Thursday, July 19, 2007

New Yorkers: From a Personal Directory

Sunday afternoon, Café Horus on Avenue B, popular for its flavored hookahs and satellite channels of ancient Egyptian music videos – I hear sexy Lebanese music videos are now corrupting the youth of the whole Middle East; Go Team! – but the café also has the best chicken kebab lunch special in town.

At the next table three attractive girls were sharing a hookah (pineapple?). I was attentive when I heard their accents. One, slim, dark-skinned, curly-haired, was from Saudi Arabia – I am fascinated by that society, and asked more. She lives three months there, then three here. “Isn’t it awkward going back and forth?” I asked, meaning socially. She said, “No,” meaning, the visas are all taken care of. “I have a car – I can drive around.” “But can you drive it yourself?” “No – I have a chauffeur.”

“Why do you want to know?” said the second girl, round face, brown-blond hair; not rude, just letting me know: Try anything, buster, and she’s got friends. Very New York; I approved. She was Turkish, from Adana in Cilicia, very impressed that I knew so many classical destinations I wanted to visit there.

The third girl had what I call Persian eyes: eNORmous, ox eyes, Hera eyes, almond-shaped, with long straight black hair. She was from Istanbul but Kurdish; she was playing Kurdish songs on her tape deck for them, translating the lyrics (girl runs from an arranged marriage but she’s pregnant, husband can’t decide whether to kill her or let the baby be born first, love oh careless love). “I wish you could understand it,” she sighed to the others. “It’s so good – the lyrics.” To me she said, politely, “Is the music bothering you?” which must be a first – as it happens, I enjoyed it greatly.

They talked only in English, their one common language. “We all live in New York and we’re best friends,” they told me. Only here, because their three races detest each other. Obviously they all came from good, probably well to do families, but still I doubt if they would have been able to associate – except perhaps at secular universities in Turkey – back home. A hundred years ago, they would never have left their separate communities, would never have met, but the cities had more minorities then – all keeping to themselves – as they do in New York when immigrants first get here.

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