Friday, January 28, 2011

"Scat Illogical"

Travel is formidable; it takes our expectations and dumps them upside down. In our normal daily lives, because we're used to controlling our environments, we have notions of "I need..." or "In order to feel right, I'm gonna have to have..."--but then travel comes along, fails to deliver on our requirements, and forces us to cope.

In the process of coping, we have to hold each of our notions up to the light (incidentally, you should feel a little bit sorry for my ideas and notions, what with their first being rudely dumped and then scaldingly burned by a bright light; in truth, all the best ideas are sorely bruised after a day in my care), turn them around a bit, examine them from every angle, and then concede that, while they might have felt essential back home,

they actually, under the pressure of travel, can be shucked. We can be different when circumstances are different. It's one thing to realize that for the first time when backpacking in Austria as a 20-year-old. It's a bigger thing to remember it after some decades have passed, once the entrenchments of middle age have been dug.

For me, I've been living a life in which I know who my people are and what my circumstances are going to be--I have the right husband, the gift of all the kids I'm going to have, the job I hope to occupy until retirement, the house I would love to live in until my knees give out. With so much so settled, my brain and habits have permission to coast. Even worse, they have permission to become self-satisfied and complacent. They have permission to announce, "The way I do things is right, gol dern it. If I wasn't doing things right, I'd change 'em, now wouldn't I?"

Under the sway of such righteousness, we need courage to risk a challenge. Travel calls to center stage all the challenges and risks that have been shuffling around impatiently in the wings (ah, but do they realize their luck in not having been dumped and held up to the light?). Travel asks us to descry the beauty in discomfort.

Personally, in addition to creating in me an addiction for the flavors of red pepper combined with plain yogurt; in addition to reminding me that relaxation is the best strategy when on a bus with no idea of where to get off; in addition to convincing me that wild gesticulation and miming often equal precise language; in addition to showing me that males can be the driving social force in a culture; in addition to filling me with awe that there are aged muezzins who, although barely able to croak out a note fit for public ears, dutifully shamble to the mosque at 5 a.m. every morning in frigid cold to grab the microphone and burnish their faith in Allah; in addition to teaching me that staring isn't always judgmental...

in addition to all of these lessons, travel to Turkey has asked me to get over my belief that the only good toilet is a dry toilet.

At this juncture, your brain might be conjuring up an infamous Turkish squat toilet, a hole in the ground that calls upon one's willingness to hike pant legs, strengthen quadriceps, and deliberately ignore the half-inch of water covering the floor.

But that's not what I mean. A squat is what it is. Adjustment to its requirements is fairly straightforward: do a few limbering yoga poses, roll up pants, reach into bag for hunk of toilet paper, and then squat and stare at cracked ceiling in Directed Meditation until it's time to fill the pitcher of water to toss down the hole.

Rather, I'm referring to the kind of elevated porcelain bowl that is ubiquitous in the Western world.  Just a regglar toilet like they sell at the Home Depot.  Only wet, with no orange-smocked workers milling about, ready to help you mop up.

C'mon. You know where I'm coming from. Like me, you've walked up to a toilet, looked down at the seat, and recoiled viscerally at the sight of droplets of moisture dotting what should be a pristine desert plain. A small voice inside of you rationalizes, "Maybe this toilet is so hygenic that its vigorous flush splashes water up from the bowl, causing it to land on the seat. Maybe what I see here is simply a respectable bleach water." However, an insistent shouty voice inside of you overpowers that Small Dumb Voice with a beller of, "Don't. you. dare. sit. down. That is PEE. Someone else's pee, no less. Place not your buttocks near a stranger's pee, Elton, or I shall smite you across this room until your head hits the hand dryer, knocking you out cold, albeit with warm and shiney locks." The more intrepid of you, at this point, may grab a wad of tissue and wipe off the seat before resolutely sitting down for relief.  The more squeamish of you may leave that stall and bang around the bathroom, looking for drier pastures.  The hyper-phobic of you may seek out drier pastures and then still insist on lining the seat with a line of protective paper.  The ultra No Touchy of you may deal with the situation by refusing to lower your body to the dry-pasture seat at all--instead choosing to hover over the seat, and if that's the case, why in the hell are you getting so prissy about a Turkish squat toilet that doesn't even have an anxiety-inducing seat built into its design?

So, um, you know what I mean about a wet toilet.

What travel has brought to me, however, is an entirely new kind of wet toilet, this version blissfully pee-free.  You see, invariably in Turkey, "modern" bathrooms are built with the shower hanging over the toilet (a fact that makes it remarkably easy to pee in the shower).  What this layout means is that every time someone takes a shower, the toilet gets a drenching.  Hypothetically, that should make me feel good:  "Hey-hey-wow-wow, this toilet is insanely clean!  Three people today have showered in here, which means this toilet has had three showers, and what could be more pleasant than a thrice-douched toilet?"  Ironically, though, I have enough of "could be urine" worries culturally built into my psyche that any time I see a freshly-showered toilet, I feel a rush of hesitation.  The porcelain may be slippery with Pantene and not someone's bladder expulsions, but I have to fight to get past my conditioning.  A wet toilet, no matter what's coating it, doesn't appeal. In fact, I've become very good at wiping down well-showered toilets (speaking of the unexpected side effects of travel). And I've gotten better at accepting the water for what it is, as it coats the lid, the seat, the base, the floor around.  It's, small ewwww, just someone else's dead skin cells floating in a tepid stew that slicks over the place where parts of My Nekkid are intending themselves. What's to cringe at, really?

The good news is that travel not only makes us cope; if we hang in there with it long enough, we encounter situations that--wait, how did I start this post?--dump our expectations upside down.  That is, if you can stand me using the word "dump" in a heavily-toileted bit of writing. If it helps at all, carry on with the knowledge that I intend to spritz all readers with lemon cologne (the Turkish version of rubbing alcohol) upon exit, as is the practice at every public restroom.  So you may feel dirty now, but never fear:  I'll layer some pungent anti-bacterial over your smells before we get to the final period.

Oh, heavens.  Now I've gone and mentioned periods, just when you thought you'd had your fill of bodily expulsion imagery.

But, okay, let's just level with each other here:  out of every single person's privates come yellow things and brown things and, for half of us, red things, and if we're being honest (why stop now?), that's the ultimate lesson of travel, isn't it?  Some of us have darker skin while others of us lack distinct pigmentation; some of us wake up early with Allah in our hearts while others of us lounge all day with Kierkegaard on our minds; and some of us dither around the toilet bowl while others of us drop our pants behind the nearest bush; yet all of us discharge the yellows and browns and reds,

and so maybe the part of travel that delights me the most is the lesson called Just Get Over It Already.

And maybe the part of this post that is tickling me the most--outside of my promise to spritz y'all with lemon cologne before you go (because that's. just. fun.)--is that I've written all this rambling blather and haven't even gotten to the whole reason I started typing in the first place.  When I opened this window in my browser, it was with the thought that I'd toss out some photos of a really awesome room at the inn that we're minding.

It happens to be a bathroom.

Which is pretty much how we all got to this point together right now.  I thought "bathroom," and suddenly, whoa baby, here we all are, piddling on wet toilet seats and evacuating our bowels together in some sort of fuddled Coca-Cola commercial about teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony.

The whole thing leaves me wondering:

Thursday, January 27, 2011


"Towery city and branchy between towers; Cuckoo-echoing, bell-swarmèd, lark-charmèd, rook-racked, river-rounded."--Gerard Manley Hopkins

The first indication that I'm not a visionary came when I rocked the PSAT in high school. No one had told me it was coming; no one had explained its purpose or meaning. All I remember is that a class of us was herded into a room small tables and given No. 2 pencils. For the next hour or two, I lazed through the math problems and had pencil sword fights with my pal Susan.

Who knew there'd be results for that test reported to the guidance counselor? Who knew I'd go on to take the SAT the next year and would do well enough to get some big, happy financial rewards thanks to the combination of PSAT and SAT? Even more of who knew happened a few years later when I took the GRE test--this time quaking properly with stress--and it turned out my ability to stay inside the lines with a No. 2 pencil reaped me significant gains throughout graduate school.

Who knew that

even though it pains me to roll out of bed before 10:30 a.m.,

even though I can't control the direction of a vehicle when driving in reverse,

even though I have to shriek a little and make pitiful whimpering sounds when lighting a fire,

even though I can't stop myself some nights from eating a Snickers bar before the Oreo course,

even though I recently started doing a jigsaw puzzle that depicts the cacophony of Times Square, with its traffic and billboards and branding, and had to announce to my husband, "This 1,000 piece puzzle is going to be easy for me. It feels exactly like the inside of my head"

--indeed, even though all these things are true,

who knew I'd be good at filling in the bubbles on multiple choice tests?

Trust me, I'm not bragging. Rather, the fact that I excel when faced with limited options and restricted thinking could be considered a foible. This shortcoming has been highlighted for me this past week during our time of inn-sitting. The owner of the inn, Andus, is a German anthropologist who did his dissertation on the homes and living spaces of Cappadocia. When he first came to Cappadocia some 30 years ago, it was for academic work--but then his imagination was caught by the caves and fairy chimneys that dot the area. Eventually, he ended up spotting Just the Right Bit of Ruins and, in a true act of vision, renovating them into a most-charming bit of modernized antiquity.

As I've stood in the kitchen at the inn, looking at the "before" photos, from the time when Andus first rented and then bought the place, I feel positively sheepish that I'm able to fill in bubbles accurately with my trusty No. 2 and, when in doubt, choose the Letter C. In contrast to this pedantic gift of mine, Andus' creative ability to see what was there and what it could be makes me want to poke graphite into my eye and then eat the eraser as a means of assuaging the pain of having graphite in my eye.

If you, too, would like to feel abashed and diminished with regards to what you've done in life, take a look at these photos:

Here's the inn when Andus first spotted it:

Here's the inn today (oh, all right: two days ago), from the same aspect:

Here is the kitchen of the inn before renovation:

And here it is now:

Seriously, I look at these changes and can't imagine imagining them. However, if anyone ever constructs a Cappadocian Fairy Chimney Living standardized test (the CFCL), I assure you

I will blow those bubbles out of the water

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"Two Degrees of Separation"

If you're able to lift up your pasty face from your work long enough--and just look at you there, triturating your keyboard, plunging your hand repeatedly into a bag of Doritos Late Night All-Nighter Cheeseburger Flavored Chips, hacking away at your deconstruction of Apple's missteps in releasing its iOS 4 during the summer of 2010 before posting your Apple-Is-A-Weenie synthesis in the Dribbleware chatroom--

you may want to pay attention.

Because I'm about to mention a Monty Python cast member.  And I know how important that kind of stuff is to you.

Even better, I'm going to mention that Monty Python cast member at the end of a rousing round of the hit parlor game of 1994:  Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.  Of course, because the point here is Monty Python, we're not going to mention Kevin Bacon at all (outside of noting that he did well when he married that Kyra Sedgwick twenty-two years ago).  Rather, we're going to play Six Degrees of Michael Palin.

It's going to be a quick turn, this game.

First, we start with Jocelyn.  I'm sorry.  I know she's a piece of work.  But we have to start somewhere.

Next, draw a line to a Cappadocian couple (you choose if you want to poke your lead into the husband or wife, depending on your personal poking preference).  The husband is a German anthropologist, and the wife is a Turkish spitfire.  They own an amazing guesthouse of restored cave rooms called The Fairy Chimney Inn.

From them, draw a line to Michael Palin, who stayed at The Fairy Chimney Inn in 2007 when he was shooting his travelogue called New Europe (and writing his book of the same name).

Hey, wait.  That's it?

Yea, that's it.  There are two degrees of separation between Jocelyn and Michael Palin, which pretty much means I'm famous.

You see, I, Jocelyn, am sitting in the Fairy Chimney Inn right now, typing this post.  Thanks to a delightful confluence of events (the owners wanted to go to Germany to visit family, and we were, um, in the area, looking bored), our family has been invited to inn-sit until March...basically keeping the furnace going, feeding and walking the massive St. Bernard, and reveling in the perks (hot water right out of the taps, in-floor heating, wireless Internet, a three-foot television, an oven big enough to bake a cake, and a Call to Prayer so remotely sung that inhabitants can sleep past sunrise).  Currently, there are no guests staying here, it being the low season and all, but if anyone shows up or calls, we're on duty to turn out a morning breakfast and to fluff their pillows (which, I believe, Palin identified as a highlight of his visit).

So mostly we're baking and feeding and walking and Internetting and sleeping.  Plus, sometimes the kids take turns ringing the intercom down at the gate and buzzing each other in...or taking each other's orders for onion rings.

And all of this unforeseen fun is taking place in the midst of one of the world's most spectacular settings.

No, really, it's staggeringly cool.

Just ask my friend Michael Palin. 


(or take a look at this slide from a New York Times article:

(or you can look at these photos I took yesterday out the back door...):

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Remembrance of Donkeys Past"

This whole endeavor has been harder on him than the rest of us.

Seven years old, shy, sensitive, creative, averse to expectations, retreating in the face of pressure,

Paco has not found the move to Turkey an easy one.

Some might make the case that it could have been easy. He has his most enthusiastic supporters circling him; he's well fed, hugged, and loved; he is safe; it is beautiful here, he gets to wear his pajamas four days out of every seven.  He got a crossbow for Christmas, for heaven's sake.

His immediate reaction to this place, however, was one of, "Why can't we just stay for a little while?  Why does it have to be for a year?"  Equally frequently, he's moaned, "I just don't like it here."

Since that notion was asserted, there has been no revision.  Travel is said to be a great revealer of character, and one of the primary traits that has emerged about our second grader is that he's incredibly stubborn.  As my friend Pamm noted when she visited, "I say this with all the love and experience of someone who raised two boys herself:  you have a seven-year-old who's acting amazingly like a thirteen-year-old."  She was right.  Paco's bouts of sullenness make us want to give him a drumset, usher him to a wood-paneled room in the basement, and ask him not to come up until he's ready to tour colleges.

Even though it's been hard work to jolly along a recalcitrant kid, a big part of me has to concede, regarding his attitude, "Fair enough, really."  Coming here wasn't his choice.  Staying here wasn't his choice.  Nor was being plunked into a backwater where conversation stops when he walks by or, worse yet, smelly men with cracked yellow teeth grab his cheeks and pinch them with a vehemence that doesn't feel remotely like affection.  He didn't want to leave his posse of pals back home.  He didn't want to see his toys put into storage. He didn't want to enter a new country in the midst of 110 degree temperatures with no air conditioning and Ramadan drums waking him up every morning at 3:30 a.m. before the first Call to Prayer blasted an hour later.  Lonely, scared, overwhelmed, confused, unbelievably fatigued, he had every right to his feelings.

Woefully, though--from his point of view--his parents, though sympathetic, don't believe in handing over the deciding vote about family matters to someone who learned to ride a bike and then announced, "I don't want to do that anymore."  (and he hasn't)

So this has been tough on him.  By extension, it's been hard on all of us. 

Fortunately, it's only rough going when he remembers to maintain the stance that he hates it here.

When he forgets to paint himself as a tragic, much-put-upon figure, he has more fun in an hour than my cattle-ranching grandma Dorothy had in her entire lifetime.  Because inside his head?  Is a prodigious, fluid, magical, charismatic expanse of terrain where kaleidoscopic marbles hit against battling Lego light-saber-wielding minifigures who leap atop paper towel tubes that explode with confetti which then showers down upon a herd of giraffes who walk upon an ocean in which jellyfish sleep on peanut butter rocks.

He may be a butthead, but he's more damn fun than anything.

Case in point:  yesterday I dragged the kids (who, many days, are still reluctant to leave the house) out for a walk. As we descended into the nearby canyon, Paco looked over his left shoulder at an ancient cave house and noted, "Hey, that looks like the thing that dangles at the back of your throat."  Indeed.  Had I ever before seen a better example of Uvula in Nature?

As I watch Paco simultaneously pushing against and thriving in this situation, I mull over the fluctuating nature of memory and wonder how this year will lodge within him over the long term.  When I think back on being seven, there are only brief flashes of what was--nothing coherent or sustained:  I remember Miss Hertzler catching me counting with my fingers under my desk and telling me that I was smarter than that so I had best sit on my hands during math from then on; I remember my mom not picking up me and a friend at the end of the school day, so we waited and waited out front of the school until a teacher came out to check on us and said she was sure Mom would be there "in three shakes of a lamb's tail"...after which my friend and I decided we had to find a lamb of some sort and pull its tail; I remember my sister telling me, with a strange sneer of superior knowingness, that my parents had signed me up for piano and ballet lessons and not informed me.

Anything beyond that is abstracted and could have happened at age 6, 7, or 8.

As I review my meager cache of memories and read over psychological articles pertaining to autobiographical memory, it becomes clear that Paco won't retain much from this year.  On the other hand, the memories that seem to stick with people are those revolving around heightened moments, trauma, pain, extreme sensory stimulation, or difficult emotional challenges. 

Uh-oh.  If that's the case, Paco is likely to recollect every single minute of this year, from the first time our neighbor dismayed him by grabbing him around the waist and trying to foist him up onto a the moments when he embraced tavuk donor (a sandwich made with shaved, peppered chicken), tavuk shish kebap, and grilled chicken wings as his go-to travel foods. When everything is remarkable, what can be forgotten?

The good news is that my reading and life experience also tell me that many of our childhood memories are reconstructed.  We think we remember Uncle Dusty dropping a cinderblock on our toes, and then two months later we lost a toenail, but the truth is that the preservation of that memory comes from the story of Uncle Dusty's clumsiness and our subsequent two-hour meltdown being retold at every drunken Thanksgiving for the next twenty years.  We hear the story again and again, and the myth becomes real.  Even more forceful is the accompanying photo of the dead toenail in a jar, pulled out of  Aunt Janice's wallet after her third gimlet.  We're told what happened, provided with the viewpoint.  We're shown the pictures, and, thusly, absorb Cinderblockgate into our brains as something remembered firsthand.

If, then, there exists the potential to affect memory, I'm all over the power of that manipulation.

So pour me a gimlet.  Bring me my Paco.  I have a story to construct.

Paco?  Tootsiepop?  You're eight today.  This morning, you were the most excited Birthday Boy I've ever seen.  You grabbed the piece of yarn tied next to your bed and traced its winding path, as is our family tradition on any continent, under furniture, above moldings, out the door, through the courtyard, down to the guest room, and there you found your stack of Lego sets and a new DS game.  Knowing that you wouldn't want to do schoolwork on your big day, you chose to work through it yesterday; this freed us to take the dolmus to Urgup this afternoon, where we got you an eclair and some of those cool umbrella-shaped chocolates and went to the shop where the lady gives temporary tattoos (nice Phoenix on your arm, by the way) before going to the Internet cafe so you could play games on the Lego site and talk on the phone with Oma and Grandpa Jay.  You wanted tacos for dinner, and Dad made them just as you like, with a soft tortilla full of beef wrapped up in a piece of aluminum foil at the bottom, so it doesn't leak.  All day long, you monologued about the new Ninjago lego sets, and you wore your new Lego Hero Factory shirt, and people called to sing to you and sent emails and You Tube links, and your energy was boundless.

So what I want you to remember about turning eight in Turkey is that it was awesome, and you were healthy and beautiful and innocent and happy and goofy--

just as you were all year long, as you played with your sword, hung with your sister, lifted weights, ate sesame bread, slept hard (on occasion), blew bubbles, painted grapes, taped your face, recorded your Doric column count, made art at the Black Sea, took pottery lessons, played chess, laid on cushions and tables and hammocks, jumped off walls, tussled with sister, chopped kindling, listened to history, touched The Louvre, stood in front of the Mona Lisa, robot danced in front of a classic, took a family portrait near the Eiffel Tower, hammed it up with Mommy, laid on a suitcase in Reading, ate edamame in London, sat on a Camel in Windsor, slept more, did some finger knitting, pretended to be a beast in front of a castle, drew a picture of yourself on a rooftop, jumped across your personal Grand Canyon, built cabins out of pretzels, scrambled around white stones, made a snowman, shot your crossbow, pretended to be a monkey, considered mosaics, viewed a volcano, burned treasure maps, and practiced "ice bending" beneath a cliff wall carved out five thousand years ago.

Bubs? Pip of my heart? May your every year be as awful as this one.