07 June 2010

A Week in the Gutter: Food Poisoning, Flotillas, and Eurovision

This was a trying week. Leave aside the events surrounding that now-overexposed contraption “flotilla” (I’ll come back to the topic), my sweet comfort snack of late poisoned me. To those English speakers who haven’t heard of a “comfort snack” before (believe me, there’s at least several), it’s one’s comfort food in the form of a snack or anything smaller than a meal (though easily consumed in a similar quantity). Mine of late has been Berman Bakery Cinnamon Rugelach, soft and pliable hand-sized pastries that look more like croissants and taste like serenity.

It’s a big deal when your comfort snack turns on you. There’s the obvious larger significance of betrayal from an otherwise source of solace; here, I’m too busy with thee genuflecting-inducing, gut-clutching, fever-inducing maleficence of that betrayal to ponder its larger existential dilemmas. To make a graphic story short, I’ve become a mini-expert on where to find the cheapest Gatorade in the city center (the price markup is astounding).

Back to the flotilla. As one Facebook friend put it so succinctly “I’m getting more updates on the Flotilla from my Facebook newsfeed.” People were posting Left and Right; I got invites to at least five different rallies and fifty different groups; I saw every IDF-released clip at least a dozen times; not to mention the innumerable puns on “flotilla” from a dish in a Mexican restaurant to requisite toilet humor.

I’ve been thinking about the f-word and how it relates to the annual Eurovision Song Contest, which took place in the shadow of the looming vessels. If you’ve never heard of it, much less seen it before, chances are you’re a full-blooded American. It’s the un-American contest, wherein camp and kitsch are held to such a high esteem no wonder this year was just awful. In the past, the winning songs became pop music standards; nowadays, they grace the pop charts on the Continent for a few weeks, if even that long. There were a few decent performances, but as usual politics determined the winner.

International relations have affected the scoring of contestants for some time now, in the form of point trading, or cultural affinities, or giving thanks for political/financial help. In this case, the award went to Germany, the newly minted financial savior of Europe and one lame ass song. But the more interesting voting trend was how well Turkey did, coming in 2nd place with a meh song. Turkey has placed in the Top 10 in the past four years in no small part due to the huge populations of Turkish workers in Europe. No wonder that not only Germany won this year, but German voting has given most of its votes to Turkey over the years.

Turkey has been playing the field for some time now, trying to be a member of the EU and a friend of Iran. Its current PM is following less in the footsteps of Ataturk, the secular founder of Turkey, and more in those of Ottoman sultans of yore. Look at all the moves the PM has made since taking office -- anti-Semitic programs on TV, striking a deal between Iran and Brazil (home to one of the largest Arab populations outside of the region), the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the call of a  vocal minority to reinstitute the Caliphate (last seated in Istanbul) and the rhetoric over the f-word -- and you have the telltale signs of a scimitar-brandishing, besuited firebrand sitting upon his bureaucratic throne in Ankara.

Living in a former vilayet of the Empire, I can tell you few things have united Arab and Jew in the past 100 years more than plotting against the Sublime Porte. Watch your doner kababs, Turkey.