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Monthly Archives: May 2012

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

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“But B,” I can hear you saying. “It’ s May. Christmas is seven months away. I know the season starts earlier every year, but this is ridiculous.”
This is true. But I’m not talking about Christmas. This week is even better: it’s Eurovision.

In 1956, the European Broadcasting Union held an intra-Europe song contest, broadcast live on television from Lugano, Switzerland. Seven countries entered, Switzerland won. Since then the Eurovision Song Contest has been an annual event, sometimes serious sometimes wacky, occasionally regrettable but always fun. In the U.S., it seems to be most known as the launching ground for ABBA, who won the contest in 1974 with “Waterloo.” The Seventies were a bit of a heyday for Eurovision, preceding what I would call a bit of a decline in the 1990s. In the past decade, I think it’s bounced back pretty well. It’s kind of like Doctor Who that way.

I first was introduced to Eurovision via a BBC article on the 2008 contest. Finding out about Eurovision is a bit of a dangerous rabbit hole – hours later I poked my head up from the dozen YouTube videos of Eurovision entrants past on my computer and realized I had found something amazing.

That year, in 2008, Dima Bilan won for Russia with his song “Believe.” You have to see the performance: In addition to Bilan, the live show featured Hungarian composer and violinist Edvin Marton and Olympic figure skater Evgeni Plushenko* skating on a sheet of artificial ice. Eurovision is that kind of a big deal:

That 2008 contest also featured perhaps the most glorious and baffling entries ever: “Pokusaj” by Elvir Lakovic. There are no words to do justice in describing the running, the supertall singer in an ‘80s-era headband, the quartet of knitting brides, and the laundry. An earlier version of the song included a live chicken, just hanging out on stage. Seriously, if you watch nothing else in this post, watch this video:

Turkey’s entry was Mor ve Otesi, a pretty popular band here:

In 2009, I was in Turkey during Eurovision Week. Even better, I was at a resort in Antalya with a bunch of other twentysomething Americans, most of whom had never heard of Eurovision before. We held a viewing party with mojitos and snarky commentary (n.b. if your Eurovision viewing does not include significant amounts of snark, I’m pretty sure you’re doing it wrong) and watched the adorable elfin Norwegian entry, Alexander Rybak, win with “Fairytale.” This entry is, at least for me, the earwormiest Eurovision winner:

Also noteworthy in 2009 was Greece’s entry, performed on what appeared to be a giant stapler emblazoned with the Greek flag:

And Turkey’s sparked controversy domestically due to the content of the lyrics and the fact that the singer, Hadise, is actually a Belgian-Turk:

2010’s Eurovision was won by Germany, with Lena’s “Satellite,” which is about the most mainstream-pop song I’ve heard win Eurovision in recent history. It’s fun and bubbly:

Then last year, Azerbaijan took the trophy with “Running Scared,” sung by El and Nikki. Fun fact: Nikki’s real name is Nigar, but the country committee decided to change it for the contest out of concerns that people would make detrimental associations.

In celebration of Azerbaijan’s win and the fact that the country is hosting this year, 2 Peace Corps volunteers in Azerbaijan made a spoof of “New York State of Mind,” titled “Baku State of Mind,” which is a pretty good introduction to Baku life (says the person who’s never been there…):

I originally planned to go into this year’s entries in this post, but 1. I already have 10 videos embedded in this post and 2. Baku State of Mind is a good note to end on, actually. That just means if you’re lucky/I’m motivated, all 2 of you regular readers will have three posts in about a week. That’s how awesome Eurovision is. Three-posts-a-week awesome.

Anyway, the semifinals start tomorrow, and I know you all must be at least half as excited as I am. After all, Eurovision only comes once a year.

*Incidentally, if you’ve never seen Plushenko’s routine to “Sex Bomb,” you are missing out and I will remedy that for you immediately:


On blogging, baking, and böyle şeyler

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I’d be playing coy if I pretended I didn’t know why there was a small but noticeable spike in traffic to my blog from my employer’s career site today. It can be difficult to engage with social media for people affiliated with my employer, and I’m sure those of my readers who have followed my writing on earlier blogs have noticed a difference in what I choose to write about – not even at the level of subject matter, but at the level of writing opinions versus analysis versus whimsy. That’s about all I’m going to say at this time, but I really enjoy writing, I have a lot of fun blogging, and I hope to be able to continue doing so for some time to come.

But that’s not what I intended to write about today. I’ve been sitting on a collection of short thoughts for awhile that I think I’ll just throw together into a smorgasbord of a post:

– Last weekend I stopped by the local manav (greengrocer) to stock up on tomatoes and such for the week. Apparently, it’s the beginning of sour cherry season! After stocking up on a kilo of cherries (and a kilo of strawberries, because why not?), I came home and opened my Joy of Cooking to figure out what to do with a kilo of cherries.
– Side note: I had been mentally berating myself for packing my cherry pitter in my air baggage. “Why on earth did you pack your cherry pitter?” I asked myself. “You’ve needed your collapsible measuring cups and your pastry cutter millions more times than you’ve ever used your cherry pitter [NB: I use a lot of hyperbole in internal conversations].” One kilo of hand-pitted cherries later, I now am actually quite glad the cherry pitter made it in my air baggage.
– Back to Joy of Cooking: Baking abroad can be simultaneously liberating and disheartening. I went through recipes after recipe in my cookbooks and on that I couldn’t make because I lacked some random yet vital ingredient: shredded coconut. Oatmeal. Corn starch. Corn syrup (I was actually ok with not having corn syrup around). Cherry liqueur. Brandy (A surprising amount of Joy of Cooking recipes call for brandy).
– The other half of my recipe angst was the multitude of recipes, especially online, that included premade or prepackaged ingredients. “Add cherry jelly.” “Use dried cherry bits.” “Start with a packet of cake mix” – local cake mix in Turkey is nothing like cake mix in the U.S. And my mother would have conniptions if I started baking with box mixes.
– The end result was that I got creative and added or substituted cherries in three different recipes this weekend: muffins, cookies and what was originally a sweet, chocolatey bread recipe but ended up pretty darn brownie-like after I added cherries and walnuts. Thank goodness there was a bake sale at work so I didn’t have a freezerful of sugary goodness. Cooking and baking abroad is great for experimentation, but that’s usually out of necessity.
– I am pretty much the best daughter ever because for Mother’s Day, I woke up my mom with a pocket dial. At 5:56 a.m. her time. This is the danger of time zone differences and smartphones.
– Somebody sent me an invite to Salamworld, the new (new-ish? There was an article about it in the Istanbul papers last summer) Muslim-compliant Facebook. Somebody doesn’t know me all that well.
– After I got all ready to go attend a lecture on the historic banking districts in Istanbul and Ankara, I realized that the lecture’s start time wasn’t listed in any of the fliers or emails advertising it. It also wasn’t listed online. So instead I watched BBC shows at home in my yoga pants, because sometimes I am a stereotype.
– Somehow all of my winter sweaters made it into my air baggage but my hand weights and all my books aside from my Turkish textbooks are on the slow boat over. Packing fail. Also on the list of things that should make it into the air baggage next time: cutting boards and knives, more shoes, Tupperware, slippers, some DVDs, a selection of things to put on the wall. And I probably didn’t need all of my scarves and shawls immediately upon arrival. With age comes experience, yani.
– I’ve also been enjoying access to relatively fast and reliable mail from the U.S. and indulging in some nostalgia and optimistic thinking: a package containing a bicycle helmet and DVDs of Troop Beverly Hills and Shag arrived last week. Amazon is the best!
– And finally, I’m sure you’re all as excited as I am about next week! That’s right, it’s the most wonderful time of the year: The Eurovision Song Contest! I’ll end this post with Turkey’s entry this year, Can Bonomo’s Love Me Back:

Back in the Başkent

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Hello from Ankara!

Since my arrival a month ago it’s felt slightly like I’ve been running-running-running straight through. Luckily today’s a holiday so I have a bit of a chance to catch up on things like blogging.

Also my housecleaner is here for the first day and it’s a little awkward if I’m sitting around doing nothing.

As Thomas Wolfe famously said, you can’t go home again. Ankara isn’t really “home” for me, but my life here now has so far been quite different from my life here as a student or as a researcher. Part of it is of course the day job – no haphazard schedule or spur-of-the-moment weeklong trips now. And another part of it is the accoutrements of the job – my pantry is stocked with Commissary loot, like Cream of Wheat, chocolate chips and taco fixings, that I certainly didn’t have access to before. My location has changed, too: instead of my garden flat directly downtown, walking distance from the Embassy and from Tunali and Kizilay, my current housing is behind the central district. I’d say in a U.S. city I’d be on the edge of town, but not quite in the suburbs. I’ve been taking a lot of cabs. The apartment itself is much nicer than my garden flat though, and unlike my previous flat it is not decorated in heavy, garish faux-gilt. Also unlike my last Ankara flat, I have not found a machete in my china cabinet in this one.
As a Fulbrighter here before, I occupied a strange space in the expat social fabric of the city – I wasn’t really a student, nor was I on official government orders. I wasn’t a teacher or working with one of the NGOs. I think partly because of that I ended up with a really varied group of people that I spent time with. Many of those people have moved on since 2009, but a few are still around luckily. In my current position, it seems pretty easy to end up with a very insular social circle. There are a decent amount of Embassy community events, which is very welcoming and especially great if you’ve just moved here and are unfamiliar with the city/country/culture, but it also makes it easier to not venture far beyond the community. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the people I’ve met so far, but I’ll also enjoy branching out and exploring a bit what else Ankara has to offer (step 1 is renewing my ARIT membership I think; step 2 may be yoga).
So the past month in Ankara has been different. Not great or bad, just different.

I’d say it’s been a generally good month overall though – I’m really enjoying my job so far, my coworkers are great, my Turkish skills alternately impress and annoy me, and I’m loving being back in Ankara and Turkey in general.