Archive for July, 2009



July 9, 2009

In THE NIGHT COUNTER, Fatima is baffled by the FBI agent that visits her at home and claims to have a Middle Eastern background but doesn’t know how to make hummos.  A couple of years ago I wrote an article for Saveur about hummos and my own mother’s bafflement at its Americanization of  hummos, i.e. the need of U.S. manufacturers to give everything a “flavor,” as if it didn’t have enough flavor on its own.  There’s really no need for wasabi, pesto, olive tapenade, and pimento hummos.  It’s at its finest when its just the four ingredients man originally intended it to be:  chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, salt and MAYBE garlic.

Back when I wrote the article, I researched and learned a lot about hummos, but today I’m an expert on how to survive on it.  For my first year in Abu Dhabi, it’s been my main meal for probably 5 out of the 7 days of the week.  With everything being new to me, it became my comfort food and a staple that didn’t make me simutaneously overwhelmed and underwhelmed,  like a lot of the multi-ethnic dishes that mirror the multi-ethnic world of Abu Dhabi.  I’m a food adventurer,  but sometimes you don’t want adventure. Hummos is just simple and uncomplicated, unlike everything else during the day.  And its even comforting to know that the same guy will be at the cashier at the Lebanese Mill and you’ll chat Middle East politics while you wait for your order.  And it’s the cashier at the Lebanese Mill that told me one day, “You’ve been looking too pale lately—go get a blood test.”  Turned out, he was right, I was very anemeic.  Hummos is pretty nutritious, but you can’t –or probably shouldn’t–live on hummos alone.

Here’s how Fatima expected the FBI agent to make hummos:

3 C. boiled chickpeas (or four cups, if planning on removing skins or using food mill).
1/2 cup tahini
3 to 4 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice (to taste)
1 small clove of garlic, crushed in mortar and pestle with salt
Salt to taste
Chopped parsley

Remove skins from chickpeas (optional).  Place chickpeas in food processor and puree until the beans form a smooth paste (or process in food mill).  Puree beans for at least two minutes, pausing to scrap down bowl.

In a large bowl, mix chickpea puree with tahini and lemon juice. If mixture is too thick, add a tablespoon of warm water.

Place the mixture in a soup bowl and swish the hummos up the sides, creating a wide  well in the center.  Drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil, leaving a little extra in the well. Garnish with paprika.  Place a teaspoon or so of parsley in the well.

Serve with pita bread, pickles, and olives on the side.


Attending Michael Jackson’s Memorial Service

July 8, 2009
Michael Jackson's Memorial Service

Michael Jackson's Memorial Service

Today several people stopped me on the street to ask me how Michael Jackson’s memorial service was.  It took me a while to catch on that they weren’t all psychic.  I was wearing the gold wrist band that everyone in LA knows means you had a ticket to the event.  I did indeed, thanks to my friend Scott, who beat the odds and was one of the 8,500 people out 1.6 million to get free tickets. And good ones at that– in one of the premier seating boxes.  Lucky, you might say, but then there’s something odd about saying you were lucky to go to a memorial service of anyone, including the boy you had planned to marry in seventh grade, not that he had been aware of the plan.  It was a day as sad, weird, and uplifting as the man and his music.

Keeping in mind that I still cry at reruns of Little House on the Prairie, I’m glad Scott brought a hanky for me, as I soaked it.  Today was a tear fest from the moment his one-gloved brothers regally walked in with his casket until the end when his daughter collapsed into her aunt’s embrace.  In between that, there was a celebration of a man who everyone under the age of 55 can say they grew up with, whose image and music have been a fixture of every place I have lived, from Minnesota to Beirut to the UAE, where posters of his London concerts have been hanging up at malls for months.  It was also a celebration of African Americans and the strides they have made since the Jackson 5 became a part of the American landscape.  I wouldn’t go as far as saying, as Al Sharpton implied, that Obama was able to become president because of Michael Jackson, but when MLK’s daughter spoke of how MJ had called Coretta Scott King in her final days to lift her spirit, there was no denying the power Michael Jackson has had on the entertainment and social fabric of  the country. It was also a celebration of family, and how it rallies together, and of talent—his and those he inspired and was inspired by.  Lionel Ritchie, Jennifer Hudson, Mariah Carey, Usher all at their most powerful today, and what a privilege to hear them sing in the same place at the same time.  And I suppose for anyone of a certain age, there was sorrow in losing the biggest icon of your lifetime, a person who made you dance and hum for most of your life with a sound and moves that were so distinctly his.  They just don’t make icons like Michael anymore, and given the advent of Andy Warhol’s predicted 15 minutes of fame for everyone, they probably won’t.

Al Sharpton also said to Michael Jackson’s kids “There wasn’t anything strange about your daddy, but it was strange what he had to deal with.”  And that statement is perhaps more about growing up in the limelight and growing up based out of Los Angeles, where yes, you get to be as weird as you want, but you also have to accept that every bit of your weirdness is up for media hyperbole and dissection.

It’s not completely without irony that the Barnum and Bailey Circus will move into the Staples Center tomorrow, as many refer to LA’s media as a circus.  But today, LA ran like a well-oiled machine, and pulled off a show for the world without any chaos.  It might have taken thousands of policemen, transit authority workers, and city staffers,  but as my friend Natasha said, it was an LA response to an L.A. story. And what happens in LA—at least when it comes to the entertainment industry—happens everywhere.

Outside Michael Jackson's Memorial Service

Outside Michael Jackson's Memorial Service

Michael Jackson's Memorial Service

Michael Jackson's Memorial Service



Review of the Night Counter From Genre Reviews

July 7, 2009

Saturday, June 27, 2009
The Night Counter-Alia Yunis
The Night Counter
Alia Yunis
Shaye Areheart (Crown), Jul 14 2009, $24.00
ISBN: 9780307453624

Lebanese immigrant Fatima Abdullah is dying, but shows no interest in a reconciliation with her estranged husband Ibraham or for that matter with her children sprawled all over the country as she prefers to ignore their issues. She has no desire to see any of her ten offspring; their children except Amir or even her pregnant great-granddaughter; they did not want to hear her prattle about her 1001 Arabian Nights countdown.

Instead she stays with her gay grandson Amir, who welcomes her insanity in Los Angeles as an actor who knows his town is filled with crazies so his attitude is why not one more with his blood. For the last 992 nights ever since Scheherazade visited her demanding she tells her stories, Fatima has complied. When her tales end, Scheherazade insists so does her life; as happens with everyone. With nine to go, the octogenarian expects to be dead next week even as Ibraham wants to be there for her; as does the FBI who believe the Abdullah family are a sleeper terrorist cell because of Amir’s name and his association with a former lover under federal surveillance due to his former lover Amir being under federal surveillance.

This is a terrific tale that keeps the audience wondering whether Fatima suffers from dementia or is a clever modern day fantasy. Fatima obviously owns the fast-paced novel as she begins her final countdown to what she expects is her death. Her family especially heartbroken Amir, whose lover dumped him during the countdown, provide solid support as all of them except her host assumes she is certifiable; whereas her host thinks she is an eccentric lovable kook. Sherazade plays a key role, but like the Memorex commercial one will ponder is she real or imagined as does the circular logical FBI finding perceived terrorists under any Arab sounding rock. Alia Yunis provides a powerful modern day family thriller with the twist of the FBI “interrogates” Sherazade.


Israeli authorities threaten demolition of 500 church buildings

July 6, 2009

Add this to the daily demolition of generations old homes, the bulldozing of olive trees and other land cultivated for centuries, the siphoning off of water–not to mention the human rights abuses–and people still wonder why Palestinian hearts break every day.

Inside the Holy Sepulchre

Inside the Holy Sepulchre

Israeli authorities threaten demolition of 500 church buildings


28 June 2009

Israeli authorities threaten demolition of 500 church buildings in Jerusalem

by Saed Bannoura

IMEMC News Report

The Greek Orthodox and Catholic churches in Jerusalem released a statement Saturday that the Israeli authorities have threatened to force the demolition of 500 buildings owned by the churches in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Israeli forces have recently stepped up demolitions in the Old City of Jerusalem, in accordance with the Municipality’s published E1 plan for the city, in which officials articulate a detailed plan to push out the Palestinian Christian and Muslim populations, while simultaneously increasing construction of Jewish-only homes and housing developments.

The church buildings in question are mainly homes owned by the church and leased to Palestinian Christian priests, nuns and families. Israeli authorities claim that renovations were done on these buildings without permits, but failed to acknowledge the lack of a permitting process for the Church to obtain the necessary permits.

In addition, many of the supposed ‘renovations’ listed on the demolition orders are questionable, such as one that lists a 50-square meter apartment as an ‘addition’ to the home of Bassam Ayyash, but in fact Ayyash’s entire home is the 50-square meter apartment. Ayyash has been trying to get Israeli officials to investigate this alleged violation, but they have thus far refused.

In another example mentioned in the church statement, renter Sami Wakileh tried to go through the process to obtain a permit for a small renovation on his home. He was told by the Israeli judge, “It is a waste of your time. Do not dream of receiving any permit…”.

He tried to obtain the permit and failed, but, given the historic antiquity of his church-owned home, he had to do renovations in order to keep the home from falling down. He ended up spending over $100,000 on renovations. Now, due to the Israeli demolition orders, the whole house will end up demolished by an Israeli bulldozer.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of church-owned buildings were seized by Israeli forces during the 1948 takeover of Palestine for the creation of the state of Israel, and again during the 1967 War of aggression by Israel. These buildings were taken over by the Jewish National Fund, which owns more than 90% of the land inside what is now Israel, and rented to Jews who immigrated to Israel.

Now, Israeli forces have again declared their intent for a large-scale demolition of church-owned buildings in Jerusalem.

One church official blamed the Israeli authorities for making it increasingly difficult for the churches to obtain building permits. Both the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the Catholic Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, church administrative bodies for the two main Christian branches, have received the demolition orders totaling 500 buildings.




July 3, 2009

As I get used to being back in L.A.—in some ways I’ve been gone more than a year and in other ways I forget that I haven’t been here for almost a year– I’d just thought I’d take a moment to do an update on what’s going on with The Night Counter, some of which is pretty exciting.

-There was a heated auction for the German rights to the novel.  It will be released by  Aufbau Verlag, Berlin in spring 2010.  Particularly cool since this auction was going on while I myself was in Germany for the first time completely unaware.  Super, as everyone there says.

The Night Counter Goes To Germany

The Night Counter Goes To Germany

–Amazon has decided to release The Night Counter on Kindle as well, so I can pretend to feel on the cutting edge of technology.

-I’ll be going to Minneapolis on August 8th for a book party hosted by Mizna, which is a great literary journal I have been proud to contribute to.   (Details on

-Booklist Magazine gave The Night Counter a very nice review in its July 1 issue, saying “Yunis’ debut is a magical, whimsical read with plenty of humor and heart.” “The Library Journal also reviewed it, and its verdict was: “…a warm, feel-good story of complicated family ties, long-buried secrets, and last-minute surprises….it would be a good selection for book clubs.”