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Friday, July 24, 2009

Paradise

This post is dedicated to my friend JGM, Kassak Habibi


A little before midnight my buddy called and asked me if I could join him on a short hop to Zgharta, Lebanon in the morning. He wanted to visit a friend recovering in the hospital. We might grab a bite to eat if you want to, he said, Ehden is not that far away.

I haven't been to Lebanon since October of last year. I feel terrible how a fucking barrier blocks my freedom to cross the “border” between here and there. What a bunch of idiots on both sides. What filth, hypocrisy, shortsightedness and bigotry make me wait in line to be in one of my favorite locations on the planet, a mere hour and a half drive away.



Ehden's Paradise is the number one restaurant in the world serving Mezza and Middle Eastern Cuisine. I'm not an idiot to accept the words Lebanese or Syrian Mezza. I have evolved far too much to be such a Levantine Chimp. There's no place on earth where every bite you swallow, every sip you gulp, every breath you take is as good as it is in this northern Lebanese village. Paradise has been my favorite hideaway since the first time I set foot in Ehden, well over twenty years ago.



We made it in the late afternoon to Paradise. The wide terrace seats a comfortable thousand hungry patrons but it was almost deserted. There were far more waiters milling around like busy bees than there were people sitting behind tables and eating. We were greeted near the entrance by the maître d' who assured us that we would still get the best food and service despite our late arrival. What was it all about, I asked. This is one of the biggest nights in Ehden, he said, Sabah Fakhri is here for his annual one-night appearance.



For those readers who don't know who Sabah Fakhri is and in order to make it easier for them to comprehend and grasp the importance of the event, this is a man who is considered by over 200 millions of Arabs as Our Pavarotti. Well, wait, I need to elaborate further. Pavarotti, rest his soul, was one of the greatest of all times no doubt, but he could have found a cozy place to sit in his heydays in the shadow of our 76 year old veteran singer. Sabah Fakhri is the greatest performer alive. In 1968 he sang for 10 hours without a pause in Caracas, Venezuela to the adulation of thousands of expatriate fans. This world record remains unbroken.



The evening was sold out, of course, weeks ahead. We consumed the heavenly Mezza slowly and deliberately. No Kass of Arak could taste remotely close to the way it tastes in Ehden. In the late heat of this July afternoon all around the Mediterranean, the cool air at 1,500 m altitude took us to another reality. This is indeed how Paradise would be like one day when we bite the dust and are sent by default there. There is no man on the face of this earth as good as me, I mused, content in the knowledge that someday, this could all be mine forever. A renewed and spirited hubbub behind caught my ear then my eye. The owner and the staff were greeting someone very special who, just like us, had come fashionably late for lunch. It was none other than Mr. and Mrs. Fakhri who had just checked in in their hotel and came for a quick bite to eat. They were accompanied by a Tartoussi guy we knew. As they walked close by, our friend waved hello and said to the old man: “These guys came from Tartous to see you tonight”. We had to stand and shake hands with the legend. He expressed his happiness and gratitude for our taking the trouble to attend his performance. When our friend knew that we didn't even have a reservation he fixed it in an instant. You will join me on Sabah's table, he assured us, as he hurried and joined the superstar.



I only had what clothes I was wearing. Not a toothbrush! Not even another pair of boxers to change into. Yet we managed to buy the essentials, find a great room in a hotel nearby and took a long nap before the endless night ahead. I was only missing one thing. I needed to call someone, as my day and night, my whole life past or ahead of me wouldn't be what it was meant to be if I hadn't done that. When I reluctantly hung up, my smile was larger than my face. I knew that it'll be a night to remember.

How can I explain what Tarab is to non-Levantines and North Africans? It's almost a futile attempt since Arabic is the only language with the right vocabulary to convey this state of mind. Sabah Fakhri is the master of Tarab without any shadow of a doubt. As thus let me try to make a fool of myself and fumble with an attempt to explain.

كل البنات نجوم وانت قمرهم
All the girls are stars and you...
Their moon you are

Tarab is a state of musical rapture. The lyrics, the music and the voice conspire together to put the listener in a unique mood of oriental sensuality and worship, lust and spirituality, seduction and chastity. Tarab is when you reach a mental point where everything around you is beautiful. The plate of fresh fruits on the table with drops of dew forming on the grapes and melons, the dark of night and the velvety flow of wine down your body, the numbness of complete sensory satisfaction, the touch of the wind on your cheek, the swaying ass of the girl dancing nearby, her erect nipples, the perfume on her belly in your nose, memories of love making, a mental orgasm, a voice from within,... floating in a womb of pleasure, your long scream at last with an uncontrollable Ahhhhhhhhhh, this is Tarab.



In the Paradise of Ehden, Sabah Fakhri brought us, all one thousand and one of us, into a land of one thousand and one Arabian nights for five consecutive hours (1:30AM till 6:30AM).

خمرة الحب اسقنيها، هم قلبي انسنيه
عيشة لا حب فيها جدول لا ماء فيه

The wine of love let me drink
Burdens of hearts let's forget
A life we live void of love
Devoid of water, a barren creek

I woke up at nine o'clock and headed back, across the fucking barrier to Tartous. On my way around the park in the late evening I was suddenly assaulted by the taste of fruits on my tongue, the long shadows of the night and the stream of wine gushing in my soul, the stupefaction, the caress of a breeze on my skin, a beautiful woman's butt, her breasts, the smell of her tummy, my going in, my inescapable climax, my own voice inside the tunnel, my last scream..... Ahhhhhhhhhh, Paradise.

34 comments:

JGM said...

This has arrived like a screaming shell...I heard it coming but could not find my feet...please allow me to pick up the pieces,assemble myself and capture my fleeting breath, before I come to bow my head honored infront of you...

Dubai Jazz said...

Am I allowed to just point out that Sabah Fakhri is from Aleppo?!

:)

ya salam ya Abu Fares, ya salam. This post took me back in days. I had only been in the presence of the King of Tarab once along with thousands of people in a packed basketball arena. Indeed, it's very hard to convey what Tarab really means, what it means to be in a state of Tarab? foreplay, lovemaking, orgasms and the swoon that comes afterwards, all combined together.

I wonder how does he sound for non-arabic speaking people,though, so I'll just go ahead and post a link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFoVujKHtUc

p.s. inspired by a comment on the same video, I'm going to say to you Abu Fares:

لك أبوس روحك ما أحلاك

Katia said...

Tarabtni with your post, Abufares :-)

Sabah Fakhri gave a great concert at the Bozar in Brussels in November 2007. The only two things missing were the Arak, since it was a theater setting, and Khamrat el hob. We tried to make up for the Arak-void with wine during the break, but nothing seemed to work to make him sing Khamrat el hob. And since that's my song, I still need to get my butt over to the Levant for a real concert by the master.

Gabriela said...

I feel ashamed to confess I have never heard of Sabah Fakhri before reading this post. After reading the comments, I can only say he must be one of a kind.
I guess Paradise is very much alike the place and sensations you've shared with us here.
Saludos.

JGM said...

Dear abufares,

I am most honored and humbled by your kindness. I am intoxicated
by the dedication of your post Paradise to me, which, to say the least, is not a post but rather a blanket of constellations that has impregnated the dark of this evening with glowing color, the scent of gardenia, jasmine and the sweetness of mulberry...
Your depiction of the event, the accompanied photos and most importantly your translation and rendition of Tarab exhausted all of my senses and tickled the most infinitesimal buried feeling in me...wow this is Tarab in every sense of the word...like a multiple orgasm, this will be repeated in my dream and morning will emerge like no other morning...

Sedated, please allow me to raise this simple Kass of Arak in my hand, a toast in your honor and a wish; that you live long, healthy, content and happy, that you keep on writing and that this friendship is evermore strengthened.

Thank you.

Az3ar's Fan said...

I was thriving in my enjoyment reading your post until that flat ass reared its ugly head and I said, "thanks but NO thanks." She could have worn a g-string for underwear sake.

Omar said...

You description of tarab is right on. Especially with the swaying ass..

You're one lucky guy. Sabah is one hell of a performer, capable of even "tarabing" himself, if I may use the word, to the point where he starts to do his infamous "spin in a circle" dance. Even Om Kulthoum couldn't do that.

Yazan said...

Ahh Sabah Fakhri.

I've been a fan of his as long as I can remember. The earliest reference to that I read the other day in my dad's diaries is that I used to shush everyone when he's on TV, apparently I was 5.

But the strongest impressions that I had was that in his concerts (the couple I've been to) he'd always order the food off the tables before he'd start singing. Nothing but a glass of Arak could be on the table! I admire that. It shows great respect and reverence for the music and for what he does.

Such beautiful writing my dear friend!

abufares said...

@JGM
I'm humbled by your smooth literary style and for your praise of my rendition of Tarab to non-Arab speaking readers.
Kassak my friend for happiness and the fulfillment of distant dreams.

abufares said...

@DJ
Sabah Fakhri is from Aleppo indeed. How lucky we all are he's not from Damascus, lollll.

I don't think there is a more difficult word to translate from Arabic to any other langauage than Tarab.

At 76, Sabah stood up for 5 consecutive hours on stage. He kept us, his audience, on our feet for most of the night. By 5 in the morning all the pretty girls were dancing on their chairs or tables, all lovers hugging and kissing and those like me flying in a parallel world where anything can and does happen.
Wish you were there my friend.

abufares said...

@Katia
Sabah Fakhri doesn't sing Khamrat el Hob (The wine of love)until he knows that his audience is hovering near the point of no return. In a theater, without the blessing of wine, this is simply impossible to achieve.
When you get your "butt" over here be sure to let me see ... you, lolll.
If Sabah is to be anywhere within driving distance from Tartous, consider yourself invited.

abufares said...

@Gabriela
Nothing to be ashamed of. I'm sure there must be some very special performer in Peru whom most of us have never heard of. This is where blogging is an enlightening as well as an entertaining mean of exchanging information.
On a nearby table, two young Italian women and their Lebanese boyfriends were quietly enjoying the evening. Halfway through the evening they started teetering their bodies. Near the end, they were dancing on the table, swaying their butts and making all the seductively devastating moves of two women on fire. They have fully reached Tarab!!! Then came that moment when they and all the guys around them, including me (I am very shy and I normally don't look at women:-) screamed one final Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh.

You should've been there. I know you've would've enjoyed it.

abufares said...

@Az3ar's Fan
Let me be honest. My puny.... camera didn't do justice to the young lady's ass. Besides, there were plenty more where than came from, hundreds more. I wish I could've taken more accurate depiction of the female beauty that was abound. But then again, that's why I use words rather than photos to express myself.

A g-string!!! Well there was that blond... Ah forget it, that's another story ;-)

abufares said...

@Omar
I'm glad you seem to agree that I was able to capture (partly) the essence of Tarab. Let's hope I get more comments from non-Arabic speaking readers where they tell me whether they were able to grasp the sense of rapture I tried to convey.
You know Sabah Fakhri started to include his "infamous" spin in his routine relatively recently. In Ehden, it's rumored that he reaches this Saltaneh Stage more than anywhere else. On stage, he keeps behind a a cup of "tea" which he sips at all night long. The cup of "tea" was refreshed at least 3 times during the evening. When he started dancing the whole place exploded in a frenzy of clapping, singing, dancing and Ahhhhhhhhh.
What a joy!

abufares said...

@Yazan
That's my third attendance of Sabah and by far the best.
At 1:00AM the waiters went around the tables and asked people to finish their dinner because Sabah won't get on stage as long as it was served. At 1:15AM all the tables were laden with Fruits only and Drinks. From 1:30AM till 6:00AM I nibbled at the sweet white grapes in front of me and drank... really drank as Tarab permeated every cell of my body. I slept for less than 3 hours and woke up without the slightest of hangovers. I have a secret of course. When the delicious dinner was served, I didn't even touch it.

Isobel said...

Well didn't this post just fuel my obsession for the region. Oh, how I wish I could have experienced all of that! Thank you, Abufares, for another beautiful, awe inspiring post.

Rime said...

I finally saw Sabah a few years ago in Damascus with a huge table of jolly people entering a state of tarab very soon after his entrance on stage (well, it was a restaurant). The drinks kept flowing until a few hours later, when the morning had broken and it was time to go freshen up and go to work, still on a high from the experience. I'd been waiting forever for a chance to see him and couldn't wait until that night.

I am told there are times he sings the adhan (morning prayer) when the time comes, I would have loved to hear that but it was Easter and he didn't.

Ya salam 3ala hal tarab ya Abufares. So difficult to convey to non-Levantines, indeed, ooaaf!

abufares said...

@Isobel
How can I tell you how much I wished you were there without sounding either insincere or totally out of control?
Catch 22 if there ever was one.

abufares said...

@Rime

Long time no see. How nice of you to drop by.

He's something isn't he and yes, at around 6:15AM he performed his own version of the Adhan (the prelude).
I've never seen him in a better mood than this time though. Well, as I said, it's hard not to feel HIGH in Ehden, very hard.
I haven't gone into a frenzy of Tarab since quite a while Rime and Sabah in Ehden, unplanned, unexpected was an experience to truly remember.

Anonymous said...

Abufares, there is no better combination,
tarab and maza
this is what we take from life

XTR said...

Yummy! The food looks scrumptious and mouth-watering! I miss the Mediterranean cuisine.

abufares said...

@lê
This is what life is all about indeed... and the right company.

abufares said...

@XTR
Just the food XTR???
lollll, you're absolutley right thought. Trust me, there's no better place than Paradise when it comes to (among other things) great Middle Eastern Cuisine.

Wa3d said...

Fog el nakhal !
that's where this took me ;)

Cheers ,

wa3d

abufares said...

@Wa3d
Glad to see you here.
You know what, once Sabah got in the mood and sang Fog El Nakhal... the performance escalated into the unforgettable night it had become.

Cheers to you.

Karin said...

Fantastic Abufares ... I searched for this kind of music on you-tube an love it! Together with the out-of-this-world food and all the other stimuli I bet it was an unforgettable event which made it's way under your skin!

One day abufares, I swear to you - ONE DAY ...

abufares said...

@Karin
ONE DAY... YOU BET KARIN :-)

XTR said...

Food was among all the "other things" lol

The Syrian Brit said...

Rime,
I have had the pleasure of hearing Sabah Fakhry 'singing' Athan Al-Subh at a private function, at the home of my Aunt, some 30+ years ago.. I still get the hair on the back of my neck standing up every time I remember it.. and now is no exception!..
Absolutely unforgettable!.. Absolutely divine!..

Anonymous said...

Sabah Fakhri is from Aleppo indeed. How lucky we all are he's not from Damascus, lollll.

boinky said...

I linked this to my blog...

Sourie said...

Good article. I'm just starting in the blogging world and although I differ with you on some issues, I love what you write. Our food is the best.

abufares said...

@Sourie

Thank you for dropping by and for differing with me and still loving what I write. That, by the way, tells more about you than it does about me.
Our food rocks, yeaaaahhhhh.

Anonymous said...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/8200001.stm