Today was Daylight Savings Time in Turkey, and so the sun set at 6:30 as opposed to 3:45, which was the record set during the winter solstice. What fun I had indoors by myself with only stuffed animals to talk to!
Today was also the day for the standardized university admissions test. Imagine the SAT if it was only given one day a year, and your whole family came to watch you take it. That’s what happened here on campus this morning. Half of the high school students in Van came to Yuzuncu Yil to take the test, and their mothers, fathers, siblings, fake uncles and go-to hair stylists all sat on the lawns of my campus and had picnics or slept until the test was over.
(Also concerning the test: Imagine the SAT if the results you received in the mail told you not only what school you were going to attend, but also what subject you’ll study. Welcome to Turkey.)
For the first time since the fall I hammocked. It was a cloudless day and Lake Van was calm, as there are no boats on it except the ferry and no one has seen the Van monster in over twenty years. So not only did I string up my hammock and read, but I wore sandals while I did it. Amazed Turks tripped over one another as they tried to steal subtle glances at my space blanket and footwear from the future.
Whilst hammocking I finished A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Since I recently spent all my money on Kindle fantasy novels, I’ve had to resort to downloading and reading only free public domain books on my e-reader (or what the Turks around me on the bus call, “The Evil Mirror”). The version of the Mark Twain book I read before was released under the line of Great Illustrated Classics, which translated these old, old stories into a format that children can easily understand, with pictures on every other page. I was only 17 at the time, and I’m a visual learner. However, I was surprised to find that GIC pulled no punches, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the main character with the ridiculous bowl cut the pencil illustrator had given him.
(Plus, I was stoked to find that not only is A Connecticut Yankee one of the first science fiction novels – TIME TRAVEL! – the story holds up pretty well, and the protagonist, though admittedly a Yankee, is surly in a very likable way.)
Finishing the book made me feel like I had actually accomplished something, because I had been living off my knowledge of the abridged version of the abridged version for quite some time. But it was more of a personal accomplishment. In A Connecticut Yankee, the main character Hank founds a school for re-educating sixth century peasants with nineteenth century ideals. He calls it a “Man Factory.” I used to use this anecdote for fraternity recruitment. I would tell the story of the novel and then go on to describe how the fraternity itself was a Man Factory. It was a good routine, and not only did it work but I believed it. However, it came not from my memory of the novel but from my memory of a single illustrated panel featuring Hank, squatting next to a peasant, writing a note on a piece of bark. The picture was captioned, “Put him in the man factory.” So I based my whole rush strategy on a children’s picture book.
But at a deeper level I was surprised at the amount of ideology Twain packed into a time travel story. Every other page was about either the equality of man or the ability to indoctrinate him. I guess I missed that my first time through the children’s version. And – living in Turkey, stared at by hundreds of people as I walk down the street, unable to adequately explain a few ideas I find extremely simple, creepily shadowed by 18 year old girls who work at my guest house – I empathize with the main character. Sometimes I feel like Hank Morgan, a nineteenth century industrialist trapped in sixth century England. Sometimes I feel like a war correspondent, drinking tea in my white linen suit while I wait for the latest from Washington. And sometimes I feel like a ninja, practicing fake martial arts in my room at six in the evening because I’ve already had dinner and I want to see if I can do what I saw Sydney Bristow do on Alias.