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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Rich Man, Poor Man*

The following piece of ... contains gross overgeneralizations. Exceptions prove the rule.
It also contains foul language. I have no excuse.

Have you ever wondered what the grimy poor and the filthy rich have in common?** Well, I often did. It’s a disturbing thought and it weighs heavily on me. I’ve always considered myself a non-judgmental person, but here I am, passing verdicts on people based principally on their income. On those rare occasions I had had the misfortune to spend time with a despicable beggar or a contemptible mogul I felt as if I had lost an essential part of my humanity. I became a culprit and a victim of an eccentric fact of life: disparity of fortunes. I not only hated them but loathed myself as well. Damn it, why are they so offensive!

Certainly there's something about money that brings the worst in people. Its scarcity and abundance are two sides of the same fetid pie of crap. I sympathize to some extent with a hungry person who let loose the reins of his manners and acts rudely and blatantly. But how can I find it in me to justify the unquenchable greed, the flamboyant arrogance and the self absorption of the boorish, degraded and indecorous rich. The first has given up his self-respect out of dire physiological necessity. But what about the big fat insatiable monster wanting more, swallowing the green and the dry as if in a feeding frenzy. Like a deranged elephant, he blindly rampages through a village, destroying huts, breaking limbs and smashing skulls.
-"I am the mad king of the fucking jungle. It all belongs to meeeee".
I long for a loaded “.416 Rigby” rifle to shoot the damn beast right between the eyes. Good riddance mother-fucker.

Can I still get away with a statement such as I’m not a violent person? I truly am not, but I’m getting offended time after time in an alarmingly skyrocketing frequency. I, too, am searching for money. I need to make more of it to sustain a decent lifestyle for myself and my family. My requirements, my burdens, my responsibilities have increased, as always. I am a professional and I don’t know two ways around my dilemma. I’m only familiar with the old fashioned one: you need more you work more. That translates into working longer hours, getting a second job or practically both. The long working hours I’ve been putting in, day in, day out, have eventually caught up with me. I’ve become an irritable person. I don’t want to play with the kids anymore, I don’t have time. I don’t want to hang out with friends any more, I don’t have time. I can’t read, I can’t write, I can’t laugh, I can’t smile, I can't think… I don’t have time. You see why I can commiserate with the poor and hungry now, don’t you? I'm not in real need as they certainly are, yet I’ve managed to screw up my life with superfluous aspiration. I’m head over heels in the goddamn rat race. I’m wearing rubber boots and shoveling through the gutters with my associates and colleagues, the fucking white-collars, feeling snobbish and superior as the smutty blue-collars are swimming deep in shit nearby, hauling filled buckets. Above ground, the repulsively ugly, hideously malformed rich are counting the cash and replacing the tired and the dead in the sewer.
"Send in more", they don’t bother write it themselves the sonsofbitches. Smart-looking, long-legged secretaries type the message:

To: Human Resources
Cc: Warehouse

Subject: Send in More


Recruiting 2 whites, 5 blues.
Dispatch immediately.

Needed: 2 pairs of rubber boots, 5 pairs of plastic sandals, 2 shovels, 5 buckets.

Marv, are you coming to the boss’ party on Saturday to kiss ass. I’ll be there sucking balls.
Love, Julia

I still have some sense in me, so I’ll stop. A glimmer of light though. I feel a little better :-)

*"Rich Man, Poor Man" is the title of a great 1970 novel by Irwin Shaw

** I forgot to answer the fundamental question of this article: "What do the grimy poor and the filthy rich have in common?" Well, they are both disgustingly hungry.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Leisure Suit Larry

The year was 1983. I had just completed my Master’s degree in urban planning after publishing my thesis. The text was entirely written and printed out using the university’s main frame computer. This was the Pre-PC era and the most advanced piece of hardware to hit the market till then was the scientific calculator. I don’t quite remember how it came about but I was fascinated by a new gadget, a small computer called the Sinclair. It measured about 25x20X4 cm and had a membrane keyboard. Well the whole thing was a membrane keyboard really with an external AC adapter and a cable to connect to a black & white TV. Oh yeah, there’s one more thing I forgot to mention, a regular cassette player was needed to load the programs before the Sinclair can run them. There were no floppy drives yet, let alone hard disks. The reason I bought this peculiar piece of electronics was to play a game. Not any game but one in particular, a flight simulator. I was fascinated by flying then, as I still am, although I was actually working as a commercial pilot and a flight instructor. Still, I would’ve not wanted to spend any time on the ground without my primeval flight simulator. Come to think of it now, it was a piece of shit, but I loved every minute I’ve spent fiddling with the damn thing and pushing desperately against the un-responding membrane to avoid that inevitable fatal crash.
In 1986, I climbed my way up the ladder and bought a Commodore 64, attached yet to another cassette recorder before the blessing/curse of God and Bill Gates brought us MS-DOS and eventually Windows 3.11. Whatever your age might be you must know the rest, Windows and the PC became the most prevalent software/hardware IT combination. I followed the herd and remained an obedient and faithful user of this platform since I bought my first real PC, a Compaq Pentium 90 in 1994.
I’ve done my fair share of work on computers but was never a keen gamer per say. I was obsessed briefly with a few games over the years. They were mostly flight simulators, and in particular those involved with the aerial warfare and aircraft of the Second World War. I remember another extremely absorbing game by the name of Commando. It, too, evolved around WWII. I played it for a few months until I completed all 20 missions. That’s about it; I mean my PC gaming experience… except for Larry.

Leisure Suit Larry is the [cartoon] title character of a series of adult adventure games written by Al Lowe and published by Sierra On-Line from the 1980s to the present. The character, whose full name is Larry Laffer, is a balding, dorky, double entendre-speaking, leisure suit-wearing (but still somewhat lovable) "loser" in his 40s who spends much of his life trying (usually unsuccessfully) to seduce attractive women.” * Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards first appeared in 1987 (DOS) and was later remade in 1991. It was the first commercially successful sex video game to be ever produced. It was followed by 5 more titles before the bona fide masterpiece finally appeared in 1996 under the title of Leisure Suit Larry 7: Love for Sail!. This was the first one I was introduced to in the series. I later returned to the roots and played the older versions, but nothing, absolutely nothing, ever compares to Love for Sail. As far as I, and millions of other players, are concerned, this is the best video game of all ages. I, role-playing Larry Laffer, have managed over months of total absorption and perseverance to a hilariously funny and wittingly sexy video game to get all the women on board the cruise ship in the sack, culminating my fornicating frenzy by screwing Captain Thighs herself.

The general line of the game is to live the adventures of Larry as he fails but keep trying to convince gorgeous women to have sex with him. It’s very tricky to do so if you have Larry Laffer’s looks and manners. You have to depend entirely on your cunning, patience and luck to get women to simply take a second look at you. When you finally score you have all the right in the world to celebrate. I used to do just that, celebrate the occasion by placing the picture of my trophy on my desktop.
3 years ago, a friend of mine who knows about my affinity to Larry and who lives on the other side of the world sent me the perfect gift. The “still” latest edition: Leisure Suit Larry Magna Cum Laude. The main character’s name is still Larry, but it’s Larry Lovage this time, Laffer’s nephew. Here is what it says on the 4-CD box. “Help Larry Earn a BA in T&A. With gorgeous coeds everywhere, college dweeb Larry Lovage is chasing around more than his diploma. He’s trying to live up to the legend of his uncle Larry Laffer, everyone’s favorite polyester playboy.” Now here’s the funny part, I have this game for 3 years and I haven’t played or even installed it yet. I feel a little down that it’s the nephew rather than the uncle. I’m also wondering where I will find the free time to play it. As I’m traveling a couple of times per month and staying overnight in lonely hotel rooms, I’m planning on giving myself and Larry a chance. With a wife and three kids, all armed with mobile phones and an insatiable appetite to know all the details of my life away from home, Larry is my only chance to wag my tail and have some forbidden fun.
Guys, if you like gaming, fun and sex, and even if you’re having the real thing… Give Larry a chance. I can’t yet recommend Larry 8 and would rather wait until I give it a shot. But, Leisure Suit Larry 7: Love for Sail!. is the best adult video game ever produced. Don’t let the fact that it’s 12 years old fool you. Like a classic Charlie Chaplin, Larry is forever funny.

* Wikepedia

Friday, January 11, 2008


I went to bed late, very late last night. As I was losing consciousness, a vision of a Mjadra plate with onions, pickles and Fattouch tantalizingly floated in my head. I must’ve had a big smile when I passed away. I woke up very hungry.
Mjadra is certainly the most quintessential dish in the Levant. It is shared across the politically drawn borders of Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria and dates back to the region’s very early history. Fossilized Lentils and Burghul were found (together) in some archeological sites dating back to 1,000 BC in northern Syria.

Mjadra is probably the simplest and most straightforward Levantine dish to prepare. It is known as the poor man’s feast, because that’s what it’s really all about, a deliciously healthy meal with plenty of protein at a very low price. Traditionally, low income families would cook a large pot of Mjadra on Friday morning and head for the outdoors for what is known as a Sayran (picnic). Or better yet, cook it outdoors over firewood. For some of the rich of yesteryears and many of the snobs of today, Mjadra is a novelty, an endearing experience to talk about with friends, as in: “Oh I went to Palmyra last month and stayed at the Meridien. In the afternoon we all road camels then later in the evening we had, can you believe it, Mjadra, wow it was so cute and fantastic and they serve it with little pickles. Oh my God.”

Mjadra is a combination of two abundant ingredients of this land, lentils and Burghul. While lentils grow naturally, Burghul is modified wheat. In addition to the Levant, it is prepared in Turkey where it’s known as Bulgur and in Greece and Cyprus where they call it Mp’ligouri and Pourgouri respectively. Traditional Burghul preparation varies yet revolves around parboiling the wheat grains, drying them in the sun, de-branning them and finally crushing them either finely or coarsely. Burghul is an essential ingredient in many other local recipes such as Tabbouleh and Kobbeh.
Mjadra could be prepared with rice instead of Burghul. Although this is unacceptable to the purist in me, I mention this alternative just because some of you might like to try it for the first time and can’t find any Burghul around. Of course I have tried it with rice, it’s not bad at all, but it’s not the same and contradicts the very essence of this exceptional recipe.
Here it is, a vegetarian’s dream come true, the world renowned Levantine Mjadra. Bon Appétit!

1 cup- Lentils
2 cups- Burghul coarse (could be substituted with rice for Rice Mjadra)
2 onions- cut in winglets
1/3 cup- olive oil for cooking
1/3 cup-olive oil for frying onions
3 cups- water
Salt as per preference

-Rinse lentils, then place in a pot in cold salted water, cover, heat and bring to boil over medium heat then reduce to low for 30 minutes.
-Soak Burghul separately in cold water and drain completely then add to lentils. Mix well together and keep covered over low heat. Before water totally evaporates, add 1/3 cup of olive oil and mix well. Cover, keep over low heat for a couple of minutes then remove.
-Separately, heat 1/3 cup of olive oil in a skillet and fry the onion winglets until golden brown. Watch carefully and do not leave alone as the process is very fast.
-Present the Mjadra in a large open plate. Sprinkle the golden onions on top and serve with pickles, onions, salad or Fattouch and plain yogurt on the side.

I normally add a couple tablespoons of olive oil on top in my own plate before I start enjoying his most delicious and original entrée.
Ah, the simple pleasures in life!

Mjadra is also spelled Moujaddara and Mujadara, etc.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Tender Spots

We all have our tender spots, our Achilles heel so to speak. Food, wine and sex top the list for many mortals. Intemperance in any of these human flaws leaves visible scars on the body and mind. We have to admit, however, that these inflictions are so charming and gratifying if kept under control. To this end, when we occasionally gorge we should be finicky and eat the best victuals imaginable. Wine and spirits are to be consumed with respect and consequently when we choose to get inebriated we must be pernickety over our Merlots and Malts. As for sex, need I say more! With the associated gilt, ignominy and possible infectivity we ought not to settle for anyone less than the Clooneys or the Therons.
This post, among a few others, is preordained to partially fulfill my obligations toward the reader in bringing interestingly revealing information about this land and exotically scrumptious recipes.
Syria is a mandatory corridor for migratory birds on their annual commuting between Europe and Africa. Twice a year, in early spring and fall these airborne creatures take a respite on our shores and prairies. For thousands of years the people of the crescent passionately hunted them for food without ever being excessive. I grew up in a Tartous where men either fished or hunted every Friday in total harmony with nature. Today, the Syrian government, among others all over the world, bans hunting in its effort to protect wildlife instead of curbing population growth and canceric urbanization. From my own experience, real hunters, not trigger-happy idiots exuded by this day and age, are very environmentally conscious individuals. Migratory game birds such as Bobwhite quails, thrushes, woodcocks and mourning doves have an average lifespan of a little over a year yet prosper in massive numbers. Legally controlled hunting cannot even put a dent on their huge flocks, unlike the massacring of these birds on the hand of a new wave of prowlers who pay the authorities to turn their eyes the other way, the indiscriminate use of pesticides and insecticides, the disappearance of open land and the pervasiveness of concrete jungles.

Chukar Partridge

Syria is also home to many species of non-migratory birds. If there should ever be a bag limit or an off-season where hunting is banned altogether then it is to protect the native birds whose sustained existence is much more precarious. In general, non-migratory birds have a longer lifespan and smaller populations than their migratory counterparts. Their survival depends on the availability of their natural habitat and since they did not evolve to travel for long distances they instinctively compensated by acquiring a high geographical fidelity. As a result, they exhibit a higher form of territorial behavior and a superior animal instinct which at times is erroneously confused with wit by veteran hunters. They would not flush easy and take flight. The combined efforts of superior human intelligence and acute canine olfactory capability are often needed to make them panic and break cover. Hunting these beautiful game birds is not about pulling the trigger, since as I have mentioned earlier any idiot can do with reasonable success. It is the chase, the stamina, the anticipation and even the possibility of returning home empty handed. All of these variables make hunting so exciting, so compelling.

Black Francolin

The Phasianidae family contains the largest selection of deliciously edible birds from the elusive Chukar Partridge to the ubiquitous Chicken. The Chukar partridge (Hajal) is a legendry bird in Syrian folklore and has adapted well to the exhaustive aridness of the desert and the insurmountable bushy mountains of the coast. It is an extremely difficult bird to find, hunt and ultimately cook. But when we perform each step properly the rewards are immense. The Black Francolin is native to the banks of the Euphrates and the Jazira area in Syria and is known by different local names such as Deek or Derraj. Compared to the Hajal, it is an easier pray to discover, shoot down and eventually prepare in the kitchen. The following recipe works well for the Francolin and the domestic chicken. The only thing I would do differently if I were preparing Chukar partridges is that I would marinate them in red wine for at least 6 hours prior to cooking. If you can’t lay your hand on four Francolins, substitute them with a chicken or two. There is no way on earth to make a domesticated bird taste like a wild one, for the Francolin’s meat is one of the best tasting of any kind. Yet, by preparing chicken using this recipe you will be doing your guests and yourself a great favor.
So, let’s roll our sleeves and get down to business.

Francolin Rosto

-4 cleaned birds cut in halves or 1 large chicken or 2 small chicken cut in pieces
-2 Kg of small to medium sized potatoes
-1 pack of butter 200g (I like Lurpak)
-2 squeezed lemons
-Salt, pepper and spices as per your preference (use your imagination)
-Some Fresh thyme or whatever herbs you can find (again use your imagination and remember that such ingredients are optional and are meant as a chef’s signature).

Heat 100 g butter in a large enough skillet. With your hands, rub the pieces with half the quantity of salt, pepper and spices then sauté for a few minutes until light gold. Remove from heat and place with the melted butter in a casserole.
Heat the other 100 g butter in same skillet and fry the potatoes for a few minutes till light gold. Place in same casserole with the melted butter and the cut pieces of Francolin (or chicken). Add 2 cups of water and the rest of the salt, pepper and spices. Throw in the fresh thyme and/or herbs. Heat over medium-high to simmer, then reduce to low, cover and cook for one hour.

To be served with rice (prepared separately as per your usual recipe).
Enjoy with a glass of your favorite wine and a sexy partner.
Compliments of a proud hunter and a humble chef :-)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Farewell to Years

I shouldn’t get critical over New Year’s celebrations and denounce them as being solely fit for the brainless masses. In fact I commemorated the occasion last night sharing a few drinks with old friends, dining heartily with the family, lighting up fireworks with the neighborhood kids, hitting the sack a few minutes before midnight then falling asleep in a jiffy after an extra long day at work. Over the span of my life, there are a few New Year Eves I always remember.

Tartous 1966 - The first time in my living memory to stay up so late. The moored ships in the unfinished Tartous harbor blew their horns and shot colored flares in the night sky. A few minutes past midnight my aunt delivered her baby. He is a doctor today and lives somewhere in Canada. He had recently become a father himself. 42 years have passed since.

Damascus 1978 – A little after 9:00 PM, a friend dropped me at my aunt’s house in Azbakieh. I hurriedly tucked in the envelope containing my passport and one-way flight ticket in the closet. I changed my clothes for the party and rushed out to celebrate with a bunch of boys and girls. I had 4 more days to spend between Damascus and Tartous before I fly to America. The night went crazy and spun out of control. The wild bash was finally put to rest by the creeping sunlight. I haven’t seen any of my Damascene friends afterward. It’s been 30 years.

New Orleans 1981 – My mother, my sister and I made it to the hotel with the setting sun. I walked the streets to investigate the possibilities. After all it’s not that easy finding a place to spend New Year’s Eve with your mother in a city like New Orleans. Clueless, I headed back walking by the bank of the Mississippi. A banner announced a super party on board the renowned Natchez, a steamboat launched in 1975. I bought 3 tickets and together we spent a memorable night. I can still hear my mother’s laughter echoing in my mind. Rest her soul; she fitted in so smoothly anywhere her road took her. A 27 year-old night, yet detailed, vivid and vibrant with colors and emotions as if it were yesterday. 8 years ago, my mother passed away.

New Orleans 1982 – One thousand and one night within the folds of one magical night. A fable from 26 years ago.

Somewhere near Deir El Zor 1987 – After an 11-hour drive in a 3-wheeled locally made contraption (Tertayra as it is called in Tartous, Tarazena as it is known in Deir El Zor) I reached with my two friends and our three pointer dogs a small hut in the middle of nowhere. We huddled together with the lord of the house and his family near the fire in the one-room structure in anticipation for next day’s chase. It was the first time we hunt Francolin (a game bird from the Grouse family) in the cotton plains of northeastern Syria. The overjoyed dogs running incessantly back and forth the open fields, the thrill of the hunt and the hospitality of the people made that New Year’s night and day so special, so surrealistically out of this world. Exactly 21 years have passed since we bagged those birds.

Tartous 1990 – We were living in the old house by the sea. Om Fares and I weren’t alone that night. Our daughter, exactly 3 months old was a diversion from the external, insignificant world. We were so unbelievably happy with our God-sent gift from heaven; we did not want to go anywhere. We did not want to be with anyone. Diana is 18 now.

Tripoli 2000 – At 5:00 in the afternoon, Abu Omar calls over the phone. We have nothing planned for the evening and I had to succumb to his gracious invitation. We packed our stuff and crossed the border to my second home (Tripoli) with our two girls. It was a crazy and wild party. Abu Omar and I were so excited at the prospect of seeing a belly dancer. Little did we know, she was blonde, Russian and overweight. That did not stop us from making fools of ourselves and taking every opportunity to touch and play with her. Did I mention that she was generously endowed? Fares was born a little less than 3 months later. Abu Omar I miss you dear friend. Please come back. It’s been 8 years.

There will be a few more hopefully and as the jolly Cajuns of Southwestern Louisiana say: "Laisser les bons temps rouler!"

Happy New Year to All.