Puppet laryngitis: On stories, (Turkish) soldiers and writing: Part II

An image of an Ottoman-era military band – many of the male Karagoz puppets served in a military band of this nature before retiring to work as puppets in the Sultan


In honor of Veteran’s Day in the U.S., and in honor of my sore rotator cuff, today’s post is a reprise of a previous one, about one of the former soldiers in my present day life. Seni seviyorum canım!


Yesterday, the puppets were going a bit stir-crazy as it was cold out and as they had laryngitis this week (to varying degrees). Therefore, they cannot talk much – but they can make themselves known nonetheless – mostly by jumping on the keyboard and taking my Internet browser to all sorts of places OTHER than where I need to be – namely in the realm of preparing my classes for the Spring 2012 semester of teaching.

After they basically strong-armed me into posting about the role of childhood fairy-tales in the onset of the presence of the puppets in my life, the moved on to getting me to write about soldiers and stories – and yesterday – this resulted in a post about the generations before me in my family, and specifically about the stories of the soldiers in those generations. Today, however, I have decided to write about the role of my own beloved M.’s time in the Turkish military vis-a-vis storytelling. As I mentioned yesterday, M. escaped his experience alive despite all odds at one point, with many hysterical and some chilling stories to tell about his life as an art student turned lieutenant during his required service.

Soldiers, as I mentioned yesterday always seem to be the best storytellers. They have seen a lot about human nature even when it does not involve combat, I would argue. I know now, after reflecting upon it, that I learned a lot from the older soldiers in my lineage – both things that were spoken and unspoken. I even learned a lot the one time my Pop and I were flying to Kenya, in front of a set of mercenaries heading for the Central African Republic to do God-knows-what. Amidst their alcohol-driven hilarity and baravado in ribald storytelling of their own, my Pop attempted to maintain my honor, explaining that “soldiers behave like this sometimes, Liz, when they have seen a lot of terrible things go on.”At the time, I was a too-cool-for-school social worker in the Bronx, without much worry for the cursing and scandalous talk that sounded all-too like the talk in the arraignments courtroom in the Criminal Court. I scoffed at his caring a little bit inside (e.g. “I’m tough, I can handle it”) but secretly wondered what Pop had seen himself that might have been difficult, or whether he was just a student of human nature during his military years.

However, the current “was-a-soldier” in my life has also taught me a lot about the power of stories and the joy of stories in living and reflecting upon life as we go about it. My M., though, he is a raconteur originale when it comes to stories about the Turkish army. Of course, despite my feminist roots and leanings, I would be remiss if I did not admit that the romance (in the true sense of the word) of some of his stories did play a wee role in the wooing of me early on. I loved hearing about the impossible assignments he was given (account for all 30,000 maps in the map room), the staggeringly funny mis-placement of a free-thinking art student as a batallion leader told to go search for Kurdish rebels in mountains (I’ll leave him to tell that one) or the time his batallion was woken up at night and deposited in the wilderness with the order to “come home” – but couldn’t figure out where they were or what to do – so were picked up in the same spot 24 hours later (I’ll leave him to tell you about how moss grows on all sides of the tree – not just the north side). There were also quieter stories about the uniquely peaceful time he spent on leave looking for sea treasures near Hatay (Antakya) at the officer’s vacation spot – or even the horribly, gut-wrenchingly sad reality of not being allowed a visit home during his mother’s last weeks of life (Perihan Hanım, my fairy godmother for this relationship, is sighing, as she tried her mightiest to beat the powers of the Turkish military on this, but was not successful, which tells me she was around with M. way before me, hmmmm). These stories, and many more, slide off of his tongue as he gesticulates wildly to illustrate the goings on – his voice rising and rising louder and louder to emphasize a point or softer and softer in difficult moments. Stories make the world go round, indeed.

So, from M., I have learned the power of sharing military stories with whomever (male person) he meets as we range around Turkey. Never an elongated tea-drinking session goes by without discussions of where each man did their military service and the funny -and not so funny- things seen there. From watching these, and other interactions between men (as an outside who does not comprehend much Turkish yet), I can see the importance of extended conversation – and the stories woven in -can often have in any interaction. It is some sort of community-building exercise, I sometimes think, as well as a way to establish personage in a country where until 1923 or so, last names were not used. Perhaps this sort of sharing is a marker of sorts, a way of placing people in space and time – well, males, that is.

It is also from M. that I have learned the art of using my body and voice in storytelling – whereas in the past it was just my arms and hands putting down what my mind created. I still can’t tell a story without closing my eyes as I envision the words on the page. In any case, I raise my glass tonight in honor of the soldier sitting in the other room, and to the fact that he is alive here, safe and sound, in our home, sharing the making of stories with me, on this cross-cultural road trip called our marriage – in and out of the blogosphere! The puppets are raising their glasses of sugary lemon-tea as well….“Şerefe!” they are crying out “to your honor, M. Bey!”

(Stay tuned for On stories, soldiers and writing: Part III, tomorrow – where I will talk about my students who are or were soldiers, and how I have learned from their storytelling…)

The puppets dream of Marmaris – but land in Miami, and beyond!

Beaches of Marmaris on the Turkish Riviera

Beaches of Marmaris on the Turkish Riviera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A week or so ago, after my 14 hour work day, the puppets longed for sleep. On the way home in the car, they even began to fight for space on my head, where they like to hang upside-down like bats when they are ready to sleep for the night.

As I walked in the door, at least a few of them were dreaming of the warm, pine forest-laden hills and blue waters above Marmaris – and wishing for a warm sun instead of a chilly early fall evening with no stars in sight.

M. met us at the door. OK, he said, time to pack your passport and your bathing suit, we are going away to relax for the weekend. The chorus of little dancing ladies cried out “what an amazing guy!” And indeed, he is. But as the old blues song goes, “you shouldn’t advertise your man.” So, I won’t. Kenne, the manners puppet, clucks her approval at this, an example of ladylike behavior, as it is her job to maintain just this sort of behavior.

English: Turunc/Marmaris/Mugla/Turkey

Turunc/Marmaris/Mugla/Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Upon hearing “bathing suit” – the sleepy puppets sprang back to life, hoping that their dreams of Marmaris were coming true. Running around like a herd of fertile foxes, they began to pack as if there were no tomorrow, debating along the way about whether there are indeed Kervan Saray stops between New England and Turkey, perhaps in the Azores? Eventually, the morning broke, and after loading all of the puppets and their necessities into my carry-on backpack, M. and I commenced leaving separately with our knapsacks, in order to trick the beloved dog out of separation anxiety.

Boarding the bus for the airport, I invite you to just imagine the jingle jangle that accompanied us given all of the puppets’ çay gear, prayer paraphernalia, walking staffs, magic markers, dress-up outfits, Turkish food necessities and the like. That band of puppets, they travel heavy, let me tell you.

The chorus of little dancing ladies is still in shock that I only packed one medium-sized knapsack for the whole adventure. Kenne was not even polite in asking “and what, m’lady, will you do if you are not suitably attired for any possible occasion?” I just shrugged my shoulders and let her know that I didn’t care, but that I had packed a black sundress in case I needed to dress up. I had been up pretty late in the night, finishing a project for work, and I was in no mood to tangle with my own personal Ottoman era Miss Manners for the simultaneous modern and ancient ages right here in my head.

So, we beat a hasty and light retreat for the airport…and although we were, yet again, ethnically profiled in the airport, before long we were walking the gilded streets of the Miami airport – on our way to Tulum, Mexico.

To be continued…

Karagöz Oyunları- what now?

Karagöz (literal translation: “black eye”) is a word that refers both to an individual puppet character from the Ottoman Empire era AND to the entire troupe of Karagöz shadow puppets that surround him. I have described this band of puppets in brief, here. And I have also introduced them as they introduced themselves to me, in their hometown of Bursa…you can revisit that episode by clicking here.

Craig Jacobrown puppet troupe prepares to pres...

Craig Jacobrown puppet troupe prepares to present a child-friendly Karagöz and Hacivat shadow play at Turkfest, Center House, Seattle Center, Seattle, Washington, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my blogworld, a band of Karagöz puppets have inhabited me to guide my cross-cultural road trip through my Turkish-American marriage – sort of like inner voices, but not the schizophrenic type :).

Technically, Karagöz shadow puppets, known as tashvirs, are constructed from the hides of oxen or camels and are held on dowels in front of a lighted sheet in order to create shadows. Each play usually begins with a dancing lady – or some other character who ‘sets the stage’ for the story to unfold involving shrieking stereotypes, singing within tambourine shakes, poetry, myth-repetition, tongue-twisting and general merriment.

Emanating from the city of Bursa, the first capital of the Ottoman Empire circa 1326, Karagöz puppets have delighted children and adults alike for centuries. Said to be a tribute to Karagöz and Hacivad, two spirited men that loved to co-recite stories to their co-workers while taking breaks from the construction of Bursa’s stunning Ulu Cami (Ulu Mosque), the puppets are the living memory of those men who were executed for slowing the process of the mosque’s construction. Eee gads!

Now that I have tenure (as you may recall from when the puppets attended my hearing), maybe I don’t have to worry about execution!