Monday, December 31, 2007

good bye to seven

Eight is a good number. It used to be my favorite number because, on its side, the "8" stands for infinity. I don't have a favorite number anymore. I was having a conversation with a 3 year-old I'd just met the other day and when we ran out of things to say I just asked her what all her favorite things were: color? animal? food? And then I asked her what she wants to be when she grows up. "Princess," she said, looking down. She might just find a way. I'm leaving the east coast tomorrow, after two weeks visiting family and friends. Feels like I've been away from San Francisco forever, seen so many people out here I don't ordinarily see. One of the best things about this is they remind me about things I've forgotten. Things that I remind them of, like a pair of toe socks a friend I brought to visit from California wore at my parents' house, or stupid things I did to boys and boys did to me, or the time I tried to make cranberry white-chocolate cookies.... I've made a few resolutions but I don't want to tell you about them. I've got to get up in less than four hours to fly back to California, fly into 2008. My mom and I watched Dick Clark count down as the ball dropped in Times Square. It was absurd but also touching. The man had a stroke this year and had a bit of trouble getting the words out, and the young, fresh-faced correspondents helping him out kept repeating the same lines over and over again, such emptinesses as: "There's no place to be but right here, right now. If you haven't been, you should make it a point to come, at least once in your life. There's nothing like it." There's nothing quite like anything and everything is everything but also nothing. One foot in front of the other, here's to leaving 2007 behind.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

jingle!

Happy Christmas to all. It'll be over in 40 minutes. Fell asleep last night thinking of falling asleep Christmas eves when I was little and how impossible it was. My sister and I were always so excited. She reminded me yesterday we used to play Chinese checkers into the wee hours to make ourselves fall asleep. Greedy little girls. Ha! And I remembered myself that we'd wait eagerly at the top of the stairs until the time we'd agreed on with our parents when we were allowed to rush the tree and all our gifts. Today was nice: slept in late, exchanged gifts with immediate family, ate amazing meal prepared by mother and father with cousins, aunt, family friends, went to see Juno (which was pretty good), beat mother and sister at scrabble, worked on grad school applications, read. I am reading a book I got today, a book I asked for, someday this pain will be useful to you by Peter Cameron. I was intrigued when I read a review for it in the NYT that lauded Cameron for writing such an insightful, complex young narrator for this book, which has been labeled "YA". The review said adults might even get more out of it than "young adults". A passage I just read that I liked:

"I am disturbed," I said. I thought about what the word meant, what it really means to be disturbed, like how a pond is disturbed when you throw a rock into it or how you disturb the peace. Or how you can be disturbed by a book or movie or the burning rain forest or the melting ice caps. Or the war in Iraq. It was one of those moments when you feel you have never heard the word before, and you cannot believe it means what it means, and you think how did this word come to mean that? It seemed like a bell or something, shining and pure, disturbed, disturbed, disturbed, I could hear it pealing with its true meaning, and I said, as if I had just realized it, "I am disturbed."

And my fortune of the tag of my Yogi tea bag:

To learn, read.
To know, write.
To master, teach.

Hm.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Home again, home again

welcome home
to semi-urban fantasies
of overwhelming noodles
and undercooked rice
or mice
like cars, crawling
like ants

or whatever it was

and it is the same thing for everyone
the same

my appendix is shaped
like a heart, a human heart,
not a valentine's day heart

this is a problem
the doctors say
that the thing they didn't say before
isn't true because they didn't say it

and all the cars are bigger now, braver
and how can i miss california?
but i do

east is east
east is cold
is bold is hard is stick-to-it is die-hard

basement floor kisses drench
radio-recycled christmas carols and the things
that happen to television when the writers
drop out

i drop out
the thing i want the most is
to run away
to chiang mai or shanghai or apple pie or mai tai
or

you get it
take me on a vacation
an actual vacation

and i will lose it so hard i actually forget
and it never comes back
ever

i'll buy you a laptop
you'll tell me a story
we'll share a bottle
of the cheapest red wine
i can possibly find

or if you steal it i'll drink it
you can always tear me out
but i don't lie

i do stretch out flat
i do remember
i do drown

i do

Sunday, December 2, 2007

All of a sudden my bike is bad-ass (and other exciting news)

My most exciting thing to report is that I switched out my drop-down handlebars on my happy bicycle for cruiser-type bars, and so now I sit more upright and feel taller instead of crouching down over the slightly-too-small frame. Such a huge change, let me tell you! AND! My friend A brought me the incredible gift of a Brooks Saddle, which is this cool leather seat that will, like a pair of leather shoes, mold to me. Got some Bike Kitchen and some Critical Mass this past week, which is without-fail-always fun.

And what else? All anyone seems to be able to talk about is how cold it is in San Francisco these days and yes it is cold but seriously 50 degrees is nothing to go on and on about. I'm kind of into the bundling up, not so into the numb fingers and toes.

And last night I went to dinner with my friend K. Hadn't gone out to a special restaurant for a while and so we treated ourselves to Weird Fish, and hipster-y little spot on a somewhat desolate stretch of Mission Street. We split a coupla things: spicy, flavorful tortilla soup; edamame salad with sesame and cold noodles; an appetizer layered with spinach, tofu, goat cheese, and grilled yam; and fish and chips (fried tilapia with almost-perfect french fries including three kinds of potatoes, as far as I could tell). The fried stuff was done in such a way that didn't make us feel coated with oil and everything was delish! Our charming/cool waiter even brought us a forkful of the dessert special (some kind of banana cream decadence) because we were too full to order it. Then we went to a bar we always go to because it's chill and nice, and it started out that way but soon enough got packed with a crowd of coiffed saturday-night-blazer-wearing people that seemed Marina-ish. Then we left.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas Ramble

Today I sat at Union Square waiting for a friend, who was late, so I sat there longer than I wanted to. He told me to meet him at the Christmas tree, which I agreed to, being the agreeable person that I am. It was sunny, so it was nice enough, and I read my book, which is a rather a good book. Still, the tree was distracting, all big and strange-looking in front of me. There were signs all around it saying "Macy's gift to the City of San Francisco", as if Macy's was so charitable and wonderful and giving and not a mega department store that has survived and flourished because people like to buy things they don't need. Also, the weather seemed all wrong for Christmas, even though I know that's is just some engrained East Coast thing. And then there's this: do we really deserve Christmas? Oh, I dunno. I really didn't feel like we do, sitting there at Union Square, among the Dior and the Levi's and the Victoria's Secret in the San Francisco sun. This consumer, shopping-mall aspect of it is just painful that's all. I look forward to spending time with my family and taking pause from these busy past few months, but I will not stop complaining about the Christmas carol hold music at the insurance companies I call at work, the constant wishes of happly holidays from people who don't even know me, the barage of sales and holiday gift ideas. Argh. Yuck. I know you agree with me, but I'm wondering what we are to do about it. Or maybe it's just me. I don't deserve Christmas. I've been naughty this year, and I'm not even Christian for crying out loud, but I still get giddy each year as we unwrap the ornaments my father's mother gave us when I was little and all the ones we've collected around the world. And the day itself. The waking up late and leisurely breakfast and big dinner, the nothing much else going on, and of course the presents that we've belly-ached over for weeks. Especially my father...without fail each year he begs me and my sister for advice about getting a gift for my mom. It's cute, but annoying, especially since he rejects 95% of my suggestions. Where am I going with all this? Christmas is what I want it to be! Not you, Macy's and your ugly Christmas tree! Me, me, me!

Disturbing Christmas facts from Harper's Index this month:

Estimated amount that Americans lose every year by not redeeming gift cards: $8,000,000,000

(Dude! Why? Maybe the gift cards were to places the receivers didn't care to go.)

Percentage of shopping-mall and party Santas who believe that children "lie when they say they have been good": 54

Number of golf clubs a Phoenix tourism group is sending to troops overseas as part of its "Operation White Christmas": 14,000

(Wondering where troops play golf overseas...)

Number of Christmas trees FedExed last year to U.S. troops: 11,854

Number of seconds it takes a synthetic Christmas tree to burn: 32

Monday, November 19, 2007

Allah Yirhamuha

This is a photograph that I took of my grandmother three years ago, sitting at a cafe up the mountain from her home. She passed away this morning in Beirut. (It was still night in San Francisco.) Her spirit will live on in those she loved.

Friday, November 16, 2007

let's go whaling!

One of my regular stops on this wide web is Rob Brezny's Free Will Astrology. Ok, ok, so horoscopes are often silly and open-ended. Susan Miller's can be somewhat enlightening, but more often way too heavy. And is it worth taking any of that stuff seriously anyway? So many answers to this question but I guess it all boils down to us looking for ways to define our uncertain futures. Still, Rob Brezny isn't as irreverent as The Onion or as painfully pointless as Cosmo, but he manages to convey a message and pack in some intriguing info about the bigger world out there. So my horoscope on Free Will this week, made me do a little googling, and I found out that last June some Inuit fishermen killed a whale off Alaska somewhere and in its blubber found a harpoon that has been traced back to the 1800's. Which means the whale was over 100 years old when it died! And according to Rob Brezny, that harpoon symbolizes old wounds that I've had since my youth (and this goes for all you Tauruses out there), wounds that I actively need to work on healing, especially THIS WEEK! But I'm not sure how this all applies to the reality that the whale died and the harpoon has been dug out of its fat more than a century after the fact is accounted for in the horoscope. Am I metaphorically a hundred years old? Maybe I need to embody the hunter. Huh, Rob? What am I supposed to do?!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

catastrophic days

That is a photo of a dead, somewhat flattened pigeon shoved into a grate, headfirst. Encountered FRIDAY night at the corner of something and Valencia. Pretty devastating. And yesterday (SATURDAY) I saw two more, as I was biking around. Those two were much flatter, small raised discs of pigeon that I rolled by on the asphalt as I rode home from the grocery store.

On MONDAY I went to my cousin's house where they have satellite tv, and on the news there were stock market line graphs flashing downwards across the screen. Seems the market "has an upset stomach," as my father described it yesterday on the phone. And last night I was sitting in front of the same television again. We were watching something called "No Comment" on Euronews, a show that consisted of video coverage with no commentary, not even in a language I can't understand, not even scrolling across the bottom of the screen. There was footage of a mob of black-hoodied people in Prague, beating each other up, against grey walls. And then the cops showed up and then it switched to somewhere in the boondocks of Turkey, where peasants set up camp and hauled things against a stark desert. In the distance behind their tents, there were dunes of dark pebbles, what might have been coal? And all this as my little cousins expended energy at our feet:


On TUESDAY I woke up early and voted. Off-year, so there were like six propositions and of course Gavin Newsom won for mayor, perhaps because, as someone told me later that day, "He's just so damn good-looking," and the roster of people he was running against read like a variety show line-up. The volunteers were sweet, but seemed a little incompetent, and I wondered how voting could be more powerful than certain conversations.

On WEDNESDAY, this happened, but I didn't hear about it until THURSDAY, and even then I was too busy getting painfully drunk with the best coworkers a girl could ask for. And so I started to process it on FRIDAY. 36,000 gallons of oil fuel (which is somewhere in between gasoline and straight-up crude oil) spilled in San Francisco Bay. Unforgivably slow response and the poison spread quickly and far, closing down more than a dozen beaches, seriously the most amazing gems of our city and surrounds. But then this fine SUNDAY morning I happened to click on this. 1,300 tons of oil fuel spilled in the Black Sea after an oil tanker split in half?!

Still the thing that gets me most is that after a nice walk with a friend in yesterday's grey drizzle, about a half a block from my house I encountered a man I often see hanging out on the streets of my neighborhood. He was standing still right in the middle of the sidewalk, facing east, underneath one of those huge black umbrellas, the kind my dad used to have. And as I slowly walked by him, I realized his head was bowed towards his chest and he was sleeping.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

scars are sexy

So I got a forward from my good friend D in NYC the other day telling me that a novel called The Scar of David by Susan Abulhawa won a national award. The synopsis that followed said the book traces the lives in a Palestinian family through the major wars and massacres of the second half of the 20th century, starting with the Naqbe in 1948 through to the Jenin massacres in 2002. And I was excited. A novel about Palestine and by a Palestinian-American awarded the National Book Award? In a country like this? With the whitewashed, privileged literary establishment we have? Amazing! But, no. Upon closer inspection of D's email I realized it wasn't the esteemed National Book Award that Ms. Abulhawa won but something called the National "Best Books" Award, which, from what I can tell, isn't quite so esteemed. And in an email exchange with D, I realized The Scar of David had crossed my desk last spring. D sent it to me asking me to review it for an academic journal about the Middle East she's involved with. I remember getting 34 pages into it, trying to like it, wanting to at least be interested by it, but so bored by the limpid prose, the repetitive description, and the predictable, slow storyline that I had to stop. It would have been too painful to go on. I even remember being offended at the way Ms. Abulhawa represented her own people! When I told D how I felt, she had agreed I should stop. It seemed obvious it was a waste of time.

So why did the book win an award? There are many possible reasons. Maybe after page 34 it got really amazing. Maybe I am close-minded about prose and not fit to review anything that I don't consider up to a certain level that is completely arbitrary, some standard I've established in my mind that can't ever apply to the world at large, even though I might feel like it does. More likely, perhaps, the topic of Palestine is "sexy" lately (you know, Arabs and terrorists and shit) and gets little novelistic treatment on American bookshelves, so Ms. Abulhawa fulfilled some need, found some pocket of interest. And perhaps her prose, which I found limpid, to some is quite readable, easy, understandable, clear. Ms. Abulhawa's website says she was the speaker at some Wisconsin book event, and that she just sold Dutch rights with 10,000 copies pre-sold (a decent number if you who don't know from publishing). Where am I going with all this? Oh, you know, to a pessimistic place... where art and cultural exposure don't necessarily coincide. I'd love it if a good novel about Palestine or Lebanon or Egypt won an American award. But the fact that a bad (ok so I'm not 100% sure it's bad but at this point I'm going with it) one did, and that this bad novel is primarily a topical novel, riles me for a bevy of complicated reasons I can't disentangle for you right here and now. Maybe I should just shut up and go work on my own book already. (Incidentally, I do think scars are sexy.)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

burst my bubble

It is day 2 of my 3-day weekend ("weekend" being defined as a period of time without having to go to work or school) and I felt a little guilty for having spent day 1 galavanting around town and not doing an ounce of writing, reading, or studying. So today I woke up early and besides some necessary trips to the kitchen and the bathroom, stayed at my desk. But I could tell from looking out the windows and from how happy my roommates were on coming in from the outside world that it was a pretty, sunny day out there. And so around four I gathered a pile of books, papers, and my laptop under my arm and ventured as far as the corner and found myself a little table at Maxfield's, my favorite cafe. So I got myself a nice warm cup of tea and cracked open my Arabic book to begin conjugating some new verbs. Halfway through the first set, I noticed a man coming up to me in my periphery.

Man: What's that? Hebrew?

Me: No. Arabic.

He wore jeans splattered in white paint and a similarly stained hat. He had a pencil behind his ear, and the skin on his face was red, splotched, scarred. He had a blond mustache and the idea that he was an angry person grew and grew as he continued to talk to me. Picture it: I am sitting at a small table just next to but facing away from the counter where the cafe people have put all the different kinds of sweeteners and creamers and utensils and this man is doctoring up his cup of coffee and continuing to talk at me and I vacillate between ignoring him to get back to my conjugation and turning to look at him because it seems like he wants to have a conversation but also it seems like he thinks he already knows who I am and he is angry at that person.

Man: What are you going to do with that? [Meaning, I suppose, the Arabic.] Be an interpreter for the U.S. government?

Me: No.

Man: You got student loans?

Me: Not for this. [I motion to my Arabic notebook.]

Man: You know, if you work for the government ten years they'll forgive your student loans, all of 'em.

Me: [Look up at him.]

Man: That's the problem with you kids nowadays. [I swear, these are the exact words that came from his lips.] You all want to be freelancers. Don't want to be managed. Just want to manage.

Me: [Look up at him.]

Man: You know what's going to happen? [No pause.] Our whole country's going to be run by [he might have said "illegal" here] immigrants.

Me: [Look up at him and feel a bit frightened by what I interpret as a hateful sneer and begin to have the urge to tell him to shut up.]

Man: You know where all this comes from? [No pause.] Lack of religion. No one wants to be told what to do.

And then he walks out of the cafe.

I've been thinking a lot lately how San Francisco, especially my 'hood, is like a bubble. It's all preaching to the choir. Everyone agrees. And as a result, people don't go deep, which leads me to judge them as ignorant and boring, which upsets me because I'm really working at being non-judgemental, but it's hard.

Maybe god sent me this guy to interrupt that recurrent thought.

Friday, October 12, 2007

i'm from the east

...the east coast is where my parents (and some cousins and an aunt I am honored to be named after) live, northern Virginia, to be exact. And its where I spent seven years of my childhood, not all at once but in spurts. I have friends there I've returned to, again and again. And places--shopping malls, schools, highways, museums--that I've revisited over and over. It happened again last weekend. I flew home and spent a few days with family and friends, who, in my everyday, are faraway people I know through telephone calls and photos posted on the internet. And it was great. I baked a raspberry-peach crumble with my sister, a finale to one of my mother's famous dinners. I got a good haircut at a cheap Vietnamese place, and my mom bought me a pair of sweet shoes. Took a drive south with my family, meandered some back roads, ate a satisfying yet unimaginative lunch at an old downtown inn. We are cosmopolitan folk, not overly impressed by ranch dressing and ice burg lettuce. I was jealous of my mom who ordered the crab cake. Lumps of amazing fresh meat smashed together on a toasty bun. The weather there was humid, and hot, strangely so for mid-October. The humidity made my hair curl and frizz, and my face broke out in a constellation of unsightly pimples. I felt like a teenager, which is inevitably how I feel when I am in my parents' house. Not necessarily a bad thing, I think. None of the leaves on the trees had turned color, as they normally do this time of year. They told me they heard that the drought means there will be none of that this year. The leaves will immediately turn a crisp brown and fall away crackling. A warm winter is in store. What is a warm winter? My mom and I saw an incredible film for free at the Smithsonian, a documentary about women in Afghanistan that followed the lives of three very different women from that country over a number of recent years. Amazing lens with which to look at the insanely unfortunate history of that country, as well as the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. "View from a Grain of Sand." Watch it if you can. I drank sangrias and ate amazing sandwiches with three friends I've known since kindergarten. I visited another friend who has been very sick. It was late on Sunday and we couldn't/didn't want to drink and so sat outside a 24-hour Taco Bell sipping sodas and talking about how much cooler it is in San Francisco. And at my house, eating fruit after dinner as we've always done, I complained to my mother the orange she peeled for me (my mom loves me!) was dry and she had a piece and said it was fine. "But they are so much better in California!" And the strawberries were pinkish and were Driscoll's, the same brand name and farm as the juicy, red ones I buy here. And then I flew back to San Francisco.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

i am absent

...from this page but things keep on keeping on. the weather in san francisco is gorgeous again this weekend, though days end earlier and there is a nip in the air that sneaks up on you. and a man just walked into the cafe i am sitting in wearing a full leather ensemble--black leather pants, black leather button up shirt. i wonder if he's on his way to the folsom street fair, which is today. yesterday was lovefest. san francisco is all about the street parties lately. i went to one the other night. the 15th anniversary of critical mass here. enough for me for a while. so i am absent, sitting in a cafe, thinking about street parties and attempting to write.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Massacre

I invite you to consider the events at Sabra and Chatila. Ok, so maybe wikipedia isn't the best source for info, but it's at least a starting point, a brief and arrayed sketch of what happened in the Palestinian camps south of Beirut 25 years ago this week. If you are into Robert Fisk, you'd be into what he says about the event. Here's what he wrote on the 19th anniversary. And if you aren't into him or don't know him, you should consider it anyway. After all, he was one of the first foreign journalists admitted to the blood-drenched, corpse-strewn area after the attack finally stopped. Promise me you won't take the things Bernard Lewis says about the fateful day seriously.

Anyway, it was a quarter century ago...who cares, right? I know that you know that things are still pretty bad and these sorts of scenes don't seem so far-fetched or far off or unlikely, particularly in places outside North America and Western Europe, and maybe Japan and Australia. Even though, it's true. We have our own problems, our own devastations. But I think I better sign off for now, leave all this to the experts.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Days of the Week

In my Arabic class, we have just learned the day s of the week, which is pretty cool since they basically correspond with the numbers. Can you imagine that? What if we had One-Day and Two-Day. Well, I guess we do have Tuesday. Um. So today is Tuesday but I wish it was Wednesday because Tuesday is super-busy at my work and Wednesday is my day off when I spend all day alone writing and reading (and often doing laundry) and then have class from 4pm to 10pm. I was expressing this wish to my friend and she told me not to worry, that it would be Wednesday soon enough, like tomorrow. And it touched me that she had that thought and expressed it to me in order to soften the pain of Tuesday. For real, I was touched, even though of course Wednesday comes after Tuesday, just as surely as four comes after three. And it'll happen again next week, until Apocalypse or Armageddon or something like that.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

modern ruins

In the past week, I have had the pleasure of going to two fascinating places just outside San Francisco--Angel Island:


and Jack London Park:

They are both sites of incredible natural beauty--respectively: an island in the Bay with gorgeous views of the city, and a redwood and eucalyptus forest nestled in some hills above the wineries of Sonoma County. But the thing about each place that most touched my imagination were the modern ruins, pictured above. On Angel Island, in various states of disrepair, the buildings of that island's most recent history as an immigration checkpoint and army base still stand, eerily. And, in Jack London Park, we marveled at and wandered through Jack London's dream home, which burned to the remaining stone foundation just a few weeks before he was to move in. For additional and assorted photos of both of my excursions, go here and here. Better yet, visit the ruins yourself.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Jonas Update

Yet more unfortunate events for my friend Jonas Moffat, whose recent expulsion from Israel I posted on July 8:

[following by Jonas]

Hello my dear friends. I know my last dispatch was entitled "Final Dispatch." But this is the Epilogue. And it is an unbelievable epilogue for sure. The severity and unbelievability of it is still setting in.In my "Final Dispatch," I informed you of how I was on my way to Jerusalemwith Katie to do story on the Pride Parade In Jerusalem. (See Katie'saccount here: http://moomin13.livejournal.com/71737.html). But I wasp icked up at the Qalandia checkpoint, thrown in jail for a week, and then deported to Egypt, only after much work from friends and lawyers convincing the Israeli Ministry of Interior not to send me back to the US.And like that, my life in Palestine was over. I was forced to leave my work and my friends. My apartment and rooms were left as if I was just going out for a stroll. But I was not to come back. I was prohibited from bringing most of my belongings with me, including my laptop. That was the "Get Out" part of the story. So now I sit in Egypt. I took the time since my deportation to be with friends and to heal after a pretty traumatizing experience. My wonderful friends from San Francisco helped to fund my way to Indonesia to be with them and clear my mind from the worst week of my life and re-energize and re-focus. And this I did. Then I boarded a flight back to Egypt to get back to work, to work remotely from Palestine for the ISM. But first, I needed the rest of my belongings that were stuck in Palestine. Katie boarded a bus from Jerusalem around the same time my friend Ahmed and I boarded a bus from Cairo. Destination: Sinai Peninsula. Number One: to see Katie whom I hadn't seen since the Israeli authorities kicked me out of Palestine. And Number Two: to retrieve my things, especially my laptop, so I could get back to working for the non-violent resistance. Through text messages, Katie and I corresponded. Her from Israel, and me from Egypt."On bus, see you in 7 hours." "Okay, see you soon, insha'allah. I miss you." Etc. Etc. Time passed. Eventually I received a text message from Katie: "I am detained at the border." This was expected of course. More time passed. "Still detained," read another text. An hour later, I receive this text: "I can't believe what they just did. I don't know how to tell you." This brings us to the "and Stay Out" part of the story…

(written by Katie)

"Friday morning I left Ramallah for Egypt to see Jonas in Sinai and to give him some of his stuff. I road a bus from Jerusalem to Eilat and was going to cross the border from Eilat, Israel into Taba, Egypt. I gave Jonas a ballpark time of when I would be there, because you never can tell what will happen at these border crossings. The first time I ever crossed the border from Israel to Jordan, I was delayed there for 3 hours because of a bomb scare. That was back in 2001, my first Israeli "security"experience. I was simultaneously scared and intrigued at the same time. "What kind of god-forsaken place is this?" my 25 year-old-self wondered. So there I was at the Eilat border crossing, wondering how long I would be detained this time. The border policewoman punched my passport number into the computer and I watched her face turn from almost-pleasant to suspicious and hostile. She made phone calls and I waited for the stone-faced security to arrive and tell me "Please come with us."

"Please come with us," they told me.

I followed them to the metal detector where they ran both my bags through the x-ray machine and made me walk through the metal detector twice. On the other side of the x-ray machine they began opening one of my bags. My sketchbook with my cartoons and drawings was in this bag. I had debated taking this with me or not, knowing it might cause a problem. But hey, Israel is a country of freedom of speech, right? I should be able to draw as I please without being a threat to security, right? So I took it, and now I was watching a bunch of pissed off border police flip through and ask me why do I draw like this? After they thoroughly searched one bag, they asked me if all of the stuff with me was mine. "Some of it is my friend's stuff that I am taking to him in Egypt." The border police looked at each other with raised eyebrows. "But don't worry; it's all been with me, at my house, for the last 3 months. I know what all of it is and I can show it to you. He stayed with me, left some of his stuff and now I am taking it to him."

At that point they took me away from my possessions and put me in the strip search room. I was thoroughly strip-searched and when I was allowed back out, I began to realize something was very wrong. All at once, after being alerted to something, about 8 of the security people all freaked out and ran off somewhere, quite an unsettling thing to see. I asked one who was still me what was going on. He told me not to worry and that everything was ok. "How can you tell me not to worry when 8 of your people just freaked out like that?" I asked. No answer. I waited for a while and then I was given one of my backpacks and my passport. At this point, if I had wanted to, I could have just left the terminal and gone to Egypt. Nothing and nobody was preventing me. But they had the other bag and I wanted to wait for it, of course.

I was made to wait inside the entrance to the Israeli side of theterminal. There were about 8 border police blocking the door. They would not let anyone in or out. I asked one of them about my other bag, he said the police had to come and check it but I could have it back after they checked it.

I waited.

Other people crossing from Egypt to Israel were lining up to leave inside. The border police would not let them leave. I saw a police van outside. At first there were maybe 15 people waiting inside. Then 30,then 100. There was a public announcement in Hebrew and English saying there was suspicious package that the police were checking out and that this was the cause of the delay. I heard an explosion. I began to feel uneasy. Then I heard another one.

Neta called me. I told her "Neta, the police have one of my bags. They aren't letting anyone leave the terminal, there's a police van parked outside and I just heard two explosions, I'm afraid they exploded my bag.

"Don't worry," she reassured me, "if they really thought you had a bomb, they would have arrested you by now." She's right, I thought… I have my passport; I could just leave if I wanted to. No one spoke to me; no one asked me a single question about where I was going or what was in my bag.

After about an hour, a police officer informed me they had exploded my bag.

"YOU WHAT ? YOU DIDN'T ASK ME ANYTHING, I WOULD HAVE OPENED THE BAG ANDSHOWED YOU EVERYTHING INSIDE IT, ALL YOU HAD TO DO WAS ASK. INSTEAD YOU WASTED THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS OF AMERICAN TAXPAYER MONEY TO EXPLODE MYGODDAMED BAG WITHOUT EVEN ASKING ME WHAT WAS IN IT. YOU RAN IT THROUGH THE X-RAY MACHINE YOU CAN SEE EXACTLY WHAT WAS IN IT"

I was crying at this point. Some of the female border police began laughing at me. The officer told me I would be reimbursed for the cost of the stuff that had been exploded.

"How do you know how much it was worth??? You EXPLODED It BEFORE YOU EVEN HAD A CHANCE TO LOOK"

"Don't worry," he told me, "Just go to the Eilat police station and they will give you a report and you can get money back."

Well there was nothing I could do at that point. There was some of mineand some of Jonas's stuff in that bag. Some of my original artwork too that I was giving him as a gift.

I made a list of everything:
Laptop
Ipod
Original art
Rainbow kuffiya
Watch
3 books
Tea
Fire poi
Bike light
3 shirts
Cds
Lens cap for camera
Sandals

I'm sure they feel like they thwarted a terrorist plot. All they did was waste a lot of people's time and money. Maybe it was because they didn't like my cartoons? I don't know. "

(end Katie's story)

So, as if it couldn't get any worse, now I am without about 1200 dollars worth of my belongings. My plan was to get back right away to Egypt and sit down at the computer and do some of the tasks I was doing in Palestine but from Cairo: sending e-mails, updating the website, compiling digests, editing reports, uploading photos and video… anything I could do to help. But it all went up in smoke, with the Israeli border authorities giving new meaning to: Your Hard Drive is Fried.

So I will try and start again. Subdue my frustration. Breathe deep. Like a kidney stone, just Let it pass.

**If anyone out there would like to help me get a new laptop to continueworking, please let me know.I am accepting PayPal donations at this email: joeskillet@riseup.net. Or contact me for other donation methods.**

Thanks to everyone out there who has been so supportive thus far! This is just another twist in the road. But I have anti-lock breaks and I know how to use them!

From Egypt with Love,
Jonas

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Bookshelves

I would like to take a moment to thank shelves of books...

...for providing a way of getting to know someone.

...for being one of the best ways to wile away time at house parties when you don't feel like talking to anyone.

...for evidencing the things we have known and the things we want to know.

(Oh, and goodreads.com doesn't even hold a candle.)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Overheard

"Well, I mean...I've loved books forever, and so I love words, and so this makes sense. And it's just paper. I live in San Francisco, so dealing with glass is really out of the question--all those stacks of plates and saucers and things. Dealing with glass really freaks me out, even just getting near it, really. And furniture's too heavy. Anyway, this stuff [gesturing around her at bins full of filed, celo-covered pieces of paper] is so much more interesting than glass or wood. The thing about paper is that it is supposed to be ephemeral but I've got pieces here that are more than 120 years old and they look brand new. It's magical."

--one of the dealers at Hal Lutsky's Vintage Paper Fair, which, this past weekend, was visiting the County Fair Building in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park

Sunday, August 5, 2007

9/11 Research

I'm working on a short story about 9/11 right now which is kind of weird for many reasons--not the story but the working on it--particularly because 9/11 isn't entirely the focus of the story and also because in my procrastination as I work, I've been finding things like this image to the left. I also found this, which I'm not posting directly since it seems a little tasteless--still fascinating, though. I've also been watching clips from that morning on youtube, an activity which has proved more disturbing than originally anticipated.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Early and cold (blurt #2)

i am over the crippling need
to know your name and she is under
my heart and the reason is clear
there is no god but he is behind
the purple velvet scarred with burn
holes from a cigarette smoked
on a sunday morning in june
when we could see the moon against
the pale blue air around us and they
talked about representing the sky
and seeing the sky and knowing the sky

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Fact of the Day

A dentist invented the electric chair. A patient told us this today, all gleeful, as she got into the chair (which all of a sudden signaled death) for her cleaning. Not that I would ever wish death on anyone, but just that it made sense. It does. I looked it up on wikipedia, and it's true.

The idea, at least, came from a dentist, one Alfred P. Southwick, who thought of it while witnessing a wet, drunk man being hit by lightning on a fateful night.

How did the dentists in my office today react to the niblet of trivia? They both smiled. One said, "Oh," and barely rolled his eyes, which I think he meant to sound like: "Who cares?" but actually seemed more like: "Hmmm. Interesting." And the other said, "See? Dentists are creative people."

Saturday, July 14, 2007

What am I doing?

This is a question that graduate students of creative writing ask ourselves all the time.

Very unhelpful and disconcerting are internet posts like this, which highlight every possible anxiety we might have about the practicality and ultimate feasability of our writerly pursuits.

Much more heartening is an article like this, which reviews a newly released debut by a recent sfsu grad. Thanks to Lizzy for the tip.

If my life is mine and I have the privilege to spend it following a thing I love, I choose to stay hopeful.

(Lizzy has inspired me to proclaim this. She is a splendid soul.)

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Palestine Story

In the miasma of all the stories coming out of the middle east, particularly lately, I have a hard time paying attention. It's hard to know who to listen to, sometimes, and what to think. A good adviser on such matters is a previous roommate and dear friend, Jonas. Jonas was living in Palestine, working with the ISM, up until two weeks ago, when he was taken off a bus at a border-crossing for having a "fake" passport. He had recently changed his name and the passport bore his new name, which he obtained since his old name was on a list of people the Israeli government did not want in their country. Jonas was jailed, tried, and deported. Being Jonas, he somehow managed to make it Cairo, instead of back to the States. And now he is on a tropical getaway far, far away from America and the Middle East.

Below, I'm posting his most recent dispatch from his blog, followed by an entry from his "partner-in-crime" Katie about the day he was arrested. Of course Jonas is a million times more fortunate than the thousands of Palestinians who are confined to the borders Jonas was expelled from, but I think Jonas's story is an important one to pay attention to since it shows, not only how unjustly the Israeli authority treats the citizens of Palestine, but, on top of that, how the Israeli authority thwarts outside attempts to help those citizens.

What Jonas wrote:

"Battling Billions, Final Dispatch (for now)"

Well, they did it again. Another refugee to add to the ante. Of course, I
have a 'home' to return to in the States. I can go back if I choose and
continue to contribute to the fascist continuation of Occupation by paying
those tax dollars--watch them manifest themselves into a panel of the
Apartheid Wall, maybe morph into one of those atrocious watchtowers or
into a rubber-coated steel bullet to be shot at the non-violent
demonstrators in Bil'in. Sure, I have that dreadful home to return to.

But my home is in Palestine. My life is there. Those who favor and work
for human rights, however, have no place in an Apartheid State, and the
Israeli government does everything in their "God-given" power to eliminate
this problem, through intimidation or by placing them on a plane and
exporting them.

That scene of a field of apricot trees being ripped from the Earth by an
Israeli bulldozer has been on replay ever since I lay in the Israeli
prison bed. Israeli soliders and police throwing men and women to the
ground as they pray to Allah for this moment in time to cease. Sons are
handcuffed. Activists are seen like rag dolls being tossed from here to
there. Hundreds of years of livelihood dismantled by the Middle East's
only democracy. And soon I find myself forced onto a plane by Israeli
security because I bared witness, video-taped and photographed all that
this democracy had to offer. I saw this democracy bare its teeth with its
unpleasant smile, seeping through a stench of death, a 60 year old rotting
lie of innocense.

And I am sent elsewhere. "Go back to your own country--aren't there enough
problems with your own government," sneers the judge. God, if she only
knew. Those problems with my government brought me here in the first
place.

I wonder if when Oprah makes her solidarity visit for those "terrorized
Israelis" she will see what's happening across the "border," listening to
my or the thousands of other e-mails pleading that America's #1 talk show
host experience the Palestinian plight, to see what terrorism means at 2am
when an entourage of soldiers invades your village and practices a war
games scenario, wreaking havoc on the inhabitants. Somehow I doubt it.

Israel wouldn't deport a high-profile Amercian woman like Oprah because
she reported on Israeli settlers attacking an 8-year old Palestinian boy
in Hebron, would they?

You know, I wouldn't put anything past the Middle East's only democracy.

So, I am taking six weeks to redirect this anger, sadness, emptiness, and
frustration, and hoping to manifest these emotions into something
beautiful. A regime of ugliness has no defense against this kind of
beauty.

But can this beauty battle billions of American tax dollars?

One can only hope.

Signing off until further notice...

Salamaat,
Jonas

What Katie wrote:

Thursday Jonas and I were on our way from Ramallah to Jerusalem. It
was the evening of the gay pride parade. Jonas was composing the
opening sentence of his future report outloud.. it was something
along the lines of "what brings Jews, Muslims and Christians together
in Jerusalem like nothing else..." except it was more clever than
that and I'm feeling more depressed than clever at the moment so I
can't recall the exact line. As some of you know, the only thing that
unified all faiths was their violent opposition to the gay pride
parade this past week. The previous week the Haredi Jews had a
counter demonstration. The police were going to be out in full force
because last year there were some serious injuries.

Jonas's visa was expired but he had an appointment slip from the
ministry of the interior to renew his visa on July 2nd. This means it
is still legal for him to be in the country. We approached Qalandia
checkpoint in a service. The driver stopped and a soldier boarded the
bus to check our passports. I showed mine and Jonas showed his and
the appointment slip. The soldier took his passport and exited the
bus. He returned and told Jonas to get off the bus and come with him.
I followed to see what was going on. In less than 4 minutes, they'd
handcuffed Jonas and started taking him over to the police terminal
at Qalandia, accusing him of having a fake passport. Not sure whether
it was better to try to get away myself and start calling the lawyer,
or go with him, I wavered for a few minutes, initially refusing to go
with the police officers who insisted I come as well. In the end I
decided it would be better to be with him and quickly sent off some
text messages saying what was happening. They took us into a police
trailer and told us Jonas's passport was fake and that he was under
arrest and they wanted to ask me some questions. I ignored their
questions and continued text messaging the peeps telling them what
was happening and what Jonas needed. The cop told me to give him my
phone. I refused because I know that that police have no authority to
take my possessions unless they arrest me. He tried to grab my phone
out of my hand, I jerked my hand away. He threatened to use force, I
told him if he wanted any of my possessions, he'd have to arrest me.
I tried to resume text messaging and he grabbed the phone. I twisted
it out of his hand. (Thanks for that, Sifu Phil) He said if I didn't
give him the phone, he'd arrest me. "Fuck you," I replied. Then he
called a female cop in who put me in handcuffs and they took my phone
away. But it's all good cuz by then all of our peeps knew and could
get the ball rolling on getting us out of there and I'd be with
Jonas, at least for the time being.

Jonas and I waited in that room for about an hour while the cops went
through our stuff and filled out my arrest paperwork.

I've always been afraid that when I was interrogated or arrested, I
would end up talking and saying something I shouldn't because of the
way they pressure you in an interrogation. Somehow though I was able
to just withdraw into my head and I didn't say a single word to the
the whole time except to tell Jonas I loved him.

After an hour they took both of us out of the trailer, they put me in
the back of a police vehicle and that was the last I saw of Jonas
that day. I was taken to the police station at the Giv'at Ze'ev
settlement and told by a bitchy policewoman that I had been arrested
for resisting a police officer. She wanted to hear my side of the
story but I refused to answer any questions until I could talk to my
lawyer. (television is good for something, right ?) When I was
finally able to call Yael, she said that Gaby Lasky was working on
Jonas's situation and that I should just tell the police officer what
happened, say I was sorry, and that I should be released and the
charges against me would be dropped. I'm not very good at ass-kissing
because I feel it is undignified, but I was able to do a sufficient
enough job to get un-arrested.

The most interesting part of my conversation with this police officer
was the lecture I got about being in Ramallah.

"Why were you in Ramallah ?" she asked me.

For those of you reading who haven't been to Palestine I will explain
some of the political/geographic situation. Ramallah is a part of the
West Bank that is classified as Area A. This means it is under
control of the Palestinian Authority and Israeli civilians are
prohibited from entering. "For their own safety" is the standard
line. The Israeli army can, and does still invade. I tried to picture
the look on the cop's face if I told her that actually, I live there.

"I was picking up something from a friend," I said.

"Where were you ?" she asked.

"Al Manara square."

"Did you know it is illegal for you, as an Israeli citizen, to be in
Ramallah ?"

"Yes."

She began the lecture, "I know you are new here so I need to explain
some things to you. It is very VERY dangerous for you to be in
Ramallah. Those people will kill and mutilate you if they find out
you are Jewish. They kill each other all the time. I hope for your
own good that you never go back there. If they see you have this
Israeli ID on you, they will kill you."

At this point I was picturing my nice apartment on the edge of the
wadi and my nice friends who live in Ramallah and know I have an
Israeli ID. I don't hide it, if someone asks how I am able to stay in
the West Bank for so long, I tell them. When I open my wallet to buy
something, anyone can see my ID. I feel very safe in Ramallah. My
Israeli friend Neta walks down the street in Ramallah speaking Hebrew
on the phone. I tried to imagine what would happen if I told the cop
these things, if I said to her, "Listen, either you're wrong or I'm
crazy. Take your pick."

But that's a conversation for another time and another place. I just
wanted to get the hell out of there and see what was going on with
Jonas.

I called him immediately and found out the bad news that he was
already at Ben Gurion airport and was likely to be deported. Jonas is
my partner in (non-violent) crime. We've been beaten by settlers
together, gotten sick from poisoned water (courtesy of the Israeli
army) together, given 11 speeches together, done the fire circus
together, lived together, worked together, been arrested together,
discussed the benefits and drawbacks of doing a fire circus at
Huwarra checkpoint at night (we both decided we'd probably get killed
so we shelved that plan), and been subjected to all kinds of threats
and intimidation from police, soldiers, settlers, and Hillel students
etc.. Jonas is my home boy. We even used to live on the same street
in San Francisco before we knew each other back when I was a blue-
haired art student and he was the bitchy waiter who served me and my
goth krew at Sparky's Diner in San Francisco. Yeah I remember Jonas
back then, I thought he was a prick because it took him an hour to
bring me my veggie burger at 2am and I'm sure he thought I was some
stuck-up goth bitch. We were both right.

Turns out "They" had found out that Jonas had been here last year
under a different name and passport. Which is not illegal, but it
means he got back in the country without "Them" knowing and that's a
bruise to the ego of the security-conscious, paranoid Israeli
intelligence.

I decided to try to go to the airport and at least see him, not
really sure if it would help. Unfortunately getting there turned out
being pretty difficult because of the parade. Jerusalem was more or
less locked down and few busses were running. I managed to convince
an Israeli girl to let me follow her to the central bus station by
foot. She said we couldn't get a bus there and she was on her way to
the area anyway. It took us 45 minutes to reach the bus station on
foot. There were police EVERYWHERE. She pointed out some special
police on motorcycles and told me they carry huge clubs and their
only job is to beat people with them. We walked through some Haredi
neighborhoods and found the that the residents had already begun to
wind themselves up for the parade. In a show of displeasure, they'd
overturned dumpsters in the middle of the street and set the trash on
fire. I asked the girl if the parade was going through this
neighborhood. She said no. In a different situation I probably would
have enjoyed the walk through Jerusalem, you can learn lot about
human nature if pay attention to the way people behave when they're
gearing up for some violent confrontation, but I spent the entire
time on the phone trying to figure out what was going on with Jonas.

By the time I actually got to the central bus station to get a bus to
the airport, I learned from Kobi, one of the Israeli anarchists who
was trying help Jonas, that going to the airport would be useless
because they had transferred him to the immigration prison in Lod. I
sat down in the bus station and had a tearful conversation with Jonas
on the phone. There's something about being in Israeli bus stations
that really magnifies one's despair. Maybe it's the fact that every
other person in the bus station is carrying a gun, or maybe it's just
the bitchy lady at the entrance to the bathroom who won't let you
relieve yourself unless you give her a shekel.

Since there was nothing I could do but wait until his hearing before
a judge on Sunday, I decided to go back to Jerusalem and stay the
night at the Faisal. I left the bus station and flagged down a cab. I
asked the driver how much would it be to go to Damascus Gate. He told
me 40 shekels. He drove me to Jaffa Gate and said "here we are, this
is Jaffa Gate." Jaffa Gate is in Jewish West Jerusalem and is about a
20 minute walk from Damascus Gate in Arab East Jerusalem, the place I
had asked him to bring me.

"I told you to take me to Damascus Gate," I reminded him.

"I can't take you there, you can get out here and walk."

"Why can't you take me there ?" I asked. (This is a rhetorical
question because I know what he's going to say)

"Because of the Arabs," he answered. (I was right !!!)

"Are you afraid of the Arabs ?" (What about the Haredim on the other
side of town who have practically declared war on the gay population
of Israel ?) "Look," I told him, "I asked you how much it was to
Damascus Gate, you said it was 40 shekels, you agreed to take me
there and I'm not getting out of this taxi until you take me there."

"It'll be 50 shekels if you want me to take you to Damascus Gate."

"No, you are going to take me to Damascus Gate and I am going to pay
you 40 shekels."

He took me there and let me off. I paid him 40 shekels.

Walking back to the Faisal I realized that the Holy Land is pretty
close to Hell on Earth. Everyone here hates everyone else. Everyone
is trying their best to make everyone else's lives miserable. What
differentiates it from the US, is that all of these different people,
Palestinians, gays, Haredis, Fatah, settler hilltop youth,
anarchists, international solidarity workers, Sudanees refugees,
Hamas, secular Jews, Zionists, Islamic Jihad, Kahanists, the JDL,
communists, Ethiopians, non-Jewish Russian immigrants, Bedouins,
Druze, Armenians, Christian Palestinians, and loud-mouthed new
immigrants from New York City staking claim to their G*d-given
territory in the middle of the old city of Hebron have to live
together in an area 1/19th the size of California and all of us,
depending on our religion or ethnicity, have some form of travel
restrictions placed upon us. West Bankers and Gazan's of course can't
enter "Israel," Israelis can't be in Area A, refugees are restricted
to their moshavs, Israeli anarchists are forbidden (just like
Palestinians) from going anywhere near the settlements, Jerusalem
Palestinians can't be in Area A. It's enough to make your head spin
and democracy it ain't.

In the US, the neo-Nazis can happily snort meth in their isolated
bunkers in Idaho and no one really has to think about them very much.

Jonas was given a deportation order on Sunday. He wanted to go to
Egypt to stay with a friend and figure out what he would do from
there. He's also supposed to go to Bali next month and leave from
Amman Jordan. But "They" had other plans for him and were threatening
to fly him back to the United States. This would have been a
disaster. Luckily Kobi was able to handle the bitchy immigration
police and arrange for him to be sent to Cairo. While talking to
Jonas the phone, he told me "They" "accused" him of being Muslim
because of his beard. When he pointed out that Jews have beards too
and told them he prays to Jesus, they laughed in his face.

We brought his things to the airport and were only able to see him
for about two minutes, long enough to give him his stuff and some
food because he hadn't eaten since his arrest on Thursday, and
understandably so.

I miss Jonas. I can't wait to see him again. I don't know what is
going to happen now. There are so many things here I cannot imagine
doing without him.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

celebration

Beautiful, right? This was the setting for my good friend Darren's wedding last weekend. After the ceremony (pictured here), everyone took their seats at the ten or so tables set up on the lawn, had a tasty dinner as the sun set. There was plenty of California wine to go around to fuel all the dancing that came after. This all happened in the back garden at the home of the lovely bride's grandmother in Los Gatos.

I feel over-stimulated by celebration lately, partly guilty, partly wondering if we deserve all the indulgence, the time off... And yesterday was July 4, on a Wednesday, of all days. Smack dab in the middle of our American work week, a majority of workers got the day off. In San Francisco, we had one of the record hottest days in history and everyone seemed to be aimlessly wandering about. I made it out to Berkeley to visit a friend before her bbq got under way. We sat in her shady back garden and chatted. I got back to SF a few hours before sunset, checked out the insane party that was going on in Dolores Park. Among the hundreds gathered, my roommate organized a bbq that consisted of many kinds of meat and beer and an actual arcade game that they had somehow transported to the park and were running off a gasoline motor. There were immense piles of trash around all the trashcans and scattered on the lawn. I high-tailed it home where I met some friends for dinner and then up to my friend's roof where we had a 360-degree view of the city and surrounds. We watched fireworks shoot into the sky from different neighborhoods and rooftops, spinning on our feet, ooh-ing and aah-ing. The night was balmy and the lights and sounds were stimulating--sometimes warlike and of course we jokes about the ones set off by the city that we were seeing our tax dollars at work. Afterwards, we headed over to Dolores Park. We walked against the leaving hordes and now the trash just seemed like it was everywhere. We sat at the edge of a hill and listened to some pretty bad hippy "campfire" music.

For a few more photographs from the wedding weekend, go here. I didn't take any photos on July 4. Firework photographs are pretty tough to make interesting anyway, right?

Friday, June 22, 2007

vacation blues

Ok, so it's weird. I've been back from my trip (to Lebanon, Damascus, and Istanbul) for a little over a week now and for most of that week I've been stricken by an ailment I've dubbed "the vacation blues." I'm probably not the first to come up with this term. I'm sure you can sympathize. You leave your daily routine of life and head somewhere completely different from where you are for a little while (2.5 weeks, in this case). You fly away; you turn your phone off. And time feels like it's moving so slow when you get there and begin spending time at that faraway place; you get sucked the new world that exists at the coordinates of your escape. Everything is new and therefore you tend to savor the passing moments, so that they don't so much feel like they are passing but that they will last forever. Sure, you talk about your old life in your vacation place, think about it even, but it is not really real, not something you feel and breathe. Occasionally you count the days until you have to go back, and each time you are happy because you still have time. But eventually, the last day comes, the last walk to the beach, the last sit on the balcony, the last dinner, the last night you dream here, the last morning you wake up. The last car ride on vacation is to the airport and you look out the window and the vacation still exists.

And then you fly home.

BAM!

Back to your life. Everyone and everything is happy to see you. You look at photos, tell stories about airports and night clubs and ferries and cobbled alleys. You tell them about the sarcophagi of 3000 year old mummies, and the corpses themselves, blackened skin that didn't look like skin, clinging in pieces to brown bones. But you also want to know, and they also want to tell you, how they're doing, how home has been without you. And it's almost like you weren't even gone.

Not to be a downer. I realized today--standing on my cousin's roof, a delicious meal beginning to digest inside me and the weekend ahead of me, the sun disappearing slowly below the rainbow sky, the buildings down the hills around us like colored tiles--that it's nice to be back.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

vacation photos



So I have been home a few days and after too many computer-related tribulations, have managed to make my photos from the trip I took to Lebanon, Damascus, and Istanbul available
to you in three parts--here, here and here.

Why Facebook, you ask? Well, I was very resistant, but finally joined the other day, and thank the good lord I did; as I began uploading the photos on my old photoblog page, I was immediately faced with a dialogue box telling me I was out of storage space. After a bit of fumbling, I figured out that it's about a million times easier to load pics onto Facebook, which, unlike the old photoblog, is free of charge and has unlimited space.

The only problem? I've run out of patience and not been able to label the photos, which are in a random order. So, if you have any questions about where any were taken, feel free to ask. The one I've posted here is my sister still asleep on one of the mornings we spent in Ghazieh, the town where my mother grew up in southern Lebanon.

Also, if you want the full-size version of any, ask for that too.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Alone in Istanbul: A Journal Entry

Mom, Dad, Lara left this morning. Alone and Luti (the owner of our hotel) gave me a ride to my hostel at the other side of Sultanahmet in his white Mercedes. "Relax. Don't worry. I want you to have a good time here." He also told me that he doesn't think Turkey will become part of the E.U., that even Istanbul is not ready. That ten years ago, when he bought what would become the Ambassador Hotel, there were folks shooting up in that currently cafe-and-souvenir-shop-studded alley. He has two others and is considering buying another now, near the Four Seasons (in the shadow of the Hagia Sofia) but it is for $5 million, and "that is a lot of money." He looked sad when he said it. I finally had my fish sandwich--grilled fillet stuffed in white fluffy bread with onions, tomato and lettuce eaten sitting on a concrete wall by the water, near the Galata Bridge. It was tasty but made me feel sick. Then I found my way to the Istanbul Modern where I saw some great photos--the encyclopedic dreamscapes of Andreas Gursky (an amazing aeriel chaotic Cairo street scene froze me) and a series of stunning black-and-whites by a Dutch Turk, Ahmet Polat. Also imaginative/disturbing/lovely videos by four international artists and a permanent collection not worth writing home (where's that?) about. Now I sit in the outermost cafe of a strip of sheesha bars at Tophane. Tea to settle my stomach. Sunlight striping the shade. An airplane passes overhead. Youth everywhere and their mixed music. Unsure why I'm anxious about returning home.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Istanbul is Absurd

...but in a (mostly) good way. Here is a list of the top absurdities I've encountered since arriving last Monday.

TRAINS
We were the first people standing on an empty tram platform our first afternoon here. Within five minutes, hundreds of people swarmed around us and there was no where to move. As people negotiated their way on and off trains, they did what they had to do. Not a single frustrated word or angry look...

TRASH
I was stunned by our first walk on Istiklal Street. The street is lined with eateries, small shops, and international retailers. At parts, cars run across it and a "nostalgic" streetcar runs down it, but otherwise it's a pedestrian thoroughfare. And you see every kind of person you could imagine. I had just finished drinking a bottle of water and eating a simit (a kind of sesame coated bread ring they sell on the street here) and so had an empty bottle and paper wrapper to throw away, but could not find a trashcan anywhere. I was even more perplexed that I didn't see any trash on the street either. Maybe I wasn't looking hard enough. I got rid of my trash by leaving it on the table of an excellent pudding shop we had coffee and dessert at. And later that night as we walked around some back streets, we found all the trash. There were horrific piles of it at the edges of the empty streets and the occasional passerby would go on without a second glance. I guess somebody or something comes along in the night and deals with it. I saw a man sweeping a pile out of an alley, a cat going through some, and last night there was a young man rapidly sorting a pile almost as tall as he was into a big plastic sack.

RICE IN A MUSSEL
Walking by the water near the Galata Bridge one evening, I was excited by all the food vendors
since dinner was a few hours away and I was hungry. I went towards a man selling mussels out of a box and pointed at the big ones, paying one lira (70 cents) for two. He made a show of popping each one open, and as I ate I realized there was spiced rice stuffed inside the tasty bites of meat. How did that happen?

SHOE SHINE
Getting off the tram one day, my dad picked up the fallen brush of the shoe shine man who was walking in front of him. Upon exiting the station, my dad told us to hold up since the shoe shine man said he wanted to do him a favor for giving him his brush and proceeded to give my dad a quick shoe shine. My father asked us all if we had any small change and we managed to scare up a few coins. In the meantime, the shoe shine guy was quickly working on someone else who promptly gave him twenty lira (18 dollars). My dad produced his three lira, and the guy got upset and then regaled him with a story about how his daughter was in the hospital and asked for twenty, indicating his previous customer. We all walked away and the shoe shine man exclaimed into the air, probably cursing.

DUSTBUSTER
Our first dinner here was at a restaurant we'd wandered to after many twists and turns. It was an alright place, with padded chairs, cold beer, mediocre food, and terrible though charming service. After all our plates had been cleared, I saw the (hot) busboy coming towards our table with a dustbuster in hand. I knew what was going to happen next but couldn't believe it when he stopped at our table, turned the thing on, and dragged it across our table cloth, specifically targeting a pile of rice that had fallen off of my sister's plate. I couldn't believe it, but I looked across the table at her and she kept a straight face. When he came around the table and dustbusted a little bit more, my sister finally began to laugh and then of course I had to laugh too, and my dad, stoic that he is, kept a straight face.

CLEANING ME
Istanbul is currently packed with tourists and, consequently, at most restaurants, bazaars, and stores that cater to them/us there are men standing outside trying to tempt them/us in. A lot of times they are young and/or attractive and they say the damnedest things. They call us angels, ask if we are married, and constantly ask where we are from, try to shake our hands. It's unnerving to a certain extent and only fun when a certain element of the insincerity of these gestures is obvious. Last night, we walked back to our hotel down a street where most of the stores were closed. We passed by one shopkeeper who was moving some wares from the sidewalk into his store. I made eye contact and he enthusiastically said, "Hi!" We were waiting for the requisite follow-up but instead got: "I will clean you with this!" and he smiled, indicating the duster in his hand.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

State of Affairs

It's vacation time and so I've been bad about posting things as they come to me. So, right now, I'm throwing out a haphazard bunch of entries all at once. I've also been taking a lot of photos, and those will have to await their Internet debut until I get back to San Francisco.

Rainbow Wreckage of Dinner

Last night was delicious again, and bright. Looking down at the table as they began to clear things away, the colors called:

Glistening milky orange chunks of mango.
Clear, bright orange of Crush in a forgotten glass.
Vibrant yellow lemon halves, squeezed and resting in a pale blue dish.
Another dish with a bite left of m'hammara—which literally means "reddened"—a bright red paste of tomatoes, nuts, onions, peppers topped with brown bits of walnut.
The two remaining sardines, a lightly fried brown, and one last brown-yellow of home-fried potato on a white plate near a puddle of ketchup red.
A dark brown platter with remains of salad shades of green and the pale red of a mountain tomato.
A brimming bowl of orange and purple spheres, apricots and plums.
And a small crystal glass showing pink liquid yet for me to drink, rose wine made from grapes grown less than a couple hour's drive from here, in the Beka'a Valley.