Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Coelho discusses his new novel with the NYT. Its title, "The Zahir", the NYT says, "is an Arab concept borrowed from a short story by Jorge Luis Borges". Coelho defines it as "a thought or idea that gradually becomes obsessional". No. El-Zahir is a Sufi concept, and means "the outward", which signifies the outward manifestation of the divine. Borges fabulously dealt with many Sufi concepts in his story, "The Zahir," and in the collection The Aleph, in general.

So Coelho didn't do his research. And neither did the Times. Shocking.


This is classic.

Kate Atkinson

Ms. Atkinson stopped by the LBC yesterday to talk about writing. I love that she reads her stuff off the screen and doesn't print anything out till it's over; and that she shows nothing too early, except sometimes to her agent. Also, her comment-- that if she had enough money, she wouldn't publish-- was fabulous.

Please read one of her books, or better yet, all of them (Human Croquet is the only one I haven't yet read.) She is worthy of worship.

What's up with the D-ring belt covers?


And who let this chick Kristina Grish write my book?

Cuttin' It Up

ba2asimelrapSweet article about the Gaza rap group P.R.

Nadir is a barber from Marasi, and Muhammad is a 19 year old who was once shot in the arm and now sits at his computer and makes beats. From the article:
Critical Palestinians speak of a "culture of death"; as long as their compatriots are being shot dead, wounded and held in jail, many people feel that there should be no public manifestation of joy. Now, large wedding parties are again taking place in the Gaza Strip; but although dance music is played, none of the seated guests even claps along to it. It's an attitude that links the generations: music and exuberance are targets of disapproval.

Hindered at home, the Palestinian Rappers were delighted by the chance to tour Northern Ireland in March. The tour was organised by a solidarity committee in the province, and it gave Muhammad the opportunity to leave the Gaza Strip for the first time in his life.

"And when we came back", he laughs, "the first thing that happened was we were summoned by the Palestinian intelligence agency. They wanted to know whether I knew any Americans and what I had been up to in Ireland."

Read on here.

Friday, August 26, 2005

RIP Jamal-Eddine Bencheikh

Amina Rachid writes an obit, focussing on Bencheikh's new translation of A Thousand Nights and a Night:
A text that has been endlessly read and re- read, and one to be found on the bedside tables of both Proust and Borges, this book was a revelation for Bencheikh, since it signaled the revelation of another meaning to Arab culture and perhaps a truer one. Before the publication, in 1991, of the first edition of Bencheikh's joint translation of the Thousand and One Nights, which he completed with André Miquel, Bencheikh published various critical studies of the text in which he brought out what for him was essential to it: namely, its subversive character and its way of getting around the law. Thus, in his book Les Mille et une nuits, ou la parole prisonnière (The Thousand and One Nights, or Imprisoned Speech), which appeared in 1988, after having analysed the various mechanisms employed in the work Bencheikh concluded that "this anonymous work....preserves the echo of a speech that has become a prisoner, a speech that is buried still deeper than desire and that is even more subversive than love. At the centre of civilisation appears this strange memory of another age." In another work, this time produced in collaboration with Claude Brémond and André Miquel, entitled Les Mille et un contes de la nuit (The Thousand and One Tales of the Night) and appearing in 1991, Bencheikh analysed another aspect of the text: the connection between love and death.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

I'm pretty persuaded

From the NYer's review of the new "anti-high school" film, Pretty Persuasion:
Kimberly Joyce (Evan Rachel Wood), the high-school vamp and evil genius in the new satirical comedy “Pretty Persuasion,” tells her protégée, Randa (Adi Schnall), an Arab émigrée, that she, Kimberly, is glad she is white. Then she wonders what she would choose to be if she had to be something else. For Randa’s benefit, she lists the possibilities in her order of preference: first Asian, then African-American (as long as she could have “Caucasian features,” like Halle Berry), ending with Arab.
The movie was penned by Skander Halim. Everything I've read about it is a mixture of warning and urging, which makes me want to see it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

WHY does Taco Hell have its own dictionary?

Now that the kiddo's home, I'm watching a lot more TV, because he does. The newest Taco Hell commercial confused me with its claim of a "textural tase sensation." I googled the phrase, because I am a very busy, highly productive person, and found out that they have a "Word Mash-up" dictionary on their site. It's painfully bad. Samples:
Chillax (v)
Chill out and relax, hang out with friends.

Labradoodle (n)
A cross breed dog. Half poodle, half labrador.

Zlander (n)
Someone who talks badly about a person when they are sleeping.

(Side note: the dictionary gives no definitions, false or otherwise, for "Arab.")

More Fun Facts

Over at TMN, an interview with James Howard Kunstler, author of nine novels and four books of non-fiction, most recently The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century:
RB: Your apocalyptic vision. We are trying to understand how to process your description of this major discontinuity that people view with various degrees of acceptance and incredulity. Again, I was talking about your book, and someone claimed that their boyfriend converts vegetable oil to fuel for their car. I said, “Didn’t it take some energy to get the vegetable oil to its current state?”

JHK: Let’s talk about this [alternative fuels] for a moment. I tell people that no combination of alternative fuels will allow us to continue running the interstate highways and Disney World and Wal-Mart—even a substantial fraction of what we are running in America—the way we are running it. And we will use them but probably at a much smaller scale than most people anticipate. I had a run-in with bio-diesel enthusiasts in Middlebury [Vt.], and they were incensed that I wasn’t as enthusiastic as they were about it. A lot of them were young. I tried to explore their thinking. And I asked, “Has it occurred to you that as our industrial methods of agriculture fade and fail that probably we’ll have to devote more crop land to the production of human food because our crop yields will go down when we stop pouring fertilizers and pesticides and natural gas-based products and oil-based fuels and so forth on the soil? And so we will have to devote more land for growing food for humans?” And it was, “Oh, dude, we, like, didn’t plan on that.”

Fun Facts

Roget's online thesaurus pulled its bullshit definition of "Arab" Monday after the ADC et al protested it. The thesaurus had given "Arab" the definitions "beggar," as well as 16 other false synonyms like "homeless person" and "welfare bum." Barbara Ann Kipfer, editor of the third edition of the Thesaurus, said: "We're simply going to take it out... The last thing you want with a thesaurus is to offend anyone."

No, Babs, the last thing you want with a thesaurus is to give the wrong definition/synonym for a word.

Link via Maud.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Rent a Minority!

The Malmoe Library in southern Sweden has started something it calls "the Living Library project", which "will enable people to come face-to-face with their prejudices in the hopes of altering their preconceived notions":
Nine people, including a homosexual, an imam, a journalist, a Muslim woman and a gypsy, will be available at the Malmoe Library for members of the public to "borrow" for a 45-minute conversation in the library's outdoor cafe.
The only thing that caught my eye was this sentence:
[T]he nine "items" on loan were not hard to find but... will be paid "a small sum" for their efforts.
Eureka! I've already written up my ad in case this catches on in the US:
Want to gain some useful insight regarding what it's like to be a minority? A single mom, an Arab-American, a (lapsed) Muslim, and a bisexual woman will be available at Austin Public Library for members of the public to borrow for 45 minutes. The item is actually just one woman, and she will be paid several small sums.
Link via Bookninja

Monday, August 22, 2005

What a few Egyptian writers are reading

El-Ahram asks Edwar El-Kharat, Gamal El-Ghitani, Mourid El-Barghouti, Radwa Ashour, Hala El-Badry, and others what they're reading.

Guest Review: Daniel Olivas

Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits
By Laila LalamiimageDB
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
208 pp. (2005)

So many of us know Laila Lalami through her blog, Moorishgirl.com, which reflects her Moroccan roots by often covering—and confronting—literary news relating to the “other” in our society. Specifically, Lalami has accorded non-Christian and non-white writers the kind of respect and analysis not usually offered in the “mainstream” press or even most blogs, for that matter. If this were Lalami’s sole contribution to the literary world, she would have much of which to be proud. But now she brings us her first book, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill), a collection of interlocking stories, which also reflects her connections to Morocco.

The structure of Lalami’s collection is as elegant as it is powerful. The title story, “The Trip,” serves as a prologue where she introduces us to the four main characters who will reappear in the eight subsequent stories. It is dark and cold as four Moroccans huddle with twenty-six others in small boat—a six-meter Zodiac inflatable meant to accommodate eight people—to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. Their hope: to avoid the watchful eye of the authorities as they travel fourteen kilometers to their haven, Spain. First, we meet Murad, who has dreamed of this trip for a long time: “He spent hours thinking about what he would do once he was on the other side, imagining the job, the car, the house.” Murad had made a less-than-meager living as a guide who regaled tourists “with anecdotes about how Tariq Ibn Ziyad had led a powerful Moor army across the Straits and, upon landing in Gibraltar, ordered all the boats burned.” And there’s the young, beautiful Faten who wears a hijab scarf and is too shy and frightened to make chit chat with the others. The tall, lanky Aziz “sits hunched over to fit in the narrow space allotted to him.” This is his second attempt to get to Spain. Finally, we meet Halima who keeps her arms tightly around her daughter and two sons. Lalami captures with clear and revealing language the brutality of the smugglers and the desperation of their human cargo.

The collection is then divided into two parts. In the first, entitled Before, we see what drove Murad, Faten, Aziz and Halima to risk their lives to escape Morocco. We learn in “The Fanatic,” the hijab-wearing Faten has upset the happily modern, Mercedes-driving Larbi Amrani who wishes for his daughter, Noura, to attend NYU and make good money some day. But Noura becomes friends with Faten, embraces the Qur’an without question, starts to wear the hijab and begins to reject her parents’ plans of an American education. The arguments that ensue between Noura and Larbi are, in many ways, universal and will remind most parents of teenagers that they are not alone. But in the end, the person who suffers most is Faten who is no match for Larbi’s wealth and connections.

We discover in “Bus Rides” that Halima is suffering an abusive marriage with Maati. When she runs to her mother’s house for safety, she’s met with an exasperated rhetorical question: “Again?” Halima’s mother, Fatiha, blames her daughter: “A woman must know how to handle her husband.” Halima must find a way to escape Maati even if it entails bribing a judge or something more dramatic. But she can expect no help from her own mother.

In “Acceptance,” Aziz has already made the decision to leave Morocco so that he can make money to send to his wife, Zohra. His boyhood friend, Lahcen, who has a less-than-hidden crush on Aziz, tries his best to keep Aziz from leaving. In one of the most moving passages, Aziz prepares to leave his family and try his luck with the illegal journey to Spain:
“As he sat for breakfast with his parents one last time, Aziz tried to memorize every sensation he could—the taste of the wheat bread, the smell of the mint tea brewing, the feel of the divan under him, the sound of his father’s beads as he fingered them. He knew that in the months that would follow, he would need each one to help him survive.”

And then there’s Murad who, in “Better Luck Next Time,” searches out English-speaking tourists with temptations of visiting the old haunts of Paul Bowles and with tales of ancient battles. Murad must reconcile his growing disgust for such tourists with his need to make money. It is a struggle that proves too much for him.

Part II is entitled After where we see how the lives of our four protagonists change after their desperate voyage across the Strait of Gibraltar. These stories will surprise the reader; lives get turned inside out, people do things that they normally wouldn’t absent distressed circumstances. And in the end, we don’t know which is more dangerous: the weary acceptance of poverty and brutality or the hope-driven risks people take to make life worth the effort. Lalami wisely doesn’t offer any answers. Rather, she gives us potent and perfectly-crafted portraits of those who both battle and embrace hope. And she lets us know that the lives of undocumented immigrants can’t be painted with one, broad stroke; their lives are as varied as anyone else’s.

What an auspicious debut this is. One hopes that Lalami will be telling her stories for many years to come.

Daniel Olivas is a writer living in Los Angeles. His most recent book is Devil Talk: Stories (Bilingual Press). Visit him online at www.danielolivas.com.

Friday, August 19, 2005

When Writing Gets You Down

Read Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet.

On writing and rejection:
You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me. You have asked others before. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts. Now...I beg you to give up all that. You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. There is only a single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write.
On boredom:
If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourslef that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches.
On "owning" your work:
...[I]f out of...turning inward, out of this absorption into your own world verses come, then it will not occur to you to ask anyone whether they are good verses. Nor will you try to interest magazines in your poems; for you will see in them your fond natural possession, a fragment and a voice of your life. A work of art is good if it has sprung from necessity. In this nature of its origin lies the judgement of it: there is no other.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A List I Can Get Down With

The diabolical Diana Souhami (Gertrude and Alice) writes up a list of her ten favorite books about lesbians. Go read it. Also, check out her newest bio, Wild Girls : Natalie Barney and Romaine Brooks. I once mad-googled Souhami for essays about her own experiences, but found close to none. I hope she's working on an autobio.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Film Review: Broken Flowers

Major spoilers ahead

We humans love father-son stories: Oedipus and Polybus/Laius, Daedalus and Icarus, Abraham and Isaac, Jesus and "god", Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. fathersandsonsBroken Flowers is a small epic that reverses the age-old son-quests-for-father myth by setting the father himself (Don Johnston, played by a static and stately Bill Murray) off on a quest to find his son... because he just found out that his son is on a quest to find him. Stupid thing to do, really, but that's what Jarmusch seems to be saying in this charming poem of a film: men do some very stupid things.

Don Johnston is an empty shell of a man. In his late fifties and still a "bachelor," Johnston has to correct people who think his name is Don Johnson...someone whose glory he may have embodied in the '80s but no longer does. Since the film's focus is on mistakes our Don Juan (more like "don't want": don't want to commit, don't want to get off the couch, don't want to do anything) made in the '80s, namely the mistake of possibly impregnating one of five girlfriends, the name behooves him.

The frame of the story is whimsical: a pink-suited girlfriend takes off just as a pink letter arrives with worse news; a benevolent Ethiopian neighbor with an idyllic family and amateur detective skills books the quest for Johnston. What I really enjoyed were all the little gifts Jarmusch gives the keen viewer along the way. Not the obvious ones that should be the clues, like the pink objects all the ex-girlfriends possess. I'm talking about the streets Johnston's ex-lovers' live on having road-signs with heavy-metal band names, like Whitesnake and Danzig; the looping, never-ending Ethiopian CD that, like our protagonist, is perpetually stuck on the same song; the camera's recurring focus on the images in the driver's side mirror, as if to say, look at what's behind you-- at your past! It's closer than it appears.

stewardessIf I had seen Broken Flowers in my teenage years, I may have walked out thinking it was a misogynistic pile of crap rather than the celebration of all things female that I think it really is. There is a particular scene I may have had a problem with: early on in his quest, Johnston sees a flight attendant doing a crossword as she waits at an airport gate. She has her sexy legs up on her suitcase. Johnston gives her a foot-to-head glance (the first of many foot-to-head glances he will give in the hour to come). He then watches her hold her pen, lead point up, as she erases a mistake. Then with beautiful purpose, she wipes off the deleted pencil marks. The camera finally rests on her lips, as she mouths ideas that may lead her to the right word. It's a gorgeous series of shots: Johnston's idiotic gawk followed by her purposeful erasure and her moving on to focused thought. And it's a gentle foreshadowing of the trip to come: he'll look for clues, and make mistakes one after another, but he'll be unable to erase them. For one thing, there'll eventually be a bruise on his face to remind him of them. And the women he re-meets, they have all erased him, brushed off the remains of the mistake of him, and moved on, with focus. If only they hadn't, Don's face seems to reveal; if only one of them had carried his child and reared him, loved some part of him so tenderly, the way only a mother could.

One of my favorite scenes comes right before the film's first dream sequence (there're a couple). Johnston is seated on a plane next to two little girls, his head resting on a pillow by the window. As he is about to nod off, one of the girls presses a button on her toy pony, and the pony neighs loudly, three times, and wakes Johnston. Now, while the film is primarily concerned with male fantasy, in this scene, female fantasy - what little girl doesn't want a real pony?-- cuts in and jars the male out of his own. Besides all that...it's just really funny.

I loved Johnston's meeting with Lolita, his ex Laura's daughter, who (this is my theory) calls her own cell phone from her home phone so she can come out of her room butt-naked (I laughed giddily, ecstatically, at the delicious sight of her) and pick up her own call. hellobeautiful I also loved the obvious relationship between Carmen, the 3rd ex, and her assistant, played by Chloe Sevigny, who wore a sexy Seventies outfit. Finally, I loved Johnston's final visit, bandage over eye, to the fifth, and deceased, ex. The camera does a foot-to-head glance of the headstone, and Johston says, "Hello, beautiful." It's the movie's best line.

As the film draws to a close, Johnston glimpses several young men in tracksuits like his own; several men who could be his own son. He tells one of them that life isn't about the past or the future, it's about the present, nomatter how broken -- a subtle theme throughout the movie has been a vase-ful of flowers which wilt and whither and eventually die; flowers are to be enjoyed in the moment, their presence is so fleeting. The film's last scene is a dizzying, enveloping shot of Johnston and the roads surrounding him, the camera standing still as we look into his eyes. That's when we see he was lying about the past and the future not mattering, because his eyes fill the screen, wondering not, "Who is my son?" but "who was I then, and where am I going?"

The quest for father/son/God/self, especially through women (muses?) is a perfect way to frame and (re)tell the oldest story in the world. If father and son myths are the product of and propaganda for a patriarchal culture, then what are Johnston's women but the Godesses and matriarchs who beckon us all back to an older, better system?

Monday, August 15, 2005

Vintage Movie Poster Blog

Check out Schaukasten.

(Found via News of the dead.)

Gorgeous Gaza Piece

in the NYT today. The article's finale, which includes a Darwish poem, is priceless.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

On "Jobs"

Femme Feral on "the perks of being an writer-in-residence":
One of my "jobs" this summer has been to copy hours and hours of video footage from readings and lectures and Q+A's that have occurred in these here parts to DVD. Most of the tapes are old and crusty. Adjectives some people are eager to apply to academia.
Go read the rest for some cool Maragret Atwood trivia.

Friday, August 12, 2005

And one last thing

I was really pissed off by this retarded NYT article on the so-called "girl crush." Here's the most offending paragraph:
"The brain system for romantic love is associated with intense energy, focused energy, obsessive things - a host of characteristics that you can feel not just toward a mating sweetheart," Dr. Fisher said, adding that "there's every reason to think that girls can fall in love with other girls without feeling sexual towards them, without the intention to marry them."
What? Is he fucking serious? Does he have a bird alarm and a car that's made out of rocks?

I know a lot of people may not agree with me on this, but... are you a woman? Do you have a crush on another woman? Would you never admit, to yourself or to anyone else, that you want to have sex with her? Does that have to do with the fact that you live in a society that equates sex with love and love with marriage, and where marriage is only possible to a man?

Just a thought.


My kid's back from NY, so there's games to be played, legos to be built, ice cream to be eaten, and a new school to be checked out. But here are a few linkies:
  • Qantara has a piece about Marcel Khalife that's sort of cool. A snippet: 'With the rise of conservative and radical Islam in the 90s after the crises of the pan-Arab national ideology and the Marxist ideology, Khalifeh tried to re-define Arab music using Darwish's poems ...'
  • Jeannette Winterson has an Op-Ed in the London Times about Playboy, which starts: 'I have a soft spot for Playboy: I wish women had such sexual freedom.' (I don't know what she's talking about. Playboy usually gives me a hard spot, and women do have such sexual freedom.)
  • The newest issue of the LRB has a mildly entertaining piece on (lit) toursim, as well as a purty essay on London memorials.
  • In the independent, Boyd Tonkin advocates that "... any politician who wishes to shore up, not undermine, an indigenous "culture of tolerance" should be reading John Milton".
  • Thursday, August 11, 2005

    New American/Arabic Film

    According to the Daily Star, Lebanese filmmaker Randa Chahal Sabag (The Kite, Civilisees) and Lebanese-American producer Elie Samaha (The Pledge, Heist, Battlefield Earth) are working together on an American feature film. The movie is about "two clubs, a visiting team and a local team. One is from the global south, the other from the global north. Sabag says the story will have comedy and dancing but that it will also be political, addressing north-south economic disparities."

    The film, which may star Lebanese diva Haifa, will be in English and include some Arabic dialogue. It's scheduled to come out in October of next year, and to cater to a US audience.

    Rushdie Calls for Reforms

    Salman Rushdie makes a plea for Islamic reform in last Sunday's Washington Post, saying the religion's 7th Century laws need to adapt to the 21st Century's needs. Amen. Here's my favorite paragraph:
    It should be a matter of intense interest to all Muslims that Islam is the only religion whose origins were recorded historically and thus are grounded not in legend but in fact. The Koran was revealed at a time of great change in the Arab world, the seventh-century shift from a matriarchal nomadic culture to an urban patriarchal system. Muhammad, as an orphan, personally suffered the difficulties of this transformation, and it is possible to read the Koran as a plea for the old matriarchal values in the new patriarchal world, a conservative plea that became revolutionary because of its appeal to all those whom the new system disenfranchised, the poor, the powerless and, yes, the orphans.

    Link via the BBC

    Wednesday, August 10, 2005

    A different kind of reading

    Scientists at University College London and UCLA say they can monitor people's thoughts via scans of their brains. Yes, we're that close to reading people's minds.

    This is creepy news; not because the prospect of having my mind read creeps me out, but because my old friend Chris and I spent a large portion of our evening last night at a bar (in which it is perpetually Christmas due to their decor) drinking liquor and pondering: If given the option, would we choose to read other people's minds, or read our own?

    Chris thinks people are more transparent to us than they think, and that we are transparent to them, but that most people don't really know themselves. I agreed with him, but still preferred to read other people's minds. I remember when I was about my son's age, I sat in assembly two rows behind a boy I had a huge crush on and wondered what he was thinking. I remember to this day how badly I wanted to read his mind.

    Chris threw in another hypothetical: if given the choice between reading his own brain and being taller and richer, which would he choose? He chose to be taller and richer, because he decided if he was "blessed" with these two attributes, he wouldn't need to read his own mind.

    I then made a connection between his desire to be happy, which he thinks being taller and richer would make him, and the desire to read your own mind.

    So I decided that if the machine could decipher our own thoughts; not just read them, but decipher them as well, that I'd choose to read my own mind. There's so much about my thought process I'd love to understand. And although I know insight doesn't always lead to change, I think it may lead to happiness, however temporary.

    Link via Maud

    "Philosophical autonomy is the answer"

    I loved this gorgeous essay by Theodore Dalrymple on Ibsen's principles and how he created poetry, plays that supported them in a way that has stood the test of time.

    Here is an excerpt:
    A family, Dr. Johnson once wrote, is a little kingdom, torn with factions and exposed to revolutions. This is a less than ringing endorsement of family life, of course; and the great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, whose childhood had been as unhappy as Johnson’s, would have agreed with this assessment. But Johnson, unlike Ibsen, went on to remark that all judgment is comparative: that to judge an institution or convention rightly, one must compare it with its alternatives. Marriage has many pains, says Johnson in Rasselas, but celibacy has no pleasures.
    What are [Ibsen's] moral teachings, at least in the three plays that have forged his enduring image? He was as rabidly hostile to conventional family life as Marx or Engels, but he was a much more effective and powerful critic, because his criticism did not remain on the level of philosophical abstraction. On the contrary, he laid bare the factions and revolutions of family life, its lies and miseries, in compelling and believable dramas; and while it has always been open to the reader or viewer to ascribe the moral pathology exhibited in these plays to the particular characters or neuroses of their dramatis personae alone, clearly this was not Ibsen’s intention. He was not a forerunner of Jerry Springer; his aim was not titillation or a mere display of the grotesque. He intends us to regard the morbidity his plays anatomize as typical and quintessential (to use Shaw’s word), the inevitable consequence of certain social conventions and institutions. He invites us implicitly, and explicitly in A Doll’s House and Ghosts, to consider alternative ways of living in order to eliminate what he considers the avoidable misery of the pathology he brings to light.
    You know you're hooked. Go read the whole thing.

    link via A&L Daily

    Monday, August 08, 2005

    I've changed the title of this post because I don't want to be spanked (actually, I do, but that's besides the point)

    I don't like Jonatham Lethem's writing, mostly because it smacks of ignorant and annoying generalizations that remind me of the one I used for the title of this post. This old article about his Egyptian cousin charmed me in spite of its 6th grade type realizations. Here's a little somethin' that displays his annoying capacity for both ignorance and charm:
    Intermarriage, of any sort, was felt to be heroic, and Barbara, with her Egyptian family, seemed absolutely heroic. So did my fabled Aunt Molly, the dark horse of my mother's family, who'd fled New York and married a Mexican, and then set up as a folk artist in Arizona. Even the Midwestern Lethems were obsessed with their purported trace of Native American blood - my legendary great-great-grandfather, named Brown, is said to have taken an Oglala Sioux bride.

    Also, I grew up in a Brooklyn neighbourhood with more brown faces than white. So it was thrilling and consoling - not only righteous but intuitively right - that splashing around alongside us paler kids in the motel pool in Maryville, Missouri, during those 1970s family reunions, were my dark Egyptian cousins, Randa and Amir. And, by the poolside, arguing politics with my World War Two veteran uncles, and with my outspoken radical Jewish mother, was their growly, bearded, imperious and quite lovable father, Saad. In fact, though we might by some current standards seem conceptually 'opposed', we half-Jewish and half-Egyptian cousins were more like each other than we were like the many dozens of pure Midwestern cousins surrounding us. We'd brought a new flavour to the Lethem family, a scent of the wider world, of cosmopolitan cities and oceans, to a landlocked tribe.

    Check the Fist

    nigm Ahmad Fuad Nigm at a Writers and Artists For Change rally in Cairo last week.

    I love Ahmad Fuad Nigm. I've loved him ever since, as a young girl in high school at El-Nasr Girls' College in Alexandria, I found a copy of his collection, el-murgeha, on my socialist ex-general grandpa's bookshelf.

    Photo courtesy AFP, link courtesy Baheyya

    Saturday, August 06, 2005

    The Funniest Hater Ever

    Remember the guy who did the funny kids' art crit? Well, his take on blogging is equally hilarious. Here's a sample:
    Blogging: If minds had anuses, blogging would be what your mind would do when it had to take a dump.
    And there's a lot more where that came from.

    "Like a Maya Angelou poem"

    This morning, I went to a free sneak preview of a movie. I took a large double Americano and a banana nut bread. This was a mistake-- the coffee, the brown nut bread-- because the movie was the fabulously foul The Aristocrats.

    It's a good one. All of you who love performance and raunchiness should go see it. It's basically dozens of performers doing their take on the raunchy incest-and-shit fueled vaudeville joke. In the classic telling of the joke, a man goes to see a talent agent and describes a family act for him: he and his wife have sex on stage, he shits on his wife, his wife shits on him, their kids come out and wallow in the shit, and the act is called - da da da daaa-- the aristocrats.

    I had never heard the joke before, but when I heard the first telling, I thought it was a comment on class. What is the upper class anyway but a bunch of over-priveleged babies wallowing in their parents' shit?

    I loved Dana Gould's take on the joke, that it's about shit and incest and therefore, a lot like a Maya Angelou poem. I also loved the comedian who told a genuinely sweet, family-oriented version of the joke and called it "The Cocksucking Motherfuckers." Other favorite variations include those told by Kevin Pollak (which involved a Christopher Walken imitation), Billy the mime, Whoopi Goldberg, and the dude who used playing cards.

    I was not, however, impressed with Gilbert Gottfried's performance of the joke at a Hugh Hefner roast. He told it the most classical way, with "A guy walks into a talent scout's office. He tells him, 'I got a family act for you. My wife comes out naked, I shit on her, she shits on me, my daughter comes out, I fist her, my son comes out and fucks my wife,'" etc., but then he ends it with "And the agent asks, what do you call this act?"

    Gottfried went with the safe "The Aristocrats!"

    If I were roasting Hefner, I would have said, "We call it the Playboy Mansion."

    Friday, August 05, 2005

    In Praise of Exile

    Kurdish-language writer Mehmed Uzun has returned to Turkey after nearly 30 years in exile. The author has been harrassed in Turkish courts for years because of his advocacy for an independent Kurdish state and language, and his support of free speech in literature. The unfortunate thing about it is, he's saying shit like this:

    ""If I had not bathed in European cultural heritage, I would not be the author I am."

    Which is a really smart thing to say when you get back from exile to a place where there are several lawsuits, and hoodlums, against you.

    Arab Writers Union Gets A Make-Over

    From El-Ahram
    [T]he union embarked on a joint venture with the Ministry of Youth, whereby the two organisation will be providing weekly cultural events to be held at the ministry's headquarters, opposite the Zamalek Sporting Club. The event (the culture salon) aims at aquatinting young people with the works of distinguished writers. Last week's salon hosted poet Abdel-Rahman Al-Abnoudi who read some of his most popular poems before a large audience.
    The Arab Writers Union will be hosting a 30th anniversary of the union in November. Writers such as Adonis, Hanan al-Shaykh, and Mahmoud Darwish will be in attendance. I want to go. Badly.

    Jeanette Winterson went to Legoland

    And left wondering:
    [W]hy does Prince Charming need a mobile phone, and why is the Red Riding Hood wolf watching TV? All the fairytale Lego has been modernised with gadgets. Result? Disaster. What was timeless has been manhandled into time. What was about the imagination has become a product placement exercise.
    But it's not the updating of fairytales that Winterson resents, it's something else. Read the rest here.

    We are avid Lego collectors and builders here at Rockslinga. My son gets the 800 piece sets, but the only Legos based on fairytales he really enjoys are the Star Wars ones.

    Jung Family Makes Biographer's Life Hell

    From the Herald Trib:
    The family's list of disputed facts spans almost 12 pages, from the red sail of a boat to the architectural style of a bridge over the Rhine. More substantively, some of Jung's relatives question the reliability of patient diaries that hint at sexual liaisons with Jung. They also scoff at a description of Jung's wife, Emma, that says her children "believed that she had warm feelings, but never showed them." But most of all they resent Bair for not seeking their approval for statements they made during interviews with her.
    The bio excites me. But I want to read Memories, Dreams, Reflections first.

    Thursday, August 04, 2005

    Wood On Bellow

    That sounds dirty.

    James Wood begins his essay over at the TLS with, "When Saul Bellow died in April this year, it did not escape notice that his most vocal appreciators were English." He then proceeds to explain why.

    Tuesday, August 02, 2005


    On this day, fifteen years ago, Iraq invaded Kuwait.

    On this day, fourteen years ago, I moved to the US.

    So, I can no longer say I lived half my life “over there,” because now, I’ve lived more than half my life over here.

    Last night, I drove to the lake at 1 in the morning, walked down to the little pier and watched the water. It was so soundless, still, and stagnant, it looked like tin. I thought I could walk on it. If I were in Egypt, I would have walked from my mom's little apartment, up the street, crossed the main road, wound through the cabins, across the asphalted boardwalk, and onto sand. Feet into water. Waves loud and peddlers louder. And the place would have been packed, at 1 AM.

    I closed my eyes and pretended. Did the walk in my mind. It worked.

    So boo fucking hoo. War happens. Immigration happens. Landlocked cities happen. I like my life, regardless of where I live it. Because in my mind, I have unlimited frequent fantasy miles.

    Dove Chicas

    Dove uses hotties sizes 4-12 in their newest ad campaign. I did a double-take when I first saw the billboard in NY, and thought, "Those chicks are hawt!" (People are calling the models "real women." I hate the phrase "real women." Skinny women are real, too. These are the only women who can truly be deemed unreal.)
    I like the ads. They make me feel like I'm looking in a mirror, and since when I look in the mirror I think "I's hot!", when I look at the ads, I think the same thing.... even though none of the girls are a size 18. Still, they're about six stories high and maybe 4 windows wide, so technically, they're bigger than me.

    I still won't buy the cream though. I like my jiggly parts. Why would I want to firm them up, or pretend I could?

    Monday, August 01, 2005

    Sex, Votes, and Rock and Roll in Egypt

    BBC News is running a cool series about youth in the Middle East, with a slant on Egyptian youth.

    Some of the questions it explores: Do Arab kids have sex?

    What forms of sex ed are villages and cities providing their youth?

    Are music videos, or "video clips," too sexy? And here are some of the video clips in question (particularly those of Haifa, Elissa, and Ruby, a personal favorite).

    I can't help but see a connection between sex, voting, and pop music. Egypt is a country in which government and religion make sex, as well as protesting, and running for president when you haven't been the president for the past 25 years, taboo.


    Everyone who's coming over from Moorish Girl, welcome! This blog is a lot like my Friday posts, except sometimes I talk about my personal life at greater length and blog about things that aren't literary. You can count on some recurring posts: literary conversations with my Mama, interview excerpts, book "news," personal posts about shows and readings and bad dates, and the occasional book review or satire.

    I was telling a friend recently that candle wax is the most fickle thing in the world. You can spill it on your skin from a few feet and it lands cool. What kind of wishy-washiness is that? "I'm burning hot, I'm hot, oh, I'm cold!"

    I'm fickler than candle wax. If there's any such word as fickler (there isn't). I will not report on anything with any regularity, or on anything of great importance, and this blog will achieve nothing in the grand scheme of things, or even in the small scheme, but it's goal is noble: to entertain you. Candle wax may be fickle, but damn you can have fun with it sometimes.

    Stick around.