Friday, January 31, 2014

Returned to life

I feel like April 1 of one year to February of the next is a reasonable blog posting schedule, don't you think?

Anyway, sorry. I've had an astonishing number of people tell me that they enjoyed reading this blog– far more than it deserves. I also just noticed, coming to this website, but I've had something like 3000 page views, which is far more than I could possibly have imagined. I don't feel particularly guilty that I've had nothing to say about turkey for something like the last nine months: I was, obviously, pregnant. Actually, not so much. (Although, of course, many of my colleagues seem to be living by the maxim "the world must be peopled." I recently dragged three copies of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, as well as the tres riches heures of Sandra Boynton, across the Atlantic. This is hardly a complaint.)

You'll notice that this blog stopped updating at roughly the same time that the Gezi Park protests started, and Turkish politics became, shall we say, complex. I would walk to my Turkish lessons past people going to the vast protests that happened in the middle of Ankara, and feel–I really don't know how I felt. Mildly apprehensive, more than anything else. One astonishing fact of the protests, to me at least, is that, right before their allotted times in the evening, you would see police and protesters chatting quite amiably, often behind the water tanks– that's military-type tanks – used for crowd control. I've never seen anything quite like it in my life.

Terry Eagleton makes a famous argument that one reason literature formed differently in Ireland was that it was simply too hard to represent what was actually happening in the country, under English, in normal generic forms. I will admit that I am more sympathetic to this position than I have ever been before. Nothing that I write feels to me like an adequate response to what is happening–and again there're others you know far more about this than I do. But do I want to write a shopping blog in the meantime?

I genuinely don't feel that I understand Turkish politics well enough to give an informed– or at least useful– opinion about what's been happening here. I would remind those around the world that Turkey is a country that has reasonably deep set of civil institutions– although, depending on whom you ask, these may or may not be in a state of erosion. My university is still one that I love. I have, additionally, many colleagues who have been here for very long time– some of them Turkish themselves, many long-time expats--that know so much more about Turkish politics than I do. This is not to say that I don't have opinions: for example, I take what I had thought was the relatively uncontroversial view that the government should not teargas, en masse, its people. (This seems to be a more controversial view here than I had anticipated.) It is a cliché to say that the sight of young people taking to the streets to protest for political causes inspiring– and indeed on some level it is. But I teach students– some of whom were in those protests, all of whom look like the students in those protests–and my primary concern was just that they seemed to be getting hurt, sometimes critically. Never in my life have I seen anything like that the Internet live streams of police blind firing tear gas into crowds of people, and then eventually into the crowds of smoke that resulted from the teargas. I do not know how much of this made it (speech-to-text says "mated") outside of the country. I would actually be interested in hearing what did.

With that being said, I think it is worth noting that– compared to what you may be hearing on the news– daily life in Turkey continues. The building of malls, the primary activity of our Ankara civic entity, continues apace– I think you really are something like two or three new ones within about 4 km of where I live. These, of course, are all the same: the same chain stores, several of them brands you'll know from North America, exist in various configurations. Semi-relatedly portion of the country, and it is emerging that this is quite a large portion, still wants EU integration to go ahead, even as it seems absolutely impossible to predict whether or not this will currently happen. I'm learning things about the quotidian existing alongside perpetual crisis; of course, I do so because of the stability of where I live.

Indeed, the news about Turkey leaks to the outside world seems to picture this as a country in a more or less perpetual state of crisis. And, on some level, this is true. But the distance between what is happening in Turkey. What is happening in Syria– a glib comparison, if a nearby one– is entirely different. Please don't worry about me, at any rate: I feel absolutely secure here, and not just in the protected gated community where I work. As to the overall situation in Turkey, I have been saying to many people that if you know someone who feels they understand the situation completely, please send them here– we certainly don't.

To the other state of siege, which is of course the Modern Language Association conference, the bane of every academic's life. For the first time, I can say that I had a good MLA. This came about, I'm sad to say, because I have a job. The job paid for me to attend the conference; it gave me the time to write my talk, and the research support to make it happen; and, by being stable, it gave me the payoff matrix (if that makes any sense) in which my work could help me in a professional context. I love my job, and what I do with my research. I am aware, though, that this position that I love– and, yes, I will use the word love– happens in the midst of the professional misery of many. This may again be glib, but there is a mild analogy to be made to my situation in Turkey: things are good for me, and for those like me, in a situation that floats above turmoil and a possible collapse of institutions that I feel I have just escaped, like Indiana Jones with the huge stone door in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (That this analogy involves a hat pleases me.)

Neither of these problems is going to be solved by my blog. What I hope to do in the months ahead, assuming I'm not just perpetually lazy, is give some account of the middle condition that exists in the midst of a number of states of crisis. It is my great privilege to be able to do so. The work of the humanities is important, think particularly in Turkey. I am happy to be doing my work,  and making use of what my institution gives to me.

More actual description, and less meta-commentary, as I write– I hope more frequently–in the weeks and months to come. And my earlier reservation, that anyone without an academic job is welcome to punch me in the face, remains in effect.

A note: an earlier version of this was speech-to-texted, and may have been unreadable. Many apologies--you don't have aphasia, if you were worried.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Was it worth it?

My Turkey blog seems to be turning into a teaching-in-Turkey blog, which I can only imagine is probably less interesting to the majority of you. For those keeping track at home, my 3-3 teaching gig got switched to a 2-4—fully with my consent, this isn’t a complaint, I’m very much still in love with my job. But this has kept me tied to Ankara a little bit more, since this is my first time teaching this load and my weekends have been spent relaxing and working on research rather than traveling. Look for Turkish wonders, or even anecdotes about colorful socks, to resume shortly.
            What I’m going to say at the outset is that I’m trending into dangerous territory here, and—I will say this in advance—I am not sure if I’m right about any of this. I’m completely open to being told that I’m an asshole about any part of this, and you will probably be right. I still haven’t sorted out my feelings about this subject, but I also—in my gut—know that something that I read is wrong, deeply wrong, in a way that made me want to respond. This may fall into the tl;dnr category for you, particularly if you’re looking for anecdotes about Turkish life—and my essay about finding bright-colored socks is upcoming, I promise.
What I’m going to write about is an article that’s been making the rounds, and which has been addressed at me a couple of times. For those who haven’t read it, the article is here: . (And you can pretty much get the feel of it by the hyperlink.)
So, was it worth it? My former teacher Sandra Macpherson made me want to write this by posting about her time at ASECS, the primary conference for eighteenth-century studies. (I do not want to deface that beautiful name by stating what it stands for.) She writes about academia, and I quote: “It's pretty amazing, and nice, nice work if you can get it.”
Sandra is bucking a trend, as the Slate article—and about a million other pieces I’ve read over the course of the last, oh, ten years—will demonstrate. People going to humanities graduate school exist as special sorts of idiots in the popular imagination in a sort of perfect storm of things generally disliked: believing one’s self to be cleverer than other people; not immediately applying one’s self to the most lucrative thing possible; and, of course, participating in an activity (the modern humanities) generally reckoned to be about as beneficial to mental self-development as, oh, membership in the Manson Family.
I worked, part-to-full-time, all the way through undergrad. Yes, poor me: suffering at one of the world’s major research universities. But when I started grad school, the choice really was this: work at a library for five-to-seven days a week (which I have done)? Or spend the next indefinite number of years getting paid to read in a new city? There never was a choice, on those terms.
Oh, but do I regret it now? Do I regret not going to law school? Sometimes. Years ago, a dear friend of mine, now a lawyer, told me to do what I most wanted to do—to follow my dreams, basically. I’m glad that I did: I think I’m happier—having gotten lucky-and-a-job—than I would have been as a lawyer.
So, was grad school worth it? I’m going to say that it was, although it needed to be validated by getting a job—although at first that job wasn’t a professor job. At the moment, with an Assistant Professor job that I love, an active research schedule, students I very much like, and assorted other trimmings, I’m very happy.
How can I possibly write the above statement, given the number of deserving people who don’t have jobs? I can’t. I shouldn’t. I’m deeply sorry. The depth of quality people in my field who would make huge differences in students’ lives and who don’t have jobs is just sickening. If you read this, and think that I’m prancing my privilege around like a trick pony, you have my permission to punch me in the face.
But what I do take issue with is the basic statement that humanities grad school training is just prima facie useless—that it destroys your ability to enjoy literature, trains you to hate humans and humanity, and leads to a job that will just make you miserable anyway.
Was I miserable during periods—long, long periods—of grad school? Boy howdy. Those of you who talked to me during that period probably, again, wonder where I get off talking about grad school as worthwhile. I don’t know what that person I was would say to this, either. He’d probably want to punch me in the face.
Yet—again, yet—talk to any young professional, or indeed anyone beginning a career. This might seem a somewhat random comparison, but read chef memoirs: something like Bill Buford’s Heat, or (bless me) Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. We just sort of live at a time when getting the interesting jobs requires a lot of work. Cooks, in these books, are told to suffer endlessly for no money and maybe they’ll make sous-chef. It’s a terrible deal, and one that I would encourage no-one to take—unless, sigh, they really loved what they were doing. And then I would say try to find a situation that lets you follow what you love while still making some sort of living.
That’s what grad school gave me for probably too many years. What ended those years was luck. I got lucky. Lucky, lucky, lucky. Let me say that right now. The only thing separating me from fifteen other candidates, and I mean this literally, is that someone else took a job elsewhere and my program hired me rather than them. I am convinced that any one of those people could do my job as well as I could, and they are welcome—this will be a leitmotif—to punch me in the face. It took me four years—four years!—to get this lucky, but in the end I’m just as lucky as anyone else who gets one of these jobs.
(Here’s a depressing thought for you academics: imagine the fields that won’t get changed, the paradigms that won’t get shifted, the ideas that will die stillborn because of the depth of talent that’s not finding academic work.)
So, what did I get out of graduate school? I’ve been teaching Adam Smith—the Smith of the Wealth of Nations, alas—to my students, and I realize that all of the following would simply be off the axis of what he considers interesting. But, here’s what I got from graduate school: a PhD., which, contrary to what you may hear, people respect. I was as paralytically depressed as I have ever been, or will ever allow myself to be again. I got to live in a tremendous city for two years, and then eight years in another tremendous city, during which I was steadily paid, had health insurance, and even—for the last sixteen months—a full-time job. I learned to read and write to a level of precision that still amazes me. I nearly had any number of nervous breakdowns. I saw tremendous amounts of opera, theater, classical music, author readings, and dance. I got to take a class with Sandra, and other similar people, and learned things I would never have come within a parsec of knowing otherwise. I ended relationships because I was bitter and paranoid and jealous of other people finding work. I once, in a recreation of a historical riot, was invited to dress up as a police officer and had foam bricks thrown at me. I have savings. I was never bored.
Also, I got to know the best people. Really and truly. There were moments when the intellectual atmosphere at [Graduate University] was harsher than the Mean Girls lunchroom—and there were moments where I’m sure I didn’t help with that. There are things that I might, as a faculty member, do differently than some of the things that I saw—and, in fact, get to do those things now. But I was never without people who believed in me, and never for a moment doubted that I was among the smartest people. (To watch the best minds of your generation being destroyed by a terrible economic crisis is, of course, to know the best minds. Who are, of course, free to punch me in the face.)
Is this work worthwhile? Yes, yes, a thousand times. There a moments in the classroom that feel as close to any experience of the "holy" as I've felt, and yes I do full well know how inane that sounds. Fuck it. I spent the last six months writing about a poem: reading it, sending it out, getting feedback, sculpting it, thinking more deeply about it. Again, fuck it: those were six good months.
Also: to say that “you will never get…monetary compensation from a stable, non-penurious position at a decent university” (I quote the Slate article) is false. I did. You can punch me in the face again: many didn’t. But, during the sixteen months when I used my PhD. to find alternate employment (again, by getting lucky), did I “withstand the open scorn of everyone [I] kn[ew]?” Christ on a butterscotch sundae, no. My friends, colleagues, and—yes—the institution that gave me my PhD. felt bad for me, and tried to help. And I got a job.
One thing that this Slate article really gets is the hermeticism of academia. Michel Foucault, theorist of self-specularity, is popular among academics for a reason: he theorizes being your own worst enemy, harshest judge, jealousy fiend, substance-abuse-recommender, and so on forward. The notion that you will come to hate yourself if you do not find a job in your field is true. I wish I had anything to say to that.
My own recent happiness—and, let me tell you, I am extremely happy, thank you—comes at the same time as getting a job. I would like to think it is somehow separate, but I suspect this is not the case. Yet with this comes a sense of something I didn’t have in grad school: an ability, I guess, to start valuing things on my own, rather than because other people value them.
Here’s advice I was too dumb to listen about grad school and, I suspect, any professional career: you have to learn to make yourself happy. (And oh, look at me, with my new job, telling you this now that things have stabilized for me. Again, I really do mean it about the face.) I do not have a tenure-track job, because there is no tenure in this country. And four years ago I would—I mean, I hope not, but I might have—been one of those people who sneer at anyone without a particular sort of job. But four years ago I would have been too stupid to imagine that I would fall head over heels in love with something slightly, just slightly, off the beaten path.
I’m onto the third page of writing, and I suspect I’m not any closer to reaching a crisp conclusion about this subject than I was three pages ago. I guess in the end any advice I would give on the subject of grad school would be: don’t go if they’re not paying you, and if they don’t have on-campus jobs after your funding runs out.
Posting this to Facebook lets me conclude by saying something that is off-topic, illogical, but also deeply true: you people, my friends and mentors who put up with me during my grad school years, are maybe half of my reward for choosing to do what I did. And I suppose this is what makes me want to post this ungainly monster of a reply to a routinely stupid Internet article: because you all, and everyone trying to do the “nice work” that I get to enjoy, deserve better. This is a great job that more passionate people need to get.
You may still punch me in the face.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Less game than "Sophie's Choice"

(I will stop doing this, but: recommended soundtrack for this post, Alan Partridge-style:)

For those of you looking for information about Turkish burial customs, this is probably going to be one to skip.

So: those of you who know me well know that, in 2001, I was chosen by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as the World's Least Successful Heterosexual. (And, for those of you who point out that I've been making this same joke for a while, I say: it was quite an honor.) Anyway, although I generally try not to make this the exclusive topic of my conversation--anymore--I do occasionally so distinguish myself in such a way that I feel I should share it with a wider public.

The semi-screenplay version: the local hipermarket. Vegetable-weighing counter. An attractive young person says "Michael!" I look confused. "We met at the American embassy thing!"

Ah, yes--the embassy thing! I remember vaguely. But an attractive person is saying hello to me. So, naturally, my instincts run in two directions. Firstly direction: I say, pompously, "remind me again what department you work in?" Such a charming thing to say! Not at all like I was raised on a woman-less ice floe! Bear in mind that I have no idea what this person's name is, so I decide to relate things back to work, like the charmless drone that I am.

But! I get an answer! This conversation could continue!

Obviously--obviously, even--this cannot be allowed to happen. So, instinctively, through some long-dead lizard-brain instinct, I say "Well, nice to see you again!" as though she had just announced that, since she had stopped taking her pills, she could taste Jesus when she saw clouds. I shut things down like Seal Team 6. And then I wander the hell off, rudely--that Coca Cola Light isn't going to buy itself, apparently. I then spend the next few minutes sadly watching this person wander around the store, before she--to paraphrase my rnb doppleganger, Ne-Yo--faded into the background. There was no further meet-cute opportunity. I was left to my shame and sparkling water.

Anyway, another day in the life.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Some last days of disco

(Belated soundtrack for this post...)

So, this is actually some months ago, but nevertheless a little vignette of Turkish life.

My beneficent employer is built into the side of a hill. When I'm completely well and organized enough to be on time, this is great: I have a thirty-minute walk up a hill every morning, and a lovely view when I get there. Were you here to cup my vigorous thighs, you would be impressed.

Towards the end of last semester, however, I was shamefully running late to a class--we're talking a 1:20 departure for a 1:40 class, something not really ideal in the physical universe in which we live. The sad truth is, reader, that I had to use one of the ubiquitous university cabs to ferry me up the side of what I just actually wrote as "the side of the mountain." (It is not a mountain--it is a small hill. Nevertheless.)

Speaking of commanding heights, I've mentioned before the extent of my Turkish skills, which were actually quite a bit worse back then. To add to the fun, I instinctively seem to look foreign to most Turkish people. From my cabdriver, I heard what I also hear from, say, mall security guards, bus drivers, random people in the street, etc.: "Where are you from?" Which is a perfectly nice, welcoming sort of thing to say--I'm not complaining about that, or at least about the spirit behind it. I will say that after a few months, one does sort of begin to feel rather more exotic than one probably should feel, given (as I've mentioned before) how close one lives to a Dockers store.

Now, at this point, I didn't speak very much Turkish at all--I couldn't even properly say "Kanadalıyım," a very basic way of saying "I am Canadian." (I'll practice my Turkish, possibly making a grammatical error, and inform you that saying "Kanada'dan geliyorum" would also be acceptable--although that means "I am coming from Canada." Additional verb tenses as lessons permit.) So it took me a couple of tries even to establish that I was from Canada ("Canada. Canada! Canada?"), of which my driver approved. We were, even on our short trip, deep in smile-and-nod territory. But I was trying to be friendly, and he was trying to be friendly, and we were nearly 1/3 of the way up the hill. This could be a successful social outing!

This, unfortunately, is where my driver chose to give me his opinion of our students--specifically, our female students. "Sexy," he informed me. "Disco party." His facial expression indicated that he imagined I was a regular attendee at said parties, lithe nubiles draping my arms.

What to do? The Turkish for "Well, actually, I don't really objectify my female students, it's sort of unprofessional, ha ha, we're all friends here, though, and incidentally here's a copy of some early Kristeva I think you'll really find enlightening although maybe you should also have a look at Lacan first" was years away--still is, of course. And I didn't have the forethought for "Evet, erkekler çok sexy!," which is some approximation of "yes, very sexy men!" And I had that smile-and-nod inertia going. Weren't we all friends? Sexy disco party friends?

Reader, I smiled and nodded, waited for the remaining ten seconds, paid, and exited the cab--feeling, might I say, that I had let multiple parties (as it were) down. I worry that I had just confirmed a general feeling that our female students were open for all manner of leering sexual adventure, and worse that our faculty were somehow along for the ride. I worry that, given the choice between being pleasant and spineless and severe and vertebral, I had gone for the jellyfish option. But I'm still adrift as to what I could have done. Somewhere on earth there is someone who would be able to communicate, nonverbally, that they disapproved of what had been said, and that the driver could do better than referring to our female students as easy. (Could that person please write to me, c/o this blog?)

Of course, this could also have happened anywhere--I have had far, far more insane conversations with Chicago cab drivers, all of which also started pleasantly. You all know, yes, the feeling of the agreeable cab ride that suddenly veers into insane-opinion territory? Compared to the man in Toronto who talked about taking mushrooms and coming face-to-face with Jesus, my disco gentleman was quite mild, and trying to be friendly. But I'm an employee here, and it's my job to represent our students as best I can. This was pretty much a total failure, in that regard.

I did arrive to class on time, at least, if pantingly. "My driver seems to think that you like disco parties" I told my students, who seemed to find this amusing. I left out what else he thought of them--and, of course, my shame. That goes on the blog.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Bloggus interruptus

Two months. This usually, um, doesn't happen to me...

I don't really have any good excuse for not speaking to you, notional second-person pronoun addressee of this blog, more frequently. When we last talked, we were in the springtimes of our youth; now we are brittle with eld.

Or, at least, I am. I'm sicker'n'a southern stereotype involving an elderly dog. I spent a delightful weekend dehydrated and somewhat delirious; high points included shaking so hard with cold that I could get out of bed to put on an nth layer of socks. On Monday, the sad-eyed Turkish physician told me that I had a severe throat infection, but that this would be entirely cleared up by Thursday, allowing me to teach.

I'll let you, second-person addressee, in on a little secret: I like teaching, and--because of that, and because it is my job to do so--I hate canceling classes. I once taught in Chicago with about a million-degree fever, and I like to think my students barely noticed, outside of the occasional moment when I would run out into the hallway and have a coughing fit suggesting I was birthing a goat orally. I would then return demurely inside to lecture on Greek lyric. (I'm sure that there is a Greek account of language  originating in a man orally birthing a goat out of his mouth--don't ask how it got there in the first place--so no doubt I was adding ever-more value to my students' educations, even if what they probably remember is a living corpse telling them incorrect things about ephebes.)

But the living corpse was not trotted out for the students this week. I don't actually have a voice at the moment, and my throat--although better--is still sort of a river of pain. It is Thursday, and the illness still has the run of the temple (e.g. ruined, clammy, possibly used for "ritual activities") that is my body. If I put my head basically on top of my new humidifier, I will cease coughing. If I decide that I don't want to perch directly in front of the spume hose--for so I have named it--I resume with the oral goat-birth. It is a living.

(This humidifier, too, is a Thing. Although all of the interior materials show happy babies gurgling appreciatively, the thing itself has what look like underlights--those things you put on your 'roided-up Civic in 4 Fast 6 Furious--and suggests that it might be able to support Lazer 'Floyd. Updates to follow.)

I am anguished--this is not too strong a word--that I have had to cancel this many classes, as well as a screening of Macbeth. But I have received many lovely messages from my students--no, that is not cynicism--so I suspect we'll all live without the megawatt illumination that is my teaching.

Anyway, regular blogging to resume--maybe tomorrow? I have many things to talk about: Marxist bombings, Ottoman soap operas (read: filmed catfights), and cab drivers subtly implying that my students are whores. But, before that, I am to the spume hose.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Breast health

I'd like to take a moment, in our prayers, to acknowledge all of those poor Turks who, in the course of carrying out their day-to-day jobs, have to interact with me in Turkish. It is inconceivable they are paid enough.

Those of you know know me well will know that an opportunity to combine clothing, personal shame, and speaking Turkish badly approaches whatever intricately masochistic heaven I have picked out for myself. And, indeed, today I had a foretaste of that afterlife.

I'm not really a mall person. This may have been why, after staggering out of Carrefour (silicon madeline pans, bitches), I staggered into a store selling what looked like a rather smart blazer. Up close, the blazer was not actually all that smart; I knew this in a heartbeat. But the storeclerk instantly asked me what my size was. (Or, at least, I think she did. All communication on the other side in this discussion will be very approximate.) And I am a nice person, so I decided to, ahem, "practice my Turkish."

I fumbled around for a while, trying to remember my numbers, which vanish whenever I am required to talk to a human creature. (Silently alone here in a Starbucks, I can remember them perfectly--let's pretend that, anyway.) Finally, this poor creature decided to break the ice.

"Elli altı?" she asked, citing an immense size (European 56, approx. American 46) that only the morbidly, scooter-boundedly obese--at my height and state of muscular development--fit into.

I am, in fact, a 54. I tried to say as much. It sounded like this: "Elli...oh, shit, I'm terrible at veryçe oğreniyorum*...elli...fuck..dört?" She beamed as though a squirrel had finished his times tables: I had said "fifty-four," with only the additional assistance of having someone just said "fifty" about three seconds before. The only snag: there were no 54s in the blazer that I (remember) didn't really want. But she want to the back, returning with a 56 and a 52. The former looked like a balloon even on me, presumably originally being designed as a parachute or Christmas-tree skirt. The latter fit like a condom.

And then, lo and behold, a 54 was found. By this point I had been reduced even further into gibbering; even my hand gestures were growing inarticulate. But, to move along this weeping tragedy of a clothes fitting, I tried it on.

The 54 was, shall we say, fitted. Were I the opposite gender, I suppose this opportunity to show my voluptuousness burping and buckling out of a blazer-tit would have been welcomed. As it is, I try not to wear anything that makes me look as though I am milked on a regular basis. "Italyan modo," or something similar, the clerk said. And she was right, as far as it goes: many menswear blogs do, in fact, recommend moob-spanning blazer fits. (And, yes, I read menswear blogs featuring fashionable people. I realize that this is like the Little Mermaid dreaming of legs, or Martha--from those children's books about hippos--wearing a tutu. Discrepancy noted.) Of course, all of those people are size 36s, so perhaps it makes more sense there. As it stood, my fit was not Italian: it was Tony Soprano in a leopard-print thong. Or, I suppose, we might say Italian-American, in the Pringle-thickened sense.

"Thank...teşekkurler...fuck...tamam," I said, and I think the shopclerk (who really deserves hazard pay, or such) got the message. I waddled out, cookie-pans (silicon!) in hand.

Next door was (and is, I would imagine, since this happened forty-five minutes ago) a bespoke tailoring shop. I assume I'll have more luck there--or, failing that, are there still companies that make sails?

*"I am learning Turkish." And boy howdy.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Food notes: sahlep

Sahlep is a sweet, warm drink, which according to Wikipedia is served throughout the former Ottoman Empire. Its primary characteristic is being sold out when you want some, pretty much anywhere in Ankara. I have successfully obtained it once.

Oh, Wikipedia has interesting information about sahlep: it's made from an orchid root, for example. And the Romans thought it looked like male genitalia, a fact that is less remarkable the more you know about Roman culture. (The Romans thought about 60% of all objects in the physical world--and an estimated 35% of objects in Plato's world of forms--looked like dongs.) But its primary characteristic is being harder to obtain than most controlled substances--although, lord knows, with the amount of effort I've put into the search, I could probably have obtained heroin by now.

To make sahlep, put up a large, friendly sign that says "SAHLEP," and then tell the foreigners who come in that it is sold out. You do not need to mention that it was always sold out; that you never had any intention of selling it; that maybe you made, oh, three cups' worth, but they sold out in 1993 and you swore your children on the souls of their mother to never make any more. Why not just have some tea? We probably have tea.

Some sahlep vocabulary:
Sahlep bitti: The sahlep is sold out.
Sahlep yok: There is not any sahlep.
Çay ister misiniz?: Would you like some tea?