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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sin City

from Al-Arabia

Apparently, Al-Arabiya chose to ignore what is happening in Iraq and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis massacred so far by the American & British invasion. In fact, Al-Arabiya is equally bored of reporting every single day that the Israeli occupation is killing scores of Palestinian men, women and children, bla bla bla. All hell’s breaking loose in Sudan, big deal? Hunger in Somalia, who gives a shit! Instead, Al-Arabiya’s noxious brand of journalism zoomed closer and closer then targeted Tartous, a sinful city where boys and girls are kissing and fondling each other on the corniche by the sea.

First, let me assert that the entire story is a lie. I drive, walk or ride my bike on the corniche of Tartous almost everyday and I have never seen a couple kissing. I have seen young lovers sitting side by side. I have seen them huddling close against the wind. I have seen them smiling and whispering, sharing a bag of peanuts or a Nescafe, watching the sunset but not kissing. They might be waiting for me to disappear before they embark on a frenzy of tongue sucking, but I haven’t been fortunate enough to witness that first hand.

Al-Arabiya’s reporter saw more, much more. The son of a bitch wrote (and I translate here for the benefit of those who can’t read Arabic):

After the refurbishing project of the corniche of Tartous, the inauguration of several colleges and the influx of students from different governorates (regions), the rocky piers extending into the sea have been transformed into dating hubs for young men and women. They will disperse in pairs and practice the rituals of love in front of passersby without shame or remorse… In the middle of the scene, a young man hugging his girl who is apparently underage, judging from her school uniform… Nearby another couple is exchanging kisses. But what stands out about them is the fact that the girl is wearing a Hijab. And, at a corner, by the end of the quay, another pair has reached the point of no return…

The most interesting aspect of the article lies in the huge response it triggered among readers. At my last counting the 254 comments were split in 3 broad categories:

1- This is good to hear. I approve of what is going on in Tartous or I wish I was there to be a part of this cheerful trend.

2- La 7awla wa la Kuwatta Illa Billah. This is a clear sign that the Day of Judgment is near. Repent oh filthy Tartoussi sinners for thou shall burn in hell forever.

3- Fuck you Al-Arabiya. It’s not your goddamn business.

Al-Arabiya’s main intent was to demonstrate that Syria is sliding into a spiral of wickedness and sin. The report affirms that this immoral drift is sweeping all of Syria’s major cities. Yet transgression culminates in Tartous, where as per the solemn words of a religious preacher it had reached the lowest grade of adultery.

Just to prove how objective and unbiased they were, Al-Arabiya gave way to Mr. Bassam Al-Kadi, director of the Syrian Women Observatory to refute the accusation. Instead, he rightly reiterated that he believes that Tartous is ground-breaking a healthy movement. He further explained that there is at least one street in every major Syrian city where innocent lovers meet in the open. Al-Arabiya had enough of this wise guy who seemed to know what the hell he’s talking about. They cut him short.

But again what intrigued me more than the low-class editorial are the comments left by pleased or livid readers. Al-Arabiya is financed and managed mainly by Royal Saudi tartuffes and "moderate" Arab imbeciles and this fact alone renders its journalism irrelevant. In addition, it should be kept in mind that Al-Arabiya is a member of the MBC Group. While the news channel Al-Arabiya and MBC hoist the banner of authentic Islam and contemporary Arabism, MBC2, MBC4 and Action mainly run American programming. They aim at bastardizing the Middle Eastern family by Americanizing its sense of decency. Toward this end, they chose the likes of Oprah, Dr. Phil and an assortment of American sitcoms and movies. Their carefully selected bouquet of seemingly innocuous indoctrination of last week included a Dr. Phil rescuing an American teenager from the claws of a 19 year old Palestinian boyfriend who committed the unforgivable mistake of being a Muslim in love with an American girl (did I mention that she was blonde). Over the course of 3 consecutive episodes entitled Katherine Returns, Dr. Phil and the bereaved family explained to America that the brainwashed girl was in grave danger in Palestine. Phil did not mention Israel at all, not a single time. Even when she flew out of Tel Aviv airport he and her family were so relieved that she was able to get out of that country: Palestine. And the whole show was appropriately subtitled for the benefit of the Arab audience. We should all sympathize with and applaud the bald superhero for being the first American to give the Palestinians a country of their own. Fuck you Dr. Phil for being a hypocrite liar, for being a parrot and a minion in the service of the most powerful lobby in the US, for taking the opportunity to portray the Palestinians as a threat to the integrity, innocence and beauty of the American lifestyle.

Meanwhile, MBC4 showed a plethora of good Muslim family oriented movies, all subtitled in Arabic and void of kissing (a kissing scene is always removed by the censors). However, a blow job was adequately translated into Arabic and as a result I was taken a little off guard when my eight year old son wanted to know what does: جنس فموي mean.

So here you have it! The moderate Arabs are once again pissed at us. Tartous is a looming danger for their deranged and perverted brand of Islam. Our boys and girls should not fall in love and walk, hand in hand, on the corniche. They should not run their fingers in each other’s hair, share their dreams and make promises by the sea. Instead, they should wear white galabias and black abayas and hide like criminals in heavily curtained apartments, learn from their American masters how to give a blow job then stroll in air conditioned and segregated malls away from the heat of the desert only to be herded like sheep to prayer by the Moutawe’en. Al-Arabiya, Kiss Immek for ever setting eyes on Tartous, for the whiff of genital stink emanating from unwashed beards of the eunuchs of Arabia.

My last words are squarely directed at the several Syrians who commented apologetically to Al-Arabiya. "These Tartoussi sinners are not real Syrians", they wrote, "we are very much like you, God fearing Muslims who fiercely defend our honor and chastity".

If that’s the best you could muster, if you truly believe that your honor is unassailable as long as you keep your daughters and sisters under your fanatical male chauvinistic control, I suggest you go there, to the middle of the fucking desert, and stay. I further recommend that you leave your sisters and daughters behind. It’s much more honorable for them to bask in the sun of Tartous and bathe in the sea froth cleansing their souls and spirits from centuries of accumulated dirt and rot. More than Al-Arabiya, you are the threat, you are the real sinners.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

To Do List

Apparently and for no reason at all my sense of mortality reasserted itself the other day. Instead of feeling down or in any way depressed I summoned a few loose ideas lounging and skulking around the neglected corners of my mind. I wanted to put a plan of action together and accordingly I ended up with an outline of what I have to do as soon as I own more of myself and before I indubitably bite the dust. I have my doubts that I'll be able to achieve them all. I'll be very happy if I can ultimately look behind knowing that I've accomplished four out of these seven goals.

1- See all the wonderful places I haven't had the chance to travel to yet, in particular to the Far East, South Africa and Brazil/Argentina. I don't remember a destination I haven't enjoyed. Perhaps there are a couple of places I wouldn't wish to go back to but I don't ever regret a first time visit. Of course I have only been to less than 1/4th of the roughly 195 countries in the world and I would love to have the chance to go to each and every single one remaining. Yet the continents of Asia, Africa and South America are my primary targets.

2- TIBET. I can't group it along in a wish list of travel destinations. I have to go on a pilgrimage to Tibet and embark on a trekking expedition through this mysterious land. I need to see the Himalayas. I'm certain I don't have it in me to climb Mount Everest, but I have to see it, even if from afar. As for hiking uphill for a couple of weeks, I'm still a good bet for your money. I can hang in there with kids half my age. I want to rest and sleep in a secluded monastery. There are a few things I need to talk with God about and I want to perform my own prayer from the roof of the world.

3- I should get me a bike, powerful/comfortable/capable enough to haul my ass from Tartous to Gibraltar across Europe then back home by way of Morocco through North Africa. This is, relatively speaking, the easy part. First, I must push hard on my public relations skills to convince my wife and kids that I'm neither crazy nor selfish. I'd like them to understand that this is as imperative to me as visiting Paris in the comfort of an airliner is to them. Besides, failing to fulfill a logistically difficult yet plausible desire for the wrong reasons will make me feel that I didn't quite do it my way in life.

4- Enough roving like a wild beast! I plan to retire from quotidian work by the age of 55. I don't intend on sitting on my ass and do nothing, not yet that is. But I don't want to wake up every morning and perform robotic motions then head to an office (or two as is my present case). I'd rather work when I feel up to it. When I direly miss executing the specialized chores I'm proficient at and when I approve of the client then I wouldn't mind putting in some hours. How I am going to spend my time then, you might wonder. Let's go further down the list.

5- I'm determined that my reading must take precedence over every other single activity, mental or physical. If I accumulate all the hours I could've used to read but chose to waste on other menial and passive activities I would end up with a good number of years. I want to have a maximum break of 2 days in between books.

6- I'd like to open a small restaurant in Tartous. Six, may be seven tables that's all. This little place should be a statement on my behalf: a subtle, quiet, cozy, private, inspiring and liberal haven. I want to spend my evenings there in a corner with friends or chatting with regular clients. The menu would be straightforward, exotic yet authentically local. I don't fancy serving what is certainly better prepared in Italy or elsewhere. There will be a plat du jour and a limited number of house specialties. No way to get lost anymore, you know where to find me.

7- With all the free time on my hand I should be able to seriously start writing. There is a novel, perhaps two, in me that I would like to unload on an unsuspecting world. I feel guilty for postponing this personal objective for so long. However, it really is difficult to break the chain and take the courageous decision to stop it all, at least for the time being. I need to start doing this, the sooner the better.

Come to think of it, this post is more befitting of a tag. I'd like to tag every reader/blogger to:

Write down your own TO DO LIST before you ultimately ... bite the dust.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


-I can’t believe it… you’re the last person I’d expected to see here. How are you?
-Long time no see, where have you been, what have you been up to, how come no one gets to see you anymore?
-You’ve lost some weight, what else? Your hair is thinner. Still wearing jeans, ha. Are you still doing the same old thing out of your office?
Is it any good? Are you making any money in that line of work? You know what I think? It’s a total waste of time. If you’re not into business then you’re probably doing nothing at all.
Just the same, never change do you? A man of principle who looks down on money. Tell me, do you still believe that shit? That intellectual pursuits are more worthwhile than making money. Do you still think you’re better than the rest?
-Do you have any idea how much money I make? Do you truly and seriously still think that you’re smarter than me? Don’t you find it hard to believe that I change my brand-new car every year? How do you feel about that?
You know what’s your problem? I’ll tell you. You started with the assumption that since you read lots of books and know your way about the sciences and the arts you’re better than the rest of us.
-But you’re not better than me, not even close. I’m sure I make more money in a month than you make in a year, even two. You know why? Do you?
-Because I’m smarter than you that’s why. You're not flexible. I know more about real life. About people. I’m well connected. I have dinners with ministers. I sleep with the most beautiful women around. You might call them whores because you can’t afford offering them a drink, but you’ll lust after them all the same.
-You know what’s your problem? You probably don’t. You never dared take any risks. You had some money; you put it in a bank and felt good about collecting the lousy interest. You would not realize a good opportunity even if it hits you in the face. You don't take the initiative. You don't grab the occasion. Remember that time when I told you to buy a share in a cargo ship, remember? You told me that you don’t want to deal with this type of people. Well guess what, I have invested the money I made from that commission you acted so lofty about. The one you refused to even consider for providing a simple basic service for... Why bother! I’m not going to even talk about your shitty attitude back then. I invested that money and bought a 10% share in a ship. You’d die of a hard attack if you knew how much money I’m making.
-Life my friend is a long corridor with doors on both sides. You have to know how to open these doors. Which doors to close because they aren’t worth shit. Which doors to keep open because there’s good money behind. You have to learn which hand to kiss, which ass to lick. Yeah, you heard right. I don’t mind that I kissed many hands and licked a few asses. Look at me, I mean it, look at me. People are kissing my hand and licking my ass today. You feel betrayed? Fooled? Cheated? You have to live with it. I’m a more successful person than you'll ever be. By far more successful.
-I feel sorry for you. You are still the same man I knew twenty years ago when life was simple and boring. You probably still drink Arak and claim to enjoy it. I drink Green Label man. Do you know what Green Label is? It's more expensive than Black Label.
-I smoke Romeo & Juliette and Coheba. And you know what, I don’t buy them anymore. People buy them for me. I smoke 3 cigars a day, minimum. I drink 2 liters of Green Label a week, minimum. I have a Mercedes outside, what do you have?
-That’s sweet success my friend. Only if you listened to me. I’m a good man and I can help you even now. It’s easy for a person like me to take a person like you to the top. You just need to have the will to do it. Do you? Tell me, do you?
-I really feel sorry for you. A man of principle! Why don’t you call yourself a man in love with poverty? Why do you kid yourself? You’re not that smart after all. You’re not that gifted. God cheated you. You misled yourself with all that fucking reading. What was the name of that author you once told me so much about? The one, you said, knows so much about the true nature of being. What bullshit and crap. And, I used to envy you back then, thinking how smart you are. We’ve sure traded places. I bet that your heart is filled with jealousy even if you’re too proud to admit it.
-You’re not offended are you? We are friends after all. You can come by my office anytime. You know that I own the whole building. I’ll offer you Blue Label. That’s what I treat my visitors with, not coffee or tea but Whiskey. One moment let me answer this Khara (shithead) on the mobile.
-Ahla Habibi, Ahla M'almi. Of course! Anytime. I’m at your service. We can meet at the Four Seasons on Thursday. I’m staying there. We can have dinner together. Sure bring them along. 9 O’clock, at the Four Seasons bar. I will be honored.
-Do you know who this Akhou Sharmouta is? He’s one of the biggest traders of steel in the country. We’ve made a few millions together. Did you see my chalet? People are driving by just to take a look at it. I’ve brought this Lebanese architect guy, what’s his name, the one who appears in magazines. He designed it for me. Marble from the outside. What? Where are you going?
-You walked here all the way from your home? Come on sit down, it’s too early. Do you want my chauffeur to take you in my car?
-As you wish, call me will you?

(..... = Kiss Ikht Hal Zaman Yalli Khalla el-Manayek Terkab Flayek = The vagina of the sister of these times for letting the dickheads ride Felukas (wooden boats )

Thursday, May 01, 2008

For a Drink of Water

It was pretty much different in the 50’s and 60’s of the last century. Life was simpler although in no way less rewarding. We weren’t as removed from the earth we lived on as we are now. People were in touch with nature, in tune with the environment and in harmony with the planet. A plethora of dazzling creatures thrived, animals and plants, sustaining better balanced ecosystems and enriching the lives of more fortunate generations. Those of my age grew up in a Syria of exceptional natural beauty veiling the countryside and extending within the walls of charming cities and little towns. The emerald foliage permeated the narrow alleys and clambered high on the faces of stonewalls to lace the open verandas staring at the sea. A mélange of Jasmine and orange blossom impregnated the night of Tartous and her plain white abodes perpetually shawled by unassuming gardens were home for azaleas, day lilies, magnolias and Arabian Yasmin. There was a fountain in the backyard in the shade of the plum tree, which my father’s uncle would use for Woudou' (ablution) just before noon. He would roll his shirt sleeves and his pants up, place his Tarboosh (fez) on the wicker chair then wash his hands and arms, his face and scalp and his feet and toes. After prayer, he would fetch the two watermelons he had bought earlier from the souk and hurl them in the cold fresh water of the fountain to cool down for dessert after lunch.

I slowly opened my eyes and the sweet images faded away. Thus were the days of spring and summer as I remember them, long, so long ago. I was thirsty and I reached for the bottle I keep on the floor by my bed. As I straightened up, I brought it closer to my lips then I hesitated and stopped.

It was more serene still in the villages spread across the mountains and hills of the coast. The focal point of any rural community was the Ein (water spring). In the lazy afternoon when shadows get blunter and longer, the village girls would flock to the Ein in the valley, Jarra (pottery) on shoulder to fill with pure water gushing out in defiance of rock and time.

I steered the car East with Om Fares by my side. "How far?", she warily asked. "Not much honey, don’t you remember? We’ve been there before. Besides, once we get on the road you’d wish if it were a hundred miles away". In fact, it’s much less than that. We drove for 24km, passing the halfway point in Bmalke at 400m altitude then climbed a little further into the wooded hills before we dipped steeply to the left. We entered the magical realm of the Naher Al Ismaelieh (Ismaeli River also known As Naher Al Khawabi).

The Ismaelis, referred to in some history books as the Assassins are believed to be the followers of an old Islamic sect originating in Persia. They live and prosper in different parts of Syria. This, however, is their home and it certainly is one of the most beautiful valleys in the entire world. I know this country like the back of my hand. I have friends here and I have hunted and slept within the bounds of their great hospitality. The Ismaelieh River is my favorite destination when I’m on the saddle of my bike. I often go there when I have no place to go to.

We went past Khorbet Al Faras, the little village with the perpetual scent of olive oil lingering beyond the season. We dropped further down in the gorge. We rolled down our windows each in turn and reached together to mute the car stereo. Nothing could be let in to intrude on the senses as we were back in supreme accord with our surroundings. We followed the serpentine road with its undulating drops and rises. Up ahead in the distance a lonely grave, the tomb of a Sheikh by the name of Youssef Al Ajami, peered at us amongst a thicket of evergreen trees. I pulled up on the shoulder; we left the car and strolled silently in the woods.

"Aren’t you thirsty?", she kindly asked. "We’re almost there", I replied. Yet another descent before we finally reached Ein Al Delbeh (the Spring of the Oriental Plane Tree: Platanus orientalis).

There was an old man filling a few plastic containers. He offered us his turn, "I’m in no hurry", he said. I stubbornly declined as he certainly was an integral part of the beautiful picture. He slowly carried the water to his ancient car, waved us goodbye and climbed the hill till they disappeared beyond a curve.

"Now I can drink, I’m dying for it". I cupped my hand underneath the streaming flow and drank my fill. Then I stood up and dampened my face and hair while Om Fares enjoyed the most refreshing drink of her life. "Years ago", I said, "I used to come here and the water spilled uncontrolled from the rocks, right underneath the exposed roots of the Delbeh Tree". They closed it down now and tapped it with a pipe. It’s easier to fill the containers this way, certainly not as natural but more practical perhaps. "Where are the empty bottles you brought", she asked. "I didn’t bring any", I answered. I just needed a drink of water. Besides, we can always come back for more.

In days gone by, on the way to the Ein, boys met girls and fell in love. On the way from the Ein, we held hands and walked slowly to the car. Then we headed home on a journey back from somewhere in time.