Thursday, August 26, 2010

You Don’t Bring Sand When You’re Going to the Beach

Well, The Great Wedding went off without a hitch and Domestic Son is now married.  Ms. Fiancee is now Mrs. Domestic Son and the Instant Grands are now officially Grand One and Grand Two.  While we were back in the US for the spectacle that is a typical Southern wedding, I pulled Charming Daughter and Small Son aside for a little tete-a-tete.

Please reassure me, my two remaining single children, that neither of you have any nuptials in the works in the near future, because I need at least five years to recuperate.  Mom is exhausted and Dad’s wallet is empty.  Small Son’s answer was immediate and affirmative and music to my ears.  He looked horrified that I had even asked.  Oh, good boy, Small Son.

Charming Daughter was a little more hesitant.  Oh, oh.  I suspect I may not have five years with that one.  Need to begin immediately on replenishing the coffers and by that I mean Mr. Big needs to begin immediately on replenishing the coffers.  Mr. Big, put that beer down and get back to work.  I don’t care if it is Sunday.  No rest for the weary for our Mr. Big.  Bless his heart.

The cheese was a big hit, y’all, as were the roofing tiles filled with sunflowers and lavender.  It was quite a feat, arranging seating for 120 inside our home, but we did it.  We really didn’t have a choice, because INSIDE is where the air conditioning is located. 

That would have been cruel and unusual punishment to make the guests eat a 2-hour multi-course meal outside on a Saturday in August in South Carolina.  I would have had to had the ambulances idling in the driveway on stand-by for all the heatstroke victims.

So, we cleared out four of the rooms and hid all of the furniture upstairs.  The dining chairs spent the weekend in Small Son’s bedroom.  You do what you must do.  Domestic Son’s twelve, yes, that is correct, twelve, groomsmen really threw me a lifeline.  I had arranged 15 round tables with no problem.  It was the 16th table that was giving me fits. 

There was, literally, no room left and no matter where I tried to squish that last table, it was messing up all of the other seating arrangements.  Like trying to squeeze a size 12 body into a size 4 dress, you know?  No matter where you suck it in and tuck it in, the extra bits have to pop out somewhere.

I sat Domestic Son down three days before the wedding and told him we were going to go over the guest list person by person and see if he knew of anybody who was NOT coming.  When we got to the list of his groomsmen, I hit the jackpot.  Turns out 8 out of 12 of those boys were not bringing their dates.  Really?  So sorry to hear that, not!  Goodbye, table number 16.  Quick, somebody roll it on out of here and stick it in the garage.

The next day after the rehearsal dinner when all of the groomsmen were gathering on our porch in their tuxedos getting ready to go to the ceremony, I asked Groomsman Number Nine why none of them brought dates.  “Why, Mizz Trailing Spouse,” he drawls, “you don’t bring sand when you’re going to the beach.”

Ah, I get it.  Apparently, in the Land of Twenty-Somethings, weddings are the hottest pick-up scenes going and the rumor mill had it that Domestic Son’s wedding was shaping up to be Malibu, Venice Beach and Miami combined.  These boys had their buckets and shovels at the ready.  Don’t know how it worked out for them, but I do know that all 12 of the bridesmaids had come with husbands or boyfriends so not too much opportunity for building sandcastles there.

One last thing and then I’ll shut up about the wedding.  Grand Two is only four years old.  He was not real clear on exactly who was getting married to whom.  He thought it was his wedding and that he was getting married to his sister, Grand One.  He even asked me if I was coming to his wedding.  I told him it was looking pretty good for my attendance.

All he knew for sure was that he was going to get to wear his Handsome Suit.  He was highly indignant that he had to leave his Handsome Suit behind at the tuxedo store after his last fitting.  Why can’t I take my Handsome Suit?  Finally, the official weekend arrived and he was now in possession of the HS.  Of course, he wanted to put it on on Thursday night and wear it continuously through until it had to be returned on Monday.  His mother was sick of hearing about the Handsome Suit.

Saturday comes and we tell Grand Two that the glorious day has finally arrived to wear the Handsome Suit.  You all know where this is going, don’t you?   First of all, the only person at our house who was dressed and ready to go ahead of time was our own ever-punctual Mr. Big.  Therefore, it fell to Pops to put the child in his Handsome Suit because all of the rest of us were still getting in our own Handsome Attire.  Now, Pops has long forgotten what it is like to dress a small, fidgety person.  The actual donning of the Handsome Suit and all its’ inherent pieces and parts took soooo long that the novelty had long worn off by the time it came to the Handsome Jacket.  By jacket time, Grand Two had figured out a few things.

Hey, this Handsome Suit is hot.  These shiny shoes are pinching me.  This vest thing is poking me right in the back.  I can’t breathe.   Why isn’t anybody listening to me?

The bride’s mother and I spent a good portion of the reception following Grand Two around picking up pieces of the Handsome Suit that he was discarding hither and yon.  Do you have the bow tie?  No, I have the vest and one shoe.  Do you see his cuff links?  I found one in the pocket with the hankie.  Does he still have the pants on at least?  I don’t know.  Go pull him out from under the cake table and check.

I haven’t broken the news to the newlyweds that their son thinks he is now married to their daughter.  That is something that they can work out with his therapist at a much later date.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

She is Still Fresh

As you know from the previous blog post, I recently spent 5 days in Istanbul with Mr. Big and Charming Daughter.  Here’s one thing I loved about the city.  It feels foreign.  Really foreign.  If I’m going to take the time to go all the way to Asia, I don’t want to feel like I’m in New York.  I want to feel like I’m in Asia.  And I want it to be authentically foreign, not Disneyfied foreign.  For example, for the first three days, we stayed in a modern hotel in the business district.  It was a Marriott.  (I know I said it was a Sheraton in the earlier blog but now that I’m thinking about this story, I realize it was a Marriott.)  Anyway, in the minibar in the room was a “Survival Kit”.  In the Survival Kit were bandaids, Tylenol and condoms.  You just don’t get condoms in the minibars back home in the Marriotts.  Marriott is a MORMON company.  You see?  Foreign.

Directly outside the window of the hotel was the wholesale fruit and veg market where all the restauranteurs came early in the morning to pick up their foodstuffs. 

Some came by pickup and some came by donkey.  Yes.  By donkey.  Pulling carts.  Fabulously foreign.

After Mr. Big was finished with all of his meetings, 6 people in our group moved across the continent into Europe to a more centrally located hotel in the old town.  Sooo weird that you have to show your passport between countries, but not between continents.  Crazy!  This was a typical European boutique hotel and by that I mean the room was approximately 8 feet x 10 feet, no iron, no coffeemaker, etc.  You know the drill by now.  A hand-held shower, no internet, sketchy air conditioning, yadda, yadda, yadda.  BUT!!  The windows along the back and the rooftop bar overlooked a neighborhood mosque.  We had been fascinated by the five-times-daily wailing of the Call to Prayer coming out of the minarets over loud speakers for the past three days over on the Asian side but this was up close and personal!  Have you ever heard the Call to Prayer?  It sounds just like a cat in heat.  Anyway, Charming Daughter was so excited by this bird’s eye view inside the forbidden walls THAT SHE STOOD ON THE DESK IN HER ROOM AND MADE A VIDEO of all of the men praying to Mecca.  I hope I am not targeted now by a Jihad or something for saying that.  If any of you find me beheaded, you will all know what happened.

Of course, we had to take Mr. Big back to the Grand Bazaar (refer to previous post).  And, yes, we made him ride the Metro in all of its’ odiferous glory (refer to previous post).  Due to our prior reconnaissance mission, Charming Daughter and I already had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to buy.  Chandeliers.  Mosaic glass tile chandeliers, to be exact.  (I had to wait until now to put this on the blog because one of the chandeliers was meant to be a wedding gift for my niece back in America.  I gave it to her last weekend, so I can now write about it without spoiling the surprise.)

The young man who made the chandeliers was quite pleasant and his English was nearly perfect.  His younger brother was also there working in his booth.  Neither boy could take their eyes off of Charming Daughter.  Let me just reassure you the rest of what I’m about to tell you took place AFTER our purchase.  There was no further monetary incentive involved at this point.  Our lights were wrapped, packed and paid for.

Older brother:                  You are not the Mama of this Angel.  You are the sister.

Me:                                        No, I am the Mama.

Younger brother:             But you are only 35.

Me:                                        No, I am considerably older than 35.

Older brother:                   That is not possible.  You are married, no?

Me:                                        Yes, I am married.  That is my husband right over there looking at those rugs.

Older brother:                   He is American Sheik, no?

Me:                                        I wish.

Older brother:                   Your daughter, the Angel.  She is married or has boyfriend?

Me:                                        No, but I know that she is worth 39 camels, 8 goats and 9 sheep.

Older brother:                   Ah, the men in America must be blind that she is not married.

Me:                                        What is your best offer?

Older brother:                   How old is she?

Me:                                        22.

Older brother:                   Ah, she is still fresh.

 OK, that observation right there was worth the price of the plane tickets.  What mother does not want to be reassured that her daughter has not gone past her sell-by date?  Priceless stuff.

Fast forward to that evening.  One of the people in our group of 6 who were extending our little business trip into a mini-vacation was Mr. Big’s Irreplaceable Right Hand Woman.  Thank God she was there.  She saved us from certain death, or, if not death, at least a large amount of intestinal discomfort.

You see, Right Hand Woman is Turkish.  She wanted to stay a few extra days as well so she could visit with all of her relatives before going back to Switzerland.  She was like our own personal Insider’s Guide to Istanbul!  I was like, um, where were you on the day when Charming Daughter and I almost got thrown in jail for beating the bus fare, but I didn’t say that.  I didn’t want to piss her off.  She was a gold mine.  Anyway, one night, we had no dinner reservations.  We were just going to go out walking around and find a restaurant.  Right Hand Woman was down with that.  We started walking and like the clueless tourists that we are, we stop at the first decent place that we see.  Five of us slide our butts into one of the booths out on the patio, but Right Hand Woman says, “Not so fast.  I want to go inside and look at their meat.”

Huh?  We all looked at each other with raised eyebrows.  OK, let’s just assume that she does not mean their penises.  Surely she is not bursting into their kitchen to inspect their lamb, is she?

Well, yes she was and out she came.  She says to Mr. Big, “I am not going to tell you where to eat, but if it was up to me, I would not stay here.”  Hey, RHW, you are the expert, not us.  So, up we pop from the table.  We look at the waiters and RHW says something to them in Turkish and shoos all of us back out into the street.

O Great and Powerful Right Hand Woman!  What did you just do back there?  The meat, she says, was not so fresh.  The fish, she says, was not so fresh.  Apparently, in Turkey, it is perfectly acceptable to go into a restaurant kitchen and ask to look inside their walk-in coolers.  She was not impressed with their hygiene.  Do you think she will ever be downsized by Mr. Big after that performance?  Of course not.  She now has Guaranteed Job Security for life, as well she should.  I’m sure that when we get transferred back to the US, she will be coming right along with us.  I, for one, credit her for saving me from seeing the inside of a Turkish ER and I think they should make her CEO.  I’m just sayin’.

And she was not done!  She was on a roll!  After receiving instructions in Turkish from a random woman walking along some dark side street (who then attached herself to RHW thinking she was due a free meal), Right Hand Woman (after breaking the heart of her new “friend”) then led us to a very happening square packed with at least 30 restaurants and about 2 or 3 THOUSAND partying locals.  Again, she asks to see the fish.  The proprietor brings out a giant, fresh fish hanging on a meat hook.  Right Hand Woman says “Yes.  Very good.   We are eating here.”  Y’all, the fish was delicious.

As I said, this square was packed with locals.  They all seemed to be celebrating a special occasion like a birthday or something because all of the tables were overflowing with at least 10 or 12 people.  This was not a place for a quiet, romantic dinner.  This was Party Central.  There were all kinds of performers and vendors squirreling between the tables.  There were whole 5- or 6-piece bands going from table to table looking for permission to play for money.  There was a belly-dancer 2 tables over that kept Mr. Big’s attention for a great while.  But the best, THE BEST, was the dude selling baby dolls.

Every 20 minutes or so this dude would stroll by with an armload of giant baby dolls.  Sometimes the baby dolls were white.  Sometimes they were brown. Sometimes they were black.  I asked Charming Daughter, “Who goes out to dinner and suddenly feels the urgent need to purchase a baby doll?”  Of course, there is no logical answer to this question.  It was just, um, foreign.

Which brings me to the little boys in the gold and white polyester suits.  On our last afternoon in Istanbul, we parked our butts at a bar that had great street views and just watched the people going by.  Shortly, we began to notice a specific phenomenon.  Various little boys all dressed up in elaborate white and gold suits, complete with capes and hats and walking sticks.

How cute, we said, out loud.  Our very helpful host in our bar then explained to us that these small gentlemen in costume had just UNDERGONE A RITUAL CIRCUMCISION and their families were celebrating by parading up and down the streets of Old Town.

Let’s see that one fly in the good ole US of A.  “Junior, we are now going to chop off part of your penis and stitch it up.  Then, approximately 10 minutes after you stop bleeding profusely, we want you to dress up like the Sultan’s Son and go out in this polyester garb in 110 degree heat and walk around for about 2 miles.”

Right.  Fabulously, fabulously foreign.

Monday, August 9, 2010

How Many Camels Do You Want For Her?

In a perfect case of Serendipity, Charming Daughter’s visit to see us this summer coincided with one of Mr. Big’s work trips to Istanbul.  So, my daughter and I got to experience our first trip to Asia together, plus I had someone just as crazy as I am to hang out with instead of just bumming around by myself like I usually do.

Wow.  Istanbul is really hard to describe.  On the one hand it is much more modern than I had anticipated.  You can really tell that Turkey is seriously trying to identify with their Western cousins to get into the EU.  They have changed their alphabet from Arabic to something Westerners can read and seriously mangle pronunciations.  They knocked off about 6 or 7 zeros from their lira so the tourists can do the math while buying their rugs.  All the signs are in English and Turkish.  Once you venture beyond the “old town” parts into the neighborhoods and over into the Asian side across the Bosphorus, you could be in any large Western city.  Well, except for the minarets sticking up everywhere.

On the other hand, the old, touristy parts of the city near the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and the Hagia Sophia are still very Middle Eastern and just what I was expecting. 

One side effect of the Europeanization of Istanbul has been a huge influx of traditional Muslims coming there for vacation because it now seems “foreign” to them and the strict standards of their religion have been relaxed to a degree. 

They still have to wear their burqas, and follow their rules but they get to watch us parading around in shorts and drinking wine with dinner.  We are fascinated with them and they are fascinated with us and it’s all happening within a six block area.

We stayed for three days over in a modern Sheraton hotel on the Asian side in the business district while Mr. Big had his meetings.  This meant that the first thing Charming Daughter and I had to do was figure out the public transport system to get us back over to the European side where all the action was happening.  The last thing Mr. Big said to me on our first morning just before he left for work was “Whatever you do, don’t take the buses.  Get a cab.  I don’t know how safe the buses or trains are.”

A cab?  Where’s the fun in that?  Cabs are for tourists!  As soon as he shut the hotel room door, I was on the internet googling “Bus System Istanbul”.  It appeared that, in order to get to the Grand Bazaar, we would be required to take a local bus to the ferry, the ferry across the Bosphorus and the above-ground Metro through the old town to the top of the hill.  I called Charming Daughter’s room and told her to be ready in 15 minutes.

It didn’t take us long to screw up.  There are about one hundred and eleven local buses that passed by our bus stop every three minutes.  We were looking for one that said “Harem” on the top.  I watched the locals and tried to copy them.  Apparently, when they spied their correct bus coming they would jump up and wave like calling a taxi.  Then, the bus would screech across three lanes of traffic and pick them up.  Unfortunately for Charming Daughter and I, we spied our “Harem” bus a block away ON ANOTHER ROAD ALTOGETHER.  Incredibly enough, the bus driver saw my arm y’all and stopped while my good-sported daughter and I ran across an 8 lane highway.  So much for trying to blend in with the natives.  Then, to make matters worse, no one got on with us (possibly because we were not even at a bus stop and in the middle of a freeway, but I don’t know) so I didn’t have anyone I could watch to see how they paid for their bus ride.  So, we just sat down.  And did not pay.  At the next legitimate bus stop, I watched the locals and saw that the new passengers each gave the driver a one lira coin.  I didn’t have any lira coins yet and I was pretty sure the guy would not take Swiss francs.  Here we had been in the country only for a few hours and already I was breaking the law.  I had visions of Charming Daughter in a Turkish jail being lashed with a braided leather whip and Wolf Blitzer interviewing Mr. Big via satellite from the Situation Room.

Mr. Big:                I told them not to take the buses.

Wolf:                     Is it normal for your wife to disregard your instructions?

Mr. Big:                Yes, but it usually doesn’t lead to an international incident.  Usually.

After scamming our first bus ride, we got off at “Harem” which is the port where we needed to catch the ferry.  There appeared to be two ferries docked at the port, both unmarked, and I didn’t really want to take a side trip to Syria that morning so we watched for awhile to make sure that these ferries were heading in the right directlon.  Did I mention that the temperature in Istanbul is about 135 degrees F in the shade?  After about 15 minutes standing out in the sun watching random ferries, Charming Daughter and I decided that we would risk going to Syria if it meant that we could get out of the heat.  When I paid the toll booth guy with my paper lira, he gave me a strange little token for boarding.  Ah, I was learning!  Little token with anchor on it for the ferry, real coins for the buses.  That 1 lira ferry ride was awesome.  Best 60 cents I ever spent.  Charming Daughter and I ended up taking the ferry every day for the next three days.  Here’s a hint, if you are sweaty, (and you will be!), the ferry ride give you about 20 minutes of cool breezes if you go way up top and stand near the rail.  Next best thing to a shower, of which you will take many if you visit Istanbul.  Like, three a day.

Onto the Metro where we tried to pay with coins.  No.  To ride the Metro you must buy a special kind of 1.50 lira tokens which are red plastic that you buy from the nearest kebap man to the Metro stop.  Kebaps are fast food.  They are not what we call kebabs in America.  They are pita sandwiches with shaved meat inside.  We did not buy a kebap, but we did get a pocketful of Metro tokens and up the hill we went to the Grand Bazaar. 

Before I describe that shopping Mecca, let me warn you about the Metro.

Istanbul is a city of 17 million people who are all on the Metro and who are all sweating.  After having our faces mashed into a variety of armpits of fellow travelers who are hanging onto the overhead straps, Charming Daughter and I were wishing WE were wearing burqas just to cover our noses.  I was thinking to myself, Mr. Big is never going to do this in a million years.   Foreign sweaty armpits are just a bit toooo local for Mr. Big.

The Grand Bazaar is a rabbit warren of covered shops selling everything from kilim rugs to gold jewelry to Turkish tiles to Ali Baba lamps.  It is overwhelmingly stupendous.  Do not miss it.  The vendors hit just the right note between charming and obnoxious.  They are pushy, but it a cute way, if you know what I mean.  We didn’t buy anything that first day as it was just a reconnaissance mission to get the lay of the land, but we did work up an appetite and began to think about lunch.

Restaurants in Istanbul are thick on the ground and their proprietors call out to the passersby extolling the virtues of their particular establishment.  Again, it is more a fun thing and not an obnoxious thing. 

Now, my daughter is blond and cute.  Blonds are a rare sighting in Istanbul, especially blonds in shorts and tank tops.  One enterprising young man, after Charming Daughter had completely dissed his restaurant and was already half a block away, pulled me aside in the middle of the road in front of his restaurant.  Turns out he was interested in a little bit more than just persuading us to eat in his establishment.

“Lady, hey nice Lady!”


“How many camels do you want for your daughter?”

Taken aback by this request, I hesitated.  “Well, I don’t know, exactly.  She is worth a lot of camels.  Can I get back to you on that?”

After posting this conversation on Facebook later that night at the hotel, one of my friends told me that there is, indeed, a camel-to-woman conversion chart on the Internet, here:  It would appear that Charming Daughter is worth 38 camels, 8 goats and 9 sheep.  This is good information for a mother to have at her disposal in Istanbul.  If I am ever in need of a herd of livestock, I now know where I can get some.

Y’all this was just the first day.  More later on little boys parading around celebrating their recent circumcisions.