Saturday, July 30, 2005

"What is a real Swede? Do you have to shop at Ikea, be blond or listen to Abba? "

An interview with Jonas Hassan Khemiri (who is a hottie) about his book (which came out only in Sweden) and his ideas about identity. Here's a little somthin':
Halil rebels against the discontinuation of Arabic lessons at school and against his liberal father. How much do you identify with this attitude?

Khemiri: As an adolescent I tried to distance myself from Swedish identity – to the point of completely romanticizing my Arab origins. Once I said to my father: "We'll be going home soon." My father asked: "What do you mean?"

Thursday, July 28, 2005

I'm Off

To see Le Tigre at Emo's. Those bitches are the bomb. I can't wait. I'm already dancing.

Tomorrow's my last Friday at Moorish Girl, so stop by and say bye.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


I can't wait to see the newest Wong Kar Wai film, 2046. You can check out the trailer and some gorgeous stills from the film here.

From Nathan Lee's Film Comment profile:
2046 is a place, a time, the name of a novel, the number of a hotel room, and, in the form of an anime megalopolis, the first digital representation in Wong’s cinema. 2046 is also, always, 2046: a cine-Narcissus enraptured by its own depths, unnerved by what it sees, struggling to pull away from its own image. Given the difficulties, the expectations, the reputation at stake, the scrutiny, the daunting perfection of In the Mood for Love—how could it have been otherwise? Anxiety: “Science-fiction films are not about science,” wrote Susan Sontag. “They are about disaster.”

What Would Enid Think?

Daniel Clowes tells the Guardian that he finds writing female characters easier than writing male ones:
"With every male character I feel like I either have to consciously make it not myself or I have to make it myself," he says. "In the case of these girls, there's a certain freedom. I just don't feel any connection to them. I don't feel like I have to represent myself."
I wonder: What does it mean when a writer doesn't feel a connection to his characters? What does it mean when this lack of connection represents freedom to the writer? Not having to represent oneself can be freeing, I understand, but maybe Clowes would be a better writer--of both male and female characters-- if he didn't suffer from a thought process which forces him to see characters as either himself, not himself, or female.

Ghost World did absolutely nothing for me. I went to three different high schools, one of which was British, the school system I was brought up in. But that's not why. When I moved to the US, the books I loved reading in English class and in the library were Red Badge of Courage, Old Man and the Sea, The Scarlet Letter, and Norman Mailer's Marilyn Monroe bio. It's probably because these books had characters I could relate to, because their creators were free of something Clowes and others like him are tethered by. If someone had given me Ghost World when I was in high school, I would have taken it back, gotten my $12 or whatever, and bought myself books I could relate to. Or cassettes of bad techno.

Academics Say The Darndest Things

I hung out today with an old friend and her new baby, whom she has chosen to nurse. A few blocks from my friend's house, there is a billboard that shouts, "Babies were made to be breastfed." I'd noticed it a few months ago, and it made my blood boil. It still does.

My friend moved to the US from the Middle East nine years ago. She is now married. Her husband is white. She says she had her first moment of judgement here, in the US, a few days ago.

RANDA: You've never felt moral judgement here?
FRIEND: No. You can sleep with anyone you want here. Do almost anything you want. As a woman. Come on, you know how everyone makes you their business back home.
RANDA: Yeah. I know.
FRIEND: I was sitting around the living room with [my mother-in-law, brother-in-law], and a few others. I said, "I'm only breastfeeding for three months." Everybody was quiet. Dead silent. They were staring at me like I'd just said...
RANDA: That you wanted to fry up your baby's head and eat it?
RANDA: Are you sure you weren't projecting?
FRIEND: Wait! They each told me breastfeeding for a year was best for the baby. That babies who are breastfed turn out smarter-- a good way to snag an academic!

She winks.

FRIEND: But I told [my brother-in-law], "I've read way too much Foucault not to know about the nature of punishment and discipline."

I laugh.

RANDA: You actually said that?

I slap her five.

FRIEND: Breastfeeding is a way to discipline women. Keep them tied to their babies and like, keep their bodies under control.
RANDA: Yeah. I only did it for four months.
FRIEND: I hate the way this state sponsors breastfeeding so agressively, it's totally state-sponsored discipline.
RANDA: Are you talking about the billboard?
FRIEND: The billboard? Habibti?
RANDA: Yeah?
FRIEND: There's not just one.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Lydia Millet

The CSM reviews Lydia Millet's Oh Pure And Radiant Heart. I heard Millet read a section of the book at Park Lit in brooklyn a couple weeks ago. I was initially distracted by the event's feel: a dozen mostly white folks transplanted to Prospect Park. But I snapped into the reading when Millet read the section where the protagonist imagines what she would choose if given the choice to either live in chaos or to not exist at all. She chooses the chaos.

So Stylistic!

My teenage dream of belonging to a dance squad and wearing lots of eye glitter has finally come true! I am the newest member of the Super Sonic Soul Squad, an Austin-based all-girls' dance team. We wear shiny outfits and dance around in clubs and parking lots. The next show is in October, and you're all invited. Updates forthcoming.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Hazards Of Apartment Living, Part 2,067

I'm staying over at a friend's house because my apartment is filled with smoke.

There's a short story and a long story. The short story is: my neighbor's an idiot who started a huge grease fire and didn't have a fire extinguisher - and didn't ask for one, and didn't call the fire department. I lent him mine and now we're all alive and happy, but my apartment is still completely smoked out, and he's still an idiot.

The long story: some details are embarassing. Basically, I was trying out a new "toy" from blowfish, and I smelled smoke. I thought the toy was melting or burning out, or something. But then I realized something was on fire.

I jumped up and peered out the window and saw smoke shadows coming from my neighbor's.

I quickly threw some pants on and ran outside and spied on him. He was putting out a fire the size of a fucking Mine Cooper with a welcome mat.

I'm sorry, I need to repeat that. He was putting out a fucking fire. The size of a Mini fucking Cooper. With a mother fucking welcome mat.

I ran back inside and grabbed the phone, dialed 911 and hung up, grabbed the fire extinguisher, ran back outside, yelled, "Hey man, here's a fire extinguisher!"

"No, I got it."

"Take the fucking fire extinguisher!"

He puts out the fire with the extinguisher in .2 seconds.

He comes out coughing. "I was just heating up some grease." He actually tries to socialize. I will spare you the details of the idiot's post-fire-setting small talk.

I go back inside and my apartment is filled with smoke so thick, I can't see more than a few inches in front of my face. I open all the windows, noticing for the first time that my window "screens" are ripped up, and turn on all the fans at full blast.

I get the phone, go to the parking lot, and call the only friend I think I can call at 1AM to ask, "Can I spend the night over at y'alls?" I'm facing a truck in the parking lot. "My neighbor just set some grease on fire."

And as I say that, my eye rests on the truck, and I see them. About a dozen bullet holes.

I'm standing outside my fucking apartment with smoke and fumes spilling out of it like sleeping dragon's breath and I'm staring at a bullet riddled truck.

I have to move out, y'all. I really do.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Girl Friday

You know where I am today...

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Alive, Son of Awake

Qantara reports that Ibn Tufayl's 12th Century philosophical masterpiece, Hayy Ibn Yaqzan (the "Arab Robinson Crusoe") is now out in German translation. About the novel:
Ibn Tufayl tells the story of a man named Hayy ibn Yaqzan, who grows up alone on a South Sea island on the equator and, aided only by his powers of observation and his intellect, gradually investigates the nature of things – from the anatomy of animals to the attributes of God.

Medieval explanations of the world from both the Orient and the Occident often assume a knowledge of philosophical traditions – the four elements, bodily fluids, the planets, or the difference between matter and form, substance and accident.

Ibn Tufayl, on the other hand, allows his hero Hayy ibn Yaqzan to acquire all of this knowledge by himself. He demonstrates why fire, water, earth, and air must be the most fundamental elements; through dissection he discovers the etheric vehicle of the vital force, the spirit; from observations he deduces the arrangement of the celestial spheres; and he establishes the existence of the soul and the celestial intelligences.
I'm going down to the PCL tomorrow to look for it. I tried to find it once in grad school, but gave up so I can focus on thesis research. I think the only thing I wound up focusing on was not missing happy hour.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Literary Conversations With Mama, Part III

From the trip:

Mama is reading Dante's The Inferno. She approached me with the book open to a page with an illustration on it.

RANDA: What the fuck is that?
MAMA: Dante's Map of hell.
RANDA: Whoa! It looked like an illustrated vagina from far away.
MAMA: What?
RANDA: Seriously. The rings of hell looked like rings of labia.
MAMA: Labias have rings?
RANDA: You know, folds, folds of labia.
MAMA: Really?
RANDA: Damn. That's one detailed map.
MAMA: You know Chopard? He's a famous jewelry designer.
MAMA: He ripped off the map of hell for watch and earring designs; they resemble several connecting circles.
RANDA: No way.
MAMA: Yes. Except, see this?

She points at the inner circle, labeled "Lucifer."

MAMA: He uses a diamond for the Lucifer circle.
RANDA: Gross.
MAMA: It is symbolic. And he calls the line “happy spirit.”

Mama knows about jewelry because she lives in Kuwait, where people's hobbies are limited to coffee drinking and jewelry buying.

MAMA: In the mall in Kuwait, there is a bridge, with Chopard written on it in giant letters.
RANDA: Yuck.
MAMA: It reminds me of the bridges in The Inferno.
RANDA: Oh, I bet!
MAMA: The ones over the chasms.
RANBDA: The chasms over the circles.
MAMA: Yes. When you sell many books, buy me some jewelry.
RANDA: Yeah, right.
MAMA: Remember when you won that writing contest at Sarah Lawrence and bought me a ring?
RANDA: Yes, it was classically Oedipal of me.
MAMA: No, it was sweet.
MAMA: Buy me a happy spirit watch.
RABDA: You know I'm on food stamps, right?
MAMA: I am joking of course.
RANDA: Good.
MAMA: I am In the final circle of hell.
RANDA: That depressed?
MAMA: No. In The Inferno.
RANDA: What did you think of it?
MAMA: It is funny. But I have discovered I hate reading verse. It is boring. This is the last time I read anything in verse.
RANDA: But I noticed you have a copy of Macbeth in the bathroom.
MAMA: Yes, by the toilet. Where it belongs.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Summer Stories

The Walrus's summer special fiction issue is now out, with stories by Margaret Atwood, David Bezmozgis, Leonard Cohen, Douglas Coupland, Sheila Heti, Juli Zeh, and others. (Leipzig-based Zeh's story is the only one online, though.)

Sunday, July 17, 2005

That was fun

By some miracle, my trip to the folks went superbly. Are they on meds? They won't say. But damn, they were nice.

I took the train into the city a couple of times; once to check out the ICP, which had these awesome exhibitions, and to prospect park to attend Park Lit, which was surreal, and once to meet some peeps in Bryant park, where I proceeded to get sloshed on vodka drinks. I also visited the public library, which was my favorite haunt during the summer of my 13th year, and which currently has this exhibit. My favorite three prints: Fashionable Mamma, The Modern Venus (in front of which an older gentleman stood for almost 10 minutes), and Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, genteel Irishwomen dykes.

Posts will resume tomorrow. Until then.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Farewell For A While

I'm leaving town for a week, so posts will be light to non-existent until Monday the 18th. Meantime, check out the blogs on the right...

Thursday, July 07, 2005

July 7th Blasts

I am in a state of despair and paralysis after hearing about the London bombings. My love and deep sympathy go to the victims and their families, and my ire, hatred, and outrage to those cold-blooded murderers who planned and executed this.

Today is the birthday of my brother and father; the two men I love most in the entire world. I hope people like them - real Muslims who believe in respect, honor, life, and love- do not suffer from the prejudice and hatred of others after an event like this.

Days like today break my heart.

Interest In the Middle East (Except Arab Countries)

This article claims that readers are interested in fiction and lit from the Middle East... except all the books it mentions (Asne Seierstad's "The Bookseller of Kabul," Khaled Hosseini's "The Kite Runner," Azar Nafisi's "Reading Lolita in Tehran," Azadeh Moaveni's "Lipstick Jihad") are from Iran and Afghanistan, two countries, which I would hardly call the entire Middle East. The use of ME as a catchphrase for all is really annoying, as well as inaccurate.

The article also claims Americans are interested in the books because they examine countries we are at war with. Yet there are no books on the list from Iraq.

{link via Moorishgirl]

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Straight To The Mile High Club

From Al-Bawaba: "In Saudi Arabia, the first Saudi female to receive a commercial pilot’s license has stirred some heated controversy... Hindi’s job would require her to travel without a male guardian and would therefore lead to her mixing with men."

NO! Not mixing with men! Blasphemy!

Once again, fundies' fantasies (in this case, of mile-high clubs) get in the way with their ability to use their brains.

Concert Chaos

Palestinian idol (Palestine's version of American Idol) Amar Hassan's concerts sold-out in Bethlehem and Ramallah. But when he went to Nablus, things turned sour.

Most of Hassan's songs have a political edge, and he performed them in front of 1,500 people yesterday. Riots and scuffles between the audience and Al-Aqsa Brigade broke out and the concert ended within an hour.

Members of the Al-Aqsa Brigade were still angry about the loss of their men in scuffles with IDF, and were bitter about people dancing and having fun. From the BBC:
"This is not the time to have parties like this in Nablus," one of the masked gunmen was quoted as saying.

"I am depressed. I came to dance and sing and suddenly gunmen surrounded [us]. These people are criminals," said one young person who had crossed several Israeli military checkpoints to attend the concert.
I hope people continue to turn out for concerts and other cultural events. If there's anything to be learned from hip-hop riots, it's that they decrease as time and nerves subside.

Without An Alphabet, Without A Face reviewed in The Daily Star. Saadi Yousef is one of Iraq's best poets, and Khaled Mattawa is one of our best, so as you imagine, the translation is amazing. So, I'm glad to see it get some press in the Middle East.

WWB has a few of the poems, and you can read them here.

Notice the place-names and dates he places after each poem. Yousef has had a life of constant motion and exile, so the poems are the closest thing he's had to a homeland; the dates and place-names a reminder of where he lived at the time of their writing.

Iraqi Theater

Qantara reports from Iraqi theater week in Mulheim:
"We are working on a project," explains Ikbal Naeem, "and it provides us with the energy we need to run. Like an electricity pylon, like a light that drives us on. To some extent, it helps us to lead a normal life, to see beauty amidst all of the ugliness, and to maintain an inner sense of balance. It keeps us from being ruled by chaotic and cynical thoughts. And this is what we have to show the public. The worst case would be if we let ourselves get used to the death around us and forget what it is to really live."

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Also, how could I have forgotten?

More sexy Arab men:

Z's nominations:
Ziad Rahbani, whose talent and hotness ooze out of him.
Rabih Abou Khalil, oud player and sex god.

Laila's nominations:
Taher Ben Jelloun, who is sexy, and not just for an ancient dude.
Said Taghmaoui, who you may remember from Hate and Hideous Kinky and, mostly cult-ishly, Three Kings. I also loved his role as the interpreter in I Heart Huckabees.

And one last one from me:
Mustafa Barghouti: Palestinian leftist democtratic candidate of 2004, and the man who should be prez of Palestine, as far as I'm concerned.

Have a sexy arab man you think I should've mentioned? Email suggestions to randajarrar at g m a i l.

Monday, July 04, 2005

It's the 4th, and I am thinking about a dozen sexy Arab men

Note: Except for the hot Arab writers I talk about, there is nothing literary about this post.

When I initially heard about Yes, the Sally Potter movie in iambic pentameter about an Irish-American woman who has an affair with a Lebanese man, I was angry: it seems suddenly in vogue to make art that objectifies Arab men. Then my friend Z calmed me down when she pointed out that the trend makes Arab men taboo and therefore desired. "It'll be like black men! They'll be so hot! Don't worry!" She's right.

So, in anticipation of the soon-to-be cultural craze, I present to you a baker's dozen of sexy Arab men. I hope you enjoy.

Amr Diab is an obvious choice: the pop star of the Middle East, Diab has been performing his catchy songs since the mid-80s. I remember dancing to "Mayyaal" when I was 7, and to "Habibi" last year at a club; he's been shaking my booty for 20 years. He's 40, fit, and fly. Check the fucking dimple. Oh, yeah.

Abdel Halim: He's been dead a while, which brings me to a point that illustrates beautifully how sexy this guy was: women threw themselves off balconies when they found out he'd died. Some say it's because they were emotional, I say it's because their fantasies of fucking him were dashed forever and the prospect of living without the possibility of fucking Ab Halim was too great to bear. He's best-known in the west because of Jay Z's sample of "Khosaara" on Big Pimpin'.
Balconies, people. Fly.

Edward Said: I almost considered throwing myself off something when I found out Said died. I fantasized the whole time I was writing my novel that he'd one day read it. Now he won't, and I'll never get to meet him, see that sexy jaw-line in real life. Goddamn, he was hot. He's like 70 in this picture. Sexiest 70 year old man I've ever seen.

Claude Chalhoub: Dude, he's a Lebanese guy who composes and performs his own pieces... on violin. It's self-explanatory, no? Fucker is fly.

Dave Attell: Let me count the ways. Alcoholic? Check. Fucking hilarious? Check. Visited a prostitute on film? Check. Starred in the cinematic masterpiece Pootie Tang? Check. Bald? Check. Has given me insomnia over how Luscious and Crazy Hot he is? Check.

Ghassan skriver
Ghassan Kanafani: The voice of the Palestinian struggle in the 60s, Kanafani wrote Men in the Sun, All That's Left To You, and amazing short stories that remind me of Chekov, if Chekov grew up in a refugee camp. He was killed by a car bomb planted by Israeli agents on July 8, 1972. He rocks my world, still. His nose, his high brow, his delicate wrist. Brother was fine.

mohamad_chamas1Mohamad Chamas: This is the kid from West Beirut, which if you haven't seen, you must. (Before anyone accuses me of being a dirty old woman, he's 21 now. He is my version of the Ron crush-- most women over 18 think the kid who plays Ron in the Harry Potter movies is hot, which will forever remain a mystery to me). Chamas was a street thug and living in a refugee camp orphanage when he was scooped up to play a part in this film. He's hilarious, naughty and rebellious, and exudes a spirit so immense, it's beautiful. Ever since I read a digested version of Oliver Twist in Arabic translation as a 10 year old, I've loved me some hot orphan thugs.

mahmoud-darwish-200x185_bwMahmoud Darwish: Arab poets wear suits when they read, with a tie and everything. But when Darwish rocks the suit, he kills me. Whenever I read his poem, "A Gentle Rain In A Distant Fall," with its imagery of chains and kisses being sent through the mail, I shudder.

Ziad Doueiri: He was Tarantino's cameraman on Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, and almost Jackie Brown, but he split to Lebanon and made West Beirut instead. He is a consummate filmmaker, and uses music and bicycles in a way that brings the viewer to ecstatic highs. I love that he had the cojones to make a movie about coming of age during war, and that he did it so beautifully. And dude, just look at him. So. Fucking. Gorgeous.

Ahmad Zaki: The first black Egyptian to star front and center in Egyptian movies, Zaki does something in each one of his performances that no other actor can do: he makes me fall for him, then breaks my heart. Something about his presence and spirit is so sexy, commanding, and magnificent; it had to be for him to pull off roles as both Nasser and Sadat. Let's just say I would have liked to be an intern on both of his president films.

Zeid from Soap Kills: Soap Kills is the only band from the Middle East that sounds the way it sounds, which says a lot about the musicians in it, since the Middle East has a homogenous music scene (when I say this, I mean there's only about a dozen types of music; and almost no electronica). The brother in a brother-sister team, Zeid produces some of the phatest beats and on "Kazdoura," the building drums and organs are so sultry they should come with a towel. So: Daring+Inventive+sexy hair and brows=fucking hot.

Tony Shalhoub: Check the huge, vertical dimple on that grill. And he looks super-hot with a beard, which is weird, because the beard hides the dimple. Monk or no monk, I'd still totally try to rape him if I ever saw him.

Rachid Taha: My absolute favorite. His rendition of Yarayeh made me cry, then want to hop on a plane and stalk the Paris streets looking for this man. His throaty, soulful voice sinks into my veins. I love Diwan; I love its generous, respectful homage to older Arab singers, classical Arabic music, traditional folk songs and dance numbers. So: hot voice, beautiful lips, gorgeous hair that looks like bunches of black grapes, reverence for history= the sexiest Arab man alive. (Also, click on the photo for yet another hot one.)

UPDATE: Leila sends in wondering whether Omar Sharif should count. I say:


I went through a time period (ages 15-17) when I was in love with Doctor Zhivago. Not Boris Pasternak, not Omar Sherif, but Yuri Anderyevich Zhivago. I love the sensitivity, the sweetness, the emotional acuity Sharif brought to the role in the David Lean adaptation. No other man, Arab or not, has looked less sleazy cheating on his wife on celluloid. I used to cry and cry when I'd watch the ending: it's too bad those three couldn't just threesome it. On the DVD, it shows how the make-up people waxed Sharif's hairy forehead and added a wispy hairpiece so he would look more "poet-like." You can read a hilarious New Yorker piece about Sharif here.

Have a sexy arab man you think I should've mentioned? Email suggestions to

Saturday, July 02, 2005


I'm listening to Haze, this adorable techno DJ who was classically trained as a Jazz musician, and re-reading Arabesques, a badass novel. The novel is teeming with its own inventive and beautiful prose, and is peppered with gems of epigraphs, such as this gorgeous Walter Abish quote:
...[W]riters are not terribly reliable as witnesses for either the defense or the prosecution. They are also not to be relied upon as lovers. They lack patience. They seem to have certain difficulty taking pleasure from what they are doing. Like chess players, they are inwardly preparing themsleves for the inevitable end game.
--From How German Is It, which is also badass.