July 2013 Reading List: Trying Something New

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

While my own travels don't generate stories worth sharing with great frequency, I am an obsessive reader, and often come across essays that readers of this blog would find interesting. I hope to post a monthly list of some of the best pieces I've encountered, including eye-opening travel narratives, commentaries on foreign affairs, insightful profiles of foreign places and people, and essays offering new ideas and ways of seeing the world.

Here, in no particular order, are my recommended reads from the past month:

"Is This Goodbye to Lonely Planet?" (Bronwen Clune, The Guardian)
Hype, most likely, but still an interesting read on the state of the modern travel industry and a possibility that is forcing many travelers to assess how they value the ubiquitous guidebook publisher. (Will this instead inform how we plan our travels someday soon?)

"When 772 Pitches Isn't Enough" (Chris Jones, ESPN The Magazine)
Fascinating window into the obsessive world of amateur baseball in Japan.

"What Algeria 1992 can, and cannot, teach us about Egypt 2013" (Hicham Yezza, openDemocracy)
A more informed look at the comparison that's been tossed around a bit too much this month.

"Woman's Work" (Francesca Borri, Columbia Journalism Review)
A powerful screed against the state of modern war reporting, from an Italian stringer risking her neck in Syria.

"Andrew Pochter’s death a setback for public diplomacy in the Middle East" (Alexandra Raphel, GlobalPost)
My good friend Alex on the importance of inter-cultural exchange in tough times.

"Buried Secrets" (Patrick Radden Keefe, The New Yorker)
Welcome to the underworld of African mining deals; a well researched and intriguing piece.

"Arabs are rebelling because they want capitalism. Why can't the West see it?" (Hernando de Soto, The Spectator)
On the microeconomics of the Arab Spring; not the whole picture by any means, but an under-appreciated aspect of the event's many roots.

"Abandoned in Syria" (Nathan Thornburgh, Roads and Kingdoms)
Interview with a longtime Damascus resident; useful bits of perspective from an outsider who sounds like he knows Syria well.

Algiers by Night: Ramadan Edition

Monday, July 22, 2013 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Collage de soirées Ramadanesques
There can't be many capital cities in the Arab world with less visible nightlife than Algiers. Their culture shaped by a decade of nighttime curfews during the 1990s civil war, Algerians just don't like to frequent restaurants, bars, cafés, or shops at night. At least, so goes the popular wisdom. While an underground party scene does exist behind closed doors, as I am starting to learn, Algeria still faces accusations of being downright "boring" on the face of it.

Luckily, with some concerted (if not a little desperate) efforts by the government, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan sees the capital's streets much more animated at night. Museums are opened, public fairs and sports competitions organized, and concerts put on, with performances by artists in the most popular local genres—rai, chaabi, and of course hip-hop. Bus, light rail, and metro services are extended well into the night. Additionally, on the eve of Ramadan the Prime Minister publicly pleaded with shop owners to stay open "past 9:00pm" (as if most stay open anywhere near that late normally).

"A Billion Stories" and Many Yet Untold

Friday, July 5, 2013

After more than a decade of poking around the globe, a few lessons have crystallized in my mind. One of the most enduring is that everyone has a story.

Some people have many stories, and can tell them for hours on end. But with enough vocabulary, enough hand gestures, enough smiles—and yes, sometimes, enough alcohol—there really isn't anyone on this planet who can't be coaxed into telling a unique and fantastic and one-of-a-kind story—the kind that you can't stop thinking about long after you've heard it, and perhaps long after you and the storyteller have forever parted ways.

In the wonderful world in which we live, a simple chance encounter can leave you with a story so moving, so funny, so downright bizarre that no one could ever have imagined it. Some of these stories last hours, some are only a sentence, but everyone has them.