Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Turkish Holiday

Holiday... HD // 2009 from Techo on Vimeo.

A very professional video of summer in Turkey. Congratulations to technofilm for this outstanding work.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Lately, taking a small break from my blog, I've been indulging in  one of my perennial pastimes, family history research. From the time I was a wee thing, I was curious about my background and all the particulars. Fortunately, as an annoying squirt, I asked a lot of questions to my parents and relatives regarding the names and dates and every detail they knew of those that had gone before. Scribbling and more scribbling.

On a few occasions, I had met my great-grandmothers but the memory is rather vague. By that time, both my maternal great-grandmothers had reached the ends of their respective races.  A poor old woman in a hospital bed babbling incoherently, her wrists tied to the aluminum railings. And the other, a sweet smile with kind watery eyes in a puffy face, also well into her senility, she tore apart scraps of fabric, thinking she was making a quilt. 

Anecdotes of family history usually only pass to one or two of the succeeding generations and some become quite distorted or mysterious in the passing. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you may find photographs of stern looking people in very shoddy clothes, frozen in sepia-amber staring back at us, giving only the most abstract hint of personality. 

For the last twenty years, I have been going through census records, dusty books and forbidding libraries. There was a great deal of trial and error and, after being certain of my facts, I would inevitably learn years later, that large parts of my work were illegitimate, based on wrong information. So, I would have to begin again.

Happily, the Internet has brought about a revolution in conducting research of this kind. In the span of a few weeks, I was able to collect more information than at any time in the last twenty years. Not merely a few loose names and vague theories but names of parents and maiden names and all children names with dates.

A Turkish friend looked over my out-of control family tree and asked a very logical question. How can you be sure that this information is correct? My response is a question in return, how can you be sure any information is correct? You check the details and dates and then you try to find cross-references from other sources. The more corresponding source, the easier you can trust that you are on the right track. And most importantly, you scrupulously check the numbers. A child of eight is not likely to have a two year old baby. Dead people normally don't get married. And sometimes you have to assume, but hopefully not too often.

Sometimes you come to a dead end and you must accept that fact. If not, you are bound to accept as factual, things that are family tree not facts at all.

Very often it is like playing detective. One of my biggest breaks- which lead to nearly four new family lines, stretching back to the Reformation and beyond- was guessing that Cassie was short for Cassandra. On another occasion, I imagined that a woman's maiden name could have, instead, been her first husband name. It was like finding a magic key that opened an invisible door.

Despite all the benefits the Internet can provide researchers,  there are also some drawbacks. There are a lot of organizations which would have you pay to learn anything. They tease and taunt with promises of information you couldn't find anywhere else. That is a bit frustrating.

Another frustration is the careless type of researcher, the kind that takes a supposition and makes it reality. As with any narrow interest, there are all kinds of "storms in teapots" among the groups in genealogy forums.

For instance, there is the great regicide debate. First you will need a bit of history. At the climax of the English Revolution, the king was imprisoned and eventually beheaded in Whitehall. His family was allowed to escape to France. Cromwell took over leadership but about twenty years later, when he died, the royal family was invited to return to power. The prince agreed on one condition: the 125 judges that sentenced his father to death would be tried for treason and execution if found guilty.

Now as it so happens, I have about four family names that coincide with the regicides, that is the killers of the king. Who would have thought that being a trouble-maker went so deep in my genes? One family in particular is the center of a debate. William Goff. One William Goff did , in fact flee the colonies. He had friends in high places that helped his hide out from soldiers sent to find and return him for trial.

Many of the details of his life are quite similar to the details of the regicide. And so there is a group that believe he is the same man and then there is another group, that like to smile sympathetically and shake their heads. "I used to think that but it is not true." Every time a new person sees this connection, as if for the first time, thinking they have stumbled upon a secret- the whole argument starts to boil all over again.

Frankly, I am not interested in finding famous family  connections. I suppose there are people who study genealogy for all the wrong reasons. It is all past now. Families of great distinction can suddenly be cast into shame and destitution. Things can go awry. I am sure there are more than enough heroes and villains to go around.

But I do like the idea of being a part of the flow of history. That twisting of incidence and co-incidence. The fact that two men dueling on a hill in the morning can be reborn a century later represented by two lovers who marry and lived a long paired life of complete devotion. I also enjoy the idea of people-a lot like me, perhaps- facing a new world head on. When it comes to the human side, human motives and aspirations, violence and hope, dream of building something fresh or the goal of escaping from something abhorrent, all this makes history fascinating for me.

In my quest to establish some kind of order to the generations, I have had a few wondrous glimpses into the games history can play. When I asked my grandfather his middle name, he could only tell me it was Caton, but he was unsure how it was even spelled or from where the name originated. He had heard (though he couldn't be sure) that his great-grandmother's maiden name was Caton. His father didn't seem to have a middle name but his grandfather's middle initial was C, which I came to believe was also Caton.

Last week, I learned the reason for this particular family tradition. A large pioneer family in 1840s. A primitive cabin above a nearby stream. Nine children, which as crazy as that sounds today was just a bit more than average back then. Upon the birth of that ninth child, tragedy strikes and the mother dies in childbirth. Still worse, a few months later, the father also dies, l106eaving behind an orphaned family. The deceased mother's older brother, Solomon Caton, his wife, Martha, and his older sister, Mary, adopt the entire family. Where would they have gone? And so, for their lives, they took the Caton name as their  own. Perhaps it was a sign of thankfulness for that great act of compassion. After all, how many of us would welcome into our homes, nine new and permanent faces?

Sometimes you learn something, perhaps a footnote only, that changes your perspective. For instance, it is 1761. A hunting party, headed by one of my mother's remote relatives, wanders through the rich unexplored forests of North Carolina and Virginia, naming the rivers, mountains and peaks they encounter. To their surprise, they come across a long abandoned camp of a fellow explorer. On a nearby beech tree is carved his name, Ambrose Powell. From this, they named the mountain, the river and the valley after the explorer that had come before them but whom they had never met.

It would take almost two centuries before those two men would meet. After checking the dates and details, I confirmed that Ambrose Powell was a distant relative on my father's side.

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Jean Ferdinand Monchablon   (French, 1854-1904)

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Hero

This video clip takes forever to load but be patient. It's worth it! How else will you ever know who your hero is?

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Melon Babies- It's an OUTRAGE!

Melon Babies
Thousands of infants are being smuggled into the United States in hollowed-out watermelons and frustrated federal agents say they are powerless to do anything about it, according to Weekly World News, dated Nov 18, 1997. Who would have thought it? All that money spent on a concrete wall.. wasted!
Here is an example of what happens when a  baby outgrows his melon. Poor little Tyke.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Nasreddin Hoca and the Elephant

If you live in Turkey for very long, you will eventually hear of a Turkish character of folklore ad_named Nasreddin Hoca (Nahs-RED-din Ho-jah).  Loosely based on an historical figure,   Nasreddin  probably  lived in the 13th century. He was presumably born in Sivrihisar near Eskisehir, and  acquired his education either in Konya or Aksehir where he spent many years serving as a religious instructor, imam, or  preacher, and judge. He died and was buried in Aksehir.

The cultural figure that Nasreddin eventually became is unique combination of wit and philosophy , add a dash of self-deprecating humor and irony. HIs tales are usually quite short and uncomplicated but sometimes the underlying point may take a moment to sink in.  With that said, in this and coming posts, I would like to share some of my favorite Nasreddin Hoca stories.

Nasreddin Hoca and the Elephant

After a pillaging a path through Middle Asia, the brutal conqueror, Tamerlane arrived in Aksehir and settled in to decide his next step. The townspeople were all terrorized by the man and his army. Tamerlane ordered the people to feed and care for one of his many war elephants. Because of the elephant's appetite, the poor people suffered and finally decided to send a committee to plead their case beyond Tamerlane himself. To head this group, the people nominated Nasereddin Hoca. "I will speak to Tamerlane, if all of you will come with me,"he told the crowd.

As he marched along to tyrant's palace, one by one the people turned away and fled back to their homes. By the time, Hoca arrived he stood alone before the brutal conqueror. "It's about your elephant,"Nasreddin said, meekly. "The townspeople are so happy with your elephant that they wished to ask if you have another one to care for."

Twenty Ten

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mr. Twain Visits the Turkish Baths- 1869


This April 21st marks the centennial of Mark Twain's death at the age of 74 at his home in  Redding,  Connecticut. 

In so many ways, Twain's sensibilities on a variety of issues, as well as his life,  represent a bridge of past and present.

The passage below is from Mark Twain's book, "Innocents  Abroad," which details his tour of Europe and the Near East. I have taken an excerpt which describes his visit to a hamam in Istanbul. It amazes me how, despite the years that have passed, the description is still quite accurate today.

They now gave me a pair of wooden clogs—benches in miniature, with leather straps over them to confine my feet (which they would have done, only I do not wear No. 13s.)
These things dangled uncomfortably by the straps when I lifted up my feet, and came down in awkward and unexpected places when I put them on the floor again, and sometimes turned sideways and wrenched my ankles out of joint. However, it was all Oriental luxury, and I did what I could to enjoy it...
..  This prison was filled with hot air. When I had got warmed up sufficiently to prepare me for a still warmer temperature, they took me where it was—into a marble room, wet, slippery and steamy, and laid me out on a raised platform in the centre. It was very warm. Presently my man sat me down by a tank of hot water, drenched me well, gloved his hand with a coarse mitten, and began to polish me all over with it. I began to smell disagreeably. The more he polished the worse I smelt. It was alarming. I said to him:
"I perceive that I am pretty far gone. It is plain that I ought to be buried without any unnecessary delay. Perhaps you had better go after my friends at once, because the weather is warm, and I can not 'keep' long."
..After a while he brought a basin, some soap, and something that seemed to be the tail of a horse. He made up a prodigious quantity of soap-suds, deluged me with them from head to foot, without warning me to shut my eyes, and then swabbed me viciously with the horse-tail. Then he left me there, a snowy statue of lather, and went away.
When I got tired of waiting I went and hunted him up. He was propped against the wall, in another room, asleep. I woke him. He was not disconcerted. He took me back and flooded me with hot water, then turbaned my head, swathed me with dry table-cloths, and conducted me to a latticed chicken-coop in one of the galleries, and pointed to one of those Arkansas beds.
One time in Kusadasi, at a more "touristy" type of hamam, I waited for nearly an hour for somebody to come and fetch me to let me know I was finished. If I hadn't stepped out, sheepishly poking my head from my cabin, I might still be there, drinking apple tea and wondering what was going to happen next.
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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Easter in Chios, Greece

Chios Rocket War for Easter Χίος ρουκετοπόλεμο για το Πάσχα

Χίος ρουκετοπόλεμο για το Πάσχα

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Things are Tough all Over

People in Hell

The Devil is laying off thousands of demons from Hell- and the disgruntled employees are surfacing here on Earth seeking work! So says, the November 21, 1995 issues of Weekly World News. 

Apparently those former Hades workers became stock brokers, market analysts and investment bankers.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Crypto-Quote Friday # 3

Here's the solution to last Friday's puzzle. It came from the Roman philosopher, Juvenal. I resisted the temptation to make some witty play on his name but I knew I would just get you (and myself) all confused.


Here, here. No truer words were spoken although the Bush Dublinadministration might have put them to a test.  Anyway, let's move on to this week's  brain teaser.

  So here is the picture of the man from whom this quote has been taken. For the observant type, the style of dress might, at the very least, give you a time period that this dabber gentleman was born into. Some help. 





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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

John Updike on the Writer

John Updike

"Until the 20th century it was generally assumed that a writer had said what he had to say in his works."

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Nomadic View v.s. Glenn Beck

The Nu-Luvs – You Belong to Me

Television News in Turkey


I find Turkish television news very interesting, but only if you start with the premise that about 10% is actually news. The stories can be extremely educational- though probably not in the way they were intended. A lot of ex-pats avoid the local and national news altogether and I sort of feel sorry for them. They don't know what they are missing. (Literally!)

I think it is a bit peculiar to decide to live in a country and then do everything possible to avoid learning about what's actually going on. Sometimes I'd meet my circle of friends with news of latest constitutional crisis or horrendous calamity and they would knit their brows, without a word to say. It didn't seem to have anything to do with them. Having said that, many of them would probably have the same ostrich-mentality back in their own countries.

Perhaps they are right. I am not sure, but I would say it might explain how innocent foreigners can wind up in the middle of a war zone wearing flip-flops and Bermuda shorts, getting bum-rushed by soldiers on tarmacs to waiting helicopters.

The morning news is traditionally the lightest news of the day, the idea being not to push viewers too hard before they start their workday. I guess they fear that too much talk about the economy or crime or government investigation will result in mass nervous breakdowns in the afternoon. So one is apt to see a lot of You-tube videos showing "wacky" stories- babies dangling from hot-air balloons by one leg- and promotions to the channel's latest evening soap operas. (Yes, they do consider it news.) Stories about the latest invention for losing weight or the oldest living granny. (Sixty-seven grandchildren!) That sort of thing.

The evening news, on the other hand, pretends to be hard-hitting and serious. The new readers work each story as if they were making it at a potter's wheel. Reporters at the scene, shouting at the edge of hysteria and shaky camera work. Stories that last 10 minutes with footage that lasts only 45 seconds, shown over and over in a tight loop. This is punctuated by in-studio interviews that inevitably wear down into the same dreary talking heads. Talking heads, channel after channel. 

The producers seem fond of emotive background music to set the proper tone of the story. Sad stories without fail use violins or smoky-voiced Sezen Aksu songs. Funny stories are accompanied by silly music from the 70s and 80s or that dreadful "Yakty Sax," better known as "The Benny Hill theme."

When all else fails to attract attention, there's human anatomy. In summer, any low-down excuse will add a filled bikini into the program and truly any excuse will do. Dangers of sun-burn is tried and tested. The number of tourists is expected to increase? Then you had better show a German vixen cavorting with her friends on ze beach. I have even seen stories about breast cancer treatments that used Natasha-like women "au naturel" on the beach as their primary footage- tantalizingly digitized boobies under threat of attack.

Anyway, here is my selection from today's news.

1820_2 According to the morning news, new laws in Turkey will prohibit, vegetable and fruit sellers in the farmers' markets - and presumably at bazaars- from shouting. Violators will be fined 50 tl. for each instance of such noisy marketing. The sellers interviewed were, of course, rather surprised or confused. Some had that look you often see, of weary resignation. Many were nonplussed by the new laws and in response, have decided to "sing" their prices instead.

There was another story about "One Minute" Cafe in New York City. The reporter desperately attempted to make a faulty connection between the name of the establishment, run, incidentally, by a Turk and an Israeli. The infamous incident in Davos last year between Erdogan and Perez was once again rehashed. Flustered and fuming, the Turkish president's face was once again beet red, with his index finger potently erect. Link

In end, as anybody could have clearly seen at the start, the name of the diner had absolutely no connection to that silliness but, as the Turkish co-owner painfully explained, was a reference to the salt-shaker-01speedy service.

Still another story, this time from the US. According to the news, salt is now banned in New York restaurants and. users will be fined up to $1000. This left me scratching my head with visions of a customer in disheveled business suit being hauled out of Gotham Fine Dining in handcuffs as he hisses to his wife to "Toss the shaker. Do it.  For GOD'S SAKES! Do it!"

In fact, further details erased that extreme vision. According to the proposed ban, restaurant chefs were forbidden to use salt in their prepared meals. With shakers on the table, the amount of salt used by the customers is purely a matter of choice. A bit more research on this subject reveals that New York assembly member Felix Ortiz has introduced this bill while  the mayor, Michael Bloomberg, "has stopped well short of proposing an outright ban on restaurants adding salt, instead campaigning for a voluntary cut of a quarter over five years."

The fog of the original story was starting to clear somewhat. Presently it made more sense to me. I recall my father whose high-blood pressure forced him to adhere to a strict no/low salt diet. In the beginning, he was exasperated and depressed. "Nothing tastes good anymore,"he'd complain. After a few months and my mother experimenting with other spices, he became more accustomed to living without salt. "You cut out salt and all of the sudden you start to notice how much salt is in EVERYTHING. Even toothpaste and the worst? Ready-made soups." I didn't have the heart to tell him that condensed soups were not meant to be served directly from the can.

In New York, where eating out is the norm, trying to stick to such a diet would be next to impossible. It'd be like trying to find a non-smoking bar in the 1990s.

Still, I kind of wondered about both of the newly- proposed laws. If all of the details are accurate, then I have to question the logic behind the laws. I mean, is it really necessary to make every violation a punishable offense? Is self-regulation now obsolete? What's next in the farmers' market.. all signs must be printed and not hand-written? The vegetable sellers must all shave and wear uniforms?

In New York, what's next? No sugar in anything because some people are obese? Eventually we may find ourselves dining on a moderate sized bowl of oatmeal and plain yogurt on the side with a peeled apple slice for dessert.

Some laws are designed to protect the citizens and some are designed to keep public order. But what is the purpose of fining chefs that use too much salt and poor cucumber sellers for shouting?

But perhaps there is a higher level of logic at play. Some laws, it seems, are designed merely to add a new source of revenue to the local government.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Things Go Missing

From an old B3ta image challenge: Invisible Extras. Viewers were invited to "Take a picture, any picture, then fire up Photoshop and remove a section of it to completely change what's happening."  Here are some of my favs from the hundreds sent in.



What can I say? It's Mother's Day!

Happy Birthday to the Ziegfeld Girl

Doris Eaton Travis

Doris Eaton Travis, born March 14, 1904, is today's last surviving Ziegfeld Follies dancer and celebrates her astounding 106th birthday. The panorama of her rich life is the subject of a biography by Pulitzer Prize nominee Lauren Redniss entitled Century Girl: 100 Years in the Life of Doris Eaton Travis, Last Living Star of the Ziegfeld Follies.

doris-photoEaton Travis began performing on stage as a young child, and made her Broadway debut at the age of 13. A year later, in 1918, she joined the famed Ziegfeld Follies as the youngest Ziegfeld Girl ever cast in the show. When her career in stage and screen declined, Eaton Travis started a second career as an Arthur Murray dance instructor and local television personality in Detroit. Her association with Arthur Murray lasted for three decades, during which time she rose through the ranks to own and manage a chain of nearly 20 schools. After retiring from her career with Arthur Murray, she went on to manage a horse ranch with her husband and returned to school, eventually earning several degrees.

Happy Birthday, Doris at the Travis Ranch in Norman, Oklahoma.


On May 11, 2010, Doris passed away at age 106. Her last public appearance was the opening of the 2010 Easter Bonnet show on April 27, 2010. On May 12, the lights of Broadway were dimmed in her honor.

On April 25-26 Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS' 25th annual Easter Bonnet Competition, was held at the MInisky Theatre in New York City. The two-day Broadway spectacular featured the companies of more than a dozen Broadway, off-Broadway and touring productions singing, dancing and donning original Easter bonnets. The event celebrates and concludes six intensive weeks of fundraising by the theatre community benefiting BC/EFA.

This year's competition will also include a special tribute to Doris Eaton Travis, an original Ziegfeld Girl and veteran of 12 editions of Easter Bonnet, who died last year at the age of 106.

Doris would have been honored.

For a more complete on-line biography

Saturday, March 13, 2010

News Out of Nothing At All

If you are easily offended by somewhat harsh language then perhaps you should avoid watching the clip above. I normally don't post too many things like this but it seemed so on-point that I just couldn't resist. The subject: how to make news out nothing at all.

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the heart does not care

The heart does not care

it breaks and leaves

like a door opened

to the evening breeze

rushing through and then gone

as a moment

of intense movement

heartlessly, artlessly

caring and then leaving,

breaking. Then silence

once more resumes

until dishes, car horns,

clatter back in the wake,

but heart does not care,

it breaks and leaves the broken moment

for the whole body to bear.

by Perry Bass

Friday, March 12, 2010

And now for another English lesson…

Too Enough

I wanted to pass this on to all my English teacher and student friends out there. I put this together several years ago but I actually never had a chance to use it in class.

You will find a good explanation of the differences in usage between "too" and "enough." I heard my students say they loved their boyfriends too much and, while it could be true, I rather doubted it. On the last page, you will also find some basic exercises which can help a little I hope. In any case, if you find it useful, feel free to download it. Good luck to you.

Also here is another English lesson I posted:

Please note: As with all writing and notes on this website, this material is copyright-protected and downloading is intended for personal use only. The terms of use of this website explicitly say that publication or commercial use of those worksheets is not allowed.

Crypto-Quote Friday # 2

Friday has come around once more and it is time for the second in the series of crypto-quotes.  First things first. Here's the solution to last week's puzzle.


This could have been a bit tricky since she often went by her Unknownmarried name. Harriet Beecher Stowe.

This week's quote comes from this man with the sturdy jaw and lovely flip hairdo.  




God Only Knows – The Beach Boys

One of my favorites. But then I have so many favorites. This version is much more laid-back than the studio version that was more widely distributed.  I find it much more emotional without the extra vocals.

Overheard in Izmir

At the local drinking hole between two foreigners:

Gav:  Not like that. You're supposed to pour your beer straight down into the glass.

Alastair: Why?

Gav: It lets it breathe.

Alastair: I prefer to strangle mine at birth.


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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bird-Catcher and Blackbird- A Turkish Fable

Here is the fourth in our series of Turkish fables. I have left off the moral of the fable. In general, the meanings are either clear or open to your own interpretation. All of the fables I have submitted come from an anthology of pre-Republic Ottoman literature collected in a book by Epiphanius Wilson. HERE is a link at Google Books.

The Bird-Catcher and the Blackbird

A bird-catcher was setting his snares and a blackbird, flying by, caught sight of him.  

"For the love of God, "he said to him, "do tell me what you are building there." 

"I am founding a complete city." 

The blackbird believed this deceitful answer  and alighted on the net. Scarcely had he touched it, before he found himself caught. 

When the bird-catcher came, the blackbird said to him, "If this is the way you build your city,  you won't attract many inhabitants."

View from the Front Row

"I just wanted to warn you. We'll be sitting in the front row this time." My wife's peculiar tone made me suspicious.
"I just wanted you to know."
"So, everybody in the opera house will be able to see you."
What on earth was she thinking? That I would jump up and start a bump-and-grind number or something. Slightly offended, I tried to remember if I had actually done anything to warrant her warning. Nothing immediately came to mind but I wasn't sure.
Sitting in the first row of any large scale public entertainment has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, the circus. Despite the advantage of being so close to tigers that you can smell what they had for lunch, it is also quite possible to wind up with a face full of monkey poo if primate cooperation fails. (Need I say this would fall under the disadvantage category?)

I recall the only memorable time I sat in the front row of a live show. It was at an ice show at King's Island- a small amusement/entertainment area outside of Cincinnati. Everything was certainly in your face, all the choreography, the extravagant sets and the campy costumed skaters. It was all quite dazzling. The numbers involved quite complicated maneuvers and tight patterns on a relatively small stage. Everything was going fine until I heard one of the sequined skater dart past and hiss, under his breath, "Oh, shit."

Somehow the synchronization was off and skaters coming in from the left were barely able to clear skaters that came in front the right. There was a bit of unsteady jostling, barely noticeable from a distance. At that second, a wave of shaved ice was flung in our faces. We all reared back in our seats, in fear that at any moment, one of the hapless skaters would come flying off the stage, landing in our laps and parting our scalps with a blade of his skates. A close call, to be sure, and an unlikely thing to expect from most operas. On that point, I could probably relax.

And relax I did. The opera house seats were quite comfortable and, being in the first row allowed a great deal of extra leg room. The coolness of outdoors followed by the agreeable warmth of the opera house, that quick meal from the corner donerci, the cozy darkness, the pleasant serenade of the orchestra, all conspired to make me listless and drowsy.
And so the opera, "Adrienne Lecouvreur"  began. The curtains parted upon a scene of a few people making what I took to be a hotel room ready. I was disappointed by the minimalist set because, as far as theater is concerned,  I am one who craves pageantry and ostentation.

Over the top of the stage is a large LED sign that displays the Turkish translation, but I couldn't be bothered to try to keep up with it. If I had sat further back, perhaps I might have tried but at this angle, I had a choice of watching the actions and expressions or reading the dialogs. And probably I wouldn't have made heads or tails of the Turkish, in any case.
The story seemed to be about a nasty spat between two rather matronly women, the woman in the champagne-colored gown was undoubtedly the heroine and the other in blue played the villainess. That much

I was certain of but I stayed confused throughout who exactly was the beau of which woman and perhaps that's where the feud arose from. Jealousy. Where would opera be without it?
At one point there was an engaging party scene in which the stage was filled with extras. They came floating like ghosts down the steps, quite close to our group. If I had wanted to, I could have stood up and joined them- and caused my wife a lifetime of shame. Although I remained seated, I became entranced by the way they faked lively conversation. Throwing their heads back in silent laughter and leaning forward to inquire, an exaggerated expression of dull surprise and the women, tilting their precious chins to one side in coy flirtation. I liked that because it reminded me of almost every bad party I'd ever been to.
Sometime in the second or third act, I found myself drifting into a restive sleep. Not merely a nodding- off, as one does on a bus ride, not a surreptitious nap but a full-on dream-filled slumber of night.

I couldn't tell you what I dreamt of. It was something quite far away, I can say this much because I suddenly awoke with a start. To save my life, I couldn't have told you where I was or why. I looked up to see the lead soprano perched at the edge of the stage, with the lead tenor at her round elbow. Both of them looking down at me in reproach and hitting a powerful C note "in full voice." I thought for a moment I was trapped in the tunnel with a train barreling at me. It is a terrible way to wake up.

After I managed to compose myself somewhat, I realized that the big scene with the poisoned violets was coming up. Something worth staying awake for, at least. Sure enough, the heroine took a sniff and collapsed in the arms of her lover and sang a bit, they rolled around a bit on the floor and she sang a little more, softer this time. He kissed her arm and then her neck, and finally she stopped singing altogether. Done in by those anonymously sent flowers.

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Never You Done That – General Public

Imagine trying to explain the title to English students? Don't try. A happy song from 1985.

The New Supreme Court


From  The Huffington Post:

Gibbs Fires Back At Chief Justice Roberts Over Obama Criticism

The White House fired back at Justice John Roberts Tuesday night, after the Supreme Court Chief told a crowd that he found it "very troubling" that President Barack Obama would criticize the court during his State of the Union address.

In a statement sent to reporters, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that the only troubling thing was the 5-4 ruling by the court, which said that corporations could spend unlimited amounts of money advocating on behalf of candidates in elections. Roberts leads the court.

"What is troubling is that this decision opened the floodgates for corporations and special interests to pour money into elections - drowning out the voices of average Americans," Gibbs said. "The President has long been committed to reducing the undue influence of special interests and their lobbyists over government. That is why he spoke out to condemn the decision and is working with Congress on a legislative response."

To read the full article, click HERE

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Dumb Luck

It became an evil-Izmir_night_shot_by_TubeScreamerlooking day yesterday, warm, windy with a constant threat of storm. Add to this, in the late afternoon, the sky turned an ominous dark orange. This happens from time to time when wind from the south blows dust up from the deserts of North Africa. They call it "the Lodos." I find it charming to name the winds.

I was to meet my wife and her mother at the municipal opera house last night for "Adriana Lecouvreur" by Francesco Cilea. To say my wife is an enthusiastic opera fan is definitely an understatement. I can be convinced to attend ever so often. I enjoy the spectacle of the sets and costumes more than the actual singing. And it is always nice to get out of the house and splash a bit of culture on yourself.

Now I know that it sounds awfully posh to say lightly, "Oh, we were at the opera last night" or "Didn't I see you last week at the opera?." However, that isn't quite the case here in Turkey.

The crafters of early Republic had the noble and enlightened view that cultural events would have a civilizing effect of the society and so, made such things as operas, theater and symphonies affordable. (That's an idea that warms my heart but it is too bad that they didn't feel the same way about public libraries.)

So, going to an opera isn't furs and tuxedos, top hats and carriages waiting in the rain. The best part of this Turkish arrangement is that it allows exposure to great works of Art, which often seems much harder in American society. The sad part is that, human nature what it is, most people would prefer to wallow in the garbage of television in the privacy of their own homes, rather than making the minimal effort of going out for classic works. And I have no right to look down on anybody for doing that since I can wallow with the best of them.

My wife likes to show up early with her mother- another raving fanatic- so I was, thankfully, allowed to arrive later on my own. She knows everybody there at the opera house and they know her so I was able to escape all that fuss and waiting, hand-shaking and pretend-recognition.

For a few thousand years,  Izmir has growing around a bay, hugging it protectively like a mother, and there are two ways to travel, the long way by bus or taxi around the bay or the short way, cutting directly across by boat. That being a rush-hour, I opted for the convenience of the ferry boat crossing. With a few other wind-battered passengers, I sat in the open section, once designated for smokers. (It is rather unclear what the exact rules are, at the moment. The sign clearly warns that smoking is forbidden but nobody pays much attention. None of the crew seem interested in reminding them of the rules.)

The section was dark as a well and nearly as empty. A nuclear family on tour was trying to snap a photograph of the city and a woman fought with her long beige scarf that made Arabic script in the air. To shelter from the worst of the wind, I sat with my back against the wall, watching the gradually-narrowing panorama of Izmir.

2104736-KARSIYAKA_BY_NIGHT_FROM_HILTON-Karsiyaka Behind the few tall buildings sat mounds of points of lights from the homes and shops of people on the hills. Amber of the street lamps, blue or yellow lights from the windows and the green-tipped minarets of the mosques.

The social heart of the city The Kordon- that famous street with many bars and restaurants runs along the seaside-was, from that distance, a long dotted line of carnival lights that described the water's edge. I could feel the spitting rain and the sensation of waves pounding against the side of the ship as we trudged to the opposite side. The buildings became clearer, as we grew nearer and nearer and I could just make out the toy cars bumbling down the sea highway to the west.

In my ears, Leslie Feist sang to me:

There's a limit to your love
Like a waterfall in slow motion
Like a map with no ocean
There's a limit to your love
There's a limit to your care
So carelessly there
Is it truth or dare
There's a limit to your care

Beyond her song, the wind ironically mocked the sound of flames. And then suddenly, I was at peace.

How wonderful the city looked at that time of night and at that moment before the rains. A mist of endorphins, a powerful feeling of well-being. I thought of how lucky I was, and how little I generally appreciated that fact.

That I should be even here in this country. For so many years, It had been a deeply-nestled fantasy to leave home and cross the ocean and see the places other travelers had described. To travel so far. It should never have happened. I should have been too afraid to make that crossing. I should have found some excuse not to venture so far from home.

It was not all luck but most of it was. Dumb luck. That I should be here- in this 5,000 year-old city and at this time of our history- when things are convenient, when risk is manageable and avoidable and fear tolerable. And it was dumb luck to be on this rather insignificant planet at all, in what seems to be a great emptiness that nobody can explain.

Genius Chimp

 chimp writer
Next Monkey please.

Izmir Turkey

Although this clip is in German, it shows many of the best sights of Izmir. Fortunately, the seaside landscaping was finished years ago and now, I am happy to say, it looks quite green and peaceful.  On the other hand, the boat-bars are gone. I loved those because you could drink a couple of beers on the rocking ship and feel totally drunk as a skunk when you walked down the gangway.

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Izmir Turkey

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Insight on a Sleepless Night

Just before I fell asleep a couple of nights ago, I made an interesting discovery. (A great first line of any post.)

Let me preface this by stating that I have no great interest in mathematics. With a bit of paper, I can add and subtract and multiply and divide. The longer the numbers, the less confidence I have in my results. By the time, I reached eighth grade, sitting in algebra class, I could never understand why all the fuss with the identity of x and y.

One thing that has always perplexed me- something my math teachers never gave a satisfactory answer to- was why are numbers called "squared" and "cubed." It is such a practical question that I am sure I must have been THAT one student who distracted everybody by asking. Then, lying on my bed, it suddenly the answer appeared to me in a visionary insight. And now, I shall share it with you.

First of all, you have to imagine yourself a teacher in ancient times without the use of a white board or a black board. You must explain some very high-minded concepts- a challenge. Now, imagine a sugar cube as a unit, representing the number one- a single item. Got that? Pretty easy. Take three of them SQUAREDand lay them side by side horizontally, and you now have- you guessed it- the number three. Lay another two on top of the first so that now you have three up and three across. Fill in the  empty spaces of that "L" shape. Now, you have 3 x 3 which adds up to 9, forming a square, or 3 squared. See illustration.

So far this was only a theory until I came to the term, "cubed."

Untitled-1Now you must visualize in three dimensions. Take your 3-squared and make three of the same layers upwards. This shape represents 3 x 3 x 3 = 27 which is three-cubed. I guess there wasn't any other expression after that so they referred to 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 as three to the fourth power. I never had any problem with that, though.

Probably this was explained- exactly as I have here- in every other school in the world. Alas, my teachers parachuted in with both feet with x - 4 = y 4 . I'd stare at the blackboard until my eyes hurt and nothing happened. Apparently I need to begin at the sugar cube level.

And I wouldn't say I went to the best school in America and, in any case, I did everything in my power to avoid learning mathematics.  So, blaming the school for gaps in my education is probably a bit unfair.

The school seemed modern and the teaching above standard. However, I distinctly recall in elementary school several of the students pointing out to our aging school teacher how the continents seemed to fit together if you could smooch them, like green and brown play-doh. The instructor stared at the map for a second and. with a dismissive nod.  told us it was just a coincidence. Years later, individually all of the scattered members of Miss Humphrey's class of 1968 felt dismayed and not a little betrayed to learn all about plate tectonics.

Someday, if you are good, I will share with you my discoveries about the hidden mysteries of numbers.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Crypto-quote Friday # 1


I always enjoyed crypto-grams and crypto-quotes. So I thought I would offer readers an opportunity to take their best shot at one of mine. The rules are simple. Each letter has been substituted for a different as letter of the alphabet.  Send a comment with your right answer and your name- the "handle" you wish to be referred by, anyway- and I will announce the winner next Friday. Along with a new puzzle.

Hint: This uplifting quote come from the person to the left, the seventh child who had seven children. Good luck.





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God is Your Friend

Making the world a kinder and saner place, with Photoshop and our friends at Image Challenge: When Baddies turn Good .. and Vice Versa."


And a Nomadic View contribution… phelps-halleran-03

Still it is a sad thing when people use their own children to spread hate, ignorance and intolerance. Shame on the people at

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Tragic Death of Miss Jones

Recently I stumbled over a news story that is both tragic and somewhat mysterious.  Here is the Telegraph news story about the incident:

A 24-year old British teacher working in Abu Dhabi apparently committed suicide after her nude pictures were posted on her ex-boyfriend's Facebook account. According to her mother, Emma Jones who had worked at the International School of Choueifat in Khalifa City in Abu Dhabi since 2008, drank poisonous cleaning fluid as she feared that she could be jailed in the Muslim country over the images. Jones was discovered collapsed in her home in Khalifa City by a flat-mate with her passport in her jeans pocket and her clothes lying on her bed ready for packing.

At the inquest in Cardiff, Louis Rowlands told officers that her daughter was emotionally distressed by the photographs allegedly uploaded by her former lover, Jamie Brayley. Brayley called Rowlands' claims a "complete fantasy". Although he admitted to the inquest that he had used her computer, Brayley denied ever downloading private photographs of her.

According to Rowland's testimony, another colleague, "George" at the school had seen the photos on-line and had threatened to go to local authorities and accuse Jones of prostitution. 

"Emma and George didn't get on at all." stated Mrs. Rowlands, "She said she had to get away. She was crying, she was breaking her heart. I said ‘Emma, whatever it is can't be that bad. Just come home’.”

Miss Jones told her, "I can't leave the country, they will throw me in jail."

I have read many comments in forums where this story was discussed that the problem was her choice of locations. That living as a woman in Abu Dhabi, where rights of women where presumably not respected was a factor in her suicide. And that any teacher willingly to work in such a country as that should, in the first place, have their head examined.

I would only counter that none of the articles stated that the police were, in fact, aware of the photographs. Miss Jones' reactions were based only on what she "perceived" to be a threat. As far as we can determine from the news story, it was this panic alone that led to her death. She had not been arrested, for example. She had even  been brought in for questioning.

Still, there remains the question of the suicide. As a method of suicide, it certainly raises many questions and especially since, she was in possession of her passport and was clearly preparing to leave. Given the various methods to do away with oneself, drinking a caustic acid surely must be the last alternative even of the most desperate. Homicide, for the same reason, should probably be ruled out as quite implausible. Which leaves the possibility of accident.

Deputy assistant coroner Thomas Atherton said he did not believe Mr Brayley was to blame for Miss Jones’s death and said he could not be sure Miss Jones meant to kill herself and recorded an open verdict. He theorized that she may have accidentally drunk cleaning fluid from an unlabeled container, mistakenly believing it was water.

The episode certainly suggests a malevolent atmosphere at that particular school. And it doesn't surprise me. In many of the schools where I had worked, there existed a kind of hot house atmosphere where private disputes can seethe and suddenly erupt. Problems and conflict can get completely out of control and quite ugly.

Personally I have witnessed some pretty mean-spirited behavior from otherwise sociable people. One of the problems is the artificial closeness that living and working abroad can create. Imagine the worst working atmosphere you have ever encountered and then multiply it by three, adding the shared teachers' accommodations and a limited circle of social contacts. Every minor argument can be magnified and echoed. While this would be especially true in a restricted environment like Abu Dhabi,  it could happen any place where the ex-pat "bubble" is so claustrophobic.

My condolences to her mother and friends.


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