Letters From Abroad

An Inconvenience Rightly Considered


Just before dusk, the people of San Carlos disappeared into their houses and pulled the curtains shut, as if an air raid siren had gone off at a frequency I couldn’t hear. Then, as the sun sunk over the lake, the chayules came. Tiny green gnats, flying in thick clouds, crowding my eyes, my nose, my throat. I tried to cover my face, but they darted through my fingers and into my mouth and ears. The occasional car, sliding by like a ghost in the gloaming, would illuminate hundreds of thousands of insects in their headlights. Because the chayules are attracted to white light, all the light bulbs in San Carlos are dark red, giving the empty city a hellish scarlet glow.

Ghostly Echoes: Egypt and Mahmoud Fadl’s Drummers of the Nile Go South: Nubian Travels

02.10.2006 | David Marcus | Letters From Abroad, Music | 4 Comments


Back in my Jerusalem apartment, listening to Drummers of the Nile Go South: Nubian Travels, what I wanted most was to go back in time and have this incredible album accompany me on my long bus journey to and from Egypt. It would have been a good companion for my trip and a good substitute for Busta Rhymes.


The Death of Karol Wojtyla

04.25.2005 | J.E. D'Ulisse | Letters From Abroad | 3 Comments
I wonder if there is a pundit’s club where they claim religious leaders. The Left gets the Dali Lama, no matter his opposition to abortion and condoms, and the Right gets John Paul II, no matter his attacks on materialism and his unflinching opposition to both the death penalty and the war in Iraq.

Letter from Afghanistan -- "Don't Step on Anything Pointy"

Most victims survive landmine explosions thanks to the gruesome calculus of weapons designers. A dead solider might be left or buried on the spot. A wounded solider would need at least two others to help him to safety, further weakening the enemy. So many anti-personnel mines were designed to maim. The popular butterfly mine jumps to waist height before releasing its small charge into the groin and limbs. Their small size and green color make them particular deadly for children who mistake them for toys.

Letter From Madrid -- Absentee 193

Even as his own chief of police concedes that the attack was in the works before 9/11, Prime Minister Zapatero maintains that it was his predecessor’s decision to send a token Spanish contingent to Iraq that provoked the jihad boys to retaliate. Good reason to believe Spain will remain Al Qaeda’s European base for many years to come.

Letter from Budapest -- My Grandmother and Other Ghosts

My grandfather had warned me not to go to Hungary, that there was nothing for me to see. He had gone back a few years after my grandmother died and found nothing left to speak of in his Transylvanian town, not even a memorial plaque, and had gotten lost on the subway. If it was possible to further estrange him from Eastern Europe after the Holocaust, this seemed to do it.

Letter from Budapest -- "A Magyar takes his pleasures mournfully."

Hungary’s Jews survived until rather late in World War II. The lateness of their sufferings draws the attention starkly to its senselessness and horror — as though they had been shipped off and gassed merely for form’s sake.

Letter from Amsterdam -- Fear of Mosque and Superstate

You don't have to go there to know that Holland is gripped by growing fear of Islamic extremism. What I learned on a recent visit to this famously easy-going city was that the Dutch response to the Islamists is tied up in a larger critique of European welfare statism.

Carpet Smuggling in Azerbaijan

The official looked troubled but also reluctant to jump start his brain with such a dilemma so early in the morning. Why would a foreigner have gone to the trouble of getting an export certificate for one carpet and not the other? Why had he been so eager to show off the silk carpet yet so absent-minded about the wool one? How could he strictly observe the caviar export limit yet so brazenly ignore the rule on carpets? Foreigners were liable to the most curious and inexplicable behavior.

A Letter From London -- Throw the Dog a Bone

If anything, it would be better for Blair if Brits viewed him as a bloodthirsty hawk in league with Bush. That at least would carry macho kudos. But the favoured satirical representation is of a coiffeured poodle gambolling on the White House lawn.

Napoli, Mi'Amore

The Japanese have fallen in love with this city because of a near unlimited supply of extraordinary sea food, because of its pizza (the best in the world), because of the cheap, hip clothing and cafes, and -- don't let the teenagers riding Vespas haphazardly on jam-packed sidewalks fool you -- because Napoli is possibly the most laid back place in the world, and the Japanese really need to relax.

Ramallah IV -- Under the Light of the Electric Mosque

"I would sleep in the back of the truck as my father drove down, dodging the Israeli tax police. Through the night he would stop, sell a chicken and butcher it. All night driving, selling and killing chickens, and I would sleep in the pickup, surrounded by them. In the morning we would be back in Gaza and I would go to school. We did this every night for five years."

Ramallah Dispatch III -- Colonial Love

Ramallah is full of lingerie shops. Ergo Ramallah is full of children.

Ramallah Dispatch II -- Hummus and Coffee

Disapproval of beheadings is expressed to me incessantly, since I am the room's representative of the West. "This is not Islam," says one of the secretaries. "I know," I reply from my culturally aware up-on-high. "No I mean it's really not. It says in the Koran that if you kill an animal you should do it with one stroke of a sharp blade."

Under the Light of the Electric Mosque I -- The Parabola

The soldiers are afraid and it is written on their faces: Does this person have a bomb? Or a piece of a bomb to be put together in Tel Aviv? Will the next bomb that goes off in Jerusalem have passed by me? The mistake they make here might not kill them, it could kill a family member instead. Still you can only feel fear full on for so long before it's all just boredom.

Eric Adler -- A Letter From Rome

The graffito that says the most about Italy's relationship with the United States is a message I saw in a few parts of the city: "Americans, Go Home."

Robert Latona on an Anti-Globalization Fiesta

In Bombay, you had novelist Arundhati Ray coming out with "Debating imperialism is like debating the pros and cons of rape. What can we say? That we really miss it?" No wonder Clinton cancelled on the Spanish sequel.

Eric Adler on England's Conservative Wars

In a recent issue of The Spectator, columnist Rod Liddle averred that everyone would be much better off if Saddam were still in power. Not even as vehement an American critic of the Iraq War as Howard Dean ventured such an opinion on this side of the Atlantic.

Hala Lettieri on a None-Too-Triumphal Homecoming

Photographs of the newly released captives embracing one of the clerics who'd helped negotiate their release were treated with vituperative contempt back on the island. Their desire to continue working in Iraq was silenced by widespread disapprobation by Japanese who saw such sentiments as inconsiderate and ungrateful. As one Japanese official put it, "if they really hate Japan, I want them to defect to Iraq."