Coming Soon: A Shift in Focus

The Enigma of Arrival
[This post started out as the (overly-long) introduction to a review I posted yesterday of Nawal, a Somali restaurant in Burnsville, MN. So as to let that review stand on its own, I’ve split the part about my current shift in focus on the blog to this separate post.]

In the days after the US General Election I published a post titled “Lifestyle Blogging in Trump’s America?“. In it I noted the incongruity of blogging about whisky and food in a time when the confirmation and acceleration of political and social crisis seemed to be all around us. I concluded by saying that while it was necessary to move (further) into political action, it was also important to not let these dark developments make us foreclose on the possibility of pleasure. Well, two and a half months later I’m still refusing to foreclose on pleasure but, especially after the events of the last 10 days,  I am not feeling terribly motivated these days to sit down every night and write tasting notes on whisky (or brandy or rum). 

This is not to say that I am going to stop blogging or that I am now going to start blogging about politics. I just want to make more of an effort to locate what I do here within the world we find ourselves in now. And I’m going to try to do that within the terms of the blog’s stated subject matter (even if some of that has previously only received nominal coverage here). No, I’m not going to find a way to make whisky reviews into political commentary; but I will probably blog much less about whisky (see above). My restaurant reviews, however, will shift emphasis, to far greater coverage of smaller, immigrant-run establishments; in particular, I will try to focus on establishments that cater to communities who have been specifically targeted by recent political directives: Somali, North African and Middle Eastern restaurants in the Twin Cities are at the top of my list and I will also be reviewing more Mexican and other Latin American restaurants. I will also continue to review the restaurants featuring the foods of other immigrant communities (Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai etc.)

Thinking of restaurant reviews as even soft political intervention may strike you as silly. I think, however, that food and the places we gather together to eat food are crucial sites where otherness gets taken over by neighbourliness. In eating we take other people’s cultures, the ways in which they consume the world, into ourselves and this is, I think, one of the ways in which we can translate ourselves into something new. I don’t mean to be pollyana’ish about this: it is of course true that people generally have better relationships with other cultures’ foods than they do with their people (see, for example, anti-Mexican political rhetoric coming from people who happily eat Mexican food). And I don’t mean to suggest either that eating or reviewing restaurants is a substitute for other, more direct forms of political activity (which we should also all continue to engage in). But accepting the hospitality of others, especially marginalized groups, can be a way of rewiring our connections to them, of stating true community. If it is true that we are what we eat, it may also be true, especially in times like these, that we are where we eat. If you think that’s too mushy or pretentious, it’s also a way of signaling support with money.

In addition to drawing more of my local readership’s attention to immigrant-run restaurants, I am also going to make more of an effort to write about books and films from the non-Western world. I’d wanted to do this from the get-go but never really got around to it—in part because I got caught up very early in being recognized as a whisky blogger, in part because I am lazy and tasting notes are very easy/quick to write, and in part because writing and talking about books and films are central to my professional life and it was nice to do something very different in my spare time. Now I’m going to try and do more of it on the blog. If nothing else, it may force my reading out of my comfort zones—let me admit here that I have read very little modern Arab literature and that my knowledge of African literature is also not as up-to-date as I would like.

I’m not going to stop blogging about whisky etc. entirely, but the numbers of whisky reviews will drop: probably one review a week rather than three. (I’m still going to be drinking whisky, of course.) As I’m not going to be reviewing very many whiskies I’m not going to do the usual listing of potential reviews at the start of the month. And I do hope to get back to normal service sooner rather than later; hopefully my whisky readership—or at least the fraction of my readership that is only interested in my whisky posts—will come back then. There are certainly plenty of other places to read about whisky.

Speaking of which, I should say that this is a personal decision on my part, based entirely on how I’m feeling about my priorities these days. By no means do I think that everyone should stop blogging full-time about whisky etc. It’s not like blogging is the sum-total of anyone’s activities or commitments and I’m in no sense calling for anyone else to follow my lead. Indeed, I’ll be reading other whisky blogs regularly—primarily Sku’s Recent Eats and Diving for Pearls—and maybe I’ll see some of those who lose interest in this blog in the comments there.

To the hope of the return of better days!

13 thoughts on “Coming Soon: A Shift in Focus

  1. Appreciate your sentiments and explanation, and I am looking forward to seeing your future restaurant reviews.

    Wife and I are this close to walking around downtown and the airport with the rest of them – I am afraid it’s just a matter of time.

    On the upside, we set a date for India: Feb ’19 !!

    Joe

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  2. 22 years ago (yikes!) I worked in Yemen for a year, a 20 year old Australian living with 3 Iraqi and 5 Pakistani engineers and electricians (working alongside, as well, Eritreans and Somalians) in two very small towns in central and southern Yemen (Dhamar and Al Baydah – the latter now infamously and tragically the first international victim of Trump’s American armed forces (although of course Obama was a frequent droner of the area too)). We bonded and learned from our diverse stories and experiences while cooking and eating dinner on a daily basis.

    We really couldn’t have been more different. I saw Yemen – fresh out of a bitter civil war (with worse, obviously, yet to come) and still terribly impoverished as it was – as exotic, fascinating and dangerous. But to the Iraqis in particular – who, remember, in that post- (now inter-) war period were embargoed from working anywhere else but Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Jordan – it was a prison, inescapable until a miracle visa came their way from Australia, Canada or New Zealand. After dinner we’d retire to watch the “latest” Bollywood western on a scratchy pirated VHS, before I’d go to my room and have a sneaky JWB (whisky-related remark alert!), snaffled either from a recent visit to Aden (where the Movenpick had (the only I think) license to sell alcohol) or via an Italian diplomatic bag.

    At the end of the working week and all salaries paid (Thursdays were typically a rather early finish in Yemen), I’d jump in a car with one of the drivers and begin the tortuous drive south to Al Baydah where my father was working. Mouths bulging with qat, the syncopated rhythms of Yemeni music pulsing out of the old pick-up’s tape deck, we’d risk life and limb at every corner as we drove down the mountains, past the stepped fields and the gutted, burned out tanks, into a region even more tribal and traditional to those of the north, stopping only for checkpoints and petrol, the latter guided into the tank by the light of a burning cigarette.

    Once we arrived, I’d be greeted by my dad’s driver – whose wife made the most sublime sambosa and which I’d later take back home to Dhamar by the basket load – at the gate and we’d kick-start the generator and go in for some tea. (By then the muezzin would also be in full swing, not stopping their advice, prayers, commands and counsel until late Friday night). And then, this being 1995, we’d turn CNN on (my father’s place had a satellite) and catch all the news from the OJ trial.

    My point is – if there is one and really there probably isn’t – is that people are great if you actually meet them and eat with them and spend time with them, instead of just hearing lies about them, or watching them do evil deeds on the movie screen, or using them for some fucking petty and disgraceful personal gain. Obviously since that time I’ve travelled, lived and worked in many other places but the people I ate and drank and lived with in Yemen – Iraqi, Yemeni, Pakistani, Ethiopian or otherwise – literally opened the world up for me.

    This is why what is happening now – not just over there in the US but the world over – is so sad and dangerous, and why I congratulate and thank you and many others for your continued words.

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    • Thanks for that wonderful story. My family lived in Baghdad for two and a half years from late 1978 to early 1981. I was young—only 11 when we returned to India—but my memories of Iraq are very vivid: Baghdad, Samarra, Hatra, Mosul, Nineveh…these are all names and places that are indelible parts of my childhood. And in the summer of 1980 we took a holiday that cannot be repeated now—probably not ever since: we drove from Baghdad to Brussels (where we took the ferry to England) and back again over the course of a month, all our luggage strapped to the roof of a Toyota Carina that had seen better days before we bought it in Kuwait, staying in campgrounds most of the way. Baghdad to Damascus to Ankara and then Istanbul; down to Greece and then back up along the Adriatic coast through Yugoslavia to Italy, Switzerland, France and then Belgium. Near Zagreb we got a free tank of petrol because the owner was so excited to actually meet Indians: Bombay film had been huge in the communist world and he happily sang a few snatches of “Mera Joota Hai Japani” from the great Raj Kapoor film Shree 420 to my father in broken Hindi.

      Hard to believe that 37 years later the world is more closed, more fractured, less welcoming of strangers and difference.

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  3. So can anyone recommend some worthwhile whisky blogs that are NOT drying up?

    This one, All Things Whisky, Sku, Diving for Pearls, and Whisky Fun used to be my usual perusals. The first three of those are drying up. Most other ones I stumble across aren’t worthwhile.

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  4. Hi there,

    after sku Oliver and some others aired their growing frustration with the development of the whisky world in summer 2016 I wrote something about the critcal voices that are dying out in the whisky world. That was in German unfortunately but I do see things going the same way as Ol’ Jas.
    The motivation to blog about whisky in general is dwindling and I hope that the decreasing number of whisky blogs or the many whisky blogs that seem to lie dormant at the moment can be reversed or woken up again.
    Not that I do not share the frustration with the way the whisky world is going but I sincerely hope that places like this one do not dry up completely and turn their back on whisky alltogehter.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

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