There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune



Smug Alert!

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Through the magic of bittorrent, I just finished watching the latest South Park episode, "Smug Alert!". Brilliant. Matt Stone and Trey Parker are really on top of their game - the premier contemporary American satirists who will poke fun at anyone from scientologists to self-important Hollywood bloviators like George Clooney. Good show, gentlemen, good show.


An Open Letter To The Makers Of Johnnie Walker Black

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Dear John Walker and Sons,

Returning from a trip to Cyprus, I recently took the opportunity to purchase your product from the airport's convenient duty free shop. I have long admired the singular mix of high quality malt whiskies which compose your admirably-balanced Johnnie Walker Black blend. This evening, after an eventful day and a satisfying meal, I returned to my flat, put my feet up, and attempted to pour myself a small measure of your fine product.

Removing the handsome bottle from its box, I unscrewed the cap, selected a clean glass, and poured.

I was dismayed at the lack of result.

It seems that your company has seen fit to install a plastic contraption along the mouth of the bottle which, upon further investigation, has proven to be a fiendishly effective barrier which separates me from my hard-earned whisky. Try as I might (and, believe me, I did try), I have been unable to pierce this contraption. I tried slicing the metal membrane which surrounds the bottom of the cap. I attempted to pierce the plastic using the point of a steak knife, the butt end of a teaspoon and a corkscrew. To no avail.

As is related in a recent news article, so-called "package rage" is becoming more and more prevalent. Before succumbing to such rage and tossing your precious whisky off my balcony, I merely poured myself a thimbleful of the Laphroaig 10 year Single Islay Malt which sits on my bar shelf. The good folks at Laphroaig have sealed their fine spirit with a contraption known colloquially as a "cork". Your research department may want to investigate this technology.

Yours Very Truly,

"Sunset" Shazz


The balcony from which I might have thrown my whisky


They Call Me the Working Man

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I have refrained thus far from discussing work on this blog because (a) I wish to remain discreet and respect the privacy of my associates and (b) I have generally assumed that the public has no interest in matters relating to my pursuit of filthy lucre.

However, I somehow feel the need to correct the misapprehension that I'm not really working here. Far from the truth. Actually, some of my most fun times in Istanbul have been work-related - mostly doing a ton of research, building relationships and trying to figure out how to go about doing business in a sensible manner. All in all, good fun. And it has been busy.

I do, however, have a somewhat amusing story related to my recent visit to Cyprus, jewel of the Aegean.


A nice meal at a restaurant by the sea Posted by Picasa

I was on the island looking at some properties with an associate who, for the purposes of the blog, I shall refer to as "Tom Hagen", since I regard him as a sort of consigliere in my Turkish business affairs. Tom Hagen had arranged to interview a prospective employee, who was looking for a property sales position. As we sat drinking tea in a sunny office, the lady entered with a flourish, and I immediately thought to myself "this one's gonna be a short interview". She breezed in, clad in jeans and casual blouse, pancake makeup covering a deep, furious tan. My practiced Californian eye noted the thick collagen lips, the characteristic "deer in the headlights" Botox eyes and the unmistakable silicone in her ample bosom. The total effect evoked an aging South Florida divorcée. She explained to Tom Hagen, in Turkish, that she didn't feel comfortable speaking English and had no prior real estate experience. Her most recent employment was as a belly dancer. Her stage name was "Butterfly".

Now, my buddy EnduranceJay regularly bemoans the sheer quantity of parvenues who are gravitating to the field of real estate these days. But this Butterfly, I thought to myself, took the cake.

"How did she even get the interview?" I asked Tom Hagen.

He motioned to the sweaty construction manager who had shown her to the door.

"I think he's fucking her."

Another day of business in Turkey.


Real estate attracts butterflies in Cyprus Posted by Picasa


Skiing

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I write this missive from a mountain located approximately three hours east of Istanbul. Despite having gloves that are too small, boots that are a little roomy, and a small resort hill reminiscent of the dreaded East Coast, by God, I have been skiing. Had I not taken this opportunity, it would have been the first year in perhaps a decade in which I had not hit the slopes. The skiing is not spectacular - spring conditions on mostly bunny slopes - but we had "juicy fruit" skies*, mulled wine, and huge amounts of good food. So all is well.

*Refers to blue skies, as seen in the Juicy Fruit gum commercials from the mid-eighties.


Life in the big city

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Life moves fast in the big city. I mean, Istanbul has a pace of activity far removed from my old West Coast lifestyle. To illustrate:

Last Wednesday, I dined on the top floor of BJK Plaza, a prestigious office building near the Dolmabahçe palace, overlooking the Bosphorus. The restaurant, Vogue, is a trendy place which boasts a spectacular view of the sea, and we discussed business at length before retiring for the evening.

The following night I met some friends at Cezahir, near the Galatasaray Lisesi (high school), just off the famous Istiklal Avenue in Beyoğlu. This elegant bar-restaurant is housed in a magnificent old Italian school - high vaulted ceilings frame comfortable sofas, old Ottoman art and cold beers. My English friend Vanessa introduced me to a young fellow who is developing a 19th century building in the Galata district, where I was staying a few weeks ago. There we sat, drinking and chatting until we were interrupted by one of this gentleman's friends, Sal, a gregarious Turkish guy who had attended college in Connecticut. Eventually, the people I had initially arrived with had left, and I stayed on with Sal and his buddies:
  • The Iraqi, a CNN reporter who is trying to get the hell out of Baghdad to move to Istanbul permanently. The Iraqi's main attribute is that he is ubiquitous. Over the following weekend, I swear that he was everywhere. Every single party or bar I went to, the Iraqi would be there, coolly sipping a cocktail and having a damn good time.
  • BB, an AP reporter from Birmingham, AL. This fact is notable primarily because there seems to be an inordinantly large contingent of expats from this particular southern city. Odd, that.
  • The Soviet - A Wall St. Journal reporter who is originally from Russia. I discovered the latter only when the subject of hockey came up, which occasioned me to bring up the 1972 Summit Series.* More on him below.
  • Other various hangers-on.
Late that evening, we moved to one of the fashionable cafes in Cihangir, the neighborhood which I call home. It was past 3 AM when I finally crossed the threshold of my apartment.

Next afternoon, I found myself in Sal's office, discussing business at length with him and his partner, Mehmet. We spend considerable time discussing deals, and then sauntered over to the Intercontinental Hotel in Taksim square where we crashed a St. Patrick's Day party hosted by the Irish Consulate. This was a swank affair with catered food and, to my grateful joy, Guinness Pub Draft. In between swigs, I surveyed the odd crowd: there were Catholic priests, nuns, diplomats and drunks. If you are ever in need of good booze in a Muslim country, my advice is to seek out the Irish.

After hanging out a bit at Sal's place, I elected to leave at a reasonable hour, whereas rumor has it some others stayed out until past sunrise. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Finishing up a leisurely late-afternoon breakfast in a quiet local café on Saturday, I looked up to find Alabama John, a dude I had just met for the first time the night before (and, as it happens, another fellow from Birmingham, AL).

"Hey, man," he addressed me, entering the establishment. "Did you know that Sal's in the back? They just called me to come over."

Coincidentally, Sal and an attractive young lady I had met a few nights before were lounging in a courtyard that had been converted to a greenhouse for the winter. So I had a few more cups of tea before we rented a DVD to watch at Sal's place. I was just getting interested in this movie when I realized I had to go to dinner.

High at the top of the Marmara Pera hotel, which is itself perched on one of Istanbul's ridges, is the restaurant Mikla, which enjoys a panoramic 360˚ view of the city. There, a friend's fiancé was celebrating his birthday dinner with 7 of his closest friends, and me. It was after a delicious meal of sautéed Jean-Doré that I elected to smoke one of the fine Cubans that the gentlemen had brought. My brain addled by this poisonous leaf, I decided to swing by Cezahir for one last drink.

Saturday night, the bar was fully packed with revelers, including, in time, many of the new friends I had met over the past few days. I asked where The Soviet was, since I had discovered one of those "small world" coincidences - a girl he knows in London happens to be one of my buddy Ace's innumerable cousins.

"The Soviet had to go back to Baghdad for a month. He was worried that the Iraqi Airlines flight would be cancelled, so he took a Royal Jordanian through Amman to make sure he didn't miss the trip. The whole world is trying to get out of that hellhole, and he is trying his best to get in!"

I reflected that I had, fortunately, not chosen such an exciting profession.

So, the next morning I woke up late and had to rush to my meditation class. Yes, you read that right. You can take the boy out of California, but you can't take the CA weirdness out of the boy.

*My buddy Ace was once kicked out of a taxi by a Russian cabdriver because of excessive taunting related to the 1972 summit victory by the Canadians. Da Da Canada, Nyet Nyet Soviet!


Caveat Emptor

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The cool thing about the internet is that I can sometimes see what brings people to this blog. For example, at 7:41 pm on March 19, a fellow who's internet service provider is located in Denison, TX searched MSN for the term "inflatable sex doll" and found my blog. It is not clear whether or not he derived satisfaction from the resultant content.


Tips for Turkish drivers

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So, you've decided to drive in Turkey? Well, here are some tips for you, gleaned from meticulous observation of the Turkish driver in his natural habitat:
  • Traffic lights are mere suggestions. Ditto stop signs, one-way signs and "do not enter" signs. In fact, don't bother with signs at all - they are primarily ornamental.
  • Use your horn as much as possible. It encourages the guy in front of you to drive faster. If you are a cab driver, you should try and use your horn constantly. Just lean against it with your elbow. Honking is not only desirable, it is mandatory. The only reason, as a cab driver, you should ever not be honking is when you are lighting your cigarette.
  • Pedestrians are created for your own amusement and target practice. If you're a cab driver, the very fact that these idiots are walking means that you're losing a fare, which is literally taking food from your childrens' mouths. These people should pay for their temerity with bodily injury. If you cannot manage to hit them, at least try and drive quickly through a puddle in order to soak them. Fuck them bitches.
  • If you're a cab driver, never use deodorant. It just interferes with your horn blowing.
  • U-turns are not only permissible, they are encouraged. In fact, every now and again you should pull a U-turn or three-point-turn, preferably in the middle of a crowded street, in an intersection. Bonus points are awarded if you hit a pedestrian or block traffic in more than two directions.
  • Remember, you're in a car! You are, therefore, Lord of the road, and deserve to smite all others. Above all, have fun! And keep honking.


Afif The Thief: Unleashed Upon The Masses

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Update*:

Afif The Thief is presently on national television. And the Republic still stands.

He is being interviewed by a comely newshottie, and I believe they are discussing currency prospects and central bank policy. However, given that my Turkish basically consists of ordering kebaps, asking for the check, and shouting at football matches, they could be talking about 15th century carpet weaving techniques for all I know.

*This is known as liveblogging, in the parlance. I feel so techno-hip.


Afif The Thief

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Today, I took a meeting with Afif The Thief - you may remember him from chronicles past. Always a great deal of entertainment, that one. We sat in the brasserie at the Marmara Hotel in Taksim Square, one of the original 5-star hotels in the city, whose premises I occasionally use as a sort of conference facility. Afif was telling me a story regarding a third party who tried to slip him some dough in order to influence his business dealings with a client.

The punchline goes as follows:

"I told him I heard his wife hadn't seen a real man in a while. I said, 'you're asking me to fuck the German. Why don't I fuck your wife instead?'"

Afif The Thief is always "talking his book", as traders like to say.


General observations on Istanbul

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Here are a few general points I have noted over the past few weeks - points that lend themselves to the barely-edited-not-remotely-coherent nature of blogs, particularly this one:
  • I need to get another cellphone. It seems that everyone, from my real estate broker, to potential business partners, to a gentleman I will refer to as "The Bond Villain" (more on him later) has two cellphones. Apparently, one is no longer enough. You need one for your personal life, and one for business. I've decided that I will need three cellphones: the first for my private life as the merry, cosmopolitan bon vivant you all know and love; the second shall be devoted to matters of high commerce and industry; the last shall be used only when I've had too much to drink, in order to call up my lady friends and harangue them.
  • Istanbul is under constant construction. My natural suspicion of all things government-related have led me to suspect that all they're doing is uprooting the streets only to resurface them in the same slipshod manner because somebody somewhere is getting big bags of Mustafas off the transaction. (In Turkey, it's not "all about the Benjamins", because Mr. Franklin, despite a prodigious and varied career, did not quite find the time to found modern Turkey. That job was left to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who's noble visage appears on all currency notes. By this time next year, I'll be rollin' in mad Mustafas, yo.)
  • Istanbul is damn beautiful. I am routinely amazed by the breathtaking views of the Bosphorus, the splendid architecture, the very majesty of the great metropolis. As an example, this is the view from the balcony of my modest little flat:

(remember: you can click on the pic to see a bigger version)

Pretty sweet, eh?


Why "Brokeback" lost

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Now, let’s be clear about one thing: I couldn’t care less about the Academy Awards in general, or this year’s Best Oscar nominees in particular. I haven’t yet enjoyed the pleasure of seeing any of the movies in question, and due to Jessica Alba’s unfortunate absence from their respective casts, I am rather unlikely to see any of them, period. However, I do care a bit about economics, and love a good controversy. It seems as though America is all atwitter about why Brokeback Mountain lost to Crash, despite being both critically and commercially more successful.

I am confident none of the analysts will hit upon the true reason: the Academy’s method of voting is flawed. (Look, this blog is going to get a bit serious now. If you don’t like the lack of Texas Hold ‘Em and Paris Hilton coverage, go get your own bloody blog.)

Take the following example of ten voters, which could be analogous to deciles of voting groups within the entire population of Academy voters:
In the above example, each row represents a voter’s preferences – reading from left to right are rankings from favourite to least-liked. In this example, using the Academy’s method of voting, Crash wins best picture with 30% of the vote, as the other votes are split in a 3-way tie (with three films each receiving a 20% share and Munich bringing up the rear with 10%).

However, upon examination of this data: 7 out of 10 voters actually think that Brokeback Mountain is a better picture than Crash. In fact, 7 out of 10 voters even think that Good Night, and Good Luck is a better picture than Crash! But this is madness! How does Crash still win if a clear majority think it to be inferior to two other movies on the list?

Well, our methods of voting do not always successfully translate the preferences of our populations. Such problems of voting structures have been closely examined by economists and mathematicians since at least the 18th century. At that time, a mathematician named J. C. Borda, despite the obvious handicap of being French, hit upon a neat solution: assign, via a system of points, a score to each preference rank for each voter. This is the method the Associated Press uses to rank college basketball teams, and it works rather well. Using the Borda method, assigning the first choice 5 points, the least favourite 1 point, and so forth, the following tally occurs:

Brokeback 35
Capote 32
Good Night 29
Crash 28
Munich 26

Under this system, Brokeback Mountain edges out Capote to take the Oscar, and Crash does not even crack the top three. As University of California Professor Donald G. Saari has pointed out, the Borda count method is now believed to be among the most efficient at “aggregating social preferences”, in the jargon.

But is my example relevant, or even remotely realistic? In a five-horse race, with differences of opinion amongst the voters (“heterogeneous preferences”) this type of thing most likely happens all the time. I once had a professor who told me to ignore every Academy Award result because they are probably wrong more than half the time (wrong in that the result inaccurately captures the preferences of the voters).

So, the real scandal here isn’t that Brokeback lost, but that the Academy is holding on to an archaic voting system that has little chance of capturing its members’ preferences. But remember, these are the same people who greenlighted and financed “Gigli”, so they deserve pretty much what they get.

Phonies.


Medium Sweet

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Whenever one orders Turkish coffee, it is necessary to state how one wishes to drink the beverage.

Invariably, I order my Kahvesi medium sweet. Not because I particularly like it that way. In fact, I don't even know precisely what my options are. The fact is, Sean Connery, in From Russia With Love, when asked by Kerem Bei's son how he took his coffee, replied suavely that he would prefer it medium sweet. And, therefore, so do I. Does this make me shallow?


Asking directions

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In Bologna:

[Sunset Shazz, on sidewalk, approached by distinguished looking Italian]

Italian [speaking in Italian]: Excuse me, do you live in this quarter?
Me [replying in Italian]: No, I'm sorry, I'm from San Francisco.
Italian: (Chuckles) That is indeed far away. Sorry to have bothered you.
Me (Mediterannean shrug - tips of the mouth curve downwards, raise eyebrows, head tilts back): It is nothing.

The point of this exchange is twofold:
1) Whenever you ask directions, you invariably approach the most clueless person in the area.
2) Whereas my friend ZMama is most definitely Indian-looking, my buddy Ace and I have the sort of non-descript features which allows us to blend into the general populace of the middle east, latin america, mexico and the mediterannean. The result is that we, generally, are able to blend in a little bit when travelling or living abroad. Most people in Istanbul assume I am Turkish, just as most people in Rome or Florence assume I am Italian. Where this occurs, it is extremely useful. Nothing is more disconcerting than walking down the road (e.g. in Beijing) and sticking out like a sore thumb.


What do I miss?

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A few days ago, somebody asked me what I missed most about the States. I didn't really have a good answer, so I just babbled on a bit. In truth, I don't much miss America; if anything, I miss the great state of California, and the Best Coast. But as soon as this weather gets warm, I'll be dining near the water and admiring the NoCal-esque topography.

Now that I've had time to think about it, if I had to pick one thing I miss, it's the fact that Flavor Flav has an insane reality show that I have never seen. Ay caramba! Turkey is a vast, wonderful country, but they do not tolerate that type of thing here.*

*At least, I don't think they do. I have MTV at my new apartment, so will be on the lookout for the Flav.


The Inflatable Doll

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In a recent comment, J-Sun, a friend of my college buddy DrDeath, expressed admiration for the inflatable doll in the foreground one of my photoblog pics. Well, there's a story there. For those of you who are not abreast of some of the historical material that pre-dates "Taking At The Flood", here is an excerpt of an email sent November 19, 2005:

We crossed a ferry to the Asian side of the city to watch the spectacle that would bring the entire country to a halt. Earlier this month, Turkey had lost to Switzerland 2-0 in a World Cup qualifying match. Today, the Turkish side could redeem themselves by beating Switzerland by a sufficient margin to advance to the World Cup. This was the biggest sporting event the country had seen in four years, and mere exhaustion could not keep us away. My friend S____ is a rabid Fenerbahçe fan, and to his great delight this match would be played at Fenerbahçe’s home stadium.

Now I’ve been to international sports events before, and usually I’m “that guy”. The guy who’s face is painted red and white, who has a maple leaf flag draped across his back, has a beer in each hand and is keeping himself entertained by shouting obscenities at the opposing team during the pre-game warm-up. Today, I was the sane fellow in the overcoat trying to figure out the arcane international scoring rules. But the crazies were out in force. Entering the stadium, the Swiss players were greeted by a sign brightly painted “Welcome to Hell”. 55,000 Turks would whistle and boo during the Swiss warm up. When it came time to play the Swiss national anthem, all I could hear was whistles and jeers. At various moments during the match, enthusiastic fans would set off flares and generally behave in a manner that would give a North American fire marshal a heart attack.

But the crowning achievement in creativity goes to one enterprising fan in the rowdiest section. A little background: I am going to the Winter Olympics in February to watch Canada defend its gold medal in Men’s Hockey (I refuse to call it “Ice Hockey”). My buddy Ace and I have been trying to figure out how to properly show our support. We have been kicking around conventional ideas such as painting our faces, dressing up in gorilla suits – normal, boring stuff. Then I started forming a nebulous idea that I should take advantage of the fact that I bought a Jaromir Jagr Czech Republic jersey a few months ago, and could use it to make some sort of effigy of the Czech’s star player. One crazy Turkish fan showed me the way. The nut had brought an inflatable sex doll upon which he had painted the name of a Swiss player. Audacious; outrageous. . .brilliant.

So, I understand that a few of you are considering coming to Torino for the Olympics. I look forward to seeing you there – I’ll be the guy with a Molson in one hand and an inflatable doll sporting a Jagr jersey in the other.


Well, the result of this gambit was that Ace and I were the toasts of the stadium. When I blew the thing up at the Finland game, at least a dozen people took pictures with me, then, as 10 Finnish fans were picking up their beers for the concession stand, I put the Selanne jersey on the doll, and they just went nuts. People were offering to buy me beers, buy the jersey, and generally slapping me on the back for a job well done.

A couple of days later, I very nearly got the shit kicked out of me by inebriated thugs upon entering a Czech bar with my “girlfriend” clad in a Jagr jersey.
Good times.


Still alive

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Well, I promise I'm not going to become one of those guys who blogs for a few weeks then forgets about it. I've just been a little bit busy catching up with my life after having spent a week stuffing my face in Italy.

In fact, over the next few days I shall be posting more frequently - both summarizing the aforementioned trip and some recent developments. Until then, please read this blog. Basically, if you're a former-rap-legend-turned-reality-tv-denizen, you're guarantied to be linked to by "Taken At The Flood". The post on the maturation of hip hop is riveting.

Hammertime!


About me

  • I'm Sunset Shazz
  • Living the dream in Istanbul, Turkey
  • I grew up in the hardscrabble streets of suburban Ottawa, Ontario, committing petty crime, insulting the elderly - basically the classic misspent youth. When I was 19, I moved to West Philly, where I put myself through the Wharton School by dealing crack and hustling. After stints in Paris and London, I eventually graduated and moved to San Francisco, where I put in eight years hard labor working for The Man. But now I pop bottles with models, deciding cracked crab or lobster - who says mobsters don't prosper?
    More information about this blog.
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