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  • Postcards from the TransCanadian Railway

    In September and October I went home to Canada for a bit and took the TransCanadian railway across the country, starting in Vancouver and ending in Halifax. I had a great time. The long-haul trains in Canada are convivial places, the cast of characters I met along the way hilarious, irritated, full of love, sad, memorable, and occasionally very proud of being from Moncton. Here are a few of them.

    ***

    I stayed a night at an AirBnB in Winnipeg for two nights between trains. The host, a woman in her late thirties, had described herself as “a real Jesus freak” in her profile. Before I arrived, she let me know that she would be holding a Bible study in her home that evening and was wondering if it would bother me. I said that of course it wouldn’t.

    The Bible study, which I eavesdropped on from my room, was clearly an awkward convergence – four women of varying ages who either clearly did not know each other or had no sense of humour. Not a single chuckle was to be heard, not even in response to an on-colour joke. I felt fortunate that I had chosen not to involve myself, not because I’m totally disinterested in matters religious, but because I felt like the palpable awkwardness would just be increased by the presence of someone as heathenistic as me.

    After the Bible study, I asked my host if she’d enjoyed herself.

    “It was okay,” she said. “I’ve been looking for a good Bible study for a while, and I keep striking out. This one seems alright – there’s a special study technique where you underline a lot of stuff, but I don’t know. We’ll see.”

    “What would your ideal Bible study look like?” I asked.

    “I work all day,” she said. “I don’t really want to discuss things. There’s already too much going on in my brain. I don’t have energy for discussion or parsing apart the text. What I want is just a Bible study with ready answers. Answers, you know. Like something clear. Not discussion.”

    “Oh,” I said, feeling suddenly very sad.

    ***

    “Where are you going?”

    This is generally the first question people on the Canadian long-haul trains ask each other by way of introduction, hoping to get a sense of a person by understanding their direction.

    “Saskatoon,” was the answer of one gentleman in his early 70s. “I bought myself a rail pass and I’m going all across Canada. I have two grandsons in Saskatoon, and I’ll visit them. After that, I’ll head to Toronto. Maybe I’ll go home for a bit to Kingston, I don’t know. Maybe after this I’ll buy an Amtrak pass too and just keep going.”

    “That might be nice to go home for a bit,” I said, “after these long train journeys.”

    “No,” he said. “My wife died. We’d been together since 1956, when we were eleven. We got married when we were 20, which was as early as anybody’d let us marry. For now it’s really hard to be home, so I bought a rail pass. Maybe after this I’ll buy an Amtrak pass. I don’t know yet. Eventually though, I’ll have to go home.”

    ***

    “Watch out,” said one of the train attendants as the train was rolling leisurely into Toronto. “Sometimes kids camp out on that bridge and shoot at the train with pellet guns. Actually, it doesn’t happen so much here, but it does happen a lot on the train up to Churchill. It’s a problem.”

    The train cook was passing through the car.

    “One time I was taking the train up to Churchill,” he said, “and somebody shot a 22. at us. Smashed the window to pieces.”

    “Jesus,” said the passengers in the car.

    ***

    The first train I took, from Vancouver to Winnipeg, was nine hours late and, though the website indicated that the train had WiFi, this was not true. 

    Many passengers were upset. The most upset was a tall German man of about 65 hoping to rent an RV and visit the old homestead of some German relatives who had bid so long farewell to Germany and had made their fortunes in Canada. Being late for his RV pickup, the tall German man complained to anybody who would listen.

    “Zis ees a joke,” he said to me. “Zis schedule ees a joke. Zer ees no vifi. Zis ees a joke.”

    Every time I walked by his seat, he would repeat this like a tired refrain. I, too, was none too pleased by the lateness, but was coping better. I soon took to avoiding eye contact with him on my journeys throughout the train.

    Two days later, he was on the same train as me again, this time from Winnipeg to Vancouver. Unfortunately for his sanity, this train was also nine hours late. He decided to complain to the train staff who responded with the demeanor of a secretary at an MP’s office, charged with getting rid of the pesky constituents who’ve called to make their opinion known about how reneging on your electoral reform promises is a bad thing to do. There was much “Mhm, mhm, okay, let me tell you how this works. Yes, it’s too bad, but really you have to understand…”

    Afterwards, the German said to me, “She has been at her job too many years. She does not care. She does not even understand what we are saying. Zis ees a joke.”

    The next morning, I spied him in the dining car.

    “Good morning,” I said. “How angry are you feeling today?”

    “Me? Angry?” he said. “I am not feeling angry at all.”

    Momentarily confused, I stared at him. “You’re not feeling angry.”

    “Of course I am feeling angry,” he said. “Zis ees a joke.”

    ***

    The German wasn’t the only passenger on the second train who had also been on the first. I also met a couple in their sixties who told me that they were out of step with their friends because they had had children later in life.

    “We wanted to have children when we were in our early twenties,” said the wife. “But then we weren’t getting pregnant so I went to the doctor and it turned out that I had gone through early menopause! My uterus was the size of a prune! And my hormones were completely menopausal! So we thought, well I guess that’s not going to happen.”

    She spoke with a bubbly enthusiasm, all the time.

    “So when I was 34, I started to notice that I was getting this belly and so I started working out more and more to try to get rid of it! But nothing worked and it turned into this little hard round thing. At one point I got my husband to jump on it. I said, ‘Jump on it, jump on it! Feel how hard it is! What is going on?’ Then a little while later I saw motion on my stomach – and of course it was the baby kicking, but I didn’t know that then. So I called my husband and I said, ‘come in here, look at this!’ And then the next day I went to the doctor and said, ‘I’m dying.’ Turns out I was six months pregnant! And you know what, at the time that I was pregnant there were two other women at work who were due around the same time as me, and they couldn’t do anything. So I said, ‘Oh, well, you sit down and rest and I’ll do all the the lifting, setting things up and whatnot. And turns out I was as pregnant as they were! I was in the American medical journal in 1988 because of it!”

    “You should have been on Oprah,” said her husband.

    “I should have been on Oprah!” she crowed. “Although of course there wasn’t Oprah in those days. Anyway, when my son was born, the doctor said to me, well ‘this is basically a miracle. This is never going to happen again to you, so don’t have hope.’ And so away I went and we had our little boy, and then a little while later I started feeling kind of weird and I thought, ‘if I didn’t know any better, I would say that these were the signs of early pregnancy.’ But this time I didn’t want to go to the doctor because the last time I’d felt kind of stupid – and I’m not stupid – because I did not know I was pregnant. So I bought one of those kits and it turned a little bit blue if you were a little bit pregnant and brighter blue if you were further along, and lo and behold it was bright bright blue. So I took it into the doctor and I told him, “I’m pregnant and I’d like to have an abortion” because I thought, ‘I’ve gone through menopause and my eggs have degenerated. I’ve had one healthy baby and there’s no chance I’ll have another one.’ But my doctor was Catholic and he said to me, ‘No, unfortunately I can’t do that for you,’ and so I had the baby and he was even more perfect than the first! And then after that we thought, of course this can’t happen again so we took some precautions.”

    “How are your sons doing now?” I asked.

    “Oh well, they’re good,” said Maureen. “Our oldest is working, and our youngest is too and he’s also transitioning to be a woman! It was such a surprise to us because he was always so masculine and he liked sports and he was very athletic.  Anyway, we were totally okay with it, except it’s a little hard to remember to say she and her all the time. And also – and this is interesting – she’s also a MomDad! Before she transitioned she met a woman while on vacation and she got pregnant and now they have a beautiful little boy!”

    ***

    “That’s some engagement shit right there!” crowed a member of the group that I had started playing cards with on the train. Besides playing cards, we traded stories and facts about our relationships. He stuck his hand out to show us his engagement ring.

    “So,” one of us asked, “What are you planning for your wedding?”

    “Well,” says he. “We have to elope in Vegas.”

    “Why?” I asked. “Do you just not like big weddings, or do your parents not approve?”

    “Parents don’t approve,” he said, and left it at that, leaving us collectively in suspense.

    Not for long as it turned out.

    “Well, the reason we have to elope,” he said conspiratorially a bit later on, as though he’d been waiting for the exact right moment to drop the juiciest details “is that our parents are married. But we, y’know, didn’t grow up together or anything.”

    “So you’re marrying your step-sister” someone said.

    “I hear that’s one of the most popular porn genres” said someone else.

    Later on, he told me I looked familiar. He looked familiar too. We tried to figure out how and if we knew each other.

    “Were you part of the Marxist community in Montreal?” he asked.

    “No,” I said. “Did you hang out on the same floor I did at university?”

    “No,” he said.

    “Maybe we just saw each other in our university lobby,” I said.

    “I can only think of one other possible way that we couldn’t know each other, but it’s a bit weird,” he said.

    “What, like a swinger party?” I asked.

    “Did you ever have an, erm, tryst with my ex-girlfriend Catherine?”

    So I was not too far off with the swinger party.

    “No I never had sex with your girlfriend,” I said confidently.

    “Are you very sure?” he asked.

    “Yes,” I said, having been an unfashionable -1 on the Kinsey scale for as long as I can remember. “I’m sure.”

    A week later my husband was heard me cry out disappointedly.

    “What’s wrong?” he asked.

    “I just realized that I missed the only chance that I might have in my entire life to seriously respond to somebody with ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman.’” I said.

    ***

    The train to Halifax was also several hours late leaving, so the people in the lineup got cozy with one another.

    The woman next to me started complaining about her job.

    “My boss is 71,” she said, “and I’ve been waiting to get her position since she was 65. She leaves early every day. She’s lazy. She has no oversight in her position. And every year she hires different summer and winter staff even though the summer staff would be happy to continue working the whole year.”

    “That sounds terrible,” I said.

    “Well,” said the woman with finality. “I’ve decided I’ve waited long enough. They’re opening a new medical marijuana plant in my town, and I’ve applied there to be a manager. I have managerial experience and I need to work at this point because my own retirement’s coming up!”

    “Good luck,” I said.

    “I think I’ll get a position,” she continued, “because it’s for medical marijuana and so they actually need people who don’t use marijuana to work there because it needs to be sterile and all that and you can’t just be pickin’ leaves of the plants for your own personal use. Anyways, they asked me if I had experience, and of course I couldn’t say that I had experience growing marijuana ‘cause it’s still illegal. But I told them, you see, ‘I’ve grown tomatoes, I’ve grown squash, I’ve grown catnip, and I’m damn well sure I can grow marijuana too.’”

    “Well I’m sure you can,” I said.

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  • Kaynanalık: the Turkish Word for Mother-in-Lawness

    Esma Sultan from the show İstanbullu Gelin. The show is entirely based on a mother/daughter-in-law conflict.

    The Middle-Eastern mother-in-law, so the common story goes, believes with all her might that no other woman could possibly be worthy of her son. The stereotype is so prevalent in Turkey that Turkish actually has a word – kaynanalık – that literally translates to “mother-in-lawness.” Usage example: Yes, I know your son prefers his stuffed grape leaves without meat, but stop with the kaynanlık. If I like them with meat I’m allowed to make them that way! Despite what you may believe, your son won’t starve!

    My own grandmother, herself from a different country in the Middle East, was (she isn’t dead, but she’s mellowed with age) so good at kaynanalık that she could have served as a lighthouse for other bad mothers-in-law who’d lost their way. Her own kaynanalık successes, however, did not stop her from becoming concerned that I may be mistreated by the very culture she so enthusiastically participated in. As soon as she could after the wedding, she sat me down and asked, “So, how’s your mother-in-law?”

    I actually have a great mother-in-law. She doesn’t make foods she knows I don’t like, constantly asks me what foods I do like, says things like, “you’re not my daughter-in-law, you’re my daughter!”, gets me to call her Mum, tells me about unpleasant experiences she had with her own mother-in-law many years ago, and enthusiastically tries to teach recipes I’ve taught her to her own sisters, who are skeptical about them to say the least.

    Anyway, I told my grandmother that I lucked out in the mother-in-law department, and she said, “Oh, I’m glad to hear that. You know, Middle-Eastern mothers-in-law are famous for being mean.” She paused for a too-short moment of self-reflection. “You know it’s funny,” she said after a while. “Everybody always talks about bad mothers-in-law, but nobody ever seems to have anything to say about bad daughters-in-law.”

    My brother would later text me to say that “With one short quote, she elevated herself to Plato’s perfect form of a bad mother-in-law.”

    If I’ve learned anything from the little time I’ve been married, however, it’s that mothers-in-law actually do talk a lot about their “bad” daughters-in-law. Mostly I’ve heard about this from my own mother-in-law, who when responding positively to questions about me, is often regaled with stories from other women about their own daughter-in-law-related misfortune.

    “I met a friend today,” she said to me one day a few weeks after Adem and I were married. “And was she ever complaining! She said her daughter-in-law never comes to visit and they never invite her to visit either. But they do invite the daughter-in-law’s mother.” She shook her head. “Oh, these women,” she said. “They’re so old-fashioned. Why do they feel like they need to be mean to their daughters-in-law? That’s how it was supposed to be in the old days, not now.”

    A few days later, Adem ran into the same lady who, after asking how our marriage was, used the subject of marriage as a springboard to launch into another volley of kaynanalık lamentation. Adem immediately launched into his, “oh my gosh, it’s been really great to see you” routine and extricated himself from the situation with as much grace as he could.

    That story reminded me of another story we heard from Cihan, a friend of ours. About five years ago a good friend of his got married. At the time when they were married, the wife was working a better job than the husband. One day Cihan’s phone rang. It was his friend’s Mom.

    “Hi Cihan, how are you doing” crackled (I imagine) her voice from the other end of the line.

    “Good, and you?” said Cihan.

    “I’m good, I’m good,” she said. “Listen, I just wanted to ask you. You know, you know my son well. I just wanted to make sure that his wife isn’t getting uppity because of the employment situation. She isn’t bossing him around or anything is she?”

    So far I’d been spared any mother-in-law jeremiads, until today, when I discovered a small table at my local bazaar selling a few products from Armenia. Foreign products are worth their weight in gold in Turkey, so I couldn’t believe my eyes. Pork sausage, condensed milk, halva made out of sunflower seeds! What luck! I asked the lady, a woman in her sixties with severe drawn-on eyebrows, if she came to the bazaar every week.

    “Yes,” she said. “I do. When I go to Armenia I bring things back here and sell them here once a week.”

    “Oh, you’re Armenian?” I said stupidly, because it was obvious from her accent that she was.

    “Yes,” she said. “But I’ve been here 15 years. Every time I travel I have to go through Russia because the political situation between Turkey and Armenia isn’t that good you know.”

    “Oh!” I said, surprised. “You don’t come back through Georgia?” (This would be a much cheaper option, and she could bring more stuff into Turkey to sell.)

    “NO!” she said. “My daughter-in-law is Georgian! I don’t like Georgia. My daughter-in-law is so greedy. I would rather go through Russia.”

    I took some of the halva and left her alone.

    I’ve spent the rest of the day feeling smug about my own good luck and trying to think of silly titles for articles or books by mothers-in-law for mothers-in-law. I mean, there does seem to be a glut in the market, no?

    Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

    “The trick one mother-in-law has to avoid ever setting foot in the homeland of her daughter-in-law, (and how you can do it too). HINT: It costs money!”

    “Uninvited: The mother-in-law story.”

    “Why Change when You Can Stay the Same?: Kaynanalık traditions of the Middle East through the ages.”

    Yelling: A Guide to Getting Grandchildren without Compromising your Son’s Care.

    “How to cope when your son gets bossed around by his wife instead of by you.”

    “When bad daughters-in-law happen to perfect people.”

    …other suggestions are welcome.

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  • The Best Turkish Literature in English: An Overview

    A PSA

    You may have noticed that I’ve been more-or-less absent from the blog for a while. Back in August I decided that my next post was going to be about the best Turkish literature published in English. Two months, 18 books, and ten single-spaced pages later, I have realized that a series of posts about this would be a better option for all concerned.

    An Intro to Turkish Literature


    Understanding Turkish literature requires an understanding of the history of the Turkish language. Turkish has been the official state language of Turkey, for a relatively short time. Ataturk’s language reforms of the 1920s mandated that Turkish be written in Latin, not Arabic, script and that the large numbers of Persian and Arabic loanwords be scrubbed as much as possible from the language. One of the main consequences of this is that modern Turkish literature is a relatively young beast. Other consequences are equally important. While the generally accepted interpretation of Ataturk’s language reforms is that were an attempt to instigate a rapprochement with Europe, the reforms had the messy secondary effect of rendering a large number of people with no experience of the Latin alphabet illiterate. This was not Ataturk’s only messy proclamation. In Portrait of a Turkish Family, Irfan Orga writes about how the abolishment of the fez wreaked havoc in the newly declared Republic of Turkey. At the time, some thought the idea of wearing European-style headgear so objectionable that they took to wearing women’s headwear instead. Ataturk is still much loved by many Turkish people. However it could be argued that his autocratic style of leadership and plethora of decisions made without significant consultation of the Turkish population set a precedent for the rest of the century. Turkish literature cannot be read without keeping in mind the struggle between autocracy and systems in which people’s voices are heard; not only are these questions are blatant in the content of the novels, they are implicit in the very creation and use of the language of Turkey.

    Turkish literature’s relative youth and the Turkish language’s relatively limited geographical spread restrict Turkish literature in ways that highlight striking commonalities between works. It is possible that this is only a consequence of a certain type of book being favoured for English-language translation; however, I suspect this not to be the case. Resistance is the most prevalent theme I encountered. Nearly all the books I read explored questions of how people can resist, whether resistance is worth the potential costs, how people feel when they have few to no options for improvement in their lives, whether there is even a point to resistance when new people and status quos to resist will always crop up, and where the line is between bravery and stupidity is in the fight against tyranny. Is any kind of resistance worth paying the ultimate price of death? What about losing your family, friends, or home? One of Turkey’s most famous writers, Yashar Kemal asks these questions succinctly in his work. In They Burned the Thistles, the character of Old Osman states, “There’s nothing worse than a frightened man. Just put fear into a man and you can make a slave of him for ever.” Later in the book however, the main character of Memed asks a different question. “Old Suleyman said it was right to struggle and fight and resist tyranny. What do you think? If it never comes to an end, is it worthwhile struggling against oppression, and trying to overthrow it?”

    Besides resistance, Turkish literature also demonstrates that, while some things change, many stay the same. The 18 books I read dealt with issues of freedom of the press, authoritarian government, military coups, forced military service, government that does not listen to its citizens, rapid inflation, corruption, disregard for children’s education, and the near-destitution of people who have the misfortune to find themselves, through no fault of their own, on the wrong side of the powers that be. This is not to mention the power of the Turkish family to dictate the lives of its members. There’s lots of that too.

    It’s not all negative. These books also showcase the best of Turkish culture: generosity and love of family and friends; the fierce fight of parents for their children; and the fierceness of many Turkish people who, though I may disagree with some of the things they fight for, are generally more willing to put themselves on the line for what they believe in than people in North America. In these books we see Turkish folk customs, Turkish traditions, and Turkish kindness. There are Turkish people struggling to come to grips with the history of their country even when this history is complicated and messy and at times horrifying. And, from many of the authors we see a love for Turkey and its land and people, and a true desire to change Turkey into the best Turkey it can be.

    The Best Turkish Literature

    If this is the only post you read in this series, here is a list of the nine books I would say are worth reading so far. (My adventures in reading being not finished, I may add to this list in future.)

    1. Özge Samanci – Dare to Disappoint
    2. Yashar Kemal – Memed, My Hawk
    3. Sevgi Soysal – Noontime in Yenisehir
    4. Sabahattin Ali – Madonna in a Fur Coat
    5. Irfan Orga – Portrait of a Turkish Family
    6. Ahmet Ümit – Patasana
    7. Nazim Hikmet – Life’s Good Brother
    8. Elif Shafak – The Bastard of Istanbul
    9. Fethiye Çetin – My Grandmother: An Armenian Turkish Memoir

    Most of them are available online. Only Ahmet Ümit is a bit tough to find. I’ll be writing individual posts about each of these works in the coming weeks.

    Do you have any other recommendations for Turkish novels or memoirs in English? Send them my way!

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  • A Fearful Man is a Bad Man

    A few weeks ago, we went to see my in-laws for the end of Ramadan. It was a whirlwind. We ate my mother-in-law’s (unparalleled) Turkish cooking, and received honest-to-goodness calls from relatives in my mother-in-law’s honest-to-goodness parlour (complete with china cabinet, tea and coffee in fancy cups, and elaborate slightly uncomfortable furniture, natch). The pre-call routine involved gossip about who hadn’t shown up yet; during the call, the gossip was about other relatives’ news; and after the call everybody put themselves to discussing who’d decided to wear a hijab this year, the relatives who’d stopped wearing them, and that one relative that talked so fast that nobody (not just me!) could understand her. Perched uncomfortably on the parlour couch I willed my ears into understanding the direction of the conversations, answered questions about my family and did my best to act polite, shake hands the right way, and definitely not shake the hand of the father of a tidily hijabbed family who, Adem informed me later, bothered him because they even refused to touch his hand even though they were family, and that he really didn’t feel it was necessary for them to sexualize a familial relationship in any way.

    Then there was the story that got told and retold of how my brother-in-law once ate an entire tray (60 cm diameter) of baklava, the extremely-cool-for-a-nine-year-old manicure I gave my niece, walks by the seaside, a whole host of childhood and high school friends that Adem and I ran into on the street and in cafes, a trip to buy some new clothes -“Don’t mention your boyfriend’s belly too much! You’ll hurt his feelings!” said the salesman to me after I told Adem that he should get a larger size – and then, when I thought that I couldn’t eat any more again MORE BAKLAVA and chocolate and coffee and relatives and neighbours asking who I was and on and on it went.

    It was pleasant and normal and a bit tiring, but mostly pleasant.

    Soon after the holidays, of course, came the coup and a whole host of unpleasantness and abnormalcy. These days, while Turkey has returned to normal in many ways, it’s a new normal and a not altogether agreeable one. What I have learned is that there are still the small normal joys of Istanbul life – when the grocer down the street tries to tell me that they are selling spicy tomatoes that day because he thinks my delayed reactions are funny, when the baker gets me the bread I always buy off the shelf before I ask for it, when I pet the street cats outside of my apartment, and when I watch the neighbours who leave their lights on at night do normal peaceful things – washing dishes, playing computer games, smoking and drinking tea, lying in bed, playing with their phones, feeding their babies.

    IMG_3943

    Istanbul is densely packed like this, so spying on neighbours is both easy and affordable!

    There is a dark undercurrent of fear in daily life now though. No matter what nationality you are, if you are taken into custody by the Turkish police they are legally authorized to hold you for thirty days. (The American and Australian embassies warned their citizens that, should they be taken into custody they could ask police or prison officials to please, kindly, notify their embassies. Because, of course, there is a huge incentive for police and prison officials to do that when they suspect you of terrorism. Oh, and the Canadian embassy did not warn Canadians that this was a potential threat, I guess because they feel like sending an e-mail round and having a Facebook page is a heinous waste of government manpower.)
    There have been some police seizing cell phones looking for anti-government messages. (I always delete my most recent messages before going outside now – not because I supported the coup, but because I vehemently do not support the government.) Additionally, many Turkish people believe that the CIA was behind the coup, a theory that seems quite farfetched from where I’m standing, but has even been aired in major newspapers. And so far tens of thousands of people have been arrested or detained, many of whom have no links to Fethullah Gülen, the man now more-or-less universally accepted to be behind the coup, at all.

    Last week, a woman who was six months pregnant was attacked in our neighbourhood by three people, who accused her of dressing immodestly and of being a Gülenist (these two things are actually a bit incongruous since Gülen is an Islamist, but Turkey never seems to make sense, so whatever.) The attackers, apparently, told her that there were four other people in the neighbourhood that they had an eye on. Hearing this sent me furiously googling Krav Maga classes somewhere – anywhere – so that I’d have something to do if I were assaulted in a similar way and was forced to physically defend myself, my freedom to wear bloomers, and my position that anybody who would send soldiers out to their deaths without telling them that that might be what they’re in for is not somebody I would like to align myself with, ever.

    It hit me then that something had changed in my responses to learning about what’s going on around me; or at least, I’m learning how I respond when these kinds of things are going on around me. In Canada incidents like this are essentially unheard of, so I’ve never been in a position to really think about what I would do. I’ve never been physically violent with anybody outside of fits of childhood rage, and I have no desire to be. But I’ve learned now what it’s like to live in fear, to have your decision-making be reduced to the autopilot of fight or flight responses. Even now, when I think about what the appropriate course of action would be if I were attacked, I find myself at a loss despite the fact that, when I left Canada, I was definitely of the opinion that I was a pacifist if nobody but myself was in a position to be harmed.

    I’ve been reading through famous Turkish writer Yashar Kemal’s oeuvre, and in one of his books he writes “A fearful man is a bad man.” I think this is true much of the time. Fear has made me question my own values, and I see very clearly now how quickly it can change a peaceful person into somebody who accepts and normalizes violence because I have become that person in moments of thoughtlessness and … perhaps even in moments of thoughtfulness.

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  • Tanks A Lot Turkey: A Coup and a lot of Uncertainty

    I know some of you might have been waiting to hear me say something about this, but I’ve held off on writing. It’s been a rough couple of days.

    We watched the coup via social media the night it happened, staying up all night to hear the new developments. Immediately, people on social media began saying that it was an autocoup – that it had been designed by the government in a bid to consolidate power. Then people thought it was real, and then they decided it was staged again because it was too sloppy and the government was able to play too many cards to end it. Then some people decided it was staged, but not by the government, while others began to accept that it was a real coup. Nobody however, at least in my social media feeds, seemed to believe that Fethullah Gulen, the man who the presidency has claimed is responsible for the coup, had anything to do with it.

    The most horrifying thing about that night, however, wasn’t the wild conspiracy theorizing, but the government’s response to the coup. Turkish citizens began to get text messages from the government and imams began yelling from mosques for Turkish citizens to go out in the streets and protect their country. From what I heard (or rather read from Turkish friends on Skype and Facebook during the coup) from my incongruously peaceful balcony in Georgia, people were marching in the streets towards the soldiers yelling Allahu Akhbar. When the soldiers surrendered, many of them were beaten and some killed by this angry mob, who spent the next night celebrating in the streets their victory, as if they really ended the coup.

    On Facebook, one Syrian woman wrote something the next day to the effect of, “I saw this kind of thing is Syria. Believe me, these people did not end the coup – the coup ended because of orders from on high. I know from Syria that unarmed people can do nothing against a tank. And yet they believe they ended the coup.” Yet people still went out in the streets with the belief that they could, which caused me to remark to Adem that “every Turk is born a sucker,” in reference to Ataturk’s famous statement that “Every Turk is born a soldier.”

    It wasn’t only that. The day after the coup ended, news stories started to appear that stated that the privates involved in the coup had been told that it was a military exercise. Some of them were doing their mandatory military service – and some of them, at 20 years old, died or were severely beaten by the mob.

    As far as I am concerned, citizens who went outside during the military coup to protest it are moronic sheep. You can’t defend democracy with your fists when you’re faced with a tank. It just doesn’t work. This being said, the fact that the government asked its citizens to perform this operation means they have a total disregard for the lives of their citizens as long as it serves their interests. Citizens were killed for nothing. Not for democracy, certainly, and not for positive change either.

    The other horrible thing about this is that, despite claims from the Turkish government, this is not about democracy. The last Turkish election was not democratic – government-critical media outlets were raided and destroyed prior to the election, and a previous election was considered invalid because a coalition could not be formed because the ruling party was just unwilling to form one. Another thing is that many domestic (and foreign) media outlets have stated, “Well, they’ve elected somebody bad, but the people have spoken.” This isn’t a fair analysis either. Since the Gezi Park protests, nearly all non pro-government protests, no matter how peaceful, have been silenced by police. Why weren’t the government opposition out in the street, also voicing their support for democracy? Because people are terrified. There is now no question on everybody’s mind about who holds the country’s power.

    As for me, I’m shaken up. My boyfriend and I had always planned to leave the country – we could see that things weren’t headed in a good direction, and we didn’t want to raise children in a society as hyper-nationalistic and competitive as Turkey. But, we thought that we could survive it for a few years before thinking about moving back to Canada, that a further consolidation of government power would come gradually and not all at once. Now, I don’t know what we can realistically do – or rather, what I can realistically do. We spent this week in Georgia, and even pre-coup it was like a breath of fresh air. Nobody bumped into me or stared at me in the street. Women were walking alone at 3 a.m. without incident. And people were even baring their midriffs like it was the most normal thing in the world, and not a 90s trend that has suddenly become “vintage” enough to come back into style (oh God, no.)

    The point is – violence is like alcohol. Your liver can metabolize so much, and I think I’ve reached my limit. The past few days were a series of difficult conversations with my boyfriend. “We should try to leave Turkey as soon as possible.” “That makes me feel really horrible. It makes me feel like giving up.” “I know.” “I wonder how we’ll get you to Canada. I can support you in a cheap country, but if you can’t find a job in Canada I’m not sure what we’ll do.” “Do we need to get married this summer? Will that help us?” “I think it will, yes. But we won’t get to celebrate it properly. Even if we managed to have a wedding in Turkey at a more appropriate time, the situation means that most of the people I would want to invite won’t feel comfortable coming for who knows how long – and who can blame them?” “Yeah, I see. I do want to do it properly.” “We can’t leave until you finish school.” “I can’t get a passport until I finish my military service.” “If you do your military service, you’ll be working for Erdogan. They could order you to do anything, like those boys in the coup.” “I know, but I can’t apply for Canadian permanent residency without a passport.” “In September I’m going back to Canada.” “Maybe we can meet in Georgia instead of you coming to Istanbul. During my school holidays. Then when I finish my military service we can go somewhere else.” “I thought it would be okay. I mean, I can take some of it. You know – terrorist attacks, okay – that’s just the normal stuff.” “Do you realize what you’re saying? If there were terrorist attacks in Canada, nobody would call them normal.” “You’re right, they wouldn’t. I don’t want to go back tomorrow.” “It’s just a month. You can make it until September. We can go to the seaside.” “Okay. Maybe it will be nice to go to the seaside.” “If we have to stay in Turkey for my work, we’ll move to a small town, okay?” “I guess, okay.”

    I remember once seeing a series of photographs of a wedding in Syria. The photographs were taken amidst the piles of rubble of a building, and the photographer said he took them to show that life triumphs over death or something. What I didn’t understand (and understand now) is that they are actually a symbol of all the people who were robbed of their weddings – people who died too young to have them, people whose relatives and friends who they wanted to be there couldn’t be there, the people whose weddings were perfunctory affairs and not the celebrations they had hoped for. And although we’ve been lucky enough not to have any of our loved ones be significantly harmed by any of the forces of evil in Turkey, considering a shotgun wedding this summer makes me feel sad and resentful, not excited. We could have had a wedding after many years together, we could have had time to save up for a nice one, we could have had the time to prepare mentally or the huge step that is marriage, my family and friends might have felt comfortable coming to attend it – of course we may still get to have a wedding at some other time, but it’s still not quite the same as doing it on our own terms.

    On the other hand, many things about Istanbul are still the same, but the question is whether it will stay that way. Everybody knows that the government holds all the cards now – and the government has made a point of not protecting those it deems anti-government or anti-Islamist. Will women be harassed for not dressing sufficiently modestly? Perhaps not, but now the playing field is different. When I first came to Turkey two years ago, the tourist sector was thriving, and everybody know that severely harassing women over their choice of dress was, at the very least, bad for business. The violence this year has ensured that there is no longer any tourism sector, and therefore no financial incentive to do anything about protecting women’s rights – but plenty of ideological incentive to do otherwise. Lots of other things are up in the air too. Foreign academics have been barred from leaving the country, and 30,000 educators have lost their jobs or been suspended. Police are stopping people in the streets to look at the WhatsApp messages on their phones, to make sure they don’t say anything bad about the government.

    Things may settle into a bad but predictable rhythm, but now everything is up in the air. It’s now impossible to assume the best, and not knowing how things are going to play out makes it worse.

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  • You Should Know about Bülent Ersoy and Zeki Müren

    bulent-ersoy-22

    I went out one night the first summer I spent in Turkey. It was late evening, and I was quickly walking the length of a wide boulevard in Izmir with an acquaintance. The quickness of my step was due both to the fact that it was nighttime and because the boulevard was lined with prostitutes. As we sped past, cars rolled to a stop all along the stretch and the prostitutes leaned into windows to negotiate. “They’re transsexuals,” my company said. “Transsexual prostitutes.”

    I hadn’t noticed, but learned to identify them as I continued to roam the streets of Izmir at night. I would later learn that prostitution is legal in Turkey, but that only women are permitted to work in brothels. (The current government has enacted a number of measures to make it more difficult for brothels to operate, which means that female prostitutes are increasingly being forced out into the street as well; however, transgender street prostitutes seemed, at least in Izmir, to be the norm.) As transgender people in Turkey already tend to live in the margins of society, many are pushed even further into performing street prostitution because widespread prejudice against them makes it difficult to find work outside the sex trade.

    Turkey is a land of contractions, however, and the story how LGBT people are treated here is less simple than one might think. Although Turkey’s patriarchal bent is undeniable, and although violence against LGBT people is alarmingly frequent (as illustrated by the bizarre ad I’ve attached below from Amnesty International, which implores us all to add #gayturtle to our tweets in order to spread awareness of Turkey’s homophobia problem), certain LGBT individuals have pushed their way to the top of Turkish society to become icons even among the most conservative and homophobic layers of society.

    One of these is Bülent Ersoy, who I first learned about via a conversation I had about feminism and women’s rights with Adem. “Feminists in Turkey often think about feminism too narrowly,” he said. “In conversations about rights for women and LGBT people, few give economics the place they deserve in the discussion. Women, gays, and transgender people are treated really badly here, it’s true, but money can reverse that completely. Just look at Bülent Ersoy. She is rich enough that nobody in Turkey can touch her.”

    “Who’s Bülent Ersoy?” I asked.

    “Bülent Ersoy is a trans woman,” Adem said. “A very popular singer who became popular while she was still a man. Also, believe me when I say that she looked a lot better when she was a man. Anyway, she got surgery to change her gender and a few years later she was even able to have her gender legally changed. She’s still famous, and really very popular.”

    I picked up my phone to google Ersoy. Adem was certainly right about her looking better as a man. Ersoy as a man could have passed as a woman with the help of a bit of eyebrow shaping. Ersoy as a woman – well, nobody would suspect she was born a man, I suppose.

    bulent ersoy man

    Source: YouTube

    Source: Internet Haber

    Source: Internet Haber

    I started mentioning Bülent Ersoy to different Turkish people to gauge their reactions and get a real idea of her fame. Everybody knew who she was, and most reacted the same way. “Ah yes, Bülent Ersoy. Very famous. Great singer. Looked much prettier as a man.” Eventually, this reaction gave me pause. I began to think about how everybody who spoke about Ersoy’s looks, and particularly her beauty, was implying that one of the functions of a ‘woman’ is to look good. And although women who were born women fight back against this societal expectation sometimes and are generally considered entitled to do so, transgender women do not enjoy this same privilege because the concept of beauty is something we use to judge the ‘womanness’ of somebody who was born with a penis.

    That being said, the real reason that Bülent Ersoy has managed to attain and maintain such fame is not the fact that she’s transgender and is not her physical appearance – it’s her music. I’ve included one of her tracks below; the video clocks in at nearly 10 million views, ensuring that nobody can claim Ersoy to be anything but mainstream.

    Here is another track, this time with Tarkan, another one of Turkey’s best known singers.

    Although by now I am used to being surprised by Turkey’s contractions, Bülent Ersoy’s popularity still shocked me. She even seemed a posterchild for Turkey’s contradictions; as I scrolled through internet photographs of her, I stumbled across a photograph of her wearing hijab. After showing the photograph to Adem, he said, “yes, she wears it when she sings religious songs. Oh, I forgot to tell you, when she got a sex change operation in 1981, the tabloids published a picture of her disembodied penis in a jar.” He googled the picture to show me.

    It was a penis all right.

    But here she is in a hijab, which she's accessorized beautifully with a feather wrap.

    I decided not to post the photograph of the penis, but here is Ersoy herself in a hijab, which she’s accessorized beautifully with an opulent feather wrap, straight eyebrows, and lots and lots of lipliner.

    My and Adem’s conversation continued. “There’s another person I have to tell you about,” he said. “Not Bülent Ersoy – before her.” His name was Zeki Müren, and he was like a gay icon in Turkey. He never officially came out as gay, but he dressed very effeminately and wore makeup, and he had a beautiful voice. It doesn’t matter who you are in Turkey – religious, not religious, liberal, conservative, man, woman – Zeki Müren is loved. Universally loved. I think he was one of the best vocalists the world has ever seen. He really sang very beautiful Turkish, and spoke it too for that matter. There are even videos where you can see his incredible diction because he’s just saying tongue-twisters to show it off.

    Zeki Müren has been variously compared to David Bowie and Liberace by people who feel like Western readers need some kind of reference point in order to understand his impact. If a further reference point is needed, Müren bears similarities to Neil Patrick Harris for his dual music and film career; Müren appeared in 18 films, usually as a straight male love interest. However, as as Cara Giaimo writes, “comparing [Müren] to others obscures the very particular role he played, and still plays, in his own country.” Zeki Müren wasn’t the David Bowie or Liberace or Neil Patrick Harris of Turkey, but the Zeki Müren of Turkey. Indeed, when Lady Gaga released her album art for her album “Applause” the internet was quick to point out a similar image of Zeki Müren and accuse her of blatant plagiarism. The fact that the Zeki Müren image was clearly photoshopped and couldn’t possibly have been real didn’t matter. The message was clear: Müren was the real deal, while those creatives who succeeded him are comparative poseurs.

    This is a hoax, but that's not the point.

    This is a hoax, but that’s not the point.

    A few weeks ago, an article appeared in Atlas Obscura about the Zeki Müren hotline. An initiative of Turkish filmmaker Beyza Boyacioglu, the hotline is a repository for Zeki Müren stories, memories, and tributes and ran entirely on word of mouth. As of a month ago, the hotline had received over 700 individual message proving that, even 20 years after his death, Müren is still an icon. His pompadour, makeup, and effeminate clothing mark him as a man who played with gender and sexuality, but his voice and legacy are universalizing.

    This video has 8 million views, even though Müren has been dead for 20 years. Not bad at all.

    On the whole, the Turkish establishment is becoming more conservative than it ever has before. It’s not fair to characterize Bülent Ersoy and Zeki Müren as pockets of resistance per say, but their popularity does serve as a reminder that Turkish society is a whirlwind of contradiction. Turkey is a place where transgender people are forced into the sex trade and are the objects of violence but also attain the heights of Ersoy, where female virginity at marriage is prized even in the most liberal enclaves (and in Izmir, this is coupled with pressure to look really good and dress provocatively), where hospitality is prized but urban residents can be incredibly rude, and where hijabis roam wearing incredible makeup and dresses cut to show off the shape of their body and make out with their boyfriends in secluded corners. I’ve given up trying to understand, but I’ve committed to keep noticing.

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  • Fat-Bottomed Dames will go Shopping Today

    Kazanlak Pazar, BulgariaI’ve started shopping at the pazar near my house. I am a great lover of food pazars and farmers markets, and generally assume that everybody feels the same excitement about them that I do.

    Not my boyfriend. I sweetly asked him if he wished to accompany me to the bazaar so that we may feast on the scent of perfectly ripe strawberries, buy farm-fresh produce for pennies, and look everywhere for fennel, which I have yet to see in Turkey but am still hoping is just not in season.

    “No,” said he, “I don’t like pazars. I prefer grocery stores even though they are more expensive.”

    Incredible. “Bu-but why?” I stammered, wondering momentarily if we were truly meant to be at all. Besides being more expensive, grocery stores sell a limited selection of produce, most of which looks not sufficiently crunchy or juicy as the case may be.

    “I don’t like Turkish ladies with fat asses.”

    “What?”

    “Old Turkish ladies with big butts take up all the space between the stalls and they never move aside for you. They are very inconsiderate. They feel like they own the pazar.”

    Since people bumping into him without acknowledging his presence is truly Adem’s number one pet-peeve and is not specific to bazaars, I acquiesced and went alone. It was not busy, and I was not inconvenienced by any fat-assed Turkish ladies. There were also very few full-grown men shopping, and most of the ones I did see appeared to be accompanied by a woman.

    Turkey as a society is generally very patriarchal, particularly (though not exclusively) among the older generations. In these generations, women who have never worked outside the home are common, and it stands to reason that their skill at cooking, cleaning, and caring for children make up a big part of their self-worth and conceptions of their own competence. It is therefore understandable, though perhaps not reasonable, that they may consider the bazaar a space to which they are entitled.

    photo by:

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  • #Sultanahmet

    Sultanahmet, a week before the attacks.

    Sultanahmet, a week before the attacks.

    There has been another terrorist attack in Istanbul, this time in the hyper-touristic area of Sultanahmet, site of the Hagia Sophia. So far ten are confirmed dead, 15 wounded. We don’t yet have reliable data about the identities of the victims, but it seems to be split between tourists and Turks.

    I was there in Sultahahmet, taking pictures in the snow, not more than a week ago. I could say, “It could easily have been me,” but I won’t because that’s facile and also . . . that’s the point of terrorism.

    The main differences between terrorism and war is that terrorism is waged with the intention to cultuvate fear, not casualties. I don’t wish to sound blasé. My heart goes out to the victims and their familites.

    But.

    We have to maintain some perspective.

    Turkey has a population of 75 million. In the past year, less than 200 people have been killed in terrorist attacks. That is 0.0002 percent of the population. On the other hand, 10,000 people die in traffic accidents every year in Turkey, according to the World Health Organization. That’s a whopping 0.01 percent of the population. If you are a tourist in Istanbul, your chances of dying at the hands of a drunk and unscrupulous dolmuş driver far outnumber the likelihood of death-by-terrorist-attack.

    The same is true in France. Deaths by bombing, despite the brutal Paris attacks, is still statistically very low.

    Why am I saying this? For a few reasons.

    The first reason is that these attacks have the potential to cripple the Turkish economy. This year, Turkey has already lost many of its Russian tourists – one of the largest tourist groups that used to come to Turkey. The Turkish economy is hugely dependent on tourism. And the Turkish economy is not an abstract thing. The Turkish economy is people feeding their families.

    The second reason is about values. People who live in fear act in fear. They make stupid decisions because they won’t look behind the curtain and face . . . statistics. In the case of both Turkey and France, this could mean voting for a government that promises security at the price of human rights or even at the price of other human lives. Furthermore, these governments will likely not even deliver the promised security. Judging from today’s events, the Turkish ruling party certainly hasn’t, despite winning a parliamentary majority in November.

    In fact, each time there is a terrorist attack, the AKP (the Turkish ruling party) imposes a broadcast ban on the Turkish people, leading me and many others to wonder what they are hiding. Are they afraid people will say that their government response to terrorism is ineffectual? Or that people will accuse them on capitalizing on it for their own political goals? Or that they will be reminded that they sold arms to ISIS? Do they just want to make people more afraid by restricting their knowledge?

    I don’t have clear answers to these questions but I do know what I would tell anybody engaging the issue of terrorism.

    Don’t be afraid. Terror is the point of the attacks, and the best way to fight terrorists is to not give them what they want.

    Me? I’m going back to Turkey in the summer, and the worst part of my trip will probably be the quality of the food on Air Canada.

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  • You might not believe me if I told you this, but I’m not a spy.

    I’ve been asked if I am a spy a few times since I entered the post-Soviet world. It’s the fact that I’m a North American who speaks Russian that seems to inspire this question. Never mind that I don’t spend time with anybody who could be a remotely useful source of intelligence. The warning sensors start blinking as soon as a fully formed Russian sentence falls out of my mouth.

    Mostly when people ask they are half-joking. What would I say if I actually were a spy? “Oh snap, you caught me! I was just plying you with vodka so that later I could seduce you and ask you sensitive national-security-related questions during post-coital pillow talk, but you’ve totally blown my cover. More vodka?”

    Usually I say, “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” Then I laugh and tell them the truth – actually, I’m not a spy. I’m simply a North American who learned Russian because it’s difficult to communicate in the post-Soviet space without it.

    Yesterday I finally made it to Russia, crossing the border from Georgia to the Russian Caucasus en route to Vladikavkaz. I was expecting that there might be some trouble at the border because I have 12 Turkish stamps on my passport.

    If you haven’t been following the news, Russia and Turkey are locked in a war about whose president has a bigger penis. Turkey shot down a Russian jet, probably by mistake. Then Turkish president Erdogan didn’t apologize and claimed the plane was in Turkish airspace. In response, Russia imposed numerous economic sanctions against Turkey. The most important of these is that Russian travel agencies have been ordered to quit selling travel packages to Russians, and that Turkish citizens have been barred from travelling in Russia visa-free.

    This is horrible because it means that virile Turkish men have been denied their supply of foreign blonde women to hit on.

    On a more serious note, as Russia is one of Turkey’s main suppliers of tourists, this stupid contest is potentially devastating for the Turkish  tourism/hotel industry, and not that great for Russian travel agencies either.

    None of that has anything to do with me, but I wasn’t prepared to underestimate any possibility. I had money ready to pay a bribe if needed. I learned how to say that I thought Erdogan was compensating for his deficiencies below the belt in Russian.

    All in vain, as it turned out. I arrived at the Georgian border where the Georgian border officer quickly checked over my Russian visa and then wished me “good luck.” “Good luck?” I thought. “Am I going to need it?”

    A few minutes later, I was at the Russian passport window. “Zdrasvitse,” said the woman. “Zdrasvitse,” I said.

    It became clear almost immediately that she spoke no English, not even English directly related to her job. She took my passport, then started asking me questions in Russian. Where are you going? How long will you be in Russia? Is it your first time here?

    “Yes,” I said, in Russian. “It’s my first time.”

    “Well how do you know how to speak Russian then?” she asked. Then she picked up the phone. “We have somebody who is coming to Russia for the first time here,” she said into the receiver. “Please come quickly.”

    She motioned to the side of her office. “Wait there.”

    She still had my passport, so I waited obediently. It was a few degrees below zero; my breath hung in the air and my nose turned pink.  A crowd of other officials was standing two metres away from me. One of them looked at me incredulously and said, “Lady! What are you doing waiting there?!”

    “She told me to.”

    Finally, another official showed up. We exchanged zdrasvitses. He was baby-faced, maybe 21 or 22. He was also a few inches shorter than I. It was clear that he didn’t speak English either.

    “So where are you going?” he asked unsmilingly. “Right now, Vladikavkaz, and after that Moscow,” I said. “Who are you staying with?” “In Vladikavkaz, a hostel, but in Moscow, with a friend.” “What’s the friend’s name?”

    I didn’t know her last name, just had her first name, number and contact info. I showed him our Skype conversations.

    “Where did you learn Russian? Why do you know how to speak Russian?”

    I started to get frustrated, standing out there in the cold being asked stupid questions. “Well you little whippersnapper you,” I wanted to say, “you may not be aware that it is actually not easy to travel in the post-Soviet Union and not speak Russian. This situation is a case in point since you and the other 20 people working here don’t appear to speak any English at all. As you can clearly see from the stamps on my passport which you are holding, this is my fourth post-Soviet country. Doesn’t it stand to reason that it is NOT AT ALL WEIRD that I speak Russian?! Also, like nearly everybody else who has ever learned a second language in adulthood, I took classes with a teacher. What are you expecting me to say? ‘Oh hello, yes, I studied Russian in spy academy and as we all know, there is just so much going on in the dusty hamlet of Vladikavkaz that I just need to go there and spy on what’s going on.”’

    That’s not actually what I said. I explained again how I learned Russian, showed him the relevant passport stamps, and a few minutes later he appeared to give up and sent me on my way. It was, by far, the most bizarre and intense border crossing I have ever experienced.

    Later that night at the hostel, one of my hostel-mates asked me, “Kate, if it’s not a secret, how do you know how to speak Russian?”

    I said, “It’s not a secret. I’m a spy.” We all laughed.

    Here are some pictures of the spying I’ve been doing in Vladikavkaz.

    Vladikavkaz Train Station

    Boss, this is the Vladikavkaz train station. You might also want to know that trains leave and arrive from here, and that usually these trains are carrying people who speak Russian.

    Planet Lux

    Boss, should I ever need to stay in Vladikavkaz again, do you think you could set me up with a room in this hotel? It promises luxury, and I know it must be true because they’ve decided to write everything in Latin letters. I know I get to gather more information in hostels, but one night wouldn’t kill the spy budget, would it? C’mon. Hook a sister up.

    Vladikavkaz Cinema

    Although the Soviet Union was built on the ideas of a guy who said that religion was the opiate of the masses, cinema might actually be the opiate of Vladikavkazians. I think I also saw a strip club. Now you know, foreign governments. Now you know.

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  • Turkish Culture II: Ankara is SO BORING

    Ankara is the capital city of Turkey, and if I had one lira for every time a Turkish person has told me that it is a boring hellhole, I could buy a plane ticket from Ankara back to Istanbul. For a long time it was a mystery to me how nearly all Turkish people could feel such unbridled hatred for their capital city, so I decided to go there to learn what none of the fuss was about.

    To be honest, Ankara is a fairly inoffensive city with some nice trees and one huge mausoleum (on which more some other time). But okay. My Turkish friends were right. After admiring the trees and the mausoleum, there’s nothing in particular to do.

    IMG_2665

    In Ankara, there are some trees.

    A friend of mine and I have a pact to send each other postcards from the worst most uninspiring areas of the world that we can find, so as soon as I discovered how right everybody was about Ankara’s things-to-do scene, I went on the postcard hunt. Finding myself in a huge underground bookstore, I soon realized that, not only do Turkish people hate Ankara, they do not even consider it exciting enough to make postcards about.

    That’s bad. Even Ottawa has postcards.

    As luck would have it, I spied a teetering pile of dusty secondhand paperbacks and wondered if I could find some funny covers to rip off and use instead.

    IMG_2693

    On the left, ‘fiery nights.’ On the right, ‘what women want.’

    I was not disappointed. The paperbacks turned out to be Turkish-language Harlequins from the 1990s. Not only did they do their duty as postcards, they confirmed that people in Ankara get up to the same thing as people in boring cities everywhere.

    Suddenly overcome, I wiped a single tear from my eye. From Margaree, Nova Scotia (which, believe it or not, is more boring than Ankara) to Ankara Turkey, one thing transcends the manifold cultures of humankind: where there is nothing to do there is always at least one thing to do.

    But seriously, if you’re planning a trip to Turkey, don’t go to Ankara. I’m not sure if the faint possibility of a fiery night is worth the trouble.

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