Tag Archives: Bangladesh

Lebanese food: September 14th and the Feast of the Holy Cross in Ein Zebde, Shouf

15 Sep

Ein-Zebde-Peach-FieldsEin Zebde peach orchards

This is one of those photos that shore up all literary descriptions you’ve ever read of Lebanon as the land of milk and honey.

Because only that sort of blessed (but unfortunately cursed too) land could produce Lebanese food.  More than the landscape, the mountains, my personal emotional response to a still functioning society of Arab Christians, the post-nightmare joy that even a partly-Resurrected Beirut must offer, and more, even, than the boys — it’s the food that makes Lebanon one of the top entries on my list of must-visits.  The boldness of the Lebanese culinary imagination reflects such care for both the sensuality and sanctity of food that I can’t helped being moved by just reading descriptions of it.  China, India and France (mmm…yeah, ok, Iran too) are the only places that can compete, I think, with this tiny little corner of the Mediterranean in sheer kitchen creativity.

Mansoufe (below), for example: made of pumpkin-and-bulgur balls, cooked with caramelized onions and flavored with sour grape juice.  Where else would people even think of this?  (Though I think “dumplings” or something might have been a better word; “balls” makes it sound like pumpkins have testicles.)

Mansoufe

But just like there’s not really any French food without the produce of France itself, and like I’ve come to believe what most South Asian friends think: that there’s no good regional Indian food outside of India, just Punjabi versions of dumb-downed Doabi-Mughlai food cooked by Sylhetis (though I know two good Bengali places in New York, one in Sunnyside, where you have to convince them you want the real stuff, and one in the Bronx, and an even better secret, a great Sindhi vegetarian place in Jackson Heights…Indian vegetarian is the only vegetarian food I’ll eat, actually the only vegetarian food I’ll honor by calling “food”), so, it seems, that if you want something other than stale felafel or inedible tabbouleh made by a dude who had too many lemons he needed to get rid of and who needs to be told that parsley isn’t a vegetable, then you need to go to Lebanon.

In steps the Food Heritage Foundation to help you get your bearings food-wise once you’ve gotten yourself to Lebanon: a great resource for anything you might want to know about Lebanese cuisine.  Yesterday they posted photos of the Ein Zebde (the Shouf village with the peach orchards at top) celebration of the Feast of the Holy Cross, and the annual potato-kibbe-making event the women there have held for the past twenty-four years.  Check out the page for captions on the pics below:

A Ein-zebde-preps2017

B 20170909_215010

C 20170909_210038

D 20170909_215653

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Yesterday I tweeted my kudos to the Food Heritage Foundation (above).  But actually it would have been impossible to hide the fact this is a Maronite community even had they wanted to.  Even if they felt they didn’t have to explain why the women were doing this, the women’s hair and bare arms would have been a giveaway.

Still, I’m just saying this because if certain people like Mlle I___m de M_____i had their way both the entire staff of the Food Heritage Foundation and I would’ve been thrown in jail for fomenting sectarianism, publicly shamed for being Islamophobic and made to wear a Green “I”, and the Ein Zebde post would have had to be mysteriously cleansed of its Christianess.

The feast of the Holy Cross — I doubt any Catholics remember or even know — commemorates the discovery by the Empress Mother Helen of the Holy Cross on which Christ was crucified, of which Mark Twain famously said there were so many splinters of everywhere that it was apparently a Holy Forest.  She was the mother of Constantine, the emperor who moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to the city on the Bosporus called Byzantion, renamed Constantinople (that’s İstanbul for those that don’t know), and who, like a good mother-ridden Greek boy (though he was really from what’s now Niš in in what’s now southern Serbia), unfortunately made what-a-monotheist-drag Christianity the official religion of the Empire to make her happy; though also like a good Greek boy he passive-aggressively wasn’t himself baptized till he was on his death-bed.  The discovery of the Cross and the feast of Sts. Constantine and Helen, “the Equal-to-the-Apostles”, on May 21st, when Athens is paralyzed by traffic for three days because a quarter of the city is named Kosta or Helene and another half is going to visit them for their name-day, is usually commemorated in the Orthodox Church by the same image:

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But for more fun, more lyrical descriptions of Lebanese food, mixed up with some serious butch conflict-zone reporting and a hilarious Middle Eastern mother-daughter-in-law relationship, see Annia Ciezadlo’s beautiful Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love and War.

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

Jerusalem: “…if he cannot control her, he would rather see her dead.”

3 Jan

 

ISRAEL-superJumboJerusalem’s light rail trams, once a haven of normality, have come under attack in recent months. Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times  (double click)

A line from an op=ed piece by

“Yet, with all their talk of Jerusalem’s indivisibility, neither side has a plan to enable everyone to live functional, productive lives here.

“Both sides profess their love for this city, but they love it as a violently jealous man loves a woman: If he cannot control her, he would rather see her dead.”

It says it all, and lends itself to a powerful explanation of why the fiercest nationalist is usually a male.  If I can’t have her, who cares.  Better yet, kill her, Stella-style.  This is what Venizelos was thinking when he embarked on his pipe-dream in 1919; this is what he though at Lausanne when agreeing to the Population Exchange — he had already run through several population exchange scenarios in his head with which he might seduce the Allies and bring himself glory; 1923 wasn’t the first time he had expressed such ideas.

This what Milošević was feeling when he abandoned Krajina’s Serbs to their fate and then again when he sealed the fate of Kosovar Serbs by thinking he would expel its 90% Albanian population.

This is what that other raging ego-maniac Jinnah was thinking when he convinced people to cut the heart out of Muslim India and create two dysfunctional wing statelets, one of which barely survives in horrible destitution, the other ruled by a series of some of the most hideous, corrupt, mendacious regimes in the world (see October 6: “It’s not even a country; it’s a fuckin’ acronym!”)

This is what the Messenger thinks when he starts shrieking from his Mussolini balcony: “And I don’t give a shit about Anatolian Hellenism or Politikes Kouzines or Loxandres!!! [.] I care about what’s good for Greece!!!”  Or when he stands ten kilometers from my father’s village “…where my ancestors held on tooth and nail to their land, their religion, their language, for centuries – as every other people have the right to — looks out over the valley of Dropoli and thinks out loud: “These borders could have been drawn to better advantage for us. All that was necessary would’ve been a few key population exchanges…”

The weird “contentlessness of nationalism” as I’ve said many times before.  It doesn’t matter what it is.  Or what it becomes.  It just has to be mine.  Or set a match to it.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

“It’s not even a country; it’s a fuckin’ acronym!”

6 Oct

Maybe the best line from last night’s season four opening of SHOWTIME’s Homeland…and maybe a nomination for best “nuff-said” comment ever on the Land of the Pure.

political-map-of-Pakistan(click)

Led to me to look up exactly what the acronym was and came across the brilliant Hitchens’ attack on the Pakistani elite and political/military establishment and the U.S.’s dysfunctional relationship to it: From Abbottabad to Worse which appeared in Vanity Fair’s July 2011 issue, following the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  Harsh, perhaps exaggerated, but probably not far off the mark:

“Again to quote myself from 2001, if Pakistan were a person, he (and it would have to be a he) would have to be completely humorless, paranoid, insecure, eager to take offense, and suffering from self-righteousness, self-pity, and self-hatred. That last triptych of vices is intimately connected. The self-righteousness comes from the claim to represent a religion: the very name “Pakistan” is an acronym of Punjab, Afghanistan, Kashmir, and so forth, the resulting word in the Urdu language meaning “Land of the Pure.” The self-pity derives from the sad fact that the country has almost nothing else to be proud of: virtually barren of achievements and historically based on the amputation and mutilation of India in 1947 and its own self-mutilation in Bangladesh. The self-hatred is the consequence of being pathetically, permanently mendicant: an abject begging-bowl country that is nonetheless run by a super-rich and hyper-corrupt Punjabi elite. As for paranoia: This not so hypothetical Pakistani would also be a hardened anti-Semite, moaning with pleasure at the butchery of Daniel Pearl and addicted to blaming his self-inflicted woes on the all-powerful Jews.

“This dreary story actually does have some bearing on the “sovereignty” issue. In the beginning, all that the Muslim League demanded from the British was “a state for Muslims.” Pakistan’s founder and first president, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was a relatively secular man whose younger sister went around unveiled and whose second wife did not practice Islam at all. But there’s a world of difference between a state for Muslims and a full-on Muslim state. Under the rule of General Zia there began to be imposition of Shari’a and increased persecution of non-Muslims as well as of Muslim minorities such as the Shiites, Ismailis, and Ahmadis. In recent years these theocratic tendencies have intensified with appalling speed, to the point where the state contains not one but two secret statelets within itself: the first an impenetrable enclave of covert nuclear command and control and the second a private nexus of power at the disposal of the military intelligence services and—until recently—Osama bin Laden himself.”

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Eid on Steinway Street, Astoria, 1433 (2012)

22 Aug

The few blocks of Steinway Street just south of the Grand Central in Astoria have become the center drag for Queens’ Egygptian and other Arab community in the past two decades or so.  Steinway is lined, literally one next to the other, with narghile (hooka, shishsa) shops, clubs, pastry shops and coffeehouses, largely Egyptian-owned, some Lebanese, some Yemeni.  What I hadn’t realized till a couple of years ago is that those blocks of Steinway Street were a major hang out for South Asian kids from around the neighbourhood and from all over Queens.  At least the first night of Eid.  I asked more than a few of these kids why they didn’t go to Jackson Height, the densest and most varied of Queens’ South Asian neighborhoods, on a night like this, and all of them said: “There’s nothing there at night!”  It really got me thinking about why this sort of cafe culture would exist in the Muslim world’s Mediterranean countries and not in South Asia.  There’s the tea-house in Central Asia, but there seems to be nothing in lowland Pakistan, India or Bangladesh that’s comparable.  Or is there and I don’t know about it?  Any ideas?

In any event on Eid (as soon they as they can escape their families?) these kids swamp and totally overwhelm Steinway with color and beauty.  It’s really an amazing sight.

(Click — and for textile, ornament and beautiful face detailsdouble-click on ALL photos; they’re big files.)

The gorgeous silk kurta, the traditional sequinned (double-click) shoes and the jeans in between (above).  Can anybody tell me what the beautiful article of clothing his friend is wearing is called?

Hennaed hands.

Only one of these guys was unsuccessful in suppressing the giggles.

My funky glasses and my yaar: “Eid Mubarak!”

And a beautiful friend and guest of the above two.  It’s New York, right?  They musta had a piss taking her shopping.

And some Egyptians…   The best Adana-like kebab in the city (above), what’s called lyulya kebab in Russia and Central Asia.  I don’t know what Arabs call it.  Too bad for the plastic, germophobic gloves; I can guarantee you, from experience, that an evening’s accumulation of grease and sweat off his palms makes it taste so much better.

And (below) an Egyptian couple who now happily have nothing more to say to each other.  Is there a way to fast-forward a marriage to that point?

The photo below turned out to be badly focussed– very unfortunately — because this guy was easily the king of the Steinway St. runway that night in a white satin, red-and-gold sequinned sherwani and red, gold-threaded dupatta.  I said to him: “That’s what you wear for Eid, buddy?  What are you gonna wear for your wedding?”  He smiled and said: “I’m married…”

Then there’s these guys below, who are cool enough to just show up in their tats.

“Askeri” — soldier

And a more hardcore tattoo below (though, actually, just “askeri” is probably more Spartanly hardcore).  It had something in transliterated Urdu or Punjabi underneath the lion but things were too frantic for me to get it down.

And scarfing with his friends.

Below, a Ranbir Kapoor look-alike with his knock-out friend.  Full holiday dress-kit for Bangladeshi women usually means a sari and not fancy salwar-kameez like for Indo-Pako-Muslim or Sikh women.  But you can’t really draw hard lines like that ’cause you never know; it’s India and this is New York.  (“India” is meant here historically, as the whole subcontinent guys, ok?  Don’t bow up on me please.)

And laughing (below) when I told them that he was a Ranbir Kapoor look-alike.

A kiss away from the folks.

Down Steinway.

One particularly heartening part of going out on this shoot…

Muslims in America have been the object of illegal surveillance and harassment, infiltration of their communities, unfair detention, vandalism and just plain annoying and irritating disrespect and meddling for a long time now.  I’ve been on the secondary receiving end of the anger and suspicion that’s all caused — though hardly a victim of it — under a variety of circumstances, some unpleasant, some funny.

Now, for a variety of physical, age, accent and attitude reasons I guess I could pass for a New York cop.  I also wear my cross on an employee i.d., dogtag-type chain and that probably doesn’t help.  Nobody in Afghanistan, expat or Afghan, believed I wasn’t a contractor without lengthy explanation and convincing on my part and that’s really not a perception you want to be the object of when in Afghanistan.  When I came back, the passport guy at JFK saw my Afghan visa and said: “Contractor?” and I said “NO! ENGLISH TEACHER!”  I was once thrown out of a mosque in Elmhurst (off-prayer time) by the custodian and his broom, one of those old Peshawari guys with the orange beards, yelling: “Go out! Go out!”  And an exchange with two Afghan butchers who I had gone to for my lamb one Easter because I was having halal-observant friends over was completely friendly and animated till I started throwing around some of my recently learned Farsi.  That was followed by a complete silence through which they kept busily hacking away without even looking at me.  And when two Pashtun guys with meat cleavers make it clear they don’t want to talk to you, it’s best to shut up.  They didn’t even speak the price to me at the end; just physically showed me the receipt.  I payed, took my animal and slunk out.

But I only put two and two together when I went into another halal butcher in Jackson Heights to get some chickens for something I was going to make for a party we were having with my students, many of them also halal-observant.  I walked in; said “Salaam,” even did my little “adab” forehead gesture and everybody just stared at me.  Then a very energetic, smiling young Pakistani guy came out of the back and with arms wide-open says: “Officer, what I can give you?!”  After a “what-do-I-say” second, I told him what I needed.  “Ok, officer!”  He started skinning and chopping at the chickens.  “So, barbecue time, officer?”  It was right before Memorial Day.  I said, “No, I’m actually gonna make a korma with that chicken; that’s why I’m asking you to take the skin off…”  “Wow, nice.”  Silence.  “You know, I’m not a cop.”  “Ok, officer, no problem,” smilingly.  “I have students who only eat halal meat, we’re having a party….” I continue trying to explain.  “Ohhhhh, that’s very nice, officer, you’re good guy.”  “And I’m learning Farsi because…”  Then I just gave up; put my arm up on the counter, leaning up against the glass, just watching him — him with the chickens, as he kept grinning and occasionally mumbling to himself: “Ok, officer…yeaaaaaaaa, chicken….no problem, officer…ok, officer…”  He was getting to the last of the chickens and he looked up at me and we stared at one another for a moment, full eye contact, like three feet away from each other…and we both fell into a giggling fit.

I never did figure out whether he believed me, didn’t believe me, was pulling my leg and shittin’ with me the whole time — I don’t know.  They all replied “Khuda Hafez” to mine as I left.  I did my little forehead gesture.  The older men returned it.  Who knows.  I don’t know.  Once on the street I thought to myself: “Can they really think that any American ‘inteligence’ organization — FBI, NYPD — can be that stupid that they think they’re going to teach a big white guy some half-assed words of Farsi-Urdu, and send him in to….” and then said, yeah, they have every reason to think they can be “that stupid” because they probably are.

Back to Steinway Street.  The night we went on this shoot I was doing my introductory spiel to every group of kids we would walk up to: “These are just for a blog I write…I’ll take them down if you don’t like them..” and, to several more hesitant looking groups of guys: “…I’m not a cop or anything,” to which they replied, to the man, and in stereo: “I wouldn’t give a shit if you were.”

Aferin!  That’s the spirit, brothers.  Stay strong and keep it up.

Thanks to all of you guys for your smiling, cooperative, welcoming participation in this little project.  I can’t express my appreciation enough.  All the best to you, your friends and your families.

And for the rest of us, trapped in the aesthetics of nineteenth-century, false bourgeois humility and, now, its descendant, the fake hipness of charcoal and black, PLEASE keep wearing those clothes, and be enormously proud of them.

Many, many thanks to Johana Ramirez, who took the photos and accompanied me on this adventure.

Again, if you want any of these taken down, you know where to find me.  Any of those who didn’t make it, sorry; it was only a matter of space.  I’m putting up a Flickr page as soon as I can where all the photos taken that night will be posted, so you’ll be able to find them there.

And again, thank you.  Peace.

Nick Bakos

 

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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