it’s a lot about gore

Today was the day the sacrifices were made. Walking down the main street of my neighborhood this morning, everyone was in a festive mood. Families were out in their gardens, kids were running around. And piles of meat were everywhere. Everyone was butchering a sheep or a steer.

There were aspects of the everyday that seemed confusingly familiar. Men smoking and drinking tea, women cleaning. But today the men had blood all over themselves and the women were carrying garbage bags full of offal.

At the same time everyone looked so happy. This was bounty. Both sacrifice and bounty.

Mom and I came home and made a nice vegetarian meal.

To be honest, the violence I saw today offered such a release for the internal tension and confusion I’ve been feeling since being confronted with such underlying systematic violence.  “ah yes, sacrifice is how I live the way I do, eat the way I eat, pray the way I pray”  There’s no free lunch.


I’ve made it back to Istanbul, closed up my Middle East mission with a bang. The day I left Israel pictures of settlers being forced out of an occupied house in Hebron were splashed everywhere. Riots and general mayhem apparently ensued. Just another explosion of all the tension I felt there, I guess.

Today is the last day of the haj, everyone’s s’posed to be straight with their pilgrimage at this point. We’ve got a direct feed of Saudi TV at the house here, at the moment it’s just sweeping pictures of 3 million folks clad in white.

Meanwhile just down the hill from the house and all over my neighborhood folks are preparing for the culminating event of this pilgrim season, Kurban Bayram. In every available strip of public land there are makeshift corrals full of fattened bulls and sheep. Just outside the pens hunched men display all kinds of knives for sale. butcher knives, little knives, cleavers. The connection is clear.

So what is sacrifice? Let’s all think about it and get back to each other.  My host family escaped to the mountains for the holidays so here’s the predeparture gathering yesterday morning.  That’s me, mom, host brother Yunus on the truck with Haylas and Kütük the dogs, host mom Lütfiye and younger bro Deniz.


Electric Avenue

I’ve been inspired to make an art project to fill up the empty time and one of the 2 broken TV’s at Kenan’s place. I first thought something of a shrine/alter that could sit in the living room where the TV was to reorient the mindless entertainment energy to meaningful reflection time. But that idea was struck down.

Charging ahead regardless, a breakthrough came last night during coffee with some of Kenan’s recently graduated English students. One of them, Can, works at the Electric Utility in town. When I visited this class the other day (“Ankara”), I thought he was a typical representative of the many government workers that come through that school. We all know my opinions of the effects of government on the soul and the report from teachers sounded bleak. Not so with Can. In the short time we talked over coffee I learned he also loves the lake and frequently volunteers his time to pick up trash there (+10), is an artist who paints and makes mosaics (+20) and, most importantly, has electricity in his soul. (I proposed, he’s already married with children.)

It was Can who gave me the hot tip on Electric Avenue in Ulus. So today we took ourselves down to the neighborhood a friend referred to as “hardcore Turkish Ankara” on a mission. Ulus is the old part of the city, where one can find pretty much every manufactured object hanging from a hook, as well as mannequins with headscarves within spitting distance of a giant statue of Ataturk. Hardcore Turkish. The obligatory period of hapless wandering didn’t bother me as we passed flag stores, commemorative crystal widget stores and weed-whacker distributers. Everything was out on the street or meticulously lined up in windows by the upteenth thousand.dscn1175

“Light emitting diodes anyone?”

“Oh yes, go up that street till you get to where the minibuses come from” dscn11731

Electric Avenue is where the minibuses are born. It’s right around the corner from were the man yells over the chainsaw in his hand. Just up from the “Leather Belts, Porn and Meat on Hooks” alley (no snickering allowed)

When I finally found a little “electric hobby shop” cowering amongst a row of subwoofer stores, I knew the Ave was magic. The shop was perfect: full of LEDs, mini-switchs, lengths of wire and, best of all, electronic hobby kits. Don’t worry, I bought some and they’re in Turkish. Nothing cultivates comprehension like small packages of parts labeled in another language just waiting to be soldiered together. Just ask Can and the friendly folks at the Electric Utility.

Weddings are a big deal

Congratulations us! Reports from friends and family of election celebrations sound positively epic. I think the appropriate word for the giddiness and elation I’m hearing is civil civil in Turkish. It’s certainly interesting to be viewing it from afar.

On election day I went to a biopic on the life of Ataturk at the theater. Its created some controversy because it depicts him in what Turks see as a very “human” light. The cult of personality around Turkey’s revolutionary founder makes even the most nuanced depictions of his alcoholism or scorn of religion something of a scandal. That evening, I sat in a cafe with Kenan and his friends as they discussed the movie and the US election. It was wild to hear them talk about how “dangerous” they see certain information to be to Ataturk’s image. If this election cycle has shown anything, it’s that we are certainly not above micromanaging and obsessing over every minute detail of our political leaders lives.

And now it’s over. Aside from a massive symbolic victory, I’m going to very curious to see what happens next.

In the mean time, the strangely normal yet bizzare life I lead here continues. Today I went wedding dress shopping with my friend Nur, her mother and Kenan. I had never been in a bridal boutique before. (weddings are where it’s at these days I guess.) We all dutiflly donned plastic booties over our shoes to shuffle around and ooh and ahh over immensely poofy, rhinestone encrusted dresses. She looked great in all of them but after two boutiques they still hadn’t made a decision and so Kenan and I begged off. After a full day of looking, they returned empty handed and despondent.

Minutes ago they just got a phone call that “the ideal dress” they couldn’t find the right size for before has been found. Another symbolic victory in this little corner of everything.

Sarsılmaz bir köprü

Hallow’s eve eve here and counting… not as if that will be noticed much here. Yesterday was Cumhuriyet Bayramı, the celebration of the birth of the republic. It’s probably the biggest thing that ever happened. Did you miss it?

If you were here you would have been out of school and work, and perhaps you would have walked down the beautifully sunny streets of Istanbul. Perhaps you would have bought a revolutionary communist magazine from high school students,( in their uniforms on their day off?), who might ask you if you were a racist as your country’s (or someone else’s) attack helicopters flew overhead in formation.

Perhaps you’d wiggle your hips on a stage in the park as canned nationalist remixes blared. Did you know the words or did it even matter? Perhaps a cute Turk would offer you an amazing deal on a new cell service as you shimmed along but instead your eyes would drift pass her and the whole mess of waving moons and stars and distortion and “Golden Lady” would start playing in your head.

What did “Golden Lady” mean to anyone there but you? When it played for you you tended to take a little kerchief from your bag and fiddle with it. It’s as if it didn’t matter where you were or who you were talking to.

Ataturk would glare at you sternly from every printable surface as you blissed out in your private moment.
Try as you might, you just didn’t really care about him. You’ve not been giving nationalism enough of a chance maybe. He looks serious, like he really BELIEVES in something. But as any good Turk will tell you these days, he certainly didn’t believe in religion. He didn’t believe in backward ways nor Ottoman overindulgence nor superstitious rediculousness. He believed in democracy and freedom and all that is good and righteous. He believed in the republic.

The problem is you don’t deserve the republic. You with your private blissful moments and far off loves. You are against us. To you, a believer in obtuse intangibilities and corrupted self-indulgence, all this nationalistic fervor only offers the tantalizing possibility of belonging. You deserve your own private darkness, your own holiday that celebrates wicked mysteries and dangerous imaginations and the thin veil that hides a much much different reality. You may as well have you own private holiday….

no sooner said than done. clock’s just struck 12. happy birthday me.

p.s. My buddy Tony’s baby, Evelyn Margaret Umlauf, was born on Cumhuriyet Bayramı. Congratulations!


Much of Philadelphia left unexplored

I spent the last several days in Philadelphia, attending a college friend’s wedding and connecting with old classmates. The bride, Nicci, is actually a close friend of Catherine’s and so I went as Catherine’s date to the very beautiful ceremony in a West Philadelphia synagogue. Nicci’s family is Jewish and much of the service and reception followed the familiar traditions of Jewish weddings I have attended before, but with a twist. Nicci’s new husband Khalid is a practicing Moroccan Muslim. Through what must be a enduring ability to compromise, the ceremony incorporated both the blessings of a rabbi and an imam. Each spiritual leader, clearly offering both their personal and faith tradition’s wisdom on marriage, tried to speak both to the follower of their faith and to the couple.

The wedding provided a provocative backdrop for my reconnection with Catherine for the first time in 8 months. This was clearly not a sanitized “interfaith wedding,” and the sometimes challenging language and conflicting opinions of the two officiators was obvious. Both were willing to stand before the bride and groom though, for the sake of the couple’s love and trust that their differences could be reconciled. Catherine and I struggled with the realization that despite having so many ideologies and values in common we could not find a way back to partnership. Our differences are our own and can not be weighed against the tremendous bravery of Nicci and Khalid.

Regardless of the nostalgia and sadness, Cat and I had a great time with each other and parted ways committed to staying connected. Blessings to the new couple and may the commitment they have made to each other in their own words to God give them lasting happiness and fulfillment.