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About ten miles outside of Montana, Bulgaria, I noticed the first hitchhiker. She was young and beautiful on the bank of the highway looking wistfully down the road. She wore a light gray tank top, unveiling her shoulders to the sun and a pair of skin-tight jeans fashionably clawed to shreds. She carried nothing but a black clutch. She wasn’t trying to flag down a ride, but she did peer into each passing car, almost as an afterthought.

From within the car, my biological sister, Sarah, and I exchanged confused glances. Here, between small towns in Bulgaria, the two of us were on a journey to explore the birthplace of our adopted brother, Rudy. Rudy had first joined our family in the US over 20 years earlier at the age of three. More… “Rudy’s Roots”

Rachel Bass is a researcher focused on the global impact investing industry. Outside of her 9 to 5, Rachel enjoys both literary and culinary arts. She currently lives in Washington, DC.
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There is nothing that pleases me more, nature-wise, than walking through a forest and coming to find sand displaced from a beach underfoot.

You smell the brine, you feel the wind going through your hair, the same wind that brought the sand there. The faint crash — a thudding diffusion — of the surf follows in your ears, and you know that if you proceed through the next copse, you’ll be at the edge of one thing and the start of something else.

I do not make my living from it. I don’t own a boat. I know no one who does, but the ocean has played a central role in my life. Little, really, has informed my life more. The music of the Beatles, probably. My quest with what I try to do as a writer. A handful of intense emotional experiences that I suspect might even be viewable upon my soul, with the right equipment, much like an EKG reveals an earlier heart attack. More… “Wishing Oceans”

Colin Fleming’s fiction appears in Harper’s, Commentary, Virginia Quarterly Review, AGNI, and Boulevard, with other work running in The Atlantic, Salon, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and JazzTimes. He is a regular guest on NPR’s Weekend Edition and Downtown with Rich Kimball, in addition to various radio programs and podcasts. His last book was The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories from the Abyss, and he has two books forthcoming in 2018: Buried on the Beaches: Cape Stories for Hooked Hearts and Driftwood Souls, and a volume examining the 1951 movie Scrooge as a horror film for the ages. Find him on the web at colinfleminglit.com.

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Voices of Istanbul
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Can you recognize Istanbul with your eyes closed? The ezan, the call for prayer, is particularly dramatic when you are awake early in the morning and the background noise of the city is at a low ebb. At times like these, the muezzin and his recorded song dominate the acoustic landscape. Soon the seagulls chime in. They make you realize how close the Bosphorus is — hardly more than a quarter of a mile away. Why do the gulls start up their awful screeching so early on summer mornings, and why do they settle down later on? Are they motivated by mysterious air currents, changes in temperature, or just competition with their fellow birds? More… “Voices of Istanbul”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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In Argentina, cash is king. An enlightened despot when your pockets are full, and a wrathful monarch when you’re insolvent. Amid a frantic departure from Buenos Aires, I learned this lesson the hard way.

I was in Argentina to visit my girlfriend. We met in Brooklyn, where she’d moved for a job. She worked as an au pair for a family with an infant. The company she was hired through sponsored her visa. We had been dating for almost a year when the family moved to California, and thus she chose not to renew her contract. Rather than help her find a new placement, the company dropped her. She lost her visa and had to move back to Argentina.

Despite the bad circumstance that forced her to move home, we decided to make the most of the trip. I was excited to visit my girlfriend and her family and learn about her home country. We toured Argentina, rounding out our trip in Buenos Aires. More… “Cashed Out in Buenos Aires”

T.K. Mills is a writer who lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn. He runs the art column for OpenLetr, and is a regular contributor to the street art magazine, Sold Mag. T.K. has also been published in The Vignette ReviewGlobal Street ArtLiterate Sunday, and The American Dissident, among others. His story, “Nicotine Traces”, was selected for the Summer ’16 anthology of Catalogue. To read more by T.K. Mills, check out his portfolio, visit tkmills.com.

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I’m sitting next to a wall covered in photos of Umm Kulthoum. From behind her omnipresent sunglasses, she looks down sternly on the crowded teashop, sharing wall space with dozens of other notable personalities from the Middle East. Along the ceiling hang WWI-era rifles, dusty phonographs, and lank flags discolored by years of cigarette smoke. My new friend Omar orders us another round of Karak Chai and resumes his animated explanation of why the pop star Shakira is such a great dancer — he insists it’s because she was born in Bahrain; I learn later she was born in Colombia. While Omar speaks, all sweeping gestures and croaking voice, I take a sip of scalding tea and compose my face, trying not to betray the fact that my heart is lurching wildly, like a drunk trying to skip rope. I take another sip and tell myself it’s just the highly-caffeinated, sugary tea, and not the heart attack my anxiety disorder insists is imminent.

I’m on the island of Muharraq in the Kingdom of Bahrain to explore Pearling, Testimony of an Island Economy, a site known colloquially as the Pearling Trail. Currently in the midst of construction, the serial heritage site will encompass a segment of the seafront, three offshore oyster beds, and 17 buildings connected by a three-and-a-half-kilometer pathway running through a historic neighborhood. The Trail is Bahrain’s second UNESCO World Heritage Site and will offer visitors a vision of the culmination of the 7,000-year Arabian Gulf pearling tradition. This summer, over and over again, I keep returning to walk this path with my notebook and water bottle in tow. “But it isn’t finished yet,” people tell me, worried I’ll be disappointed; but seeing it at this time, in the midst of its birth, when some parts are done and some parts are still old and crumbling, is exactly why I can’t stay away. After a year when my world was swallowed up by cataclysmic anxiety, this is supposed to be the summer that I change, too, and so I keep returning to be near something else that is being transformed. More… “Pearls of Wisdom & Fear”

Natasha Burge is a Pushcart Prize and Sundress Best of the Net nominated writer from the Arabian Gulf region, where she is the writer-in-residence at the Qal’at al-Bahrain Museum. Her writing has appeared in Pithead Chapel, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and The Establishment, among others. More can be found at www.natashaburge.com.

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If you need to be mean
be mean to me
I can take it and put it inside of me
-Mitski, “I Don’t Smoke

I have a picture of us from when we were ten years old — Rose, Audrey, Sam, and me. We’re standing on the gravel shoulder of the highway that cuts across our hometown like a life line across a palm. Our arms are wrapped around each other, affectionate and possessive with the weight of preteen desires. Have you noticed the way young girls cling to each other in photographs? Maybe we knew then the terrible possibilities of separation. If we hadn’t held on to each other so tightly through childhood, how would things have ended?

That was all before we grew apart. That was before I hopped on a plane, before Rose came to meet me, before we ended up in the mountains of Italy, alone in a 300-year-old farmhouse. That was when we still lived in our small universe of Halfmoon Bay, in homes secluded from the highway by long gravel driveways and undisturbed forest. What would have happened if the ghost had shown up then, when we were still so connected, instead of a decade later, across the world when there were just two of us in the middle of the night? More… “Gone Ghost”

Gena Ellett’s writing has appeared in literary magazines across North America, including Slice, The Malahat Review, EVENT, and Gulf Coast. She lives and writes in Vancouver, BC. @HeyGenaJay

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In Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the great filmmaker Werner Herzog explores Chauvet, which contains some of the most absorbing cave paintings yet discovered. They also appear to be some of the oldest, dated to 32,000 years before present. Herzog’s camera pans slowly across Chauvet’s bulbous tan walls while his crew moves handheld lights to make the many bumps and angles do a sort of shadow play. The lions, bison, horses, and rhinos outlined in black seem to flex and shift. They nuzzle, sniff, or maybe battle each other. At one point in a voiceover, Herzog says, “The strongest hint of something spiritual, some religious ceremony in the cave, is this bear skull. It has been placed dead center on the rock resembling an altar. The staging seems deliberate. The skull faces the entrance of the cave, and around it fragments of charcoal were found, potentially used as incense.” Amid the flickering beauty in this scene, that monologue got me wondering: How does he know this was a religious situation?

Well. He doesn’t. Nobody will ever know why that skull sits there. While archaeologists agree some prehistoric person did it, the reason why could be anything from a carefully-planned religious rite to a joke. That’s one of the greatest attractions — and the insidious trouble — with cave art. There is no context. Looking at it turns us loose in a wide-open playpen for the imagination where each of us fills the gaps with wishes for what should be there. More… “Cave Artists”

Paul X. Rutz is an artist and freelance writer. His exhibitions include solo shows at Ford Gallery, the Oregon Military Museum, and a forthcoming residency at Purdue University, as well as group shows at Mark Woolley Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution. A former reporter for the Pentagon’s Press Service, he has contributed to HuffPost, Modern Fiction Studies, and Cincinnati Review, among others, and he is a feature writer for Military History and Vietnam magazines.

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The young woman beside me on an airliner ready to head to France was nipping at her nails. Bells had begun to ping. Carbon particulates from overhead vents were besieging us and rendering us hyperaware of the air. She gnawed and nipped and peered through the porthole.

From the seatback tray-table clasp, her pink jean jacket hung. Weighted by brass snaps, it slumped as a human torso might if all the bones were to dissolve except the spine. She turned again to the vast expanse of tarmac. Her neck, as if broken, fell to the porthole’s height. She was wearing a red football jersey, and when she swiveled to regard me her widened eyes blazed blue. More… “The Security of Dirt”

Paul Lindholdt’s writing has been recognized by the Academy of American Poets, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Washington Center for the Book. After studying with Annie Dillard, he is now Professor of English at Eastern Washington University. This year his literary nonfiction will appear in Crab Orchard Review and Kenyon Review. Also this year, the University of Washington Press is publishing The Spokane River, a bioregional study he edited and co-wrote.

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I arrived at the artists’ residency late in the afternoon with a small suitcase, my computer, and my notebook. Located in the outer reaches of New Delhi, the residency offered space to eight writers and visual artists to work for up to two months. If you’d asked me, I’d have said I had big plans for my three weeks there, but the truth was my timing was off; I’d just completed a novel before coming to India to visit family and begin a new project. I needed to do research, but I wasn’t sure what that research would look like. Books? Interviews? Archival material? Uncertainty reigned. Furthermore, I hadn’t factored into my plans how helpful family members, with their insistence on driving me places or offering up their car and driver, often added time to the process, as I scheduled my outings around their busy schedules. More… “Time Measured in Tea”

Geeta Kothari‘s writing has appeared in various anthologies and journals, including New England Review, Massachusetts Review, Kenyon Review, and Best American Essays. She recently published a collection of short stories, I Brake for Moose and Other Stories.

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Once on the water, we could see the rainforest pushing close to the river. The town of Coca, a depot on Ecuador’s Rio Napo, was already slipping away, disappearing behind a bend. It was early morning. There had been a week of heavy rain and trees had fallen into the river as the bank washed away. With the pressure of the current, branches emerged from the brown water and waved up and down, as if saying goodbye. Older branches, now blackened and leafless, broke the surface and then silently disappeared.

After an hour, we began to see wildlife: toucans and parrots, movements in the trees that suggested monkeys. On one log, I spotted four turtles sitting in a row, each with a butterfly on its head. (I took this as a sign, an offering; it turned out to be the standard post-card image from the Napo valley.) I had been on the lookout for caiman, fresh water alligators, which entertained our guides — sharp-nosed men who grew up along this river. The men were from one of the local tribes, most likely Huaorani, Kichwa, or Shuar. They wore t-shirts and baseball caps.
More… “In Search of Yasuní”

David Bartholomae has taught travel writing to U.S. students in Beijing, Hyderabad, London, Cape Town, Florianopolis, Buenos Aires, and the Napo valley of Ecuador. In May, 2018, he will be teaching in Havana. He is Professor of English and the Charles Crow Chair of Expository Writing at the University of Pittsburgh. His current project is an essay on Spain’s Camino de Santiago.

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