Thursday, October 30, 2008

En patriotic ülke hangisi?

While Greece has it all over Turkey in the eating-a-plate-of-pork-while-drinking-a-tasty-beer department, our neighboring country falls a bit short in terms of patriotism.

Earlier this week, I took a quick trip to Kos, one of the Greek Dodecanese islands, to stock up on cheap alcohol renew my tourist visa. On Tuesday, Greece happened to be celebrating Oxi ("No") Day, a holiday that commemorates the country's refusal to allow Italian troops to come into Greece during World War II and its subsequent entrance into the war on the side of the Allies.

In the early afternoon, there was Greek dancing on Eleftherias Square in Kos Town, performed by school kids in their uniforms and adults in traditional costume, but what I noticed most was the paltry amount of flags:

Compare and contrast, if you will, with the scene in Beşiktaş in preparation for Republic Day in Turkey:

Say what you will about anything else, the Turks know from flag hanging.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

How do you say 'treehugger' in Turkish?

For all of you who think I'm just sitting around drinking coffee and surfing the Internet all day, I'll have you know that I've managed to parlay that into something resembling a regular writing gig, or, as I like to call it "blogging for beer money" ... As of about a week ago, I'm the official-ish Istanbul correspondent for the popular environmental website

I'll be writing 3-4 times a week and focusing largely, though not exclusively, on developments in Turkey and this part of the world, from Eastern Europe to the Middle East. Already I've blogged about ice-cream delivery by bike in some of Istanbul's chicest neighborhoods, problems with garbage collection in the city, a photo contest for images of Turkey's trees, and the country's first organic market. Check it out if you're so inclined.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Trafik çok kalabalık

When I first came to Turkey, in the spring of 2001, there were billboards along the highways telling motorists, "Içinizdeki Trafik Canavarını Durdurun," or "stop the traffic monster inside you."

Traffic in Istanbul, the most populous city in Europe, with an estimated 10-15 million residents and ancient (literally, in some cases) infrastructure, could certainly provoke road rage on the best of days. Throw a little Ramadan, when everyone heads out to visit friends and family, into the mix, and well...

Yesterday I was waiting for a bus between Arnavutköy and Kuruçesme, on the always-crowded shore road that runs along the Bosphorus on the European side. When a bus finally came, it was too full to stop. It was a beautiful day, so I decided to just start walking until another bus came along. About 3 kilometers later, I arrived in Ortaköy--and passed the same bus, sitting in traffic. It didn't catch up with me again until Beşiktaş, another 2 kilometers down the road.

Amazingly, unlike the Hornapalooza we encountered on the toll road back to Istanbul from Edirne a few months ago, the drivers were all sitting silently in their stopped cars.

Perhaps the traffic monster, if not the traffic, has been calmed a bit. Or perhaps everyone was just too sedated from all the holiday feasting to even bother.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Silah Bayramı

For some silly reason, I thought that Şeker Bayramı, the three-day holiday at the end of Ramazan, was the time when children get all hyped up on sugar. Based on my wanderings today through Fener, Fatih, and Aksaray, some of the more conservative--and hence, one would think, observant of religious traditions--neighborhoods in Istanbul, it's actually the time when little boys run wild in the streets, shooting off cap guns at each other and at random passers-by. Of course, there might be a connection between that and the candy.

High Turknology

Even though we're thousands of miles away, all the ex-pats here are still avidly following the U.S. presidential race--perhaps even more keenly than we might have before since we can see firsthand what political developments back home do to the perception of America (and Americans) abroad.

After a night out at a meyhane and then one of Istanbul's many identical Efes-swilling establishments, I was really in no shape to stay up until 4 a.m., when the first presidential debate was aired in these parts. So Saturday afternoon I found myself venturing out into the rain to watch a taped screening hosted by my local chapter of Democrats Abroad, whereupon I encountered perhaps the best example yet of what my friends call Turknology: a video projector stuck to the ceiling with packing tape. Amazingly, it stayed up there for the full 90+ minutes of the debate.

Now, when people talk about Turknology, they're usually complaining about slap-dash workmanship, the kind that leads to just-"fixed" roofs springing a leak and things like that. But there's also an element of ingenuity and unbridled optimism to it that I (of course--I've got a bad reputation over here for such thoughts) find quite charming. Sure, the ambition is not always, or even often, matched by accomplishment, but people are always trying to find ways to get stuff done. Unoccupied car blocking the middle of a busy road? Pick it up and move it along to the side. Rain pooling on top of a tarp? Poke the bottom of it with a stick. (Never mind the people standing nearby.) A couple of yabancıs buy too much furniture and try to stuff it all in a taxicab? Have one of them lie on top of the furniture in the back seat! (No thanks, I'll walk.)

I actually feel a bit put out now when people don't try to find a make-shift solution to a problem. When I went to Bulgaria at the end of April, I got up to the door of the once-a-day bus to a monastery I really wanted to visit, only to find that the bus was full. The driver just shrugged and drove off and I walked away thinking, if I were in Turkey, they would have let me sit in the aisle, hang out the door, tied me to the roof... When there's Turknology, there's always a way!