Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Il Papa & Well Mannered Lamb

Istanbul Turkey

Every now and then you get to cover events like the Pope aka Il Papa, which is sort of like a roadshow that accompanies the President of the USA, these events are like circuses where you rarely get to see the actual person. It is highly unlikely that I will even see the Pope in the flesh during the week I am here in Istanbul. We arrive before the Pope, do previews and end up leaving days later.

Turkey is a nation of 70 million people, which is a hell of a lot of people in anyones books, a nation that is both in Europe and Asia, more Asia than Europe but at the same time a nation that wants to join the European Union but has some minor problems like Human Rights and the question of Cyprus, not that anyone cares in the rest of the world about Cyprus, apart from Turkey and Greece. Human Rights is something we all are aware of and yet when it comes to Turkey all we ever remember is the movie "Midnight Express" and that is the human rights issue Turkey grapples with to this day. Everyone thinks of Midnight Express as Turkeys Human Rights problem.

Having said that I am convinced that when we arrived in Istanbul the other day, a prison guard from Midnight Express was on duty. You can meet some of the most worst people in the world in Customs Officials and upon hearing that we had flown in from Israel, this guy took it upon himself to be the most obnoxious sod I have ever had the displeasure to meet, he even joined my favorite list of people I will never shake hands with along with slave traders I met in Sudan. The contempt and spit that came out of his mouth was matched only by his sheer rudeness. At one point it looked like I was actually just going to go upstairs and fly straight back out of the country before the gear was impounded. Luckily cool heads managed to placate the customs and they simply waved us through after 90 minutes with not even a stamp on a piece of paper. If you can figure that out then please let me know, but it seemed to be in the too hard basket and they obviously could not be bothered with paperwork.

The first morning of filming was set up for the Spice Market a building that is 350 years old. it is always strikes me as a reality check to realise that these places were built a century before Australia was even discovered, like all markets it has the faces and characters and one item that catches your attention. In the world of modern medicine Viagra has become a wonder drug, in the Spice Market of Istanbul you can buy the local version homemade that it looks like a cake with handmade signs proclaiming miracle results 5 times a night, by these hand drawn signs I took it to mean that the stuff is useless during the day.

The next stop was lunch and the inevitable bloody kebab, if America has the Hamburger and Australia the Meat Pie then Turkey has the kebab. an epicurian delight that gives you wind that smells like something has physically died inside you and indigestion that brings your stomach to your throat. But sitting in the Restaurant contemplating the 15 plus variations of kebab on the menu. Only one struck me "Well Mannered Lamb", now there is no way in hell that I am going to eat a bad tempered lamb and with a menu heading like that the decision was simple, simple being a good word because it turns out that "Well Mannered Lamb" is simple cubes of lamb that have been "Well marinated" none the less the lamb well mannered or not gave me indigestion and dead rat flatulence.

After such a feast we headed for a demo where Islamic Women stood outside one the famous ex Churches/Mosque/now Museum to protest the visit of the Pope. There were perhaps a hundred women, a couple of hundred world media and twice as many Police. Nothing happened not even a good old fashioned flag burning, since no one actually knows here that the Vatican has its own flag. The only funky thing was that the female police have these new riot outfits that make them look like a cross between BMX riders and Robo Cops.

Nothing happened at all but when I get the chance wait to I download a photo that shows Monty Python's Life of Brian is alive and well and living in Istanbul.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Village of the damned

“Find me the dog shelter, in this town “ I asked

“Why?” asked Yonat our Producer

“Because, people care more about dogs than they do about poor people”

Sderot is the town in Israel that is the closest to Gaza and hence has been subjected to nearly a thousand Qassam rockets fired by militants in the Strip this year, about eighty in the past week. Now Qassam rockets are not the state of the art Tomahawk missiles but are crudely home made pipe bombs that rely more on the principle of ‘Point, shoot and prey’ principle of modern warfare.

When you hear in the news that Israel has struck a metal shop in Gaza, it really means that they have tried to wipe out a Qassam factory, and having spent time on the streets of Gaza, it often seems that there are as many ‘Metal Shops’ in a block as there are Starbucks stores on corners in New York City.

Sderot, is not exactly the resort capital of Israel. It is fair to say that it could lay claim to one of the most depressing places here, when Russian migrants come to Israel they believe they are coming to the land of milk and honey, only to find that they end up in the village of the damned.

To give you an example of playground conversations overheard today, a group of children maybe six of them aged eight to ten were in a vigourous discussion and when I asked Yoav to translate he laughed and said that they were each boosting that “No the Qassam landed closer to my house or the Qassam that landed near my flat was bigger than your Qassam”

Of course being down here for the whole day not one has been fired today and we have been sitting around drinking Israel’s worst coffee. The only highlight, is when someone walks past us and we try to guess how many bottles of 15 shekel vodka they have had to drink.

Fashion is something that should also be noted that Sderot is not famous for, as the procession in the main street showed. If you are female you must wear boots, preferably white and then try to totally uncordinate them with everything else you wear. Of course the famed hat makers of Sderot specialize in woolen caps in multi colors to match the socks sticking out of the boots.

This just a tragic town of twenty thousand where no one wants to live, but cannot afford to live anywhere else. Almost totally all Russian migrants, there are more signs in Russian than in Hebrew on the shop fronts and you hear more Russian than anything else spoken.

Why would I ask for a dog shelter?.

Because in the sad world of TV News, scared yelping puppies who have been abandoned by owners fleeing the rocket attacks has more impact than poor people pushing shopping carts in depressing streets.

We laughed about my idea, and no we did not go and find a dog shelter, but set up in the street for our live shots.

Still think it was a good idea though

November 16, 2006