Danielle Capalbo’s Blog

Seeing Qatar

Posted in Photos by Quiet Giant on April 30, 2009

About a month ago, my good friend Mike sent along this New York Times photo gallery of Doha, Qatar, which has transformed in the past few years from the country’s sleepy capital to a prime geographic canvas for metropolitan development and colorful nightlife.

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Mapping it out

Posted in Maps by Quiet Giant on April 30, 2009

It’s impossible to count the number of times I’ve said “Egypt,” “Syria” and “Qatar,” in any combination, since the beginning of the year – when taking this trip became a reality. But it would be a pretty big number.

By repeating those country names and reeling off dates, plus planning excessively, I may have anesthetized myself to the fact that, in two days, at 4:30 p.m.,* I’ll actually be on a plane, bound for Somewhere Else. Somewhere Far Away.

So, I made this map.

My motivation was two-pronged:   family members and friends can use the map to gauge the distance between each of our travel points, and perhaps zoom in for a basic sense of how our trip will look. And I can consult the map, over and over, to try and wrap my head around this journey before it’s time to go.

*More comforting numbers.

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Gathering advice

Posted in Encounters by Quiet Giant on April 30, 2009

With nearly every visit home comes the crucial reminder that few things are predictable. It’s a necessary jolt, too. After spending a certain number of years in the same incestuous place, it’s easy to assume you know things A to Z; that you can somehow anticipate the types of conversations you’ll have, and with whom, at the local bar. But you can’t accurately forecast much in life. Like the odds, for instance, of meeting a conscripted Israeli soldier in the dining room of a Connecticut restaurant occupied by fewer than 10 people.

Lucas and I spoke for about 20 minutes Monday night, mostly about his choice to serve a compulsory three-year sentence in the military despite living in America and being technically free to abstain. He couldn’t have been older than 25 or 26, yet he said his primary motivation was patriotism. This notion – that a young person would make any significant life decision based on his country – stunned me. Probably because, for many people my age, patriotism was a dirty word until last November. Still, Lucas said he valued the principle of serving his country, and also offered some advice for my trip.

Curiously, he said the most important investment I could make (besides Imodium) was a fake diamond ring.

“It’s an aggressive culture,” he said. “A woman without a ring – especially an uncovered woman – is basically available.”

Not sure I’ll heed this, but it’s an interesting thought.

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Digging deeper

Posted in Profiles by Quiet Giant on April 29, 2009

Via e-mail today, Clarice thoughtfully tipped off our team to the discovery of a 53-tomb necropolis south of Cairo.

Just a week earlier, the New York Times ran this profile of Zahi Hawass, a superstar in the world of Egyptian antiquities and, to wit, the man who publicly announced Sunday’s findings.

Another reminder that behind every headline or number, there is a nuanced human story.

International sounds

Posted in Sounds of the Middle East by Quiet Giant on April 29, 2009

Reading Jared’s first post made for a serendipitous moment. He wrote about his older brother – a drummer – who inadvertently soundtracks their house with beats while he practices. As I sat down to type this entry, my brother was finessing a drum solo in the garage.

Like Jared’s, our cellar rumbles regularly with the sound of William‘s double-bass. He’s a die-hard heavy metal-head who strives to emulate, as accurately as possible, the pummeling work of bands like Slayer and Pantera. That’s trouble. Not only is he loud, but he practices with the repetitive penchant of a rock-and-roll perfectionist. So it’s relentless, too. Good.

In a familial context, my brother’s stentorian skills are par for the course. My mother sings, my dad plays bass and banjo, my step-dad plays drums, my sister plays the bells. You know, Partridge Family stuff.

The point is, we like music.

As a result, some of my first thoughts regarding this trip were, “What kind of records could I rummage through in Cairo?” and, “How heartbroken would I be to leave them behind, out of logistical necessity?” (Remember:  pack light.) It’s even possible I fantasized about mimicking Arjuna Sayyed’s crate-digging voyage through Kolkata, India, for Wax Poetics.

Apparently, contemporary Egypt is experiencing a roots revival, resurrecting fellahin and Nubian sonic traditions. You can listen to field recordings of country side music here, as gathered by Aisha Ali. She’s a preeminent scholar and practitioner of Middle Eastern dance and song who has compiled field recordings from places like Tunis and North Africa, too.

Otherwise, I’ve got no clue about Middle Eastern music, but Jared’s post reminded me to investigate. Whatever it sounds like – from the streets to the radio – I’ll have my recorder switched on.

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