Poem of the Day: ‘Endless Silence’ by Fazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca

Endless Silence


I am like a brother to you well yes you can tell me

How you got married

How you stopped loving one night

All right you can tell me


And then in the days of that old photograph

Your Mother had not gone mad yet

Your hair was golden as it caressed your white shoulders

All right you can tell me


You used to laugh a lot

At trees

You were a sylph the forest kept you awake when it sprouted

All right you can tell me


Then you ran away from home

To thoughts solitude sleep death

Starknaked among the ruins of a fire

All right you can tell me


A girl a boy a stone shadows on the walls a girl a boy

Three hundred youths you had slept in a mountain shelter

Outside the snow was cold as wolves in your heart you froze like the stone age

All right you can tell me


Look tomorrow I am leaving for another darkness

Like cemeteries I am silent mournful deaf

Yes you no longer have faith in love   yes you will love no one ever again

All right you can tell me


— Translated by Talat S. Halman. From Living Poets of Turkey, Dost Publications, 1989, p. 26

An Open Letter to Lonely Planet About Gay Sex Tourists

Whenever I travel, I usually bring a Lonely Planet along. Now, Lonely Planet is not the be-all and end-all of travel guides.  (The best guide for Istanbul, by the way, is Strolling Through Istanbul by Hilary Sumner-Boyd and John Freely.) But LP guides are sturdily made, the writing is crisp and opinionated, the maps and layout make sense, and Lonely Planet knows its audience — the educated Western bourgeoisie — very well.


Plus, it's interesting to see how the Lonely Planeteers negotiate cultural differences. They denounce faux-folk performances put on for the kinds of tourists who travel in buses, but tread very gingerly when addressing the, shall we say, problematic aspects of the nation being visited. You have to know Lonely Planet's code — they will never tell you that a certain native delicacy will ruin your digestion for days, or that a popular theater is infested with rats. Not in so many words, at least. But they will drop carefully-worded hints, often couched in adorable Aussie slang like '"skerrick" and "snaffle". Decoding them belongs to the fun of reading LP guides.


There's also the matter of the double-standard that I've found in many LP guides: the difference in treatment between gays who might want to indulge in anonymous and/or paid sex when they travel and straights who do so.


First, some background. I came of age in the late 1980s, and early 1990s, the heyday of the quaint movement among the college-educated classes of certain Western nations known as "political correctness."  One aspect of political correctness was that members of privileged classes were encouraged to turn a blind eye toward certain unsavory conduct engaged in by members of the less-privileged orders. Gays had a special license to speak openly about various aspects of their intimate lives without encountering disapproval or scorn. Loose talk of cruising, scoring, hanky codes, felching, going bareback, etc. was considered de rigueur among certain out gays. You had to confront The Man with your full being and demand that he respect you.


Gay pride parades were cavalcades of the most bizarre perversion, but, as a polite progressive,  you certainly weren't allowed to wrinkle your nose at the topless biker lesbians, novelty cock rings, or gyrating leather bears without being denounced as "intolerant". (On a similar note, you were required to chalk up the crass materialism of lots of rap music solely to self-conscious parody, or to rap artists' sublimated yearning to enjoy the privileges of prosperity that had so long been denied their ancestors.) Thus, if you saw a parade float in which hairy bears led skinny young twinks around on all fours in studded dog collars, you were required to bite your tongue, or half-heartedly proclaim it a bold step forward for proud out living. A parade float featuring middle-aged men leading young women around naked would, of course, have you dialing '911' on the nearest payphone (remember, this was the 90s).


Those days are long past. Eventually, gingerly, Western societies began to say: "Hey, we're tolerant and open and all that, but really, we don't want to know about the weird stuff you do in the bedroom." And gays themselves also got the message that quite literally parading around the more bizarre aspects of one of their sexual subcultures might not be very helpful. Especially with the rise of the gay-marriage movement, it's now become the done thing to treat being gay as rather ho-hum. Turns out most of 'em actually want to get mortgages and have nice office jobs just like the breeders! Gingerly, you can even begin to see even open-minded straights criticizing certain perhaps somewhat morally questionable activities that gays (also) engage in, such as anonymous darkroom sex and rent boys. Previously, this was something only gays or conservatives could do.


That all seems to have passed Lonely Planet by: its sexual mores are still so 1993. Take the Lonely Planet Guide to Istanbul. If you were a straight man looking to find paid sex in Istanbul (and no, although straight, I'm not here for sex tourism, unless you count the statues of Kybele – grrr!), you will find not a single sentence about it whatsoever, except for one brief, passing mention in the 'Dangers & Annoyances' (!) section, which advises you that the 'red light district' in Aksaray/Laleli is known for pickpocketing. The tone is so ginger that I can imagine the contentious editorial meeting about whether they should even mention where the red light district is located, lest some greasy-mouthed male tourist decide to stray over there and prey on some unsuspecting, doe-eyed Turkish female prostitutes.


But if you're gay and coming to Istanbul, Lonely Planet rolls out the pink carpet! They feature a long interview with a gay activist, and detailed recommendations for gay clubs and bathhouses. The book notes that you have to be careful: homosexuality is only tolerated in Turkey, it's not legal. Alas, darkrooms and 'naughty nooks' are unknown in Istanbul gay clubs, so that if your "cruising" is successful (yes, they use that word), you'll have to consummate any action in private. With regret, the gay activist informs us, the only "public sex" available is in a seedy cinema or "furtive flings in dark alleys." The recommendations for gay baths go even further. About one, LP raves: "An added attraction is the stable of 14 hunky, delicious masseurs who take you into the private cubicles for a massage — be sure to negotiate the price and service parameters clearly. Note: what goes on here should remain here."


Hey Lonely Planet: I don't want to burst your bubble, but that activity you were describing in the Istanbul bathhouse is paying for sex, and that's prostitution! What you're doing is telling gay men where to go to engage in illegal prostitution! So if you're telling gay men where to go for some paid sex, then why not tell straight men, too? After all, there might be some really funky, cool establishments that offer an authentic 'Turkish bordello' experience that might be of interest to straight male travelers. You could even do what Lonely Planet is renowned for, which is steering well-funded Western travelers away from the most grotty and exploitative sides of tourism, to the more (relatively) sustainable and authentic.


Yet there's not a single word about any heterosexual paid-sex establishments, whether nasty or decent. This is also true of every Lonely Planet guide I've read for European cities — or for any place on the planet. Heterosexual prostitution is regarded as seedy and grim, and is either never mentioned at all, or only with a lot of finger-wagging about human trafficking, diseases, economic power imbalances and organized crime. Visiting a bordello in Cologne, Vienna, or Budapest (each of which features large, professionally-run whorehouses like this) is never treated as a fun diversion after a hard day wandering the historical sites. These places aren't even mentioned. The only time you'll ever learn of the existence of a bordello from a LP guide is if it's been converted — into a trendy new gay bar!


Now, Lonely Planet might respond: We don't think prostitution is an appropriate tourist activity. It encourages young people to sell their bodies for money. It exploits power imbalances. It can spread disease. And anyway, if someone really wants information about it, he can always go to the Internet.


I think that about covers the bases. Those are all pretty good reasons to not mention prostitution at all in your tour guides, and if that were your decision, I would respect it. Yet don't all those rationales also apply to homosexual prostitution? Doesn't that also potentially involve disease, economic imbalances, etc? Then why are there studiously nonjudgmental tips about Turkish bathhouse catamites furnished in Lonely Planet guides?


I say, Lonely Planet, that what's good for the goose is good for the philanderer. Either all paid sex is always wrong, in which case you shouldn't help wealthy Australian businessmen locate "delicious" young Turkish masseurs, or you recognize buying sex as a travel activity for everyone who might be interested in that sort of thing — including straight men and desperate housewives. This is, of course, not to say that you have to endorse anything sleazy — be your respectable bourgeois self, and highlight only those establishments that conduct their business in a (relatively) responsible fashion. And that feature some of the local color as well!


How about it, LP? Are you ready to update your sexual mores to a post-PC era? Or will it be 1993 forever, down under?

‘German Joys’ May be Blocked in Turkey

Well, this is interesting. So far I've tried to access this blog from 2 places in Istanbul, and had no success either time. I can access all sorts of other websites without problems. The same is also true for my friends over at Obscene Desserts — no luck calling up their blog, either.

Ironically, I seem to be able to actually post to the blog via Typepad; I just can't call it up to check the results. In any case, I'll try to post a few updates and pictures from Istanbul when I have the chance. In the meantime, please bear with me!

Marburg, City of Anarchist Graffiti and Pleasant Churches

Last weekend I visited friends in Frankfurt, and we took an excursion to the traditional university town of Marburg, home to one of Germany's oldest universities, with a traditionally left-leaning student body. Marburg was generally unscathed by WWII, so there are still plenty of attractive half-timbered row houses and Gothic churches to admire. The old town and castle are situated on the sides of a modest hill, and the climb up is pleasantly scenic.

Here are a few pictures, including totally uncompromising radical left-wing graffiti (translations in hover text), an inscription from a stone on the side of a church (bonus points to anyone who can decipher it), a monument to St. Elizabeth of Hungary, a Catholic saint, which features a bronze sculpture of St. George and a graffito at the bottom protesting against the commercialization of education (may be a later addition!), the charmingly crooked tower of the Marienkirche, handmade posters celebrating recent high-school graduates, and other, completele unrelated things.

Abi Celebtration Posters Marburg
Crooked Tower of Marienkirche against Skyline

Can anyone translate this inscription on Block of Marienkirche Marburg

Never has a NO GOD graffito graced a more bourgeois niche!

Grimm Insciption on Steps to Marburg Castle
Half-Timbered House Marburg
schools universities businesses BURN!

Die schoensten Nadelfilz Ideen
Monument to St. Elizabeth with Graffito
Schantz Memorial Translation Uni Church Marburg
Marburg Disused Niche and Cat Graffito on Luther Kirche Marburg
Marburg Bldg Exterior Woman Shooting Foot
Gregory Isaacs Graffito Marburg

‘Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich’: Knifecrime Island’s Worsening Nazi Obsession

The BBC asks why the British Nazi obsession seems only to be growing:

The late Alan Coren famously published a collection of humorous pieces in book form, called Golfing for Cats. And he put a swastika on the front cover. He had noticed the most popular titles in Britain in those days were about cats, golf and Nazis.

That was in 1975. Thirty-six years on – and now more than 60 years since the end of World War II – Nazi books are going stronger than ever. A staggering 850 books about the Third Reich were published in 2010, up from 350 in the year 2000.

And they mostly still have a swastika on the front cover.

The phenomenal and continuing success of books about the Nazis includes fiction, non-fiction and science fiction.

They include the occult and the Nazis, Nazi magic, Nazi weaponry and Nazi doctors. There's the history of SS uniforms, SS staff cars, SS recruitment and propaganda.

You can read counter histories imagining Britain if the Nazis had won or post-war histories of the exploitation of Nazi scientific discoveries by America and the other Allied powers.

There is a first hand account of Himmler's masseur.

There are serious histories, adventures with the Panzer Division, and secrets of the Gestapo.

Collectible Spoons of the 3rd Reich by James Yannes is not an invention of Private Eye but a work, I suppose, of genuine scholarship. There's even a book about the Fuhrer's own collection of books – Hitler's Private Library.

So what is going on here? Are British book-buyers still looking for a warning from history or are some of them attracted by the ghastly glamour of history's most evil baddies?

Nazi Gold: Publishing the Third Reich, presented by Clive Anderson, is on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday 17 March, 1130 GMT

Swiss Banker Wants Indiana

I say take it:

WASHINGTON—Sources on Capitol Hill have confirmed that visiting Swiss banker Maximilian Krieger met privately with President Barack Obama and congressional leaders Friday, offering the U.S. government the equivalent of $87.3 billion for one night with the entire population of Indiana.

Despite speculation that his ulterior motive is to drive a wedge between Indiana and the United States and lure its population into his arms, Krieger has maintained that he has no agenda other than a desire to give the state "one magical evening it will never forget."

"When I see an object of great beauty, I must possess it," the wealthy banker said in a televised interview Saturday, explaining how Indiana's "purity and innocence" set it apart from all the other Midwestern states. "In all my travels, never have I found anything more beautiful than Indiana."

"I recognize that this is an uncomfortable situation, but the money will go a long way in helping our schools and police departments," Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) said in a radio address yesterday. "Please, fellow Indianans, it's only one night. And really, how bad could it be? Monsieur Krieger is an upstanding and cultured man, and he promised to keep the evening dignified and sophisticated."

Should German Professors Roll 10 Deep?

"Jochen, you're my assistant, and I love you. But don't ever take sides with anyone against the Lehrstuhl again. Ever."
A scholar from Switzerland, Caspar Hirschi (g) has an opinion piece (g) in yesterday's FAZ about the many problems with German universities. His principal argument is that Germany is overproducing young academics. The argument goes as follows. The career and title of professor is still enshrouded in prestige in Germany, and educated people still cherish an "admiration for intellectual acrobatics in general and research in particular." This ensures that there will never be a shortage of young people who want to enter academia, which in turn reduces pressure on universities to change the "sclerotic structures" that persist in German academia.

The most damaging of these structures is the institution of the Lehrstuhl, or "teaching chair." Most such teaching chairs are inhabited by established professors with bulletproof tenure. These professors, in turn, hire any number of research assistants at varying levels of intensity — from full-time Assistenten who are likely to become professors themselves to a dizzying variety of full- and part-time research assistants. The key thing is that all of these people owe their jobs to the professor, and all are beholden to him or her. They are expected to show loyalty, and their success, or lack thereof, reflects back on their powerful patron. It resembles nothing so much as a "pre-modern court arrangement", in Hirschi's words, except that the professor's best students will soon enter into direct competition with him or her. Established professors thus have an incentive to keep their charges in uncertainty as long as possible concerning whether their careers themselves will end up in a professorship. To actually become a professor in German is a process that takes almost two decades you must write not only a doctoral dissertation but also a Habilitation — two ambitious book-length academic works. Few German scholars actually become professors before their 40s.

Like medieval potentates, German professors also tend to compete on the size of their courts. Humanities profs are at a slight advantage, since they don't have to spend money on experiments or equipment. They are constantly on the lookout for more funds, which they plunge into amorphous group research projects with titles such as "Religion und Politics in Modern and Pre-Modern Cultures" (Münster) or "Asia and Europe: Changing Asymmetries in Cultural Flows" (Heidelberg). These "clusters" attract "swarms" of young would-be academics who scramble for 1/2 or 1/4 temporary positions that may or may not ever turn into secure jobs. During this time, they noodle away at pretty unspectacular articles, or try to piece together a doctoral dissertation. When the funding runs out, most of these graduate students are eventually driven away from the academic teat, only to find that they have whiled away five or ten years of their lives in a "respectable" university position that has left them with no job skills. Then it's back to live with the parents, or an entry into the exciting world of cab driving.

Hirschi's solution is to break up the system of clusters and all-powerful teaching chairs. Instead of one professor holding court over a bootlicking entourage of 10 assistants, take the same amount of resources and create three professorships which are less well-endowed but which have job security. These will be given to people who have written good dissertations, but who haven't been forced to spend their 30s writing a massive Habilitation. Hirschi calls this the path of "American and British" universities, and praises its efficiency.

It seems to me that Hirschi is somewhat too sanguine about the U.S. and British mode, although he is not unaware that American and British universities are facing their own problems. Nevertheless, he's got a point about the feudal relationships in many German universities, in which up-and-coming academics are forced to revolve like planets around the massive sun of the established professor who gave them their jobs and who controls whether their contract will be renewed after the next six months. This is an arrangement that practically invites patronage and stifles dissent. Further, having a larger number of actual full-time professors will result in a wider variety of viewpoints being represented. The law school I teach at has only 15 professors — a law school of similar size in the U.S. (such as, say, Tulane), has three times that number. Of course, tripling the number of law professors would probably entail an increased cost, but not as much as you might think, since American law professors don't have Lehrstühle — they share a secretary and have 1 or 2 teaching assistants, that's all.

In any case, I'm not holding my breath until Hirschi's suggestions are taken up. German professors, no matter what their secular political orientation, are some of the most conservative people on the planet. They have entourages for the same reason that rap stars have entourages — it rocks to be surrounded by people who have a strong incentive to be nice to you all the time, and who can be sent on various errands you don't want to be bothered with yourself. If you want to take the "teaching chair" away from a German professor, as the saying goes, you'll have to pry it from his cold, dead hands.

The Kitten Poster Ordnance

Yes, this is my picture of two beautiful unicorns feeling pretty. Do you want to touch them? APPLICATION DENIED, FOREIGNER. YOU HAVE 30 DAYS TO LEAVE GERMANY OR FACE INTERNMENT.

Just a question, prompted by some recent visits to German government bureaucrats: Is there a law requiring the walls of minor public officials to be decorated with posters and pictures of kittens, unicorns, dolphins, and/or  chimpanzees? Die Pflichtverordnung zur umweltorienterten Büroschmuck?

The Controversial Austrian Statesman’s Mistress Had No Lady Parts

That is the contention of a new book about her by Prof. Thomas Lundmark, The Untold Story of Eva Braun: Her Life Beyond Hitler:

Thanks to the author’s 15 years of intensive research, we now know that Eva Braun was the product of a broken home, that her father was an alcoholic, and that she suffered from depression and Mayer-Rokitansky Syndrome or "MRKH," the congenital absence of a functioning vagina and uterus, a condition which affects one in every 4,000-5,000 women. Now, 65 years after Eva’s death, this book finally sets the record straight on Eva Braun.

An Israeli FAZ

According to David Remnick, the 1930s 'patriarch' of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Salman Schocken, wanted to model the paper on the FAZ:

The patriarch of Haaretz was Salman Schocken, a department-store magnate from Germany who was so imperious that Hannah Arendt once called him “Bismarck personified.” Born in 1877, Salman Schocken was the son of a poor, unlettered owner of a drygoods store. He had only a grade-school education, but he was a relentless autodidact, consuming Goethe and Nietzsche even as he worked as a travelling salesman. In the Saxon city of Zwickau, he and his brother Simon started the first of what became one of the largest chains of department stores in Germany, offering quality goods at reasonable prices. As he began to make money, he accumulated a vast library of rare German and Hebrew books. This, as Schocken’s biographer Anthony David points out, was the seed of his true ambition. Like the merchant princes of the Renaissance, Schocken meant to put his stamp on his time as a cultural and political impresario.

He dreamed of re-creating a Hebrew version of the prewar Frankfurter Zeitung: sober, analytical, with a strong emphasis on high culture. He saw the paper as an instrument for the creation of a new society. The paper, he said, must help turn “servile underlings into human beings,” and guide readers “in their fundamental opinions so that they will unwittingly adopt our view.” Haaretz published the news alongside scholarly essays by Scholem and Buber; it serialized Agnon’s novel “A Guest for the Night,” in a hundred and thirty-nine installments. In 1942, one of the paper’s stars, Robert Weltsch, wrote a rare report on the slaughter of Jews in Poland and Ukraine; the same issue also included a poem by Goethe and tips for child care.