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AWASH WITH THE MIDDLE EAST. In the spring of 2002, when Tucson artist Janet Miller traveled to Syria for more than a month, she gave herself an assignment.

"I went there to continue my Arabic language study, but to give my stay focus and meaning, I set myself the task of making a little watercolor painting every day," explains Miller.

She had no experience with the medium, so she just played and had fun with it. The result is Five Weeks in Damascus, a show featuring more than 30 watercolors painted while the artist lived in a little rooftop apartment in the old walled city. She describes the geography as "magically beautiful" and adds, "The people were extraordinarily kind and warm and welcoming."

The exhibit at the UA Center for Middle Eastern Studies is up through the end of the month. You can talk to Miller about her work and her trip at a reception on Thursday, May 8, from 4 to 6 p.m. Regular viewing hours are Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

On Friday, May 9, at 4 p.m., another artist expresses her visual passion for the Middle East. Ann Zwicker Kerr has authored a book, Painting the Middle East.

It's woven with watercolors and photographs from Kerr's many sojourns starting in the 1950s and continuing through the present day. She has layered a brief narrative to structure her visual work that encompasses trips to Lebanon, North Africa, Egypt and Israel. Her new book is a companion memoir to the Los Angeles artist's first book, Come With Me From Lebanon.

Using words to paint her love of the locale, Tucson writer Laila Halaby's first novel speaks through the voices of four girls, all cousins, on the brink of maturity. West of the Jordan reveals Halaby's own experiences as the daughter of a Jordanian father and American mother.

The author reads from her book on Thursday, May 15, at 5 p.m.

All events are free and take place in Room 202 in the Franklin Building located at 1011 E. Fifth St. Call with questions at 621-5450.

COMPOSING FOR A CROWD. I have no clue how it's done, but I'm always amazed when I listen to orchestral music. How do they know when to make the woodwinds blow and the violins bow?

The annual Reading Session of the Young Composers Project boasts eight students who, since last September, have been learning how to write music for an orchestra. Under the direction of guest conductor Andrew Johnson, the students' work is rehearsed and then recorded by the TSO Chamber Orchestra in front of a live audience.

The composers hail from three Tucson-area high schools--University, Sahuaro and Amphi--as well as Pima Community College. The kids range from ninth graders to college sophomores. Instructor Daniel Eichenbaum is in his second year of guiding the students through the complex path from initial musical ideas to the final composition. "The adeptness with which these composers handle an orchestra at such a young age is astonishing," gushes Eichenbaum.

Sponsored by the TSO and the Tucson Symphony Women's Association, the rehearsal is free and open to the public. It takes place on Friday, May 9, at 7 p.m., and is held in the Performance Hall of the Tucson Symphony Center located at 2175 N. Sixth Ave. Call for details at 792-9155.

HOT ENOUGH FOR YOU? From the relative cool breeziness of a May afternoon in Tucson (I did say "relative"), you can view eruptions exploding on the sun's edge and witness sunspots through large telescopes and giant binoculars at the Flandrau Science Center.

You can't do this from home; trust me. But the folks at Flandrau are happy to provide the supplies and tell you where to look and when to squint. Astronomy Day kicks off on Saturday, May 10, from noon to 5 p.m., with the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association and the Coronado Instrument Group offering free viewing through solar telescopes. If you stop by from 7 to 10 p.m., you'll also get a peek at Saturn and Jupiter and the 9-day-old gibbous moon (among other celestial objects). Plus astronomers provide details on the upcoming total lunar eclipse predicted for Thursday, May 15. There's also a special unveiling--something the Flandrau staff is being uncharacteristically quiet about.

Solar viewing takes place in front of the Flandrau Science Center, located at Cherry Avenue and University Boulevard near the UA Mall. Telescope viewing is free. Planetarium shows cost $5.50 for adults and $4 for kids under 13. Free parking is available on campus all day.

Questions? Call 621-STAR.

IT'S WHY WE LIVE HERE. For those who go every year to the Waila Festival or for the newbies, it's time to dance up a storm.

Spend an evening under the stars listening to the traditional Tohono O'odham social dance music. Young or old, native or quasi-native, dance and listen to the traditional polka, the chote, the cumbia and maybe even a mazurka. The O'odham have developed a smooth and graceful walking polka style for the waila. This is not your grandmother's fast-hopping European polka. And the cumbia is danced freestyle. Whatever the beat, all waila dances are performed rotating around the dance floor in a counter-clockwise direction.

Musicians play button accordion, alto saxophone, bass guitars and drums. Most play by ear. Often bands are made up of whole families or members from the same village. Waila has spread far beyond the reservation to places like the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and Carnegie Hall.

The 15th annual Waila Festival goes from 5 to 11 p.m. on Saturday, May 10, at the UA Bear Down Field located north of the football stadium at Cherry Avenue and Fourth Street. It's free, as is parking in the multi-story garage near McKale Center. Don't miss the O'odham feast food--plenty of red chili, beans, tortillas and potato salad.

For all the details, call the Arizona Historical Society at 628-5774.

FEATURE THIS! On the cover of this month's Progressive Magazine is a startling simple graphic of the barrel of a gun with a TV camera perched on its rim.

The revolution will be televised--but not by embedded journalists.

Here in Tucson, Pan Left Productions debuts some of its latest videos by independent media activists in their annual Feature This! Festival. The videos tell progressive stories about the people waging peace, protecting the environment and working for immigrant rights and justice on the U.S./Mexico border.

On Saturday, May 10, two programs screen in the afternoon and the evening. At 3 p.m., brand new films about waging peace include Full of the Devil, produced by Sonya Diehn and Jeremia Burnett; Voices United Against War: Flagstaff, Prescott, Phoenix and Tucson is Justin Rhode's new video; Iraq: Voices From the Street is a work by Sonia Angulo and Jane Landau; and Pan Left on the Scene is produced by pan lefties Jeff Imig, MC Thurtle and Heather Lares.

At 7 p.m., the program offers approaches to changing the environment with Briana Waters' WATCH and a film by the Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity, Desert or Pasture. Sonya Diehn returns with Oasis Under Siege.

At 9:30 p.m., celebrate the opening night of the festival with other revolutionaries at the Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St.

Continuing on Sunday, May 11, the festival shares a meal at 12:30 p.m. with others working for a better world. Following at 2 p.m. is Contesting Policy: The Border, co-sponsored by Coalicion de Derechos Humanos and Border Action Network. The screenings include work by Alex Webb (El Otro Lado), Jesse Lerner and Scott Sterling (Natives: Immigrant Bashing on the Border), Elizabeth Burden's latest (For We Have Walked This Journey) and Casey Peek's film (New World Border).

Screenings are held at The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St. General admission costs $5 per program or $2 for low income. After each screening, join Tucson activists for a discussion and learn how you can help build momentum for that revolution that will be televised.

Questions? Call Pan Left Productions at 792-9171 or visit www.panleft.org.

STAND BY YOUR MAN. Why is it that in institutionalized religions, it's always the man who gets to have more than one wife and not the other way around? Think about who came up with the Mormon faith and it might give you the answer.

Red Water is a new novel written by Judith Freeman. In it she fictionalizes the true tales of pioneer America--told from the view of three of the wives of renowned Mormon leader John Lee. Their stories reveal the daily life of an extended Mormon household, exploring how each of them comes to terms with their husband's role in the infamous Mountain Meadows massacre.

These three spirited women survive Utah's punishing landscape and their families' polygamous rivalries. (That's a lot of plurals, I know, but it comes with the territory.) They stood by their man who, some say, could be sweet but unafraid of using his faith to justify desire and ambition.

Freeman reads from her critically acclaimed novel on Tuesday, May 13, at 7 p.m., at Antigone Books, located at 411 N. Fourth Ave. The reading and discussion that follow are free. Call 792-3715 for more information.

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