My Middle East
Waiting together for what will come.
Open my front door, turn left, walk down two blocks, and you are in the Middle East. All the women’s clothing stores sell long dresses and scarves. Some carry tribal garb. Jewelry stores are filled with elaborate bright gold necklaces. Houseware shops display coffee urns with matching tiny cups and saucers, along with intricately patterned metal lamps, and elaborate Qur’an covers and prayer rugs. There are two mosques and a cultural center, law and doctor offices, pharmacies whose shelves are labeled in Arabic, and a newspaper with a multicultural beat.
A sign up for a free subscription to keep America Eats! growing!
If only by their number, markets and restaurants beat them all. The halal markets with fresh lambs hanging in their windows; bins filled with grains and beans; shelves crowded with spices, olive oils, and honey; tubs of regional olives, preserves, and pickled vegetables. Fruit and vegetable stands are jammed with boxes of pomegranates, lemons, eggplants, fava beans, raw pistachios, olives, figs, dates of every kind, and seasonal greens that I always have to ask the shopper beside me how to cook. In full too-big-for-my-stomach mode, I end up at bakeries with a bulging paper bag or two of different phyllo desserts, semolina cakes, cookies, and a milk pudding that turns out to be one of the best remedies for insomnia. Friday nights after prayers, the avenue turns into a very slow stroll from packed cafés to packed restaurants. Saturday night is even more of a navigational challenge through the mazes of sidewalk tables, the mingling scents of spices and roasting meat magnifying hunger.
This two-mile stretch of earth is jammed with Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, Yemenites, and Egyptians. Over 20 years or so, they have woven their lives in with the Irish, Germans, Italians, Mexicans, and Russian Jews who found homes here before them. Mosques and synagogues; Orthodox, Catholic, and Lutheran churches. Yemeni café, German beer garden, Irish pub, Syrian kebab take-out, Italian trattoria, Mexican taco stand, Lebanese bakery, tiny Russian diner. Food is the bonding thread.
(This video pretty much gives you a tiny view of my Middle East. It is also the restaurant mentioned in the next paragraph. )
The world has changed all this. Last week intruders attacked several Middle Eastern men as they walked away from a halal food truck. A popular and well-reviewed Palestinian restaurant became subjected to online harassment, flooded with bad reviews that caused it to lose its four stars. Police were stationed outside the mosque and synagogue for Friday and Saturday prayers. Jewish friends are mourning. Arab friends are lamenting. Both are fearful. Only a few sidewalk tables were taken, dining rooms half filled. No navigational skills needed.
Open my front door, turn left, walk down two blocks, and you experience the mounting tension in the Middle East. Not naïve enough to believe these assaults will be one-offs, we ask our neighbors if they are okay, how their families are doing, are they safe, as we fill our market baskets, peruse café and restaurant menus, and pick up our take-out. We are waiting together for the coming storm.
For the next two weeks I will be away on a vacation—the first in four and a half years. Three and a half of those were spent writing America Eats!, a great source of creative satisfaction and fun. It has to be admitted, though, it’s become a slog. I’ve stopped doing all the things even the slightest ambitious person should do to gain readerships. I’ve even caught myself thinking that maybe it’s time to hang it up, especially if I can’t keep writing well and meeting deadlines. Two weeks of wandering about with an empty head to refresh will undoubtedly take care of all this.
My first full day back will be November 7, but I’m thinking there may be a couple of ways to cast a stone or two your way!
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