2/28/07

I’m cheap


I tip badly, I re-gift, I save wrapping paper, I invite myself to house parties, I’m an obnoxious haggler, I call my aunt collect, and I skip paying cab fare every time because “I don’t have any change and it was on the way anyway.” I am a cheap bastard and I live to save pennies.

By B.A. Humbugg

I knew it was going to be a good night when my date agreed to meet me on the corner of her street because picking her up in front of her house would have been a hassle… and it would have added at least 3 YTL to my cab fare. Her whole “I’m wearing high heels and it’s cold” argument was ridiculous, and she knew it. After all, it’s not like you’re paying to walk to the corner, are you? Well guess what Miss Spendthrift, I AM paying to go out of my way in a cab, so you do the math.

We split the cab fare and entered the restaurant. I made sure to try and avoid eye contact with the coat-check guy. You tell me what I’d prefer, paying money to leave my coat with the Amazing Human Coat-Hanger, or just hanging it up on my own chair? Could you be even more underemployed please and leave me alone? Thanks.

My favorite part of the evening is the complimentary bread and butter along with the condiments. Now with a little imagination you can make a whole meal out of that lot, and the more you fill up on them, the less you’ll have to spend on those stupid pretentious dishes like cream-of-huh?-soup-with-essence-of-Imadeitallup-and-wild-Tuscan-don’texistberries. Give me a butter-coated hot roll bun filled with pickles, red-pepper flakes and mustard-seed topping dipped in balsamic vinegar any day.

This is where the cloying waiter offered me a wine list that looked like a Latin American used-car catalogue… “1996 Chilean Los Vascos Merlot, $200,” and “2001 El Toro Chardonnay, $175.” Frankly, I’d rather gnaw on leather upholstery that’s marinated in the sweat of rotting walrus carcasses than pay a hundred bucks to pensively sip on fermented grape juice and act like I was NOT just another ignorant git who would rather gulp down a nice refreshing ice-cold soft drink instead. Does your wine come with pearls or am I just paying for the face I’m supposed to make after the first sip, the one that says “Hm, I should look like I know what I’m doing, and although I don’t, I will consider this wine satisfactory because I don’t know any better and my date is waiting for my reaction so we can get on with dinner.”

And so we did. I cut every piece of my overpriced meat with a sense of malice. I chewed every bite with a vengeance. I swallowed every piece as if I were swallowing my pride. My date was talking to me, but all I heard was “blah, blah, blah, I’M COSTING YOU A FORTUNE blah, blah, blah.” I excused myself to go to the toilet, where I was greeted by a smiling bathroom attendant whose job it was to literally sit there as I defecated next to him, after which he would help me turn on the tap. Who am I, Stephen Hawking? I think I can wash my hands without the help of another grown man. I would’ve actually tipped him if he hadn’t tried to help me pick one crappy cologne from the other, but was just honest and said “I work in a toilet, the least you could do is give me some loose change.” But no, he gleefully handed me a paper towel and said “Pleased to be of service!” instead. Hey buddy, at least drunk homeless bums live out in the fresh air while you make a living sitting in a roomful of feces. What do you live on, methane? No tip for you.

I was able to avoid dessert by feigning painful flatulence as I shifted from side to side in my seat with an agonized look on my face, thus successfully spoiling my date’s appetite for the $15 Chocolate Mud Cake. Now the moment of truth was upon me: the bill. I felt my neck tense up and my veins dilate. Cold beads of sweat formed on my forehead. My date was saying something to me. I heard “insensitive pig” in there somewhere, but I was just concentrating on the bill. I blocked the world out completely as I took out my calculator. I counted everything twice. I calculated an 8 percent tip. Everything happened as if in slow motion. I don’t know why, but no matter what I pay and where, I always feel cheated when parting with my money, even if it’s all fair and square. Oh that’s right, it’s because I’m a cheap bastard.

My date told me to go to hell, which lifted me out of my post-pecuniary-partum depression when I thought I wouldn’t have to spend money on another dinner for a while.

2/27/07

Me Fetishism


If you can’t say anything bad about yourself then don’t say anything at all.

Our Turkish habit of self-flattery comes in three forms: aggressive self-flattery (self-aggrandising), defensive self-flattery (self-vindicating) and empathetic self-flattery (self-aggregating). Necessary accoutrements include hot air (in the lungs), metaphorical hot air (in the head), a predilection for verbosity, a talent for longwinded monologues, and a healthy dose of shameless vanity. Practitioners of self-flattery can be considered ‘Me Fetishists’, and will henceforth be referred to as MFs for brevity purposes.

The aggressively self-flattering MF usually has recourse to three clichés: the first is the ‘Ben var ya’ (‘The thing about Me is’). This usually comes at the beginning of a sentence and invariably means you’re about to be privileged with what Mr./Ms. Hotshit thinks about themselves. That’ll be followed at some point by the ‘Zaten beni bilirler’ (‘People know Me’, as in ‘’nuff said about Me’). The fact that the self-flatterer has to say that they need not say anything is an oxymoronic detail best glossed over. Another inanity is the ‘Hiç oralı olmam/Bunlara güler geçerim’ (‘That’s all beneath Me/I laugh at these’) which is used to convey an air of haughty otherness, as if what other people do or say doesn’t occupy the lofty thoughts of our MF, despite the fact that that which isn’t occupying their minds IS occupying their mouths seems to prove the vacuity of their words (a contradiction our MF will be well guarded against thanks to a blinding degree of amour propre).

Note that these MFs will take any opportunity to change the topic to themselves. For example, simple questions like ‘How are you?’ will often be met with an obnoxious ‘I’m GREAT!’ followed by a list of all the Amazing things Captain Amazing has been doing in their Amazing life since you last saw them, seemingly unaware that ‘How are you?’ is actually a rhetorical question to which the only acceptable answer is ‘Fine, and you?’, unless of course one happens to be lying facedown in a puddle of blood at the time.

The defensive self-flattering MF usually resorts to Me Fetishism as an evasive gambit used to offset some unsavoury question/allegation, such as ‘Did you see where my money went?’ or ‘You’re not over-quoting me on this bathroom installation are you?’, questions usually posed by those who think they’re being taken for suckers. The standard responses from these MFs will usually involve ‘arguments’ like ‘You can ask anyone who knows me, I’m never dishonest’ (usually you don’t know anyone who knows them), or ‘I have never stiffed anyone in my life, as God is my witness’, pleadings generally delivered with great pathos and conviction, but displaying one slight chink in the defensive armoury of their solipsistic reasoning: i.e. that they could be LYING.

The third type of self-flatterer – the empathetic self-aggregator – likes to flatter themselves by flattering you along with them. Their trick is to bring down your defences with some prolonged high praise. Then, when you’re feeling like you should almost be grateful to them for such kind words, they conveniently move themselves in there to share the limelight and aggregate themselves to all your recently extolled virtues. The empathetic self-flattering MF will use such trite as ‘Sen’le ben farkliyiz’ (‘You and I are different’) or ‘Ben de aslinda senin gibiyim’ (‘I’m actually just like you’), which you – still abashed with treacly compliments – can only politely nod your head and acquiesce to. Empathetic self-flattery is often applied by those who either want to ask you for money at some point or sleaze on your sister.

But the reason self-flatterers rub us the wrong way isn’t necessarily that they’re unhappy with themselves because they think nobody will say the things they’d like people to say about them, thus feeling the need to say it themselves. After all, nobody’s really everything they’d like to be, and often not even recognized for everything they are, so the competition we’re all in with each other to leave our own respective awesome imprints on the universe can be a lot of pressure, which makes many of us want to jump ahead and simulate a virtual awesomeness in lieu of an actual one – hence the self-flatterer. But the real reason self-flatterers are a joke is because they’re too dull-witted to see that the best self-flattery these days is actually self-abasement. Why? Because when you put yourself down you free everyone from the Social Competition Stress (SCS) which inevitably arises when two acquaintances meet and exchange So-what-have-you-been-doing?s. Everybody relaxes, and you are silently esteemed for showing that you’re above petty ego-mongering and can have a laugh about yourself instead of acting like an ambitious insecure recognition whore.

Of course, nobody’s under the illusion that the self-abaser is any less full of themselves than the self-flatterer. Sure, the self-abaser is at least getting rid of all that yucky SCS; but still, when you put yourself down you may as well be saying ‘I’m SO cool that I can criticise myself’, which is not cool either. So scrap the subheading. New law: Don’t say anything about yourself at all, unless asked.

Now that should speak volumes about you.

2/26/07

The cosmic cycle of smug


A New Age of Gnostic enlightenment and spiritual well-being is upon us. Here’s how to avoid it.

Religious extremism is on the rise, and Istanbul is no exception. In the last few years we’ve looked on grimly as moralising bigots have tried to ram their conceptions of metaphysical truth down our throats at every opportunity. You know of course who I’m talking about: New Age Gnostic Spiritualists – or NAGS. They’re everywhere – solariums, country clubs, yoga classes, improvisational dance workshops, high-end gyms, even the organic produce section of your local supermarket. So how do we avoid being smothered by their demented smugness?

First you have to spot the NAGS. Gimmicky accessories that look like too much thought and time has been put into them is a good start: dreadlocks, hair beads and esoteric or tribal tattoos are an instant giveaway, because unless a person is a teenager or a Jamaican, dreadlocks means ‘prat’, and unless a person is a hardened criminal, tattoos mean ‘wanker’, and thus anyone with either – or both – stands a good chance of being susceptible to NAGS-ness. Another good indication is facial expressions. Look out especially for a self-satisfied smirk and eye-squint that indicates a level of karmic knowledge only available to the illumined few who are in aural harmony with the universe and better than poor profane you. That’s the quintessential NAGS look. Another one is the pitying look of faux-sympathetic condescension that says ‘I’m so much wiser than you in my all-encompassing empathy’ when you tell them something candid or unflattering about yourself. Of course, the sure-fire way of picking out NAGS is to actually listen to what they say. This is risky, because it means you have to get into a conversation with a potential NAG, and nobody likes being subjected to Carlos Castaneda quotes and irenic pseudo-intellectual John Lennon-esque hippie babble interspersed with words like ‘chakra’ and ‘synchronicity’. So to avoid being violently jerked out of your comfortable state of blithe indifference to all things meaningful, try not to talk to them. Keep in mind that religious fanatics have no sense of humour, and will instantly bore the living mercy out of you.

I’m speaking from recent experience, because I happened to come across a NAG at a house party who had all of the above characteristics. Naturally my inebriated mind and blunted senses did nothing to warn me of the impending doom, so that other me – drunk me – decided to not only strike up a slur-spattered conversation, but went one step worse: drunk-me got into a philosophical argument with a NAG. This is not recommended, because you will not win. That’s because New Age Gnostic Spiritualism has a singular advantage shared by all metaphysical beliefs: their spurious truisms are impossible to disprove. Prove that the universe doesn’t reside in the belly of a giant unicorn? You can’t. Furthermore, speaking against ideas of universal love and eternal peace will just make you sound like a nazi jackass. So avoid this and just walk away before the ‘This-swami-changed-my-life’ proselytising and astrological bible-bashing begins.

So why do seemingly sane people opt to spend ridiculous amounts of money and intellectual real estate on glorified breathing and stretching exercises (a.k.a. yoga), books like ‘The Celestine Alchemist Who Drove a Ferrari into a Monk’, and country club workshops with celebrity gurus from California? Why not just turn to conventional religion? Two reasons: a) too many rules, and b) too communitarian. Rules are okay as long as you’re not threatened with hellfire all the time, and egalitarianism is great as an ideal, but not so great when you have to actually mix with the average religious hoi polloi. Thus syncretistic NAGS belief is instead customized to suit the needs of the individuated bourgeois citizen-subject by propounding an idealistic spiritual interconnection rather than a practical gregarious day-to-day one, so that NAGS can still keep within their insular and sterile little social circles, thereby avoiding contact with less glamorous riff-raff from inferior social strata. Then there’s the added convenience that NAGS belief is centred on the idea that material possessions and pecuniary interests are unimportant in comparison to having a rich ‘inner’ spiritual life. This is the perfect loophole for NAGS, because it means that if such things are unimportant, then possessing them is just as unimportant as not possessing them, and therefore nothing to be either proud of OR (and it’s a big OR) ashamed of, as long as they believe that the spiritual aspect of life is the most important thing of all (which they believe they do). That means they can go on enjoying their wealth and comfort with a clear conscience, regularly declaring that they would be just as happy without the two-storey townhouse, gym membership, SUV, summer dacha, etc., as they are with it, thereby attaining that blissful acme of bourgeois existence: Convenience (a.k.a ‘Enlightenment’ in NAGS terminology).

The obvious question then arises: how do we deal with these affected fanatics who accost us at cocktail parties and rub their illumined smarmy smiles spattered with pretentious quotes from Tibetan shamans into our unenlightened faces with a caustic air of moral superiority and Prozac-augmented happiness? Simple. Don’t try to fight them, because people who claim to be all about unity and harmony with the universe actually thrive on antagonistically differentiating themselves from sceptics who aren’t as deranged as them. So here’s what you do: tell them you just bought a really expensive car and got promoted at work, but that somehow you’re still not happy, following it up with a pensive sigh. Then just kick back, listen, and enjoy. I guarantee you’ll hear some of the funniest shit you’ve ever heard in your life.

2/22/07

Travel sucks


Visas, terrorists, aeroplanes, taxicabs, tour guides... Travelling just can’t get any worse these days – unless you’re a Turk.

Why would anyone put themselves through the humiliation of travel? You spend a bunch of money and time going through the degradation of visas, security checks, airlines, queuing, language barriers, constant communication breakdown, endless acquisition of tickets to go anywhere and see anything, closing/opening/meeting/departure/arrival times you’re always rushing to, mosquitoes, illness, sleeplessness, people constantly trying to rip you off with insincere gestures of friendship, and all for what? A bunch of lame photos, stupid souvenirs, and endless inane anecdotes which people will only politely feign interest in listening to, along with the vague sense afterwards that you can’t really tell if it was all your own lived experience or just an endless succession of impersonal images you could have just seen in a book or on TV.

But if you’re not from a Western country, travel is that much worse. Let’s face it, travel today is designed for white people. Everybody else has to stand in different lines at airports and form degrading long visa queues outside embassies and consulates in the attempt to try and prove they’re not terrorists, expected to produce bank statements, electricity bills, declare property and possessions, have somebody in the country of destination who can invite and vouch for them, and generally be stripped of all dignity in front of sadistic visa ogres who treat visa applicants like they’re the only thing they will ever get the chance to act superior to, thus relishing the task at hand. So unless you’re a Westerner, you’re guilty until proven not-guilty-yet. Oh, and then you have to pay a bunch of money when they give you that all-important official stamp that declares you now have the honour of going to their precious little country. And if you’re a Westerner? Usually either no visas needed, or just a quick visa that could be got at the airport. Welcome, Mr. and Mrs. Rich White Currency Spender, you’re our biggest industry!

That’s not to say that we Turks often don’t deserve rigorous visa procedures. Unfortunately, for every decent Turk who travels according to the rules, there are a bunch of others who readily export our misplaced impish genius for cutting-corners-through-duplicitous-schemes over to the host country, and generally prove such a nuisance that some sort of rigid screening and filtering process becomes inevitable. And who suffers? The decent ones. So the lowest common denominator becomes the procedural starting point for the whole visa process. Add to all this the further doucheness of terrorism, which has achieved nothing except making the whole world a much more annoying place for everyone. Terrorism will never liberate Palestine or Iraq, bring about a golden age of Islamic prosperity, or even ever have more of a statistical chance of killing you than death by donkey kick. All it’s done is augur in a shitty age of worldwide inconvenience. Thanks for that, fuckos.

So what does all that add up to? It adds up to me in transit at Charles de Gaulle airport, standing in my socks at the head of a long queue of depressed people who resembled convicts, passing in and out of an incontinent trigger-happy metal detector, waiting for some Algerian guy to finish inspecting my shoes, trying to pick up coins I spilled while emptying everything from my pockets (cargo pants are no longer convenient travel attire), taking my laptop in and out of its bag, and suspiciously wiping the sweat from my brow as I stood before a mini-inquisition about why I was where I was before I was there and for what purposes (they only asked me these questions because I had a Turkish passport – everyone else was white, innocent, and fluffy, like bunnies), before boarding my plane – which, by the way, was sprayed with disinfectant by flight attendants with fake smiles when entering France from Turkey and Mexico, but not vice versa, even though it was the same airline (I won't name names, just suffice it to say that the initials of the airline in question are: AIR FRANCE)

So is there nothing salvageable from the whole travel thing? Maybe I’ve been a little harsh. After all, the first five minutes when you decide to go somewhere and the last five minutes when it’s all finally over are both pretty sweet moments. Unfortunately it’s just that large-ish middle bit that sucks. But a peppy voice inside me says: “Wait a minute, travel expands your horizons, you meet new people, gain experiences and memories that last a lifetime, you see incredible things and appreciate your own country more, while at the same time overcoming your own prejudices, and you realize that despite superficial differences, we’re all really the same, floating away on this crazy spaceship we call Mother Earth!” Wrong. That stuff is only believed by the sort of people who think travelling makes a person interesting ipso facto. It doesn’t. The similarities encountered make travel boring, because you realize that – despite a few opulent monuments – everywhere and everyone is the same, while the differences encountered make travel annoying, because you’re bummed that such trivial things should inconvenience you so much, thereby bolstering extant prejudices rather than dispelling them.

So what’s the solution? Stay put. There are a lot more interesting things that are already all around you than all the cheap and trivial surface novelties that are stumbled upon while travelling. Plus you’ll spare all of us the six megabyte mass email full of uncompressed photos of you standing next to stupid statues with a sheepish grin. It’s worth you not-travelling just for us to not-receive that.

What’s Your Sign?


It’s unavoidable these days. At some point on your first date, somewhere just after you both know you wouldn’t mind having sex with each other – and just before you start figuring out you’re both walking Freudian freakshows who should stay the hell away from each other – the inevitable question arises: “So what’s your sign?” There is no way to get around this. You can’t say you don’t know, because then you’ll be asked your birthday. You can’t say “Leo or something” because then you sound like you want to sound like you don’t care, which means you sound like a prat. So the best I could come up with on my date in Cihangir was: “Leo, supposedly.”

“Supposedly? Are you or aren’t you?” she asks, annoyed.

“Yes, I’m a Leo,” I say, not without a little sense of pride. After all, if you’re going to be part of the cosmological space zoo, what better than a lion? I’m no astrologer or anything, but it must be better to be a lion than, say, a virgin or a fish or a scale or something. It’s a lion after all, leader of the pride, king of the jungle, the symbol of virile masculinity, power and courage, the master of…

“They’re full of themselves,” she says, interrupting my train of thought. My chest deflates back to its original size. “They’re egotistical, shallow, attention-starved wankers,” she continues matter-of-factly

“Boy, you’re good at this dating thing. Who was the last person you scared away?”

She ignored me.

“Ok, so what’s your sign?” I asked this time, hoping to get back at her.

“Taurus,” she replied. Now it was my turn to grill her… except I didn’t know anything about Tauruses, except that they were horny beasts.. or is that horn-ed?

“Bull,” I blurted out.

“No really, I’m a Taurus.”

“No, I mean the sign. It’s a bull, right?”

“Supposedly,” she said, smirking sarcastically. Now I was annoyed.

“But you’re female, and a bull is male. So, being a female Taurus, that would make you …a cow?”

“No it wouldn’t, they’re all bulls.”

“Look it up, a female bull is a cow. It’s not me saying that, it’s science.”

“Well thank you, Mr. Science...” she said before the waiter came to take our order.

"We're obviously not going to get along, you're a Taurus and I don't believe in bullshit"

"That's funny, for someone who doesn't believe in bullshit, there sure is a lot of it coming out of your mouth"

The waiter was confused as my date and I continued to passive-aggressively peruse the menu.

“Oh boy, let’s see," I said. "I’d love a nice big fat juicy steak, something carved fresh off the belly of a nice fat heifer... how about you? Something vegetarian, I would assume...”

“I’ll have the chicken,” she said to the waiter before looking at me to add “they’re dumb and insensitive so I don’t care if they get their heads chopped off.”

Obviously the date was going great. We had now reached that point where we both knew we would never see each other again but would still see this date through just for the pleasure of torturing each other to see who gives in first.

“It’s all a load of crap anyway,” I said after the baffled waiter had left. “All that Lenny the Lion, Billy the Bull stuff…”

“You would say that, you’re a typical Leo. You want admiration for your groundbreaking cynical insight. Regular genius, bravo.”

“Oh come on, isn’t there a sign with its own bunch of personality traits for every planet? Then there’s that rising sign and even a sign for the moon and the sun. When you put all those together wouldn’t everyone just have a bit of everything anyway?”

“No, because there would be subtle differences which distinguish each and every one… not everyone’s love sign is a Virgo, not everyone’s rising is a Capricorn.”

“Capricorn… what is that, a goat?”

“Look,” she said, ignoring my last question, “I believe the stars have an effect on our lives and characters… if the moon can affect our emotions, then so can stars in other ways.”

“The moon? It’s virtually up earth’s nostril, of course it would have a gravitational effect. Those stars you’re talking about are a gazillion light years away.”

“Yeah, well, everything’s connected. That’s SCIENCE too…”

“Oh come on, people only like talking about horoscopes because it’s a way to talk about themselves without actually talking about themselves. Insert “Taurus” instead of “I” and you’re off. We’re all flattered when someone asks our sign because it’s like they’re actually asking about us. It would just be too annoying for people to actually talk about themselves.”

“Well it doesn’t seem to be stopping you – oh but I forgot, you’re a Leo.”

“You love that, don’t you – categorizing people with smug star signs, ‘he’s typical this’ and ‘he’s typical that.’ It makes everything so much easier.”

“Why can’t you just accept another person’s beliefs and respect them even if you don’t agree with them? You know why? Because horoscopes also have another function… they’re easily used by pseudo-intellectual dilettante assholes like you who think they’re making an earth-shattering revelation to the rest of us mere mortals by dissing something other people believe in with banal arguments thinking you’re some prophet of revolutionary new ways of thinking when really you’re just another pigeon-chested bird-brained git who gets off on being an annoying little pimple on the face of society because you think at least pimples stand out. Well guess what, you’re still a pimple.”

Think of something to say… think of something to say…

“I bet you’ll write about this in that wisecrack magazine of yours,” she said as she got up to leave. “By the way, do you have to have your name on everything in there?”

Well, I am a Leo after all.

2/18/07

Mama’s boy - a guide to dating Turkish men



Girls, brace yourselves. You’re about to visit the center of the universe: the Turkish male.

For all you girls who have been fortunate enough to have basked in the radiating aura of a Turkish man, your whole time dating was probably not unlike being on a hot-air balloon ride. You flew high up there to where the sun shone bright and warm, lifted further and further by a massively inflated ego that could keep up the ride as long as it kept blowing itself up with gas. The universe looked big all around you, the people left below seemed small and insignificant, like ants, and you felt like you were given the heavens to hold in your hands for all that time that you were promised the world on a magical ride. But of course every journey must come to an end. Soon the gas runs out, the fire fades to a flicker, the hot air fizzles away, the horizons narrow, the sun and the stars and heavens regain their distance, and all those little ants below begin growing and growing back into people as big as you, and bigger than him. Eventually you find out you’ve been wasting your time with somebody who was basically just a big baby trapped under a cap of hair gel.

“That’s the deal with any guy,” you say. Maybe, but in the case of the Turkish man, there are some other issues involved. And issue number one is his Mother (always written with a capital M). In terms of over-protectiveness and over-bearingness, the Turkish Mother could go toe-to-toe with a Jewish Mother any day. These formative years involve the boy being pampered and puffed, and generally protected from doing anything that’s good for him, like playing outside and getting dirty (NO, MY SULTAN, YOU’LL GET SICK!), being given a moderate diet and not being overfed and stuffed (EAT, EAT, YOU’RE SKIN AND BONES!), being able to deal with the elements (PUT ON YOUR SWEATER AND COAT AND MITTENS AND HAT, THERE’S A SLIGHT BREEZE!), and not being given everything they want just so they take it and shut up (TAKE THIS AND SHUT UP). In other words, the child is treated like a child, so the child naturally perceives himself as the little Child King. What results is a spoilt, overconfident, puffy egomaniac who eventually thinks he’s God’s gift to women just because he’s God’s gift to his Mother.

So now you see these guys 20 years on who wear undershirts tucked into their underwear, collared shirts tucked into their pants, hair so caked in gel you can see your reflection in it, standing around in one of those places where you pay a thousand dollars for a J&B just because there’s a view, as they give their best self-important Bollywood-actor-meets-creepy-myopic-stalker look to bottle-blonde nişantaşettes while simultaneously talking about jet-skis with their identically dressed childhood friends, and you think, “Good lord, what went wrong?” Well, to find the answer you’ll have to go home with one of them.

The Turkish yuppie’s bachelor pad is a sterile, vacuous cross between a doctor’s waiting room and Toys-R-Us. There are cheap prints of great artworks on the walls, white-carpeted floors, furniture picked out of a catalogue, and lots of toys lying around – PlayStation, flatscreen TV, souvenir lighters, discarded iPods, last seasons' iPhones, some kind of discarded ab apparatus he saw on an infomercial, football paraphernalia (both from his NFL team and his Turkish soccer team, which is either Fenerbahce or Galatasaray), and actual real souvenirs from when he went on Spring Break to Cancun while his dad was putting him through college in the U.S. There are of course no books, just a big library of DVDs instead, among which you’ll find the whole Die Hard and Lethal Weapon series. His kitchen will be well-equipped but never used for cooking, just for keeping food brought over by his Mother. The bathroom will be full of all the latest Gillette products, because he really does think it’s the best a man can get. He shaves with a Mach 3. Turbo.

So now you’re dating him, he’s showered you with compliments and presents, then one day he tells you he loves you. That’s usually a good sign in other cases, but not in this case. It means he’s either started or is about to start cheating on you. The more women that adore him and the more women he has sex with, the more he fills the vacuum in his meaningless existence. He must keep conquering, and what time he has to himself when he’s not working in his import-export company or his dad’s textiles business is spent in tacky bars with dyslexic names and over-priced drinks chatting up equally vapid brasserie-bimbos with fake tans who go weak at the knees when they see shiny sports cars with customized number plates. And if he proposes to you, that definitely means he’s planning to hit on other girls as soon as he has you as his surrogate Mother to help him uphold his status in society by being his wife and pumping him out some children... whom he'll then ignore and only show his love by throwing money at them.

You’ll kick yourself for having been a fool, but cut him some slack, because the poor guy really does think the world revolves around him. I know of course for a fact that it doesn’t, because it actually revolves around ME. How do I know that? Mother told me so.

2/16/07

Con-art and the end of irony


Next time you go to an art exhibition opening, look out. You may be in for a lot less than you bargained for.

There’s a little something we often overlook about art galleries and exhibition openings. Sure you go there for the free booze, hors d’oeuvres and to meet artsy chicks you can talk about ‘Baudrillard and the End of Authenticity’ to and still seem like you’re flirting, but few of us know that these galleries have a sinister side to them – a side so dark and sordid, an agenda so malevolent, that you’re not going to like what you read. That’s right, these so-called ‘gallery openings’ are nothing but fronts for pushing art… Conceptual Art.

All around Beyoğlu, the insidious forces of Conceptual Art – or ‘Con-Art’ – have been wreaking havoc on the aesthetic sensibilities of our city’s denizens. And the scourge is spreading. Even Nişantaşı – long a safe and secure bastion of tasteless and uninspired Figurative Art (or ‘F-Art’) slopped into existence at the hands of bored housewives – is already in danger of being swamped by thick-rectangular-designer-eyeglass-wearing hordes with a penchant for postmodernism and visual irony. Not even the working classes are safe… Con-Art has even infested abandoned warehouses and workshops in areas like Karaköy, where overeducated artists look upon average working class people as mere ‘Organic Repositories of Super-Ego Subjectivity Reproduced in Pre-Ideationally Superimposed Modes of Self-Authenticating Collective Signification’. The menace is all too real.

‘Not so!’ I hear you say. ‘I’ve been to a million gallery cocktails and have yet to see any art!’ But you’re fooling yourself if you think it’s not there. Trust me, next time you go to one just do what you normally do – sip your cheap wine in a plastic cup, nibble your inedible canapé before tossing it into the nearest potted plant, ask someone for a cigarette before being told you can’t smoke inside, pretend to listen as a guy with a bowl cut and a lisp explains how he’s a synophynomurfflemurffle artist… But while you’re doing all that, secretly look around you, past the obligatory busty-girl-with-tight-black-turtleneck-sweater, past the balding guys with shaved heads sporting their shiny millennium combovers, past the drunken obnoxious diplobrats… There, you see it now? That’s Con-Art.

Your eyes adjust to the inexplicable horror around you. You see twelve video screens all showing the same image, with one of them blinking on and off, and it’s called ‘Ghost in the System’; you look away in disgust only to have your eyes set on a big yellow smiley face icon with a spray-painted frown where the smile should be, and it’s called ‘Ideal Happiness’. You want to scream ‘BULLSHIT’ but your breath is taken away as you look behind you and see a slide show of incongruous images with a fully grown man singing along to each image as they appear. You realize you’ve just been subjected to Conceptual Performance Art as you drop your cheap wine in shock and it stains the sticky floor the way it stained your teeth. You try to run but you nearly trip over a Styrofoam sculpture of a conceptual man, himself conceptually tripping and flinging a bunch of conceptual eggs in the air… The suspended Styrofoam eggs bounce off your forehead as you push through to the nearest exit, but you’re blocked by a crowd of art critics. They speak, but you don’t understand… ‘Art art art’ says one ‘Aaaart, artartart’ answers another, before asking you ‘Art art?’ You’re sweating. You scream ‘AAAART!’ and throw yourself out onto the streets as the cool air alleviates your nausea… for now.

This nightmare is all too real. Con-Art’s everywhere, pushing their heinous work on innocent people as we speak. Some blame Damien Hirst and his big fish in a glass box; others point fingers at Tracey Emin and her semen-stained bed; still others indicate the influence of the Young British Artists as a whole, whose collective work can only be described as… um… zzzzz… Sorry I fell asleep, where was I? Oh yeah, suddenly, all over the world, and in Istanbul too, herds of self-indulgent art-school-graduate rich kids are using either daddy’s or some Scandinavian government fund’s money to make things that would arouse as much interest if the underlying concept were simply written out in a single sentence. ‘Imagine a man standing within a glass enclosure in a room and the work is called “Personal Space”’ is as good as actually seeing a man standing in a glass enclosure in a room with a tag slapped on to consummate the earth-shattering work of art entitled ‘Personal Space’.

If the idea (concept) precedes the aesthetic materialisation that becomes the artwork (as is implied in the term "Conceptual" art), then surely the idea can be just as easily conceived and appreciated as idea without the need for any substantiation of it, unless of course the aesthetic dimension were at least equal to the concept. The fact that nobody spends more time looking at a conceptual artwork than they would thinking about it if the aesthetic appeal is not equal to the conceptual one, proves that. It shouldn’t take a hundred thousand dollars worth of equipment and organisation to express the ‘Alienation of Modern Man in Post-Industrial Capitalist Society’ by making a video showing a mechanical shark biting repeatedly into a peach. But that’s what we have: a bunch of poncy self-important ‘I’m-gonna-blow-your-mind-with-my-amazing-idea-!’ crap devoid of the necessary aesthetic dimension – oh, and the HARD WORK – to carry it from just being an elaborate way to express irony, to actually becoming both an aesthetically and intellectually challenging work of art that engages the beholder beyond eliciting a mere ‘Oh yeah, I get it’ to inducing an impressive silent ‘Whoa!’ instead. But then that’s why everyone’s a conceptual artist nowadays: because it’s easy. Next they’ll start telling us photography is art too.

Solution? Outlawing tags. If an artwork can't stand on its own merits without being superexplained by some clever postmodern pun for a title, then it should be ignored. No, I take that back, it shouldn't be ignored, it should incinerated.

Walking the walk - a catalogue of gaits



If you thought being sandwiched between a gas truck and a brick wall on a tiny sidestreet was the closest you’d come to serious street injury in Istanbul, then be warned that there’s a far greater menace out there: fellow pedestrians. They may not be motorised and metal-clad, but they can be as hazardous as any fast-moving vehicle. For me, the negotiation of pedestrian perils is an obsession bordering on a full-time activity, and the process of identifying offenders has lead to a full classification of the genus.

Let’s begin with the Phalanx formation: three or more men walking side by side like a Greek phalanx, usually blocking off the entire path. The female version of this is the Daisy-Chain: women walking arm in arm exchanging recipes, gossiping about whoever’s not there, and boasting about their children’s achievements. Like the Phalanx, this also blocks the entire path, and more than once I’ve thought it might be good to have a machete handy.

The motto of the Diagonal Long-Crossers is “The shortest way is to get in everyone’s way.” This involves moving in a straight line from point A to point B, even if it means cutting everyone’s path in between with a 30-meter diagonal cross as they bump and push and trip over people’s feet. Not to be confused with the Fast Walkers, the guys who move with the urgency of a dog on heat, with apparently startlingly important places to go and things to do, in contrast to the Unemployed who have nothing to do and nowhere to be, and they sure as hell walk like it.

Gaits are often marked with pride: observe the notorious Bully and the High Horse. The former is to be avoided at all costs unless you fancy a retributory shoulder slam. Avoid games of chicken and take solace in the fact that he was probably beaten and abused throughout his childhood. The High Horse usually has his hands linked behind his back with a prayer bead dangling from his fingers, looking at every girl without a headscarf as if she were a banshee, emitting the obligatory moralistic “tsk, tsk, tsk” at anything that doesn’t live up to his holier-than-thou standards.

From the proud step to the downright arrogant stride, look out for the Gigolo practicing his catwalk moves in the fancier areas of town: he knows he’s beautiful, in sunglasses, with carefully trimmed facial hair, a well-tended suntan, and possibly white loafers (with no socks). Until he learns to laugh at himself, we’ll have to provide the chuckles for him.

The arch-nemesis and number one threat to the Gigolo is the Cool Crosser: the guy who makes a simple act like crossing the street into an opportunity to demonstrate his unflinching coolness and fortitude of character. He will not rush even if a car is coming at him, and once he is on the other side he will lift his head up and look around to see who has witnessed this awe-inspiring display of grace under pressure. Cool Crossers were also probably beaten as kids, thank goodness.

Then there’s the comedy section: the ways of walking characterized purely by unconscious physical traits. The Head-Down does precisely that: keeps going, can’t look up, must get straight to destination, must keep going, make no eye-contact, proceed to point B immediately. If he’s not looking carefully enough, he might get a sharp one in the gut from the Arm Swinger, the loud whoosh of whose arms cuts through the air as he passes with legs spread a metre apart and a swagger akin to that of a primate with elephantitus of the testes. The Cop Swagger is an offshoot of this, but it only really works when accessorised by a machine gun. The Butt-Out is also a distant relative, with the rear-heavy posture and the head thrust forward, a pose indicative of a dire need to find a latrine.

The fish out of water on any Istanbul street is the Tourist, desperately turning this way and that with every paranoid step he takes, looking in bewilderment at pedestrian crossings, getting pushed aside on sidewalks, jumping a foot in the air every time a car or a scooter just misses ploughing into him and his family. It’s like he’s landed on a planet in an alternate universe where the concept of personal space has been warped into a giant gelatinous entity called Mob-Blob that feeds on crisp clothes and tidy blonde haircuts.

The Tourist is not too far distant from the Soaker-Upper who keeps a vigilant 360-degree watch with chameleon-like eyes and an exorcist-style spinning neck, as he walks with mouth agape. He’s taking in everything with his keen semiotic eye for authenticity, until he smacks right into you and nearly gets a slap in his cavernous chops.

My favourite is the Road-Blocker. This guy just stands right there in the middle of your path, either writing a message on his cell phone or talking to someone. Try stopping right in front of him and staring him down until he eventually notices you, and graciously steps an inch to the side like he’s doing you a favour. Unlike the Bully and the Cool Crosser, this guy has never been beaten up in his life although it would have done him a world of good.

2/11/07

Mabel Micklethwaite - As the song says: History is never repetitive!


Hello my little snuggle buns! This month I would like to talk about Turkish history! Dear me, it’s all around us! But how much do we yakbancis (‘foreigner’ in Arabic!) really know about it? Well here’s a crash course! First there was King Midas and the Hitittes who came from Summeria and beat the Trojans under Agamemnun to form an empire with Egygpt’s Tutanhkamun (coincidence?) until the Romans came (they were everywhere!) and Cleopatra and Anthony died on a Turkish beach! But then the Saljooks came from Tajikmanistan and after defeating the Mongolians under Tamburlaine they created the Otomman empire that conquered Istanbul and Vienna from the Bizantines and made it Constantanople under the last great president Attaturk, who defeated Jacob Stalin and established the modern Islamic secular Turkish peoples republic in NATO! Then everybody had to wear hats! They also had a harem! My husband Phil and I went to see the harem in Topkappi but it was closed, and then when it opened there was a guided tour, which we were late for, so we made it to the next one but found out we had to get a separate ticket, and they told us that it was the last tour of the day, so we bought a ticket anyway to go the next day, but then the next day they told us that the ticket from the day before was invalid, and we missed that tour as well, so instead we went to Dolgmabche palace, but we were late there too and had to buy about four different tickets and the harem was closed for lunch, then it re-opened, but it was basically just a big carpeted living room with chandeliers! Goodness me, I don’t want to confuse you with too much history all at once, so toodle-oo till next month my little paddle pops!

The evil eye - If looks could kill


You can knock on wood, pull your ears, spit and throw salt over your shoulders, but the Evil Eye is going to get you.

We all recognize those cheesy “Evil Eye” trinkets that tourists find so quaint, but did you know that there’s more to them than (no, not “meets the eye”) gimmick value? They are in fact part of an ancient superstition that runs deep in Turkish culture, and indeed in many other cultures stretching from Scandinavia to India, and even the Americas. The “Evil Eye” (or “nazar boncuğu” in Turkish) is actually an apotropaic talisman that is meant to ward off the supposedly harmful effects of an “evil” gaze, i.e. the look of envy – be it conscious or subconscious – that is often inadvertently bestowed by people upon those with enviable beauty, good fortune, or some other desirable trait. That’s why almost all Turks, regardless of education or socio-economic status, carry one of these blue, round, glass-made blue eyes somewhere on their person, usually in their pockets, hanging off a safety pin, and most probably given them by their mother.

The origins of the evil eye are Middle Eastern and thought to go back to the Sumerians. The supposed effects of being the victim of the evil eye is always associated with desiccation of some sort, something which causes babies to suffer diarrhea and vomiting, infertility in men, drying up of fruit-bearing trees, and preventing cows from producing milk. To carry an “evil eye” amulet is therefore meant to ward off these malicious effects of an “evil” gaze, thus preserving the “wetness” and “moisture” of living things and that which is vital for survival – especially if you live in a harsh, arid climate. In modern Turkey, the “boncuk” (talisman) meant to ward off the evil eye (“nazar” in Turkish) is always represented as a blue eye (same in Greece). Thus, whenever someone says something good about someone else, or their kids, or their car, anything, it’s always followed by a fake superstitious spit (or series of fake spits) and a “nazar değmesin” (“may it not attract the evil eye”).

So what makes grown people – often educated and worldly – have such deep-seated superstitious beliefs over something that seems as trivial as a mere glance? It actually makes a lot of sense, because it comes down to a simple realization: people lie to your face when they say anything good about you, because they’re actually jealous of you and secretly get off on your misfortune. “But what if they’re your friends?” you ask. This is the case especially if they’re your friends, because we don’t just have friends as support or for companionship, we have friends as something to compare ourselves to and compete with – which is why nobody wants a loser or a dork for a friend, no matter how nice or interesting they may be. Therefore, when friends get really good jobs or nice girlfriends/boyfriends, you’re jealous of them, and when they screw up you’re secretly satisfied by it (even though you’d never admit it to yourself out of shame).

And so, in light of this universal and pathetic – although natural and unavoidable – human psychological trait, the evil eye is an ingenious invention, because that which nobody dare speak of or face is dealt with instead through a universally recognizable sign that takes upon itself the shame and fear we actually find within ourselves every time we’re jealous of our friends or feel a sudden slight glee – schadenfreude – deep in the darkest recesses of our psyche whenever one of our friends screws up something good they had going for them. The “Evil Eye” thus actually psychologically soaks up our fear of others’ envious feelings toward us (by us believing that it’s actually soaking up the evil feeling – or evil gaze – itself), while at the same time conveniently helping us avoid an honest confrontation with our own insecurities, by becoming a ubiquitous totemic idol to which we collectively ascribe magic powers that are fed by our own desire to remain unconscious of our personal inadequacies, while also equally apportioning out to everyone else the individual guilt each of us feel for such shameful and egotistical feelings which we have no control over. In other words, thanks in part to the “nazar boncuğu,” we can all live more or less civilly with each other without having to openly admit that we’re actually all a bunch of selfish, inadequate, insecure, egotistical, envious, competitive assholes – which of course we are. We thus crucify the evil eye instead for the sins of our hypocrisy.

Just as money is a commodification of human relations of labor (which we need because nobody is willing to work for nothing, because we are all fundamentally lazy and would rather not do anything for anyone unless we got something for it in return – and because we’re even too lazy to deal with barter because we’d rather carry a coin in our pockets than wheelbarrow live chickens to a market), so too, the “nazar boncuğu” serves as a commodification of human relations of shame at how envious, competitive and selfish we are toward each other – which is perfect, because then we can all go on being a bunch of immature, insecure assholes with total impunity, free of any unsavory impulse to edify ourselves or better our lives through honest psychological introspection.

However, there is another way out of dealing with this infantile and embarrassing superstition without having to spit, pull your ears, knock on wood and wear a stupid glass bead with an eye on it. It’s very simple, although its success involves everybody being able to work toward its adoption as a categorical imperative. It’s not even that complicated. Are you ready for it? It’s a little concept called: WHO GIVES A FUCK WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK?

2/10/07

Land of Green-Eyed Monsters



Jealousy is no stranger to any of us, but we Turks have it down to an art form that would make Iago blush, Othello whimper, and Desdemona throw a temper tantrum that even Hera would be… um… jealous of.


Ever wonder why when you go out at night to some place like Anjelique in Ortaköy or NuTeras in Pera, everybody’s hanging around in snug little cliques that are so impenetrable you’d need a team like Nestor and Odysseus with an army of Achaeans and a lot of logwood to figure a way in? Ever wonder why when you approach a girl at some bar like Dulcinea in Beyoğlu or Crystal in Kuruçeşme, a bunch of wimpy guys start acting like they’re the Sopranos or something and begin cock-blocking you with greasy stares? Ever wonder why every time anybody talks to anybody else anywhere, their significant other goes all ape-shit as if they had just walked in on their lover re-enacting a scene from Tinto Brass’s Caligula? It’s because everybody’s jealous of everybody else, because everybody actually hates themselves.

It all begins with overly-protective mothers who raise their boys to think they’re King Shit, and overly-obliging fathers who raise their daughters to think they’re destined to be the Princess Bride. And so the whole foundation is laid upon a slimy slope of misplaced self-esteem. Why is that a problem? Because when a person has too much self-esteem they think they have no room for improvement and so instead of developing their minds and their character, they focus on acquiring stupid superficial things like status, looks and careers, so that what emerges is a hollow shell of a human being who begins to unconsciously realize from their teens onwards that they cannot be happy unless they are as esteemed in the public eye as they were by their parents when they were growing up. This is why they hate themselves: Because they are dependent on the opinion of others and find nothing inside to fall back on to cushion the blow when they do not attain the recognition they have been spoiled into expecting from around them. Why would a girl ever be interested in any other guy when she’s in his presence, being the stud-muffin his mother has made him believe he is? It’s unacceptable! And why would a guy drool over any other girl other than her when she’s right there, like the prissy princess she is, and maybe even with a new nose and a great tan that daddy’s paid good money for? Sacrilege! Anger! Fury! Temper tantrum! Throwing teddy bears across the bedroom!

This isn’t to say that we’re not all ego-maniacs, regardless of what culture we’re from. We are. We all think we’re The Shit, no matter how ugly, no matter how stupid, no matter how conceited we are. Self-Love makes the world go round. But let’s face it, there’s always someone better than us, or at least with as much to offer as us but in a different way, and the less spoilt you are, the easier it is to realize that fact and deal with it in a dignified manner when a person you like likes someone else. The word is DIG-NI-TY. But what do we get instead? We get cry-baby pretty boys and nasally chicks who think they’re royalty flying off the handle every time their partner even talks to someone else. “Who was that? Who did you call? Who called you? Where are you now?” Seriously, walk around the streets, get on a bus, sit in a café, and you can eavesdrop on dozens of astounding “conversations” between bored couples constantly accusing each other of ridiculous infidelities. Everyone’s having a terrible time over nothing, and all because of too much unfounded and unwarranted self-esteem, which leads to too much pride at the cost of not enough dignity. That’s DIGNITY. I'll spell it out for you: D-I-G-N-I-T-Y-O-K-D-O-U-C-H-E-B-A-G-?.

It’s time to tip the scales back from Pride a little and more in favor of Dignity. It’s time to realize that we are not as special as we think we are, that we are hardly The Bomb, that there are millions of people who are just like us – in fact, they’re probably much better than us – that we are not as handsome or beautiful or as cool as we think we are, that that nagging suspicion that your ears stand out a little too much is true as daylight, that – yes – your nose is a little too big, and that looks, clothes, money and career – while important – are not more important than having a good mind and a solid DIGNIFIED character. People with immature and undeveloped minds hate themselves, even if it’s not done consciously, and end up diverting that hatred and frustration with themselves out on others, scared as they are that every person their partner talks to or becomes friendly with might just be better than them – because they know that fear is well-founded, and they’re afraid their partner will find out just how well-founded it is. This is the cause of our lack of self-confidence, and of our directing our insecurities as far away from ourselves as possible so as not to have to face them. Well it’s time to face them.

Let’s face it, when you stoop to the point where you start forbidding your partner from doing things (and we Turks actually seriously do that – “You can’t go out without me!” is a classic), that means you’ve already LOST. You may as well just stand up naked on a podium in the middle of Taksim and shout “I am not good enough, I hate myself, I’m a big baby”. So let’s all get a grip, chill out, put things in perspective, and just enjoy each other’s company, shall we? Here’s the first step, repeat after me: MY MOTHER WAS WRONG, I AM NOT SPECIAL.