“But now I have to contradict myself again, because since I wrote that, protests erupted against racial injustice and police brutality in the US, and I find myself gazing at footage of New York streets that I’ve marched down myself in past protests. So many protests these past few years. But now bigger than ever, and only growing this past week. I’ve read horrified posts of police violence, but also posts saying I’ve never seen New York so beautiful. I’m reminded of the days after Tahrir, or during Gezi when so many stood together, of Damascus and Aleppo before all that was crushed, before the aftermath made it all so much worse. And I hope, despite everything, that this time it will break through.”
I wrote about reading during the pandemic and protests for Rescue Press. The full article is here.
“Those long nights were rampant with visions. I felt the cycling nature of vigilant consciousness, its relentlessness, until I could only utter crazed laughter at the edge of a sob. There were times I maintained a crystal focus through all the turbulence, when the ceremony felt like a delicate refining of attention. Or I took a break, walked outside to piss and stare at the endless march of leaf-carrying ants, watch electrical storms over the valley, or smoke rough local tobacco on a bench beneath the ojé tree. At one point I sat speaking Serbian with our molecular biologist—a Hungarian from Vojvodina—and that was as mind-bending as anything.
On the seventh night, after many hours, Miguel ended the ceremony and propped himself against the wall of the maloka. He’d been disturbed by the night’s visions.
Chucha, he said. This corona virus is like the plague from the Bible.”
A dispatch from the Amazonian Andes during the pandemic. The full story is here.
“First, Swallow the World: Muslim Dreams of Completion — the Maqamat, Ibn Arabi, and Faris al-Shidyaq”
My first peer-reviewed paper. On trickster tales, dream interpretation, Sufi visions, and mad satire. It’s out via World Art:
To read symbols within their varied contexts, a dream interpreter needed not only to master the traditions, but to interact with all manner of ideas and people and undergo varied experiences. And the interpreter could not be prudish or squeamish. The dream manuals, like dreams themselves, were riddled with illicit sex and violence. No lesser dream interpreter than the prophet Muhammad listened to the erotic dreams of his community, even addressing the meaning of particular nocturnal emissions. Only after one has become intimate with the switchbacks of fate, the vast multiplicity of life with its subtle intimations, exaltations, and trifling idiocies, was one suited to decode the symbols and stories carried back from the land of sleep.
Find it here:
If you’re interested, and need to get past the paywall, message me.
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.”
On April 26, 1926, Eusebio Joaquín González was working as a domestic servant for a pair of ascetic preachers named Silas and Saulo in Monterey, Mexico, when he had a vision – God renamed him Aaron and instructed him to strike out on his own.
He and his wife Elisa traveled to Guadalajara, where Aaron found work as a shoe salesman, and they started a church in their apartment. When their congregation grew large enough that it was time to build a temple in the city, once again a name was revealed to Gonzalez in a vision: Church of the Living God, Column and Support of Truth, Light of the World.
Of the six or seven guys behind the counter, at least half were from the local Latin American community and spoke to each other in Spanish, but when it was time to help a Serbo-hablante customer decide between sausages in the style of Sibiu or Srem, they dropped into impressively fluent Serbo-Croatian.
When it was our turn, we explained we were looking for something that in Hungarian was called csülök, and the clerk switched into Hungarian while producing a glistening, dark red hunk of pork knuckle. We walked out with bags stuffed with a half-dozen meats, jars of ajvar and horseradish and pickles, and after discovering a bottle of quince brandy at a nearby liquor store, called all of our friends to come share in the bounty.
When I had a key to the old Mercantile Library on 47th St, I used to wander through the diamond district every day before sitting down to write. I ate lunch in the upstairs canteens where the traders and cutters ordered food. Eventually I started interviewing people, showing up to events in the Diamond Trader’s Club, visiting cutting rooms, jewelers, scrap dealers, elite traders in colored diamonds. When The New Yorker’s Jeremy Keehn asked me to write about the Lesedi la Rona, the world’s largest diamond, I found that Ronnie VanderLinden, a stalwart of the district who I knew pretty well, a classic old school cutter and trader, had been brought in to assess it. Just a bit of the material I gathered, but a good story:
An interview with Aleksandar Hemon
I first heard of Sasha Hemon from my old friend Tina, his sister, when I was living in Sarajevo in the 1990s. Sasha was just starting to publish versions of the stories that would become The Question of Bruno. When I came back to the US many years later, Colum McCann asked me to interview a writer for a class at Hunter. I was lucky to choose Hemon, who has ready answers for anything, and speaks in deliberate, sophisticated paragraphs. We talked about the politics of the US and the Balkans (this was before Trump), about selfhood, cognition, and other delusions.
Marcy Houses has Jay-Z; Queensbridge has Nas and Mobb Deep; the most famous former resident of Todt Hill is Drita D’Avanzo, a daughter of Albanian immigrants who grew up in the Houses. This February MC Drita hosted “Louder than Love: Freestyle Valentine’s Ball” in Nassau County, but she is best known as a star of the VH1 reality show “Mob Wives.” Her husband Lee D’Avanzo was arrested under “Operation Turkey Shoot” while breaking into the Richmond County Savings Bank in 2009. He is widely considered the leader of a farm team for the Bonanno and Colombo crime family. Drita defied her parents to marry Lee, but she was with her mother visiting Todt Hill this March. She dropped in on old friends and had her picture taken with a young girl who recognized her. “What are you doing here?” the girl asked. “I was born in this building and lived here for fifteen years.”
The Houses have also been home to Earn EZ, who dodges frog splashes in Staten Island’s upstart DIY pro-wrestling organization Warriors of Wrestling; YouTube rapper Vicki Vicious (“Time’s ticking so I put my life between my bars and sentences”); and Timothy Gardner, currently building what he hopes will be the largest ball of rubber bands in history. Gardner began the ball, which now weighs 420 pounds and is on display at the Snug Harbor Museum, while living in Todt Hill Houses as an 11 year-old.