Saturday 31 January 2009

Show your face on Facebook

Don't forget the Arse About Fez Facebook group! It's open to everyone.

I kiss you!

Friday 30 January 2009

Moments of Turkish Genius #1

Glow-in-the-dark light switches

These have been around for as long as I can remember in Turkey. A fluorescent light switch! So simple. Pure genius.

Wednesday 28 January 2009

A shoe shop with attitude

Don't even try taking anything back to this shop I saw in Izmir...

Monday 26 January 2009

Sezen Aksu - The Queen of Turkish Pop

Music has an important role in Turkish culture and Turkish pop spans generations. The latest hits are known and sung by young and old. Far more so than in British culture. Ask your auntie to sing you the current number one in the UK and she'll probably look at you as though you've suggested she show you some breakdance moves.

Perhaps it's because Turkish popular music stays closer to its roots than most Euro-pop. The subjects are fairly predictable. "Smack your bitch up" just wouldn't make it here. Love and heart break are the only thing people are singing about in Turkey ...with perhaps a smattering classics about famous towns and cities: "This morning it rained in Istanbul", "Bodrum, Bodrum" etc.

By far the biggest star in Turkish popular music is Sezen Aksu. A woman now in her mid-fifties. Her music career started the year I was born (1975).

Divorced 4 times, she has the right to sing about love and heart break more than most and she does it with an emotion you can feel without completely understanding the lyrics. Below is a medley of her most famous early work: "Don't Cry", "Go", "Come Back" (make your mind up, woman).

Fatma Sezen Yıldırım was born in Denizli in 1954 then moved to Izmir when she was 3 years old. She attended the school just down the road from my house before finally moving to Istanbul to persue her music career.

Izmir folk are proud to call her their own and everyone claims to have lived next door to her at one point or another. "We were so close, we could hear her and her father screaming at each other" my friend said proudly.

Like most successful artists, she's had a troubled life. Not quite Edith Piaf troubled but probably somewhere on the scale between Billie Holiday and James Blunt.

Sezen is an unusually attractive woman. I've always had a soft spot for her since I saw the cover for the album 'Gulumse' back in the early nineties (the title track contains one of my favourite lyrics "I'm so lonely, I don't even have a cat"). With her striking red hair, Suzanne Vega bob and a near monobrow, she's an unlikely sex-symbol.

But you know that despite the harsh exterior, there's a sensitive artist just below the surface. Broken and emotional, she brings out the nurturing instinct in most men. Her petite frame earned her the nickname "little sparrow". But the nickname is somewhat misleading when you hear her deep, powerful voice. Like Dame Shirley Bassey on gin, Sezen can belt out songs that make your heart bleed.

Sezen's influence goes beyond Turkey and Turkish Pop. She was behind the pen of Tarkan's classics "Şımarık" and "Şıkıdım", songs that found airtime across the world. Her songs have been covered more times than "My Way". Here's a cover of one of her classics "Herseyi Yak" ("Burn Everything") by the Turkish rock band "Duman".

"Burn me, burn yourself, burn everything,
A single spark is enough. Look, I'm ready.
Kiss me if you want or kill me.
Being prepared to die for love is true love.

I drew you inside myself with one breath
My heart imprisoned, my chest caged.
We're both ready to burn.
A single spark is enough. Look, I'm ready.
Being prepared to die for love is true love.

My God, my God.
I'm walking towards the fire.
My God, with love and pain
I grow.

Exhaust me with your yearning, exhaust me with your love.
Being without love is more painful than separation.
Hurt me as much as you please.
Being with you or without you. Neither are enough for me."
Herseyi Yak - Sezen Aksu
Possibly her most famous track is "Hadi Bakalim" ("Come On") which made her sore to the throne as the Queen of Turkish Pop. Inevitably, it's just been re-discovered, digested and crapped out as a steaming pile of Euro-pap. Here's the original:

Despite understanding very few of her lyrics, I adore Sezen's work. I would love to put up every single one of my favourite tracks but I'll probably bring down the Blogger server. So I'm going to leave you with a couple of her hits that I hold dear.

Firstly, "Rakkas" ("Pendulum"). Inviting you to sway your hips and dance like a pikey. Enjoy:

Finally a track from my favourite album "Adi Bende Sakli". This song is called "Tutuklu" ("Arrested"):

Sezen Aksu is a Turkish Madonna in almost every way. From her string of husbands to her ever changing style to her monobrow. She will continue to be a star even after the cosmetic surgeons have thrown in their scalpels. Her songs will be picked up, covered, remixed and rehashed for many years to come.

Now go, go. Run to YouTube and listen to as much as you can.

Saturday 24 January 2009

Out with the 'New'

As of the 1st January 2009, Turkey introduced a new currency. Before January 2005, the official money of Turkey was the Turkish Lira (TL). The inflation was so bonkers it became embarrassing, the lowest denomination being the 100,000 TL note.

Bread cost a few thousand and cigarettes cost a couple of million a pack. It was very confusing, especially when discussing something costing millions or billions of Sterling. Turkey had words for numbers I'd never heard of.

Then they decided to take action and knock 6 zeros off the currency. Suddenly the nation went from talking in millions of Turkish Lira, to single units of the New Turkish Lira (YTL). Of course, it didn't completely work. People still talk in millions. This gets very confusing when you're actually trying to talk in millions of YTL and people are thinking old money.

This is something I saw in France with the introduction of the Euro. The nation takes time to adjust to the new currency and continues to make the conversion in their heads.

Well, it's deemed that enough time has passed and the Turkish currency is no longer new. So, as of this January, a new banknote has been introduced and, with it, the new name... No more New Turkish Lira, it's plain old Turkish Lira again.

How is this going to affect people's lives? Minimally. See ya!

Apparently the new 50 Lira note is causing some controversy and is being boycotted by Kemalists (supporters of Ataturk). The reverse of the note displays the picture of Fatma Aliye, a writer at the time of Ataturk. She was against revolution and her writings are published in a magazine backed by the ruling AKP Party.

Kemalists are refusing to accept this note and will ask for any other denominations wherever they're offered it.

Friday 16 January 2009

Turkish Truths #2

Residual washing up liquid gives you cancer.

Thursday 15 January 2009

Fitty Cent

Turkey's version of 'Deal or No Deal' is massive. Possibly the most watched show on TV at the moment.

Recently, they've taken to bringing on international celebrity contestants. A couple of weeks ago Christina Aqualung was the star (can you imagine this on the UK version? Noel would be happier than a cat with a chocolate flavoured nipsy). Then last week, it was... wait for it ...50 Cent. Bonkers.

Well, given all the hype, the kids were bound to be excited. I walked into my first lesson of the day and a 9 year old student asked "Mr.Hasirci, have you heard of 50 Cent?". Wanting to keep hip with the kids I replied "who? Me? Yeah, of course I have!", followed by a 2 second misguided bout of body popping.

The kid looked at me bemused and, completely seriously, replied... "no, not 'spastic'. I said '50 Cent'". He'll go far.

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Money to burn

I'm now in the middle of my 2nd winter here in Turkey (last year I was back in the UK for 6 months and missed the whole thing). For a country that fears the cold, Turkey seems pretty poorly equipped to warm itself efficiently.

Having been born and raised in the UK (a country with weather more temperamental than a menstruating polar bear), I don't remember there ever being too much of a problem in keeping my house warm. The classic British route is Gas Central Heating; a system so common its initials alone are enough in a estate agent's advert - GCH.

My first Turkish winter took me by complete surprise. I never imagined Turkey could get so cold. But I was living in a 'summer house', meaning a house that was built for summer jollies not for winter residence. The walls are thin. The windows are single glazed. Things that are ideal in the heat of the summer but completely energy inefficient in the winter.

I tried an electric fire at first but in the words of Withnail, I may as well have "sat round a cigarette". The wiring in the flat was so ancient, the cables were heating up more than the fire itself.

Then I tried the old fashioned route of the coal burner. I'm sure I mentioned this before in the blog. Very useful but hard work and potentially lethal. Noxious fumes nearly took my life on at least one occasion as did hauling coal up from the garage. In a house with no insulation, the heat was fierce but soon disappeared.

Since moving to Izmir and into the teachers' residence, I've discovered a new system. I have big radiators on the walls with pipes leading back into a cupboard with a huge tumble drier type machine. From there the pipes continue out onto the balcony to a large diesel tank. Yes, a big square tank about the size of 4 large fridges, that you fill up with diesel. I was intrigued (and freezing) so I decided to give it a go.

How does it work? Well the other night I saw a petrol tanker outside in the road. You know the kind you see driving up the M6 with 'BP' written on the side. Well I shouted down and a man scurried up. The next thing I know I'm ordering 100 litres of diesel and watching it being pumped into an 'ashtray' sized hole in the top of the huge tank (I know it's ashtray sized because I've been using an ashtray to cover the hole - call me over cautious but people smoke on the balcony. 1 cigarette+100 litres of petrol=Boom!).

About £100 of diesel later, the system was ready to go. I pressed the button and... fuck all. 3 days later they fitted a new pump and I pressed the button again. Whoooooooffff! My god, did it ignite. It's smelly and noisy but it certainly pumped out sufficient heat. When I say smelly and noisy, imagine a Ford Transit idling under the stairs.

That was 10 days ago and it ran out of fuel yesterday. Nice. So, it's going to cost me about £400 per month to heat this fucking place? Why? Well because Turkey has the most expensive petrol prices in the world. That's why!

So, in igniting the diesel burner, I was effectively doing this...

Actually, this would have probably worked out cheaper! Why didn't I do the calculations first??

So, what are the options for keeping warm through a Turkish winter?
  1. Coal burner. Already discussed. Cheap. Efficient. Dirty. Lethal.
  2. Gas burner. Old school types your nan had. Saw one in the florist the other day. The guy said it was useful but the fumes are deadly.
  3. GCH. Only available in certain parts of Izmir. Not here yet.
  4. Diesel burner. See above.
  5. Olive stone burner. No, I'm not making this up. You can get a burner that uses a fuel made from the stones of olives. Very cheap and effective but you need to give 3 rooms of your house over to storing olive pips. Tinker, tailor, soldier, fuck that.
  6. ...and the one that everyone has been suggesting since the beginning to be honest... One of these babies:

This is called a UFO. Most people seem to be using them. So I'm off to Turkish B&Q tomorrow to get me one. No doubt it'll give me skin cancer but at least I'll be warm without having to sell my possessions.

Turkish Truths #1

Walking barefoot on cold ground makes you sterile.