The Thumb in My Soup

Here’s an excerpt from my humorous travel memoir, Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong Tea: (the previous episode was Life on Location).

The next day we took off again in the Opel and the minibus, heading northeast for Konya, the most religiously and morally conservative town in Turkey. One of the crew members had come from a village in Konya province, which would make it easy for us to shoot the Tourists Stranded in a Village scenes.

We drove to the main square in Konya and checked into the ambitiously-named Turist Oteli, on the south side of the square. Diana and I were assigned to separate but neighboring rooms, a situation which had distinct possibilities.

The next day we went to a simple restaurant to shoot the Tourists Receiving Bad Servicescene.

We were welcomed warmly and graciously into the modest eatery by the proprietor and the sole waiter. Nurettin Bey, the director, had already explained the project to them, so we got to it.

We sat at a table in the spartan dining room. The waiter filled our glasses with water from an uncapped, re-used raki bottle, the implication being that it was not purified spring water as it should be, but plain old tap water in a bottle of suspect cleanliness. (In the Tourists Receiving Good Service scene we shot later, the water comes from sealed individual spring water bottles.)

While the camera rolled, the waiter brought us each a plate of soup. The waiter, though untrained, was experienced. He did it normally, naturally, and well. It was a simple act.

This presented a problem. If the film was to instruct the Turkish people in the right way to treat tourists, it should also show them the wrong way so they’d see the difference. Nurettin Bey instructed the waiter to serve us the soup again, and this time to be sure his thumb was in it.

The waiter frowned and self-consciously obliged, looking grim, which suited Nurettin perfectly. The cameraman moved in for a close-up of the soup-covered thumb. In full close-up, the waiter raised his thumb out of the gooey soup to let a few globules ooze off and strike the plate rim. It was perfect.

We didn’t even get to eat the soup. That was the last scene for the day.

***

The next day after the filming, we said goodbye. She was sweet to me. I was hopelessly smitten with her, but I got nowhere, and I’d never see her again except in my dreams. She flew back to Ankara and was gone.

Andy Warhol said that in the future everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. I was a movie star for a week. I guess fifteen minutes in Manhattan is like a week in Turkey.

I boarded a bus for Istanbul. I had a book to write.

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(Excerpts from Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong Tea copyright © 2004 by Tom Brosnahan. All rights reserved.)

(Next: Midnight Express)


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