A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for June, 2007

the color orange

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 30, 2007

G returned from a business trip in London shortly before dawn, and called upon arriving home – ostensibly to let me know but I suspect more for the unparalleled pleasure of talking to me in deeply incoherent asleep mode. (My suspicions were aroused by the way in which G ended the call: I’ll let you go now, G said to me. You’re almost coherent, which means you’re waking up.)

I imagine that G is happily sleeping the day away, delighted to be back in a familiar bed. As for me, I am spending the day working on things academic (the impressive sounding “executive report” of a conference write-up) and non (laundry).

The “non” is actually quite fun, as I just made my bed with a new set of sheets, brought back from the states last week. Years ago, I used to scoff when K and P (who just learned about this blog – lek shtatilek, you there in far away Hong Kong!) would talk about high thread count sheets. Oh, no more. I am a convert, and I cannot wait to go to bed tonight.

The new sheets are orange, which conveniently enough makes them coordinate with both my bedspread and G’s politics. In honor of G’s return, I am posting this article, which I found the other day while idly flipping through a magazine as my pedicure finished:


If you read it politically, the list of virtues for the color orange are hysterically funny, like:
“orange has a bit less intensity or aggression than red, calmed by the cheerfulness of yellow”.

(Well, the “red” doesn’t fit, but the idea of Hizbullah yellow as cheerfully calming is a hoot.)

Some of the color’s other listed virtues do fit what I think of as tayyari political culture:

“Orange is mentally stimulating as well as sociable. Use it to get people thinking or to get them talking.”

“Curiosity is a driving characteristic of orange, and with it comes exploration of new things.”

“Wearing orange … can bring about the willingness to embrace new ideas with enjoyment and a sense of exploration and creative play.”

I see all these characteristics reflected in the Aounists I know. As a party, I think the Free Political Movement is great – I just wish it had a more inspiring leader.


Posted in Beirut, colors, friends, Lebanon, New York, politics, research, romance, vanity, women, words | Leave a Comment »

a day at the beach

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 29, 2007

In the past few days at least three people have asked me how often I go to the beaches here.

The truth is that I don’t go very often. The beaches that I love look like this:


(thanks to my mother for taking such a lovely photo last week, while the rest of us were lounging around in the sun).

Outfitting oneself for this beach requires only a pair of shorts (or a summer skirt), a pair of flip-flops, a beach blanket, a bottle of water and a good book.

A typical beach in Lebanon looks like this:


This beach is in Jiyyeh, south of Beirut. The one I’ve gone to more often is Edde Sands, which comes with its own map.

Outfitting oneself for this beach requires something more: a style-y bikini (which I own), designer sunglasses, a car to be valet’ed, and appropriate footwear:


Okay – I have the footwear too, but I don’t usually wear shoes like that to the beach.

I have no objection to Lebanese-style beachgoing, but … I’m lazy. I like my beaches to be as low-maintenance as they can be.

Posted in Americans, Beirut, clothing, fashion, holidays, Lebanon, maps, photography, sea, Seattle, swimming, time, weather | Leave a Comment »

the Phoenician gene

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 29, 2007

It has been hot here this week – not in the Kuwaiti way my aunt describes, with dry heat and dust, but in the Lebanese way. The “typical Lebanese” summer weather is upon us, and it is sticky and humid.

The afternoon humidity here hovers a little above 70% – roughly 66% higher than Kuwait, and 62% higher than Damascus. Since my personal dew point seems to be situated somewhere in the 50th percentile, I not only sweat but appear actually to produce dew from my skin’s contact with the thick air.

Yes, dew and sweat, the reality of which is even less attractive than whatever image those words might suggest. During the summer here I walk around in a state of semi-liquidity, shimmering as the sun shines on the millions of micro-droplets that rest on my skin.

It sounds lovely, and from a distance it might be. But up close, I fit my college junior advisor’s adage about women who look “good from far, [but are] far from good” when the distance narrows.

To cope, I have adopted that most Arab of remedies: the kleenex. Boxes of tissues abound in this region, perched atop cash registers, behind the passenger seats in taxis and private cars, and, of, course on tables in so-called “popular” restaurants, where they double as napkins.

The abundance of kleenex boxes is not due to some mysterious Arab need for frequent nose blowing. People here use tissues to wipe their faces when it is hot out – a practice I have learned to endorse whole-heartedly.

I can learn the fine art of tissue-ing, but what I cannot do is train my body to cope with the heat.

When I look out of my taxi door window, glasses sliding down the bridge of my nose, I see cool and collected Beirutis going about their business without the slightest trace of sweat.

How do they do it? I wonder.

This morning, I came up with an answer: its the Phoenician heritage. Perhaps there really is a Phoenician gene.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Beirut, fashion, humor, kleenex, Lebanon, neighbors, weather | 1 Comment »

the other marines in Lebanon

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 27, 2007

While waiting for my flight to depart last week, I picked up MEA’s in-flight magazine and began idly flipping through it.

Along with lavish coverage of this summer’s Beiteddine Festival program (do the Hariris own that, too?), I saw this advertisement:


Yes, its quite a piece of work.

Bracketing the obvious oddities – that the family is clearly not Lebanese and has a very curious role-playing hobby – what struck me most intensely was the brand name: Original Marines, accompanied by a stylized American flag.

The US Marines have a well-known history in Lebanon – so well known that it has become part of the United States’ subterranean memory. When I mention that I live in Beirut, this is what people ask about – and, of course, kidnapping. Despite all the events of the past year, what remains most deeply lodged in the American consciousness of Lebanon are the events of the early and mid 1980s.

When I saw this advertisement, I was horrified, imagining that some Lebanese entrepreneur had capitalized on the Marines’ name recognition (and the country’s loose interpretation of copyright law) to sell Swedish-ly preppy clothing.

But no. Original Marines, as it turns out, is an Italian company, with retail shops all over the region, from Morocco to the UAE. The promotional photograph on the corporate website is even loopier than the Cedar Wings ad.

What do Lebanon’s Original Marines wearers think of the brand name, I wonder. Do they think of the Marines’ history in Lebanon, or has it become just a name to them, much as Banana Republic is in the United States?

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, art, Beirut, clothing, economics, family, fashion, Italy, Lebanon, media, photography, travel, words | 1 Comment »

Where there’s smoke there’s a … conference about fire

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 26, 2007

I celebrate my academic nerdiness, I do. But sometimes even I see the humor in intellectual endeavor.

This CFP (call for papers) had me laughing out loud.

On the one hand, I can clearly see the historical value of a comparative look at pre-modern urban fires.

On the other hand, a conference about fire? that takes itself seriously enough to have devised the phrase “fire regime”?

Even as I laugh, I am wondering at the amazing skills of persuasion the conference organizers must have, to have secured such generous funding.

And wondering, too: how can I learn to be more like them? After all, I can envision all kinds of esoteric research questions that would be fun (with funding) to explore …

Flammable Cities:
Fire, Urban Environment and Culture in History

Conference at the
German Historical Institute, Washington, DC
May 15 – 17, 2008


Proposals are invited for an international multi-disciplinary conference on the comparative history of uncontrolled fire in large urban settlements around the world. Through a focus on fire, we hope to illuminate a host of issues surrounding urban cultures and the environmental significance of cities.

Preindustrial cities burned frequently. Yet many prospered, and some grew to populations of over a million inhabitants. Although new building and extinguishing technologies and the rise of fire insurance fundamentally altered the relationship between cities and fire beginning in the seventeenth century, many cities remained largely wood-built into the twentieth century. Some still are.

The English-language historiography on urban fire history is strongly weighted toward Europe and the United States. The conveners therefore look forward particularly to contributions on cities in the non-Western world in addition to proposals on European and North American cities. Comparison of differing urban morphologies, types of building material, social systems, cultural attitudes, and methods for coping with disaster in diverse locations should make this conference a significant first step toward a truly global history of urban fire.

We seek fresh thinking on a range of interconnected questions including:

  1. Architecture. Why were flammable materials used and until when did they continue to be used? What was the relationship between fire hazard and city planning?
  2. Habitation and urban morphology. How did density and other aspects of construction and habitation encourage or inhibit the spread of fires?
  3. Environment and economy. What were the effects of climate and seasonal weather patterns? How did urban fires affect rural areas, as sources of lumber and fuel, as part of the urban economy, etc.?
  4. Social factors contributing to fire. How did fires start? Were there incentives to start uncontrolled fires? What role did changes in the use of controlled fire have on the problem of uncontrolled fire?
  5. Social effects of fire. Who was most affected? Who lost most and who benefited? How did citizens cope with fire?
  6. Management of fire. Who fought fires and how? How did government and urban residents cope with the risk of uncontrolled fire and with the aftermath of large fires? How were fires recorded? How were they understood? What was done about arson?
  7. Politics and social change affecting fire regimes. What was the impact of war in regimes of fire management? What social, political, or economic factors brought about change in the regime of fire management?

Of course, individual papers cannot address all of these questions—nor is this list intended to exclude other possible questions. We are interested, however, in papers that will draw from the archive of particular cities and at the same time offer broad insights on the historical relationships between urban habitation, urban governance and urban environments. We also encourage proposals that incorporate transregional or global economic and environmental issues.

By addressing a common core group of questions for global comparison, we hope to be able to map regional patterns and determine in a nuanced way for the first time what roles climate, economy, government and culture have played in fire regimes in different parts of the world. Presenters must commit themselves to intensive collaboration with the editors and other participants toward publication of a coherent and wide-ranging global study.

Posted in academia, advertising, Americans, fire, humor, media, research, words | 3 Comments »

teaching the commoners: adventures in mis-translation

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 25, 2007

Well, I hope this is a mis-translation. I came across this intriguing little article today:

Japanese NGO to open ‘terakoya’ school for Iraqi kids in Syria 

The Japanese nongovernmental organization Peace On is planning to open a small private school for children of Iraqi refugees in Syria, modeled after the ”terakoya” temple schools in Japan’s Edo period that taught reading and writing to children of commoners. The Tokyo-based group has found that support for refugees in the area of education is poor compared with food, housing and medical care, its leader Yasuyuki Aizawa said.

On the one hand, I appreciate Peace On’s commitment to drawing upon Japan’s rich historical traditions. On the other hand, the Edo period (1603-1867) was a long time ago. Surely Syria’s Iraqis – commoners or no – would like their children to be educated in a manner that will allow them to navigate the difficult world that they may face.

Posted in childhood, education, Iraq, Japan, Syria, teaching, time, words | Leave a Comment »

like a trip back in time … his & hers job ads

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 25, 2007

If you look at American job want ads from the mid-twentieth century, you will notice that some requirements are spelled out much more clearly than they are today.

For example, advertisements for management positions refer to the candidate as “he”. Advertisements for secretarial positions do not.

I sometimes find it amusing (and other times disappointing) that even the English-language want ads here have such a 1950s feel.

Here are a few samples from today. I count two requests for “female”, one for “lady” in the first set, and two references to “he” in the VIVA ad.



Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, Beirut, economics, Lebanon, media, research, time, women, words | 1 Comment »

time & distance

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 24, 2007

Last week my family had dinner with a friend of mine and his son, Lebanese-Americans both. 

Where do you live? the son asked, in between bouts of marshmallow-roasting-stick-fencing with my mother. (It was a designer bistro, complete with X&O-style make-your-own s’mores on the dessert menu. Those of you who know my mother get one guess as to who said “en garde” first :-P!) 

When I told him, he said:  wow, that’s far.

Is it? I thought to myself curiously. His grandparents live in Raouche, which I have always thought of as very far west. Nor is my neighborhood particularly far from the apartment his parents keep for holidays in Beirut.

Yes, he replied emphatically. I know exactly where you live – in Baalbek.

Well. I do not live that far from central Beirut, or whatever his reference point was. Baalbek is 30 miles away, at least.

On the other hand, the perception that I live at some time-space distance from the rest of the world is rather widely held.

For example, G insists that my apartment exists in a micro time-zone, one 15 minutes behind the rest of the city. My office, G tells me, is 6 minutes behind – closer to “normal” time, but still a bit slow.

Usually I am on the receiving end of these micro time-zone jokes – but sometimes I get to be the one doing the teasing.

Yesterday, for example, G asked: when do we go on summer time?

Well,  I said, my neighborhood started daylight savings time in April. Perhaps yours does it differently.

G lives in an area near-ish that where Brammertz, the current head of the UN’s Hariri investigation, is staying. Proximity proved an inspiration:

Perhaps your area hasn’t changed because it is on Belgian time, I suggested, smirking at my wittiness.

Pffffft, G said, before heading off to London on a business trip that I suspect will include a stop-off in Greenwich to let the time-keepers there know that time has come loose in Lebanon.

Today I am amusing myself wondering what Lebanon would be like if different areas could choose their own time zones.

Perhaps the Gulf citizens who used to vacation in the hills near Beirut would feel more comfortable if those areas adopted Saudi Arabian or UAE time.

Perhaps francophone areas like Achrafieh or (tee hee hee) Qoreitem would feel more settled in their split identities if their clocks matched those of la patrie.

And of course those who see Iranian conspiracies around every bend would keep their ears open for the sounds of ahl al-beit calls to prayer ringing out half an hour before the others.

Imagine the possibilities.

Posted in Americans, Beirut, family, friends, holidays, Lebanon, maps, parenting, time, words | Leave a Comment »

career opportunities with the Axis of Evil

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 24, 2007

If you are starting a 24 hour English language news channel designed to break Western media’s “stranglehold” on the world, where do you look for news correspondents? Beirut, of course!


Well, this advertisement is looking for Beirut correspondents, but … its tempting to imagine the specter of fear that might be raised if Press TV were hiring all its correspondents in Lebanon. Shi’ite news crescent, anyone? 

Press TV will be the latest in a line of state-run or state-affiliated global news channels to open in the past year or two, including France 24 and Russia Today as well as Al Jazeera’s international channel.

UPI’s article on the channel describes Mohammad Sarafraz, deputy head for international affairs of the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, as saying that the station springs “from the need to counter misinformation and mudslinging about Iran”. Accordingly, its news will focus primarily on the Middle East and the United States – apparently some “international events” are more newsworthy than others.

The channel is meant to launch on July 2, which gives its HR staff two days to sort through the CVs it receives from this advertisement. They must be powerhouses of efficiency. I’m going to add “presstv.beirut” to my list of gmail contacts and see how often the address is active!

Posted in advertising, Americans, economics, Iran, media, news, politics, teaching, television, words | 2 Comments »

loving life in Lebanon

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 22, 2007

I understand that the Lebanese defense ministry has declared victory against Fatah al-Islam – which makes it a perfect time to return to Beirut, I think. Hence I am gathering my bags and hopping on a plane tomorrow afternoon.

Last week G sent me a visual Fatah al-Islam joke that I have been saving for the right moment – a moment that appears to have finally come.

The photo plays on the connection between the March 14 political coalition and the I love life campaign and the possible (probable?) patron/client relationship-gone-sour between the Hariri family and Fatah al-Islam.

To me it also shows the bankruptcy of this type of militancy. This group does not love life – or at least its leaders do not. Reports of group members surrendering have appeared here and there for the past two weeks. Perhaps facing a meaningless death forced those men to confront the emptiness of the true “culture of death”.


Posted in advertising, al-Qaeda, Arab world, Beirut, Islam, Lebanon, media, words | 4 Comments »