Prosecards from the Edge (of a Continent)

A running commentary on my life in Izmir, Turkey...and other thoughts.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Moms and Disco Lights

Dear Mom,

Every year when Mother's Day rolls around I can't help but remember that one dreadful year when all four of your loving but scatter-brained children were a bit tardy in remembering the day. The repercussions of that day haunt me still, and probably made 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned' my most easily remembered quote. (Incidentally, I did some checking on that one and found, to my surprise, that it does
not come to us from Shakespeare, but rather from William Congreve's 1697 play 'The Mourning Bride.') Anyway, back to the topic at hand: I think you were absolutely justified in your indignation; I guess after years of back-breaking, hair-whitening child raising, I'd want a little recognition, too.

Let me tell you about Mother's Day in Turkey. In general, Turkish society is not 'festive'. Perhaps you noticed this when you lived in Istanbul: there is a pervasive, almost tangible melancholy here, even amongst people who seem happy. Does this have to do with Turkey's being an Islamic society? With bearing the burden of a troubled history? Is it a reflection of socio-economic conditions? Or is it the belief in
kader (fate) and the idea that everyone's destiny is pre-determined? I couldn't say. Maybe Turks are just melancholy people. When it comes to festivals, a side-by-side comparison of Turkey, Germany and the USA will place Turkey far behind the latter two in terms of sheer numbers of celebrations. Turks are good at enjoying life in a quiet, low-key way, but they're just not the festival types. In the eight months that I've lived here, I don't think that I have once stumbled across any kind of outdoor food/drink/music/exhibit type of event. Even at the ┼čeker bayram, one of the most important holidays of the year, where children eat scads of sweets and are coddled mercilessly by their elders, there is no outward display of the holiday. If you hadn't been told that it was happening, you might not have noticed. ┼×eker bayram is the closest thing Muslims have got to Christmas, but it certainly is not like Christmas, where there are decorations in every shop and caroling in streets and umpteen zillion pre-Christmas events going on. Basically, life goes on here, unpunctuated by spontaneous outbursts of public joy, real or simulated.

But these last few weeks something has been different. There is suddenly a hint of optimism in the air, a lifting of the heavy sense of resignation to Fate. The weather's turned hot, the night air balmy, and people are thronging the restaurants and cafes of the neighborhood late into the night. So you could just chalk it up to the weather. Then again, perhaps it's something else., say, Mother's Day anticipation? Is it possible? This past month billboards have been cropping up all over the city in a month-long buildup to M-Day. On bus shelters, on advertising walls, on buses themselves there are these enormous (to me rather maudlin, I must confess) posters bearing the words "ANNEM BENIM" (my mother) in gigantic letters, and ecstatic pictures of people of various ages with their arms flung around their hallowed, sainted mothers. Large numbers of TV advertisements have adopted a 'mom' theme.

I think it's fair to say that on the list of things sacred to all Turks,
mothers take the top spot. They are revered here, and it would be unthinkable to disrespect, argue with or, God forbid, forget them. They are viewed the source of life, power, goodness, honor and all that is holy. And as one who comes from a place where nothing is particularly sacred, and children feel free to argue with and disrespect their parents, this touches me.

Anyway, after being bombarded from every direction with images of loving mothers and misty-eyed filial devotion, I start getting the idea that M-Day might actually be the biggest holiday of the year. But it was the tents that greeted me on the way to work last week that confirmed my suspicions. Set up in a square so as to form a small courtyard, the tents were selling various knickknacks, chocolates, etc. The entrance to the 'courtyard' was festooned with white banners bearing enormous red letters shouting out HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!! Later in the evening, performers hit the stage; there were even disco lights and dancing -- more 'festival' than I've seen in the eight months of my Turkish life.

Wow, I thought. So this is what it takes to get the Turkish people to whoop it up and party -- a celebration of mothers! Too bad that mine's not here for this! Still, I thought you might be pleased to hear that there are places where the love and devotion of mothers is not underestimated -- indeed, it is the pretext for the biggest public shindig of the year. I'll be thinking of you, in the reflected glow of the disco lights, and remembering all the love you've given and everything you've done for us.

much love,


At 6:04 PM, Anonymous Mum said...

Thanks for your loving and publicly expressed filial sentiments, as well as for your interesting, thoughtful take on celebrations in Turkey.

While I didn't notice any particular hoopla about Mother's Day when I lived in Istanbul, there were a couple of secular holidays that did seem to grab the public's imagination: New Year's Eve/Day and Valentine's Day. But perhaps these occasions were primarily celebrated in the trendy, upscale, upwardly mobile, secular milieu where I lived and worked, rather than by Istanbulus in general.

While admittedly few and far between, I do recall there being a couple of public celebrations for other reasons: one was a lovely night market, mostly offering incredibly delicious taste treats, held during Ramadan on the street in front of the Blue Mosque. Food that good was worth waiting for until after sundown! Another was an outdoor music fest (featuring an array of Tarkan wannabes) held one lovely spring day in the center of the high-rise suburban condominium city where I lived. And of course, there were the enthusiastic and well-attended football rallies.....

Perhaps life in Izmir is different. Or perhaps the public ambiance has changed, become more conservative and inward-looking, in the few years since I lived in Turkey.

At 4:26 PM, Blogger Hope said...


This is a beautiful entry and it brought tears to my eyes. There was one year when I was 14 when I forgot Mother's Day, as did my dad. What made that so much more terrible was that mom had undergone major surgery earlier that year to have a kidney removed. I remember her crying as if her heart were breaking and the years have not quieted those anguished cries still heard in my heart.

I don't remember MD being celebrated in Italy, although it might have been. But the Italians, unlike the Turks were big on celebration of any kind and more often than not the slightest thing was cause to party.

I've been thinking about you a lot but this past week or so has been particularly crazy so I haven't had the chance to write you, but soon, I pormise!

Thank you for sharing your wonderful writing and thoughts with us Kate!


At 11:31 PM, Blogger Kate's Blog said...

Dear Hope,

Thank you for your lovely message. We kids sometimes grumble that Mother's Day is just an 'arbitrary Hallmark day', but the fact is that from the time one becomes a mother, to the end of their days that person is ALWAYS a mother...and it is the biggest and most important and heart-rending job they do in their whole lives. We have to remember that.

I'll try to write you again soon, too, btw!

Mom, I missed New Year's Day in Turkey (I was in Germany at the time), but was here for Valentine's day. I don't remember it being widely celebrated, in a 'festival' sort of way, although the number of nice chocolates on display at the supermarket certainly increased, and the florists were doing good business.

I've been to the Ramadan night market -- absolutely fantastic! All those wonderful foods to eat...mmm, makes my mouth water. As far as I know, we didn't get one in Izmir.

I have been told by one or two people who have visited Istanbul recently and also visited it five years ago that things HAVE changed -- there are more headscarves, and there is a more sombre atmosphere. The country is in difficult times right now...I only hope that the principles of Ataturk wind up winning out over fear and reactionaryism. We'll see.


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