The Mississippi

I have, in a variety of precarious situations – usually involving poor judgement and a cat-killing level of curiosity, considered what would be the headline of the article announcing my death.

This weekend setting out for a canoe trip with the Mississippi Water Security Institute was not one of those times – I casually checked the weather and thought to myself that the parts of the Mississippi I had seen could hardly be considered impressive.  For back story, about a month ago, I took my students out on the Wolf River in Tennessee, and given the weather called for severe thunderstorms I disappointed all of my students by declaring that it would be a day trip rather than an overnight. The weather turned out perfectly, and I looked like an overly cautious mother duck.

After setting out on a side channel outside of Clarksdale we encountered bad weather only briefly – Bad weather in the south means something very different than what I’m used to. I have NEVER seen a canoe fill with water so quickly as we began to bail water out of the canoes. Half of the students seemed mesmerized by the thunder and lightening, and the other half seemed panicked enough to help out. Everyone had rain gear, but it absolutely seemed ridiculous at that point to done a poncho and hope to stay dry. ‘Realizing that I was the only one laughing, it occurred to me that April’s camping trip cancellation was probably the right idea. Imagine camping in a swamp with twenty sopping wet freshman. Not my idea of fun.

After a few minutes the weather calmed down and we made our way out to see the main channel of the river. That was the first time it occurred to me that this river, the longest in North America, really is quite impressive.

So if you find yourself with the time, money and resources to venture out on the Mighty Mississippi, it’s certainly worth the visit – even in a thunderstorm.

 

The Baghdad Eucharist

The Baghdad Eucharist by Sinan Antoon is your new homework – yes, yes, your new reading assignment. If you prefer reading in Arabic, pick up a copy of Ya Maryam. If English, and Arabic are not your thing, then contact Hoopoe Fiction to beg for a translation in French (you can find a Spanish copy).

What’s it about?

Put most simply, “The Baghdad Eucharist is an intimate story of love, memory, and anguish in one Christian family.” <<Thanks Amazon>>.

Taking place over the course of a day, we see Baghdad from the perspectives of the elderly (Youssef) and the young (Maha). What makes this worth reading are the powerful descriptions of the people who make up Youssef’s world – his sister, Hibba, his other siblings and his drinking companions.

Moreover, it dismantles the single story of Baghdad as a place where Sunni-Shiite divides allegedly reign supreme, and for this reason alone it should be required for every American who dares utter the phrase “Who cares? they’ve been fighting for hundreds of years.”

The Baghdad Eucharist screams nostalgia in the best ways, after all Maha accuses Youssef of living in the past, – the ways I often feel myself reaching for when I try to talk to my students about date palms (coincidently, there are plenty of mentions in Antoon’s novel), the power of community, and of place.  Instead of hearing my thoughts on the richness of culture or the incredible importance of the date, they usually hear “blah blah sectarian violence. blah blah arabic word,” and then go off to whatever place in the world they inhabit. Antoon, as to be expected, once again captures everything I can’t.

So in the Spring, I’ll be assigning The Baghdad Eucharist. In the meantime, I’ll be reading my well worn copy of I’jaam, one of Antoon’s other novels, and a much more compelling read than 1984.