Sunday, January 27, 2008

With a Whisper, Cuba’s Housing Market Booms

January 28, 2008
With a Whisper, Cuba’s Housing Market Booms

HAVANA — Virtually every square foot of this capital city is owned by the socialist state, which would seem sure to put a damper on the buying and selling of property.

But the people of Havana, it turns out, are as obsessed with real estate as, say, condo-crazy New Yorkers, and have similar dreams of more elbow room, not to mention the desire for hot water, their own toilets and roofs that do not let the rain seep indoors.

And although there is no Century 21 here, there is a bustling underground market in homes and apartments, which has given rise to agents (illegal ones), speculators (they are illegal, too) and scams (which range from praising a dive as a dream house to backing out of a deal at the closing and pocketing the cash).

The whole enterprise is quintessentially Cuban, socialist on its face but really a black market involving equal parts drama and dinero, sometimes as much as $50,000 or more.

These days, insiders say, prices are on the rise as people try to get their hands on historic homes in anticipation of a time when private property may return to Cuba. Exiles in Miami are also getting into the act, Cubans say, sending money to relatives on the island to help them upgrade their homes.

Officially, buying or selling property is forbidden. But the island has a dire housing shortage, despite government-sponsored new construction. And that has led many Cubans to subdivide their often decaying dwellings or to upgrade their surroundings through a decades-old bartering scheme known in Cuban slang as permuta.

Some of those housing transactions are simple swaps. Those the government permits, tracking each one to keep an up-to-date record of the location of every last Cuban. Many moves, however, are illegal and involve trading up or down, with one party compensating, with money, another party giving up better property.

A 1983 film, “Se Permuta,” portrays how complex the system can get: A mother scheming to get her daughter away from a boyfriend she dislikes organizes a multipronged property swap. Of course, the deal, which would have involved about a dozen people and taken mother and daughter from a tiny apartment into a spacious colonial-era house, ends up in a mess, as does the mother’s meddling in her daughter’s love life.

“It’s very Cuban,” Juan Carlos Tabío, who wrote and directed the film, said of his country’s real estate bartering process. “There aren’t enough houses, and families can’t buy them. So they trade.”

Mr. Tabío has no personal experience with changing homes, having lived in the same spacious third-floor apartment in the well-heeled Vedado neighborhood since 1957. Many Cubans live in the same dwellings their families owned before the revolution; others have been assigned units by the state.

But almost every Cuban is either plotting to upgrade residences or knows someone in the midst of the labyrinthine process.

Here is how it works. Imagine a married Cuban couple with two children and a baby on the way who find their two-bedroom apartment in the historic Old Havana neighborhood too cramped. What are they to do?

Well, with the help of an agent known as a runner they might start by locating a bachelor from the countryside looking to come to the capital. They could arrange for the newcomer to move into a tiny apartment in Chinatown and move its residents — who also have a house in Miramar where their elderly grandmother lives — to a first-floor unit they sought in Central Havana. The Central Havana flat is available because the residents have divorced; so the former wife would go to the bachelor’s country house, near where her parents live, while her former husband would go to Old Havana. The Old Havana family that started the whole process would then head to their dream house in spacious and quiet Miramar.

Sound complicated? It is. And the government adds even more hurdles by trying to regulate the swaps with a variety of forms and fees as well as inspections of the properties involved to ensure that they are of roughly equal value.

All trades have to be endorsed by the government, but Cubans say slipping money to bureaucrats increases the chances that deals of unequal properties — as in those that involve money and carry the taint of capitalist yearning — will be approved.

“Under the table, there are all sorts of things going on,” Mr. Tabío said.

The Cuban authorities occasionally make busts, but find the trades difficult to control.

“It’s something people shouldn’t do, but they do and we know it goes on,” said José Luis Toledo Santander, a professor of law and a member of the National Assembly. “It’s like saying you have to stop at the red light and you can’t go until it’s green. You ought to do it, but not everybody does.”

The trading occurs in plain sight. Under the watchful eye of a police officer, hundreds of people gather every Saturday under the ficus trees on El Prado, one of Havana’s grand avenues. Some carry cardboard signs describing their units: the neighborhoods, number of bedrooms and whether there are patios, garages, hot water, private bathrooms and gas supplies. Less desirable dwellings use tanks of gas for cooking and require residents to share toilets with others down the hall.

Ricardo Aguiar, 65, who lives in a two-bedroom apartment in the humble Marianao neighborhood with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter, is looking for a more spacious place in Vedado, a popular area closer to the center of Havana. “It’s going to be difficult,” he said, scouring the signs on El Prado recently and checking in with the agents who sit on the stone benches trying to make deals.

“I’ve just started looking, but there are people who look for years and then something goes wrong and they never move,” he said.

Nearby, a woman was working the crowd in search of a first-floor apartment near her current third-floor unit in Central Havana so she would not have to climb so many stairs.

“You have your system and we have ours,” she said, identifying herself only by her first name, Alejandra. “I prefer our system. We don’t have mortgages and so we’re not facing foreclosure like so many of you are.”

Alejandra knows about the foreclosure crisis in the United States because her son lives in Florida and is struggling to make his house payments. “I worry about him,” she said. “If he loses his job, he’ll lose his home.”

Property is sometimes seized in Cuba as well, but by the government, not the bank. Property is taken from those who hop on boats to Florida, although most switch their houses to relatives’ names well before leaving. Those fleeing the island also frequently downgrade their accommodations before going into exile, trading big places for small ones and using the money exchanged on the side to pay for their voyages — the Cuban equivalent of a home equity loan.

Although it is not clear how many thousands of swaps take place annually, some of them involve the same people again and again, as in the case of a woman in her 60s who said she had moved 42 times over the last two decades. “I love to move,” she said. “I can’t live in the same place for a year.”

But her movement is about more than seeking new surroundings. She fixes up each place, then turns it over for a profit, she said in a low voice, declining to be identified out of fear that the authorities might catch up with her.

Moving through the crowd with her is a learning experience. She knows the regulars and can spot the deals. When money is discussed, she and the person she is negotiating with fall into whispers.

“There are so many liars here,” she said, surveying the crowd. “They say they have the best place in Havana, and you get there and you don’t even want to go in. I just stop at the door and say, ‘No, thanks.’ ”

She said she used money sent from relatives who fled to Miami years ago to keep her business going.

“It’s a good time to invest,” she said. “If you have family outside, $20,000 is nothing, and you can get a good place here. If change comes, and we all expect it, then you’re set.”

That is the philosophy of another mogul in the making, who also declined to be identified by name.

Standing in the living room of a two-bedroom apartment in Central Havana that he is renovating, the man estimated its current worth at $20,000, a mint in a country where monthly government salaries can be one one-thousandth of that. If private property ever comes to Cuba, he estimates the price will most likely multiply by five.

Through a complicated transaction, the man recently managed to obtain a historic home in Old Havana that he is also renovating. He said he researched the ownership history of the dwelling because he did not want to find one day that it had been expropriated from an American, possibly leading to a court battle in a post-Castro Cuba. As for his apartment, he rents rooms to tourists, which the government allows.

He is also buying up old chandeliers and other historic furnishings to decorate his units. With most people so desperate for money, he said, he pays next to nothing.

“This is the moment to buy,” he said, referring to Fidel Castro’s illness, talk of change by his brother Raúl and many Cubans’ view that their system, a half century old, will not remain as it is forever.

Fairouz fans angry over the diva's concert in Syria

Christian Science Monitor
from the January 28, 2008 edition -
Fairouz fans angry over the diva's concert in Syria
The famous Lebanese singer traveled to Syria last week to appear in a six-day run beginning Monday at the Damascus Opera House.
By Nicholas Blanford | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

BEIRUT, lebanon

Revered throughout the Arab world for five decades, the much beloved and iconic Lebanese diva Fairouz has found herself embroiled in Lebanon's bitter crisis with Syria.

Fairouz, long the doyenne of Arab singers, traveled to Syria last week to appear in a six-day run beginning Monday at the Damascus Opera House of her classic 1970 musical "Sah al-Nom," an Arabic expression for "Did you sleep well?" Her appearance is a highlight of a series of cultural events in Syria this year to mark UNESCO designating Damascus as the 2008 Arab capital of culture.

Her decision to sing in Damascus, however, has caused a split in her huge fan base in Lebanon between those arguing that Fairouz should not perform before the rulers of a country blamed for a string of assassinations in Lebanon over the past three years, and others who maintain that the Lebanese diva is above politics and should sing wherever she wishes.

The spat hardened on Friday when a top Lebanese police officer became the latest victim of the bomb assassinations that have blighted Lebanon for over three years. Capt. Wissam Eid, head of the technical department in the paramilitary Internal Security Forces, died along with five other people when a powerful car bomb exploded beside his vehicle in a Beirut suburb.

Lebanon's gridlocked pro- and anti-Syrian factions have been unable to elect a new president since November, and the crisis continues to defy regional and international mediation.

"Those who love Lebanon do not sing for its jailers," says anti-Syrian legislator Akram Shehayeb. "Our ambassador to the stars, you painted for us the dream nation, so don't scatter that dream like the dictators of Damascus scattered our dreams of a democratic free country."

A poll conducted last week by the "Now Lebanon" Web portal, which is sympathetic to the anti-Syrian March 14 coalition in Lebanon, found that 67 percent of respondents were against Fairouz appearing in Damascus.

"Simply, this is not the moment for a musical love-in," a Now Lebanon editorial said. "Fairouz must decide. She is a Lebanese icon, and, as such she must repay the people who have backed her and who love her with a modicum of solidarity."

Born Nohad Haddad, she was given the stage name Fairouz, Arabic for Turquoise, by an early mentor. Her first major concert was in 1957. She became an instant sensation and, in collaboration with her musician husband, Assi Rahbani, and his brother Mansour, her acclaim rose during the 1960s and 1970s.

Fairouz has consistently remained aloof from politics, saying her music was for the people only. Apart from a single concert in 1978, she famously refused to sing in Lebanon during the 1975-90 civil war in disgust at the warring militias, who continued to adore her nonetheless.

Her songs are regularly played during times of difficulty in Lebanon, and, for older generations, they evoke a nostalgia for Lebanon's golden years in the 1950s and 1960s.

A recluse who has given only three interviews in her five-decade career, Fairouz has not responded to her critics. However, her former musical partner Mansour Rahbani said her decision to sing in Damascus was "a message of love and peace from Lebanon to Syria. A message of friendship, not subservience."

Certainly, Syrians are delighted that Fairouz is back in Damascus, her first appearance in the Syrian capital since 1982.

"The Syrians are thrilled, especially the Damascenes," says Sami Moubayed, a historian of Syria's postindependence period in the 1950s. "She reminds them of the 'good old days'," adding that apart from "nostalgia, talent, her gigantic standing [and] heavenly voice ... everybody is pleased that she is defying the anti-Syrian team in Lebanon and coming."

Still, for most ardent fans, Fairouz is a symbol of unity rather than division and her standing will doubtless outlast the current quarrel. As the famous Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani once wrote: "When Fairouz sings, mountains and rivers follow her voice, the mosque and the church, the oil jar and loaves of bread. Through her, every one of us is made to blossom, and once we were no more than sand; men drop their weapons and apologize. Upon hearing her voice, our childhood is molded anew."

Japan's Cellphone Novels


January 20, 2008
Thumbs Race as Japan’s Best Sellers Go Cellular

TOKYO — Until recently, cellphone novels — composed on phone keypads by young women wielding dexterous thumbs and read by fans on their tiny screens — had been dismissed in Japan as a subgenre unworthy of the country that gave the world its first novel, “The Tale of Genji,” a millennium ago. Then last month, the year-end best-seller tally showed that cellphone novels, republished in book form, have not only infiltrated the mainstream but have come to dominate it.

Of last year’s 10 best-selling novels, five were originally cellphone novels, mostly love stories written in the short sentences characteristic of text messaging but containing little of the plotting or character development found in traditional novels. What is more, the top three spots were occupied by first-time cellphone novelists, touching off debates in the news media and blogosphere.

“Will cellphone novels kill ‘the author’?” a famous literary journal, Bungaku-kai, asked on the cover of its January issue. Fans praised the novels as a new literary genre created and consumed by a generation whose reading habits had consisted mostly of manga, or comic books. Critics said the dominance of cellphone novels, with their poor literary quality, would hasten the decline of Japanese literature.

Whatever their literary talents, cellphone novelists are racking up the kind of sales that most more experienced, traditional novelists can only dream of.

One such star, a 21-year-old woman named Rin, wrote “If You” over a six-month stretch during her senior year in high school. While commuting to her part-time job or whenever she found a free moment, she tapped out passages on her cellphone and uploaded them on a popular Web site for would-be authors.

After cellphone readers voted her novel No. 1 in one ranking, her story of the tragic love between two childhood friends was turned into a 142-page hardcover book last year. It sold 400,000 copies and became the No. 5 best-selling novel of 2007, according to a closely watched list by Tohan, a major book distributor.

“My mother didn’t even know that I was writing a novel,” said Rin, who, like many cellphone novelists, goes by only one name. “So at first when I told her, well, I’m coming out with a novel, she was like, what? She didn’t believe it until it came out and appeared in bookstores.”

The cellphone novel was born in 2000 after a home-page-making Web site, Maho no i-rando, realized that many users were writing novels on their blogs; it tinkered with its software to allow users to upload works in progress and readers to comment, creating the serialized cellphone novel. But the number of users uploading novels began booming only two to three years ago, and the number of novels listed on the site reached one million last month, according to Maho no i-rando.

The boom appeared to have been fueled by a development having nothing to do with culture or novels but by cellphone companies’ decision to offer unlimited transmission of packet data, like text-messaging, as part of flat monthly rates. The largest provider, Docomo, began offering this service in mid-2004.

“Their cellphone bills were easily reaching $1,000, so many people experienced what they called ‘packet death,’ and you wouldn’t hear from them for a while,” said Shigeru Matsushima, an editor who oversees the book uploading site at Starts Publishing, a leader in republishing cellphone novels.

The affordability of cellphones coincided with the coming of age of a generation of Japanese for whom cellphones, more than personal computers, had been an integral part of their lives since junior high school. So they read the novels on their cellphones, even though the same Web sites were also accessible by computer. They punched out text messages with their thumbs with blinding speed, and used expressions and emoticons, like smilies and musical notes, whose nuances were lost on anyone over the age of 25.

“It’s not that they had a desire to write and that the cellphone happened to be there,” said Chiaki Ishihara, an expert in Japanese literature at Waseda University who has studied cellphone novels. “Instead, in the course of exchanging e-mail, this tool called the cellphone instilled in them a desire to write.”

Indeed, many cellphone novelists had never written fiction before, and many of their readers had never read novels before, according to publishers.

The writers are not paid for their work online, no many how many millions of times it is viewed. The payoff, if any, comes when the novels are reproduced and sold as traditional books. Readers have free access to the Web sites that carry the novels, or pay at most $1 to $2 a month, but the sites make most of their money from advertising.

Critics say the novels owe a lot to a genre devoured by the young: comic books. In cellphone novels, characters tend to be undeveloped and descriptions thin, while paragraphs are often fragments and consist of dialogue.

“Traditionally, Japanese would depict a scene emotionally, like ‘The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country,’ ” Mika Naito, a novelist, said, referring to the famous opening sentence of Yasunari Kawabata’s “Snow Country.”

“In cellphone novels, you don’t need that,” said Ms. Naito, 36, who recently began writing cellphone novels at the urging of her publisher. “If you limit it to a certain place, readers won’t be able to feel a sense of familiarity.”

Written in the first person, many cellphone novels read like diaries. Almost all the authors are young women delving into affairs of the heart, spiritual descendants, perhaps, of Shikibu Murasaki, the 11th-century royal lady-in-waiting who wrote “The Tale of Genji.”

“Love Sky,” a debut novel by a young woman named Mika, was read by 20 million people on cellphones or on computers, according to Maho no i-rando, where it was first uploaded. A tear-jerker featuring adolescent sex, rape, pregnancy and a fatal disease — the genre’s sine qua non — the novel nevertheless captured the young generation’s attitude, its verbal tics and the cellphone’s omnipresence. Republished in book form, it became the No. 1 selling novel last year and was made into a movie.

Given the cellphone novels’ domination of the mainstream, critics no longer dismiss them, though some say they should be classified with comic books or popular music.

Rin said ordinary novels left members of her generation cold.

“They don’t read works by professional writers because their sentences are too difficult to understand, their expressions are intentionally wordy, and the stories are not familiar to them,” she said. “On other hand, I understand how older Japanese don’t want to recognize these as novels. The paragraphs and the sentences are too simple, the stories are too predictable. But I’d like cellphone novels to be recognized as a genre.”

As the genre’s popularity leads more people to write cellphone novels, though, an existential question has arisen: can a work be called a cellphone novel if it is not composed on a cellphone, but on a computer or, inconceivably, in longhand?

“When a work is written on a computer, the nuance of the number of lines is different, and the rhythm is different from writing on a cellphone,” said Keiko Kanematsu, an editor at Goma Books, a publisher of cellphone novels. “Some hard-core fans wouldn’t consider that a cellphone novel.”

Still, others say the genre is not defined by the writing tool.

Ms. Naito, the novelist, says she writes on a computer and sends the text to her phone, with which she rearranges her work. Unlike the first-time cellphone novelists in their teens or early 20s, she says she is more comfortable writing on a computer.

But at least one member of the cellphone generation has made the switch to computers. A year ago, one of Starts Publishing’s young stars, Chaco, gave up her phone even though she could compose much faster with it by tapping with her thumb.

“Because of writing on the cellphone, her nail had cut into the flesh and became bloodied,” said Mr. Matsushima of Starts.

“Since she’s switched to a computer,” he added, “her vocabulary’s gotten richer and her sentences have also grown longer.”

Monday, January 07, 2008

Concertgoers, Please Clap, Talk or Shout at Any Time

January 8, 2008
Concertgoers, Please Clap, Talk or Shout at Any Time

Concertgoers like you and me have become part police officer, part public offender. We prosecute the shuffled foot or rattled program, the errant whisper or misplaced cough. We tense at the end of a movement, fearful that one of the unwashed will begin to clap, bringing shame on us all. How serious we look, and how absurd we are.

“Silence is not what we artists want,” Kenneth Hamilton quotes Beethoven in “After the Golden Age,” a detailed reflection on concert behavior in the 19th and early 20th centuries published recently by Oxford University Press. “We want applause.”

George Bernard Shaw, wearing his music critic’s hat, wrote that the silence at a London performance of Liszt’s “Dante” Symphony represented not rapt attention but audience distaste. Liszt, Anton Rubinstein and virtuosos like them would have been offended had listeners not clapped between movements, although in Beethoven’s case the point is moot, given that hardly anybody played more than one movement of a Beethoven sonata at a time.

I owe this information, along with most of the anecdotes that follow, to Mr. Hamilton’s delightful book, which you should read. People, he writes, also clapped while the music was going on. When Chopin played his Variations on “Là ci darem la mano” with orchestra, the audience bestowed its showstopping approval after every variation. As late as 1920, a Berlin audience was applauding Ferruccio Busoni in the middle of “La Campanella.”

Liszt, the composer of that piece, was observed in dignified old age, yelling bravos from the audience as Anton Rubinstein played Mozart’s A minor Rondo. Hans von Bülow boasted to his students that his performance in the first-movement cadenza of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto regularly brought down the house, no matter that the movement wasn’t over.

In condemning modern recitals as canned, without spontaneity, literal and deadened by solemnity, Mr. Hamilton sometimes overstates the case. In the best of circumstances silence during a good performance becomes something palpable, not just an absence of noise. Involved audiences can shout approval without making a sound.

In describing the hypocrisies of “golden age” pursuers and other nostalgia freaks, on the other hand, he has a point. If music is to go back to original instruments and original performance practices, it has to acknowledge original audiences too.

Elias Canetti’s 1960 book “Crowds and Power” offers the best metaphor for modern concerts: the Roman Catholic Mass. Worshipers accept instructions from an executive operating from a raised platform at the front. They speak when spoken to and otherwise shut up. Mr. Hamilton attributes a lot of this recently acquired holiness to the recording age, but I think it has more to do with Germanic art’s taking itself deadly seriously. Every Mozart sonata is like Wagner’s “Parsifal,” and listeners should get down on their knees.

Audience participation was taken for granted in the 1840s. The pianist Alexander Dreyschock was criticized for playing “so loud that it made it difficult for the ladies to talk,” Mr. Hamilton writes. Today’s listeners, still eager to make themselves known, have been reduced to subversive acts in a fascistic society. When they are not interested, they cough. Operagoers long to be the first to be heard as the curtain falls. Anticipating the final cadences in Donizetti doesn’t make much difference. In “Parsifal” it is a disaster, and a frequent one.

Concerts were different back then. Liszt could get away with the radical idea of “one man, one recital,” but musical events were usually variety shows in the manner of vaudeville. The star pianist or violinist was just an occasionally recurring act in a parade of singers, orchestra players, quartets and trios. When Liszt did his solo acts, there was none of the march-on, march-off stage ritual of today. Liszt greeted patrons at the door, mingled in the audience and schmoozed with friend and stranger alike.

Whole recitals also took place between acts of an opera or movements of a symphony. When Chopin played his E minor Piano Concerto in Warsaw in 1830, other pieces were inserted between the first two movements. Perhaps the most celebrated such interruption was at the 1806 premiere of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in Vienna, where the soloist thrilled listeners by playing his violin upside down and on one string.

Memorization was evidently as much prized in the 1800s as it is now, though people like Chopin and Beethoven thought that playing with scores increased accountability. Virtuosos like Anton Rubinstein learned by heart but frequently forgot what they had memorized. I once heard Arthur Rubinstein become lost in Ravel’s “Valses Nobles et Sentimentales,” simply diddling idly on the piano for a while before remembering what came next.

No one seemed to mind mistakes. If Liszt landed on a wrong note, he would treat it as a modulation, inventing a new passage on the spot. The idea of “Werktreue,” or honoring what the score says, was a weaker argument in the 19th century. Bülow told pupils that the occasionally planted clinker showed audiences how hard the piece at hand was.

My favorite music criticism is from a German on Brahms’s playing his own B flat Piano Concerto. “Brahms did not play the right notes,” he wrote, “but he played like a man who knew what the right notes were.”

There are still flickers of audience involvement in concerts, but so brainwashed are we by prevailing decorum that they make us nervous. Once in Havana I became troubled by two men in front of me talking excitedly during a performance of a Liszt piano concerto until I realized they were arguing the interpretation blow by blow.

Another time, late on a Spanish evening many years ago, I heard a village band competition at the bullring in Valencia. The playing was astonishing, and as a particular performance gradually took hold of the audience, low hums of approval would grow into something approaching wordless roars. It was the most profound concert experience of my life.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Gay Muslims Pack a Dance Floor of Their Own

New York Times
January 1, 2008
Berlin Journal
Gay Muslims Pack a Dance Floor of Their Own

BERLIN — Six men whirled faster and faster in the center of the nightclub, arms slung over one another’s shoulders, performing a traditional circle dance popular in Turkey and the Middle East. Nothing unusual given the German capital’s large Muslim population.

But most of the people filling the dance floor on Saturday at the club SO36 in the Kreuzberg neighborhood were gay, lesbian or bisexual, and of Turkish or Arab background. They were there for the monthly club night known as Gayhane, an all-too-rare opportunity to merge their immigrant cultures and their sexual identities.

European Muslims, so often portrayed one-dimensionally as rioters, honor killers or terrorists, live diverse lives, most of them trying to get by and to have a good time. That is more difficult if one is both Muslim and gay.

“When you’re here, it’s as if you’re putting on a mask, leaving the everyday outside and just having fun,” said a 22-year-old Turkish man who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear that he would be ostracized or worse if his family found out about his sexual orientation.

Safety and secrecy come up regularly when talking to guests, who laugh and dance, but also frequently look over their shoulders. To be a gay man or lesbian with an immigrant background invites trouble here in two very different ways.

“Depending on which part of Berlin I go to, in one I get punched in the mouth because I’m a foreigner and in the other because I’m a queen,” said Fatma Souad, the event’s organizer and master of ceremonies. Ms. Souad, 43, a transgender performer born in Ankara as a boy named Ali, has put on the party for over a decade.

Ms. Souad came to Berlin in 1983 after leaving home as a teenager. She studied to be a dressmaker and played in a punk band, but discovered Middle Eastern music through a friend and began teaching herself belly dancing. Ms. Souad started Salon Oriental, her first belly dancing theater, in 1988, and threw the first Gayhane party — hane means home in Turkish — in January 1997.

The club was packed by midnight and still had a line out the front door. On stage, Ms. Souad mixed a white turban and white net gloves with a black tuxedo with tails and a silver cummerbund, her face made up with perfectly drawn eyeliner and mascara. Dancing, she was all fluid motion, light on her feet, expressively twisting her hands and swiveling her hips.

Under flashing colored lights, guests, some with dreadlocks and others with carefully gelled coifs, moved to songs by the likes of the Egyptian Amr Diab and the Algerian Cheb Mami. Beats from traditional drums crossed with electronic ones, as melodies from flutes and ouds intertwined. When several circle dances — halay in Turkish — broke out at once, the floor began to shake from the stomping.

One of the regular D.J.’s, Ipek Ipekcioglu, 35, said she got her start rather suddenly, when one of the founders of SO36 walked up to her and said: “You’re Turkish, right? You’re lesbian, right? Bring your cassettes and D.J.”

Ms. Ipekcioglu spins everything from Turkish and Arabic music, to Greek, Balkan and Indian, a style she calls Eklektik BerlinIstan. She has been a full-time professional D.J. for six years and performs all over the world.

The space is decorated with bright yellow wall hangings depicting elephants, camels and even a flying carpet, with an intentional degree of kitsch, Ms. Souad said, and an intentional distance from anything Islamic. “We take care that religion is not mixed in here, not in the music either.”

Outside the boom of loud firecrackers can be heard, the first test rounds for the annual cacophony here that leaves New Year’s revelers ears’ ringing. Kreuzberg has been home for decades to large populations of Turks and Kurds, many of whom have very conservative religious values. Yet they have had to share the neighborhood that formerly abutted the Berlin Wall with many counterculture types, artists and anarchists and also gays and lesbians.

According to the city’s Schwules Museum, partly devoted to the history of gay people in the city and the country, “a lively homosexual subculture had developed in Berlin by the second half of the 18th century or perhaps earlier.” It was known as an oasis for gay men and lesbians in the Weimar period immortalized by the writer Christopher Isherwood and in the period when West Berlin was surrounded by the wall. Today, the city has an openly gay and highly popular mayor, Klaus Wowereit.

But gay men and lesbians from Muslim families say they face extraordinary discrimination at home. A survey of roughly 1,000 young men and women in Berlin, released in September and widely cited in the German press, found much higher levels of homophobia among Turkish youth.

“These differences are there,” said Bernd Simon, who led the study and is a professor of social psychology at Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel. “We can’t deny them. The question is how do we cope with them.”

“The answer is not to replace homophobia with Islamophobia,” he added, pointing out that homophobia is also higher among Russian immigrants and in other, less urban parts of Germany.

Kader Balcik, a 22-year-old Turk from Hamburg, said: “For us, for Muslims, it’s extremely difficult. When you’re gay, you’re immediately cut off from the family.”

He had recently moved to Berlin not long after being cut off from his mother because he is bisexual. “A mother who wishes death for her son, what kind of mother is that?” he asked, his eyes momentarily filling with tears.

Hasan, a 21-year-old Arab man, sitting at a table in the club’s quieter adjoining cafe, declined to give his last name, saying: “They would kill me. My brothers would kill me.” Asked if he meant this figuratively, he responded, “No, I mean they would kill me.”

“I’m living one life here and the other one the way they wish me to be,” Hasan said, referring to his parents. He said he still planned to marry, but when he turned 30 rather than right away, as his parents wished. “I have to have children, to do what Islam wants me to do,” he said. “I would stop with everything in the homosexual life. I would stop it.”

He stood up from the table and called to his two friends. “All right, boys, let’s go dance,” he said. “We’re here to have fun.” And they marched off to the dance floor, smiling.

Commons Misunderstandings: ASCAP on Creative Commons

A good review/critique of ASCAP's recent advisory pertaining to Creative Commons Licensing at Lessig.

Original post here