- Go to Russia July 11, 2019
- Congrats! July 11, 2019
- On the Road… July 9, 2019
- Summer in NYC… July 9, 2019
- Cyborg Takes Persepolis… June 22, 2019
- When Will They Ever Learn? June 22, 2019
- The Gifts of Rumi… April 2, 2019
- Unpacked: Refugee Baggage at Yale Law… April 2, 2019
- Caspian Conference at Yale… April 1, 2019
- The Caspian at Yale… April 1, 2019
Category Archives: Blog
So, take a nice old mean old sheriff’s advice,
Talk nice when your in my jurisdiction.
Avoid the primitive don’t get your head bent
Forget the first amendment
After all, it was written a long time ago
And I just sent my only copy to Moscow.
UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage in the Yale Law Library with Syrian-born and New Haven based artist Mohamad Hafez who created this powerful installation with Iraqi-born writer and speaker Ahmed Badr (who attends Wesleyan University and is himself an Iraqi refugee). The installation seeks to humanize the word “refugee.” Having spent considerable time with Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Beirut (and now New Haven), I was especially moved by the exhibit and impressed with its artistry, attention to detail, and important message. It reminded me of the scars of war that never really go away, but also the possibility for healing and the miracle of resilience in the face of tremendous suffering. Mohamad kindly walked me through the dioramas he created in suitcases that re-create the lives that refugees in New Haven left behind in Afghanistan, Congo, Syria, Iraq and Sudan before they arrived in America to begin a new life. According to the website: “These stories are told by kind, genuine and impressive people that society sometimes labels as marginal and insignificant. By giving these voices a tangible platform, Badr and Hafez invite the spectator to reexamine the word ‘refugee’ and view it through a multidimensional lens. These are not merely stories of violence and war. These are stories of triumph and resilience, featuring architects, lawyers, journalists, professors – living and breathing proof of the power of the human spirit.” The exhibit closes on April 5th, so make sure to see it before it’s gone. You can check out more of Mohamad’s unique art at this link–I would buy it all if I could!I had the joy yesterday of viewing the exhibit
I spent my week-end at a conference at Yale on the Caspian (I presented my paper on 18th century geography, poetry, and spirituality in Turkmenistan–where I was fortunate to live twice)–grateful to meet with other experts from around the world on this understudied region.
H Club–formerly called Hospital Club–for the premiere and premiere party of All About Eve in London (starring Gillian Anderson and Lily James) H Club is a private members’ club in the center of Covent Garden for people in the creative industries. As a writer and performer, H Club called out to me–a refuge to be with other like-minded creatives in a setting that is truly unique and not a typical “hotel” by any measure. The hotel occupies a building that was once The British Lying-In Hospital. A plaque on the facade of the building says that Zepherina Veitch (1836-1894) and Dame Rosalind Paget (1855-1948) were pioneering midwives who trained at the British Lying-In Hospital, which operated from this building from 1849-1913. The concierge desk in the front hallway is composed of old doors from the hospital–a smart touch and invocation of this building’s history. The seven storey building has a TV studio, an art gallery, restaurant and lounges, as well as a 36 seat screening room, live performance space, and 15 boutique bedrooms. At the check-in desk, I was greeted by vintage suitcases–another nice allusion to the former hospital housed in the building. I thought of all the wounded and ailing souls who had once stayed on the property–a far cry from the hip and creative space it is today. When I was shown to my room, I was so elated to find that the hallway outside my door was a collage of impressions of medical equipment. I’d never seen anything like it, and as someone who has spent alot of time in hospitals, it made me feel right at home. I loved how the hospital history was creatively incorporated into the design of the common spaces–and also the bedrooms in more subtle ways. When I stepped into my room, I could not get over how roomy it was and how unique. Each room has individually curated artwork from their Club Art Program, in addition to custom antiques from around the world. My room had a vintage radio and phone which added to the fun. My long window looked down upon the heart of Convent Garden–a lovely view. It’s rare in London to find a room that is so large and comfortable (I know, because I was in town with a dozen friends for the opening of All About Eve and everyone said I scored the best room of all). I appreciated the fresh fruit and chocolates left out to welcome me–along with “Enjoy Your Stay” written on the plate in chocolate sauce. The door to my room, as you can see, had a cool hospital vibe to it–I almost felt like I was living in a posh asylum every time I locked that deliciously drab door. I also loved how the bathroom and shower style played with the old hospital theme. The perfect mix of a step back in time combined with the polish of modern artsy decor. In a way, I felt like I was in a period film–but free from all of the high stakes of a hospital drama. Imagine my surprise the next morning when I went to eat breakfast in one of the common spaces and found zebra chairs awaiting me–my favorite! The avocado toast hit the spot and the cappuccino helped rouse my energy for a full day of adventure: visiting art museums, eating out with friends, and getting ready for the All About Eve premiere and to party with the stars. I honestly could not have dreamt up a more perfect hotel for my stay in London–a zany cultural hub which gestures towards its 19th century hospital history and is a true home away from home rooted in the pulsing arts center of London.I booked a room at
Skylark, but I had done no research on the hotel or the area–I wanted to experience it all with fresh eyes. Skylark in Jamaican slang means: “to laze about, idle, goof off, lollygag, dilly-dally, tarry, behave in an irresponsible manner, to ne’er-do-well, mischief make, engage in shenanigans, tomfooleries, loaf.” That sounded just like what the doctor had ordered–lazing about, loafing around, goofing off. I had been told in Montego Bay that in Negril you can live all day in your swimsuit–i.e. hotel culture is catered to life on the beach. When I pulled into Skylark I realized what that meant–the whole design of the hotel broadcast bohemian beach club. It was retro without being gimmicky, and relaxed but classy. The minimalist design made for few distractions from the beach and seemed well-suited to sand being trekked inside and out. When I went to my room to drop off my bag, a retro radio was playing music from the ’70s–a groovy, welcoming touch. I don’t usually listen to the radio in my daily life, so I was grateful to be lulled into a relaxed mood. Fortunately, the room didn’t have a television, so that wasn’t a temptation–and I could direct all of my attention to the beach. Since it was drizzling when I arrived and I was hungry after our drive, I decided to go to Miss Lily’s, the hotel restaurant, for lunch while the storm clouds cleared. I was immediately impressed with the hip vibe in the music-themed restaurant–not to mention the menu. I settled on coconut shrimp and callaloo, and made myself right at home. Home. That’s how the hotel feels–like you’re in your own personal, giant beach house, with the best food of all the nearby hotels. I also appreciated the feel from the other guests–from tattooed artist-types to middle aged couples with class–everyone was chill and respectful, quiet and pleasant. I set out after lunch for a beach stroll along the seven mile stretch to commune with the sunset, check out the other hotel properties, and get my bearings. I strolled past stands selling Bob Marley merchandise, got offered marijuana (no thanks) by a number of men, and perused the menu of nearby hotels. None of the other hotels caught my fancy, which made me grateful that I had randomly picked the best place. It was awe-inspiring to see the beach stretch on for miles–and the scenes playing out in all directions made for an entertaining beach walk. Children played atop giant crabs made of sand, while young Jamaican men sang reggae on their guitars, and a bride and groom took wedding photos with the sunset. Eventually, it was time to turn back to Skylark, especially as I was getting harassed by a number of Jamaican men on the beach (a shame–the only downer). The hotel was all lit up when I made it back and looked so charming. There is a lightness to the design–the airiness makes it feel like you’re in a giant beach bungalow. The hanging lights add a festive, yet delicate, touch. I retreated to my room to relax, shower, and catch up on emails before heading back down for dinner at dusk. The menu was all Jamaican-inspired: Cod Fish Fritters, Jerk Corn, Jerk Chicken Wings, Ackee Dip, Jerk Pork, Jerk Chicken, Jerk BBQ Pork Spare Ribs, Oxtail Stew, Curry Goat, Whole Escoveitch Snapper, Jerk Steam Roast Fish, and Miss Lily’s Fried Chicken Platter. It was the fried chicken that was calling out to me–loud and clear–and I dutifully complied. I savored every bite, and went to bed fantastically full and so totally relaxed. I kicked off the next morning with coffee, fresh OJ, and a callaloo-cheese omelette. I was going to spend the entire day doing absolutely nothing but lounging on the beach. Since this was the last leg of my trip, I wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity to spend a few days of intentionally practicing deep relaxation before it was time to return to “real life” back home. After breakfast I put my toes in the water to check out the temperature (ideal, obviously), and then took a brief beach walk to help wake myself up. When I lived in the Sultanate of Oman for three years, I tried to get to the beach every day and made beach walks part of my daily routine. I got the idea a few years back when I spoke at the Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Conference in India (the first of its kind in Asia), where a physical therapist had told me that walking in the sand would be a great way to strengthen and stabilize my torn hips. The added benefit, of course, was that it was like a meditation on nature–with so much beauty to take in while I walked. What a joy to not rush breakfast–to take in the view and sip my coffee in total peace. There was nowhere to be, nothing to do. My only order of business was the beach, which was waiting for me just a few steps away. Eventually I parked myself in one of the hotel’s canopied chairs (so perfect), and got to reading my book. It’s rare that I have time to do pleasure reading, so I was grateful to have time to dive into my new book, which was given to me by an American expat friend in Oman. The Power is a 2016 science fiction novel by the British writer Naomi Alderman. The premise of the book is that women develop the ability to send out electrical jolts from their fingers, a disabling and deadly power that renders them the dominant gender. I highly recommend it–it was so engrossing that I managed to finish the whole book on my trip. The water, as you can see, just begs you to wander in. I spent the day going in and out of the water, doing laps, water tai chi, physical therapy exercises, and the usual floating. I retreated to the restaurant when I needed food and shade (and to charge my phone). Everything felt so incredibly easy–no effort required. I’m not prone to relaxation (more like addicted to overachieving and constantly working), but the super chill atmosphere at Skylark plunged me into such a deep state of relaxation that I almost didn’t recognize myself–it had been years since I had felt so relaxed. While I had a blast on every leg of my Jamaica trip, it was really at Skylark in Negril that I finally tapped into what it means to “just be.” No mask, no frills, no expectations. Just days of relaxing on the beach without a care in the world. A reminder of what it means to be truly alive–to be in touch with that most essential joy in being full present and witnessing natural beauty.What a gwaan (What’s going on?). Mi a gwaan easy (I’m taking it easy). To settle into the easy life, I took an hour drive from Montego Bay to Negril to get acquainted with the main tourist strip in Jamaica. I had done no research before going there, but I knew enough to expect a lot of hotels and many foreigners. Along the way, my driver stopped at a coconut shack so we could hydrate with fresh coconut water. I had booked a room in advance at
I had forgotten what inner peace felt like–and tapping into it made my last days in Jamaica feel not only joyful, but truly, blessed.
here). After sneaking into the tiny hurricane room that they transformed into a shower and bathroom, we proceeded to the the breakfast room, which has a view of the pool that June Carter was building but never finished. After her death, her friends who own Rose Hall finished it for her. Soon, the tour guide said, cruise ship passengers will be allowed to swim in it as part of their itinerary. Johnny used to play cards in the breakfast room after breakfast, and I had fun surveying his books in that room and others–an anthropology of sorts of their time in Jamaica with the help of my camera. Cinnamon Hill was once a sugarcane plantation–owned by the ancestors of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It was not burned down in the slave rebellion of 1831 like so many other properties. Her ancestors, as you can see in this newspaper article posted in the breakfast room, actually fought against the abolition of slavery–and journeyed back to England to fight hard against it. Johnny was well aware of his home’s slavery past (and on the tour they pointed out the door to the basement where the slaves would have been punished). Cash wrote about Cinnamon Hill: “The past is palpably present in and around Cinnamon Hill, the reminders of other times and other generations everywhere, some obvious, some not. For more than a century this was a sugar plantation worked by thousands of slaves who lived in clusters of shacks all over the property. All that remains of those people now, the metal hinges from their doors and nails from their walls, lies hidden in the undergrowth on the hillsides or in the soil just below the manicured sod of the golf course that loops around my house. I doubt that the vacationers playing those beautiful links have any idea, any concept, of the kind of life that once teemed where they walk—though perhaps some do, you never know.” In the dining room, we perused June’s china and old, decaying clock (the passage of time rendered real), and took in the long dining room table from all angles–imagining all of the famous guests who had once dined there. Scattered throughout the house are old photographs, some framed, some propped up against a mirror on the dresser–others set up in chairs. The photographs are a window into their family life–and their fading faces add to the ghost-like feeling permeating the house. There are a number of guest rooms, each with canopied beds and decorated in the Jamaican style. We took our time in each room, since we were the only ones there. I wanted to read the house like a text, take in every detail, make connections, and photograph it like all I do all museums that I visit–one object at a time. As we passed by the fabulous swing doors of the kitchen, we made our way upstairs past a giant dried out crocodile hanging on the wall to go see the master bedroom and other rooms upstairs. The master bedroom had an otherworldly quality to it–like a shrine. The intimate touches were not lost on us–their respective hats hanging on the hat rack, his and hers, and the reflection of the bed in the large mirror hung on the outside wall of the bathroom directly opposite their bed. The house, in a way, felt like a shrine not just to Johnny and June Carter Cash, as celebrities, but to love itself. The Jamaican design, decorations, and decor throughout the house also testify to their love of Jamaica. Johnny Cash wrote about his deep appreciation of Jamaica. He wrote: “When I take my walks and golf-cart rides down to the sea, I’m often stopped by local people who greet me warmly—“Respects, Mr. Cash, respects”—and I can’t count how many times I’ve heard gratitude for my decision to stay in Jamaica. And since the robbery I’ve been more involved in Jamaican life in various ways that have been very good for me. Today I feel truly at home in this beautiful country, and I love and admire its proud and kindly people.” Touring Cinnamon Hill was a really cool experience–it’s a fascinating, not-well-known time capsule of American-Jamaican history. Don’t miss it if you journey to Jamaica–it’s just a 30 minute ride from Montego Bay airport. It’s best to go soon before they open it up to the cruise ship masses who will be out swimming in June’s pool! Well, I hope you enjoyed this unique tour through American music history in Jamaica–isn’t it great?Welcome to Cinnamon Hill–the home of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash in Jamaica for 40 years. Fortunately, right before I left Jamaica, my friend emailed me to tell me that Johnny Cash and June Cash had a home in Jamaica that she had visited 20 years before. So after some asking around, I found my way to Cinnamon Hill–their peaceful Jamaican abode. My driver had asked for directions to Cinnamon Hill at Rose Hall (the haunted house nearby), where the staff said I had to buy a ticket to see the Cash house. But when we got to the ticket booth, there were no signs about Johnny Cash; regardless, they took my money and disappeared. Turns out they were getting the house ready for me! Visitors to the Cash house are rare (about 15 a week), so they had to get it ready and fetch me a tour guide. If you’re not in the “know,” you wouldn’t know it existed–or where it’s located or how it’s accessed. After about 15 minutes of waiting, a guide jumped in our van and directed us 5 minutes down the bumpy road to Johnny and June Cash’s lovely home away from home. Johnny Cash, the tour guide explained, chose to keep the road bumpy because it reminded him of being back home. After we pulled into the property, the first building we passed by (below) is where June Carter Cash liked to sew. The first chapter of Johnny Cash’s autobiography is entitled Cinnamon Hill, after their 1747 Jamaican home (the film was based on the book but leaves out Jamaica, even though Jamaica was such a big part of Johnny and June Carter Cash’s lives). They bought it from their friend John Rollins, who owned Rose Hall and renovated them both. When we stepped up onto the porch, Johnny Cash started to sing–his voice was coming from deep inside the house, inviting us in (a poignant touch). That porch with a view of the tall palms–well I could have stayed on it forever. I wanted to live on that porch–it is perfect in every way. We had the house all to ourselves. It’s preserved just like it was when they were living–with all of their furniture, the piano, the photographs, the tchotchkes. All of the dark wood in the house is from Jamaica–so much Jamaican mahogany. This house ain’t no grave–it’s alive with so many ghosts! In the book, Johnny discusses the presence of actual ghosts in their home, and he learned how to peacefully live with them. The Cash’s time on Cinnamon Hill was idyllic, save for one terrifying break-in (to read about the Cash’s traumatic home invasion by addicts in 1982, click