As our world grows increasingly smaller it’s easier than ever to seek refuge in the comfort of familiar places. Yet, we live in a time when thoughts and ideas manifest in flashes of delight, th blink of an eye and round-the-world travel is at the fingertips of risk takers and adventurers alike. I see Marco Polo and Gertrude Bell in the men and women I met abroad. Sharing the road, sharing tales of individual split-second experiences worth more than time itself.

I started blogging back in 2012, shortly after moving to Jordan — not only to share my story and to learn from others, but to inspire, to instill the momentum it takes to lace up ones boots and hit the road. It wasn’t until I found myself alone in a most foreign country that I felt the hot passion of life. Where my native tongue was about as useful as the moo! of a cow and most the time, I had no idea what the hell I was putting in my mouth… but it tasted good and I wanted more! And that is why you must hit the road.

Don’t be victimized by the culture of fear. Our planet is waiting to be explored, to reveal it’s secrets to you, to me, to any who dare ask, it will expose you to the raw truths of life. To the quarks of distant cultures and alien tongues. To disgusting foods and delicious cuisines, to dangerous and countless blessings.

Let’s take control of 2015. Don’t be afraid to leap without looking. I encourage you to take off the training wheels and take the road less traveled.

-Yallah!

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What an immense pleasure it was joining fellow author Maria Rochelle in what became quite a revealing conversation… A discussion on travel, literature, writing, life, love and losing oneself in the beautiful madness of all things.

Since reading Knausgaard i’ve determined to take several wide steps away from the ego (easier said than done, right!). Giving my literature room for accuracy, honesty. It’s too easy to dress yourself up with fancy words, credentials, achievements etc. but what I want to hear, what I need to hear, comes from the fabric of reality — the truth.

So, it’s my objective this year to be more honest, with myself as much as others. Learning to say “no” more, and feeling less obliged to the prophetic “yes.” And in turn, taking care of my very self — I have a tendency to overcompensate, to be “too nice,” as they say.

Without further ado, I hope you enjoy our conversation and be sure to visit Maria’s work as well. As a multi-genre author, she’s covered some very impressive territory, including her tour de force children’s series, Jasmine Dreams.

Read the full interview here.

All of these things are true...

I had been in Jordan for several weeks and my love affair with Arabian sweets had reached a lofty peak. In fact, I would begin and end each day with a platter of pastries, smothered in honeys and syrups that would flood through heaps of pistachios on my plate.

Then it happened… I voraciously reached junkie status. More, more. Never enough! Every bakery that caught my sight was fair game,  out for a greater high, exploring the labyrinthine neighborhoods for the more legendary bakeries. But it was in Wadi Musa where my friend, Khaleed, led me right into the snare of Kanafeh.

An unmarked door led to an unnamed bakery where, despite the raging 100f degree day, a father and son were cheerfully slaving away, racking out sheets of pastries. They were using round, shallow pans and alchemy to produce what many call “Arabian cheesecake”.

This “cheesecake” was Kanafehe

A definitive oxymoron- soft and crunchy, sweet’n’salty, cheesy, gooey and crispy. All neatly encased in a glaze of simple syrup and rose water. Good enough to make one prostrate in reverence to the baker.

The ingredients are few yet they lend themselves to an endless array of pastries. We all know and love baklava but it wasn’t until I discovered Kanafeh that the Arabian culture opened up before me, so delicate and sweet behind that mysterious veil.

Now, please excuse this appauling photograph…

…but 1879!!!

IMG_2298
Knafa, Kanafeh, Kunafa? Whatever it is… Tel Aviv, Israel

Let’s just say there’s no right/wrong way to spell it- “A rose by any other name” and all that-

523975_3679462710501_1083950525_n
Kanafeh in Ramallah, Palestine

 

IMG_2093
Kanafeh and assorted pastries in Wadi Musa (Jordan)

There are three variants of kanafeh but in this recipe we’ll focus on khishnah (rough Kunafa)

Ingredients

  • 1 Package- Kataifi Pastry (kataifi is something like spun phyllo. Rather than laid out in thin sheets, it is processed in a way that produces vermicelli-like noodles. Check out this great video to see how it’s made)
  • 1 cup- Ghee
  • 2 cups- Akkawi cheese (you can substitute with mozzarella)

Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup- water
  • 1 1/2 cup- sugar
  • 2 tbsp- Rose water (or orange blossom water)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Optional Toppings

  • Pistachios (crushed)
  • Almonds (whole or crushed)
  • Whatever else catches your fancy (if you dare stray from pistachios…)

As with all recipes- preheat your oven (350f/180c)

Prepare the simple syrup (so that it can cool entirely before the kanafeh is finished) by mixing the water and sugar in a pot- bring to a boil. Add the lemon juice and continue boiling for 10 minutes or until the mixture has thickened. Promptly remove the syrup and allow to cool for several minutes. Then add the rose water, or orange blossom water.

At this time, you’ll want to begin shredding the kataifi. This is best done with a food processor but can be achieved by hand. As packaged, kataifi comes in endless noodles and you’ll need to shred them further- so that the average noodle is around one inch in length.

 

Once you have the noodles at the right size, place the kataifi in a large mixing bowl and gently incorporate the melted ghee (clarified butter.)

As the noodles set, begin the process of cutting down the cheese, or even shredding it if possible. I’ve experimented with many cheeses, some sweeter, some saltier, and there’s no rule for what you use. Just be sure to have 2 cups of a quality melting cheese to your liking either shredded or cut in long, narrow strips.

Taking a 9×13 pan, spread out a generous layer of the processed kataifi (about 2/3 of your noodles). Press the noodles firmly into the pan working it into a flat, even surface so that you can then evenly distribute the cheese, all of the cheese.

Follow the cheese with the remaining kataifi and, again, pack the noodles into the cheese, evenly.

With the oven heated, cook the kanafeh until the noodles have become a golden brown (around 10-15 mins)

Once the kanafeh has baked through you’ll want to allow it to cool for 10 mins

At this point, the kanafeh should have become more firm and set into its cheesy, sexy self.

Now, carefully place a cookie sheet atop the baking dish with the kanafeh and invert the pan so that the kanafeh is now on the cookie sheet.

Litter the surface with crushed pistachios and drown your darling with the simple syrup/rose water concoction.

Voila.

OK, so the example given below, about that. I had a tough time finding kataifi, so I substituted the noodles for simple phyllo sheets… no harm done. Yet, I will admit that iteration does neglect all the pleasing textures that comes along with kataifi. However, i’ll take what I can get. So get creative.

20140418-111911.jpg

20140418-111902.jpg

 

So, any takers?

Yallah’bye!

SaveSave

SaveSave

All of these things are true...

A couple weeks in my desperate affair with Arabian sweets had reached dangerous highs. In fact, I would begin and end each day with a platter of pastries, smothered in honey and flooded with syrup and pistachio.

Junkie. That’s what you’d call me. A baklav-addict. More, more. Never enough. Every bakery was fair game as I lurked ancient cobbled alleys, out for a greater high, wandering deeper into the labyrinth in search for legendary bakeries. All of this was is good and well but it was in Wadi Musa where my friend, Khaleed, led me right into the snare of Kanafeh.

I followed him downtown through an unmarked door into an unnamed bakery where, despite the raging 110-degrees, a father and son were cheerfully slaving away, racking out sheets of pastries. Round shallow pans and alchemy. Arabian cheesecake.

This cheesecake was Kanafehe

The edible oxymoron – soft and crunchy, sweet’n’salty, cheesy, gooey, and crispy. All neatly encased in a glaze of syrup and rose water.

The ingredients are few yet they lend themselves to an endless array of pastries. We all know and love baklava but it wasn’t until I discovered Kanafeh that I finally tasted the essence of Arabian culture: so delicate and sweet behind that mysterious veil.

Now, please excuse this appalling photograph…

IMG_2298
Knafa, Kanafeh, Kunafa? Whatever it is… Tel Aviv, Israel
…but 1879!!!

Let’s just say there’s no right/wrong way to spell it. A rose by any other name

523975_3679462710501_1083950525_n
Kanafeh in Ramallah, Palestine
IMG_2093
Kanafeh and assorted pastries in Wadi Musa (Jordan)

There are three variants of kanafeh but in this recipe we’ll focus on khishnah (rough Kunafa)

Ingredients

  • 1 Package- Kataifi Pastry (kataifi is something like spun phyllo. Rather than laid out in thin sheets, it is processed in a way that produces vermicelli-like noodles. Check out this great video to see how it’s made)
  • 1 cup- Ghee
  • 2 cups- Akkawi cheese (you can substitute with mozzarella)

Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup- water
  • 1 1/2 cup- sugar
  • 2 tbsp- Rose water (or orange blossom water)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Optional Toppings

  • Pistachios (crushed)
  • Almonds (whole or crushed)
  • Whatever else catches your fancy (if you dare stray from pistachios…)

As with all recipes- preheat your oven (350f/180c)

Prepare the simple syrup (so that it can cool entirely before the kanafeh is finished) by mixing the water and sugar in a pot- bring to a boil. Add the lemon juice and continue boiling for 10 minutes or until the mixture has thickened. Promptly remove the syrup and allow to cool for several minutes. Then add the rose water, or orange blossom water.

At this time, you’ll want to begin shredding the kataifi. This is best done with a food processor but can be achieved by hand. As packaged, kataifi comes in endless noodles and you’ll need to shred them further- so that the average noodle is around one inch in length.

Once you have the noodles at the right size, place the kataifi in a large mixing bowl and gently incorporate the melted ghee (clarified butter.)

As the noodles set, begin the process of cutting down the cheese, or even shredding it if possible. I’ve experimented with many cheeses, some sweeter, some saltier, and there’s no rule for what you use. Just be sure to have 2 cups of a quality melting cheese to your liking either shredded or cut in long, narrow strips.

Taking a 9×13 pan, spread out a generous layer of the processed kataifi (about 2/3 of your noodles). Press the noodles firmly into the pan working it into a flat, even surface so that you can then evenly distribute the cheese, all of the cheese.

Follow the cheese with the remaining kataifi and, again, pack the noodles into the cheese, evenly.

With the oven heated, cook the kanafeh until the noodles have become a golden brown (around 10-15 mins)

Once the kanafeh has baked through you’ll want to allow it to cool for 10 mins

At this point, the kanafeh should have become more firm and set into its cheesy, sexy self.

Now, carefully place a cookie sheet atop the baking dish with the kanafeh and invert the pan so that the kanafeh is now on the cookie sheet.

Litter the surface with crushed pistachios and drown your darling with the simple syrup/rose water concoction.

Voila.

OK, so the example given below, about that. I had a tough time finding kataifi, so I substituted the noodles for simple phyllo sheets… no harm done. Yet, I will admit that iteration does neglect all the pleasing textures that comes along with kataifi. However, i’ll take what I can get. So get creative.

20140418-111911.jpg
20140418-111902.jpg

So, any takers?

Yallah

Highlights

  • Introduced Shampooing to Europe
  • First Indian to Write a Book in English (I’m suspicious of this)
  • Opened the first Indian restaurant in London, 1810
  • Served as Surgeon in the British Army

Quite a figure.

I’m endlessly fascinated by the storied history and culture of food. If you think about it food, with all those various customs, colloquial nuances, simple and complex, erotic and understated, is truly our greatest and most intimate experience with the world around us.

<img src="https://nicholasandriani.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/sake-dean-mahomet.jpg?w=870&quot; alt="

Born in Patna, India, in 1759, Mahomed was taken under the wing of a British Army officer at the age of 10 after his father died. He served as a trainee surgeon in the army of the British East India Company and remained with the unit until 1782, when he resigned from the army and accompanied his benefactor to Britain.

In 1794, Mahomed published The Travels of Dean Mahomed, an autobiographical narrative about his adventures in India. The book recounts his time in the army and describes many important Indian cities and military campaigns.

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Sake Dean Mahomed was an entrepreneur and surgeon who helped break down cultural barriers between India and England.

Mahomed is credited with introducing Indian cuisine and Indian therapeutic massages known as shampoo baths to Europe in the early 19th century. But it’s for his writings that Google honored him with a Doodle on Tuesday. It was on this date in 1794 that Mahomed became the first Indian author to write and publish a book in English.

Born in Patna, India, in 1759, Mahomed was taken under the wing of a British Army officer at the age of 10 after his father died. He served as a trainee surgeon in the army of the British East India Company and remained with the unit until 1782, when he resigned from the army and accompanied his benefactor to Britain.

In 1794, Mahomed published The Travels of Dean Mahomed, an autobiographical narrative about his adventures in India. The book recounts his time in the army and describes many important Indian cities and military campaigns.

<img src="https://nicholasandriani.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/2c_mahomet_travelbook-1.jpg&quot; alt="

Born in Patna, India, in 1759, Mahomed was taken under the wing of a British Army officer at the age of 10 after his father died. He served as a trainee surgeon in the army of the British East India Company and remained with the unit until 1782, when he resigned from the army and accompanied his benefactor to Britain.

In 1794, Mahomed published The Travels of Dean Mahomed, an autobiographical narrative about his adventures in India. The book recounts his time in the army and describes many important Indian cities and military campaigns.

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Needless to say, Mohamed lived quite a rich and accomplished life.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of Influential Muslims

Rhythmic swells reverberate trough my lungs. The back streets of Valencia.

Back street Europe.

Romani enclaves and gypsy parts of town.

We’ll sit here in the Plaça de la Virgen with our stiff sangria, smartly bashful in red-faced delerium.

For it is Spring and the blossoms have begun to sing.

A nod to blanco nerium.

The Bosphorus splits Istanbul in two parts. A rift in the madness of Europe and Asia, drifting between bodies of fresh and salt water cooling the heated passion of a most ancient urban jungle.

The hot, hot, heat of human movement generates organized chaos as this great strait, this rift, cushions the blow, keeping this romantic city on its axis.

Gulls parade our smooth cruise to the Black Sea as Istanbul, in all its glory, surrounds us reaching out with minarets and the omnipresent aromas of a heavily spiced city.

It’s here, in the interstitial space between East and West, that time stands still…

photo


Will Write for Food. Or Coffee!

Being an artist, whether poet or ventriloquist, violinist or Beck, it's a taxing gig. Low pay, long hours. Sleepless nights,spotty work. If you find that my writing provides any pleasure, any sense of joy at all, I hope you will consider throwing me a bone, or an espresso.

$5.00

SCENE:
I landed in Andalusia, via Morocco, a few weeks/scenes before. In this text I’ve just met the Belgians Ingrid and Petra, We’ve been traveling together for a few days now and i’m beginning to feel a sort of tugging deep down, in my heart of hearts whenever she appears. Ingrid, that is. Of course, this feeling conflicts with my already strained, long-distance relationship (with Shay), yet I allow myself to be swept away by Ingrid’s presence. 

I remain unable to confront my own feelings. Therefore, before I say anything to Shay, before coming clean to Ingrid, I, selfishly, want to feel out my options.

The nights, dancing, tossing back jugs of Roja, the piles of Manchego, the furious foot stomping, hand clapping Flamenco, twirling through cavernous Gypsy grottoes and aimlessly, drunk on it all, wandering across the cobble stone markets. The old castle that was planted over the city have a millennia ago… this is all I’ve ever wanted. To be where I truly see excitement. To be where the world interests me and for the first time in my life I felt a purpose. 

And caught right there at the center of all that purpose nonsense were the two most extraordinary people I have ever met: Shay and Ingrid…


 From my working draft of The Outsider

     “I can hardly make out the old pointed steeple across the clay rooftops. A fog rolls in over the mountains and blanketing the village in that amber streetlight glow of Old World Europe. Church Bells pulsate through the clouds, as if echoing off canyon walls, a sort of wobbling, underwater sound. Even my own hands look strange in this light held before my face. The fog sweeps over the palm, through the fingers and the golden crown of Ingrid’s long curls. Blinking lights, something I can’t identify in the hazy distance, so foreign in this event –for haze so rich really is an event, isn’t it? Like a sunrise you never forget or the tail of a comet– glowing like dragons eyes… 

A sudden burst of red hits the rooftop as Ingrid’s glass falls to a shatter and wine washes over the Spanish tile where, beading at the edge of the terrace, it drips over the cobbles below.

“Shit.” Leaping up from the weathered futon, “–right back.”

When the coast is absolutely clear I dial the number.

“Hello?” It’s her. 

“Shay” My heart leaps, she’s answered!

How long has it been? A week, or two at least.

“Hi.” unhappy.

“Shay, how are you?” 

“Fine.”

Pause.

“I miss you.”

“Really? Because it seems to me that you’re having a great time on your own. In fact, I don’t know why you’ve called to begin–”

“–please don’t do this.”

“Do what? I’m doing nothing here. This is all you. If you want to go out and forget about me until it’s absolutely convenient then don’t even bother because I’m busy too y’now, i’m not sitting around, waiting for your call. This is all on you.”

“What are you talking about?” My voice cracks. Oh, how I revert to the desperate codependent puppy that I am. “I’m doing the best I can here. It’s not easy finding a phone, let alone a spare moment just when you’re available. The countless times I’ve called and gone straight to voicemail–”

“Words. Words, Nick. I want to see action. I need to feel you with me. To know you mean what you say. This is the first I know of these missed calls. You called this morning, well guess what, calling at 3 A.M doesn’t cut it.”

“Shay, please understand.”

“I do. You’re obviously onto bigger things and you should be. I’m not going to hold you back anymore. Don’t worry about me. Forget it. Go on and do you. It’s clearly what you want.”

“What I want? Would I be calling you from the other side of the world, busy and stressed and manic and missing you and in the middle of life, would I be calling you if this wasn’t what I wanted?”

“I don’t know what to say to that.”

“Be reasonable.”

“It’s never been so clear. You need to figure yourself out. Maybe someday that means us having something but now.” Shay pauses. “Now there’s just empty space.”

I can’t believe what she’s saying. A veil of darkness settles over my thoughts, muddling my vision. It’s all I can do not to crack this headset into the wall. To hurl my phone through the adjacent window across the chasms, stained glass raining over the alley below… but I hold tight. Oh, but to drain this bottle and hurl it through the window, wouldn’t that feel so good. I want to start a fire and watch something burn.

“Hello? Nick?”

I want to hang up. Give her a taste of what distance really feels like. But i’m still that codependent puppy in the throes of loneliness, hurling myself at the closest thing I know to be real.

Ingrid. On the stairs. She’s laughing and coming my way.

Shit.

“Nick? Hello?”

“You’re right. Maybe we’ve let too much air fill the space between “

Shay, hurt. “You really think that?”

Was she bluffing?

Now, agitated. “Isn’t that what you just said to me?” I let that sink in, feeling justified.

“Let’s talk about–”

“–how about I call you later. Let’s think about it. Email me. I have to go.”

“OK.”

I grab the bar as a wave of exhaustion crashes over. I need a drink.

“Hey Cowboy, how you holding up there?”

Ingrid’s cherry presence and brightness fills my cup once more. 

“I need a drink. Shall we?”

I mean, it’s not cheating if nothing happens. Oh, but emotions run deep. Which begs the question: What’s worse, an emotional or a physical affair?

Before the world can truly reveal itself you must take a period of meditation. A time of reflection. To pre-game, to set a cosmic course of action by stating your intentions and making them manifest. This is the driving force behind Sketching Sights. To become one with the elements of each and every environment that strikes me.

Dreaming of old Bagan I left brush and paint to guide themselves across the stars and secure my itinerary.

Burma on my mind

Scattered about the enchanting valley of Bagan are the remains of some 2,000 structures (monasteries, temples and pagodas). Historically this land housed over 4,000–each one thoughtfully placed and with purpose.

With this country of monks, gold clad domes and incantations opening its doors I see no other location more relevant to our cause at Yallah’Bye. That is, to document indigenous cultures at risk in this world of globalization.

Burma 2018?

Until next time

SaveSave

SaveSave

Earlier this year, I set a goal to finish a solid draft of my memoir and to achieve this mission i’m going into the wild, er, offline…

A MONTHLONG period away from social media, the internet, ethernet and all those nets, in an archaic approach to finish this labor of love that i’m damn excited to share with you.

Now, I generally write longhand, heavy Cross pen, paper, table and tea–so this writing without a computer business is basically how I conduct my work anyway. But, to be away from my peers, my colleagues and you people taking time to read these articles, that’s the toughest part.

I want to keep this short so let me finish by wishing my fellow Americans an enlightening and restful Thanksgiving. And, you Turks, love him or hate him, happy Ataturk Day (Nov 10th.) The same goes for you Zoroastrians out there, happy Adargan (celebration of fire Nov 10.)And, to you Moroccans and Lebanese–happy Independence Day (Nov 18th, Nov 22nd respectively.) And, you, yes you, take a break and celebrate “Buy Nothing Day” (Nov 28th.)

You can reach me at info@nicholasandriani.com and I’ll get back to you in 30 days or more. It’s just little strange to say that.

Thank you for all the support and encouragement. I look forward to catching up with all of you in one month.

Until then…

IMG_0992

 

–Andriani

 

Before the world can truly reveal itself you must take a period of meditation. A time of reflection. To pre-game, to set a cosmic course of action by stating your intentions and making them manifest. This is the driving force behind Sketching Sights. To become one with the elements of each and every environment that strikes me.

Dreaming of old Bagan I left brush and paint to guide themselves across the stars and secure my itinerary.

Burma on my mind

Scattered about the enchanting valley of Bagan are the remains of some 2,000 structures (monasteries, temples and pagodas). Historically this land housed over 4,000–each one thoughtfully placed and with purpose.

With this country of monks, gold clad domes and incantations opening its doors I see no other location more relevant to our cause at Yallah’Bye. That is, to document indigenous cultures at risk in this world of globalization.

Burma 2015?

Until next time–Yallah’Bye

Last weekend I took part in a polarizing protest.

And, I want you to know, dear reader, before proceeding, that I hold no anti-muslim nor anti-semitic sentiments. My opinion is neither religious (for some they sure have made it out to be) nor ethnic (for some they sure have made it out to be).

I’ll let my friends at the organization Jewish Voice for Peace take over for a moment-

This is a bloody mess, and pointing fingers will only breed hysteria. The blame game needs to end and we must lay the groundwork for a new era in Israeli/Palestinian relations.

This needs to start at home. By educating ourselves thoroughly and logically.

Avoid the media. Apparently, their responsibility to share unbiased news is far less important than swaying viewers for greater profit. They perpetuate half-truths and hype, lacking humanity and self-respect.

Drop the religions, the preconceptions. Look to the facts. Be rational and calm. Forget Israel, forget Palestine. Forget all emotion you’ve invested in this conflict and read the history of these two nations independent from what you’ve been told your whole life. Start from the beginning and formulate your own conclusion. Because, I promise you, it won’t be that which Fox news is screaming in their own brand of terrorism.

I condemn them. Fox News, Israel, Hamas. Way to perpetuate violence. “Eye for an eye”, how Babylonian. (That’s so 1772… BCE) Real progressive.We must look to the philosophies of Gandhi, of Mandela and others who overcame apartheid with astounding results by instigating a non-violent movement.

Wherever your allegiance lies, just remember that we can only get through this together. Right, left, Jew, Muslim, Christian, whatever–we need each other, and we have to acknowledge this with compassion.

Though I stand in support of a two-state solution I remain hand in hand with Palestine.

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Photo credit to Jo Larmore

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Photo Credit to Alma Habib

 


I wanted to wish all the Muslims out there a merry Eid al-Fitr. Sending good vibes your way, despite the major gastronomy-envy I’m feeling!

Until next time–Yallah’Bye

 

Calling all philanthropists, all investors. This year brings my first opportunity to attend the travel writers conference, Tbex, in Cancun, Mexico and i’m looking for a little support in the financial arena. Now, I know that sounds like a load of drunken debauchery in the midst of Maya ruins but there is just so much more to it!

Between the 11th and 14th of September, Tbex will include one-on-one networking with experts in the travel industry. Writers, businesses, publishers and masters of this or that field. Three days of lectures, classes, and hands-on training. All of which could propel me from the seat of an amateur to a full-time professional travel writer.

Since 2012 i’ve been working on my memoir chronicling archaeological research and cultural exchanges across the Middle East. A time immediately after the great Arab Spring and before the hopes and dreams of the Syrian uprising became a brutal civil war. By attending this conference I will be able to pitch my manuscript to a wide audience of publishing houses while also making my name relevant.

Here are the links to my campaign and to the official Tbex site.

If nothing more please share this campaign with your community. Any support would be extremely appreciated. All sponsorship and contributions will be noted.


 

A special thank you to my first donor Kaori Nishimoto of Fragments of Travel. Kaori “Likes traveling, talking with locals, and finding “common” in different culture”. Her Instagram feed dazzles from Morocco in the west to Japan and China in the East. With an eye for detail she captures the soul of travel through the art of photography. Do be sure to pay a visit to her site.

33% funded thus far!

Thank you and Yallah’Bye

Galata Tower, Andriani Watercolor Like a great minaret, the Galata Tower represents so much more than meets the eye.

Built in 1348 as the re-imagining of an earlier structure the tower has gone from hosting inmates, as a prison, to holding great secrets as an observatory for the astrologer Takıyeddin Efendi. What’s more, Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi the 17th century aviator… if you can call him that… achieved, through his scientific mastery, sustained flight that actually carried him from the Tower, over the Bosphorus, and landed him safely on the Asian side. 

Busking Euro-Gypsies surround the base of Galata as if worshiping an idol, strumming rhythms on deep acoustic guitars and homemade drums. Like a great heartbeat at the core of an old world metropolis.

From the balcony (at 51.65m) a rewarding panorama of Istanbul waits to expose all the secrets of modern life. A warmth emanates from the Ottoman palaces, the mosques, and grand Genoese structures all spilling their histories across the skyline. If that’s not cool enough to warrant a visit then maybe the swanky cafe on the top floor will get your attention…

This is the lure of the Orient. Of the East.

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It’s safe to say that the visual arts have always been an extremely inspirational medium to me. This is especially true when it comes to Islamic Art. The heavy use of geometrical forms and the rhythm of mingling patterns that move in harmony with passages from the Quran.

Traditionally, many schools of Islamic thought have avoided the use of human figures in their artistic endeavors; Sharia law even forbids the use. Perhaps to keep ones practice of Islam clear and void of idolatry. The resulting style became known as Arabesque playing hugely on vegetal, geometric, and scriptural elements. And this only scratches the surface. Other schools of thought, inspired by the Chinese and Mongols, did, in fact include depictions of men and women at the time.

So it’s clear that, like many genres, Islamic art can’t be neatly defined and the pieces i’ve brought to the board today span many centuries and borders.

Now, before I digress once again, I present a powerful collection of Islamic art currently on display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art here in Kansas City, Missouri.

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 Folios From a Qur’an. Abbasid Period (750-1258 C.E.)

Ink and Gold on Vellum. Arabic language using the Kufic script.

IMG_2247Couple Standing Among Flowering Trees.

Tabriz, Iran, Turkman School. 1480 C.E

Opaque watercolor and gold on paper

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Today’s Life and War 6

Gohar Dashti- Iranian (2008)

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Tile with Inscription

Iran. Seljuk Period ( 1038-1220s)

Ceramic w/ turquoise glaze

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Stories of Martyrdom (Women of Allah)

Shiran Neshat

Iranian (1994)

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Bowl

Iran. Seljuk Period (1038-1250s)

Fritware with opaque turquoise glaze

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Detailed shot of Mosaic from an arched entrance portal known as an iwan.

Isfahan, Iran. Safavid Dynasty (1501-1722)

Glazed ceramic tile and gold leaf.

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Paper Plates

Hamra Abbas- Pakistani (2008)

Paper collage

The exhibit goes on to include textiles, more ceramics, and even a short animated film which plays on the colonial occupation of India. A great display of the wide variations in Islamic art through time and space.

So, I absolutely urge you to pay a visit to the Nelson-Atkins. That is… if you’re in Kansas City already!

Yallah-bye

I’ve met some great people through this blog, twitter and other social media outlets. One person in particular stands out as someone whom I feel especially lucky to have met, the talented creator behind For The Intolerants, JoAnna.

JoAnna and I have a lot of similar interests, as do many travel bloggers; exploring exotic lands, sampling global cuisine, merging into bizarro cultures, but ultimately we share a unique idiosyncrasy, a sort of fervor for the Middle East.

A keystone in my mission being to deflate nasty stereotypes revolving around the Arab world, I found it fitting when JoAnna approached me to write a guest post and mentioned the same enthusiasm to shed light on a more authentic and positive Middle East.

Since some of you may not have had the chance to read the post when it premiered on For The Intolerants I am reposting it here for your reading pleasure.

These are my reminiscings on Aqaba, the jewel of the Red Sea, neatly fitted between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel…

Uncovering the Shores of Aqaba

Working on an archaeological dig in Jordan, I found myself fleeing to Aqaba every weekend. Not only to dive into the cool waters of the Red Sea, but to merge into a city that borders modernity while retaining the flair of time-tested traditions. I would leave only to feel the call of al-Aqabah time and time again with the desire to explore more the following weekend. Exotic markets and exquisite cafes line the beach.

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Aqaba Proper. Vantage from one of the highest rooftops in town. View of Al-Hussein Bin Ali Mosque and Red Sea.

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At the bus stop. Just like every other bus stop.

Just off the local bus I would work my way to the beach, grabbing a coffee from one of the various food carts along the main strip. It’s easy to get caught up in the relaxed culture as the locals have perfected hospitality. After running into the same group of Jordanians it wasn’t long before I was welcome in their ritual, grilling kebabs, smoking hookah, and playing on the beach late into the night, often until sunrise! Luxury resorts with private beaches are stamped across the shoreline just south of the city. This is where I would head for scuba diving, the Aqaba Marine Center, and a little pampering. Yet, I had a preference for the city beach in Aqaba proper. Where glass-bottom boats, camels, and a plethora of vendors to vie for your attention.

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Traditional Bedouin lodging options. Goat hair tent.

Within the city limits are two shopping districts to get lost in for hours. A bazaar with merchants selling anything from Arabian antiques to vintage cameras. And the garment district, where you can be fitted for any number of Arabian garments. I took the opportunity to buy a “thobe” or ankle-length tunic. In fact, my last trip through the city I roamed the town wearing my thobe and headscarf without turning a head! With a light heart and a little humor I shopped through the stretches of textiles, toying with locally mined silver, and haggling my way through teapots and Middle Eastern goods.

 

For a few dinars you can trot along the beach. For even more you can catch a camel trek into the interior of Jordan
Bedouin with Camel. Offering rides/excursions into the Wadi Rum/Wadi Araba deserts.

Across the city taxis call out- “Where you go?”, “Ah, my friend! Good price for you!”, all of which seem in good spirit, yet I became intolerant of their game early on. Due to their exorbitant fares, unreliable meters, and shady antics I utilized the local bus. Though admittedly, they’re less than comfortable and on several occasions I found myself waiting on a ride that would two hours late. As relaxed as I felt roaming Aqaba, travel by taxi or bus can be stressful. Whatever the case, due to Jordan’s size, getting around the country is a breeze. Once you figure out what mode of transport you can tolerate, a few hours in any direction will lead you to some of the world’s greatest wonders.

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The crystalline Red Sea serves as a natural barrier between Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. The Large ship in the distance represents the international border between Jordan and Israel.

In retrospect, I find Aqaba to be an integral destination for the true Arabian experience. It’s clear why most of the region flocks to the port city every weekend. Treasure hunting through the souks will entice some while the beach calls to others. Either adventure is worth experiencing in Aqaba, where hospitality is second nature to the local people steeped in Islamic faith. Where modern architecture is juxtaposed against ancient mud-brick dwellings, the 21st century is emerging and they welcome it with a grin.

Yallah, bye!

 

Salaam! HookahMan
“Oh! hookah of the magic bowl,
Thou dost bring me greatest pleasure,
Who likes not thee, hath not a soul,
And can know of joy no measure.”

For several months the hookah served as an icebreaker as I worked my way around the Middle East. Embracing the culture, I learned to appreciate the traditions and social norms attached to this symbol of community.

While the beginnings of this exotic device are unclear, several sources from the 16th century mention a “water pipe” being used in Persia and India. I assume the new pastime caught on quickly considering the popular hookah bars and countless smokers you come across anywhere in the region. I’d see whole families park their car, break out their hookah, sometimes alongside a portable grill, and whip up a kebab while smoking away, right on the side of the road. How damn cool is that!

In the States we have a habit to associate ALL smoking devices with marijuana or some paraphernalia. To tack taboo on the alien. It’s a shame as the hookah serves, more than anything else, as a way for people to congregate in a respectable setting, over civil discourse and a glass of tea, a game of backgammon or simply to gossip. I try to liken the experience to going out for a drink, but that usually leads to drunken debauchery… at least in my case (not really)… Moving forward!

In the image below we have the deconstructed skeletal remains of one hookah. On the left you see the hose. This specimen was a gift I collected in Jordan, Bedouin in style of red velvet and gold ornamentation. On the right side we have the stem, which consists of an air valve, a port for the hose and at the top, a tray for ash and the port for the bowl, which you see at the bottom of the image where the “sheesha” or tobacco is placed. Finally we have the vase, basically a reservoir for water in which the smoke, after passing through the stem, bubbles through the water and passes to the hose.

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Aside from the body all that’s needed for a good time… is a piece of charcoal and a dollop of molasses soaked tobacco.

I’m not terribly familiar with the various heat sources you can apply as charcoal has always been available to me. Apparently there are other materials you can use which produce a carbon free smoke and cut out any toxins, such as coconut based coal.

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Widely known as sheesha or “mu’assel” in Arabic, the tobacco used in smoking hookah is a product of sweet alchemy. Two vastly unique ingredients coming together in perfect unison. Dried tobacco forms the base ingredient which is flavored with a small amount of dried herbs or fruit. The mixture is then covered in honey or molasses before being macerated with a low amount of glycerol to maintain the needed moisture.

“Nakhla” seems to be the preferred brand of sheesha, smoked across the globe. Translating to “Palm”, they supply an army of 50+ flavors. Here I’m sticking with the old standby “Double Apple”.

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The bowl, sitting snug atop the stem, is packed with sheesha then covered in foil, which acts as a medium between the wet tobacco and the hot coal.

With a setup like this a typical “session” can run about an hour. In 60 minutes traditions and language barriers become a thing of the past.

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Not ready to give up my new pastime i’ve been seeking out hookah bars across Kansas City, finding authentic experiences here and unsavory there. I’m happy with the trend thats caught fire as Middle Eastern cafes pop up and the hookah emerges from the East.

If you’re ever in the area I highly recommend paying a visit to these flagships of sheesha culture in the States.

Aladdin Cafe– Exquisite Mediterranean fare and hookah on demand

Hookah Haven– Open late into the night H.Haven serves as more of a club. A lounge for watching the game over hookah, rather than the typical PBR.

Istanbul, Turkey- My 22nd birthday. Breezing through a lemon/mint concoction. Here you see me with the self proclaimed “Hookah King”.

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Aqaba, Jordan- This has to be one of my favorite pictures from the Middle East. On a beach in Aqaba I befriended a gang of hookah enthusiasts who, after passing the initiation, let me join them in the rounds.

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As you see below, not much has changed!

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Scene from a coffee shop is Istanbul, 1905
Sourced from Wikipedia

Whether in NYC or Istanbul, I would love to hear about your experiences smoking sheesha!

-Yallah, bye

Here’s a quick sketch of the Parthenon from the rooftop of my hostel. Though the site had been occupied for millenniums it wasn’t until 447 BC that the Acropolis really hit the map. At the height of Athens’ “Golden Age” Pericles began a project in the name of Athina.  His building program went underway and 2,500 years later still holds the power to drop jaws.

A view of the Parthenon from a local hostel.

After several months of eyeballing the various billboards and signage around KC, Jaclyn and I paid a visit to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. On display are some of the richest and most iconic portraits, still life and mixed media pieces to come out of Mexico since it’s founding.

Amassed by Natasha & Jacques Gelman (expats from Eastern Europe who migrated to Mexico in 1942) the exhibit is being held in the Bloch Building, a later addition to the Nelson’s (near) centenarian shell. Over the years they nurtured relationships with many masters of Mexican art, thus beginning an unrivaled collection.

Apparently many of the pieces on display havent, to this day, visited the region so I feel honored to have witnessed them. The brush strokes are just as Frida Kahlo left them. Diego Rivera’s lilies were so textural you could almost smell their sweet fragrance. Examples of the regions political and economic times are seen in the haunting images created by Gerardo Suter. The list goes on and I admit to being unfamiliar with the majority of these beautiful artists.

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Being to close to these pieces is just surreal. Growing up in San Antonio, Texas my admiration of Latin American artists blossomed at an early age. Portraits of Frida can be seen graffitied alongside coral colored buildings.

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This piece is one of Kahlo’s more etherial works that jumps beyond our own world into a metaphysical search for existence and purpose.

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Diego Rivera’s own self portrait

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A portrait of Natasha Gelman, by Diego Rivera.IMG_2910

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A personal favorite by Gerardo Suter

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Mediums have expanded and the times have changed but the essence of Mexican art remains the same.

I highly urge you Kansas Citians and citizens of the world. Make the visit, explore history. Bare witness to the transformations and current portrayals of Mexico through the eyes of those who knew, or know, the country intimately.

Beyond the Nelson-Atkins being one of the finest art collections in these States, it sees traveling exhibits that have inspired generations for nearly 100 years.