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!

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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

The Dying of Baal

In ancient Syria it was said
if the paid mourners did not wail
and play their flutes,
the fire snake of grief,
the demon Bhalak, would stir
and scorch the bereft
from the inside out.

I bury one hand in the dirt.
With the other I throw dust
over my head. I am barefoot.
I do not eat. My bloodless hair
I pluck and tear: Syria is dead
and all the professional
mourners have fled.

Oh Syria! With the god of Storm
and Dew now thunder-mute
in Homs, Aleppo, Damascus and Palmyra,
without the rip of shirt and flesh,
un-memoried, the thousand silences,
thick and slow, stand on the banks
of the Orontes, a living mist,
wordless as the dead.

I thrust one hand into my chest.
With the other I scratch black scars
in a lost language of Body:
some, any, every, no.
The earth burns my feet.
My blistered tongue swells
with seared and serpent breath. 

Helen Wing is a poet and fiction writer currently living in Beirut. She has worked as a poet-in-residence in schools in China, the UK, and the EU and runs creative writing workshops for performance and poetry book publishing projects. Her work has been published in UK, US, China, and Lebanon.

الْأُرْدُنّAl-‘Urdunn, Aqabah

Sun Blazing, the Red Sea, still, cool with Spring. I sit over Cafe Salaam, coffee, freshly roasted with cardamom and a handful of roasted nuts, wedged between an abundance of potted sage and a crumbling banister.

Open my sketchbook and look into the valley…

…Al-Sharif Al Hussein Bin Ali Mosque — open air markets winding and knotted, where camel heads swing from butcheries and parrots are sold hand over fist — all common fare. Beyond the mosque, the water opens in an uninterrupted display of coral and sunset pink, shipwrecks spot the depths like freckles between Egypt and Jordan.

al-Aqaba sketch

Could there be a better rooftop for writers and their manuscripts on a romantic getaway?

NAH!

Let’s hear it, tell me about your favorite rooftop experience. Where? Why?

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It was 2012.

While the rest of humanity prepared for the Mayan Apocalypse, I was in the process of selling off ALL my belongings, the profits of which went towards a one-way ticket to Africa and a few months of vagabonding to, you know, “figure out my life.” While researching my first stop –a little known Kingdom called Morocco!– I came across an article about this peculiar dish called tagine. Growing up in an international family I’m naturally obsessed with global cuisine and this is my absolute favorite.

Even the name is sexy.

Say it with me, “Tah-Jeen.”

See! Don’t you feel more exotic?

No plans of visiting a Moroccan bazaar? A quick jaunt to Sur La Table will seal the gap between your grill and Marrakech as we travel together, in our shared craving for the exotic.

Oh, look at you with that shiny new Tagine. Welcome to a new you. Hi there. Here’s the thing. This is my favorite disk. Well, that I have personally made. so IMO, buying a tagine is a tremendous investment. Not only will you impress others but your abilities will be forever evolving. As this is one of the worlds most enchanting dishes.

But it was in the Kingdom itself that I had my first tagine. A friend of mine knew of a place, in a village way up in the Atlas Mountains, a day drive from Marrakech. The kind of place with rickety plastic tables, and shredded tarpaulins as tablecloths. Yet, where dining over the tagine was no less than a ceremony. It was dimly lit, in this crag on the mountain, in the banks of a river carrying icemelt from the previous winter.

We ordered the lamb which came out sizzling on a bed of onions, carrots and garlic surrounded by green olives, dates, and preserved lemons in a rich oily sauce. This being my first meal in 21 hours I dug in eagerly. It may be cliche but this truly was a surreal experience, chowing down, pouring mint tea late into the night.

The next evening I found myself lost in the ancient markets, stumbling down cobbled alleys and seeking to end the craving, like some junkie, shuffling for my next fix and finally with feverish delight slipping through the corridor of an invite-only restaurant: where belly dancers, in sheer skirts and charming bras, were swaying about as clouds of hookah smoke billowed about to the tunes of a hypnotic flute.

…good memories. #takemeback.

Now, back in the states, I’ve had to learn to master the dish for those frequent cravings. This is the most true, and most manageable recipe i’ve found online.

Image and recipe by the Ethnic Spoon

tagine-chicken-1

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup onion chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 2 Roma tomato cored and diced
  • 1/4 cup peas frozen
  • 3 carrots sliced
  • 2 Tb olive oil
  • 1 tsp curry
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 Tb fresh parsley chopped
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt (paleo diet: sea salt)
  • 3 lbs chicken whole roaster cut into pieces
  • 1 lb potatoes (paleo diet: sweet potatoes)

FOR FULL RECIPE & INSTRUCTIONS CHECK OUT The Ethnic Spoon. I absolutely love Analida’s blog and recipes. They’re among my go-to websites.

Et Voila! Have you come across any dishes abroad that left a huge impression?

N. Andriani

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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

A strange thing happens when you begin to contemplate the end. It’s as if setting such a definitive goal opens the world to endless possibilities

A phone is buzzing

It’s occurred to me that with the end comes the potential of a new beginning.

There are many types of death. Just as there are many types of love in which the subject, or subjects simply depart from one existance to another. Trading this for that, and in exchange receiving a fresh beginning and a new life, a new identity.

We are flowers forever teetering from Spring to deep Winter.

Forever waiting for Summer. For Fall

Our chance to really live.

Only to rise and be struck down.

Spring. Winter. Awakening. Death.

Where is Summer?

Where is Fall?

This realization came so urgently, slapping me across the face, I shot right out of bed that morning. Before the sun herself could shine and make me straight again, before the day could cleanse my palate as it often does and, in the deadpan winter, shuffled across my frozen, miniature tundra in snow flurry Kansas City, and drained my savings account in exchange for a one-way ticket to Morocco.

That will show em, I thought. Still unsure of who them was. For some reason, whenever I looked outside my window, hoping to spot them, all I saw was the hollow reflection of myself…

A phone buzzed, gliding smoothly across the bistro table. I don’t recognize ringer until realizing it’s mine: I’ve never heard it ring.


It was a cold spring night.

The city still reeling from the previous year’s terror attacks and whispers of Al Qaeda carried through the streets like cautionary tales foretelling the bogeyman. Maybe that explained the police on every corner, their unwieldy machine guns and serious frowns. They had no effect on me. That’s not true: I found it absolutely intoxicating, that life or death appeal is what lured me here in the first place. 

“Nobody said it was supposed to be so cold in the desert.” I said, catching my scarf as it fluttered in the sharp wind. It only occurred to me then that I hadn’t checked a single forecast. 

Moona laughed, “That’s because this isn’t the desert.” She said, looking up at the snow covered mountains. “It is winter isn’t it?”

“Is it?” I cringed as another gust came down from the mountain, lifting table skirts and extinguishing candles.

The waiter returned with my drink just in time for us to leave. I paid, left a few coins tip, downed the drink, shay ma nana, tea with mint, and flagged down the first cab on the square. A big burly man, mustachioed and jolly.

“Where from? Where? Oh, Kansas City! I have cousin in Kansas City, maybe you know him? Welcome to Morocco, America. We love America. Welcome to Morocco!”

He shook my hand as we paid and crossed the street to the souk on the other side. The shops were being washed out, dirty water came surging over the cobbles. And the streets were being watered down, to keep the dust from rising when the tourists arrive.

“And that is how we do it in Morocco.”

“You know it… Do what?”

“He just ripped you a big one. Do you realize what you paid him. What, like twenty dollars.”

My heart sank with shame. OK, so I didn’t check the forecast. But what about the exchange rate? The currency? The mysteriously scrolled dirham papers, lined with calligraphy and stained in pinks and greens. I could count to one-hundred in Arabic by then, but what did that mean of money, of value. Not a thing.

I had just paid twenty dollars for a two block ride down the boulevard.

“Now,” Moona said with her big smug way, “you are in Morocco.”

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?

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

 

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

 

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

Foolproof calculation suggests that I’m in fact 24 years old. 8765.81 days to be exact! Birthday celebrations always bring to mind the activities of birthdays past and the miles in between, many of which were spent among family back in Texas or as most recently over brunch with loved ones.

A year ago however you would have found me wandering the Egyptian Market of Istanbul, cruising down the Bosphorus Strait, or on a less exotic note doubled over from some stomach virus!

So here’s a tribute to my 23rd birthday- Spent in the great cities of Byzantium, Constantinople, and Istanbul.

Leaving the Pension, we catch the tram, making our way down to the Bosphorus.
Leaving the Pension, we catch the tram, making our way down to the Bosphorus.

Leaving our Pension to catch a tram down to the Galata Bridge. Catching colorful sights of national heritage along the way

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Galata Bridge, lined with restaurants, children selling hand-rolled cigarettes, and a slew of fishermen.

Down at the Galata Bridge, men call out “Bosphorus, Bosphorus, Bosphorus” luring us to a cramped kiosk where we bought tickets for the “Şehir Hatları” or traditional ferryboat that would take us from the Golden Horn (where the Bosphorus connects to the Sea of Marmara) to Anadolu Kavağı (a small fishing village on the shore of the Black Sea). A voyage that would run approximately 6 hours which includes a 3 hour layover at Anadolu K., a town known for their fish market and archaeological ruins.

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Looking back at Istanbuls’ “Old City” aboard the “Şehir Hatları”. Minarets reach towards the heavens across the entire skyline of Istanbul proper.

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The “New City” on the Asian side. To our right is the Galata Bridge. Straight ahead the Galata Tower (aka Christea Turris, Latin for “The Tower of Christ) a medieval tower built in 1348.

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Residences along the Strait

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Catching another glimpse of “New Town” before it’s out of sight.

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Watch Tower 1 (European Side)

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Watch Tower 2 (Asian Side). 

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Yoros Castle (aka the “Genoese Castle”) is a product of the Greeks and Phoenicians. Anadolu Kavağı rests as the base of this castle which has overlooked the Black Sea for thousands of years. A three hour layover leaves just enough time to explore both the town and ancient castle.

The land is littered with remains of Istanbuls’ past. Watch towers and ruins of great walls, lighthouses and castles can be seen all along the Bosphorus.

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Anadolu Kavağı, a small fishing village with markets known for their fish, cafes and ice cream.

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Fresh clams with chips and a view to the sea…

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It’s clear where the Black Sea begins as the water gets choppier and the clouds more ominous.

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Fresh ice cream produced from the local livestock. Life is good here, slow paced and all around a foodies delight.

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Back aboard the Şehir Hatları,  revving up the ferry to make our return trip.

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Refreshed we find ourselves at a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves… well his travel guide “Rick Steve’s Istanbul”. Where to start but with two craft beers from Istanbul.

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The sneaky chef sends out a B-day drink, no questions asked 🙂

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Domatesli Tavuk Sote“– Turkish salad w/ chicken saute

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“Yogurtlu Makarna“- Lamb stuffed ravioli w/ yoghurt and mint.

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Leaving the restaurant we were swept into a hookah lounge where we befriended a local who goes by “Sheesha Mon”, a little Jamaican-slang with a Turkish vibe, I like it.

This goes on until our eyes began to droop and our bladders couldn’t tolerate another drop of mint tea, moving on we crawled back to our hotel and into bed.

Until next time…

Yallah-bye

Trekking Wadi Musa w/ Camels!

So this is where it all began. On an archaeological dig out in Jordan I found myself spending a little too much time wandering aimlessly through the country. After the longest, sleepless, most bone chilling night camping out in Petra I found these beautiful creatures. Running through the narrow Siq I was more than ready to get back to Wadi Musa for some breakfast but who could pass up this opportunity?

Now a year later, back home, going through all the pictures and mementos I came across this image once more. With it I knew there was a story to be told. And with this image an idea was planted to share my journey. So here we are, in the vast sea of blogs on the World Wide Web with a new story to be told…

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