20 October 2007...5:17 pm

Out Of All Those Kinds Of People You Got A Face With A View

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He would walk around eating bananas! Hani was delighted.

Edward Said would? I was delighted, too.

He would walk around eating bananas at the Horton Williams on one fifteenth!

What is the Horton Williams?


The supermarket! It used to be called something else. The One Hundred and Fifteenth Street Deli. I was dubious of this assertion, if only because, considering the quantity of bodega-esque establishments on 115th, a nomenclature-al monopoly would not be exactly fair. As for Edward Said’s preference for musaceae, though, whatever. I bought it.  Sure.

He was a member of my church.

Did Edward Said ever go to church? Mary sounded as invested in the veracity of the church issue as I had been about the deli. I buy a lot of club sodas. Maybe she is similarly addicted to fizzy hymnals. Hani didn’t really answer. I guessed that Said no longer attended, no matter what his banana-era habits had been.

Mary was still interested in the places where Said had gone when he wasn’t at church.  Did he ever go back to Palestine?

Hani said he didn’t know if Said had.  Even me, as a U.S. citizen, I can’t fly into Ben Gurion.

How would you get to Ramallah to visit?

 I go through Jordan.  Palestinians are stripped when they come in, naked.  They search everyone that way.  They do it at the land border.  That way no tourists at the airport can see.


Hani was driving Mary and I from his house in Washington Heights to smoke shisha in Astoria. He is from Ramallah, and he–and, apparently, Edward Said–was raised as a Palestinian Anglican. Hani left Ramallah after the first intifada in 1988, when his family moved to Jordan.

I don’t know exactly how we got out. I never asked my father. Jordan was sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but for that reason it had been in that country’s interest to keep Palestinians in Palestine; migration was discouraged. It was not necessarily relevant that there were no functioning Palestinian schools.

Well, asked Mary, what did your father do?

He was in the restaurant business. The high-end restaurant business.


The high-end restaurant business is not the primary concern of Steinway Street. As we walked into Layali Beirut, Hani looked at a woman sitting near the back eating what looked like lumps of fried bread. She is the waitress here, he whispered, and I am always a little bit scared of her. Hani had told us that he tried to go to Layali Beirut at least once a week. There had been ample opportunity for fear cultivation.

She does look professional, I said.

She is Moroccan, said Hani.


We sat down and started smoking. I looked furtively at a large table near the flat screen TV. The six men sitting there stared openly back at me. Hani, are those men the owners?

He smiled. What I have concluded is that one of them is a wholesaler who sells merchandise here. I did not ask what kind of merchandise was required by a shisha bar. Hani paused as a portly six-year old in a sweatsuit ran by our table. The boy was wearing a paper chef’s hat and yelling about something that he really did not want to do.

Hani continued. The other one is his brother. One of them is sad, and that other one is nervous. He looked at me expectantly. None of the men appeared to be particularly sad or nervous, so I decided to giggle and tell Hani he was astute.

So, he said, Emma, your Spanish is perfect?

La!  I said, in Arabic.  My Spanish is not perfect.

 I have relatives in Chile, you know. We had not known.  I went to visit them but their English wasn’t good.  I asked them why they had moved from Ramallah and they said “Look at the beaches, the weather!  Why would we not want to live here?”

Hani started laughing.  Our family name is Alam?  When they moved to South America they changed it.  Now their last name is Alamo.



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