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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Random Play

My dearest friend Isobel tagged me in a most attractive way. Her blog sits on the very top of my favorites list. Problem is, she doesn't write often enough, kind of like me. Children have their own ways of distracting their parents and I guess this is the major reason why she's sparse with her posts. Recently though, she's been on a roll. Ever since she discovered that she is the direct descendant of a beautiful Sioux Princess she has become a rather prolific blogger producing one great post after another on an almost daily basis. Among the thousands of her adoring fans I doubt that there is anyone more loyal than me. To read Isobel's Suffonsifisms every day is a perennial dream of mine. I only hope she continues with this pace least I and her groupies suffer from the consequences of a severe withdrawal syndrome.

Her tag could not have come at a more opportune time for another reason. Lately, I've been uninspired, plain and simple. I have returned home early Friday morning after four days of work in Rotterdam and one of play in Amsterdam yet couldn't sum up my thoughts to put together a coherent post on my blog. Thing is, I'm moving again in a couple of days, on another business trip. However, unlike what many creative people advocate (I'm not implying that I'm creative) that they perform best under pressure I'm not like that. Work is unavoidable labor rather than an enjoyable vocation as far as I'm concerned. I'd rather be doing any of a hundred things instead of toiling my ass off, including crochet and knitting. Oh that reminds me of this miniature crocheted coat I saw in a storefront in Amsterdam. You know, it's a woolen cloak to keep the little one (Willy) warm on cold Dutch nights. "Little" being a figure of speech and totally relative to a coat worn by the human owner of the penis. Since it's on display it could only mean that there are buyers for this stuff. Now, and just for the sake of argument, if a girlfriend or a kinky wife buys a crocheted coat for one of her man's most important attachments I can see the humor in it, weird but haha funny in a way. But what if some jerk actually buys himself or more precisely his little one a crocheted coat? I see him in my mind standing naked in front of a mirror, shivering in the cold while his member is warm and happy. I should've got it in beige might be running through his mind, hands on hips, swinging his torso left then right. Next time I'm in a meeting with a bunch of boring stiffs I will try to guess who among them might be wearing a crocheted coat underneath his suit. It will certainly make my time flies much faster. They will wonder about that smirk on my face and it'll only prove enigmatic to them. He must know something about the stock market that we're not aware of, they might reckon, or he's on good terms with the CEO. Oh how unsettling a smile could be if timed correctly!

You guessed right, Amsterdam was loads of fun. I spent my last two hours in the hotel lobby engaged in an absorbing conversation with a charmingly classy woman. Unreachably gorgeous, she was. Her words very much like her looks were simply beautiful.

That brings us back to Isobel and her tag. What are the first 16 songs you get when you hit the shuffle button on your MP3 player? And here's my answer, this is what I listened to this morning on my iPhone, while I was working :-)

1.    Bridge Over Troubled Waters – Simon & Garfunkel
2.    Subhan Allah - Fanaa Chand Sifarish
3.    She – Charles Aznavour
4.    Awakher el Shita' – Elissa
5.    L'eté Indien – Joe Dassin
6.    Tell Your Mama – Norah Jones
7.    Open Arms – Journey
8.    With or Without You – U2
9.    Something in the Way She Moves – James Taylor
10.    Betiggy Sirtak – Nancy Ajram
11.    Avant De Nous Dire Adieu – Jeane Manson
12.    Suleima – Malek Jandali
13.    Runnin' with the Devil – Van Helen
14.    Fallin' – Alicia Keys
15.    Jai Ho! (You're My Destiny) – A. R. Rahman & The Pussycat Dolls
16.    Biestehi Habibi – Elissa

Thank you Isobel for thinking of me and for the beautiful inspiration behind this mediocre post of mine. Thank you dear readers for reading so far and, if you have the time, tell the rest of us about your random list of songs. You can of course write about it on your blog or in the comment section of mine.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Tartoussi cuisine is inconspicuous, even in Syria that is. Anyone who's been here will tell you that we make out of this world fish but I think seafood is great in all coastal cities around the world. Ignorance about our local entrées though does not necessarily mean that we don't have some of the yummiest dishes in Syria. It's more a testimony of our quiet nature, the writer of this blog not included. We're not loud like the Damascene. We're not vocal like the Aleppine. We are neither funny nor too self-conscious like the Homsis or the Hamwis respectively. We're simple folks who love Mezza, barbequed chicken and Arak. And when we want to be gluttonous we feast on Burghul.

Well just to be sure no reader takes this post as an indication of false modesty, no one in Syria, and I repeat no one, even comes close to our Wara Enab (Stuffed Grape Leaves) but that is another story which had already been proven and laid to rest.

Today's dish is called Keddabat and unless some of you prove me wrong it is a very local Tartoussi/Arwadi recipe unknown beyond Al-Thawra Street in Tartous.

  • Fine Burghul 2 cups (Cracked Wheat): sold in most Middle Eastern food stores
  • All purpose flour 2 cups
  • Olive oil ½ cup + 2 tablespoons to saute the onion
  • Swiss Chard a few chopped leaves (for stuffing the larger Keddabat)
  • Onion 1 diced
  • Garlic 4 cloves
  • Parsley 2 tablespoons finely chopped after thorough washing
  • Salt and black pepper to taste


  • Wash the burghul under running water then keep in strainer for 15 minutes.
  • In a blender crush the burghul until it becomes powdery.
  • Mix the burghul and the flour and roll in semi-wet hands into small balls (see picture).
  • For the larger Keddabat: Saute the diced onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until tender (don't let them turn golden in color). Chop the Swiss Chard after washing it thoroughly with water and add a dash of salt. Mix onions and Swiss Chard together and use it as stuffing for the larger Keddabat. It's not as difficult as it looks to make them and to stuff them. Just keep your hands a little wet and practice, practice, practice.
  • In a bowl bring 6 cups of water to boil. Add the Keddabat (small and large: on the average for every 10 small unstuffed ones you should have one large stuffed one). Keep over medium high heat for 10 minutes then remove Keddabat and drain and put aside.
  • Keep 4 cups of the boiled water (throw away the rest). Add ½ cup Debes Remman (Pomegranate Molasses), ½ cup olive oil, crushed garlic and some finely chopped parsley and stir well.
  • Return the Keddabat to the sauce.
  • Serve hot or cold. I eat it with a spoon like soup. Uuuummmm if you do it right you'll know what's the big deal about being a tartoussi :-)
And, ehem... the red sauce you see on top is Tabasco.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Echos from Ugarit

"This song is for you"

In 1929 a peasant plowing his field 10 km north of Lattakia (Syria) unearthed a strange looking stone in an area called Ras Shamra. He immediately informed the authorities but little did he or the rest of the world know then about the magnitude of his discovery. French archeologist Claude Frédéric-Armand Schaeffer(1898–1982) spent the rest of his life excavating the site. Ugarit was found.

Ugarit was an independent Canaanite kingdom that reigned over the eastern Mediterranean in the 18th century BC (3800 years ago). The Phoenicians, descendants of the Canaanites, built great palaces, temples and shrines in Ugarit between 1450 – 1200 BC. But most importantly they built libraries. They ruled the sea with their strong ships made from the cedars of Lebanon and became the greatest naval power in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. They traded silver, gold, textiles and ivory with coastal cities, Egypt and Mesopotamia. Ugarit had a population of 10,000 before she was destroyed and burnt down in 1200 BC by the Sea Peoples whose origins remain a mystery for today's scholars.

It is in Ugarit, among the thousands of tablets found within the walls of her great palaces and libraries that the first Alphabet in history was discovered by Schaeffer. Evidently the Canaanites and their descendants the Phoenicians realized that human speech consists of a finite number of sounds. They simply enough created a symbol for each of these sounds. Well not really that simple as it took civilization 2000 years to achieve this feat. All subsequent phonetic languages (i.e. Hebrew, Latin, Sanskrit, Aramaic, Arabic, Greek, etc.) utilized most of the original 30 symbols or letters. I find it interesting that the root of the word phonetic as per modern English dictionaries is considered Greek (from phōnētikós from phōneîn to speak). Is it really? Why stop there? Where did phōneîn come from? What was the name of those people living on the Eastern Mediterranean (in today's Syria and Lebanon)? Phoenicians :-) How convenient?

There was one more discovery of unimaginable consequence found in Ugarit. An unearthed clay tablet, one among the multitude, took a while to decipher. Not because it did not stare at archeologists straight in the face but because of inherent biases even in scientific pursuit. Finally in 1974, Anne D. Kilmer, professor of Assyriology at the University of California at Berkeley and after five years of hard work was able to interpret the cuneiform script as the lyrics and musical symbols of an Ugaritan song dating back to 3400 BC. The discovery revolutionized music history completely for it moved backward in time the first notated piece of music by 3,000 years. The origin of Western music is not the 400 BC papyrus which contained the Greek Euripides' play Orestes but a much older religious hymn from Ugarit.

Malek Jandali is a Syrian pianist who lives in the United States. He was born in 1972 in Germany and was raised in Homs, Syria after his parents returned to their hometown. He received his early schooling there and graduated from the Arab Conservatory of music in Damascus. Mr. Jandali is an accomplished and daring musician who has won several international awards. His greatest achievement, however, is the release of his 2008 album, Echos from Ugarit in which he rendered the first notated song in history with his eloquent piano. It took such an exceptionally inspired Syrian to remind the world of a simple fact of life: It all started in our backyard, a mere one-hour drive from where I am sitting right now listening to the oldest song in the world being played by a Homsi with an unlimited talent.

Below are Youtube, and download links to Malek Jandali's Echos from Ugarit.

Download Echoes From Ugarit