Monday, July 30, 2007

RIP Bergman

Legendary film-maker Ingmar Bergman, director of Persona, one of my very favorite films, has died at the age of 89.

Summer, Still

Odd to be back in the US, in a quiet and sunny place. I have been doing lots of reading and been attempting to write, or finish writing, stories I began over the past 2 weeks. Have revised a bit, as well, in hopes of having more time to create than to mull over old work, though mulling is fun after enough time passes and it seems an old story was written by someone other than myself.

Recent Reads/Now Reading:

The Writer and the World
, VS Naipaul. Fascinating; especially the chapter on Borges and Peron.

Selected Stories, by Alice Munro. Material and the Ottawa Valley are new favorites.

Almost No Memory, Lydia Davis. In short shorts and longer pieces, Davis explores human relationships as though they were unknown territories.

The 27th City, by Jonathan Franzen. I was surprised by the first few pages of this novel, which features and Indian chick detective.

No One Belongs Here More Than You, by Miranda July. This one I already finished, but it was surprisingly good. Some people don't care for the recurring themes and view the quirkiness of characters as a crutch, but I really enjoyed this book.

Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood. The story of a real life murderess, this novel's best parts were the 3rd person sections from the POV of her analyst. Enjoyable though the ending is all about wrapping up.

Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Hilarious account of a group of men that "discover" a female utopia.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Back in Ann Arbor

I'm home now, after cutting my trip short due to illness and lost baggage hassles.

I'm happy to be back, and hope to spend the next 6 weeks before my semester starts getting lots of writing and revising done.

Here is a pic of crazed Harry Potter fans I saw in London on the 19th.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Weakling in Egypt

I've been a sick weakling here in Egypt. The first day in Cairo, I spent in bed, hot. I called a couple of friends, and one of them made concrete plans to see me, while the other flaked out. I was starting to remember that this happens a lot here.

My second day, I woke up feeling a little better, though with a wicked cough. My childhood friend Sandy, whom I've known almost all my life, took me to the Azhar Gardens, a new park in Cairo which overlooks the old wall and the Saladdin Palace.
We had coffee there and then went to a place over the Nile for drinks. Nothing short of heaven. Later that night I met with another friend at Diwan, where we bumped into author Bahaa Taher. I went home that night thinking I was all better.

I woke up on Day three with a high fever and a scary cough. I pulled myself out of bed at 6PM to buy water and antibiotics, then went back to bed again, where I stayed for two days. At the end of the second day, I forced myself to go to El-Hossein, the old bazaar. I drank cafe at Mahfouz's old haunt El-Fishawy and got my hands hennaed by a Sudanese refugee who was squatting in front of the mosque in the square. The next day, I took a train to Alexandria, watching from my window the Egyptian country side with horror and love, and hacking into a handkerchief.
In Alexandria, I slept in my mom's childhood room, in a building that was built in 1935. My grandpa has lived in this apartment for 55 years. My cousins live there now, too, with my aunt. Alexandria has a new mayor, and every time we went out I noticed piles of rocks or sand everywhere. I discovered this was part of the new mayor's city renovation plan. Except nothing is being renovated, and the city seems depressed.
I was unable to swim in the Mediterranean, but I looked at it from my grandpa's balcony every morning when I took my tea.

I spent every afternoon listening to my grandpa tell stories. (Pictured at left in 1952.) He talked about his village's version of baseball and field hockey, which they played with rag balls. He talked about visiting Russia in the Sixties, and how efficient their train system was. He told me about theater in Egypt in the '40s and '50s; how it used to cost 37 cents to go, and he'd sit and watch the different acts: a monologue, an Eastern dance routine, a song, then drink with the performers. He said everyone used to go, ordinary people and British soldiers. I detected a wistfulness in his voice when he told these stories. He lamented one morning that he'd never learned African history. "We're on the continent, yet we know nothing about its past. We only learn about Islam and Arab history."

On Friday the entire city was praying, or listening to the call to prayer. My cousins and I made lunch, the prayers broadcast outside, and inside the kitchen, we played the new Amr Diab cassette. "That man gets older and cuter every year," my cousin said, flicking a match into the oven.

I took the train back to Cairo and gawked at the galabeyya clad scarecrows in the neat, green fields. A deaf Saudi man sat next to me with his two wives, and they all signed to each other in a frenzy all the way to Cairo.

In Cairo again, I reunited with some old friends. I've been staying in Zamalek, the bougie island. My friend orders groceries and pharmaceuticals over the phone. It's a far cry from the villages without water just a few miles from here. Yet I'm learning to understand and love the dichotomies of Egyptian culture.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Paris: Picassos, Patisseries, Pere Lachaise, and losing my baggage

My time in Paris was fun, though marred by the fact that I wore the same clothes for most of the trip. British Airways held--is still holding-- all my clothes, undies, books, and shoes in Heathrow. I was misled into thinking I'd get it back by July 1, but no such luck.
(Pic: St Michel Square, or, how I will kick British Airways in the ass.)

So, I walked through the fair streets of the Marais, the Latin Quarter, and the Bastille in my travelin' clothes. I slept through the beautiful nights of Montmartre in my travelin' clothes. And, when I tried to buy new clothes... well, I was in Paris. Their idea of large sizes is almost non-existent. I tried, dear God, I tried to find something to wear, but couldn't. In the end, I saw some cute big chick working at a boulangerie and asked her where she shopped. "Internet," she said, then suggested, after some thought, "Ashh en EM?" So, I was forced to go to H&M and buy the fugliest pair of grandma jeans and couple of linen-y, nasty shirts. My finest purchase was a pair of wicked cool adidas to replace the impractical shoes I had traveled in, which had scarred and chafed my feet.
Once I got that out of the way, I strolled through the streets with more ease. I went to the Picasso Museum, the Maison of Victor Hugo (motherfucker was rich!), the ouvre, where I snapped illegal photos of paintings, and the Pere Lachaise, the funnest place of all.

The most astounding grave there was Oscar Wilde's, which was covered in graffitti and lipstick marks; the most disappointing was Proust's, a black, shiny, small thing with barely a headstone. Colette's was almost equally disappointing, since I half-expected there to be lingerie draped on it. Balzac's was awesome, with a huge cross.

I left Gertrude Stein a note on a cigarette and stuck it in the soil by where her face would be.

All in all, a cool trip. Next time I travel I'm taking everything with me in a carry-on.

I'm in Cairo now! The azaan is going in the background and I am off to search for deodorant and toothpaste.