'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

Down in the floods, something in Saudi Arabia may have changed


Saudi monarch King Abdullah at the inauguration of KAUST, the nation's new flagship university -- which was inundated by the late November floods. (Image by Getty Images via Daylife)

On the first day of Hajj, rain blanketed Saudi Arabia’s vast western coast. As my wife assembled her radio gear in preparation for the next day’s news brief about the storm’s effect on the pilgrimage, I quickly scanned the news online: it was already the heaviest rain Jeddah had seen in a quarter-century, and the city of four million was flooding; four were already reported dead. By the time we woke up the next morning, the death toll had risen to 77.

Blame for Jeddah’s flood disaster can easily be traced. Nearly 30 years ago, the city was issued funds to build a new sewer and drainage system, but according to a story by Lawrence Wright published in The New Yorker, the government official in charge of the project diverted some of the money to personal projects, including a mansion in San Francisco and a palace in Jeddah equipped with a bowling alley. When the misspending was discovered, the Saudi government gave the official a jail sentence and a fine, but he ended up being pardoned — because, a local journalist told Wright, his brother was a private secretary to the king.

So often the news that makes it out of Saudi is ghastly. Earlier this year, a man was beheaded for murder, then had his head sewn back onto his corpse, and was then crucified and hung in public for several hours. These nightmarish headlines top news sites for an hour or two, after which the stories — and the country’s vexing, more fundamental problems — remain ignored or overlooked.

For people who actually live here, this sort of terror is a distant menace, but real enough — especially when combined with all the suffocating moral codes — to result in a grinding everyday unpleasantness. Because this is all set against the pacific lure of malls, good supermarkets and cheap flights to nearby capitals, life here is defined by a kind of uneasy complacency. Read the rest of this entry »


Filed under: Food, Hajj, Saudi Arabia, World, , , , ,

Could Sam Sifton really replace NYT boss Bill Keller?

I love The New York Times. I read it every day, and can’t imagine a world without its pages. (It took strong counsel from friends smarter than me not sink the little money I have into Times stock. And I considering having a small funeral for The City section when it passed.)

So it was with keen interest that I read a Big Money story last month suggesting that Sam Sifton, the new dining critic, would be an excellent candidate some day to run the greatest paper in the world.

Really? This certainly hadn’t occurred to me when I first read that Sifton would be replacing the departing food writer Frank Bruni. But the article, in Slate.com’s The Big Money, makes an interesting case:

What makes Sifton the man who ought to be considered a future editor of the Times is his ability to attack and explore popular subjects with intellectual rigor. Combine that with an ability to attract readers to stories with compelling headlines, art, and ledes, and you have all the tools necessary for leading the Times into the future on the web. Because out there on the flat, infinite plane of the Web, all stories have an equal opportunity to become the story of the day. The challenge for the Times is not to promote the soft news over the hard but to be able show, when relevant, that what happens in the kitchen (or on the playground or on television) can be just as important as what goes on in Afghanistan.

via Eating His Way to the Top | The Big Money.

So it was with no less interest that I began to read Sifton’s first pieces. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Business, Entertainment, Food, Journalism, Media, New York Times, , , , ,

Thanksgiving Bingo: Creative Types edition

An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving

Simmer resentment, salt in wounds to taste. (Image via Wikipedia)

Tara Parker-Pope over at the Grey Lady takes on the grim, often hilarious ritual of family Thanksgiving. Sure, there are those who love the assembling of elders, middlers, and the young — all of whom share blood. But for others, the gathering of the tribe means a litany of abuse, criticism, eye-rolling and more.

Why not make it into a game? Pope quotes two ladies who do just that, assembling Bingo cards with key phrases — “That’s an interesting outfit” or “Your children won’t sit still.” The first to fill her card rushes to the bathroom to call. Rejoice, your family is more maniacal!

I love the idea, but given my own demographic and the background likely shared by many of my readers and colleagues, I thought I’d assemble a list more appropriate to our unique brand of failures, inadequacies, and annoyances. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Family, Food, New York City, New York Times, Thanksgiving, , , , ,