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    Entries in - Personal essay (86)


    You'll never walk alone

    THE REVIEW - 31 JULY 2009

    Rihan told me to meet him at a car park near the stadium around 6.00pm. As I drew closer in my humble Corolla, I noticed that several beat-up cars driving around me had a door, trunk lid or maybe both side mirrors spray painted green: the colour of the Falcons, the national football team. Saudi kids leaned out the windows, waving the national flag. Rihan's cousin showed up first, in a Jaguar. Rihan himself, the son of a general, appeared shortly thereafter in a brand-new Jeep - imported all the way from Texas, he told me. The cousin and I got in, and Rihan jokingly asked if I'd locked my little Toyota. "Wouldn't want anyone to steal it," he said, guffawing.

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    Get on the bus

    THE REVIEW - 26 JUNE 2009

    Riyadh wasn't made for people on foot. The pavements are willy-nilly, with each business evidently responsible for its own frontage. In sandals one night en route to a bookstore, I scaled a three-foot precipice between two stretches of pavement at different heights and stepped through half a pane of plate glass, which broke in an explosion of glittering shards. For blocks, sweat blinding my vision, choking on exhaust, gingerly taking steps with glass in my foot, I wondered how my wife and I - how anybody, really - could ever make a life in such a harsh place.

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    Innocents at home


    It's late December, 2008, and my wife and I are on furlough from Islamic lands. Snow falls on New York as we roll up to a friend's building. Buzzers list dozens of names, from dozens of countries. The door snaps open and we hear the Christmas classic Jingle Bell Rock emanating from the belly of an animatronic Santa Claus. It's a shock: We're just a few hours off the plane from Riyadh, where music is effectively banned. There's no Christmas there, and certainly no animatronic Santas.Representing as it does the human form (in Saudi, forbidden), Christianity (very forbidden), and celebration that doesn't glorify God (also forbidden), this hip-swivelling elf is a bracing reminder that we're temporarily free from life under Saudi's implacable rules.

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    I smell dead people


    Outside an exhibit of the dead, a ticket for which is $24.50, you will encounter the following: The Gap, a Baby Gap, a Guess store, Brookstones, The Body Shop, J. Crew, and a boldly-lettered sandwich board for the Buskers Hall of Fame. There is one entry on that board.

    The attraction, "Bodies: The Exhibition," takes up the corner of a downtown shopping plaza, a museum in a mall across from the South Street Seaport. Posters promise real human bodies.
    In the distance, old ships bob in the moonlight. The Fulton Fish Market is abandoned. I notice the Heartland Brewery. On a grim, bitter Sunday night, the lights look inviting. There's beer in there.

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    I survived the Staten Island Mall


    On the upper deck of the ferry, a pigeon taps at an old Newsday. A Korean family—parents, teenage son, tweens daughter—sit in a row, each listening to a private set of white headphones. Many riders seem like European merry-makers, with bright, jaunty knapsacks, maps, and cans of beer. Most will step briefly off this boat and immediately reboard another back to Manhattan. I mistake the women's for the men's restroom, inching briefly into its anteroom, where five hard chairs are bolted in front of a mirror. On a Saturday like today, the brilliant November sun blinds me for a second, and I step back to take a seat by the waves.

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    Un-American activities

    THE VILLAGE VOICE  - 27 JUNE 2005 TO 9 JULY 2005

    Screw the Hamptons. I summer in Russia.

    Stretching through JFK's forgotten terminal three is a line of travelers willing to wait for accident prone-Aeroflot's overnight flight to Moscow. We're crossing a cultural barrier, entering this two-hour line ruled by Russian stewards, and I take it all as a gentle preview of the former Soviet Union. My fellow travelers: One is an lumpy middle-aged woman in leopard-print pants fanning herself, slightly disturbing a bright orange helmet of hair. Her shoes curl up like an elf's—the epitome of women's footwear on the other side of the Pacific. Her husband rubs his ribs under a Brezhnev-era suit, then spits on the floor and mutters in Russian.

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