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Friday, March 02, 2007

Cry Me A River

This has not been Afghanistan's motherfuckin' 21st century.

In fact, the last half of the 20th century was pretty shitty as well. Pretty soon, Turkmen parents will point to their neighbors to the south when scolding their children about how comfortable they have it – the Central Asian version of "unless you want to end up like little Johnny down the street, you better eat your damn mac and cheese before it gets cold".

Afghanistan is a land of stark beauty, and as such it bears the curse of beauty. It has existed century after century, burdened with the jealousies of her many lovers. I'm sure she's thought once or twice of just going gay, as if that would solve her problems. Sorry to inform you my dear, but the gay community has its share of nuts as well.

Starting in the late 1970s, Afghanistan was caught in the middle of a dying Cold War epic played out by the former Soviet Union and the United States. This idiotic feud started in Southeast Asia and worked its way northwest until, like Southeast Asia, the warring tribes of communism and capitalism accomplished absolutely nothing except to make a few rich men and warlords richer, and everyone else fucking miserable.

Out of the ashes was born a new kind of odious "ism" – Islamism; a worldview and system of societal control that takes cues from the Soviet system (authoritarianism) and right-wing American evangelicalism, puts them in a blender, and comes up with a stiff mixed-drink that will get you totally wasted on God, guns, and glory – quite literally.

After the fall of the Soviet-backed government, Afghanistan fell to the Islamists: those unlovable rapscallions we know as the Taliban. During their short-lived rule, the Taliban rode Afghanistan hard and put her away wet – in the process destroying the largest statues of the Buddha left in the world. All I can say is that if after we die we find out the Buddhists were right and everyone else was wrong, karma will be such a bitch for those fools.

As if waking from a bad dream to find your home on fire, Afghanistan entered the 21st century caught holding the September 11th bag for Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The invasion and bombing of the country by the US succeeded in achieving two things: 1) it temporarily drove the Taliban into hiding while 2) bringing attention to the world that the Afghan version of the pimp hat is made with fetus fur.

Work it, gangsta!

Now, as if things couldn't possibly get any fucking worse, Mother Nature just has to go stickin' a big ol' rusty shank right in the kidneys of everyone's favorite Afghani-cisco restaurant, The Helmand.

What happened? Landslide, that's what happened.

Everyone likes to talk about earthquakes (and in fact, we've had a lot lately) and California, but landslides consistently do the most damage. The Helmand occupied one of the three buildings on Broadway recently red-tagged due to a landslide that happened behind them last Tuesday. Besides taking out the Helmand, it put a strip club and a decent Chinese restaurant out of business, as well as forcing 120 people temporarily from their homes.

The Helmand has been my favorite Afghan restaurant for years.

Actually, it has been my only Afghan restaurant for years.

Nevertheless, it's right up the street from where I work and for ten bucks, it has (or had?) the best lunch buffet in the area. Since it's been a while since I've eaten there, I really can't wax poetic about the food except to say that it was like a combo of two of my favorite cuisines – Arabic and Indian, with a little Turkish-Greek thrown in (okay that's actually four).

My favorite dish was a savory baked pumpkin dish with yogurt, as well as some of their curries. Sam reviewed it a little while back and can provide a far better review of the food than I can here.

The Helmand was a total freak of nature on Broadway. A few doors down is a strip club next to a head shop specializing in bongs, sneak-a-tokes, and fur-lined handcuffs. Across the street and to the left, another strip club. Across the street and to the right, quarter booths. Across the street and down the hill, a shop which specializes in preggers porn. Also in the neighborhood, lots of housing and an elementary school. And a pizza parlor.

This is why SF has the rep it does.

But the Helmand co-existed peacefully within the scheme of Broadway's pooniverse. It was an oasis of white tablecloths, sparkling water glasses, moody lighting, serene music, and waiters in tuxes smack-dab in the middle of a neighborhood that invented the word "skank". As much as I feel for the residents displaced by the landslide, I am actually very sad to see the Helmand go.

Actually, our last parting wasn't a particularly happy one for me. I was totally stressed out and just wanted the peaceful tranquility only an all-you-can-eat Afghan buffet can give you. I walked into the restaurant, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the light, when I saw a packed house. I waited around awhile, but no one was leaving. Like a jilted lover, I stormed out in anger – spitting and cursing: "Damn this worrrrllllddd!!!!"

I should know better. Never leave a friend, a loved one, or a favorite restaurant in anger.

They could get hit by a bus. Or fall through a roof. Or damaged in a landslide. And then what would you have of your last moments together? There's no need to suffer through this tragedy, and yet here I am.

Hopefully, the folks who own and run the Helmand will recover from this setback and open shop again soon. Still, I should've appreciated the place more when it was around. Now all I have left are sweet and savory Arabic-Indian-Turkish-Greek memories.

Chalk it up to yet another catastrophe to hit the poor people of Afghanistan.



Blogger Sam said...

ok - this makes me really pissed off.
I read the news about the landslide alllast week and all I got from it was that a strip bar was affected. Nowhere did I read about the Helmand. I love Helmand - we had a big foodbloggers get together there only last summer.

It's a reliable place. (Like your last visit, my first visit 6 years ago was an overcrowded disaster) but I went back and forgave them mant times since.

This makes me sad.

Thanks for the report.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Ed Bruske said...

You go, brother!

4:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a Helmand in Baltimore if you really get the craving for Afghan food. It has been regarded as one of the best restaurants in the city.

10:41 AM  

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