Category: blogging

JOOBIN BEKHRAD : editor of REORIENT Magazine

Joobin is the editor of REORIENT, an online magazine celebrating contemporary Middle Eastern arts and culture. He’s also the marketing and communications director of ARTCLVB. I’ve never met Joobin but we’ve emailed back-and-forth about 30 times this week. He’s a super interesting and sweet guy. We talked about running an online magazine, Middle Eastern contemporary art, misconceptions about the region, and T. Rex (of course). This is a good one.

01. What’s your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started?

I always like to think I’ll wake up at precisely the same time I set my alarm to, but I end up turning my phone off and spending half an hour or so half-dreaming, and half-awake. Afterwards, I make myself a nice cup of strong Turkish coffee (or steaming hot Persian chai) and flip open my laptop with my fingers crossed that it’s going to be another good day. For breakfast, I usually down a glass of milk; my parents told me I had to when I was a kid, and the routine has been with me ever since. The thought of eating anything in the morning – I can’t bear it.

02. Where were you born? What did you originally want to do with your life?

I was born by the foothills of the Alborz Mountains in Tehran towards the end of the Iran-Iraq War. After high-school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and just played things by the ear. Well, I did have this romantic dream of starting a rock and roll band and being a hotshot guitarist. Keith Richards even gave me some advice. But other things happened, I guess.

03. I first heard about you from REORIENT’s Instagram. What exactly is REORIENT? What are you trying to accomplish with a Middle Eastern themed online magazine?

I’m happy to hear that! Unfortunately many of our Instagram followers don’t know we actually run a publication, and that the account is only a supplement. REORIENT is a publication celebrating the contemporary arts and culture of the Middle East and the surrounding region (I’ve yet to come up with a concise and accurate term!): Iran, the Arab world, Turkey, the Caucasus, North Africa, and Central Asia. We’re trying to turn people on, non-Middle Easterners and Middle Easterners alike, to the amazing work that artists, writers, filmmakers, and creatives in general are doing in the region and in the diaspora. Unfortunately, you hear a lot of bullshit about places like Iran and countries in the Arab world these days, as well as encounter all this negativity and animosity towards a region so diverse and culturally rich that many think is just one homogeneous, hostile region.

04. You also run the website ARTCLVB. Can you tell me a little about that? What sort of artists do you promote?

Artclvb is what we started out with; it was my father’s idea to start a company that would highlight the work of contemporary Middle Eastern artists. Even though many think that I’m mainly interested in visual art, I got interested in it much later than I did in other art forms like music and literature. I began helping my father out on the side, and after learning about the incredible work of Iranian, Arab, and Turkish artists, I moved back to Toronto from London to work with him full-time.

While we originally began promoting the works of Iranian, Arab, and Turkish artists, we’ve narrowed down our focus to Iranian ones now, for obvious reasons. Our connections amongst Iranian artists, and within the country itself are much stronger than they are elsewhere. As well, there isn’t any language barrier for us when it comes to working with Iranian artists, and in general, it’s a lot easier for us to work with them and help them achieve their goals.

05. I’ve noticed a much larger presence of Middle Eastern art over the past couple years in places like Art Basel Miami Beach. Hayv Kahraman is to me one of the most interesting painters working today. Do you feel that there is an emerging desire for these artists in America and Europe?

Hayv is great; we actually featured her on REORIENT a few months ago. There certainly has been a growing desire for contemporary Middle Eastern art, but still, the majority of buyers of this sort of art are, well…Middle Eastern. There’s a bit of activity in cities like London, New York, and Dubai especially, but elsewhere, there’s a lot of work that remains to be done. I think as a result of the improving relations between the States and Iran, we’re going to be hearing even more about Iranian art, which is amazing; minds will be blown. Really, things like this take time; they don’t happen overnight. Education is also imperative. Just because there are lots of wealthy Iranians in Toronto, it doesn’t mean they necessarily know anything about contemporary Iranian art. They need to be introduced to it in a systematic and gradual way for them to be able to develop any sort of real appreciation for it.

06. Why the Middle East? Most Americans barely travel outside their home state, let alone to that part of the world. Could I travel to a place like Tehran as a tourist to just eat food and check out some art galleries safely?

Iran has always been my love, as well as the Middle East in general. You start connecting the dots; in digging deeper into Iranian history, you unmistakably hit India, given the shared origins of the Iranian and northern Indian peoples. I also started doing intensive research on my own about Turkic culture and Arab culture. The region fascinates me; it’s absolutely amazing. Of course, being from it has played a huge factor in my interest. After I visited Iran for the first time again as a teenager, life was never really the same.

Oh, absolutely. If you ask me, Iran is one of the safest countries in the world anyone can travel to; and I’m not saying that because I’m Iranian. Actually, you’d have an even more amazing experience as an American. Hospitality is of utmost importance to Iranians, and we try our very best to make sure our guests have an amazing time anywhere they go (e.g. at our homes, etc.). Not surprisingly, I’ve been reading loads of articles written by Americans and Europeans who have noted that they’ve felt far more safe in Iran than in the States or other places in Europe, such as the UK.

As my father always says, Iran is foodie heaven. I’m a vegetarian, so I can’t enjoy all those sumptuous kebabs and other meat-based dishes, but you’ll wonder where they’d been all your life. Noosh-e jan! The gallery scene is also out-of-this-world. Tehran has an incredibly vibrant and active contemporary art scene, and whenever I visit the sheer quality of the work that artists are doing there leaves me awestruck. We have our own auction now – The Tehran Auction – and, as you may have heard, the most important collection of contemporary Western art outside the States and Europe. We live with the arts in Iran, and contemporary visual art hasn’t been an exception.

07. What do you feel is the one thing most misunderstood about the Middle East? If you could change the public perception of one thing, what would it be?

Allow me to point out two things: for one, many think the Middle East is, as I mentioned, one large homogeneous region. It’s anything but. There are countless ethnicities, religions, cultures, languages, cuisines, and peoples there. Sure, due to geographic proximity, there are common cultural elements amongst these people (e.g. in Iran and Armenia, for instance). However, people sometimes speak of the Middle East as if it’s just one large Arab and Muslim country.

Secondly, many in Europe and the States think that by nature, we’re inimical towards Europeans, Americans, and Jews. We don’t hate people; we have a bone to pick with certain governments and their policies. This is precisely the case when it comes to Israel. Did you know that Iran has the largest Jewish population in the Middle East (and that Iranian Jews are incredibly proud of being Iranian and love Iran), and that Cyrus the Great is mentioned in Jewish scriptures and the Bible as a saviour? As well, did you know that President Rouhani recently erected a monument honouring the Jewish martyrs of the Iran-Iraq War? The mainstream media is trying their best to show that by nature, we simply hate certain people and their way of life. It’s absurd.

08. Are you working on anything new right now that you’re excited about?

Well, I just finished writing a novella, which I’m in the process of publishing. I’m quite happy that I’m done with writing it, and that all those thoughts that had been whirling around in my head are out on paper; now, I just have to put it out there. It’s a book about a teenager in Tehran who’s bored out of his mind one summer, and has only two loves: the girl next door, and his electric guitar.

09. What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…)

I can’t say there’s anything in particular that’s inspiring me right now; I’m continuously inspired by things like books, music albums, and films, which I consume like a junkie. I’ve been collecting and reading travelogues by European writers who visited the Middle East, and that’s put me in a certain frame of mind, I think. As well, during the process of writing my novella, I found myself listening to unhealthy amounts of Roxy Music and T. Rex. Right now, I’m quite digging a mix I was asked to make for the fashion label Pull and Bear.

10. How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind? 


You can find Mr. Bekhrad on the web:

ANDREA DUCLOS : OhDearDrea blogger & cookbook author

Andrea is a friend; she lives just down the street. I took this photo of her at her sparkle themed birthday party a few years back. She’s the blogger behind OhDearDrea and her cookbook The Plantiful Table: Easy, From-the-Earth Recipes for the Whole Family was just released. We talked about blogging, writing recipes, traveling to India and getting healthy.

01. What’s your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started?

Ideally, I’d like to find a happy balance between ‘sleeping as late as I can’ and ‘oh no, I’ve slept too long and wasted my whole morning”. It’s tough. Some days I’m up bright and early at 7:45 to help my kid get ready for school, but most days I like to sleep in till about 8:45. Then I make a giant bowl of steel cut oats with a bunch of healthy stuff thrown in before jumping on the computer to do a tiny bit of work.

02. You’re a successful blogger. Everyone seems to have a blog this days, but yours really hit and you have tons of followers. How did you build it up to be so widely read?

Mostly luck. I started publicly (over)sharing online at the age of 15 or 16. Ever since then I remember attracting a good amount of followers and readers for no particular reason. When I started this new blog (I took about a year off from my old blog) it seemed to again pick up readers pretty quickly. I think the second time around, part of the draw was that my blog seemed pretty different from a lot of the other new blogs popping up. Everyone was posting pictures of their adorable families while I was sharing my (sometimes too real) story of being a single mom. There were no magic tricks or advertisements, it just sort of grew organically on it own — thankfully!

03. You are very open about your personal life on OhDearDrea. Was that a conscious choice? And have you ever regretted sharing anything?

I’ve always been a very open person. My whole life, I’ve felt that if I can’t feel comfortable being completely honest about who I am and what I’ve done, then I must be doing something wrong. I just like to be an open book. I don’t want people to question who I am; I want them to see me or see my words and know my whole story. I think I can be honest to a fault, but I’m not sure I’ve ever really regretted anything. I feel like I’m lacking that embarrassment gene, things are what they are. I fall, I fail, its life. I kind of see what I share that way too. I mess up just as much as anyone, but I just have to learn and keep moving forward. No regrets.

04. You wrote a cookbook and it just came out! How did the opportunity to write that come about?

Yes, It came out! The second week of December. I don’t want to jinx myself, but so far it’s only had great reviews! I actually had a rather large publishing company contact me about two years ago with the possibility of publishing a book. E-mails were sent back and forth, but at the end of the day I got a, “Sorry, I love your book, but the guys above me said the company isn’t ready for a vegan cookbook.” Well, okay then. This gave me a bit more of a push to consider reaching out to companies. It was sort of one of those “I have a friend of a friend of a friend” things where I got a contact at a company, sent over an e-book along with a little brochure I put together of what I envisioned the book to be, and I got an e-mail about a week later discussing the potential of a book. Despite my horrible grammar, they liked my ideas and signed me up!

05. What was the process of writing the book like? Constant trial and error? Eating nonstop?

It was mostly exhausting. I’m not sure how the cookbook process works for most people, but on top of being asked to do 125+ recipes in three months, I also had to run my blog full time and raise a three-year-old. Most of the recipes in the book are serious staples in our home so it was pretty easy to nail those down. There were a few that took a good amount of tries before getting it right. Mostly, it was rather expensive! I wanted to make full size portions to measure everything properly. So, when I’m making multiple giant meals in one day — well, it took a lot of veggies and a lot of eating!

06. You collaborated with Above The Clouds this year on a trip to India that was open to your blog readers. What was it like setting that up? And what was it like taking a trip to a country you had never been to before, not only as a tourist but acting as a sort of travel guide?

It was pretty awesome! The trip was of course amazing, but even the set up of it all was great. Above The Clouds has been around forever, they definitely know what they’re doing. I didn’t have too many concerns on my end. I was just lucky enough to plan my dream trip and have them really make it happen. We went back and forth on the itinerary for months trying to perfect it. For me, the details are everything (and for Above The Clouds too), so from the hotel, to the first welcome dinner, to the events planned, everything had to have a bit of magic to it. When I (and we) actually got to India it all went really well. I arrived two days early to get over jet lag, scope out the restaurants, and pick out a venue for our goodbye party. Despite language barriers and having almost no sense of direction, I was rather comfortable with my surroundings and happy to welcome the girls to the trip. Above The Clouds then took on much of scheduling type of details, while I just tried to make sure everyone was content and happy.

07. What advice would you give to someone trying to get a new blog started?

I think blogs are pretty great. I wouldn’t have much advice for someone trying to make a profession out of it, except maybe, “Don’t quit your day job just yet” and “Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen right away.” But if there is no hurry to try to bring in cash from the blog, then go for it! They are a great creative outlet and a great way to connect with other like-minded people that you wouldn’t have met otherwise! Just pick a name, open up a site, and share your story!

08. Are you working on anything new right now that you’re excited about?

Sleeping more. It’s been a hard year, so my main goal is trying to get my health to its maximum potential and to just be happy and have fun everyday. Other than that, I just want to find my voice on the blog again. I feel like I sort of lost it in this tough year, but I do feel like it’s coming back. Outside of blog/business stuff, I’m just hoping to plan a lot of trips! California in May. France in August. And maybe Hawaii at some point. We’ll see where else I end up.

09. What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…)

This may be a strange one, but I’ve been reading A LOT of health books lately. And watching a lot of health related TED Talks. I’m happy to see so much information coming out about the dangers of our current medical system. I’m excited to see so many more people open up to the world of a more natural way of life. No fairy dust or magic tricks, just good ole’ natural food and plants to keep us well instead of pumping chemicals in at every doctor’s wish. I feel hopeful that the world, or at least our sad American diet and culture, will slowly start changing.

10. How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind? 

I work on an opposite schedule. The early part of the day is my unwind time. The night is when I type furiously on a keyboard trying to spit out my brain on the blog and answer some e-mails. So to unwind, I like to just kick my feet up outside or on the couch and try not to worry about all the bad stuff, but to focus on the good.

You can find Ms. Duclos on the web:

The Plantiful Table: Easy, From-the-Earth Recipes for the Whole Family