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Friday, December 29, 2006

All That Jazz

For the past ten years, I have been avoiding the confrontation with the terrible flu through vaccination. The regularity of the seasonal torment confining me to bed for days has almost disappeared. I get through most years without even a stumble. But in the dying throes of 2006, I succumbed to a horrible strike of merciless cold. I’ve been reduced to a lump of aching muscles, mind rendered senseless by the Frankensteinian chemistry of prescribed and over the counter medications. It certainly is obvious that The Cold would and should take its course, but in my case it is primal fear, an embedded instinct to fight this ruthless monster with potions and magical incantations, to not only hit it below the belt, but to rip its goddamn balls off with my own hands, only if I could.
I have finally sighted the faint light at the end of the tunnel. I still hurry to bed, covering myself from head to toe and shiver like a wet puppy every so often. But I am finally sleeping without the intrusion of nightmarish visions and sounds.
I should’ve answered this tag before the knockout, but I had no idea what was in store for me. Thank you Dubai Jazz for catalyzing my resurrection. I needed something like this to get me on track again.

1- Are you a principled person? Or are you pragmatic?
Everyone falls somewhere in between except fools and scoundrels. I am more of a fool. I try to be pragmatic as long as it doesn’t affect my principles. Not succeeding in the first part of the equation all the time is only normal.

2- Do you believe in people or in ideas?
Ideas are the brainchildren of people. In the end, however, I value the novel more than the author. I could care less about the personal eccentricities or the downfalls of those individuals who became great because of their work, because of the ideas they left behind.

3- How good are you in separating what is business from what is personal?
Oh, I am very good at that. When I have to really be objective or when I get to the point where I have to issue a moral choice, I am a professional. Now, I usually do not place myself in such corners. But, if it came down to the wire and I were forced with such a moral choice, even an enemy can be assured that I will be fair to the best of my ability.

4- Do you have role models? How good are you in following their trajectory?
I really don’t. Almost all of my favorites are dead. Besides, almost all of them are writers. Do I wish I could write like them? Sure, why not. Am I going to write like them? Nah, not likely.

5- A British saying goes: “Manners maketh a man”, what else do you think makes a man ‘a Man’?
Word of honor, more so than manners. A man, or a woman for that matter, without a word of honor is worth shit.

6- Do you believe in taking risk? Do you follow your guts feeling? Has it ever failed you?
Taking calculated risks is what separates the men from the boys. Live your life by calculations only and you are either a dull banker or a neurotic accountant. Jumping at risky junctions just for the sake of excitement and you’re not going be around for long to tell about it. I’ve taken many calculated and failed risks, which incidentally make me feel very good about myself.

7- Have you ever been through a ‘paradigm shift’? if not, do you believe that such process exists?
With too little information or with the wrong type of data, one might reach the wrong conclusion(s). I have done that on numerous occasions I believe. But then again, I am not the type of person who jumps to conclusions or make generalizations. I don’t reach moral verdicts easily.

8- Do you believe in unilateral love? Have you ever been through such experience?
Nah, I am not the type. May be as a kid, I have had a crush on some (older) voluptuous pubescent maiden(s), but it was a crush and a crush only. As soon as I developed a vocabulary to match my hormonal reactions, I would make a move. When I was turned away it usually meant the end of any further advances as far as that lass was concerned. There has always been other fish in the sea.

9- How good is your assimilation within your social sphere?
I am perfectly at ease with or without people. I value friends and loved ones and their company tremendously. But at the end of the rope, I enjoy my solitude. It is my belief that nobody can be happy with others if he or she is not happy with themselves.

10- Can you name some of your new year’s resolutions?
Like all celebrities I need to lose some weight. I am afraid that I am way beyond the point of no return as far as perfect physical condition is concerned. But, I wish I could get my weight to 75kg. Am I willing to miss a delicious meal here or cold beer there? I honestly doubt it. But it would be nice nevertheless to look like a mature “jackal”. Since I have no real motive, I am in doubt of any serious result.

Thank you Dubai Jazz for the engaging questions. More importantly, thank you for getting me out of bed. I would very much like to tag ArabLady with these questions.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

My Best Wishes for the Holidays

I have promised my family, and myself, to take it easy and to spend as much time with them as possible during the coming week. Since I’m not taking any vacation in the real meaning of the word, lazing around at home, watching TV, playing with the kids and frequenting Sile in the evening would be my objects of desire in the next few days.

I might get overwhelmed with the hubbub of the festive season and miss blogging so terribly that I’d sneak away to my PC in the after hours for a quickie.

In any case, whether this would be my last post of 2006 or not, I would like to wish each and everyone of you a Merry Xmas, a Blessed Eid Adha and a Happy New Year.

Through this blog, I can only offer something modest along with my wishes. I gave it some serious thought and the best I could come up with is the gift of music.

I would like you to enjoy this audio stream below of a magnificent guitar duel by Carlos Santana & Ottmar leibert. I hope it gives you as much pleasure as it did to me, with a Cognac in hand and a fine Cuban cigar.

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May your life be as wonderful as this musical gem Samba Pa Ti (1992).
Happy Days To All…

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Most Popular Post of 2006

Warning: The following article might prove offensive to some people. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the writer. However, it is based on factual, yet disturbing, visitors’ statistics. What you are going to read below is a true story. Parental discretion is therefore advised.

One of the most popular posts during my eight month tenure at the helm of this blog has been “Fairuz in Tartous”. It was also the most controversial and received the highest number of comments. It’s a little disheartening for me since I deem that I’ve written better ones. I keep getting direct hits on my site counter pointing to that post. For a while I figured to myself that Madame Fairuz is very popular and it’s only natural that many web surfers are interested in reading whatever is written about her.

Over the months, however, a very distinctive pattern started emerging. A high percentage of these hits were coming from one particular Arab country. A country considered “moderate” by the present US administration. Ummm, I thought, the Arab liberals must be really crazy about Fairuz. But why?

Not merely why are they interested in the Lebanese Ambassadress to the Stars, but why more than anybody else? And there was yet another puzzle. Nobody from this arid country ever visits my blog, except to read my post about Fairuz. I was baffled so I went into the gory details. I wanted to know what other posts they’ve been visiting. Only one, “Solar Energy & Haifa Wehbe” showed up in the table. I daresay that 80% of these “broad minded” visitors were interested in Fairuz and 20% in Haifa Wehbe. You’d find that strange, won’t you? I mean come on let’s face it, if I were forced to spend the rest of my life with either of them, the choice would be obvious. I would gag them both during the day anyway. Comes evening, I might remove the duct tape covering Haifa’s mouth (remember her WaWa).

OK, I thought, I could stay one more hour at the office and investigate this very interesting statistical anomaly. I dug deeper in the figures provided by my counter service. Aha, Google referred almost all of these casual surfers. It’s only natural, I reckoned, Google is the most pervasive search engine on the web and our brothers use it as well. Because they are such devoted fans of Fairuz, they searched for her near and far and were eventually directed to my humble blog.

But wait, the vast majority of the searches were in Arabic. That’s bizarre! I post exclusively in English.

Then I found out what has been perplexing me. They were not interested in Fairuz at all. They could as well care less about my blog. They were looking for something entirely different.

In that particular post, I have written, and I quote myself here: “There’s a very appropriate Damascene proverb which certainly applies: (لا وجه حلو ولا طيز ناعمة) La Wajeh Helou Wala Teez Naemeh = No beautiful face, no smooth ass.”
The key words in the Google searches were either Smooth Ass or طيز ناعمة.
Isn’t that amazing!?

Go ahead, give it a try. My blog would show up on top of the search results.
I have a serious potential problem on my hand now. This present stupid post might prove even more popular than the previous one and takes first prize. It has all the keywords, repeated twice.

As a gesture of hospitality, and in order for their search not to go in vein, and so that they wouldn’t come out empty eyed, I’ve attached a picture of the smoothest ass I could find.

The parental discretion on top was just a foolish joke. Sue me, but I couldn’t resist the temptation.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Om Fares, the Wind Beneath My Wings

She wasn't even twenty when we first met, a pretty face with a big gorgeous smile, cat-walking through life as an English Literature student at Damascus University. I was a disillusioned soldier who did not belong, sailing through as the winds willed me. No chart to follow, no likely call for a next harbor.
She saw through me and perfectly understood why I spoke so little. It was much easier to express my feelings by bringing her (to her parents’ house) a bag of quails I’ve hunted than to look her straight in the face and say what’s really on my mind.
And she accepted that. She held my hand and took me as her life-long companion and soul mate.
Twenty years later, she can still stand me, which, by itself, is quiet an achievement and a true indication of her beautiful spirit. We’ve been through it all, the good, the bad and the in-between. Being married is like this, you know.
I can close my eyes and remember the moments of true happiness we’ve shared over the years. The birth of each of our three children. The pride, the joy. Trips we’ve made together, just the two of us in a small airplane or in the saddle of a motorcycle. I can also remember the hardships we’ve endured. The pain, the agony. My leaving home for a time, in search, yet again, for a bigger bite to eat, for more than my share in life. I strained my eyes looking too far when all I had to do was just close them and look inside. Whatever I wanted has always been here, within my reach. I would never let go again.
Om Fares reads my blog, when she has time, she tells me. Whatever I write, she already knows. I am still poor at finding the right words to tell her how I truly feel. I hope I can surprise her this time. I have chosen Bette Midler’s song because that’s what Om Fares is to me, the “Wind Beneath My Wings”.

Ohhhh, oh, oh, oh, ohhh.
It must have been cold there in my shadow,
to never have sunlight on your face.
You were content to let me shine, that's your way.
You always walked a step behind.

So I was the one with all the glory,
while you were the one with all the strength.
A beautiful face without a name for so long.
A beautiful smile to hide the pain.

Did you ever know that you're my hero,
and everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
for you are the wind beneath my wings.

It might have appeared to go unnoticed,
but I've got it all here in my heart.
I want you to know I know the truth, of course I know it.
I would be nothing without you.

Did you ever know that you're my hero?
You're everything I wish I could be.
I could fly higher than an eagle,
for you are the wind beneath my wings.

Did I ever tell you you're my hero?
You're everything, everything I wish I could be.
Oh, and I, I could fly higher than an eagle,
for you are the wind beneath my wings,
'cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

Oh, the wind beneath my wings.
You, you, you, you are the wind beneath my wings.
Fly, fly, fly away. You let me fly so high.
Oh, you, you, you, the wind beneath my wings.
Oh, you, you, you, the wind beneath my wings.

Fly, fly, fly high against the sky,
so high I almost touch the sky.
Thank you, thank you,
thank God for you, the wind beneath my wings.

Activate the Player below to Enjoy this song (audio stream)

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Modest Contribution to Humanity

I have always felt inconvenienced by the discrepancy between the ubiquitous Gregorian calendar (solar) in use worldwide and the Hijri calendar (lunar) implemented to fix Islamic religious events. I have even undertaken some serious research to find out whether the inconsistency can ever be resolved. To my chagrin, I learned that practical solutions had been reached way in the past but that they had been refused on theological grounds. The Hebrew, Hindu, Buddhist, Chinese, Persian and pre-Islamic calendars are all lunisolar and were able to resolve the discrepancies between the cyclical movement of the earth around the sun and that of the moon around the earth with some ingenious adjustment(s). These calendars are based on a combination of solar and lunar mathematics, thus the name “lunisolar”. The Persian calendar for example adds one month every 3 lunar years to compensate for the 11 days amiss. Studying the intricacies of these different calendars is very rewarding and I would leave it to the reader to do a little research on her own.
Since, as it seems, one cannot present a solution without coming in direct confrontation with the established religious institution, I chose to tackle a smaller yet very significant problem facing Muslims everywhere.
Sunday is, for Christians and non-Christians alike, the free day of the week in most parts of the world. Many countries have a two-day weekend (Saturday & Sunday). In most Arab countries, Friday is the day off and business as usual on Saturday and Sunday. In some instances, Sunday is the official day off while a one-hour break is given on Friday to observe the prescribed religious practice. The two-day weekend has been in dispute in the Islamic world due to the added nuisance of having either Thursday or Saturday as the second day off. One can only imagine the dilemma facing a business firm with international suppliers or clients and located in such a country. It might face four non-working days in a week, or at best three. I had nightmares during the execution of a project when a technical glitch popped up late on a Thursday afternoon or even on a Saturday morning. I wouldn’t be able to get support from the designer in Italy until Monday morning. Millions of devoted Muslims who live abroad, especially in the West, feel the tremendous burden of fully practicing their Friday ritual in the middle of an uncompromising working environment.
So here’s my solution, I’ll make it brief and I believe it would work if we approach the issue with an open mind.
Why don’t we simply hit the problem head on semantically. One Sunday morning, we wake up and make up our courageous mind and say it’s Al-Jom’a (الجمعة). Of course we would do it on midnight, but the idea is that starting from this day on, Sunday in English and all other languages means Al-Jom’a (الجمعة) in Arabic, pure and simple. In the process we have dropped two days into oblivion but so what! Al-Sabet (السبت) means Monday (Lundi, Lunedi, Montag and so on). It’s all really a linguistic game. We have simply redefined the translation of the names of the seven days of the week from Arabic to all other languages.
Al-Jom’a is Sunday. Muslims would not be offended at all. Their day off is still Al-Jom’a all over the world. Non-Muslims could care less, their day off is still on Sunday. Christians and Muslims share the same holy day, is that bad? Christians who live in Islamic countries go to church on the same day their compatriots go to the mosque. We all have a unified work week and the same weekend. What is called Thursday is Al-Thalatha' (الثلاثاء) now, Friday is Al-Arba’a (الاربعاء) and so on. Multilingual dictionaries will handle the transformations in their new editions and some day in the future the whole thing would be forgotten and of interest only to history buffs.
The Academy of the Arabic Language and the Organization of the Islamic Conference can make the announcement one happy day.
Case closed, problem solved.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Lamb in Pot

It is citrus season in Tartous. The green trees are fully laden with oranges, lemons, grapefruits, tangerines and mandarins and dotted with various shades of red, orange and yellow. Although the citrus groves have been reduced in size and number, they and the sea still enfold Tartous like caring parents. The weather has been perfect throughout November. It’s a little bit on the cold side in the evening perhaps, but unblemished sunshine prevails all through the day and begs for a special type of Bar-B-Q.
Do you think it’s too soon to post about food again? I guess so, but I can’t resist the temptation. This time though, I am going to write about a big festive meal particularly conceived for the outdoors or the backyard of your home. The recipe calls for a bunch of hungry people. I don’t know how many, but the more, the merrier.
You need 1/2 of a young lamb, potatoes, onions, assorted spices and a bottle of Tabasco. You should also prepare a bowl of rice and get fresh vegetables for the salad of your linking and some Pita bread.
Although, preparing Meat in Pot (Lahme Bil Jarra = لحمة بالجرة ) might require some work, it is really simple in the end, provided you have the place and the time to do it.
I am sorry for not have taken my digital camera for this latest outing (a big mistake). However, I fetched some old photo prints from my album and was happy to be able to retrieve the ones I’ve used in this post.

-You need to buy a big pot (not from the Cannabis variety but from pottery).
-From the butcher shop get one half of a lamb (see illustrated picture below) By the way, the quantity could be reduced if you can only acquire a large lamb. If that is the case, then be sure to buy your favorite meat cuts.

-The lamb is cut in pieces (with bones) small enough to pass through the opening of the pot, but not too small. The meat should be generously rubbed with your favorite spices (use your imagination), Tabasco (or any sauce you like) and salt are added as per preference.

-Peel 2 Kg (4.5 lbs) of large whole potatoes and 1 Kg of onions.
-Insert the meat, the potatoes, the onions and 4 sticks of cinnamon in the pot together.
-Cover the opening of the pot with a piece of cloth and tie it around the neck.
-Punch the cloth with a pencil or whatever and cover the cloth with wet mud. When it’s dry enough to remove the pencil, do so.

By this time a circular hole of about 1 m in diameter and 50 cm in depth (40” x 20”) should have been dug in the ground and filled with either firewood or coal. The fire should be stable when you place the pot on its side in the middle but not aflame. The burning coals should generously surround the pot without actually coming in direct contact with it. The cooking time is roughly 4 to 5 hours. Make sure you keep the coals alive and rotate the pot every 15 minutes or so for even cooking. After a couple of hours, a steady steam vent will be visible from the opening you’ve made with the pencil. Prepare rice as per your own recipe since it goes extremely well with the tender meat.

Don’t worry about over-cooking as long as the fire doesn’t actually touch the pot (it should be close but not in direct contact).
When the aroma overpowers you (just about 4 hours after you’ve started) feel free to remove the pot and prepare yourself for one hell of a delicious meal.
In a clean place, preferably in a large enough pan, lay the pot on its side and tap on its upper half longitudinally with some long metal object to break it nicely into 2 large parts. If it doesn’t break evenly, don’t worry; just be sure to remove all of the broken pieces. Remove the steamy ingredients and place into the serving pan to present on the table. The meat, potatoes and onions are served with hot rice.

Drink your heart out. Beer, wine, soda, whatever you desire, it’s entirely up to you.
I hope you enjoy this very special recipe. While having a good time it wouldn’t hurt if you drink my toast.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Msabbha: Breakfast of Champions

A typical Tartoussi day starts, as everywhere else I suppose, with breakfast. Most folks would eat at home and our meal is no different than elsewhere in the Levant. However, there are certain men, especially those involved in heavy labor or working long hours and normally missing lunch, who need something extraordinary and potent to carry them through the day. There are also gluttons with big bellies and insatiable appetites who crave the Tartoussi breakfast of Champions on a regular basis (I would name my friend Abu Ahmad just to prove my point, once every other day is his average). For these hungry beasts and many others, nothing will do except the famous, the one and only, the extremely rich in protein, the original Msabbha (مسبحة) of Tartous.

Since this particular plate is never prepared at home, it is either consumed in the little restaurants where it is cooked overnight or taken away. Many families would send a volunteer to bring this breakfast home and eat it together. My kids wake me up every Friday morning with a unanimous decision, “Go get us Msabbha”.

Msabbha is simply enough a plate consisting of chickpeas, Tehina and olive oil. Chickpeas are boiled in water for hours in a large unique copper pot until very tender. Tehina is a thick dip with sesame seeds as its base. It is diluted with water first, then garlic, fresh lemon juice and salt are added and stirred until it reaches a thin consistency. The final ingredient is olive oil, and where else can you get the best quality in the world but Tartous. The Msabbha plate is prepared by laying the chick peas at the bottom, then Tehina is cascaded over to fully cover and finally olive oil is generously poured on top. The word Msabbha is derived from Sabaha = to swim. The chickpeas are swimming in olive oil. Needless to say, this is one delicious entrée, and, you can only have it in Tartous.

There are rituals involved.

First, you need to go to the bakery (Firen Ammoura = فرن عمورة) to get the open bread (خبز مشروح) . At the “restaurants” they serve regular Levantine bread (Pita), but the Msabbha deserves better than that. Ammoura is the only bakery in Tartous where firewood is used. With warm bread in hand, you pass underneath the old northern arch of the old city and head toward one of the Msabbha joints.

Second, the Msabbha joint is only frequented by men. A few proprietors have tried to accommodate what is referred to locally as “families” meaning really “women”, but I don’t think the idea caught on. There are always young Western tourists, boys and girls, eating at these Msabbha joints and nobody really mind them. I have even been around with non-Tartoussi, yet Syrian girls and no one paid any attention. But I have never in my life seen a local female eating there. I think it’s a traditional peculiarity of Tartous, like the all-men cafés where no local woman sets foot, yet many strangers sit in very comfortably without even registering any response from the regular customers.

Then, there are only a handful of good Msabbha joints in town, all located, relatively speaking, within or around the old city. Don’t even try to go in one of the many modern places where Msabbha is served as a novelty. You might as well eat the Lattakian Msabbha, which really is… ah forget it. Ask a group of Tartoussis (locals mind you) about who serves the best Msabbha in Tartous and you’re going to have a heated argument. Basically, the only real Msabbha specialists are (in no particular order), Mustafa Monem and Mahmoud Nabelsi in the Khrab quarter, Abu Ayad Taha and Nasser in Al-Saha (the old square), Naeem in Al-Mina St. and Salem of Haret Al-Barrieh. Voila, go in any of these six places and you’ll be alright (the first three on the list are my favorites).

Now you walk in, proud that you have brought your own bread, and find an empty table or even chair in the small place. Mustafa Monem’s is roughly (8 x 3 meter) and has six tables inside. There are also a couple of tables outside on the sidewalk. On a busy day, many customers will be eating standing up. The menu is simple, Msabbha, Fool Msabhha ( with Fava beans) and Fool Mdammas (Fava beans with Hommos but without Tehina). Each individual serving is sold for SP30.00 (roughly 60 cents). With your order, a free side plate of pickles, fresh green mint, olives and onions is served (it’s called Sa7en sarvice= صحن سرفيس). Regular customers get an extra treat. Halfway through their meal, Abu Mohamad will fix the plate, meaning that he will add some Tehina or olive oil as needed.

After this happy meal, customers walk out heavily. The chickpeas, Tehina, pickles and onions would have taken their toll by now. You are in dire need of a glass of tea as soon as possible. You should also not get close to colleagues (remember the onions) unless they, too, had Msabbha with you. Love making is to be avoided at all cost, preferably until the next day even if both partners had Msabbha together.

But, it is really worth it after all. For 60 cents, you can’t go wrong. And, nothing is as fulfilling and delicious to start your day with as a good plate of Msabbha, the Tartoussi way.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Montgomery Jacket

Years have slipped through my grip like grains of sand. Over the course of more than four decades, the neurons in my brain have been continuously bridging mental banks, shaping my personality in a chance progression. My self today is as much a result of experiences as it is an inherited entity. Floods of emotions have swept me by in the rush of years, raising me to new heights at times or bringing me down to the abyss of despair. I have survived the onslaught of variables not necessarily by will power but rather through long term conditioning affecting not only me but all the human species.
I was on the edge of consciousness when I found myself wearing a dark blue Montgomery jacket (known also as a Toggle or Duffle coat). I certainly did not choose it, I was barely five. My memories of that period are understandably vague but I do remember my jacket vividly. A couple of winters later, my mother brought me a replacement because the Montgomery wouldn’t fit anymore. I cried, not wanting to give up on it. The sleeves were too short and the zipper wouldn’t close any longer. I kept holding on to it, stretching the leather loops around the large toggle buttons to their limits. My childhood jacket was gone and successively replaced by one piece of garment after another with the passage of time.

With the passage of time, too, I made new friends and lost old ones. In search of greener pastures, getting away from suffocating and overwhelming circumstances or simply fulfilling their dreams, my friends are scattered across the four corners of the world. From Melbourne in Australia to Los Angeles in California and dotted here and there in Europe, Africa and Asia, my friends are working, enduring and thriving. I have not seen my kindergarten buddy in almost forty years. He came home a few times I understand, and when he actually made it to Tartous once and asked about me, I was away in the States.
With the wool jackets, anoraks, blazers, rain coats and parkas I’ve worn and lost, friends made their entry into my life and then disappeared.
It was within the last decade that my friends and I were able to find each other again, thanks to the Internet. An inquiry from here, an email from there… names, faces and voices started to pop up on computer screens at odd hours of the day and night. My friends were making a comeback into my life, adorning it with bliss and happiness. I know about their children progress in school, they know about my new apartment, I know about their backyard gardens, they know about my Sile. We are Skyping each other and exchanging video clips of the little things that make up a life. We have found each other in Cyberspace.
I was also able to place an online order for a large dark blue Montgomery jacket. The Canadian store acquired it from the Czech Republic and it had finally arrived in a brown plain looking package. With trembling hands I opened the wrappings and took a long look at my new old jacket. It was like hitting the rewind button on a VCR in play mode, but even better. I could almost smell the classroom chalk, taste the candy in my pocket, and feel the warm embrace of mother covering my head with the hood and buttoning the large toggles.
I will wear it again and hopefully for many years to come as I doubt it very much that I will either grow in size or brain neurons anymore.
My life will never run short on memories. I await the first cold spell to hit my town so that I can wrap myself again, in my Montgomery jacket.

Friday, December 01, 2006

What I Don't like

This is the second, and luckily for me and for readers alike, last of a two-post mini series on my Likes and Dislikes. There is no way on earth I can openly speak about my dislikes without stepping on somebody’s toes.
I have to admit that I had to modify this list a bit. I have even taken a few things out. I never intended my blog to be a controversial one. It wouldn’t truly reflect my personality if it were. But in the end, I was able to state most of my dislikes, although in a somehow subdued manner. (No pictures this time)

I Don’t Like: Astrology and all pseudo sciences. That there are actually people out there who read their daily (or weekly) horoscope never seizes to amaze me (in a shocking sort of way). If I were ever in a position to round all the astrologists and fortune tellers of the world together in one place, I would inflict upon them the greatest punishment of all. I’d make them listen to each other for the rest of their lives.

I Don’t Like: People who write more than they read and those who talk more than they listen.

I Don’t Like: Floppies. How on earth are they still around? How did they come about in the first place? Back in the Middle Ages (1994) when a CD burner was outside the budget limits of most users, I would save a large file on multiple floppies (it was called spanning). I remember one particular 22 MB TIFF image that I needed to print on a large format printer. Back then, I had to drive to Damascus (248 km) to a print shop to get the job done. I took along all 18 floppies and while uploading the image file in the shop, I found out that Floppy no.11 was damaged. There was nothing I could do, except get my ass back to Tartous and hate floppies even more, for the rest of my life.

I Don’t Like: Politics in general. I detest George W. Bush and to a certain extent all politically ambitious people. Anyone who seeks public office via imposition or election with the exception of Bill Clinton (I like Bill Clinton) is a, how shall I say it, a self-promoter. When Walter Cronkite, the anchorman of CBS News, retired in 1981 he was approached by both American parties to run as their candidate for the presidency. He declined of course and instead cruised around the world in his sailboat. If my memory serves me right, he said then that anybody who becomes the president of the United States doesn’t deserve to be the president in the first place. How true that is!

I Don’t Like: The highway between Homs and Damascus. Although I love the desert, I think this the most annoying, boring and maddening stretch of asphalt in the world. A drive of a little over an hour and fifteen minutes seems for some reason to extend till eternity.

I Don’t Like: What had happened to my city in the last 30 years.

I Don’t Like: Jackhammers. They are earsplitting and nerve wrecking, but I really mean the human jackhammers rather than the noisy tools which provide a useful function at least. Moral Jackhammers and Political Jackhammers: I don’t know who’s worse. I can’t understand it how someone is actually allowed to make a living trough religion or politics. These persons claim that they are benevolent and that they are working for the betterment of their fellow men. Fine, they should not get paid a dime. As a matter of fact they should pay to the silent majority every time they open their mouths. One final note, I am talking about all religions and I am talking about politicians on both sides of the fence, loyal and opposition.

I Don’t Like: People who drive cars but don't pay for gas.

I Don’t like: The new meaning of the word Liberal. It’s really funny, but I got the impression, after watching an interview on TV the other day that the ”liberals” in the Middle East were dealt a hard blow due to the resignation of Rumsfeld. Am I getting this right? Arab liberals are fond of Rumsfeld and they are sorry he is gone? Pardon me for being away working for a living and excuse my ignorance, but Saudi Arabia is considered liberal? Who else is liberal… I hear that the governments of Egypt and Jordan are liberal now. Is that true?
In essence then, George W. Bush is a liberal. Do Americans really think their current president is liberal? But most importantly, do Arab “self-proclaimed liberals” think anyone can take them seriously? They must be mad. What’s even worse, from their “not necessarily high” ivory tower somewhere in the western hemisphere, they have the audacity to patronize the average people back home (they even call them neutrals) by going as far as suggesting themselves as an alternative. So the choices of the average person (Arabs in general) are limited to religious extremists, totalitarians or self-proclaimed liberals. What a nightmare!

I Don’t like: Having any sort of business with a government agency here in Syria. I would have to actually meet a clerk or an official (sitting behind their desks) who might believe that the chairs under their asses are their Lawful God Given Rights.

I Don’t like: Women who consider themselves superior because of the way they dress, who are very vocal about it and who think that they have reached a virtuous pedestal that other women should climb, with nails and teeth, to eventually reach. And, all of these beliefs are the result of nothing else but the way they dress. What I can’t stand even more are the “righteous” men who suppose that it’s their business to meddle and/or dictate the way women should dress. These men should all be forced to wear exactly what they want the women to wear.

I Don’t like: Wearing a suit and a tie. Unfortunately, sometimes I have to. Although I am certain the suit looks nice on certain men, this is beyond the point. How can one be comfortable by virtue of looking elegant but having a rope (of a sort) tied around his neck?

I Don’t like: Men who act like women and women who act like men. I must add that I am not particularly fond of men who really care about their looks and who regularly use the mirror (except for shaving). Even women who have an affair with mirrors get on my nerves.

I Don’t like: Tiger patterned lingerie. Is it supposed to bring the dormant bestial side in a man, or am I missing the point? What about feathered lingerie… KOKORIKO

I Don’t like: Commentating on football in any Arabic accent except Egyptian. All non-Egyptian commentators should be banned off the air. Listening to some of them is like being beaten over the head with a hammer. The Egyptian guy, whether he knows what he’s talking about or not, whether he’s getting the names right or not is “Light Blooded” at least.

Finally, I Don’t like: The Nouveau Riche, wherever they come from. I like the rich, the middle class and the poor. I also like the nouveau pauvre, but I can’t stand the nouveau riche and the rich who go cheap to stay rich.

How many toes did I hurt? Oops, I hope not too many.