Black cowboys, Palestinian food stories, queer identity in Soho, and more.

Digest #4 - July 5th 2020

Black cowboys, Palestinian food stories, queer identity in Soho, and more. 
The Seven - A weekly digest by Keeya-Lee Ayre

Digest #4, July 5th 2020


If you've heard Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" (and hopefully seen this delightful music video with Billy Ray Cyrus), you might've reacted with surprise to see a Black country rapper, like I did. It's an intersection of genres that feel otherwise discrete. Lil Nas X is also an openly gay man, with killer style, which for me felt very outside of my idea of what country music is. Country fans, it seems, disagreed with the limitations I'd imposed on them, giving him a coveted Country Music Association award last year. This week I learned that Lil Nas X is far from the first Black man to foray so deeply into cowboy subculture. It turns out that one in four cowboys in the American pioneer days was Black. The history of cowboys in this country has, like many (most?) things, been whitewashed. I highly recommend you take the time to watch this beautiful short (14-minute) documentary by Dillon Hayes, which provides a window into the life of one Black cowboy named Larry Callies. Mr Callies operates the Black Cowboy Museum outside of Dallas, Texas, working to shine a light on this suppressed reality. He comes from a long line of Black cowboys, and was once on the cusp of country and western stardom. I’ll let you hear the rest from him.

A screenshot from the documentary. Larry Callies is pictured.


This week I received my copy of Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley's new cookbook Falastin. As you know well by now, I am a huge fan of Yotam Ottolenghi and his culinary sensibilities. Sami and Tara are longtime friends and collaborators of his. So, as you'd expect, the dishes in Falastin are beautifully photographed and the recipes are accessible. However, it's the stories that add a new dimension to this book. Take for example "the yoghurt-making ladies of Bethlehem". It's a quirky, meaningful story and well told in a way that makes you feel as though you're in right the car and a part of the adventure with Sami and Tara. Here is a free-to-read version of the story from the Penguin Australia website. I was fortunate to visit Israel and Palestine for the first time last year, for a Forbes event. I was unfortunate, however, to have been early in my pregnancy and well into my food-ruining nausea. I will continue to sit in my kitchen, fantasise about traveling again in a post-COVID world, and for now - cook my way through this beautiful book and enjoy its soulful storytelling. A selection of the recipes are available for free online in this promotional piece by The Guardian.

Cover of the Falastin cookbook.
A promotional image from Penguin Random House, showing the cover of Falastin. The US edition (which I have) doesn't look like this. In the US we get different versions of everything, because it seems food nouns (cilantro/coriander, arugula/rocket, pepper/capsicum etc.) are the English languages' only truly dialectical features.


My husband Alex, an alumnus of UCL's Bartlett School, sent me these lecture recordings of 'Soho Scenes', an event UCL hosted digitally in April. It's hard to be engaging in a digital broadcast, especially in an academic lecture format, and yet queer activists Dan de la Motte and Chardine Taylor Stone are completely enthralling. The storytelling method works perfectly: eloquent, thought-provoking spoken words, accompanied by strong, simple visuals. From Dan, a beautiful reflection on the relationship between place and identity, and the queer history of London's Soho area in the West End. From Chardine, an important exploration of intersectionality and how queer Black identities get lost in queer, and Black, histories. I recommend you carve out the time to watch both talks. They are less than 20 minutes each, 18-minute Q&A video is a bonus.

Images of the Shim Sham Club, London's Queer Vintage Night
A screenshot from Chardine Taylor Stone's lecture slides, linked above. Pictured are promotional images from The Shim Sham Club's queer vintage nights.


When I first saw the trailer for Netflix's new show, Warrior Nun, I'll admit I was ecstatic. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am a lifelong fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show that in the 90s was as groundbreaking as it was campy and fun. Warrior Nun has had a lot of Buffy comparisons made in the media. I was optimistic that finally a show would fill the Buffy-sized hole that has been in my tv-heart since it ended in 2003. Warrior Nun was released this week, and Alex and I have gotten through five of the ten episodes so far. With a six-month-old, long gone are the days of binge watching a show all night and sleeping in on a Sunday. Warrior Nun is not Buffy; not even close. It's lacking the humour and quick witted dialogue that gives Buffy it's life, and earned it it's cult fandom. But Warrior Nun is fun in its own way. A sunny Spanish fever dream, with a diverse cast and modern themes, despite the ancient Catholic battle between good and evil framing it. I am more than invested enough to keep binging it tonight and see how the season rounds out.

The 'Warrior Nun' herself, Ava (centre), who is neither a proper warrior, or a nun. Pictured with actual nuns and a priest, who are also warriors. A screenshot from the trailer.


As a loyal reader of the New York Times, seeing this Instagram post was a big deal to me. I've been actively campaigning for their capitalisation of the world Black for the past eight weeks, to the extent that I passed a note to their staff via Twitter that was sent to their editorial review board. I actively followed up, and they notified me that they were incorporating the change into their style guide. I'm just one reader, and it's just one letter, but these changes have massive ripple effects and I'm proud that they took this seriously. Seeing it make their Instagram account further solidified this. They didn't just make the change quietly in the background; they recognise its importance and they're saying it loudly. I'm proud of that. And I'm proud to be Black, Black, Black-ity Black.

Instagram post from @nytimes, stating that they will officially capitalise the word Black (to refer to African people/diaspora identity) in their style guide.


I love watching these silly little Open Door celebrity home tour videos by Architectural Digest. Some of the tours are beyond ridiculous, and a few people have more money than sense, though my favourites are often charmingly self-aware of this. Tan France explained that he has a fake bathroom (he and his husband don't take baths) just for Instagram photography. Chelsea Handler had a table shipped to California (sustainability who?) made from reclaimed Venetian wood, and casually remarks that there are only 12 in the world. Lenny Kravitz's home tour, of his organic working farm in Brazil, gave completely the opposite feeling. Stunning art and design, in touch with the natural world, full of fresh produce and a loving community. Alex and I had a serious discussion about whether we should buy a farm when we retire, before realising neither of us like waking up early, and already feel tired enough taking care of two cats and a baby. Our eventual retirement now decidedly won't involve livestock or agriculture, but Brazil may still be in the cards.

Lenny Kravtiz atop a horse, in his working farm in Brazil.
Lenny Kravitz, atop a horse on his beautiful working farm in Brazil. A screenshot from the video.


I can't help myself. I have to send you off with another favourite Ottolenghi recipe, from Jersualem (mentioned above, co-authored by Sami Tamimi). Chicken with caramelised onion and cardamom rice. I had this dish for the first time when my mother-in-law, Judith, cooked it for a dinner party she hosted while Alex and I were visiting our family in Melbourne, Australia. Having not read Jerusalem cover to cover yet, I tasted this dish and exclaimed, "this is amazing! Wow! I have to have this recipe!" My sister-in-law, Georgia, knowing how much I love Ottolenghi, smiled and told me it's one of his. Alas, when I got home to Atlanta, I whipped open the book and got to work. It's now a weeknight regular.

Photo of the dish, by Debora Acosta/The New York Times. Mine looks different to this, so maybe one of us is doing it wrong.

Thank you to everyone who signed up for last week's giveaway to receive a copy of Zadie Smith’s collection of essays, Feel Free. I'm pleased to announce that the winner is a subscriber named Hailey Schmidt. Hailey, hi! Nice to meet you! I will email you shortly to arrange postage. I sincerely hope you enjoy the book as much as I did.

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