Sunday, May 20, 2007

May 20th

Happy birthday to my P.
Happy anniversary to Raine and her O.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Shining

I spent the day outside of London today. On my way back into town in the early evening, I had to take the slow train because all the fast trains were delayed. So I sat by the window and popped my iPod on and got ready for a long two-hour ride back home.

It was rainy and the sky was overcast. For about half the journey I was listening to the same three songs on repeat,* each of which seemed to perfectly fit the mood of the English countryside on such a wet yet pretty day. Brooding yet peaceful - both the music and the view.

About halfway through my journey I decided to stop listening to the same songs over and over and put my iPod on shuffle. The first song that came on was one I didn't even realize I had. It's the remix of a song I know and love, but I'd never heard this version before for some reason, despite its being in both my iTunes and iPod. The song was Badly Drawn Boy's "The Shining (The Avalanches Good Word for the Weekend Remix)" [download]. It's amazing when you hear a new version of a song that you already love, but that does it even better. It's so very familiar yet so very new at the same time. It was like when I first heard the Postal Service's remix of Feist's "Mushaboom". Anyway, the song immediately put me in such a wonderful mood. And I swear, as unrealistic and clichéd as it's going to sound, just as the song burst open (nearly a minute into it) the bushes whizzing by my window suddenly ended and opened up the view, to this...

The shining, indeed. And the best part was, I was absolutely alone in the train carriage. This was another one of those beautiful, perfect London moments. And I really needed it too. I've been in a real funk lately and this was exactly what I needed to bring me out of it. Sometimes it really is the simplest things in life!

And since it's been exactly one year since this picture of me studying for exams in the library, I thought I'd throw this picture in just for the fun of it. One year has gone by incredibly fast.

By the way, these pictures were taken with my Sony Ericsson. If only I'd had my real camera!

* The three songs on repeat were (not a big surprise if you read my last post): "Release Me" by Oh Laura (listen), and "Gotta Have You" and "World Spins Madly On" by The Weepies (listen).

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Release Me

I have been spending the past few weeks embedded deep within the archives. As I have said before, I love being in the archives. It is where I feel most at home, most happy. I think it might be hard for anybody other than a historian to understand and truly appreciate what it feels like. But anyway, that isn't my point here.

Each "season" - each time I'm in the archives for a specific and significant period of time - I have a new playlist on my iTunes to accompany me. Normally when I'm reading in the archives I take my headphones off and need total silence. But once I start taking notes and copying down passages onto my PowerBook, my music comes on. It helps pass the time through the otherwise tedious task of satsifying my own anal accuracy.

(And just as an aside, I love how the majority of people in the British Library are fellow Mac users. It just goes to show that the smartest people in the world use Mac.)

Going back to my playlist. So the past couple of weeks, while I have been doing my latest hard-core 9am-5pm stint in the BL (alas, the OIOC reading room closes at 5pm!), the number one track on my playlist has been "Release Me" by the band Oh Laura. I guess one day this magnificent song will define May 2007 for me. Here it is:

Listen / Download

Sunday, May 06, 2007


Look at what they're doing to Failaka Island.

You can read more about the project here.

They're going to cut a man-made lagoon right through it. Does anybody else object to these money-grubbing ignorants cutting one of Kuwait's most beautiful and historic sites right in half? Does anybody else object to the fact that they are turning the island that Alexander the Great himself named Icarus into a Disney-style nightmare?

The planners' site shows the client as "confidential". It might be the actual government but if it's not then I have a pretty good idea who the client is. Either way I'm just so sick of these people pretending that Kuwait belongs to them alone and doing whatever they want to destroy our history and natural environment. This is sick. And the worst part is, why is everyone so complacent? Nobody is saying anything about this.

This is Failaka! This island used to be one of the most significant and unique sites in the Persian Gulf, and it's ours. We should be treasuring it, not trashing it. It was sad enough that the government never supported the inhabitants of Failaka after the Iraqi invasion to help them return to the island and restore their life in the town that has existed for centuries. The last time I went to Failaka was in early 2004, right before all these new projects began, and the town was still standing. But it was completely bombed out - houses were burned and covered with bullet holes (remember, the Iraqis used the island as a military base and did a lot of target practice there). It felt like mainland Kuwait back in 1991; it felt fresh. It was 13 years later! How come nobody bothered to restore their life and town after the war was over?

But coming back to now. I'm so sick of these projects. In mainland Kuwait, we no longer have a visible coastline. This is what it used to look like in the 1970s. You all know what it looks like now. As one example out of hundreds, that ridiculous Marina Waves was pointless. Have you ever stood there in the centre of it and looked across the water back onto Salmiya? Do you notice that the current has totally changed direction in that little inlet the site has created? I'm no geologist, but what I did learn from geology in high school plus common sense tells me that this is a disaster for our ecosystem. Shorelines are supposed to move naturally, slowly. So what happens to the ecosystem when you suddenly reclaim land from the sea and push the shoreline back a couple hundred meters? You get thousands of tonnes of fish washing up on shore like we did back in 2001.

But nobody cares. Have you guys noticed the water near the Marina area? It's disgusting. It's thick and murky. But as long as there's Maki, who cares? As long as some big-wigs are making bucketloads of money by the second they don't care that they are completely destroying our environment. And I'm not even going to get started on the illegal fishing that takes place during the seasons when everybody else is restricted from catching certain types of fish for commercial use. (There is a reason this law exists - it's to let the shrimp or fish reproduce and replenish its population so that the species doesn't go extinct before the eggs have had time to hatch!)

Anyway, one more rant and I'll let you go. I'm sure most of you know that they're going to be continuing the "ring" of First Ring Road to cut right through the city centre. Does anybody else object to the idea of having a highway running through the old city centre? Do you realize that to build this, part of the highway is going to run right through or over the Behbehani Complex and Catholic Church (near the Sheraton)? Look at the plans.

Yet another disastrous project. Do you guys know that everytime they dig to build a foundation in Kuwait City (and of course when they build the trenches for this highway) they come across archaeological remains of an old town? Do they know it's there? Yes. Have they seen it when they dig? Certainly. Do they excavate? Of course not. You know that Al-Babtain Library for Arabic Poetry? Huge site under there. And they built right on top of it. You know that new "Heritage Village" they're building near the Dickson House? You know that in order to make way for this new reconstruction village, they tore down some old Kuwaiti houses (i.e. to build new fake ones in their place)? Does anybody else find it hard to reconcile the fact that we try to promote "culture" and "heritage" by building over and/or tearing down the real deal?

They want to turn Failaka into a "resort" and "entertainment" island to promote tourism. Tourists from where? It's going to turn into a hailag island. But hey, as long it brings them money, that's all that matters to them. It just breaks my heart.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Nissan Invasion

So I know it isn't really blogworthy, especially considering that this is my first post in over a month, and the previous post was rubbish at that, and was the first since January. But anyway, this red Nissan has been parked - illegally - right outside my main front door since Monday.

The first picture shows my front door, where the red arrow is pointing. The second one is taken from my bedroom window. (I apologize for the quality of the pictures - taken with my Sony Ericsson K610i without flash.)

As you can see, I live on a tiny little street - a glorified alley, really - and so it's taking up a lot of space. What's strange is that the car window is open and the doors are unlocked. It's had a traffic ticket since Tuesday morning. But it's still there. Nobody really seems to know why. When I left my place at 10am this morning there was a guy from the Camden Council inspecting the car and I told him it's been there since Monday which he took note of but I was in a hurry so didn't bother to ask him what the deal was. It's kind of intriguing, to me at least. Plus it's generating quite a bit of conversation in the "neighbourhood".

And that leads me to something else. I live right smack-dab in the middle of central London. I live amidst the bustling city streets "where the cars never stop going through the night". And yet, what I love about my little area is that it really is a tiny itty-bitty community. I live on a tiny street just off two enormously main streets. But that little street is a neighbourhood unto itself. When I walk out my front door in the morning it is rare for me to go either left or right to either of the two main streets without saying good morning to at least one person. The guys who run the electronics store underneath me are my buddies. They come up to help me with my wiring when I need it and I get invited to their Christmas parties. The people at the café on the corner have learned how I like my morning coffee: my "usual". Heck, even the homeless guy on our street is like family. The café people know him, the pub people know him, and everyone in between stops for a chat with him. When I come home late I night, I feel a million times safer when I see him there. And if I come home earlier in the evening, the guys unloading the new stock for one of the stores of the main street, that has their loading dock on our little alley, stop to chat with me and ask me how my PhD is coming along. It's a sweet little community. Eclectic, but safe...home...despite the city rumble.

When I walked out my front door yesterday and saw the Nissan still blocking my way, the guy standing across my little street smoking a cigarette looked at me and said, "It's still here." We laughed. We'd never spoken before. I only knew him because his office window is directly across from my bedroom window. But in that moment, with the Nissan between us, I loved the feeling of familiarity within the anonymity of the city.

That is something I'm going to miss terribly when I move back to Kuwait in August.