Sunday, April 29, 2007


This is a photograph of my cousin, a girl named Maya. She is one and half years old, approximately, which is the age, it seems, when human beings begin to notice things around them in the world, begin to be interested in how things work in terms of form and symbol and function.

Maya has a some picture books she is entirely devoted to. Whenever I visit her at home, she brings me one or two to read. She crawls up into my lap and follows along, enthusiastically turning pages and pointing out the things she knows:


The "H" is hard; this is the word for beach and ocean in Arabic. Maya has seen the baher in her picture books; she knows each fish and bird and Dora represented in those pages. She knows sand, too, playing almost daily in the sandbox at the playground near her house. Maya's already been swimming. Her mother takes her to mommy-baby lessons at the Y, calling the pool "baher" whenever she names it for Maya.

Maya's been to the beach before--here in SF and in Lebanon--but this past Friday, when I accompanied her and her parents to Crissy Field, Maya understood something about the beach for the first time. As we got out of the car and walked up to the trail and alongside the sand, she turned and said, "Baher!", loud and pointing. And then we tried to get her to walk on the sand, but she wouldn't have it, would rather stand between her parents, holding a hand of each and walk along the cement sidewalk, chanting the word. Then finally her dad grabbed her, lifting up into the air and pulling her against him, and I took my shoes off and we all walked towards the Pacific.

When we all sat down on the sand, Maya stayed in the of her father's lap, until he put her down next to him. She was stiff at first, but then we pulled out some plastic molds and shovels and began playing with the sand, encouraging her to join. And then her mom walked out to the water and Maya began to call out to her, who was becoming smaller and smaller, a colorful dot against the brown and blue expanse and I reached my hand out to Maya and got up and we walked towards her. At the water, Maya's mom took her hand and I walked into the edge of the surf. It was cold! Maya came towards the water, too, and when the water touched her she shrieked and then cried. She was devastated for about ten seconds.

We walked back towards her father then and sat down, beginning to play again. Maya curiously removed her shoes, pointing out the sand on her tiny baby feet. We helped her wipe some off and explained to her that it was alright, getting sand in you and on you was part of visiting the beach. "Ees Okay!" she echoed, pointing at her sullied feet. "Ees Okay!"

We spent about two hours sitting out. Maya's dad went for a jog. Her mom told me a story about coming to the same beach right before Maya was born. It was her idea and she loved the smell of the water and walking there even though it was cold and windy that day. Her own mother had been with her and mentioned a few times the possibility of her giving birth right there, at Crissy Field.

Maya began to realize that the whole beach was her sandbox and she wandered off from us in many directions, following pigeons and falling over her own feet, uncertain in the sand. She seemed like a crazy drunk. I guess she was drunk on the beach. On the way home she passed out in her car seat, her head slumped forward. I pushed it back, noticing her cheeks had gotten sun despite all the spf applied. She just slumped forward again, snoring her soft baby snore.

It's been a while since I've posted here. The weather has been lovely. I've been enjoying my new bike. And writing a bit and reading a lot. Today so far a coupla things stick out:

"A passive understanding of linguistic meaning is no understanding at all, it is only the abstract aspect of meaning." (M.M. Bakhtin (who I am officially in love with, btw), from "Discourse in the Novel")

"I beg to dicker with my silver-tongued companion, whose lips are ready to read my shining gloss. A versatile partner, conversant and well-versed in the verbal art, the dictionary is not averse to the solitary habits of the curiously wide-awake reader....In the rapid eye movement of the poet's night vision, this dictum can be decoded, like the secret acrostic of a lover's name." (Harryette Mullen, the beginning and end of "Sleeping with the Dictionary")

Monday, April 23, 2007

New Wheels

Actually, the wheels aren't new but off a bike I bought off Craig's List a few months ago now. None of the parts are new, really, all dug up at the Bike Kitchen, an amazing resource here in San Francisco. I don't have much to say since I've already gushed to most of you reading this about it. Here's a shoddy picture of my results. The bumble bee handlebar tape was the final piece. Funny that the Bike Kitchen's volunteer mechanics (who are all very awesome) were all eager to get in on showing me how to wrap it right, and three of them demonstrated different techniques, jumping in on each other, and forgetting about little old me. I guess there are worse ways to demonstrate your worth in the world.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Upon being scooted out of a cafe at closing after sitting for three hours furiously reading and thinking, I find myself back in my room, contemplating an all-nighter.

I find myself standing in the doorway of my bedroom, trying to decide whether to work in bed or at my desk. Desk would be wiser, of course, but it's so cold over there near the window and the wooden surface of the work table is in its own special chaos. so much more comfortable, and it seems to be what I've opted for, but would someone please save me and bring me a nice armchair? I have a space for it, in the corner near all my books...

Oh, someone please save me! (Prince Charming? You out there?)

I have fantasies of an army of helpers coming along. I would parcel out bits of my work to be done to each one, asking how much time they'd like to put in, tailoring their assignments accordingly. It would be fun (and fun is first!). I could set up a get-Amira's-homework-done factory right here in my room. I'd even provide snacks!

Oh, woeful procrastination, how did you get me to this point? Yes, and now I'm blogging, procrastinating still, high on caffeine, as the hour of my fate draws nearer and nearer...


oh my god is there no there other way than operating platform nightmares past midnight in april? and i want a land where passion drips from lips and paranoia is banished but we hold it oh so close, this need to wonder to question to interrogate. i'm full. and there is laughter echoing through the house, like nice music, like keeping me awake. and a stare across the darkened doorway pierces the dusky air, allows a flutter gut, a truth lull.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Lebanese food for infidels

I live with five other people in a house and tonight we had a potluck. We each invited a few friends. Only one of the five of us avoids eating animal products, and the potluck was entirely vegetarian and mostly even vegan. Of course this made our vegan (who doesn’t entirely like that word) very happy. And it made everyone else happy too, because it was some damn good food. Let’s see if I can list most of it: spicy Thai noodles with vegetables and tofu, fried tofu skins stuffed with rice, meatless sushi (mango, pickles, tofu, avocado, sweet potato), seaweed salad, tasty carrot/broccoli/and-lots-of-other-tasty-vegetables soup, braised golden beets, fake fried chicken in a teriyaki-like sauce, roasted vegetable ravioli with pesto and artichokes, amarinth with veggies…and I feel like there was something else, but I’m just not sure. Oh, amazing berry pie, all tart and gooey and purpley and sweet. And really rich chocolate cake. As everyone was getting their delicious creations in order, I laid out a few simple Lebanese-inspired appetizers to whet our palates. Below, you’ll find a photograph of the ingredients, the “before” picture, if you will:I went to Queen of Sheba market for the canned beans and the tahini when I was in the neighborhood yesterday and then stopped by a little place near my house, in the shadow of Safeway, called Golden Produce for, well, the produce. I had the labneh from a recent trip to Walnut Creek, purchased from the Afghani Market where my uncle and I stopped to pick up kebabs for dinner. The zaatar has been sitting in my cabinet for months, since I stole some from my cousin’s wife’s kitchen cabinet.

Whenever people ask me about cooking Lebanese food, I tell them to remember three basic ingredients: lemon, garlic, and olive oil. This is the simple triumvirate that will get you through any Lebanese meal. Those, and of course your beans, your starches. And there’s usually a pile of meat, too, but, truth be told, there are plenty of dishes to eat without it.

So I’ll start with the bread. Pita is brilliant because you can use it to eat with; it’s the ultimate edible utensil. I bought a bag of wheat pita that I warmed up and cut into halves just before dinner. And tonight, for an added crowd-pleaser, I made pita chips from a bag of white pita. For this, cut each pita loaf into six slices, like a pie and separate each slice into to triangles. Lay the slices flat on a cookie sheet, so that no pieces overlap. Dab each with some olive oil and sprinkle in zaatar. (Zaatar is a Middle Eastern spice mix that varies in its constitution by country; the Lebanese version has sesame seeds and thyme among its ingredients.) Bake until golden brown and cool before serving.

Next, labneh. This labneh was store-bought, like I said, and I just spread it into a bowl and drizzled with olive oil and zaatar and garnished with parsley and black olives. You can also make labneh at home by draining yogurt (skim, low-fat, or full fat) in a cheese cloth in the fridge for a few days.

Okay, hummus. I’ll never forget when I was living in New York after college and somehow I received the knowledge from my mother of how to make hummus and when I served it to friends they were all totally wowed by this dish that I didn’t even really like, that was super-simple to make. But then I started liking it more when and began to realize that the main thing with hummus is that you really have to get a feel for the proportioning the ingredients as you like them according to flavor and texture. I usually roughly go by the can of chic peas. For each can you use, drain about half the water and reserve the rest to dump in your bowl with the chic peas. Than add about a clove of garlic, a big pinch of salt and the juice of one small lemon or half a large one. Also add a big spoon of tahini. Blend until smooth. I just got a hand-blender for Christmas and it works all right and is super-convenient for clean up. Hummus is often traditionally garnished with radishes and paprika. Tonight, I used parsley, olive oil, and olives.

Now, baba ghanoush. This is exactly the same as the hummus, except you use eggplants instead of chic peas, which makes it entirely different. All I could find at Golden Produce were Chinese eggplants—skinny, light-colored little things. I prepared them as I always do, by roasting over the gas range, blackening the outsides as the insides soften. Then after they cool, I peel off the outside layer of skin. Today I had trouble roasting them all the way through, so I saved the hard parts, and threw them into a skillet with a little bit of oil to soften and cook them more. It all turned out pretty good. I had half of an onion I’d caramelized last night, which I threw in for flavor, along with a dash of crushed red pepper. I was using the last of a jar of tahini, so I let it sit in a few tablespoons of hot water a few minutes to get all the paste off the glass.

And, finally, foul. Foul, which just means fava beans, was a big part of my life in Egypt. Heck, it’s a big part of everyone’s lives there. But I still like the Lebanese version better, which is what I made tonight. Now of course with all these canned beans, you can really do it, and buy them dried and soak and boil them and all that, but of course I went for the easy way out and bought a big can of favas. I drained just a little bit of the water and saved the rest, dumping it all out into a pot. I added lemon, garlic, and salt and then heated the whole thing until simmering slightly. Then I turned off the fire, added minced parsley and tomatoes, and put it in bowls.

B aided me by very skillfully cutting up a cucumber into small, round slices to serve as a refresher and a dipping alternative to the pita chips. Yum. Here is the “after.”

And I didn’t take the “after after,” but it would have been a picture of a bunch of very satisfied looking people, sitting slumped in a haphazard ring of chairs in our living room with smiles on their faces, and my Lebanese mezzas were an essential precursor to that bliss.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Orientalism Denied

And two hours after I posted the below, I find out A's computer died after I left his house. And we didn't save our work!

Orientalism in English Class

So I have this friend, A, who just moved here from Egypt, where I met him, right? And he's going to school and of course he has to take English, since they need to assimilate him into the system and he needs to get by in this country, or whatever. Well, from all he's told me, his teacher is an idiot and super hands-off and doesn't take much time to help and explain how our insane language works, and does odd things like taking the class to a park near school and says, "Well, now you're here, it's a beautiful place, a beautiful day, no homeless people around, go have fun," and then he leaves. And he makes them write papers without going too deep into how a paper works, doesn't even give them the dreaded five-paragraph essay model, or anything. Instead, he pushes A to go to something called the writing lab where there are people who will supposedly help him.

Okay, moving on. A is writing a paper about Dahab, this beautiful, somewhat forgotten outpost on the middle of the eastern coast of the Sinai, frequented not by out-of-country tourists but moreso by Egyptians and expats living in Egypt and a few Israelis. Dahab's got little hotels on the beach with tents and carpets set up right by the water. It's relaxing...and incredible. Amazing fresh fish dinners to be had on those carpets. There's also snorkeling and horseriding and bedouin treks into the inland desert. It's paradise and it's cheap. You should go. But back to A. Tonight, I was helping him with his final draft since he's ailing in bed and I take a look at what the guy at the writing lab did, which was basically just add a few commas and some sort of fancy sentences, but really miss a lot of other pretty basic grammar stuff and A tells me that his teacher read only the first few broken sentences of his first draft and then the guy went off on how he wants to see! and feel! and hear! and smell! and taste! the place! How he doesn't even care if it exists like that, how he wants a picture of this foreign paradise. So, I'm like, damn, A, let's give this guy his Orientalist wet dream. And we do. We give him bedouin boys on horses and camels frolicking in the sand and men smoking sheeshas under palm trees and the calm waters of the Red Sea. And all those things exist in Dahab...but so many other things exist in Dahab, too. Oh well. Maybe A can write something more interesting and true for his next story. I hope he gets a good grade.

Saturday, April 7, 2007


Revision might be the toughest part of writing. I'm new to this whole short story thing. Revising a poem is just have to keep a few lines. I'm working on a 13-page (and growing) story this weekend.

I just made a list to keep things straight:

sally is 76; sally is 19 years older than richard
richard is 57
he hasn't been to the mall since he was 42 (15yrs)
he was married to juliette for 30 years
richard was 27 when he got married
nadine is 23
sara is 18
richard and sally had an affair for a year
richard was 18; sally was 37
richard and ed are the same age
richard and juliette separated three months ago

How's that for a teaser?

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Men on Bad Mood Day

Yesterday, in my regular comings and goings, I came across a few men who stick in my memory:

1. A block from work in the morning, after I turned the corner of Montgomery and Pine, in San Francisco's financial district, I found myself walking behind a man. I think he had dirty blond hair, was middle-aged, white. As we both kept walking, I got closer and closer to him. This meant he was going slower. He wore the clothes of someone who worked in the neighborhood, gray slacks, black leather shoes, some sort of sports coat. But as I came closer still, I noticed colorless stains on his pants and then he leaned towards and then against the building we were walking next to. And as I passed him, I turned to look at his face, eyes almost closed, mouth open, tongue sticking slightly out. He fell against the building then, but somehow kept his legs moving forward and so did manage a few steps before I turned away and walked into the building where my office is.

2. On a happily empty train going to school midday, I was seated facing the profile of a man seated across the train's width from me. In his hands he held paper sack which seemed to contain a can, though he never drank from it, but instead kept it between his legs, holding it tightly. Every once in a while he would lean over and spit an unbelievably huge amount of clear liquid onto the ground in front of him. Over the course of the ride, he managed a small pool of his own spit-up at his feet.

3. Coming back from school that night, I noticed a man waiting with all of us home bound sfsu students on the outdoor train platform. He stuck out because he had with him two large clear plastic bags, each filled with many smaller bags, those bags filled with trash: empty bottles with a few drops of liquid inside, folded and smoothed piles of paper, and other things. He gracefully weaved his way up the platform, and as I passed him I noticed a stick-like thing in his hand. A cane? The train took forever to come, and so when it did, there was a sizable crowd gathered and we all crammed our way through the two tiny doors, everyone eager for the perfect seat. I took one in the middle of a five-seat row and opened my book to read. A few seconds later, the man with the bags came and sat down next to me. As he was carefully arranging all his things and turning to sit, I had the impulse to get up and move away, but something kept me there. He sat, and his sleeve brushed my arm and I think he apologized. He kept to himself, crossing his legs carefully as not to disturb his bags, under which, I noticed then, he had laid two pieces of cardboard, to keep the ground from getting dirty where he set them down. Then I turned just a few more degrees to see the stick he held and noticed it had a handle on end and pinchers on the other. There were no unpleasant odors and he was by far one of the best stranger seat companions I've had on the muni since I moved to San Francisco just over a year ago.

Yesterday, I was in a bad mood, all day coming and going as I regularly do, but with thoughts swirling, mouth down turned, little gray storm cloud just two feet above my head.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Highly Critical

I took this photograph at the start of the first critical mass ride I went to just a few days before Halloween. (Notice the riders wearing the bee and nerd costumes. Somewhere on the other side of the camera there was a guy dressed up as a cocktail party, or something. He had two bags of wine under his oversized t-shirt, representations of breasts, with holes cut through to offer people beverage through little plastic spouts, where nipples might ordinarily be. I think one breast was white wine and the other was red. He carried an upside-down stack of those tiny, waxy paper cups they use at dentists' offices and offered people cheez-its from a box in his other hand.)

I went to my second critical mass this past Friday. The wikipedia entry for the critical mass ride (I'm just gonna leave out the whole nuclear theory bit) is interesting because it posits the ride as a cultural anthropologist's case study, talking about the growth of the phenomenon across the world's network of city streets, diagramming techniques used to take over the road from car and bus traffic, surmising the bicyclist's intellectual defense of joining forces with other cyclists one night a month to bring cars to a standstill and make people pay attention to alternative transportation.

I was there and it was more like:

stopped before starting
in honor of justin herman
a pool of us, sun-spattered
each with our metal/rubber/plastic other
slow-starting, walk-rolling
day end's light in my eyes
music boxes wail
curtain rises: motion
wobble curve rubber swerve
soft brake soft soft

#2 and a half
it's not a seething organism

hundreds don't move forward in unison:
lay straight on the asphalt, piss
into the highway-lining shrubbery,
a father pulling his son, bmx-ers,
hipster roadsters, racers, jumpers,
boys without helmets, girls with skirts,
anti-bushisms taped under seats,
painted flowers on fenders,
rainbow holograms, shimmering stickers,
beaming points of colored light,

no, we are not a seething organism, and
a rider doesn't start yelling
back at a stopped motorist
and slam the driver's car with a u-lock
and that rider's friends don't slash
the motorist's tires, with deft, seething strokes

we ride south,
past potrero hill and alemany market,
where the roads have wideness,
and glide
you know you can dance on a bike?
wiggle your hips back and forth to the beat
as you zoom in front of you
and the tangled chorus around you;
love drips from lips, bells and woops
grip the city, the building-shadows,
fences, corpses of everything not human,
as it all falls behind.