Posted by: kentauros | July 11, 2010

The Middle East and Me


A bit late posting this time, due to writing with a friend of mine over Skype. We both write, and while he has published online some serious stories and I have not, we both expect to have full books to publish sometime in our near futures. What we were collaborating on, though, was just some fan-fiction, related in many ways to my topic today. It also worked as a good break from the serious stuff, while still keeping the ideas and imagination flowing. I’ll get to its relationship to this subject in a bit. First, an explanation is in order.

I consider this subject to be as equally as odd as those covering my centaur spirit and connections, though likely more accessible to many of you reading this. That is, there have been some “coincidences” over the years and how it’s come into my life, influencing more than just me.

I’ll admit that I watch and love the old show I Dream of Jeannie, for both the obvious reasons (sex-appeal of the djinni) as well as the fantasy genre of the djinn. I’d say my interest started more with a children’s book of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp than with the old show (IDoJ for short), but it helped spur that interest on. I’m old enough to have watched it in prime-time; however, that never happened because my parents controlled the TV and considered it a “dumb show” so reruns it was.

It wasn’t really until I was on my own in the 80s that I learned more about the Middle East and their culture. Sure, there are still aspects to it that just don’t match American sensibilities, but those are generally ignorable.I think that perhaps the music impressed upon me first, from such soundtracks as Peter Gabriel’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” and a B-movie called “Hardware”. Also, a friend of mine back then introduced me to the former group Muslim Gauze (yes, that’s spelled right) and things progressed from there. As I developed and got a regular slot on public radio in the late 90s, I began seeking out more of this haunting and beautiful music, playing much of what I could find on my show.

I guess I could also link some of this to the Eastern mysticism imbedded in the various ZBS radioplays, such as The Adventures of Jack Flanders, but I don’t think I made such a connection until much later, like when I was playing the series on radio. My spirituality was still developing then, as now, so that show was a great bit of fun and education even. I still highly recommend their works, as they are both entertaining and contemplative.

Somewhere along the line, probably when I was venturing semi-regularly into Houston for comics and other trips that I began to discover the food. It likely all started with Indian food and branched out from there. Houston has huge Indian and Middle Eastern communities, and not just for the oil bidness. There’s also the other big employer in the area for specialized careers, namely the Texas Medical Center. I’ve also been told by some that our climate makes us a magnet for those from India and the Middle East. I don’t know how true that is, but some people I’ve met from those communities have said as much. Anyway, on these trips I often stopped at Indian places to eat, noticing some of the stores in the area, and venturing into them. There I discovered so much more and finally noticed some of the Middle Eastern places, most of which are Lebanese. Now I learned about falafel, tahini sauce and hummus. I must say, I can’t live for long without these foods in my life these days.

One other food to which I was introduced was baklava. Yes, it’s a dessert, so not much of a sustenance-driven food, but it is so delicious! I’ve had plenty over my life so far, and maybe I’ll learn how to make it, too. Phyllo dough isn’t my pastry forte, though, so we’ll see.

What did occur with this discovery was a method for eating it. If you’ve never had it, the dessert consists of layers of this very thin and flaky dough called ‘phyllo’. That’s then brushed with butter usually, layered with chopped nuts, such as pistachio or walnuts, drizzled with honey and another layer of the same ingredients. This is repeated until you have a couple of inches’ worth and can top with more layers of phyllo. It’s baked and cut into triangular pieces. Now the problem comes with eating it. It’s too dense and tough to simply cut into it like a piece of cake or cheesecake. You can get a fork into it, tines first from above, but the moment you attempt to twist the fork down to either side, you tear the dessert apart, and it’s no longer a joy to eat. Sure the flavor doesn’t change, but it’s a messy pile of nuts, honey and baked phyllo instead of a neat piece of baklava.

So, the technique I tried was to hold onto the top of the baklava with the flat of my knife in my right hand and fork in the left. Still go into it with the tines first and then twist to the side. Now, you cut off a bite while the knife keeps the baklava in place and whole. That just seemed like a good way to eat it and I continued to do it this way until at one restaurant I was asked where I learned to eat it that way. I just said it seemed like the natural way to do it and I was told that it is. Now why did I figure this out without having watched anyone else eat it that way? I know this seems like a very minor coincidence, and maybe it is, but it has a ring to it that fits my familiarity with this culture. My tastes in the music is the same way, as I was listening to it long before it was cool and hip to include such influences in modern and pop music. I’ll likely continue to enjoy this genre of music long after the trendy types have left it behind. That’s fine with me. The sound of this musical style is what speaks to me, not any monetary value.

We can now add belly dance to the list of things in this other world that I love and appeal to me. Yeah, I’m a guy, and most guys like me can appreciate belly dance. Most leave it at that and don’t care about the music, the different styles or techniques while I do. I’m still learning about the techniques and styles (such as tribal and cabaret) and much more to learn. Luckily, there are these things called “meet-up groups” to which I belong and can at least watch for education and entertainment.

And this all leads into my writing ability. I may have started out writing fanfic for IDoJ, but I have finally begun to take my talent seriously and branch away from that. It still influences what I write, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, because I think there are ways to make such things into publishable stories and still have a good audience. It’s a challenge, though it’s a fun challenge and cause for making me into a better writer and allowing me to share these magical worlds with all willing to read them…

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