The Golden Harvest in Post Production

This morning I was walking along a street in Amman, Jordan and came across several

The Crew in Salento, Italy

The Crew in Salento, Italy. Photo by Fabio Fassone.

people parking plastic chairs near the olive trees planted inexplicably along the city’s public  sidewalks.  They’d climb onto the chairs and start picking the olives off by hand and putting into sacks. What I’ve learned making THE GOLDEN HARVEST is that they are picking too early.  The olives are still too green for oil.  But if they want them for table olives, they’ll do okay.

Seeing these people today reminded me of why we’re making this film and just how hard it is to make a film.  So I thought I’d give a little update.  We’re in post production now.

We’ve filmed in four countries, and have a couple more to go. Along the way we’ve sampled a tremendous amount of great (and sometimes not so great) olive oil. When I sample those oils at home now, they remind of the exact trees they come from, because they taste and smell of the wind and sea and soil of that spot. Maybe that is one of the reasons olive oil stirs up so many emotions. The idea for this film began several years ago when my father passed away, and I tried to think of the times where he was happiest. And it was around the time of the olive harvest,when people would come to him to taste the oil from their harvest. My father hadn’t lived among olive trees since his youth, and I’m not sure he knew what virgin and extra virgin olive pressing meant, but that passion for the oil—for great oil—never left him. How could it? It was in almost everything he ate, and sometimes he just had a straight shot of it as a pick me up. When I started mentioning some of the olive oil stories of mine to other people with Mediterranean roots, it inevitably formed led to them telling me their own stories, all with as much emotion as if they were telling me about their first loves.   And so the process began…it’s been a regional effort, with great co-producers in Italy, Greece, Spain and Palestine. And we’ve brought together just some of the stories of that people along the olive oil route, tales of love, faith, pain and triumph—not to mention science, medicine and needless to say, great food.  CU Fresh OilIn the coming months, I’ll start introducing you to the crew and the people we’ve met–along with their favorite olive oil recipes.

Question My Name, but Don’t Call Me Overweight

The latest Southwest fat incident, this time with an obese teen getting to keep her two seats, even though her parents didn’t pay for them, and the smaller person getting bumped off, reminded me that yes, I too have my own Southwest fat story, and quite frankly it was more frustrating and certainly more physically grueling than all the times I’ve been pulled aside for a “random security check.”  My story happened several years ago, when I flew from Albuquerque to LA on Southwest, squeezed between a hefty longshoreman and a nearly 400-pound prison chef.
When I got on that plane, I was the last person to board, a mistake I haven’t made since.  I went up and down the aisle, but couldn’t find a seat to sit in.  I told the flight attendant, and she walked up with me until we can to a row with the above-mentioned prison chef and longshoreman.
“This is the only seat left on the flight,” she said, although she couldn’t see a seat anymore than I could for the flesh overflowing on to Seat B.

“Seriously?” I told her and the two men, already crammed in with three seats between them, nodded in agreement with me.

“Well, it’s this or wait for the flight that leaves in five hours,” she said.  “Now gentlemen, if you could just help me shove her in.”

And so the prison chef at the window undid his seat belt and banged his head into the window as he reached to drag his rolls of fat as far away from Seat B as he could.  The longshoreman, who at around 200 pounds was relatively small, stood up while I sat down and then he put my backpack on my lap for me.  When he sat back down and the prison chef let his fat down, so it plopped onto my lap with my backpack.  Forget armrests. I could barely breath and we were all sweating from the body heat. The flight attendant turned on the fan above me.  “There, isn’t that better now,” she smiled as we all continued to break out in sweat.

“Well, this is a threesome I never dreamed up,” said the prison guard and introduced himself with an apology.  He was so friendly, you couldn’t be pissed off at him not being thinner, which is actually what the longshoreman told him.
When they announced that we would be taking off soon, I panicked, realizing I couldn’t reach for my seatbelt.  “Don’t worry, sweetheart, you’re not going anywhere,” the prison chef told me.  It was true, I was too trapped between blubber to even move my hands.  “And if we crash, I’m the most padded life vest you’ve ever flown with.”

“I guess I can’t read my book,” I mumbled politely, remembering that so many people in this world are afraid to travel next to people with names like mine.

“Well, then let’s make small talk so we don’t think about how friggin’ hot we are,” he said.

And so the two of them told me all about their jobs, and I learned that Butterball Turkey has less processing and chemicals in it than Butterball chicken slices.  That’s why the chef preferred to serve the inmates turkey and why I should stick with my hatred of chicken.  When we’d run out of small talk, the longshoreman placed a magazine on my lap and we all shared it, with him turning the pages when each of us was done, as I couldn’t move my hands–I have to say, it was a turbulent flight apparently, but I didn’t feel a bump.
At the end of the flight, the attendant gave me a $100 voucher, although it expired long before I had the courage to take a Southwest flight again or go to Albuquerque.  But at that moment, I had a solution to this whole overweight passenger thing that I wish someone would pay attention to.

I do not make fun of fat people because I know what it feels like for those who aren’t comfortable with being overweight—I was a fat teen that was so hounded and ridiculed and I was so scarred by it all that I have never stopped seeing a fat person in the mirror, so I don’t mean what I say next for purposes of chub-chub humor.  But I want to scream every time I go to check in for a flight, and the ticket agent declares, “You’re five pounds overweight.  Either you have to pay $100 or find a way to get five pounds into your carry on.”  Of course, I end up doing the latter, risking back and shoulder injury as I drag myself to the gate, and in the absurdity of it all,  I find myself far more upset by these incidents rather than when being pulled aside because of my Middle Eastern name—suspect me of being terrorist, okay, that is about national security, but calling me overweight, not okay.

First off, how am I taking any less on the flight, if I’ve taken the five pounds out of one bag and put it in another?  And why are they risking passenger backaches over such illogic?  But most importantly, why am I overweight while the person sitting next to me, often weighing a good 50 to 100 pounds more than me is not?  He and his carry on together are double my weight, and I’m the one being told I’m too heavy and need to pay $100?  What airlines need to do is set a goal weight:  Choose a number, say 220 1bs (because that makes an understandable even 100 kilos for foreign passengers), and everyone has to come in at less than 220 pounds, luggage included.  That’s logical and fuel efficient and it’s not fat discrimination, as people are now being asked to buy two tickets at a certain weight in any case, and it would promote people to travel lighter and who knows, might even help inspire some people to deal with the excess baggage they always carry with them.  But I really don’t want another airline employee telling me I’m overweight—that’s just false, judgmental and hypocritical.

THE NIGHT COUNTER’S MIDDLE EAST TOUR BEGINS

Six weeks after finishing the initial U.S. tour, The Night Counter and I are going to do a little tour of the Middle East.  Started out easy last night at the

The Night Counter at the Virgin Store in Abu Dhabi

The Night Counter at the Virgin Store in Abu Dhabi

American Women’s Network in Abu Dhabi, where, thanks to my friend Annette, many of the women had already read it and were fans.  Next is Bahrain, where I don’t know anyone.  I’ll wrap it  up in mid-December in Abu Dhabi with New York University’s international conference on the Arabian Nights.  Here’s a rundown:

Monday, October 19, 2009 at 7:00 p.m.
American Women’s Network (guest speaker)
Abu Dhabi, UAE

Saturday, October 24, 2009
Seef Mall at 10 am, City Centre at 5 pm
Jashansmal’s
Manama, Bahrain

Sunday, November 8, 2009 at 7 p.m.
Diwan Bookstore
159, 26th July Street, Zamalak
Cairo, Egypt

Saturday, November 7 -10, 2009
Arab-US Association for Communication Educators Conference
Cairo, Egypt
Presentation of paper with Dr. Gaelle Picherit-Duthler: “Tramps, Terrorists, and Teases: The Changing Image of American and Arab Women in Hollywood Films.”

Saturday, November 14, 2009 at 7 p.m.
Virgin Store
Doha, Qatar

Tuesday, November 24, 2009 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Librarie Antoine
Hamra Branch
Beirut, Lebanon

Tuesday, November 24, 2009
American Community School
Opening of New Library, 3 p.m.
Workshop, 2 p.m.

November 11 to 20, 2009
Sharjah International Book Fair
Sharjah, UAE

December 12-14, 2009
Arab and Muslim Literature in English Conference
University of Nizwa
Nizwa, Oman

Tuesday December 15, 2009 at 6:30 p.m.
New York University’s “Writers in Conversation with The Arabian Nights With Alia Yunis, Elias Khoury, Gamal Elgihitany, Githa Hariharan, and Amira El-Zein”
Intercontinental Hotel
Abu Dhabi, UAE

LIVING IN THE SOUND OF MUSIC:What Does A Small Alpine Village Have In Common With Abu Dhabi?

I’m in Obervellach in southern Austria, population 1,500, where the hills are alive with The Sound of Music—the movie that is.  Everywhere you turn, you’re waiting for Julie Andrews to come twirling down the mountain or the Von Tramp children to pop out of the bright flower boxes on the Alpine homes and break into song.  It is Sound of Music picture perfect.  Turns out the folks around here aren’t big fans of the movie, in the way Irish people don’t dig Frank McCourt’s Ireland.  They’d rather you go home talking about the amazing views from the alm—yes, just like Heidi’s alm– where the cows are sent for the summer and everyone can practice yodeling, hiking through waterfalls, swimming in the incredible lakes, embracing local gossip at one of the pubs along the river over lemon beers (not being a drinker is just one of the many ways I’m an obvious outsider here), eating ice cream sundaes the size of mini Christmas trees.

I’m not in Abu Dhabi for sure, but that’s not to say there aren’t some similarities between Abu Dhabi and a small Alpine village, and I’m sure that’s just not too much fresh air talking:

1.    In a small Alpine village, just like in Abu Dhabi, lots of families have little farms with goats and sheep.  In the small Alpine village, they usually also have cows, and in Abu Dhabi they have camels instead.
2.    In both places everybody is everybody’s cousin.  But in Abu Dhabi no one bothers to explain the relationship.  In a small Alpine village, they go through the whole family branch involved.
3.    Both the small Alpine village and Abu Dhabi, have a word that seems to pop up in every other sentence:  In the small Alpine village, it’s “super;” in Abu Dhabi, it’s inshallah.
4.    In the small Alpine village, you can literally smell the green around you.  Abu Dhabi does have a lot of green, but it’s mostly money.
5.    In both places, umbrellas are a necessity, in Abu Dhabi to stave off the sun that never gives you a break, and in the small Alpine village to hold off the rain that seems to come and go throughout the day as quickly as winter in Abu Dhabi. (Water is a topic of conversation in both, but in the small Alpine village it’s about too much water, and Abu Dhabi too little)
6.    In a small Alpine village and Abu Dhabi, people eat of a lot of meat.  In the small Alpine village, it is pork.  In Abu Dhabi it is not.
7.    Both places draw in tourists interested in hiking.  But in the small Alpine village it’s mountains, and in Abu Dhabi, it’s sand dunes.
8.     And in both places, Michael Jackson is playing on the radio now, and in both places I remember that I was planning on marrying him in seventh grade and looking like Farah Fawcett on that big day.

Living in the Sound of Music

Living in the Sound of Music

Abu Dhabi or the small Alpine village would have done fine for the occasion.  Weddings are a big deal in both.