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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Lost Village

"The digital revolution changed us forever. We take many of the modern amenities and conveniences for granted. Man has all but become a slave to technology. The onslaught of the drastic changes brought about by this new age is calamitous in scale. Yet in all disasters there’s at least a sole survivor:
Om Al Tanafes Al – Fow’a."

I didn’t write this uncanny introduction on my own. It’s rather my translated version of the prologue to a 27- episode Syrian comedy show called, appropriately enough, Day’a Day’aa (Lost Village). The name of this place is Om Al Tanafes Al-Fow'a. The series started airing a few months back on Abu Dhabi Satellite Channel before other TV stations tagged along. It gradually picked momentum and in due course gained phenomenal success all over Syria. In the coastal region in particular, Lost Village has gathered a huge following of fans. Its key to success and humor lies in the fact that, and for the first time, it uses a local form of Lattakian dialect. Even the Tartoussi neighbors, who inherently abhor the atrocious Lattakian tongue, fell in love with the show.


Ass'ad and Judi

Now let me clear a couple of important matters. The show itself might prove irrelevant as far as my non-Syrian readers are concerned but please bear with me and don’t get disheartened yet. I promise to make it up by taking you on an interesting journey. Then I have to mention the critical reviews, which by and large, were all inauspicious toward the show. Too vulgar, crude, weird and provincial sense of humor, they claimed. However, we all know for a fact that by and large most critics are botched writers, painters, poets, chefs or artists. At a certain point in their creative careers they failed to stop taking themselves too seriously which is perhaps the only road to brilliance and originality. Instead of creating they reverted to passing judgment on the creativity of others. They became, for lack of a more decent word, bitter assholes who can’t grasp the beauty of minimalism.

Lost Village was written by Dr. Mamdouh Hmadeh and directed by Al-Layth Hajjo. Om Al Tanafes Al Fow’a is a small village in the amazing and picturesque countryside of Lattakia where time had stood still. The few inhabitants of this miniature rural community all play central roles in the show. However, the main two characters are Ass’ad and Judi (played by Nidal Sijri and Bassem Yakhour), two friends-for-life whose knowledge of the outside world equals that of mine in rap music and cubic painting. Gergos Jbara, Zuhair Ramadan, Toulay Haroun and Abdul Nasser Saraqbi are members in a cast of extremely funny actors who had perfected the Lattakian dialect up to a very suspicious extent.

It must come as no surprise that I felt awfully itchy not to go and take a look at the location where the show was shot in its entirety. Om Al Tanafes Al Fow’a’s real name is Al Samra (The Brunette), a tiny village at a 9 km distance to the west of Kasab and a couple of hundred meters south of the Turkish border. This is certainly the most stunning place in all of Syria. I have been around Al Samra on a few occasions before. Twelve summers ago, in the company of three biker friends, I camped in the thick forests of the region overnight. It was like a homecoming for me, except that now this forgotten piece of heaven has become a household name all over the country.

We left Tartous on a Friday morning and made it to Lattakia (90 km to the north) in a little over 45 minutes. Then we headed in a northeasterly direction climbing steadily up the mountains. Driving through endlessly gorgeous orange groves at first then through denser and denser hills covered with pine, fur and laurel trees we reached Lake Balloran.


Lake Balloran

We parked on the side of the road and feasted on the beauty of the scenery with hungry eyes. Further ahead a simple handwritten sign with the word عسل (Honey) grabbed my attention. I rolled the window on the right side of the car down and the smell of fresh Mana’eesh Bi Zaatar and Bi Jebneh (Thyme & Olive Oil pies and White Cheese Pies) assaulted my passengers’ and my nose. The fire in the Tannour was blazing and the attending woman beamed at us with a huge smile and kind eyes. We hurriedly aborted the car and took refuge on a table in the outdoors under a whicker cover.


Tannour

This place, like a dozen or more on the way up, is family owned and operated. Abu Ali brought the tea service while his wife Om Ali, helped by one of her young daughters, prepared the pies. It was a once-in-a-lifetime memorable breakfast with food that defies description, hospitality that rebels at logic and goodness that betrays a deeply ingrained generosity. These folks might be economically classifiable as poor but for the life of me I have never met a more loving couple, a happier bunch of kids, a more spectacularly functional family or a richer group of people in their dignity and sufficiency.


Mana'eesh bi Zaatar

After I had my fill of pies and tea I walked into the Dekkan (one room in the house transformed into a small grocery store) and asked Abu Ali if he still had any honey for sale. He brought forward a dusty 1 kg jar, the only one left, from a higher shelf behind. "This is the last one of the season", he confessed. "It’s pure Ajram Assal" (عسل عجرم Heather Honey from the Genus Calluna). He produced a straw and dipped it ever so lightly in the open jar. “Here, try it. It’s untouched by humans”. “No Abu Ali, I don’t want to. There’s nothing around this land of yours or beyond to add to your honey which won't make it even better”. He gleamed at my words of compliment and trust and, unasked, reduced his price. “You’ve made my day with your words, "Abu… Shou Bil Salameh" (the father of whom may I ask)? “Abu Fares min Tartous”, I replied as I proudly pointed a finger toward Fares, who was joyfully playing like a freed bird amongst the trees. “You still have to try it though,” plunging that straw further into the honey jar. I swear to you dear reader, not even Nancy Ajram could’ve tasted as delicious as this Honey Ajram. My eyes rolled upward to heaven in ecstasy.


Kasab

An hour later we resumed our ascend to Kasab at 1725 m altitude. The sky was impeccably blue and the air chilly and crisp. A man was tending a fence and I asked him for directions to Al Samra. He replied with a delightful Armenian accent: “Everybody is going to the Lost Village today, what’s wrong with you people!” Yet he smiled and showed me the way.


Day'a Day'aa - Lost Village

The road was narrow and steep. We were descending fast into a …. valley. A valley unlike any I have ever seen before. Two mountain peaks loomed off to our right and left and sloped sharply to meet each other at a little distance ahead where their feet joined in the azure sea. The mountain to the right was in Turkey while the one on the left and the road itself belonged to Syria. The scene was breathtaking and I had to pull to the side again. We brought our collars higher around our chins and stood mesmerized and awestruck. The cold seemed to be that of another planet. The sun peaked at her zenith but even she seemed to be burning ever more cleanly.


Moukhtar's House

The first house from the show was a little further down the road. It was the Mekhtar’s house, Abdul Salam Al Beeseh (played by Zuheir Ramadan). There was a row of cars, bumper to bumper, parked on the side and people roaming the road, like us, enthralled by the eternal beauty of this magical place. We walked by each of the familiar houses with a quiet throng as if on pilgrimage to another world. My dad, my sister, my wife, my son and I felt elated. Deep inside I was worried though. What could become of this secluded and forgotten village with the constant offensive of tourists like us? I silently prayed for the natives and their good earth not to lose what has become so rare and precious. I prayed that they don’t drop their innocence for another way of life which has already proven ephemeral and pointless.


Ass'ad House

We had a great yet simple lunch at a restaurant called Al Rabwe on the outskirts of Kasab then made it into the town center by sunset. My passengers wanted to do a little shopping in this mostly Armenian town. From previous visits I knew of a wonderful shop where local items, hard to find anywhere else, are sold. Kasab is most famous for special delicacies and her Laurel Soap, which they have perfected into a fine art. Their soap is prepared with olive oil and laurel leaves in its most plain form. However, a huge array of various blends are produced and sold. I ended up buying laurel soap with rose water, with honey, with flower essence and with musk. My olfactory sense was at a total loss inside this store. We also bought Zaatar (Thyme), Rahat Holkum (Loukoum), Malban stuffed with walnuts and pistachios, herbal tea and spices.


Laurel Soap

It was only fitting for such a wonderful day to end on a sublime note. We drove back in full moonlight and although I was eager to get home as quickly as possible I didn’t push hard. Images and aromas of the good food we brought danced in my head for a quiet dinner. The warmth of a scented bath with a thousand floating laurel leaves beckoned at me. I made good on my reveries once I got home and slept to dream even beyond.

39 comments:

Isobel said...

Oooh!! Loukoum...ooh...little villages...oooh honey...ooooooohhhh everything. Sigh. What a wonderful little trip, Abu Fares.

Abu Kareem said...

"...the atrocious Lattakian dialect..." Aaaakh ya Abu Fares, that hurts!!!!

Az3ar's Fan said...

I am so envious.

Yazan said...

Kasab. You brought back a string of old memories ya Abu Fares. I used to spend whole summers in and around that place. One of the most beautiful scenery in Syria. I'm so enchanted by the Kasab memories and the smell of fatayer bi Za3tar, that I was almost going to forget the poke at Latakian accent. Bas yallah, betmoun ya Abu Fares, Allah Yesam7ak. ;)

Dania said...

"I silently prayed for the natives and their good earth not to lose what has become so rare and precious"...beautifully describing my thought on this. I am afraid Samra would become more touristic and that will cost it its special sense of simplicity and greatness at the same time. Samra is my second run away place "it's second only because it's far from Damascus and I can't drive alone there, according to mother's theory"... I don’t want to see plastic bags and waste every where, I don’t want to rent fancy houses there, I don’t want any car horns to pollute the bell's ringing in the old church next to Ammo Hagoup's house.

Abufares... ya abufares...
That was a gorgeous journey; I tried to read it slowly to gain more time sensing the glamorous moments... Thank you from the heart for this sweet exotic morning reading this post :)

abufares said...

@Isobel
You would have enjoyed every single minute of this trip, every bite, every sip, every breath of fresh air.
I hope you can make it someday.

abufares said...

@Abu Kareem

The Damascene have the Allepians to hate.
The Homsis have the Hamwis.

We in Tartous and Lattakia have only each other... HAHAHA.
But you must know the real reason. We have it all and once we cross our coastal mountains heading east there's nothing beyond, absolutely nothing...
Do you think this comment is swallowable by our compatriots on the other side? I hope not.

abufares said...

@Az3ar's Fan
May be this will make you think of coming over... soon.

abufares said...

@Yazan
Kasab, in my opinion, is indeed the most beautiful place in Syria. I've been there winter and summer and I loved it when it was desolate and then when it was teaming with people. As for the Lattakian accent what can I say. I mean come on, honestly... Have you ever heard an uglier one in your life? That is in Syria of course:-)

abufares said...

@Dania
You are right unless we forget about Day'a Day'aa anytime soon. From what I've learned the lives of the inhabitants have already changed. The 2 women who live in "Ass'ad's house" have put a chain on their front entrance to stop the people from walking in. They are charging SP100 per person per visit inside their home, which I'm not totally against. However, I was disturbed by the behavior of some of the visitors who were acting raucously and desecrating the serenity of Al Samra.
If rumors are correct then there might be a Part II of Day'a Day'aa. Still this is not as damaging in my opinion as the potential construction/concrete cancer that might invade this paradise. We have not learned from our past mistakes as we still equate construction with civility.

JGM said...

You’ve made my day with your words, Abu Fares...
I hope your silent prayers remained sober among this beauty you have found yourself engulfed in and managed to travel the journey to those incessantly listening ears...
Thank you.

abufares said...

@JGM
Amen to that.
It would be a shame to lose what little we have left.
I never considered trading my life for any other... except, to have been born there, stayed there and died there.

Mariyah said...

These are the places of my dreams, Abu Fares. Quaint, real, free of the conventions of populated centres. As is your prayer, my hope is that this beautiful place does not end up overrun with disrespectful tourists. Perhaps it is far enough away to avoid this fate. What a magical journey that only you, Abu Fares, could do justice in your colourful description. Thank you for filling my day with daydreams of simple beauty and trip I may some day take.

yaser said...

that seems to be a lovely place ,they should call it the Sleepy village ,this just reflects my impression of it:)

abufares said...

@Mariyah
We should all visit every far corner of our own country. No matter where we're from, I assume than nobody's going to stop us or require a visa for internal travel.
In Syria there is a huge number of great sites and treasures to see and experience first hand. Had our government been more vocal where it should have, that is properly promoting the country on the international level, I'm sure many sites would have been classified under the World Heritage category.
There's one good side only to this neglect and that the government is keeping its hands off instead of totally destroying what it sets itself to fix (examples are too many to count).
In some instances, such as in the case of Al Samra and other coastal villages doing nothing at all including NOT BUILDING is the easiest way to protect them. Our cities are well beyond hope for at least a couple of generations, that is if they don't get in a worse shape. The danger lies, however, in the creeping urbanization toward the countryside, again especially in the coastal region of Tartous and Lattakia.
We need a miracle I guess but in the meantime we should truly get to know and appreciate what's left before it's too late.

abufares said...

@Yasser
It's a lovely place. I don't think the word sleepy is quite right for that and for many other villages in our area. They just follow a different rhythm and run at a pace beyond the grasp of city dwellers. Had I been given a choice I would've not hesitated at all especially after I saw what's beyond the mountains. It's really not worth it at all, the city and all it has to offer.

Mariyah said...

Yes, the infringing development has me worried too. I don't know why "progressive development" always seems to mean destruction. When I returned to Syria in the spring I had all sorts of plans to travel the country. So far, I've only made one outing. I hope I can escape the big city again soon and before its too late.

Anonymous said...

Those beautiful places are our wealth,our future,and our identity;we have to study how we can keep it forever.
See what happen in Dubai! no money =nothing.Our country is so rich,so wealthy.
Thank you Abu Fares.
@A

the boy said...

I had a chance to go to Jordan this past summer, and I found it to be incredible beautiful. Nothing however, compares to the descriptions you give of Syria, and of the small villages you travel to and the scenery you that seems to be all around you.

Perhaps your witting is just that good, or its inspiration, your country, is just that beautiful. Either way, I keep coming back to your blog and long to visit Syria for myself one day. Most American's fear the Middle East, I am fortunate to realize, with help from amazing writers like yourself and my own experience in visiting it, to realize it is one of the most beautiful places on earth and the people some of the friendliest. Keep witting my friend, and my God's blessings always be upon you and your family.

abufares said...

@A
You're absolutely right my friend and that is exactly why I insist on myself before others that we have to discover Syria first.
Awareness is a journey that starts within oneself in one's own backyard.

abufares said...

@the boy
Welcome to my blog and in due time to Syria.
With all due respect to Jordan and to Syria east of the coastal mountains, nature then history have conspired to make my stretch of land one of the most beautiful anywhere in the world. While Tartous and Lattakia are charming they certainly are no match to Damascus and Aleppo in terms of the sheer power and the gravity of their respective histories.
My writing falls very short of describing the full beauty of this land and her people because unfortunately I can't dedicate all my of my time to roaming and writing.
You already know that there's nothing to fear in the Middle East where no "outside" forces came and messed it up. I look forward hearing from you one day when you are in Syria. After you feast your intellect by visiting the great Syrian cities get in touch with me so that you can gratify your soul by coming to my neck of the woods.

saint said...

Abu Fares, please do not hate for being frank,
I looked the series you mentioned but it did not impress me (comparing with Maghoot comedy) neither the accent which as you said it is a flip flap, and what a police man with unrecognized accent doing there?
But, the mentioning of Kasab and the discovery arouse some memories. In 1965 me and my frieds embarked on scout trip to discover Raas Albassed, we obtained a map fro the area made by the French from the private library of one of us, whose grandfather was minister during the colonial French, and headed to Kasab where we walked through the woods to Raas Albassed and camped there for 2 weeks. We think we discovered that place like Columbus discovered America since at the time there were no roads to that place. Cheers) ,

Diana said...

I loooved Day3a Dayi3a! I watched every episode! I also love Bassem and Nidal, They are fine actors,who can both play drama and comedy very well. The wives, Slengo, all of them were cute. :) The accent is colorful and amusing, the characters engaging. Plus, it was funny without being silly, and dealt with some serious matters without being too dark.

As you mentioned, the locale is amazing. As I watched each episode, I soaked it all in. Plus, it was nice to see a part of Syria other than Damascus (which has a different charm). And your trip description seems to match my expectations of the place! Glad you enjoyed. :)

I want to go to Syria! I better start saving. :-|

Diana said...

Oh, and here's the series, in case anyone wants to watch it.

http://www.livearabictv.net/vb/showthread.php?t=582

Ascribo said...

for some strange reason, I couldn't stand more than five minutes of "Lost village"...maybe because I loathe Lattakian accent, or I just didn't get their sense of humor...Anyway, it's always very nice to see anything in TV where Syria is not equal to and only to Damascus...
I'm sure the trip itself was wonderful...I'd surely have enjoyed a bike ride there, maybe sometime!

Omar said...

I happened to catch sunset at Samra and it was one unforgettable sight, it's as if the sun was made to set between the two mountains.

I too hope the simple way of villagers stays untouched. There's nothing more beautiful than simplicity and contentedness.

Thanks for the beautiful post, it gave me much needed warmth

abufares said...

@saint
Don't worry at all dear friend as we were split into 2 sides at home over Day'a Day'aa.
I personally enjoyed the series. Most episodes were average funny,some very funny and a few hilarious.
Despite the simple underlying message of the show and the subtle hints in the script to (larger things) this is exactly the kind of comedy I enjoy. I loved Hammam Al Hana, Makaleb Ghawar and Sah El Nom for exactly the same reasons. It is my point of view that comedy should be as such, funny without the burden of carrying a grave message.

abufares said...

@Diana
My favorite is Ass'ad (NIdal Sijri). I think the entire cast did a fantastic job stereotyping a small community. I consider this as a strong point in comedy. The object is to make the viewers laugh and forget, for at least an hour, the outside world. Day'a Day'aa did just that to me and I loved it.
And thank you for the link. I'm sure many expats will appreciate that. I bought the series on DVD since I didn't have the chance to watch it when it was first aired.

abufares said...

@Ascribo
Like you, I didn't like it at first. Then I noticed that almost everyone on the streets of Tartous is using the Lattakian accent. It does need an acquired taste to digest it but in all honesty the show is simply funny.

abufares said...

@Omar
Samra is a fantastic by any standard. I'm glad you've had the chance to see it with your own eyes since my words are certainly not adequate enough to describe its unmatched beauty.

Lujayn said...

Abu Fares, my cousins in Aleppo were going on and on about the series this summer, but I hadnt had the chance to watch it. I'm trying Diana's link (thanks!) to finally see what the fuss is all about.

But the area is really beautiful. I think I may have come across Samra before, unaware of its impending fame, having hiked down that valley a long time ago when I was a teen. We spent a lot of summers there and it was always such a kick to leave the city behind and just walk endlessly in nature, and eat berries along the way and "steal" apples from orchards. Kassab this summer was overrun with fancy 4x4s from the Gulf, and I just hated it. I love the fact that people far and beyond want to spend their summers in the area, but I hate the imposition of a lifestyle that is so out of place with the scenery and the soul of the place. We had to climb really high into the outskirts of Kassab to avoid being run over by the 4x4s.

abufares said...

@Lujayn
You will love it for sure. I took the opportunity of this mini vacation at home and watched the last few episodes of the show.

The area is magnificent as you pointed out. The only thing we could and should do is to regulate building construction in this and in many other areas of Syria. By regulate I simply mean ZERO Tolerance. It might not be fair in the short term and the government has to conjure adequate compensation for those negatively affected (the rightful owners of these lands) but in the long run, this is the only sensible option to choose.

moryarti said...

I bought the entire DVD collection from my last trip to syria in September .. Best thing i bought in many years!

Btw, this show (dei3a day3a) is so underappreciated.. Syrians need to hire propoer PR people to promote such marvels!

abufares said...

@Moryarti
You're so absolutely right. When it comes to PR, Syrians (in general) are bashful.
I think it's partially a cultural thing. We tend to be modest about our achievements. This is the socially acceptable and expected behavior of old. Being flamboyant is not part of our national character. Accordingly and as an example, the mass majority of the people here sneer at our flashy Nouveau Riche and are not in the least impressed by their excesses.

moryarti said...

In Syria, there isn't a proper media industry for reasons you and I know very well. Hence, PR cannot be a viable business to run or maintain in Syria.. Most so-called PR agenices i know that operate in Syria basically do events managment (booking venues, ushers, invites...) and other brain-less tactical activities like that..

Black-Market said...

al sha3bo lakom bilmersadeeeeeee

hehehehe wlak shoubkoun shoubkoun
3am nimza7 ta ntarri il jaww!!

Black-Market said...

al sha3bo lakom bilmersadeeeeeee

hehehehe wlak shoubkoun shoubkoun
3am nimza7 ta ntarri il jaww!!

Souhad Toukan said...

First of all, Thank you for bringing back a hundred memory into my mind. I literally felt goosebumps all over reading this!! A tartousi blogger that appreciates the beauty of Syria and insists on sharing it with the world by describing it?? I mean, where have you been all my life! This made me so happy because living in Lebanon (I'm half syrian on my mom's side) i hear all kinds of hurtful stuff about syria and always wish to show my friends the true beauty of this place! I'm sharing this with everyone i know ! Thanks ALOT

abufares tartoussi said...

@Souhad

Thank you Souhad for commenting on this old post of mine. I'm really trying to get back into blogging and writing but the little things that make up a life have so far, and for the last couple of years, overwhelmed me.
I do my best to write/talk about "happy" events, places and memories, but as you can guess, it keeps getting more difficult amid the mayhem and brutality of war. The fact that I'm away and lonely in my Ghorbeh doesn't make it any easier.
Be well and live happy!!! :-)