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O Mighty Crisis

Updated: 2018-01-27T00:10:40.004-06:00




"O Mighty Move"

Hi--Jocelyn's friend here again.  She's had occasional access to Blogger this past week, unpredictably and in about 20 minute increments.  To regain some control over her blogging, she's created a new site (still under construction--can you hear the sounds of of her swearing?) at:
This site will be the blog's new home, so please, please, please redirect your visits to that location. 



"Blocking the Blog"

Hi--This is a friend of Jocelyn's, here to put up a quick post for her.  Here's the deal:  a few days ago, the Turkish government started blocking access to Blogger, so Jocelyn hasn't been able to get to her blog, post, or read comments; even worse, she hasn't been able to visit the blogs of anyone who uses Blogger.  It's hard to say how long this block will could be days, weeks, months, years, eons.  As she tries to riddle out a solution to her blogging woes, the most likely possibility is that she'll move her blog to a new Wordpress site.  If and when that happens, I'll post a link to it here.  For a bit more explanation of what's going on with the government blocking access in Turkey (the important thing to know is that it all stems from broadcasts of futbol; it's never been clearer that you don't mess around with soccer in certain countries), you can read the article below, first posted at



More than five months ago, my husband and I realized how aligned were our impressions of Turkey (this was terribly unusual, as our association up to that point had been typified by dramatic quarrels). Realizing that it could be fun to take the same subject, having me write up my usual drivel and having him come at it with his graphic talent, we decided to run with the idea of a vaguely-coordinated effort. Although it's taken some time to get to a final product, we do have one. You see it below: my post and his illustration on the same topic; we each churned out our own creations without looking at what the other had done. If you have a tidge of extra time, you can see the same over at his blog, but with his drawings first and my carrying on at the end:"Uniform Lack of Quality" We moved into our house in Duluth nearly seven years ago and immediately began ruing the choices of the previous owners. There was the orange shag carpet covering the entire main floor. There was the peel-and-stick faux tile they'd laid in the kitchen, stuff that would grab on to the bottom of a bare foot and become a temporary flip-flop. But what really irked us was the bathroom.Here's a little life lesson that's only really sunk in for me in the last 15 years: you get what you pay for.With bathrooms, as with shoes, it's worth shelling out for quality rather than congratulating oneself for saving money and then ending up with a cheap toilet that grabs on to one's buttocks and becomes a temporary tushie flip-flop.I mean, speaking of toilets and shoes or whatever.In our Duluth house, the first year was spent dealing with a toilet that clogged with the faintest trickle of urine; with a tub that drained so slowly we wondered if Yanni had left off playing at The Acropolis in order to depilate in our shower; with a sink that dripped with the predictable constancy of Homer's Penelope.With each repair that we made, we moaned about the cheapskate previous owners, sometimes summoning their ghosts by holding a Ouija board up to the cracked medicine cabinet mirror and laboriously spelling out, "W-O-U-L-D I-T H-A-V-E T-A-X-E-D Y-O-U O-V-E-R-M-U-C-H T-O S-P-E-N-D F-I-V-E M-O-R-E D-O-L-L-A-R-S O-N A P-R-O-D-U-C-T T-H-A-T A-C-T-U-A-L-L-Y C-A-M-E I-N A B-O-X W-I-T-H A R-E-C-O-G-N-I-Z-A-B-L-E B-R-A-N-D N-A-M-E O-N I-T?”Then--replaying current history here--we made the choice to leave behind the small woes of our Duluth lives and hie off for some adventurous months that would be chock full of New, of Special, of Not My Problem.We call that choice Turkey.Unfortunately, we undermined the "leaving behind small woes" part of the choice by renting a house in Turkey.Turkey is a country that falls on the Continuum of Development at a point called We Have Not Great Amounts of Money and We Love Plastic. A similar attitude can be seen in Central American countries, where an agricultural tradition has rubbed up against an industrial world, where people working with their hands have seen that life is immensely easier when there's an indestructible plastic bucket in the kitchen rather than a breakable clay pot. All the better if that plastic bucket is bright pink. What’s more, because of where it is in terms of development, Turkey's workaday Allah is the plastic bag. Seen blowing across the countryside, wadded up in the trunks of cars, tied onto bicycles as flags, lazing around trash-strewn ruins, breezing out of every shop (even if one has merely purchased a pack of gum), plastic bags are both worshiped and ubiquitous—the perfect complement to all those pink plastic tubs, in fact. Tubs &; Bags are like Flatt & Scruggs, creating an aura of banjo music for all the Jethros, Ellie Maes, Mustafas, and Hayriyes twanging around the hillsides.Despite its many uses, plastic doesn’t elevate the tone of a place or, ultimately, actually make life better.The New Testament delineates it quite clearly:[...]



"In Which I Delve So Deeply Into Lady Crap That I Alienate My Sole Remaining Male Reader; Truly, It's About to Get Girly in Here to the Point That Even Mentioning Futbol and Pork Won't Salvage the Situation, So I'll Merely Thank You, Dogged Male, for Hanging on This Long, Especially Through All Those Posts That Pissed on and on About Chocolate and Shoes"A fleeting highlight of my early adolescence occurred when, one Halloween, a tipsy door-opener named Randy (a high schooler) squinted woozily at my Pippi Longstocking costume and slurred, "You're so cute. So cute like that. Pippi. Cute with freckles. Yer hair braided over a hanger so it'ssss all sticky-outy. Pippi girl. Cute. hic  Hey, so, cute Pippi, lemme just give you a little kiss on the cheek here for being so freckle cute with that red hair, you Pippi girl."Stepping forward in a state of shock and with no small awe at the hugely glamorous thing my life had suddenly become, I allowed his request. And then then he did it: he lobbed a kiss with a hic in my general direction.It was my first such experience but certainly not my last. That moment stands out, however, as one of the few times in my young life that anyone resembling a peer complimented my hair.  Mostly, the orangey stuff topping my noggin served as a liability--as did my preciocious puberty, bifocals, and penchant for quoting The Good Earth in the midst of dodge ball tournaments.So there I was, a big ole carrot-topped Montana clunker with boobies and cramps and an astigmatism and ponderous knowledge of Chinese courtyards--not exactly anybody's idea of kissable (unless it was a holiday, and he was drunk...which, not incidentally, is also how I received my second kiss, for Santa surely do like to tipple the leftover nog).Absurdly, the feelings of ugly that take root in adolescence prove impossible to weed.  Even after I hit college and started to hear that my hair was pretty, even after some part of me genuinely started to believe my hair might be something like a gift, even after a big part of me went so far as to love my hair,a knock-kneed Pippi still lingered inside, wishing she didn't have to plan her parties all alone.Well, guess who took Pippi to an Italian salon today and raked those dumbass ugly roots straight into the compost?(If you can't guess, then I believe our conversation here is over.  Might I recommend you pick up a copy of some Pearl S. Buck and amuse yourself with that instead of reading on?)Yea, that's right.  Jocelyn was feeling blah about the whole Jocelyn look, so Jocelyn both took to referring to herself in the third person AND took herself, quite spontaneously, into a salon located on a cobbled street in Florence......whereupon she reverted to using the first person when the three women in the place managed to convey with their limited English that my. hair. is. to. dye. for.According to their chatter, no Italian has my colorall Italians want my colorI have never dyedthey all dyeand still I get to have my color, but they don'tand everything on my head is bella, bella, bellaand the truth is, all I ever wanted when I was growing up was dark hair and olive skin (okay, plus a date with Steve Perry or Daryl Hall)and to be thin and sophisticated and know how to dressand these women had all of these things,but still I got to be the bella of their ball--and at the end of an hour and a half, during which I'd urged them, "I just want something different, so do anything you like," and they enthused, "Meravigliosa!" and "Grazie!" while shearing huge amounts of what they termed "copper blond" off my head (to make a wig, I have no doubt; it looked like a fluffy dog named Lucille Ball had died on the floor by the time they were finished)...I felt the slightly-cowed Pippi inside me toss her shoulders back and decide it was time to hoist a horse over her head [...]



"Nice Day for a White Wedding""You make a beautiful white wife," declared the 22-year-old clerk behind the counter, as he rolled each of my purchases into rose-festooned tissue paper before placing them carefully into the bag.Confused and simultaneously flustered, I felt my brain start to spin.  Me?  A white wife? In what sense?  Was he commenting on my general pastiness and overall demeanor of good wifery? I was, after all, presenting skin less olive than most Turks' and wearing all the plantation's keys on a chatelaine around my waist.Or, rather, did he mean, em, that I could be a beautiful white wife for him?When I opted for a studiedly neutral response of, "Pardon?  I don't understand," he repeated his statement--"I say you make a beautiful white wife"--and blushed from head to toe, casting an embarrassed gaze at the counter.Before buying time with another "Pardon? I don't understand," I quickly took stock of the situation:--a young man in a liquor store was very friendly, helping me find the wines I was after, offering to help me carry my armful to the counter--the same young man then struck up a conversation about how he has been in tourism school and loves tourists--said young man then went on to ask about my profession; when I replied with "I'm an English teacher, and I have to tell you your English is so much better than my Turkish.  I'm impressed!", he responded, "My English not good. You can help me sometimes?"--I had showered that day--Young Turks do not mind a foreign girlfriend, no matter how creaky her knees--he was telling me, red-faced, alternately averting his eyes and then looking at me expectantly, that I'd make a spectacular white wifeThe evidence all stacked up.  Clearly, this was a proposal.  But how to extricate myself?  I continued playing dumb--thereby further convincing him of my desirability as the female in his life--and repeated, "I'm so sorry.  Pardon? I do not understand" while craning around to find my Groomeo.  If only I could get him to come into the store and be Very Tall next to me, the entire scenario would be reframed, and the need for a response would fade.Alas, Groom's fine form was leaning against a wall out in the corridor of the mall, his posture indicating that he was well settled into the mental state known as I Am Dreamy And Zoney As I Stare At People Walking By.  Dang.  He had no idea I was doing wild "hep me, hep me" body language a mere twenty feet from his blanked-out state.  Fortunately, though, my white self and his spacey self were clever enough about eleven years ago to produce a very on-top-of-things Girl.  Quickly noting my "hep me, hep me" body language, she hied into the liquor shop and sidled up to my right hip just in time to hear a repetition of the exchange between my fiance and me."I say you make beautiful white wife.""PARDON?  I really don't understand."Emitting a sigh that sounded only the tiniest bit like exasperation, she stage whispered, "Mom.  He's telling you that you're buying a beautiful white wine.  See the bottle he's wrapping up in that weird flowery tissue paper? He's saying it's a good choice."Oh.So he had been looking embarrassed because he was trying out his tourism-school English on me, and I hadn't understood?Not because he was laying his heart and intentions out on the counter?Oh.As he continued the laborious process of wrapping each item in tissue paper (the six cans of beer, each rolled up with the kind of care and love I'd been basking in mere moments before, took a lifetime--a lifetime of half-expressed wishes and arrested possibilities), I rustled around in my wallet.  Now I was the embarrassed one.How silly of me to have thought he'd want me for white wifewhen it's obvious I have such aptitude as&nbs[...]



"Warm Slab"When last we met, arctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott was penning his final words of "It seems a pity but I do not think I can write more," yet I was just getting started.So, to re-cap, there is a design norm in modern Turkey that aims the shower head over the toilet. In turn, scatologically-inclined people must grapple with a compulsion to dry off the toilet before feeling comfortable enough to drop their nethers onto the hole and peruse a few articles in The New Yorker. Of course, since Turks in general haven't cultivated the habit of reading, they simply wipe down the toilet, or not, so as to feel comfortable enough to do whatever it is a person does when sitting on the toilet and not reading. As a written word lover, I'm uncertain of what this is. Would it be staring? Yes, probably staring. In my experience, Turks are remarkably adept at The Stare, clearly drawing upon thousands of minutes of focused practice that could otherwise have been occupied with ingestion of typeset.In sum, toilets in Turkey are wet. People with pelvic needs either get wet or set themselves to drying the porcelain whilst clenching their legs together. Then they read or stare.Or play solitaire on the wall in front of them, if it's a magnetized wall, and they have magnetic cards.Or have a chat on their cell phones, genteely covering the receiver during moments of audible strain.Or plan menus. No matter the day or recipe, it's probably true that they need to get yogurt. Or white cheese. Maybe some peppers. Cucumbers. Plus a passle of them shriveled olives.Eternally, any mental picture of shriveled olives must needs be superseded by a thought of "Hey, Caesar, it's time to wipe, and not the toilet."Yes.  This is what I've learned in the past six months. First, there are olives, and then you visit the bathroom, and then there's a general wiping down.This is how it is. I've got it, er, in hand.When we moved in to our inn-sitting job at the fairy chimney, therefore, the bathroom in our room felt very familiar:See the shower head?  See the toilet?  Like that.Fortunately, all the rooms at the guesthouse have in-floor heating, including the bathrooms.  Already, then, the bathroom in our room was superior to what we'd experienced elsewhere.  The joint might get wet all the time, but thanks to the heat in the floors, the wet takes care of itself pretty quickly--it's absorbed into the rustic red clay and dried up by the warmth.Don't go waving your hands in the air, though, and keep your high kicks to a minimum:  the toilet seat isn't heated, so the porcelain still ails with water.But somehow, it's better.  As an added bonus, we can put wet mittens and hats on the bathroom floor, and they dry in no time.Verdict is:  we have stumbled into an okay Turkish bathroom.HOWEVER, if you want a seriously groovy bathroom, just walk out the kitchen door, across the courtyard (careful of the 120 pound St. Bernard; he really likes lasagna, so if you look at all like a limp noodle, you'll be privy to the kind of wet that only comes from a bath in dog spit), and enter the guest room called Battal.  Because Battal has a hamam-style bathroom.  A big one.  As in, there's room for a toilet well away from the shower (which is built into an old tandoor oven pit).  Furtherly cool is that there's the heated floor, plus a heated slab designed for post-ablution relaxation.It doesn't take the clever inn-sitter more than a few days to figure out how to crank up the heat in the hamam bathroom, take a hot shower, follow it with a sit bath wherein bowls of warm water are tossed over the head, and top it off with some vigorous exfoliation and laid back slab time.According Muslim tenets, men can take up to four wives.  According to Turkish bathroom laws, Jocelyns can take up to two [...]



"Scat Illogical"Travel is formidable; it takes our expectations and dumps them upside down. In our normal daily lives, because we're used to controlling our environments, we have notions of "I need..." or "In order to feel right, I'm gonna have to have..."--but then travel comes along, fails to deliver on our requirements, and forces us to cope.In the process of coping, we have to hold each of our notions up to the light (incidentally, you should feel a little bit sorry for my ideas and notions, what with their first being rudely dumped and then scaldingly burned by a bright light; in truth, all the best ideas are sorely bruised after a day in my care), turn them around a bit, examine them from every angle, and then concede that, while they might have felt essential back home,they actually, under the pressure of travel, can be shucked. We can be different when circumstances are different. It's one thing to realize that for the first time when backpacking in Austria as a 20-year-old. It's a bigger thing to remember it after some decades have passed, once the entrenchments of middle age have been dug. For me, I've been living a life in which I know who my people are and what my circumstances are going to be--I have the right husband, the gift of all the kids I'm going to have, the job I hope to occupy until retirement, the house I would love to live in until my knees give out. With so much so settled, my brain and habits have permission to coast. Even worse, they have permission to become self-satisfied and complacent. They have permission to announce, "The way I do things is right, gol dern it. If I wasn't doing things right, I'd change 'em, now wouldn't I?"Under the sway of such righteousness, we need courage to risk a challenge. Travel calls to center stage all the challenges and risks that have been shuffling around impatiently in the wings (ah, but do they realize their luck in not having been dumped and held up to the light?). Travel asks us to descry the beauty in discomfort.Personally, in addition to creating in me an addiction for the flavors of red pepper combined with plain yogurt; in addition to reminding me that relaxation is the best strategy when on a bus with no idea of where to get off; in addition to convincing me that wild gesticulation and miming often equal precise language; in addition to showing me that males can be the driving social force in a culture; in addition to filling me with awe that there are aged muezzins who, although barely able to croak out a note fit for public ears, dutifully shamble to the mosque at 5 a.m. every morning in frigid cold to grab the microphone and burnish their faith in Allah; in addition to teaching me that staring isn't always addition to all of these lessons, travel to Turkey has asked me to get over my belief that the only good toilet is a dry toilet.At this juncture, your brain might be conjuring up an infamous Turkish squat toilet, a hole in the ground that calls upon one's willingness to hike pant legs, strengthen quadriceps, and deliberately ignore the half-inch of water covering the floor.But that's not what I mean. A squat is what it is. Adjustment to its requirements is fairly straightforward: do a few limbering yoga poses, roll up pants, reach into bag for hunk of toilet paper, and then squat and stare at cracked ceiling in Directed Meditation until it's time to fill the pitcher of water to toss down the hole.Rather, I'm referring to the kind of elevated porcelain bowl that is ubiquitous in the Western world.  Just a regglar toilet like they sell at the Home Depot.  Only wet, with no orange-smocked workers milling about, ready to help you mop up.C'mon. You know where I'm coming from. Like me, you've walked up to a toilet, looked down at the seat, and recoiled viscerally at the sight[...]



"Myopic""Towery city and branchy between towers; Cuckoo-echoing, bell-swarmèd, lark-charmèd, rook-racked, river-rounded."--Gerard Manley HopkinsThe first indication that I'm not a visionary came when I rocked the PSAT in high school. No one had told me it was coming; no one had explained its purpose or meaning. All I remember is that a class of us was herded into a room small tables and given No. 2 pencils. For the next hour or two, I lazed through the math problems and had pencil sword fights with my pal Susan.Who knew there'd be results for that test reported to the guidance counselor? Who knew I'd go on to take the SAT the next year and would do well enough to get some big, happy financial rewards thanks to the combination of PSAT and SAT? Even more of who knew happened a few years later when I took the GRE test--this time quaking properly with stress--and it turned out my ability to stay inside the lines with a No. 2 pencil reaped me significant gains throughout graduate school.Who knew that even though it pains me to roll out of bed before 10:30 a.m.,even though I can't control the direction of a vehicle when driving in reverse,even though I have to shriek a little and make pitiful whimpering sounds when lighting a fire,even though I can't stop myself some nights from eating a Snickers bar before the Oreo course,even though I recently started doing a jigsaw puzzle that depicts the cacophony of Times Square, with its traffic and billboards and branding, and had to announce to my husband, "This 1,000 piece puzzle is going to be easy for me. It feels exactly like the inside of my head"--indeed, even though all these things are true,who knew I'd be good at filling in the bubbles on multiple choice tests?Trust me, I'm not bragging. Rather, the fact that I excel when faced with limited options and restricted thinking could be considered a foible. This shortcoming has been highlighted for me this past week during our time of inn-sitting. The owner of the inn, Andus, is a German anthropologist who did his dissertation on the homes and living spaces of Cappadocia. When he first came to Cappadocia some 30 years ago, it was for academic work--but then his imagination was caught by the caves and fairy chimneys that dot the area. Eventually, he ended up spotting Just the Right Bit of Ruins and, in a true act of vision, renovating them into a most-charming bit of modernized antiquity.As I've stood in the kitchen at the inn, looking at the "before" photos, from the time when Andus first rented and then bought the place, I feel positively sheepish that I'm able to fill in bubbles accurately with my trusty No. 2 and, when in doubt, choose the Letter C. In contrast to this pedantic gift of mine, Andus' creative ability to see what was there and what it could be makes me want to poke graphite into my eye and then eat the eraser as a means of assuaging the pain of having graphite in my eye.If you, too, would like to feel abashed and diminished with regards to what you've done in life, take a look at these photos:Here's the inn when Andus first spotted it:Here's the inn today (oh, all right: two days ago), from the same aspect:Here is the kitchen of the inn before renovation:And here it is now:Seriously, I look at these changes and can't imagine imagining them. However, if anyone ever constructs a Cappadocian Fairy Chimney Living standardized test (the CFCL), I assure youI will blow those bubbles out of the water[...]



"Two Degrees of Separation"If you're able to lift up your pasty face from your work long enough--and just look at you there, triturating your keyboard, plunging your hand repeatedly into a bag of Doritos Late Night All-Nighter Cheeseburger Flavored Chips, hacking away at your deconstruction of Apple's missteps in releasing its iOS 4 during the summer of 2010 before posting your Apple-Is-A-Weenie synthesis in the Dribbleware chatroom--you may want to pay attention.Because I'm about to mention a Monty Python cast member.  And I know how important that kind of stuff is to you.Even better, I'm going to mention that Monty Python cast member at the end of a rousing round of the hit parlor game of 1994:  Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.  Of course, because the point here is Monty Python, we're not going to mention Kevin Bacon at all (outside of noting that he did well when he married that Kyra Sedgwick twenty-two years ago).  Rather, we're going to play Six Degrees of Michael Palin.It's going to be a quick turn, this game.First, we start with Jocelyn.  I'm sorry.  I know she's a piece of work.  But we have to start somewhere.Next, draw a line to a Cappadocian couple (you choose if you want to poke your lead into the husband or wife, depending on your personal poking preference).  The husband is a German anthropologist, and the wife is a Turkish spitfire.  They own an amazing guesthouse of restored cave rooms called The Fairy Chimney Inn.From them, draw a line to Michael Palin, who stayed at The Fairy Chimney Inn in 2007 when he was shooting his travelogue called New Europe (and writing his book of the same name).Hey, wait.  That's it?Yea, that's it.  There are two degrees of separation between Jocelyn and Michael Palin, which pretty much means I'm famous.You see, I, Jocelyn, am sitting in the Fairy Chimney Inn right now, typing this post.  Thanks to a delightful confluence of events (the owners wanted to go to Germany to visit family, and we were, um, in the area, looking bored), our family has been invited to inn-sit until March...basically keeping the furnace going, feeding and walking the massive St. Bernard, and reveling in the perks (hot water right out of the taps, in-floor heating, wireless Internet, a three-foot television, an oven big enough to bake a cake, and a Call to Prayer so remotely sung that inhabitants can sleep past sunrise).  Currently, there are no guests staying here, it being the low season and all, but if anyone shows up or calls, we're on duty to turn out a morning breakfast and to fluff their pillows (which, I believe, Palin identified as a highlight of his visit).So mostly we're baking and feeding and walking and Internetting and sleeping.  Plus, sometimes the kids take turns ringing the intercom down at the gate and buzzing each other in...or taking each other's orders for onion rings.And all of this unforeseen fun is taking place in the midst of one of the world's most spectacular settings.No, really, it's staggeringly cool.Just ask my friend Michael Palin.  ------------------(or take a look at this slide from a New York Times article: you can look at these photos I took yesterday out the back door...):[...]



"Remembrance of Donkeys Past"This whole endeavor has been harder on him than the rest of us.Seven years old, shy, sensitive, creative, averse to expectations, retreating in the face of pressure,Paco has not found the move to Turkey an easy one.Some might make the case that it could have been easy. He has his most enthusiastic supporters circling him; he's well fed, hugged, and loved; he is safe; it is beautiful here, he gets to wear his pajamas four days out of every seven.  He got a crossbow for Christmas, for heaven's sake.His immediate reaction to this place, however, was one of, "Why can't we just stay for a little while?  Why does it have to be for a year?"  Equally frequently, he's moaned, "I just don't like it here."Since that notion was asserted, there has been no revision.  Travel is said to be a great revealer of character, and one of the primary traits that has emerged about our second grader is that he's incredibly stubborn.  As my friend Pamm noted when she visited, "I say this with all the love and experience of someone who raised two boys herself:  you have a seven-year-old who's acting amazingly like a thirteen-year-old."  She was right.  Paco's bouts of sullenness make us want to give him a drumset, usher him to a wood-paneled room in the basement, and ask him not to come up until he's ready to tour colleges.Even though it's been hard work to jolly along a recalcitrant kid, a big part of me has to concede, regarding his attitude, "Fair enough, really."  Coming here wasn't his choice.  Staying here wasn't his choice.  Nor was being plunked into a backwater where conversation stops when he walks by or, worse yet, smelly men with cracked yellow teeth grab his cheeks and pinch them with a vehemence that doesn't feel remotely like affection.  He didn't want to leave his posse of pals back home.  He didn't want to see his toys put into storage. He didn't want to enter a new country in the midst of 110 degree temperatures with no air conditioning and Ramadan drums waking him up every morning at 3:30 a.m. before the first Call to Prayer blasted an hour later.  Lonely, scared, overwhelmed, confused, unbelievably fatigued, he had every right to his feelings.Woefully, though--from his point of view--his parents, though sympathetic, don't believe in handing over the deciding vote about family matters to someone who learned to ride a bike and then announced, "I don't want to do that anymore."  (and he hasn't)So this has been tough on him.  By extension, it's been hard on all of us.  Fortunately, it's only rough going when he remembers to maintain the stance that he hates it here.When he forgets to paint himself as a tragic, much-put-upon figure, he has more fun in an hour than my cattle-ranching grandma Dorothy had in her entire lifetime.  Because inside his head?  Is a prodigious, fluid, magical, charismatic expanse of terrain where kaleidoscopic marbles hit against battling Lego light-saber-wielding minifigures who leap atop paper towel tubes that explode with confetti which then showers down upon a herd of giraffes who walk upon an ocean in which jellyfish sleep on peanut butter rocks.He may be a butthead, but he's more damn fun than anything.Case in point:  yesterday I dragged the kids (who, many days, are still reluctant to leave the house) out for a walk. As we descended into the nearby canyon, Paco looked over his left shoulder at an ancient cave house and noted, "Hey, that looks like the thing that dangles at the back of your throat."  Indeed.  Had I ever before seen a better example of Uvula in Nature?As I watch Paco simultaneously[...]



"Otantik"On the rare occasions when I have walked into and through a Wal-mart, I've invariably hit the parking lot a half hour later feeling like I need a shower. The aisles feel grubby; the clientele appear unhealthy; the toxins projected by thousands of square feet of plastics induce malaise; the merchandise for sale only poses as "real."Hand me the soap already.  I'll be needing the loofah, too.In dramatic contrast are the feelings I had this past week, as we traveled around the Hatay cities of Adana, Iskenderun, Antakya, and Gaziantep, places where we zig-zagged the streets in a fashion that increased the odds of of stumbling across a homespun bonanza.  We would wander into a bazaar, see nothing but the usual factory-churned, interchangeable shoes, hoodies, brooms, saucepans, knives...and then we'd keep going.  After a bit, after turning twelve more corners, something would change. Things would become less predictable.  We'd see a man throwing loaves, glimpse a head bent over a shoe sole, hear the tick-tick-tack of a coppersmith imprinting a pattern.One night, just after the sun fell and bitter cold started weasling its way into our bones, after wandering past temptingly-lit shops, we took Just the Right Turn, and suddenly my eyes were caught by something entirely novel:Nowhere else had we seen this mother-of-pearl inlay being sold in a shop.  Never before had it occurred to us that mother-of-pearl inlay might appeal to a couple of plain-is-better types like ourselves.  But there it was.  Fancy.  Intrictate.  Ottoman.  Appealing.Wading our way into the crowded shop, we were greeted by the proprietor, Ahmet.  In short order, he was demonstrating the technique of sedef, from the hand-drawn design to the chipping away of the wood to the laying down of the copper wire to the shaping of the mother of pearl.  Perhaps more affecting than his clear skill and focus was his ability to explain it all in Turkish in a way that we, with our one hundred words of vocabulary, could comprehend.So quickly, the situation was free of complications.  His words and hands synergized into a wow.As we listened and attempted to keep our hands from coveting every item in the shop, I whispered to Groom, "This seems like the right place for you to use your birthday money and finally get that backgammon board you've been wanting."Instead of the five-thousand-fifty-five prefabricated sets we'd seen everywhere else, this shop only had five--each of them slightly different from the next.  Quickly, Groom differentiated them and found The One.A day later, again as night fell and frigidity seeped beneath our fleeces, we pushed open Ahmet's door.  With a broad smile and an "iyi akşamlar," I walked in to his shop, looked again at the tea tray propped against the wall--a tray using a design Ahmet retired after one use (take that, Dora the Explorer!)--and told him, "I'm back for that."Even though he didn't understand me, he understood me.  Not even standing up from behind his table, he asked, "Would you like some tea?  Coffee?"  Oh, yes.  We would.  Half an hour later, much warmed, having discovered that his father also did sedef and that Ahmet's favorite place in Turkey is a city called Mardin, which he favors because it's a place where Muslim, Christian, Jew, Armenian, and Kurd all live together, shoulder to shoulder, in harmony, I pointed again to the tray.  "Can I buy this from you?"Of course I could.  But first, Ahmet wondered if I would like to have my family's names inscribed on the bottom of the tray, as a special memento.  Inlaying our names took twenty minutes, after which he knocked ten lira off the price of t[...]



"We All Have Our Gifts, and One of Mine Is Being Juvenile"

We went to the mosaic museum in Antakya yesterday, where I found my attention riveted by a piece entitled "The Happy Hunchback."  Thoughts of "Why was he so happy anyhow?" and "How cool of the Romans to make such a quirky and unique mosaic" ran through my head.

But mostly, I noted that he may have been a hunchback, but the deck wasn't stacked entirely against him.

Happy, indeed.



"Public Intimacies"Realizing that a change of scenery in January is never a bad mental health strategy, we've launched ourselves on a somewhat loosey-goosey week-long trip around the Hatay region. Think Southeastern Turkey. Think near Syria. Think Mediterranean. Think renowned for food. Think no hotels booked in advance. Think buying bus tickets as we go.We left Ortahisar yesterday at 8:30 a.m., took a mini-bus to the nearby town of Urgup, got tickets for the one-hour bus ride to the larger city of Kayseri, waited in the bus station for a couple of hours, and then hopped on a five-hour bus ride to one of Turkey's largest cities: Adana. Once off the five-hour bus ride, we had a half hour mini-bus ride to the center of the city and then a slightly shell-shocked twenty minute walk (rolling bags behind us as we fought through rush-hour foot traffic) to the first hotel listed in the guidebook. It was nice enough, but not completely "budget" in price. Fortunately, despite their assertion that their rates are fixed, we talked them down twenty lira, a drop which, when coupled with fatigue, worked the charm of securing our stay. So we checked in, wandered over to the nearest restaurant, and spent an hour wading our way through approximately fourteen plates of food, only six of which were ordered. But they kept setting down bread and appetizers and garnishes and desserts. We could hardly tell them to stop.No, literally. We could hardly tell them to stop. With our meager Turkish, we couldn't possibly have asked them, had we the desire, to stop. The only polite course of action was to continue stuffing our craws.Three hours later, Groom lay sacked out on the bed, pants unbuttoned, rubbing his belly and burping. It was an auspicious beginning. Today, we walked along the river, goggled at one of the Middle East's largest mosques, found a McDonald's (speaking of needing to loosen one's waistband), and spent a few hours trailing after the kids as they worked their way through several acres of playgrounds in the city's main greenspace. On the way back to the hotel, we bought bus tickets Iskenderun, a port city on the Mediterranean, leaving tomorrow. And then, still picking our way across the city, we ran across a "movies in 5D" storefront, and before we knew it, we were strapped into moving seats, being showered with fake snow, fighting off whiplash as we screened a short feature entitled Snow Ride. I only screamed a little bit when fake bats fluttered around my ankles during the abandoned mine sequence.Lately, I've been yawning a lot, ready to sleep 'til noon each day. Groomeo has been joshing me that I was bitten by a tse-tse fly. My response to such joshing is a fierce and valid, "My. senses. are. very. stimulated. As a sensitive sort, I find I am very tired. So hesh up and go buy more bus tickets already, Mr. Unflappable Hardy Steady."As you may have gathered, both from this litany of Things Done and from the quality of prose you've just soldiered through, blogging energies run high in my heart and mind but low in reality.  Thus, rather than reaching for anything of substance to close this out, I will leave you with two photos taken today, as the kids romped the playgrounds.  For always and ever, I am most fascinated by the people around me--not the least of which were this lovely young woman and her companion.  His reclining position implies a recent meal at a Fourteen Plate Restaurant.Perhaps the pink bucket by his head does too.Anyhow, it's so rare to see men and women interacting casually, talking and relaxing in public, that they held my attention.Until the next thing did.[...]



"Compulsory"Responding to the waving arm of a village woman clad in the traditional clothing of shalvar pants and long white head scarf, the dolmus driver pulled over.  As the door to the mini-bus rolled open, the woman leaned inside and asked in Turkish, "Is this the bus to Urgup?""No," responded the driver, "This is the Nevsehir bus.  The Urgup one is coming along soon.""Ah, okay," the woman said as she removed her foot from the step, backing away from the bus.  At that moment, a buzz went through the first two rows of seats, amongst other traditionally-garbed women. Suddenly mutters of "Not the Urgup bus?" and "Going to Nevsehir?" and "Whoops, wrong bus.  Lemme off!" accompanied the bustle of several other women packing up their bags, re-adjusting their scarves, and making for the door.Not even rolling his eyes with the exasperation to which he was due, the driver waited while they disembarked, wished them a good day, and propelled the dolmus back into gear.  As it turns out, Groom and I sorely lack that kind of placid lenity.  We are card carrying eye rollers, in fact, and our club privileges kicked in during those few rustling moments of "whaaazuh?" and "huzzabuzz" and "wherewegoin'?"  In fact, by the time the last woman had slipped her feet back into her sensible slides and exited the bus to wait on the roadside for the imminent Urgup dolmus, I actually had to take off my glasses and rub my eyes for a second.  Feeling a bit wonky, I blinked real hard-like until focus was restored. Then I dared a glance at my husband and gasped.  Who knew he was so damn cute?  Such are the dangers and benefits of Acute Ocular Elliptoid Circumvolution.  The eye roll--that bewitcher!--dupes one into certainty of superiority...even when one has been having a quiet cry over a plate of toast while bemoaning belly fat mere hours earlier.Once Groomeo and I stopped with the eye whirls, we marshaled the energy to speak."How come," I choked out, "every time we get on the bus,"--and here I stopped to wheeze a bit, simply for dramatic effect meant to punctuate nothing--"this happens?"Running with it, His Groomishness chimed in, "I know.  We're here in the village, picking up people who have lived here their whole lives, heading to one of two possible destinations, and there's this vast confusion about which bus to get on.  Women hop on, get to chatting about how their knees ache, only to discover six minutes later that they're on the wrong bus..."Seeing my moment, I broke in with a, "...WHICH IS SO WEIRD, WHAT WITH THE DESTINATION BEING PRINTED ON THAT BIG OLD PLACARD IN THE FRONT WINDOW AND ALL..."'Tis true.  The dolmuses from our village either head to Nevsehir, or they head to Urgup.  In the front window of every dolmus is a big sign that says either "Ortahisar-Nevsehir" or "Ortahisar-Urgup."  Even I, legally blind, myopic bi-focal wearer, can decipher the six-inch letters when the bus pulls up.So, as they kids these days acronym so effectively, WTF?Although I can lay out myriad explanations for this syndrome of the ladies not knowing what bus they're getting onto--theories that range from Women In the Middle of a Good Gossip Are Oblivious to They Are So Sheltered and Well-Watched After That They've Never Had to Pay Attention for Themselves--the reality is all too easily explained:Until relatively recently, Turkey's requirement for mandatory education was built around five years of primary education (now students are required to finish out 8th grade, however). Fac[...]



"Hippy Hollyday"At the start of December, we made an advent calendar, a way of counting down to the Big Day.  Each of us took a little time to paint, draw, and glue our contributions.  Groom's little cartoon panels were my favorite addition to the calendar, so I asked him to scan them in and compile them.  If you haven't been visiting his blog of our time in Turkey, do head over to the last few weeks, as we've counted down the days, opening a new door on the calendar each day, we've also gotten together with new friends and made crafts, done some secret shopping, mailed off letters to Santa requesting specific gifts (Paco sent Santa, under separate cover, a question:  "What is your favorite kind of cookie?"  Santa replied a couple weeks later, surprising us with a note tacked to the fridge:  "Sugar!"), and put up the most hilarious fake Charlie Brown Christmas tree ever.  As someone who doesn't particularly like the tree-mounting and tree-undoing aspects of the holiday, I was delighted to hang only a handful of ornaments on a tiny little bit of Not Much.And now it's Christmas Eve, and Paco swears he won't sleep at all tonight.  I assure him, in a vaguely threatening tone, that Santa doesn't come unless kids are asleep.  Our Girl is several years past Santa belief, so we anticipate she'll conk out nicely.  As Paco riddled out how Santa is going to get down one of our chimneys, what with them being blocked by soba pipes ("Oh no!  Santa is going to get sucked into the soba pipe and get burned up!"), it occurred to us that, because we have two tons of the stuff to fuel the sobas, there has never been an easier year to put a lump of coal in someone's stocking.Note to self:  line stocking with plastic bag.------------------------------For our pagan-leaning family, the celebration is as much about The Solstice and sharing gifts and appreciating darkness and light and eating cookies as anything else.  However, despite my heathenish spirit, I find myself contemplating the power of Christ:This week, as we sat in a government building in a city near our village, filling out form after form, walking from one office to another, paying fees, getting help from some friends with translating, chasing down our residency permits, we heard a voice ask our friend Gulcan, in accented English, "These people you are with, where are they from?"Gulcan answered, "They're from America."I lifted my head from an application form and saw a beautiful seventeen-year-old girl sitting a few chairs down.  While she had the exotic coloring and bearing of a Middle Eastern female, she wore a cross around her neck.  This poised teenager continued, "If they are from America, why are they here?"Gulcan filled her in:  "They are applying for residency permits so that they do not run into any visa problems in the next few months.""No," clarified the girl, "I mean why are they in Turkey?""Well," Gulcan told her, "They want to learn about the country and culture and learn some language."The girl, still a bit confused, gave a small chuckle.  "So they came here on purpose and left America?  Are they Christian?"Gulcan checked in with me (because it was nearing the end of the work day, I kept at my task of hurriedly copying down passport numbers onto four forms before the offices closed) on the religion question and then explained, "They are not religious. They will go back to America after some months here, but, yes, they chose to come here.  Why are you here?"At that point, this girl gestured to her famil[...]



"Unleavened Barn Raising"Only five months later can I comprehend the shock that overtook me when we arrived in Turkey. Had we first stopped in Istanbul, the landing might have been softer and felt more gradual in terms of West-to-East, but since we flew straight to Cappadocia (one hour flight from Minneapolis to Chicago; ten hour flight from Chicago to Istanbul; one hour flight from Istanbul to Kayseri; one hour shuttle ride from Kayseri to Goreme) with only small lulls in between each leg, we showed up in this Land of the Past feeling tired, excited, expectant...and found the place vibrant and laid back and full-of-more-yet-less and crazily-foreign and HOOOOOOOOOOT. Indeed, I only feel just now that I'm recovering from that August heat and the weird, off-kilter sleep deprivation. It's like the 110 degree temperatures, unrelieved by air conditioning, sauteed any rational or predictable reactions. Even now, still in the midst of the experience, I can look back on August and think, "Who was that woman, stumbling around the broken cobblestones, attempting to orient herself and hone in on some sort of context while mopping the sweat out of her armpits? She was a leeeetle bit scary."In significant ways, I'm still that woman, but at least now I'm wearing long sleeves and the odd pair of mismatched socks. Perhaps more importantly, the sleep deprivation has eased since I generally wake up for about half an hour with the first Call to Prayer and no longer have to count myself as Awake for the Day Starting at 4:30 a.m.But here's the part of the process in which I'm reveling: we're at the point of acculturation where we can say there are things in the villages of Cappadocia that we know we'll miss intensely once we return home. Trust me, the Call to Prayer at dawn is profoundly not one of them. Nor are the aggressive flies that triangulate their trajectories straight towards our retinas.However, we've come attached to this volcanic, tufa-rocked, accordion-pleated, beige, hollowed-out landscape in ways that alter our heartbeats. We've had our breath arrested by the beauty that lives inside simple souls who may struggle to write their names but who would never leave us standing on the sidewalk in the rain, waiting for a ride that isn't going to show up. We've seen our historical compasses become re-aligned around a region that has been more continuously inhabited than most others, that has hosted Hattians and Assyrians and Hittites and Phyrgians and Lydians and Persians and Romans and Seljuks and Ottomans and Turkmen. We've felt the whap of our jaws hitting the ground as we've peered into the thousand-year-old cave rooms beneath our 400-year-old Greek home. We've felt our knees weaken from the basket-view of several hundred meters high, inside the vantage point of a hot air balloon.We've eaten fifteen kinds of peppers. We've seen women in their fifties who only recently have adopted a head scarf as daily wear--because they are certain, under the current government--that their sons in the military may live to see another day if they, as Mothers, adhere to conservative Islamic notions of dress. We've seen families making pottery in the same shops as their great-great-grandfathers. We've been touched by the attentive way young men in their twenties take stock of who is stepping onto the bus, hyper vigilantly moving their seats so that women and older men are assured of a place to sit down. We've spent long stretches of time in the nut and dried fruit shops where the owners scoop out sample after sample, insisting that we have at least a taste of every single of the seven varieties of hazelnuts. We’ve stretched our arms to the ceilin[...]



"Saturated"Every. single. day. I think anew, "I don't foresee ever getting over this place."All of these pictures were taken within four minutes' walk of our house. Just imagine the delights if one were feeling particularly hardy and ventured a five minute expedition.[...]



"Open Book, Open Wallet"At twenty-six, with a newly-minted graduate degree in hand, I got a full-time job teaching writing at a four-year university.My salary was $17,000 per year.It wasn’t for nothing that one of my esteemed college professors characterized the teaching of composition as “working in the armpit of the university.”However, having never been quite sure that English majors ever earned any income at all outside of what they made behind the wheels of taxis, I thought $17,000 seemed fair enough compensation for 60+ hours of work per week plus the bonus Emotional Hardiness Training that came from reading student essays which asserted “people with AIDS deserve what they got.”It’s like I was overpaid, really.After three years at that university, my pay (No benefits! No retirement fund!) ballooned to almost $19,000 per year. Because I’d struggled to make rent and often exceeded the budgeted $25 per week for groceries, my credit card debt was on par with my salary.Realizing I was on a slippery slope, financially, I made the move to Minnesota and the community college system. I was hired into that system with a 90% raise.So there I was, twenty-nine, a slightly-tarnished graduate degree in hand, having just scored a huge raise, suddenly hitting the national average salary—for high school graduates.Because I never graduated from high school, though, it was impossible to gauge what a reasonable compensation for my years of study and time in the classroom should have been. None of the “predicted income by education level” charts had a column for Graduate Degree Sans High School Diploma. Moreover, it seemed presumptuous to imagine that following one’s inclinations and enjoying one’s work assured a higher tax bracket.Now, fifteen years later, that 90% raised salary has grown by another 75%, and if you’re able to parse out those percentages, you’ll know the upshot is that, well, I’m more fortunate than most but less fortunate than many. Work in the fact that this Average-ish Salary also supports three dependents, and you’ll understand why we eat a lot of lentils and keep the thermostat set at 56 degrees.In the States, all I have to do is tell someone I’m an English teacher, and they immediately have a sense of the lifestyle that affords: comfortable, but Lamborghini-free. Pretty quickly, I know anyone spending time with me isn’t after the dosh.In Turkey, however…It’s occasionally disheartening to know that the welcome we receive has undertones of “Money. Gimme some of your money. Money. How about the money?” Now, I don’t necessarily mind this attitude when I’ve willingly entered a place of business; fair enough, really. And I get that our income, while nothing major in the U.S., is well above the average Turk’s. I get that much of the eye contact aimed my way is more about “You can help me with a cash infusion” than “You look like a really interesting person I’d like to talk to.” Despite this, it was still hard to stand there as my friend Pamm got vastly overcharged by a Turkish businesswoman whose shop I have patronized faithfully. Still, it’s hard to contact a young Turkish woman who said she’d be happy to give our family Turkish lessons (“Even though I’ve never taught Turkish and couldn’t really explain the grammar; but I could help with vocabulary and answer your questions”) and hear back from her that she’d be glad to teach us for 50 Turkish Lira per hour. Contrast this number with the 25TL charged by the professional potter who gives our kids lessons that last for several hours, “until [...]



"Songs of Experience"

The (semi) Romantic poet and artist William Blake is certainly no Mary Oliver to me, but I do enjoy the fact that he could invite someone over to "look at his etchings," and he'd actually have something to show that visitor upon arrival that was, you know, etched. I also like that he taught his wife to read and write--and that his peers largely regarded him as mad.

Even more, I appreciate that his writings--although they strike this modern reader as a bit simplistic in some cases--explore the idea that it takes oppositional forces to create something that is Whole. Blake wrote about innocence and experience, heaven and hell, corporeal and spiritual, ultimately making the case that you've got to have the two sides to have anything at all.

I agree, yet this year in a new environment is highlighting the fact that many don't. Maybe it's natural for inhabitants of a leisure culture, but it does seem like a lot of caring people want every day to be "good," want every thing to be "a great time," believe that if something is periodically flat or unhappy then maybe it should be rethought.

I've been mulling this over in regards to our experience here because I'm very, very glad we have days that are challenging. If we started out with "it's so beautiful here" and then moved to "the people are amazing" before ending with "we've never had more fun," then we'd be having a one-dimensional experience, free of layers or complexities. In other words, I'm really grateful that I feel sad and lonely sometimes. I find it delicious that, especially when so much of my life is "set," I get to feel constantly off balance here.

The thing is, the tough days make the happy, wavy days all the richer.

When it comes to the melancholy that has set in each time visitors from the States have left us to return home, it's a beautiful bit of heart piercing because it means we have people we love, and they came to share in our adventure, and they had compelling reasons to return home. It's wonderful to feel bereft when they leave. Because an empty heart means we've been very, very lucky.

This is just how I feel a day after our good friends Pamm and Ed have left us to fly back to Minnesota. They came, and each day was sun dappled and conversation filled. Then they left, and we felt empty, missing their laughter and wonder and card playing. The pull of opposites, reminding us of the abundance of our lives, was positively Blake-ian.



“Principium Contradictionis" Our Minnesotan friends Pamm and Ed have been touring Turkey the last week or so and are on their way to spending a few days at our house. Based on Pamm’s quick emails of update, I’d say they’re getting the full Turkish experience, wherein everything they expected hasn’t been delivered, which then makes space for them to be surprised by what delights them. More than anything, for good or bad, they’ve been struck by some glaring inconsistencies—which we, after four months here, make us nod our heads knowingly. For Pamm, she couldn’t believe that they were staying at a luxurious 5-star hotel that only served instant coffee. For us, we have remarked that:--The tenet of Islam pertaining to purity and cleanliness apparently extends only to the body (ritualized ablutions are a part of every prayer and must follow all intimate relations, not to mention the ubiquitous use of Lemon Cologne, an 80-proof rubbing alcohol poured over one’s hands multiple times a day) because it is no rare thing to see a man in a skull cap cradling his prayer beads as he tosses an empty cigarette pack to the ground. Recently, on a landing next to the mosque across the street, someone tossed out six rusty stove pipes. At least it's a place where their disintegration will undoubtedly be hastened by the blistering decibels of the Call to Prayer. The entire landscape is littered with empty olive oil cans, plastic bags, rotting squash and loaves of bread, broken ironing boards, unwanted bed frames, shattered beer bottles, partially drunk liters of Coke, cracked cinderblocks, abandoned shoes, dead trucks, and ripped hoses. The first time I gave Groom directions as to how to find a nifty ancient church that I’d stumbled across, a key point to those instructions was, “When you encounter the big pile of mildewing sweaters in the middle of the road, you’ll know you’re on the right track.”--Our 70-year-old neighbor who wears at least one, if not two, headscarves at all times and is always covered from head to toe in modest draping handed my husband the gift of a bowl of home-dried raisins covered with a newspaper. On that sheet of newspaper was a scantily-clad Warrior Goddess model with her Fierce Lady Bosoms exposed to the readership--and to raisin eaters who can’t help but imagining they’re chomping into nipples with every bite. --Turkey, in particular the Cappadocia region, is one of the most continuously-inhabited pieces of land on the planet, a fact that might lead one to expect a that modern-day Turks would have a command of history and an elevated civilization in terms of music, art, literature. However, and with many exceptions, most Cappadocians rarely read (outside of the newspaper), think of mass production as the height of art, and have never touched a musical instrument. Even more surprising is the disconnect between the evidence of previous inhabitants and the knowledge of who they were or what they were doing. Certainly, there is a general sense of the various eras of history (the Hittites, the Phrygians, the Byzantines…), but those seeking a comprehensive archeological explanation are stymied more often than not. When our family hired a spendy nationally-licensed guide for a day tour around the region (we knew he was the real deal because he sported an ID card on a lanyard), he earned our respect due to his unwillingness to fabricate facts, as so many of the unlicensed guides do. When we toured the underground city of Kaymakli, which is thought to extend for eight storie[...]



"...gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder"  ~G.K. ChestertonDear Aunt Ethel and Uncle Frank:Thank you so much for the lint remover. I didn’t know such a thing existed! Maybe because I’ve been really busy combing my feathered hair with a huge plastic comb under the disco ball at Skate City! Before your gift, I didn’t realize how much all my sweaters needed de-pilling! And trust me, since it’s 1980, I have a serious number of velour and cowl-necked sweaters that need shaping up before Pat Benatar will ever ask me to be in one of her videos!So thank you for the most radical Christmas present ever, except for when my mom gave my sister and me matching teddy bear nightgowns last year, and do you think she knows I’m 13 now? Enuf of the good times; gotta get to de-pilling—You better watch out--you better not pout! Because video killed the radio star! Love, Jocelyn-------------------Clearly, even though Aunt Ethel and Uncle Frank are, in fact, real, and they did give me a lint remover one time, I never actually wrote this particular thank you card. Number one, I hardly ever went skating at Skate City except for every weekend, and, number two (haha! “number two”!), I never genuinely wanted to be in a Pat Benatar video, unless you count “We Belong.” Oh, plus “Love Is a Battlefield.”I can’t be faulted. You saw the gloves La Benatar wore. You saw that toilet paper-looking skirt. Without question, you would have elbowed me in the solar plexus—(wherever that is! But remember that grade school song about the cat on the roof top, “Señor Don Gato,” who was trolling for the lady cat that was “fluffy, white, and nice and fat,” and that song had “solar plexus” in the lyrics, which was a pretty hilarious thing to be singing out loud in elementary school?)—to take over my role in the video, if it meant you got to wear a toilet-paper skirt, too.Bitch.Soooo. My point was that I never wrote that thank you card, but at the same time, that’s exactly the thank you card I wrote for about 15 years. The idea that every gift deserves a formalized expression of thanks was inculcated into me, gently, at a young age, by my mother. Christmas would come. Gifts would be opened. I’d spend the next three weeks scratching out one painfully-wrought line after another until the space inside the card was full enough that I could sign off. Virtually every thank you card I wrote throughout adolescence started with a salutation followed by “Thank you for the _______. I will use it ________.” Then I would vamp for a few lines and get the hell out of there so I could meet my friend Joni at the mall for an Orange Julius.It was only when I stopped feeling the pressure to write thank you cards that I became truly grateful. There are several ways to read the previous sentence, but what I mean is this: when one sidesteps the burden of engraving gratitude in response to something gifted at least partially with the expectation of receiving thanks, what emerges is room for Real.If I am not clawing at wrapping paper and simultaneously strategizing, “I hope I can whip out a thank you note by next Monday because I have essays coming in that afternoon, and I can’t even pretend to be excited about a doily Kleenex cozy when I have 50 papers to mark,” then I am free. I can like the gift. Or not. I can send on a note at a later date. Or not. I can feel what I feel, with no obligation to the exhausting politeness obliged by etiquette.Rather, I can wait three months and then p[...]



"Occidentally on Purpose"Returning to Turkey after a few weeks away caused in me neither joy nor dread; it was just the next thing we were doing. I did discover, though, that it was jarring to hear Turkish again after readjusting my ear to more familiar languages. Within a couple of hours, though, I felt happy to be back “home,” where we can have more control over food, heating, clean clothes--and where the kids are occasionally in a different room.Now, a quarter of our way through this year abroad, when I have a feeling for the culture already but have recently stepped outside of it, there are a few back-in-Turkey-related thoughts tumbling around my noggin that could come in handy for the teeming masses of you who plan to come visit (Riots at the Passport Office!). Based on my first three months in the Near East, I can file the following reports:--Observation: If I’m in a hotel in Istanbul, I will be awakened at approximately 3 a.m. by some miserable sod’s retching. The sounds of repeated heaving into the toilet will last until nearly 4 a.m. Once the drunkard/sick person finally collapses into bed, I will remain awake until the early-morning Call to Prayer, after which I will lapse into fitful sleep for 45 minutes before giving up on further rest. This unsatisfying sleep experience will cost me more than $100. Of no consolation is the hotel’s breakfast of shriveled olives and soggy cucumbers.Actually, having now stayed in three hotels in Istanbul, I can admit that this is true only 66% of the time, for in only two of the hotels was my sleep disrupted by The Barfing. At the third hotel, no one actually vomited, but a Dutch girl in the next room did prove her race’s ability to achieve multiple peaks of pleasure. Loudly. Her example makes one muse, “How fortunate to have a notion of how Van Gogh must have sounded!”Recommendation: Istanbul in all its forms causes the senses of visitors to be overwhelmed. Bring industrial-strength earplugs.--Observation: Turkish plumbing is abysmal. Because of this, most women in the know: roll up their pants before entering the ladies’ room (one way to keep clothing dry when wading through a ½” of standing water); prepare to squat over a hole full of the previous “tenant’s” emissions; anticipate no available toilet paper, and after they pull a stash out of their bags, remember that they can’t toss it into the toilet, as the pipes can’t handle any matter beyond fecal; count on zero paper towels for drying their hands (which clearly demand some no-nonsense sterilization after what they’ve just been through); and are certain, during their three-minute visits, that at least one of their fellow restroom visitors will heft her feet up into the sink (for religious ablutions) and scour unthinkable, dark, grainy matter only partially down the drain. It would be infinitely more logical for such women simply to take off their shoes and wade through the standing water, of course, as a means of abluting. For this rich experience, bathroom visitors will pay roughly $.70 per visit.Recommendation: Cauterize your bladder before voluntarily entering a busy public Turkish toilet.--Observation: I had to tone down the expectations of my grown-up tastebuds, as the wine in Turkey is made by non-drinkers who simply mix all the varietals into one big batch (but I do thank, nightly, the Muslims who kept up any production after all the Christian boozehounds were sent back to Greece in the early 1920’s), and the java is [...]



ThenNowBegging the forbearance of long-term readers here, as I re-run a post from one year ago, originally written in honor of my tenth wedding anniversary. Now, as we hit #11, here it is again.-----------------------------------------------------"Bestill"My dad was the person who taught me to be comfortable with silence. We could get in the car and drive for twenty minutes without a word being spoken. While his and my mother's relationship ultimately cracked under the weight of that silence, for me, the daughter, his quiet felt benign, reassuring, a safe place to be.Even more, when he did speak, his words carried weight. A handful of my favorite memories, in fact, center around moments when he engaged in verbal expression. One time, after I'd won a forensics tournament out of town, returning from the meet late at night, I left my trophy on the dining room table. By the time I woke up later that day, my dad had left me a note, telling me he was so proud, he was "busting his buttons." Another time, after I'd behaved badly, he sat across from my hungover self and told me he was "deeply disappointed." Many years later, during the night when a bat flew into my house, and I had a fairly apeshit "I'm all alone, and the bat is trying to kill me" meltdown for three hours in the bathroom, I managed to grab my phone (with the bat only gnawing off one of my fingers above the knuckle as I reached for the receiver) and call my parents, over a thousand miles away. When I sobbed and sobbed that a killer beast was out there, and all I had were tampons for friends and nail files for weapons, my dad, casting about, counseled, "What you need to do is try to reach way down inside yourself now and find something you don't think you have. Dig deep, and you'll find something you need." He was right. We hung up, and I dug deep, finding inside myself the numbers 911, which I punched into the phone with great bravery.Perhaps my fondest conversation with my dad occurred about a decade before his death. Chatting on the phone, we stumbled across the subject of my sister and me and our many differences. Trying to qualify the nature of the differences, my dad remarked that my sister took after his side of the family, where a certain dourness and pessimism sometimes manifested itself. “She reminds me of myself,” he noted, continuing, “and you don’t. You’re more, well, effervescent.”There it was: one of those moments we hope for with our parents, those moments when they give us a word, an adjective, a feeling of being seen, and it signifies everything. It signifies that our parents see us as separate, as differentiated beings, that they have thought about us, that they have taken stock of us, that we are far enough away from them that the space has cleared everyone’s vision. Because such words, such adjectives, are born from the lifelong process of symbiosis to independence, they have power. Plus, anytime someone describes me to myself, I believe him.It wasn’t even so much that I wanted to think of myself as “effervescent”—although it was a welcome label—but rather, it was more that I wanted to think of my dad thinking of me that way. Sometimes, from then on, I effervesced just for him.It surprised me, then, to learn—repeatedly--that a pipping personality didn’t reap greater rewards, in the larger scope of the world. Certainly, I didn’t expect to be voted into office on the Effervescence Platform, nor did I expect the medical fie[...]



"You Know How People Broadcast Images of Glowing Fires on Their Television Sets, Rather Than Sitting in Front of an Actual Fireplace?  Right About Now, I'm Left Feeling We Could Have Broadcast Images of The Eiffel Tower on the TV, and Our Kids Would Have Enjoyed It Just As Much"So let's see:  one overnight trip on a bus from Cappadocia to Istanbul;a day in Istanbul of visiting an ancient church with tremendous golden mosaic remnants on the walls;one night in Istanbul;five days in Paris, replete with macaroons, The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, an on-and-off bus tour of the entire city, some hours at Sacre Coeur watching buskers perform, a trip around Monmarte to view artists at work, an afternoon in the historic and jaw-dropping spaces of Versailles, an after-dark hangout in front of Notre Dame so as to watch the shadows dance amongst the gargoyles and filagreed architecture, shopping along the Champs Elysees, repeat visits to street crepe stands, a passle of hours in Paris' floral park (a place featuring no less than four playgrounds), unlimited passes to public transportation;a trip under the English Channel;a night near the station where Paddington Bear gained legend;three nights in a hotel with a swimming pool and breakfasts of Rice Crispies and Cumberland sausages;two days of rides and fireworks at the much-hallowed Windsor Legoland;another night in London to sleep in a room with bunkbeds and then take in the science museum, ride the London Eye, and visit the home of The Queen;another trip under the sea by train;multiple experiences with Subway sandwiches, KFC chicken, Starbursts, Skittles, Ritz Crackers, tortilla chips--all tastes of home not experienced in Cappadocia;another night in Paris, during which the final Hannah Montana episode is watched;then again to Istanbul for some big city hustle;finally a flight back to Cappadocia.------------------------------------------------------------------In reflecting on the trip in its entirety, the kids are in agreement:  the coolest thing of all was the toilet on the Eurostar train through The Chunnel.  See, you flush it with your foot, by pressing down on a button on the floor.  And. that's. just. awesome.Totally better than Versailles.------------------------------------------------------------Put another way:for less than a quarter of the cost of the whole vacation, we could have installed a new toilet in our house, one that flushes with a press of the foot, and given the little buggers a daily thrill surpassing an up-close-and-personal view of The Mona Lisa.Having kids redefines Buyers' Remorse.[...]



"The Women--With the Exception of Your Humble Author--Truly Are Chic, and the Fact That Nearly Every One of Them Was Wearing Knee-High Black Boots Almost Blotted Out the Fact That We Couldn't Find Internet Access Fer Nuthin'"All apologies to the complex and fascinating country of Turkey,but when we got off the plane in Paris, it was like the start of five days of shore leave. We were giddy. Suddenly, it felt like we'd been shipped away from a barren outpost and dropped into a city of twinkling lights, crusty bread, layered pastries, stacks of books, straight streets, even walkways, sophisticated fashion, neon-leafed trees--a place with a sense of plan, organization, elegance.*Exhales sigh of heady romance*Our first afternoon in Paris, we figured out the train system enough to get to our hotel; because the city is prohibitively expensive, especially for a family of four on one partial income, we had put in hours trying to find the cheapest option. Eventually, we happened upon the chain of “Hipotels,” specifically the one near Joinville le Pont, which, fortuitously, turned out to be a charming section of the city much like the Linden Hills area in Minneapolis. After checking in and appreciating firsthand the spare reality of “basic accommodation” (ah, but towels were provided, in contrast to our recent Istanbul hotel), we headed out for a meander around the Joinville area. First we passed the green grocer (Endive!); next the cheese shop (A mind-boggling palette of fromage!); then the first boulanger (Pain au chocolat!); followed by the second, third, fourth boulanger (Macarons! Baguette! Tartelette!); then the hair salons (Should one desire une coiffure tres jolie!)...and on and on until the grocery store (Crackers! Applesauce! SALTED BUTTER!).Mon Dieu. What's more, the wine cost under 5 Euros a bottle. Between the chocolate and the booze, it's like they invented the place just for me. The interesting part is that I've been to France a couple of times before, and it left me shrugging with a noncommital, “Eh. It was okay.” I had been put off by getting terribly lost the first visit and then being treated snootily the second time. This time, though? I was smitten. Thank you, Turkey, for the perspective that allowed me to leap around gaily, doing high kicks all the way from L'Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concord.As we rode the on-and-off double decker bus the first couple of days, and as we used our five-day Metro passes to get around, and as I felt like dancing a la Gene Kelly in ANCHORS AWAY, I thought about how easy this year would have been if we had chosen—if we could have afforded—to live in a country like France. I'm glad we didn't and couldn't. While Turkey is a relatively Western and familiar-feeling culture, compared to, say, Iran, it still stretches us. When we are in Turkey, I feel disconnected from everything that makes me feel easy inside: in our daily lives, we aren't surrounded by people who read books, who drink espresso, who have a vigorous Life of the Mind, who sit--genders intermixed—and converse for hours over intricate food. In Turkey, men get up, leave the house, and don't come home until they feel like it, often after 10 p.m. In Turkey, men love children but spend little time with their own. In Turkey, our village's main street and square are completely the domain of men who drink [...]