Geographical Purgatory

May 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

Once I returned, stiff and weary, from Antalya, I gladly collapsed into bed, happy to be in familiar surroundings.  I’ll be spending the next few weeks in my living room, my gilded prison.

Social isolation aside, what’s most difficult about my situation is the geographical purgatory.  The accident abruptly removed me not just from the university and town life, but, well, Turkey.  I’m not interacting with Turks, attempting to speak Turkish, and besides some TV morning shows and soap operas I watch but don’t understand, I’m not hearing Turkish.  Aside from random teyzes chopping wood outside my window, shouts from the schoolyard next door, and the reliable call to prayer, I’ve essentially been removed from Turkey.  Forget “Is it Europe?  Is it Asia?”  The more pertinent question is, “Where is it?”

Sample teyze, minus harem shalwar pants

I watch English-language television, read English-translated books*, and talk with American friends online and on Skype.  But I don’t live in America or England.

I watch Ellen and Martha Stewart reruns from last year, but I don’t live in 2010.

I transcribe Ladino.  But I don’t live in Ottoman Turkey.

I watch Al-Jazeera, BBC World News, and read books about Central Asia.  But I don’t inhabit some nebulous international space.  Or do I?

I essentially live nowhere and therefore I live everywhere.  I like to imagine that my apartment has detached itself from the lojman and is on a world tour, safely surveying government repression in Yemen and Bahrain, earthquakes in Lorca, Spain (near where I would have been teaching had I gone to Spain), flooding in the Mississippi, murders of miniaturists in the Ottoman Empire, family Shabbat dinners in mid-20th century Izmir, Turkey.

I feel kind of like Tom Hanks in The Terminal, or Tom Hanks in Cast Away, but not like Tom Hanks in Philadelphia (too geographically certain).

I'm working on lassoing food from the kitchen to the couch

Magic carpet ride aside, this liminal existence is pretty disconcerting.  I wasn’t ready to be prematurely yanked out of Turkey and I’m upset I won’t be able to live this last month to the fullest.  But I’m not ready to go back to the US.  Some might say this is a good transition back to American life.  It’s not.  Since the only representations I get of America are Jay Leno and the Big Bang Theory, I’m growing to despise brainless American TV more and more (Conan, you get a free pass).  I feel a strange affinity with Guantanamo Bay detainees.

I don’t know what this is.  I’m really looking forward to my next outing, when I’ll try to navigate the seamless Turkish transportation system to make my way to Istanbul for an appointment at the German Hospital.

I’m a citizen of the world.  Or at least, I’m queen of the corduroy couch.

*If you want to start a Skype book club, pick up a copy of Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red.  It’s either that or a book of speeches on Swedish/Turkish/Kurdish relations (a pretty engaging read, and easier to understand than Pamuk).


The Summer of George

May 11, 2011 § 2 Comments

“God would never let me be successful!  He’ll kill me first!”
“I thought you don’t believe in God.”
“I do for the bad things.”

Seinfeld’s George Costanza is both the most painfully realistic and painfully hilarious character to appear on a modern sitcom.  He poisoned his boss, moved back to his parents’ duplex in Queens, fabricated elaborate false identities and webs of lies to prop up those personae, got fired from the Yankees, cheated on an IQ test, pushed over an old woman and children to escape from a fire, double-dipped his chip, got punched by Marisa Tomei, ruined his hand modeling career in a freak hot-iron incident, got swindled and robbed on the way to a job interview, inadvertently killed his long-suffering fiancée with toxic wedding envelope glue, and got caught masturbating by his mother, who then threw her back out.  And these are just a few of the Astonishing Tales of Costanza.

What could possibly be realistic about such ridiculous stories?  Perhaps it’s not so much what happened as the underlying personality characteristics that allow a person to act in such a way to give birth to such incidents.  Wikipedia describes George as exhibiting “a number of negative character traits, among them stinginess, selfishness, dishonesty, insecurity, and neurosis.”  Who among us (neurotic Northeastern jews, I’m looking at you) does this not describe?   In the brilliantly and awkwardly funny Curb Your Enthusiasm, we find that George’s character and exploits were based on Larry David’s, Seinfeld’s co-creator and the true brains behind the show (you know it’s true) life.  These bizarre combinations of and terrifying interactions with humanity, these unfortunate situations–with the right friends, the right circumstances, and the right neuroses, any of these stories could happen to you.  And that’s the premise of Curb Your Enthusiasm—this is your reality, slightly exaggerated (read here for an interesting debate between the stylized George and the stylized Larry)

In Seinfeld’s Season 4’s ‘sitcom about nothing within a sitcom about nothing’ arc, Jerry and George’s TV pilot gets picked up by NBC.  Unemployed, without hope, and without a girlfriend, this is the single greatest thing to happen to George in years.  Yet he’s overcome with staggering doubt.  In his therapist’s office, he relates the confession that starts this entry: “God would never let me be successful.  He’ll kill me first.”  George is the perpetual loser—he won’t admit it, but deep inside, he knows it.  While auditioning actors to play the ‘George’ role on the new pilot (the self-reflexive post-modernity of the whole show is overwhelming), one actor asks, “What are we looking at here?  Is this guy a real loser?”  George responds sharply and dismissively, “ No, not a loser!”  A bit too sharply and dismissively.  We know you’re lying, George.   The universe simply doesn’t work in your favor.

Most of my life has unintentionally come to resemble George’s.  An encyclopedia of painfully awkward and hilarious situations, false identities (you don’t think I’ll tell you my fake e-mail addresses, do you?), and the knowledge that when something goes too well, disaster is right around the corner, no matter how many evil eyes you have in your house.

Since the depths of the previous fall’s discontent, my life in Turkey has substantially improved: better grip of teaching, better understanding of the country and the language, better relationships.  I was looking forward to a triumphant last month of class parties, travel, Istanbul, farewells to friends, a long-awaited return to the US, and then an exciting move to Vienna.  With this general satisfaction in mind, Alex and I headed to the unofficial Fulbright farewell weekend at an all-inclusive Mediterranean seaside resort in Antalya, on Turkey’s southern coast.  Things were perfect!  Killer buffets, two pools, saunas, a Turkish bath, a beach with cool, clear water.  I should’ve been on the lookout.  Mid-afternoon on Saturday I suffered a blatantly ridiculous pool-based accident and broke a bone in my left knee.  Alex has summed up the hospital visit and wincingly hilarious Sunday trip back to T.dag on her blog.

I’m now home, safely ensconced on my orange corduroy couch, surrounded by books, satellite TV, and a fickle Internet connection.  I’m glad I’m comfortable because, well, I’m not leaving for a good long while.  While I’m lucky enough to live on the ground floor of our building, the building itself is down several steps from the curb, at the bottom of a steep and uneven hill.  And to access anything from our apartment block wasteland of a neighborhood, I need to climb several steps to board the minibus/dolmus.  It just ain’t gonna happen.  The next foreseeable exit date is Tuesday, when I head to T.dag’s finest English-speaking orthopedist (when I locate him/her) for a 10-day check-up and hopeful cast removal.

Things aren’t so bad! If someone buys and prepares my food for me, I can transport it in my backpack or in my mouth like a dog and eat.  I managed to put my own socks on this morning.  I even somewhat bathed myself.

Since I’ve got a hell of a lot of time on my hands now, I hope to update this blog daily with thoughts and stories I’ve been too neglectful to write about this year.  I’ve got the rest of today to ponder exactly why the universe has it in for me, and prepare myself for some visitors and Sinema Lojman’s (aka my laptop’s) showing of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

In case you’re wondering, the Seinfeld pilot does get cancelled when NBC’s president joins Greenpeace to impress Elaine and the new head axes the sitcom.  Sad trombone.  But in perhaps the strangest ‘art imitates life imitates art’ moment of my life and Seinfeld, I leave you with the Season 8 finale, in which George, surprised by 3 months’ severance pay after being fired from the Yankees, plans the Summer of George, a hedonistic zenith of relaxation and frisbee golf.  Until he slips on an invitation he previously dropped on the steps and breaks both his legs.  Sound familiar?

skip to 4:47 and live what I feel

Yarina gorusuruz! (see you tomorrow!)

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