50 Dirhams a Day: New York

50 Dirhams a Day: New York

FIFTY DIRHAMS A DAY

NEW YORK

Nada Ammagui

March 2019

50 AED = $13.62

If you’re spending a semester in New York and are not an engineering student, you are not likely to head all the way to Brooklyn for very many reasons; I challenge you to do otherwise – to visit and to experience Brooklyn for all of the post-industrial, art-filled beauty that it has to offer. My visit to Brooklyn—Dumbo in particular—was a spontaneous trip spurred by an urge to escape, even if just for an afternoon, the suffocating grip of skyscrapers and gridded streets. Naturally, I sought to do this in the cheapest way possible, as walking to Dumbo from Gramercy would not be an option. As an avid user of the NYU shuttles that go from Washington Square to my dorm, I discovered that shuttles were also provided from campus to the dorms in Brooklyn. Once I connected the dots, I realized that I could hop on a shuttle from my dorm to campus and from campus to Brooklyn, all for free!

My day in Brooklyn was not very structured, and I did not have very much planned in advance, but this made for a very relaxing Saturday afternoon. I boarded the A shuttle from Washington Square to Brooklyn, which, as it turns out, takes a very scenic route through Soho, Chinatown, the Manhattan Bridge, and parts of Brooklyn. I arrived in Brooklyn about 20 minutes later and made the small journey to Dumbo from MetroTech Center (the NYU campus) on foot (15-20 minutes). Once I made it to the Brooklyn Bridge and Dumbo, I took a quick break for photos because the view of Manhattan was simply lovely. There were many places to lounge, read a book, or have a picnic in the park between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges (Dumbo is the neighborhood between these bridges), but it was far too cold to sit on the grass, so I kept exploring the area.

I realized that I could hop on a shuttle from my dorm to campus and from campus to Brooklyn, all for free!

After taking many, many pictures of the stunning view of Manhattan, I headed towards Main Street, the main thoroughfare of the Dumbo area. I turned onto Water Street, a busy street with low-rise brick buildings on either side full of shops, cafes, and restaurants. I browsed the several (free!!) art galleries for which this area is known, such as Klompching Gallery, Minus Space, and Janet Borden, Inc. then made a stop at Empire Stores, an upscale shopping space with a few shops and cafes. I headed to FEED, a rustic and cozy coffee shop, to browse their merchandise that helps to support the fight against hunger in the world (drink purchase optional depending on budget limitations).

I then headed two floors up in this same building to visit the Brooklyn Historical Society Dumbo Museum, which offers free entry to students (major win!). Though small, the museum provides a brief history of the Brooklyn area from seventeenth century colonization and colony building to nineteenth century industrialization and war-time frenzy. The museum features a short film about the history of Brooklyn, several little displays of documents and letters dating back to this period, a gift shop, and a postcard-coloring station where I colored in a postcard of the Brooklyn Bridge. 

Photo Credit

Nada Ammagui 

Next, I crossed the street to visit other shops like Modern Chemist, a seller of candles, cards, mugs, picnic foods, and an odd assortment of other goods. For lunch, there were several options. Just a short walk away is Grimaldi’s, a pizza place, and Shake Shack. A meal at either of these restaurants costs around $10 per person (a pizza is around $20, but is large enough to share). Another option was buying snacks from Modern Chemist and heading to the riverfront for a picnic. I opted for a Yemeni restaurant on Atlantic Avenue, about 20 minutes away, a walk that is well worth it. Lunch costs about $12-$15 at Yemen Café, but is served with a soup, salad, and unlimited hot tea. There are also several Arab supermarkets on the same block for perusal. I then headed back to Washington Square, paying careful attention to not miss the last shuttle home. All in all, this day cost me only as much as I was willing to pay for lunch since the ride there and back, the museum, the galleries, and browsing the shops were all free. This afternoon trip was, though cold, a lovely getaway to another borough of New York City.

Photo Credit

Nada Ammagui

 

Nada Ammagui is an Arab Crossroads Studies student at NYUAD with concentrations in Arabic and Art History. She enjoys visiting museums around the world, learning about architecture, and is even trying her hand at architectural drawing. Nada is also a book enthusiast, so you can often find her immersed in a novel when not studying.

Top Photo: Crossing the Manhattan Bridge. Credit: Nada Ammagui.

FURTHER READING

 

50 DIRHAMS A DAY

LITERATURE AND CREATIVE WRITING

50 DIRHAMS A DAY

What’s in a Restaurant?

What’s in a Restaurant?

URBAN STUDIES

What’s in a Restaurant?

Reflecting on the UAE’s Stories of Migration

Laura Assanmal

March 2019

They had no menus in English. After the way that cinnamon and powdered sugar melted in my mouth after the first bite of pastel de nata—a rich egg custard nestled in crisp pastrythat is the one thing I remember from the night we stumbled upon Al Ulya-Loule.

We were supposed to have dinner at a popular Korean barbecue, but committed the grave mistake of showing up on a Friday night without a reservation. After a couple hours of roaming around, we found a small cafe hidden in Al Ramlah Street in Abu Dhabi, filled with the scent of strong coffee and people speaking nothing else but Portuguese. Sitting among them felt like we had walked into a well-kept secret; the recreation of a quaint, small town in the Southern tip of Portugal, existing strangely in a corner of the UAE. 

Restaurant-hunting had become one of our rituals, and the feeling of being transported to some faraway town while browsing old, wrinkled, menus was nothing new. After spending time in the bustling streets of Mumbai and growing up within the vibrancy of Latin America, I have often found the silence of Saadiyat Island to be just a little too loud. Trying a new cuisine each Friday became a way to make up for all the things that I missed from home, from the spice that was so painfully absent from the food served in our own dining hall, to the sound of people living and existing around me.  Soon after, I realized that at the backdrop of my food adventures lay a larger story about Abu Dhabi and the UAE—one that is often missing from tourism blogs and official stories of how this place came to be.

As a student at NYU Abu Dhabi, you are taught a thing or two about the history of the UAE. You learn of the generosity of its rulers and the hospitality of its people. We are told stories of bravery and compromise about the negotiations that took place so that seven very different kingdoms could come together and form a federation. You learn that Oman and Bahrain were supposed to be part of the union, and that Ras Al Khaimah was the last of the Trucial States to join the agreement. Then, in some strange fast-forward, you are shown the beauty, opulence, and high-rises. What we often don’t learn about is the in-between—the stories of those who imagined, planned, and built the streets and buildings we walk on today.  

I have often found the silence of Saadiyat Island to be just a little too loud. 

What they don’t tell you about the UAE is that is also the home of a fascinating population dynamic—that it is a country built by migrants. Fortunately, Abu Dhabi’s restaurants help tell that story.

In a way, Boti Street—a small Pakistani restaurant whose neon sign flickers at the bottom of Liwa Tower—tells the story of a South Asian diaspora that would shape the demographic landscape of the UAE forever. Every night at its tables sit perhaps a dozen of the 1.2 million Pakistanis nationals who migrated or were born in the UAE. From crane operators and taxi drivers to fishermen and bankers, they are a force within different sectors of the economy and today constitute over 12% of the population.

And they don’t sit alone. All around Abu Dhabi, they sit elbow to elbow with some of the over 2 million Indians with whom they share, among many other things, a love for chai, cricket and naan, and decades of postcolonial hatred for one another. Despite the grievances of a bloody postcolonial history, in UAE where the life of a migrant worker is mined with difficulty, food and spice provide a space to find common humanity in taste, memory, and nostalgia. 

On Salaam Street, Lebanese restaurants, Syrian cafeterias, and Turkish supermarkets exist side by side with each other, despite decades of conflict among these countries. In Abu Dhabi, restaurants serve as examples of peculiar coexistence, where people whose ethnic identities and political pasts could have prevented them from ever sharing a table. 

A stroll down the area surrounding Abu Dhabi Central Souk, where you can’t walk more than a couple blocks without seeing a tea shop serving 1 AED cups of karak—a thick and milky type of Indian tea, often spiced up with cardamom, saffron, and cinnamon— tells the story of a country that is beautifully and undeniably shaped by those who “aren’t from here.”

A majority of UAE residents lack the luxury to visit their countries when homesickness takes over, and that is when food becomes a way back home, but in places like Ortego’s Deli, and countless other Filipino bakeries that adorn the corners of Hamdan Street, workers get to enjoy pandesal and reconnect, even for a brief moment, with the island they left in search of economic opportunities.

The restaurants found in every corner of the city are whispers of belonging and small tokens of resistance.

It has been a year since I moved to the UAE, and I have yet to find out what Emirati food tastes like. But I’ve had Nepalese dumplings in Vansha Ghar, Ethiopian breakfasts at Bonna Annee, Bait Al Khetyar’s Lebanese manakeesh, and have spent warm afternoons waiting for chat and dosas outside Chhappan Bhog—one of the only places in the city where North and South Indian food come together. Abu Dhabi’s restaurants do more than tell individual stories of migration, and they are more than occasional culinary adventures. They are reminders that the UAE, at its core, is a country whose foundations it owes to the courage of those who left everything behind. They serve as reminders that there are gaps in the stories we tell.

The infinity of choices available to us every Friday are not an accident, each one of these places deepens our understanding of Abu Dhabi. Food diversity in the UAE is not the product of commercialized chains opening branches in a rapidly-growing city, it is the result of wave after wave of migration. The restaurants found in every corner of the city are whispers of belonging and small tokens of resistance, owned by the very people who made the choice to leave their homes. Even if these people and their stories are missing from the common discourse of the creation and rise of this country, it takes a short ride on the public bus and a walk down Hamdan St to find out.

Laura Assanmal is a sophomore from Honduras studying at NYU Abu Dhabi and currently living in London. She is a Social Research & Public Policy and Film & New Media major, but her true passion is writing about issues of gender, race, immigration, and intersectional feminism. When she isn’t consuming unhealthy amounts of coffee, she’s trying new restaurants in the city. Send her recommendations at lma502@nyu.edu.

FURTHER READING

Fifty Dirhams a Day: New York

Fifty Dirhams a Day: New York

FIFTY DIRHAMS A DAY

NEW YORK

October 2016
50 AED = $13.62

New York! The Big Apple. Some might even say, the “really expensive apple.” For many, living in New York City can be a dream come true. At the same time, however, not everyone can afford it. There is so much to do here, but what can you possibly do in NYC without it resulting in severe depletion of the wallet?

A little bit of geography on New York to begin with. The city is made up of five boroughs – Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island. For me, as a Sri Lankan, the borough that stands out the most is Staten Island, because — unlike Manhattan — the borough seems to embrace its island identity. The mention of the word “island” immediately makes me think of one of two things – a place like home, deceptively small at first glance, surrounded by the Indian Ocean, or the island in Robinson Crusoe, an isolated, uninhabited little island where nobody would want to be stranded for a lifetime.

Staten Island is somewhere in between. It is separated from the rest of New York by the Kill Van Kull Strait and New York Bay. The only direct way to get from Manhattan to Staten Island is via the Staten Island Ferry.

When you’re on the boat going towards Staten Island, look behind you: it’s an entirely different perspective of the Manhattan skyline.
One of the many appealing features about this ferry is the fact that it is FREE! Yes, the four letter word that pleases anyone who hears it. The Whitehall Ferry (South Ferry) terminal is easily accessible from anywhere in Manhattan. You may choose to walk, cycle or take the subway, most conveniently via the R line to Whitehall station. A subway ride in NYC costs $2.75 (AED 10) each. The ferry operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and even amidst a crowd of a couple of 100 passengers, boarding the ferry is hardly a challenge.

A few pointers before boarding the ferry:

  1. Buy yourself a bag of pretzels from the terminal to munch during the ride – $3 a pack (AED 11)
  2. The sea breeze can be quite chilly even during warm summer days, so be sure to carry a jacket

The ferry ride, especially for a first timer, can be quite an experience. Try to squeeze through the crowd and get to the upper deck for the best possible view along the way. The most celebrated of the sights is arguably the Statue of Liberty and you can admire the statue perfectly, as long as you push yourself to that side of the boat. When you’re on the boat going towards Staten Island, look behind you: it’s an entirely different perspective of the Manhattan skyline, a picture that could only look better if it was around sunset.

Photo Credit

Sahan Sachintha Tampoe

 

From the ferry you can also see the famous Brooklyn Bridge as well as the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Brooklyn with Staten Island.  Other sights to note as the ferry sails along are Governors Island, an iconic location during the American Revolutionary War and now a great picnic and park area during the summer. You’ll also pass by Ellis Island, a key immigration inspection station through the late 19th and 20th centuries.

In just under 30 minutes, the ferry docks St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island. You have now successfully voyaged from one borough of NYC to another! It is now time to explore a little bit of Staten Island. As you exit the terminal, you’ll see the Richmond County Bank Ballpark, which is the home of the Staten Island Yankees. You won’t be the first person to wonder how likely it is that the ball would go soaring over the stadium and into the water, given how close the stadium is to the harbor.

Photo Credit

Sahan Sachintha Tampoe

 

After your ferry, you might want to have a meal, and while there are plenty of restaurants on Staten Island, we found ourselves a little restaurant on Victory Boulevard called Dosa Garden. It is about a 20 minute walk from the ferry terminal, and you are almost guaranteed to feel really hungry when you get there. The food is excellent, to say the least, and would typically cost around $7 per person (AED 26). If you are not up for Indian food, fear not. There are several other restaurants in the vicinity that are bound to suit your liking. After lunch, you may or may not opt to return immediately to St. George Ferry Terminal. Whatever the decision, the ferries operate every 30 minutes, so the chances of getting stranded on a (totally-not-) deserted island are quite slim!
FURTHER READING
LITERATURE AND
CREATIVE WRITING
Interview with Charles Siebert (I)
LITERATURE AND
CREATIVE WRITING
Interview with Charles Siebert (II)
SHORT STORY

The Open Door

Fifty Dirhams a Day: Zagreb

Fifty Dirhams a Day: Zagreb

Fifty Dirhams a Day

ZAGREB

October 2016

50 AED = 100 kuna

The common responses I get when talking to friends from the Balkans about traveling to Zagreb are along the lines of “why Zagreb? It’s just a city,” or “there is nothing there, only concretes.” Most people would recommend going to the seaside. I realized, however, during my trip to Croatia over the fall break that Zagreb, the capital city, is quite underrated.

There are at least two reasons you should visit Zagreb. First, unlike the touristy cities on the coast where all you will see is gigantic tourist groups and selfie sticks, in Zagreb you will be able to do some real people watching in additional to the tourist attractions. Sit in one of the hundreds of caffe bars thats serve both coffee and alcohol during the day and observe the daily lives of pedestrians who actually live in this city, or at night, have a glass of wine in a hipster bar next to local artists. Zagreb is an artistic city where creativity can be found everywhere. Graffiti can be seen on the street walls and a seemingly ordinary bar on a normal street might turn out to be a place where artists gather at night. Second, the best thing about Zagreb is that unlike the more touristy Dalmatian cities, prices in Zagreb are way lower, for food at least, which I assume is what you really care about.

Fifty dirhams is around a hundred kuna. As I mentioned earlier, food costs way less in Zagreb compared to coastal cities such as Zadar. In addition to that, all the sights are within walking distance, so you don’t have to spend money on transportation. Visit a local bakery and get a burek, a kind of baked pastry with cheese, meat or other ingredients stuffed between the thin flaky dough for around 7 kuna. It is common in Croatia and something my dear friend from the Balkans would scream for, but don’t get too greedy and keep in mind that it is more filling than it looks.

The best thing about Zagreb is that, unlike the more touristy Dalmatian cities, prices for food in Zagreb are way lower.

Another must is Ćevapi, traditional Croatian minced meat either served on a plate or in flatbread. Try it in the local restaurant Vagabund with fries and onions for 38 kuna, or have it at an even lower price at a fast food place. If you are a fan of beer, do not miss the daily happy hour of Pivnica Medvedgrad between 5pm and 6pm where you can get a “bear paw sandwich,” their specialty sandwich that can go either with meat or Ćevapi, and your choice of traditionally brewed craft beer for only 9 kuna. My personal favourite is Grička vještica.

Photo Credit

Alice Huang

Do not miss the Museum of Broken Relationships, with a collection of objects related to heart-breaking stories submitted by broken souls from all over the world. Some of the stories are typical and easy to relate to, while others are very intense: be prepared for an emotional journey. Admission is 25 kuna for adults. My favorite was an antique watch with a very short, but subtle and delicate description that says, “A gift from S.K. from 1987. She loved antiques – as long as things were old and didn’t work. That is precisely the reason we are not together anymore.” The brilliantly heartbreaking analogy gave me goosebumps.

Finally, visit the Mirogoj cemetery around 15 minutes away by foot from the city center. It is elegant and peaceful and the perfect place for a walk, not creepy at all. Don’t forget to take Tkalciceva Street (whose name you should not even attempt to pronounce) if you are walking back to the city at night. It is the center of nightlife, and you can spend what is left of your 100 kuna on a glass of good wine.

FURTHER READING

LITERATURE AND
CREATIVE WRITING

Interview with Charles Siebert (I)

LITERATURE AND
CREATIVE WRITING

Interview with Charles Siebert (II)

SHORT STORY

The Open Door

There’s a Metaphor in There Somewhere

There’s a Metaphor in There Somewhere

There’s a Metaphor
in There Somewhere

MAY 2016

Dear Friend,

It should come as no surprise that I really, really, really like books. As soon as you saw this letter from me, you probably thought “I bet this is going to be about books”. Good guess.

We returned to the Platonic idea of each man having a specific nature in my Ethics class today, and I think my specific nature is more of the bleached-paper-and-PVA-glue type. I like books. I’ve bought too many books since coming to London, an undisclosed amount which should keep me up at night thinking of all the sterling pounds I’ve spent, but really doesn’t. Because I have the miracle/curse of having one class a day, I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the city on my own. What I’ve discovered thus far is that the specific nature of London , or at least of my London, resides in its bookshops. I’ve probably been to every bookshop within a 30-minute walk from my flat in Russell Square. I’ve been to Skoobs—two minutes away and therefore a very tempting distraction when I can’t be bothered to write an essay—many times. The last time I was there I walked out with three books: one on Miles Davis, one on Jay-Z, and one about music in the twentieth century. All for 15 pounds (78.80 AED). Isn’t that insane?

Photograph by Gaby Flores

I can find my way to these bookstores well enough that if I were to be reincarnated into a pigeon I’d probably find myself flying to these same places every day. The funny thing is, though, that stepping inside them is different. See, the thing is that these bookstores are huge—or yuuuuuuuuuuuuge, as the next Republican nominee for President of the United States likes to say. Two floors seems to be the minimum, even in secondhand shops, with some shops having shelves that literally touch the ceiling. How the hell am I supposed to reach up there? These bookshops seem bereft of ladders, which makes me think that the sellers are saving all the best books for themselves at the top. I mean, there’s also the fact that the average height of a British citizen is a good 10 cm taller than my current height, which isn’t too bad but maybe 10 cm makes all the difference. You know how hopeless I am at estimating things, so it’s not like I would know. Part of the reason why I keep coming back to certain bookstores is to think of new ways to reach these hidden books. I’m not even sure if I want them, but just the simple fact of them being out of my reach makes me want them more. I mean, I could be missing out on the book that defines my life. My whole life! I suppose I could ask for help from these aforementioned 10 cm taller individuals, but I’d rather be left to my own bearings. My pilgrimages are very personal events, you know.

These bookshops, these quiet areas where I constantly lose myself, become markers through which I can find myself in a busy throng of people.

But in all honesty, I get lost every time I go in. Doesn’t matter where it is—Skoobs in the Brunswick, Foyles on Tottenham Court Road,Waterstones on Picadilly/Tottenham Road/Gower Street, London Review Bookshopon Bury Place, Libreria Bookshop in Brick Lane—I know how to get there, but I get lost the second I step inside. I don’t even know what I do, or how I decide what books to pick up … does anyone? I don’t know. I kind of just walk around, maybe sit down and have some coffee (a lot of these bookshops have cafes in them, which reeks of capitalism but I’m too deep in it to care). Sometimes I get a flat white, but sometimes I get a latte because it’s often 10 pence cheaper, which doesn’t seem like a lot but really does once you’re a budgeting college student like I am. Sure, I could take the tube to Chinatown instead of walking for 20 minutes, or I could use the 2 pounds and 40 pence to buy a Pelican book on the origins of plastic. I mean, it’s not even a contest.

My London bookshops have become part of my routine and I go to a different one each day. So that means that each day, you can find me pacing up and down the aisles, picking stuff up and putting them down again, and being a quiet nuisance who doesn’t even spend any money but will sometimes cave in and buy 5 new books in one go. Throw me into the city again, however, and that’s different. I don’t even need Google Maps at this point, I’m so well-acquainted with the area (area being an ambiguous term, by which I mean whichever Bookshop Area I am currently in) that I’ll even take the side streets home just for kicks. Isn’t it funny? These bookshops, these quiet areas where I constantly lose myself, become markers through which I can find myself in a busy throng of people. I guess that’s kind of ironic, considering that as I was leaving class I overheard these two girls finding directions for this, like, really good Korean place? that costs around 6 pounds? and is, like, really popular? and also super near?

FYI, the Korean joint she’s talking about is two minutes away from campus. Honey, you’ve been here for a little over a month. Get it together. I’ve eaten there at least four times in the past two weeks. It’s also a straight walk to the London Review Bookshop and the adjacent London Review Cake Shop, also known as the place where all time recedes into a vacuum.

But see, that’s what I’m talking about. I saw a play yesterday near Trafalgar Square and decided to walk back home instead of taking the tube, because it’s only a twenty-minute walk from Trafalgar to Russell Square. But in a bookshop, in my London bookshops, I get lost all the time. Not to say that getting lost is a bad thing, of course. When you walk around in a new city, getting lost is half the fun of it. Getting lost in a bookshop, however, is marginally better, in part because books can’t physically speak and are therefore quieter than the hordes of tourists in Piccadilly. Also, books don’t push you around when you’re trying to cross the street at a busy intersection.

I just came back from one, actually. I saw Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar’s The Time Regulation Instituteagain, this time on the tippitytoppiest shelf, making out with the ceiling, out of my reach. Most importantly, out of my credit card’s reach. Just as well, I suppose, because I’m still making my way through the other book I bought a couple of days ago. I tell myself I’ll be back eventually…maybe tomorrow. Okay, definitely tomorrow. And, as I stood there staring at The Time Regulation Institute—should’ve I took those growth pills as a kid — I thought of all my London experiences, which made me think of you, which made me write this letter. I hope you’re well.

Surprisingly enough (or not), I’ve still got a list of books I want to buy. Tanpinar’s is one, along with Han Kang’s Human Acts and Dickens’ Bleak House. I will only allow myself to buy one, though, so I’m giving myself a month to decide. I know I could go to a secondhand bookshop and save myself some cash while I’m at it, but I only go to the secondhand bookshops if I don’t have anything in mind in the first place, because most their charm comes from the search (case in point: Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera for 3 pounds, aka 10 AED – are you f***ing kidding me?). See, I already have a system devised for myself. It’s that bad. Furthermore, it seems counterintuitive to keep going back to bookshops while simultaneously banning yourself from buying anything, as if Alcoholics Anonymous were to have their weekly meetings in a wine cellar. I know that I could avoid going into a bookshop. I know how to avoid them, and I guess there are other things in this city worth exploring, but I can only go to the British Museum so many times before the stench of colonialism and oppression sears my scarf; at least in a bookshop, I can just forego any Kipling novel. Keep in mind that this city is expensive. Really, really, really expensive. You can go into a bookstore for free—and leave for free too, if you can manage to avoid buying anything. I can only visit a bookshop so many times though, before I end up convincing myself that yes I do need the biography on Basquiat, especially since I’ve glanced over it in the last five bookstores I’ve been to.

London has a reputation for being a literary city, but it isn’t really that evident when you first get there. I mean, I guess you can’t really expect people to be wearing “I LUV JANE AU$TEN” sweatshirts or whatever, but I like to imagine that Londoners know they’re walking around in a literary powerhouse. I suppose in reality, though, most people don’t care that much. That’s why I was delighted to overhear a conversation between two booksellers about who should have won the Man Booker prize last year. I’m still making my way through A Brief History of Seven Killingsmyself, so I refrained from jumping into the conversation. However, as I’ve just finished it, I think it’s high time that I go pay them a visit and give them a piece of my mind (that being that Marlon James did, in fact, deserve to win the prize). Then again, I haven’t read most of the other novels that were shortlisted, so I can’t make a sound judgment as of yet. Maybe they’ll have a copy or two of Francis Plug laying around.

I’m hopeless.

FURTHER READING
LITERATURE AND CREATIVE WRITING
Interview with Charles Siebert (I)
LITERATURE AND CREATIVE WRITING
Interview with Charles Siebert (II)

ON LOCATION

Shakespeare at the Olympics

Snapshots from Berlin II

Snapshots from Berlin II

Snapshots From Berlin II

April 2016

THE FROZEN FOUNTAIN

Thin fragments of ice crunched under the boots of the passersby. The last of the snow was gathered in chunks around the base of the fountain, the inside of which was empty. The contorted faces of the centaurs and the jars held by serene sea nymphs no longer spat water.

Darkness was beginning to fall. Swarms of crows formed in the dusky blue sky, winging through the frosty air above Alexanderplatz, from the dome of the cathedral to the orb of the TV tower in a giant, shape shifting mass.

The center of the fountain was a tangle of bodies; twisted faces, pudgy cherubs and webbed limbs, trailing flotsam and jetsam and encrusted in stone mollusks. The majestic figure of Neptune was at its pinnacle, larger than life; eyeing the cars that swept up and down the distant street with a haughty gaze, his trident leaning casually against his shoulder as his legions of aquatic servants supported him.

Four sea creatures rose up from the ground, in which they were half buried, gazing reverently up at their master. They were terrifyingly realistic at close quarters, as if stone and mortar were the only force keeping them from scuttling out of the square and into the city.

 

Twilight became dazzling night in the commercial quarter of Alexanderplatz, just a short walk away from the fountain’s bare square.

The blank-faced mannequins, representing little individuality beyond gender, were the plaza’s invisible gods. They gazed, eyeless, out of every shop window, frozen in artificial poses of confidence. A populace of empty shells, created to brand and sell.

The masses rushed by, a people as faceless and forgettable as the mannequins.

A busker stood in front of a store window marked with the large letters: ‘SALE’. His bagpipes whined and whistled out the tune of “Amazing Grace” infecting the square with an inescapable earworm.

A street vendor, bearing the weight of his livelihood on a strap around his neck, sold wurst to tourists searching for an authentic Berliner meal. His red umbrella rose above his head from his contraption, protecting him from the light drizzle that had begun to fall.

A hipster, aggressively rebellious in a pair of paint-splattered overalls and pastel hair, drank from a cigarette in the shelter of an entrance to the underground station, releasing more than the average amount of mist into the air for such a chilly evening. Commuters passed by, not wanting to give him a second glance, blinded by choice to his obvious exoticism. He was one of the living statues of Alexanderplatz; frozen figures in the midst of the constant activity.

The people of Berlin are also figures of Neptune; each is the center of their own life, their own story. Gods of their own oceans, rocked on their own tempests.

WALLS AND VOIDS

Walls, visible or invisible, make life easier. They compartmentalize and organize space; inside and outside, my space and yours. People have always been great builders of walls; to separate, demarcate, protect and even isolate.

They can be dividing, limiting, suffocating even.

What is left of the Berlin Wall, the East Side Gallery, is a testament to the opposite of the wall’s original function. It is a counter memorial, celebrating the breaking of boundaries, epitomized by the fall of the wall that divided the city into East and West, on November 9th 1989. The year is painted on, like headlines, in bold, black letters.

 

Layer upon layer of history is inscribed on the wall, in real time.

Yet what remains of the wall is not simply a static means of commemorating a single significant event in the city’s history.

The wall is living memory: while parts of it are preserved as a witness to the division of Germany, others are open for edits and additions. The wall remains a platform for expression. It is constantly evolving and up to date with the current goings on in many different parts of the world.

The wall is celebration.

A thousand voices speak through it: a myriad of exclamations of joy and despair, serenades, declarations of love, whispers of hope and skeptical criticism of society. They speak in words, images, a spectrum of colors, splattered in bold strokes of a brush or spray can or scrawled with a permanent marker in hasty handwriting. Kill all smart phones. Free Palestine! Berlin. New York. Tokyo.

Layer upon layer of history is inscribed on the wall, in real time.

Sometimes, however, emptiness and silence are the only way of remembering.

The Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe is a graveyard of empty, nameless blocks. Yet something sinister lurks in the apparent emptiness of the maze.

It suddenly, almost unpredictably, becomes a forest, towering on all sides: endless, monotonous rows of vertical planes and right angles, connected by an all-encompassing void. Color maintains a respectful distance, as if aware that it is unwelcome in this place of inconceivable grief.

Cold, calculated geometry rules the space alongside the frosty winter air. The blank, white sky is cut up in sharp angles as if with a paper knife and steel ruler. The space is dizzyingly claustrophobic. The monotony is nauseating. Once at the heart of the geometric forest one can only push forward until one is out of the woods.

From time to time disembodied voices and laughter can be heard. A dark figure may flit across one’s limited field of vision. People wander and lose each other among the stones.

The snow covers every surface.

Here, too, with a numbed finger, is inscribed a heart encircling a pair of initials. Yet it will last only as long as the fleeting snow.

All photos by Shenuka Corea. 

Pin It on Pinterest