A Tale of Three Cities

I've been tagged by Arima, a woman I've never met, but whose persona is somehow a melange of surreptitious traits found in the three cities I'm describing in this post.

Which city do I love the most in the world?

To choose one city above the rest and aver that I prefer it over all is most certainly a tenuous avowal. I have had the pleasure of living or passing through many fascinating cities over the years and I have had a transient affair with a few. My feelings are better revealed in French through the words of a forgotten laureate: “J’ai des mémoires de villes comme on a des mémoires d’amour”. I have memories of cities as we have memories of love.
My cities were selected by the passion of a whimsical heart rather than the intellect of a well-traveled man. The universal magic and appeal of the famous metropolises would not gain any added benefit from my humble appraisal. However, I owe it to the three cities of my choice to tell the rest of the world about them. I should also make it clear that I do not mind a casual affair with a large city but I would never fall in serious love with one. I am a small town boy and will remain so till the day I die, or to put it more emphatically I am a crude sailor who had spent a great deal of his life in the arms of fashionable damsels but only had one sweetheart all along.
I would be willing, perhaps, to leave Tartous if I had to, and spend the rest of my life in Tripoli of Lebanon, Larnaca of Cyprus or Alicante of Spain.

Tripoli is the twin sister of Tartous. Every real Tartoussi thinks of her as his second home. A distance of 60 km separates the two cities and going there on the spur of the moment to spend the day and return is a long established tradition for us. There is no other Syrian city to take its place in my mind. I know every single street, every neighborhood. I’m welcomed by its shopkeepers and recognized by its everyday amblers. The Tripolitans speak with my accent and share my inherited values. This is the only place in Lebanon where the line between Syrian and Lebanese is almost nonexistent. It’s a beautiful, well-kept city by the sea with a charming boulevard adorned with tall palm trees and an easy going lifestyle. It is home to most of my lifelong friends, those who are scattered today around the globe waiting for better days to return. Tripoli is so much a part of my life, I could never let go.

I have sailed the 110 nautical miles from Tartous to Larnaca one spring afternoon and made harbor and anchored late at night. I stepped out of the boat in the early morning and was immediately engulfed with an ethereal nostalgic feeling. It’s as if I’ve stepped back in time to the Tartous of my childhood yet remained in the present with a vision of how it should have gone. Larnaca is a precious little town on the Mediterranean, full of heritage, of pride, of the simple pleasures that make up a happy life. The adorable promenade is lined with little pubs and restaurants each with its unique identity and lure. It’s absolutely fabulous to be a stranger in Larnaca and learn to love the beautiful island of Cyprus. I’ve spent 11 high-spirited days of my life on that first visit and it’s easy to understand why I always cherish my return. The city has grown since our first meeting but it has, nevertheless, aged with grace and dignity.

It’s perhaps my destiny to reach beautiful cities in the wee hours of the morning and crash into bed. When I woke up in my hotel room in Alicante and took a panoramic view from my balcony of the harbor, the beach, the esplanade and the mountain, I achingly fell in love forever. This is an intelligent and attractive city in the same way a gorgeous woman is. Years ago, the people of Alicante realized the futility of competing with Barcelona as a commercial port. They’ve collectively decided to turn their harbor into a recreational marina to host cruisers, yachts and sailboats from the seven seas and beyond. Nowhere on earth would you ever get a chance to eat fish like they make it in Alicante. A most scrumptious fish of a few kilos is totally covered with coarse salt and baked inside a very hot oven. When it’s taken out and brought to the table, it looks like a giant salt rock. After expertly breaking this solid layer, a steamy delight made of dreams is unraveled and served with a generous flow of wine. The three hour lunch lazily consumes the rest of the day amid laughter and great company. A tourist attraction that has succeeded in not turning whorish, Alicante is the epitome of the most beautiful city by the sea.

I have tremendously enjoyed this special tag and have therefore decided on spreading the word. I am tagging my friends the Syrian Brit, Dubai Jazz and last but not least my dear Karin.


Anonymous said…
thanks for taking the tag...I'll take the tag as the most beautiful and articulate compliment ever...thabk you :)
Abufares said…
Dear Arima
Thank you for inspiring me.
Karin said…
This is a wonderful tag dear friend ... I can answer it in a heartbeat, I won't tell upfront which city though ... it'll be a surprise!
Thanks a lot - I'll LOVE it!!
Shannon said…
What a well written and beautiful post- you make me long for places I've yet to visit!
Karin said…
I DID IT .. kindly check my blog!!:-)
The Syrian Brit said…
Thanks a bunch, Abu Fares!...
I must warn you, it might be a while before I can do this..
Let's see if you can predict this one!..
Abufares said…
Hello Karin
I look forward reading your post.

Thank you for appreciating my writing. I wanted to tell the stories of lesser known cities. Hopefully you get to visit these wonderful places and many more.

Syrian Brit
I know it'll take you a while but I'm very eager to know what your choice will be. Discounting Damascus as your all time favorite, I have to guess that it might be Beirut.
Yazan said…
just like shannon, ur writing made me long for these places, and will probably be in the back of my head when i visit them for the first time...

u are a true sailor, a mediterranean with all the sense of the word.
Abufares said…
There's no more complimentary adjective to my character than being a Mediterranean.
Thank you for describing me as thus.
Anonymous said…
Abu Fares, you know, I grew up in Tripoli, Libya and studied in Beirut, Lebanon. Once when I was visiting Alexandria in Egypt, I felt there was something very familiar about the place, despite it being my first (and last) visit to the city. It was raining and the sea was rough, and suddenly I understood - my identity was very much Mediterranean. It was a feeling I never felt inland.
Abufares said…
You see Lujayn
Your feeling and reaction were entirely right. We are Mediterranean on the global scene. We have different languages, cultures, religions and customs around this basin, but we all share some common ground. The appreciation for the good life, family values, the relaxed attitude, our sense of adventure and our desire to fulfill our destinies anywhere in the world.
Dubai Jazz said…
Abu Fares,
Thanks a lot for tagging me, I had a great pleasure reading your post, and I agree with all the earlier comments: you made us long to visit those Mediterranean attractions and see for ourselves whether we can get the same impression!
However, a question has erupted the moment I saw your selection of those cities: wouldn't Tartous normally be the best city in the world according to a Tartousy? :)
Dubai Jazz said…
And I've just posted my answer to your Tag. :)
Abufares said…
Dubai Jazz
Since the main theme of my blog revolves around Tartous and since I have introduced myself as a tartoussi it's only natural that I'm in love with my city.
However, it was a chance to talk about some other places I really like. What they have all in common is their similarity to Tartous. There will be more posts about my hometown in the future but I don't want to over do it you know. When I tagged you, I haven't assumed that you're going to choose Aleppo although it's a heavy favorite if I had to bet.
sasa said…
I've just read this via Arima. I love the way you talk about your twin city, and the sense of home you have there.

Here's my little tribute to your post!
Abu Fares, Alicante was the last city I expected to see on your list - what a delightful surprise.

My sister lived in Alicante seven/eight years ago, and I remember grumbling to myself while packing to visit her. I love(d) Barcelona and couldn't understand why I couldn't simply meet her there.

Once I saw Alicante, I understood. The light, the sea, the buildings, the culture: Alicante is magical.
Abufares said…
Hi Sasa
Welcome to my blog.
I have to thank you first for the intelligent tag. Then of course I have to hand it to Arima for thinking about me.
I appreciate your latest post and will comment on your blog.
Abufares said…
Hello adiamondinsunlight
I'm glad to see you here on my blog. I'm already familiar with yours and it's my mistake I haven't commented before. You were one step ahead obviously.
I'm glad to hear from someone who already is familiar with one of the cities I chose. Alicant, as you've said, is magical.
I dream of going back and may be the good winds can take me there one day.
Unknown said…
Well that's an interesting list... but all of the three are marine cities.. you might like it here in Dubai..
What kind of caught my eye was "This is the only place in Lebanon where the line between Syrian and Lebanese is almost nonexistent." I hope this is the case.

Abufares said…
Hi Restless in Dubai
You are right about all 3 cities being on the sea. I could never choose otherwise.
I stand by my statement that the Tripolitans are more accepting and proud of their "arabic" heritage than the rest of the Lebanese. For most of them, the Phonecian myth is bullshit when taken out of context. I mean let's face it, Beirut is no more Phoenician than Tartous is. As a matter of fact, historically speaking Beirut is a new comer to the scene. The other fact is that more Tripolitans are married to Syrians (it goes both ways of course) than the rest of the Lebanese combined.
And finally, although I'm sure that bigots are everywhere and are as a matter of fact increasing, I have never in my life felt like a stranger or unwelcomed in Tripoli. Something I'm quick to add is the opposite of Beirut "in particular".
Anonymous said…
Abu Fares, I think the Lebanese who choose to identify themselves as Phoenician do so as a reaction to not wanting to be identified as Arab, for the lack of other identities to associate themselves with. The Arab identity has become so charged with negative connotations that its not so hard to understand not wanting to be branded as Arab. Besides, the drive to impose a dominant Arab identity on citizens of the region who come from various ethnic backgrounds is not fair to any of these ethnicities.
Abufares said…
Hi Lujayn
Your comments are always so intelligent and complex. They are very difficult to answer briefly. I would very much like to start reading your blog. I don't know what you're waiting for.
My problem with answering comments is that I often commit the error of geralization. It's my fault.
The Arab identity as far as I'm concerned is similar to what is called the "European" identity. A Swede, a Finn and an Italian are all Europeans. The Swede can boast or be proud of his Viking ancestry but that doesn't change the fact that he is a European after all. Many ethnic, religious and national identities fall under this broad social, geographic and economic encompassing identity. It's the same, as far as I'm concerned, with being an Arab. It's beyond religion as I can clearly associate and relate more with a Christian Lebanese than a Muslim Saudi by virtue of geography ignoring the other factors. None is better than the other mind you, but it's easier for a German to get along with an Austrian than with a Norwegian (another generalization). We should all have respect for each other and share a sense of belonging.
What I don't agree with is when someone chooses to return to a particular point in history and claim that his identity started from there. Why Phoenician not semetic, not all the way back to the Homo habilis or Homo neanderthalensis. I may as well be more specific. Why Phoenician and not Hourani??? What about the Ugaritans, the Arwadites and the Amritans all Syrians and more Phoenician than any Phoenician. Is it more prestigious for a Serb to state that she is a Serb rather than a European??? My opinion is that it's plain chauvinistic.
And finally, and this is the only point I disagree with you about, is that "the Arab identity has become so charged with negative connotations that its not so hard to understand not wanting to be branded as Arab". I personally don't give a damn if others think of me negatively. I sure will not help them in their effort to marginalize or even erase my identity. They don't like it, well honestly, screw them. I'm called an Arab although if I follow my family tree it could lead me to affirm that my ancestors came from bordeaux in France (just an example). My socio-political aspiration is to form one day an Arab Union similar to the European Union with a total absence of prejudice. It's an identity that should make us all proud. What about the minorities, you might ask. What about them? I never claim that I am from the majority, but anyone who insists that he or she is part of a minority is just missing the bigger picture. So what do they want? To cut yet another piece of an already fragmented entity and declare it independent. Then what? Start their new struggle with their identity crisis and fight within the bounds of the small place they are calling country. It will never stop. And this my dear Lujayn is what is unfortunately happening in a small country like Lebanon. This is also what the US government aspires to make happen in Syria and everywhere else in the ARAB WORLD.
Anonymous said…
You flatter me, Abu Fares. I, on the other hand, don’t really blog publicly because I feel that I couldn’t possibly come up with anything creative to discuss (that theme is at the heart of my new-born blog). Anyway, I digress.

Seeing as I’m in the office, and I’m paid to work not blog (lately my work ethic has relaxed a bit though), I’ll respond to the last part of your reply for the time being. You vehemently resist any attempt to marginalize or erase your Arab identity, yet you deny others the right to live their own ethnicities and identities. You insinuate they are traitors, wanting to cut already fragmented entities into even smaller pieces. To identify as a non-Arab identity does not mean people want to carve out an independent homeland. Just because a majority decided to identify as Arab does not make other identities any less patriotic or worthy. The big picture is just a “faza3a”, and US government aspirations are over-rated. We just play into them with our intolerance for diversity.
GraY FoX said…
that's quite a nice way of putting thoughts together,
let's start a tourisim company and get you to teach employees to have your style of descriping, we'd make hell lots of money :D
Abufares said…
My dear Lujayn
You managed to misunderstand me, again.
I didn't call anyone a traitor. I also stated that I'm not sure whether I am an Arab ethnically. Most of us, except the Bedouins perhaps and the Arabian 3asha2er can 100% guarantee their ancestry. In coastal Syria we are more likely a mixture of many ethnicities including (not in chronological order) the Crusaders, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Ottomans, the French, the Fatimides, the "Phoenicians" and many others I faield to remember. When I say that we should get it over with and aspire to an Arab Union I had not the slightest intention of juxtaposing Arabism over as an ethnicity. I don't believe it as thus.
I repeat myself I believe that WE are Arabs in the same way Europeans believe they are Europeans. It's a geographic and economic identity rather than an ethnicity. It's void of religion and race. The US government malicious involvement is not over-rated. They are bringing forward issues that never existed in the past, at least not in Syria. AND, sadly some of the people who willingly have opted to consider themselves minorities are riding the wave.
Come on Lujayn, don't tell me I'm denying the rights of anyone. We are all in the same boat together. What's the point of tearing it up and each trying to survive on a piece of useless lumber. If you prefer to call it the WAWA Union instead of the Arab Union it's virtually the same but don't go on justifying separist notions in the name of Democracy. We can call it the AraboKurdoArminoSharkasoSyriano Union when the US renames itself to the United States of ApacheNavagoComancheSenecaIrishItalianAngloSaxony and when the European Union is changed to the ChristianoJudaioIslamoDemocratoMinorities Union.
Until then, we are Arabs!
Abufares said…
GraY FoX
As long as the employees are Russian and as long as they are girls. I'll teach them anything I know, but they have to return the favor:)
Allow me to be a little naughty today. You'll learn why a little later in the evening...
Anonymous said…
Fine :p

No, seriously, I'm running out the door now and will reply later on tonight (after my salsa class) :))
Dubai Jazz said…
Abu Fares, brilliant, flawless and impeccable piece of analysis!
It has somewhat become trendy to snub the Arab identity nowdays (even more trendy than the salsa dance)...

Lujayn; where are we heading to this evening ? the 'savage garden'? ;)
Anonymous said…
Dubai Jazz, I am not talking about the identity-flavor-of-the-day crowd, although they're perfectly entitled to being fickle. I'm talking about people who have long identified outside the Arab framework, although not necessarily against it.

Besides, identifying oneself as Arab only became trendy in the 1920s :p

and nope, not Savage Garden. I'm way too much a beginner to venture into salsa hotpots like Savage Garden.
Anonymous said…
Ok, so I’ve taken a bit more time to reply to this, but I didn’t want to drop it. I understand some of your points, Abu Fares, but I have re-read my post several times, and nowhere do I say that if minorities choose to identify along non-Arab lines, then that means they want to tear up the nation. Enjoying the right to celebrate different identities does not place us in any danger of invasion from the evil west. The US is just manipulating issues that are already at play in the region. As for renaming a nation, I don’t think African Americans would take too kindly to their nation being called the White States of America, would they? Or the Moroccans living in France accepting the Catholic Republic of France? I don’t understand the insistence on labeling everything as Arab. I identify as one, but that’s a choice I made, whereas some people don’t make that choice and instead identify as something else. In Iran, they call their nation, the Islamic Republic of Iran, although its citizens include non-Muslims. Why this insistence on a singular identity? If you were Christian in Iran, would you be happy with the label? Would you whole-heartedly accept the label Libyan Arab Jamahirya if you were a Berber? The words we use are not always innocent.
Abufares said…
Nobody can make everybody happy. They were supposed to know better, but many Europeans opposed the union. They were lucky as it prevailed in the end . America was named after the wrong guy and despite the fact that it has more minorities than we do over here it has survived and thrived as ONE nation. That its government has lost all sense of decency in foreign policy is beyond the point.
At least, we don't have their bloody history despite the fact that we've been around for millennia. Even when the Arabs were riding the high wave of Islam they didn't force neither a Jew nor a Christian to abandon their religions. If we continue down this road of degeneration, I won't be able to say in two more years time that I am a Syrian. Someone would object that not all Syrians are Syrians after all. Where do we stop??? Should I really consider myself just a tartoussi and not identify with a larger affiliation.
I would personally resist this notion as long as I have the power to think, speak and write.
I am a citizen of an Arab Nation. I understand that it's not trendy anymore but I've never been ashamed to state it. And the more I feel that this citizenship is threatened the more I would stick to it and defend it.
Anonymous said…
No, I'm all for identifying as and with a nation. However, I would like that nation to accomodate all its citizens, period. Simple, easy and very possible.
Unknown said…
Dear Abu Fares,
Identity is a choice of myths and feelings that are rather personal, they could be arbitrary but very deep-rooted in one's soul. Just like religion. You will have hard time convincing somebody to leave his belief for a "better" one, because one doesnt cling to an identity because of a logical argument which could be defeated.

I think you imagine Europeans more united than they are. EU works only because it is very careful not to encroach people's identification and pride with their separate national cultures. People are very wary of such threat. So far there has been only one instance - the removal of national currencies.
although there is a united legal/economical frame, I would think that culturally/on sreet level - the arab world is far more united than "europeans".
IMHO, quite ironicly the commonality between europeans is in fact provided by the high influence of american mass culture.

another relevant story:
I was once asked by a russian guy - why are you southern slavs, constantly dividing, constantly fighting against each other? This is so stupid, we are all slavs right? Look our tzars in the past defeated all the fighting tribes and made one vast country. Now Russia is great power to be reckoned with! Your tzars should have done the same! I had some friends here in Novosibirsk, a serb, a bulgarian, a romanian and turk. They'd get very angry and quarrel over historical issues but when they sit on the table with meze and raki (-arak) they'd all understand each other perfectly!

I told him, I value 1000 times more all the little differences that separate my people from the serbians and wouldnt give them up for greatness. I value the very fact we have suffered at their hands, all the tragic songs that bring tears, as well as our victories. Furthermore, I have travelled well in recent years through former yugoslavia and come to love their peoples. To thoroughly enjoy their company! So I have no problem with e.g. serbians despite our bloody history (neither did most of them - i was so commonly addressed by strangers as bratko - o brother!). But what made them special for me were those little differences in language, manner, intonation and humour! Should I give up this for the greatness of pan-slavism?

sry for long comment, and thank you for marvellous city jewels.
Abufares said…
Dear Никола

Thank you so much for your extremely valuable comment. In trying to prove a point to Lujayn, I think I crossed the border of what I believe in and what I would like to see.
I have emphasized that the need for an Arab Unity here in the Middle East is important as an economical and political necessity. It's the only way I see to preserve the diverse ethnic melange we have without running the risk of externally motivated bloody conflicts.
Even on a small scale such as Syria and although the ethnic backgrounds of people from the interior and those of the coast might be identical (although I'm sure we were left longer in the blender on the coast). There are large behavioral, social and ethical differences between the 2 groups. This is what, as you've said, makes a certain society special and the subtle differences in life worth living.
Again, thank you for dropping by.

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