Sex, Lies and Murder

Sex, Lies and Murder

We’ve seen a few films recently, most notably God’s Own Country, a windswept tale of romance and raunch between a monosyllabic, emotionally-repressed Yorkshire hill farmer (Josh O’Connor – the literary one from the Durrells) and an enlightened and worldly-wise labourer from Romania (a superbly self-possessed Alec Secăreanu). It’s a kinda coming out tale for the Brexit generation and a tad ironic given the reception gay people usually receive in Romania. Liam thought it was all a bit too Wuthering Heights. I enjoyed the desolation but only because it was finally relieved by a bit of boy-gets-boy at the end. The critics praised the film but damned the redemption. Critics seem to love grim tales that leave you reaching for the gin and pills.

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The Party.jpgWe also saw The Party, a dark satirical farce filmed entirely in black and white about a soiree of smug, fizz-swigging Islington intellectuals whose lives (and leftie credentials) visibly unravel before your eyes. They wriggle while the vol-au-vents burn. I really wanted to like this film but didn’t. There were some great lines…

“You’re a first-class lesbian and a second-rate thinker,”

…and a great twist at the end but it all got a bit too slapstick – and not half as clever as it thinks it is. I nearly reached for the gin and pills.

And then came the main event. Murder on the Orient Express is arguably Agatha Christie’s most ingenious plot. I’ve seen the 1974 star-studded version many times so I know whodunit but did I care? Kenneth Branagh’s re-make (both as director and as Poirot – the Belgian sleuth, sporting gravity-defying face furniture) may be slightly less stellar, cast-wise, but it more than made up for it with spectacle and opulent period detail, dishing up characters less cardboard cut-out than the usual Christie servings. The famously snowed-in train provided an afternoon of pure escapism that really dried out a rainy day. It sparkled – from the dramatic Istanbul skyline to Branagh’s anguished Poirot. Later, we raised a gin or two to the new Hercule. No pills required.

 

 

London Pride 2017

London Pride 2017

In Istanbul, tear gas and rubber bullets broke up small groups of brave souls attempting to defy the ban of this year’s pride march. In London, the rainbow flag flies proudly over Tower Bridge, one of the city’s most iconic buildings. Just sayin’.

Happy London Pride today. For those, like us, who won’t be parading down Whitehall, what better way to mark the event than to watch the cast of the Lion King featuring the London Gay Men’s Chorus singing the Circle of Life composed by England’s second biggest queen?

 

Stepping Back Through Chalcedon: Kadıköy Walk

Stepping Back Through Chalcedon: Kadıköy Walk

Lisa Morrow, writer of several books about Turkey, has branched out into audio with a talking tour of the Kadıköy district of Istanbul. Using a smarty-pants smartphone app based on GPS technology, Lisa leads the visitor through this vibrant quarter of old Constantinople. She’s called it Stepping Back Through Chalcedon: Kadıköy Walk. As a guide and story-teller, Lisa packs in the facts, the must-sees and the tall tales of legend. With her calming and melodious tones (with just a hint of Oz), Lisa makes the perfect travel companion.

Here’s the blurb:

Lisa Morrow, a long term resident of Istanbul, used VoiceMap to create an audio tour of Kadıköy, tracing back though the history of this once multicultural neighbourhood on the Asian side of the city. Kadıköy is where she regularly shops, walks and socialises, so researching and writing about its forgotten secrets in order to produce a tour sharing her discoveries, was an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

Lisa first backpacked through Turkey in 1990. After numerous repeat visits she moved to Kadıköy and started to explore the area’s past. Stopping in a quiet side street she says, “This is Sivastopol Street. It’s likely the street was named by one of the more than 200,000 Russian refugees who landed along the Bosphorus shores, after the Bolshevik’s seizure of power in Russia in the October Revolution of 1917. The majority of Russians had left Istanbul by the end of the 1920s. But people of Greek descent who were born in Turkey, called the Rum population, were thriving”.

Lisa Morrow, writer, sociologist and occasional belly dancer, has used innovative new storytelling platform VoiceMap, to create her own audio walking tour of Kadıköy’s lesser known history. The result is an immersive and entertaining experience through Kadıköy that will leave you with a whole new understanding of Istanbul’s history.

VoiceMap, a recently-launched mobile application for iPhones and Android devices, uses cutting-edge GPS technology and the age-old art of storytelling to change the way people experience cities. “VoiceMap is a publishing platform for location-aware audio tours – or, with less jargon and more poetry, a way of seeing the world through another person’s eyes,” explains CEO and co-founder, Iain Manley.

After downloading the app and selecting a route, VoiceMap users can put their phone in their pocket and follow a storyteller’s voice through a particular neighbourhood, while anecdotes, commentary and opinions play automatically at specific GPS locations.

Very clever, don’t you think? Beats tailing someone waving a clipboard and waiting for stragglers to catch up. And it’s a snip at $6.99 (about £5.60). You can find out more here.

In the meantime, here are some Kadıköy snaps to whet the appetite…

Pride 2016

Pride 2016

The marching season is in full mince and after the slaughter in an Orlando gay club, Pride has a special resonance this year. Cutting through the noise, it now seems the carnage was the work of a closet case whose religious beliefs fried his brain. He happened to be a fundamentalist Muslim with shameful stirrings but could just as easily have been a fundamentalist Christian with the same sense of self-loathing. That’s the trouble with blind faith, those who fall from grace sometimes lose the plot. Ironically, some from the religious right don’t know who to condemn more, the man or his victims. And, the Second Amendment is a godsend to the trigger happy. Jesus wept.

My beautiful picture

On this side of the pond, London Pride was heralded by a flypast from the RAF’s Red Arrows and a rainbow flag flew over Parliament. It’s hard to imagine that happening in many capitals around the world.

Predictably, Istanbul Pride was banned again this year. To avoid the brutal oppression of 2015 when everyone was swept from the streets by tear gas and water cannon, Istanbul’s Governor gave plenty of notice. Last year, the holy month of Ramadan was the excuse. This year it was the threat from ultra-nationalist groups. Or maybe the powers that be just didn’t like it. Come the day, a few brave souls turned up anyway and were met by riot police and…well, you can guess the rest. And that was followed a couple of weeks later by an attempted military coup to ‘protect’ human rights and ‘preserve’ Turkish democracy. Since when was democracy ever preserved by soldiers in tanks? Was the coup real or not? Conspiracy theories abound but it was real enough for those who died as a result. Whatever the truth, you can bet your bottom lira life will start getting tougher and rougher for those who won’t or can’t toe the party line. Get thee to a mosque and to Hell with human rights.

Norwich Pride is on the 30th July and the only aggro expected is from a few nutters whispering hell and damnation from the wings. Even the zealous are painfully polite in these parts (as befits the ‘second kindest’ place in the kingdom, according to YouGov research). We’ll be there to wave our rainbow flags accompanied by a couple of old reprobates from the Smoke. We’re praying for a bit of sun – minus the fire and brimstone. I hear we’re to have a beer tent this year, thank the Lord: a first for Norwich Pride and a major step forward in my humble opinion. Cheers!

A happy pride season to one and all, whoever you get down on your knees for.

Photo courtesy of UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Jack Scott’s Postcards from the Ege

Jack Scott’s Postcards from the Ege

Not much of the news coming out of Turkey these days is positive – refugees, bombs, riots, censorship and the usual rhetoric from the imperious Erdoğan. The western media do so love to stoke up a drama. You could be forgiven for thinking the place is falling apart. Well, it isn’t. But the headlines are putting visitors off. According to some estimates, bookings by Brits are down by over a third. A glance at the travel agent’s window reveals the bargains to be had, reflecting a tourist trade going through lean times. It would be foolish to suggest there aren’t any problems but Turkey remains one of the safest holiday destinations anywhere.

It’s been four years since we returned from Turkey and we’re content with our lot in old Norwich Town. The slowish pace of life suits us well. But, we’re often nostalgic for our easy come, easy go days of Bodrum. During one particularly wistful afternoon in the boozer, Liam and I took a drunken stagger down memory lane. Over the last few years I’ve scribbled a word or two about my best bits of Turkey and I’ve even won writing competitions with my musings. So to cure me of my melancholy, Liam suggested I put them all together. So that’s what I’ve done. And very cathartic it was too. I’ve called it Postcards from the Ege, Jack Scott’s Turkey Trail.

Here’s the blurb:

With such an immense political and cultural heritage, it’s no surprise kaleidoscopic Turkey is such a feast – a prime cut of authenticity, seasoned by the West and spiced by the East. Jack Scott knows a thing or two about the country. He lived there for years and travelled widely – to Istanbul and along its south-western shores from Izmir to Alanya. In Postcards from the Ege, Scott shares some of his must-sees and personal highlights. Follow Scott’s trail. Come to Turkey.

The e-book has just been published on Kindle by Springtime Books. It’s a steal at a couple of quid and if it encourages people to sample the extraordinary land we used to call home then that’s all to the good.

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Türkiye’ye Hoşgeldiniz!

Learning Turkish

Learning Turkish

I get regular requests from people asking to guest post here at Pansy HQ.  Generally, I politely refuse because the subject matter just doesn’t work for me – too commercial/ too dull/ too libellous/ too weird/ totally irrevelant (delete accordingly). Occasionally, though, something falls on the mat that rings my bell.  This is such a post. Why? Because it’s from someone who’s written a fascinating memoir about Turkey and the post is about the agony of learning Turkish. I failed pathetically to grasp even the barebones of the language. Liam fared much better.  So, ladies and gents,  please give it up for talented bilingual Yankee author, Ann Marie Mershon.

Who would have thought I’d live in Turkey? It evoked an image of mustachioed Bedouins galumphing out of the desert on camels—and I could barely find it on a map.

No, thank you.

An American teacher, I yearned for adventure, an escape from a world that was imploding on me. A painful divorce had left me on the perimeter of social gatherings, keenly aware of my image as a divorcee. Not really a pariah, I felt like one.

Ann Marie's DogThis excerpt comes from the preface of  You must only to love them, lessons learned in Turkey, which recounts my trials and joys adapting to life in Istanbul. Smarting from a recent divorce, I had decided to establish a new life overseas, intending to find a teaching job in Paris or Salzburg. Through a number of possibly serendipitous events, I landed in Istanbul instead (with my little dog). So began my love affair with Turkey and the Turks.

Actually, it wasn’t a love affair right off, as I battled loneliness and the frustrations of language as I navigated my new world. It was probably to my disadvantage that I lived on the remote and very English-speaking campus of Koç Lisesi (20 miles east of Central Istanbul), but the school kindly offered free Turkish lessons for foreign hires and there were a number of Turkish administrators living on campus. They also offered service busses to get us into the city on the weekends. which was a godsend.

I’d prepared for my move by purchasing and diligently studying a book called Teach Yourself Turkish. Each new lesson brought more questions than insights, but I forged on, thinking I’d learned the basics before moving to Istanbul. At least I knew tuvalet (toilet), bira (beer), and şarap (wine). What more could one need? Well, anlamadım came in handy (I don’t understand).

I thought I’d learned numbers, but once I tried to buy something in Istanbul I realized that Turks talked REALLY fast. Gosh, what was that word that meant slowly’? My first forays from campus into the Turkish world were riddled with anlamadims and yavaşes.  I guess that’s typical.

Turkish class on Wednesdays after school was helpful, but I needed more conversation and less grammar. My GOODNESS, the grammar was overwhelming. I wished that our charming teacher had first explained the basics of Turkish. Here’s what I think they are:

  • Every sentence begins with a subject and ends with a verb with all the modifiers in between.
  • Most languages have six possible verb endings (first person singular and plural, second person singular, etc.), while Turkish multiplies that by four. They like to vary those six endings with four variants order to harmonize with the verb. Twenty-four basic verb endings. ARAUGHHH!!!
  • There are a few letters that are confusing but you get used to them: c sounds like j, and ç sounds like ch, ş sounds like sh and the only silent letter is ğ, which is sort of a placeholder in a sentence.
  • The beautiful thing about Turkish is that every letter ALWAYS makes the same sound – hence, no need for spelling bees in elementary school. If you can say it, you can spell it.

You must only love themIt took me years to learn more than the rudiments of Turkish, and I’ve come to an amazing realization. The best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it. When I finally lived off-campus in a sweet apartment up the hill in Arnavutköy, I began to truly learn Turkish. I had no choice if I wanted to survive, as few people in my little community spoke English. I chatted with the checkout person at DIA, I sat talking with the electrician as he fixed my hair dryer, and I met a boat captain who often invited me for a cup of tea on his back deck. It was a delight. The Turks helped me learn their language, just as they help us whenever we’re in need. It’s just who they are.

You must only to love them is available through Amazon.

About Ann Marie

Ann Marie Mershon

Ann Marie Mershon is a Minnesota writer who taught high school students in Istanbul between 2005 and 2011. She kept a weekly blog while she lived there. She also published a guidebook with Edda Weissenbacher, Istanbuls Bazaar Quarter, Backstreet Walking Tours. She now lives on a lake near the Canadian border with her husband and their two dogs. Visit Ann Marie’s website at annmariemershon.com.

Fancy a free print copy of You must only to love them? Enter the Goodreads giveaway here (May 1-May 16 – US residents only). Or for a free e-book, enter here (May 10-17).

Ghost of Gallipoli

Ghost of Gallipoli

Ellie McKnight is a bright academic working at Belfast University. When she falls for a minor diplomat, Ellie throws caution to the wind, jettisons her career and follows him to a posting at the British Consulate in Istanbul. And so begins her extraordinary journey in Margaret Whittock’s ingenious and atmospheric novel, Ghost of Gallipoli. Ellie is quickly chucked into the rarified world of the diplomatic corps and it’s a loose fit. Ensconced in the grand imperial pile that was the old British embassy during the days of the Sultans, she crashes into the pomposity of middle England and we are treated to a legion of midget-minded expatriates (sends a shiver down my spine and dark memories flooding back) – a ‘tight-knit group of wives into jam and chutney making’ led by head bitch, Alice Melefont.

But all is not as it seems.

Events take a spooky twist when Ellie encounters the restless soul of her great uncle Jack – an eighteen year old Private from Ulster, cannon fodder for the Gallipoli debacle of the Great War. To find some peace, Jack’s spirit is resolved to exact revenge on the descendants of those responsible for his premature demise (‘I went to war, never fired a single shot, never killed anyone, why should I have to suffer like this?’) and he needs Ellie’s earthly help. Once Ellie recovers from the disbelief and shock, the determined duo launch a dastardly partnership.

Margaret gives us a warts and all account of 1990’s Istanbul, avoiding overwrought romanticism (‘a blanket of smog often hung over the city, a poisonous mixture of lignite and car exhaust fumes’) but we never doubt the city’s power to beguile as we see Ellie ‘transfixed by the brutal beauty of the place’. With some chilling flashbacks to the Gallipoli carnage and a tantalising climax delayed until the very last pages, Ghost of Gallipoli fires on all cylinders.

Margaret was inspired to write her novel after discovering the headstone of her great uncle in a Gallipoli war cemetery. The novel is a taut and atmospheric thriller, a cleverly plotted, well-paced drama, peppered with twists and turns. It is, as they say, a ripping yarn.