Now India (7 Minutes to Sunrise)

Now India (7 Minutes to Sunrise)

The first sounds of the morning are of tuk-tuk and taxi engines as they come to life, their honking horns alongside the footsteps of the city’s informal working class taking to the streets. And, even earlier than that, the song and chant of Hindu morning prayer, and the feral dogs that slink to the shadows to sleep, no longer dominant as the sun begins its climb from behind Agra, India’s low hills. It is near the end of February, in the year 2020, we are in Agra, my sister and I, in Uttar Pardesh, a state in the north of India, standing at the Taj Mahal before sunrise; standing before the majesty of its soaring dome, those great minarets, and the carved walls of ivory-white marble. It is 6:53 in the morning, 7 minutes left until sunrise, we’ve made it just in time. A scene: A young Dutch couple with blonde hair wearing sandals, they appear to be on their honeymoon, pause mid-kiss before the calligraphy of Persian poems and semi-precious stones, taking pictures against the backdrop of plant motifs and Arab Ayaat. As a tour guide leads a bustling group of Germans squinting past the mosque – they remove their shoes as one big group to go inside. A low fog blocks the sunlight as an elderly Japanese man stares down at the map in his hands. Hundreds have entered already, and hundreds more are waiting still to get in. We haven’t eaten breakfast yet. Could a story about India begin without first introducing its rich history and culture, the traditions maintained over centuries, and these preserved monuments...
The Persistent Appeal of Fascism

The Persistent Appeal of Fascism

In the decades that followed WWII and the fall of the Third Reich, anti-Fascism became an intrinsic part of German culture: A German family does not name their child Adolf, for example, and there are no jokes made about the Holocaust, Hitler, or the Third Reich made in public – there’s nothing funny. Action too was taken by the German government to ensure that reverence was not lost: Prominent cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Stuttgart and more built monuments and museums to learn, teach, and honor this history. Far-right and Nazi groups like the Volkssozialistische Bewegung Deutschlands/Partei der Arbeit, Action Front of National Socialists/National Activists, Free German Workers’ Party, and the Nationalist Front have been banned from the streets – no public platform for this sort of rhetoric or belief-system is provided, supported, or allowed. In the year 2000, the German government created a ten-billion mark – what would come to approx. five-billion euro today – fund to provide compensation for the crimes of the Nazis. Almost half of this amount came from prominent German companies including AEG, Bayer, Deutsche Bank, Daimler-Benz, Siemens, Volkswagen. In this, I was able to compartmentalize what happened in Germany and label it “wrong” and “terrible” and “evil.” As a result, too was it easy to call it “addressed” and “over” and “done with” as well, while history in the United States remained (and remains still) so very difficult: That the Ku Klux Klan exists, its racism and that of other groups still tolerated in public, and the statues of Confederate generals and slave owners still stand over the streets where the descendants of slaves and their children shop and...
Bury Me in St. Paul

Bury Me in St. Paul

It is a warm and humid night in summer. The sound of dogs barking on the street. The sound of crickets from the brush and cicadas in trees. Fireflies flash like tiny cameras through the grass along rows of dark cars parked along the curb. Half-dressed teenagers gaze from the windows of clapboard houses looming like tombstones above, their darkened figures like tributes to a night defined by their beauty. Run away!  they call out. But where would we go? We are all here together – in that we are all made in the same way, follow the same rules, and there is no space or time or place anymore between us. Shiv’s red pickup truck sits crooked in the empty lot next door, the front-left tire blown out by police during the protest two days before. Mama Yea’s garden grows thick with tomatoes and pole beans and squash in the yard across the street. A feral cat slinks beneath our porch in the shadows to hide from barking dogs, but the wail of coming sirens, those to announce curfew, is shrill and louder still. We are at Lea’s family home She comes to me shirtless in the heat. She moves with a certain slowness – each step taken with care. Milky light from the lamp in the corner moves with a coruscating glow across her skin. She stands before me, one leg crossed over the other, her hands on her hips and her hips cocked to the side. In winter we need blankets, scarves, coats and hats to help keep our bodies warm but clothing is optional in...
Introduction: Odi et amo

Introduction: Odi et amo

This project first began in 2015 – as we watched the terrorist bombings in Paris, Beirut, Tunis… followed by retaliatory bombings on Raqqa and other areas of a Syria already war-torn and plagued with violence – as we watched as the world’s greatest military powers fight the Daesh without any plan for peace-making after, and abandon basic civil liberties at home: The escalation of internal security and intelligence measures in our own societies, reducing freedom and trust among people and government, were enacted without thought for the improved integration of marginalized communities or at-risk individuals. This was coupled with the continued rise of the Far Right, and the growing fear and denial of millions of refugees fleeing civil war in their home countries. But why not – in the United States (and assuredly elsewhere, in other nations and societies and of the world as well), people have become wholly desensitized by numbers. And too have people become wholly dehumanized by them; human beings reduced entirely to stats, facts, and figures – we read about genocide, about 300,000 people killed in Sudan, or 700,000 Rohingya fleeing Burma as we butter our toast and pour coffee in the morning. We hear about the nearly 600,000 homeless in America – many of them elders, many of them children – and the tens-of-thousands lost annually to gun violence. We hear about these things without giving pause to think of detached limbs, hands and fingers, eyes closed or still wide-open and staring into the sky, the faces twisted and turning blue. The average person – instead of stumbling to the bathroom to vomit; instead...
Searching for Something New to Taste

Searching for Something New to Taste

Going out to a restaurant, i.e. going out for breakfast or brunch or lunch or dinner early and late, is not only about the food on the plate in front of us: It’s a culinary adventure; an experience designed to create sensations we don’t have, will not get, and cannot recreate, at home. The pros: Many new restaurants doing many new things, changing, every day, and always. The cons: Well, we don’t always need these things. Sometimes simplicity is enough. A Man is Hungry A friend told me once that he was very hungry for Chinese food. We rattled off for him a long list of Chinese restaurants in the Twin Cities. Does he want takeout? No. Something fried or something fresh? To sit down for dim sum? Does he want noodles or does he want rice? No. He wanted something he had never had before. We looked at each other and shrugged. He wanted a trip to China, deep into the heart of the country’s largest cities to find foods that hadn’t yet made it across the ocean and probably never would. He wanted to go deep into grain fields  and pastoral settings where a full meal is something to be cherished and respected. The flavors that can only be found where they come from; the things that can only be had where they grow and have grown for thousands and thousands of years. Global cuisine has allowed us to have so many things at our fingertips. So many tastes and dishes, so many cultures recreating their homelands right in front of our noses. Should we celebrate eating...