hugh miles

Living In A Beat Box: Cindy Blackman

My whole apartment is a drum,“ says jazz drummer Cindy Blackman. And homegirl is not exaggerating.

Her tiny basement studio apartment, tucked away in Manhattan’s tony Gramercy Park neighborhood, is consumed by her seven-piece Sonor kit. Even the post of her bed, a pine futon loft, hoists drums to the ceiling.

"Sleeping beneath drums and staring at them when I wake up, there’s no way I can lose my focus,” says Blackman, best known to the world as Lenny Kravitz’s drummer with the funky Afro wigs. “My aim is to play every day.”

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rip me

Playing Cards in Cairo

I remember stepping off the plane in Cairo and into the mêlée of traffic. A crush of more than 17 million people unlike anything I’d experienced before. The dust storms, being woken up at 5am to the call to prayer, the never-ending city sounds. I loved it. The fresh squeezed orange juice, colourful scarves, and winding streets. With the safety of my husband, and modestly dressed with headscarf and long sleeved baggy clothes, I could sit in cafes and watch the street life go by drinking karkaday and strong Egyptian coffee.

This was before the Arab Spring, but signs of unrest were clearly visible. Young, unemployed men, loitering in the streets harassing women walking by, and the feeling of tension and unease were everywhere. We were invited by an acquaintance to have dinner with him, his wife, and son. It was a unique opportunity to have a meal with a blended European-Egyptian family and, for me, the chance to get to know an Egyptian woman. The food was incredible and they had gone to great lengths to make a traditional Egyptian meal. But throughout the evening, the evidence of tension was almost unbearable. Tales of corruption, unemployment, police brutality, and poverty were the topics of conversation. It was clear to us that the makings of a revolution was brewing. 

Recently I finished the book “Playing Cards in Cairo” by Hugh Miles - an honest portrayal of an expat living in Cairo and falling in love with an Egyptian woman, which is at best a precarious, if not dangerous, situation. Published in 2005, just a few short years before I was there, and before the Arab Spring, Miles asks the same question, “why has there not been a revolution from the obvious oppression.” In hindsight, all the signs were there, the time was not quite right. But despite the sometimes brutal and depressing depictions of Egyptian life, particularly the treatment of women, it was a beautifully written book. I finished reading it and, despite the troubles, I immediately wanted to return. 

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on,
our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yule-tide gay,
From now on,
our troubles will be miles away.
—  Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane (”Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”)