Distinguished readers! I‘ve been scrambling a bit lately with various things, so I wasn’t able to report right away what a wonderful time I had last week in London. First I went to a Boots shop, where I practically had a heart attack, having spent the previous three weeks in my bunker in the forest, staring at the Black Sea (when it wasn’t obscured by fog), while writing about soccer hooligans. The only shopping I did that whole month was at the Koç campus grocery store, where there is always a special on ramen and old quinces. There is nowhere to buy aspirin on the Koç campus. If you get a headache, it’s a 20-minute bus ride to the historic fishing community of Sarıyer.
Historic Sarıyer fishermen
I won’t go into all the useful and inspiring purchases I made at Boots, except insofar as they relate to a mystery that has been baffling me for months now, namely: I can’t find women’s shaving cream anywhere in Istanbul. I won’t say I’ve scoured the city from top to bottom, like the guy in that Orhan Pamuk novel, but I did drop in on numerous pharmacy and beauty stores in Sarıyer, Taksim, and Beşiktaş. Everyone sells depilatory cream and wax, and men’s shaving cream – which is what I’ve been buying, because I like to think of myself as the kind of independent, self-sufficient woman who doesn’t need her legs to smell like jojoba mango margaritas. But it turns out I’m not independent or self-sufficient enough not to mind that my legs now always smell like some guy’s chin.
Anyway, the first Boot’s I walk into—maybe they didn’t have quite the rich panoply of women’s shaving products offered by my once-local Safeway, but that’s probably for the best, because then I really would have had a stroke. What I’m saying is, I found everything I was looking for.
Later that evening I had a fantastic time hanging out at Aubin & Wills with Damian Barr and Molly Parkin, and a wonderful audience, and an open bar. I didn’t end up buying anything, although I did take a very careful and prolonged look at this bra. To set the scene for you—the reading is over, everyone is sipping whiskey and discussing the collapse of Borders’, and I am unable to tear myself away from this amazing underwire-free bra. Finally, my publisher politely offered to track down a fitting-room attendant for me. Then I got a hold of myself and realized this was not the right occasion for lingerie shopping, and I should just call it a night with my raspberry mist shave gel.
Subsequently I had a wonderful moment with Ms. Parkin, when I tried to tell her how moved I had been by the part of her reading when she talked about her girlhood crush on Liz Taylor. Ms. Parkin tilted her head in its three-foot-tall turban, looked at me very kindly, and said: “Sorry dear, I’m stone deaf, can’t hear a word you’re saying.” Then she turned to the documentary filmmaker who was standing next to her at all times (he’s making a documentary film of her life), and observed: “Pretty girl. She has lovely teeth.”
Another London writer I was really happy to meet on this trip was China Miéville, whom I had narrowly missed in Melbourne last fall, where he was promoting his latest “Lovecraftian New Weird caper,” Kraken. I haven’t read Kraken but loved Miéville’s The City and the City, a noir police procedural set in a Kafka-style Balkan city that’s actually two cities superimposed on top of each other, and everyone has to pretend the other city doesn’t exist, and on top of that the second city is full of graduate students. I was so sorry when I came to the end that, after a few false starts with other books, I eventually just went back and read The City and the City a second time.
On Monday evening I was really happy and honored to give a talk on “Cervantes, Balzac, and Double-Entry Bookkeeping,” at the British Museum, as part of the LRB Winter Lecture Series. I won’t speak for the audience, but a marvelous time was had by me personally. Attendees included China Miéville, who has been researching double-entry bookkeeping for a novel dealing with “radical accounting,” and who kicked off the Q/A with a really great question about surplus value; as well as my long-lost college friend Chuanfei, whom I had last seen in a Boston-area suicide ward while visiting a mutual friend in the summer of 2000. Chuanfei is now writing a philosophy dissertation at Oxford about extraordinary consciousnesses. I was also extremely pleased to meet Yuka Igarashi, who wrote a super-thoughtful and kind post about my talk on the Granta blog.
I’ve been back in Istanbul for a week now, trying to keep my head above water. There are so many other things I need to tell you! Land is in sight, or at least I think it’s land, and not some kind of old boot…