meme On My Mind

Blogging Like Rihanna’s “Umbrella” Is the Fresh New Tune

Back in the mid-aughts, when blogging was fresh and new, it seemed like everyone had a blog. Those of us writing recipes, rants, and random raves could toss out a post–and within 24 hours, there might be 40 comments. The blogosphere was jumping.

During the heyday of personal blogs, it was common practice for bloggers to pass out awards to each other and to tag fellow bloggers with memes and challenges. For me, whenever these things happened, I smiled at the compliment of it and then generally ignored the challenge. Every now and then, in search of material or a friend, I would respond to the meme and do a post where I typed out the endings to fifteen sentence starters. Generally, I adopted a long-suffering attitude as I completed each meme.

I’ve never been much of a joiner.

Then, you know. Time passed. Many folks’ enthusiasm for blogging waned. One by one, the formerly brightly lit blog spaces went dark. I would visit favorite blogs, hoping to catch up and leave a comment…only to be greeted with a post from three months earlier. If I visit those blogs now, that same final post still hangs there, sad and alone, now four years old, wishing for a tricycle.

On the other hand, even as parts of Bloglandia have been shuttered, other, new blogs have lit up. I do love the dynamism of this new kind of writing space; participants come and go–and sometimes come back again–depending on their needs, life circumstances, and reasons for blogging. Thus, even though most of the bloggers I connected with eight years ago have dropped out of sight, fresh friends have come along and reshaped the blogging experience by adding their voices to the mix.

One such friend is Alexandra from Good Day Regular People. This blogging phenom has taught me much in recent months about new possibilities for bloggers and our stories. She also decided, a few weeks back, to toss out an old-school style meme challenge to a few of us. The task is easy: write a post that explains “Five Random Things About Me.”

After letting the challenge sit for, um, a month, as was my way back in The Old Days, I am now ready to address it. Never let it be said I failed at Random.

1. I have a queer passion for books about arctic exploration. If there’s an image of a half-broken ship frozen in jags of ice featured on the cover, I will grab that book and stay up until 3 a.m., riveted by those poor sailors’ dire circumstances. Listen, it’s only a matter of time before the hard tack runs out, and then the crazed boatswain is going to roast the cabin boy for January’s rations. That’s just good readin’.

I guess this item on my list is actually aimed at letting you all know that if we all ever go on an arctic adventure together, and then our ship gets frozen in the ice for two years, and I die of the scurvy, I would like you to start with my tender ear lobes when you eat me. They’ll be like hors d’oeuvres, and, as your humanity falls away from you with each increasingly dark day, your sanity will need the faint memory of civilization that comes from a tasty hors d’oeuvre. So eat me, chums, but start with the best bits.

Caveat: if I died because you found some vials of arsenic in the ship doctor’s quarters and slowly poisoned me, then you not only may NOT have my ear lobes, you may NOT benefit from my tasty belly fat, either. Step away from the belly, You Soulless Murderer.

2. I also have a queer passion for drum lines. Not only does my jaw drop in the face of such coordination and synchronization, the inside of my brain often sounds like this:

If I ever was lucky enough to attend a drum line competition, I would buy the t-shirt.

Even if it’s, like, $20.

3. So long as we’re entertaining ideas of “random” and “ear lobes,” this is as good a place as any to announce that when I put my head down on my pillow at night, I take a quick second to be sure my downward-facing ear lobe is lying flat. There will be no furling on my watch.

4. Because the hours during weekends sometimes are sludge-like in their passage for our 11-year-old (“What should I do?”), we tend to make a lot of crafts. Projects. Experiments. Recently, he wanted to melt some beeswax so he could dip in his hands and make casts of them. As one does.

Then he wanted to dip other stuff. He nixed my suggestions of “your toothbrush” and “your butt.” He even vetoed my legitimate idea of making mini-acorns out of balls of wax and then topping them with real acorn caps. The kid is not an easy sell.

However, he was willing to help me gather leaves from the yard and give them a good dipping. Turns out beeswaxed leaves make a lovely fall centerpiece last lasts for weeks. We’ve got some serious Life By Pinterest going on over here.

5. I like to go to DSW–a huge shoe warehouse kind of store–and make my 14-year-old try on insane stilettos and boots that she would never wear in real life. The girl knows fun when she hears her mom request it; she is game. Thus, if you ever see a serious-looking teenager in a hoodie and sweatpants tottering around in six-inch leopard-print heels, come say hi. That’s just me, helping my careful, cautious, organized kid loosen up.

6. My last random fact is that I hate following rules and chafe when someone tells me what to do, so I’m not going to do a list of Five Random Things. I’m doing a list of Six Random Things. ‘Cause I want to.

So here: even though many people like to roll their eyes at comedian/commentator Russell Brand, saying he’s obnoxious, crazy, off-base, I quite like him. I am made glad when his quicksilver intelligence and verbal abilities unleash. I am extremely happy that his voice is in the mix. He may be a sex addict, he may be wild-eyed, he may have broken Katy Perry’s heart, he may not always hit the mark, but GAD am I ready for people with intelligence to have a platform.


The other part of this challenge is that I’m supposed to tag others and have them respond to the task on their blogs.

I’m not going to.

Do what you want.

Just don’t eat my ear lobes if you poisoned me with arsenic.

If you care to share, click a square:
after all the flurry and fluster it's Turkey On My Mind

Day Nine: Tokat

It is perhaps a blessing that Kirsten was our Camera Woman today (it ended up being a shopping day, which means my hands got full of bags, and thus I couldn’t be bothered to drag out my camera every time a gorgeous covered woman looking vaguely melancholy walked by). Her camera snapped most of the hundreds of pictures, and then we were too tired tonight for me to snag her photos from her camera. So I’ll toss out a few highlights and then hop into bed and catch some snoozies before we get up and head to the Kayseri airport tomorrow morning. We’ll return our rental car and fly back to Istanbul for two more nights. Then, the return home. How’d that happen so fast?

We were in the city of Tokat today, a place I will remember for its very dear people. We were never hawked by vendors trying to get our money; we were never pressured or bothered. Rather, we were welcomed. The end. Plus, nearly every citizen of Tokat shucked aside our attempts at Turkish so that he/she could un-self-consciously try out not-so-bad English. Something about that city’s entire populace struck me as very kindly.

That feeling, fortunately, carried me through my dismay at finding only a SINGLE mannequin in the city museum.

The highlights:

We went to a “Han,” which is a collection of covered shops with a courtyard in the middle. Before working through the shops, we sat and had a hot drink. This is the sugar bowl.
At the Han, we bought a few tablecloths from this woman. Her other customer there is 15 and speaks a little bit of English. Like, enough for her to tell me how old she is.
This woman has a shop in which she carries out the craft of making hand stamps from wood and then using them, in a variety of motifs, to decorate textiles. You’d better believe I walked out with a scarfy-table-covery thing from her. She was warm but reserved, and anyone who’s ever tried to strike up a conversation with my husband or kids without putting in some time first knows that I have a distinct affinity for the Warm But Reserved individuals of this world.
More of her carved hand stamps.
At the grocery store, we bought a few things to have later for dinner in our hotel rooms. This lad was employed to be Sample Guy. He was handing out samples of Cig Kofte, which is essentially little squeezed balls of bulgur and red pepper paste wrapped in lettuce leaves, with lemon squeezed over the top.
Sample Guy would squeeze the Cig Kofte off this heap. Pre-packaged (but still with finger marks in ’em) Cig Kofte balls are available at the front of the display. We bought a pack. NUMMY dinner.
At the museum in town, I took a liking to this guy. He’s the most powerful of the Hittite gods, as he’s the storm god. He didn’t scare me one. effing. bit. BRING IT ON, STORM GOD.
Read the sentence about “the most striking tradition.” I wish everyone could do this, whether through prayer or some other formation of words, every day.
MANNEQUIN! My mannequin. In the museum, this guy was set up to demonstrate exactly the hand stamping craft we’d just seen in the Han, from that sweet, reserved woman. This guy was reserved in his own way; I think it’s because his wife left him twelve years ago.
I’m nuts for the Ottomans (who were ascendant from roughly the 13th C until 1924) because they understood that ornate could still be tasteful. Take, for instance, this MASCARA CONTAINER.
Friends, I cannot tell you how insanely nuts I am for what I call, using the technical Turkish words, “Ottoman jinglers.” All their earrings and headpieces and necklaces are made from copper and silver and have swingy, jingly stuff dripping off them, and pretty much I want to stuff every last bit of this bodily decoration into a pillowcase and then run up the mountain with them and hide out in a cave forever with my treasures, trying them on and then dancing a little bit and then twirling in circles and then singing and then telling them to “hush” and then wrapping them around my wrists and head and neck and waist and then eventually hoping a friend stops by so I can start it all again.
The only thing that could make Ottoman Jingler Fest even better would be if we all wore these hamam shoes while we twirled. Ottoman women wore them in what we call the “Turkish bath.” Shorthand: these are the first flip-flops.
The only thing that shuts me up about my Ottoman jinglers and fancy hamam shoes is the sight of a war club. Because then I have to sing-talk, like Rex Harrison in MY FAIR LADY, “War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. HUH. I’ll say it again.”
You guys are probably all, “Wow, Jocelyn is a bit nuts about her mannequins and jinglers and war clubs,” but I’d argue in my defense that at least my name’s not Christinae. Talk about a drama queen.

The only other part of the day I want to share with you is this video. As we were checking out of our hotel, suddenly music started thrumming on the street outside. We went out and got to watch the city’s school kids practicing their parade for an upcoming national holiday celebration. This was a pretty hotshot “practice,” if you ask me.

Anyhow, the video lets you see some Turks and hear some Turkish and listen to some rockin’ tunes. I know it goes on for awhile, but I couldn’t help myself.

You see, I get revved up about mannequins and jinglers and war clubs, but

I’m also crazy for drums.

If you care to share, click a square:
On My Mind

East Coast Road Trip: From Pho to Chocolate Haha!

Today marks our last seven-hour stretch of driving for this fun, enriching, spirit-revitalizing road trip. By this evening, we should be back in Duluth, ready to think about hair cuts and eye appointments before the kids start school next week.

So, now that it’s almost over, I’m finally ready to go back and recap some more of the highlights. Rather than toss 45 photos all into a single post, let’s parcel them out over a few.

I left you last as we were about to head to Columbus, Ohio, and then into Pennsylvania for the Hershey factory.

Even after 20-odd days on the road, a definite highlight–a real “I’d completely return to Ohio just so I could go there again”–was Columbus’ indoor market, a place full of food-related stands offering up local and organic and artisan and YUMMY.

I was delighted to find a bottle of Voodoo Donuts maple bacon ale. Paco was delighted to find a pho stand so that he could slurp away at a bowl of his favorite anise-based broth:

After pho, beer, and bbq sandwiches, we left Columbus and headed to the canny bit of marketing that is Chocolateworld, in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I was happy to take the place for what it is, which means I chortled ceaselessly during our ride through the history of the company.

The tragedy in the photo below is that, shortly after I snapped it, that hay bale hurtled out of the mural and landed on Grandpa’s head there in the ride, giving him a neck sprain that even a two-foot Twizzler licorice vine couldn’t heal.

Paco and I decided to pay extra and do the “create your own candy bar” attraction; if I’d had my phone on me, I would have texted Allegra frantically and told her, “You do TOOO want to do this thing; it’s actually more fun than you thought it would be. It’s amazing. Buy a ticket. Get in here!” Unfortunately, I didn’t have my phone, so now she just has to look wistful whenever Paco and I rave about how unbelievably delightful it was to choose our fixin’s and send our plan through the line and then design packaging and retrieve it at the end.

Because Paco went with a dark chocolate base, I went for variety and chose the lesser-liked milk chocolate for mine. He did sprinkles, toffee crunch, and pretzel bits; I chose pretzel bits, semi sweet chocolate chunks, and almonds. The resulting bars were weighty and packaged in tins that, in future years, can hold all our lost teeth (those that rot out from too much sugar).

After Pennsylvania, we headed to the Washington DC area and spent a week basing out of the charming town of Takoma Park, Maryland (cheaper to stay there than in the city, and only a few train stops away from the heart of things).

Coming up in the next travel post: Smithsonian! Smithsonian! Smithsonian!

If you care to share, click a square:
On My Mind

Quick Favor

We’re packing up before heading out tomorrow on our three-week road trip to the East Coast. First stop will be three nights in Chicago. My hope is to put up some Picture of the Day posts along the way,

but first:

I’ve got scaffolding in place for the Writing for Social Media class that I’ll be teaching online this Fall semester; now I’m at the point where I’m writing up weekly announcements and assignments, and I’m struggling as I try to explain what makes for a “good” blog post versus a, um, “crap” blog post.

Since most of you who leave comments are bloggers (or, clearly, blog readers) yourselves, I wonder if I could ask you to reflect back on your own experience with writing and reading blogs. Are there posts you’ve encountered that stand out to you as something superior? If so, why? What is it about a post that makes it memorable? Can you give me any specific examples, from actual posts?

On the flip side, when you’ve come across blogs that are painful to read, that perhaps feel like a waste of your time, what is it that turns you off? What leaves you shuddering or vowing never to return? Again, the more specific, the better.

Thanks in advance! The success or failure of a blog post is a hard thing to articulate to students, I tell you…

If you care to share, click a square:
On My Mind

Notes of a Memory

I was traveling

a trip to Ireland

when all I wanted to do was stay home with A Guy

whom, it turned out,

had no space for me

yet it would take him some time to inform me of this fact

At the time

I hung My Everything on him

In return, he flattened himself out and slid away

I didn’t know that impending future yet

All I knew was I was alone

traveling in Ireland

thinking of A Guy back home


knowing enough of confidence to approximate it through sheer will

I headed to Co. Donegal

the village of Killybegs

where I was the only guest at the B & B

treated like a daughter by the B & B hostess

–my B & B mom

She and her husband took me dancing at The Blue Moon

A wooden-floored makeshift ballroom

the hub of their social life

There, I communed and spun with the village’s grey beards

The rest of the week I spent


reading the treacle that is A Prayer For Owen Meany

all throughout, feeling the clump of my hiking boots as I did a foxtrot with a 65-year-old, hopped in to a handyman’s truck on my return from Slieve League, climbed the stairs to my top-floor room in the B & B

To travel alone is something


requiring that self-consciousness be benched

demanding staunchness in the face of solitude

At its best,

to travel alone

opens one up

increases approachability

Traveling alone made me accessible

my face never turned toward a companion’s

my conversation partner not pre-determined

When I traveled alone

People saw me

talked to me

cared for me

included me

The daily crucible

when traveling alone

was meal time

Usually, I would wade into a pub with my book for a companion

In Killybegs, I ended up with my own “local”

my neck bending towards the pub’s window one late afternoon as I clomped past

having tried and failed to work up the courage to seat myself and order a chicken breast at the establishment down the road

I was pushing against an unsatiated hunger

when my neck bent towards the window

Over the sound of my clomps, I heard

fiddle music


my curiosity equalizing my dread at wading into a new place with no back-up

A deep breath filling my lungs, I leaned against the door

assuring myself the worst that could happen would be feeling out of place, pressed against the wall by the pressure of too many staring eyes

much like moving from social science to study hall in the junior high building had

In the pub, the door swooshing closed behind me,

I scanned a largely empty room

the focal point of which was a curly-headed man with a full beard

his facial hair framed by the chin rest of his violin

his fiddle

an extension of his shoulder

his bow

organic to his hand

one Martin McGinley

His eyes flicked up to take in the newcomer

He grinned

and played

The swell of elegiac notes mollified my nerves

and fell across the listeners

a tumbling cascade

baptizing the congregated

I sat

sipping a cider

at ease


eating that chicken breast

The sky over the Atlantic darkened

pushing more people into the pub’s light

more drinks

more musicians opening their cases

joining in with the plaintive strains of the fiddle

Another fiddler



A voice

No stage


friends sitting at a table

surrounding Martin with a volunteer corps of fellow players

Together they were


their harmony swirling out the window

flying into the inky black

darting amongst the stars

I sat for hours the first night

on a cushioned bench in the back

engaging in conversation with a local…a lonely, homely native of the village


never married

no kids

He wandered in at dusk each day, sustaining himself with the cultural camaraderie

We talked of Louden Wrainwright—the third

We did not flirt

Free of artifice, we were two people in the same place, talking to each other,

tapping our fingers on the wooden table, rhythmically thumping our heels up and down

I returned to the pub the subsequent night

my dreams having jigged all the sleep before

By myself, but not alone, I ordered dinner

and a cider

caught eyes across the room with Louden Wrainwright—the third—guy

raised my glass in greeting

chose a seat close to the grouping musicians

and discovered, over the next few hours, that a young village fisherman with black-grey hair

intended to press drinks upon me

until I applied for citizenship

The next day

I walked some kilometers down the road to the beach

scoring a ride from The Strand back to the village in the car of an English lord

That afternoon, I wandered the village, looking for diversion

eventually remembering my B & B mom’s suggestion–

something about the Blessing of the Fleet

I looked towards the harbor,

the docks,

and spotted a huge building

into which hundreds of bodies flowed

My hiking boots clomped,

and I blended into the stream of humanity

As I had at the pub,

I stood at the back

Alone but surrounded

Not really so alone

A man in robes entered

strode to the front

a crucifix in hand

His words would protect the boats

save the sailors

protect the fishermen

assure a hefty catch

create a buffer of belief around the villagers

draw upon the collective power of persistent faith

They needed this

Standing amongst the crowd

in my thick-soled boots

encircled by women in skirts and pumps

men in cabled sweaters

I heard

a melody from Martin’s fiddle float across the harbor

an added blessing

I needed it, too

[tentblogger-youtube fh4ej7KpRSc]
If you care to share, click a square:
On My Mind

Station Identification

About 12 hours after my previous post, I was ready to write.  In fact, I’d deliberated about the topic of Turkish Men long enough that I’d broken my somewhat-cooled feelings into three representational stories, each of which would cover a different facet of my frustration.

Right about then, as I started hopscotching around possible names for these three posts in much the fashion of a moth that’s been tippling in the Jameson’s attempting to find purchase on an Itty Bitty Book Light,

a new thing arose, and this thing is called The Tension Between Living Real Life and Chronicling That Real Life in Cyberspace. Indeed, quite when I was all jetted up and ready to divagate about Turkish men’s mustaches passing for eggplants and their body odor on crowded buses sending me reeling to my pomander (note to self:  replace cloves),

I found, day after day, I didn’t have time to devote to a proper litany of my annoyances.

The fullness of my recent days isn’t all that arresting, really, but it’s stuff nevertheless: 

–I’ve been teaching a couple of summer classes, online, and so any time I have an hour at the computer, priority dictates that I check in there and do some grading and replying;

–We’ve been trying to wring the last drops of Wow from our time in Turkey (we will be on the plane home in just under a month and feel, already, that there’s too much we haven’t seen or done), which means that a week ago we rented a car and spent two days visiting the ancient capital of the Hittite civilization (full post can be read here:  Then, yesterday, we flew to Turkey’s third largest city, Izmir, so that we could drop off our Girl at the international NASA space camp.  With her being at camp for six days, Paco, Groom and I are renting an apartment (to get a sense of how Turkey works, try this out:  our friend Christina, who lived in Cappadocia when we first came, was giving Thai massage lessons to a doctor named Deniz; Deniz has recently grabbed a boyfriend named Basar; we are staying here in Izmir at Basar’s aunt’s house; she is out of town, but her 18-year-old son met us at the airport and spent the entire afternoon then helping us get Girl to camp and teaching us the train and Metro systems in the city, not to mention showing us how to turn on the water heater for the shower in his mom’s apartment).  We have the week here in Izmir to explore–incidentally, Izmir used to be called Smyrna–and to greet our friend Kirsten when she arrives Friday for her Big Turkey Visit.  With Kirsten, we’ll pick up Girl on Saturday from camp, and then we’ll all bus it down to the city of Kusadasi (where cruise ships disgorge bloated passengers looking to buy leather goods) for three nights; the city will serve as a base for us to play at Europe’s largest waterpark and, another day, to trip down to the ruins at Ephesus.  After that, we’ll all fly to Istanbul to sightsee with Kirsten for two days before we jet back to Cappadocia and introduce Kirsten to the donkeys in the ‘hood.

In short, I’m nowhere near done with Turkish men (and the women who leave them placidly sipping their tea), but right now, I’m sufficiently wound up with mentally processing the Hittites, agogging at the sunsets over the Aegean, and trying to figure out the bus routes to the Izmir Starbucks.

At this rate, I’ll be completely free of lather about Turkish men when I finally sit down to rant.  Instead of focusing my attention on dissecting the deeply-socialized pathology of an entire gender, I’ll probably just announce that Groom and I are packing a lad named Mehmet in a duffel bag to Duluth, and once he’s successfully secreted through customs, we’ll plant him in our mint patch as Northern Minnesota’s hairiest garden gnome.

Until then, gander at these recent glimpses, woncha?

First, we have Girl and Jocelyn at the Lions’ Gate in Hattusas (the Hittite capital):

Then there’s the Aegean. And that amazing burning circle in the sky.

If you care to share, click a square:
how effing annoying I find the way Turkish men are socialized On My Mind


While there is plenty of room in the world of Words on Paper for therapeutic, ranty, jabby, disjointed stream-of-consciousness freewriting, I generally think the best writing comes from a place of control.

As a reader, I appreciate feeling that the words I’m absorbing have been crafted deliberately, have been given time to gel, have undergone some review, have purpose and ration propelling them.  This is why I adore writers like Philip Roth, who wrote, with masterful control, “The only obsession everyone wants: ‘love.’ People think that in falling in love they make themselves whole? The Platonic union of souls? I think otherwise. I think you’re whole before you begin. And the love fractures you. You’re whole, and then you’re cracked open.” This is why I adore writers like Alison Bechdel, who wrote thoughtfully of her family’s dynamic, “It was a vicious circle, though. The more gratification we found in our own geniuses, the more isolated we grew. Our home was like an artists’ colony. We ate together, but otherwise were absorbed in our separate pursuits. And in this isolation, our creativity took on an aspect of compulsion.” This is why I love writers like Wallace Stegner, who wrote, with admirable intelligence, “You can plan all you want to. You can lie in your morning bed and fill whole notebooks with schemes and intentions. But within a single afternoon, within hours or minutes, everything you plan and everything you have fought to make yourself can be undone as a slug is undone when salt is poured on him. And right up to the moment when you find yourself dissolving into foam you can still believe you are doing fine.”

Alternately, it is the lack of craft, gel, and purpose that sometimes makes me screech at Facebook updates.  The spontaneous brain vomit behind such social media often forces me to smear my fingertips, sludge-like, across the monitor.  When I read an update from a high school “friend,” and it reports “Cute puppy!” above the photo of a dog that apparently strikes this “friend” as–what is it again?–cute, I am annoyed.  Similarly, I have to rub my temples slowly when I read a post consisting of the words “Pull! Hit!” and wonder how this revelation of a nebulous personal past time is supposed to provide readers with a whit of satisfaction.

So there are writers who work and rework their words before releasing them to an audience, and there are writers who spew thoughtlessly, slime-ing their readers with a thick green coating of verbiage, and although I prefer writing that exhibits restraint and discipline,

currently, I find that I want to write about a topic that has me so keyed up my opening line on the subject reads, “ARghaghadlfkafdaglkhaghghghghghghgdsklfdsjlkfjdfsdlkjdsaaaaaagggghhhh.”

I know you’re thinking that I lifted that line from Portnoy’s Complaint, but you’re wrong.  Quite proudly, I tell you that I just composed it, right now, all on my own–with no deliberation, forethought, or care.  In fact, any time I try to start typing anything on this topic, my fingers naturally pluck out yet another bit of jarring scream-babble that reads, “BWAHAHAHAHAHAHwoeriweoizzzcxlkcvjlkjaharrraghahghghghghgh.”

My lack of control on this subject has been convincing me I’m not ready to take it on.  Because my emotions run high on this topic, and I am tacking towards it from coordinates of judgement and condemnation (and, thus, unfairness), I’ve been telling myself to give it time, to let my thoughts gel, to let my emotions settle–until I can beach myself on a more objective island from which to consider my subject.

On the other hand, writing from a place of high emotion could be cathartic and exactly what I need to do to release some of my pique and get rational again.

Hence, I’m balancing on a fence called Hmmmmm.

What is this topic that has me fluffed with umbrage?

Turkish men.

Even after much revision of BWAHAHAHAHAHAHwoeriweoizzzcxlkcvjlkjaharrraghahghghghghgh, the only polished opening sentence I’m able to come up with is this:

I am so fucking over Turkish men.”

That opener indicates I’m in complete control and ready to turn out some fine thinking, right?

Hmmmmmm.  Or maybe I need another couple of days.

Or years.

Maybe a decade or two.

What do you think, Readers?  If that opening sentence gives you an indication of my level of control on this subject, am I ready to write?  Or do I need to go up to the pharmacy first and have the nice man behind the counter give me some mood-numbing pills?

And, hey, wait:  if the man behind the counter at the pharmacy is nice, and he helps me feel better, doesn’t that undermine my thesis that Turkish men are crazy making?

Climbing back up onto my Hmmmmm fence now.

If you care to share, click a square:
On My Mind

Grumbling Guts, Salty Lips, Woven Rugs

I’m baaack.

There are a few ways in which I’ve been gone: I took a trip; I went shopping; I got sick.  Then there’s the part of me that’s permanently checked out–into a corner of my brain I like to call DreamySpaceLandofTooMuchWineandReading.

For all of those reasons, I thank Vicky for allowing me to share her tortured tale here. Yesterday, she and Mr P went to court again; I haven’t heard yet how things shook out, but all my digits are crossed for an outcome that consists of pain for Evil Mehmet.

Anyhow, I’ve been pipping along the continuum from bliss to–how do you say it in your country?–the shits.

Bliss came from our family’s ten-day vacation to the Mediterranean (aka The Turquoise Coast). Because we’re trying to visit as many of the various pockets of Turkey as we can during our time here, it seemed a sacrifice we had to make. It was unbelievable. We spent two nights in Antalya, three nights in Cirali, three nights in Kas, and then returned for two more nights in Cirali, as it had won the hearts of each member of the family. A full post about this vacation, along with an extended slideshow of photos, can be seen at

Once we got home, we headed to Urgup to the weekly market, so that we could re-up on produce…and as long as we were there, we decided to try one more time to track down the elusive “used kilim” shop that is rumoured to be The Place to satisfy one’s kilim hankerings without flattening one’s partial-pay-this-year wallet.  After yet another frustrating wander around the auto repair district of Urgup, after asking several Turks who work in that district but being told no such used kilim shop exists, we got lucky:  Groom spotted wicker in a window and, in a leap of extrapolation, said, “I think that’s it.  Where there’s wicker, there are rugs.”  We wandered in and were taken to the cramped–delightfully so–upstairs, which is full of stack after stack of folded kilim rugs.  The owner’s son, one sweating Mustafa, spent an hour taking down rugs, throwing them out on the floor, creating a growing pile of possibilities.  The prices quoted were beyond fair, less than a 5′ x 7′ synthetic piece of nothing would be a J.C. Penney’s back home.  So we ended up with four rugs, a big pillow cover made out of kilim, a set of kilim bicycle panniers for Groom’s new cargo bike which already awaits his return in a neighbor’s garage, and a firm intention to return.  Because, really.  As soon as we had paid, I realized we hadn’t even considered small rugs, say, for in front of the kitchen sink…or for Christmas presents (start your suckupage now:  you still have time to make the cut!).  Our time in the kilim shop was sort of like ten days on The Turquoise Coast, only condensed into an hour and smelling like sweat and mothballs.  At any rate, it was dazzlingly good time.

Less thrilling was the nasty stuff that set into my bowels a day or two later, not only causing screaming mi-mi runs to the toilet every 20 minutes, but also sending me into shivers and shakes that could only calm if I suckered up to Groom, the human radiator, while he slept.  For two days, I was tapped out, unable to leave my perch on the bed save for trips to the bathroom.  I’d be caught in that cycle still, were it not for a lovely and gracious expat neighbor who sent over three pills of Sipro out of her precious stash from the U.S.  I wish I’d known about Sipro when we first arrived, when I experienced three unrelenting months of Crabby Bowels, but at least, in the midst of that bout, I still had energy and will.  This time around was dramatically different, in terms of how tapped out and nonfunctional I felt.  In fact, I was so flat and feverish that it was all I could do to lie horizontally and watch multiple episodes off iTunes of TOP CHEF: JUST DESSERTS.  And, as is true of every low time in one’s life: lessons can be learned.  For me, after two days of slouching around tragically, I came away with new knowledge:  them pastry chefs are a vicious lot.  Oh, and also: a generous neighbor can get you back on your feet.

Thus, as of this typing, I’m on the mend–still not completely myself, but at least myself enough to fake it–and looking forward to an afternoon at said neighbor’s astoundingly beautiful house.  Our family gets to help her pot a bunch of annuals so that her house is in prime shape…when a reporter from the New York Times shows up in a week or so to do a spread on the place.  Seriously, it’s one of the most sensorily pleasing places I’ve ever been to.

You better bet I’m taking my camera when we head over to “help pot the flowers.” (pictures to follow!)  In the meantime, below are some photos from our time on the Mediterranean along with a few of our new kilims.  Sometimes, I wonder how much more texture and light and color my body can absorb (and expel) before I hit my limit. 

Ah, it would appear fortunate then that I don’t believe in limits. 

If you care to share, click a square:
On My Mind

Ups and Downs: Crisis And Court

Dear Readers Who Are Following This Tale:  I apologize for getting a piece out of place in the narrative.  Vicky originally posted her story to a Turkish expat forum, and she was writing cathartically, in a stream of consciousness fashion; as I copied and pasted her posts into this blog, I inadvertently left out, in the previous post, the biggest crisis of all:  when the roof fell in.  That chunk is below, followed by the details of the court case they’ve been pressing.  This is the final installment.

OK here comes the funny bit (depends on your sense of humour).

Our plumber was on a contract elsewhere so early one morning Mr P went to town to pick up a plumber recommended by our friend Ugur. Ugur explained that his plumber friend was also a geologist and surveyor. He came up to the village and translated for us. After greeting them I busied myself in the kitchen getting the tea ready (like a good Turkish woman!). I could hear Mr P showing the 2 of them round the house and explaining which toilet/sink etc should go where. I heard him say (with his sweet French accent which I won’t try to reproduce) “And this is our best room!.” I heard the door open and then a very funny silence. Then a strangled voice says “Euuh, Vicky, can you come”. Slightly irritated to have to leave the tea-making preparations, I did. When I saw everybody’s faces I knew this was serious but I still wasn’t prepared for what I saw. Mr P with his hand on the door handle had his jaw sweeping the floor. The entire room which was supposed to be our king suite was full of huge rocks up to manhight and the room and bathroom above this room had fallen through leaving a gaping hole to the sky.

The first thing that flashed into my mind was that nobody was hurt and then next thing was Oh my God what if this had happened a couple of weeks later when we might have had guests sleeping in there. The thought made we weak at the knees. Ugur made me sit down on the little wall on the terrace while Mr Plumber/geologist surveyed the damage and the rest of the building.

When he came back his face was grim. Ugur translated for us. “Look, I am going to be brutal but it is time for you to pack up and forget your dream. You will never get an authorisation to open to the public after this. Part of the mountain has detached itself and crushed your house. But in any case it wasn’t built correctly. Originally the houses in the village were caves only. In the 30s they built arched rooms over the top but didn’t think of consolidating the caves underneath. Look, he said, you have your roof terrace over your 2 arched rooms, underneath you have your cave rooms, underneath the courtyard you have 2 more cave rooms which are over another caveroom which doesn’t belong to you and that you say is used for storing apples by your neighbour. There is just too much weight and not distributed correctly. The mountain above is obviously crumbling away and you can have rockfall everyday. Look around you – why has everybody moved down to the bottom of the village in new red-roofed houses? Why are only the poor people living here?” We thought about our neighbours – old Mussa who was losing his marbles and who we would hear singing to his donkeys in the evening and we would see him wandering around barefoot with his flies open. Halime and Bulus with their 2 children living, sleeping and cooking in a tiny room where the baby slept in a sling strung across their room. Fatma and Suleyman, Fatma and Mehmet, Fatma and Ibrahim, yes, they were all poor. Mr Plumber continued “You probably don’t even have the right to build here. Normally the government doesn’t allow in areas prone to rock fall. Have a look on your tapu, it is probably written on it”. “But we don’t have tapus here” we bleated. “Sorry, but forget it, just write it off as a big mistake” were Mr Plumber’s last words as he left.

As soon as he had gone our neighbours all came round. They had heard the rumble and crash of the rock but we had come back late at night and they didn’t want to disturb us. Evrybody inspected with much “allah allah” and “haaan”. Fatma Teyze sat next to and hugged me. “Don’t cry” she said. And then hopefully “Maybe a little reinforced concrete?” (Here reinforced concrete is the panacea for everything and comes second only to interlocking paving stones). I told here that this time even reinforced concrete wouldn’t do the trick.

She then took her stick and shuffled off home. Five minutes later she was back accompanied by another woman, both of them carrying bowls. Fatma Teyze had brought soup and the other woman fasuliye. It was so kind it brought fresh tears to my eyes. “Hush, don’t cry and eat your soup” said Fatma Teyze. I obediently spooned down my soup and had to chuckle that in Turkey soup is the answer to everything especially when you’ve lost your dream, your home and all your life savings! When I’d finished she told me to wipe my tears and then said “Right, what are you going to do next?” It always surprises me the resilience of Turkish people, they build up a business, lose all their money and start up something else. Instead of moping and wailing and pouring ashes on their heads they get on with life.

So Game Over, what’s next?

At this point Vicky and Mr P realized they needed a new source of income, so they worked first at a jewelry store and after that at a carpet shop.  Eventually, they realized they could start their own technology-based business and design Web pages.  They also decided, along the way, to take their case to court, in the hopes of recouping some of their losses.  Below is a rundown of their time in court so far.  This upcoming week, on May 30th, they have another court date:

Our lawyer told us it was a clear-cut case (but then he would, wouldn’t he). Mehmet had sold us a property that we didn’t have the right to buy, had taken money from us in return for something he could not give and therefore should return the money (with interest and moral compensation). So since December 2009 we are in court proceedings. First step was the legal notice where the lawyer notified Mehmet that he had 15 days to return the money otherwise we would go to court. The 15 days were up, we went to court. The first hearing was an anti-climax we had barely the time to sit down than it was over and the date for the next hearing fixed for 2 months time. And thus it has been since, 2 minute hearing and next date fixed for in 2 months time. In between time they changed the judge so it started all over again. And scrimping and saving every penny to pay off the lawyer. However last time it seems like things are moving. Mehmet claims that the money we sent he used to make work on the house. Except we have every invoice and every scrap of paper for everybody who worked for us. All our workers have promised to come and witness that they worked for us and were paid by us (I had tears in my eyes when they told us that because I know how people are frightened of courts, justice and the police). The judge has named an expert to go to the village and evaluate the correct price of the house and the work done on it. He will also listen to the witnesses.  I don’t want to crack up at the sight of what was our dream but Mr P kindly said that it might soften the judge if I do cry. (Grrr, Mr P). Anyway the expert will submit his report end of May and judgement expected mid-June. I just want all this to be over and turn the page, close the chapter and get on with the next bit of our lives. I just don’t know how I will react if they decide that Mehmet was in his right. So cross fingers for us, please.

He is not just a nasty piece of work – he impresses me with his art. Someone we knew came back from his army stint, nowhere to live and 5000 TL in the bank. Mehmet his good friend offers a room at his hotel and the friend will work on his website. He accepts. All his friends say be careful, keep your money in the bank, look at what happened to V and Mr P, don’t trust him etc. Friend says, he wouldn’t do that to me, we are friends, we were at school together. A month later he phones and asks do we have a spare room. Well, we do, but no bed so he slept in a sleeping bag on our floor until he found somewhere else. Completely wiped out. By a “good friend”. (Selfishly we felt a little less stupid).


Just a few weeks ago, in early May of 2011:

Our witnesses all turned up (I had worried about them copping out at the last minute but no, they were there).

Nail-biting hour’s wait because the judge was late but then they all turned up in a minibus which drove through the village to the astonishment of the Village People – the judge, his reporter/secretary or whatever you call the person who is supposed to write down everything that is said at a hearing, his clerk, 3 experts and the 2 lawyers – Mehmet’s and ours. The newly appointed judge is from Ankara and clearly this was his first experience of real village life as he said “And we have to climb up there?” So the tied and suited contingent negotiated the donkey dirt and other dirt and we went up the dirt track to “our” house. I had been so stressed about seeing once again the object of our hopes and dreams that I hadn’t been able to eat for 3 days, couldn’t keep anything down. But when I saw the ruins it really hit home – no regrets. The travertine wasn’t as beautiful as I had remembered and although the view over the valley is lovely we have seen much nicer since. Suddenly all that pent-up stress and angst flooded away. Then in the midst of all these suits and ties turned up our serefsiz Mehmet. He tells the judge that yes, he took money from us, that he paid for all the work on the house and that we stayed rent-free in the house for over a year. The experts take photos of everything. Then we go to Mehmet’s hotel to hear the witnesses. He has one, we have 4. I did not want to set a foot in his hotel but our lawyer says I have to make an effort so overcoming nausea I do. Our first witness is Emin, he was great. He was clear and precise. He explained how he had helped us find workers, who had worked there, how much we had paid, he told how Mehmet had told him before 2 witnesses that he would never give us the tapus. All this was noted. Then came our acorn-hatted old neighbour Ibrahim Amca who was clearly intimidated by the suits and ties and suddenly couldn’t remember anything. Our 2 other witnesses were workers who impressed me because although they were obviously daunted by the whole proceedings (for every witness the judge said “the court will rise” and we all did although this was is Mehmet’s living-room and I thought it a little ridiculous) but as one witness said “I will not tell lies, I will not say what other people told me, I will tell what I saw, what I did, what I got paid for”. Which they did. I looked at Mehmet’s lawyer, he looked as if he’d been sucking lemons. Mehmet was looking sour-faced too, and his feet were jiggling around. Then they brought in Mehmet’s witness. He is also nervous but he upholds Mehmet’s claims that the money we sent to buy the house was spent on the work that was done by them. He tells the judge he and Mehmet worked on the house preparing it all for all the rooms to be ready when we arrived. The judge asked him when, why, how much, what work. He can’t remember, doesn’t know, starts stammering. Mehmet tries to help him out and his avocat and the judge jumped on him “You don’t talk”. Stupid guy, he tries to do it another two times with the same result. Our lawyer reminds the judge that we have invoices for nearly everything and where we don’t have an invoice we have a piece of paper signed by the workers to say they have worked from this date to this date, that they have done this work and that we have given them this amount of money. The plumber, the electrician, the tiling, the solar panels, the central heating, the construction, the karton piyer, the terracing, the sewers, everything. So what did you do? asks the judge. Yasar looks desperately at Mehmet who has at long last understood he can’t prompt his witness and so he says that they made some special things. Judge asks him to be more specific, he can’t remember exactly. We stop there. The recorder prints out their testimonies and asks all the witnesses to sign them. Suddenly we can’t find Ibrahim Amca. Then we spot him, he had wandered out and gone back to his fields. When the clerk hollers out that he has to come back and sign, he says that he can’t leave his donkey. So Mr P goes down to hold the donkey while Ibrahim comes up to sign. The suit and ties are creased up, I don’t think they have ever had a witness say he can’t come and sign because of his donkey, Mr Judge is definitely boggle-eyed!

Anyway, our lawyer tells us that this is looking good for us. He says he believes the judge will order M to pay the money back that we paid for the houses, but that as for the money we paid for the restoration we may not be able to claim it especially if M finds other false witnesses who will swear that M paid for all the work or people who will write him fake invoices. Next hearing 31st of May when the experts will return their report. But I slept like a log last night – maybe the gin-tonic did its trick but at least I know : no regrets.

I think that with everyone’s crossed fingers and toes, the thumbs held (German), the hotline to the Holy Spirit and the hand of Allah over us, we seem to have friends out there and some of it should work. I honestly and naively think that whatever good you put into life comes back to you and that evil deeds are paid for in the end, in this life or the next (but as Fatma Teyze said pragmatically, better for your pocket if he pays in this life because he’ll pay for it anyway in the next one). Money would be great if we did get something back but for me Justice is more important, and protecting and informing potential victims is important too. We can’t publish his name or the name of his hotel now without risking problems of libel or whatever but when we win (note, I don’t say “if we win” but “when”) we’ll make a special website just for him! I don’t want people to think all Turkish people are like that but when you have a rotten apple in your bag of apples you need to take it out so that the other ones don’t rot.

There isn’t yet a final resolution to this story, then.  As the court case proceeds, I know I’ll be rooting for Vicky and Mr P!–Jocelyn

If you care to share, click a square:
On My Mind

Ups and Downs: In Search of Income

After the roof literally fell in, Vicky and Mr P realized they’d not only been fleeced out of their savings, but they’d also just lost any hope of ever living in their dream house; they’d have to find other ways to make money, another place to live:

The first couple of days after that we alternated between repeating the mantra “nobody hurt, nobody killed” and saying “maybe the reinforced concrete?” We even got a second, third and fourth opinion – all of them the same. The last one even said that it was so dangerous that he would never send his workers to work in our place whatever we would pay him. This clinched it and we began to worry about our safety. We had to get out. Which would mean finding somewhere to rent. Which would mean urgently finding some money. Which would mean getting a job. Our friends couldn’t really understand that we really were broke – all foreigners here are well off, they run hotels and businesses or are just retired, have all kept a place in their home country and go back in the harsh winter months. However when they realised how desperate we were to find a job, they rallied round and enquiries were made to travel agencies, hotels, exploring the possibility of giving English lessons. One day we met Guven who had a friend who ran a huge onyx and jewellery place where the tourists are taken between tours. He took us, introduced us, explained our predicament and the boss said “You start on Monday” Yuppee!! We had a job!

Guven told us that we should wait a couple of weeks before discussing salary and that we learn the ropes and show that we could sell. So we arrived and were introduced to our colleagues who were all really helpful and friendly. Basically we learned that you arrive in the morning, clean the showcases then go and sit in the staffroom and drink tea and do crosswords until a coach arrives. Depending on the nationality and number of the tourists the chief salesman (who looked and acted more like a class prefect) calls out who who should go into which salesroom. When the selling is over you go back to the staffroom for more tea and crosswords. For hours on end! Boring. The first day Mr P asked Serife (who spoke perfect French) what time we went home. We had thought around 5 pm but no, we had to stay until 7 pm. His next question “What day of the week do we have off” was met with indignation : you don’t get a day off for at least the first month and then you would ask permission from the boss! This was going to be one boring job! But we got a hot lunch free and the colleagues were fun. We had thought that the atmosphere would be competitive but everybody helped each other out – this was due to the intelligent commission system where the commission was paid on the basis of what was sold per room, not per salesperson. Mr P enjoyed it, I was more timid but we sold something every day. And we learned the Turkish art of taking it cool, waiting for hours, drinking tea and making silly jokes. Also this helped us with our Turkish language skills.

We were still worrying (Mr P is a professional worrier). We still had no idea of how much we were going to be paid. We knew the minimum wage per month was (at that time) 625 TL and hoped we might get a little more. Our colleagues were fun and helpful to us but we could see that they were not highly educated, many had very worn out shoes, all the men are wearing suits but they worn at the elbows and knees. The few people who had cars had really old bangers in a worse state than our very old Ford Taunus. And most of the men had second jobs in kebab shops or teahouses in the evening. Didn’t look as if the boss was paying good money. Our main worry was that this place was outside of town on the other side from our village and we were driving 60 kms a day with the Taunus which was drinking up GPL like nobody’s business. Our second worry was that we were working illegally. Mr P had lived in Romania where he had seen people who were working illegally being deported on the spot without even being given the time to go back home and pack a bag. If I was deported it would be to the UK and I left in 1989 so what would I do there?
Worries on the second point were swiftly allayed. One day Serefe came running up to us “Victoria, find Mr P and get out, go home!” I asked her why. “There is a control. You don’t have sigorta, get out quick go home now.” We went to the staff room to find 3 other people also packing their bags one of whom I’d never though was not Turkish. Just as we are going out the back entrance to the car park the errand boy comes in “false alert, you can stay”. The Japanese girl who was usually so elegant and polite let rip a resounding “SH*T!” which is how we felt too. As we took off our coats we asked the others how long they had worked there illegally. One said 9 years, the other 4 years, the other 5 years. So we reckoned that everybody knew and the boss gave the envelopes in the right places.

So the next thing was the money. Accompanied by Serefe we went to see the boss. He told us what our monthly salary would be. Crikey O’Riley it barely covered the cost of the GPL. And we wouldn’t get commission before another 6 months. This was not good. And there was no negotiating. We were going to have to find another solution

After jewellery-selling, carpet-selling!

One morning as I woke up I realised I couldn’t stand another day of little school ma’m Serife telling me “Cam, Victoria, cam!” as we went to clean the showcases. Being told that I had not put enough spray or too much and having to wait at the door until 7pm exactly before being allowed to leave. So we handed in our notice and celebrated in style! The next day with a wonderful hangover we had to look for another job. By a complete stroke of luck a friend of a friend called us and said she had a friend who might introduce us to the boss of a huge carpet-selling outfit. So off we went but unfortunately the bloke told us that he didn’t want to take the risk of hiring illegal workers. “But try the place across the road, I’ve heard they take them.” So we trotted over the road and wandered into the office and were hired on the spot. Double the salary of the jewellery place and he even offered to pay something towards the petrol after the trial period of 2 months! When we came back to Urgup and told our good news everybody was gob-smacked – all the Turkish people are queuing up to get into this outfit, it has the best reputation in the region and the best customers.

We were handed into the care of Metin who spoke perfect French and who looked after us as if we were his little chickens. Everybody was very welcoming and reassured us that we would not sell anything before at least 2 months. We first had to learn about carpets, the weaving, the designs, the symbols, the regions, wool on wool, wool on cotton, mercerised cotton etc. So we went from salesroom to salesroom and learned about Yayali, Taspinar, Mugla, Ufac, Dosmealti. We learned how to recognise the carpets even when they were rolled up on the back side. And in between our learning we drank endless cups of tea. But I felt very apprehensive about the selling side. I knew I would be no good, selling earrings at 10 euros is one thing, selling carpets at 10000 euros is another thing. I couldn’t believe that people would actually buy these things. One day the boss invited me to follow his demonstration. It was a group of French pilgrims doing the “in the footsteps of St Paul” tour. The boss had been brought up in France and his French was perfect which went down a bomb with the Frogs. He showed them how the double knot is done, how many knots per square centimeter, the natural dyes, the life of a silk worm and how the silk is threaded afterwards. Then the carpets from all the different regions. The bearers tossed the carpets in an amazing array, his speech gets faster and higher-pitched, I am riveted, it is like being in a Billy Graham stadium, I have goose-bumps and you can feel the electricity in the air as the carpets fly and flop one on top of the other. One woman starts to say stop, stop, I want that one. And another woman starts and suddenly they are all at it. When he finishes his speach the salespeople are all in the room, they slip in silently 5 mins before the end. And half an hour later the group left, thanking the boss for his kindness, his good prices, his excellent French. And leaving 40 000 euros behind them. I couldn’t believe that someone who had no intention to buy a carpet in Turkey would pay 16 000 euros on a whim! But none of the salespeople were impressed.

So we were learning a lot and our colleagues were great. Mr P loved the sales aspect and I hated it. I don’t like talking to people I don’t know. Everybody kept telling me, you’ll be fine, don’t worry, but I always felt stressed as soon as a group arrived. There was no pressure to sell, not before at least 2 months, but I was putting the pressure on me. All my colleagues told me, watch the others and do the same. When I watched Semi I knew I could never do the same. Semi was in his 50s with long grey hair and the most laid-back attitude I have ever seen. In front of a woman next to her bored husband “I’m not sure, do you think it with go with the curtains in the dining-room, darling, I’m not sure I like it, what do you think darling, I’m not sure” Semi says “Well if you don’t like it, don’t buy it” and walks off. She runs after him “oh yes, I do like it, please don’t go” and they go off together to the till!

One day after a demonstration and after my trying desperately to sell a kilim to no avail, Mr P comes down from one of the salesrooms. He is all flushed and excited. “I sold a carpet!”. Suddenly everybody is around him. Semi gives him a big hug and a kiss and I can see his eyes shining “Only 3 weeks and you sold. Bravo!” So that night we celebrated in style.

July 2009 in the carpet shop:

We had got into our daily routine. You arrive in the morning and check the list of coaches with their nationality and the name of the tour operator. If there are no English or French-speaking groups we know that we are going to spend another long 10 hours drinking tea and “reading” the newspaper, but at least we are being paid to do nothing. The morning ritual is tea and tost and we sit out on the pretty patio area watching the fountain. Around 11 we check what is on the menu for the canteen – incidentally very good food and for me the highlight of the day! The place is definitely classier than the jewellery shop, the 25 salesrooms are all air-conditionned with beautiful decoration and lighting. I am impressed with our colleagues’ language skills, each of them speaks at least one foreign language : English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese (of course) and even Flemish. They all have at least one university degree and we have some interesting and intelligent conversations. We find out that we still have a lot to learn about the tourist industry in general and the carpet industry in particular. They tell us about the hierarchy of sellers: ceramics and pottery sellers are at the bottom of the pile, then up the pyramid come the onyx and jewellery sellers and the “creme de la creme” are of course the carpet sellers. Moving your way up this ladder apparently takes years which explains why people were so astounded that we’d just walked into this job. We learn about which tour operators bring good customers and which groups will be “ceviz” (the codename for they won’t buy anything, don’t bother). We try to learn the carpet sellers’ walk, a long loping slide that makes the seller glide across the floor like a bride in a ballroom, but with invisible rapidity which makes the seller just suddenly appear next to the person he has singled out as potential. We failed dismally at The Walk, we found ourselves trotting instead of loping and even so Metin and Semi would still be yards in front of us. No hands behind the back, never hands in the pockets, your arms should dangle loosely and you should look laid-back and cool. I just looked stressed-out and sweaty! We learn that travel agencies and tour guides make the tourist world turn – never, oh never, get on the wrong side of a tour guide. They bring the right customers with the right income-bracket and they have already prepared them and got them all trusting and ready to buy. For this they get their commission – up to 30% of what is sold per group. (I now understood the happy smile of the guide who brought the group who spent 40 000 euros in one hour!). Anybody involved with the tour group also gets their commission : the hotel, the agency, the bus driver etc. In the evening an employee from the company goes round the hotels and agencies and hands out their envelopes. At the same time he speaks to the guides about the following day’s groups. He finds out as much about the group as possible. Who has already bought jewellery or onyx, which pretentious git thinks he knows all about carpets but couldn’t tell the difference between a machine-made carpet and his backside. Which one is the rich widow/divorcee (there is always one) who has to flash her money around to show her travelling companions that she might not have a husband but she has just sold 3 of her houses on the Riviera and she has a load of lovely dosh. All this information is passed on to the sellers again using code words and signs. Our jewellery-selling stint has taught us a lot about human-nature and the animal instinct that comes out in people travelling around together as a flock. We saw people buying carpets just to put down their neighbours, or just to show off “My husband has a bigger credit card than yours”. In general the women were bitchy and jealous and the men would go round proclaiming that this was “damned good quality” suddenly promoting themselves into carpet experts. I also overheard a man saying to another in his group “The bloke showed my wife a ridiculously small silk square for 20 000 euros. I told her, damn it, Pamela, I don’t mind spending 20 000 but at least get something Big that the neighbours can see”. Sad. Since I was beginning to have doubts about the origins and quality of the carpets we were selling, watching these silly, arrogant nouveaux riches paying way over the odds for carpets and even saying thank you after, quashed my few qualms. Not all groups were of the same category, though, one day we had a group from Hong Kong who were one an all inclusive holiday. I watched Kemal do his demonstration as they all chatted to each other, texted, phoned their friends, hawked, burped and farted. I had to leave the room in fits of giggles as I saw their group leader stick his finger up his nose, perhaps in pursuit of a bit of brain, rummage around for a couple of minutes before bringing out an impressive-sized piece of snot. This was duly inspected before being popped into his mouth and chewed. Over the din I heard Kemal’s voice falter and I saw the horrified look on his face. Bravely he soldiered on with his speech and at that point the group leader lifted up one buttock, rolled to his side and let rip a resounding and very smelly fart! That finished me and I fled from the room to take my hysterical laughter elsewhere leaving Kemal to his unenviable fate.

We learned a lot from working in the carpet shop and we have great respect for our colleagues. You have to know your stock off the the top of your fingers. At the back of each of the 25 salesrooms you have scores of carpets and kilims rolled up. You have to remember which one is where so when someone says to you “I’d like something beige about this size” you can immediately ask the bearer to go to room number 17 and bring the Milas karyola and from the room number 6 the Kayseri seccade. We spent our afternoons going from room to room trying to remember which carpets were where and what they were. And there were hundreds of them. We tested each other out as we looked at the back side of the pattern as they were rolled up. I knew Mr P was getting good when I asked him “What’s that one?” “Oh, far too easy, that’s a Dosmealti”. A week before neither of us had ever heard of Dosmealti!

We had an interesting conversation with our colleagues one day about what was a good sale for them. Hurriyet told us that he had just sold a carpet for 10 000 euros to a couple who had a budget of 10 000 euros. That, he told us is not a sale. If you sell something for 15 000 to someone who has a budget of 10 000 then you can be proud of yourself. Semih chimed in : never sell what they want to buy, that is the best challenge. I looked askance at him. He explained, they come in here and they want something pink for their dining room. They want something 3m by 3m. You’ll never find the right pink that goes with the curtains and 3*3m doesn’t exist. You’ll wear yourself out showing scores of pink carpets that will never be right. Find a green runner for the corridor, if you sell that, you can consider that you are a good salesman.

So we went from day to day, learning, watching and drinking tea. The guy who made and served the tea used to ask us words in English or French and teach us some words in Turkish. As he made his rounds with his tray he would always sing “Persembe, Persembe!” I asked a colleague why did he always seem happier on Thursdays. She told me that his wife observed Friday and that she only allowed him sex on Thursdays. So we understood his radiant smile on Thursdays and why he looked sad on Fridays.

One day I asked our friend who has a small carpet shop in Urgup how we can tell if the carpets are really hand-made or machine-made in China or India. He told us to work with carpets for at least 20 years. He told us normally a handmade carpet will have slight imperfections but in China and India they have caught onto this and have introduced deliberate imperfections into their machines’ programmes. He was born into carpets, his has inherited his father’s shop. His father went around Cappadocia on his donkey and bought directly in the villages. He told us that if you’ve lived, ate and slept with carpets you know as a gut-feeling when it is not a real hand-woven one.

One day we were called for a French group around 10 am. At the end the second boss (there were three) introduced us to one of the guides. We smiled, chatted and all was fine. We wandered over to check the menu, by now it was nearly lunch time and it was my favourite. Good day. Suddenly the second boss came out of his office and asked us to come in. He didn’t look us in the eyes as he talked and looked very uneasy. “We have a friend in Ankara who tells us that someone has been asking questions about your work permits. We can’t take the risk. You have to leave now. I’ll have the accountant give you the money but you have to leave the premises as quickly as possible.” We are thunderstruck. I asked the guy “We have only been working here for 3 and a half weeks. How on earth can Ankara hear of this?” He looks away and mumbles something and the accountant arrives with our salary. We walk out of the office in a complete haze. Metin greets us “Are you coming to the canteen, It’s your favourite today”. We tell him, we are fired. Metin turns to stone. “It is not possible. And you sold. And you were good. Why????” We told him the explanation we were given and he shakes his head in disbelief. Semih comes up “What’s happening”. We tell him. Tears roll down his cheeks as he takes Mr P in a huge bear-hug. Everybody is shellshocked but Metin grabs my arm as we leave “Don’t worry, I’ll find you something. Don’t worry”. At that point I’m not even worrying I’m just gob-smacked.

We drove back to Urgup in complete silence as we tried to absorb what was happening to us. We arrived in our local cafe and sat looking at each other. Suleyman arrived with a wide smile and asked us what we were doing there at that time of day. We just couldn’t answer so he came back with two big beers. We went over who could have, what had we done wrong, had we made enemies, how come other people are working illegally for 9 years without anybody saying anything. To this day we still don’t know what went wrong but everybody around us was categoric, nobody bothers you about work permits in Cappadocia. Ugur told us that for Ankara, Cappadocia was “the *rsehole of the world”. Nobody believed the story the boss number 2 had given us. Jealousy is rife and it could be that a guide who had been refused a job there, or for his brother or cousin, was miffed and had threatened the bosses. I went more for the theory that we had been hired by the 2 bosses while the third (a woman) was in Istanbul and when she came back she had been very cold with us. Maybe she was upset that she had not been consulted (again). Anyway we imagined a lot of things but it wouldn’t get us out of the crappy situation we were in. Pragmatically I ask Mr P if he had counted the money. We recounted and realised we were missing 2 days of work each. We rang the shop and got boss number one who said that his brother had just made a mistake and that we should come back the next day.

The next day we return an ware immediately surrounded by our ex-colleagues who hug, kiss and cuddle Mr P and shake my hand firmly. Boss tells us to go to the accountant for the money and disappears. Metin gesticulates that he has something to say to me. When we come back from the accountant Metin says he has a friend who has a friend who has a hotel and needs somebody to help him out with his computer and internet. Since he knows I was IT manager before he has recommended me to his friend. I protest, IT is a vast domain and if it is rolling up sleeves and doing the mechanics part, I don’t know, I can’t do, I’m not sure.. Metin cuts me off. Listen, whatever he asks you to do, you know how to do. OK? He apologises that he hasn’t yet found anything for Mr P but he is looking. We thank him profusely and head off to the hotel.

Salih’s hotel is gorgeous, a cave hotel but decorated with taste and European style. The light switches are in the right place and every detail has been thought out. Salih himself is a gentleman but also a businessman. He is extremely vague about what he wants me to do and at one point starts talking about serving breakfasts but I stop him quickly on that one. I’m not cleaning rooms and I’m not serving breakfast. The salary he offers is ridiculous so we haggle. We manage to up the monthly salary a bit with hours from 9 to 7 and one day off a week. Salih says he won’t go further since he doesn’t know me and doesn’t know what I can do. Fair enough, we agree to talk again after a month.

Working for Salih is completely different to what we have done before. To start off with, Mr P is sat at home all day doing nothing and I am working. For another I am working in an office all on my own and I miss the interaction with colleagues. No canteen of course but Salih tells me I can go to the kitchen and take whatever I want from the fridge. Salih seems to have a bird-like appetite and the fridge has never anything else except cheese, olives and nuts. Salih is a hardened bachelor and very pernickety about where things are put. “Vicky, I don’t want to upset you but we put the cups on the left side with the handles on the right”. “Vicky, I don’t want to upset you but I have just been to smell the cup you just washed and it doesn’t smell of washing-up liquid”. “Oh, good”. “No, it’s not good, it should smell of washing-up liquid. In fact I’d rather do the washing-up myself so just leave the things on the table.” Great!

Metin was right. Everything he asks me to do, I can do. For starters he asks me to check the English translation of the home page of his web site. Well, the English is not too bad but the text is awful! A whole lot of sentimental slush about dreams and fairies and Cappadocia being the land of the beautiful horses. Salih tells me that a friend in Ankara has been working on his website for 3 months and it is still not finished but that he has never been able to find it on the internet. I try too and give up after page 30 on Google. I do a word count on his home page and find that the most recurrent word is “horses” and that the word “hotel” doesn’t appear anywhere. His meta-tags are non-existent and there is no way that anybody Googling “cave hotel in Cappadocia” would ever find him. So I set about finding ways to get him referenced better. Starting with sending meta-tags to his guy in Ankara who seems to work at snail’s pace. Re-writing the text (although Salih insisted on keeping in parts of his sentimental slush). Then backlinks and web directories and online booking engines. Then creating him a customer database with automatic alerts of birthdays to send a friendly email. Then price analysis, margins, commission and cost. Setting up his anti-virus, automated nightly backups, finding internet guidebooks and forums etc. Salih is appreciative and excited as we start getting the first reservations and his website gets up to page 3 on Google. He asks me to program him an accounts program to replace his little book where he notes down every expense and every revenue. That is fine but maybe it is time to talk pay rise here. So I show him job descriptions on and the salary they are offering. Yes but that is Ankara, he objects. Yes, but Salih, it is still 3 times what you are paying me. Let me think, he says, I’ll tell you tomorrow.

Over the months that I worked for Salih other things have been happening. For one, they have decided to redo the road that leads up out of Urgup up to our village. They start by ripping off the complete surface leaving a mud-track with huge ridges in it – I haven’t seen anything worse even in Kenya. Negotiating this every day was awful especially when they started to widen the road and hack away at some of the mountain and the cars were stopped for up to an hour for fear of rock fall. Luckily I still had reading matter at that point. One morning I drove out of the village and turned onto the main road only to find that they had put down a whole load of gravel on the road. I wasn’t driving fast (I never do) but as I slid across the road I made the mistake of braking. The car suddenly swerved to the right and anything I did to the steering wheel had no effect. Of course this is at the only part of the road where the fields are about 3 metres below the road. So I am going at right angles over the road and down to the fields like a Thelma and Louise. I can’t do anything about it so I remember thinking that I have had a good life and if this is it, then so be it. Then something hits me over the head and a big silence. When I open my eyes I am surrounded by grapevines and the speakers are on the dashboard (that’s what hit me on the back of the head). I look at my hands – nothing, I touch my head, no blood, no scratch, nothing. I manage to open the car door and get out. The car looks a little twisted but I touch my arms and legs and am amazed, nothing. I look at the distance that the car has flown and have to sit down in the vineyard. I phone Mr P
– “Don’t worry I’ve had an accident but I am fine”.
– “Oh my God, where are you, what happened”
– ” I just slid of the road, I am in a field, please come”
– “Which field?”
I look around me no landmarks.
-“I don’t know, I’m in a field”
Mr P arrives all in a panic but with Ahmet Greeneyes and his tractor. I hadn’t thought to tell him that I was 3 metres below the road and I couldn’t climb out. Ahmet tells us we need a winch so Mr P phones our friend Yasar who knows a mechanic who will come out. In between time I phone Salih to tell him I’ll be late for work. Immediately he asks, are you alright, do you have a mechanic. I tell him everything is fine, I’ll just be a little late. We are coming, he says, I tell him it really isn’t necessary but he cuts the phone off. In between time all the cars who pass have stopped, people got out, asked if everybody is OK, do we have a phone to call the mechanic. I don’t want to do a slushy Zaman Times thing but I do know in France people will slow down to look at an accident but only to see if there is any blood and then they drive off.

Anyway the shock is starting to set in and I’m slightly irritated at the people standing there and doing their “haaaaan” and “allah, allah” thing. Luckily Ahmet and Mr P come to their senses and haul me up the bank. Mr P slides down to check the car and tells me he has checked that I was only in 3rd gear. I am indignant – everybody knows that I don’t drive fast. They check the skid marks on the road – apparently I left the road one metre off the edge then flew for another 5 metres and landed 3 metres further down. All the crowd are talking about the hand of Allah that was protecting my head. All I knew was that I was shaking all over and had to sit down on the ground. Salih arrived with his handyman at the same time as the mechanic and after the car had been winched out of the field and Salih had found the foreman and severely told him off for his negligence of creating such dangerous driving conditions we went to Urgup. Basically we found out that we would have to get the car repaired in Nevsehir and even with Salih negociating for us, this would be 500 Tl, just what I had earned over the last weeks. What a b*mmer. But again, nobody hurt, nobody killed. A friend brought us back to our village and of course everybody was out to know what had happened. “Haaaan, the hand of Allah is over your head”. We walk up the dirk track to our house and meet the flock of women who every day sit in the track, crack pumpkin seeds and exchange the latest gossip. “Are you all right?” I reassure tham I have nothing, not even a scratch. “Haaaan, the hand of Allah is over your head”. Just at this moment the huge village Kangal arrives. I know this dog, he is a bit stupid and maybe his eyesight is not good because he tends to run into you from behind which is a little uncomfortable since he is wearing a spiky metal collar, but he is not violent, just sometimes hungry and if you are carrying a bag with bread in it he will take a big chunk in his impressive jaws. So I fondle his head and say some nice words to him. The village women have fled screaming and squawking and are now perched on the roof terraces crying “the hand of Allah, the hand of Allah!” I feel that I will now have the status of “Saint Victoria” in the village!

The day after my accident we were both at home, the car would take 3 days to repair. Fatma teyze came up to our house all excited about a story about Mehmet the Serefsiz and the Hesap of Allah. All we understood was that he had had some accident and was in hospital in Nevsehir (which means that is serious) and something about glass and his arm. I phoned my friend Emine who always has the latest on everything. It turned out that M had decided to sell his rent-a-car business and that since he no longer had any friends to help him had taken in upon himself to clear out the offices himself. Among one of the things to move was a large piece of glass which was on the desk. As he picked it up it slipped and broke and cut his arm, sectioning a vein/artery/cutting his arm of completely depending on which version we heard! In the village everybody jubilated “Allah is reckoning up the accounts now” “The hand of Allah will be hanging over him now” “He’s starting to pay for his evil deeds”. I shouldn’t really take any pleasure in somebody’s misfortune but I must admit I did smile as he was driven though the village to the sounds of the jeers of the Village People.

Meanwhile, Mr P had had the time to think. Stuck up in the village without a car he tended to philosophise and ruminate. We were getting to the end of the tourist season and all our friends who were mostly running shops or businesses is Urgup told us the season had been really bad. The tour guides were getting greedier and were telling tourists not to walk round Urgup at night as it was dangerous. This was of course to make sure they buy in shops with the guide who gets his com. When we looked at Yasar who opens his shop at 8 am and closed at midnight or 1 am and who has some beautiful carpets and only 3 carpets sold over the season we were sick. He is open every day of the year and never a day off. Winter was coming soon and in Cappadocia the season traditionally goes for 8 months and nothing for 4. So if you’ve missed the season you are going to have difficulties finding money to buy coal, pay your rent and feed your family over the winter. So Mr P says why don’t we create a website where we promote small businesses and corner shops. Otherwise Urgup will turn into one of these towns like in the north of France where all the big supermarkets have run the small places out of business and they are all closed in the centre of town. It would be a way of putting back all the help we have had from our friends. I am enthusiastic and frustrated that I can’t work as much as I would like to on this project because I am stuck working for Salih. But Salih thinks it is a great idea and asks me “If you know how to make websites why don’t you go for it big time?” He has now been waiting 5 months for his 5 page website. “Everybody knows that foreigners make better websites and work better and finish things. Foreigners know what foreigners want.” The idea starts to grow and after our Cappadocia promotion site we start thinking about the idea of setting up a web-design business. We get our first customer through Yasar and we haven’t looked back since. So the day when Salih talked about the pay rise he told me he had thought of 2 solutions : 1) I would wait another year 2) I would take less salary and take a commission on the rooms I sold. I told him I had a 3rd solution : we stop there. Salih looked astounded “It isn’t hell working for me”. No, I told him, but we want to work for ourselves now.

(up next:  off to court!)

If you care to share, click a square: