The Expat: Asli Pelit

Born: Istanbul, Turkey
Age: 34
Profession: TV producer and presenter of 10´Larin Kitasi (Continent of 10)
Education: Latin American Studies and Journalism at NYU
Currently reading: Olé
Last film: Hannah and Her Sisters
Gadget: iPhone

When did you first visit Argentina?
In May 2004 as I was living in Cuba. The US had signed a free trade deal with Canada and Mexico in 2001 which was when I was about to finish college in New York. The draft had been really ambiguous, no one wanted it, even the Church was against it, so I decided that would be my thesis and I wrote it in Cuba.
I was invited by some groups in Argentina to see how they worked so I left Cuba. It was autumn and I hadn’t seen a dry leaf in three years. Buenos Aires felt exotic and I thought autumn was romantic and the architecture was beautiful. After Cuba, I literally thought I was in Europe.

What did you like about BA?
Everybody said hi to each other, and it felt like travelling back in time. I loved the fact it is an old place and you feel like you’re in 1960s Europe. My mom and my grandma love it, because for a week or two, it rocks.

Why did you move here?
I finished school in New York and one of the Uruguayans I had interviewed told me a radio network needed a person who speaks Spanish and English, knows America and South America “and that you’re the only person who can do it.” It was some leftie work which didn’t pay much and I told my parents I was over New York, I wasn’t going back to Havana as they couldn’t stand my boyfriend who I was going to marry and that I was moving to Uruguay.
I went to Montevideo which I loved, four months later I was writing a book when we split up because he couldn’t come and I wondered what I should do. So I stayed in Montevideo for a year, writing that book.
My book came out in Turkey and I was asked to work for a Turkish TV company, but they needed me to live in BA. At the time, I’d come over every once in a while and think “wow, big city, bright lights,” so I told them of course I’d move. That was in 2006. But at the end of every year I’ve thought about leaving.

Why is that?
I’ve tried to leave lots of times as I can’t live in a city which is almost cool — I’m used to living in places that are cool! It’s been good to me as I keep on getting work, but I’m not really happy I’ve stayed because it’s been a good limbo place and every time I tried to leave, something always happened, something for the good. At first I liked it a lot, but then I realized it bored me to death. I’m neurotic but I believe this is a city for a hysterical person. Or a depressed person. They love Buenos Aires. But we neurotics — we clash.
But I’m going to Brazil next month and I am probably going to stay until February to try it out.

What’s with Brazil?
My TV show is about football, and Brazil has more material. Now is a good time to move. I need to speak Portuguese before 2014 and the World Cup. There’s also the Copa América in 2013 and the Olympics in 2016. Brazil is the closest place in the world to Turkey that I’ve found. I’ve been filming there a lot and each time I go I feel it’s like Turkey.

Did you ever fall in love with BA?
I never did and it’s the only city I’ve never fallen in love with, or fallen in love with someone, which is weird. As I say, we clash. The only thing I love about this country is its passion for football.

Why haven’t you got on?
I’d rather see people who aren’t so perfect. Not perfect architecture, a perfect lifestyle that could have happened but never did. People here almost live in a movie from the 1960s and that’s why they are so unsatisfied with their lives because the world didn’t stop there.
Take the first two weeks of January. How do you shut down an entire city? New Year’s Eve is the worst night you can spend in this town unless you really know where there is a cool party. The only place in the world where New Year sucks is Buenos Aires. Everywhere else, it’s a good party night. Here, you can’t find a restaurant, a cab — people who have such good taste in creating a city have such bad taste in partying! The only cocktail is warm Champagne or Fernet con coca! Great wine — yes. But New Year just gone I decided would be the last I spend in this town. Even if I have to physically take myself to the line of the province…
But various projects have come up which is why I haven’t left, and in the meantime I had been trying to sell the football programme. It’s now in its third series.

What was the first Argentine match you saw?
I went with my friend Gonzalo to see Boca-Independiente. I thought I was a River fan for a while as they sounded similar to Galatasaray, but I changed my mind and I’m now a Racing fan. I also like the Bohemios from Villa Crespo’s Atlanta club.

Have you always been a fan?
Oh yes. I went to Galatasaray High School, which founded the club. Grandma is a big fan and I would watch it with her. Galatasaray was exploding when I was growing up — it was the best time to be a fan.
I watched Turkey play in the 2002 World Cup at 3am in Cuba and go to hotels where they had cable. It was amazing to watch my own team almost winning against Brazil. Years later, I interviewed Rivaldo and I told him I’d cried due to what he did (he faked a head injury and the Turkish player was sent off.) Rivaldo apologized, saying “it didn’t hit my head, it hit my knee. Because of me, you guys could have been champions.” That was a big journalistic moment.

Did you enjoy Copa América?
It was fun and a good preview of what to expect from a big sports event. I interviewed the Uruguayan team, met a lot of people, Bolivian and Venezuelan supporters. A good exercise before the World Cup.

Any unexpected moments at a game?
Going to watch Atlanta. Normally a fan base is called the barra brava but I call the Atlanta ones the barra buena — I love the small teams like Olimpo and Tigre. We had a great experience filming at Atlanta as everyone wants to talk about their team. It’s important to support the small ones as it makes football a little less commercial than it is. Those teams have the best stories to tell.

How does the barra brava treat you?
One said to my Argentine producer, “tell the Turkish girl she cannot go up to the paravalancha (a big flag you hold on to like a trapeze) because no woman is allowed there.” But I did it for five or 10 minutes, then I was done! Fans are always surprised to meet me and it always blows their mind that I speak Spanish. Once they realize what we are doing, they are very giving.
The barra brava is always very nice to me. If I were a guy doing this show, it wouldn’t work.
I’m known as la turca and everyone who came from that area escaping the war — Armenians, Syrians, Lebanese — came here with passports from the Ottoman Empire and when they were received, they registered everyone as Turks.

Is there much of a Turkish expat community in Buenos Aires?
The ambassador, a few people who work at the embassy, a couple who just moved here and another journalist… but we we tend to see each other at events. Tops, there’s 20 people. It’s too far for a Turk to come here as they don’t really leave their families.

What do your family think about your living here?
I left Turkey when I was 19 and my family are adventurous people. My grandma has visited me three times.

What do you miss?
Apart from my friends and family, speaking Turkish, and jokes. And the ocean.

Where do you live?
In El Bajo, a small strip between Plaza San Martín and Córdoba. I do love my neighbourhood, I know everyone and those blocks are my universe. I’ve also lived in Boedo, Caballito, Villa Crespo, Recoleta, Palermo, San Telmo and Monserrat but this is the apartment for me.
I have a dog now which is the only Argentine thing I truly love the most although he has a crooked tail. He’s called Vinicius after Vinicius de Moraes, and everyone in the neighbourhood knows him.

What is your most Argentine trait?
Eating bloody beef. I love it, especially when it’s very raw.

Living, breathing, talking, filming it
Although Turkish journalist Asli Pelit says pointedly that she has never fallen in love with Buenos Aires — and after five years of living in the city, if it hasn’t happened by now then it probably never will — one thing she admits to loving (apart from adoring her new puppy) is the passion for football that Argentines have.
Although she doesn’t claim to be an expert on the subject but an observer, the Galatasaray fan says of the current state of Argentine football: “It’s bad, in terms of the national team and the league because of the economy. Clubs can’t afford to have good players, people leave and the national team hasn’t had good management.
“And, in general, when something becomes a business, it is easier to corrupt it. I don’t think Maradona was a good choice (as manager). But I’m not an expert on football — I’m an observer on the passion of football.”
Her television show, 10’Larin Kitasi, is in its third season,and comprises Pelit touring Argentina and the region, talking to fans, diving into tiny cafés and restaurants and chatting to fans.
“You’ll find a supporters’ flag in every restaurant — the passion is everywhere,” she adds.
Continuing with her observation on the national squad, she adds: “It’s common sense — it doesn’t mean you’ll have a great team if you have 11 great players. Maybe it takes one great leader and 10 normal players to have a great team. It always feels like Argentina has to have 11 stars.
“In addition, Argentina suffers from memory loss. It takes several years to build a great team — look at Germany or France who think about the future. But they also have money for that and I didn’t think that Argentina does. The infrastructure is awful. If you have one good player, he has already been sold by the age of 18 — they don’t stay in Argentina. Turks watch more Argentines playing football than the Argentines do, because there are so many Argentines playing in the various European leagues.”
Beside other journalism work, Pelit is also a regular guest on the English-language football podcast, Hand of Pod, hosted by sports journalists Daniel Colasimone and Sam Kelly.
Before leaving Buenos Aires, although there is no one particular match she wants to see, Pelit does want to watch Racing play in Brazil in the Libertadores Cup one day. “That would mean Racing had a good season — and I’m hoping they win a championship before I die!” she says.

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on October 16, 2011
Photo by Mario Mosca

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