30 May, 2010


Friends have been telling me for the longest time to attend a fasıl, an evening gathering where people drink rakı and eat mezes (light appetizers like stuffed grape leaves) while enjoying Ottoman art music and other traditional entertainment. Rakı is Turkiye's answer to ouzo, an anise-flavored hard liquor which is often cut fifty-fifty with water (then called "aslan sutu"- lion's milk), and drunk slowly throughout the evening. It has a unique, slightly bitter taste that you either love or hate, and folks recommend pairing it with kavun (honeydew melon) and the slightly crumbly traditional white cheese.

The trouble with finding a fasıl, though, is that it's hard to find an authentic one among the tourist imitations. Duygu suggested a make-your-own "youtube fasıl", finding the right music in that burgeoning cultural library. (It took a couple days to add the link, since youtube is blocked in most of Turkiye, though not at Bilkent.) Well, friend Murat and i took the idea one step further, merging an old tradition with a modern one.

Murat outside Carrefour, one of the myriad small groceries
scattered throughout Ankara

Last night was the final round of the 2010 Eurovision song contest, an event which, with over 120 million viewers worldwide, is the world's biggest telecast. We brought rakı, kavun, and beyaz peynir, to which our host for the evening added cheese curls and potato chips, and when the rest of the food was gone, cooked up sigara boreği.

kavun + beyaz peynir cannot be beat

About Eurovision, what can i say? The contest works like this: as artists perform, viewers can tele-vote, then at the end there's another fifteen minutes. National judges have their say, and the official and public weight is split fifty-fifty; representatives from thirty-nine nations call in and report the voting results, 1 to 7 points, then the 8, 10, and 12 point allocations, as suspense builds. People call Eurovision a political game, and it's true to the extent that Murat could predict with fair accuracy which countries would give each other points based on alliances and, i would add, shared cultural traditions. My personal favorites in this musical Super Bowl were entries from Belarus, Israel (despite singer Harel Skaat's failure to hit the high notes accurately, the melody and vocal power of the song were unmatched), Serbia, an ethnic, rhythmic, and lyrically beautiful entry from Armenia (which got my tele-vote), and Turkiye's own rap-rock band Manga, who with the darkest and hardest sound in the contest (and much more energy than when i saw them live at Bilkent) came in second. But two things seem to have more weight in Eurovision than either politics or musical quality: generic europop appeal, and youth. Hence teenage Lena brought a sweeping victory for Germany.