The Monday Media Diet with Dania Shihab
On Tasmania, emergency medicine, and Catalan designer Miguel Milá
We deeply respect the taste of Dania Shihab. She’s based between Tasmania where she is an emergency doctor, and Barcelona, where she runs a label and works on various creative projects. We’re delighted to have her in WITI today. -Colin (CJN)
Tell us about yourself.
I'm Dania. I was born in Baghdad, grew up in Tasmania, and now live in Barcelona, although I live something of a double life, spending half of the year working as an emergency medicine doctor in Australia. (The other half I spend in Barcelona, where I work on my creative projects.) I’m what’s called a "locum" doctor, which basically means that I fill in areas of need, usually in remote areas of the country. For the last five years, I've been working in a town called Geraldton, which has a sizable indigenous population and like many small towns also has a troublesome drug problem. Aside from everyday accidents and emergencies, a lot of my work involves arranging plane retrievals for my patients, as we send them to larger centers where there are more medical resources to manage their problems.
When I’m in Barcelona, I run Paralaxe Editions, a platform that makes tapes/records/books, puts on experimental music shows, and also has a monthly radio show on dublab. I started Paralaxe in 2014 with the idea of creating limited-edition objects with a focus on packaging and design. A lot of my tape covers are made at an old letterpress factory here in Barcelona, where everything is typeset by hand and printed using 100-year-old machines. I love this process—even when you make a mistake with the printing, you don't want to throw the paper away because it's so beautiful and unique. A few weeks ago I arranged a small concert inside the factory and it was really special, with people mingling between the machines and listening to the various sounds bouncing around the space. I also make music myself and am working on my first two solo releases right now. I actually just finished mixing them in Mallorca last week, so I'm very happy and relieved.
Describe your media diet.
Music news: The Wire is my favourite print publication, and I also read and sometimes write for First Floor, my husband’s newsletter about electronic music. Aside from that, I follow writers and musicians I like on Bandcamp to see what their purchase history looks like and get new music suggestions. Even though Bandcamp isn’t really social media, I quite like that you can follow people without having to interact with them. That sounds more creepy than intended, but it lets you enjoy the music in peace without things escalating into an online popularity contest—there is real value in that. I’m also part of a virtual Instagram “scene” that includes musicians and small independent labels from around the world. We are always recommending things and exchanging new music, frequently sending our tapes and records to one another.
Music-making: I subscribe to DivKid's and Loopop's modular synth/music gear Patreons and always look at what Hainbach is doing on YouTube for weird electronic music experimentation. I also read and post on the Modwiggler (modular synthesis) and Gearspace (production and music tech) forums.
Medical news: I read the Life in the Fast Lane blog, subscribe to Uptodate, and listen to EM:RAP, an emergency medicine podcast. I also love GomerBlog, which is like The Onion but for doctors. The name comes from the word “gomer,” which stands for “get out of my emergency room,” a phrase taken from Samuel Shem’s House of God, a must-read book that’s something of right of passage for all doctors.
Literature: I have an account on Goodreads, where I follow friends to see what their latest reads and recommendations are.
What’s the last great book you read?
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Otessa Moshfegh. The main character is extremely unlikeable, but her obsession with sleep makes her relatable to me. Yorgos Lanthimos is apparently adapting it into a film.
What are you reading now?
I usually have a few books going simultaneously, and I read what I'm in the mood for on any given night. It's a little stop and start, so I usually have to go back a few pages and re-read to refresh my memory. Right now I’m working my way through Real Estate by Deborah Levy, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, A Tapestry of Contemporary Iraqi Poetry by Inaam Al-Hashimi, and Conversations with Iannis Xenakis by Bàlint András Varga. I’ve actually been using the Iraqi poetry book a lot recently, as I've been reciting some of the poems and recording the words on a reel-to-reel tape player, which I’ll then use to pitch the audio up and down.
What’s your reading strategy when you pick up a print copy of your favorite publication?
I usually skip straight to the sections or writers that interest me the most. I'm not a cover-to-cover reader. I really don't have the time, and often feel envious of people who can sit leisurely at a cafe and read a magazine.
Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?
I actually read a lot of photobooks. I got caught up in the self-publishing wave that started a few years back and became an avid photobook reader and collector. My habit has slowed down somewhat in the last couple of years, mostly because I live in an apartment and I'm running out of shelf space! That being said, I'll still buy very special books, and one that I can recommend is Hoda Ashfar's Speak the Wind, which focuses on the inhabitants of Hormuz Island in the Persian Gulf (between Oman and Iran). The earth there is bright blood-red; it’s such an incredible landscape, and I would love to visit one day. The book is also interesting from a political point of view, as it documents the descendants of the Afro-Iranian slave trade. I used to visit Oman often when I was a student (my parents were living there at the time), and the people that Ashfar documented reminded me a lot of the Zanzibari people of Oman, a non-Arab population who are often looked down upon.
What is the best non-famous app you love on your phone?
Evernote. I keep all my personal medical notes on here, so they’re easy to access when I'm at work and on the go. I have a lot of notes in basic dot points, along with pages of ‘cheat sheets’ with drug dosages for certain procedures, checklists, that sort of thing. It's quite handy because when you need a quick answer to a medical question, wading through journals or websites can take a while, and as you can imagine, working in the emergency department is a time-critical job.
Plane or train?
Train for the nostalgic Agatha Christie vibe, plane for convenience. I have to admit that I’ve lost my childhood fascination with planes, as I travel from Europe to Australia at least twice a year and they are very long journeys. Getting from Barcelona to the town where I usually work (in remote Western Australia) usually takes around 35 hours minimum and involves multiple layovers.
What is one place everyone should visit?
Walls of Jerusalem National Park in Tasmania. I used to do a lot of bushwalking when I was living in Tasmania. A lot of the island is protected land, which makes it wonderful for really exploring nature. I took it for granted when I was growing up, but it really is magical. The landscape of Tasmania is quite similar to New Zealand (it’s Lord of the Rings-esque), and getting to the Walls of Jerusalem involves a day-long walk up the mountain. It can be an unpleasant hike for amateur walkers—I was quite grumpy by the end of it—but I remember waking up the next morning, poking my head out of the tent, and seeing these magnificent mountains that looked like they came from the beginning of time. That moment took my breath away and made the long hike worth it.
Tell us the story of a rabbit hole you fell deep into.
Being an insomnia sufferer, rabbit holes are my specialty. Most of the time when I’m wide awake at 2 a.m., I’ll be watching videos on modular synthesis, but during one particularly bad bout of insomnia, I got really into Greek architecture and became a mini-expert on the Parthenon. (In my defense, this was leading up to a planned trip to Greece.) My most recent rabbit hole, however, involved lamps. We recently did some renovations in our apartment and I became a little obsessed with interior design and lamps in particular, especially the ones from Catalan designer Miguel Milá. I tend to over-research things, which I suppose isn't a bad thing for a doctor. (DS)
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Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Dania (DS)
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