Saturday, March 30, 2013

"I am Listening to Istanbul"

"I am Listening to Istanbul"
by Orhan Veli Kanik
I had a young Turkish teenage friend who was supposed to be learning English from me, but he was just as much the teacher, as he delighted in bringing me weekly linguistic treasure from his culture. We fell into the habit of each bringing each other one masterpiece from our native language every week. Of course, while his authors were Turkish, I had to read his offerings in English.

If you want to deepen your love of your own culture and language, try to narrow down your favorite creations to one masterpiece a week. It's hard! I shared Rudyard Kipling's poem "If" and my young friend said "If -- playing on the title -- If -- you believe there are men like that, you'll be single forever!" I had to laugh.

Then I shared another favorite: Teddy Roosevelt's "In the Arena." He liked that one. And yet another wonderful poem to share was "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost because my friend felt such delight when he instantly understood the metaphor at the end. "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley with its famous last two lines, and "Ozymandias" with its sly message against pride were hits. It was especially fun for me to pull out as many inspiring masculine poems as I could find and still I hadn't even yet cracked open the poetry books of Robert Service or shared Jack London's short story "To Build a Fire." 

One masterpiece he shared with me from Turkish culture was the poem by Orhan Veli Kanik, "I am listening to Istanbul." My young friend read it to me in English. Now I think I know enough of the original language, I am going to try and learn it in Turkish. Maybe there are other poems I should try. Is there a more beautiful context for learning language?

"I have come to love English." my student said at the end of our time together. We ran out of weeks before I ran out of masterpieces.

The time we get to share with someone is so short, whomever it may be. I am so grateful for that experience.

Whom are you sharing with that brings you joy? Be grateful to share this moment. Appreciate it with enthusiasm, even if only to yourself.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Best War Expansion Prevention Protection Ever

The logo selected
"by the people"
to represent Istanbul's candidacy
for the 2020 Olympic Games
Istanbul recently hosted a visit from the International Olympic Committee. The visit went splendidly, according to the local papers. I'm so glad to hear Istanbul has a real chance for the games.

It occurred to me that Turkey's bid to get the Olympics Game is the perfect war expansion prevention protection. America plunged Istanbul's tourism into a double digit dive when we invaded Iraq because people thought Istanbul must be close enough to Iraq not to be safe. Wrong. Iraq is more than a day's drive away. Surely, America would be more sensitive this time around to the economic needs of their friends?

This is Turkey's 5th time applying for the Games. They have worked very hard for this and put up the budgets to deliver the Olympics for their people. Having the Olympics here would be a wonderful way to usher in their celebrations around the 100-year anniversary of their democracy.

All of my Turkish friends say that if America were to intervene in Syria, it would be World War III. As my nation's history in Iraq and Vietnam demonstrate, the American government's nature is intervention in other people's business.

Wouldn't it be hard for Turkey to sell their country as the safe place for the Olympic Games if the Americans were starting WWIII next door?

I've never been so grateful for athletic competition.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

'Backwards Day' in Istanbul: a news junkie's paradise

I have a Kurdish friend, now of European citizenship, who says, "when I lived in Germany, I tried to be interested in everything happening there but it was all so boring. It just wasn't engaging." Having lived in Istanbul for a couple years now, I completely understand.

The Levantine area is a news junkie paradise. There is more absolutely fascinating news happening in any one week here, than in a year somewhere else. This last week had to be THE MOST fascinating week since I first came here in 2010.

Indeed, it felt like an event teenagers often create called "Backwards Day." The teens do everything backwards for one day from wearing their clothes backward to saying the opposite of what they usually do. The news that happened last week was so unexpected and so "backwards" of what one normally hears and it all happened in the same week!

An Israeli apology

The Mavi Marmara
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the Mavi Marmara incident. As an American citizen, I frequently feel that if a US citizen ever has an opinion that is contrary to the Israeli point-of-view and they publically express that view, they will be bullied into silence. The American media never has an honest dialogue about Israel and it rarely explains to Americans that Israelis are settling on land that belongs to someone else in violation of international law.

So when Israeli military forces boarded the Mavi Marmara and shot Americans and Turks at close range, killing nine of them, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan demanded an apology.

An apology never seemed like an unreasonable request. Erdoğan's been demanding an apology for three years. He sought justice for the Americans and Turks killed much more vocally than my own government did.

This week, Erdoğan got that apology when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called him up and expressed regret. Apologies are so powerful! It was like hearing Netanyahu and his nation say "we accept responsibility for this. We were wrong." It was the exact opposite of what a bully would do.

Backwards Day.

The PKK declares a cease-fire

The PKK, declared a terrorist group by both the Turkish and American governments, declared a cease-fire with the Turkish State. This opinion piece from Friday, March 23rd,  "Hurriety Daily News" explains just how different this is than the normal course of events in Turkey.

Backwards Day.

The Patriarch of the Orthodox Church attends the Ordination of the New Pope

When something happens for the first time in 959 years, that's amazing. Such was the excitement with the Istanbul-based Patriarch of the Orthodox Church was welcomed so warmly by the new Pope Francis when Barthalomew went to the ordination. Just even the idea being expressed that various strands of the Christian Church could be reunited is fascinating. Also worthy of note, Turkish newspapers expressed not one iota of anxiety over this. In America, if there was specualtions about Sunnis and Shia reuniting in some future generation, it would send Islamaphobia anxiety into overdrive.

Backwards Day.

Cyprus Decides to Give Bank Depositors a Hair Cut

The Flag of Cyprus
Holy Cow, what a fascinating story. It was incredible to watch it unfold and of course, it's still unfolding. If you need any proof that one should never trust a government that says "your deposits are insured" this is the story. The depositors in Cyprus banks, who had thought their deposits were insured up to 100,000 Euros, were told instead that there would be a tax on all deposits held in Cypriot banks because of all the bad loans these banks made to Greece. The depositors didn't make those choices, the bank's owners did!

As Planet Money put it, "it is like your car insurance company, like Allstate, running up to your Suburu, smashing the window, and stealing your stereo."

The odd place this put this Cypriots with their money is beautifully summarized here.

The EU was supposed to make the Cypriots feel safer.

Backwards Day.

Does this mean I want drama in my own domestic news? It does not.

I agree with Rolling Stone Magazine writer Matt Taibbi (who is so eloquent on all things financial-crisis related) who wrote this about the American budget sequestration:  "The whole situation reminds one of a family so dysfunctional that its members can't communicate except through desperate acts."

 I want my domestic news to be boring. That means there are adults in the room, taking care of business, and the citizens can spend their time creating, discovering, and solving problems in a way that moves the economy forward and not worrying about stuff like whether or not their money is safe in a bank.

In case anyone hasn't noticed, those Germans with their boring news, are kicking everyone's butt economically.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Turkish baklava, the male kind

Like the box says:
Turkish baklava
One day, my Turkish teacher explained to our class that if a man had a beer belly, it was affectionately nicknamed "Turkish muscle" or "Turkish balcony."
Later, she told my class that if a man had a prominent six-pack on his abdomen, it was "Turkish baklava." I didn't quite get the metaphor until I say this photo. I can just imagine all of the movie scenes: "would you like to come back to my place for some baklava?"
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