Sunday, October 16, 2011

birds of paradise

Sigh, so I took some notes after finishing Diana Abu-Jaber's latest, Birds of Paradise, oh some three weeks ago, fully meaning to write an entry, oh some three weeks ago. But I'm determined not to let this one get pulled into the horrendous gravity of that black hole where my draft posts go to die. Usually, I open these drafts months later to see some now-nonsensical sentences/notes. Example - draft from Sept. 13th: "my future? chips". That's it. What? My future is like potato chips? Crunchy and delicious? I wish! So, on with an attempt to escape the gravity of disappearing.

Diana Abu-Jaber wrote one of my favorite food memoirs, Language of Baklava, about her Jordanian American childhood. She's cooked in restaurants and done a turn as a food journalist, and it's clear, as discussed in this great Guernica interview, that for Abu-Jaber (oh, and so many of us), food is inextricable from who we are. One thing that I loved about Birds was the role that food played in showing her characters and their relationships. Food is such a signifier that can show a culture, a power dynamic (let them eat cake!), a personality, down to just how you're feeling in a moment or a memory (helloooo madeleine), that I'm surprised I can't remember more recent works of fiction where food was a narrative tool in the author's toolbox. In Birds, the process of making pastries and baked goods, told with a cookbook's level of detail, is just as seductive as a TV cooking show but is enriched by context. You can find this in the best of cookbooks and foodie nonfiction but it's rather thrilling to see outside those genres.

The story is told, in turns, from the perspective of each family member, but revolves around the fact that Felice Muir ran away from home at 16. Her mother, the demanding Avis, is a baking artiste while her husband Brian, a real estate lawyer, grapples with the morals of, well, real estate and law. Felice's brother Stanley has grown up in the shadow of Felice's beauty and then her disappearance, never to be quite the apple of his family's eye. The unexplained running away of a child can cause the loss of any family's center, and everyone here is trying to find their way while all there appears to hold on to is ephemeral sugar creations and carnivorous-sounding real estate deals. Abu-Jaber's prose can be really lovely in the many moments of solitary-thought narration but what makes this book for me is the way she builds this family's story and their struggle to move forward.

Monday, August 15, 2011

All Atheists are Muslim - at NYC Fringe Festival

People-watching is a little more fun when you're indoors eating a quality pistachio gelato and watching all the people, gelato-less, pretend that their umbrellas are allies against a continuous downpour of rain. A little girl, who came in with her parents, had a stuffed toy snake wrapped around her shoulders (so chic!) and was holding what I thought was a toy lizard BUT THEN IT STARTED MOVING its lizardy head and feet. It turns out the fam was lizard-sitting. Lizard-sitting & gelato? That girl has it made. They kind of made my day though.

Well, what also made my day was good company, and going to see "All Atheists Are Muslim", a one-woman show by Zahra Noorbakhsh, at the NYC Fringe Festival. The festival's bare-bones, perhaps missing a word, description:
"Can Zahra have her Atheist and stay Muslim too? Yup, it's just your regular everyday tale of boy-meets-girl-meets-1000's of years of religious doctrine. You may even discover you’re more Muslim than you think."
There's a better synopsis of the autobiographical tale at Zahra's site, although the actual story — of a young woman who wants to tell her parents about some life-step with boyfriend of different background — is like, tale as old as time. But what really elevates the show is how Zahra really brings all her characters, especially her parents, to vivid life, with a lot of humor and love (like you totally want to go over to her parent's house for dinner and hang out with her family, especially her opinionated, hilarious dad who calls her "man" and has a great cussing style).

Zahra also brings to life that weird concoction of complexity, frustration, and hilarity/absurdity involved in dealing with your puny street-bought umbrella of personal feelings against the downpour of history, tradition, and cultural expectations brought by immigrant parents. I thought it was smart to add a sort of flashback interlude on the beginning of her parents' relationship, adding depth both to the parents' characters and her own story. I also liked how Zahra portrayed how a lot of this conflict lived in her head - sure, it did actually play out in a fight with her dad, but he is the one to come up with a compromise and her boyfriend who was totally okay in participating in that compromise.

Plus, hello, the show is super funny and smart. Do you like to laugh? Are you not a robot? Go see the show. It's like a couple more dollars than a movie these days and an hour long so you can go back to whatever the kids are doing these days. "All Atheists are Muslim" is showing for another week at the Fringe Festival and has a run in SF, land of very little summer rain and probably more artisanal fancy-pants gelato, in September.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


So I'll be here until the bar exam is over, b/c Tumblr is way less guilt-laden. I'm still figuring out how to use Tumblr, but I get the feeling it's kind of like fat-free food products. Less taste, less calories, until you found you ate the whole box or something and then you feel gross. Maybe that is just the internets. Actually there are lots of pretty pictures on tumblr. Anyhoo, yah, I'm there for the next month and a half or so.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Graphs and Zombies

Well, that whole blogging every day attempt in November totally fizzled out. Clearly, it was basically a month of tiredness. Much like the history of the internets, it devolved into short strings of words and youtube clips. Unlike the history of the internets, it just stopped.

In the meantime, every so often I’d get the irrational thought that I’d be able to keep up blogging regularly if I could just get started. The ol’ inertia challenge. Instead, I would root around the archives now and again, kind of amazed at myself for some of the posts I did. Like, wow. Culture and curiosity and stuff! Now, post law-school (I can say that and be 99.999999% correct! Whee!), I’ve become quite the zombie, culture-less, stuff-less, wow-less, just damn full of less. So here’s to maybe keeping this up for longer and becoming a curious, brainy, insightful zombie rather than just lumpy, blank zombie.

Are zombies played out? There’s just no good alternative to express the word/idea. So suck it, zombie haters. Give me your brains. I need an emergency supply, especially in the mornings before my coffee. (Whoa, my last sad little burst of blogging also went into zombie brain territory. Zombie zombie zombie. That thing that happens when you repeat/type a word so often it loses meaning....)(Is that a metaphor for life??!)(Sadness.) (Nothing is insightful in a chain of parentheses).

Actually, part of becoming a weirdo law school zombie, for me at least (as I’m sure many people end up going in the opposite direction), is not knowing what’s going on in the world, what’s played out and what’s not. I believe this used to be referred to what’s hot and what’s not. Wait a minute, maybe this is just part of growing old.

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve graphed out the # of posts per year. And forecasted a very rosy total number for 2011. It’s been a pretty tumultuous kind of year so far, so I’m gonna be tumultuously optimistic (the only way for my placid disposition) and hopeful about reaching 150. Yeah!