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Monday, August 27, 2007

Desimplifying the Tartoussi Wedding

Tartous, the dreamy little town by the sea is no more. It has physically mutated over the last three decades into a pathetic jungle of concrete. Moreover, on the social and cultural levels, the sweeping changes have been more colossal. By and large, we are no longer the cheerful seculars, open-minded Mediterraneans, provincial-metropolitans and discoverers-adapters of colorful ways of life. We were a unique and distinct group, transcending socioeconomic lines, facing the mysterious sea and always seeking the exotic delights lying beyond. We grew up in a Joie de Vivre ambiance unhindered by class, free of political guilt and insouciant to mass religious indoctrination. We heard the politicians and preachers like everybody else but we never listened to them. We lived and let live on the most basic human level, unshielded, unconcerned and unprepared to come face to face with overwhelming political hysteria and collective religious zealotry. So it came about that I belong to the last generation of a dying bread, called the real Tartoussis.

While the bleak picture I drew in my prologue is not exclusive to Tartous, I prefer to remain within the comfortable geographical confines of my beloved city. I am certain that “culture”, in its fundamental essence, has fallen victim to the marauding waves of globalization. Those who can still claim that they come from an unchanged small town, anywhere in the world, might be the last fortunate survivors. I wish them and their cities the best of luck. Yet, these folks are normally so passive and naive; they would not realize the scope of the danger until it is too late.

With that in mind, what has become of our simple Tartoussi wedding? Why has it been replaced by cloned versions from the hinterland, from landlocked Syrian cities and even from as afar as the Arabian Desert? Worse yet, where did these whorish, malformed, ostentatious and lavish wedding banquets held by Neo Tartoussis come from?

Traditionally, young men left Tartous immediately after high school. The choice to leave is a common trait among dwellers of coastal cities the world over, whether to expand their horizons or to travel the sea for a few years (in Tartoussi – Msafar bil Ba7er = Traveling the sea, literally means working on a ship in any capacity). With either some money or knowledge under their belts, the men returned and got engaged to their sweethearts for a year or more until they could stand alone on their own two feet. They courted openly in Tartous under the watchful eyes of loving parents and the benevolent gaze of an accepting society. When the time came to get married, both families, neighbors and personal friends celebrated the cozy wedding party together. It was a party where everybody knew everybody else. Men and women either mingled with reserved respect or kept to their own, yet under one roof, or the open sky as the case might be. It was not an occasion to invite business relations or “prominent” members of society (we were still very fortunate then as we didn’t have prominent assholes yet). Tartous did not practice segregated religious rituals or hybrid prostituted banquets until more recent times. More often than not, the official registration of the marriage took place a week or fortnight before the wedding ceremony. A notary public from the civil registrar came to the house of the bride and went through the motions (Islamic in this case) without a Sheikh in sight and declared the couple husband and wife according to the Sunnah of Mohamad (PBOH). And that was the end of that, no Mawled (a segregated religious chanting ritual), no Khitbet Niswan (a fruity engagement party celebrated by crazy women and noisy children) and no Kitab Rijal (a somber and boring affair attended exclusively by grave looking men). A Tartoussi wedding was very much like a traditional Greek, a Southern Italian or an Andalusian wedding, a casual and simple affair, full of fun and in harmony with the gentle waves washing the golden sands of a magical city.

Our way of life has been under relentless attack long before the Neo Conservatives decided to join in with their own sick version of constructive chaos. Read me well and make no second guess about my intention. Judeo-Christian Neo Conservatives and Neo Islamists are two sides of the same single coin. Pure Islamic traditions did neither interfere nor attempt to end our Mediterranean social fabric. Neo Islamists, on the other hand, have been undermining our entire Levant culture for the past 30 years. They came to prominence primarily due to the repeated failures of the sinister despotism of the entire Arab world. The Neo Islamists are advocating their own brand of Islam, one that leaves little or no space for personal freedom of choice. The Neo Conservatives see a future Middle East where McDonalds are built over the rubbles of mosques that were, once upon a time, centers of enlightenment, tolerance and knowledge. In short, both Neos don’t give a fuck about the original Tartoussi wedding and seek to erase it from our living memory.

Did I write this article just so I can lament the loss of the nuptials of the olden days? I leave that entirely up to you.

23 comments:

The Syrian Brit said...

My friend Abu Fares,
The depressing picture you paint is true in other Syrian cities, as you note yourself.. It is probably no more true than in Damascus. where wedding parties have turned from a joyful celebration of the union of two lives, to a brash, unashamed competition to out-flash and out-spend evrybody else's party!..
The other extreme is also quite common.. and the stern religious weddings seem to take all the joy out of the occasion!..
What a sad, sad state we have reached...

Rime said...

As usual, my friend Syrian Brit shamelessly stays one step (or more) ahead of me at all times, writing things I wanted to write myself. :)

I agree with both of you of course, and love the last paragraph. In fact, I call the Neocons (here and there, and not just the religious nuts) Les Nouveaux Cons as well. In French, it's much more insulting.

But I've come on a much more urging mission: Abufares, I couldn't help but think of you when I saw the title of this article, so I read it (in spite of my position on said facial hair) because of the delightful post you had written on the subject some time ago. Apparently, the reinforcements are coming. Enjoy.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/08/26/wtache126.xml

Wassim said...

It's all going to hell in a handbasket. Will the last person in Syria please remember to switch off the light?

KJ said...

When they said "money is the root of all evil" it was the best thing since sliced bread.

My dear Tartoussi, all what you speak of, the BS people, the power play, and, as Brit mentioned, besting other people, has all stemmed up from an evolved psychology of human beings.

As the world moved forward through the early 1900s and then early 1960s there has been a great socioeconomic change universally. With all countries either gaining from the Wars or losing, the world has become significantly financially divided. The governments that got the better end had no more reason to spend on making ammo and instead started creating ridiculous things to streamline our lives. The countries that got the bitter end of the bargain had its citizens evolve into thieves, greed and potential terrorists to cope with the harsh situations.

Years later, people decided that "we are all one". While it is a lovely concept - because, indeed, we were all one before the Wars - those very people decided that "one" means them and everyone should be the same. Coining "globalization" they set on a (dare I say) Crusade to convert each tradition to their own, in order to unify the universe under one "culture" and therefore the world will be an easier place to deal with.

This exposer was welcomed by a lot of people (certainly, the underprivileged would love to mingle with their counterparts), but there were people who resisted. Of those, some tried to maintain their culture by resisting outside influence (either by banning products, exposure, or simply preaching social standards). Others though took up the coat of arms and decided that nothing would resist this influence except by preaching rigorously the concepts that the country in question held dear.

Seeing that people were quickly embracing the now-global ways of life and ignoring tradition (also called takhallof) these people decided to use the effective weapon I talked about, guilt, along with the ever-popular "fear". Hence, the Neo-everythingYouMentioned groups came up and are now struggling.

But, like Syrian Brit said, everyone wants to best the other - which is the result of our psyche evolving due to globalization. Since "we are all the same" now, people do not feel different anymore, and hence the only way to stand out is to have "more" of the same thing. More money, more fame, more cars, more women, more parties, more more more.

The Neos also, previously united in their campaign, want to be distinguished as the "sole" NeoThing that should exist, so those, too, end up fighting.

The result is a world where old people are glad they are barely living in because they will die soon before it gets worse.

saint said...

Oh Abu Fares, you have opened a deep bleeding wound in my heart toward my people who lost their soul. You reminded me with the old, gone, and dead traditions in my dad’s village 25 miles outside Damascus where I spent maybe one year or less there in my childhood. In my memories Back in fifties I still remember that cute simple surreal place where boys and girls used to roam together herding sheep, wearing loosely traditional cloths, showing their hairs, laughing, talking and disappearing in the sight with no fear from their parents of making a sin. This wonderful place now is the most prejudice, fanatic place, where family lives behind closed doors, each family lives in five stories building, usually the father and his eight of more children married all in the same building.

abufares said...

Syrian Brit
I feel privileged that you've commented on my post withing minutes after publication.
Thank you for emphasizing the obvious, Tartous indeed was no more than an alibi to express a thorny point of view.
Indeed the dual assault targets our entire culture and raison d'etre.
Unfortunately, it seems that we're losing the battle (I'm an optimist so I didn't confess final and full defeat yet).

abufares said...

Les Nouveaux Cons! How appropriate! Would you please consider writing an article with this title. What more inspiration do you need?
I thoroughly enjoyed the mustache piece you've pointed out, although it's depressing to know that I have no chance of being kissed by 50% of American women. I hope I fare better in Latin America. Is that a healthy feeling Rime? I mean I'm not really waiting to be kissed but I feel a whole lot better knowing that my prospects are high ;-)

abufares said...

Wassim
Thank you for dropping by.
What light? Or haven't you heard about rationing electricity during this summer...

abufares said...

KJ
I always enjoy your thorough comments. When you posted about guilt I was already in the process of writing this one. I felt then that there are so many parallel lines between our posts in spite of their apparent differences. Politicians and preachers in particular play the guilt trip so well, I wholeheartedly hate them for it.
What pisses me off is that under normal circumstances, politicians use their Machiavellian reasoning to step on the shoulders of the average person in their relentless climb to the "top". But preachers, damn it, get God Almighty involved to advance their status. Preachers too are slave to Money & Power. Albeit their stinky conscience and exposed tactics they still find believers, millions of them... And they are taking over the fuckin' world.

abufares said...

Saint Ya Saint
I knew how it was, well at least I was conscious of my surroundings by the mid sixties. Men and boys were well mannered without the pretext of religiosity. Women were chaste without the need for a veil. Islam has been the major religion of the Levant for hundreds of years. Throughout its presence, it (Islam as a religion) did not impose a strict code of behavior on its own adherents or followers of other religions. What has become of us now? Where did this mass hysteria emanate from? Is it a natural response to the failed and impotent despotic powers controlling the entire Middle East since WWII? Has it gained more ground due to the unjustified meddling, raping, maiming and killing inflicted on us by the Crusading "Nouveaux Cons", to borrow Rime's excellent coin word?
Both of the above for sure. But how to get out of this situation? How to reverse the process of social demotion? I hope we find the answers before it's too late.

GraY FoX said...

well as you and your readers said
a bunch of assholes are taking over this fucking world.
call it globalization , call it standardizing people of the earth , but the result that some new habits are coming to make everyone alike so money will go to those harvesters
and actually to make it worse , it's affecting everyone even in the latest fragile pieces of humanity and simplicity :(
but the good thing , that there are still people like you holding up to the remaining beautiful things in this world :)

Abu Kareem said...

Abu Fare,

With the title of your post, I was expecting the typical funny and irreverant Abu Fares post. Instead, I got this no holds barred, slap-down of a social critique.

I loved it! It was powerful, elegant and as with everything you write, from the heart. I was cheering you on with every rhetorical punch.

Between the Nouveaux Cons, the Nouveaux Islamists, the Nouveaus sectarianists and the souless Nouveaux riche, the average Levantine is screwed.

Patience my friend is all we have. History proves that such extremism eventually self-destructs. Unfortunately, I am not sure it will happen in our lifetime.

abufares said...

Hi Gray Fox
It's more important that people of your generation realize the dangers and prepare to continue the fight. What remains of our way of life is seriously under threat.
You, of all people, should be able to do a great job.
Hit'em were it hurts most... in the balls.

abufares said...

Abu Kareem
Thank you for dropping by.
You know that there is a new pattern of marriage in small and medium Syrian cities. We, and I mean the average people of the sixties and seventies, are becoming extinct. A great percentage of us has left the country to settle in the Americas or in Europe. In places the size of Tartous and Lattakia we have become such a small group that most marriages within this socio-economic class are inter-city marriages. I'm reverting to my memory now and I believe that out of the last 5 weddings I've attended, 4 were between a Tartoussi and a spouce from another Syrian city (Lattakia, Homs, Damascus). If we don't do that we will suffer from inbreeding eventually.
Am I making sense or is this statistically insignificant. I have the gut feeling that there is a pattern here.

Yazan said...

You broke my heart with this post ya abu fares,

bless you, and the few other people who still remember this mediterranean color of our towns.

kaya said...

This is a sad phenomenon that is taking place all over.
People who dont know how to hold a fork , have parties with 3 forks on the table. Why?
Because it shows that they spent so much cash.
The warmth of a hug and an embrace is replace with air kisses, and bitchy glances.
The poor men working in the middle east and under terrible conditions to make a dirham, and their families back home. Over fed and without morals or ethics.

abufares said...

Ehwalla Ya Yazan Khetyarna.
Let's hope that somehow, someway, all hope is not lost.

abufares said...

Kaya
"People who dont know how to hold a fork , have parties with 3 forks on the table. Why?"

This is the only way the rest of us would know that they don't know how to hold a fork :-)

SAD, SAD, SAD...
Both of us should take it easy though. I'll try to cheer you up in my next post.

Kinano said...

The dark side of Globalization, I guess!

Simplicity is non-existent any more. Everything needs to be flashy and materialistic with no soul or spirit.

I pity the next generation

abufares said...

Hi Kinano

"Flashy and materialistic" or dull and ecclesiastic. That's what we have left to show after centuries of being of the most colorful and eclectic cultures.
...ikht hal zaman

Anonymous said...

It's really great place for wedding and honeymoon destinations! I love it!

Anonymous said...

It's really great place for wedding and honeymoon destinations! I love it!

lê said...

I remember about45 years ago I used to spend all summer school vacation on the Syrian coast mountain, at a village called KENSEBA, I still remember the joifull and the graçe of wedding DABKE, with the men and women with the traditional clothing dancing gracefully, ,,,,,,,,,