Sunday, December 28, 2008

Overheard in SF

A girl crossing Mission Street, talking on her cell phone:

"I think I needed to have sex with her to see it from her perspective, you know?"
Though it's been disorienting (and sometimes annoying) to be able to once again understand all the chatter going on around me, I have to admit, it can also be quite amusing.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I can see for miles...

When I lived in San Francisco, anytime I ventured out to the suburbs, I was amazed at how wide the streets seemed, how far apart the buildings, how big the sky... After eleven months in Istanbul, I now feel that way about San Francisco itself. What I remembered as tiny alleys seem wide enough to drive a semi down, what I thought of as busy streets feel practically deserted. It's still lovely, though, even in the rain.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


In just a few minutes, I'll be heading out the door of my Istanbul daire (apartment) to start the long trip back to San Francisco, my first visit home in almost a year. I'm excited, of course (friends! food! drinks!), but also a bit anxious, for reasons that are difficult to pinpoint or explain. I was discussing this recently with another ex-pat, who said that "you know you've changed" from your time abroad, "but you don't know how" until you go back. I guess I'll find out soon. I hope it's for the better.

Monday, December 8, 2008

All about Eid

The first day of Kurban Bayramı in Istanbul is kind of like Christmas in any big American city--the streets are eerily empty--except with fewer angel and Santa Claus icons (OK, none) and a lot more animal slaughtering.

This morning, I received the following texts* from a friend who had gone down to the largest local kurban kesim yeri (sacrifice slaughtering place):

10:30 am Dude found slaughter central for tbashi
10:33 am its down by bilgi on the mannekin street. Hfs. Im sure it prolly will still be going if there are any sheep left. ugh
10:33 am So many heads
Kurban Bayramı (Eid Al-Adha in Arabic) is the feast of the sacrifice, commemorating one of the more sadistic stories shared by the three Holy Books, in which God tests Abraham's obedience by commanding him to sacrifice his son--then sends a sheep as a last-minute substitute.

Alas, I wasn't able to get down to the livestock death camp until afternoon, when only a few cow carcasses were left to be chopped up and distributed to various families. Yellow tents full of manure, hay, and, now, blood, had been set up right by the main road to hold the animals. A few scraggly sheep were waiting across the street, hoping no last-minute shoppers would show up. Blood mixed with water ran down the gutters as people hauled their bits o' bovine down the hill in plastic bags. One man frantically called out for another bag as his friend struggled to keep his grisly slab of meat from slipping out of the ripped one he was carrying. A make-shift pulley system at the top of the hill held the remains of two cows, surrounded by spectators, including a group of children.

A couple of the boys started talking to me, the only foreigner around, and I asked them if they would have a big holiday meal that night. "Yes!" one replied, pointing to the gory scene below.

If you want to see what they were looking at, read on, but I wouldn't do it during dinnertime...

(P.S. Sorry about all the dead-animal pictures lately. I guess it's just that time of year 'round here.)

* Another amusing, though less gory, missive from a different friend read:

12:50 pm There is a cow right by your apt! T

More photos:

The scene below the kids:

And across the street:

Cleaning up the big kurban kesim yeri at the end of the day:

Sunday, December 7, 2008

There oughta be a law...

Oh, wait, there is, or was: Until this past spring, the infamous Article 301 of the Turkish penal code made it illegal--and punishable by imprisonment--to publicly insult "Turkishness" or the "Republic." (Now, under the April amendments, this only applies to purportedly more specific jabs at the “Turkish Nation” or the “Republic of Turkey.")

Though limitations on free speech (especially when they affect our ability to watch funny videos on YouTube) are of course no laughing matter, us yabancı smart-asses have found plenty of humor using this to cry foul at a variety of minor slights that we see as being very un-Turkish:

No çay and ekmek on the table at our favorite breakfast place within five seconds of sitting down?

Why, that's practically insulting Turkishness!

A pide delivery joint that doesn't offer mercimek çorbası?

How can they still be allowed to operate?!

A restaurant closing up shop before 10 p.m.?

May as well haul 'em off to jail now!