A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for July, 2007

his & hers spam emails

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 30, 2007

I usually identify pretty strongly as a woman. I like men, but I’m very pleased to be on the hair & nails side of the gender divide (not to mention the more reflective and better organized side).

Recently, however, my sense of womanly self has been taking a beating. My work email has become the darling of spammers, all of whom appear to believe quite strongly that I am a man – a man with rather pressing needs and some deep insecurities.

This morning, I received an email from Lenny, who promised that “she will love you more than any other guy” thanks to his pharmaceutical offerings. This was rather cheering, since I was already regretting Friday’s decision to pass up Cheri Levy’s “last chance to super-charge your performance”. After all, Kristen was telling me: “beautiful Russian women are waiting for you”.

It may be good that I held off on the PEP, Viagra and the Russians – as it seems that I, or at least my male alter ego, have the chance at some 1950s style domestic bliss:

Good day, dear

I dream of a family and of a loving husband. I know this happens rarely but I indeed don’t put shopping, beauty salons, friends or new shoes on the first place. I wish to be with my loving husband and our children. I love to cook, and I dream to cook for my husband. I like to grow flowers and to read books and I dream to read fairy-tails for our little kids. I know how to keep the house clean and tidy and I will be happy to sit with my husband on a porch with a cup of tea and watch the sunset… If you are that person, if you are my man, you can find me at http://loveisaclick.com/feelheal and I will answer you with my best respect and honesty… I will impatiently wait for the beginning of our future.

Waiting for your reply

Cecy P

It is tempting – I would love a live-in cook, not to mention a housekeeper. But I’m going to decline Cecy P’s offer. After all, I grew up in the post-women’s movement world. I expect equal pay for equal work, Title IX sports funding, and spam emails that address me as the lovely woman I am :-).

Posted in advertising, garbage, internet, research, romance, vanity, women | 2 Comments »

public piety ii: mornings with God

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 29, 2007

This morning at the gym I dressed to the sounds of an instrumental rendition of “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen”.

Its one of my favorite Christmas songs, and I do like the idea of Christmas in July, but as I hummed along I wondered how many other gym-goers recognized the piece, and what they thought of hearing such an explicitly religious Christian piece in a public setting.

When it comes to praising God with voice and instrument, Lebanon is an interesting place. On the one hand, church bells and the call to prayer ring out several times each day, and anyone wanting to catch a church service or mosque prayers can do so by turning on the television.

On the other hand, I have noticed that I never hear Quranic recitations during the daytime – not in taxis, shops, passing cars or any other common contributor to the aural picture of Beirut.

I have many memories of walking into shops and restaurants in Damascus, Amman and the Gulf, or of getting into a taxi and hearing the Quran recited on cassette, CD or the radio. For the most part, its not an off-putting experience, and I’ve seen no correlation between the sounds of Quranic recitation and the warmth or friendliness of the shopkeeper, waitstaff or driver.

Beirut by daylight is a fairly tajweed-free space. But I’m an early riser, and in that first hour after dawn I hear a different world.

The sounds of the Quran come from the snack shop that usually plays Arabic pop music as well as from the hospital doctor’s sporty red coupe. The snack shop is staffed by eighteen year old boys and the doctor in question is a beautifully coiffed woman in early middle age; and none of them seem to find their listening choice incongruous.

I love cities in the early mornings – I love watching the ways they come to life. But I also like seeing them in their just-waking-up state because they show such different faces to the world.

In this case, the face is an aural one, and it adds a note of quiet piety to the city – one that disappears by the time the morning heat sets in.

Posted in Arab world, Arabic, art, Beirut, Islam, Lebanon, music, radio, religion, time, words | Leave a Comment »

To see ourselves as others see us: a long American film

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 28, 2007

A few weeks ago G forwarded a comment from a friend whose signature used an Arabic expression I had never heard before: a long Syrian film.

I understand the words, I told G, but I have no idea what they mean. What is a long Syrian film?

I love Syrian films – and they aren’t particularly long. In fact, they’re surprisingly good, although they are almost totally inaccessible to Syrians living inside the country. The ones I’ve seen have been screened at film festivals in the US, or at the French Institute in Damascus, which as a private, (French) government affiliated institution is somehow exempted from Syrian ministry censorship.

Of the ten or more Syrian films I have seen, Oussama Mohammad’s Sacrifices (Sundouq al-Dunya) is my favorite, if favorite were a word sufficient to describe a film that shifted my sense of the world so that I left the theater a different person.

The film is perhaps one of the best evocations of magical realism, an appropriate mode for a film whose Arabic title, which literally translates to “the box of the world”, refers to the “magic boxes” that traveling entertainers brought with them from village to village to amuse local children.

Canada’s Cinematheque 2006 film festival program describes Sacrifices in terms nearly as lyrical as the film itself:

Sacrifices, Oussama Mohammad’s extraordinary second feature — made almost 15 years after his much-acclaimed, still-banned Stars in Broad Daylight (screening July 7) — is a striking, sumptuous work that pays stunning homage to Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky and his final film, The Sacrifice. (Mohammad, like many of Syria’s finest directors, was trained at VGIK, the Soviet film school in Moscow.) Mystical, meditative, and rendered in breathtaking images and compositions, this strange, otherworldly fable centres on an extended family living in an Alawite mountain village. When the powerful family patriarch dies without designating an heir, his children and grandchildren, thrown into uncertainty, begin contending for the family name. Sacrifices is awash in startling evocations of the elemental and primal (birth, death, eggs, breast milk, mud). In one unforgettable scene, freckles migrate from a young girl’s face to a boy’s shoulder. Selected for Un Certain Regard at Cannes, “Sacrifices indicates a particular shift in Syrian cinema toward a complex, metaphorical language — a recurrent recourse to metaphor, the fantastic, the absurd, the comic … This phenomenon can be explained by the strengthening of censorship since the mid-1990s” (Cécile Boëx, Film Comment).

Sacrifices contains what I consider one of the most visually searing indictments of the country’s militarization: a man returns from the Syrian-Israeli front to visit his wife. She covers him in mud to bathe him as martial music plays, and as she washes away the mud, he disappears – casualty of a regime that promotes a meaningless war it cannot win. (The film was made in 2002, when Syria was less open and memories of an active front may have been more vivid.)

Of course, the long Syrian film mentioned above had nothing to do with actual Syrian films. Its from an expression, G told me. You don’t know it? Its

“فيلم أميركي طويل”

No – I didn’t know it. But I did know how to google it.

A long American film is the title of a play by well-known Lebanese musician and playwright Ziad Rahbani, which was made into a movie in 1980. (How it was filmed during the civil war is a mystery to me, but filmed it was.) Since then, it seems to have entered public discourse as an expression. I can’t find a definition, but I did find some tantalizing examples:

1) in the English-language Thara, a Syrian publication that describes itself a a “weekly review of scholarship and literature on women, which features a commentary by Ayman Wanous on the plight of Iraqi and other orphan children:

We are constantly reminded of children’s suffering with pictures and abstract paintings of starving African children. At first sight, one gets the impression that they cannot be real and are in fact, as Ziad Al-Rahbani says, just part of a long American film based in a fictional world.

2) in an excerpt from the xml mark-up of a website rather forbiddingly titled “Military and War”: Are we watching a long American film, in which the masks of the heroes and of the supporting cast begin to fall, one after another, causing the audience to anticipate the revelation of the way the…

3) in a 2005 Gulf News round-up of Arab views on Palestine, which included a rather hard-to-follow criticism of satellite television channels whose coverage of Israeli settlers protesting against the closure of their settlements the author considered to glorify their cause: It seems their cameras are infatuated with the colonists’ reactions and certainly these weeping images have their advantages for Israel. “This is but a long American film, as many Palestinians from Gaza have said. Its repulsiveness does not encourage one to try to investigate the situation further”.

and, searching with the variant “a long American movie:

4) a story from the website of a Ramallah internet cafe about life under occupation in Gaza, which begins: This is not a ‘Long American movie’ where the white American hero is always in control using the latest hi-tech arms to kill the criminals and his ‘enemy’ …

and finally,

5) a 2003 Naharnet recapitulation of a Ghassan Tueni editorial criticizing Arabs’ inactivity in the face of Bush administration blunders in the Middle East, which quoted him as saying that “It is time to abandon the role of viewers watching developments in Palestine and Iraq like they would watch a long American movie and wonder about the hero’s fate.”

I’m still not totally clear on what a long American film is, but I do get that it has something to do with action adventure films like Die Hard, in which one man takes out hundreds of enemies on some kind of mission to save the world, without many allies but with the aid of incredibly powerful, technologically advanced, special effects-friendly weaponry. And I’m curious to know more ….!

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, Arabic, art, Beirut, explosion, film, Lebanon, media, words | 2 Comments »

Syrians learn to walk

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 25, 2007

In the immediate aftermath of last summer’s July war, one starkly topical Johnnie Walker ad took on semi-iconic status for those looking for signs of Lebanon’s capacity for resuming normal life despite the devastation created by Israeli bombing raids:

04walker_287x450.jpg

(For one of many articles about this advertisement, which appeared as a billboard, see the New York Times“A brash message to a wounded country”.)

Thanks to SANA, my favorite state news agency, I see that Syrians are now walking as well – although for health rather than political reasons:

Walking festival is organized in Syria

HOMS, (SANA)_ A festival for mass walking was organized yesterday in the central Syrian governorate of Homs with the aim of generalization of the walking culture and giving it the sufficient attention due to its medical importance in treating diseases and prevention from it.

Participants, who are from all ages and from different unions, vocational syndicates, popular organizations and from health institutions, moved in three axis in the city raising banners calling for practicing daily walk and abandoning car and smoking for keeping a healthy heart and lung.

For this occasion a central symposium on healthy and psychological importance of walking and its correct ways was held with the participation of a number of specialists in physical medicine and heart and chest diseases.

No snide comments about Homsis needing to be taught the “correct ways” of walking, please!

Posted in advertising, Arab world, art, Beirut, health, humor, Lebanon, neighbors, Syria | Leave a Comment »

is half a warden message better than none?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 24, 2007

Another day, another curious delight courtesy of the US Embassy in Kuwait and its warden messages.

Embassy of the United States of America
Kuwait City, Kuwait
June 24, 2007

MEMORANDUM
To: All American Wardens
From: Consular Section
Subject: Warden Notice 2007 – 11

Please circulate the following message without additions or omissions immediately to all American citizens within your area of responsibility:

Begin text.
Yesterday morning 23 July, a suspicious substance was discovered in an envelope that had been delivered to the Embassy. The substance, after thorough testing, was determined to pose no health threat. Embassy operations continue as normal.
End Text.

My sister Sporty Diamond lived through the Washington, D.C. anthrax scare of 2001. In fact, I remember attending a Halloween party at her flat – dressed fetchingly as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” – at which the anti-anthrax drug Cipro was not only a popular costume choice but also a prescribed drug for several party-goers.

I suspect that the US Embassy’s mailroom staff might also have remembered the anthrax attacks (as might the sender of the mysterious substance). But why send out a half memo? Either send a memorandum that gives full details of the event, including why the substance was considered suspicious and what it turned out to be; or – if the Embassy fears a spate of annoy copy-catters – send no memo at all.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, citizenship, Kuwait, shipping, words | 2 Comments »

“just say yes”: street vs. high street Arabic

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 20, 2007

Guess what? I asked G last night. I ordered delivery from the ba2ala last night, for the first time ever.

They speak English? G asked, leaning forward. I’m not known for my love of speaking Arabic over the phone.

Errr, no, I replied. I spoke Arabic.

Really? G asked, eyes lighting up at the rare opportunity to hear my Arab World mizwajiyyeh accent. Tell me exactly what you told them.

And I did, repeating a very exciting list of bottled water, milk and other products, as well as my typically American attempt to give directions to my building. G started to laugh at “bottle of water” and didn’t stop until I neared the end.

And then he said, “the building near the hair salon?” I finished, and I said, “yes”, and the delivery guy arrived twenty minutes later.

G looked at me seriously, the laughter gone, and asked: And what did you say for “yes”?

Ay, I replied, quite pleased with myself for having avoided the schoolgirl Arabic “na3m”.

You shouldn’t use “ay”, G said, frowning. “Ay” is fine when you are talking with your friends, but using it with strangers is very …. street. Its a bit low class, you know?

Horrors. I am an inveterate snob, language and otherwise. I am too stuffy for “yeah”, and I consider “thanks” too casual for nearly any occasion.

And by no stretch of even the most generous imagination could I be considered “street”. I’ll be using na3m from now on.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, food, humor, Lebanon, vanity, words | 1 Comment »

playing games with Iran

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 18, 2007

G is dying for a copy of the new Iranian video game “Special Operation 85: Hostage Rescue”, which is the subject of an Agence France Presse article published on Naharnet, in the Daily Star and every other English-language publication in the region, it appears:

Iran Rescues Its Missing Diplomats by Computer Game

Iran on Monday launched a computer game with a strong political message that mixes the standoff over its nuclear program, the mystery of missing diplomats in Lebanon and its hatred for Israel.

Players of the game “Special Operation 85: Hostage Rescue” play the part of a special agent battling to release captured Iranian diplomats and nuclear scientists from the clutches of his U.S. and Israeli foes.

The game has been produced by the Union of the Islamic Students, which was behind the infamous “World Without Zionism” conference in 2005 where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.”

“In this game we are not promoting terrorism and violence. By freeing Iranian hostages we are promoting selfless dependence, devotion to and defense of our country,” said the group’s secretary general Mohammad Taghi Fakhrian.

The eight-level game starts in Iraq, where a young married couple who are Iranian nuclear scientists have been captured by U.S. forces while making a pilgrimage to the Shiite holy shrine in Karbala.

Iranian special operations officer Bahman Nasseri, can intervene to save the couple, named Saeed and Maryam, who have now been spirited away to a prison in Iran’s arch-foe Israel. He slips into Israel and locates their prison.

In a twist, here he finds locked away not only the young scientists but also four other Iranians who in real life have been missing since disappearing in northern Lebanon at the height of the civil war in 1982.

There has never been any official confirmation over the fate of three Iranian diplomats and one photographer. But Tehran believes they were handed over to Israel by Lebanese Christian forces and are still alive.

A successful player completes the eight levels by killing U.S. and Israeli soldiers, stealing their laptops which hold secret information and finally liberating the scientists and the diplomats.

A player operates the Iranian-made AK-47 machine gun of special agent Nasseri, making sure it has enough ammunition and then shooting down enemy soldiers who suddenly pop up in the three-dimensional graphics.

The enemy then falls to the ground and Fakhrian then continues his relentless pursuit of his quarry to the sound of pounding electronic music.

Anyone who loses their “life” in the game is spurred on to try again with the words: “With resistance and help you can battle the enemy.” An Iranian flag flutters in the top right hand corner throughout.

Fakhrian said that the computer game had been inspired by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“The computer games are cultural mediums that have their own positive and negative effects on young people. In our last meeting with the leader he told us to come up with ways to guide our children and students.

“So we went and thought about it and found out that it is computer games which have the most influence on the young people.”

It sounds like quite a game.

Please, can you get a copy of it for me? G asked me last night.

And how do you think I could do that? I replied. Walk through the camps downtown with an Xbox?

I can just see the headlines here, I said. “While Israeli journalists infiltrate Beirut, American academic asks Hizbullah for souvenir kill-the-Americans video game”. My parents would be less than pleased.

The description of this game reminds me of another one I used to hear in Doha. When the khal and khala were new arrivals there, they had no home internet. My uncle could go online at work; my aunt used the internet cafe in a nearby, eponymously titled mall.

My first visit to see them coincided with the last week before and first week of the war in Iraq. Some days we felt comfortable going into the city; some days we were warned that venturing out as obviously American foreigners was a poor idea.

On the days that we did go out, we stopped by the mall to check our email. The internet cafe was a three-aisle open-air affair stuck way back at the end of the mall’s food court. When we or any other women would arrive, the proprietor created a movable “family section” by blocking off one aisle with folding chairs.

It wasn’t plush, but it was fine – and, unlike the cafes I’ve used in Damascus, a “ctrl-h” didn’t turn up a long listing of I-hope-someone-cleaned-the-chair-I’m-now-sitting-in porn sites.

The cafe did attract a healthy crowd of ten-to-fourteen year old boys, though – who couldn’t have been less interested in us. They were engrossed in a high tech computer video game involving extremists and military personnel. I couldn’t tell which side the game favored, but the yells (from the boys) and the gunfire (from the game) were loud and frequent.

If this new game becomes popular in Beirut, I’ll be all the happier that I have internet at home.

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Beirut, childhood, Iran, Islam, Lebanon, media | 1 Comment »

desert love

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 17, 2007

I have the anonymous arabist to thank for this laugh-out-loud hoot of a website:

Sheikhs and Desert Love: a Database of Romance Novels

and no, its creators did not develop this site as a joke. Visitors can search by title, author, publication year, topic and theme, editors’ choice and … country.

Yes, country. The site creators have created a clickable map of “fictional Arabia” so readers can search for novels from their favorite, mostly non-existent countries. I’ve copy-pasted the image here (but for the full clickable experience you must visit the site):

arabiamap.gif

Its well worth a visit, not least for editor’s choice reviews like this one, for Diane Dunaway’s 1982 Desert Hostage:

The novel, which spans two generations, is searing hot. Beginning with Englishwoman Anna’s capture by a powerful desert sheik, the story unfolds to tell the story of her son who is born during her captivity–though unbeknownst to anyone but Anna, the boy is not the sheik’s biological son. Raised as an Arab, Karim soon finds himself on a mission of revenge when the sheik is murdered by an English soldier, Clayton. He vows to avenge his death by detroying Clayton, as well as his family. The story takes a sharp twist when the very woman he falls deeply in love with, Juliette, is the daughter of the hated Clayton. Naturally he imprisons her in his harem, but his feelings for Juliette run deep. There is no way she could just be another concubine destined to live the lonely harem life…and plenty of hot encounters between them make it abundantly clear that she will soon become his one and only. Good fun, and a great read!

What qualifies a book as an editor’s choice, you might wonder?

Books are chosen based on the strength of and the chemistry between the characters, the development of storylines, and the swoon factor of one or more romantic scenes. Novels with an attempted-escape-through- the-desert segment and that take place in a lavish yet remote palace are generally given high marks.

Happy perusing!

Posted in Americans, Arab world, books, garbage, guilt, holidays, maps, media, romance, women, words | Leave a Comment »

public piety i: Sunnis in Beirut

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 15, 2007

On Friday afternoon I made an end-of-week dairy run to the house of moo, as I am coming to think of my local ba2ala.

dairy-run.jpg

As I made my usual “what would I buy if I were a more inventive cook” perusal of its two aisles, I noticed something new in between the mayonnaise (for a small shop, it carries quite a mayonnaise selection) and the canned goods: a Qur’an.

quran_cover.gif

It wasn’t stacked flat or set down as if someone had been interrupted while reading; it was placed vertically, with the front cover facing out. Leaving the mayonnaise and the canned artichokes to their own devices, I kept on walking. I have no objection to the shopkeepers’ decision to display their Qur’an on the shelves – after all, I have fond memories of the phrase I have seen on the backs of many Damascus cabs: “Don’t forget to mention God”. But its perch looks a bit precarious to me, and I definitely do not want to be known in my neighborhood as that insensitive foreign woman who knocked the Qur’an to the floor.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, art, Beirut, dairy, food, Islam, Lebanon, media, photography, religion, Sharjah, shipping, time, travel, women, words | Leave a Comment »

bangs and whimpers: Katyusha rockets & Israeli journalists

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 13, 2007

Today began with a literal bang here, at least for some Lebanese, with five Katyusha rockets fired two two and one at a time in the north, presumably in some connection with Fatah al-Islam. Why are these rockets so popular here? They don’t seem to work particularly well- I don’t get the sense that one can aim with them, and surely today’s militants have access to much more effective options.

For Tayyar and the rest of the opposition media, the day seems to have been newsworthy for another reason: the revelation that yet another Israeli journalist has been in Lebanon in recent days. This story was originally from Manar:

مرة جديدة.. مراسلة إسرائيلية ثانية في بنت جبيل

Surprise, surprise: its a political thing. Two days ago, Tayyar published a Sawt al-Ghad piece on Israeli journalist Lisa Goldman that ended with the following critique:

وثمة سؤال آخر هل يستطيع فريق من تبقى من حكومة السنيورة الإجابة عن السؤال: أين هي هذه المراسلة الآن داخل الأراضي اللبنانية ام خارجها؟ فهل من يجيب … ام أن لا حياة لمن تنادي؟

And then a final question: Can a group of what remains of the Siniora government answer the question: where is she now, this correspondent, inside the Lebanese land or outside it? followed by a further little dig.

Personally, I have no problem with Israeli journalists coming here to cover Lebanon, as long as they cover the news fairly. But then of course I’m not Lebanese – and I do recognize that their coming here violates both the letter and the spirit of Lebanese law.

No one with an Israeli passport or Israeli stamps on his/her passport is allowed to enter Lebanon. (The first prohibition is because the two countries are at war; the second also supports the Arab economic boycott of things Israeli and corporations that do business there.) I have a sinking suspicion that these journalists are all American, and enter Lebanon under false pretenses as tourists or, as in the case of the one today, as journalists for non-Israeli papers. Hence those who do come in are neither honest nor legal.

Meanwhile, we’ve found another one, whose latest article we were just reading this afternoon, and who makes what I consider the unforgivable error of citing interviewees by first and last name. Journalists can leave the country; Lebanese citizens whose loyalty is thrown under suspicion because their names appear in an Israeli news outlet are much more vulnerable.

Despite the rich array of more substantive news events, both new and ongoing, Tayyar and the rest of the opposition media appear determined to twist their knickers over the fifth column potential of Israeli journalists infiltrating the south, so I’m sure they’ll find this third one soon. Happy hunting, murasileen al-muqawama, and bravo for keeping your priorities so straight.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, citizenship, Israel, Lebanon, media, neighbors, Palestine, politics, research, tourism, travel, women, words | 6 Comments »