Saturday, December 30, 2006

December 31, 2006

Tomorrow is a bit hard to conceive of–even Turks are impressed. No one can remember when the start of Kurban Bayram has fallen on New Year’s Eve. Kurban Bayram is a religious holiday in which each household is supposed to sacrifice a male animal and give to the poor, in remembrance of Abraham and Isaac. It’s something like Thanksgiving in the States, where families get together for a big feast (that goes on for three days). New Year’s has been adopted by Turks as a non-religious Christmas, complete with gifts, tinsel and trees, partying and red underwear (for good luck in the new year, didn’t you know?) So stack Thanksgiving on top of Christmas on top of New Year’s and you have tomorrow.
We’ve been invited for the traditional breakfast (to eat the sacrificial meat), and then we’re going to some friends’ house in the country for a low key party, as low key as things can get with four boys age 8, 7, 6, and 5 together…
Wishing you a New Year filled with love and kisses!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Painting, Dancing, Walking in the Cold

Today I woke up enveloped in happiness, and it stayed with me all day.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Kloe, 2006 is Almost Through

Today I taught my fifth grade English-ers, and they were CRAZY, off the wall, ready for holiday. I feel your pain, grade-school teachers.
I let each student ask me a question:
What’s your name? Mrs. Bratz (teaching American titles).
What’s your favorite color? Blue.
What’s your hobby? Raising chickens.
What’s your favorite food? Chocolate.
How old are you? How old do you think I am? Eighteen (this made my day).
Can you swim? Yes, everyone in SoCal swims.
Can you play volleyball and football (meaning soccer)? No, I’m pretty bad at sports.
What’s the matter? (After explaining in what context to ask this question, I thought it a great one. Yes, what’s the matter? I’m living a double life, I’ve lost my appetite, I’m painting too much, I’m in love with Turkey, I’m waiting…)
The headmaster gave me a big bunch of flowers as a New Year’s present and said he wanted to take us to visit his village near Nemrut (in Eastern Turkey). Now wouldn’t that be amazing?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Listening to Intuition

I’m painting a series of portraits of Turkish women. But they are such a damn busy lot, that I started several and the subjects couldn’t come back to sit again for several weeks. During which time I got bored with the paintings. So one day I got a princess coloring book and pasted Beauty/Barbie all over the half-finished portraits. Sort of fun and subversive, cause these are serious women.
I’m thinking that the princesses are so ingrained in our collective culture that they are our modern-day protectors and shamans…

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Day After

Well, I got through yesterday. We went to the only Italian restaurant in our Anatolian City (which is below the only Chinese restaurant—they know the kids by name…) and I tried to pretend I was in a place where Christmas meant something. But today we woke up to a lovely whiteness, and the snow swirled around me all day, and I was in love with Turkey again.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

And Know that I am Missing You

As a Christmas present to you, I excerpt from a short story called “The Word,” published in the Dec 26, 2005 issue of The New Yorker:

Then a miracle occurred. One of the last angels lingered, turned, and quietly approached me. I caught sight of his cavernous, staring, diamond eyes under the imposing arches of his brows. On the ribs of his outspread wings glistened what seemed like frost. The wings themselves were gray, an ineffable tint of gray, and each feather ended in a silvery sickle. His visage, the faintly smiling outline of his lips, and his straight clear forehead reminded me of features I had seen on earth. The curves, the gleaming, the charm of all the faces I had ever loved–the features of people who had long since departed from me–seemed to merge into one wondrous countenance. All the familiar sounds that came separately into contact with my hearing now seemed to blend into a single, perfect melody.
He came up to me. He smiled. I could not look at him. But glancing at his legs, I noticed a network of azure veins on his feet and one pale birthmark. From these veins, from that little spot, I understood that he had not yet totally abandoned earth, that he might understand my prayer.
Then, bending my head, pressing my singed palms, smeared with bright clay, to my half-blinded eyes, I began recounting my sorrows…But for some reason I could remember only minute, quite mundane things that were unable to speak or weep those corpulent, burning, terrible tears, about which I wanted to but could not tell…
Embracing my shoulders for an instant with his dovelike wings, the angel pronounced a single word, and in his voice I recognized all those beloved, those silenced voices. The word he spoke was so marvelous that, with a sigh, I closed my eyes and bowed my head still lower.
I shouted it…
Oh, Lord–the winter dawn glows greenish in the window, and I remember not what word it was that I shouted.

Vladimir Nabokov, 1923
Translated from the Russian by Dmitri Nabokov

Saturday, December 23, 2006

My Health, It is a Breakin’ Down, or I am Served on a Platter

Last week I was ill and needed antibiotics to cure the problem. Because the most common antibiotic causes me to hallucinate, the pharmacy gave me a weaker one, which a few days later I realized was not working. This time I went to the doctor and got a stronger one.
Problem solved? No, two days ago I awoke looking like I had the jungle fever, which would have been fine if the rash had stayed on my legs, but it traveled to my face and one ear was now a radish. Back to the doctor, who diagnosed an allergic reaction and have me a shot in the butt (how embarrassing, like I was a kid again). I’m very sensitive to any drugs and got totally light-headed, but had a full day of painting planned that I was damned if I was going to miss. I can’t really recommend it, painting high.
I’m writing about this cause it’s a lesson that when you’re abroad, and far from your normal doctor (let alone your step-father the doctor), you’re at the mercy of a totally different system. Not to mention that a favorite topic of conversation among Turks is health problems, so that faculty and staff I barely know were coming up to me in the hallway and wishing me “Gecmis olsun,” get well soon. Humbling, very humbling.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Ninja Mama

Yesterday Kid.01 told me that a woman’s strongest weapon against men is her… purse. Now where did he get that idea?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

And Don’t Forget the Winter Solstice

It’s rather a confusing time for us in Turkey now. Four holidays, backed up against each other: Chanukah, Christmas, New Year’s, and Kurban Bayram (the Sacrifice Holiday). New Year’s is celebrated here with Christmas trees, Santa, ornaments and presents. I guess it’s fair, Santa did come from Anatolia. And there is a pagan tradition of decorating a wishing tree with ribbons and rags.
Right about now I’d be panicking in the States, trying to finish buying/making/finding/wrapping presents for all the family members and friends who will give me or my family presents in return. Sort of nice to be out of the loop this year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

New Ways of Thinking

Today I am so happy with my advanced students. I am asking them to not paint, which they do extremely well (see above photo), but to create a “deconstructed body” using non-traditional media. So, abstraction or conceptual art plus installation/video/performance, etc. This is way outside their normal comfort level. And their ideas are fantastic. Really, how many teachers can say this? I am very lucky.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It Can’t be Explained

Painting from the model is always a crap-shoot for me: some days I’m on, some days are just a loss. Today I painted like a fucking angel, like my hands and eyes were controlled by someone else. It flowed calmly–I didn’t make a mistake. Two beautiful models, five beautiful small paintings. Maybe it's a consolation for having to teach through the holidays...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Bush (No, not that Bush)

Note: Stop reading if you have issues with female parts! (However, there is no cussing in this post, Gram.)
Turks are very modest people for the most part. Even in the gym locker room, women cover up on their way to the shower. They avert their eyes from me if I’m not fully dressed. One day I got hot doing the cross trainer, and took off my T-shirt to reveal my sports bra and you’d think I was naked they way people turned their heads away…
This makes it even more perplexing to discover that it is somewhat normal for Turkish women to shave or wax all their hair away that is not on their head. I work with nude models in my classroom, and yep, no hair there. Apparently there is something religious related, about hair not being longer than a wheat shaft. And someone told me her mother started removing her pubic hair as a young teenager, “for her potential husband.”
It sort of weirds me out, do men here want their women to look like young girls? Defend yourselves, my Turkish male friends! If it's just a cultural preference, whose preference is it?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Oh. My. God.

The holidays have turned my kids into raving lunatics.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Solitary and Joyful

Today I was by myself. Which is not normal for a mom of two kids or for anyone living in Turkey, which is a very group-oriented culture. (Hubby and kids were in Ankara for a Chanukah party at the Israeli Embassy.) I went to the gym and sauna. Then I went to my office to work in quiet. I love to paint with no one around, and no one waiting for me.
But late in the afternoon a friend and colleague knocked on my door and said I should come into the city with her. She felt sorry that I was alone, but I'm so glad, as she is a wonderful person who I want to know better. She did her masters at Pratt, and has great English, although she also tries to speak Turkish with me. She deals with a difficult family situation, and we talked about living happy for each day, rather than living for the future. We had coffee at Schlotzke's Deli–yes, var! in the middle of Anatolia, too!
This is one of her paintings. I feel I am loved and enveloped in color.

Friday, December 15, 2006


This work, Breath, by Greek artist Nikos Navridis, 2005, was shockingly beautiful. It was a video installation in the Venice Biennial exhibition at the Istanbul Modern. You walked into a dark room and a still image of trash slowly bloomed in the middle of the floor, then started moving as if on a conveyor belt, faster and faster until it seemed to explode. All this lasted about 30 seconds. The sound track was heavy breathing, which made the experience more personal and intense. My students were also very affected. Why was the work so powerful? The content was both political and aesthetic, and duration was brief (no boredom factor), the experience completely engrossing and dizzying.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Be Still my Heart

Get a load of these heels! They are actually artworks of a Turkish friend. He’s made an entire exhibition of “takuye,” the wooden sandals traditionally worn in Turkish baths, but now associated with the Religious Right in this country. Each of his little sculptures is a comment on how dangerous it is for Turkey to be slipping towards becoming an Islamic state. Plus the works are wickedly funny, including an Islamic Swiss army knife, a polygamist purse in which to pack up your wives, and a stretch limo for Islamic politicians, all made from actual takuye.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Ill, not Sick

Today I was very ill with a U.T.I. (if you don’t know what this is be very glad). I walked to work, started teaching and, whammo, was in trouble. Luckily my friends–you saved me, thank you–drove me home and picked up antibiotics for me, which are available over the counter here.
I am ill, not sick, because “sick” sounds like the f-word (see Gram, I didn’t say it) in Turkish. Ill sounds so polite, and I really feel sick rather than ill.
It is really hard to be a woman sometimes.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Problem with Blogging

I’ve gotten less email since I’ve been keeping this blog. Friends and Family: You may be keeping tabs on an 8 inch Bratz of dubious moral character (that my own sister won't have in her house, I might add), but you’re forgetting that I need to hear from you too! I follow the lives of several bloggers (and I feel I know them pretty intimately–the power of good blogging) but I never leave comments either. I’m telling you, it’s a weird feeling that I’m posting stuff out into the black hole of cyberspace and anyone can read it without responding. Hey, throw me a comment or an email! And for those at my University, whom my service bureau thinks are spammers or terrorists, sorry about that… gel and see me in person. I’m the blond short one in cowboy boots.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pleasantly Thin

Since we’ve been in Turkey I’ve lost some kilos. It’s rather fun to get on a scale and have no idea how much you weigh because it’s not in pounds. Turkish food is great, and I’m sure I consume my fair share of calories in alcohol, but still I’m skinnier than I’ve been in a long time.
I bought some new jeans at the Gap before we left SoCal. I used to be a size 8, now I’m mostly a size 6, but these jeans were a size 4 and now they bag on me. Come on people, I’m not that small! What does Barbie do for clothes?
Here college age kids are mostly slender, but I’m afraid that’s probably due to smoking. Many Turks, like Americans, pretty much let themselves go over the age of 30. I belong to a snazzy gym here, and I am the most in shape person I've seen working out. And this from a girl who goes to the YMCA back home cause it’s full of old and handicapped people who don’t fit into the SoCal meatmarket mentality. But while Turks may be slightly plump, you never see the obesity here you see everyday in the States. OK, pass the olive oil.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Istanbul Modern

At the beginning of the semester I told the Painting Department that I would like to take my students to the Istanbul Modern, the only contemporary art museum in Turkey, for a field trip. So last Friday at 6 AM several other professors and I piled into a bus with our students for the long trek to that Most Beautiful City. And it was worth it. The museum, only a year old, is fantastic—I’m so happy for the art community of Turkey. The top floor is for the permanent collection of Turkish art, and the subterranean floor is for rotating exhibitions. We saw pieces from the last Venice Biennial. The museum sits right on the waterfront; we drank cappuccino and watched fishing boats unload. I saw great art—will discuss in later posts. I just love to have a museum experience like that!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Istiklal Caddesi

View from an art gallery. I’ve walked this famous street in Istanbul many times and it never fails to impress. Better than Rodeo Drive!

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Each day we send Kid.01 off to a private (full-immersion Turkish) K-12 school on the service bus. We chose this school because the administration and teachers seemed flexible about having a foreign student, and they have lived up to their promises of extra help for our son.
Each week Hubby and I volunteer for a few hours at this school. In SoCal I volunteer in the classroom because it’s a good way to keep tabs on what's happening the eight hours you don’t see your kid. I haven’t written about these experiences here because they’ve been pretty traumatic. I teach fifth-graders conversational English with some art thrown in. I have seen teachers totally loose control of their classrooms, and they regularly yell at their students. I yell at the students. I’ve also seen a fight, and some other pretty upsetting stuff. To say the students are spirited and physical is an understatement.
But today I finally felt I made some headway. Each twelve-year-old was able to say the following: “Last weekend I ________ and this weekend I will ____________.” We also drew a three-frame comic. Small steps. For more insight on teaching young people in Turkey see

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Istanbul and Art

Istanbul was great. We saw art, talked art, hung art, and talked some more. Although the institutional scene here is conservative, my fellow artists are hungry for change, and discussing how to do it is a good step.
This Los Vegas type blue building is the Guarantee Bankasi headquarters that hosted our exhibit. Banks do lots of charity and cultural work in Turkey. At dinner I sat next to the Foundation Doctor, a woman who works with poor families in Istanbul full time, sponsored by the bank. She told me that anemia is the biggest problem for kids here, followed by childhood obesity.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Burning the Candle

I am so exhausted! After the opening we ate at Reina, a hotspot Italian restaurant on the Bosporus (full on a Monday night), then we piled back into the minibus for the excruciating five-hour trip back to Our Anatolian City. We arrived at 4 am and I had to teach at 9 this morning. I’ll write more when I can see straight again.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Domestic Mini Goddess

I’m going to Istanbul this afternoon with the painting faculty to open our exhibition there. I’m so happy they invited me to travel with them, and I hope to have great conversations about Art (and to drink some raki with them).
I cooked yesterday for the family, lentil soup for Hubby and chocolate chip bars for Kids. I’m not a great cook, but have been lucky to live with a couple (one Italian, one Turkish) who taught me a lot. I still don’t have the hang of the baking soda here, though.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Grey Skies

Sometimes when you’re living abroad a sense of unreality takes hold of you. You can’t remember your old home clearly. Your new home is temporary, but your mind won’t grasp that fact. You’re afraid no one will remember you back home, but in your new home you fear you are not connecting on any significant level. You know that, as a woman getting older, you are less and less powerful/desirable/lovable, but you deny that time is passing. You are both terribly happy to have some fun, and miserable when the fun is over. You feel guilty that the kids are unhappy, but try to justify it by saying it’s good for them, and you can’t live your life through your kids. Am I rambling? This is what it’s like to be on the other side of the world.