Monthly Archives: November 2011

I Really Ought to Learn German / Notes from an Annual Physical

I had my annual physical today. It started with an espresso and massage — European healthcare is sooo much more civilized than in the US.

Actually, it started with a lung X-ray. The nurse/office manager in my doctor’s office is terrific: Very helpful, really friendly, extremely professional and very patient-focused. Even with her minimal English and my near-non-existent German, we communicate with little difficulty. Plus she finds me amusing.

Things started out fine. She managed to tell me via German, a bit of English, and lots of gesturing that I should take off my shirt, stand in front of the X-ray machine, and take a deep breath. Easy.

We moved on to height and weight. No problem.

She then asked me to lie down on the exam table: It was time for an EKG. She showed me the leads, and then took out a squeeze bottle. With German, some broken English, and her shaking the bottle over my chest and then mimicking “brrrrrr, cold,” I understood what would happen. Plus, I knew that leads needed a conductor. We were ready to start.

She then returned to a medical cart and said one more thing to me in German, motioning again to my chest. “OK?” she asked, and smiled.

“Yes, of course, no problem,” I replied. Some squirts of cold gel, no big deal, I was ready.

And two seconds later I realized I should know German better.

She was coming towards me with a razor.


She must have seen the look on my face, because she started laughing. She mimicked scraping the razor over different sections of my chest, the places where the leads needed to go. I had agreed to have my chest shaved.

She took the razor and scraped away. Next, she slapped a wide swath of medical tape over the areas she shaved. The tape came away with a surprisingly large amount of hair. My physical was turning into the depilation scene from The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

I was now ready for my EKG and a party in South Beach.

Note to self: Saying “Yah” with a German accent does not mean you understand the question.

For those curious, at the end of the exam, my doctor pronounced me “practically normal.” Which is about as close to normal as I’m ever going to get.

You Can Go Home Again

My parents are in Basel. We all went to pick the kids up from school, and I found myself sitting on the tram, next to my mom and in front of my dad. This was the first time during their trip that I had been alone with them both, without the kids or Jessica, and I was suddenly reduced to Son. The additional layers of my identity — husband, father, adult, writer, 45-year-old-man — had disappeared.

It was a very strange feeling. I looked around and knew that the other passengers saw me no differently than what I had appeared when I walked onto the tram.

I turned to my mom and smiled. And turned back to my dad. I felt different, smaller somehow, like a kid. It was nice and also spooky. Here was my mom, here was my dad. We were going to school. I was a functional part of their unit, a smaller part. Weird.

Ben Affleck! Istanbul! Paparazzi!

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Jessica and I were walking through the streets of Istanbul on a Sunday and we passed by a film crew. We paused to get our bearings on the iPhone map, and some 20-something guy with a walkie-talkie comes up to me and says “No photos, no photos. Move.”

I looked up and laughed: photos of what, a Turkish low-budget film? But the idea of being told not to take photos pissed me off, so I brought the iPhone up and made like I was taking a picture.

The boy-man came closer: “No photos, no photos. Move.” I laughed: We had places to go, and so we left.

A few yards away Jessica turns and says: “Did you see who was there?”

I shake my head no.

“Ben Affleck.”

I turn back and sure enough, there is a bearded Ben getting ready for a shot. And then the King of the Sidewalk is back. “No photos.”

I didn’t even have my iPhone out, so I pretend to frame a shot with my fingers and “click” a photo.

“No photos, no photos.”

“I don’t have a camera,” I pointed out.

He responds: “No staring.”

I found this priceless and laughed.

“Move, move,” he said. “No staring.”

The New York City part of me wanted to respond: “What the fuck are you talking about no staring? I’ll look at anything I want.”

But another part of my brain reminded me I was a tourist in Turkey. And I thought about the movie Midnight Express. I didn’t want to wind up in a Turkish prison walking endlessly around a grinding stone and masturbating through glass when Jessica visited me, not for gazing in the general direction of Ben Affleck. Matt Damon, maybe. Scarlet Johannson in the opening scene in Lost in Translation, OK. But Ben Affleck? Never. So I moved on.

Addendum: The movie Ben Affleck was in Istanbul filming was the big budget Argo, about a CIA agent planning a hostage rescue. I have no idea if the movie is supposed to be any good, but it has an amazingly cool cast: Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Tate Donovan and Zeljko Ivanek.

Addendum 2: Movie Scoop! First Film Footage, Ben Affleck New Mega-hit Argo!

Grand Bazaar/Experience Istanbul

Grand Opening: 1461.

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is still going strong after 500+ years in the retail business. No Eddie Bauer, indoor water parks, Outback Steakhouses, Spencer Gifts or the Gap, its more than 4,000 stalls/shops within a labyrinth of more than 58 streets overstimulates and enthralls.

Yes, there are carpets. And everything else. The challenge is to not buy at the first shop, and after looking through a number of stalls, remember how to get back to the shop with the best product and price.

Galata Bridge/Experience Istanbul

The Galata Bridge spans the Golden Horn, an inlet of the Bosphorus strait. The Bosporus forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia, and connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara (which eventually leads to the Aegean Sea and then the Mediterranean).

I love saying “Bosphorus”: it sounds sparkling and mysterious. I also like a body of water called the “Golden Horn,” and the prospect of setting sail just off the bridge and traveling to the beginning point for Odysseus’ journey home. The Galata Bridge is a very cool spot.

Seafood restaurants line the lower part of the bridge, offering freshly caught and cooked sea creatures, Turkish tea and coffee, a nice breeze, and a great view of the ferries, barges, and cruise ships crisscrossing the Golden Horn, and both the European and Asian sections of Istanbul.

Prayer/Experience Istanbul

Throughout Istanbul, prayers are made over loudspeaker for several minutes at different times during the day. Each mosque broadcasts prayers.

Initially, it is very surprising to be walking around the city and suddenly hear prayers, but eventually the experience blends in with the routine of the city. Taking a pause during a prayer is quite nice, and the chanting can be very beautiful.

Tea Tradition/Experience Istanbul

Drinking tea throughout the day is one of my favorite traditions of Istanbul. You do it after a meal, when meeting people, talking business, or just pausing during the day.

The tea is black, and must be served piping hot in a short tea glass. One or two sugar cubes may be added. Enjoy!

Late Night Snack, Istanbul

Nighttime Snack Cart, Istanbul

Night in Istanbul

Istanbul Night

Eating Istanbul Nights

The Galata Bridge in Istanbul spans the Golden Horn and connects the Blue Mosque area, where we stayed, with the more downtown section of the city. During the day, there are seafood restaurants open on the second level of the bridge. And at night, just to the side of the bridge, there is a floating fish restaurant.

The fish boats, with their fresh catch, pull up and begin on-boat cooking, serving just-caught fish wedged between equally fresh bread. The hungry of Istanbul — families, friends, tourists, shoppers, and groups of teens — line up at the boats, get their sandwiches, buy drinks and dine al fresco.

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