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One afternoon in Marrakesh, a French pilot in dusty boots came into my wife’s restaurant for one of her famous hamburgers. He’d been out scouting parcels of land vast and flat enough for his dream which was to build a flight school for women and name it after Touria Chaoui. We’d never heard the name, but in 1951, at age 14, she had become Morocco’s first pilot, North Africa’s first aviatrix. This had made her a hero to the resistance against the French who had occupied the country for over 30 years, and she spent her short life fighting for the freedom of Morocco and its women. Then in 1956, on the eve of Independence Day, she was killed by an unknown assassin and forgotten just as quickly.

Inspired by her story, my wife swore to enroll at the flight school that would someday bear Touria’s name. As if in preparation, she started flying up to Casablanca in a Cessna with a pilot friend of ours. She dressed like a 1950s stewardess, low-heeled shoes, fitted skirts to the knee. Our friend was also the British Consul and flew with a co-pilot so that he could drink himself to sleep over moonscapes of sheepherders and scrub. Sometimes as he snored, or half-consciously hummed Cat Stevens tunes, the co-pilot would gamely nod for my wife to take the yoke which she did happily before envisaging their fiery deaths, smoke and scrap metal provoked by an involuntary twitch of her wrist. Sitting straighter then and furrowing her brow, she would attempt to make her hands as dead as a statue’s — terrified, and yet I imagined that feeling of control must have been exhilarating. More… “Post-Revolution”

Josh Shoemake was born in Virginia and attended Columbia University, after which he moved to Morocco. He spent three years in Tangier, where he taught literature at the American School of Tangier and formed close friendships with Paul Bowles, Mohamed Choukri, and other local writers. At age 29, he was named headmaster of The American School of Marrakesh, a post he held for five years. He has published short stories, essays, and books, including a history of literary Tangier, which was a Book of the Month in The Sunday Times, and one of Condé Nast Traveller’s all-time best travel books. He now lives in Paris.
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My favorite activity in Sunday School was when our teacher would hand out construction paper and crayons and ask us to illustrate scenes from the Bible. My little sister and I spent hours trading paper colors and trying our hands at depicting famous moments: Moses and the burning bush, Noah and his animals, Mary Magdalene in an empty tomb, and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Moses always had a big nose, hairy eyebrows, and a thorny wreath around his head — I still do not know where we got this idea — and Adam and Eve looked a lot like our Ken and Barbie dolls, with shapely bodies that in no way resembled actual human bodies. Every time we colored scenes like these from the Bible, my sister and I bonded over that construction paper, inventing and imagining our own ways into the stories we heard every Sunday while our mom sang in the choir and our dad sat in the audience down the hall in the sanctuary. And after every Sunday school, we proudly pinned our masterpieces to the refrigerator, where they’d sit, lopsided under the magnet, until the next week, when we could pin up a new one.

This was how I learned the stories of the Bible. It was also how I came to understand the land of Israel. For most of my life, this tiny sliver in the Middle East has always been a menagerie of scenes rendered with crayon onto brightly colored construction paper. I preferred this world of crayon and paper, where I could take an ancient story and make it my own, one that usually featured female characters with big blue eyes, straight-up eyelashes, and bow-shaped lips. I was pretty shy, the girl always buried in her coloring books, and I loved being the creator of my characters’ destinies. Sometimes, after Sunday school let out, I’d imagine a different reality for the women, Eve on a horse, riding out of Eden, her hair flowing in the wind; Mary Magdalene as a mermaid princess reigning over the Dead Sea. In this world of ideas, I could make the women independent, adventurous; I could do whatever I wanted with them. More… “When in Jerusalem”

Kristin Winet is a writing professor at Rollins College and an award-winning travel writer. Her work, which is primarily journalistic, has recently appeared in publications like The Smart SetAtlas Obscura, and Roads and Kingdomsand syndicated on i09, Kotakuand JezebelShe is also a contributor and editor for Panorama: Journal of Intelligent Travela literary travel magazine, and is at work on her first book, a memoir about what really happens on press trips. Say hello at @kristinwinet.

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“Lift! Lift!”

Such imperious syllables! Such indomitable ones! — at least when emanating from the throat of Flower Abraham Silliman as she hollers down the empty stairwell to the elevator operator in the lobby to come fetch her on the third floor. “Oh, he never listens. He can’t close his gate properly, or I don’t know what he does wrong but he always has a devil of a time fetching me. Never mind!” she says, deciding to forego the lift and use her walker to pound down the three flights of stairs herself. The apartment we’re leaving is a throwback to British Colonialism, an airy expanse of 3,000 square feet in the heart of downtown Calcutta which includes 16-foot ceilings and cannonball-proof walls for which Flower’s daughter Jael pays relatively few rupees each month, plus more for the two attendants who swab the place wet each day against the street dust and who eat their breakfast biscuits and bananas from seated positions on the tiled kitchen floor — their choice.

A palace for peanuts, basically, because it’s been rented by the family that long. Not that you’d have a hint of its grandeur from the outside. Like all the other soot-stained, crumbly-seeming castles tucked behind dusty high stucco walls throughout the city, the Halwasiya Mansion looks decayed on purpose — a ploy, perhaps, to fool the tax office. Or perhaps not: one can never be too sure. Inside, the heirs of the Jewish families who made their fortunes in Calcutta living lives of tasteful grandeur with racehorses, private clubs, and country palaces are dying out fast. Flower Abraham Silliman, navigating the wide wooden staircase past the faded but still flamboyant red paan juice stains expectorated by generations of visitors, is the last of a breed, the final flower of a once flourishing 5,000 strong. More… “Lotsa Matzo In Kolkata”

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Politicians, stop saying mass shootings are tragedies unless you’re going to do what literary critics do with tragedies: actually interpret them.

“This was a horrible tragedy:” perhaps the most common thing we hear after each new incident that adds to the alarming trend of mass shootings in the United States. Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, Umpqua, Las Vegas, and Parkland are only the most notable communities whose names have come to symbolize the phenomenon. Their “tragic” quality is the reason, some politicians say, we shouldn’t “politicize the tragedy” – we shouldn’t refer to it in arguments about policies for the good of the nation. More… “Something Is Rotten in the United States of America”

Jeffrey R. Wilson is a faculty member in the Writing Program at Harvard University, where he teaches the Why Shakespeare? section of the university’s first-year writing course. Focused on intersections of Renaissance literature and modern sociology, his work has appeared in academic journals such as ShakespeareLaw and the Humanities, and Crime, Media, Cultureas well as public venues such as National Public RadioThe Chronicle of Higher EducationAcademe, CounterPunch, and Shakespeare and Contemporary TheoryHe is on Twitter @DrJeffreyWilson.

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In late January of 2015, a tree stood wavering on the edge of Detroit’s burnt-out Grixdale neighborhood. A loud, old engine revved. A 100-foot rope tightened. A car strained forward. The tree followed, snapping and dropping into the overgrown yard of an abandoned house. A group of bearded men looked on from the front yard of a fire-ravaged structure across the street. Satisfaction and relief filled them as the final rays of sunlight scattered into the gray horizon. They had lost two ropes and a chainsaw in bringing down the tree, but they comforted themselves with the thought that the abandoned house and the surrounding telephone lines stood unharmed.

They were pretty far from Detroit’s refurbished downtown. Years ago, this neighborhood had succumbed to the rot brought on by the crack wars. Inhabitants fled, homes were torched, and the long blocks, once designed for cars, were left sparsely populated. In 2015, it remained largely abandoned. Sometimes, there were residual flare-ups of violence and theft. Some ways down the road, there remained a crack house. In this quiet, largely forgotten place, however, adjacent to the vistas of empty lots, under the canopy of old-growth trees, there was a new community growing. They lived amongst the neglected red brick houses and chose to call themselves Fireweed, after the pioneer plant species that takes over the landscape after a forest fire. More… “Why Does a Tree Fall in Detroit?”

Andrew Fedorov is sometimes found walking across countries, but can mostly be found in New York. His writing has appeared on Outside Online, Book Forum.com, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Awl, and in the Harper’s Weekly Review. Take a look at his twitter @andrewfed

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Kader Attia is a multi-form French visual artist, recipient of the Prize Marcel Duchamp, a prestigious national honor for contemporary artists awarded in France. The following essay is based on a French-language interview between Attia and Thomas Baumgartner on Radio Nova in October 2016. In it, Attia investigates the many layers of fracture that underpin social crises in Western Europe — and a hope for dialogue. All quotes are translations of the writer.

Explaining what motivates his work as an artist, Kader Attia speaks in his native French of réparation. He does not simply mean “fixing” as we might be tempted to translate into English. Instead, réparation can be thought of as transformation. You get a semblance of the original, but in the process of mending an object is always made new.
More… “An Artist’s Search for Cultural Reparation in France”

Jared Spears is a writer based in Brooklyn. His work has recently appeared in Philosophy Now and on Jacobin, Lit Hub, and elsewhere on the web.

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In August 2014, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery was in Ferguson, Missouri covering the protests over the police shootings of Michael Brown. On August 13, his third day on assignment, Lowery was arrested at a McDonalds: a moment captured on a video that quickly went viral. The Missouri protests spread across the country, morphing into Black Lives Matter movement, and Lowery continued to follow the story. His experience and reporting are documented in his first book: “They Can’t Kill Us All.” While on this book tour, Lowery dropped by The Smart Set offices for an interview conducted by Byshera Williams and Richard Abowitz. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… “Law & The Reporter”

Get in touch with The Smart Set at editor@thesmartset.com.

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For a long time, most academic studies of metal were as dark and foreboding as the songs appeared to be. With titles containing phrases like “heavy metal music and adolescent alienation” (1996) and “delinquent friends, social control, and delinquency” (1993), these works looked at whether being a metalhead was associated with a higher likelihood of depression, suicide, violence, and a particular kind of adolescent male aggression.
More… “The Positive Psychology of Metal Music”

Christine Ro’s writing about books, music, and other topics is collected at ChristineRo.com.

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All is not well. But we do not see that at first. The white house and the white picket fence are in perfect order. The sky is blue and bright. The flowers are red and yellow. The grass is green. We’re surrounded by primary colors and clarity.

“David Lynch: The Unified Field” Through January 11, 2015. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA

The man watering his lawn doesn’t notice the kink in the hose. The water pressure is building. The pressure in his neck builds, too. Suddenly, the man grabs his neck and falls to the ground. He is having a heart attack, or a stroke. The water from the hose shoots into the air as he falls. The man’s little dog bites ferociously at the stream. The camera pans down into the grass, into the muck… More…

I can’t get over the first two words of the poem: no sleep. No sleep. That’s how Herman Melville began his poem, which is called “The House-top. A Night Piece.” It was written in July of 1863. America was in the midst of the Civil War — really in the thick of it. 

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. He won the Whiting Award in 2013. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. A book of Morgan’s selected essays can be found here. He can be reached at morganmeis@gmail.com.