Monday, November 23, 2009


There sure are a lot of "stans" in this country. No, not the South Park character (whose Christmas album I am currently listening to). I mean, stan, as in the Persian suffix for "Place of."

Everybody knows the place of Afghans, Afghanistan. The place of Uzbeks, Uzbekistan. And, the place of Absurdity, Absurdistan. But, did you know that (at least on Turkish maps) Turkey is surrounded by Bulgaristan, Yunanaistan, Gurcistan, and Ermenistan? (Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, and Armenia!?!) I had no idea they were stans!

And, of course, this blog is nargileistan...that is, the place of Turkish water pipes, called Nargile. (Nar-guh-le)

Recently I had the opportunity to visit one of the natural treasures of Turkey, Cappadocia (Capp-uh-dough-kia). It's a pretty, Christian name, but for me, the place immediately became Phallusstan.

We took our 7th grade students here for a three day field trip to the amazing land of giant penises. Awkward can't begin to describe it. That said, this region of Turkey is really a surreal volcanic landscape with an equally interesting history. Like any place here, Cappadocia had the usual rainbow of tenants: Persians, Hittites, Lydians, Christians, Greeks, and Romans. The Christians made their mark by carving out hiding places to protect themselves from invaders. When they had nice access to a penis, they went about chiseling a house out of it: (in this case, it looks like some lucky real estate mogul went to town on a multi family penis-house-development)

And, for those unlucky Christians who lived out in the plains, away from the eh-more prominent protrusions of Cappadocia...well, they just dug into the ground!

To say that these guys liked carving rock is to understate things just a bit. Some of these vast underground cities go as deep as 300 feet, and run for miles underground, accommodating estimates of 50,000 Christians and all the wine they would need to outlast the longest of Arab raids. (and still have some leftover for Communion, unless their last name was Kennedy)

And they didn't just make housing developments. These guys were addicts. They carved custom toilets, bar stools, churches decorated with frescos, and even linseed oil factories. I wonder if they lost many fingers doing all of this hammering and chiseling?

I know, Mesa Verde all of the sudden seems kind of lame.

But, it's not all penises, Christians, and frescoes in Cappadocia. There's also amazing mountain biking, great food, Greek villages, pottery workshops, deep river gorge nature hikes, and cave-hotels to stay in.

Phallustan! Fun for the whole family!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Measure of a Country

As I'm still getting lots of hits over at, I'm going to have a post that livens up that blog as well as this one. Additionally, when moving from one country to the other, it's inevitable that comparisons (justified, or not) will be made. Which brings me to this months dual post, and the conclusion, that, the measure of a country can really be found, in it's barbers.


It's something we all need. Whether it be a simple, try-to-make-it-look-like-I-have-hair cut like I get. Or, whether it's a full blown Paris Hilton coiffure; we all have to go in and get a trim every once in while, just to keep down the Chewbaca waiting to explode off the tops of our heads.

So, when you move to a foreign country, one thing you usually find yourself doing in the first month, is thinking, "Okay, self, that hair is looking a bit like the fur on that street dog outside. Now where can I go and get a decent cut, without it looking like the guy used a fucking chainsaw."

In Ecuador, the answer to that question, was Tijeras Locas, or Crazy Scissors. Great haircut, my friend, Brett, said. The only thing is, well, most of the stylists are, umm, Colombian transvestites. I was aghast when he told me that this was the place to go get a haircut. I thought, okay, this is some sort of weird teacher-hazing thing. He assured me it wasn't, and told me to go down and look how popular it was--with both sexes.

Indeed, I walked down to Amazonas Avenue and easily found the store, there are two within a block of each other they are so popular, and sure enough, it was full. I had to wait twenty minutes. Inside I went through the standard game of charades, showing how long I wanted my hair, and my stylist ran his/her hands through my hair nodding patiently. She/he seemed very concerned, and proceeded to carefully cut every single hair on my head. Now, I know I don't have much hair left, but because of the methodical nature of his/her style, I was at the barber for an hour! These girls new something about hair!

I subsequently returned to Tijeras Locas many times over my two years in Quito. Once I took the opportunity to get a shave, and not only did they shave my beard, but they trimmed my ear hair, nose hair, and eyebrows! The cost? Five dollars. I don't know anyone I can pay five dollars to, who will go anywhere near my nose. Now, I realize my introductory photo that I stole off the internet is pretty blatant, but I'm here to tell you, that there were times when both my wife and I had a hard time convincing ourselves that my barber was really a man from afar. But, the minute they throw that cape around you, and the scissors come within two inches of your nose, one look at the hands, and you realize--man hands, definitely, man hands.

Of course, the barbers here in Turkey also know their stuff (On the subject of stuff, in Turkey, you can also be fairly sure that, their stuff--is, well the type of stuff that you would assume it to be. That is to say, there are no Tijeras Locas here). But, that doesn't mean they don't do a bang-up job. Here in Turkey, the land of black mustaches and hair as thick as motor oil, hair management is a huge priority. According to, the job of hair-cutter is taken so seriously that foreigners are not allowed to do it, and men spend months apprenticing and training for the job.

First, you step in to the salon and drink some chai tea, waiting for a spot to become open. Once you are at the chair, the stylist spends 20 minutes or so shaping the edges of your hair with various combs and clippers. When it comes to the actual cut, you'll think Edward Scissorhands has sprung to life, as the man continuously moves his chopping scissors around your head with the flair of a crazed violinist. Next comes the shave, with plenty of hot shaving cream brushed on, and a straight razor perfect finish. After bending forwards to the sink, and getting a wash, the barber comes around for the final polish. Tweezing nose hairs and any other protruding strays, he slowly builds to the climax of the cut....the flaming cotton ball. Before you can say otherwise, the barber dips a cotton ball into denatured alcohol, lights it, and dabs it into your ears, singing the offending hairs from existence.

Cost? Ten dollars. Trip to the bathroom to clean your pants? Free.

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