Friday, March 28, 2008

Fool With a Lantern

Once more, Arima, a woman I’ve met only in dreams, touched me gently on the… shoulder. "Humor me again", she whispered. "Answer my tag".
"What is the purpose of your blog?"
I started blogging with no purpose at all. Hardly a few days had passed after I'd learned what a blog was when I decided to start my own. The title I chose: abufares said… the world according to a tartoussi was the first to come to mind. Since I wanted my blog to mirror my spontaneity I didn’t hesitate. There was a description to be filled on the automated Blogspot form. I remembered something I’d came across years before and which had stuck with me. I still am not sure who wrote it. It must've been Franz Kafka, I reckon. I stopped in my track and looked for a considerable time on Google and elsewhere. Without a trace. I couldn’t find any reference to a similar quotation. I scavenged the grooves of remembrance and articulated the words to the best of my recollection. In between quotation marks, I wrote: "A man walking alone on a deserted beach, brandishing a lantern in his outstretched hand might be a fool. But, for a ship that went astray on a stormy night, the same man is a savior."
Voila! My blog was born.


I had been writing technical and commercial communication as part of the different jobs I'd held over the years. My readers and recipients were aware that I’m good with words. Nevertheless it was a thankless chore. Blogging was different and when the initial comments appeared I was pleasantly surprised. Fulfillment was instantaneous and copious and a bona fide purpose was conceived in the course of a quick courting between heartening bloggers/readers and me. Within two years I became a member of an exquisite family. I was a little older than most, nevertheless I felt right at home and settled in rather nicely.
I blog to render images of my hometown. Tartous is my birthplace and is where I want to be laid to rest. There is no other place I’d rather be but home. I’m thrilled to take wing like a sparrow, to wander high and low then to return to my one and only nest where I close my eyes and still see in the pitch black of darkness.
I blog about my enduring journey in life. There might be a lesson to learn or I might be a fool to think as much. I’m made up of bittersweet memories, of lingering pain, of fleeting moments of happiness, of disappointments, of contentment, of fancy, of veracity, of an insatiable desire to walk the trail to its very end. I want to stand tall at the end of my voyage and mumble with Sinatra that I did it my way. I’d like a transient young reader in despair to finish a post with a smile on his face. Knowing that someone returns to my blog because she finds solace in my words makes me the happiest man alive, if I dare hope as much.
I blog about the pleasures, the gifts, the good times I’ve been blessed with. I love my family and I want them to know. I love my friends, I love women, I love a good bite, I love a luscious wine, I love an uplifting spirit, I love the old stones of my country, I love a faded coat, I love to be flooded by my senses, I love to ride my bike, I love to fly, I love my solitude, I love the sound of silence. I blog to expose my love for all to see.
Like beautiful Arima, I blog therefore I am.
*I'm tagging DJ, Lujayn & Shannon

Saturday, March 22, 2008

From Santa Fe to Bloudan


We had our reasons to be excited at home. Spring’s in the air. Blue skies, a gentle breeze and a mellow weather connived in making the outdoors ever more appealing. Fares’ birthday coinciding with the prophet’s (Mawlid Nabawi), Mother’s Day, the weekend and Easter joined together in a fine 5-day holiday bouquet. Our new Hyundai Santa Fe had just received her maiden carwash. She looked and smelled fantastic, eager to take us all on a thrilling journey around the picturesque Tartous countryside.

Then I got a call. I had to attend a 3-day workshop from the 19th till the 21st. Working well through the last couple of nights, I completed the required set of drawings and plans (45 in total) and headed to Bloudan in a minibus with a whole bunch of young colleagues. Leaving behind my disappointed family, missing my boy’s birthday for the 2nd year in a row and not getting a chance to enjoy the ride in my brand new SUV, I could only console myself in the prospect of visiting Bloudan after all these years.

It’s been 30 years. It was my last week in Damascus before leaving to the US. On an early December morning I headed with three dear friends (2 girls and a boy) to Bloudan where we spent the whole day playing silly games on the snow covered fields. Earlier, as a little boy, I used to spend parts of my summer vacations at my granddad’s home in Madaya, at my aunt’s mansion in Zabadani and my other’s aunt beautiful home in Bloudan. I have an abundance of child memories in these magical places. I remember the ice cream van making the rounds to distant villas in the valley, the kids lining up in waiting and anticipation. In the lazy afternoons and early evenings and from a balcony perched high on main street, my young cousins and I would watch the older teenagers, boys and girls, walking to and fro, enjoying themselves and celebrating life in an amazingly multi-colored ambiance that just doesn’t exist anywhere anymore.

I was a little thwarted when I almost couldn’t find my grandpa’s. It took a huge amount of luck, calm moments of memory resurgence plus my normally acute navigational skills to finally stand in front of its main gate. What was a solitary house with a large manicured garden around it has become a prisoner among a row of faceless houses, too close for comfort and all vying for that panoramic view of the valley and the mountains beyond.

The valley was filled with trees, apple, cherry, prune, almond, apricot, peach, plum and pear.


I strolled up the winding road at 6 in the morning, looking for something familiar but not finding any. Then on the front terrace of the hotel, while everybody was still fast asleep I closed my eyes yet again to render the original image back to life. My chagrin over the heavy loss of the olive and orange trees of Tartous was mirrored in Bloudan. I imagined myself a native of this once splendid little town returning from a faraway place after a 30 year absence. How will he cope with the vanishing of thousands of rainbow trees and vibrant foliage, how will he survive the devastating cancerous spread and takeover of concrete? He will shed a tear in vain, pack again and leave like I did on my third and final day.

I climbed behind the wheel of the silver Santa Fe. Boy she smells good! This baby needs some breaking-in and taming. I’ll take her somewhere up the gentle slopes, beyond the reach of cement and steel. I’ll take Fares along. May be he too will look back in time someday and remember the bygone trees.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Ballerina

She was taking a shower as he lay in bed. When she’d come out he’d tell her that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. "No. Why wait!" He knocked on the bathroom door. It was partially open but he didn’t go in. “What?” her voice came from behind the curtain. He hesitated, then mumbled something stupid like “...nothing I’ll tell you when you come out”. He sat on the sofa facing the box but not watching it. She came out, gift-wrapped in a white towel and sat on his lap. She kissed him and asked him what he had to tell her. He held her close and worshiped the smoothness of her fresh and milky skin. He never said a word. Days later she was gone.
16/11/2006 3 Love Songs


She was gone for 22 years.
A twist of fate perhaps, a crook in a branch, a broken twig, a fallen leaf. After a hundred weeks, rarely out of each other’s eyesight, seldom beyond earshot, they just floated apart like un-buoyed ghost ships. They forgot to say goodbye. They’d shared their lives and melted them into a beautiful solo. They’d gone places hand in hand, they’d lazed around head on shoulder, they’d shared every waking moment, every toss and turn of endless nights… always as one.
She was a beautiful woman, a pleasure to look at like a Greek goddess, a delight to the senses like morning dew. She was bright and vibrant, unbelievably talented, a prolific artist, a painter, a sculptor, a stunning ballerina. Despite his support and his unbending belief in her, she was stifled.
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
*
She needed to break free.
He was an apathetic stranger in a strange land, a runaway, a young veteran of failed love. She filled his heart with light yet he was coy to let her sweep him away. He shunned from making new promises for fear of breaking them, again. He escaped to high summits and tough terrain, alone, always alone, as he had nothing to prove all along.
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.*

Seasons flowed in spells as she watched her children grow up in front of her wide brown eyes... within her warm and tender heart. She stifled her dreams, gave way to her kids and mainly lived through them, for them. Then she proudly watched as they fluttered their wings and took to the air on their own. Perched high on a hill facing the emerald sea, and for the first time since she’s been alone she could finally rekindle her latent talent.
I Hope your life is as beautiful as your artwork, he wrote.
He’s been to hell and back. His children helped him as much as he helped them. They brought him focus and purpose. Without as much as giving away an inch of his convictions, without ever accepting the winds of change, he stubbornly persisted head on, supported by the unbending love of a devoted and fierce wife, lover and friend who had succeeded in making his life worthwhile.
I hope life has treated you well, she wrote back.
Over and over, perhaps once a year when a light breeze from the sea assaulted his senses he would be reminded of her. He would wonder where she is, what she’s been doing, how come he didn’t hear of her. She was an aspiring artist and he was so confident of her gift. He was certain that her work must’ve found its way to art galleries sometime, somewhere. Finally, a routine Google search provided him with the biggest surprise of his life. There she was, on the first link of a list of 347,000. Her own chic website displaying what he knew all along… that one day the whole world will find out about her, an artist of the highest caliber.

I'm delighted that you look happy with your husband and children”, he commented at the family picture she sent him, “you still look as beautiful as ever”.
It is a wonder to hear from you. Your children have all very intense features, I bet they are as smart as their father and lovely as their mother looks. I'm really happy that life is treating you well. You deserve it.” She replied.
Life goes on, Que Sera Sera.
* from: The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, by T. S. Eliot

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Hair Dryers, TV's and Automobiles

One of the best kept Syrian secrets involves the automobile, in a twisted sort of way. Until very recently, the television set was another dark Syrian secret. Luckily for me and for foreign readers who might die of a laughing fit if we hadn’t overcome that fiasco I can write about the TV story as a joke now. Not so in the case of cars, which I shall return to anon down the page.
You all heard the story; the Syrian economy has been opening up since the turn of the century. For some old policy makers, dickheads really, the transition has been extremely painful. At one stage of the game they had reluctantly accepted that Syrians need to buy blenders and hair dryers among other forbidden gadgets. They couldn’t believe their own eyes when the hungry market was saturated instantly with electrical equipment and appliances. Apparently, they grew up in a time and place when and where only the counterrevolutionary afforded and owned anything electrical beyond the light bulb. In their undeservedly privileged lives afterward, they brought to their homes such miracles as fruit squeezers, vacuum cleaners, two-door fridge/freezer combinations, automatic washing machines, then ultimately video players, colored television sets and WOW satellite receivers (they simply called them DISH). More often than not they never had to pay for these consumer goods. They either stole or received them as gifts in return for favors (commonly related to the compulsory military service or more specifically how to avoid it). Still, their thick minds could not grasp that the rest of the population needed the same conveniences. In their reasoning, they have worked hard to get these perks. They have fought the shadows as revolutionaries and won. They have climbed the ladder of power step by hard fucking step, shoving and pushing other usurpers on their way up, stepping on toes and fingers, stomping on shoulders before their hirsute asses could sit on swiveling chairs (the swivel chair with the cheap imitation leather remains one of their favorite pieces of furniture). They have successfully kept the envious masses under control and in line and accordingly when the order to let the poor souls get their hands on electrical appliances was circulated they weren’t happy at all. "Kiss Ikht Hal Zaman", they thought. "Now we let them own microwaves, then what later, God forbids, televisions?" Sure enough, they couldn’t stand any longer in the face of progress and change and in a historically jubilant, socially imperative, economically poignant moment TV’s of all shapes and sizes flooded the streets and filled almost every room of every household in the country.


We still have one secret up our sleeve, taratata, the Automobile.
After years of elaborations, after changing the unsightly faces/asses in parliament time and again (as if the assholes really had any say on the matter), after laws and decrees were written, blocked and rewritten, after economic theories were trashed, created and reinvented, after pros and cons were evaluated, pondered upon and reappraised, a white puff of smoke finally rose from the chimney. "OK damn it, let them buy and drive cars that are less than 20 years old. But wait a minute, keep’em expensive, very expensive so that every sonofabitch who buys a car pays up his ass to get it." Thus the Syrian dream was redefined 50 years too late, getting married, owning an apartment and riding a car in whatever order achievable.
I need to let go of my 2002 faithful Honda Civic. It’s been an excellent companion, but the miles, the years and most significantly the roads have taken their toll. The children have grown since as well and we do need a larger car. I am a very reasonable person when it comes to buying a new car, but not necessarily in other matters.
First on my checklist is how much I can afford. After selling my Honda, I need to make a down payment of at least 20% of the new car’s value + the Syrian Secret. I have to finance the car for a minimum of 4 years and the monthly payment should not exceed a certain amount. Putting all the numbers together and taking into consideration that we really need an SUV for two obvious reasons: 1) All of Syria has become off-road and 2) We need extra seating capacity of up to 7. Candidates for final choice became too limited and the most likely winner is the new Hyundai Santa Fe.
For those of you who have no idea and for the others who have forgotten how much it costs to buy a car in Syria, here’s a quick CARS 101.
-2008 Hyundai Santa Fe is invoiced at US$28,000 in the US
-Same car is invoiced at US$37,395 in Syria
-Now the best kept little Syrian secret…. Luxury tax for the Santa Fe is US$12,187.
-Total price, what I and/or everybody else have to pay to get the damn car in Syria is:
US$49,582 or 177% of what an American actually pays.
-Considering that on the average, the total income of an American family is US3,000 per month and that, on the average, the total income of a Syrian family is US1,000 (many would disagree with my generous estimate), buying a car is 177 x 3 = 531% more expensive in Syria than in the United States.
Despite the above grim numbers and figures there are those who still argue that Syria has far too many cars (1,200,000 vehicles in operation is the latest released figure). The truth of the matter is that Syria has very little good roads to accommodate the large number of cars. The streets are potted with holes and the highways maniacally paved and graded. There are no parking spaces to speak of, not enough overhead passes, very few tunnels and no reliable/acceptable/clean/human public transportation system. Yet we are paying 40% in taxes and you would think some of which must go to building new and maintaining existing road networks.
Just as buying this new car would literally drain me financially, writing about it has drained me emotionally. My original purpose was to inform, no less no more. I know I have strayed but the best I can do is to say so long for now, I’m off to drink a beer. May be next time, I can bring a smile to myself, a laugh to your hearts.