Saturday, March 31, 2007
I should have cried more but in the days following her death I convinced myself that the time would come when I can be alone and mourn her privately. It never came, and the pain is still bottled up inside.
I need to rest my head on her shoulder and tell her that I am tired when I am. I need to embrace her and break her the good news when they come my way. I need her today as I needed her on the day I was born.
In her memory, I would like to share with you this overwhelming poem “Funeral Blues, 1936” by Wystan Hugh Auden (1907 – 1973).
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message [She] is Dead,
Put crépe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
[She] was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song,
I thought that love would last forever: 'I was wrong'
The stars are not wanted now, put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
I haven’t been in the Menshieh (a café in Tartous) for a while. Two days ago I went there to have a Msabbha breakfast with some friends. What happens normally (I have Bluetooth enabled on my mobile phone to automatically activate my car kit) is that I get one request after another to accept messages from total strangers. I normally refuse all of them. If I look around the crowded place to just speculate who might be interested in sending these brainless jokes I always draw a blank. The boys and gals all look like nice, well meaning kids but obviously this is the “in” thing nowadays.
I, inadvertently, received these 3 video clips on my mobile. I searched YouTube and to my great surprise found all three of them. So now I can share with you these original works of art.
I liked the first one a lot (Syrian Tom & Jerry) although it should’ve been called (Tom & Jerry: Tartous County). The second one (Adnan wa Lina) is OK, funny but after you’ve seen the first one it’s a little bit of a letdown. Now the third (Kids Fighting at School) is a shocker. Especially when you learn that it was captured by the teacher of the 2 kids. Pardon me for saying so, but Kiss Ikht Hek 3elem.
A twisted sense of humor indeed, but this is part of our pop culture.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Perched on top of a 10 m concrete pole, this mourning dove is incubating a pair of eggs. Her chicks will hatch shortly and they need all the protection she could offer them. A few days before, this expecting mother couldn't resist the temptation of her lusty male companion. It's a first time for the young couple and the mating was so pleasing they ought to do it again, before the season is gone.
With the earlier rise of the sun and the longer days, a mysterious alarm ticked inside the biological clock of this beautifully colored tree. In a matter of hours, hundreds of blossoms turned into violet flowers. What little bird, what insect can resist this temptting colorful feast. All the better for the tree, for it has insured the spread of pollen to others of the species for miles and miles around. Sex is everywhere, spring is here.
Friday, March 23, 2007
First, however, I have to admit that although my principles haven’t wavered over the years, my tolerance, my acceptance, my embracement, my perspective on certain moral codes have softened a bit. I might not agree with some people on many points. However, our difference of opinions is not a matter I take seriously. I am, generally speaking, a tolerant person. There are just two exceptions to the above “generalization”. I cannot stand a fellow countryman who disgraces himself by maliciously attempting to shame the people or ignominy the land that is our living conscience. No matter who he or she is, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell them to go screw themselves. I also avoid arguments with, not religious people, but rather with narrow-minded religious people, and, there’s a big difference. They unfortunately see the world in black and white. Not only do they miss all the beautiful natural colors, they even fail to notice the shades of gray. Therefore, I see no point in arguing with them at all. You might be wondering at this point why I’m quartering but not attacking my subject. I just needed to clarify where I stand. My sense of morality is the offspring of my conscience. If I agree with the established social mores and religion on some definite points it’s because they both make sense. Sometimes! Well, here we go.
“Tleebeh”, the traditional way for a suitor, along with a group of men from his extended family to visit the home of a girl and ask for her hand in marriage, is one of the most meaningful social forms of behavior we still have here in the Levant. I need to quickly add that this original tradition is devoid of religion, although it is culminated for Muslims in the reading of the “Fatha”. It is practiced in most traditional societies around the Mediterranean, Latin America, Africa and Asia by various faiths.
When two young people fall in love, cross the preliminaries and seriously consider marriage, it often is the time for the “Tleebeh” visit. In most cases, both immediate families are well aware of the relationship between their son and daughter and they have already met socially on several occasions. Now is the time to inform the rest of the clan.
My paternal uncle called me in midweek and told me that his son, my cousin, is getting engaged. We should meet at his house in Damascus at 7:00PM. We left Tartous and made it on time for a cup of coffee and a brief introduction on the “family” we are to visit. There we were, all 12 of us formally dressed men, knocking the door of the would-be bride. We were greeted by 10 of her men, including her grandfather, in the large and elegant salon. We briefly exchanged pleasantries then got to the serious matter at hand. The most important aspect of this entire procedure, and I strongly believe the most detrimental for a successful marriage, is the feeling of equality among this large group of men. This status of egalitarianism is a manifestation of compatibility in moral, social, cultural and familial backgrounds. The two proud fathers introduced the rest of the men meticulously and with a clever hint of reserved pride. There was no competition, just a simple assertion: “We are who we are in Tartous, you are who you are in Damascus” and the reverse of the equation. Those of us who were apprehensive became convinced now. The young couple had made the right choice. In their honor, let’s read the Fatha.
We went in total strangers; we came out godfathers of a new family.
I have learned that love alone is not enough for a successful marriage. Of course marriage without love is a lot in hell. I am talking about the whole package, the kids, the brothers and sisters, the grandparents, the cousins, the uncles and the aunts. Harmony is very essential if we were to take full advantage of what our culture has to offer. We might not see members of the family for years, and we might be lucky that we don't. In fact this is exactly the case as we tend to barely meet in weddings and funerals as a result of the changes that have swept our way of life. But when we finally meet the sense of belonging is overwhelming.
As I sat, quietly most of the time, in that salon, I couldn’t resist the flickering of a thought struggling for my attention. My children will grow up one day and the time shall come. A group of men will pay me a visit or I have to make that call myself. I would very much like to be in the company of my men. I would very much like my father to lead my pack.
Monday, March 19, 2007
My youngest, Fares, has just turned Seven. He was delivered by the same doctor who had brought me to the world so far back in time. He was born at the hand of his grandfather. This is a letter I wrote (in Arabic) on a piece of paper in the hospital on that day, minutes after his arrival. I’ve kept it in the hope of giving it to him when he’s old enough to understand.
Monday, March 20, 2000
Welcome to the world. All of my life, I’ve been waiting for you. I never knew how you’re going to look like or what you’ll turn out to be. You were just there in the bottom of my soul, Fares.
Life has treated your mom and me right. We were blessed with your two beautiful sisters before you came along. Now that you are here, I have earned my long-deserved title “Abu Fares”. Ever since I was in high school, my buddies called me so. I vaguely remember where the nickname came from but it doesn’t really matter, now that you’re here.
You’re going to meet all sorts of people as you cruise through life. Many are wonderful folks, and you’re going to feel that it’s a pleasure simply knowing them. A few are assholes to say the least. With any luck, I’ll be around for a while to show you the way. Eventually, you’re going to be on your own though. I have many big dreams for you son, but they are mine and I wouldn’t try to impose them on you. I might give you a hint or two at times, or a traveler’s account of some faraway place I’ve been to. But it’s your game, and sooner or later I would be just a spectator. I secretly pray for you and I would continue to do so for as long as I should be.
Go get it Fares, make me proud.
With all my love,
Being a father and a son, I can readily identify with both. For Fares’ birthday, I would like to offer him and all the wonderful young(er) people who read this blog this beautiful song Father & Son (1970) by Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam). It’s a heartrending lesson to both fathers and sons as it valiantly tries to answer the enigmatic “WHY”. While reading the lyrics, click the player at the end and enjoy it online. Dig deep within. You’ll get a glimpse of what you all mean to your fathers.
It's not time to make a change,
Just relax, take it easy.
You're still young, that's your fault,
There's so much you have to know.
Find a girl, settle down, If you want you can marry.
Look at me, I am old, but I'm happy.
I was once like you are now, and I know that it's not easy,
To be calm when you've found something going on.
But take your time, think a lot,
Why, think of everything you've got.
For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.
How can I try to explain, when I do he turns away again.
It's always been the same, same old story.
From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen.
Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away.
I know I have to go.
It's not time to make a change, (son: away, away…)
Just sit down, take it slowly.
You're still young, that's your fault,
There's so much you have to go through.
Find a girl, settle down, If you want you can marry.
Look at me, I am old, but I'm happy.
All the times that I cried, keeping all the things I knew inside, (father: stay, stay…)
It's hard, but it's harder to ignore it.
If they were right, I'd agree, but it's them you know not me.
Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away.
I know I have to go.
Friday, March 16, 2007
After one beer too many later that evening in the company of men, I waved them goodbye and headed home. Winter, still struggling to make an impression, went wild with a heavy fall of rain and hail. Too much, but too late I’m afraid. By the time I reached the flat on the second floor I had already started stripping. I sauntered straight to the shower. Thanks, I don’t want to have any dinner. I just want to sleep it off… the week, the rain and the beer.
I woke up luxuriously late in the morning. The kids were cuddled next to me in bed. They’ve come in a little after seven thirty and went back to sleep. I sat out on the balcony, slowly sipping my espresso. The air was refreshingly fragrant, the streets surprisingly clean. From behind the glass I saw them stirring. Friday is their favorite day. We all have breakfast together.
In the kitchen there was little left to actually do. I helped by being unobtrusive. Om Fares had already prepared a beautifully simple, deliciously inviting table. She must’ve thought of everything. There was the bread, the Labne and the olives, Shanklish and white cheese, the Fool and the omelette, apricot jam, mortadella, tomatoes, zeit & zaatar, an apple pie and a hot pot of tea.
A few things needed fixing and with toolbox in hand I made my rounds. A dripping faucet here, a noisy door hinge there. A soiled water filter, a burnt lamp. I used up the hours, never happier, never more tranquil. I lazed about, watched the box. Another espresso, lunch, a chocolate ice-cream and popcorn.
The kids found their preferred cartoons. Om Fares wanted to go for her daily one-hour walk. Not this time, honey. I miss the open road, the mountains, the roar of the engine. I would be back in an hour, I promise.
I made good on my word. She looked healthy and refreshed. I felt serene and revived. The day was well spent. It was well deserved. No thinking about tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day.
Monday, March 12, 2007
I have virtually lived on eggs for months on end. The price for a dozen AA eggs in the US was around 80¢ in the 80’s if I’m not mistaken. That, along with a few basic ingredients and bread, literally covered the 3 daily meals of 2 hungry young men. Let me make it clear, I’m an egg lover and it’s on top of the list of my all time favorite foods. I still eat one soft-cooked egg in the morning everyday. On weekends, I tend to use my imagination and either prepare or ask for some other way to eat the most perfect object in the universe. As a matter of fact read this:
Using a microwave probe of U.S. space agency NASA, scientists said they have evidence that the universe has a shape somewhat akin to an egg, rather than the expected round. 1/10/2006
This post is dedicated to all the young men and women living alone and standing in front of the fridge wondering what to have for dinner. I will skip the fancier methods of preparing eggs and stick to some simple recipes (all with 2 eggs).
1. Mfarket Lahme bi Beid (Ground Beef and Eggs)
In an open skillet, use as much butter, margarine, olive oil or vegetable oil as you like (just about a spoon would do really). Heat then add as much ground beef as you can consume with the eggs. Salt and spice it up to your liking and when the meat turns light brown, break the eggs on top and mix them thoroughly for a couple of minutes. Serve in a plate and enjoy with bread.
2. Mfarket Batata bi Beid (Potatoes and Eggs)*
Same recipe as above except that you substitute the meat with one large potato cut in small cubes (¾” x ¾”). The potato need a little more time than the meat. Just about when it’s done, add the eggs on top.
As a third option you can have potatoes, meat and eggs together. Cook the potatoes until half-done, add the meat then the eggs. All quantities as per your appetite.
*Potatoes can be substituted with: eggplants, spinach, green fava beans (fool), sliced mushrooms, … damn it, whatever vegetable you like.
3. Shakshoukeh (Tomatoes and Eggs)
Dice 2 medium sized tomatoes in very small pieces. Half fry them in your choice of (butter, olive oil, …etc.) for a minute or two. Add salt and pepper then break the eggs on top mixing thoroughly until done to your liking. Voila, serve and eat.
4. Crazy Omelette
The sky’s the limit and let no one tell you otherwise. Cut whatever you have in the fridge in small pieces and dump them in a bowl. Add a ¾ cup of milk, 2 eggs, salt, pepper and spices (go wild with spices) and mix well. Pour in hot buttered skillet. When almost done, fold in half and cook for another couple of minutes. Serve and eat.
The reader might blame me for being too vague with the above recipes. However, I tried to reproduce the ways I had utilized in the kitchen when I was a student. Let me assure you that everybody who had tried my eggs back then spoke very highly of them. The recipes might sound crude but they are extremely tasty. Don’t let the implied simplicity fool you. And, if you haven’t already found out, wine is the perfect companion to eggs. Any wine, any way you choose to eat your eggs.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
A 300 BC portrait of a Scythian horseman is the earliest graphic illustration of a shaved man with a moustache[*]. The Scythians were nomadic tribes living in Greater Iran around 1000 BC. Thus, I can safely claim, until proven wrong by another lackadaisical researcher that the Iranians were the first to invent this original manly adornment. In more recent times, the moustache was worn by the military. There were as many styles as there were ranks, and at a certain time, in the West in particular, only officers were allowed to be moustached.
The different styles of the modern-day moustache were named after the famous people who wore them. A long and thin moustache that points steeply upward thus is called a Dali. While a Fu Manchu is the opposite. It sweeps downward below chin level. The Fu Manchu is similar to the Pancho Villa except that the latter is much thicker. There are the English, the Imperial, the Handlebar, the Walrus, the GG and the Toothbrush among the many world renowned styles. Adolf Hitler and Charlie Chaplin had Toothbrush moustaches if you ever wondered. In the Levant, three main varieties take precedent. The typical Syrian style, if there is such a thing, is a thick, black, bushy (yet trimmed) hair growth equal in length to the upper lip. We also have the Abou Antar moustache, popular in the seventies and eighties of the 20th century when the west was busy dancing Disco. Finally, and although very rare nowadays, we have the Debbaneh style, often worn by retired school principals. It’s similar to the Toothbrush except that it would be more appropriate to call it a Toothpick or a Thong. It does look like a thong, unfortunately, in the wrong place.
What no two people here in the Levant disagree about, however, is the fact that a moustache is the source of great pride to its owner. Men swear by their moustaches and once they do you can take their word. The traditional way of giving a word of honor was and still is to hold one’s moustache and say: “Eidi Ala Shawarbi” ايدي على شواربي = my hand on my moustache. Or, and in order to ask for a favor, you could say: Eidi Ala Shawarbak Saedni” ايدي على شواربك ساعدني= My Hand on Your Moustache help me. We should also not forget that a man can make a promise which he will never break if he says: “Behlo’ Shawarbi Iza …Kaza Kaza” بحلق شواربي اذا... كذا وكذا = I will shave my moustache if …so and so. Once a moustached man crosses a certain age (say his 30’s) or gets married it is very unlikely that he will ever shave his moustache anymore. It will be too embarrassing to appear in public as everybody would start speculating. Where did the moustache of Abu Ali go?
In case you are wondering, I am a man with a moustache. When I shaved for the very first time I looked at myself in the mirror and appreciated what had remained under my nose. At different stages in my life I have grown a beard and a goatee. I’ve had long sideburns, short ones or none at all. I wore my hair too long, too short or shaved but I never was moustacheless except once. I had to when I was twenty but it was due to excruciating circumstances in the scope of a Force Majeur. I arrived in Chicago O’Hare airport an hour or so before midnight on a Christmas Eve coming from New Orleans. A friend was supposed to pick me up but he was a few minutes late. I stood out in the street in front of the terminal waiting for him in the cold. The temperature was 0˚F with a wind-chill of -10˚F if my memory serves me right. When my friend arrived the exhaled moisture had turned into ice on my moustache. In the car I swept the ice off my face and as I was doing so I heard a breaking sound. It turned out that most of the hairs were broken literally and my moustache looked like a scared hedgehog. I had no alternative but to shave it. It was the first and only time a razor blade came in direct contact with it. Now I trim it short every week or so with an electric trimmer. I can never imagine myself without a moustache.
You have to bear with me since I don’t have scientific data to back me up. After all I am pioneering this type of beneficial research. I have the feeling that young Syrian men and boys are shaving their upper lips more so than their fathers and grandfathers before them. I would leave it entirely to the reader, male or female, to elaborate and expand on how they exactly feel about that. It would be very interesting indeed to have an open exchange of ideas about the preferences of my fellow bloggers. As far as I’m concerned, there are certain men who should never shave their moustache. When the distance between the nose and the upper lip is too wide a moustache should be grown to bridge this unsightly gap. Men with unusually thin or thick upper lips could also use the concealment offered by hair on the top. On the other hand, I hate a tinted or dyed moustache. "It should turn white you dummies. If you really care to look younger, shave it damn it, but don’t paint it!" Ultimately, I have to give credit where it’s due. Tom Selleck wears the most handsome moustache I have ever seen on any face, that of a man or a woman. "My Hand on Your Moustache Abu Kevin, tell me how you keep it so cool."
Monday, March 05, 2007
Having gone through most of my career as a freelance soloist my duties occasionally dictate being a part of a team. I have no real problem operating with others but I do not truly enjoy the boss/employee relationship. I don’t like it either way to be absolutely clear and so far in my professional life I have managed to avoid this kind of association. It is a skill I have mastered by evasion so I’ve never worked under a real boss and I never was anybody’s superior. Once, so many years ago, while working for a big contractor, the nature of my job changed so that I had to report to him (in person) everyday. He wanted to be treated differentially, well like a boss. I quickly resigned and got it over with. What’s the point? Too much tension and pretense between ordinary people all working for a living in the end. I have later been involved with clients who imagine that since they are paying for a service they kind of own the service provider and that they can boss him around. I cut it off immediately, without remorse. That is why I have only a few clients in this day and age. I accept that they’ve hired my services but not me personally. And, that brings me back to my original topic, I have been writing in the hope that I might snap out of it, but I am still bored nevertheless.
This is not what I had in mind, but you get the idea, right?!
I need a break, a vacation in this untimely time. I should be in a hammock on a sunny beach with a couple of voluptuous maidens attending to my every whim. I mostly want them to refresh my drink(s) and giggle softly, yet with adoration. I fancy one of them reading to me from a book while her friend massages my forehead and knotted neck muscles. I want them to know when to stop, when to go on without uttering the slightest hint. I crave for a seafood platter of an exotic assortment and a basket of tropical fruits. The shorter brunette would feed me with her own hand while the busty blonde holds the cold misty glass close to my face. Then I should nap for an hour or two. When I wake up, I realize that it was a dream within a dream. The wife and kids would be laughing their hearts out at my robust snoring. They’d invite me to join them for a long and relaxing swim in the crystal clear water till dusk. There’s yet time to shower, shave and dress for an evening of wild partying (with them!)
We each have our own way of keeping our sanity. I should get back to the tedious task of closing loose ends, of getting the job done, despite all. The dream hovers at the edge of consciousness, suspended till another day.
Friday, March 02, 2007
I don’t want to sound as if I’m advertising a product but I have come across a great free satellite channel on Nilesat called fatafeat. I’ve just found out about it last week and since then I'm hooked.
My TV watching habits are rather narrow and mundane (they drive everyone crazy). I watch Sports and documentaries almost exclusively. Any kind of sport would do but European football is on top of the list. The National Geographic Channel and Discovery Science are my other option. So it’s a case of either or.
I watch the news because I have to but have limited myself to 10 minutes per day. I quickly flip Al-Jazeera, Euronews, BBC and Deutsche Welle and get it over with. They all have the same bullshit to say. Only the language and the accent are different. When I’m out of sports and out of documentaries I take a peak at MBC2 and ONE TV. Very rarely, I get lucky and hit a good movie there.
I lived in this humdrum TV World for years without showing any interest in expanding my horizons. Then fatafeat came along. Plainly speaking, this is the most delicious channel on the air. Food, food and nothing but food is the main attraction. International cuisine and outstanding restaurants, recipes and food related talk shows, 24 hour a day, every day. It’s mostly in English with Arabic subtitles. It has rather quickly become my favorite channel.
Instead of gulping down my breakfast with the daily dose of bad news, I am eating at a leisurely pace in the company of some great chefs, renowned gastronomic critics, plump gluttons and finicky gourmets. Screw the news! The allocated time for breakfast has become significantly longer to the chagrin of Om Fares and my kids when they’re not at school. I’m getting some malicious vibrations in the forms of hints and hushed whispers. It’s as if they are very happy when I finally leave. Just today I heard a big sigh when I closed the door behind me in the morning. It’s possible that I imagined hearing this but it sounded like change the damn channel he’s gone.
An automatic quick scan on your receiver should find and add it without any problem. Just in case, fatafeat is broadcasting on NileSat 3, Freq. 112341 MHZ, V Polarization. I think this channel is affiliated with the Food Network. I hope you'll get to enjoy it as much as I am.