Friday, March 28, 2008
Saturday, March 22, 2008
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
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
Saturday, March 08, 2008
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
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.