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Saturday, June 27, 2009


My mobile's alarm blasted at two o'clock piercing the still of night and robbing precious sleep from my weary eyes. Bewildered, I slowly lifted my upper body on an elbow. I had gone to bed well past midnight but suddenly I remembered that I had a car to ride, two airplanes to board and a taxi to drop me at a hotel in Martigues. Eighteen hours later, I leaned on the reception counter of a small hotel in the south of France.
Oui demoiselle, je veux rester pour quatre nuits chez vous.

The summer sun lingers in the sky of France well past its usual day-shift of lower latitudes. My biological clock completely out of sync, my laptop rendered useless after a fatal system crash on the flight from Damascus to Paris and loneliness creeping up on me I descended the hill on foot and headed toward the docks of the small town by the sea.

I scrounged frantically for a discarded cigarette butt on the pavement and sidewalks. No city could be so clean, no place more serene. Seagulls flew overhead sending shrieks echoing against the brilliantly colored walls of quaint houses. A loose sail fluttered in the wind while a couple of hands worked feverishly to quite it down. I could taste the salt on my lips, I could taste hers in my reverie. Moored boats wobbled on the troubled surface of the canal, straining against the ropes. The creaking of wood longing to sail was too painful to hear, too realistically disturbing.
-Where would you go old sport, I asked the heaving and battered launch, if you had the choice?
-Anywhere, it pleaded silently in my head, just set me free and let me drift.

Restless, sleepless and mindless I brought back Prufrock, my PC and travel companion to life. The night died in my arms. Its last memory was of my ecstatic eyes beaming out of my tired face. Connected at last, I was craving to read.

Fares, my pride and joy, the reason I am called Abufares after all had started posting in Arabic on his blog “Superkid Chronicles”. How can I ever convey my feeling of elation about the fact that he's writing. My nine years old son, Abumaher, is perhaps the youngest on the Syrian Blogsphere today. He had only posted twice so far and I've already commented with words that betrayed my fatherly bias. Still, I needed to take a look at his virtual space again and feast my mind on adulation and hope. I am in love with people who write. I always was. And Fares, my flesh and blood, is writing.

The neat office where I was to work for the next three days was thrown on the shoulder of a mountain. It stood sentry to the estuary which led to a lake somewhere further east. I met people who became my friends, for life. We shared bread, butter and plenty of wine. The sound of our laughter drifted in the breeze toward the piers. We exchanged toasts and stories of our cities by the sea, always by the sea. For it had brought us together, seamen who would rot and die in the dry blandness of the inland. What is a woman if her hair is not weaved with seaweed, if her armpits do not taste of the salt that keeps us old mariners afloat? What of her thighs if they don't froth with zest to the tiding of my call? Her piquant breasts a safe harbor for my head where I close my eyes and still can see.

Mariyah's 26-episode story of Ghassan & Alexandra burned my second night and handed me safely to the morning sun. I would really like to find a way to tell you and myself how much I like Mariyah. Since she dropped anchor on Syplanet she had become my fantasy ship. When I sit on the outstretched rocky wharf of the corniche in Tartous her writing washes over my head and shoulders, cleansing my heart and soul. I gaze at the curved horizon and wonder about the straights she's crossing. Be tender on her Oh Goddess of the Sea and bring her smooth passage until she takes shelter while the storm withers away. Dawn crawled from beyond the hills, invading the dim corners of my room. Finally, I dosed for minutes dreaming of the intoxicating scent of Mariyah's prose.

On a concealed terrace not far from the marina half a dozen tables were laid in the shade of a giant Eucalyptus tree. I had my lunch there day after day. My hosts, perfect gentlemen, treated me like the indubitable ambassador I was to their tranquil shores. I never sampled a more toothsome cuts of entrecôte or a more divine côtelettes d'agneau in my whole life. Ah, les Français, I forgive their snobbish repute though I have only basked in their unrivaled hospitality and generosity. The twin bottles of Rosé kept us company and lulled our senses, reinforcing the simple verity that we were one family across the Mediterranean. The clinking of flushed goblets reverberated among the patrons. Salut mes amis, à votre santé.

Gabriela writes from Lima, 8000 miles away. Ever since she graced my blog with her first comment I took an immediate liking to her. I know that I will meet this intelligent, spirited and beautiful lady one day. I have no doubt. She will either come to see me in Tartous and I will walk with her through the narrow alleys of the old city or she will guide me in the Barranco district of her enchanting city. Gabriela writes inimitably in Spanish, a language I have always loved and vaguely understood. I translate her post on Google first and swallow the shabby English just for the sake of getting the general meaning behind her words. Then, I slowly sip her Latin spirit and get dizzy on her dainty melody and rhythm. Seis de enero is the blog of my lovely Peruvian Lawyer. I can't wait to be in Lima, to get in trouble then have Gabriela bail me out. She stayed with me on my third night and didn't leave until she got her message across. You can't spend your whole life traveling without going where you always wanted to. South America is a dream on hold, Gabriela reminded me.

Whenever I walked the streets of Beirut a personal unsolved mystery followed in my footsteps. Who was she and where did she come from? Evidence of her oriental paternal pedigree was abundant as traces of Islamic arcs, Arabian nights and Byzantine bells could be discerned on her slender body. Yet her mother remained behind a veil until I landed in Marseille. Ahhh, the full realization, the overwhelming sense of Déjà Vu . No wonder so many Lebanese call France their mom. Just take my word for it dear neighbors, it was never France, it was Marseille only and all along. We sat in that most famous of restaurants on the beach of the city. We were late for the topless volleyball chicks, my hosts apologized. This is where the fabled bouillabaisse de Marseille is prepared. My friends and I surrendered to the maitre who promised to take good care of us. He brought forward a glass of Pastis for me when he learned about my fondness of Arak. Then in the spirit of White we drank some of the best wine the south of France had to offer. Growing up by the sea and being raised on its scrumptious fruits all of my life I finally had to take my hat off, Chapeau bas a Marseille. A fish, if given the choice, will ask to be eaten in a bouillabaisse in Marseille after it dies and goes to heaven.

I gingerly climbed the stairs to my room on my last night in Martigues, satisfied beyond explanation, absolutely, perfectly, completely suffonsified. Only Isobel can do justice to the fleeting hours of bliss before I pack again and move. Suffonsifism has been my best kept little secret for quite some time. The apparent simplicity and effortlessness this gorgeous woman puts into her writing is mind boggling. Her posts are often short and to the point. How can she, I wonder, say it the way she does. How can she be so suffonsified and make me, a man behind a small screen halfway across the world, come to grasp the full meaning of her blog's name? I have never read anyone like Isobel. I very much doubt that I will ever read anything remotely parallel. I tiptoed through her lines, paused at her comas and came to full stop at her periods. Her divine music rushed through my mind, her priceless humanity escorted me through the blind twists and turns of a long tunnel where there was light at the end. I stood there in awe, not daring to blink for fear of missing a minute detail of her beauty within me, not believing that I went on for four nights sleepless in Martigues, forever suffonsified, and ever!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Story of Abeer

The following is a letter I received from a girl I named Abeer. She wrote to me in Arabic and asked for my help. After her permission, we agreed that I should translate her words into English and post her letter on my blog for every single reader to have an open discussion. Whatever you might think, please feel free to join in through your comments. I might at any point butt in but I'd rather keep my peace for as long as I can.
Abeer, thank you for trusting me with your story. I wish you the best.

Dear Abufares

I hesitated before I chose how to address you “Azizi: Dear” or “Ammo: Uncle” but then decided that you are so young at heart, I'd better drop the “Ammo” least I make you upset.

You see you are about my father's age and I'm young enough to be your daughter. I'm a 21 years old girl from Damascus. I can write in English but prefer to express myself in Arabic, especially now. I have been reading your blog for almost a year. My boyfriend, and let's call him Jad, introduced me to your writing. I think I have read everything you wrote but I particularly like your posts about love, women and life in general.

The reason I'm writing this private email to you is because I'm seeking your advice. You might find it ridiculous that a total stranger asks for your help. But you wrote that you are a fool with a lantern and I so hope that the light you are shedding can show me the way.

I come from a good family. I am a very pretty girl and I'm not saying that out of vanity. My beauty, however, doesn't bear directly on my “tragedy”. I grew up with Jad, our neighbors' son. We played and studied together. There was no beginning to our love story. We were in love ever since I can remember. We kissed on the stairs and the balcony. We made promises to each other and kept them. Our lives evolved around each other. He never made me sad. He never said a harsh word to me. In turn, I never gave another boy a second look.

My father is a very wealthy man. He is highly educated and had lived a good part of his life abroad. My mother too (was) a very open minded woman and studied at the university of Damascus. We moved to the suburbs a few years ago and live in a very nice villa. Through the years my parents always knew about Jad and me. They never openly talked about him but his father was a good friend of mine. That is until my father became too important (in his own opinion) and too busy with making more money and their friendship withered with time. My mother was a normal intelligent, attractive, educated and entertaining Damascene woman until she turned into a self-righteous one who attends religious lessons and hosts them in the villa once a week. Her “friends”, I think, brainwashed her and made her such a boring and meaningless woman. Suddenly, the most important part of her life became her Hijab. Shopping and acquiring weird “Islamic” fashion became her obsession. The whole universe, suddenly, became centered around her hair. She has regular hair like everybody else but it has become such a precious asset it needed to be hidden from everyone because that is what Allah wants.

She removed her wedding pictures from the salon and living room. Her photo holding me and my brother on the beach in Lattakia was the centerpiece of the entire wall. It disappeared. Beautiful memories wiped out because her hair showed. My brother, one year younger than me also became what I like to describe as a Muslim Crusader. Life is defined around his going back and forth to the mosque for prayers. My father apparently didn't change that much, or so I thought at first.

Slowly, I became the focal point of my mother's and brother's attention. Who am I talking to over the phone? Where was I? No, I can't spend time with my friends in Damascus. Yes, I should wear the Hijab. Certainly I must pray five times a day. How did my mother change from being a compassionate woman to a ruthless robotic idiot is something I will never understand. I succumbed to their whims for about one year and wore the Hijab. I just kept thinking how stupid I was. How stupid my mom is. Didn't she grow up in a regular family? How I dress, whether I have nail polish, the perfume I wear became the nightly dinner conversation. My father was updated on my situation and he constantly frowned and expressed his disbelief at my unacceptable behavior.

Only Jad kept me sane with these crazy people. He told me to take it easy and that my parents only want the best for me. But deep inside, I knew him better than that. He is a very smart and sensitive guy. He has crossed the line of being a puppet to the ingrained traditional and religious mores of our society. His father is a wonderful man, intelligent and well read. I remember when I was a little girl how much both my parents enjoyed his enlightening company.

I am in my third year in the university (Economics) and 2 months ago over lunch, very casually my mother announced with pride and satisfaction that a certain young man, the son of a certain old man has asked for my hand in marriage. His mother, a friend of one my mother's inner circle of religious women was the matchmaker. I couldn't believe the ensuing discussion between my father, my mother and my brother about me, about my future, about the need to wear the Hijab again because it is not open to discussion with the suitor's family. My father. My own father, the one who taught me how to ride a bicycle and how to swim on his back, the one who bought me all these little dainty miniskirts from his travels, the intellectual who sat by my bed and explained the importance of education and work when I get older and the same man who held my hand and looked straight in my eyes one day and said that I should not live to need to be married has been transformed into a mere shadow. A hypocrite parrot bargaining and debating my future with my mindless mother and my fanatic brother.

I told them that when I decide to get married I will never consider anyone but Jad. Since then, my life has turned into a living hell. I'm no longer allowed out of the house. My family has taken away my liberties and my humanity and turned me into a 21 years old slave. They are going ahead with their planning and scheming and the engagement/Kitab/marriage ceremony is looming inevitably closer. Did I mention that the idiot who wants to marry me already made several remarks about what he likes and doesn't like about me, what I should keep and change in my character and personality. He came over for several visits with his family. Although I would probably spit in his face if he asks to be alone with me he has shown no interest at all in talking to me in private so far.

It's becoming harder and harder to sneak a talk with Jad who would be leaving to Canada by the end of the summer. He has asked me to go with him and there is more than one way I can do that. I already have an open visa and he is a Canadian citizen. I'm certain that I don't want to waste my life with someone I cannot even look at. I'm also convinced that I will never love anyone but Jad. At 21, I'm forced to make the decision of leaving Syria never to return.

What do you think Abufares?


Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Power of Dreams

I've lost my mother 10 years ago and I don't recall a single day passing by without thinking about her and remembering a charming word or an endearing gesture of hers. Yet, since she passed away she has never visited me in my dreams, not even once. Even when I go to bed upset or blissfully happy… nothing happens, I seldom dream, if at all.

I know that I'm dreaming in the middle of a dream though. Most of my nocturnal visions are senseless. They are, I would like to think, the offspring of a late dinner or an unstoppable urge to use the bathroom. They are neither good nor bad, they are just the type I forget the moment I open my eyes.

In order not to feel deficient about the lack of my night imagery I entertain another possibility. I'm such an avid daydreamer my brain remains thoroughly satiated with imagination. When darkness prevails my mind simply needs to rest and sleep. I do dream when I change beds, however. When I stay in a hotel I have learned not to even bother trying to get some shuteye on the first night before the break of dawn. Instead I turn the muted TV on and bathe my eyesight with the flickering images. It's very bad when I travel overnight to Damascus for instance. I return home tired and irritated with vague memories of bland dreams.

Alcohol has no verifiable outcome on my capacity to dream. Nonetheless, in good company or when enjoyably alone and after the consumption of the precise amount of spirits my mental acumen is greatly enhanced and sharpened. Some of my stupidest ideas and those rare brilliant ones floated on the rocks of an amber glass. I have become such a master of defining and riding my limit I seldom make the mistake of overindulgence. Well, I do from time to time, but luckily instead of getting drunk I just fall asleep. You would think that I should drink one too many when I'm staying at a hotel for an overnighter. Nah, it wouldn't work. It's true that I sleep like a log at first but not for more than a couple of hours. Then I would stare into the darkness like an unwise, unthinking and unblinking owl until nature calls and I fly out of bed.

Medications on the other hand have unpredictable side effects on me. I avoid prescription and over the counter drugs at all cost if possible. But when I succumb to illness and am forced to take something I end up spending my night naked in a valley of macabre nightmares or fully clothed in a tub of ridiculous dreams. They come in short bursts with a vortex of sweating and high fever. When I read the warning labels on some of these drugs I wonder why are pharmaceutical companies allowed to abuse the sick in such an inhuman way. In particular, I am disgusted with the "Do not take with alcohol" warnings. Why is it OK to mix their chemic filth with water and milk but not with alcohol? In defiance, I didn't heed their advice on several occasions when I was sick. I'm fully convinced that double vodkas had helped me recover much faster than their mysterious inorganic chemicals. It's a worldwide conspiracy and a cover-up operation codenamed Nincompoop Asclepios with high ranking officials involved and in the pay. For most illnesses and diseases a stiff drink or two is the best medicine. Well, that and laughter of course.

I had been anesthetized quite a few times over the years. Just remember that I've broken all four of my extremities at one time or another (I said four not five so wipe that wicked grin off your face). I've also been under the knife once or twice and experienced the amazing effect of general anesthesia. I remember someone asking me to count from 10 to 1 as the drug was introduced intravenously. Why are doctors so obsessed about rendering such a "smart" image of themselves? He could've simply told me to count from 1 to 10 with the same immediate effect. Asshole! Anyway, I stopped at 8, that is I counted down 10, 9, 8… then oblivion. Yet, during another visit to the operating room and as another smart surgeon was trying to put my left arm back together in one piece, I clearly remember leaving my body behind and sitting on top of the ceiling mounted surgical light. I heard the chitchat of doctors, boring, very boring. My vantage point also provided me with an optimal angle to stare at the full breasts of the pretty nurse. I didn't die and come back. My experience was less farcical and certainly more meaningful. I left my body, sat on top of the light fixture, heard a stupid conversation, enjoyed the sight of a cleavage then returned in time to be whisked out on a gurney.

Having been a timid young man, sedatives and anesthetics greatly helped me overcome my shyness with women. I was heavily sedated after a procedure when a gorgeous nurse held my wrist to check my pulse (or whatever). My immediate and innocent reaction was to grab her butt and squeeze. The funny thing is that I did the exact same thing the next day when she came during her shift to check my pulse (or whatever). I was fully awake and she knew it but didn't seem to mind. I told her about my dream of the night before and she giggled and asked me to stop it. Ahhh, women in uniform… but that's an entirely different story, one I will gladly recount when I wake up eventually.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


It was the end of June, a hot and humid morning on the southern Dream Beach¹ of Tartous. I slept alone and rather erratically, having watched Argentina beat West Germany 3-2 in the FIFA World Cup Final the night before. A bunch of friends and I had consumed plenty of beer and whatever leftover bottles we could find in the secluded chalet. I had a terrific hangover and couldn't tolerate even the smell of coffee. Instead, I gazed at the endless expanse of blue from the western terrace then walked lazily on the warming sand. Only if someone could stop the goddamn spinning, I wished. I threw myself in the tantalizingly refreshing water and surrendered to the sensual fingers of the undulating waves. The salty breeze and the engulfing wetness brought me back slowly and without coercion to awareness. My muscles relaxed. The pounding in my temple eased off. What a glorious day ahead, I mused.

I had nothing to do or worry about. My immediate concern was to secure some basic form of breakfast. There were eggs in the fridge, Labneh, olives, tomatoes and cucumbers. After filling my stomach with solid food I could return with a book, a beach umbrella and a towel to my favorite spot where the soft breakers came to rest at my feet. I needed a pair of slippers, I thought, for the round trip to the chalet. The sand would be getting hotter and hotter by the minute as the sun rose unblinkingly higher and higher. I would read for an hour or two then go back to the chalet. In some kitchen cabinet there were at least a dozen cans of various types of junk food and olive oil. I saw a knot of bread² and potatoes over the counter. I will throw in something with the potatoes and have lunch straight from the skillet. The plates were piled high in the sink, unwashed. Sure, the place was an absolute mess and in dire need of cleaning but it wasn't something I was willing to lose my precious time over. I would clean a knife and fork, yeah, that I would need. The telephone line was out, oh thank goodness for that. There will be no interruptions. No calls from anyone to join me or for me to join them. For the afternoon, I schemed, suspended on my back like a dead porpoise heaving up and down on the surface of the sea, I could fill the icebox with cold beer and fasten it to the inflated inner tube of a car tire. I would then tie the tube to the folding chair placed knee-deep in the water. I would aptly sit and the chair would sink down evenly until it settles firmly so that the water is at the perfect nipple level. Ahhh, I'm so smart, so efficient at minimal work, I'm a damn genius, I beamed with pride and delight. Two, three beers down my belly, I would contemplate the meaning of life and probably nap. I would need a baseball cap and my sunglasses to minimize the glare. Ooooh, what a glorious day indeed.

I ran back invigorated. It was time to execute this perfect plan of mine. My eyes caught the reflection of the sun in the mirror of the parked Yamaha. My brand new cherry colored 135RX beckoned at me: Come ride me you hunk of a male, she whispered. With less than a 100Km on the odometer, I couldn't resist the seduction. Should I have breakfast first, I wondered. I didn't think so. I couldn't keep her waiting much longer and I was getting very excited myself. Ok baby, your man is coming, I smiled at her like Clark Gable. I was wearing only my wet shorts, absolutely nothing else. They weren't even swimming trunks, just plain blue, cotton, sexy and very short shorts.

She purred at my first kick-start. She was too hot and bothered to be warmed. Take me for a spin darling, she begged, give it all to me. I smiled again, more idiotically this time, a little like Tom Cruise perhaps. The road down the Dream Beach strand of chalets was as close to a ¼ mile drag race stretch as we could ever have in Tartous. It was much longer and narrower though and offered plenty of opportunity to go wild on two wheels. There were only me, a horny motorcycle and hot asphalt as far as the eye could see.

I fore-played the petite Yamaha and watched her RPMs going up and down the green range of the dial. Her purring changed into whining then screeching moans of ecstasy. Oh damn you take me hard, take me all the way, red-line me now, now, now....... she screamed. I gave it all to her and her needles rose into an insane frenzy of speed, 120, 140, 156, 57, 58, 59, aaaaaaahhhh 160 km/hr, OMG, yeS, yES, YESSSSS. My tears flowed, hair pulled back, lips twitching, my nipples tormented with the rushing onslaught of pinpricks... and, and... up ahead in the distance, 50 meters or so, straight forward, a tiny dot was approaching from the opposite direction at an unbelievable pace. I could see it getting bigger and bigger while at the same time I was realizing fully that I could never take any evasive maneuver anymore. I remember that split of a second as if it was shot with an extremely slow motion camera. How could I forget.

I mentally surrendered to the fateful impact. A nanosecond before we collided, the maniacal Kamikaze took a vicious dive to maximize the damage. My recognition of the identity of my assailant and his death happened at the exact same instance. He was hideous, evil and yellow, an Asian giant hornet who flew all the way from Japan to avenge his honor. Evidently it was too much for him to digest the sight of a Japanese bike and a Tartoussi guy going wild with each other on a beach road. Goggled, bandana-ed and scarfed, he flew his last mission for the glory of Japan. He extended his 6 mm stinger, released his lethal cytolytic peptide venom as he was squashed into oblivion against the soft tissue of my balls.

The blow was so powerful I felt as if I were kicked in the crotch by a heavyset and ugly Russian soldier from one of the Bond's movies. I released the throttle instantaneously. I had to crawl on all four, take the fetal position and die somewhere on the shoulder of the road. The Yamaha finally came to a complete stop. I laid her on her side and AAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYY I screamed, a demented soul rolling and turning in the dirt like a butchered animal. My first thought was how far the chalet was. A couple of hundred meters, I guessed, in heart wrenching agony. After what seemed to be an eternity, probably five minutes in real time, I summed what was left of my strength and limped back in the saddle of my bike to my hole in the ground. I stepped in the chalet, closed the door behind me, pulled down the shutters and shades, collapsed on the floor and lost consciousness in the darkened room.

The poison flowed in my bloodstream and my temperature rose dangerously high. I swam in a pool of sweat as my whole body was taken by a fit of shivering. Paralysis spread from my loins down through my legs and up toward my chest. I dosed on and off and suspected seeing the grim reaper at the edge of my vision. A long spell of hallucination followed leaving me clueless as to the passage of time. It was pitch black outside when I leaned on my elbow, crawled to the sofa and managed to switch the light on. I was swollen, all of me. An allergic reaction to a massive dose of venom left me like a useless lump. I could hardly breathe as I looked in dismay at my swollen shorts. The lump was the size of a softball and if you're not familiar with softball, suffice it to say that it's at least twice as large as a baseball and not by any means softer. My legs buckled underneath my weight and I lost my mind completely. Nightmares and delusions shone, flickered then dimmed like ignes fatui as the night and half of the following day consumed themselves. A little before sunset on the next day I was still in the exact same spot on the floor but my eyes regained focus and the fog in my mind began to dissipate. I removed the remnants of the martyr and his stinger off my left ball. He had a wicked grin on his face the sonofabitch. I was still pretty swollen and multicolored like an old Bollywood movie when I took off my shorts but I knew that the worst had come to pass.

A little before midnight, after a cold shower and a gallon of water to drink I sat quietly in the night enjoying the quivering image of the moon on the gentle surface of the sea. The air was moist and pregnant with untold secrets and I could hear the echoes of laughter in the distance. My temperature and heartbeats were gyrating closer and closer to normalcy. I was still weak and shaky but feeling much better. Will I ever be the same, I wondered. Twenty three years later and I still don't have an answer.

Dream Beach = Shate'e Al Ahlam
Knot of bread = Rabtet Khebez