Quiet please, I'm thinking.
It was with some shock on Sunday that, for the second time in as many months, I found myself working through an English lesson on countries and nationalities with someone who didn’t know where almost any country resides. I name a country and they give me the nationality, it all sounds so simple; Spain, Spanish; Britain, Britainish (close enough); Mexico, Mexicoan (again, pretty close). The real problem starts when a map of the world is produced and students are asked to first name the country and then the nationality.
Alarm bells started to ring, admittedly, when Canada and Australia were confused. Okay, they’re both big and at extreme – by our reckoning – parts of the world, but come on, seriously? ‘That’s okay’, I thought, ‘just give them something to remember the place by and let’s move on. Maple Syrup is from … You can do this … please …. Do you know what Maple Syrup is? No? Nevermind.’ And on and on it went; ‘Vladimir Putin is from …. is from …. ‘ oh come on! Eventually it dawned on me that this person was completely unaware of the world so I asked, as one would, if she could point to her own country on the map. As bold as you like she told me she couldn’t; the ensuing clattering sound was my jaw hitting the floor. The trick now was to not make a big deal out of this as I took on the role of primary school Geography teacher, in my English class, with an adult! I’m not trying to undermine or belittle anyone, or any educational system, but if a twenty two year old can tell me who Nicole Kidman is (but not where she’s from) or what tequila is (but not where it’s from) but doesn’t know what countries border their own or indeed where their country lies on a world map, then I think there is an issue.
Or maybe I’m just being critical, did I really know much about Ecuador or Madagascar twenty years ago? Or now for that matter? No, probably not. But I could get pretty close trying to guess their geographic location and knew better than to think it wasn’t a big deal if I didn’t know. Still, at least she knows whiskey is Irish and thinks the Scots are only good for making haggis. Sorry, Scotland.
It’s been a while since I’ve been up so early for no apparent reason, but then I did have a skinful yesterday. It’s also been a while since I’ve had a skinful so I had forgotten that I keep rather odd hours when inebriated. Not to worry, St. Patrick’s Day approaches and I have found the perfect spot to celebrate it, if I find myself so inclined, which I probably will. It’s not the first time I’ve been to Istanbul’s James Joyce though it is the first time I have spent a decent amount of time there.
I was in search of the original Viktor Levy’s, which I was reliably informed was in the Taksim area, when it occurred to me that having a pint of black might be a good idea. When is a pint of black a bad idea? I mean, come on. I had wandered about and found the original Mr Levy’s was no more, the building being renovated and about to re-launch as some hotel (what a shame). I had also just spotted, for the first time in my life, a miniature Hitler statue for sale. That’s a lot of excitement for one day when you factor in the miles of stairs I’d had to climb, the escalators being mostly out in the Sishane metro station, and my hour of learning Turkish which always wears me out. Plus, my class for the evening cancelled so why shouldn’t I indulge?
Anyhoo, there I was, wandering around like a mad eejit when, lo and behold, I walked right by the street where the James Joyce resides. In fairness, I was looking for a specific tea garden in that area that often eludes me and this city is awash with chai, the same cannot be said of Guinness. Quick as a flash I was down the street and through the door, that ancient Irish tune playing in my head, ‘I’ll only have the one’. I must have been so fast I left my rational mind behind me because in no time at all I was on my third pint and entertaining the staff, and myself, or both, whatever. Hilarity ensued though I don’t think my wife was too pleased when she joined me later and I was half cut. Sorry, wifey.
Where was I going with this post?
Two of my buddies will be here in two weeks so I suppose I’ve at least saved us the wasted journey to Taksim’s Viktor Levy’s. That’ll mean a trip to Kadikoy. Plus I know where to get a decent pint, always good to know. The question now is do I go back to purchase Hitler’s loaf? I probably will.
Where does the time go? There I was looking forward to Christmas and suddenly it’s 2014 and I haven’t smoked in a month, not to mention having gone sailing (finally) for the first time on New Year’s after much talking about it. Time sure does fly.
After thinking that winter would never arrive it’s starting to feel like it might never leave, though I do enjoy those days when the wind is whipping the walls and rattling windows in their panes and I am sat indoors all wrapped up and cosy. Much like in summer when one is caught by surprise by a bout of wind and rain, every now and again the weather warms up and shows a little sunshine leading me to think that we’re in our way into good weather. Needless to say I’ve been wrong now on a few occasions. Yesterday I believe I almost felt my knees knocking because I was under dressed and ill prepared for the Baltic conditions.
It’s been almost 8 months since we moved here and I’m starting to get a handle, arguably, on the local lingo. I still have no idea what those street vendors are wailing about when they wander the streets at all hours but it amuses me to think they are saying ‘Iyiyim’, or ‘I’m good’. I know they aren’t saying that but it sure sounds like it. Not as interesting as ‘bring out your dead’ but better than ‘pretzels, get your pretzels here’, which they also definitely aren’t saying.
I’ve definitely gotten my head around the insanity of taxi drivers, who drive at speed but in whose taxis the only seat belt you’ll find won’t work. Motorised vehicles get right of way from what I can gather and if you’re a pedestrian (which I am) you’ve got to be quick. Health and safety is barely even a myth here, I rather fancy it’s anathema to the society and all it stands for. Darwinism is the word on the street here, be quick or be dead. If more cultures had that attitude there’s a chance we’d get rid, naturally, of many a pleb.
In short, if I was still sitting in Brussels I’d most likely be hungover or drunk. Now, instead, I’m trying to figure out how to draw a distinction between the past simple and the present perfect and work out where comparatives and superlatives would best fit into that lesson.
Oh, the hilarity!
For whatever reason I have been thinking about earthquakes lately. Not a subject to which I have given great amounts of consideration, not since I was a kid anyway and thought that every earthquake resulted in a splitting of the earth’s crust followed by a rapid descent into rivers of angry lava. I was a weird kid.
Perhaps, since I now live in an area of rather well documented seismic activity, the possibility (nay, inevitability) of experiencing one firsthand brings this frighteningly exciting prospect to the fore. I wonder how it will feel. Will it be like those bad movies or TV shows where the camera shakes and actors throw themselves from place to place, like Captain Kirk on the Starship Enterprise? Probably not. We’ll all be thrown hither and yon, against our better judgement no doubt, and it won’t be funny in the slightest. I don’t even like listening to others suggest what I should do so I don’t think I’ll be happy at all about being knocked about like a rag-doll. Will I be scared? Again, I’m guessing that’s a yes. Will people I know and care for be lost, crushed, swept out to sea? Maybe. It’s probably best if I don’t think about this too much.
Somewhere I read that the best thing to do in the event of an earthquake is to brace one’s self between the jambs of a door. Apparently there is greater structural support at that point so a greater chance of making it through earthly upheaval. All well and good I think but what if the quake hits at 4 am, as these things tend to do, and the first clue I have that something is wrong is that I’m falling four floors? Maybe our mattress will save us. Always invest in a good mattress I say. Honestly though, if we manage to get to safety, in the frame of one of our doors, and the whole building collapses around us won’t we get tired being stuck there, four floors up, clinging on for dear life? There really is no good answer and it’s not something I am used to. I suppose it could be one of those ‘learn on the job’ situations.
Worst of all, if I manage to compose myself and have the wherewithal to deliver some witty remark prior to my demise, it’s unlikely anyone here will understand it. Fingers crossed that I never have to find out.
Having not written for some time now, and also as we are currently celebrating Bayram (holiday), it seems an appropriate time to put pen to paper and catch up on where things are. It was on this very balcony that I first started my blog four months ago so it seems appropriate that I pick up again sitting here in the weaker October sun. The summer sun is unrelenting.
Selecting interesting content is tricky enough at the best of times, even more so now that I actually have a full-time job teaching English, so taking advantage of free-time is a must. Teaching is a demanding job and the hours that myself and the other teachers work are irregular; they are also subject to change at the last minute and that keeps one on one’s toes. Apart from being demanding teaching is also very rewarding, when things go smoothly. Though I am only employed to teach English I do find (depending on the level, ability and curiosity of the students) that I often veer off into philosophy, history, and occasionally politics. We have been warned off subjects such as politics, religion and other culturally sensitive subjects, but I was never very good at following protocol. That being said I am cautious about what I say and to whom I say it. Seeing a student’s face light up when a point hits the mark is worth the risk as far as I am concerned though I may think differently if I am turfed out of the country.
My employment package includes Turkish language lessons but learning this language is not as easy as one might think. Of course we are in the early stages but already I have found that this is a flat language, meaning that the rhythm is regular and intonation exists only slightly if at all. Probably just as well really since music here draws from a broad palette and the cuisine varies massively depending on the region from which it comes, best leave the vocal gymnastics to the Spanish and Italians.
Iyi bayram lar,
As one moseys around any city one sees many interesting, weird and sometimes upsetting sights. On Istiklal Avenue there are ice cream vendors whose trick it is to play with the portion placed in your cone; it’s there, it’s gone, it’s back – that kind of thing. Quite amusing unless you’re parched or starving and in dire need of sugar. On the Bosphorus, which can be seen from any semi-elevated part of the city and constitutes Istanbul’s heart, there is no end of impressive and inspiring vessels, coming in all shapes and sizes as they do. What’s hard to cope with from time to time is the hardship one witnesses so often, though it’s only fair to say that all may not be as it seems.
En route to my place of work is a pedestrian bridge connecting one side of the main Metrobus route to the platform for the Metrobus, the other side of the road and the Metro if necessary. Most days there is a little old chap selling packets of tissues for half a lira at the base of the staircase, these come in handy when pouring with sweat. He seems happy enough plying his ‘trade’ however off-putting his lack of legs may be. Further on there are additional traders selling cigarettes, perfumes, phone cases and all sorts, all of whom seem fairly content eking out their respective livings. After a little while one stops paying much attention to this relentless offering of knickknacks.
And then there are the (I don’t like to use the term but the alternatives aren’t much better) panhandlers. Every city and country has them poverty being universal and non-discriminatory, an equal opportunities employer if you will. For me it’s never easy to pass by and not give something, an unsustainable investment if ever there was one and not one ever likely to achieve much. Whenever I don’t give it’s not because I think their plight a product of their own design, nor do I consider them all drug users, alcoholics or deadbeats. I suppose the sheer weight of numbers is the real deciding factor. How much money would one really need to even make the slightest difference?
Last week I passed a woman on my pedestrian crossing, she had a child in her lap and he was obviously sick. I don’t know what the illness was but polio popped into my mind. He had what seemed to be clubfoot, an arm that I highly doubt he could do much with and he lay back in his mother’s lap, staring into the sky with big empty eyes and a confused expression. He couldn’t have been more than six years old, if that. It was another scorching Turkish day with a deep blue sky and only the occasional cloud. I found myself hoping that whatever he was looking at or thinking about was soothing.
Life is cruel.
Happiness comes in all forms, and at the oddest of times too. Today, several weeks after my birthday and I don’t know how many weeks since I bewailed the lack of uisce beatha, much to my surprise there came a parcel from Devonshire. Even the name of the place produces comforting imagery; elves dancing, gnomes fishing, Hobbits, er, hobbitting. Inside said parcel were three little bottles of Glenfiddich; 12, 15 and 18 years old. Happiness in liquid form.
Now, I wouldn’t like to consider myself one who rejoices at the misfortune of others, nor would I be delighted to think I am one who overplays the good fortune of myself but, well, in a nutshell, tough titties non-whiskey recipient types. There are some little bottles of soda in my fridge which I shall mix with the heretofore celebrated whiskey (taking some time to feel like a giant holding miniature bottles of both) and I can’t think of a better way to spend my evening. Well, that’s a slight exaggeration, but for the purposes of this post that is certainly as much as I should say.
In conclusion, good friends sending a surprise parcel of three bottles of whiskey make this wandering Mick an all round happy chappy. Now, to finish those potato cakes I was making.
During the month of Ramazan there are guys whose job it is to walk the streets of Istanbul, and other cities too I imagine, banging on drums to wake anyone who wants to attend the morning prayer. I’d been told about them but only actually heard our local drum beater once, and that was because I was up late drinking with my brother-in-law. If I was a Muslim I’d probably have some explaining to do.
Thankfully I am not really an anything; godbasher perhaps, cynic definitely, agnostic, atheist, hedonistic heathen I would say. (Unfortunately if you Google that last one it brings up sites relating to Wicca, and who doesn’t hate Wiccans.) Needless to say one doesn’t have to be an anything to appreciate that some guy is going around at night banging a drum for the benefit of others, better yet though is the guy who wanders about playing the accordion. These guys may be ten a penny in Paris or Brussels but they aren’t so common here. When I first heard the distant strains of the squeezebox I thought I was experiencing some kind of acid flashback, immediately I began to reminisce about cafes, wine bars and dog-shit encrusted pavements. Accordionists may be a blight on the Parisian landscape but it’s not so bad to hear one here when you are on the fourth floor and can’t be hassled for money, though I was tempted to unload a pocketful of coins on his assistant’s little fingers. I am a bad person.
Similarly, when I was sitting in the garden of Viktor Levi’s in Kadikoy, the outdoor space being akin to what the British would call a beer garden but head and shoulders beyond such a thing, I heard the cawing of a crow and for a moment was transported back to the Cimetiere de Montmartre. Whenever we go to Paris we like to take a stroll through Pere Lachaise or Montmartre Cemetery, you know, somewhere to lift the spirits. Nothing confirms joie de vivre like being surrounded by the dead. One year, not so long ago, we were wandering around on what, coincidentally, was Hallowe’en (Samhain in Gaelic). It was as cold and crisp a day as one could ask for, cloud-free and bright. The cemetery was practically empty as it was early and cold when we were there, but there were crows everywhere cawing aloud and fluttering from perch to perch. There’s a reason that horror movies include these chaps when they are trying to make the audience uneasy. Whenever I think of that cemetery, or that day, I always think of the photograph I took of a fantastic miniature of a church erected as someone’s tomb.
Funny where the mind goes when you allow it to wander.
Birthdays are strange. While celebrating another year of life successfully completed we are also deducting one more year from however many we get, and whatever way you weigh it those years are rapidly depleting. Yesterday I turned 38. Both my grandfathers lived to a ripe old age, as did my grandmothers, so there’s a fair chance I’ll squeeze another 50 odd years out of the whole experience. Take away the 10 I’ll probably spend unable to really do a whole lot and that leaves 40 years; more or less my age now. My life is half over.
This could be a depressing thought until you realize we spend the first 10-15 years learning not to crap ourselves or poke things into our own eyes. That takes some of us longer to learn than others. Some of us never learn. Then, just when you’ve got a handle on that, combined with learning to read, eat, wash and dress, along comes the opposite sex (or the same sex, for some) and another 5 years are lost trying to figure them out. Realistically we probably only really start to live by age 20 and then, before you know it, half your mates are dead, the rest have become parents (which is as good as dead at that age), are married, mortgaged, unhappy, depressed, insane, alone, and/or alcoholic. Fortunately, I am neither dead nor a parent, only recently married (which I think was a pretty nifty achievement), and not mortgaged yet. So far I’m either way ahead of the game, or way behind it. Take that, 21st century.
Joking aside, it is worth celebrating the notching up of another year of living. Not everyone manages it. Some fall foul of disease, some have accidents, some just give up and others drag on well past their best years. One way or another the Great Leveler seeks us all out and there’s no escaping that. Spending too long thinking about the inevitable is not wise, to say the least. Life is for living and there are any number of decent movies to be seen, important ideas to consider, good books to be read, and wrongs to be righted, so much so that it is practically a crime for any semi-literate, slightly motivated or interested individual to say they are bored. To quote Betty Draper, of Mad Men fame, ‘only boring people get bored.’