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Sunday, November 25, 2007


Like a charging elephant, shot between the eyes, summer stumbled forward and fell in a cloud of dust. The silky shifts of Tishreens*, weathered by the harsh sun, blown away by overdue storms vanished from a cruel calendar. The opulence of an oil painting, fat with hues of yellow and loud with shades of blue swiftly altered to a harsh charcoal sketch of a dead chill. The subtlety of a water-colored autumn landscape lost in these times of common strife and personal ache. Would the pastels of spring ever survive, or will they too fall victim to the brutality of a heavy adamant winter? Only extremes, like idiots and thugs, seem fit for survival. I have no place to go, no time to be.

It’s not all about beginnings and ends. The man with the creased forehead sitting there at a corner in the café had a mother once who combed his hair and tucked his shirt in. He had kissed the girl next door behind the blue shutters when they both were ten. He had walked under a rainbow and danced in the rain. He had worn-out his salad days at the Copacabana with gorgeous women whose names had long been lost in the labyrinth of his fading memory. Then, till dawn, they hugged and kissed, his beautiful Mexican sweetheart and he, on the bank of the Mississippi river while New Orleans lay sleeping.

There’s a first kiss, there’s a last kiss and there’s a kiss in between. By virtue of purity, the first one is remembered. By virtue of loyalty, the last one is honored. By virtue of exquisiteness, the one in the middle is forever cherished. The sweet taste of strawberry, the rich smell of roasted hazelnuts, the hot feel of slipping grains of sand between the fingers bring her back. The taste of her lips, the smell of her hair, the feel of her body, tight, so close and now gone.

He hasn’t strolled over the Great Wall of China, the man with the creased forehead. He hasn’t seen the northern lights of the aurora borealis. There are mountains he didn’t climb, bikes he didn’t ride. Untasted wines, undanced songs, unread words, undiscovered angels and demons. A novel to write, a fish to net, a hammock to hang, a cottage to build. A ship to sail, a sea to cross...

A life to live.

*Tishreens = October & November

Monday, November 19, 2007


I have nothing further to add. At least I'm honest and admit what's really on my mind.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lost At Sea

With the advent of the gray months, when the fury of the sea begins to simmer then bursts into a boil, Tartous braces itself for expected yet never acceptable losses.

Shortly after leaving port in the Black Sea and loaded with 10,000 tons of steel, "Haj Ismail", the ship, came face to face with a ferocious storm not far from the Ukrainian-Russian shoreline. The Georgian flagged vessel is truly Syrian at heart. Manned by 17 seamen of our own, she was sailing home to Tartous. The deranged sea toyed with her making her pitch high and low against the onslaught of gigantic waves and strong winds, then on an impluse split her in two. Within moments, she vanished in the abyss with all souls onboard except for two. Bassel Aga of Lattakia and Khodr Yahia of Tartous, were the only two survivors who made it to shore in the freezing water and the giant swells. They stayed afloat by sheer strong will and an extraordinary twist of fate as they were on deck the moment tragedy struck. Semi-conscious, they lied exhausted on the beach until they were later rescued and transported to hospital.

This is a repeat and devastating blow we suffer year after year before Tartous goes into a stupefied rendition of mourning. There are no faces to take a last look at, no bodies to burry, no tombstones to sit by and cry. Mothers would go on eternally in a state of animated suspension, staring out of windows, waiting for a phone call or a courier bringing a message of a miracle. Pregnant wives would deliver their babies and raise them alone, never telling their children that their fathers had died.

"He might return one day, your daddy, but I can't tell you when", the lonely woman whispers to her little boy behind invisible tears. "Mommy, when I grow up I want to travel the sea like him" her only child with resilient eyes says. "No my son, never, please promise me, never" she pleads. Stubbornly the boy answers with the only reply he hears from all the young men in the family, "I can't mom, I'm a Tartoussi and I would drown if I step out of the sea".

"Haj Ismail" sunk with 9 other vessels of various flags in the exact same area around the Straight of Kerch on Sunday the 11th of November, 2007. All her seamen were less than 33 years old with a couple of them in their teens still. Some were only sons, others expecting fathers and many not even married yet. A few of her young boys were neighbors I always see when they are onshore.

How can I find it in me to pray for their souls to rest when their families aspire for their return? Is there any solace that they died doing what they loved best? Are they swimming with the mermaids in an emerald sea or looking from the blue of the sky above?

Tartous continues to wait.

Lost at Sea, November 11, 2007 (Walid Mohamad Sabra, Fawaz Mohamad Khaled, Abdul Kader Mustafa Hindi, Ahmad Mustafa Latesh, Ahmad Khaled Monem, Abdallah Asaad Tohme, Mohamad Asaad Ayash, Mohamad Adnan Sayed, Nasser Mahmoud Tohme, Diaa Subhi Abdul Halim Mohamad, Abdul Aziz Jbaret Allah Hasan, Faysal Ahmad Rajab, Housam Haytham Khalil, Hassan Mustafa Zein and Mounir Aziz Abbas)

Monday, November 05, 2007


Life, grossly overrated, I find.
"Senora Melissi" in "The Mystery of the Blue Train" by Agatha Christie

An unexpected guest, Weltschmerz knocked on my door. He removed his shoes, loosened his tie then slumped heavily on the chair across. It seemed that he'll be my companion for a while, uninvited.

This past week has been hectic yet drudgingly boring. I've driven to Amman, Jordan and back to Tartous for a 72-hour trip. I've been to new places and met fresh faces that I can't remember anymore. I took the semi-quotidian drive to Lattakia several times and despite the welcomed changes in weather and foliage, I failed to respond to external stimuli. I had more than my share of drinks and dinners, of weddings and funerals, yet I couldn't react on the emotional level. I seem to be impermeable to the colorful pleasures or the grim pains of an unbending reality.

Hours give way to days, weeks to months, years to decades. I am married with children. All of a sudden, they're grown-ups and going to college. Only yesterday I was a weird college kid myself with messed up hair and fucked up brains. Then I held her up in my arms the moment she came to this world. She took her first steps in that home by the sea that is no more. She packed a suitcase and I drove her through a desert road to her new home. I held back my tears long enough so she couldn't see them and sauntered into her empty room. Framed pictures of frozen moments in time stared back at me as if I were a total stranger. "We're still here", pleaded her sister and brother without a sound, "for how long", I wondered wordlessly. On a giant whiteboard, children draw their destinies with impermanent markers, erasing earlier smears left by weary parents. The footsteps we leave behind gradually fade until they totally disappear. Tender caresses under an olive tree, stolen kisses in a squeaky elevator, passionate lovemaking behind closed doors forever dissolve with the setting sun.

جئت للدنيا وحيداً

ووحيداً أذهب

عجب سر مجيئي

وذهابي أعجب

آه من هذي الحياة

بين هذي الكائنات

لهفتي تأكل ذاتي

كيف منها أهرب

(لا أذكر اسم الشاعر)

I often wonder what it's all about. Persistent, I turn to God. I search within for an answer which I know I will never find. I open up to the outside, to eternal words of truth, wisdom and gravity but I get lost further. Clueless, I splash the ice and pour the Scotch. I stare at the amber fluid and nurse its spirit as it mingles with mine. I am all alone after all.