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Grand Bizarre #3

Web of Lies and Family Ties

By John McCarroll

 

November 17:  8 22 P.M.

?These are good shrimp,? my brother in law says, wiping a bit of tomato sauce off of his chin. His face is earnest, oblong, and married to my sister. So is the rest of him. He is not eating shrimp, but rather octopus. His confusion vis-a-vis the true nature of the mollusk perched on the end of his fork is because I have lied to him. ?Those are shrimp,? I said, pointing at the octopus. He told me that he will not eat octopus, so as far as he knows, he didn?t. Through a similar ruse, he has eaten Goat, Turnips, and yogurt, which I told him were beef, purple carrots and a garlic dipping sauce.

I?m thinking about using the phrase ?web of lies? as a way to describe my life. Up until recently, I was just calling it ?Morrisey-esque,? which was of course a complete fabrication. Realistically, my life would best be described as ?ganglion,? if it meant what it sounded like and not something about brains or whatever. I signal the waiter for more rakı, or as we are calling it tonight, ?licorice wine.?

 

November 17: 10 03 P.M.

For the third time, my sister and her husband crow about how delicious the ?pesto? at the restaurant was, completely unaware that they ate a plate of cheese blended with pistachios, which I imagine is firmly on his ?do not eat? list.  In direct contradiction to everything I?ve learned from Oprah  and Hollywood, it seems as if lying has brought our family closer together.  I resolve to do it more.

?Hey Alex,? I call towards my sister, who is snapping photos of authentically restored facades in Besiktas, ?I really like your jacket!?

 

November 18: 11 28 A.M.

We are in one of the many necropolises that line the Aya Sofia, repositories of dead Sultans and their families. ?Look at the dome,? I whisper to my sister, for the fifth time (no exaggeration) today. It turns out that Ottoman architecture is absolutely riddled with them. It also turns out, and I really want to apologize to those of you who are totally down with domes, that they are pretty much interchangeable. Luckily, the two guests disagree; ?wow,? they say, ?what is it for??

?Astrological purposes,? I say. As far as I know, this is a lie. ?You know, eclipses and stuff.? They nod. My sister ventures a comment, no doubt awed by my knowledge, ?Like the pyramids??

?Even better,? I whisper, ?like stonehenge.?

 

 

November 18: 11 32 A.M.

In the one bit of honesty I?ve demonstrated today, I showed my guests how the word ?Allah? is written in Arabic calligraphy. I feel like a proud mother bald eagle as my fledgling Americans zoom around the tomb, gleefully pointing out the one word they know.

?It?s mostly from the Qu?ran,? I call out over the green coffins and their white turbans, ?but that part over there,? I point to a huge piece over the door, ?That says ?Obama.?? I let it sink in for a minute. ?And that?s not even an Arabic word.?

?How did they know?? My sister asks, breathlessly. Her husband answers in the same tone, far better than I ever could, ?The mysteries of the east.?

I think that is going to be my new explanation for everything now.

 

 

November 21: 9 38 A.M.

The guests are eight minutes late, and I begin to worry. Maybe it?s because of my deliberate campaign of mis-truths and deception, but I?m not entirely sure if they have the lay of the land here. I can?t help but feel a bit responsible for all the lies I?ve told, especially if it means that they are incapable of coping with reality.

They?re staying in a renovated building in Karakoy, about five minutes from the tramvay stop and two minutes from the Baklava place that I take all my guests even though I think they go overboard with the decorations; yesterday they had a tray of Baklava dyed and cut to look like Ataturk facing one that looked like an Ottoman Sultan. Not to get off topic here, but I?m not sure if that sort of thing is symbolic of the two poles of Turkish identity or perhaps a historical comparison with a deep resonance.  Not knowing how to describe it, I told my guests that they were ?Before? and ?After? images of the store?s founder after a shave and a hat change.

My third worst fears are confirmed when my sister shows up, late and sweaty, without her husband. (In the interest of honesty, I accidentally wrote ?boyfriend? instead of ?husband? in my notebook. I also tend to do this in emails and in conversation. They don?t like it very much.) [By the way, my first worst fear {at this juncture, of course} is neither of them showing up. My second is him showing up without her.]

?We had a breakfast emergency,? she shouts.

 

November 21: 9 42 A.M.

It?s interesting to learn exactly what a ?breakfast emergency? means to different people. For instance, as someone who has a tendency of walking into cafes where some of my many archenemies are lurking, I tend to view a breakfast emergency as having to basically flee a place where I wanted to eat. In the current situation, I assumed it meant that her husband disappeared over the course of breakfast. For my sister, it just means spending 40 lira (or as she and her husband call them, ?Euros?) on a very upscale breakfast and leaving her sunglasses at the hotel (which explains the husband?s whereabouts). I?m a bit impressed they managed to spend so much, seeing as the only Turkish word I?ve bothered to teach them is ?Kaymak.? They also have about a 30% chance of saying ?Salep? correctly, but I can?t claim credit for that – apparently they picked it up from my tex-mex girlfriend.

When we finally see my brother in law, he?s wandering the opposite direction and mingling with crowds around the ferry to Asia. I begin to wish that perhaps I had better prepared them for independence.

 

 

 

November 22: 10 22 A.M.

Currently we are in our third shop in the Grand Bazaar (The place, not the column), and my sister and her husband are inexplicably looking at ?authentic fakes,? which, according to the very nice shopkeeper, are well-made copies of sixteenth century Turkish tiles and calligraphy. Without any urging, he has identified both of them as students, which they aren?t, and offered to get a price sheet to show them how small his profit margins are. I decide to take the opportunity to make a phone call, figuring they aren?t going to buy anything.

As I leave, I hear him pull out a long piece of calligraphy and place it on the table with a thunk. ?This says Bismillah.You know what this means? This is not for you to buy if you are – are you two christians? For this, you must believe in the faiths.?  I realize that perhaps my guests might be in over their heads.

 

 

November 22: 10 30 A.M.

When I return, there is 400 lira on the table and two and a half smiles in the room. Touche Istanbul, it looks like I have a lot to learn.

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