Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Kurds

My impression is that the Kurds are disliked and disrespected in Turkey. I was told (by an extremely limited sample) that the Kurds were lazy and dirty. There was no objection to allowing them their own country, but the argument was that it wasn't enough for them, they wanted more. These CHP supporters also felt that AKP Prime Minister Erdogan had handled the situation with the Kurds badly, being to conciliatory. They believed the  Kurds were not as they are portrayed in the West.

The sympathetic view of the Kurds from these same CHP supporters was that they aren't given the same opportunity as other Turks, which is responsible for their bad qualities.

On the bus from Istanbul to Ankara, which was headed to the eastern city of Van, a man told me that this was a "Kurdish" bus. He complained about the smell of the bus on multiple occasions. To me, it smelled like any other bus in the world after and eight hour ride... terrible.

This month, while I was in Ankara, violence hit the southeastern portion of the country as about a dozen Kurdish rebels and two Turkish soldiers were killed in clashes. it wasn't an important news event in Turkey. It wasn't even the lead story on the news that day.

The issue with the Kurds gets directly to the heart of what it means to be a Turkish citizen. Can people who aren't ethnic Turks or are non-Muslims be enjoy legal, social, and economic equality as full citizens? It's been an issue that has persisted since the founding of modern Turkey. The inability of the state to allow minority to coexist has resulted not only in the violence from and against Kurds over the past 30 years, but also in the genocide of the Armenians and in other violence against minorities.

Yet, there is a desire among the Turks that I encountered to be perceived as tolerant of minorities. People are free to be who they are, or so the line goes. But the reality is far more complicated.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Price of Turkey

In Turkey, books and gas are extremely expensive. That results in limited information for the Turkish people. Books, especially foreign language books, fall outside the price range of the average citizen. They are more expensive than in the United States even though Turkey's GDP per capita is significantly lower than the U.S.'s.

Relatedly, Turkish news focuses only on news in Turkey. There is very little foreign news. This shapes Turkish people's worldview in powerful way. Turkey borders Iraq and Syria, yet the violence in those countries seems like a world away. Even violence in southeastern Turkey felt as if it was in a different country.

Gas costs about 3.70TL per liter. That means it's roughly $8.25 a gallon. Again, Turks make less than the average American who pays about $3.70 a gallon right now. The price of owning a car is also far more expensive than it is in America. The result is that Turks do not have the freedom to travel within their own country that Americans possess. This is part of the reason why southeastern Turkey is so divided from central Anatolia and farther west. The other reason is ethnicity. The southeast is home to the Kurds.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Istanbul Home

On Wednesday night, I went out with the two receptionists again. The driver began racing in his ten year old car despite my objections. He confidently proclaimed, "I know the racers on the road. I know the tricks. If I had a better car, I would win." Later he asserted, "I know how to crash." He said no one would get hurt and that during the would-be crash he was in control. That's what I wanted for my last night in Turkey, a car accident.

But we didn't crash. Instead, we ate at a kabob place along a street filled with them in Aksaray. It was delicious, then I went back to the hotel to sleep for my flight home.

The trip home was long and tiring. On the metro, I smiled at a baby who smiled back, much to the delight of another man watching us. The Delta flight didn't have tvs in each seat. Instead, we all had to watch the same thing. I hadn't been on an international flight like that in years.

After the flight was over, the man in front of me, a middle aged man with graying hair, tattoos covering his freakishly muscular arms, and twirl earrings advised me to watch my head as he lowered the overhead bin. The bin stopped 8 inches above my head. The man looked embarrassed with his miscalculation. I said, "It's never an issue." A minute later, he bumped his head on the bin looking for the cell phone he had just dropped.

I was able to skip most of the massive line at passport control because of my connecting flight. The passport officials flirted endlessly with young women getting their passports stamped, holding up the line. When it was my turn, the man didn't say one word to me. I laughed as I left.

As I got my bag, a tall black airport official asked a confused little Filipino woman where she was going. The woman ignored him. He joked with me, "That's what I get for trying to help someone. Did she think I was going to rob her? There are 300 federal agents here." He then happily told me where to go.

After going the wrong way on the Air Train, I righted myself and began helping non-U.S. visitors who asked for my help. It felt good to help people after so many people in Turkey had helped me. Still, I wasn't walking for an hour and half to bring someone to their destination. Vague points were the extent of my help. In America, especially in New York, that makes me something of another Gandhi.

The man sitting next to me on the puddle jumper to DC was too tall and took over much of my area. It was frustrating and the trip was getting to me, although the man was apologetic. Finally, I made it home.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Bird and the Belgian Waffle

Last night, two of the hotel receptionists, including my NBA-loving friend, took me out. Both are licensed tour guides and they gave me a free drive through the city. They showed me some of the more posh sites in European Istanbul, inlcluding a Starbucks on the Bosphorus that had the nicest room I've ever been in.

At one point, the police pulled us over because we're young looking and it was late. That was the extent of their reasoning. The policeman with buggy eyes and a small face was at least nice. He took the two guys' identity cards to see if they were wanted. Being American, I wasn't checked.

Then we went to a strand of food stalls where the vendors holler at you as you pass. The one guy was friends with a couple of the vendors and we were able to get the works for our Belgian Waffles and baked poatatoes. Basically, they stuff everything known to man in them and fold the waffle over. It's unbelievably good. And it was an absolutely wonderful little tour that I won't soon forget. It was all the more special because gas is so expensive here.

Today, I went to Asian Istanbul. I've been in Istanbul too long. While getting there, I helped an old Turkish lady buy her tram token. Coming home, I helped another old Turkish lady buy her ferry ticket. After taking the ferry myself to the Asian side, I walked the coast from Uskudar to Karakoy.

If I ever take you to the smooth rocks on the Asian side as the Bosphorus twinkles in the sunset, be warned, I'm getting ready to propose. And don't steal my idea you assholes. Later, a bird shat on my head. A direct hit. I rushed to a bathroom and put hand soap and water in my hair.

I've had an amazing, inspiring, and enlightening trip. It's all I could've asked for.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Wild Day

I asked the receptionist how to get to Chora Church (pronounced Cora for some reason). He suggested I take a tour for 25 euros. I said it was too much, I just wanted to visit the church. He said, "Ok, 20 euros." I told him, that I was going to Haskoy afterwards. He told me how to get to Chora, but I decided to go my own way.

I left Topkapi tram station and walked towards Chora. That sounds easier than it was because at some point the sidewalks next to the highway ran out. I had to run across several lanes of highway, speeding cars and all, much like Eddie Murphy in Bowfinger.

At one point, I had my back against the wall as cars flew inches from me. I saw a man and jumped back ove rthe wall. He grabbed me and took me on a bus that stopped 30 seconds away. But there was no way for me to get there walking without risking death. Then it was an ordeal to get to Chora fromt here. Most people had no idea what I was asking. An elderly French man recoiled in horror as I approached him, but his wife was more poised and helped me out. Chora Church was a let down after that harrowing experience.

Then I walked to the sea. I stumbled upon a cockfight in the park. Two roosters reached for each other's neck as if they were two competive lovers trying to out-kiss each other. I didn't stay to see who won.

I hopped on the ferry to go to Haskoy. I though Haskoy would have a prominent Jew town. I would ask for the synagogue, people would point to it and I would meet my fellow Jews. Um, it was a nice dream. In reality, I asked for "synagogue" and it elicited a wide range of reactions. For the most part I got back confusion and apathy. One man yelled at me angrily something about Allah. Another group ran for their lone English-speaking friend who told me there were no synagogues in Haskoy.

I went into an internet cafe to look it up online. After writing down a half-address, I asked where the sea was. The internet cafe worker found his English-speaking friend Ilyas (when I say English-speaking, I mean he knew about twenty words). Ilyas recruited his friend (who spoke no English) Orhan. Ilyas, Orhan, and I went off in search for the synagogue.

One problem, they thought a synagogue was a church. Even despite my showing them my yarmulke, my Yuri Foreman shirt with its Star of David, and my repeating "Israel, Israel." We walked and walked. They continuously stopped to ask people. I think they were constantly arguing about directions because synagogue was every fifth word and they kept motioning left and right. They were probably in their mid 20s, between 5'6" and 5'9". Ilyas's hair was gelled in the front and he donned a leather jacket.

At several points other people joined our quest. One was a man with a long gray beard. He patted me on the shoulder when he left us. Afterwards, Ilyas made a beard motion and said "Haji" Then he said, "Bin Laden," and laughed. After an hour and a half, we found the synagogue. I had walked by the high red walls with an impressive amount of barbed wire above its walls about an hour and 25 minutes before. I felt like such a shcmuck. Ilyas repeated rang the bell and pounded ont he doors. The synagogue was closed.

I walked to Eminu afterwards, no small task. I took the tram back to Sultan Ahmet, ate, and came here. I've been talking with the recptionists, including my NBA-loving friend for the past few hours. There goes my plans to go to a cafe and meet people. We talked about Erdogan and they both saw him asa bad influence ont he coutnry. Another receptionist who stopped by said he is not a supporter of Erdogan, but asserted there was no better option.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Back in Istanbul

It took me a while to get out of the room. My knee was stiff from the fall on the shuttle and the jousting with the tall man with bad breath on the bus to Istanbul.

I showered and headed for Europeam Istanbul. I really blended in with the locals, who truly fit a variety of descriptions. It's good because the touts who pester other foreigners don't bother me. But it's bad because there are touts for Turkish people too and they do bother me. It's also bad because instead of looking like a cool American adventurer traveling on his own, I look like a friendless local loser.

I keep entering book stores even though I know the prices are astronomical. I guess I'm hoping for that diamond in the rough.

After eating on Istiklal Road, I searched for a cafe to sit and either mingle or people watch. The only thing suitable was a Starbucks, an establishment I never go to in the U.S. I studied people walking buy and wondered what is this need to be in love. I had heard sad stories of marriages dissolving this weekend and yet, I can't fight the desire. I know that being alone leaves with a constant contentness whereas being in a relationship will create extreme highs and lows. It's not rational to want to trade emotional stability for love it would seem. Yet, I was reminder of the Messiah J quote, "I'm well aware love is horro show, but I see you holding hands and say, 'That looks like fun I wanna go.'"

There is a need among humans to have shared experiences and that is something I'm mostly missing by traveling alone. We also have a need to touch and be touched; to talk and to listen; to love and be loved. Yet, I find romantic relationships often to be about status instead of love. A partner is like a designer accessory. I don't want to be in that kind of relationship. But we often pick people who others will have a positive reaction to rather than someone who makes us feel good.

At one point wandering around European Istanbul, a man asked me something in Turkish. I said, sorry? He threw his hands up in disgust and took off. I looked back on him and threw my hands up. Another man explained to me what happened... in Turkish. So I still have no idea.

I came into this hotel for the computer and my old NBA-loving friend was sitting behind the desk and was excited to see me. I was excited to see him too. We talked about my travels and Jeremy Lin.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Izmir to Istanbul

On Saturday, I also visited some old synagogues which had been left to crumble along the curvy alleys. A more recent synagogue was open and quite beautiful. I was surprised to see it wasn't in a Sephardic style. While in the synagogue, a friend of a friend of my mother's, a middle aged Jewish man, was talking about the history and current situation of the Jews in Izmir with me. The two Muslim women we were with kept shushing us. The man wispered to me, "They don't realize, we're Jews; we talk!"

Sunday featured a visit to the ancient city of Ephesus. Some people leave part of their hearts there. I left part of my tooth. It broke off on a hardened chocolate bar. Walking through the ancient ruins of Ephesus was surreal. There was thousands of years of history cast to the side. It really amazing how advanced they were so long ago. We can't lose our link with those who came before.

The car ride back was pleasant and peaceful. As the sun set. the shadows rested on the brown moutains. When we got to the outskirts of Izmir, I was told that the Gypsies have been moved from their homes to luxury apartments, but some, particulalry the older ones, don't want to go. Change can be difficult. Many houses are built up illegally. The goverment gave these people deeds right before the election to ensure their votes.

As soft romantic mood filled the car on the drive back, once we got into Izmir, that music wouldn't do amid the chaos of traffic in the city. Later, I had dinner with my mom's friend's mother and talked with mom's friend's son about his upcoming trip to America.

To get to Istanbul, I took a car, shuttle bus, bus, metro, walked, took the tram, and walked some more. When the shuttle reached the ottogar (bus station) in Izmir, I tried to lift my huge heavy bag over the seats and out. There was one problem. There was an inexplicable step in the middle fo the aisle. I tripped and banged my knee pretty badly. Assessing the injury, I nearly vomitted. But once I realized it was minor, I was fine.

On the bus, the man sitting next to me was too tall and sleeping all over me. I spent much of the ride tried to shove him back to his side through clenched teeth. The walk from the metro to the tram is not entirely obvious. So, I decided to follow a pretty girl in the hopes she was going to the tram. My stalkerish move worked! Now, I'm going to rest for a couple hours before trekking out (likely) into European Istanbul unless I have a change of heart.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

In Izmir

I spent the day exploring Izmir wth a friend of my mother. First, we started in the ancient city of Agora. It is incredible to see those old ruins. The beauty of that they make us humble because it shows that we really haven't come so far. Not only do Americans exhibit arrogance towards other countries today, but we also show arrogance towards other time periods.

We then squeezed through the bazaar and drank some more of the bitter Turkish version of tea. They have to dunk an entire cube of sugar to quell the bitterness. I saw a tv program where they blamed that sugar on a rising level of obesty in Turkey. The funny thing is when showing B roll of fat people on television, instead of showing them from the neck down, they showed these fat people's faces.

Then, e went to a museum with sculptures from thousands of years ago. They left me speechless.

My mom's friend lamented the AKP, the party in power. She decried the corruption and nepotism of the party. She condemned the prime minister's manipulation of his poor background to gain the votes of the poor despite his anti-poor policies. And she also had harsh words for the Kurds and the gypsies.

Izmir is a Meditarrean city. it has a laid back, seaside feel. There are also mountains in the near distance. The traffic is bad though. The city has a certain swagger to it.

One interesting fact is the that books are astromincally expensive here in Turkey.  The result is that many people don't count reading as a hobby. You can draw your own conclusions as to its consequences.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Konya to Izmir

I turned off the gray-haired man's computer. His name is Yuksel. I went over to shake his hand in order to thank him. He retorted, "Now will you buy carpet?"

On the tram in Konya, you have to buy two tickets. I only needed one. I tried to give the card wth the one trip on it to a woman in hijab. She thought I was asking her a question and thwarted my charity. After I got off the tram, I handed the card to a man who appreciated the gesture.

I spent most of the day on the bus from Konya to Izmir in silence. No one on the bus spoke English. The attendant certainly didn't. The guy I bought a sandwich from halfway during the trip didn't either. I've used lots of hand gestures today.

I was picked up from the bus station in Izmir by the son of a friend of my mother's and take back to their lovely apartment. The son and I talked about the west-east divide in Turkey among other things. Let's just say, he doesn't look kindly on the Kurds.

That's been my day, one of traveling, mostly through the snow. It's been the first day of the trip without much walking.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Rumi and the Bookstore Run Around

Konya is supposed to be more religious than the rest of Turkey. My tv had problems, so, after a half hour of trying to fix it, they moved me to a different room. I'm glad they did, because they aray of channels were interesting. A number were weird Italian sex channels that I didn't understand, You had to call a number and well, I don't really know what happens then. There was also the Syrian state channel, which was more illuminating. The had an English brief. There was news on Russia standing up for Asad, China warning the West about interfering in the crisis, and a report on several Western journalists who were allowed into a seemingly peaceful city. It makes you think, why are Russia and China standing up for Syria during the crisis if there is no crisis and everything is normal? Asad's arguments are becoming more desparate and thus are contradictory.

Though Turkey borders Syria and Iraq (and Iran, although there isn't a crisis there, just tension with the U.S.) and there was an attack by the PKK in southeastern Turkey and a Turkish retaliation, you wouldn't know it being in Ankara or Konya. It feels a world away.

I visited Rumi's museum and tomb. It was a good visit and emotional to see his tomb. This town is very much devoted to the one they call Mevlana (the guide, Rumi's nickname). Afterwards, I went searching for English books. Two very nice English-speaking carpet sellers wrote down the name and the general vacinity of a mall-like building filled with book stalls. First we talked. One spends time in Brooklyn. He mentioned that he feels the fear of Muslims in America has gone down, but he still turned down a trip to a radical mosque because he feared being on some list. He was pleasantly surprised when I told him that I'm Jewish and noted that Jews are referenced as being cheap in Konya.

He said that he felt free in Turkey and approved of the work of the prime minister. The other man was more silent and most of his talking was about carpets. He has a deep memorable boom in his voice and his hair has a distinguished gray spot, a color that is sprinkled across his stubble. They asked me my age. It turns out, the gray-haired man and I are both 30. The part-time Brooklynite, who sported a soul patch,  was a mature 28. He mentioned that I don't look like a tourist at all. I'm using the gray-haired man's computer while sitting in the lobby of the hotel now. Talk about nice!

The book mall was not easier to find. First I went to the Seljuk mosque. Konya used to be the capital of the Seljuk empire. I was the only one in the mosque, quite a treat. Telephone lines block any attempt at a nice photo of the mosque. The first guy I asked for Rampal (the book mall) laughed and sais, "You want to go there?" I worried that maybe the place they had written down for me was something offensive. I asked another guy and he exhausted his English after, "First right, then left. Then," he shrugged. "Then I'll ask," I said. He laughed. It took asking two more peopl to find the place. And then, there were about 7 terrible English books in the whole place.

Much of my day involved hand gestures to get what I wanted, food, clothes, directions to Rampala. It's clumsy, but it works.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ankara to Konya

Vinoba Bhave walked to expose the plight of the poor, to give land to the landless in the poverty-stricken Indian province of Bihar. My perpetual walking is more personal. I walk for information and pain.

Can physical pain bring enlightment? Perhaps that's what the whirling dervishes, a Sufi phenomenon, were thinking as they spun. Fitting as Konya is a major hub of Sufism. Emotional pain can surely bring enlightment. But not if it is contrived emotional pain derived from self-pity.

I just finished reading Mailer's The Fight. He describes the economy of mood on the final page and, relatedly, mentions that his gambling fortune was tied to his mood. More than mood, I believe one's outlook can control one's life, even more than the things we have in our direct control.

This day wasn't filled with much in the way of stories. There was the three year girl I shared countless smiles with while waiting for the bullet train to take us from Ankara to Konya. There was the tall man sitting next to me on the train, his extended beard raining off his face, whose thumb and fore-finger ate his prayer beads one by one, around and around. The faster the train sped, the hungrier his fingers devoured the beads. And there was the other man, the only person of 25 in my car, who faced east at 4:25pm and went through his prayer rituals.

I walked the 3KM with my heavy bag on my back from the train station to the hotel. I was tired. The hotel clerk was very friendly. I asked the price of the room. He quoted and I accepted. In my exhaustion, I had forgotten to haggle. The clerk felt bad for me. "Well, it comes with breakfast." A little while later, while leaving the hotel for dinner, another man stopped me and advised me to wear a jacket because it's cold. It was a loving paternalistic jesture. Of course, I had to inform him that I don't have a jacket with me.

I'm excited to see Rumi's museum/shrine tomorrow. But my major concern is my damp and stinky shoes. They're falling apart and turning from white to a bluish hue. If I can, I may just ditch them for some Turkish shoes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Why am I in Ankara?

Why am I in Ankara? That topic consumed my thoughts today. I could spend most of my vacation in the wondrous city of Istanbul. I could be in some warm beach city along the Mediterranean or the Black Sea. Instead, I'm in cold snowy crowded Ankara. It was 5 degrees celsius and snowing and sticking today.

I wonder if I'm in Ankara because of some sense of self-loathing. As if I don't deserve the finer things in life. I haven't earned them yet. Or perhaps it's because I prefer to challenge myself rather than take the easy way. Maybe it's because some wise portion of my being understands that the information I am accumulating now will serve me in some important way later.

Or maybe it is because I long to empathize with and understand people from places that are not considered among the world's treasures. But if it is out of empathy, why am I so reluctant to engage with others? Is because of insecurity? Or is because any little interaction affects me so greatly due to my hyper-empathy?

Today, I managed to make it to Anit Kabir, Ataturk's mausoleum. I walked in on a state funeral procession. I don't know for whom. After it ended and soliders began departing, I took out my phone to take a picture of them goose-stepping. As I took out my phone, the commander unleashed an ear-invading yell and the soldiers turned and began marching right at me angrily. I froze, thinking I had created an international incident. Turns out, the commander was simply shouting instructions to his men.

I would be remiss as a Jew if I didn't mention my ongoing ailmetns. From walking so much every day, my feet are in a state of constant agony. My old planter fasciitis acted up in Istanbul, but thankfully has died down. But the tendon in the back of my ankle connecting my heal to my calf was sore before I came and has gotten far worse. My feet are often soaked because of the slush the snow creates. I have an inexplicable scratch on my ass. I strained a groin in Istanbul which healed quickly.

And finally, though I have put down Ankara thus far- I've found myself cussing quite often since being here- it does have its charm. it mixes the ancient with the modern historical with the modern. This is despite the baseball cards with women in their underwear littered all over the Ulus section of the city. However, looking Turkish yet not speaking a word of the language, I feel a sense of anonimous isolation.

I realized it was Valentine's Day sitting in a cafe at 8pm and noticing tons of couple surrounding me and red hearts made out of construction paper on the windows. I looked at my phone and saw the date. Hmm, now those guys selling roses all over the place makes sense. I never have cofee, but I sipped a chocalte cappucino and that combined with the day's self-reflection has created quite the little high.

Monday, February 13, 2012

In Ankara

Well, not too much happened since I last wrote. I did get stuck in the hotel's elevator. It doesn't have it's own door and I didn't realize that you have to push the floor's door to get out. The elevator is really small too. I freaked out and started pounding on the door.

I had an argument with last night's internet guy. I'm sure I gave him 2 lira. He was sure I gave him 1.50. He said he only had 1 50 piece and I had just given it to him. I had checked in the hotel and saw I only had 1 50 piece, which was still in my pocket. An argument ensued. I got my 2 lira back and he kicked me out. Just as well, he charged me 1.75 yesterday.

Other than that, I spent the day walking around. Kizilay is the posh part of town and has way too many McDonald'ses, Burger Kings, Pizza Huts, and Dominoes, too close to one another. Do we need three Burger Kings within two blocks?

Ankara is an Asian city. This is how I can tell. I have to run across the street if I don't want to be standing in the same place for a half hour waiting for a break in traffic. People honk their car horns instead of yielding. The computers at the internet places suck. And I can't go out for a leasurely stroll. The wide streets are too crowded.

Kemal Ataturk is much bigger here than he is in Istanbul. Ataturk didn't step foot in Istanbul from 1919 to 1927, which, no disrespect the Turkish people, does not say much for their father's judgement. If Istanbul leaves you speechless, Ankara will have you talking to yourself.

P.S. John's name was actually Chaner, which shows you my ability to understand Turkish.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

From Istanbul to Ankara

I was hellbent on going out last night to experience a taste of the Istanbul nightlife. I went back to the room at 7pm to rest up and I set an alarm for 9:45. 9:45 came and went and I was too tired to move. Finally, at 11:45pm I got up and went for a walk. Sultanahmet, the place where I'm staying in the Old City, was fairly dead at that hour, even on a Saturday night. So I went for a walk and ran into the same man that I thought might be trying to scam me a couple of days before. He was driving the same car and stopped to talk to me at the same bend in the road. It was definitely a scam. Eventually, I got back to the hotel, sat upstairs in their pseudo restaurant, and had a good thinking session.

I woke up and felt sick. I left the hotel anyway and traversed to the bus station on my way to Ankara. A man approached me and with no English (and I speak no Turkish), I managed to get a bus ticket for Ankara at a fairly reasonable price. The bus probably wasn't great, but my standards are so low from my time in India that it felt like a bus for a pack of sultans

On the bus, I met a guy named John, or at least that's what I thought his name was until he wrote in on a card and it's spelled differently. I don't have the card with me. He is a camera man for Turkish movies and is from Antalya, but now lives in Ankara. He was visiting his girlfriend in Istanbul.

Before I talk more about him, the bus ride was cool. The snow covered mountains watched over the glistening Marmara Sea. The cookie cutter towns surrounding Izmit were memorable. John told me this was a Kurdish bus. It was headed for the eastern city of Van. No one except for John spoke English and John's was limited.

At one point, the bus stopped for prayers. John said Muslims were a problem in Turkey. Problem was his favorite word. Finished came a close second. Finished described an ex-girlfriend and his dead father. A few times John locked arms with me while we were at a rest stop and at one point he playfully punched my stomach a few times. He was always on the phone.

When we got off the bus at Ankara, John took me to the metro. Though he lives here, amazingly he knew less about the Ankara metro than I did. The entire time, I was trying to figure out if this was a scam. If it was, how did he know I would be on the bus. Was the man in the station who directed me to the bus in on it? Couldn't be. Could it?

We got to our metro stop and he began looking at women's clothing in a store. He'd stroke his salt and pepper stubble and rub his rotund belly and round face examining the clothes. He was wearing a comical green frog winter hat and had lent me his smart blue winter hat. He was very paternalistic towards me. He offered to buy my mother some clothes. "Money is no problem." We went to another shop and he got his ear pierced yelling "FOCK!" at the girl punctured his earlobe. 'What kind of guy is this?' I thought. He had offered to take me to dinner before and we were supposedly on our way.

We walked to a secluded restaurant in a tall building by the metro after he had made a call. I began to worry. He introduced me to two friends, older gentlemen. Virtully no one was in the restaurant. I was starving as it was 8pm and I hadn't eaten since breakfast. A woman began to sing for the three people in the audience. John made more calls. No food was coming. No one took our order. I began to worry. John left the restaurant twice with his phone. I started freaking out. At the very least, I wouldn't make it back to the hotel until late. And I didn't have a room yet. John offered me money. "Money is no problem." I saw an image of me being tied up by several large men and robbed of everything I own. John asked me for my last name, phone number, and email address. I gave him phonies.

John left again. I grabbed my bag. Out in the hall, John's friend introduced me to a Turkish woman who lived in America for 27 years. She asked me what the hell I was doing in Ankara instead of being in Istanbul. Everyone in Istanbul had said the same thing. Then John came and saw me leaving. I apologized and told him I was so sleepy. He was ok with it. That led me to believe this wasn't an elaborate scam.

I managed to make it to the hotel in my usual stumbling way. I got the price for the room knocked down from 80 to 60, which is still more than I wanted to pay. One last thing. While walking around the metro, I couldn't believe how many beautiful women there were. It was worth noting.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Beyoglu and Basketball

I went to Beyoglu on the European side of Istanbul (I've been in the Old City and there is also an Asian side) last night. I was trying to see some of the Istanbul nightlife. I went to the main road, Istiklal Caddesi. It's this wide street that's really only for pedestrians and is filled with posh shops on either side. All the hip people go there. I hated it. I was pretty cold and it was just a never-ending rush of people who didn't always veer right when approaching me. The only plus, besides finding a book on a Jewish guy who visited Istanbul in 1830, was all the beautiful women.

One woman sidled up to me in a book store. Maybe she was interested, maybe she was just looking at the books next to me. I should've said hi, but I had a relapse of my Mackey Sasser disease with women. Sasser was a catcher who couldn't throw the ball back to the pitcher, though he could make any other throw. But if you can't throw the ball back to the pitcher, you can't play in the game.

I got back to the room at 9:30 and planned to go out and try this late night thing one more time. They have alcohol-free cafes around the hotel, which is more my style. But I fell asleep instead. I had woken up at 6am after 4 hours of sleep. Last night ws the first time I had a full night's sleep, from 9:30pm to 4am. I;m going to try to go out tonight, if I don't fall asleep.

Today, I went to a Turkish League Basketball game featuring Edirne and Efes. Two beautiful women sat next to me and I decided to ask them a question about the American players. After the one woman answered, they both got up and left.

Efes won big led by Esteban Batista, the Uruguayan national team's star. I was also impressed with Tarence Kinsey, who has talent, but is a bad passer. He threw an awful alley-oop attempt, chucked a pass as hard as he could at a teammate's knees, and threw a confused no-look dish sort of to Batista and then screamed at Esteban when he didn't catch the errant pass.

I also took a picture with Sasha Vujacic, who is injured. Honestly, he's one of my least favorite NBA players of all time, although I have to say he was nice to me. On the train ride back from the game, a guy starts talking to me in Turkish. I said, "Sorry?" He apologized and said, "I thought you were Turkish. You look very Turkish." He told me he had lived in Roanoake, Virginia. I was also approached by people trying to get locals to sign up for something and when I said I didn;t speak Turkish, they looked embarrassed. I noticed they let the obvious foreigners be. I also went into a mosque to pray and no one batted an eye. Apparently, Ashkenazi Jews and Turks look alike.

I came back to a sister hotel of mine; this one has the computer. I showed my new NBA-loving friend Suat my picture with Vujacic and he told me that Jeremy Lin lit up the Lakers last night. I'm planning on going to Ankara tomorrow.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Girl From Holland and the Guy From Izmir

I left the computer last night and went to a cafe for some late night tea. It was snowing hard and beginning to stick on the street. A car pulls up to me and the guy opens his window and asks me something in Turkish. I replied, "I don't know."

He asked me where I'm from and I answered "America." He said he had been to California. He asked me where my hotel was, I pointed in a general direction. I asked him where he was from and he said Izmir. He asked me in English for the place he was looking for and I said I didn't know where it was. Then, he asked me to come in his car, out of the snow and we'll got to a Turkish bar.

He seemed friendly enough, but nearly being scammed out of all my earthly possessions in India has left me quite cautious. He didn't press it and left, which made me think he was just a friendly guy. Better safe than sorry I suppose.

After something called flower chai, I went back to the hotel, hiking through the snow. I went up to the top floor where there's a pseudo-restaurant. The was a girl from Holland there with the most beautiful bright blue eyes and a very cute round face that glowed when she smiled. Cute-i-ful is a new word I've been looking to try out. She had been to Washington DC. We were chatting and everything was going nicely.

She was telling me that she hadn't run into many Turkish people out at night because of the snow. She joked,"Maybe if they go out the snow will melt their brown skin right off of them."

'WHAT THE FUCK?' I thought. Not only is that racist, but how is snow going to melt other things? Snow is cold. But it was the rare moment when I actually avoided confrontation, because she was in her underwear. She could have said Hitler was right and I wouldn't have said anything. In fact, when I was in Vienna, a German girl had said that Jews were responsible for 9/11 and I let it go... because she was in her underwear.

Apparently I look Turkish, according to one of the guys working at my hotel. It makes sense because people often speak Turkish to me when I notice they speak English to other people who look like foreigners.  Of course, because I can't speak any Turkish, I still pay the foreigner price.

Today, I walked to the Grand Bazaar. Eh. There are a lot of stores in a covered area. It's essentially a giant semi-open air mall. Big whoop. It wasn't the experience that traversing through Old Delhi was. But the bazaar and the jewel room at the Topkapi palace yesterday made me thankful I'm not here with a girlfiend. I can't think of much worse than going from shop to shop browsing through everything. And those Ottoman jewels were so lavish, I would look inferior in a girlfriend's eyes no matter what I do.

One last thing. The snow has stopped and the sun is out. On the way to lunch, a truck's passenger side mirror came about three inches from smacking me in the face. I've spent the last two hours talking to a Turkish guy here at the hotel who loves the NBA. Before that, a French couple who spoke no English came in. The Turkish guy was calm but frustrated and began yelling slowly in English so they would understand what he was saying better. They didn't. See, it's not just Americans who do that.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Seeing the Sites

My sleeping schedule resembles that of a murderer. I woke up at 3am today. I eventually went out in the blinding snow. I went into the Blue Mosque complex, but the inside was closed to visitors for prayers. I later went to the Aya Sofya, which was overwhelming. To see such a magnificent building built so long ago is astonishing.

If all I had seen was the Aya Sofya, dayenu. But I also went to the Topkapi Palace. The most emotional part was viewing the sword purportly belonging to King David, the rod belonging to Moses, Abraham's sauce pan, and Mohammad's foot print and a drinking cup. When you see something tangible allegedly belonging to these prophets, it begins to make them real. That is a profound experience.

The rest of the palace was also great. I enjoyed the circumcision room. Each room within the palace was dripping with opulence. That too was overwhleming. A lot was overwhelming on this day. I also visited the harem, which honestly wasn't worth the extra money in my opinion. At least not nearly the price of admission.

While viewing the weapons of the Ottoman's, I think I discovered why they lost. They had the most exquisite swords and axes that were labeled 19th and 20th century. How about I shoot you and we'll see what kind of damage your golden sword can do? When I was leaving the palace, I passed a group of American college students. I began to gawk at two girls in the back of the group, more because of their accent than anything else. I hadn't heard an American accent since the plane. I was also deciding if I wanted to ask them where they're from. But because of exhaustion and the cold, my reactions were slow and instead I was simply awkwardly staring at them. They noticed.

The whole day it's been snowing heavily although it's not sticking to the ground. It makes the streets very slushy and my shoes and socks were soaked through. The challenge is to keep my shoes from smelling bad for the rest of the trip. Also, I forgot to bring a jacket, so I've invented a new "Putz who forgot to bring his jacket and is too cheap to buy a new one so, yes that's right, he's wearing a fleece over a hoodie" look.

I went back to the room after lunch at about 4pm. I thought I'd take a nap and be ready for the night. But I overslept and I'm not hungry at all.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

In Istanbul

I went through some kind of awakening on the plane over here. I thought about the traits that give me reason to feel insecure and it was healing in that I was able to address them and feel more confident afterwards. I think it also finally hit me that my grandpa died 13 years ago. I was less nervous heading into this trip than for past ones, but I still fretted about the small things. But everything went smoothly. There really is no sense in worrying about something that hasn't happened yet.

Alright, enough philosophy. On the plane from DC to NYC, a man was talking to the Irish guy next to him way too loudly. He said, "I'm from Philly, then I moved to California, now I'm in South Carolina, and my wife and mistress are from the Philippines." Everyone around him laughed. The Irish guy replied, "Well, you're sitting next to the right person, I'm a Roman Catholic priest."

On the plane to Istanbul, I watched Moneyball, Hangover number 2, and Million  Dollar Baby and cried during one of them. Getting off the plane, everything was very easy and quite nice. There's an underground area with marble floors that takes you from Ataturk airprt to the Metro. The metro and the tram are clean and quite like a DC metro mourning rushhour ride or a trip to Dachau circa 1943. I got to the hotel with little problem and the room was nice for the price.

Then, I slept until now because I didn't sleep on the plane. The only issue so far, besides my amazing feat of somehow knocking the toilet paper into the toilet, is that I'm currently having a fight with that same toilet. It doesn't want to flush like I think it should. Now it's time to eat and get ready for some exploring tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Off to Turkey

I'll be on my way to Turkey later today. Hopefully, I'll be able to blog about it.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Top 5 QBs, RBs, WRs Now

This list takes more into account than one pass, one game, or even one season. But it's not a list one the best who happen to be active. It also isn't a prediction of what will happen either. Injuries are not ignored. The previous list was posted on February 7, 2011. This is the first year Mike has taken part and the first year for receivers.

David (Previous Rank) - Mike
1. Tom Brady (2) - Aaron Rodgers
2. Aaron Rogers (5) - Tom Brady
3. Drew Brees (3) - Drew Brees
4. Ben Roethlisberger (NR) - Eli Manning
5. Eli Manning (NR) - Ben Roethlisberger

Running Backs
David (Previous Rank) - Mike
1. Adrian Peterson (1) - Maurice Jones-Drew
2. Ray Rice (3) - Arian Foster
3. Arian Foster (5) - Ray Rice
4. Maurice Jones-Drew (NR) - Adrian Peterson
5. Chris Johnson (2) - LeSean McCoy

Wide Receivers
David - - - Mike
1. Calvin Johnson - Calvin Johnson
2. Larry Fitzgerald - Larry Fitzgerald
3. Roddy White - Wes Welker
4. Victor Cruz - Steve L. Smith
5. Wes Welker - Roddy White

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Super Bowl XLVI Recap

The New York Giants and New England Patriots played a very strategic contest that turned on three key miscues.In the first half, Kevin Boothe of the Giants was called for a holding penalty on a play in which the Giants earned a first down on a third and short. That penalty led to a punt and killed a promising drive. At that point, the Giants were leading 9-3 and dominating the half with ball control.

As a result, Tom Brady led the Patriots on a 96 yard touchdown drive that ended with 8 seconds remaining in the half. New England went into the half up 10-9 despite hardly having the ball on offense.

The Patriots also got the ball to start the second half. That drive saw Tom Brady at his best, utilizing slant routes  in order to move the ball down the field. A touchdown bumped up the New England lead to 17-9. The Giants, who had played so well for 26 minutes of the first half now saw themselves in a dire predicament.

Deep in their own territory, trailing 17-15 after two field goals, the Giants faced a third and long. Rob Ninkovich of the Patriots rushed offsides turned a failed drive into a third and short. The Giants converted and were able to march down, changing field possession.

On the Patriots' second to last drive, Wes Welker dropped a sure catch that was thrown slightly behind him. That would have given the Patriots a chance for at least three if not seven. Instead, the Patriots set the Giants up for a remarkable finish. Eli Manning through a perfect pass to Mario Manningham, who made an outstanding catch.

As the Giants got close to the end zone, the Patriots misplayed the clock. With first down and a little over a minute to go, the Patriots should have let the Giants score to save time and their two timeouts. Instead, Ahmad Bradshaw was tackled and the Patriots called a timeout. On the next play, New England allowed Bradshaw score a TD. The Patriots had given up a few seconds, but more importantly, a precious timeout.

Three Giants' fumbles that were all recovered by New York also contributed to Patriots loss. A failed hail mary sealed the Patriots' fate. They've now lost their last two Super Bowls, both to the Giants.

New York won 21-17 and Eli Manning won his second Super Bowl MVP.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Super Bowl XLVI Preview

New England Patriots (16-2) vs. New York Giants (12-7)

A mere four years after one of the greatest upsets in sports of the last 25 years, the same two teams are back in the Super Bowl. The Patriots are 3-3 as a franchise in the big game and the Giants are 3-1.

I believe the Giants will win, though it will be close. Part of it is in the numbers. It's been 25 years since the Giants won Super Bowl XXI and 21 years since the Giants won Super Bowl XXV.

More seriously, the Patriots' strength is their passing game, led by Tom Brady. He has weapons in Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski, who has an ankle injury. New England's running game is solid, led by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but they tend not to stick with the run.

The Giants have a good passing game as well. Eli Manning is not in the class of Brady, but he has more weapons. Victor Cruz has emerged this season. Hakeem Nix and Mario Manningham are two other quality receivers. The Giants have a better running game than the Patriots. Ahmed Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs are the Giants' two running backs and represent a change of pace from one another.

New York's running game and their defense will make the difference. Jean Pierre Paul has had a wonderful year of the Giants defense and with Osi Umenyiora, New York should be able to pressure Brady. New England's pass defense is very weak. The Giants will be able to hold the ball in order to keep Brady off the field when they see fit and pass deep when they need to. Brady's greatness will keep his team in the game.

In the end, the Giants will win 24-21. Bradshaw will be the MVP.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The 7-11 Debate

I went into a 7-11 that I don't normally visit. I showed my Slurpee cup to get credit for a refill. When it was time to pay, I asked for the 2 hot dogs for $2.29 deal. The clerk said I had misunderstood the deal. he said I had to match, for example, a hot dog with a corn dog.

I asked, "You're saying I can't match two hot dogs?" He said I couldn't. I queried, "Is that just for this 7-11?" He said no, it's for every 7-11. I retorted, "But every other 7-11 has given me 2 hot dogs for $2.29." The clerk relented.

A middle aged Asian man was standing next to me laughing. He told me in astonishment, "That conversation was like a sit-com!" I answered, "My whole life is like that."

I felt I had jewed my way in to getting the hot dogs. That doesn't mean cheating; it means arguing in a logically irrefutable manner regardless of the amount of money in question. Perhaps, 7-11 values a hot dog more than a corn dog, so they don't want me to have two hot dogs. Fine, but then I should be able to get two corn dogs. The clerk stated that the two items had to be different for me to get the deal, which just seems like an unnecessary nuisance. I can't imagine that was the deal they drew up at 7-11 headquarters. And I'm sure the deal is "mix and match", meaning that acquiring two hot dogs should fall well within the confines of the deal offered.

I may have won  the argument and paid only $2.29 for the 2 hot dogs, but, if the night I've had on the toilet so far is any indication, I really lost.