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    Archive (chronological)


    Expat lives: from New Jersey to Jordan


    Preparations for the football World Cup in South Africa brought US engineer Trevor Liddle, then 55, out of an early retirement. Liddle’s wife, Laurie Balbo, wasn’t at all surprised: “I knew he had another airport in him.”

    It was January 2008, and Liddle was being asked to move from Little Falls, New Jersey, to Johannesburg to help engineer a new airport terminal. Balbo wasn’t sure about the move, and the more she read, the more South Africa didn’t seem like the right place to go – especially with a 10-year-old daughter in tow.

    “There was no way in hell I was taking this free-spirited kid over there, to a walled community where you’re afraid of everyone that doesn’t look like you,” she says. “It was tough, because it was my husband’s dream.”

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    A review of 'Public Apology,' by Dave Bry

    BOOKFORUM - 13 MARCH 2013

    Dave Bry is sorry. For several years, mostly for the New York website The Awl, he's reached back into a sordid, New Jersey/New York past, unearthing misdeeds big and small. If you imagined each of these stories as a moral sustenance, Bry has for years now been serving up dark and funny snacks. Assembled rather expertly for his book Public Apology, they now qualify as something more satisfying, like a turkey dinner on how (not) to live.

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    Getting Out of the Picture: On Being Nick Flynn, a Review of 'The Enactments'


    A SINGLE MOTHER in Massachusetts reads through her son’s notebook and shoots herself. Still grieving, the son ends up working in a Boston homeless shelter, where one day his alcoholic father seeks refuge. The father is a bad drunk, as many are, and after a while the clinic votes to bar his reentry. The father spends his first night on the streets, sleeping on exhaust vents behind a library. During the vote that sent him outside, the son either does or does not raise his hand. Then the son writes an entire book about his mom’s suicide and the booze and the homeless shelter and that vote. The writer later stands onstage with the likes of James Frey, and this man, Nick Flynn, makes Frey’s semi-real book about semi-real addiction pretty much disintegrate into oblivion by comparison. Flynn leaves Boston and marries and has a daughter, and his father eventually makes it into a subsidized apartment and then to a hospice and then gets to meet Robert De Niro, who will be playing him in a movie about his son’s book. It’s all Nick Flynn’s doing and the result is Flynn’s third memoir, The Reenactments, a poetic and probing diary of writing, memory, and filmmaking.

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    Password Requirements

    TIN HOUSE - 23 MARCH 2013

    Your password must contain at least one number.

    It’s a bad idea to put a 1 after a typical word or phrase. Awesome1, for instance, is not awesome, nor is it accurate. Killme2 is a weak password.

    Password should contain at least one lower case letter.

    Password should be between 6 and 20 characters, which is long, or much longer, we suppose, than some of us can imagine, or that many of us need. Perhaps your version of safety requires even more characters? We do not yet know.

    Password should not include your phone number, an email address, the same as your user name, or a name you use only with your closest friends, or indeed, the name of your child, or the child you do not yet have, or perhaps the child you will never have, nor the name of that girlfriend you can’t quite find yet on Facebook, perhaps she has a new last name? In any case, don’t use her name either — or that cutesy thing she used to call you in Chicago — you should just move on. It’s over.

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    Into the Steam


    An attendant gave us two striped towels and we repaired to a room, where we removed everything we owned. Naked under the cloth, we followed a stooped old man, who showed us to a domed room filled with steam.

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    Going Soft


    In Rome, I was cocky and competitive and altogether my usual self because the apartment we’d rented for the night was completely white—sheets, pillows, towels—and much bigger than expected, with a cow’s head mounted on a wall and great, familiar coffee and I might as well have been in Istanbul or Moscow or New York or the many other places I had lived and worked, and I was thinking, after all that, how hard could Italy be? What’s the big deal? Yet that concern about experience or mastery or difficulty was to miss an essential point. That a good thing doesn’t have to be hard.

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    In Istanbul, Getting to Ikea and Back


    It wasn't exactly a matter of life and death—procuring a high chair for my daughter from Ikea, in Istanbul—but that was the mission I found myself on one night several years ago. 

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    Bend, don't break

    AEON - 23 NOVEMBER 2012

    Last winter, I moved to Lebanon from Turkey. Before that I was in Saudi Arabia. The Middle East, with all its chaos and calamity, was a fascinating place to be, but it also required a lot of effort to make something like a normal life. Moving to Beirut, a city that some still compared to Paris, I thought things might quieten down at last.

    The city proved me wrong. There was a shoot-out on my street. My journalist friends were losing their minds trying to cover Syria. Colleagues were getting killed. Hoping to find something other than liquor and worry to take my mind off things, I found myself entering a room with mirrored walls. The space was hushed, with soft light from recessed bulbs. Hesitating, I tiptoed to a spot by the wall, unsure — unsure of what? Of everything, really. Then I took off my shoes, laid out my watch, and took a deep breath.

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    A Life-Saving Bond Between In-Laws


    For her 60th birthday, my mom cooked steak, but my dad had trouble chewing and five weeks later, at 59, he was dead, and she was facing a lonely house in Miami.

    “Oh, Alfie,” she said. “How am I supposed to do this without you?” She had life insurance, considerable savings and the resources to live most anywhere in the world, which was both a blessing and curse.


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    Thanksgiving Abroad: A Bittersweet Holiday in Beirut


    In the year 2000, my then-girlfriend Kelly and I took a monthlong trek through Mexico, with the aim of covering that country's historic presidential election but mostly eating tacos and falling in love. She was 30, and I, nine years younger, was basically a boy. Kelly hailed from the Midwest, where family and celebrations were important. My family, on the other hand, tended to forget non-Christmas holidays; remembering them at the last minute, we'd dispatch someone to order Chinese from a mini-mall. In Mexico City that year, we compromised on Thanksgiving Day: we went to a house party.

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    Take It From a Soldier: On Kevin Powers's "Yellow Birds" 


    FOR MORE THAN A DECADE, we've been sending soldiers over there, and when they come back we say thanks, but we don't really talk about what they did. We call them heroes, but what do we call them when they kill each other on the base, or beat their wives, or clock one of us, maybe, in the parking lot of the Home Depot? Which words do we offer then? We know this violence is some kind of residue, left over from the work we asked them to do. We don’t excuse their crimes, yet we feel responsible and perhaps ashamed, so we say little, or nothing. All the violence we asked them to do is hanging there, and none of us has a clear idea how to apportion blame, or even how to discuss it. What has this silence done to us? These questions drive the work of a few good writers, such as novelist Benjamin Percy, in his stand-out short story from the 2007 collection, Refresh, Refresh, and more formidably and more recently, Kevin Powers, in his novel Yellow Birds. A former U.S. soldier, Powers announces his candidacy as the generation's premiere war writer with a cerebral and searching knockout of a debut. Nominated for the National Book Award, and informed as it is by what Powers experienced first-hand, Yellow Birds is crushingly mature, real, and fragile.

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    Election 2012. Location: In Hamra, Beirut…


    It’s election day and there’s a tarantula in the bathroom. Ominous signs are piling up. After lunch, my daughter has trouble getting to sleep. She says the prayer wakes her up. In a darkened bedroom, my wife is hoping to nap, too tired to take off her shoes. She just returned from Aleppo, where at least one commander says he would vote for Romney, assuming a President Mitt would give the guys with guns some better guns, maybe some surface-to-air missiles, and perhaps even a no-fly zone.

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    Swimming Upstream: A Memoir in Pools


    Because I loved the water and because I moved all the time—in search of what, I wasn’t yet sure—I found that swimming laps was a good way to get somewhere without booking another ticket. Wherever we were, I’d search out an open lane, and sometimes I’d surprise myself, encountering the person who emerged on the other side. You could learn a lot with your eyes closed.

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    'Homeland' in My Home Land 

    GQ - 25 OCTOBER 2012

    Because I call Beirut home, and because an American TV show called Homeland won a bunch of awards and is apparently depicting my town, and moreover, because this depiction focuses on Hamra street, which I cross a dozen times a day en route to my butcher, baker, gym, my child's school, and the cafe where I write, and because this depiction is apparently ham-handed enough to have enraged the minister of tourism here, who is spending millions attempting to lure tourists back to a beautiful and tragic city—and added to all that, because the show was originally an Israeli TV pilot, an agony and irony for a people still technically at war with that neighboring country and, further, because the Beirut scenery was reportedly shot on location in the Israeli towns of Tel Aviv and Haifa—I want to tell you about a day on Hamra street, last Friday, when a bomb exploded just a few blocks from where I had lunch.

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    I'm afraid of Virginia Woolf: On war movies, adolescence, and the 50th anniversary of Albee's masterpiece


    Last year, my oldest friend, Dave, was serving in the US military at a base in southern Iraq, where rockets rained down near his trailer, driving his roommate to hand-build a wall made from paving stones and water bottles around their bunk. My wife, meanwhile, had accepted a job in Baghdad, where projectiles took paths close to where she slept. In the meantime I made a home for us in Istanbul, the closest reasonable city, where I could raise our young daughter. The situation wasn’t ideal, but it’s the one we had. Alone for weeks at a time, I’d think about growing up in Florida with Dave, meeting my wife in Asia, moving to New York, then lighting out for more difficult terrain. I’d pour myself a stiff drink, wondering how we’d all gotten here: Was life at all what we may have imagined, or hoped for?

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    A Hardee's in Beirut


    Walking through Beirut now, it’s hard to detect any rage. That fragile guy I always see around town—the one who wears all white and is often in a cafe weeping—is walking the streets again after what was perhaps a summer in the mountains. The flavor of the day at the gelato place is coconut. In the fake American diner, where a ceramic man in blackface has open arms, teenagers back from vacation are eating chicken wings with plastic gloves. At the private school, the toddlers wear uniforms and bang tambourines.

    My plan is to walk down the hill and eat a burger at Hardee’s during prayer time, because the men at the nearby mosque literally pray on mats that spill out of the mosque, into the street, and sometimes down the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. Two weeks ago, a few hours north of my home in Beirut, mobs sacked both a KFC and a Hardee’s. If anywhere was to be a site of some friction in Beirut, this is probably it.

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    When I finally saw my blood

    SALON - 1 OCTOBER 2012

    I’d lived in Beirut for nearly a year — next to the mess in Syria, where more than 20,000 people had so far been killed; an hour or two from borders my wife crossed to find out why; and where, for a variety of reasons, I still had trouble explaining my own stake in all this — when, in the kitchen the other night, I finally saw my own blood.

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    A Week in Beirut



    I wake up early to make ice cream for an old friend who is visiting from Riyadh. I blow a fuse in the power converter getting the machine to turn fast enough, but I have a spare fuse and all is well. The visiting friend, Matt, flies in on Saudi Arabian Airlines, which is now a member of SkyTeam, so you can use your miles on Delta or Air France. That night, Matt, my wife, and I stay up late drinking beer and wine and telling stories about the life we shared in Riyadh, where my daughter was born and where Matt still spends weekends DJing parties.

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    The Boulevard of Broken Bones


    I live in Beirut but don’t want to forever. I’ve gotten older, less patient, more judgmental about people I think are being judgmental. I was once a big drinker and I thought I was a big editor, but now I guess I’m slowing down. I once walked for five months, all the way from New York to Florida and points beyond, but now I’m a little more rooted, a father, and I dream of bringing my girls home someday. But where on earth—or in America—could that be?

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    Train of Thought: Meditations on NYC and the End of Summer


    If you ever find yourself boarding a train to New York City, with all its promise and premonition, I advise that you first fortify with a sandwich from that snug little kiosk at the Amtrak station in Saratoga Springs.

    The proprietor’s name is Rich, and she shows me a picture of herself, before the colon cancer, when she had this headful of black, kinked curls. Quite a pretty lady, running the kind of store you’d never find in the security state of an airport or the dungeon of a bus station, Rich toasts for me a whole wheat bun, then announces she’s been to nearly all of the countries in Africa, that she’s heading to Guyana on the 15th of August. In her little store, she shows me homemade things for sale that line various wooden hutches. She says her late husband was the prime minister of Dominica, before he was killed, that she’s giving it all she’s got.

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