Leap Years in Iran


The Grand Prime Minister Ayatollah of Iran was still sleeping when Hassan tiptoed into his room with his morning tea, taking extra care not to knock the sugar cubes off their perfectly balanced lattice arrangement on the lacquered tray.  He set it down gently on the thick walnut dresser and, hesitating, shook the Grand Prime Minister Ayatollah gently.

“Sir? Sir,” Hassan asked in a voice barely above a whisper.

“Mhmhph,” the Grand Prime Minister Ayatollah answered, coming out of his dreams.  He scratched the night cap off his head and rubbed his eyes and then his chin.  He hadn’t shaved in several days, since his meeting with the Russians, and his beard was starting to come in again.   “Hassan, is that you?”

“Yes, sir. ” Hassan hesitated and wondered if he should have let the Grand Prime Minister Ayatollah sleep in.

“Good of you to wake me, Hassan.  Today’s an important one.  Have you got the Vizier Senior Councillor on the phone yet?  We need the Majils to meet. We’re attacking Israel today.  It’s a Leap Year, you know.”



Why is Philadelphia so disgusting?


So there I was last night, bone-wearily tired, coming home from class in Center City around 8:00, going to Suburban Station to take the train home.

Keep in mind, that if I miss the 8:04 train, the next one is at 8:45.  So I have four minutes to catch the train, or else I have to leave class early and miss some statistical knowledge truth bombs that my professor is dropping on us.

I ran down the stairs to the metro and suddenly-

Also, I swear I ran by at least four hoboes, three of which tried to ask me for money.  And then there was the train. I JUST made it. Last week I really did have to wait for forty minutes for the next train.

All of this is to say: why is Philadelphia so dirty and gross, in the very heart of the city?   And why are the train schedules so terrible? And why is there traffic? God, someone please drop an airplane load of Apple engineers on this city to make it more user-friendly.

I understand each city has its bad areas, but Center City is technically supposed to be at least somewhat presentable.  And don’t tell me it’s “gritty” and has “character.”  Because if I wanted to live a character-building lifestyle I would totally be living in Siberia.

All of this is to say that living in DC and going to Europe and, most dangerously, watching BBC has made me have Expectations.  Because you never hear those Downton Abbey people go, “Pardon me, my dear fellow, but someone seems to have emptied their bladder right next to the train tracks. ”

Because even if it did happen to them, they have the alternative of a chauffer.

The summary of this post is that I hate BBC.


Friday Links

I know everyone already heard this song, which means I have no hipster cred when I include it, but whatever.  I like it.


  1.  Really interesting piece on what I do for work (just not in the retail sector), or How Target figures out you’re pregnant before you do.
  2. Suleiman Kerimov, the secret oligarch
  3. Learning Hebrew while Muslim
  4. Police composites of literary characters
  5. The worst cover letter ever (but the best one to read)
  6. All the books in the world…except one
  7. Dirty love letters by famous authors
  8. Australian interview with Saudi women who want to drive
  9. Israeli stores: now with blurry women!
  10. How to be of the world instead of just in the world

How to Write a Travel Piece


Start by looking through all your photos of the trip for inspiration.  You need to have the perfect picture to illustrate your travel story. This process takes you over half an hour and you somehow find yourself looking at your wedding photos. Hm. Your nails were awesome.  Maybe you should get a French manicure again soon?

Stop that.  You have something important to write.  Close the iPhotos.

Open Facebook.  Close Facebook.

 Ok, ok.  Now you’ve found a picture, you put it in the blog post.  There it is in your browser. Better than all the other pictures. Inspiring. Travel-worthy. Theroux-like.   But there’s nothing underneath the picture.  You know what, though?  Serious writers don’t write with lots of pictures and blog links.  You’re going to try something different.  Like The New Yorker/Atlantic, classy-like. You close WordPress and switch to Word. You debate going analog because sometimes you write best on paper.  But that’s just, like, too crazy right now, man.  Who was that dude that always wrote with Moleskine? Hemingway?  Gotta Google that.
Ok, five minutes later.
Ok,  Word is open.  The cursor is blinking on the page.

But first, you need writing music, you know, to get you pumped up and in the spirit.  You open Grooveshark.  You type Scotland into the search engine.  Too much happy ceildigh music.  You need something serious and writer-ly.  You end up having to create your own playlist.  Enya. Runrig. The Corries.  You know, the basics of  Gaelic seriousness. Your husband tells you to stop listening to that shit out loud because he is going to massacre you like the Campbells and the McDonalds. (You’ve been listening to/singing Scottish music for the past two months. Sometimes you also mix it up and sing Scottish songs in Russian or Hebrew.)  You point out to him that technically killing one person is not a massacre.  He gives you a dirty look and you put on headphones.

Open Facebook. Anyone doing anything cool? No. Close Facebook.

You write the first line.

“Scotland was amazing.”  Stupid.  First grade. Delete delete.

“Scotland technically should be free.” Terrible.  What if you have Royalist readers?  You can’t alienate your reader base.

“As you stand looking over the ramparts of Stirling Castle, you’re cold and wet and miserable, but mostly, you’re thinking about Alex Salmond and Scottish independence.” Stupid.  Who the hell stands on the ramparts of a castle in the dead of winter?  You did, but that’s not the point.  It’s not a believable narrative.   Also, what kind of weirdo thinks about Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister?  Terrible.  Delete Delete. Delete. Also, you weren’t technically thinking about Alex Salmond, but it’s a good narrative device.  But then you feel like you’re lying to your readers. Spend five minutes wondering about the merits of lying to your readers.  Google James Frey, leading you down a rabbithole of literature fraud.  You would never do that.  Unless you could also make millions.

Wait.  Get back on track. You need to read up on Alex Salmond to better understand Scotland.

TheScotsman.com. Economist.com. Guardian.co.uk. Wikipedia. Google News.

Open Facebook. Anyone doing anything fun that you can comment on yet?  No?  Close that shit.  Read New York Times.  There’s a travel essay on Ireland in there. Feel the flames of jealousy. Ignore that shit.  If you read it, it’s going to influence how you write your stuff. That’s why you’re strictly off travel writing for the minute.

Back to Guardian.co.uk. Write up some some stuff on Alex Salmond.  But that will go later in the piece.  You still don’t have an introduction.   Keep listening to Grooveshark. Screw the introduction. You’ll write one later.  Force yourself to grind out one paragraph.

Open Facebook.  Jesus Christ.  All people are doing are posting picture memes.  Doesn’t anyone use Facebook for anything interesting anymore?  Discussions?  Close it.

Type up three more sentences.  You are done with your paragraph.  There it is.

The sun, always a fickle visitor in the Northern winter, was nowhere to be seen.  The muted greenery of Stirling village and farms spread out below, and the clouds moved lugubriously across the stern crags in the distance. It was two days before Christmas and the castle was empty save for five Asian tourists huddled in the Great Hall.  But I was outside, drinking in the landscape, fighting hypothermia, and thinking about Alex Salmond.

But, by God, it is TERRIBLE.  It sounds like every amateur travel piece ever written.  Also, maybe people will think you’re racist if you mention Asian tourists?  But they really are Asian.  Also, you should research Stirling Castle more.

Screw it.  It’s done. For now.  Jesus Christ, you are finally done with the first paragraph.

Promise your blog readers (and yourself) a finished version sometime next week, like you’ve been promising them for the past three weeks.

Open Facebook.