Highlights for Bizim Büyük Çaresizliğimiz

Beş el vardı direksiyonda, babanın iki eli, Nevzat Amca’nın iki eli ve gören görür, ölümün eli…
“Azrail’in piyangosu annenle babana vurdu Nihal!”
Daha doğrusu ikimiz de birbirimizin “âşık” halinden pek hoşlanmamıştık.
Sonra sustum. Çok konuşunca olan şey: Konuşmak, anlatmak, anlamsız gelmişti birdenbire. Belki de, katlanıp kaldırılması gereken şeyleri buruşturmuştum.
Nihal’i karnının üzerinde pençelerini ne zaman etine geçireceği belli olmayan yırtıcı bir hayvanla dolaşıyor gibi düşünmüştüm.
Görüyorsun değil mi Çetin, üç buçuk yaşındaki çocuk bile kendi deneyiminden bir yasa çıkarıyor! Başka türlü nefes alınmaz. Başka türlü yaşanmaz. Başka türlü aşk olmaz. Yaptıklarımızı olumlayan yasalar buluyoruz; sanırım aklımız böyle işliyor: Buyurgan iç huzurumuzun boynu bükük kölesi olarak.
balkonda rakı sofrası kurmak
Bu başarısız öykü de, “Genç şair tekrar kalemine sarıldı.” cümlesiyle sona eriyor.
“Reşit, ömür denen şeyin tedricen yaşanmadığını söylerdi. Gerçekten öyle, her şey birdenbire oluyor. Küçük bir çocukken birdenbire, ilaçlarını plastik bir margarin kabında saklayan bir ihtiyar oluveriyorsun. Kendin için, çocukların için, ülken için güzel şeyler ümit ederken, seni biçimlendiren şeyin güzel bir gelecek hayali olduğunu düşünürken, birdenbire kaderinin, güne ayak uyduramamak, gençliğini, geçmişini özlemek ve hızla dönen dünya tarafından hep kenara savrulmak olduğunu görüyorsun.”
Ama siyasetle ilgilenmemişti, çünkü Reşit Bey’e göre, insanlar birbirlerinden ve tarihten bir şey öğrenmiyor, basit güdülerle hareket ediyordu. Bu yüzden siyasetin yapacağı, başaracağı bir şey yoktu.
Sen de o yağmurdan başlayıp o iş arkadaşlarına hatta oradan sokak çocuklarına sıçrayan kıskançlık alevleriyle her tarafı yakıp yıkarsın, iyiliğe karşı içinde keskin bir öfke duyarsın. “İyiliğiniz batsın!” dersin. Böyledir bahar yağmuru, kötü eder adamı.
Memleketinden uzak insanların dumanlı efkârlı ruh haline bizim küçük kızımız da girmiş, bu ruh haliyle geride bıraktığı her şey çok güzel mi gelmeye başlamıştı?

Gibi: Comedy under Pressure

I just watched and finished season 1 of Gibi which seems to have been enough of a success for them to quickly put out a second season. It’s a Turkish dark comedy show that you can watch online on Exxen. I already wrote it’s a bit like Seinfeld but with a very dark undercurrent.

How dark? Let’s look at the next bit from an episode (S01E10 @ 16:30) where Yılmaz and İlkkan are accused of having caused the death of an old man. They are getting ready to host the deceased’s relatives at a restaurant and participate in the wake.

Yilmaz and Ilkkan having a conversation

Did you hear anything from Ethem?

Ethem?

Lately never…

Man, look, they wrote something in fact. Hold on. Somehow we weren’t able to call the guy. (Sigh. Wails.)

Don’t.

His aunt has killed herself. Ethem’s. It was written this morning. I just saw it.

Which aunt?

His older aunt.

I don’t know many other situational comedy shows that do something like this. It has no relation to the story and serves only to set the mood. Interspersing another death that’s just brushed off in an episode that’s already about death demonstrates how little a human life is worth. People die randomly and it’s received with a wail and a shrug.

They will most likely go to the funeral just like they did in a previous episode (S01E04) where Ersoy’s grandmother was eaten by an Erasmus cannibal.

Overarching Theme

Zooming out a bit, the real theme of this first season of Gibi has been pressure, pressure of all kinds: peer pressure, family obligations, social and societal pressure.

  • Kokariç: Press ganging into opening a kebab shop and invest in all kinds of goods
  • Wadding: Pressure from friends and the environment to conform to current fashion norms
  • Nu Model: Pressure from the extended family not to pose nude at the art academy enforced by force of violence
  • The Cannibal Coming with Erasmus: Pressure from friends to mourn and be visibly sad
  • Wrong Mentor: Pressure by a spiritual guide to follow a very strict regimen
  • Dark Force: Collective hysteria around bad things happening
  • Second Way: Pressure of belonging
  • Whitewash: Pressure by the house painter to go all the way
  • Renewal of Break Up: Pressure generated by magician
  • Blood Money: Pressure to make amends for somebody unrelated dying
  • Bathroom: Pressure to bathe and spend time with a couple of seniors
  • Discovery of the Horse: Proto-societal pressure between members of an outcast paleolithic group

Anybody who’s ever been to Turkey knows that the entire country is built on this kind of pressure, also known as genuine interest, shame, concern or emotional blackmail. It’s omnipresent and the only way to escape it is to exit.

Property dealings in Berlin

Back when I read this exposé in November it struck me as gripping but also as something that could become messy. Turns out that’s true since the piece now has the mark “Censored” and some choice parts of text have been blanked out. I did a quick search but can’t find any updates what might have happened. If I find time later, I’ll look in the Wayback Machine to see what pieces of text disappeared.

The kind of property deals that are described in the article are par for the course in any up and coming city. Recently there was a piece about resistance to the city giving away one of its largest buildings to a private art gallery: https://www.freitag.de/autoren/der-freitag/portraet-wut-motiviert-mich

The academic backroom dealings should also be considered to be normal especially in small subfields such as Turkey studies. Academics are playing funding games more than they research and the web of foundations that float around are ways to creatively bookkeep and move money around. None of this is really surprising.

As If

I’ve discovered a hilarious new Turkish comedy show called “Gibi” (translated to As If). The episodes revolve around a group of friends who get embroiled in absurdist situations and have very nasty but eloquent arguments with each other.

To me this gives off a very Seinfeld-like feeling with nasty people living in a nasty city talking about nasty things with each other. Not the touchy feely stuff that you see in normal sitcoms. You don’t really quite get why these people hang out with each other but they do.

Below is the first episode in its entirety on YouTube where both main characters find themselves pressured to open a kebab shop. The rest of the series on Exxen has passable English subs for anybody who would be interested.

I’m always a sucker for performances where people argue/fight with each other. The more fierce and physical the better. Carnage is an old favourite of mine and the fight scene I witnessed in ‘Langs de Grote Weg’ remains with me as one of the highlights of visiting Frascati.

I’ve watched a couple more episodes and I think I can say that the theme of the show is the weird social conformities that people in Turkey impose on each other. Hell is other people, especially over there.

Exxen

To be able to watch the full series I took a month’s subscription to Exxen. This seems to be one of a bunch of bespoke streaming platforms. Another one I was aware of through social media has been Gain (a self-described ‘next generation content platform’).

The Exxen website is kinda broken and the boss of the site has been quoted saying ‘they are competing with Netflix.’ That may be right, but Netflix is probably not competing with them. Still, with the 80M people living in Turkey, the substantial diaspora as well as people from other countries who consider Turkish culture and media to be aspirational (a lot more of those out there than you would think living in Europe), they probably can get by.

One weird déja-vu has been seeing many of the Turkish social media stars that I used to listen to on Clubhouse (Chaby, Enis, Zeynep) make an appearance in weird and zany television formats exclusive to the platform. Most amazingly, those formats are also pretty professionally executed with high production values.

Leveled up in Turkish

Hanging out on Clubhouse from the beginning made me realize how lacking my Turkish was. I got on the app when Germany came online and I think Turkey launched shortly after that and only then did it kick off in the Netherlands.

That particular sequencing gave me an interesting perspective on how different cultures adopted the service. Germans went into panel hell. Most of the sessions were dominated by journalists and politicos and therefore were extremely boring. Turkey got online in no time and was dominated by influencers who launched all kinds of funky repeating formats and casual chatrooms where people were going until deep into the night (I would listen until 1-2 at night which in Turkey would be 2 hours later still). The Netherlands went into a marketing fervor with a strong showing of douchebags.

Clubhouse had its moment and fizzled, but tuning into the app again recently, I can say that it’s still there and with all the klout and hype chasers gone, things are again weird. Weird is good.

Lexicography

In the Turkish rooms I would hear words that I didn’t know every other sentence, sometimes entire concepts like kadının beyanı esastır. Finally, I had a situation where I was exposed to a high level of Turkish and I had the motivation to improve this.

I started noting these words down in Anki, which I had bought previously to study the HSK. Adding a word to my deck here and there was slow: switch to dictionary (now I use the official one), switch to Anki and write the card, switch back.

For some extra speed, I dug up a master word list I had made more than a decade ago. Back then I had read most of Orhan Pamuk’s then bibliography (Yeni Hayat, Sessiz Ev, Kara Kitap, Kar, Benim Adım Kırmızı) and then too found lots of words I didn’t know. I passed over them and wrote them down on a piece of paper. I transcribed these papers into a list and looked up some of the meanings. But this being before Anki, I had no real way to systematically learn these words and get better at Turkish. If I had, I would have improved steadily with each book I read and everything would have been great.

I went through this old word list letter by letter and over the course of a month made cards for all of the words in that list. The result of that effort is the 1000-word deck I have made available online now.

And now, after months of revising daily (life during the pandemic has been very exciting, why do you ask?) and also continuing to add words as I go—the recent events in Afghanistan made me add the half-Arab half-Farsi ridiculous Turkish word for charge d’affaires—I finally am out of “New” words. From now on it will just be polishing the lexicography of the deck, adding a word here and there and continuing to revise.

This also means I have capacity again to go back to studying HSK3. Or I might switch back to learning Japanese after all. Watching some anime recently and seeing Japanese speaking gaijin on Tiktok have revived this itch.

A feeling for Turkish (and Arabic)

So now what? I am a lot more confident when it comes to my Turkish after having learned a bunch of the words commonly in use in the higher echelons of society. I can now look for and find complicated words much more easily. My usage will likely be incorrect often, but I should be able to get by with my sizeable intuition for what remains the first language I learned (and learnd to read in). I can also consume complex material far more easily than I used to.

I now realize how many loan words from Arabic Turkey has. The exact numbers are obscure, but almost every uncommon word either is of Arabic origin or has an Arabic equivalent. This also explains why after being in Syria for a while I understood what people were saying without knowing Arabic.

I’ve also been amazed by how overloaded the language is for certain concepts like disaster (afet, badire, facia, buhran), sorrow (ıstırap, üzüntü, matem, yas, kahır, hicran, gam, tasa, keder, nedamet, teessür) and many others. Also all of those words are Arabic in origin except if I had to guess by word shape: üzüntü (I guessed right!).

White Turks

Delving into this part of the language and the people who use it, I came across the concept of White Turks. The division between white and black Turks underlies a lot of the dynamics of the Turkey of the past decades.

The people who I was listening to and whose language I am now emulating are usually white Turks. Me and my family originally are black Turks.

I’m sure I’ll never pass as white, though I’m now in a socio-economically better position than most white Turks in Turkey and most black Turks in Europe. Language is a key aspect of this division and when people clash it is usually the first weapon that they resort to. Now that I have levelled up, I don’t have to be exclusively on the receiving end of that weapon anymore.

Bir Başkadır (Ethos) Character Network Chart

The character relations turned into a bit of a tangle so I fired up Miro and quickly charted them out. In the end it wasn’t that complicated but the worlds of Meryem and Peri are very clearly separate.

There are lots of movies where a cast of characters roams a town and occasionally intersects in a couple of dramatic moments. What comes to mind for me most immediately is Amores Perros. Of course a Netflix serial doesn’t hit the cinematic height or dramatic depth of that movie despite having more runtime to play with. What it does manage is to set a mood for the weird tangled up modern Turkey.

The most interesting and dramatic events in Bir Başkadır happen on the road (Mesude’s death under the bridge, the family dance off on the way to the village). Along with some of the commuting sequences and the continuous questions of what bus stops where and how to get somewhere in time, that is an essential part of Istanbul. The city is so vast and spread out that people are always underway, an apt metaphor for character development—interrupted or otherwise—if ever there was one.

A lovely interview about the magic bus and the hippie period in Istanbul revolving around the Lale Pudding Shop which is still in business.