Quiet please, I'm thinking.
In the heat of the Istanbul summer it is important to do all one can to remain cool, so yesterday I had my hair cut short again. This may sound like a normal, run-of-the-mill task: pop down the local Barnett-chopper; snip, snip and Bob’s your auntie, then off home with you. But this is Turkey, baby. When you get your hair cut here, like so many things, it’s quite the experience.
Last time I was stitched up like a kipper (fifty notes for a thirty minute job) so I figured I’d try something a little different this time. Someone I know, who’s lived here a while, recommended a guy (Ahmet, I think was the chap’s name). Twenty notes, not including tip, and he’ll sort you out good and proper. At least this was the understanding I had going in. In his defense, the fact that it cost quite a bit more (fifty notes again) is mostly my own fault, but this is not a tale of woe or high-priced shenanigans. No, this is a tale of fear and stupidity, and perhaps a study of how easy it is to lose the run of one’s own mind from time to time.
Ahmet, for that is what we shall call the fellow, had nary a a word of English. I believe I have touched on this in a previous post, the fact that English is not the lingua franca, as it were, which is good news for any aspiring English teacher. Nor do I possess the required Turkish language skills, that will no doubt be necessary as time unfolds. But my buddy who recommended this fellow brought me there and, one can only assume, explained the situation. Into a battered old barber’s chair I jumped, grinning like an idiot, as I used my three Turkish phrases to appease the Master; ‘hello’, ‘how are you’, ‘I am good’. Happy days!
The haircut passed off without a hitch, there’s really only so much that can happen to the top of one’s head. Ahmet offered me tea, I politely declined, unintelligibly I’m sure. He went on to offer water, milk, coffee and some other things that I also insisted I could live without. Then it happened, he asked me if I wanted a shave. Of course, still grinning like an idiot, I said ‘lutfen’.
There are few things in this world scarier than a well-built fellow standing over you with an open straight razor, even if he seems the cordial sort. From the moment I agreed to have my face relieved of its grubby stubble and accumulated detritus I regretted my choice. But one can’t simply up and run like a bat out of hell, one must see it through. So there I sat, Ahmet lathering me up with the greatest of care. He set up the straight razor, must have seen the crazed fear in my eyes, then got cracking.
Every time I swallowed I imagined that blade slicing through my Adam’s apple. I recalled that scene from Dumb and Dumber, the one where Jim Carrey uses the open ketchup pack to freak out the barber, and I stifled a laugh. ‘Don’t laugh’, I thought. ‘You’ll anger him and he has the blade, and the upper hand.’ I’m not sure if it was the heat but I sure was perspiring.
The feel of a really, razor-sharp blade is something special. It is unique. Some blades are sharp, others are pretty sharp; I don’t know what Ahmet’s deal is but that blade felt about as sharp and fine as any edge I’ve had against my skin. Hardly a rasp as it moved over my face, chopping all those little hairs it met with and felling them like tiny trees. When he finally finished, after delicately shaving my upper lip and contorting my visage into all kinds of shapes, he was done. With the shave at least. In Turkey your barber thinks nothing of manhandling your head, as though for the time he’s in charge of it he can do what he likes. In truth, were one to contest his right to do so, frictions would likely ensue.
Without so much as a by your leave Ahmet placed me head first in the sink, face down of course. Running water over my freshly shaved jowls he washed me like a baby. I hardly had time to take a breath before he enthusiastically freed me from any stray hairs. I won’t go into all the details but my head has never been cleaner. In fact, he was so thorough, I was half expecting him to brush my teeth.
At some point or another we all must have wondered how things got their names. Even Billy Shakespeare was asking the question centuries ago, in the oft misquoted Romeo and Juliet. Truly a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, Bill, but would we think of it as fondly if ’twere called a Manure Blossom for example? Unlikely.
Travelling to and from different locales in Istanbul I have come across a few doozies; Olive Nose (Zeytinburnu) is one, Houses with Gardens (Bahçelievler) is another, but my own personal favourite is Well with Chains (Zincirlikuyu). When I found out the name of that place recently I was more than a little tempted to wander around looking for a Well with Chains, perhaps holding up a wooden bucket, maybe even with one of those rotating arms at the top like you see in all the old westerns. Alas, the area being as built-up and developed as it is, even if there was a well, the chances of finding such a gem are somewhere between slim and none. Two hopes in other words, Bob Hope and No Hope. Awesome name for a place though, in my humble opinion.
With this in mind I began to think of some of the more interesting places I have been to/lived. Dublin, obviously, sprang to mind. You can take the boy out of the country, as they say, but you can’t take the country out of the boy. Dublin, in Gaelic ‘Baile Atha Cliath or ‘town of the hurdled ford’, is the Anglicization of Dubh Linn, ‘black pool’. Istanbul on the other hand was Constantinople, Byzantium, and now, in English, means ‘to the city’ apparently. I once lived in an area of London’s Docklands called Mudchute but that just resulted in a lot of anal passage jokes.
I still wonder what the guy who named ‘Olive Nose’ was thinking.
After a month of being here our personal belongings finally arrived, what a relief that is. Funny to see all the odds and sods from our former life turning up in hastily packed boxes. All we need now is to find new homes for everything. So much of this stuff has traveled with me from one place to another, I feel I should have one of those big, old wooden trunks that pirates had back in the day. Of course, realistically, I’d need more than one.
There is so much fun to be had restocking bookshelves, in a new order, taking the time to consider each ones story; where it was purchased and for what reason, how much it cost and what had to be done to track it down. Today we went on a furniture shopping spree but nothing is delivered for a few days, time best spent riffling through the temporary home of my mini library. Then there is the music and film collection to consider too, I’ll get nothing else done for a week.
Seeing the decanters and drinks tumblers, with memories of all those hedonistic nights, brought a smile to my face. I was half hoping I had packed some whiskey for myself but, alas, though the intention was there, I know we made short work of all available spirits before we set off. Shame really as good whiskey has something of a mythical status here, where good alcohol is hard to come by and pretty expensive when found. Guess I’ll live in reverie for a while yet.
Getting away is good, but staying away is better. It takes time to adapt to the muggy, warm days followed by sticky, somewhat quiet nights. Pottering about in shorts and t-shirt, any hour of the day, is still something I enjoy. It helps to have a good book handy when its too warm to move, and now I have several hundred of them. If only I had some whiskey.
I’ve been thinking about Belgium again, now that I’ve left that country, to try and figure out what it was about living there that I really didn’t like. There were many things that bugged me – excessive car horn usage for one, high taxes being another – but there was, more specifically, a feeling of being downtrodden that I have not experienced anywhere else. Most people are aware that Belgium has a reputation for being boring, and there was certainly an element of that, but I think it was/is the general acceptance, nay inclination, for the general populace to play victim. Many countries have had it bad, suffered famine, war, pestilence, and gotten on with it. There is something about the Belgian psyche that seems to revel in malaise.
I say this because, living in Turkey for the best part of a month now, I see again how helpful and considerate people generally are, and want to be. The Irish in my experience will, as a rule, often go out of their way to help you, if they can. They will also go out of their way to mess you up if you cross them, but that’s another story and not a theory I suggest testing. The English, for all their faults (and they have many), are a fairly considerate bunch, unusually good humoured as well as being disinclined to upset your day if it can be avoided. For the ten years I lived in London I found them motivated, hard-working and optimistic, if somewhat racist, opinionated and overly self-assured. Yes they had an Empire, yes it spanned the globe, but more importantly that day has long since passed. Deal with it.
Now back to the Turks. First of all, in case anyone may be in any doubt, the Turks do smoke more than anyone else alive, in my honest opinion. They smoke like it’s going out of fashion. I have been known to spark up quite regularly and I have had my dalliances with quitting too, but even I draw the line these days at chain smoking and early morning cigarettes. The Turks have no such foibles. They will spark up first thing in the morning, last thing at night, straight after they have extinguished the preceding cigarette, all that good stuff. But when it comes to helping or being friendly they certainly take the biscuit. Having come here straight from Belgium and the 5 years of my life I spent there, I had gotten more than used to bad service, limited choice of providers, poor excuses for shoddiness or tardiness, and a general lack of respect for basics of exchange, ‘I pay you for the services/goods you provide and in turn you treat me with professionalism’. I could tell you stories about this that would make your hair curl but maybe another time. When we called for an electrician recently, in Istanbul, we were told the guy would be with us in 10 minutes! I’m sorry, what was that? 10 minutes? Holy crap. I shit you not, the guy was here in 5, and he was helpful, polite, considerate etc. The corner shop down our street will deliver water to your house (drinking water generally being delivered in plastic containers from a trusted source), as well as bread, cigarettes and other assorted goodies. This takes some getting used to after my Belgian experience.
Another thing I quite like in Turkey is how individuals will refer to any female older than themselves as abla (big sister) or abi (big brother), in the case of an older male. I really think this contributes to a culture of respect, which is evident in the way one is treated in stores, cafes, bars or restaurants. I am well aware that the Turks don’t have the best reputation in many parts of Europe, though my wife would argue that this is because these are the descendants of families who moved there and never integrated whilst also not progressing with the rest of Turkey, They are now stuck somewhere between being European and Turkish, some dark and uncharted cultural no man’s land. Suffice it to say I am finding the adherence here to old world manners quite charming, and I don’t even mind being a yabangee (foreigner). Let’s see if this continues.
It would be a lie to say that the move here wasn’t a good idea. Timed as it was to coincide neatly with my abandonment of the corporate world and all its trappings, the weeks I’ve spent under the Turkish summer sun have done me no end of good. With my soon-to-be new career as an English teacher I have every excuse I need to spend many weeks, months, and possibly years, immersed in books. Add to that the probability of travel within this vast and interesting country and you have the makings of a pretty happy Mick.
Last night, as the call to payer (ezan) echoed through the darkness, I found myself wondering if mosques or imams have an altar boy equivalent. You know the type, those little fellas in the Christian churches waddling around in their semi-priestly robes, nibbling on Christ’s body and gargling the wine when no one is looking. I was wondering about this because I used to be one of those poor little tykes, many moons ago.
The ezan had brought to mind a story I couldn’t help but share with my wife’s brother-in-law, as I sank my third Efes. Back in the day, some 30 odd years ago, my altar-boy duties included setting the table, er, altar, before the priest arrived. We would get everything ready including his microphone, the Good Word requiring a little amplification to reach its mark. On this particular day the priest was late in arriving and, after much nervous agitation and minor challenges between ‘colleagues’, it was decided that we should utilize the available resources for comedic effect. The big eye in the sky would no doubt appreciate a little chuckle on a cold and wet, Irish Sunday morn. And who could blame him.
One of the chaps, who shall remain nameless (you’re welcome, Colm) finally took it to a level beyond the soft fart noises and ghostly voices that are standard fare on such occasions. He proceeded to deliver what can only be described as a faultless rendition of Elvis Presley’s ‘Hound Dog’, which I do not doubt would have met with thunderous applause had it not been unfairly cut short by the arrival of an apoplectic priest.
I cannot recall if the mic was still on as he verbally shredded our erstwhile manic selves. What I do know is, had we had at our disposal that morning the range these mosques have, it wouldn’t just have been the faithful whose ears would have been ringing.
Better luck next time, eh?
So, yesterday I learned that turtles are common enough in rural Turkey. These guys have everything, the Turks I mean, including snakes which stupid St. Patrick had to go and banish from the old Emerald Isle. Not that it matters that much, we don’t have poisonous spiders, killer bees or carnivorous plants either. But we do have Guinness.
Back to the turtles. These little fellas just plod around, strutting their stuff at a relaxed pace, sticking it to the Man in their own inimitable way. I’ve decided I want one. What could be cooler than having your very own shell-encrusted reptile?
Further to the above I popped down to the local stream, everyone should have one, to have a ganders and sure enough spotted a couple of little beauts. I couldn’t quite bring myself to nab one though, not least because three of the four were water turtles who made good their escape once I arrived – they may be slow on land but not in the drink, that being their natural abode. It didn’t seem fair to cart one away from the idyllic setting of dangerously low water level (banks duly adorned with empty beers cans), styrofoam and someone’s old armchair. Seriously, who goes to a beautiful nature spot and thinks, ‘this needs my old, battered, falling-to-pieces recliner’. Jerks!
One must marvel at turtles though. Up close and personal they’re not up to a whole lot; the don’t have sharp teeth (none at all that I could spot), they’re not exactly fast unless in water and, other than the shell, they have little by way of protection. In fairness though that shell is pretty impressive.
In summary, a whole piece on turtles, short as you like, providing the perfect platform for faecal jokes/references and not one until now. Unless, of course you count the title.
Until next time.
On the advice of a good friend, who was also my best man (should that be capitalized?) at my recent nuptials, I have finally succumbed to the modern day narcissism that is a blog. Everyone is at it, so I have decided to add my voice to the endless babble and banter of which the inter-squirt is composed. Sorry inter-squirt, but you know it’s true.
As the many that precede me adequately demonstrate one does not actually need to have anything useful or remotely interesting to say in order to produce a blog, so here you will find all manner of non-useful and uninteresting bits. Use them as you will. Being something of a would-be wordsmith I have always toyed with this inherited language (had history been written differently you would be reading this in Gaelic) as the Irish language was, long ago, practically stamped out. That being said, I do love the English language. With its twists and turns, inflections and borrowed words, it surely is the belle of the language ball.
But I digress. The reason, should anyone actually care, for my change of heart is simply that I now live further from my place of origin than I did previously. Istanbul, Turkey, to be exact. It’s been two weeks since I arrived here from the unpleasant experience that was Brussels, Belgium, for the last 5 years, so it seemed a good time to inflict my warblings upon the world. Oh, you lucky devils! With an enviable climate, more history than you can shake a stick at, and lashings (Did I really just use that word! Thanks, Enid Blyton.) of fine cuisine, I’m sure to have no end of inspiring experiences with which to sully your fine, refined, and hitherto unspoiled (yeah, right) noggins. So sit back, strap yourself in, and prepare to be amazed at the ridonculous volumes of verbosity and verbiage one Irishman, with spare time on his hands, can produce.
You have been warned, you lily-livered landlubbers,