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Showing posts from May, 2006

The Italian Job

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My earliest stroll in Venice would be forever remembered. It was back in January 2000 on my first Italian job. I’ve been there many times since, but always look back fondly at that particular trip. My host, Franco, invited me to a superb seafood lunch which lasted more than a couple of hours. We had all kinds of fruits from the sea, cooked and uncooked in every conceivable Italian way. We consumed quite a bit of wine, and to top it off plunged into a hot dip comprised of olive oil and peppers of exotic origins and tastes. So, on we walked through the alleys of Venice, my host guiding me in the midst of the timeless city until we reached St. Marco, the main plaza where all the magic of the city emanates. Right in the middle of my rapture with the beautiful surroundings, I had to go. What I mean is that I had to go to the bathroom immediately. My host, too, looked uncomfortable, queasy and pale. It turned out that he had to GO as well. We started on a frantic run to the car, at least a

Gone Are the Olive Trees

Tartous lost her virginity toward the end of the sexual revolution, that is late 1960’s early 1970’s. Up until then, Tartous was still a very charming city-by-the-sea, surrounded and adorned by orange orchards and olive copses, called locally (Nawa3eer Laymoun & Basatin Zaytoun). The city was perpetually sweet-scented by orange blossom. Come evening in autumn or summer, a light easterly breeze stirred wilder roses and flowers on the nearby hills assaulting the leisurely quiet town with myriads of aromas. I grew up when everybody knew everybody else. As kids, we would go swimming unattended anywhere on the beach. The sandy stretch had no start and no end. It was ours, and in the summer we would spend all of our waking hours there. We were only asked to come home at meal times. At dusk, men would sit at the Bayader CafĂ© ( Ahwet Al Biader ) exaggerating the number of quails they’ve shot, or the heroics of their hunting dogs (most of the pointer dogs had the names of Murjan and Wardo

ART SUCKS

I call on all football fans in the Arab World, Syria and Tartous to speak up against and boycott ART (the monopoly and vicious mogul). God, don’t make them full! (Allah La Yshab3hon). ART want us to pay to watch the Number 1 sport in the world. They’ve been spreading rumors throughout their extensive campaign that nobody, absolutely nobody, can broadcast the Germany 2006 World Cup to the Middle East region but ART. They’ve been relentless in their ear-deafening crusade, even terrorizing innocent football fans with threat of prison and/or castration if they, the fans, dare watch any game without paying to ART first the unfathomable fee of 13,000 Syrian Pounds. Some poor souls have succumbed to the blackmail, but many have not. Don’t you worry my brothers and sisters in humanity and in football, someone (probably many) will screw ART bad and broadcast the WORLD CUP for FREE. We really don’t care if we’re going to hear a German commentator or a Sanskrit one. We want to watch football and

in the mood

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With the inevitable change of seasons, I become a little moody and the feeling that I am growing older nags at me. The spring-summer transition is particularly relentless in its offensive. I find it extremely intriguing that we don’t apprehend the importance of youth when we’re young. It takes an older person to appreciate the vigor, the delight, the splendor of being young. It takes a man in his forties, at least, to cherish the beauty of a pubescent maiden. By then it’s too late, even if willing, to consider the possibilities. This realization gives birth to the connoisseur with a discriminating taste and an appreciation of beauty, only to be grasped in the mind. There is some sort of mismatch out there between the genders. This, I believe is a great obstacle in the face of the proper evolution of the species. Anyway, when I was a younger and more foolish man of say twenty or twenty-one, I fancied older women. These were the real ones, I thought. The way they dress and hold their he

Tom & Jerry

Tom was the new kid in town. His first day at the local high school was never to be forgotten. From the moment he stepped into the hallway, everybody noticed him. He was a handsome and athletic kid. He walked tall and proud, and the fact that he was very rich enhanced his special charisma and allure. On that very same day, he picked a couple of fights just to make his point. From then on he didn't normally go about beating other kids in school, unless he had too. It was well understood that nobody should piss him off. He minded his own business most of the time and was aloof from the daily problems that went on in any school. While he dated the pretty cheerleaders, the homely girls secretly dreamt of Tommy. Guys either hated him out of jealousy or respected him out of fear. Tom gave the impression that he had a very short fuse, so it was very sensible to stay out of his way. One day a sickly young boy by the name of Jerry arrived on the scene. He never knew his father, and his moth

Ayn Al Jawzat

Exactly 20 years ago, Ayn Al Jawzat at the village Sa’een became my favorite restaurant. It’s owned and managed by a very nice guy by the name of Majed. “Ayn Al Jawzat” is my refuge in times of joy and trouble. To drive to Sa’een you have to be really hungry. Although it’s only 20 km east of Tartous, the final 8 are a serpentine road twisting down a deep valley. The road is not for the faint of heart. If two cars are to meet, one of the drivers has to have the sense to completely stop and give the right of way to the other. Once you are there, however, the owner will personally welcome you at the front door near the spring. When it’s cold, he will gladly light up a fire for you. Comes summer, you will be lead outdoors, to a table in the shade of the giant Walnut tree (hence the name Ayn Al Jawzat = Spring of the Walnut Trees) The food is good, the service great and the price very decent. Now, don’t go expecting to find a 5-star joint. You go there, because you are a simple human being

Block J

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We’re swept away with the pace of modern life. We strive to follow up with the lead established by others, ignoring who we really are and were we came from. Such is the case with those known to fall under the biased Western word “the Third World”. If there ever was a First World, then we’re definitely “It”. But alas, money talks nowadays, and when the vast majority of people are familiar with Hollywood and Burger King, a very small minority have ever heard of the ancient cities of Ur and Ebla, let alone Tartous. Circumstances placed me a few years back in the middle of a restoration project in the old city of Tartous. A Spanish team formed by architects and urban planners from the cities of Palma de Mallorca and Alicante paid a visit to Tartous. They wanted to take part in the restoration of one particular building, technically labeled “Block J”. A few days before their arrival, I had started a complete survey of the complex structure and had transformed my data into a 3D model in ord

A Tribute to Ali Al-Badri

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Ali Al Badri is in his mid sixties. He wakes up with the daily resurrection of the sun and sleeps an hour or two after it dies. He works on his 5-acre piece of land, 7 km south of the city. There, he has a small dilapidated shed with a tin roof. An olden army cot occupies one corner. A weathered handmade table and an odd assortment of wooden crates make up for the rest of the furnishing. Sharing one wall with the shed is a smaller lean-to where his animals live. Three or four dogs, along with a mule and some chickens, are the residents of this place and the companions of Ali. Even in the winter, when there's little he could do in the land, he sticks by his daily regimen. He kick-starts the cold 50cc engine of his puny bike to life, dons himself in a yellow mariner cloak and rides off in the drizzle and rain to his land by the sea. Over the course of fifty-two years, hot or cold, wet or dry, sick or fit, he had never missed but a few days. There was this time when his mother died l

To the Dead Sea & Back

I had just finished taking some pictures of Tartous off the highest building in town (The Shahine Tower: 16 stories up) when my cell phone rang. "Can you be in Amman, Jordan tomorrow, the 8th of May?". There was an exhibition that I should attend and a client I should meet.... blah, blah, blah. My colleague and I left Tartous around 9:00 AM, arrived in Damascus a little bit after 11:00, left the car at the Sheraton and drove by Taxi to Amman. 6 hours later we were in the Jordanian capitol with little time left for any business that day. It took us 4 hours to cover the 200 km trip because the Syrian-Jordanian border is annoying and embarrasing. To be honest to myself and to those who might stumble on this and actually read it, the problem is not with the Syrians. Since deep in my heart, I still believe in "One Arab Nation" above and beyond all, it is very sad to go through this useless and shameful experience. In the evening, we were invited by the Austrian client/fr

Boring & Humid

I wouldn’t go as far as saying that the Tartoussi is one of a dying breed. The truth of the matter is that the real Tartoussi is one of a minority in his own town. Same thing can be said about the real New Yorker or the real Damascene. It’s just a demographic fact with an absence of prejudice. Writing about one’s hometown is always difficult. One might bore others to death at any junction, or even worse offend them. No point in stating the obvious then. Over the last few years, some striking ideas have been flying around regarding the future of Tartous. A few “sages” even go as far as saying that Tartous should be the commercial capitol of Syria. More realistic pens and mouths suggest that it should be transformed into a large free zone, “look at Dubai” they point out knowingly! Frankly, I’m fed up. If Tartous needs anything, it is to regain its innocence. Too bad we can’t go back in time, because that’s what we really need. When I am fortunate to go places, especially around the Medit

Salma Ya Salama

If you were all Arabic-speaking folks, I would only have to write the lyrics of the very beautiful song “Salma Ya Salama” by Dalida (see below) and that would’ve been it. I mean I couldn’t improve on Sayed Darwish or whoever wrote it. That would’ve saved me the trouble of making up something new and definitely less elegant, and would’ve saved you from the nuisance of having to read it all. Suffice it to say, that Dalida’s song is about a woman who’s been everywhere, enjoying her life to the fullest. But after all the coming and going, and when her first love called, she chose to come back ‘cause there’s no place as lovely to one’s heart, mind and eyes as one’s home. I’ve been away in Italy for a couple of weeks. I enjoyed every moment thoroughly. True, I was on a job assignment but I had the chance to see (again) one of my best friends and meet his wonderful family (for the first time). Still in the back of my mind, Tartous was the harbor in the vast ocean. Like a seafarer, I love sail