Friday, May 25, 2007

Awake at 4am today

In Beirut today and I woke up at 4am. Brain and body awake. Ready. And when I was sick of lying there I fumbled around our hotel room in the dark and came to sit in the still lobby with the concierge with bloodshot eyes, silent but for the Lebanese diva quietly wailing from the flatscreen tv on the far wall.

Leaving San Francisco, I had meant to wake up at 4am but accidentally managed to stay up all night. And the airport extended the chaos in my head (from all the drinking). There was a ridiculous line at the Delta gate and I, of course, was standing in front of the most annoying woman in the universe, who felt, for some reason that 5:30am was a good time to make business calls and she ended up leaving all of these annoying voice mails. Justine. And then I got yelled at by an attendant and told her not to yell at me and made feel bad and then I got selected for a security search. And probably it was the lack of sleep but I really felt sick to my stomach at being treated that way, all my belongings rooted through as I sat there and my eyes were brimming. But the guy who searched me turned out to be cool--whispered to me "you should have kept it" when I called out to him after he walked away, leaving a lighter he found in my bag on the table.

And Cincinnati was five hours of wandering from one end of the concourse to the other, debating what to eat and where to sit and when to pee. And then I watched CNN. Buttafuco. George W. Bush. Alito. Bombings in Lebanon. Lebanon. War at the refuge camp in the north. My ears perked and it was gone before they really said anything.

In Paris, the warm, bright air made it feel like we were closer to Lebanon--and chaos regarding the buses and the buildings, and Arabic and French drifting around me. People speaking French to me... After we got off the plane, we walked down a blank hall and came to a big room where we first faced a big screen with the letters and numbers that were our connections racing across it. A uniformed man stood in front of the screen, taking requests. There was no order to it, just people walking up to him and declaring their destinations. Some asked it like a question: "Helsinki?" Some said it directly: "Lyons." "Moscow!" "Beirut???" And for each of us, he would point and it was as if we sailed off the ends of his fingertips, to our flights, to those other worlds.

On my way out of the airport in Beirut, I wanted to take a picture of my family, in my mind I saw the bunch of them waiting for me, their expressions changing almost in uniform as they saw me. But instead they were here and there, spread one-by-one across the throng. And my sister ran to me first, grabbing my bag and we all piled into the car.

Beirut felt like a ghost town last night when we walked to our hotel. And this morning I was walking the streets around 6am when it began to wake up.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Is Redeption Possible?

It might have been the good company I watched it with and the amazing dinner my roommate C made for dinner that we gobbled down as we started watching it, but, last night, Grey's Anatomy somehow managed to redeem itself. I was so close to not watching ever again. There was no way things could get better.

The previous week's two-hour mess was painful, to say the least. It focused primarily on a new setting and characters as testing grounds for Addison's L.A./private practice spin-off. And all that was merely the tip of a ridiculously large iceberg. The last few weeks on Grey's Anatomy, ever since the ferry accident and Meredith almost dying, have been a hell of painfully contrived pot twists. Like: Meredith and Derek--finally together and boring as ever. When McDreamy stopped being an asshole, he lost his McD-ness. (Maybe it's just me; maybe I have personal issues.) And now all of a sudden they are on the rocks and I have no idea why (again, maybe me). And...George and Izzy insanely in love? Puh-lease...! Those two look like Bert and Ernie when they kiss. Anyway, George is gay! And: Addison and Kurev finally hooked up after teasing us and each other for most of the season, but it was such a freakin' let down. All we saw was rumpled clothes, mussed hair and the pair of them entering and then leaving a closet in Seattle Grace. And in the end, he comes up to her and tells her he's not looking for a girlfriend, a conclusion he came to after hearing the nurse-station gossip from Ava, his up-until-that-point faceless and memory-less patient. And Addison walks away sad. A battered yet beautiful Ally McBeal-like vision in the Seattle night. It made me stop liking her.

Are Ava and Kurev gonna get together, or what? Why is she still hanging around? I'm convinced they will. C (who has a lot more faith in Grey's Anatomy than I do) says it's not going to happen, that it would be too much like what happened last season with Denny. If it does, I hope the writers do a good job with it.

Ava brings me back to the redeption that was this week's episode. They finally fixed her teeth! First she had a mask of scars for a face, and then Sloan made her a new face but her teeth were these black-ish, uneven nubs, but as of yesterday, the woman had full-on pearly whites. Man, was I relieved! Maybe more satisfied by that even than the revelation of her true identity.

Other good things about last night: Miranda was feisty-vicious like we like her. Callie had a bad-ass surgery-room-bone-setting monologue about glacier-climbing. Burke had some interesting realizations about marrying Cristina. (Will it all be worth it when he walks her down the aisle?) McDreamy put on his McD-ness to flirt with a woman at Joe's. The chief's ex-wife showed up at the hospital and nearly got out with out him seeing her until he found her in a pool of her own blood at the end.

I'm not saying last night was perfect. The worst line had to be: "I am a married man!" which George said very seriously to Izzy during their first conversation where she was trying to convince him to stay at Seattle Grace instead of transferring to that other hospital so that he wouldn't have to deal with his love for her, since he is a married man now and all. And the lamest plot point (brought to my attention by my fellow Grey's lover/hater, Lizzy) was the whole thing with Meredith's father, who came to the hospital in a rage and told her not to come to his wife's funeral, that she killed her, etc etc. It was more fun to watch him slap her last week after she gave him the news. Poor Meredith. I miss her. Ever since she drowned, things haven't been the same...

The show last night ended in a series of incredibly jaw-dropping cliff-hangers. At each one, I turned towards my fellow-viewers to see their tv-lit faces with eyes wide in astonishment. Can't hardly wait until next Thursday. (It's the only tv show I watch, OK? It's all I have...)

Saturday, May 5, 2007

books on the middle east

So I'm going on this trip very soon and I'm very excited about it. It'll be my first time out of America since I got back from all that time I spent in Egypt and Lebanon and I'm heading to Lebanon, Syria and Turkey with my family for two and a half weeks. Great! Yay!

I will hang out with my family and go to the beach and eat amazing home-cooked meals in Lebanon. I will smell the jasmines and walk up and down Hamra and look out the window at the Mediterranean as we zip here and there. In Aleppo, I will go the Turkish baths and have all the dirt scrubbed off of me, I will let my father lead me to sites of historical significance, and I'll stock up on olive oil soap at the old market. In Istanbul, I will wander the markets and mosques, and I will read books in cafes. Ok, so carefree Middle East vacation, right? Well, yes...but I think it might be nice to know some more before I go, especially since the Middle East is a hotbed and such. So I asked a bunch of people I know--or wrote an email and bcc'ed a bunch of people I know who I thought might be of help--what books they might recommend. The subject of the email was "the quintessential middle east book?", a query that prompted one friend to respond:

"One book? To explain the past few years? In the whole ME? You craaaazy, man. You might want to narrow your scope a li'l..."

That made me send out an addendum, which said:

"it doesn't have to be one book about the whole thing...but one book
that captures something big about part of could even be a

And that initial crazy-calling friend has yet to respond.

Other replies I've received so far include:

"Per your request, I'd recommend Tom Segev's ONE PALESTINE, COMPLETE which is
about Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate. Though it's not about
recent events per se, the book, which is quite engagingly written (put out
by Metropolitan about seven years ago) takes a complex and sweeping look at
some of the roots of what's going on today in the region. Hell, it's so
sweeping I haven't even finished yet--but I'm planning to, soon."

"K and i suggest lonely planet. rough guide is probably the better
one to find though."

hi, both are mainly about iraq. you should recall Ajami is a master stylist but can get tedious. he is also considered an apologist for the US, but i think he represents one pole of historical thought among shia (he is one). shia across history are the more imaginative, flexible among major islamic communtities. he's trying to tell the US audeince to get used to them and accept their potential for democracy in iraq, they are not part nor will they become, unless p[erhaps the US messes up, an adjunct of iran, but rather will put their imprint implacably on iraq which the others (kurds and sunnis) can and of necessity will have to accept the space made for them as second bananas. nasr on the other hand argues a more expansive shia revival, which ajami would strongly contest (i dont know how well nasr writes). i havent read either, so i could be missing the mark. you as a reader of nyrb should already be aware of more reflective personal writings in lebanese settings and elsewhere, im just trying to point out political stuff that largely tends away from the polemic.
The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq, by Fouad Ajami
2)The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future, by Vali Nasr"

well a good book is
no god but god , i swear by that book
it talks about current events in the last 2 chapters i guess."

i dont think i can think of the quintessential book. i dont read
many of these "sweep across the region" books i am afraid.

two i can recommend on palestine though:

ali abunimah's "one country" where he beautifully outlines his
argument for a one-state solution.

joseph massad's "the persistence of the palestinian question"
is a collection of essays that trace the intellectual history of
zionism and its effects on both jews and palestinians.

i dont know if this helps. i know that neither of these are about
your destination spots. but still they are good. ali's book is a
short and readable. joseph's book is much denser but super smart in
both the arguments it makes and the range of material it draws on."

If anyone has additional thoughts, I'd love to hear them. I plan to get started just as soon as I can pull myself out from under this semester.

Pending post: the downfall of Grey's Anatomy (that doctor show on ABC), but before you have to pay for it, I urge you to check out this article in the NYT, which really hits the nail on the head about all that.