Tuesday 29 April 2008

It's my party and I'll cry if I want to

I've always shied away from the subject of love and romance on this blog but I'd like to take this post to tell you what I've learned about love 'a la Turk'. I may be a little bitter from my experiences and I'm not saying that this is gospel or representative of the nation as a whole. This is just my learnings from my own personal experiences.

Today is my birthday. It was one year ago today that I sat on a secluded beach near the beautiful town of Agva on the Black Sea coast, a beer, some snacks, some candles, a sunset, a beautiful girlfriend and a marriage proposal.

Fast forward to September last year, me alone on the streets of Istanbul, a suitcase, a ripped t-shirt, a smashed mobile phone, a broken heart and the knowledge that I wasn't the only guy she was engaged to.

Turkish women, I'm told by friends and songs, are divided into two groups: the ones you have fun with and the ones you marry. Sometimes it's clear to see. There are those that play up to their roles with passion. But, for the vast majority, where they are on the scale is ambiguous and the trick is figuring out which type you've fallen for.

I chose the wrong type of girl and learned the hard way. Still somewhat dazed from the episode but, in the spirit of what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, I'm as strong as a lion though I may feel as weak as a kitten.

I was a rookie to Turkish relationships. I didn't know the game that had to be played, I didn't even have a chance to learn the rules.

Turkish women can be brutal in both their simplicity and their complexity. They want security and insecurity. You should always be telling them how amazing they are, yet always allowing them some doubt that you could be up to your wrist in a stranger.

They expect jealousy - both giving and receiving. They expect lies. They are expecting you to lie and, in order to maintain the image of the perfect girlfriend, they are also compelled to lie.

Expect to be the second person she's ever slept with. When it comes to previous sexual partners, 1 is the magic number. Any more and she'll appear a tart. Any less it'll appear she's holding onto her virginity and she'll worry you'll lose interest. Turkish girls have as much, if not more, sex than Brits though they'd never admit to it. Turks, generally, have a fiercer libido than any other nation I've met. But don't make the mistake of believing that it's just the guys.

On the plus side, if you choose correctly, expect affection. Expect to be cared for. Expect someone who'll put their head on your shoulder and expect to hear the poetic Turkish words of love: my lamb, my Turkish delight, my soul, my love, my pistachio nut, my honey, my baby. With Turks, 'I love you' can come startlingly quickly. Maybe because, as with French, there is no differentiation between the words 'I love you' and 'I like you'.

Also expect youth and beauty. Turks are an incredibly attractive race and, as I've mentioned many times, they take good care of themselves. When it comes to age, as my uncle said, "take your age, halve it and add 7. That's the perfect age of your wife". Anywhere between 2-10 years younger appears to be the norm. In the UK, this seems to be reversed.

This all works if you know the rules. A simple guy like me from the Suburbs of London, taking everything at face value, didn't stand a chance. The recovery from my last dabbling in love has left its mark. It took 6 months re-grouping in the UK and a CELTA course before I was ready to come back and face Turkey.

Relationships here can take people down. I know at least two who are still recovering after 10 years. Stories of driving the length of the country to confront cheating partners, guns and prison sentences. The penal system here goes easy on men who murder cheating girlfriends. "The prisons are full of men who've been wronged", I'm told.

A small part of me understood the pain that drives a man to such crimes. You can't be in a relationship with a Turk and play by British rules and it's easy to unintentionally misinterpret the game you're playing if it's not your culture.

So what do I do now? I learn the rules or find someone who plays my game.

If there's a next time, I hope she's the right type of girl. I'm not sure my British heart could take another Ottoman slap.

Well, as I said before, it's my birthday today. I knew the day was going to be full of mixed emotions but mum has flown in to help me celebrate so we're off to eat Turkish pizza by the ring road.

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Colognial Tang

There is one particular element of the Turkish culture that I feel deserves a post to itself. Something that any visitor to Turkey will encounter in one form or another. So as to avoid blank stares when offered, I'd like to introduce you all to the omnipresent lemon cologne:

Taris is the most famous brand of Lemon Cologne and generally a huge company. According to the website:

"Taris, the first and the biggest Union of Agricultural Sales Cooperatives Turkey, consolidates the conscious of responsibility it bears and the superior service comprehension exceeding the borders of Turkey with the devotion to its principles and targets."

Yeah, I have no idea either. I was too busy consolidating my conscious of responsibility to fully comprehend what the fuck they were on about.

Lemon cologne is everywhere and used for everything. Primarily it's offered after a meal (especially fish) to clean hands and mouth ...then rubbed round the back of the neck before finally covering the nose with hands and taking a deep breath. The result is an awakening comparable to smelling salts.

Upon exiting a restaurant, you will usually find a man standing by the door with a dimpled bottle in his hand. Your move is to offer both hands in a begging fashion and wait for him to douse them with the cologne until you say "sag ol" (literally meaning "stay healthy" or "thank you"). This cologne is then yours to distribute to any part of your body you deem fit (just remember this is a muslim country).

If there is no man with a bottle, you'll be provided with packets of cologne sodden wipes. The principle is the same; hands, mouth, neck, nose, breathe.

Lemon cologne kills all known bacteria. Other uses include:
  1. Pre-dinner hand cleanse.
  2. Mid-dinner hand cleanse.
  3. Post-dinner hand cleanse.
  4. Post-defecation hand cleanse.
  5. Mid-day wake up (see breathing into nostrils)
  6. Post-mosquito bite cooling relief.
  7. Post-spillage all surface cleaner.
  8. Facial aftershave.
  9. Post-genital/anal grooming aftershave balm (Joke. Do not, I repeat, do not try this. Trust me).
  10. Post-haircut massage oil.
  11. Post-minor (note: not major) injury antibacterial lotion.
  12. Post-bereavement 'coming-to-your-senses' lotion.
  13. Spermicidal lubricant.
  14. Cheap prison booze (my grandfather got 2 weeks in solitary for making a punch out it this. Fact. He subsequently temporarily lost the use of his legs. Whether this was due to 2 weeks standing in a sesspit or simply the result of drinking a single measure of lemon cologne is open to debate).
  15. Foot coolant ...and any other areas you choose. Just, choose carefully.
  16. BBQ igniter fluid.
  17. 'Welcome on board our plane/bus/taxi/boat' celebration cleanse.
  18. 'We're about to land/pull into the garage/moor/crash' thank you cleanse.
  19. 'Thank you for a wonderful evening. What was your name again? Anastasia? How much do I owe you?' gratitude hand and mouth cleanse.
  20. 'What a cute little kitten/puppy ...now decontaminate me' hand and body cleanse.
The Turks are a clean people. They have rules to cleanliness that I'm starting to learn. Meals are rarely eaten without washing hands. Food is rarely touched directly.

I love watching the people around me on planes refusing to touch the sandwiches they're eating. Resulting in a hand, wrapped in a tiny napkin, clutching a sandwich as though they're recovering a family heirloom from a public toilet bowl.

Food dropped onto any dinner table surface is considered contaminated and thrown into the ashtray. Personally, I'd eat a dropped ice-cream off a gravel path. Surely a quick blow and a wipe with the wrist is good enough (FYI, that's my general motto for most things). Not here.

After dinner, if available, diners will go to the lavabo to wash hands and mouth. Now, doesn't that make sense? You've just sploshed your way through a pile of food swimming in olive oil. Your lips and chin are glistening in the moonlight. Shouldn't you go and rinse before kissing your friends goodnight?

After bowel movements, shaved nipsies are washed with water via a little pipe at the back of the bowl. It's sense.

When I first arrived, I asked the plumber to remove the little pipe because it looked vicious. He gave me a look as though I'd just wiped my arse on the curtains. Then, after I told him I'd changed my mind and I'd like to try the pipe out for a while, he hugged me.

I'll get onto Turkish baths another time. That's a whole post in itself.

If you're coming over, expect to see cologne and know how to use it. Take some back home with you. My life, and the life of all Turks, would be empty and filthy without it.

Sunday 20 April 2008

Minos the Minx

I simply can't remember whether I've told this story before but, as there's a shocking new twist, I'm going to tell it again.

It was the 23rd of July 2006 as I was driving back from Bodrum. Along the way, I decided to grab breakfast at my favourite restaurant on the shores of Bafa Lake.

Whilst tucking into the olives, cheese and tomatoes, I noticed a small kitten lying on a chair. I couldn't resist but go and explore.

The kitten was tiny and frail. He looked as though he wasn't going to last the day. Around his neck the staff had tied a necklace of 'Nazar Boncugu' (evil eye beads) to keep him safe from harm but I reckoned it would take a lot more than that to keep this black and white bundle of skin and bones alive.

I picked him up and cuddled him but he was too weak to play.

Here are some pictures I took of the little fella:

They told me his name was Minos (meaning 'tiny or small'). It was a sad moment when I said goodbye to him that day to continue my journey back to Kusadasi.

In March 2007, I was driving back down to Bodrum and decided to stop once again for a break by Bafa Lake. As the waiter brought the menu I apprehensively asked of the fate of Minos.

"He's sitting behind you" said the waiter, somewhat confused by my fascination with this cat.

There behind me was a lion of a cat. He was in beautiful condition. Perhaps the healthiest looking cat I've seen since I arrived here. Mind you, if cats have a heaven, it would be living in a fish restaurant on the banks of Bafa Lake.

Just look at the difference. Now fully grown, Minos was a troublesome beast. He rarely left the side of the table and had no qualms with boldly reaching over and helping himself to the fish.

I can't describe how relieved I was to see that little Minos had made it, and in such style.

Fast forward a few months and once again I'm back in the restaurant, sitting at my usual table, admiring the view of the ruins on the nearby island. The waiter took my order and I smiled and asked "so where's Minos?"

The waiter's face dropped.

Now my Turkish isn't so good still but I heard words in his following sentence that I didn't expect and absolutely didn't want to hear.

Words like "I'm sorry", "unfortunately", "hit", "reversing", "car".

My heart broke there and then. After the struggle he'd gone through to becoming a handsome lion. All that gone in an instant. I remembered holding him in one hand as he flopped like a rag doll. The joy I felt when I saw what he had become. I felt sick.

But then, in the waiter's continued explanation of events, I heard more words that brought hope. "Not dead", "injured", "recover".

I hoped he would survive the accident. To be honest, I avoided the restaurant for a while as I was scared that he wouldn't make it through again.

Last week, though, I stopped for breakfast as I began my trip down to Bodrum and beyond. The great news is that Minos is still alive. He's been left with a bit of a limp and walks like Larry Grayson and the similarities don't end there.

It appears that the accident has brought about a bigger change in Minos' life. OK he's not the strapping young thing he was before; he's a little skinnier but no waif. But the biggest shock of all is that, at some point during the past months, Minos went all gay.

If proof is needed, here is a photo I took of him raping his adopted brother:

Minos is still bold, still cheeky, still confident but now as camp as Christmas. I watched with elation as he limply minced around frolicking with the other male cats, stopping only to beg me for food or to mount one of his brothers (the other cat in the picture only barely had time to get to his feet before Minos would grab him by the neck and play horsey again).

The Nazar Boncugu around his neck are gone. There is no need for them anymore. They kept him safe through 2 lives and into embracing his homosexuality (as well as any male cat that slows down enough for him to catch them). He may be as bent as a 9 Lira note but he's back to being the happiest cat on Bafa.

Heaven, for Minos, just got better.

Rude Nan #4

I popped in to see nan the other day. She's not doing so well these days and it seems to be taking all her energy to ask me how I am. She does, however, still have the power to make me fall about laughing.

When I arrived Suzanna was giving her some snacks and brain exercise. As nan can't sit up, she can't really see what Suzanna is feeding her so it seems a perfect opportunity to test her palette and memory.

Suzanna eased a small piece of fruit into nan's mouth and asked "what's that mum?" (Suzanna affectionately calls her 'mum'). There was a pause while nan chewed and pondered.

"Apple" came the whispered reply.

Another piece of fruit is fed to nan. "What's that mum?"

A longer pause followed then an even quieter "orange".

Suzanna then shakes it up a little by putting a biscuit in nan's mouth. "What's that then mum?" asked Suzanna with a cheeky grin.


"Come on mum, what's that?"

What nan actually said next is open to question. I saw her lips move and then Suzanna's face turn a worrying shade of red. "MUM!!!! SHHHHHHH!!!!! You can't say that! We have guests".

So what was it nan said that dropped Suzanna to the floor? The possible options are:

a) Cunt
b) Your mother's cunt
c) Your midwife's cunt

Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

Thursday 10 April 2008

Happy Police Day!!!

Turkey's calendar is full of days celebrating different professions and people. Today is Police Day, which means all the police spend the day driving in convoy through the streets with sirens blaring. This is also the time when people send bouquets of flowers which are now lining the outside of the Police Station.

I'll let you know when Web Designer Day is as soon as I learn the date. I wonder if there's one for people who've got their CELTA but haven't yet used it. Perhaps the 29th Feb.

Right I'm off to do some pilfering while the cops are out waving flags.

Fezaurus #1

Kedi gotunu gormus, yara sanmis - A cat sees it's own arsehole and thinks it's an injury.

So you've lost your arm in a fishing accident? Your colleagues will probably throw you this sentence followed by derisory laughter. Meaning, "you big girl's blouse, that's but a scratch. Stop your bloody whining and finish gutting those seabass".

Tuesday 1 April 2008

A Match Made in Jimmy's

During the winter Kusadasi is pretty quiet. The nightlife is restricted to the weekends and only to a handful of bars. My favourite Rock Bar (Big Bang) has recently opened for the weekends but is yet to pick up. The only other place in town is Biraver in the port itself. This bar has a live band playing the classics you'll hear played by most Turkish bands; "Wish you were here", "Mustang Sally", "Sweet Child of Mine" etc.

I was sitting having a drink with my cousin last Friday and enjoying the lead singer's pronunciation of some rock classics (how does "she's buried right in my back yard" become "she's very right in my bodyguard"), when we noticed the group of women at the table in front of us were clearly not Turkish and clearly not sober. I heard an accent and assumed they were Aussies stranded by the ship.

I spoke to my cousin about the current political instability in the country ...or was it ...that's right, we were talking about fannies, when I heard a bellowing voice in my left ear. "Have yuuu seeeen ma shooooooo?". I turned in shock to see the red face of a woman holding one shoe and whose eyes were having trouble synchronising.

"Yes, it's there on the table" I replied nervously

"I knooooo but it's the wrang size. This is a size foooooorr and that's a size six". I'm now completely lost. Even so, I managed to keep the conversation flowing whilst occasionally grabbing her in mid-collapse.

Before I knew it, she had dragged me off my chair and onto the dancefloor and was spinning me like a dervish. I have no idea whether this was intentional or just an elaborate stumble. After a couple of Mustang Sallys I offered the international sign for 'time out' and tagged her mate to help me out.

When I got back to the table my cousin was in conversation with one of the older women in the crowd. Apart from one teenager, the rest were comfortably middle-aged. So as not to look a complete tool, I started conversation with the eldest; a woman in her 60s who could have been a big star on Eldorado. She gave me the run down on who everyone was. 2 Brits, 2 Irish and 1 Scot. All were living in Kusadasi permanently except for the teenager who was on a short break.

"Why's your friend off her tits?" I asked politely.

"She's celebrating a divorce". Nice, I thought. "I'm commiserating myself tonight too actually" and with that began to cry. I remembered why I never chat up women in bars. This was going to get messy. "I wish I had a boyfriend to take me home and take care of me".

"So what's her story?" I asked pointing at the teenager and desperately trying to change the subject from anything involving tears, sex or both.

"She's come over to see her boyfriend. She met him on holiday last year". Then it suddenly struck me, sitting at this table, we have the full circle of the classic holiday romance.

I feel I have a right to speak out on this subject, being a child of a Turkish man and an English woman. But, ultimately, this is something I see all the time.

My parents met through work in Belgium so it's not quite the same, but take a walk down Bar Street and you'll see middle aged European women having lap dances from young Turkish men. You don't have to look too far into their future to see where it's all headed.

It seems the perfect match right?

She gets what she wants: a young, attractive, muscular, energetic, exotic, tanned, brave, masculine, caring man.

He gets what he wants: a woman who is 99.934% guaranteed to sleep with him, holding a passport that isn't Turkish.

So off they go into the sunset and live happily ever after. He runs a kebab shop in Stoke Newington, she carries on working and looking after the kids.

But this just ain't how it goes. This is the story of most I've seen:

She's in town with her friends and head down to Bar Street. Every night is a Hen night while they're away. They find a table in the liveliest bar and sit down (her veins are giving her gip anyway and she's pleased for the break).

Their waiter comes over and does a little dance, wearing a stupid hat. His t-shirt says something like "am I bovvered, innit?" and he wows them with a can of fly spray and a lighter. "What you want drink? Is cheaper than ASDA" then pats his back pocket and waits for the laughter.

4 pints of lager (of course) are immediately necked in a fashion that makes young Mehmet question the gender of his new customers. But he knows that this is his opportunity to strike. Rather forcefully heaving the ladies down the bench, he makes his presence known. His English is limited to footballers and cocktails but actions speak louder than words.

There is an unspoken agreement between bar owners and staff that should they be 'getting in there', they're allowed to 'get in there'. So Mehmet is left alone to work his magic ...well apart from Ahmet who also sees an opportunity and shuffles the other two geriatric tourists down their bench.

Most nights, Mehmet knows that after a hideous skinful and perhaps a snog, the ladies will leave him to clear the table and walk home alone. But he knows too that tomorrow they might just return and he could well be one step closer to his dream of mopping up chili sauce down Archway.

Sure enough, Sue and the gang stagger in at 1am the following night. Sue's off her tits again and succumbs to a night of sexual ecstasy with her Antonio Banderas (though he looks more like Glenn Medeiros after a night shift in Matalan).

So fast forward a few weeks or months. The ladies were only there for a couple of weeks and Sue got her money's worth. She calls him from the UK when she can and even visits him from time to time. They get engaged and the process begins.

They are surprised when the British Consulate don't welcome him into the UK with open arms and so they enter into a legal process that gives Sue enough time to create an image in her mind of a young stallion waiting patiently for her. This urchin she's going to save and bring back to a world of plenty.

On the other hand, this gives Mehmet the time to fuck his brains out with every other tourist that walks through the doors of the bar while he counts the money in his mind of the world of plenty that awaits him for this one sacrifice of banging a woman who makes his grandma look like a young Judy Garland.

From here it can go one of two ways:

Firstly, Mehmet gets his visa. They open the kebab shop. He beats the living crap out of her. She takes the kids and goes back to her mother. He goes back to Turkey and uses the pictures of his kids to spark conversation with women in Bar Street.

Secondly, Mehmet is flatly refused entry into the UK. Sue comes to live with him in Turkey. He beats the living crap out of her. She has a harder time divorcing him then either stays in Turkey and opens an Estate Agency or flies back home to her mother.

You see, the cultural difference between our nations is immense. It may not appear so when you're 5 tequilas to the wind in The Queen Vic in Bar Street but the truth is, these guys aren't usually locals. Even if they were locals, there's a cultural gulf to cross but the reality is, these guys are coming from the East of the country where the difference is even more pronounced.

Gender roles are clearly defined here in Turkey and it just doesn't sit comfortably with the British concept of Girl Power. I'm not saying it's a bad or a good thing. I would strongly argue that family values are far more intact here and divorce is nowhere on the scale of the UK. The options aren't considered as frequently as they are back in the UK. Marriages are made to work through hell or high water and that can't be a bad thing. In the UK, we know we can walk away if things go wrong. Divorce isn't a badge you wear for life.

I'm sure that some Turkish/English marriages work but all I'm trying to do is make the motives clear. These guys are looking to the UK as a nirvana that will have them living like kings. They don't see the reality of a life in the UK for a young Turk. They will end up being a waiter, living in a house the size of a Turkish balcony, trying to understand why the hell their wife isn't cooking dinner for them and why the washing up hasn't been done in 3 days.

The women are dreaming of this young hunk who'll bring some excitement into their lives. Sure, he will but not perhaps the type they were hoping for. It'll be a tough lesson in 'back to basic' values and, as they're approaching retirement, they wont want to be doing anything but car boot sales and 'Deal or no Deal'.

So I'll see you all down Bar Street and don't say I didn't tell you so. I hope someone can enlighten me with stories of true love and happily ever afters but until then, I'll keep watching the pensioners strip on the bars while Mehmet and his friends teach them the Macarena.