Category Archives: Blog

I’ve Been Everywhere…

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Rock on, Rockhouse…


Rockhouse Resort (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Wah gwaan, mon (How are you?)? While I was staying at Skylark in Negril, I took a five-minute shuttle ride over to their sister property–Rockhouse Resort.


Rockhouse restaurant (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Rockhouse has an infinity pool on the sea cliffs and a celebrated (and thatched) restaurant–where I spent a leisurely lunch overlooking the teal waters lapping gently upon the cliffs.


Rockhouse restaurant (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones all stayed there back in the day–the walls are decorated with all kinds of Jamaican music history and memorabilia.


Music history (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

I treated myself to a Swedish massage since I was exhausted from traveling all over the island–a massage was just what the doctor ordered.


Rockhouse spa

What can i say? I had a kick up rumpus (a good time). De Rockhouse tun up (Rockhouse was good). I went for a gentle swim after my massage, since the pool was too beautiful to pass up.


Pool time (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

If you stay at Skylark, I definitely recommend coming to Rockhouse for the day–you can’t beat the view for lunch. So wha yuh deh pon (what are you up to?). Why not consider booking a trip to Jamaica?


Paradise (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

As you can see, everyting criss (everything is good) in Jamaica. Likkle more, walk good. Mi see yuh likkle more den (I’ll see you later then).


Look at that water (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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Jakes in Jamaica…


Jakes in Jamaica (Photo: Emily O’Dell

While staying at Lashings (my favorite hotel in Treasure Beach) in Jamaica, my travel buddy and I wandered over to Jakes to check out their beach scene, bungalows, and restaurant.


Pick one (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Liking what we found (especially the hot pink color scheme), we returned later that night for dinner, and got a kick out of this festive tree all lit up. We enjoyed a lovely candelight dinner poolside (sorrel cheesecake included), and were grateful to have gotten the last table since it’s a very popular spot.


Holiday cheer (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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The Ghost of Rose Hall…

Rose Hall in Jamaica (Photo: Emily O'Dell)

Rose Hall in Jamaica (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

On my last night in Jamaica, I drove one hour from Round Hill to Rose Hall, a former plantation said to be haunted by the ghost of Annie Palmer, a woman who is believed to have murdered her husbands and tortured/murdered many slaves. It’s set up as a haunted house, and it was very well done with the ghosts of Annie Palmer and the slaves giving everyone (but me) a real fright.

Fugitive history at Rose Hall (Photo: Emily O'Dell)

Fugitive history at Rose Hall (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

The group I went with (Americans and Jamaicans) kept screaming and jumping in fright since we couldn’t see the spooks coming–there was no way to anticipate them (it was brilliant, really). One American woman got so spooked she hid in the back, and the person who freaked out the most was a beefy, macho southern white boy with a USA flag t-shirt who was in full meltdown mode because he couldn’t hide his vulnerability. After one big spook, he screamed “This is bullshit!” because he was so embarrassed by how he had jumped and screamed. He kept grabbing his girlfriend when jumping in fright, to which she kept responding: “Stop grabbing me!” It was hilarious–I’ve never seen someone so scared. Turns out Johnny Cash lived in the same neighborhood when he lived in Jamaica, and he even wrote a song about the White Witch–which you can listen to below. In my next blog post, I’ll take you to Johnny Cash’s house in Jamaica.

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Trans Performance in Iran…

Speaking at Yale

Speaking at Yale

This week, I had the opportunity to give a talk at Yale on the complex intersections of transsexual performance and Islamic law in Iranian theatre and film which was followed by a film screening of Facing Mirrors. Afterwards, we enjoyed a lovely dinner for the Q & A session–wonderful to see so many undergraduates there, and I appreciated all of their thoughtful questions.


Lecture and film screening

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Vassar College…


Today at Vassar

It was an honor and a joy to speak today with undergraduates at Vassar about Syrian and Palestinian refugees in refugee camps in Beirut–grateful for the opportunity to share that complex history and my own personal experiences in the camps while I was the Whittlesey Chair of History and Archaeology at the American University of Beirut.


Refugee camp in Beirut

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Round Hill in Jamaica…


Round Hill in Jamaica (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

After beginning our Jamaican adventure in Treasure Beach, my friend and I took the three hour ride to Montego Bay to relax at Round Hill Hotel and Villas. While we had enjoyed exploring beaches in the south far away from the tourist circuit, we were feeling ready for resort life–resting on the beach and doing absolutely nothing for a few days. Where better to unwind than at the renowed Round Hill, which has been the hotel of choice for royalty and celebrities ever since it opened in 1953.


Still waters (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

The property received attention recently when Prince Harry and Meghan Markel stayed there for a friend’s wedding (other royal visitors have included HRH Prince Michael of Kent and Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia). JFK and Jackie honeymooned there, and years later he wrote his “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” inaugural address poolside in Villa 25. Believe it or not–Oscar Hammerstein wrote The Sound of Music on the hotel grounds in Villa 12, after meeting the real-life Maria von Trapp on the property. Other famous guest have included Sir Paul McCartney, Emma Thompson, Paul Newman, Grace Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock, Bing Crosby, Noël Coward, Lupita Nyong’o, Emma Watson, Taye Diggs, Pierce Brosnan, Ian Fleming, Truman Capote, Michael Douglas and Taye Diggs. While we were there, the Walton family was staying there too.


Make yourself at home (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

We stayed in Pineapple House, which has thirty-six oceanfront guestrooms. Our room, like all the rooms in Pineapple House, was designed by Ralph Lauren, who owns two of the twenty-seven villas on the property and also designed the hotel’s common areas and bar (each villa comes with a personal chef, housekeeper, and gardener). In fact, he’s even designed an entire fashion collection around his love of Jamaica. For his charity in Jamaica and promotion of the island, the Jamaican government honored him with its Order of Distinction, with the rank of commander, and put his face on a Jamaican stamp.


Checking in (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

What attracted me from the moment we checked-in was our private walkout patio with a beach view. While it was tempting to take a nap in our four-poster mahogany beds after our three hour ride from Treasure Beach, we wanted to enjoy the water before sunset–so we put on our swimsuits and hit the beach.


Take a seat (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

We ordered Jamaican nachos, pesto pizza, and gazpacho to our beach chairs, along with the necessary libations, so we could refuel after our journey to the hotel and get some energy before hitting the water. As you can see in the photos, the water was translucent and still–as inviting as could be. My friend got in touch with her inner child and climbed atop the floating trampoline (too fun!), while I prepared my goggles to go and greet the colorful fish.


The beach awaits you (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

After taking in the sunset, we retired to our room to prepare for dinner. I placed a call to the head concierge Kingsley Blake, who is a legend not just at the hotel but in Caribbean hospitality in general (he will be retiring this year, so I am glad I met him before he does). We wanted to arrange a night trip to Rose Hall, said to be haunted by the ghost of Annie Palmer, and knew he would have the best advice on how and when to go (with his help, I hired a driver to go the following the night).


Time to feast (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

On our walk across the property to dinner, we passed by a lovely library, and caught a glimpse of some Americans in the television room “watching the game.” Dinner was a white tablecloth affair, and featured an impressive menu. The evening began with piano music followed by a female singer who belted out dance songs, as guests of all ages took the dance floor and got their groove on.


Dinner time at Round Hill (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

For dinner, I ordered New Market Roasted Pumpkin Gnocchi (I was in a vegetarian mood), but the menu and buffet featured many fish dishes: Steamed Local Snapper, Pan-seared Salmon, Whitehouse Grilled Lobster Tails, and Lemon Thyme Grilled Mahi Mahi. Some of the Jamaican fare on the menu includes: Grilled Local Spiced Jerk Pork, Traditional Rice and Peas, Sauteed Callaloo, Yellow Yam, and Honey Garlic Glazed Carrots. The service was top notch, and we enjoyed watching the other guests dance the night away.


Breakfast in paradise (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

The next morning, we were in for a real surprise–a breakfast buffet that had everything from coconut pancakes and guava parfait to ackee with salted fish and callaloo. I especially recommend the Island Blast smoothie–banana, celery, cucumber, pineapple, parsley, ginger, coconut water–all sourced from Round Hill’s organic garden (they try to use as much locally grown sustainable produce as possible). After relishing each bite of our coconut pancakes and guava parfait (truly out of this world), we sauntered back to our room to put on our swimsuits for another day of practicing the fine art of doing nothing on the beach.


Beach time (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

On my last day at the resort, I took a short seaside stroll to the hotel spa–housed in an 18th-century plantation house with a rolling 10 acre beachfront lawn which slopes down to the water–and lunched on calamari and a refreshing pineapple and watermelon salad. Then I got a text from a friend–telling me to go see Johnny Cash’s house nearby, where she had been his guest twenty years before. It was time, I realized, to take one last unexpected adventure before I left paradise for good.


Dive in (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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Lashings: Paradise in Jamaica…


Penthouse balcony at Lashings (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

I knew I needed to retreat to the heat, in the midst of my first winter in New England after years of living in the desert on the Arabian Peninsula. So I asked my travel buddy Kim, with whom I lived next to a volcano in Java during our Fulbright in Indonesia, if she would like to go with me to Jamaica for a Caribbean adventure. We usually overprepare when we travel, so we decided to do no research before we hopped on the plane to have a true “in the moment” vacation. We didn’t know what to expect when we met up in the airport in Montego Bay at night (where floor-to-ceiling murals of Marcus Garvey and other Jamaican freedom fighters were the first faces to greet us) to meet our driver to take us to Lashings Villas–it was a surprise to us that the hotel was about a three hour bumpy ride from the airport! We were getting, it seemed, as far as possible off the tourist track to experience beaches free the usual swarm of tourists to experience a special glimpse of Jamaica.


Dinner menu at Lashings (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

The long ride to the hotel gave us time to catch up and survey small town Jamaican night life while we cruised by local stores and drink stands. I was exhausted from a frustrating ordeal at JFK–it was my first time flying JetBlue and it was a total disaster. The first plane they put us on got to the tarmac and then had to return to the gate for mechanical repairs. The replacement plane got to the tarmac and then also returned to the gate to let off crew members so as not to violate the length of their working hours since our ordeal had gone on for so long. So I definitely do not recommend flying JetBlue to get to Jamaica. But I put that all out of mind when we finally pulled into Lashings and were greeted by these hanging menu items and could finally get to chowing and relaxing.


Bedtime at Lashings (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

To our delight, we got upgraded to the penthouse and had plenty of room to drop all of our baggage and relax after a long day of traveling. We were particularly impressed with the minimalist yet chic design–everything about the place was perfect, as if it was all made-to-order. The careful details–a sign here, a canister there–were not lost on us, and we appreciated the thoughtfulness behind the design and presentation of the penthouse. Little did we know what other winning style features awaited us at sunrise.


Fabulous design (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Since we had arrived under the opaque cover of night, we really had no sense of where we were or what our surroundings looked like when we went to sleep. We were awakened in the morning by the sounds of birds squawking and goats bleating, egging us out of bed. Imagine our surprise when we opened the balcony doors and were face-to-face with one of the most beautiful tableaus we had ever seen–the Caribbean Sea before us, vegetation in all directions, goats eating breakfast to our right, and a large pond to our left, shimmering in the light of the sunrise. No wonder they call it Treasure Beach–a treasure it was, indeed! And not a tourist in sight, from what we could tell from our balcony.


Kitchen table at Lashings (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Not only did we have a direct view of the sea, but we also were shocked to discover that we had our own outdoor kitchen next to our room! We had gone to sleep in darkness, and woke up in paradise. The kitchen table seemed like the ideal place to enjoy some morning Jamaican coffee while we adjusted to our new surroundings (after greeting our goat neighbors, of course!).


Penthouse kitchen at Lashings (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

We raised a glass to our luck in landing in paradise–and not having done any research in advance made every moment so fresh and alive, as we explored our hip digs and took in the view from every inch on the balcony. The comfortable chairs, the colorful hammock, the cozy bean bags. With our panoramic bird’s eye view, we could start plotting out our path to the beach for a full day of relaxation.


Morning coffee at Lashings (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Right beneath our balcony was the inviting hotel pool. We were faced with a problem of abundance–do the pool first? Or the beach? Or vice versa? Or the pool one day, and the beach another? Every possibility delighted us. We were in no hurry to figure it out, since we were on vacation and taking it easy. So we bumbled downstairs for breakfast and to ask the best route to get to the beach.


Pool time at Lashings (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Downstairs in the Tree Top Bar, Jamaican workmen were speaking in Patois while putting up wooden screens to shield the lounge from the sunlight. Since Kim and I both speak Advanced Indonesian (and a host of other languages), we savored the sound of this language to which we had virtually no exposure. Bob Marley music accompanied us at dinner and breakfast–and everywhere else we seemed to wander in Jamaica.


Sea breeze Lashings (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

We powered up on eggs and toast since we knew we would need energy for our trek to the beach, not to mention swimming all morning and taking long walks in the sand. We also didn’t know if the beaches would have restaurants, since we were far from the tourist circuit, so we needed to eat well to help last us through the day just in case.


Breakfast at Lashings (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

When we went to get our backpacks for the beach, we tried taking some photos on the balcony, but the refreshing and commanding breeze had other plans. The owner of the hotel, David Folb, gave us instructions for reaching the beach–walk down from the hotel a bit, out the rustic fence, through the cricket field, and follow the dirt path towards the water. The dirt path was lined with bougainvillea and roses and everyone we passed along the way was friendly and helpful in answering our questions as to which nearby beaches were the best to explore.


Wind time (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

From the locals, we learned that we should check out Frenchman’s Beach, Calabash Beach, and Great Bay. When we stopped to buy sunscreen, I found a hat that said “Jamaica” that I bought to help get me in the spirit. The cashier, however, told us, in a hushed voice, to be careful–there had apparently been a deadly shark attack the day before. Was this common, we asked. No, no, this rarely happens. Everyone we encountered appeared shook and told us to be careful. Little did we know, we were heading to the very beach where two men had been eaten by sharks the day before.


Fly to Jamaica (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

We were surprised to find we were the only ones claiming chairs on the beach–there wasn’t a tourist in sight. Was it because we were so far from the tourist hordes on the beaches of Montego Bay and Negril, or because of the supposed shark attack? A red flag flew from the sign on the beach that warned: “Advisory: only swim at your own risk.” Despite the risk, we dared to wade into the water to our waist, while keeping an eye out for fatal fins. For the first time in months, I got to do some beach reading (“The Power”–highly recommend!), and we could kick back and relax as the powerful waves crashed and clawed at the edge of our chairs.


Lunch time on the beach (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Thankfully, there was a restaurant with Jamaican cuisine on the beach (with a sign over the bar stating: “Strictly no ganja smoking at the bar and lounge area”), so we enjoyed a late lunch and took a break from the sun in the shade. We started to get familiar with our Jamaican standards: bammy, festival, callaloo, and sorrel cheesecake.


Local shark experts (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

As the day went on, a few tourists here and there began to appear, and beach hut bars began to billow with their tan limbs and visors. A group of young Jamaican boys warned us to watch out for sharks, and recounted in extreme detail the shark incident from the day before, with thick Patois inflections and energetic recreations of the dramatic events. They, more than anyone else, seemed to have the most information, and we were grateful for their helpful and enthralling shark report.


Donkey donks indeed (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

On our walk home from the beach, we encountered this sign: DONKEY DONKS. We decided to make this cryptic phrase our trip’s mantra. As absurdists, we relished the sound of it, and trudged back to our villa abode across the polo field contemplating what this koan-like phrase might mean (we eventually looked it up, and I advise you to do the same!).


Polo time (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

When we ventured out at night (no easy feat as the area is unlit), we discovered on our walk home that the polo field was the best place to view the stars. A joy to find we had our own organic planetarium of sorts! As we tried to identify constellations, we felt like two girls at camp–a feeling that amplified when we discovered that we were surrounded by dozens of toads. Or frogs? In the darkness it was hard to tell.


Making friends (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

They let us get really close to them for a spirited amphibian photo shoot–we photographed them from all angles, and were careful where we stepped to avoid hurting them. The sense of adventure and discovery was palpable–a truly special feature of staying at Lashings instead of some property on the beach where the entire experience is curated in advance.


Great Bay (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

We spent our following days in the Treasure Beach area exploring all of the beaches–taking the hidden, unmarked path to Great Bay was an especially exciting adventure. We had the entire beach to ourselves, and enjoyed the perpetually calm waters there. The only food on the beach is at Lobster Pot–a collection of about 4 huts where they serve up fresh lobster and a few other Jamaican favorites. It was the ideal spot to start planning out the next leg our trip in Montego Bay, back on the tourist path. We made sure to savor each moment on the beach and back at Lashings before we had to leave behind the slow pace of small town life and re-join the tourist scene back north.


Lobster Pot (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

We had arrived at Lashings completely ignorant of the hotel and area, and left it with deep gratitude for such a unique, absorbing, and calming experience in paradise. I cannot recommend Lashings enough–it’s one of the greatest finds I’ve had in all of my travels through sixty countries. Stay tuned for my upcoming blog posts on other corners of Jamaica!


Traveling on! (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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Yale Law School


Today at Yale Law School

This afternoon, I enjoyed listening to Professor Mohammad Fadel speak here at Yale Law School on: “The Quran’s Revisionist Reading of the Aqeda: Toward a Political Theology of the Reasonable and the Rational.” I’ve enjoyed every talk we’ve hosted on Islam this year, and debating the issues raised afterwards at Mory’s Club is always a treat.

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Sunset in Jamaica…


Sunset in Jamaica

I enjoyed taking sea strolls at sunset in Jamaica while staying at Skylark Negril Beach Resort–the perfect home away from home on the beach…


Feel the peace

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Crazy for Coconuts

On the road in Jamaica

On the road in Jamaica

When I was on the road in Jamaica, my driver kindly stopped at this coconut stand so I could hydrate with some fresh coconut water right out of the coconut–just what the doctor ordered!

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Churchill War Rooms…


Churchill War Rooms

While I was in London, I had the opportunity to visit the Churchill War Rooms Museum to explore the corridors and rooms where Churchill and his staff planned their WWII manuevers underground.


Fighting WWII

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Yale Law School…


My office

It’s easy to spend a lot of time in my office since it’s so beautiful–I never tired of admiring the architecture here at Yale Law School.

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Ancient Ritual at Yale…

Brunch at Yale

Brunching at Yale

Today I enjoyed Sunday brunch with a former student of mine from Columbia, and then took her across the street to Yale Art Gallery to see their lovely exhibit on “Sights and Sounds of Ancient Ritual. How happy we were to be greeted by the goddess Hathor!


Yale Art Gallery

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Warhol at the Whitney…

Entering Warhol Zone

My Slovak brother

This week-end, while in New York City for a Sufism seminar at Columbia University, I had a chance to see the fabulous Warhol (my Slovak brother!) exhibit at the Whitney–highly recommend! The exhibition brings to life not only his famous pieces but his under-studied and under-appreciated earlier works. Warhol once said, “It would be very glamorous to be reincarnated as a great big ring on Liz Taylor’s finger.” He’s been, in a sense, reincarnated in this exhibit–as one artist friend of mine said, “I used to think that Warhol was too traditional, and now he seems so radical compared to today.”


Liz and Friend

It’s striking how productive he was in different mediums, despite his insistence that just being alive took up so much work. In the words of Warhol: “I suppose I have a really loose interpretation of ‘work’, because I think that just being alive is so much work at something you don’t always want to do. The machinery is always going. Even when you sleep.”


Warhol at the Whitney

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