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HAPPY PURCHASES

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.

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Molly Parkin China Miéville

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…

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10 Responses to “HAPPY PURCHASES”

  1. Michael Fay Says:

    Delightful! I’m also pleased to see that the soccer piece will be in my New Yorker when it arrives this week. Living in the northern woods causes postal delays, and I prefer to read the mag in paper form, not on line. There were several LOL moments in this blog entry, hoping to read more of the London adventure at a later date.

  2. Pat Rosier Says:

    I SO wanted to go to the LRB session, but as I live in NZ (away from earthquake-struck Christchurch) it was not possible. Is the lecture posted/printed anywhere?

  3. Dave Lull Says:

    BLDGBLOG: Unsolving the City: An Interview with China Miéville

    http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/2011/03/unsolving-city-interview-with-china.html

  4. Vedran Says:

    Fenerbahçe is at the top of the table!

    Congratulations are in order…

  5. Elif Says:

    a quick note to everyone who has inquired about reading the text of my lrb talk – first of all, huge thanks for your interest! but i’m afraid i actually gave the lecture from notes, which would be of limited meaningfulness to a normal person. when and if it’s written up in full sentences, i will definitely put it up here!

  6. Colin Says:

    Is the “soccer hooligans” link really meant to point to http://www.boots.com? Those Beşiktaşlı on the next page look like such nice young gentlemen.

    (I was wondering whether the talk would end up in the LRB like Judith Butler’s did.)

  7. Elif Says:

    dear colin! thank you for catching this! i think i just miss boots so much, everything somehow ends up linking there.
    courtesy of paul hallam i learned that i am not alone in my love of boots, there was also d.h. lawrence, in a poem full of double-entry bookkeeping!:

    Nottingham’s New University

    In Nottingham, that dismal town
    where I went to school and college,
    they’ve built a new university
    for a new dispensation of knowledge.
    Built it most grand and cakeily
    out of the noble loot
    derived from shrewd cash-chemistry
    by good Sir Jesse Boot.
    Little I thought, when I was a lad
    and turned my modest penny
    over on Boot’s Cash Chemist’s counter,
    that Jesse, by turning many
    millions of similar honest pence
    over, would make a pile
    that would rise at last and blossom out
    in grand and cakey style
    into a university
    where smart men would dispense
    doses of smart cash-chemistry
    in language of common-sense!
    That future Nottingham lads would be
    cash-chemically B.Sc.
    that Nottingham lights would rise and say:
    -By Boots I am M.A.
    From this I learn, though I knew it before
    that culture has her roots
    in the deep dung of cash, and lore
    is a last off-shoot of Boots.

  8. Colin Says:

    Ah! Sadly they have, or at least Head Office has, run away to Switzerland: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/feb/09/tax-gap-boots-chemists

    The New Yorker abstract online talks about Be_ikta_, which looks like a game of Turkish Football Hangman, or a really rude word that they daren’t print.

  9. SW Foska Says:

    All those learned interlocutors in England and none of them – not even DH Lawrence – able to tell you the best thing about Boots, which is that they have a storecard with points that are actually worth something! 4p for every pound spent. If culture has its roots in cash, there’s some lore to help you scrape some back.

  10. Elizabeth Roberts Says:

    I got a job as a feature writer on the Look pages of theSunday Times in 1968/9 with Molly Parkin, Lucia (How To Spend It) van der Post, Mark Boxer and Hunter Davies. My first day in the office, aged 24, nervous, neat and clean, dotting my ‘i’s and crossing my ‘t’s – the door burst open and it was Molly pissed as a newt waving a bottle of champagne just rolled in after a very long lunch with editor Harold Evans now of NYC parish seemingly having undergone a male menopausal motorbiking transformation and married Tina Brown – in fact, travelled backwards in his own lifetime: the theme, as it turns out, of my comments this morning.

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