Salmon Fishing In The Yemen

When I mentioned the movie Salmon Fishing in the Yemen at dinner last night, three people piped up that they had read the book by Paul Torday.

The premise of salmon fishing in the desert made everyone ask, “is this a true story?”

Almost any story about bringing water thus life to the desert seems to be preposterous.  But did you know in the Egyptian desert are whale fossils with legs?  Have you read there are signs that Sahel, a semi-desert zone along the Sahara, is becoming green?

Tim Mackintosh-Smith, the British writer and Yemen expert, wrote in his review that twenty years ago he came upon a man fishing with a pole and a string in a wadi.  Like this man, he said Torday’s book is about the belief in the impossible and belief itself.

The Arabian Peninsula is a land guided by faith.  Every year HRH King Abdullah, Keeper of the Holy Mosque, and his men perform their Islamic rain dance.

While growing up in Saudi Arabia, my step-father told us they were discussing the idea of towing an iceberg from Antarctica across the Indian Ocean into the Arabian Gulf.  Granted half of it would melt, but if the iceberg was large enough ….

There was also an idea for a kind of desert terrarium that people could live in.  The ideas never materialized but simply knowing these ideas existed made me believe the movie’s premise that desert sheikhs will try impossible things.

Actor Ewan McGregor plays the British fisheries-expert who is hired by the Yemeni-Sheikh to figure out how to populate the Yemen with British salmon.  As it turns out the very, very, VERY rich Sheikh loves fly fishing in which he finds many metaphysical lessons.

As soon as I saw McGregor I fell under the movie’s spell.  For I remembered him as the young Albert Finney in the movie Big Fish, the story of son who discovers the people in his father’s “tall-tale” life were real.  And whose father believed that all myths and legends stem from some truth.  How that truth is interpreted by future generations depends on the stories men craft around it.

If you would like to see a movie about possibilities that pokes fun at politics and has romance, I suggest Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.  In Bahrain, it is currently playing at City Center.


“How Can You Buy and Sell the Sky?”

Seana Mallen’s homage to George Caitlin’s 1850 painting. In 1844 Caitlin documented Mahaska’s journey to London with a group of thirteen other Ioway people.

In 1848, my great-great grandfather Martin Snider erected the first cabin in Montezuma, Mahaska County, Iowa.

The state of Iowa was named after the Ioway natives who split off from the Oneotas around 1650.  In the early 1800s, through a series of treaties, the US government evicted the Ioways from their land.  Mahaska County was named after the Indian Chief Mahaska, or White Cloud in English.

My great-great grandfather used to tell the story of an Ioway Indian who knocked on the door and asked to borrow milk.  The Ioway’s wife had died during childbirth.  My grandfather agreed but admitted he was a bit perplexed when the man went into his barn and led his cow away.  However he did not stop him.

When the baby was weaned, the Ioway brought the cow back.  Later during the “Indian uprising” my grandfather was the only settler in the area the Ioway did not attack.

European colonists viewed the Native people as either vicious barbarians or as Noble Savages.  The Noble Savage image dates back to Bartolome de Las Casa’s 1530 writings about American natives.  1987 American high school textbooks summarized this history.

“For thousands of centuries –centuries in which human races were evolving, forming communities, and building the beginnings of national civilizations in Africa, Asia and Europe-the continents we know as the Americas stood empty of mankind and its works.”  The story of Europeans in the New World “is the story of the creation of a civilization where none existed.”  – Charles C Mann, 1491

This American myth has lasted over five centuries.  In the book 1491, Charles C. Mann calls it Holmberg’s Mistake.

“The supposition that Native Americans lived in an eternal, unhistoried state – held sway in scholarly work, and from there fanned out to high school textbooks, Hollywood movies, newspaper articles, environmental campaigns, romantic adventure books and silk-screened tee-shirts.” – Charles C. Mann, 1491

Historically the North American Indian population prior to Columbus was estimated to be around 1.15 million with a total of 8.4 million throughout the Americas.  Mann outlines new evidence that points to an American population more likely between 90 to 112 million people.  New estimates suggest by the sixteenth century, 80 to 100 million Indians were wiped out by the European smallpox.

Mann also presents evidence the Indians were not just Noble Savages living off the land; rather they were active agents agriculturally shaping the land.  Mann writes the Amazon rainforest is not wild.  Rather this wet desert is the remnant of a large, managed landscape.

The Native Americans were not simply farmers or hunters.

In 1100AD, at the mouth of the Mississippi River was the port city called Cahokia.  The largest concentration of people north of the Rio Grande, hundreds of high-peaked, deeply thatched roofs like those on traditional Japanese farms were built around a four-level earthen mound bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Further south, the Mexican Olmec developed a dozen different systems of writing, established wide trade networks, tracked the orbits of planets, created a 365-day calendar more accurate than the Europeans’ and recorded its histories in books of folded bark paper.  The Mexican capital of Tenochtitlan was larger than Paris.

The South American Inka empire was bigger than the Ming Dynasty in China, Ivan the Great’s Russia, the Ottomon Empire and the Triple Alliance.

The use of zero considered “one of the greatest single accomplishments of the human race” was first whispered around 600BC when the Babylonians tallied numbers in columns.  India used a zero in the first few centuries AD.  Europeans began using it in the 12th century when the Arabs brought it to them.

The first recorded zero in the Americas was in a 357AD Mayan carving.  Before that, a calendrical system based on the existence of zeros was used.

Seana Mallen’s painting is based on Edward Curtis’ photograph. Curtis’ life work was to document the tragic decline of the Native American peoples.

“Man did not weave the web of life.  He is but one strand within it.  What we do to the web we do to ourselves.  All things are bound together.  All things connect.”  Chief Seattle.

When we read the “sage” sayings of White Cloud and Chief Seattle, it is not simply the Noble Savage’s spirituality or mythology.  Their wisdom comes from millennia of experience and reflects the “remarkable body of knowledge about how to manage and improve their environment.”

I highly recommend 1491 to open your eyes to a new perspective on history.  It is not the easiest read but it is very interesting.

Currently on display during America Week, Seana Mallen’s paintings can be seen in the Seef Mall near the Starbucks.

Beauty at the Burgerland Roundabout

Burgerland Roundabout

“In a sense, all the contemporary crises can be reduced to a crisis about the nature of beauty.

The media are becoming the global mirror and the shows tend to enshrine the ugly as the normal standard.  Beauty is mostly forgotten and made to seem naïve and romantic.

The blindness of property development creates rooms, buildings and suburbs which lack grace and mystery.  Socially this influences the atmosphere in the community.  It also results in the degradation of the environment that we are turning more and more of our beautiful earth into a wasteland.

Much of the stress and emptiness that haunts us can be traced back to our lack of attention to beauty.  Internally, the mind becomes coarse and dull if it remains unvisited by images and thoughts which hold the radiance of beauty.

Beauty offers us an invitation to order, coherence and unity.  When these needs are met, the soul feels at home in the world.”

–          John O’Donohue from Beauty The Invisible Embrace

Racing towards Jidhafs the other morning, I was frustrated when I missed the green light.  But as I slowed I saw this new mural painted on the side of the house.

Instantly my heart lifted.   No longer did I need to hurry.  I was surprised how how peaceful I felt as I waited for the light to change.  And I was struck by the power of Beauty.

Thank you Romantic Moments for bringing some Beauty to the Burgerland roundabout.

And thank you John O’Donohue for so eloquently articulating why we need Beauty in our lives.  His book Beauty The Invisible Embrace : Rediscovering the True Source of Compassion Serenity and Hope is “a gentle, urgent call to awaken.”

My Beautiful Bahrain Book Launch

My Beautiful Bahrain compiled and edited by Robin Barratt

My Beautiful Bahrain will be officially launched this Saturday May 5th.

40 international writers submitted their poems, memoirs and stories about living in Bahrain.

Yours truly submitted a short story called Ali and the Hummer.

It’s a story about a man literally chasing the girl of his dreams, a leather clad woman who drives a pink Hummer.

Written a couple years ago, you might call it history as the chase takes place around a now-dismantled Bahraini landmark that was prominently featured in international headlines.

You might call it fact as I personally witnessed all the elements.

You might call it a complete fabrication, a figment of an over-active imagination, because at the end…

Well, I can’t tell you the end.  That would spoil the story.

This Saturday evening May 5th at 8pm there will be at least 40 people gathered at Jashanmal’s in the Seef Mall Atrium to celebrate this book.

I invite my spouse, children, my fellow yoginis and sculptors, any visiting family members, my compound neighbors, the gardener, anyone named Ali and all of my loving and supportive friends with money to join us for a glass of mint lemonade to celebrate this event.

BTW mention my name and you’ll get a 10% discount.  What more can you ask for?

Winfred Marcel Peppinck

What the Eye Cannot See by Winfred Marcel Peppinck

Any child given the name Winfred Marcel Peppinck is destined to become either a diplomat, a novelist, or an adviser to a King.

Or like my friend Fred – as I call him – you can be all three.

Ringing in the New Year together, Fred and I chatted about what we were going to accomplish in 2012.  He had finished his book and was figuring out how to get it published.  I was to finish my book and figure out how to get it published.  Fred has done it.  I have not.

Which is why it is Winfred Peppinck who will be talking about his latest book, WHAT THE EYE CANNOT SEE, and not me.

WHAT THE EYE CANNOT SEE is an Aesop’s Fable for grown-ups with great characters and all too real circumstances.  Fate may conspire to bring people together, but what happens when it grows bored with the game?

Reviewer  Debbie Al Asfoor (how does she get these books before I do?)

“Loved this book. Couldn’t put it down. Racy and exciting. An unexpected twist in the story. Thought provoking and the one ultimate crime in a partnership that the majority of us dread … infidelity! All very real and certainly gives food for thought!”

If you are interested meeting this Dutch author who grew up in Perth, then come along to WORDS on Budaiya Highway this Tuesday, May 1 at 7pm.  Fred will talk about this book, his other novels including The Diplomatic Dog of Barbados and e-publishing.

WORDS is on Budaiya Highway in the Palm Square Shopping Center.  It will be on the right hand side if you are coming from the Burgerland Roundabout towards Al Osra.

Bird Pranayama – Breathing Lessons

“Out of the clouds I hear a faint bark, as of a faraway dog. It is strange how the world cocks its ear to that sound, wondering.   Soon it is louder: the honk of geese, invisible, but coming on.

The flock emerges from the low clouds, a tattered banner of birds, dipping and rising, blown up and blown down, blown together and blown apart, but advancing, the wind wrestling lovingly with each winnowing wing. When the flock is a blur in the far sky I hear the last honk, sounding taps for summer.

It is warm behind the driftwood now, for the wind has gone with the geese.

So would I — if I were the wind.”
― Aldo Leopold, The Sand County Almanac

We don’t have any trees in our backyard.  If the neighbors’ trees didn’t love extending their branches over the twelve foot wall to touch our house, the morning sun would beam straight into our bedroom room.  Just as we appreciate the trees’ shelter, the birds love congregating among the leaves.

This morning just as the dawn crept around the blackout curtains, a bird began his morning singing.  Despite the air conditioner’s roar, his effort pierced my sleep.

Tired, I felt like cursing him but held my thoughts and listened, waiting for him to go away.

His song was full of effort.  In my mind’s eye, I could see him deeply inhaling as if lifting his wings up into the sky then vigorously closing them, forcing the air through his entire body.  The force produced his loud chirp.  He continued at least five minutes.  It reminded me of the pranayama or breathing exercise I did just the previous evening in my yoga class.

As we lifted our arms above our heads, we inhaled.  Then quickly and with strength we pulled our arms down to our sides, releasing the breath.  It was a very vigorous exercise.

The bird slowed down and I listened, wondering whether he was finished.

But he was not.

His breathing evened out and became quieter as he inhaled deeply then let his exhale gently carry the song.  The pace reminded me of nadi shodana breathing.

After a few minutes of nadi shodana, he started his third round, the vigorous bhastrika.  For the bhastrika  or bellows breath, the inhale is rather quiet as the effort goes towards strongly contracting the abdomen, forcing the air out the nostrils.  It is considered to be an advanced breathing technique.  Unlike me, the bird was quite an expert and did several rounds without passing out.

I knew the ancient yogis used to look to nature – the plants, birds and animals – for answers to their deepest questions.  In the morning sun, the bird gathered his prana for the day.  And I wondered – was it the study of birds the led the yogis to create pranayama, a breathing exercise said to revitalize the body?

Like the Taoists, shamans and yogis of millennium past, after years of carefully observing nature’s patterns and comparing conventional wisdom against what the land showed him, Aldo Leopold too came upon an answer to his deepest question – the idea of a land ethic.

In The Sand County Almanac, he described the lessons he learned observing nature and considered how man might learn to live as a steward rather than a thief.  And although he said poets did a better job describing nature’s beauty, in the end, all the hours he spent watching geese and storks while taking copious notes turned him into a poet.

For Earth Day April 22, 2012, Green Fire the documentary about Aldo Leopold makes its television debut.  It will be shown six times on Wisconsin Public Television between April 20 – 27.

The Aldo Leopold Foundation has many outreach programs for educators and interested people.  By watching Green Fire or looking at the foundation’s website, you can learn how to teach children that eggs come from a chicken and not a grocery store.

Out of It – A Novel

Out of It by Selma Dabbagh

In 1973, Mahmoud Darwish wrote,

“Gaza has not mastered the orator’s art. Gaza does not have a throat. The pores of her skin speak in sweat, blood and fire.”  – Journal of an Ordinary Grief

In its review of the novel Out of It, the Egyptian Independent said author Selma Dabbagh’s “portrayal of Gaza is, in some ways, not so different from the gaping wound Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish presents.”

The wound still hasn’t healed.  In fact it has turned septic and widened as now five generations sit within its weeping gap.  But 30 years later, Gaza has found an orator.

British-Palestinian, Dabbagh is like one of the “PLO Brats” she created;  the English-speaking, Diaspora who carry Holy Land DNA in their blood.  The granddaughter of a politically active Palestinian, Dabbagh grew up outside Gaza where her story takes place; yet she carries the memories of place and of the wounds her father sustained in a 1948 Jaffa attack.  Dabbagh’s intelligent, urbane characters promise to give readers an alternative view of the Palestinian OTHER.

I haven’t gotten a copy of the book – yet.  But I am excited to see my friend, fellow bookclub member and former Bahrain resident return to the island to talk about her debut novel.

It wasn’t so long ago when conversations about our toddlers were interspersed with her laments about the difficulty of finding the creative space to finish her book.  But her acclaimed talent and perseverance prevailed against potty-training and garden birthday parties with bouncy castles.

In the land of unexpected coincidences, Selma, featured on the cover of this week’s GulfWeekly, tells of her Bahraini good luck when we met Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif  at a Shaikh Ebrahim Center lecture in 2008.  In 2011, the stars finally aligned and international publisher Bloomsbury UK took on Out of It.

Selma Dabbagh was at the 2012 Dubai Literary Festival.  It was a great opportunity to meet this engaged, articulate and passionate Palestinian.

The US version will be published in August 2012 and an Arabic translation is expected in December 2012.  The WORDS bookstore and cafe has her book in stock.

To get to WORDS take the exit at the Burgerland roundabout towards Budaiya.  WORDS is located in the Palms Square shopping center located between the third roundabout and the fourth roundabout (Al Osra) on the Budaiya Highway. Phone number is 17 690 790.

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