Thursday, December 24, 2009


Walking out of the gym today, I saw a couple of guys having a real fight, just across the street.

"Should we call the police?" I asked.

The guys at my gym shrugged. "This is Turkey," my teacher said.

I figured he was right. I think he meant it in a negative way, as in, "This is Turkey, where things are so rough that people fight on the streets," but I actually took it in a positive way, as in, "This is Turkey, where you can still settle things with a little shoving match and nothing that awful will happen as a consequence." It's not as if we don't fight in America, after all. We just end up shooting each other when we do. (Or, depending on our social class, calling our lawyers and our publicists and making some huge deal out of it for all eternity.)

I watched for a few seconds more. It definitely seemed more of a "ceremonial expression of conflicted feelings" fight than a "prelude to a funeral" fight.

After satisfying myself that it was probably ethically okay not to call the police or try otherwise to solve the problem, I noticed how astonishingly deficient in clinching skills the parties to the conflict were. They were hopeless. My teacher looked on, silent. I've never seen him look at a situation like that without shouting, "Knees! Use your knees! Push!"

He must have been thinking it, though.


Istanbul is now full of Christmas decorations. I don't remember seeing those before. Few are of a specifically Christian nature -- I haven't seen any mangers or crosses -- but that's rare now in the US and Europe, too. It's pretty much like any Winter Festival in California. The trees are lit up with twinkling lights and stars. I've spotted the occasional Santa and his sled. No Christmas carols as yet, thank God. (If they start playing "The Little Drummer Boy" over and over again, Saudi Arabia, here I come.)

This is definitely a new trend. I'm not sure what to make of it, but continue to find Istanbul remarkably unpredictable. You'd think at first that this really isn't compatible with the idea of encroaching Islamic fundamentalism, wouldn't you?

Not so fast! There goes the caravan of bearded muftis screaming down the street in their jihadimobiles, yelling slogans about the liberation of Palestine.


This is the second time this week I've come home to find my little black cat with a muzzle full of white fur, my white cat sulking indignantly, and the other cats looking piously skywards if to say, "No, no, nothing to do with us." Pretty obvious what goes on here when I'm not around.


Many thanks to the Istanbul Capital of Culture Agency for throwing a lavish press dinner last night for foreign journalists. You're definitely on the right track with the thought that my influence is for sale. Now that we've established that, let's just haggle a bit over the price. The calamari was an excellent start, and so was the salmon -- and it wasn't overcooked, which I really appreciated; that's definitely a touch worth a few positive column inches, as far as I'm concerned. I don't eat meat, but I still thank you for the steaks. Claudia and I had a good time figuring out how to get them into our handbags for Shirin, her neighborhood's favorite stray dog, without anyone noticing. Really liked the spice cake with caramel sauce and ice cream, too, and the handsome Istanbul Capital of Culture leather briefcases.

You were doing just great before the long, droning speeches, which almost undid all that good will by making us hate you horribly. Next time, just put the propaganda in the briefcase: We'll read it at home.

Most importantly, the talentless Irish twat you hired to sing wasn't an asset to the evening, not least because he was a talentless Irish twat (hardly the example you'd wish to showcase as an illustration of Istanbul's rich cultural legacy), and because he seemed to think his job was to scold for inattention the journalists who were there to do their jobs -- viz., to schmooze the assembled functionaries and coax them into saying something interesting enough about the Capital of Culture to print. We hated him.

Other than that, an excellent effort, and I'll definitely write something nice about you.

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