To Remain Nameless


My novel To Remain Nameless will be out May 1, 2020, published  by Rescue Press:

By ten o’clock they were sitting in an alleyway off Istiklal, with dozens of empty plates in front of them, the last remnants of sardines and liver, of garlic-boiled seagrasses and pistachio halva, smoking Rothmans from the Stockholm airport and drinking rakı without water. Laura now pulled out her chair and got up. Tess watched her climb on top of the table, squat there with her shoes between the empty plates. Laura bunched up her skirt, pressed her palms down on her knees, and pissed. She pissed out all the forms and reports and information requests and extensions and follow-up grant proposals and ROAs and tax documents that had ever passed through her fingers, so it all poured from the tabletop onto the concrete alley off Istiklal, seeped into the sewer and ran down to the Bosporus and then the Marmara and the Mediterranean, dissolving into the soup the dolphins leapt through at the Gates of Hercules, then reached over to plant a big muscled kiss on each of the pliant mouths of these visitors from the West.

Related announcements to come.



Remapping the Middle Ages



A course I taught at City College in 2018:

In the Middle Ages, the large, cosmopolitan cities where art and science flourished surrounded the Mediterranean. England was a backwater; London was a small city far from the highly networked urban centers to the south and east. After the fragmentation of the Roman Empire, the action was from Isfahan, Baghdad, Cairo, and Byzantine Istanbul in the east to Seville and Cordoba in Muslim Spain. Eventually Florence and Toledo became centers of a rising Christian culture with the defeat of the Andalusian khalifs and the returning Crusaders, who brought science, technology, philosophy, and poetic traditions from Greek, Indo-Persian, and Arabic spheres into Christian Europe.

This course will give a taste of some of the literary products of this rich, diverse, and long period. Prokopios will lay waste to late classical Constantinople. Abu Qasim and company will shock us with outrageous Abassid cursing. We will travel north with Ibn Fadlan, south with Ibn Battuta, and rummage through “the attic of Islam” via al-Nuwayri’s Egyptian encyclopedia. We will explore the language of divine intoxication in Sufi poetry. The Arabian Nights and the Maqamat will introduce the frame narrative and the picaresque, providing the model for later adaptations like The Decameron and Lazarillo de Tormes. By then we will have arrived to early modernity, a time of growing contact between the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia, and the Americas—a whole new world.

This will be an unusual class in the English department, because nothing we will read was written in English. Instead we will read works in translation from Greek, Arabic, Italian, and Spanish. The material is rough, often sexual and filthy, sometimes offensive in other ways as well. Be warned! It is also fabulous, hilarious, and shows the roots of much of what we think of as the literary.


Havana Red Sulphur, part 2

Mirror havana

[read part 1 first, check below]

I headed out to the Melia Cohiba Hotel to investigate the 16th Annual International Conference on Islamic Philosophy and Mysticism.

I jumped out at a broad residential corner and saw a stone and glass tower from the 1990s rise from the end the block toward the sea. As I headed toward it I found myself behind a pale but tanned man with feathered gray hair and the measured stroll of wealth. I was not surprised when he strolled right up to the entrance to the hotel and into the lobby. I followed him inside, then stopped to look around. Any sign of the World Association of Science, Economics, and Technology? I saw a sign for a showing by an Italian designer, but the lobby was largely unoccupied. According to the conference schedule, the afternoon session opened with Aleksander Nawrat of the Silesian University. He was giving a talk about Multimedia Firearms Training Systems. Then Ramiro Camacho of the University of Itajubá would discuss the design of an axial-flow fan based on “lift wing theory and the potential vortex hypothesis.”

The full letter:

Havana Red Sulphur, part 1

One year later, a piece on Cuban Arabs, a phantom conference in Havana, and the death of Fidel:

Very early morning at JFK on Nov. 23, 2016. My eyes were burning and my mind was a toxic cloud of news and analysis of the recent US elections. CNN chatter penetrated from a distant television: Nazi salutes in a Washington hotel, rubber bullets at Standing Rock, Flynn and Giuliani and Bannon and Sessions.

I had answered a call for submissions from the 16th Annual International Conference on Islamic Philosophy and Mysticism, to be held at the Melia Cohiba Hotel in Havana. Suggested topics included Islamic ethics, theology and kalam, Averroism and Sufi metaphysics. I had been writing about the Andalusian visionary Ibn Arabi, his ideas of primal matter. I was going to talk about dust struck by light, subtle fluctuations within divisibility by zero.

The full letter:

The Mast in Senegal


He shouted at them, trying to get them to scram, but one had a gun and fired at Serge as he came toward them. The bullet entered his right eye and lodged in the back of his brain. He ran to the hospital, but the doctors were unable to remove the bullet. He would have to hope the wound healed on its own.

He went back to the house and lay recuperating, hallucinating with pain. He had conversations with phantoms of his dead father, and repeatedly witnessed his own death. But over many months the wound healed and the hallucinations subsided. He at first thought to sell the house and return to France, but then decided no, this was his home and he would stay.

The full letter:

On Understanding Nothing Deeply


Creative responses to political misery in Hungary


“It was like a wall,” Schilling said. “Before 2010 it was like: how can we use art to approach social issues? After 2010 I was like: I don’t care about art.

Before the event, Schilling received notice that he was to receive the Princess Margriet Award for Culture, in honor of his theatrical work. It turned out that the ceremony in Amsterdam was the same day as the teachers’ demonstration. So he wrote politely to explain that he wouldn’t be there.

Instead he was in Budapest, behind the stage in front of parliament, happy to see that tens of thousands of people had come out for the event. Early on in the speeches rain began to fall, and soon it grew into a storm. One of the speakers called for a moment of silence. In fact, she called for five minutes of silence. Here Schilling’s dramatist’s mind kicked in: No! Five minutes is too long! It will never work. But he was out in the crowd by then, getting drenched like everyone else.

“That was the most joyful moment,” he said, “because I knew I was in the right place. No awards, not shaking hands with the princess. I was free.”

The full story

Confessions of a Coffee-Roaster

It was a staff member’s birthday and they were going to celebrate. Did I want cake?

I watched as the staff gathered in back to sing, and soon a grape custard tart and a square of brandy-filled chocolate appeared in front of me.

The owner returned with a bottle of liquor. He dropped three tiny coffee cups in front of us and nodded at me.

His daughter came back and translated again:

It’s not every day they open a twenty-year-old bottle of Armenian cognac, she said.

The owner poured out fingers of rust-colored booze and we raised our glasses. His daughter sat next to me and began to tell me the story of the shop, of her father, of the cognac we were drinking.

The story began in 1915, when an Armenian coffee roaster named Avedis Carabelaian fled the genocide in Anatolia and found his way to Bucharest, opening a roastery there in Hristo Botev. Word spread of his skill and soon it was known as the best roastery in the city.

Her father was born in an Orthodox Church during the allied bombing of 1944. He was named after the icons in the church: Gheorghe Ilia Florescu.

She stepped away for a second and returned with a hardback book, opening to a black and white image of a long-bearded priest holding an infant wrapped in blankets.

There he was—her baby father.

The full letter: