(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

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Legless Central Asian Wandering— Безногий Блуждающие в Центральная Азия

Tajikistan lake


Dushanbe.  Do, Shanbe! Douche-on-Bay.

That’s the one that sticks — the city’s name like a news headline, one in some buried middle England sports section:  some asshole is out yachting.

Douche-on-Bay.  That’s the legend, in my mind, and now the whole town is named for it.  The day when the patriarchal douche took to the lee side of a crescent harbor, not for sport but for better beer access.  For chicks.

Every summer, there is a festival in Douche-on-Bay. We remember our heritage, of lazy questing and selfish relaxation, and we take to overcalm waters. 

What I mean is: today, I am a lazy explorer.  Body tired (too much to learn the ways of the marshrutka skittering about the flat city), my mind wanders around the capital I don’t know.

I know its name, though.  That’s all I have. Dushanbe.  It means “Monday” in Tajik.  The country’s largest city by fourfold, and it’s christened for everyone’s least favorite part of the week.  What a downer.

Local cognac and shisha.  No hands but for sipping.  Rooftop in the Dushanbe “twin towers” — a new pastel centerpiece already scarred with electrical burn marks.  “If there’s an earthquake, run,” said one UN guy.  “It’s coming down.”

A salad in the menu:  “Salmon of weakly salted.”  That’s about how I feel — a fish just about as far from an ocean as it can be, still on earth.  Weakly salted.  Maybe they are only salted weekly.  Today is not this city’s day, but one day — I’m looking out at the world’s tallest flagpole — I think it may be worth its salt. 

Tajikistan tallest flagpole

I’ve been scolded for taking a picture.  Not allowed.  You can see the whole city here, and it’s all off limits.  Forget about the close up — after the Soviet Union left, and the sound came up on the young republics — our Tajik Norma isn’t ready even for the wide shot.

It’s Thursday evening now — as far as I can get from the city’s namesake.  I won’t know it now.  Instead,  I’ll quest lazily and selfish, a reckless wanderer through total nonsense.  I like spending time that way — tethered by just a few real letters.  I’m at sea, but I’m sheltered somehow by the faintest hints of something true.  What a way to travel. 

Hell, it beats most Mondays.

Tajikistan's capital city


Tajikistan… If You Can Tajikistand It

Story-hunting in one of the world’s top seven -stan countries — let’s blame the terrible titling on the 80 hours it took to get here.  

But at least there are the cultural car crashes that expose man’s natural urge to play pop culture Battleship.  We’ve got no languages in common, among the three Tajiks know well, and the three I can make sentences in, but we do have a code: those references.  It’s hard to know anyone without talking — it’s easy to get crazy, to assume the worst, to find fault — and yet, when the Wandering Tajik fires a random name at a Wandering Jew, and when there’s a sound not of empty echo but of a clink against something solid — we know we’re at least playing the same game.  Direct hit.

So, here: a conversation in the shared taxi “terminal” in Dushanbe, waiting hopelessly to set out on the the “15-” (read: 35-) hour trip to Khorog.



A man, smiley: “London?”

Me: “America.”

“Los Angeles?”

“New York.”

“Ah.  California.”






He seemed to be searching for more points of connection.  I was out.  “Ruski znayet?

“No.”  It was strange: me, the caucasian, ignorant in the lingua franca of the whole Caucasus.  But I was too hot to be apologetic.  

Another silence. 



“Vandum, Vandum: Vandam.”

“Ah, yes.”

“Jean-Claude Van Damme.”

“Yes, yes.”

 I asked my cheeks to lift into what I thought would be a smile.  Looking satisfied, he walked away.


Dawn at the landslide — traffic halts for a day in the valley, across the river from Afghanistan.



What happens just before Lyaksh stays just before Lyaksh — especially if the road is liquid.


The Afghan Ski Challenge — Women’s Edition

The third annual Afghan Ski Challenge kicks off above 10,000 feet in central Afghanistan. For the first time, the festival holds a race for Afghan women, seven skiers and a snowboarder.

All powder, no nonsense.

I originally filed this video/pics/article for the Al Jazeera English Magazine. Check it out here.

Afghan photos and more at

Outrageous Fortune

Do not let the fires fizzle.  I am still angry and sad and confused and resolute.  

Read my take over at The Huffington Post

Share, comment, mock — it’s all good.

The Mountaintop — قمة الجبل

The edge.
Jebel Hafeet, UAE

Faces 3 (UAE)

At the Camel beauty contest.
Al Dhafra, emirate of Abu Dhabi.

How I Didn’t Learn To Stop Worrying And Love Abu Dhabi

The following post is not following. It was removed to be sent off into the harsh and brutal ether of the publishing world, so you will unfortunately not be able to view it at this exact time in this exact place. But it was really good. This might’ve actually been one of the best ones. Man, it was like really, really good.

If you’d like to read this take on life and boredom and (dis)satisfaction and happy inter-religious exchanges: send an email with a sentence including the words “Abu Dhabi”, “gold vending machine”, and “Geoffrey Chaucer” to INGULFED at GMAIL dot COM.

Something Bad Has or Hasn’t Happened

Something bad has happened or hasn’t.

This post was scheduled before I left for Afghanistan and Pakistan. I left almost completely certain I would return, but certainty killed the cat, and I’d hate to leave this blog without even the most trifling conclusion if the worst were to happen. The worst, of course, being that I am lured by an accounting job for the Taliban, for the generous vacation time and team-building retreats, and so simultaneously cast asunder my dreams, morals, and extensive porn stash (the last is negotiable). Anyway, the point is: no one likes anything left unfinished (looking at you Schubert). If I haven’t returned, there will be a large F underneath this paragraph — it stands for a few things. If I have, I will have deleted it, but I leave the remaining text here as a window into the past, my head, and other things that look better from a distance. (PS: in either case, this may come off as rather black humor. If dead, I claim that humor as home turf, right along with Jew and sleep farting jokes. Still, Mom, this probably isn’t for you.)

Last Will and Testicle:

Dearly beloveds who are gathered wherever whenever, let this bad joke be a reminder of everything I am and wasn’t. If any lawyer gets his hands on this, and if this will that I’m typing on a Sticky Note has any standing in a court of law, I expect the above title to be printed in a large, dreadfully serious Gothic font. Now let’s get to the good bits:

Electronics: anything with batteries or solar panels goes to my brother. If I have more than one (brother, not electronic things), let them duke it out. (Mom, c’mon — I know you’re still reading.)

Written things, photography, film attempts: to the Louvre and the Guggenheim, but not the Abu Dhabi branches because I stand with the protestors of labor rights. And now these hallowed grounds must sully themselves with my things because I put it in my will and it’s my will and you’ve got to do something with them so there. It’s nice to have a will. The copyrights and royalties of the above shall not be retained within these or any museums but shall be accredited to the Adam X. Valen Levinson Estate which shall be heretofore established inside Monticello. Again: it’s a will, you’ve got to do it. And the X stands for “Magic”. (Ma, quit it.)

Souvenirs, gizmos, and fun things (excluding electronics) will go to Friends. “Friends” is henceforthward defined as anyone who would like to claim the title. (Henceforthward is furthermorthword defined as a word I made up when I was about 14.) If you have a picture with me and an object, you have dibs on the object. If you have a picture with just me, you better check your purse. And if you have a picture with a bottle of alcohol, shots for everyone in the room on me. Just kidding, I’m dead — someone else get the fucking tab for a change. Jesus.

Musical instruments: bury or cremate me with them. It’ll probably sound really silly. Oh, and then take that recording and do with it whatever you’ve done with me. I’d like to hear it.

Oh, and money: Coins. All of it into coins of various currencies and thrown by the fistfull into one or many fountains on every continent. An Antartic fountain may be considered a) a hole in the ice, or b) the direct possession of a penguin or other native wildlife.

Now that these are or not my last words to the world, I’m feeling a bit sheepish. Too much heed is paid to what comes last, when generally I give my best at the very beginning and then give up. That’s right ladies. (Oy — this is really a terrible way to go out.) So here it is, my last words are below, but you must click the link. The words are not mine and I shan’t claim them, but they speak to us all and shall resonate both in the moment and forever. In large type you will see what I have to say, and what I will continue to say until the end of time. But do not live your life by it, and do not think too deeply — I hope it’s helpful — that’s it — that’s all I could ever hope to be.

——> Thank you all. <——

Click above.

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The Beggar’s Leg — رجل المتسوّل

The beggar’s leg jutted into the path of clambering metro-riders.

The man sat on the landing between the flight of stairs heading upwards into the cold sunlight and the one that went down under the overhang into the damp, tiled metro. He was situated just so on the concrete staircase that ascending or descending with the crowds, one might not notice a head floating at knee-height.

I saw him as I left the shade of the subway, but I could not see his leg, outstretched. Change rattled around in my jacket pockets, more easily reachable than usual, more valuable. I felt the Turkish one-lira coins with my fingertips.

And then I was beside him, looking down at my own feet as I noticed the leg that bent the flow of traffic in a silent arc. A stifled spasm. My upper half jerked forward and pulled the rest of me with it, shuddering.

The beggar’s leg was but half a leg; not cut off crosswise, not a stump hanging below the knee, but eroded like a rotten log, eaten away from end to end. Yellow skin tinted green and flecked with the red of broken vessels, burst somethings and disease. I saw his leg crumbling like a nightmare I had never faced and I could not look, I could not turn back.

The part of me that feels fear pulled me away, up out of the stairwell by my own legs, around the corner towards home. Turn around.

Inside I screamed— half for the sad science of his wretchedness, half for finding myself so cruelly skittish. Turn around, goddammit.

I walked alone farther and farther away, joining the countless thousands who had skirted his leg and climbed the staircase. I walked towards a me I didn’t like, but who recognized his pitiful shortcomings. To go back was to view something that would live in my mind for days, weeks, I told myself. I had given before. I would give again.

But I had already seen what I would see. I had the chance to redo my actions — a mini experiment with time travel. There was no butterfly effect; there was only the beggar’s leg.

I held the coins, maybe four or five, in my fist.
A choice.

More from Turkey here.

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