More thoughts about Turkey…

I read a lot about this country and if I lived here for the NEXT 60 years I would not “get it.”

But I try to understand that the very things which make this place frustrating are also the most interesting. Everything here is about 90% finished. Brand new beautiful bus stops going up all over town, but not all the glass gets put into them, or the foundation around them which was dug up to set the new bus stops does not quite get finished.

Beautiful street lamps, with the electrical wiring covers off of ALL of them (wazzup wit dat??). Brand new housing complexes of luxury apartments going up in what was a small village where the school I work is located but the streets are such a mess in front of them that they are barely navigable and not paved yet. A brand new, very pretty, brick sidewalk laid down, then someone else comes along, tears up parts of it to lay electrical or some other cable. Street sweepers are everywhere picking up loads of rubbish but many hillsides are literal dumping grounds for all kinds of shit. A woman clad all in Islamic black from head to toe with a very colorful pink coat on the outside of it all in the cold weather and walking with whom appears to be a girlfriend and is casually dressed in tight jeans with no scarf. On and on and on, good stuff to observe.

Istanbul seems to have a magical attraction, people complain about the smog, the traffic, too many people, too many fundamentalists and sheep sacrificing, and yet they write terrific poems and stories about this place which has the ghosts of so many ancients wandering around its streets. I remember one night having crossed from the Asian side on the ferry and landing at Karaköy. I walked up the hill toward the Galata Tower and the small streets were almost deserted, it was a weeknight and Galata was not as popular as it is now. I remember suddenly being struck by the fact that ancient Ottoman Janissaries with their swords and high turbans walked the same streets along with Genovese merchants and Jewish shop keepers. Before that were Byzantine city dwellers and who knows before that… The same area where Mehmed II or Fatih Sultan Mehmet “the Conqueror” scared the Byzantines shitless by literally dragging half his fleet of ships overland and into the Golden Horn across from the walls enclosing what was left of the Empire. Their clarion call to doom I would imagine… The feeling that strange evening struck me quite strong and had an unmistakable impression upon me like I was some sort of witness to the eons of history covering that street like some magical fog. I almost imagined one of those Janissaries coming out of a side street and proudly walking in front of me, daring me to say or do something about it. Weird huh?

I read James Clavell’s “Shogun” twice recently before I started to “get it.” A wonderful book on cross cultural communication (or lack thereof) wherein the hosts try to civilize the guest quite against his will. I learned early on in Turkey (where East meets West) that “having a cup of tea” with someone when it is offered is more than just a cup of tea, it is an invitation to me, the foreigner, to learn something about another culture, the rest is more subtle but just as significant.

My students are another matter, a new rich attitude (not all of them but most), spoiled, totally pampered and spoiled, all their physical needs are met no matter what, no sense of discipline regarding schoolwork or anything else except listening to music and talking to their friends. I show them films because they will not read books I give them for homework. Now they take it for granted and get upset on the days I do NOT show them a film even though I have told them repeatedly that I cannot command the film salon all the time nor do I desire to do so. Of course they love it that they just watch films but then they complain because I pick the films instead of showing them what THEY want to see. I wish I could get The Rocky Horror Picture Show to show them, that would be a gas I guess. All films I show are English subtitled even though they also complain because I do not use Turkish subtitles.

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