Showing posts from January, 2010

The Priorities of Travel

Not every spot is magical for everyone. Sometimes you get somewhere, look around, and think, 'Hey, this place is a squalid rat hole. I'd really rather be in the Netherlands.' And that's OK. —Seth Stevenson for Slate magazine The Jan Shatabdi Express to Aurangabad coasted out of Bombay, through hills and mangrove swamps, then sugar plantations. As the sunlight deepened to gold and then red the train passed up into the wet nooks of the Deccan, a green country of sparse fields, scattered trees, snug cottages of clay and thatch, and solitary plateaus, conical or in strange shapes, of a rich brown color, as if the earth had been overturned. We stopped in stations, sometimes for twenty minutes, and bartered through the window for bananas or sesame treats while the Sacred Cows wandered around the platforms. Tom and I had seats, and many Indians stood in the aisles or around the open doors, looking out on the landscape of their country. They talked to us with interest about t

The Gateway of India

Far away, This ship is taking me far away, Far away from the memories Of the people who care if I live or die. Starlight, I will be chasing the starlight, Until the end of my life; I don’t know if it’s worth it anymore. —Muse Bored of the monotony of the Middle East, of the slow transitions that characterized my overland journey, changes as subtle as colors on a spectrum, I found myself needing a sudden shift; and so, having traveled an indirect route from the Thames and Fleet to the Nile’s Second Cataract, from highland moors to snowy mountains, from Scythian steppe to seas of sand, by bus and train and the power of my thumb, I flew out of Amman and across the holy desolation ruled by the House of Saud to those seven wealthy kingdoms by the sea. Indians and Filipinos manned the great way-station of Sharjah, conscripted from the provinces of the Empire of the Buck. Emirati men in long robes and turbans, laptops slung across their slim shoulders, shuffled between the terminals, and Emi

More Thousands of Words

Yet you too in your time must have known the intensity of life, that light of glamour created in the shock of trifles, as amazing as the glow of sparks struck from a cold stone — and as short-lived, alas! —Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim I've mentioned a few of the camera problems I've had to you, Reader, but not nearly all of them. Luckily my friends provided me with a few shots to fill in the gaps. I posted a batch of those, and the ones I took myself between Aswan to Haifa, to my Flickr pages. Here are a few favorite ones. Wadi Rum Photo by Jean. Nuweiba & Dahab, Egypt Photo by Yashar. Mount Sinai, Egypt Photo by Amelia. Cairo The Western Desert Aswan & Abu Simbel Jerusalem Hebron Tel Aviv & Haifa Amman & Jerash

Egypt Sung: Ballads For Troubadours

I know I want to sing So I know I can. —Kyp Malone Why did I write two songs about Egypt? O Reader, I had plenty of time. My Eid Goat Christmas brings a great deal to television, in themes and movies and commercial bumpers. The Mohammedan festival of Id al-Adha is no different. The bumper, a 3D cartoon, begins with a nervous looking sheep. A butcher’s cleaver falls from off screen just next to the beast’s head, who then collapses on his side in an expanding pool of blood. This similarly themed song is set to the tune of that classic nursery school rhyme, My Highland Goat. The notes at the end of each line are for the kids singing along—it is, after all, a childrens’ song. Oh my Eid goat (e-oat-e-oat-e-oat) Was feeling fine (e-ine-e-ine-e-ine) Until he saw (e-aw-e-aw-e-aw) What's on my mind (e-ind-e-ind-e-ind) It’s time for Eid (e-eid-e-eid-e-eid) The crowd grew nigh (e-eye-e-eye-e-eye) Out in the street (e-eet-e-eet-e-eet) That goat must die (e-eye-e-eye-e-eye) They took my goat (e

Goodbye Amelia

So goodbye, so long, the road calls me dear, And your tears cannot bind me anymore, And farewell to the girl with the sun in her eyes— Can I kiss you, and then I'll be gone. —Tom Waits, “Old Shoes” I met Amelia at the House of Peace after returning from Hebron, and we caught a 6:30 bus to Haifa, a peninsular town on the coast north of Tel Aviv. While we waited at the train station for our CouchSurfing host, Amelia found a packet of Tim Tams, the Australian Oreo, two wafers around light cream and coated in chocolate. Once someone asked her what cuisine Australia produced, and the only things she could name were kangaroo steaks and Tim Tams. (Vegemite is a Kraft product that found a market in Oz when Americans turned it down.) She reprimanded me for thinking to eat them with cold milk. The Australians follow the British in calling their cookies biscuits and in eating the treats with tea or coffee. Tim Tams go especially well with the latter: bite off a pair of opposite corners and y

The Road to Peace

They fill the children full of hate To fight an old man’s war And die upon the road to peace. —Tom Waits Our bus returned Amelia and I from Bethlehem to the Damascus Gate, and under the setting sun we walked back up the Mount of Olives, through the crowded rows of the Jewish cemeteries. The Mount is prime real estate for the dead—the buried there end at the front of the line when the Last Judgment comes around. Tuesday we tried to enter the Temple Mount, that holiest site of Abraham’s test and Mohammed’s ascension where one prayer is worth ten thousand, but the guards shut the gate in our faces. Only a certain number of non-Muslims could enter during the two daily windows the Mount opens to tourists, and we were two too many. Dismayed, we went up through the Old City, the streets full of Nigerian pilgrims, Zionist American tour groups with their hired riflemen, girls with unloaded guns slung over their backs huddled around some map as part of their army training. All Israel’s women se