19 February, 2010


...is of course pretty big here. Just how big, you ask? Well tonight there were two closely watched games. Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray, both based in Istanbul, were playing European teams as part of the UEFA Europa League: Fener at Lille, and Galatasaray at Atletico Madrid.

Now, Fenerbahçe and GS are like the Sox and Yankees of Turkish futbol. One of my roommates, Oğuz, is a staunch GS fan, and has a wardrobe full of maroon-and-gold. Atakan, on the other hand, is a quiet but faithful fan of Fener, and puts up with Oğuz's singsong taunts (which i don't dare translate here). Tonight though, we were all fans of Fener: all except the French students. Root for the home team, you know?

The game everyone was waiting for began at ten. Hundreds of students gathered in Speed Cafeteria, a short walk from our dorm. At the end of the first half, GS was down 1-0, and the students poured from the building to talk and smoke outside. Except it was pouring rain, and lightning flashed over the city - and soon pea-sized hail began to fall. Everyone huddled under the narrow overhang outside the cafeteria, but a few hardcores stood across the cobblestones chanting and singing. Suddenly, a flare was lit, then two, more. It was quite the scene: the whole crowd singing, most of them stuffed like sardines under the overhang and a few jumping up and down while flare-smoke rose to meet the hail, and every so often thunder crashed, faint against a hundred voices.

Back inside, we watched Galatasaray fail at one drive after another. Finally, as the game clock struck 80 minutes, they scored a goal to tie the game. Four minutes of overtime to no avail, it ended as a tie - but GS fans were still thrilled. I couldn't help wishing i'd brought my soccer cleats from home, itching to get on the field and play a little. Let's just say it is refreshing to be in a place where people are obsessed with the one sport i actually enjoy - and i mean obsessed. Perhaps Oğuz and i will make it to Istanbul March 28 for the ultimate rivalry match - GS vs. Fener.

L to R; Roomie Oğuz, friend Ozan, roomie Atakan

18 February, 2010

Making connections

Last Saturday evening i joined a new contact for a night on the town. He'd invited me to Kirpi Bar, an intimate venue that reminded me of Woodmans back home. A brother-and-sister duo sang, accompanied by the brother's guitar, and everyone sang along to the Turkish (and a few American) popular tunes delivered in a folksy style. The young bartenders sang; a family with their preteen son had come for the evening, and even the boy sang. My host, an editor at a regional agriculture magazine, introduced me to his friends, masters students in veterinary science and linguistics - and to the musicians. Selçuk, the guitarist, welcomed me warmly and invited me to join his band later in the week.

So it was this evening i set off for Tunus once again, but this time with violin in tow. Selçuk and his girlfriend Gülşen welcomed me warmly once again and we sipped Efe's, waiting for Jeff, another American, to join us.

Near the minarets of the imposing Kocatepe mosque, we descended a steep staircase off the street. The space that opened before us was a true musical lair: guitars leaned against couches and hung from the walls beside framed LP jackets. Off the central room, an open office and social space on two levels, doors led to a back alley, a practice room, recording studio, and - tattoo parlor. With Jeff's vocals, 18-year old Can a genius on the drums, Onuş on bass, Selçuk and another guitarist, we improvised for three hours to Coldplay's "Don't Panic" and "Love Song" by the Cure. Plans for more music....

For another perspective on life in Ankara, check out my fellow student Mateusz's blog, "In the Land of Kebab".

17 February, 2010

Cumartesi (Saturday)

backdate 13 February

In Kızılay, Saturday means streets thronged with people. "Balık! Balık!" sellers call, and the smell of fresh fish from open stalls occasionally finds your nose. People here and there hold up a flyer - something political, not something they are distributing, but as if in protest. Young men loiter in knots on benches and near the broad steps. After Wednesday night's experience, i am wary of them - but on the crowded street, there are many levels of social privilege and with each, different intentions. Some young men carry purchases from the department stores; others scan the crowd like starlings. If anything, being shaken makes you hyper-aware.

At the curb of Ataturk boulevard, half a dozen or more Polis vans are parked. Riot control shields and helmets lean against them. Between the vans officers stand, smoking cigarettes, while a man with a basket full of small plastic cups and sugar cubes pours them çay from a thermos. I feel a current of unease - and so i head towards Tunalı, searching for Erkek Kuaforu. At Karanfıl Sokkak, a boy buys a bag of roasted chestnuts from a street vendor, and sets off with his friend. Another two boys, another vendor, selling bardak misir - a cup of corn. The golden kernels are tempting.

In Organizational Behavior, the first topics we examined were the macro-level variables that influence behavior in organizations, particularly for global companies - national culture. One assigned reading gave a handy definition: national culture is what lies between individual idiosyncracy and universal human experience. But what that is can be hard to pick out at first.

Here, one of the cultural habits is leaving your tray, your plate, your crumbs wherever they sit. There are cleaning staff to handle them for you, whether in the dormitory kitchen or the mall food court. Another cultural difference is linguistic: the lack of gender in the third person. While traditional Turkish society is profoundly divided into male and female spheres, the third-person singular pronoun "o" - yes, simply O - means he, she, or it. As a result, even proficient English speakers often stumble and say "she" when they mean "he", or vice versa. I, personally, would like to import the agendered third person into English.

Near Kızılay there are department stores and restaurants galore, but few barber shops. Soon i am in the less crowded Kavaklidere neighborhood, and the hotels grow smaller, but no less expensive-looking. The first few barber shops i see look pricey, and then, in Tunalı, i find one that looks inviting. I sit in the barber's chair and between the mirrors are two television screens - futbol. It was a weekend of upsets. Since Turkiye has only six athletes in the Vancouver games (one figure skater, three cross-country skiers, and two alpinists) there's little attention to them. What people are talking about this weekend is that both Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe lost.

I'll leave you with one last thought. As i walked the streets of Kızılay i realized - you can tell a lot about social status from shoes.