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Alex Carnevale

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Mia Nguyen

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Ethan Peterson

This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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In Which We Descend Upon The Only Arab City

The Only Arab City Without A European Quarter


I am no stranger to the prefix pan: pan-Slavism, pan-Arabism, pan-Islamism, and if all things go well, by the year 2050 pan-Europeanism. These concepts and the presupposed membership of my family in it were the Santa Claus and the New Year that were celebrated in my parents' house; the fine illusion of a cause and excuse for all sorts of lacks and sacrifices.

At odds with most of the pan-isms, their symbolic meaning was closes to the one of the candles in Judaism. We lit them on happy days that were hard to distinguish from the sad and hungry days when we ought to light them again. Small people do that: imagine people like them and believe that one day they would all be together crossing the Red Sea under competent leadership.

Later an older version of you notices that people are already crossing not just the Red Sea but pretty much all seas and oceans, alone. Once they have crossed to a place far from where home used to be, they are tuning to a broadcast of a prayer during Ramadan from Mecca, and they are thinking of their simple uneventful afternoon in late autumn when the sun was gentle as if drawn with watercolors and how it moved slowly over the mountain, the almond trees, the lemon trees, the orange sand, the stray dogs nobody loved, and a freckled noise eager to inhale all that.

When I came to Naples I was set on meeting a girl who would understand what I have just wrote, who could tell me if it ever snows in Naples and does she then draw almond trees in the snow and sign her name next to the drawing in Arabic?

The bottom line of Naples is not a camorra ditch or graveyard, it is that Naples belongs to nobody. In very narrow streets those dark black eyes own you, everything on you and in your bag, but only for seconds. Seconds it took for you to smell the detergent evaporating from shirts and undershirts and socks assembled in a cloth line above your head. Some 25 white, blue, pink, yellow and dotted flags of hello and welcome.

If that is not enough, touch the graceful angels imprinted on the crusty walls of the passage and continue on. Keep walking, nobody cares, and even if it seems they do, it is your skirt, waist and breast they would love to meet and greet.

On an unrelated note, a man’s ideal woman is the one the conquistadors met on the shore of an uncharted island chestnut eyes, bare-chested, afraid, unable to utter a word of English, Spanish or Portuguese and thus mysterious. The sailor (better call him a sailor than the conquistador as the latter can butcher, burn and enslave her village) loves her instantly. She is perfect. She will be so easy to leave. From the same place he found her with tears in her chestnut eyes she will wave at his sailing ship.

An often-neglected streak of Islamic and Arabic tradition is traveling. The traveling is almost always a kind of ransom. Hardly ever do the roads lead to exceptional raptures or gifts. Almost always it is a surviving strategy, a refuge-seeking mission to extend life in the outskirts of Mecca, in Taif, in Medina, Ontario, New York, Paris, Palermo.

Centuries ago came Arabs to Naples with turbans smelling of sweat and flower water, carrying lemons and oranges, coveting numbers, concealing intentions. I don’t think any curious chestnut eyes met them on the shore. The wind must have blown very hard as it does on eventful days. Prayers were said and hopes set high. Centuries will pass and new young Arabs will come. Young students from Nablus, Haifa, Gaza with slick hair and tight shirts and pockets full of words like wattan (homeland), hurreya (freedom), adouw (enemy).

As the beautiful Napolitan girlfriend runs her hands over her Palestinian man’s hairy chest, she feels the spikey wire that trapped the white dove. His swaying affection would evaporate in the shabby dark room. Two things would dominate the silence – the strong perfume he wears and the skillful way he manages to look through her without it being so obvious.

At first she didn’t get it. Nights and months into their love she knew the streetlight or the pathetic moonlight creeping through the window takes him places. As she wished for solid thick clouds and electricity failure, he chanted something. Much like his protests in front of the university, or his shouting at his Arabs sitting around a table covered with newspapers where Yasser Arafat’s face is glued to Nasser’s hand by the sweet tea the Moroccans made, and the Syrians spilled over the paper. It sounds something like a lullaby that culminates in a wedding where, at some dull moment, guns will be fired.

At times when I am heartbroken and away from home, I would literally pay to hear azan or see a mosque. At best, in the frightening moments of insecurity, when I’m failing at everything, I would press against his shoulder and then say Hey! Look there. My people!  My people is a covered women with her brood and her man and his mustache and his sister that, even from the tram I was in I could tell, was loudly chewing pink gum. My people are my mosque, my cross of protection and preclusion.

I point rudely with my index finger at them, but what I actually do is frame them with my palms that are summoned by the word Amen! Following this very self-centered reasoning, I am not surprised to meet an Algerian Facebook poet at the exit of a masjid in Naples. I could see him dancing in a drunken sea resort on the Mediterranean or in a trashy Parisian bar among pale and eager patrons. I could see him ride a motorcycle up the Atlas just so he can lie near the cliff and gaze at the sun from behind his retro chic Police sunglasses. He must be chronically heartbroken here in Naples.

He said that he could show me things and make me nice food. I said thanks, but I have a meeting with the Imam. Beside, if you cook for me and show me places, eventually I’ll fail at reciprocity. And then what? You are My people. I cannot scare you by pointing at you. Also, in Naples it is all masjids without minarets. How would I distinguish God’s house from any other house?! Go away! I must talk to the Imam.

Up narrow stairs tailored after those in Amsterdam I am sure, I found the Imam. He was younger than me, and regardless of his authority, he was modest and very comfortable with not speaking too much, or at all. His working desk was a mess and he looked at me like I am a human, not a temptation. I knew straight away that he reads poems during some afternoons and maybe named his goats after the Seven Hanged Poets.

That is something I would have done, but as he tells me in classical Arabic that he studied literature in Libya and became an ”oversea imam” after the revolution, I knew he had really done it. Goat after goat elegantly stupid and reckless, jumping and bleating he named them after poets once showered by masters of Mecca with golden coins.

Typical of students of literature, and of shepherds as well, the imam delegated the speaking of the practicalities of the Muslim Arab life in Naples to his aide. His aide is a middle-aged man who looked like my father, and spoke like my mother first the most dire and stressful issues, and then, if we have time, we will be thankful for the little joys that miraculously appear against all odds.

Muslim Arabs like all other immigrant communities, and pretty much every other southern Italian, are heavily struck by the economic crisis. There is a growing dependency on aid from charity organizations, a rising number of people that are becoming homeless. Most of the men roam the streets hungry during the day or sit in Piazza Garibaldi and other squares. At night they sleep at entrances of churches, somewhat wet and cold but protected. Decades after they have been in Italy, they are either buried in a mass grave or shipped back to the country of their origin. Having in mind that the transport is costly, most end up in a mass grave mourned by few, forgotten very soon. Italy has one or two Muslims cemeteries with ridiculously small capacities. I try to constrain myself from pointing how all that can be seen as a spin of Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone.

Straight down from Piazza Bellini is a place described as “a square for relaxing and socializing," a mosaic of youth, leafs, pedals, pizza, marijuana and music. Down a steep street still wet with unexpected rain I met girl’s father the girl that must have dreamt of the almond, olive and orange trees of her father’s country. She is a dancer or an actress, I cannot tell now, but she sure exists. Her father loves her very much and she is free to do whatever she wants but go to Bellini and inhale pedals.

The English ambassador in the mid-1800s called Naples “the only Arab city without a European quarter.” This malicious allegory of the place's somewhat dysfunctional social and architectural mixture is true today, but doesn’t do justice to all other cities within Naples. For one, let's wait for the metro stations to be completed. Until then, inhale paddles and leafs and dance in Bellini even when it rains. When you get tired, and your pan-isms kick in, open the windows of your apartment and play loudly Fairuz or Marcel Khalifa. Play loud enough so your nagging neighbor shouts her complaints. And when she does, in her yelling you will hear Umm Omar from next door in Homs. I swear.    

Sumeja Tulic is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer and photographer living in Sarajevo. You can find her website here and her flickr here.

Photographs by the author. 

The Best of Sumeja Tulic on This Recording

The saddest day to leave Beirut

Planning to learn to skate

The charm of a Libyan night

Stifling her natural, hideous laughter

Possibly a woman needs a place

Dislike of geographical distances


In Which There Is Something Better Than Wireless Communication

Sinister World


Vuillard lived with his mother and sister. The shy painter spent all his time either representing them in his small, pursed canvases or writing in his journal. A short distance away workers labored to construct that ugliest of monuments: The Eiffel Tower.

His older sister Marie was, to her mother's disappointment, not yet married. The static scenes of the two women we find again and again in the artist's early work characterize the relationship between mother and daughter, but it was a subject easily exhausted. Vuillard resolved to change this: he would get his sister married.

Self Portrait with Sister

Vuillard was sustained by the women in his life. After he convinced his best friend Roussel to marry Marie, who was seven years the man's elder, he was forced to find other females to surround him. He met women in the parks of Paris, the only place he could freely move about without anxiety. it was there that he came upon Misia Nathanson and her husband Thadee.

Seducing painters had always been Misia's metier. She loved toying with them, making them fall in love with her, putting them off and on. She was as charismatic as she was intelligent, finally perishing in Paris in the year 1950. Before then, she lived off her skills as a pianist. Vuillard professed his love almost immediately. He wrote her letters:

I have always been shy in your presence, but the security, the assurance of a perfect understanding relieved me of all embarrassment; nothing was lost by this understanding being a wordless one. Now that we have been so long without seeing each other I have sometimes anxiously wondered if it is still as perfect as it once was. Your postcard arrived in answer to my question.

And no, I found nothing ridiculous in your thought: I saw it simply as a token of your affection. You met halfway a desire that flashed across my mind yesterday and that I was afraid of not having time to mention to you. So there is something better than wireless communication. The best thing was that you were there! It seems to me I am happy now, thanks to you. I am calm...

his 1925 painting of Misia and her niece and the black cups Liaisons of this sort were nothing new for Misia. Later, she would take up with Bonnard and Toulouse-Lautrec among others. But now her omnipotent position in Vuillard's work started to make some of his patrons uncomfortable. After all, she was a married woman. A painter in Paris could sleep with a married woman, or paint her without any repercussions, but not both.

Misia was his love instructor more than his intended, however. In his sights was another married woman, Lucy Hessel.

lucy hessel

Keeping his affairs a secret was not exactly Vuillard's strong point. Soon enough people knew that he and Lucy weren't platonic simply by the volume of their public screaming matches. They began spending the summers together, half-encouraged by her husband Jos Hessel, who sold his wife's lover's paintings for a lucrative profit. The three spent the next forty years in a perversion of symbiosis.

the reader, 1896

Vuillard kept his journal faithfully during this period, but it was destroyed by Jos after his death. Confidence in his work and love life filled him. The attraction of two outstanding women to his person enabled him to conceive of soliciting others to the position. He dallied with models in his studio until he became absorbed by an actress named Lucie Belin. It is no surprise that Vuillard's favorite play was A Midsummer Night's Dream.

In 1897, he bought his first camera, a Kodak. He immediately set to work taking pictures of his aging, sick mother. I mean, what else was there?

It is one thing to be a great artist and another completely to be told that you are in your lifetime. Even for painters there is a sophomore slump, a momentary lull in creativity. Vuillard's first representations of his life resembled a turtle poking out of its shell; his characterizations afterwards lacked that artistic caution. Japanese and medieval art constituted the pillars he returned to; a shy man loves history because it justifies his prejudice that the world is filled with terrors.

Yet artistic confidence can overcome whatever the passing of first inspiration evaporates. Any white man must go outside his own experience in his art, or else his work is reduced, eventually, to caricature. The Dreyfus affair and the events of the first World War had a tremendous impact on Vuillard's view of his country. Misia Natanson, Leon Blum and others were persecuted as a result of these events, and Vuillard leapt to their defense when he could. A gentile man who mixes with those outside his own experience finds there is another world beneath this one, and a menace beyond the menace he suspects he exists when he is a child.

Vuillard's mean portrait of Popescu

Still, Vuillard's art never approached the political. It is always personal for him, from the first time his work, so different from the others, was presented to his peers at Lycee. When the Romanian actress Elvire Popescu missed various sittings for her portrait, Vuillard avenged this slight by putting wrinkles where there weren't any.

Vuillard's mother remained of utmost importance to him until the day she died in his arms. He lived with her until he was 60. She represents, in his many depictions of her, that world into which he first entered. Her slow deterioriation only enhanced the sinister quality she possessed in some of her son's canvases. Because something he loved was vanishing before his eyes, the joy seems to fade from these images as we view them.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He last wrote in these pages about The Last of Us. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"Astronaut" - Gregory Alan Isakov (mp3)

The new album from Gregory Alan Isakov is entitled The Weatherman, and you can purchase it here.


In Which They Cover Our Faces With Tissue Paper

Insult to Injury


I am always a little surprised to discover that I have a body. Soon after I’d moved to Chicago, someone brushed my arm on the train and I almost cried because I could not remember the last time someone had touched me.

In the summer I bruise easily. The backs of my calves bloom with purple-black spots at the impact of bike pedals. Now, on my thigh above my knee, there’s a yellow-green spot from when I walked into a drawer that I had opened just moments prior. It’s disappointing, as an adult, to discover that you cannot pass unseen or untouched as easily as you did when you were a child.

I would rather reveal a deep, humiliating secret than have somebody invade my personal space. In the city, there are degrees of closeness. A certain touch in the train is formal, compartmentalized into what we refer to as “rush hour”: the slow sludge movement of hundreds of people trying to squeeze through doorways and turnstiles, through the curled spaces between other humans.

Even if they never reach the same physical proximity as these commuters, someone who means harm can be detected almost immediately. The bodily threat hangs pungent in the space between us. I remember a strange boy putting his hand on my knee when I was in high school, but perhaps he just lifted it from his own and began reaching towards me.

“Don’t touch me,” I warned.

I’m taller than almost any other woman I’ve met, and of a serious, unsmiling disposition. On the street, men whistle, but I don’t know what they’re whistling at. These hips? These breasts? I spent years trying to wish them out of existence, not because I was ashamed of them, but because the fantasy of being admired for simply my mind held an undeniable lure.

When a boy I liked in high school kissed me on the cheek one morning in the hallway before class, I felt it all the way down to my toes. I wasn’t kissed on the mouth until later, long after most people my age had already lost their sense of physical wonder. It was a little bit like being picked last for a sports team, except I was great at it right away, like my body knew things that my mind didn’t, answers to questions that have circulated since the beginning of time.

I took to water like a fish, not afraid of its depths like most children but terrified of the man-made box it was in, the feats of engineering that drained it and filled it and filtered it. When I was seven, I went swimming alone in the deep end by myself. I slipped underwater and reached down to touch the bottom of the pool, near the drain that I feared so much. As I let my body float to the surface of its own buoyant accord, I closed my eyes. My right cheek struck something sharp. I surfaced, bringing my hand to my face, and opened my eyes to see blood covering my palm and running down my arm. I’d gashed my face open on the ladder. At the hospital, they covered my face with tissue paper as they stitched up the wound with a needle shaped like a fish hook.

I forgot to drink water during my freshman year of college. I woke up in the middle of the night sometimes so parched I’d search the whole room, in the dark, trying not to wake my roommate up, for enough change to go buy a bottle of water from the vending machine. Sometimes I couldn’t find enough change and I had to wait until breakfast. The water in the bathrooms tasted metallic, with a twist of chlorine strong enough to make me reminisce about entire Southern California summers spent in the pool. It was a cocktail of childhood, of living in a place I’d lived in before after I’d lived in a place that obliterated all other places for me. My body was the only constant between here and there, and it has never been constant.

I bit my nails for years. Never until they bled, but close. Now, when I see someone on the train with badly bitten fingers, my stomach turns and I have to look away. I wish I could remember how I stopped, or why when I’m taken almost completely out of my body by a book or a film, I resume the old habit.

Eating a lot, and eating well, has always moored me to the physical. But it’s a transient activity. If only I could pick up some sort of tic, a discomfort that would constantly remind me of my body. If I could tap my toes obsessively. If I blinked more than the usual amount. If I possessed one superhuman sensation, even at the expense of another. I realize that these wishes are nonsensical, even offensive. But the desire to change, mutilate, or enhance one’s body has been around forever. It is simply the desire to be a body that we are also proud of, instead of this paradoxical creature that we happen to be but cannot always identify with.

My thighs are touching again. I’m wearing a sundress and the humidity makes my legs stick together uncomfortably. When I’ve felt unbeautiful, I’ve known deep inside that it is simply a result of my own feelings, not the physical reality of me. I’ve always thought more about what I could give to people in terms of my presence or thoughts; giving my body to friends or lovers to embrace and study seems foreign and bizarre even now. I enjoy it with the same wonder as I enjoy pondering a new and difficult concept.

We copyright them sometimes, but in truth, our thoughts are universal. Once you share an idea with someone, you’ve put it out into the universe, and you can’t take it back. Our bodies are the only things that truly belong to us, truly are us. Even in our most intimate physical sharing, we remain separate. You can pass an idea off as your own but you cannot pretend to own somebody else’s body. It’s the part of us that keeps us from becoming truly universal, perhaps from fully belonging.

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about a Provence state of mind. She tumbls here and twitters here.

Photographs by David Drebin.

"Strep Throat" - Georgia's Horse (mp3)

"A Long Ride Home" - Georgia's Horse (mp3)

The debut album from Teresa Maldonado is called The Mammoth Sessions.