Monday, June 23, 2008

"Democracy has its own remedies"

An interview with Murat Belge, a leading left intellectual in Turkey, discussing the prospects for Turkish democracy.

Friday, June 20, 2008

push back on Fox

Dear Friends,

Right now, Fox News is trying to paint Barack Obama as foreign, un-American, suspicious, and scary. They're trying to send Americans the message that our country's first viable Black candidate for President is not "one of us."

I've joined on to's campaign to push back on Fox, publicly demanding they stop their race-baiting and fear mongering. If that doesn't work, then we'll go to their advertisers and the FCC. I wanted to invite you to sign on as well. It takes only a moment:

Here's what happened recently:

After Senator Obama won the nomination, he and his wife gave each other a "pound" in front of the cameras. Fox anchor E.D. Hill called the act of celebration a "terrorist fist jab." Then last week, a Fox News on-screen graphic referred to Michelle Obama as "Obama's baby mama"--slang used to describe the unmarried mother of a man's child. It was a clear attempt to associate the Obamas with negative cultural stereotypes about Black people, an insult not only to Michelle Obama but to women and Black people everywhere.

After each of the incidents mentioned, Fox issued some form of weak apology. But what does it mean when you slap someone in the face, apologize the next day, then slap them again on the third? It means the apology is meaningless.

These aren't one-time incidents--they're part of a pattern that continues no matter how often Fox is forced to apologize. Fox has a clear record of attacking and undermining Black institutions, Black leaders, and Black people in general.

If we don't push back now, we will see more of the same from now until November. Please join me in helping to bring an end to Fox's behavior.


Burcu's jewelry designs

On the flight from New York to Istanbul, I sat next to a jewelry artist named Burcu Büyükünal. I just now got around to looking at her webpage, and her designs are lovely. (Click the headline to see them.)

The image below is cut in half apparently to dissuade people like me from copying her work without permission, but I hope she won't mind ...

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Full moon rises, burning dark orange through the city’s smog.
Does the sight take my breath away,
or is this just my lungs aching?

Where are you from?

Last year at a party in Seattle, someone asked me where I was from. California. What part? San Luis Obispo, a town halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“And what are you doing in Seattle? she asked. “Are you visiting family or friends or something?” No, I explained, I have lived in Seattle for a dozen years, and I work for the county health department.

“But you just said that you are from California!”

For a few seconds, we just stared at each other over our drinks. We were speaking two different languages. To me, where you are from is where you grew up. I wasn’t born there, but I lived in San Luis from the time I was five until I was twenty. I might live elsewhere for the rest of my life, but I will always be from central California.

Could this woman possibly mean what she seemed to imply, that if a person picks up and lives somewhere a while, if she makes friends in a new place and receives mail there and has a favorite place to take a walk or have coffee, that she is from there?

I was reminded of this the other day in Ankara. My cousin Gülrü and I went shopping recently along the steep cobblestone streets that lead to the castle. In a jewelry store we met a young man named Yusuf, who was friendly and helpful as a salesman and not at all pushy. We chatted a bit, Gülrü bought some earrings, and as we left, he said, “We’ll be waiting for you another day. Come back, we'll drink tea.” A week later I had another opportunity to visit the castle and I took him up on his invitation, arriving with simit, smelling freshly baked and covered in golden sesame. Yusuf cheerfully called from the doorway for a neighborhood boy to fetch tea for us. As we touched on the the standard topics of small talk, I asked him where he was from.

“I am from Erzurum,” he said. “I mean, I was born in Ankara, and I have never been to Erzurum, but that’s where my family’s village is. That’s where we’re from.”

How dare you not love Atatürk?!

After Parliament recently amended the Turkish Constitution to allow women to wear headscarves into public universities, and the Constitutional Court exceeded its powers by annulling this amendment, the battle continues, between those who value the freedoms of religion and expression, and those who want to maintain the Kemalist stranglehold.

In his June 14th commentary, Mustafa Aykol writes:

"Love cannot be imposed. If you want all citizens to appreciate Atatürk as The Father of All Turks, then you should make him the symbol of freedom and justice for all."

Click on the headline to see his column in the Turkish Daily News.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

how to find your way.

Ankara, June 6, 2008

Today I went looking for somewhere with wireless internet where I could sit for a spell, drink tea, and read and write online for as long as I liked, without tying up my cousin's phone line. One of Ezo's cousins suggested a place in busy busy Kızılay, a downtown neighborhood thronged with students and other youth, and lots of cafes.

Once I knew I was within a block or two of the place she described, I asked a man on the street where Leman Kultur was. He led scratched his head, smiled, took me by the arm, and led me to two youth sitting outside the bookshop where they work. They didn't know where the place was either, so all three took me indoors to ask someone else, who asked someone else. Soon a browsing customer gave her two cents, and half a dozen people were discussing where this place was and the best way to get there.

(This happens all the time, and not just to tourists, mind you -- the same thing occurs whenever I'm out with my cousins and we are unsure of our route. As my traveler friend Gus observed, street signs are are rarely posted in Turkey, and no one EVER uses a map. The people-centered culture here assumes that if you need to know something, you consult a person. Not a piece of paper.)


Flag sways in the breeze, heavy
like a blanket for Goliath,
dipped in blood.

Cargo ship inches
through the narrow strait
from Ukraine
to god knows where.

Late-day sunlight burnishes the stones
of Sultan Ahmet’s mosque, moving
from spire
to golden spire.

Trees lean this way
and that,

Seagull chicks
shuffle along dry raingutters, waiting
for a meal.

after spending seven hours on the cafe terrace of the Arcadia Hotel (Istanbul)
June 10, 2008

speaking of transportation ...

My last post made me think of Carla "Bus Chick" Saulter, whose road-smart column in Real Change I adore. If you don't know know about her writing already, check it out:

adventures in transportation

Ankara, June 2, 2008

I have had some humbling experiences riding the buses. It is one thing to be a foreigner asking for directions or making a purchase -- people are generally very helpful and patient here, so there is time to hobble through a conversation. But with a bus, it's different, especially when it is the last bus of the night. Tonight I hurried from a dinner with my cousin Gülrü to catch the last bus, at 11 my aunt told me, from dowtown (Kızılay) to Konutkent, at the city's edge. Just as I arrived to the stop, at 10:50, a bus pulled up with a sign that said "Konutkent." I asked two men standing nearby whether it went to where I wanted to go, and they said yes. I hopped on board and asked the driver if he was going to the *second* addition to the sprawling Konutkent development, to confirm. He rattled back at me something that included the phrase "I don't know." When I said I didn't understand and repeated my question, "do you go to second Konutkent?" he seemed to say the same thing, with a couldn't-care-less expression. I hopped off and asked an old woman in a headscarf (the traditional, loosely-worn rural style, not the modern, tightly-tied one that has more religious and/or political meaning). She said yes, it would go where I wanted to go, but it would take the long route, and that I should wait for another bus, coming soon.

The first bus drove off in a cloud of diesel smoke, and the two men I had first consulted began to argue with the woman, pointing in different directions and clucking their tongues. Turns out I had just missed the last bus of the night that went directly to where I was going. Instead, I caught the last bus of all, which looped around one suburban development after another, but at least it was heading west on the Eskişehir road. At nearly the last stop, the two men and the old woman all got off, scowling, and walked in three different directions, fading from the streetlight into the shadows, where the sidewalks end and the city dissipates into dry hills. At very nearly the last stop, I finally recognized where I was -- just minutes from home -- and breathed a sigh of relief.

fashion report

Ankara, May 29, 2008

Like elsewhere in the world, many people in Turkey sport t-shirts and accessories emblazoned with English text, often touting the brand's "authentic and original design." It can say anything, really -- as long as it's English, it's hip.

Case in point: the other day I noticed a teenager in Ulus wearing a shirt with shiny silver text, all capitalized. From a distance, the design and typeface immediately made me think it would say something like NEW YORK LONDON PARIS TOKYO OUR BRAND IS THE LEADER IN AUTHENTIC FASHION. Instead, it said:


And sure enough, sandwiched between all those capitalized letters were little piggies in fluorescent pink, green, yellow and blue.

(If the kid saw me trying to supress a giggle, I hope he didn't take it badly.)

Kara Güneş - a great band I saw play on İstiklal Street the other day.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

notes from Konutkent

Ankara, June 4, 2008

Mornings are cool and crisp. Skies cloudless.
Magpies hop and flap about the tended lawns, black feathers, gray feathers, hoarse cries.
Sprinklers stutter and click.
Roses, cut grass, water mist.
Cool shadows, concrete.
Voices echo in stairwells, elevators hum.
Breakfast at auntie Ulku's: cucumber, tomato, cheeses,
olives, bread, homemade jam,
talk-show TVwith a wise doctor promoting broccoli and avocado.
Tang infomercial, the host mixing mixing, smiling smiling,
then lip-synched arabesque singers and a belly dancer.
Afternoons turn hot, dusty, smoggy.
Sun shines bright on the high plain.
Buses and cars grumble nine stories below.
The call to prayer,recorded, plays from the minaret nearby, mournfully, ecstatically.
Evenings again cool and beautiful.
People of all ages walk and chat among beneath tree canopıes and identical apartment towers.
Basketball. Soccer. Bicycle bells ring.
Old men argue on a park bench.
A young couple flirts in the trees' shade.

Anatolian road

Stone ridge across the valley—
tinned mosque roof gleams on distant hill.

Trees blur by, the colors of olive,
mint, young lemon fruit, dusty sage,
some sheened yellow with small flowers.
I wonder about their names,
like the words, the syllables
I hear around me,

I reach for them, run my fingers
through the branches slipping through,
catch a few leaves between cupped palms.
I wonder at their colors, the determined route
of their veins.

Sand and rock, lonesome pines
give way to green grasses
of the fertile plain. Sparse trees
gather more together, moving west.
Violets and poppies gather.

Beside me, a young man
has cellphones, two, on his folding tray,
ears plugged into the radio,
into the very wiring of the machine.
Song after song,
the same bass and tick,
the rhythm that quickens hearts
the beat of glamour, broadcast.
His sigh falls heavy on my arm.

Across the aisle, a woman
traces a line of brown hair
behind the ear
of her daughter,
sixteen years old.

Two attendants pace the aisle
in starched white shirts,
bushy brows and adam’s apples.
Every little while they offer something--
Çay, bey effendi?
Nescafe, soda?
A sandwich crinkled in plastic,
newspapers of every stripe.
More tea,
and “refreshing moist towelettes.”

(Sadly, the lemon cologne,
the ritual offering
poured from bottles
into open hands,
is disappearing.)

Towns nestle at the feet of stony hills—
red roofs, faces white and gray,
weathered wood, cinderblock and brick,
some just skeletons,
silent, until the money’s saved
to continue building.

Trucks muscle past,
onions and potatoes
bound in plastic sacks.

A driver from Iran
stops by the watermelon vendor
still yelling karpuz! karpuz!
over the highway’s roar.

Cows, brown and white, black—

dust, stormcloud—

Oases sell hot meals and trinkets
on either side of the road,
declare their names on billboards:


Rosy Spring,
Speckled Fish,
Son of Ismail.

At every turn, crimson
waves the flag
for the Republic
and the football team.

Muddy river curves,
laundry on the line, waving.

Auto factories, train tracks,
the Marmara Sea opens up.

Row crops,
power lines,
vines of rusty leaves, waving.

This is draft number five of a work in progress. Critique is most welcome.

Unfortunately, this daft refuses to display the dozen or more lines that are irregularly indented, especially near the end. Try imagining some of the lines shifting horizontally across the page. Or if you would like to see the original, I can email the Word file to you.

Many new photos online

I have just posted more than 50 photos and one video from Turkey at
. I hope to post more in the coming weeks as I explore Istanbul and visit the Aegean coast, and perhaps other places.

(There are also some recent photos from New York, the northwest coast of Washington state, and of friends in Seattle.)