Monday, March 9, 2009

Arabesque at the Kennedy Center

Wow, I hope your weather was as warm, inviting, and calming as ours was in metro DC. It was a weekend for being out and about. Although I had planned to spend the entire weekend held up inside the Kennedy Center at Arabesque, a festival of Arab culture, I hit the Capital Crescent trail on Saturday afternoon, hiking from Bethesda to Rosslyn, before heading over to the Kennedy Center to hear Suheir Hammad on Saturday night.

I took the time to tidy up a bit before heading to the Millennium Stage to hear Suheir Hammad read and perform poems, including some from Breaking Poems. Her performance was wonderful: a mixture of spoken word and "traditional" poetry; some performances from memorization and other poems read. Her father introduced her, and he was so fatherly: enthusiastic, louder than he probably knew he was, and proud of his daughter. Hammad read a poem in tribute to her father, and it brought tears to my eyes so touching were the images, so sonorous the rhythm, and so emotional her delivery.

Hammad blew me away when she opened Breaking Poems to a page bearing lines about Detroit, and looked up at me and said, "you're from Detroit." Serendipity? I don't think so. This caused me to reflect on my own upbringing and my relations with Arab Americans in Detroit during the 1970s and 1980s. While I knew only a handful of Arab American kids growing up, most of them were immigrants and had been segregated into Black communities, my relations with the Arab American community became more engaging when I returned to metro Detroit from 2001 to 2005. As an adult actively communicating with adult Arab Americans, my maturity enabled me to pose questions and receive responses for which I had always wanted an explanation. But the hysteria of post 9/11 tempered and informed a lot of our conversations. I was still an outsider. And there was reason for my Arab American friends to be suspicious of everyone, including me.

The special police and K-9 dogs were out in full force from Thursday to Sunday, respectively. Security was obviously beefed up. And I was concerned that attending Arabesque was perhaps an endangerment to my safety. I do not need to see a lot of special police to make me feel secure. In fact, I feel less secure when they are around. After seeing far too many K-9 dogs on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, and unmarked Fords all day Sunday around the Kennedy Center, I became very uncomfortable and suspicious. When a crowd of pretentiously heeled, mostly non-colored people, began to flood the Hall of Nations and Hall of States, it was apparent that something important was occurring. Perhaps not as important as Arabesque was to me, but something important enough to call out the "militia" in full force. One of the guards told me, "It's a celebration for Senator Kennedy's birthday, and the president is attending." Well, this made me feel a bit better, for I was contemplating what threat could a hall full of Arabs present in a cultural space like the Kennedy Center. But even the poet Suheir Hammad joked on Saturday night, "have you ever seen this many Arabs in one place besides a jail?" With K-9s roaming the premises, who of Arab descent was going to laugh at that question?

It was tempting to sit around and get a glimpse of the president, but I stopped being a cheerleader in the 12th grade; and I no longer crash parties. I left just when the president entered. The SUVs were nine deep in front of the Kennedy Center, and the police and secret service presence was so concentrated that it placed a damper on the atmosphere. It was time to go home. I boarded the shuttle to the metro station and made my way to northern Virginia.

Monday, March 2, 2009

It's Been a Long Time

Oh, I've been hiding out on Facebook, reading, going to pilates allegro classes, and hiking. I've also been writing: a book review, a critical essay, and an abstract for another critical essay. We are snowed in in metro DC. Although our president was right about what whimps we are to shut everything down when it snows, I was happy to have a day off without guilt. I finished reading Zadie Smith's novel, On Beauty, today. It is quite good. I haven't digested it yet because I turned the last page less than an hour ago, and I am committed not to write another critical essay until I write some fiction or creative nonfiction.

Hiking is going well. I finished my first strenuous hike this past weekend. It was eight miles in the Shenandoah National Park. Now, eight miles is not far at all for me to hike. But eight miles up to a 2,500 foot elevation was a bit much. See here it is. It's not my age that challenged my physical ability; but my greatest fear: heights. Coupled with my ongoing fight with anemia, I was winded and had to focus on not looking down to the precipice below in order to complete the hike. I know that if I was with a familiar friend, a lover, or family member, I probably would have stopped hiking and someone would have had to rescue me. But because I was raised not to be a burden to strangers, I kept trekking along even though I could hear my heart beating loudly in my ears, and I had to periodically stop and bend over to catch my breath. All I can say is that I made it, and I'm making an appointment with my physician to have my red blood count checked. When you are anemic, you don't have enough red blood cells carrying much needed oxygen to your organs. The gentleman hiking in front of me told me that I was panting like a smoker. So I know it's time to go to the doctor. As for the heights, I can't do anything about this. I have tried for years to overcome this fear, even going parasailing over the Atlantic Ocean. It is what it is, and nothing is going to change this. I just have to grin and bear it.

My legs still ache from the hike on Saturday. Nonetheless, I pushed myself out the bed and walked in the snow around the perimeter of the shopping center (the long way) to the Starbucks this morning. I needed another good cardio workout. Trying to get this heart in shape despite the anemia.

All is quiet on the eastern front. The market is continuing to crash. The moneyed folks really don't like our president's plan for a "redistribution of the wealth." But none of them commented on the upward distribution of wealth that has occurred for the past eight years. Oh, well, it's business as usual in the good U.S. of A.