At the National Portrait Gallery's landmark new show on queer portraiture, "Hide/Seek," a kid about five years of age wandered up to the above painting by Romaine Brooks of British writer Una, Lady Troutbridge, and asked his parents, "Who's this guy?" "It's a girl," his dad said, then turned around and led his family out of the exhibition.
I have the good fortune of tutoring at the Rutgers-Newark Writing Center this semester, and every student I work with is amazing. One of them, an adult student originally from Liberia, has been laboring over an essay for his English 101 class on the timeless themes of two Wislawa Szymborska poems. One is "The Century's Decline", from the great Polish poet's 1986 volume The People on the Bridge. The other is "Could Have", from her 1972 collection of the same name.
I was thinking about timelessness today while reading in a brick-walled garden along one side of Thomas Jefferson's famed Lawn at the University of Virginia, my alma mater. I'm here this weekend for Young Alumni Council meetings, and whenever I come, I seek out the gardens, which, despite restoration, largely resemble their original early-19th-century designs. For good or bad, that's what resonates with me the most when I return to the "academical village": history both "nearer" and "farther off," as Szymborska writes in "Could Have." "Listen, / how your heart pounds inside of me."
That's me in the Mediterranean, a couple stone's throws from Beirut's famous Pigeon Rocks. I made my debut in the sea by jumping off a small cliff, accessed by a badly kept path from the scenic lookout above. (We reached the path by ducking through an open space in the guard rail—there was no formal way down, typical of Beirut's lax safety standards.) Didn't even have a bathing suit on; my friend Kit pointed out the swimmers below and suggested I join them. So I did. I hadn't yet set foot in the Mediterranean (aside from the salt-water pools of the St. Georges beach club), I was hot from walking, the water looked inviting. It was.
After I emerged, I sat on the algae-covered rocks for a bit to dry off. A teenager came down and asked me where I was from. He introduced himself as Mustafa and shook my hand. He said he was from Jordan but his family was Algerian. He pronounced it was a hard "g"—there's no soft version in North African Arabic, as I've learned. Then he wished me a nice time and clambered back up the cliff.
Following are more photos of the experience, starting with the Pigeon Rocks themselves (off the west coast of the city) and ending at the water's edge.
Walking from the Gemmayzeh neighborhood west to downtown yesterday, we came across the memorial to former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri, assassinated at this location near Martyrs Square on February 14th, 2005.
The memorial site also commemorates some of the men who were slain with Hariri.
Next door is the enormous Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque. A tour bus had just let out dozens of men.
Rue Gouraud, Gemmayze's main drag and (following) a passageway between streets.
View from the rooftop bar at the Hotel Albergo, in Achrafiye, the neighborhood south of Gemmayze.
Many of the balconies in Beirut are covered in drapes.
A Gemmayze bar called Gauche Caviar. It doesn't serve food.
This morning (Saturday), we visited Beirut's first farmers market, in the parking lot of the upscale Saifi Village development.
I had a spanakopita-like treat for 2,000 Lebanese pounds (about $1.50).
Then we hit the St. Georges beach club. Beirutis love their outdoor pools.
Me smoking a grape-flavored water pipe. When in Rome...