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Monday, November 03, 2008

Lions' Milk



Twenty four hours after I shot this short clip I was on my way to Beirut. Following dinner and a few drinks I flew to Rome then to Amsterdam where I spent the rest of the week and came back to write about it.
Yet despite the fascinating piazzas, the broad avenues, the grandiose monuments and buildings, despite the enchanting canals, the intertwining back streets and the stunningly beautiful and virtuous prostitutes, I missed the little pleasures and treasures of Tartous my eternal home. I took off my tie, my pressed jacket and trousers and the shiny black shoes. I showered my tired body with a cold stream and washed away the remnants of a foreign luxury. I put on a faded pair of jeans and a patterned flannel shirt and sat by the little table at my corner in the kitchen to enjoy a simple breakfast. I reminisced over the exotic beers, the succulent steaks, the delectable pastas and the velvety wines I hedonistic consumed. I remembered the frantic pace, the purposeful crowds, the manicured lawns and the urbane vibes. In my brain, the refined sights, the restrained sounds and the polished smells of Europe danced and mingled with the Kaset al Shai (in Syria we drink tea: Shai with breakfast in a small and clear glass).
It was only a matter of time before I revert to my true nature and tell you about my annual jaunt into a green forested valley 20 km east of Tartous to partake in an old ritual: the drawing of the Karake = Arak distilling. In Everything You Wanted to Know About Arak and More I have exhausted all the little details about the ritual and procedures. My purpose here is notably different. I want to share with you the essence of the experience in a visual form. Don't mind the amateurish editing or the script since making movies is not one of my strong points. What I have going in my favor, however, is the marriage of Wadih el-Safi's song "Tallo Hbabna" with the rustic visual experience. El Safi (1921- ) is a Lebanese Tenor and one of the greatest modern singers of the Arab World. In coastal Syria, Abu George, as he is affectionately called by his faithful fans is an imposing icon of crossnational worth. He sings in our accent and he could as well have grown up in the alleys of Tartous instead of Niha, Lebanon. Wadih is to Arak what olive oil is to Zaatar (Thyme), but that's another story.
W. C. Fields once wrote: "Never trust a man who doesn't drink." In a way, we share this line of thought in Tartous but we digress further. "Never trust a drinker who doesn't like Arak".

37 comments:

Piscean Rubble said...

Its amazing that such a thick, dark, gloppy stew can turn into the crystal clear Arak!! Wonderful video...couldn't understand what you were saying but I enjoyed seeing the process and listening to the music. Home is the best place of all!! :) Om Anastasio

Anonymous said...

Abu Fares,the great ,
how much we enjoy your posts..you add a new dimention to our life.thank you very much..

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I think I rather not Know how or where the Arak is made. It looks nasty!

I know, I know... you are going to say is the tradition, the whole idea of this drink being made generations by generations in this rustic environment that gives the Arak its taste and nostalgic meaning. It is sort of like the "Pitorro" a local rum distilled in the mountains here and not sold in stores or outside of PR.

I still do not want to see how it is made! I rather drink it.

: )
w.b. yeats

Anonymous said...

PS. It was nice to hear your voice in between the noise, the music and the Arak... after all this time.

w.b. yeats

abufares said...

@anonymous (the one whose comment was deleted)
You need to know that this is not a place to insult others. Your comments will be deleted when they display this idiotic trait. And, by the way, this is the last time I even bother to explain.

abufares said...

@anonymous (who was gracious enough to accept the idiotic abuse)
Thank you for your kind comment and rest assured that your mistyped word didn't detract a bit from the great sense of satisfaction it bestowed on me.
Please use any name when you comment. I don't like calling you anonymous.

abufares said...

@Om Anastasio
This same stew if left to ferment further in an airtight environment will produce sweet white wine. I'm glad you liked the video. The exchange in Arabic (Mountainous Tartoussi accent) was an attempt on my part to let the master distiller talk his way through the process.
There is no place like home indeed and thank you for gracing mine.

abufares said...

@w.b. yeats
Looks are often deceiving and from these humble beginnings a king (of liquors) is born.
Any distillation product is by virtue of physics and chemistry a super hygienic one. Arak is super clear, clean and uncontaminated. It's not called a spirit without a reason. I can't wait to get my hand on a bottle of Pitorro, or better yet my lips on a Puerto Rican... glass :-)

You still remember my voice... after all this time... That's nice to know.

Anonymous said...

Abufares, KASAK,you know, here in Brasil we have the suger cane destilatet (cachasa), and the destilating machine is called, (alanbik) which is an arabik word,AL ANBIK,
abraço

abufares said...

@lê
Kasak Ya Ghali!
Alembic is the name of the contraption invented by Jaber Ibn Hayan to produce Al Kohl = "a preparation of finely powdered antimony used by Arab women to tint their eyelids". The Spaniards, under the Arab rule, changed the word Al Kohl into Alcohol and produced the earliest distilled spirits.
I've heard only good things about the Brazilian(cachasa) and would like to... meet one day:-)

Mariyah said...

This is fantastic, Abu Fares. I've never seen this process before. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing your video.

There is something special about being home. We are part of it and it is part of us. We can be who we are there more than anywhere else. I hear you, ya Abu Fares. :)

Katia said...

The Arak says it all for itself so there's no point in me adding anything there except: kassak ya Abufares!

As for the music, I have an oldie's taste, I hear that all the time: inherited from my parents since they were my only contact with anything Syrian or Arab for a long time. I grew up with my dad's Wadi3 El Safi and my mom's Farid El Atrash. I even have tallo hbabna as my dad's personal ringtone. But my all time favourite Wadi3 song is definitely "da2 bab el beit".

Way too long and off topic but you can enjoy another... drink... while reading ;-)

Diana said...

Love the video! :)

kaya said...

W. C. Fields once wrote: "Never trust a man who doesn't drink." In a way, we share this line of thought in Tartous but we digress further. "Never trust a drinker who doesn't like Arak".

Or a woman.
Hello old friend.

KJ said...

Why shouldn't you trust a man who doesn't drink? :)

I'm officially hurt!

I never knew Arak is formerly this.. sludge. But it's amazing how pure it comes out in the end. I gotta give it to the people of old who discovered all our modern pleasures (whether or not I consume it)... I bet you a million that they had more fun perfecting their invention than us drinking it

abufares said...

@Mariyah
I'm glad you liked the video. To tell you the truth, we were already halfway through the bottle when my host needed to start on a new batch. It occurred to me then to shoot some video with my digital camera but at that stage... it was "Mzahezha with me".

abufares said...

@Katia
Kassek w' Sahtek
I would get along perfectly with your parents, especially your mom since I'm an unbending Farid el Atrash fan.
Of the new kids on the block, Mouin Shreif's rendition of some Wadih el Safi classics is fantastic. It's a little strange, and perhaps unfair, but I really prefer listening to Mouin's versions than the Wadih's orginals. This young man is sooo goood.

abufares said...

@Diana
Thank you for being here.
I might've already asked you but I'm not sure. Why aren't you on Syplanet?
The reason is that being in Syria makes it difficult to check out blogspot blogs because of the censorship. I would like to be a consistent reader of your wonderful blog "The Quiver" http://the-quiver.blogspot.com/ and I'm sure that you'll make a lot of us very happy once we are automatically informed that you have a new post.

abufares said...

@Kaya
I missed you girl.
"Drinker" is a unisex term.
How about:
"I never trust myself with a woman who drinks" ;-)

abufares said...

@KJ

W.C. Fields wrote that not me.

However, I need to shed a light on the circumstances behind this quotation.
In ancient times, soldiers (warriors) used to drink excessively before and after major battles. Anyone who didn't join in the wild celebration would have been assumed to be hiding something (i.e. being a spy). If you had nothing to hide then you wouldn't mind getting intoxicated and blurring your mind out.
Makes sense doesn't it?

You're right about people of old having more fun perfecting their invention than us drinking it. Yet, you are missing on one very important group: those who invent and drink at the same time :-)

Piscean Rubble said...

Me again, Abu Fares. Got discussing the Arak (Ouzo) distilling process with hubs. Showed him the video...he knows more about distilling than I thought!! Now it all makes sense. :) Om Anastasio

abufares said...

@Om Anastasio
I would love to talk shop with your husband over Arak an/or Ouzo.
Soon, I'll post those pictures I promised you about.

Lujayn said...

What an interesting arak-making contraption! What does he seal it with (that mustard-colored mud stuff)?

Kasak, Abu Fares, despite my aversion to Arak (nothing stands up to wine in my books)!

abufares said...

@lujayn
(that mustard-colored mud stuff)? is, well, mud صلصال.
Wine is great but for our Mediterranean and Levantine food, the Mezza, the BBQ chicken, meat and fish... Arak is the indisputable king.

Anonymous said...

"El pitorro. Es una bebida nacional que se consume en el campo y casi siempre en navidad.

Se destila alcohol de caña con una gradación de sobre un 150% ( es una bomba, además de ilegal) y luego se cura con Todo tipo de frutas incluyendo ciruelas, chinas, además hay gente que le hecha carnes y todo lo que la imaginación permita ver.

Al cabo de unos meses toda esa mezcla produce una bebida curada con un sabor extraordinario y con una capacidad de hacer feliz hasta al menos borrachín. Si te descuidas te pasa el hígado sin que te des cuenta"

I found this description of Pitorro, and decided to send it to you... Maybe I should translate, but I rather think you will enjoy reading it in Spanish : )

The last line though, I will translate for you: "if you do not take care, it will perforate your liver without you ever finding out"

Puertorricans do love a challenge, they drink it whenever they can!

cariños,
w.b. yeats

JGM said...

Eh Wallah kessak abufares...yislamo hal edain

abufares said...

@w.b. yeats
Pitorro is my kind of drink in the same way Puerto Rican beauties are my type of girls :-)
And remember that:
Everything I like is either illegal, immoral or fattening.

http://www.abufares.net/2007/01/everything-i-like-is-either-illegal.html

abufares said...

@jgm
Kassak Habibi, sahha w' hana

Diana said...

Nope, you haven't asked me, and thanks for plugging my blog. :)

I'm not technically Syrian, at least not in a Syrian Arab Republic sense, so I don't know if I'll be allowed in. I'm half Palestinian and half Syriac-Aramaic (so, one of the original Syrians!). I don't know if that fits the bill.

Come to think of it, I should detail my background in a post.

Anonymous said...

im still asking myself why did you use "Lions Milk" as a headline?

Or was this Lions Milk?

abufares said...

@Diana
You will fit in just beautifully on Syplanet. We need you there desperately with the rest of us.

abufares said...

@Anonymous
Arak is affectionately called "Lions Milk" on the coast
حليب السباع

thus came the name of the post.

Diana said...

I am now on Syria Planet. :)

kaya said...

Everything I like is either illegal, immoral or fattening.

What a coincidence. I am a 3 in 1.

abufares said...

@Diana
Welcome on board.
I look forward each and every new post of yours.

abufares said...

@Kaya
Well at least you like all the right things:-)

OLD.FRT said...

Stumbled across your blog in pursuit of a recipe for stuffed sheep intestines.

Was recently in Turkey where Arak is also distilled. Had some--reminded me of gradeschool licorice candy with a mouth wallop that wouldn't quit.

Every society which has a tradition of distillation has some variation. Arak, Cachaca, Eau de Vie, Grappa etc., are produced with the support and approval (generally) of the local populations.

Occasionally, not, especially in the United States which views every grade and variety of homebrewed distillate as illegal. A close friend who likes to try different spirits made some corn based "moonshine." No measure of the alcohol content was performed, but my estimate was close to 60%. Very, very aromatic, and extremely clear to the palate.

My favorite distillate is "Los Osuna" produced in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico. Essentially the same as Tequila, but forbidden by law to be called as such since it is not produced in the city of Tequila in the state of Jalisco.

Nice blog. Will return when time permits.