Sunday, July 31, 2011

Midnight Express

Two nights ago while my husband was channel surfing he saw that Midnight Express was on TV.  “Are they still showing this?" he said.  Since it had just started, I said let’s watch! Released in 1978, Oliver Stone wrote the screenplay that Alan Parker directed.  It is based on a true story that is no longer in print.

I have always wanted to watch this film, as it has often been so legendary in discussions about Turkey.  Not so much in Turkey, but more in the US.  If you haven’t seen the movie, the main character tries to smuggle a few kilos of hashish into Istanbul and gets caught.  He then goes to prison and the movie is about his time there and his great escape.

I had high expectations of the controversy because I had heard many Turks complain about the huge conspiracy to use this movie to deface Turks in the West.  I heard two times as many references from Americans who would advise people to not get in trouble on their travels to Turkey because they did not want to end up in Turkish prison.  Enter sarcasm here: Because if you tried to smuggle drugs into any other country in the world you would be welcome with open arms.

Honestly, I find both camps a bit over reactive.   I say this without having read the book or knowing much about the real account of what happened to Billy Hayes during his time in prison.  I am sure being in prison in a foreign country for smuggling drugs is beyond awful, but I don’t think that the movie intended to say Turks are bad.  The Turkish prison guards in the movie were bad, but I do not think that is worth a generalization of an entire country.  Prison guards aren’t universally known for their hospitality, regardless of origin.

There were some Turks who said that the cast was intentionally Greek because the Turkish accent was incorrect.  I think the issue was that the Turkish characters in the film were all played by actors with names like Paul Smith.  They did not know Turkish and just had really bad accents.  Even though the languages are different, a Greek accent would have been more convincing.  

I am also surprised at the raving reviews this film still continues to get as well as the controversy around it.  For example, many things I read on the Internet have noted it as highly accurate and documentary-like.  Even though it won several awards, including an Oscar for best screenplay, a few say Oliver Stone’s account is not accurate.  It was not clear if they were referring to the adaptation of the book, or their own personal experience in Turkish prison.

In some parts that I am sure were not intended to be comic relief, we laughed out loud. The film is intense and supposed to be about Billy’s pain and suffering, but suddenly two men doing sun salutations naked in prison followed by a Broke Back Mountainesque shower scene changed the tone.  This was taken to the next level when Billy’s girlfriend came to visit him and smashed her naked breasts against the divider.  How could anyone have taken this so serious?

I was very interested in my Turkish husband's reaction to the film.  He had never really watched the whole film - only bits and pieces when it was on TV in the past.  Its reputation for depicting Turks in bad light was so strong he never really sat down to watch it from beginning to end.  After it finished, he was also left wondering why the big deal?

It caused him to further question the American reaction to the film.  When he first went to the US in 1989, he received a lot of “So what about Midnight Express.”  He never really knew how to answer that.

What I think the film should be noted for is its great job of creating cultural misunderstanding.  There were also many things happening at that time that helped contribute to these conclusions.  For example, in the 1970s people did not have as much information as they do now, nor did they travel as much.  Such a film probably created some fear of the unknown.  The recollection of a Turkish-Greek conflict over Cyprus in the same decade this movie was made – of course Turks would be sensitive to something that they thought made them look bad in the West.

The moral of the story:  Don’t do drugs, don’t smuggle drugs.   Hollywood production does not equal reality.  Do not over react to label a country or take defense as the result of one film.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Yes, I Forget Birthdays

This morning at breakfast my husband told me “Oh, we missed a birthday on Saturday.”  What?!!  He was just in Istanbul last weekend, so did he not know?  Yes, he knew and saw his niece on Friday before his flight so got to say Happy Birthday in person.  Well why didn’t he remind me of this important fact on his return?

Which raises the more important question, why didn’t I remember.  I am unfortunately notorious for this.  I just do not really remember birthdays - or any dates for that matter. I do not write them down or use an automatic program to remind me.  Maybe I should, but then it doesn’t seem natural.  It becomes too much like the way I have to follow up with people at work and it just doesn’t seem right.

For sure I remember my son’s birthday.  In all fairness, if another human being comes out of you, be sure - you tend not to forget that experience.  And it is in the mommy job description.   Even though I remember the day very vividly, if I am brutally honest, there have been a couple of times where I have had to think about it or do the math to remember the year.  Maybe I can blame it on age, everything just kind of blends together after a while?  That, and the years really do fly by sometimes.

I am sure I would probably forget my own birthday if my husband’s was not the day before mine!  There is always an event or dinner or something to remind me.  It’s not that I mind getting older, in many ways it is just another day.  Technically, every day should be celebrated.  At the risk of sounding too cliché, everyday is a gift.

So for all my dear family and friends if I have ever forgotten your birthday, please do not take it personally.  While I do not remember dates, I think of you on more than one occasion throughout the year.  In fact, several days a year, and not just one out of 365.  If I only thought of you on this one day a year, that is only 0.27% of the year!  Be sure it is much more frequent than that.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Presidential Flop

One day while walking with my boss into another department in the company he whispers to me, “I hate that”. I knew in that instance exactly what he was referring to. There, a woman in the office wearing flip-flops - and not even fancy, dressy sandals with a heel. This was the rubber kind you wear to the beach. I very much appreciate the business casual approach, but I do not think beach casual is synonymous.

I am one of those people who truly believe that shoes say a lot about someone. Open shoes on women just seem too relaxed in some office environments for me. My issue is not just with flip-flops. I have always had a little inside jaw drop every time I see a professional woman wearing some kind of summery flip-flop, sandal-type shoe. In some places like the East, it is cultural and this is what women wear. I get that, and it is probably quite comfortable to them. I have even tried it myself with nice sandals years ago, but I got cold and just felt silly. I own shoes like this for evening, but they do not seem to work with my suits for work.

When I see a woman who is client facing, or making a boardroom type presentation and they are wearing sandals, it sends the wrong message. Will your audience take you seriously if you are giving a presentation with your cute sandals and well-manicured blue toes? If you work in a creative industry, then that would probably go over well. For a corporate, I am not so sure.

There is a time and place for sandals. But they should also be appropriate for what is worn. I saw some pictures from the Kentucky Derby this year. One image stuck in my head was of a woman in a nice dress, hat and thick black flip-flops. This is a shoe that I am sure would work well with jeans, but in this case they drew more attention than the huge hat on this woman’s head.

I was reminded of my deep aversion to this very popular look last week when reading the newspaper. There, in an almost half-page sized image is Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Representative, formally announcing her campaign for the US Republican presidential nomination. She is wearing a nicely tailored dress and matching jacket, and what?! Yes my friends a pair of floppy sandals. Now some might say they are dressy because they have a small heel on them. I just do not find them presidential. While I would probably not agree with a lot of Bachmann’s politics anyway, her shoes motivate me to avoid learning more about her and her platform. How can I take her seriously? For one of the most powerful positions in the world, one needs powerful shoes.

International Herald Tribune, 28 June 2011

Friday, July 1, 2011


The new place we chose to go this year was Stockholm, Sweden.  Why Sweden?  I’m not sure – perhaps after several scorching summers in Dubai, we decided a little cooler weather and greenery would be good.  So, I leave you with 30 random thoughts...

1. The first thing I noticed was the amazing blue sky. Even though there was a chance for some showers and it rained a bit, behind those clouds was one of the bluest skies I have ever seen.

2. Sunrise at 3:30am, sunset at 10:30pm. Fabulous. And we used it to the maximum. However, the reverse of that in winter would be a challenge to say the least.

3. And while the sun was out all day, I was still cold most of the time. It was chilly! (Maybe 20C or 68F..brrrr).

4. Such a long day with a slow moving sun means more beautiful light for that magic hour of photography!

5. Even without the lighting, Stockholm is a very photogenic city.

6. The people are also photogenic. I often felt like I was looking at the pages of that fashionable street photography book The Satorialist.

7. We arrived during the Midsummer holiday. We went to the local park Skansen, which was quite crowded with Swedes folk dancing and enjoying a day out with family.

8. Bicycles everywhere. Even after the holiday weekend when everyone was back to work there were still very few cars on the road. After learning Sweden was one of the early adopters of the bicycle it makes sense. I found some statistic that about 150,000 people commute to work in Stockholm on their bikes. I’d love to live in a city where I could use a bicycle without risk of death or dismemberment by speeding SUV or sport car.

9. Fresh salmon and other seafood – amazing.

10. A day trip to the nearby, small island Fjäderholmarna was very nice.

11. I found all of the people we encountered to be extremely nice. They were always kind and helpful. The service was genuine everywhere.

12. While we didn’t bike, we walked everywhere. I desperately miss that.

13. I did not see a single IKEA.

14. Nor did I see anyone from the group ABBA. Not that I would probably have much luck in recognizing them.

15. On this trip I learned my son had a lot in common with birds – they love to splash around in rain puddles.

16. I later learned of my fondness for puddles as I began using their reflections in pictures.

17. Sharing an ice cream in the park with my son was memorable. However, he did not want to share right away. And who can blame him - it was good ice cream!

18. The resident squirrel at the open-air bar we stumbled upon was an added value of entertainment.

19. It felt like it had been ages since I saw a rainbow.

20. A parade at the Royal Palace was a pleasant surprise.

21. You gotta love technology. I downloaded a great application that had some highlights of Stockholm. We had a good laugh when trying to find the location of the Photography Museum when we finally realized Google Maps kept pulling up the museum in Paris.

22. We ate at a place called Fem Sma Hus (Five Small Houses). Five houses which have been connected to form a restaurant. You keep going down through cellars, which are now floors of the restaurant. The food was amazing. Interestingly, our waiter was Indian and spoke Turkish!

23. My son found a pub he liked near the boat station. When we passed again in the afternoon after having been there that morning, he said, “I need to stop here and have a milk”. And so we did.

24. There was a huge line waiting outside a Peak Performance – for a special sale I assume. This is an odd phenomenon to me. I saw the same in Hong Kong outside a high-end brand. In all defense of the Swedes, if I lived somewhere with sub-zero temperatures, waiting in line to get proper clothing at an affordable price is probably not a bad idea.

25. I noticed the bees in Stockholm were orange in color compared to the yellow I am used to seeing – I do not know why this is.

26. This trip only reconfirmed my love for clogs.

27. The weather was so nice we walked everywhere. However, the pictures I’ve seen of the subway system are amazing – the stations are truly a work of art.

28. A visit to the Nobel Museum was very interesting - all that advancement captured in one room.

29. I ate so much fish that I was incredibly full. So full, I had no desire to go into the amazing hand made chocolate shop I passed on several occasions! Yes, I know.

30. I read somewhere that Stockholm’s slogan is Beauty on Water. I think this is very fitting. The morning we were packing, my son openly confessed that he did not want to leave, and neither did I.