50 Dirhams a Day: New York

50 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.






Citizenship and the Novel

Citizenship and the Novel


Citizenship and the Novel

Ria Golovakova

February 2019

The Philippines, like many other parts of the world, is currently being torn apart by a populist president. Although its median age is 23, the government is filled with those over 60. In the face of corruption, poverty, and dynasty-dominated politics, Miguel Syjuco writes with hope.

Syjuco doesn’t want to remain on the sidelines: he sees his purpose in speaking about the situation, using his writing as a vehicle of political change. He writes for people who he believes “have the potential to be leaders of their families, communities, or country but are set back by larger institutions and powers that be.”

Last year, Syjuco kicked off NYUAD’s Faculty Reading Series by reading from the first chapter of his upcoming novel, I Was the President’s Mistress!!. Structured as a series of interviews, the book is a collection of source material gathered by a ghost writer to produce a memoir of Vita Nova, a fictional celebrity. The interviews include one with Vita Nova and twelve others with her former lovers. While the plot centers on a political scandal and a presidential impeachment, the book weaves in personal narratives in an attempt to humanize these media headlines through the personal.

Syjuco’s first novel, Ilustrado (2010), warns us to be aware of the sly, deliberate structure of his fiction. The work is a collage of texts: excerpts from history books, blog posts, manuscripts by the book’s protagonist, Crispin Salvador, and interviews with Salvador. Many of these texts deal with Filipino history, introducing that unfamiliar history to the world’s English-speaking audience. The deconstructed novel is therefore a tool of communication rather than artistic fancy.

Novelist Miguel Syjuco

Photo courtesy of Miguel Syjuco

I was the President’s Mistress!! similarly uses a non-traditional structure. Syjuco draws from his work as a journalist: the book is full of “material” that a journalist has collected; the story is for the reader to construct. When I met him to talk about the excerpt, Syjuco told me that the reader is meant to feel “as if they found a box of cassette tapes or a folder of audio files on a computer and decided to start listening to them.” The structure, he hopes, will provide a sense of discovery as well as agency, allowing for multifold interpretations of the story. Since no dominant narrative is present, the reader is left to “wrestle with contradictory facts” and take their own stance.

The reader’s agency is important to Syjuco. “It’s about figuring out how we, as citizens, can participate in this story that we all find ourselves in,” he says. I was the President’s Mistress!! is a loose sequel to Ilustrado, set in the same universe: while Ilustrado dealt with the past, however, his upcoming novel tackles the present. It seems appropriate that the novel, a snapshot of our current era, remain without authorial interpretation. After all, we cannot adequately analyze the present until it has become history, and its consequences have become clear.

But that does not mean that we should not attempt to make sense of the present moment. Syjuco tells me that the central issues—“corruption, power dynamic between genders, political inequality”—are already obvious. These are the realities of today, things that will continue on for as long as humans are engaging in the political, and democratic, process. Syjuco sees his writing as tackling the dynamic between individuals and the larger socio-political institutions that influence them.

The reading, although centered around the Philippines, happened halfway across the globe from it. Syjuco addressed our international and multicultural audience in Abu Dhabi, its desert landscape nothing like his native Manila. Although he has lived abroad for almost two decades, Syjuco does not believe that makes him less of a Filipino writer, contending that “the Filipino experience is a global one.” He, like many others from his country, has had “to expand to the wider world in search for work.”

Living away from the Philippines has presented challenges in writing about it. I Was the President’s Mistress!! has been in the works for eight years, and according to Syjuco, many drafts have been tossed during this time. Syjuco speaks of the difficulty he has had in grounding the novel in actual Filipino reality. After failing to connect to it from abroad, he decided to return to the Philippines for a year. Simply being there physically, though, was not enough. “A lot of people are in the Philippines but live in a bubble: going to the mall, to church, their jobs, and staying within their communities does not connect them to the country as a whole,” he says.

Both for his second novel and his many nonfiction pieces, Syjuco has made a conscious effort to leave the bubble for contexts that differed from his own. He visited “provinces, slums, and many dark corners of the country where people are experiencing great agony and inequality.” He has been at scenes of murder on Manila’s night streets and spent time in morgues, talking to the victims of Duterte’s drug war. All of these efforts, in his words, were necessary for him to have an informed opinion. An informed opinion, he says, “requires going out and doing the legwork, talking to people and listening to all sides.”

He hopes that his work will inspire and influence others. During the reading event, Syjuco shared prompts from his project Usapang ATIN, “Our Conversation.” This project, which he later presented at the Global Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, is “a template for discussion that seeks to help people relearn civic conversation.” He hopes that the platform will allow his fellow Filipinos to speak about the truly important issues, and to find connections despite difference in political opinion.

This spring at NYUAD, Syjuco is teaching a class called “Citizen, Writer,” in which students “learn the skills that prepare them for the blood sport that is public discussion,” be it on an internet comment thread, a larger media outlet, or an in-person debate. His goal is to equip students with the ability to “make their pens mightier than swords” and to help them discover the agency that the act of writing can enable.

“We often turn to writing,” Syjuco says, “whether it is creative writing or just spewing on social media, because we don’t feel heard.” He sees a need for public discourse forums which provide an outlet for the human impulse to tell stories as well as influence social structures. Writing and speaking are acts of democracy. “Having a voice means having a vote.”

Syjuco admits that “one of the huge challenges of being a writer is that you are always an outsider,” but views that facet of the writing life as an advantage. “When you become an insider you start to live within an echo chamber,” he says. Outsiders bring new perspectives; they notice things worth sharing. If he can help others make just a little more sense of the world, be it through writing or teaching, then his own nightmares, anger, and hopelessness will be easier to deal with. If someone listens, it might all be worth it.

The NYUAD Faculty Reading Series returns on February 27 with a reading by Tishani Doshi, Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at NYUAD and the author most recently of the poetry collection Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods (2017).

Ria Golovakova is a junior at NYUAD, majoring in Literature and Creative Writing. She attended high school in Manila, Philippines, where she first came across Miguel Syjuco’s work.




Am I Defeated by a Raw Chicken?

Am I Defeated by a Raw Chicken?


Am I Defeated by a Raw Chicken?

Laura Deryng

January 2019

One of the very first things that I saw once I arrived in Washington, DC for J-Term during my freshman year was not, unfortunately, the White House, the Capitol, or the Lincoln Memorial. Instead, it was a raw chicken that a friend brought to my dorm room, asking if I could cook it for him. My surprised answer to this question was “No,” followed by an explanation that my culinary abilities peak at making tea.

His reply: “Are you a woman? What type of woman?”

I resisted the temptation to check in the mirror to see if I had somehow changed physically during the past few hours. The truth was that my femininity was questioned because I did not know how to cook: my femininity was apparently defined through something as basic as the ability to make a chicken steak. And here I was, a Polish girl in the capital of the most powerful country in the world, following the American Dream – but confronted and somehow defeated by a raw chicken.

I do need to admit one thing: it was a big mistake, my not having learned how to cook before. After traveling to various places all over the world, I now understand one thing: food is not always the most pleasurable representation of local cultures. I cannot count the number of situations in which I would have benefited from knowing how to cook a raw chicken—and not only because eating noodles every day in Shanghai bored me. Or because Ghanaian fufu and I were not a match made in heaven. Knowing how to cook gives us more independence: we are not put in the position of having to hope that the chicken steak we ordered in a restaurant will be edible. We can have an actual influence on it.

But in the end, it is not my obligation to learn how to cook: it is my choice. As it should be for anyone else, whether woman or man.

The fact is that, throughout history, women’s roles in the society have not been too diversified. Our time of glory apparently passed a while ago, together with the tribe of mythological Amazons and their most famous representative, Wonder Woman. She did not make it to my history book, unfortunately, which puts her in the same position as so many other women, who actually existed outside of comic books and movie screens and who have contributed to building the world for centuries and centuries. If my history book ever spoke of a woman, her biography always started with “She was a mother of a king…” or “She was a wife of a soldier…”. Inspiring. I can almost imagine a biography starting with “She was a cook for life …”

Unfortunately, women all over the world have been trapped in stereotypical “feminine” roles for centuries. In Aboriginal Australia, for example, men used boomerangs for hunting, whereas women were equipped only with a special tool that enabled them to carry babies. I learned about these differences from an actual representative of Aboriginal Australians in Sydney. While listening to his story, I started to contemplate how much the world had changed since the times when there was a clear division of gender roles.

Images of influential women started to appear in my mind. Women like Angela Merkel, Maria Skłodowska-Curie, and Margaret Thatcher have shown me that the world has evolved since Aboriginal women had their special tools for babies.

Filled with pride and optimism, I saw my friend raising her hand to ask our Aboriginal guide a question. “Could you pass me the boomerang? I want to see how heavy it is.” He looked at her impatiently. “No. It is a weapon for men and it cannot be touched by women. That brings bad luck.” And somehow the face of Angela Merkel in my mind was quickly replaced by the memory of raw chicken, defeating me yet again. “It is a tradition, though, you need to respect it,” I told myself.

At least that’s what I thought until I met another Aboriginal guide, who happily let me hold the boomerang. I was shocked. I wish I could have introduced the first Aboriginal guy to my chicken friend. They might have enjoyed watching Battle of the Sexes together. They might have laughed together at Bobby Riggs’s comment during a press conference with Billie Jean King: “Don’t get me wrong. I love women—in the bedroom and in the kitchen.”

I’m intrigued by the fact that people seem to think that men are actually better cooks than women. When I looked online for a list of the best chefs of the world, I saw that not a single woman made it to the top ten. Not even the top twenty. But then I found her: Nadia Santini. From Italy. Position number 38.

So why do we insist that a woman has to know how to cook if it seems that men are capable of bringing more culinary joy to our lives? Maybe we should make men’s ability to cook more central to their identity. If men cook so much better than women, why not encourage more of them to find fulfilment in that place where they can exercise their natural talents? The kitchen.

Jokes aside, I just still keep asking myself why we require women to cook in the domestic space, while most of the shining stars in the public culinary world are men.

But I am afraid I know the answer.

Women are not worse at cooking than men, but on television, cooking is no longer just cooking: it is professional cooking. Cooking on television is no longer a waste of time and effort for no financial rewards. It is a job in the cooking industry, which like most industries today, is dominated by men, the breadwinners of families. Domestic cooking? Please, it has no value, let a woman do that. I have better things to do. But professional cooking …?

I am not saying that there is anything wrong with a woman who wants to cook in the private sphere. I personally advocate that everyone learn how to do it, simply because it is a highly useful skill. I am just bothered by the fact that certain identities and gender stereotypes are imposed on us women so brutally, thereby defining our femininity for us.

Maybe a woman’s inability to cook does undermines her femininity—if we associate femininity with the cozy and welcoming atmosphere of home created by the smells of the kitchen, with that certain warmth that women know how to evoke to bring their families together. But there are so many other ways that a woman (and a man too, if he wants) can fulfill this task, other than cooking. Femininity can have many faces, strong and independent in addition to fragile and delicate. Or maybe we should combine them all.

I suppose my friend in Washington could not understand that my inability to cook the raw chicken does not undermine my femininity because he was a typical male conqueror. And in this guise, he broke to our room few nights later to get what he wanted: our last piece of pizza. So masculine.

Laura Deryng is a senior at NYUAD, majoring in Economics with a specialization in Finance and Computer Science. She is originally from Gdańsk, Poland. Laura’s interests are diversified, ranging from international affairs and journalism to blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

She loves traveling: her favorite travel destination is Japan. Laura is also very passionate about sports. She has been playing basketball since she was 10 years old. Besides that, she enjoys running, boxing and playing tennis






Favorite Theorists: Mikhail Bakhtin

Favorite Theorists: Mikhail Bakhtin


Mikhail Bakhtin

Anna Balysheva

December 2018

I learned about Mikhail Bakhtin (1895–1975), the world-famous philosopher and literary critic, when I joined New York University Abu Dhabi as a film and new media student. As it turned out, Bakhtin had been in exile in the Kazakh city of Kostanay, the very city I am from. This period of his life in the 1930s, when Discourse in the Novel was created and the idea for his famous work about Rabelais crystallized, is the least investigated.

While searching for the traces of Bakhtin’s presence in my hometown, I began to explore his biography and think about his  creativity. Different discussions about the Bakhtinian legacy attracted my attention because they ran the gamut of critical opinion, from veneration to defamation. A special place in these discussions is given to Bakhtin’s autobiographical myth-making. Here, I present a look at the relationship of some of the biographical distortions to the harsh circumstances in which this thinker lived and developed his theories.

From Anna Balysheva’s art installation “Philosopher and Hunger: Exiled Mikhail Bakhtin, Kazakhstan, 1930s.”

From the beginning of his thinking life, Bakhtin asked of himself a nearly impossible level of intellectual responsibility, something he termed “answerability.” In his first published article, “Art and Answerability” (1919), Bakhtin resolves the conflict between life and art by postulating the “answerable person”: “I have to answer with my own life for what I have experienced and understood in art, so that everything I have experienced and understood would not remain ineffectual in my life” (1). For Bakhtin, an “answerable” person is the one who acts with the highest moral attitude for the way his actions play out in the events of his life. In his following work “Toward a Philosophy of the Act” (1924), Bakhtin defines an answerable act as one that occurs through participation in being – what he calls “the non-alibi in being,” meaning that a person has no right to evade, or avoid realizing and carrying out, his distinctive place in a life indistinguishable from a life with others (43-56). To be in life for Bakhtin is to act, creating one’s own unique act of life. That being said, a person involved in the world is opposed to it simultaneously, but even in this opposition, there is always participation in being. Bakhtin’s future would constantly challenge his ability to live out this theory of answerability.

For Bakhtin, life was also complicated by his severe chronic illness in the form of multiple osteomyelitis–a purulent necrotic condition of the bone marrow.

By the time Bakhtin developed his ethical categories, he had already lived through the Russian Revolution of 1917, civil war, and massive destruction. Bakhtin and his dear friends were involuntarily acquiring survival skills because of the dramatic vicissitudes in the history of their homeland. But, for Bakhtin, life was also complicated by his severe chronic illness in the form of multiple osteomyelitis–a purulent necrotic condition of the bone marrow. This condition had tormented him since childhood and ultimately he had his right leg amputated up to the groin. Caryl Emerson, а prominent American scholar of Bakhtin, draws attention to his terrible pain in a video interview that I conducted with her: “Bakhtin was in pain his whole life. And it was biologically determined pain. It was not some Bolshevik that was making him suffer. The difference between political pain and biological pain is that there is no one to blame. Bakhtin was a man who knew what meant to suffer when he did not deserve to suffer.” But, even in such an adverse situation, Bakhtin persisted in his focused task of responsible creative participation in art.

Anna Balysheva’s “American Scholars on Bakhtin’s Life and Creativity”

Source: YouTube

Although nothing stopped Bakhtin from developing own theories, he suffered from a form of social anonymity, associated with the lack of a diploma of higher education. The absence of documentation before 1917 was most likely connected to his illness, because of which Bakhtin could not be considered a full-time student. In the post-Revolutionary period, the socio-political situation engulfing Bakhtin was overwhelming, as there were too many catastrophic events in which emigration and death became the norm. For that reason, Bakhtin was unable to obtain accreditation of his prior studying. Devastation drove him to provincial cities where he had to work simply to survive. On the path of his survival, Bakhtin sometimes fabricated his autobiographies for the sake of focusing on the field closest to his academic aspirations, and getting a job that corresponded to his mental acuity.

Bakhtin’s career as a published writer did not take off. His first serious full-length study, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, would only be issued in 1929. Before that, Bakhtin constantly ran into difficulties to present his works due to a range of factors, that ultimately forced him to resort to stealth tactics. In the 1920s, it would seem that Bakhtin published a series of articles under the names of his friends (Voloshinov, Medvedev and Kanaev). The authorship of these works, which in the post-Soviet period were entitled “Bakhtin under the Mask,” continues to be the subject of academic dispute. The very fact of this debate, however, proves the extraordinary circumstances of Bakhtin’s creative life.

Bakhtin’s seemingly predetermined death was prevented by his friends, who managed to achieve the commutation of his sentence to exile in the Kazakh steppes–to the town of Kustanay.

In 1928, Bakhtin had to avail himself of a Marxist mask when he was unlawfully arrested in Leningrad because of his participation in a philosophical and religious circle known as “Resurrection.” Its activities were perceived as counter-revolutionary by the Soviet authorities. During his interrogation, Bakhtin called himself religious and Marxist-revisionist. When answering questions about this rattling entanglement of political convictions several decades later, he would categorically say that he had never actually been a Marxist. The Marxist mask did not help Bakhtin escape a harsh sentence. After a hearing, he was sentenced to imprisonment for five years in the Solovki concentration camp in the north of Russia, where mortality were very high. Bakhtin’s seemingly predetermined death was prevented by his friends, who managed to achieve the commutation of his sentence to exile in the Kazakh steppes–to the town of Kustanay.


Mikhail Bakhtin

Source: M. M. Bakhtin: Besedy s V. D. Duvakinym [M. M. Bakhtin: Conversations with V.D. Duvakin]. Moscow State University Lomonosov Scientific Library, 2002.

Bakhtin’s fate inflicted numerous blows on him. Yet some of them seemed to have saved him from premature death. In Kazakhstan, his involuntary occupation as an economist in the local District Consumers Union prevented Bakhtin from dying during the famine that erupted during collectivization. From the threat of a new arrest at the height of Stalinist repression, he was saved by his timely dismissal from the Saransk Institute, where he worked after the Kustanay exile. The death of Bakhtin’s mother and sisters in besieged Leningrad during World War II makes one realize the likelihood of the same end for Bakhtin, had he not been politically persecuted. Even after the war, Bakhtin’s fate did not treat him lightly. In the professional sphere, he endured a humiliating struggle to defend his dissertation on Rabelais. And it seems that with time he no longer believed in the possibility of publishing his works. Bakhtin’s relentless adversity was in a direct cause-and-effect relationship with the fact that his theories could not become public for too long, and many of his creative intentions were either left fragmented or unrealized.

Bakhtin’s works saw their light only in the 1960s. Since then, public interest in the philosophical and literary ideas that Bakhtin developed has not subsided. His key concepts–heteroglossia, dialogism, chronotope, carnivalesque, polyphony–firmly entered the intellectual world. Bakhtin believed that his active participation in life could occur through the thinking process: “Every thought of mine, along with its content, is an act or deed that I perform-my own individually answerable act or deed” (Toward a Philosophy of the Act, 3). Despite some biographical distortions determined by circumstances, Bakhtin’s creative life was always filled with a morally responsible (or “answerable”) attitude. Bakhtin’s thoughts became a living, ongoing, ethical event that seems to be endless.


Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1990. Art and Answerability: Early Philosophical Essays by M.M. Bakhtin. Ed. Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov. Trans. Vadim Liapunov and Kenneth Brostrom. Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1994. Towards a Philosophy of the Act. Trans. Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov. Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press.

Clark, Katerina, and Michael Holquist. 1984. Mikhail Bakhtin. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Hirschkop, Ken. 1999. Mikhail Bakhtin an Aesthetic for Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lisov, A. Z., and Trusova E. G. 1996. “Replika po povodu avtobiograficheskogo mifotvorchestva M. M. Bakhtina” [A Rejoinder à propos of Mikhail Bakhtin’s Autobiographical Mythmaking]. The Journal “Dialog. Carnival. Chronotope”. No. 3: http://nevmenandr.net/dkx/?y=1996&n=3.

Makhtin, Vitaly. 2015. Bol’shoye Vremya: Podstupy k myshleniyu M.M. Bakhtina [Big Time: Approaches to M. M. Bakhtin’s Thinking]. Siedlce: Uniwersytet Przyrodniczo-Humanistyczny w Siedlcach.

Voloshinov, V. N. 1993. Bakhtin pod maskoy. Maska tret’ya. Voloshinov V. N. Marksizm i flosofya yazyka [Bakhtin under the mask. The third mask. Voloshinov, V. N. Marxism and the philosophy of language]. Moscow: Labirint.

Anna Balysheva graduated from NYU Abu Dhabi in 2018 with a B.A. in Film and New Media with minors in History and Art History. Currently, she specializes in managing multimedia projects. Her articles, documentaries, exhibitions and plays engage history and anthropology to reveal personal narratives that complicate official stories with fixed perspectives. Contact her at asb669[at]nyu.edu.




The Boss Protocol

The Boss Protocol


The Boss Protocol

Goffredo Puccetti

December 2018

Francesca looked surprised. 
I had to explain:
— Look, we are going out this weekend so the apartment is empty, right? And this friend of mine is coming to Paris on his Moto Guzzi and he needs accommodation so I told him he could stay at our place.
— Ok, then, but who is he again?
— Massimo, I met him at the Moto Guzzi gathering at the Stelvio in July.
— Do you know him well? Is he someone we can trust, a nice person, I mean?
— Of course I know him well, very well! 
And then I think I paused for a while, as I realized that I barely knew Massimo.

I knew he had a Moto Guzzi. Good. A Moto Guzzi California. That’s very good.

But I suddenly realized that I only met him for a couple of hours in a bar full of motorcyclists, and that was months ago.

Still, here I was, ready to give him the keys of my apartment.

Why was I so sure I could trust him? Well, I think it was because of Springsteen.

Bruce Springsteen in concert.

Photo credit: Goffredo Puccetti.

That was the main topic of my one and only conversation with Massimo. He loved rock (good), he loved Led Zeppelin (excellent) and he loved Bruce Springsteen (perfect). Now, I am not saying that it is a particularly intelligent thing to do, to let people in your house just on the basis of their musical tastes, but that is more or less what I did. And, when Springsteen is in the mix, that’s almost an infallible recipe for trust.

I am confident that there must be a considerable number of Springsteen fans who are actually very bad people (especially among those who praise Working on a Dream, never listened to Darkness on the Edge of Town, and refuse to admit that Devils & Dust is a pain in the neck), but I am still impressed by the number of long-lasting friendships that were sealed in my life because of a smile or a nod to some music in the background.

That’s what Springsteen means to me nowadays: it’s a test.

Again, most definitely not scientifically sound, arguably quite idiotic, but this “Boss Protocol” is something that I keep using from time to time. Kind of a compatibility test, you see: imagine we are at a party, and I’ll propose a toast to “‘tramps like us,” and you’ll see me scanning the room for the segue: “baby, we were born to run.”’

That’s what Springsteen means to me nowadays: it’s a test. I know beautiful people who put pineapple on their pizza and lovely human beings who happen to disagree with me on which one is the best TV series of all time (Fawlty Towers, obviously). Someone who is very dear to me never liked Frasier. Some of my best friends ride BMWs, and I’ll even add that I have excellent relations even with people who prefer Starbucks to Italian espresso. But the circle of friends to whom I relate when we discuss San Siro 1985 (Can you? Can you? Massimo was there, you see?) or what Nils did to the guitar part in “Youngstown” on the Reunion Tour …  well, that’s a more restricted club. You see, it’s not all the time, it’s not with everybody that I ask myself: Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?

Trailer for Springsteen on Broadway film.

Source: Netflix.

Time to end these notes. My dear reader, in case you have not been lucky enough to be a Springsteen fan, here my heartfelt and very Googleable wish for you:

Maybe you’ll be out there on that road somewhere
In some bus or train traveling along
In some motel room there’ll be a radio playing
And you’ll hear me sing this song.
Well, if you do, you’ll know I’m thinking of you and all the miles in-between
And I’m just calling one last time not to change your mind,
But just to say, I miss you baby, good luck, good-bye, Bobby Jean.

Goffredo Puccetti is Assistant Professor of the Practice of Visual Arts at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Springsteen on Broadway, shot during the singer’s sold-out run in New York, airs on Netflix starting December 16.




Community Reading: The Great Gatsby and Gatz

Community Reading: The Great Gatsby and Gatz


The Great Gatsby and Gatz

Electra Street Editorial Staff

September 2018

“Forget great,” writes Maureen Corrigan in So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures (2014). “The Great Gatsby is the greatest—even if you didn’t think so when you had to read it in high school.” 

For Corrigan, “Gatsby’s magic emanates not only from its powerhouse poetic style—in which ordinary American language becomes unearthly—but from the authority with which it nails who we want to be as Americans. Not who we are; who we want to be. It’s that wanting that runs through every page of Gatsby, making it our Greatest American Novel.”

At the recent Community Reading event held at the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery and co-sponsored by the Gallery, Electra Street, and the Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi, it became clear that the novel resonated deeply not just for Americans, but also for readers from around the world—and, in fact, had a particular resonance for readers who had come to Abu Dhabi from somewhere else, not unlike Gatsby, Nick, Tom, Daisy, and Myrtle coming East in the novel.

NYUAD Literature professor Cyrus Patell asked whether the real love story at the heart of the novel might not be Gatsby’s infatuation with Daisy, but rather Nick’s infatuation with Gatsby, who emerges as “great,” after all, only because Nick’s narrative portrays him that way. Novelist Siobhan Fallon noted that each of the several times that she read the book, it changed for her, with different elements coming to the fore depending on whether she was a teenager, a college student, or a mature, practicing writer. Novelist and journalist Miguel Syjuco recounted how the novel moved him as an aspiring young writer in the Philippines, giving him insight into the privileged milieu in which he had been raised. NYUAD Literature and Creative Writing student Ayah Rashid noted that both the movie and the 2013 film adaptation directed by Baz Luhrmann brought alive the excesses of the Jazz Age, while offering us ways of thinking about the ways of life we experience in Abu Dhabi today. And NYUAD Literature professor Deborah Williams, who served as moderator, described the book as a novel of the Emirates, because it is a novel about self-reinvention and mobility, in which the major characters have all come to New York’s “East Egg” and “West Egg” from somewhere else. The wide-ranging conversation that ensued touched on the “universal” aspects of the novel and the ways in which Fitzgerald draws on old literary forms like epic and tragedy, as well as the ways in which The Great Gatsby (and its re-presentation in the form of the Elevator Repair Service’s theatrical piece Gatz) resonates with the current #MeToo moment in the United States.

We’d like to keep the conversation going, here on line, and we invite Electra Street readers who have read the novel, seen one of the film adaptations, or attended a production of Gatz here in Abu Dhabi or elsewhere in the world, to leave a comment below.

What is it about Gatsby’s story, as told in novel, film, or stage production, that resonates with you? What did you see in it that you’d like others to see?

To prime the pump, we invite you to look at one of these pieces:

  • Electra Street editor Deborah Williams’s 2016 column on the novel from the pages of The National.
  • Electra Street managing editor Chiran Pandey’s discussion of the ways in which Gatz offers up a model of literature as a deeply communal experience.


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