Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Alaturka & Atatürk

It is known by many names: the squat toilet, the Eastern, Iranian, Turkish toilet - even the Natural-Position toilet. Here in Turkey, it is alaturka (from the Italian alla turca) - it's arch nemesis, the alafranga (alla franca), flush toilet. Remarkably, since we've been in Turkey, I have had occasion to avail myself of the alaturka at only two establishments: at a bus stop on the way to a dried shithole Turkish border town, and at the bar which Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad and I frequent. Not so remarkably, the more I drink the better my aim gets. Or perhaps worse, and I just don't notice how my my shoes are getting wetter and wetter.

I don't actually mind the squattie - as I am wont to call it. In many of the places I've had to leave my amber mark, a squattie - if clean (and yes, I know that's a big 'if') - is far preferable to a throne. If not clean ... well ... better we just don't entertain that image.

In spite of the fact that I have only seen an alaturka once in Izmit, I know they are here. At least, they are on sale here. Walk past any hardware store in the city and you'll see a fine selection - with an without raised footpads - of porcelain and chrome alaturkas on display, tilted jauntily on the sidewalk against storefronts, promising untold hours of pleasurable pees. Someone must be buying them.

But what happens to an alaturka when its services are no longer required? When it's been ousted from its position as Number One (and Number Two) by an alafranga? It gets filled in, cemented over, sealed like a dried up well. How sad. Now consider the squattie in the above photo. It has been rendered obsolete, not by its replacement by an alafranga - for I could find none on hand - but by its now hallowed status.

Hallowed status? you ask.
Look again, I respond.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's very first toilet - what Mr. This Cat has lovingly baptised: the Ata-sqüirt.

Last week, when we were in Thessaloníki, we felt behoved to pay homage a call to The
Blessed Birth House of the Founder of the Republic of Turkey. How fitting! Had we not already visited - been ushered by in reverent silence - the very room in which he died? We had. Had the hands of his bedside clock not been stopped at 9:05 to mark the fateful moment of his passing? They had. This visit then would bookend, bring us full-circle, on our Atatürk World Tour 2009.

It seems somewhat ironic that Mr. Atatürk's city of birth is no longer part of the Ottoman Empire - or for that matter, that there no longer exists an Ottoman Empire except in the minds of my students. For all intents and purposes, the Founder of the Republic of Turkey was born in Greece - and I enjoy saying that to my students who, admittedly, are not so receptive to my theory and take great pains to disabuse me of this notion. But yes, I know, back in 1881, Thessaloníki was as Ottoman as that foot rest in our living room (which admittedly is Moroccan and therefore a bad analogy).

The Blessed Birth House is now on the grounds of the Turkish Consolate (or vice versa) and if you present your passport, are not deemed security threats, and walk through the metal detector without setting off all sorts of bells and whistles, your unworthy feet will step upon anointed ground. Of course, in full Turkish fashion - why should
a visit to Atatürk's Blessed Birth House be any different from shopping at Zara or the Gap? - the visitor is followed oh-so-closely from room to room by an attendant, who draws our attention to the exhibits. This is the kitchen. Uh-huh. This is the living room. His presence effectively quashes a veritable legion of somewhat snarky comments sitting precariously on my lips. Would I get my passport back, if I observe - quite accurately - that the Ata-sqüirt looked like a stone giant penis? Probably not.

We pass by the cabinets of tuxedos and walking canes, and make hushed and banal comments that will ensure us receipt of our passports. Look at the piping along the seam of his trousers, I remark. And the stitching! We are about to leave
The Blessed Birth House via the garden entrance - in whose foyer looms a humungous larger-than-life bust of Atatürk - when another group of devotees - a Turkish family no less - enters. Our Stuck-Like Glue Attendant lights up. He abandons us. Why waste time with these recreant poseurs (that would be us) when there is a raptured audience of Worshippers chomping at the bit to see the Atatürk family's china pattern? Click click! Flash flash! they take photos of everything.

Everything? Hmmmmm ...

Camera in hand, I nip up the stairs to the second floor. Click click my ass, I think as I snap the
Ata-sqüirt. I slip back down the stairs where Mr. This Cat is waiting for me, where the Worshippers are posing for photos in front of the humungous larger-than-life bust of Atatürk.

What, they've never seen an
Atatürk bust before? I ask.

There are probably more
Atatürk statues in Turkey than döner kebab shops - and that's no small feat.

Mr. This Cat shrugs.

Let's get a drink, he suggests.

Wise man. Quite fittingly, there is a bar directly across the street from The Blessed Birth House. Atatürk would have approved. In any case, we leave happy. We have been privy to The Privy. I have a fitting momento of our visit to The Birth House and, more importantly, I will - without question - blow my students' socks off when I tell them. Of course, they will assume that this pilgrimage - for what else can you call it? - was the raison d'être for our trip to Thessaloníki. Why else would you visit, they will ask. After all, as one of our most educated and erudite students (a judge, no less) recently said to me, Thessaloníki (also known as Salonika or Saloniki) is a 3rd World City in a 3rd World Country not worthy of being in the EU (= sour grapes).

But I ask you: how can a city which is still home to the
Ata-sqüirt be a 3rd World City in a 3rd World Country not worthy of being in the EU (= sour grapes)? In fact, perhaps The Birth House - it's already technically on Turkish soil what with its proximity to the Turkish Consolate - should have its own unique sovereign-city state status like Monaco or, better yet, like the Vatican. I mean, at least it already has a throne.


B. Freret said...

Now you're just showing off.

"She wrote about what and made it lyrical?"

Good for you. Showoff.

And I WAS about to make some tea, but seem to have lost my taste for it...

This Cat's Abroad said...

Hmmmm ... I don't know how 'lyrical' I made a urinal ... but ta!

Anonymous said...

Ataturk ....Atasquirt ? What a level of mind....
There is one popular proverbe in Turkish .They say "espri yaptı sifonu çek" İt mean "just flush the toilet, she made a jog" for this kind of jog made by this kind of low level language.