A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for March, 2008

fun with taxes

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 20, 2008

My parents arrived yesterday, bringing gifts of all kinds. I now have a new spring wardrobe, three jars of my favorite peanut butter and so many bottles of nail polish that I can’t decide which to try first.

Nestled among the other gifts (“I’m so glad customs didn’t open our suitcases”, my mother said. “What a nightmare it would have been for them.”) were my 2007 taxes.

I know: taxes are not usually put in the “fun gifts” category. But I file state taxes in Iowa, where there is indeed some tax-time fun to be had.

What I love most about Iowa is its array of agriculture-related tax deductions, like the “you won’t find THIS in New York” Cow-Calf Refund:


I don’t own any cows (or calves) but I love seeing Iowa’s rural heritage (and legislative efforts to support it – even if some are a bit pork barrel’y) on my tax form.

Iowa also breaks down earned income in agricultural ways, with separate categories for farm rental and for farming and fishing income:


Again, this doesn’t affect me: I have no farm to rent, and I couldn’t earn money from fishing to save my life. But I love that I come from a state that recognizes these as discrete categories of labor.

I also love the “political checkoff” option: in most American states, you can elect to add $1-2 to your tax bill as a donation to the political party of your choice. For those who support campaign finance, reform, this measure has been a great support.


I don’t like the amount of the checks I have to write, but I do like the charm of Iowa taxes :).


Posted in Americans, animals, Iowa, words | 1 Comment »

the waiting game, part deux

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 18, 2008

In high school I remember reading the Alfred Tennyson poem that “in spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love”. My spring fancy, on the other hand, generally tends towards shopping.

And since my parents are coming soon, I’ve been on a combined spring wardrobe and pre-war guidebook buying kick. I know: it sounds like a bizarre combination. But I think I’ve found some gems to last me until summer.

I’ll spare you the fashion, but I can’t resist mentioning the book:


Touring Lebanon is a short book – 93 pages – published in 1972. Mr. Ward appears to have been a rather prolific travel guide writer in the 1960s and 1970s: he also authored guides to Bahrain, Libya, Oman and Saudi Arabia’s rather off-the-beaten track Ha’il.

I can’t wait to read what he had to say about Lebanon in the early 1970s :).

Posted in Beirut, books, Lebanon, time, travel, words | 4 Comments »

the waiting game

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 17, 2008

My parents are coming to Beirut this weekend to spend Easter with me, and I am counting the hours until they arrive.

Can you tell I’m excited to have them here?


Sweets for the sweet, as they say 😀 😀 😀

“Waiting for you”, Mom and Dad!

Posted in Americans, family, holidays, home, Iowa | 1 Comment »

wintering in Lebanon

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 16, 2008

This winter has been full of surprising weather – including a number of hailstorms. I love hailstorms – they remind me of Iowa, which has a few each year, and also of Jerusalem. When I was there in 2005, a freak weather pattern descended upon the city, with the result that one Saturday we had rain, snow, hail, and sun all in the same day.

I remember anxiously asking a friend there what would happen to the city if a real snow hit it, since (as with Eastern Seaboard cities like Washington D.C.) Jerusalem did not appear to be rolling in snowplows or trucks of rock salt.

My friend looked at me and frowned. Bulldozers, Diamond, he said. If there’s one thing Israel has, its plenty of bulldozers. Argh.

Anyway – back to Lebanon. This particular hailstorm happened on a weekend afternoon in early February, when I was home and able to grab my camera. After snapping a few pictures, I uploaded them and promptly forgot to post them. The hail is small, but the storm lasted quite a while.


As you can see, my “gardening” abilities skew more towards tending dirt than plants, but the lovely leafy one above grows away despite my ineptitude.


My neighbors try to liven up my yard by having their maids sweep clothespins and other debris onto it. There’s not much neighborhood spirit here, let alone any civic pride, so when I ask them not to they huff. I suppose sweeping the clothespins and dirty kleenexes into a pile and then transferring it to a trash can really is too much to ask.


One thing I love about winter is the starkness of its beauty. I love the elemental look of tree branches – nature stripped to its bare bones.

In Arabic, the word “winter” is used as a verb, and it means “to rain”, since that is what defines winter in most parts of the Middle East. There is a verb for “to rain”, and there is also a verb for “to snow”, but “wintering” is the one that people use, even in English.

I can’t wait for summer, an acquaintance told me last month.

I agree, I said. I get tired of the cold and the rain.

I don’t mind the cold or the rain, my acquaintance said. But I hate it when it winters.

We’re both happy these days – the sun is shining, temperatures are in the 60s, and spring is here.

Posted in Arabic, neighbors, photography, rain, time, weather, words | Leave a Comment »

Saturday at a snail’s pace

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 15, 2008

I love Saturday mornings: I wake up a bit later and drink cup after cup of tea while returning emails and – she admits, blushing – scrolling through the latest Ebay offerings.

The snails seem to enjoy Saturday mornings somewhat less, since it is also the morning when I have time to check on their whereabouts. As of this morning, four snails have been gently but firmly relocated from my salon gate and my mudroom door.


As for any other snails thinking to move in, I have seven words of warning:

My grandmother knows how to make escargot.

Posted in animals, Beirut, home | 3 Comments »

Consensus alums

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 14, 2008

The latest missive from my alma mater arrived last week. When I got around to reading it, it reminded me of … politics in Lebanon.

The Alumni Relations Office has been rethinking the process of picking new Class Officers … to include as many people in the life of [our school] and of our class as are interested. So we’ll see what responses we get and then hopefully work it out so that everyone has a role that they are happy with. If there are several people interested in being class president, we can have co-presidents, slot someone into the VP role, or whatever makes sense. The goal is to avoid an “election” per se, and to be as inclusive as possible.

The goal is to avoid an election?

Dear Class Officers and Alumni Relations Office staff: I understand that relatively few alums want to compete to be class treasurer, but from Beirut this looks like a step backwards.

Look at Lebanon: direct popular election of the president would be a much more inclusive system than the current one. We need more examples of democracy in the world, not fewer :).

Posted in academia, Americans, Beirut, Lebanon, politics | Leave a Comment »

Lebanese humor

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 13, 2008

Oh great, H said one evening earlier this week, frowning at his laptop. Someone sent me a joke in Arabic. Like I have time to try and read through it.

I didn’t really have time, either – but I did have the curiosity. So while H fielded a call from his mother, I commandeered his laptop. I’m very curious about what people in this culture find funny – although in this case I wish I hadn’t been.

Here’s the joke, stanza by stanza:

توقيف ألماني وسوري

ولبناني في السعودي

The arrest of a German, a Syrian, and a Lebanese man in Saudi Arabia.

في السعودية تمَّ القبضُ على ثلاثة مخمورين،

الأول ألماني، والثاني سوريّ، والثالث لُبناني،

.وحكم القاضي الشرعيّ بجلدِ كلٍّ منهم عشرين جلدة

Three men were arrested for drunkenness in Saudi Arabia: the first one was German, the second Syrian, and the third Lebanese. The sharia judge sentenced them to twenty lashes each.

وأثنا إعدادهم للجلد، أقبلَ الجلادُ عليهم مسروراً

وقال لهم: لقد وضعتْ زوجتي اليومَ مولوداً جديداً

.وطلبتْ منّي أَن أمنحَ كلَّ واحدٍ منكم أمنيةً بهذه المناسبة

While they were preparing for the flogging, the flogger [literally, executioner, but that’s not what is meant here] approached them happily, and said: today my wife gave birth to a new son, and she asked me to grant each one of you a wish on this occasion.

:قال الألماني وكان أوّل من تقرّر البدءُ بجلده

أرجو أَن تربطَ إلى ظهري وسادةً قبلَ الجلدِ،

.فقامَ الجلادُ بذلك، وتمزّقت الوسادةُ في الجلدة العاشرة،

فلمّا انتهى الجلادُ أخذَ الألمانيُّ يبكي بشدّة

.وقد تمزّق ظهرُه وسالت دماؤه

The German was scheduled to go first, and he said: I ask you to tie a pillow to my back before the flogging. The flogger did this, but the pillow ripped on the tenth lash. When the flogger finished, the German began crying violently, for his back was torn and his blood flowed [down it].

قال السوريُّ وقد حان دورُه:

.أمّا أنا فأُمنيتي أَن تربطَ وسادتين إلى ظهري

ففعلَ الجلادُ ذلك، ولكن ما لبثت الوسادتان

.أَن تمزّقتا من الجلدة الخامسة عشر،

.وتلقّى السوريُّ باقيَ الجلدات وهو يصرخ ويبكي من الألم

When the Syrian man’s turn came, he said: As for me, my wish is that you tie two pillows to my back. So the flogger did this, but the two pillows did not last long. They tore on the fifteenth lash, and the Syrian received the remaining lashes yelling and crying from the pain.

:قال الجلاد للبناني وقد كان آخرهم

.أنتَ أخٌ عربيٌّ وجارٌ شقيقٌ لذا سأمنحك أمنيتين،

فقال اللبناني: شكراً لك يا سيّدي على كرم أخلاقِك،

وتقديراً لإحسانِك فإنَّ أُمنيتي الأولى هي أَن تجلدَني

مئةَ جلدةٍ بدلاً من عشرين،

The flogger said to the Lebanese man, who was the last to go: You are an Arab brother and a full/true neighbor. For this I will grant you two wishes.

The Lebanese man said: Thank you sir for the nobility of your character, and with appreciation for your charitableness. As for my two wishes, my first is that you beat me 100 times instead of twenty.

فقال الجلادُ مُتعجّباً: ما أشجعك من رجلٍ،

لك ذلك، وما أمنيتك الثانية؟
فتبسّمَ اللبنانيُّ وقال:

!فأمّا الثانية فهي أَنْ تربطَ السوريَّ إلى ظهري

The flogger said in amazement: I have never seen a man as courageous than you. And what is your second wish?

The Lebanese man smiled and said: As for the second wish, it is that you tie the Syrian man to my back!

Nice people, the Lebanese. And just to be certain that the reader has no trouble understanding the joke, the original comes with full diacritical markings.

But in a way the Syrian does have the last laugh. The original joke came in MS Word-friendly format, which means that each script is coded according to nationality. The Arabic used for this joke was AR-SY: Syrian Arabic.

Posted in Arab world, Arabic, humor | 2 Comments »

American in Beirut

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 12, 2008

H and I walked through the Gefinor Center the other night after one of us had a craving for Sbarro.

Does that say “American Airlines”? H asked, stopping and turning for a better view.

I doubt it, I said. But I was wrong. Still, it didn’t make sense: American airlines are allowed to fly in and out of only a very limited number of Middle Eastern countries – and Lebanon certainly isn’t one of them.

On the other hand, we couldn’t quite believe that a pre-war American Airlines office had survived not only the civil war but also the past 17 years of reconstruction. The Gefinor’s businesses do seem like a step back in time, but the early 1970s is a pretty big step.

The office did look pretty old, though. And very closed.


We peered in the windows while the Gefinor’s security staff peered curiously at us. But what we saw wasn’t particularly enlightening.

We have no idea when this office was last used: the floating staircase says 1960s, the posters on the wall could be from the 1970s, while the office furniture looks more mid-1990s. But it is definitely not open now.

However it is, or at least it was, the closest thing to an American Airlines office in Beirut. You can see the listing on “BuyUSA.gov“, the United States Commercial Service website. The airline operates through a “local representative”, Panasiatic Travel, whose address is indeed the Gefinor Center.

I never fly American Airlines – I grew up in a United Airlines-flying family. So even if the local office were still open, it wouldn’t be of much use to me.

But I would definitely stop by – one of those vintage posters would look great framed.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Beirut, food, Lebanon, research, tourism, travel | Leave a Comment »

Movie Night

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 11, 2008

I’ve been looking forward to seeing Persepolis, the film version of Marjane Satrapi’s graphic-novel version of her childhood in post-Revolution Iran. Her books are witty and warm, and the childhood Marjane’s confusion at the changes taking place around her (politically, socially, economically) put a very human face on1980s Iran.


I’ve been looking forward to seeing Persepolis, but apparently I won’t be seeing it here: Lebanon has banned the film.

Press TV says that the film has been banned because it presents a “distorted image” of post-Revolution Iran. I think that this is a bunch of rubbish – the Lebanese government more likely banned it for fear that it might increase the political tension.

Either way, I’m missing out on a movie that I very much wanted to see.

But interestingly enough, H has been mentioning that lunch in Tripoli sounds like a wonderful spring adventure. I’ve never been to Tripoli, but I hear that its merchants offer a particularly wide variety of DVDs. I bet I can find Persepolis there.

And if not, I can always watch the Shah’s Iran: Dubai TV has been airing Soraya, the 2003 Italian mini-series based on the life of Mohammed Reza Shah’s second wife. Furs, ballgowns and limousines: no distorted images there :).

Posted in film, Iran, Lebanon, media, politics | Leave a Comment »

escargot invasion

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 10, 2008

The weather this weekend was amazing: highs in the low 80s, a true feeling of spring (well, minus the khamseen’y haze in the air on Saturday morning). Unfortunately for me, the warm weather has also brought new life to my snail issues.

They are everywhere: I am working from home today, and I can see ten through my salon window without even moving my head.


I don’t mind them when they perch on the walls, but when they spread themselves out on the ground they look more like slugs. Slug, ugh: there’s a reason those two words rhyme. And the goo trails on the ground are … quite something.

When H went out for a wander in my yard yesterday afternoon, I tried to warn him. Watch out for the snails, I called after him.

What snails? he called back. I don’t see any.

Ignorance is bliss, I thought to myself, happy that he was enjoying a snail-free yard.

HOW MANY SNAILS ARE THERE? H yelled a few minutes later. Apparently the bliss didn’t last :).

Posted in animals, Beirut, bugs, home, humor, weather | 4 Comments »