an excerpt from my humorous travel
Sun, Strong Tea. (The
previous episode is The
Blonde at the Circumcision Party.)
"COME TO ANKARA OCT 19. BRING A
BLONDE," the telegram read.
It followed by two days a letter that
began "This may be the screwiest letter
you'll ever receive from Peace Corps
I saw the letter when I came in from
my balcony where I had blown the
minds of the neighborhood matrons by
hanging out my freshly hand-laundered
shirts. In Turkey men don't do laundry
even if, as they walked down the street
in B.O.-redolent clothes, the paint
peels from walls and dogs die in their
The letter explained that the Ministry
of Tourism wanted to make a movie that
would show people what tourism is
and how Turks should behave toward
tourists. The movie would be shown
in city cinemas and village tea houses.
It would help Turks to prepare themselves
for the tourist onslaught that was
going to begin Real Soon Now.
Tourists would bring millions of dollars,
pounds, marks, francs, lire and drachmae
to Turkey and save the economy, so
the bearers of this flood of lucre
should be treated well.
The crew shooting the film for the
ministry had plenty of talented Turkish
actors to use as stars, and therein
lay the problem. They were Turks, not
foreigners. They didn't look, or walk,
or gesture, or laugh or grimace like
foreigners. In the interest of verisimilitude,
the stars had to be real honest-to-goodness
foreigners. They also had to be blond,
because everyone in Turkey knows all
foreign tourists are blond.
This caused some vexation to the director
because, as everyone also knows, blond
foreign actors are expensive, and he
had a government budget, which is to
say below-subsistence. He decided to
look for a source of Cheap Blond
Did someone call me?
According to the conventional wisdom
circulating through the Peace Corps
office in Ankara,
I was lounging in Istanbul, supposedly
working on some hokey pie-in-the-sky guidebook
project, but probably sleeping
late, living in my PJs, and admiring
my glorious Bosphorus view as I killed
yet another bottle of cheap raki with
a blonde on either arm.
I had no teaching scheduleindeed,
as far as they could tell I had no
schedule at alland no obligations
to anyone else. I was already receiving
a munificent $135-a-month salary courtesy
of the Peace Corps, so I was in effect
a Cheap Blond Foreigner Already
Paid For. All they need do was
to send me a letter outlining the project
and telling me to hop on a bus with
one of my Cheap Blonde (ie, female)
Foreigner pals who could be my co-star.
The letter arrived on October 17th. "Please
telegraph your answer as soon as possible," it
concluded. So I did:
"YES BUT NO BLONDE. SHALL I FIND?"
The answering telegram that you read
above arrived a few hours later.
Fantasies immediately thronged my
Im out on the town in Istanbul,
circulating through the bars and cafes.
Sharp suit, cool shades. Easily I saunter
up to a pair of gorgeous blondes just
arrived from Sweden, Germany, Holland.
Choosing the more gorgeous of the two
"Hey, babe, wanna be a star?"
The blonde not addressed looks up
eagerly, her face alight, her mouth
agape, and answers breathlessly "Yah!
"Not you, pal," I hiss dismissively. "Your
Slowly an enigmatic Mona Lisa smirk
glows on the lips of the more gorgeous
one. She rises, takes the arm I gallantly
offer, and we glide off to
well, the bus station, to catch a night
coach to Ankara.
Or not. Most likely not.
In fact I went to Sultanahmet right
away, looked around and even spoke
in tentative tones to a few female
tourists, some of them blonde. Most
of them had boyfriends, all of them
had reservations (not to Ankara, reservations
about me), and none had anything to
wear but old jeans, baggy sweaters,
and other down-at-heels travel garb.
Therefore they couldn't dress like
a "real" tourist which, I soon learned,
meant a tourist as seen through the
film director's eyes: ultra-fashionable
body sheaths ending somewhere high
above the dimpled knee, preferably
in that murky zone north of good
taste but south of pornography.
I was an utter failure at getting
girls even with the ultimate killer
pickup line. I climbed on the bus to
As it turned out, this was not a problem.
The Peace Corps office had located
a Cheap Blonde Foreigner right in Ankara,
the twentysomething daughter of an
American diplomatic couple of Scandinavian
heritage, and she was ready to roll.
She had a wardrobe full of fashionable
body-sheath dresses and tiny skirts,
none of which descended even within
shouting distance of her beautifully
dimpled knees. Not only that, besides
being a certifiable Nordic
she was truly gorgeous. My face
might be made for radio but hers
was designed with the camera
full forehead, come-hither almond eyes,
prominent cheekbones, Bardot-pout mouth.
I'll call her Diana. We met
on October 20th, the day
after I arrived in Ankara. When I laid
eyes on this woman, the shyness of
my youth returned and clomped down
on me like a letter from the IRS. I
was knocked out. I had absolutely no
clue what approach I should take with
this gorgeous creature. Nonchalance?
Genuflexion? Heart attack?
The film director, Nurettin
Tanci, saved me from my Diana dilemma
by introducing himself. He had gone
to film school in England and was now
working for the Ministry of Education's
Film, Radio and Television Educational
Center in Ankara. He had assembled
a crew which included a cameraman,
an assistant, a gaffer and two drivers,
one for the little Opel station wagon
which was to be "The Tourists' Car" in
the movie, and one for the crew's minibus.
He explained the project.
"In the next few years many
foreign tourists will arrive in Turkey. This
is what we want. We want the tourists
to enjoy themselves, to have good experiences.
However, the Turkish people arent
used to tourists. Most of them have
never seen a foreigner. They dont
know how to act. They dont understand
foreign customs or ways of behaving.
We want to help them understand
foreigners and welcome them properly. So well
make a film and show it in local cinemas
to teach the people how to welcome
"It will be called A
Cup of Coffee: How Should We Act
"We have a saying in Turkey:
'A cup of coffee gives memories for
forty years.' You two will be 'the
Farmers,' a foreign tourist couple
traveling in Turkey. You will have
coffee with Turks you meet, and have
nice memories for a long time."
So I was going to get a free trip
around Turkey with a glamorous companion and
end up a movie star. Could this get
It could. We were going to get
paid! Turkish government wages
of TL45 ($3.75) a day, plus expenses....
here to order an autographed
copy of the book online with
credit card or PayPal.
from Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong
Tea copyright © 2004 by
Tom Brosnahan. All rights reserved.)
Excerpts from Bright Sun,
Sun, Strong Tea Photo
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