Istanbul Stranger

I was really pleased when Istanbul Stranger asked me to guest on her blog as part of my virtual book tour. She’s deliciously witty, calls a spade a spade and her sharp observations about her life in Old Constantinople are a joy to read. She’s American but I think her writing style has a distinctive ironic British twist. Maybe she was a Brit in a former life. I’m there to plug my book but, as this isn’t Oprah’s Book Club, I thought I’d regale you with tales of my first visit to the good old US of A.

Ladies and Gents I give you Yankee Tales.

Gidday from Turkay

To my eternal shame, I’ve never been to Oz. Liam, has. He loved it and wanted to stay. Forever. He even considered re-training as a hairdresser to gain enough points to emigrate (crimpers were in short supply at the time, apparently). From civil servant to coiffeur would have made a dramatic career change. He thought better of it when he realised it was a gay cliché too far. That was before he met me, of course.

More at stop two on my virtual book tour. Hop over to Gidday from the UK.

Perking the Pansies Book Tour

For generations, book tours have been a vital part of promoting the published word. The famous get to hop from country to country. The not-so-famous get to hop from town to town. Nobodies like me don’t get to hop at all. Then someone came up with a marvellous idea – the virtual tour. No hopping involved. Just sit back and let other people promote your work courtesy of the blogosphere (in the best tradition of I scratch your back, you scratch mine). Ladies and gentlemen, please hop across to the wonderfully rustic Archers of Okçular for the first stop in my stimulating, simulated tour. Enjoy!

Perking the Pansies in Southwest Turkey

Jane Akatay is an experienced journalist of depth, intelligence and passion. Jane and I first met when she approached me to participate in an article she was writing about English Language bloggers in southwest Turkey for the Turkish Daily News. Jane’s article, The Tales that Wag the Blogs, cleverly inter-weaved the views of five different quality bloggers, each with their own unique perspective on expat life. When I neared completion of the book, Jane was the first person I turned to for a review. Despite her busy schedule, Jane was pleased to oblige and she wrote more than I could have hoped for. It’s not a brief throwaway review. It’s an in-depth, forensic critique set within the context of modern Turkey mores. It blew me away. Thank you, Jane.

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A decade into the 21st century along comes Jack Scott, a gay middle-aged man, who has bravely taken early retirement, daringly chosen to share his day-to-day experiences of life with thousands online in his blog, ‘Perking The Pansies’, and has now written a book with the same title.

No big deal, you may think; it’s been done already. So what? But this man, his blog and his book are more than a little different: Jack Scott lives in a predominantly Muslim country.

Not content to live in the accepting social scene of cosmopolitan London, he and his husband Liam have chosen to come and live in southwest Turkey, a decision that not only subjected them to scrutiny from the Turkish community but also to the watchful eyes of the burgeoning expat community, many of whom he describes with delicious vitriol and cutting humour. With the forthcoming publication of his book, Perking the Pansies, his lifestyle choices and intimate details of his everyday life will be open for inspection by the rest of the world.

Ask a cross-section of Turkish people, especially down here on the coast, and they will tell you that Gayness is a western problem (read ‘disease’) and doesn’t exist in Turkey. It is also generally accepted (as in so many other countries and institutions throughout the world) that the only homosexual in an active relationship between two men is the one who ‘receives’. The ‘giver’s’ behaviour is not deemed to be remarkable at all: after all they are just members of the notorious ‘any hole’s a goal’ club.

So how does a sexually repressed and quintessentially macho society relate to two men living together in marital harmony?

Ten years ago many ‘straight’ British men on holiday in Turkey expressed their shock when witnessing Turkish men’s tactile behaviour with each other: holding hands, casually draping their arms around their friends’ shoulders, resting a hand on a friend’s knee – and leaving it there.

Any physical contact between men, to most Brits, smacked of homoerotica and to their suspicious homophobic minds meant that these demonstrative men were either gay or, even worse, indiscriminate in their sexual preferences – after all even married men were seen to be doing it.

When a gay (and famous) ‘artist’ came along to a local restaurant popular with tourists at the end of the 1990s and, decked in veils and with his heavily kohled come-hither eyes, danced in the most superbly, sensual way imaginable (Turkish men, whatever their shape, age or sexual orientation are generally wonderful dancers), complaints from tourists of both genders: the decadence, indecency of it was evidently traumatising for the average Daily Mail reader and their children. Homophobia is by no means the sole preserve of conservative Brits.

Talk with any heterosexual, bi or gay western man who is open enough to speak about his gender identity and sufficiently emotionally intelligent and aware to question his own sexual vulnerability and he will often say that the rules of oriental societies are blurred to the point where they no longer know what the rules actually are even though they are sure they exist – yet Jack Scott made an active choice to leave the UK and come and live in such an inscrutable society with his partner, Liam.

Scott attempts an explanation: it was economically more viable for the couple to live in Turkey, having taken early retirement? ‘Bill’ the name given by Jack and Liam to their computerised accounting system would suggest that this is no longer the case. Times are hard for all expats living on the dwindling interest realised on their investments.

Sunshine and wonderful summers would seem another good reason perhaps, but as Scott illustrates the winters are cold, wet and frequently miserable and the summers are scorching. For people attempting to get on with their lives, rather than holidaying, the climate is not so kind.

Turkish society maybe provides an answer? It is certainly hospitable and charming on the outside. But as they discover following a murder, it has a dark homophobic underbelly, exacerbated by violent sexual acts (the man’s body reveals evidence of rape), and subsequently a few people warn the couple that views are hardening against gayitude. There is also the disadvantage of a cumbersome bureaucracy, slow, opaque and frustrating for those used to transparency.

No, it seems that, like so many other visitors to Turkey, these two men simply fell in love with the country and all that that entails. They sell up and move out but with a proviso that should the experiment fail they would return to the UK.

There again, many make that choice, for a variety of reasons, but all too often when the dream has turned into a nightmare they no longer have the wherewithal to return and are stuck, full of loathing. Scott pulls no punches when meeting such people and it is a warning to all to beware of becoming nothing more than negative whingers.

Scott’s crisp little portraits are of embittered British expats and Chrissie and Bernard are Jack’s archetypal poisonous couple. They epitomise the expat horror and the storyline would be poorer without them. Clement, a beautifully portrayed old queen, on the other hand, antediluvian and bigoted as his views are, at least has an underlying love of his adoptive country to redeem him and as an aspiring Emiköy, tries to make the most of his chances. His delight in muscle bound rough Turkish men obviously has more than a little to do with his move to the country. We are left wondering whether he will survive. (Opportunity for another book, Scott?).

Scott wields a vicious and occasionally cruel pen when describing these characters but the vignettes are unrelentingly accurate. Will these people recognise themselves? Only time will tell. Emigreys are self-explanatory and although the term may or may not be an original soubriquet, we all know a few.

VOMITS (Victims Of Men In Turkey) on the other hand are a breed of their own and Scott makes use of several in the narrative although mostly at their own expense. But to be fair, his colourful descriptive prose also illustrates some less dysfunctional characters with charm and wit and no little pathos. The couple, Charlotte and Alan for example, who adopt a baby, are a case in point and as their experiences unfold the book takes on a much more serious slant.

Indeed, there is a shift from the smug, pink and fluffy style in the opening chapters, reminiscent of Scott’s blog, to a much more considered narrative in the middle and remaining chapters. As the plot develops (there is one, although this isn’t apparent at the beginning), the personalities of Jack, Liam and the other main characters in the book are sensitively expanded and much more realistic and sympathetic. The quips and bad gay-boy jokes become less frequent and the content takes on a serious exploration of what life really is like for all foreign expats and many Turks too.

Jack and Liam for the most part have a pragmatic and relaxed attitude towards their adopted country and its attitudes and appear to relish every aspect of its culture apart from the two episodes already described.

If the beautiful happy baby Adalet (Turkish for Justice) is a metaphor for the tender love that dared not speak its name until relatively recently in Britain and even now in Turkey, then it would appear that Jack and Liam should be more than a little cautious; and only come out of their Bodrum closet in the guise of cousins, as they chose to describe themselves towards the end of the book. Their future here in Turkey could be perilous but then again with Turkey you never really know – and that is one of its many joys.

Perking The Pansies can and should be read for a number of reasons and not just seen as a book for the gay niche market. It revels in some of the more obnoxious aspects of expats who buy into a country but not the culture (not Jack and Liam; although not completely innocent they do at least make an attempt to learn the language and customs.) Finally, for anyone who is not part of either minority group, it is simply a good read and hopefully the first of many by new boy on the block, Jack Scott.

Jane Akatay, journalist

The Shepherdess of Dreams

Linda

The talented Linda A Janssens at Adventures in Expatland asked me to participate in a virtual blog tour. I jumped at the chance. I love this new-fangled virtual excursion lark. You can promote a masterwork without changing out of your jimjams. The book is an anthology called Turning Points: 25 Inspiring Stories from Women Entrepreneurs Who Have Turned Their Lives Around. It does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s inspirational.

I’d like to start by thanking Jack for welcoming me back to Perking the Pansies as part of my ‘virtual book tour’ for Turning Points. It’s a collection of stories from women from all over the world, all working in various jobs and professions and living very different lives. Yet each experiences a pivotal moment or series of events that drives home the need to make significant changes in her life.

The book is edited by Kate Cobb, a women’s business and executive coach (www.movingforwardyourway.com). As with Jack and I, Kate is an expatriate making her home in a country other than where she was born and grew up. In Kate’s case she’s a Brit now residing in France; I’m an American living in The Netherlands.

When Kate asked me to contribute my story to the Turning Points project, I will admit that I was thrilled, flattered and absolutely terrified. I had only an inkling of what it took to publish a book, and I worried and fretted about what lay in store. The entire process is a long one, and has taken the better part of a year. In many ways it has seemed surreal, as if it’s happening to someone else.

That is, until yesterday.

Launch Day.

I have to say the response has been both overwhelming and humbling. I am not exaggerating when I say that it is a dream come true.

When I first started putting together my blog tour, the first person I thought of was Jack. Not merely because he has been such a great supporter (although he has) or because Perking the Pansies is such a great site (which it certainly is).

Jack was my first thought because we share an editor in the savvy and experienced Jo Parfitt.

Jo (www.joparfitt.com) is an accomplished author of 28 books; she is also a journalist, speaker, writing instructor and long-time publisher. She runs Summertime Publishing, a niche publishing company that focuses on bringing to print fiction and non-fiction books written by expats, internationals, serial travelers and global wanderers such as ourselves.

When a writer opens up and shares their innermost thoughts and feelings, it is an intimidating thing. Jo has calmly and gently shepherded Kate and the rest of us along the editing and publishing path, explaining myriad steps and key details, and helping to demystify the process. Along the way, we’ve gained confidence in ourselves and our book.

Jack’s many followers know that he has finished his manuscript of his own book, Perking the Pansies, and sent it off to Jo’s capable hands. In just a few weeks, he will be preparing for his own launch day.

Before he knows it, he will be holding a copy of his book in his hands, stroking its cover and marveling that his dream has come to pass.

I came here today to tell Jack to enjoy the ride. He needn’t worry. He is in excellent hands with Jo, the Shepherdess of Dreams.

If you’re interested in learning more about our book, please take a look at the website   www.theturningpointsbook.com, or follow along on Facebook’s The Turning Points Book page or on Twitter @Turning_Points. A portion of all sales will benefit www.seedsfordevelopment.org.

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Flying Low

I received an email from a friend waiting at Bodrum Airport for a flight back to Blighty. It made me smile so I thought I’d post it.

‘We’re now at the VIP lounge at Bodrum Airport wondering which cocktail to order from the menu and browsing the various free food bars to decide between Italian and Thai. Then we woke up. OMG it’s worse than usual here. Puts me in mind of childhood trips to the local cattle market, except the sheep and cows were docile and cute. There are more shell suits on show than in the early episodes of Eldorado and the Turkish staff have all been trained by Eva Braun. Still, we’ll soon be shown to our flat beds to sip chilled champagne and choose our film. Yer, right. It’ll be four hours of bending over our own crushed internal organs only to be disgorged at the other end like boat people from the South China Sea. This will be followed by a three mile trek to the arrivals hall and glares from bored customs officials like we’re serial criminals. Only then does the next great adventure begin – find the bloody car.’

Thank you Liz.

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A Tight Wide-open Space

Once in a while a chance encounter with a stranger can change things forever. My happy happenstance was crashing into Liam one wintry afternoon after work in a pub called ‘Half Way to Heaven’.

Matt Krause, a mighty Yankee vetpat from California has recently released a book. A Tight Wide-open Space tells the touching tale of his own chance meeting that led to love and a journey across an ocean to follow his heart. The story is much more than a boy-meets-girl penny romance, as sweet as that is. It’s also about his struggle to adapt to the strange ways of a strange faraway land. We can all identify with that one.

If you’d like to know more, take a look at Matt’s website. The book is available in paperback or kindle at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

To celebrate the release of the book, I asked Matt to write a guest post about his love, hate, love relationship with that great and ancient metropolis that straddles two continents.

I am not a city boy.  In my more militant moments I will rail against urban life, calling cities “cesspools of human filth” and swearing up and down the truest beauty in all the world can only be found when no man is present.  In fact, put a glass of scotch in me (I am a lightweight, it only takes one), and I am likely to say things that make the Unabomber look like a humanity-loving urban hipster.

So why did I write a book that starts out as “boy meets girl,” but ends up being “boy loves city”?

Believe me, it wasn’t easy (learning to love a city I mean, although writing a book is no cake walk either).

There are people who go to Istanbul and fall in love with it in 20 seconds.  They barely even pull away from the airport before they start raving about how amazing the place is.  Immediately they begin posting photos to Facebook and drooling all over everything and generally acting like giddy teenagers who just found the most perfect guy or girl in like, EVER!

I am not one of those people. When I first got to Istanbul I saw little but smog and chaos and stress.  Even six years after I arrived I was comparing living there to living like a lab rat in a cage stuffed with so many other lab rats they go insane from the overcrowding, and end up attacking each other and gnawing off their own feet.

But Istanbul has a way of getting under one’s skin, even mine.  Few things bring me peace like strolling through the square just north of the Ortakoy mosque on a cool summer night, where young lovers cuddle on the benches and little kids laugh as they chase each other around the plaza.  Few things strike me with awe like standing atop the stone walls of the Rumeli Hisari while watching a massive Ukrainian tanker sail south down the Bosphorus on its way to the Mediterranean.

Don’t let my mixed feelings about Istanbul scare you away from it. For every person like me who doesn’t know whether to call that place a shining city on the bay or a shameful scar on the face of the earth, there are ten who say without reservation that it is the greatest city they’ve ever seen in their entire lives.  Istanbul is the kind of place that every person, country boy or city slicker, should see at least once before they die.

And certainly don’t let my mixed feelings about Istanbul scare you away from Turkey in general.  If I were to list the five most beautiful places in the world, three of them would be in Turkey.  The first would be a particular balcony in Gumusluk, a small town on the Bodrum peninsula Jack mentions occasionally on this blog, from which all you can see is sea and all you can hear is wind and waves.  The second would be the side of a hill in Kapadokya, 600 kilometers inland, where in the mornings you can step out your front door and marvel at a sky so big and so blue it reminds you it is the sky that brings life to this earth, not the ground you are standing on.  And the third, well, that third image is just for me.

Maybe I wrote a book about adjusting to life in Istanbul because I was trying to sort through contradictory feelings that will never reconcile.  Maybe I did it because after the thousandth person asked me what it was like in Turkey, and for the thousandth time I didn’t know where to start, I thought maybe writing it down would help me clear my head and move on.

A fat lot of good that seems to have done me though.  I miss Istanbul and will be moving back in a few months.

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