a huge 17 volume Geography for the Romans.  Kadikoy was part of a city-state called Bythinia at the time, which was being attacked by another dude from Anatolia named Mithridates.  Mithridates' family would have made good Jerry Springer guests.  But seriously.   One day, Mithridates decided that his mother, the Queen was too bossy, and he was like "Unh uh, bitch, I'm an adult now" and had her put in jail at which point he took over the family trailer that she owned, i.e., Pontus in Northern Anatolia and part of Armenia (That was Anatolia, too, ladies).  But she was all, "Hell no!  No kid of mine is putting me in jail!" and got out figuring she'd take back at least part of the trailer (Pontus), "'cause it was bought with my money."  To make sure she didn't have any competitors, she killed off all of Mithridates brothers and sisters (I was getting real tired of them kids) except for his sister, who helped her stake her claim to Pontus.  Mithridates got around this by marrying his sister to seal his control over the final half of the kingdom.  ("That's right, that's right, I married my sister!  I can do what I want!")  Why are ancient royals so much like modern Jerry Springer rednecks?  He was no dummy at least.  Supposedly he could scream at people from all of the 22 nationalities he had conquered in their own language, without use of an interpreter.  Legend says this shows how brilliant he was, but then again, my high schoolers can't say "How are you" yet they know cuss words in both German and English that make them sound like grizzled sailors from the Bronx.  So he could cuss people out  in 22 it any surprise a rage-a-holic piece of shit dictator can learn dirty words in 22 tongues?
Anyway, this Mithridates laid waste to Kadikoy when he was fighting the Romans, but the curious thing is this...He was a king of Armenian Minor, and in an effort to break Roman power had over 80,000 Roman men, women and children murdered by the locals--a veritable genocide called, calmingly, "The Asiatic Vespers".  This is what sparked the war that led him to level Kadikoy in the first place.  The massacre is adorned with all sorts of familiar words like "alleged", "possible" and what not, all the usual verbal guests that attend the more important word "genocide".
And what did I find out about the Nile croc in Turkey.  Nothing.  Rumor and legend.
In one page, in one paragraph of one of the 17 books of the Geography, Strabo claims that the fountain of Azaritia on a hilltop in Kadikoy--where I live perhaps?--was full of "small crocodiles."  Various spurious websites (Wikipedia) suggest the Nile crocodile was once thought to stretch as far north as Turkey.  In any case crocs are an oddly social monster, and they have much in common with the two mimes now dancing around their statue, or at least with the species to which the mimes belong.  For instance, they will protect their young, even last year's brood who by all rights should be providing their own parents with grandchildren at this point.  This calls to mind our human moms who can't quite get rid of that twenty five year old divorced daughter who leaves her kid at home with grandma while she goes out to party.  This sort of behavior is especially observable in Turkish mothers who also continue to (over)protect their sons long after they have reached adulthood (a 35 year-old male student still lives at home and can't do laundry or make dinner by himself).  Also, they bury their eggs in the sand (crocodiles, not Turkish mothers).  When the babies hatch, they younglings start screaming to let the mother know to dig them out.  I imagine they're probably just screaming because its scary as hell being buried under a 16 foot crocodile--but it serves a purpose.  Another stress free way to encourage hatching is for the father crocodile--called a "bull"--to roll them around in his fang filled mouth--a sort of crocodile Caesarian.  Nile crocs also communicate with odor, motions, posture, touch and sound.  All of which humans employ as well, though they are loathe to admit the odor part.  What am I trying to say, for example, when I save odiferous outbursts from my colon (yes, I'm talking about farts) for certain classes?
        Other facts:  Crocs are also the team mascot of Bursa, who could take the championship this year, the first time that a non-Istanbul (or Trabzon) team would do so.  Crocs are also sold in all the pet stores here.  The Turkish word for croc is timsah, a word that comes from Arabic that was not purged by Ataturk and Friends in the 30s.
Finally, one last bit of serendipity.  Apparently, the American crocodile (which makes its home in my Florida and which is NOT an alligator) is going to be taken off of the endangered species list because it is thriving in the canals around the nuclear power plant in Turkey Point.  An American in Turkey.  An American crocodile in Turkey Point.  But for two words, there go I.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Life in Kedikoy OR A Cat's Tale

First of all, I want to say a big screw you to my home state of Florida's congressional candidate Dan Fanelli who wants us to pick out dark people as terrorists because "they look like terrorists". You're an idiot, Dan. People like you are the reason I sometimes feel that tinge of embarrassment when I mention where I'm from.
Delal, her sisters and I were standing by the bus stop, right outside of the entrance to the fish bazaar. Suddenly, a small orange kitten burst out of the alley onto the sidewalk, wailing at the top of its lungs. It dodged under one pair of feet, then another, darting in a panic under the benches, to the people waiting at the bus stop, and then finally under a municipal truck unloading bags of cement. There was something about the way it ran, in short bursts, bumping into things and then crying out, like it had completely lost its mind. I had a premonition for the little cat. Something seemed to be coming, something awful, I don't know. We tried to catch it, save it somehow but it was too freaked. After it ran under the truck, I could hear it crying still from somewhere beneath, but couldn't find where it was. Delal and I checked between the tires, up under the chassis, but it was nowhere to be seen. Then it was silent. The workmen claimed it had run off, but I was standing there the whole time and didn't see a thing. What would they care anyway? It was just another stray cat in a city teeming with them. It's death would be utterly meaningless to anyone but it, and instantly forgotten.
I think it somehow got up into the wheel wells, quiet there in that dark place, thinking it was safe, it's strange panic subsiding a little (I imagine its heartbeat, powerful, rapid, banging against its rib cage as if it wanted to burst out) not understanding that when the truck started up and began to move, it would die.
It seems such a pathetic, sad thing, something so small thinking it has found safety, and in that very shelter, in fact, because of it, about to suffer and die, to end, to end, to end. I can't stop seeing it, running crouched under all those people's feet, all those people who might help it somehow, but don't, can't, or won't. The fat housewives, the groups of grunting high school boys, the girls in high heels. Indifferent indifferent indifferent.
I find myself praying tonight. I don't know why or to what.
There was a mosque nearby. There's a legend about Muhammad, that one day his cat, Muezza, fell asleep against his arm, and rather than wake it when the call to prayer came, he cut off his sleeve so that he could get up without disturbing its sleep. It's a good story. Kindness, pity, compassion, is more important than the dogmatic following of a set of religious rules.
We get made fun, we Americans, for being too enamored of our pets. There is some justification in this--we're accused of treating our dogs and cats better than we treat each other, and some people do. And yet, how a person treats an animal is also a prelude of how they will treat people as well. I remember the kids next door who used to set lizards on fire, and there was something in the lizards doomed struggle not to die that made me sick to my stomach. It was wrong. I knew it, to do such a thing to another living thing. And I remember my Tibetan friend Tenzin, who stopped me from killing a roach we found in his house. "Everything wants to live," he explains. "Everything fears dying as much as you do." And he was one of the most gentle people I have ever met. One of the hadith (stories about Muhammad) says that God sent a woman to hell for locking up a cat until it dies of hunger.
Stray animals are quite lucky in Istanbul. There is an army of old men and housewives who pile food wherever cats congregate. Nothing goes hungry. Quite the contrary, they fatten on the finest foods. Roast chicken, high priced yogurt, white cheese, lamb. And yet when one gets in trouble, they are utterly helpless. I found a cat near the graveyard once. Something had happened to its neck. It looked like someone had tried to cut its head off--a huge gash ran around its throat. A vet had sewn it up with ugly looking stitches, but the animal could not move in a straight line or hold its head still. It moved in a circle and bumped into things as it ran, though it still seemed quite cheerful somehow, bouncing jauntily toward me in a playful way except for its grotesque twirling of its head. I fed it tuna. I couldn't take it home as both my roommates were allergic yet, after some calling around, I managed to find someone who would. When I went back to pick it up, however, it had disappeared. The tuna stood half eaten among the gravestones.
There's another hadith that I like. It sounds just like something that might come out of a Buddhist's mouth, particularly a Tibetan Buddhist. It was told by a man named Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "While a man was walking he felt thirsty and went down a well and drank water from it. On coming out of it, he saw a dog panting and eating mud because of excessive thirst. The man said, 'This dog is suffering from the same problem as that of mine. So he went down the well, filled his shoe with water, caught hold of it with his teeth and climbed up and watered the dog. Allah thanked him for his good deed and forgave him." The people asked, "O Allah's Apostle! Is there a reward for us in serving (the) animals?" He replied, "Yes, there is a reward for serving any living thing."
I don't know what I think of religion any more. This last story is beautiful, I think, and yet most "religious" folks would miss the point, and instead of showing mercy to living things, start building statues of dogs at wells and punishing people who don't leave the proper offerings or who can't quote the story verbatum. Or worse, start taking pictures of fuzzy kittens against rainbow backgrounds with Bible or Koran quotes beneath, feeling good about themselves and their piousness, while forgetting that the ones most in need of compassion are the mangy strays you are too afraid to touch--both human and beast. I'm getting preachy now. Oy vey. Mercy mercy mercy.

Trannie and Coffee in the Morning to Get You Going

There's lots or idle talk among me and the roommates about moving from our dour, relatively treeless street down to modern Moda (where foreigners and rich people live!)--however, I would miss the old neighborhood which still has vestiges of the old city that pop up now and then. (During Ramadan, for instance, a boy comes just before dawn with a drum to announce the morning meal before the fast begins).

To wit, this morning, I heard a zurna start up outside (the zurna is a kind of Turkish horn). Then a jaunty, gypsy drum beat. I went on my balcony with the rest of my neighbors to see a man out in the street wearing a skirt hung with brightly colored tassles--red, yellow, blue, green. He had finger cymbals and was whirling around in front of a car which was frantically honking its horn. The man with the drum was step dancing around him while the zurna player did his jig on the sidewalk. The two musicians were old and bald, the dancer had a huge helmet of air and kept dropping a handkerchief, then bending over backward to pick it up with his teeth. The whole street came out to watch. We gathered on the sidewalks, on the balconies, stuck our heads out of our cars. The drummer is wearing a dour dark suit with a leather skirt around his waste--not a lady skirt like the dancer but a Greek warrior skirt like Brad Pitt in Troy. All this is taking place in front of the Hunter and Fisher's Association, where I usually see stubbled men sipping tea and playing backgammon beneath the gaping heads of stuffed deer, badgers, fish and a whole variety of other varmints.

I texted Delal, said good morning, and asked her what the hell this was. It's a dance called the köçek, she said. A few minutes on the internet learned me real good all about it. It's mostly associated with Kastamonu these days and is danced on special occasions--a la weddings, graduations, that sort of thing. In the old days, it was part of Istanbul's party culture. Men and women were not allowed to hang together, and so a man got stuck playing the part of belly dancer, decked out in the full regalia of a gypsy dansöz. The dude spinning below only has the skirt and finger cymbals. He's as skinny as a piece of plywood and has a huge head (the size exacerbated by his moussed up hair) which seems to lob backward from the sheer weight of it as he dances.

Here's a link to a video.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Guaranteed to Make Someone Angry that Shouldn't Be or Your Money Back! (All about poo poo)

The first lesson, of the first hour, of every Turkish student's first day of first grade should run like this. Teachers, take notes. First, write "Welcome to the First Day of the Rest of Your Life" on the board. Draw hearts over the i's instead of dots. Pass out cookies, fibrous bran cookies. Wait a few hours. Then, take each child aside and have them shit into a plastic bag. Now tape the plastic bag around their mouth and nose and ask them, point blank, "Does it stink?" Record each answer carefully. Video tape it, and then play it every day at the beginning of class. You'll be arrested for insulting Turkishness, but that's okay.

So this is a rather graphic illustration of an old English bit of verbal repartee, "You act as if your shit don't stink." Au contraire, you may say, my turds smell like a heady blend of mint and gumdrops. Some people even act as if they don't shit at all. Waste comes out of them in showers of family love and hospitality (each takes the form of rainbow colored sparkle-dust)

An incident with an alcoholic uncle comes to mind. We were all watching TV in the family room one night when he comes lumbering out of the bedroom, pulls his pants down in the hallway, and proceeds to take a big dump. As every good family of an alcoholic knows, you pretend that this sort of thing isn't happening. No one is crapping in the hallway. That big brown dump in the middle of the carpet is not there. That smell wafting through the air could not possibly be real. Well, like many countries, mine included, Turkey has taken a big dump on history, and like my drunken uncle, they're hoping that other countries and their own people will pretend that pile of shit isn't sitting on their expensive Turkish carpet.

I'm talking about the Armenian Genocide. Not the so-called genocide, or the alleged genocide, or the "genocide", but the Genocide. And normally I don't touch on this rather contentious issue (The only reaction you get is screaming, red faced denial. There's no hope really.)


Today, in class, one of my students told me he was too angry to study today. I asked why. "We just watched a film called Hiroshima," he explained. "It explained the atomic bomb and how evil America is. God, I hate America! And I hate President Truman. He was an evil monster! It was America's genocide against the Japanese." While I am no supporter of the atomic bombing, I also bristle at this sweeping generalization of the Americans being the source of some evil incomprehensible to the rest of God's children. And I might have left that alone, but for the next sentence out of his mouth. "How could America do something so horrible? I mean, we didn't kill one million Armenians." Don't let your brain explode. This does read a little bit like a Zen koan. The absence of logical flow is baffling--something along the lines of "How could that man have tried to bomb Times Square? After all, my mother gave my dad a birthday gift." But even more galling was the poster board hanging behind him that said, "Genocides of History" with the first one being "The Armenian Genocide Against the Turks". That's right folks, though Armenians have been nearly completely erased from Anatolia and Istanbul--it was the Turks who were exterminated.

I was conciliatory at first. "Well, Hiroshima was a monstrous thing to do, but it didn't just happen for no reason. There was a context. You can't just say 'they were evil' and hope to understand. And no country has a monopoly on evil. Every country has done something to hurt others, even Turkey."

"No," was the unequivocal answer. "What has Turkey done? We never killed any Armenians. They killed us. Just like the Kurds."

And I couldn't stop staring at that ugly poster.

More galling is my Australian bosses towing of the line. Her husband is a Turkish nationalist so I suppose she's legally obligated to agree with every asinine thing she's told. "There was never a genocide," she pish poshes to wide-eyed new teachers who want to know what all the screaming protesters on Rihtm Avenue were on about. She then delivers the three pronged trident of logic defying bullshit, the trinity of verbal trapezedom that the Turkish government unleashes under the name 'history'. "First, Turkey never massacred anyone. They just exiled them. And then not that many were killed anyway." (But no one was massacred in part one of the answer) "Second, there was lots of killing on both sides because it was a war, and in any case there simply weren't many Armenians in Turkey" (Then whence the mass killings on both sides?) and third, even if some Armenians were killed, it was because they were plotting against the Ottomans and had turned traitor and so the government was defending itself. (Against whom? There weren't that many Armenians in Turkey, right? And in any case no one was killed. So the defense must have been entirely symbolic, like a fierce game of backgammon or something. Winner take Kars.)

So I have a few questions. If there never was an Armenian genocide, then why can any tourist go to Syria's Der Zor and pick Armenian bones out of mass graves in the sand dunes, and why was Armenian journalist Hrant Dink assassinated by Turkish nationalists and why is it such a chore to have his murderer prosecuted and why when he was assassinated did vandals write death threats on the walls of the Armenian churches? And where are the Armenians who used to inhabit the ruined village above my friend's village in Tunceli? And why does Taner Akcam, noted Turkish historian of the genocide, get regular death threats from Turks trying to prove their ancestors were not murderers. (If you say my great grandfather was a murderer I'll kill you to prove we do not kill!!) And why does a Turkish historian, Hilda Potuoglu merit a fifteen year jail sentence for insulting Turkey because she wrote a footnote in an Encyclopedia that said "Cilicia was under the dominion of Armenians during the Crusades?" And why does my girlfriend have a great aunt who once was an Armenian but pretended to be a Kurd after the Turkish gendarmes massacred her village? I told this to my Turkish teacher who said, "Oh I know lots of people with hidden Armenian relatives." Well why did they have to hide? What were they running from? And why have they not been able to come out and say who they are? And why do Turks keep talking about the cultural richness of Istanbul--all the different communities and peoples--and yet draw a blank when asked to point out one of these largely vanished communities. (Oh yes, there are stragglers--but Kadikoy used to be filled with Greeks). And why do traces of this community keep popping up around me, in anecdotes, in ruins, in biographies of favorite authors, and yet official accounts deny their existence? Why can author William Dalrymple write about a graveyard with mixed Ottoman, Greek, and Armenian graves one year, and then go back the next to find all the Armenian graves gone; only to ask the locals about what happened and have them deny that they were ever there in the first place? Why were ancient churches in Kars destroyed with bombs and yet Selcuk mosques meticulously preserved? And what was Kemal Ataturk referring to when he called what was done against the Armenians as "a shameful act." And all this is just the circumstantial evidence. There's tons of official evidence (though a gaggle of revisionists deny every last piece of it with the aforementioned holy trinity of excuses) A few of which feels worth mentioning because they illustrate how badly the government is betraying its citizens by denying them access to their true heroes. Celal Pasha of Aleppo. Why was Celal Pasha dismissed from duty for not deporting elderly women and children from Zeytun? Or Mazhar Bey, who was removed from governorship of Ankara when he pretended not to understand the orders he was given. "Then one day," he said in his testimony at the Istanbul trials, "Arif Bey came to me and orally conveyed the minister's orders that the Armenians were to be murdered during the deportation. I said I am a governor, not a bandit. I cannot do this." Or Reshit Pasha of Kastamonu who was fired after he refused, quote, "to stain my hands with blood." Or any of the hundreds of people who hid Armenian children to protect them.

The craven, mendacious crap that passes for a history class at my high school is the true insult to Turkish people. It denies them the right to find their own better natures. It puts shit in their face and tells them to call it a rose and then punishes them if they don't.

I'm not trying to be uppity or holier than thou. I've been to Hiroshima. I've felt the sting of a kind of national shame. I've stared horrified at the bomb dome as little children came up to ask "Why did America do this?" And I've believed bullshit about my own history. But there's just something about that kid earnestly trying to grapple with world-shaking, historical tragedies, trying to find a moral voice, while sitting under a poster that makes the perpetrators of the first modern genocide sound like the victims, that in effect robs him of the ability to have any true moral voice, ever, because it teaches him to never take responsibility for past wrongs. And it made me sorry for him. Sorry for everyone in that doomed, wretched class.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Aziz Nesin--My Final Translation

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Underwear Is No Joke
by Aziz Nesin

As you may know, at boarding schools here in Istanbul there are two kinds of students. First you have the "bachelors", then you have the "domestics". The "domestics" spend every Saturday night at their own houses, while the "bachelors" pass the whole school year at school.
Calvary Officer Selahattin was a bachelor like me. One Sunday night, like always, our freshly washed laundry came to our dorm hall to be passed out.
Normally the guy with the highest seniority would shout, "Come get your clothes everybody!", and we would give him our dirty laundry and take the clean. In order not to get our clothes mixed up, everyone wrote their student numbers in permanent marker or else sewed it in with black thread.
Now this was a job everyone found a pain in the neck. This Selahattin also found it annoying to write his name, so he simply didn't. He would strip the dirty shirt off his back and toss it into he pile. When the clean clothes came, he did not even get off his bed. While everyone who DID mark their clothes was gathering theirs up, he'd say, "I'll just take whatever's left." And no matter what remained, he'd grab it and wear it.
He was, basically, a slob. There's no other word for it.
Sometimes, after clothes were all passed out, there'd be nothing left over and he'd come out empty handed, but sometimes he'd return with an armful of goodies. But he could never be sure whether this pile of unmarked laundry were his or not. He would rifle through it and say, "Man, not one of these shirts is mine!"
That Sunday evening, as usual, he was there waiting once all the clean clothes were distributed, and he returned empty handed.
"Not even a handkerchief!" he said.
"You don't have any clean clothes?"
"No, I do, it's just that I don't have any underwear."
"I'll lend you some underwear," I offered.
"Yours won't fit.”
To be in the mounted cavalry, your pants and underwear are extremely important. And because you need them to fit your legs as tightly as possible, they have to be tailor made. A good rider knows that if your underwear doesn’t fit your legs just right, you can’t ride well at all. Especially when the horse puts on some real speed. If your underwear is too loose, then while you’re sliding around the bottom part of your leggings will start to ride up and wrinkle into a big wad while the top spills of your pants. And this really irritates the rider. No matter how much you struggle to pull the leggings back down, they just ball up again and start ballooning out. If they’re too tight, they squeeze you, if they’re too loose, they wad up. So a cavalry man’s drawers must be an exact fit.
Selahattin started to think. The next day a general was coming for an inspection. He wanted to see the horsemanship of all the cavalry boys. This was why he was so worried. He was obsessed with this problem. He didn’t want to fail just because of some underwear.
We thought about it. Cemal! Cemal was just Selahattin’s size. All their clothes fit each other.
“Cemal will never give me his underwear,” Selahattin said.
“Come on, what’s the big deal? He’ll lend you a pair just for a day.”
But Cemal was the world’s most anal kid. He washed his hands maybe twenty times a day. His clothes were squeaky clean--not one single stain on them. And on top of that, he was stingy, oh man, so stingy. Selahattin was right. He would never lend anyone his underwear.
“What are you going to do?”
“I swear to God I don’t know. This is a disaster.”
They had a riding teacher, a lieutenant colonel, who had a really short temper. This irritable lieutenant colonel, whose classmates had all long ago become generals, was on the verge of death all in the name of riding and horses. There was not a bone in his body that had not been broken at least two or three times in his quest for good horsemanship. Legs, arms, ribs--every last bone was cracked, and when he walked, you could hear those cracked bones crunching against each other. This lieutenant colonel’s sole interest was training horses. He could make horses under him dance the rumba. There was not one thing about horses that he hadn't talked about.
Now this colonel wanted to show off all his students’ skills to the general coming for inspection, so he really loved Selahattin since he was such a good student.
“What am I gonna do?” Selahattin asked.
“Let’s at least try asking Cemal one time.”
Selahattin was terrified of both embarrassing himself in front of the colonel, and embarrassing the colonel in front of the general. So we went to Cemal and asked.
“Guys, please," Cemal said. "Underwear is not something a guy just lends out.”
“What’s the big deal?”
“What’s the big deal? What am I supposed to do with the underwear after you’ve had it on.”
I couldn’t resist.
“You could make it into a handkerchief."
“Sorry, but no way. Now please don’t get pissed, guys. If it were anything else, I’d give it to you. But I just can’t lend you my underwear.”
“There’s an inspection tomorrow!”
“Sorry. You’ll get them all sweaty. You’re riding, man. And what happens to underwear when it gets all sweaty is...just...”
“So have it washed.”
“The sweat of a rider won’t come out...ever.”
“Then sell them to me. I don't care. I’ll pay whatever you want.”
"There's no way to sell them. My name would get out as the guy who sold people used underwear. Please don’t get mad. I can’t do it. If it were anything else...”
I looked right in his face.
“You’re going to pay for this, you know.”
And he knew just what I meant.
During the last class, while everyone was doing their lessons, we went with Selahattin to the dorm room and opened Cemal's locker. There was a laundry bag inside. We opened the bag and found one pair of underwear. There weren't any others, and these didn't have an elastic band; they were the button-down kind. Selahattin took the underwear and drew a picture of a horse's head on a piece of paper. Underneath he wrote, "The Golden Hoof Gang!" and put it in the laundry bag.
It was perfect.
The next day I looked for Celal, but didn't see him anywhere. This meant he didn't know we had stolen his underwear, and hadn't opened his laundry bag. The cavalry boys woke up early and went to the Ayazaga parade grounds. They were going to have inspections there in a closed arena. We infantry men went to maneuvers on Literary Freedom Hill.
We returned to school that night. The cavalry had not yet returned. They arrived while we were in the cafeteria at dinner. A little later, there was a scuffle on the other side of the room from us, and I heard Selahattin's voice.
"So whose underwear are these?"
He was dunking Cemal's head in the pot of beans and screaming.
It was tough, but we finally managed to pull him off Cemal.
"What the hell happened?"
Selahattin explained.
"So I put on those button-down underwear this morning. I got on my horse and went to Ayazaga. I didn't notice anything wrong on the way there and went onto the field. The general had come. And the lieutenant colonel was like a powder keg--about to go off at any moment. As I picked up speed, the pants legs started to bunch up. God, man, I mean, they wadded up into a big ball right between my legs! And of course, the lieutenant colonel decides to make us jump from our horses. So we all hopped off. Now we were supposed to mount by jumping on them as they passed by us at full gallop. As I was jumping off my horse, the buttons at the front of my underwear popped off. They slid right down my legs. I went next to my horse and was about to jump on, but I couldn't open my legs. Everyone had mounted and left. Only I remained behind. The lieutenant colonel's bones began to crack and rattle with rage. The horses came around again and mine raced by. I tried to leap on but again, my legs wouldn't open. The underwear had wrapped around my ankles and for some reason, I couldn't pull them up. I was humiliated. I looked up and saw them coming around for a third time, and without opening my legs I threw myself like a ball, but since my legs wouldn't open, I didn't stop on top of the horse but slipped right over to the other side. My eyes stayed on that damn horse. He came by me one more time and I threw myself up again...right over to the other side. I was beside myself. The general felt sorry for me.
"What's happening with that young fellow down there, lieutenant colonel?" he asked.
With all the strength that I had, I tried to sort of scissor my legs in the air, and with a huge ripping sound, my underwear tore in two. But I managed to get up on the saddle. And this time, too, as I bounced up and down, my underwear bunched and bunched, riding up my legs. And believe me, having your drawers wad up into a big ball between your legs is much worse than losing the crotch out of them. I was about to go nuts. Thank God my pants usually have holes in the pockets. I jammed my hands down inside, reached through the holes and started ripping out bits of my underwear bit by bit. My pockets filled up with it. Or so I thought. I reached in to pull out the last little bit left when Necmi came up behind me.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"What do you mean what am I doing?"
"Look behind you!"
I looked, and all over the training filed were bits of white cloth scattered like confetti. Pieces of it were even flying through the air. I had no idea what to do. There I had thought I was putting the pieces in my pocket, but really I was scattering like snow. I was humiliated!
"Of course," Cemal said. "I knew you had stolen my underwear. I took all my clothes from my locker and put them in Potato Necmi's laundry basket.
Potato Necmi was twice Selahattin's size. As soon as he heard this Potato Necmi said, "What?! So those were my underwear! Why you little..."
And with that, the three of them leapt on each other and started whaling away with their fists.
We played the role of dutiful friends and with one voice shouted, "Beat him! Beat him! Beat him!"