Τρίτη, 9 Σεπτεμβρίου 2014

The Retired Colonel from Canakkale (RCC)

The RCC arrived suddenly , in a battered Renault Megane.  He was tall and a tad overweight, but still muscular. He claimed to be a travel writer. He had written a five hundred page book on his adventures in South America, but could not find anybody that was willing to publish it. I took a look at his travel blog, and I understood why. Nobody in his right mind would publish a book from someone who was writing in broken English, or broken Spanish, let alone the fact that most of his writing  was more about explaining that he was in good company, and that he liked this or that. In short, his writings where short in describing places, faces and situations.

The day after that Eran mentioned a few things about him. He said that discussing with the RCC was very much like walking through a minefield. He said that talking to the RCC needed to be comprised by delicate manoeuvres, if one wanted to avoid a confrontation, and that there would be a harsh confrontation between Mourad and the RCC. The RCC would say something provocative, Mourad would, at one point respond accordingly, and, in the end, the RCC would kill Mourad. And then he added a few titbits of information about the RCC, and his worldview by narrating the first two phrases the RCC uttered on their first exchange of words.

"I used to think of the Serbs as traitors, but now my opinion of them has changed. I like it here"

"Turkey would be like heaven if  pseudo-intellectuals like Orhan Pamuk did not exist".

Of course after the second statement Eran set the rules of the relationship straight. No politics, we are on holidays here.

On election night the RCC was in high spirits. Was it because Erdogan had won? Or was he in good company? Looking in from the outside patio of the hostel, we could see the RCC happily pecking away, drinking his beer and socialising. Was it the good company that made him? Or the election results? Or, was he watching something extremely funny through his computer screen?

All questions about his joyous appearance where answered in the following morning. Eran momentarily dropped his policy of not-discussing-politics-with-the-RCC, and asked his opinion on the result, to get something along the lines of "fuck you" for an answer. And that, given the humiliating defeat of the Kemalist-Grey Wolve Alliance at the presidential election, was telling of the RCC's political ideas. The RCC was, at best, a Kemalist, and, in the worst case scenario, a Turkish nationalist. And he was not happy about the his side's electoral results.

If Turkey's political climate is bad for the left, right now it is not much better for a Kemalist or a Grey Wolve. It is, a bit better. They are not persecuted yet, but are involved in a fierce fighting of fractions within the Turkish establishment, with the AKP in one side, and the Grey Wolves and the Kemalists in the other. And that means that, like Eran, the RCC was also taking a break from events back home. He looked as if he was running away from trouble back home.

On another note, the meeting between Mourad and the RCC went smoothly. Mourad also proved too smart and unwilling to engage in a serious political debate with him, and the RCC, who was probably looking for company, played along...

Παρασκευή, 22 Αυγούστου 2014

The Turkish Left (Murat and Eran)

The Turkish Left arrived at the hostel a day later than I did. They had first met on board the flight to Belgrade, and that had proved useful to Murat, who did not speak o word of any language other than Turkish and Kurdish. Murat, according to Eran was the stereotypical Kurdish guy. Left-leaning, thin, bespectacled, bearded, and with reactions and reflexes caused by centuries of warfare and persecution. Mourat is from Konya, but is currently residing in Istanbul. Always ready to absorb any kind of information translated to him by Eran, and almost always ready to respond in a humorous way. For example, when, on the way to Zemun, our bus passed by the grounds of the Belgrade Beer Fest, he said that his lifelong dream was to organize a big beer fest in Konya, just to spite the local Islamist authorities. Mourat proved himself to be remarkably democratic, secular and ready to calmly walk any minefield in any kind of discourse, during my stay in Belgrade.

The presence of Eran, on the other hand, was quite different. Towering hight, blondeish complexion, beard and glasses, and a very good command of English. Eran has gone through a lot. Last year he was almost expelled from the University where he was doing a PhD on Law, because of  his involvement with the movement of Gezi Park. It proved to be a close call, but the political climate in Turkish Universities is, probably unfavorable for people like him. Life as a leftist scholar can be quite difficult, when the University elites are dominated by Kemalists, Grey Wolves and Islamists. But thank god, the infighting between Kemalists and Islamists, resulted in Eran and his case being put aside, for the moment. On the night of Erdogans electoral triumph, in the presidential election, he expressed a reserved feeling of defeat, especially because the leftist parties, being lead by the Kurdish parties (and their political elites), supported Erdogan. Once, the left was especially strong in Turkey, but now, many mistakes and wrong turns later, it is a shadow of its former past. And that makes people like Eran feel a bit disappointed. He kept saying that the political climate, in Turkey, was bad for him too. And he has prepared a way out, continuing his studies in Berlin, or Belgium, or the Netherlands. Nevertheless, talking to him, especially about the subject that agitates him, that being Turkish politics, can be enlightening. He has a very solid idea about most things. Gulen, the Army, the police, the Unions, the National Questions, etc. He also has a very extensive knowledge of the minorities and their cultures. And that, because, despite being Turkish, his dad comes from the Kurdish regions. At one point, when describing the contrast between Mesopotamia and Anatolia, he showed me a picture, in order to show the stark contrast between the two regions. It was the border between them. The Anatolian side hosted a dense forest, while the Mesopotamian side was just some bare, dry and rugged terrain. Turkey is full of contrasts.

Anyway both of them seemed like they wanted a way out of their everyday lives. And that because being a Kurd, or a leftist scholar who has also dabbled as a paralegal in human rights cases,  makes your life in Turkey a little harder, day by day.

In short, both of them seemed to be running away from trouble back home. Like too many a backpacker. But, on the other hand, when thy return home, reality is going to come back, slapping them across the ways, the ways that it does, especially to dedicated fighters like Eran. I seriously hope that Eran goes over his disappointment with the situation in Turkey, and stays there, so that he can bring the fight to both evils besieging the turkish working class. His sworn enemies, capitalism and political islam. The road of the fighter is a perilous one, and they have both realized that. Hope that the wisdom of the seasoned leftie prevails, and they keep on fighting in spite of bitter defeats and disappointments.

Σάββατο, 16 Αυγούστου 2014

The Danes

Well if the Kiwis where the archetypes of frat-boys gone backpacking,then the Danes where something more than the Kiwis ca 2012. In a way the Danes where freaks. That,or they where well on the way to become freaks. They where very interested in skating, and their reckless way of doing it had cost f Jojo, one of their members, a fractured limb. But their recklessness was manifested in more ways. Most of them where driven by a voracious appetite for Jagerbombs, weed and sex. The only exception was the reason why they came to Belgrade. Their mate Oliver was working in the hostel where I was staying. Oliver was also the brains and the looks of the whole outfit. He was the only one currently holding a job, being one of the people working shifts at the hostel (and, in Olivers case, staying there) .  He was also madly in love with a local girl, something that probably made him think things through and try to make something better of himself, something that did not seem to register with the others. The others where not holding neither steady jobs, nor a steady relationship, let alone the will to study something.
But, nevertheless,  they where good and solid folk, always up for some good fun, especially if it involved stoner rock,drugs and the possibility to meet girls or do something stupid.

There is one rule in the art of doing stupid things. A good mischievous rogue, is the one that breaks the rules, but gets away with it, because he did it in a way in which he could not cause suspicions to arise on him. The Danes could not understand this simple concept.  Their slacker-meets-fratboy mentality did not allow them to think this way.  Let me show you one example. Night out at the splavovi (river barges that serve as bars in Belgrade) . Me , Oliver, Princess (2nd in command, goes by the name of Anders), Frederick and Jojo are having a few drinks are having a few drinks at a splav called "Freestyler", or something like this. Oliver, being the face and brains of the outfit is keeping something like a straight face. The rest of us are terminally pissed. At one point, Princess, Frederik and feel the urgent need to let the golden shower out. But we can't wait in a cue for the barge's dirty bogs, so we decide to throw the lot in the river. Frederik and Princess decide to piss from the side of the barge that was looking toward the river's bank, in full sight of both some of the other guests,and, the notorious psychopaths that work as bouncers in Belgrade. I did the same thing , but from the other side of the barge, which could not be observed by the bouncers (but could be by the rest of the revelers in the splav. They got spotted and ejected, I got away with it. Simple as that.

I do not know what happened to Princess ( the 6 stone stoner rock fan called Anders by his non-friends), Fred ( the mild mannered 6 ft 2 guy), or Jojo the skater. Probably they are back in their hometown in Denmark, doing the mundane  jobs any small-town boy sans a university degree does. But, on the other hand, after two years of roaming around the Balkans and central Europe with his sweetheart, thus June, Oliver informed his Facebook friends, on his decision to take the entry exams for University,in Denmark. Oliver,always the brains of the outfit. 

Κυριακή, 10 Αυγούστου 2014

Backpacker profiles vol 1: The Kiwis

If I could describe the Kiwis in one way,
 I would describe them as the ultimate backpacking party animals. 
Being Single-mindedly focused on the pursuit of women, 
cheap booze and other thrills of the like,
their minds hold no space whatsoever for any grownup-related things
 such as job related anxieties,politics and so on.
The most prevalent character of the duo is the "Dane",
 a six ft blonde beast weighing some 110ish kilos, 
who looks like a rave-freak-turned-migration-office-clerk. 
This guy is definately looking for party going.
 H e is also desperately trying to understand the concept of
 being madly in love with someone.
 His main question toward people he meets is " Have you ever been drunk on love?".
His loyal sidekick is another case worth being examined by the narrator
 of the present.
 Darren, who claims that his name is an abbreviation to the greek name "Dherianous",
 is a dark skinned slim wannabe dj,
matching his mates towering hight. He also claims to be half-Greek half-Maori,
 but does not look like either of the two. 
Up until my departure from Belgrade,
I treated this as a half baked attempt to create a running joke for this trip. 
The Kiwis are prone to, and open to suggestions concerning, 
any shenanigans that have worked for guys like me and Hunter Thompson,
but that I would not condone. Their appetite  for craziness has landed them a few
 close encounters with the notoriously crazy reaction of the psychopathic nazi scum
that work as bouncers in Belgrade's splav bars, 
most of which ended in spectacular near misses.
 Nothing serious though. 
Needless to say they where amazed by the stories of my previous exploits 
(La Coruna,student years etc). 
Currently they are enjoying the good life of the backpacker in eastern europe.