A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘animals’ Category

mollusk silk: more from Bsous

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 12, 2009

Since it is the season of love, indulge me as I return to one of my Lebanese loves: the Bsous Silk Museum. I’m not actually a great silk wearer, but the history of silk production in Lebanon is one of my favorite stories.

Any thanks to a casual remark from one of my former professors, I am now curious about the name of the town itself. I understand that “Bsous” comes originally from a Syriac word, and wonder whether it might be linked to the word “byssus”, which appears in the Old Testament – in Exodus, where it is often translated as “linen” or “wool” or even “yarn”. Byssus is the term for the silk-like threads that some types of mollusks (shelled creatures in the mussel and clam family) secrete to anchor themselves to the sea-floor. (Think this sounds gross? Schedule a visit to the Bsous Silk Museum and ask to meet the silkworms.)

Merriam-Webster tells me that “byssus” comes from Middle English bissus, from Latin byssus, from Greek byssos flax, of Semitic origin; akin to Hebrew būṣ linen cloth. And apparently byssus silk and worm silk were seen as much the same – both somewhat nubbier and more linen-like than the silk we use today, thanks to the difference in hand-spun and machine-spun threads.

You can probably figure out my question. Do any of you know whether “Bsous” the town derives from the same word as “byssus”, and whether there was any ancient connection between its land-based silk-making and sea silk? Bsous isn’t a coastal town, so I’m guessing that the term “byssus”/Bsous was used by analogy, but I’m curious whether it was applied first to silk worms and then to silk clams, or vice versa.


Posted in academia, animals, Arab world, Beirut, bugs, clothing, education, Lebanon, research, sea | 1 Comment »

Waltz with Bashir

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 24, 2009

I’ve been meaning to write about Waltz with Bashir for the past two weeks or so, but my good intentions have gone nowhere. Thank goodness for my friend N, who had a piece about its screening at a Beirut non-profit in this past week’s Variety:

Lebanese auds have finally been able to “Waltz With Bashir” despite the fact that Israeli helmer Ari Folman’s Oscar-nommed pic is officially banned in the country.

UMAM, an org that archives Lebanon’s history and war memory through written and audiovisual materials, screened the film at its cultural center, a restored warehouse in a southern suburb of Beirut that is home to Hezbollah’s headquarters.

UMAM’s name is derived from the Arabic word for “nations.”

Banned by the censorship board of Lebanon’s Security Directorate, Ari Folman’s film also passed under the radar of Hezbollah at the semi-private Jan . 17 screening, to which 40 people were invited by the nonprofit org but about 90 attended.

(You can read the rest of the article here.)

I’m not surprised that there was so much interest in the film, but I would love to have heard what viewers said about it afterwards. For me, the biggest shock was partly self-induced: I had been thinking of Waltz as a film about Lebanon. But it isn’t: its a film about Israel, in which Lebanon is merely a foil for national reflection.

Its an interesting film, although “documentary” is not the word I would have chosen for it. Folman plays with the backgrounds of the people he interviews – some are reproduced faithfully, putting them in normal contexts that suggest their professional or domestic worlds, while others are not. The ones whose backgrounds are not reproduced appear to be in prison, or perhaps a hospital – which they are not. In other words, Folman’s choice regarding what to include or exclude from the interviewee’s surroundings frames how the viewer interprets his or her words.

Nor is the history told fully accurate. For example, there is an extended sequence at the Beirut airport, which shows it occupied exclusively by Israelis. As an American, I consider this a historical injustice: when Folman was there, the U.S. Marines were very much a presence at the airport.

In another sequence, repeated several times throughout the movie, Folman “remembers” walking through a group of chadored, mourning women. This makes no sense, historically or geographically: in 1982 women in chadors were not roaming the streets of Ramlet el-Baida. His “memory” reflects his own inability to separate later fears of Iran and Hizbullah from actual history; which is fine, except that as a documentarian he should frame his narrative more carefully – i.e., more accurately.

(FYI: small spoiler alert ahead)

Those of you who have read the reviews and/or seen the movie know that it ends with actual footage of Sabra and Shatila, post-massacre. I don’t find this a terribly compelling cinematic choice: the footage is early 1980s, and as grainy and choppy as war footage of that era seems to have been. Also, it was clearly filmed after the massacre was known, so while the mourning is real, the immediacy of shock has been lost. (I’m leaving aside here my comments on the totally rubbish portrayal of the Israeli role in this, in which the massacre stops because a heroic Israel commander finally drives up to the camp and yells at the Kataeb through a bullhorn.)

The camera follows several women as they walk through the camp, crying at the loss. Palestinian women, speaking – unsurprisingly – in Arabic.

Yet my latest copy of the New Yorker notes that the film is “In Hebrew, German, and English.” When the characters speak in Hebrew, their words are subtitled in English. When they speak German (don’t ask), their words are subtitled in English. When they speak English, obviously, there are no subtitles.

And when the women speak in Arabic?

No subtitles – and no sign from any U.S. media critic that this is an injustice. But it is: the lack of translation reduces these women from mourning women to screaming animals, with meaningless noises.

What they say is actually very interesting: they speak directly to the camera, and ask: Where are the Arabs? Why is it only foreigners here? And they tell the cameraman: Film this; film all of this.

Folman makes several irresponsible decisions as a “documentarian”, but for me this is the worst of all. By choosing not to translate their words, he denies them – the victims of a massacre the Israeli Army helped perpetuate – their voice. And he confirms that this is not a film about Lebanon.

Posted in animals, art, Beirut, film, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, women | 8 Comments »

the namesake chicken

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 10, 2008

Two days ago, I received a group email from my friend H, who was brimming over with excitement about his new role in life: uncle.

[My niece] is less than 48 hours old, and, like all babies, is believed by her family (us) to be the cutest thing alive, EXTREMELY bright for her age, and very interactive, H wrote.

As an aunt, I know exactly how H feels – and I was delighted that he wanted to share the news with us.

But I was flummoxed by what came next:

P.S. Diamond, H added, you get a chicken because the baby has your name!

Don’t worry – H’s niece isn’t really named “Diamond”, although “Massa” is used as a girl’s name in Arabic. Her name is my middle name, which is much less flashy.

And while I have been thinking about getting a pet – there are so many animals in need of loving homes in New York, as in Beirut – I wasn’t exactly dreaming of a chicken. (Nor, I imagine, are my landlords.)


H very kindly promised to keep the chicken until my next trip to Lebanon (which I imagine will please his roommates even less than my landlords). Apparently the giving-a-chicken-to-people-with-the-same-name-as-a-newborn was a new tradition for him, too.

As for his family, they have a lot of chickens to buy. My middle name isn’t the most common in Lebanon (imagine the truckload that families naming their son Fadi must order), but I do know a few women with it as their first names.

I wonder whether farmers give volume discounts: Namesake Chickens! 10% off if you buy six or more!

Happy uncling, H – and please take good care of “my” chicken!

Posted in advertising, animals, Arab world, babies, Beirut, friends, humor, Lebanon, parenting | 3 Comments »

the power of curry

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 5, 2008

Last night I had dinner with my friend R. It was one of those cold, wet nights that I think of as an early winter specialty in New York – and we had decided to combat the chill with Thai. We went to Lemongrass Grill, a local chain, and happily began poring over a long menu of flavor-filled items, each more tempting than the next.

But one in particular stood out: the massaman curry dish, which Lemongrass’ menu described as “Muslim influence curry”:


Hmm, I said. I think it means “influenced”, as in “a curry influenced by Muslims”, not as in “this curry will influence you in Muslim ways”.

I’m ordering it, said R, who has an adventurous spirit.

Both of our dishes were delicious, and neither of us seemed particularly altered by them – happily for me, as mine featured both peanuts and spinach, neither of which I particularly wish to resemble.

But I am curious about the name. I have seen this dish in other Thai restaurants, spelled mussaman and massalman. This latter to me looks a lot like the French term for Muslim: musulman/e, so perhaps many people over the centuries have  misheard “Muslim” or “Muslimeen” (the plural) as “Musalm” or “Musalmin”.

I looked online and found that while most food writers agree that this is “Muslim curry”, there seems to be no definitive view on how it received its name.

Here is the general consensus, from the foodies’ view:

Food blog Taste Buddies states that the dish is from southern Thailand and “was born from the Arab spice merchants who settled in the region a thousand years ago.”

The Curry Focus Blog agrees, noting that 60% of the population in southern Thailand is Muslim. It describes the curry as more sweet than spicy, and notes that that: “Spices were introduced to southern Thailand by early Portuguese traders who brought spices (such as turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, cloves and nutmeg) from the Middle East and India.” It suggests that the curry does well with pork, which to me seems to take away from the “Muslim” influence, but perhaps its a sign of how popular the curry is beyond its original makers.

A few sites suggest that the dish was traditionally made with beef. EnjoyThaiFood and others who suggest using chicken note that this is a departure from the traditional dish, since “Thai Muslims of course usually eat this dish with beef.” Does this sound familiar to anyone? I don’t think of Muslims as avoiding chicken (or poultry generally) – is this more of a Thai Muslim culinary tradition, or is it something I simply do not know?

In any case, what I do know is that we were both delighted to find ourselves warm and cozy on a chilly night, catching up and filling up on sweetly spicy food.

Posted in animals, Arab world, Brooklyn, food, Islam, neighbors, religion, research, weather, women | 1 Comment »

El rancho libanés

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 4, 2008

Sometimes, serendipity reaches out and hugs you just when life seemed to be getting truly ordinary. Yesterday, a chance encounter with a bit of Dubai PR absolutely made my day – and made me long for my next trip to Lebanon.

Here’s how it began:

The rugged outdoor and colorful life-style of a real cowboy is often glorified in movies and books, and can been seen re-enacted today in many areas of the United States.

Um, yes, although why is a piece from Dubai mentioning this? I wondered.

One would be hard pressed to image however, this authentic reenactment of the Bronco Busters of the wild west, to be located in the east, especially the middle east.

Very true, I thought. Is Dubai creating a Wild West Island?

International travelers can now get a glimpse of good ol’ country boy quintessential living, with real ranch hands and cowboys just outside of sunny Beirut, Lebanon.

HOW ON EARTH DID I MISS THIS PLACE? I thought, eyebrows raised.

The ranch is called, appropriately enough, “El Rancho”, and its website is ElRanchoLebanon.com.

The site, which features animated details like flying geese and a tumbleweed, as well as a soundtrack that seems to feature Woody Guthrie, welcomes visitors with:

For an authentic TexMex experience, set off on a dude ranch escape at El Rancho! Located in the magnificent Ghodras Hill in Keserwan, just forty minutes away from the heart of Beirut and few kilometers up the Casino du Liban,  El Rancho is the ideal place for family vacations, ranch holidays, friends reunions, weddings and birthdays, or just to get away for a Texan day or an under the star wild west evening meal. Meandering to reach beautiful Lebanese scenery in a western breathtaking setting, El Rancho has a great cowboy ambiance, old time saloons and plenty of cowboys and cowgirls ready to serve you at best.

I’m not sure what this dog-sheriff has to do with the ranch, but his image features prominently on the site:


Apparently recognizing that ranch living is not that familiar to most Lebanese, the site has numerous helpful sub-sections, including “What is a ranch?”.

For those who do not know, A ranch is an area of landscape, including various structures, given primarily to the practice of ranching, the practice of raising grazing livestock such as cattle or sheep for meat or wool. El Rancho, however, probably fits more into the site’s definition of a “dude ranch” as one catering to tourists, since in addition to a stables and “high noon” restaurant, it also features a paintball arena. It lists tennis courts and a health club as part of its planned 2010 expansion – following its 2009 additions, which include an Indian village and a “natural pool with bar”.

The planned Indian village, which seems to have been originally scheduled for 2008:


I also enjoyed reading “What to wear”, which instructs visitors to:

Leave your stiletto heels at home and put your riding or western boots on. It’s the Wild West at El Rancho with cowboy hats and a pair of denim jeans.

I’m not sure how this fashion advice fits with El Rancho’s suggested activities, which include corporate events and weddings. And I personally have a very, very hard time leaving my heels at home for any event, although after my father very kindly polished up my old huntseat riding boots last weekend, I wouldn’t mind taking them out for a trail ride or two.

At any rate, El Rancho is very much on my list of places to visit when I am next in Lebanon.

Posted in advertising, animals, clothing, friends, holidays, Lebanon, vanity, women | Leave a Comment »

birds & butterflies: even more old Lebanese stamps

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 7, 2008

Here is the next set of stamps from Faylasoof’s first scan – and with it another chance to demonstrate my skittish math skills. Yesterday, I told you that I had divided the scan into quarters. Well, I actually divided it into sixths. You do not want me figuring out your portions of the dinner bill, estimating how many yards of fabric for curtains, or measuring how much space your car needs to fit into the garage without being whonked by the garage door :).

I don’t have as much to say about this set of stamps: they are mostly birds and butterflies, both of which I vaguely appreciate, but about which I have little to say. I can say that they are pretty, and that Lebanon is lucky to have such diversity, but that’s about it.

Here is section number three (of six!) of the first scan:

And here is section number four:

This one is a bit more interesting to me because of the Beit Meri stamp. (The Arabic script says: “Jeitaoui”.) All I know of Beit Meri is that it is a Christian suburb of Beirut with some truly ugly high-rise apartment buildings. Now, thanks to this stamp, I know that its history dates back to Roman times.

(If you would like to learn a bit more about Beit Mery’s Roman ruins, there is a short post on Google Earth’s community site written by the ardently named “Phoenician Pilot”. You can also try the city’s website, MOBMAS – for Municipality of Beit Meri – Ain Saadeh. And if you are looking for a Beit Mery a little closer to home, try this one – a Roman Catholic hermitage located in Yakima, Washington.)

Posted in advertising, animals, Arabic, art, Beirut, bugs, Iowa, Lebanon, media, stamps, tourism | Leave a Comment »

iphone bloopers

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 5, 2008

Since my mother and father got iPhones (1.0 – they’re early adopters), their interest in text messaging has gone from less than zero to 110% enthusiasm. But their texting styles are quite different.

My father sends telegram-style sms’es to communicate critical news like estimated plane arrival times – and full-on letter-style sms’es for all other issues. His sms’es typically begin “Dear Diamond,” include a paragraph of formal text, and end with a separate line for “Love, Dad”. I find them utterly endearing, although my own sms’es to him continue to be one-paragraph blobs of informal writing.

My mother’s sms’es average three screens’ worth, and arrive bubbling with enthusiasm. Her iPhone sends each 160-character message separately, however, and for some reason I tend to receive them in reverse order. I.e., I usually get something like “great fun! XOXO Mom” and only several minutes later get her first two sms screens, which explain what the “great fun” in question was.

My mother is also a big fan of the iPhone’s predictive spell-checker, which often seems to be making predictions after a big puff of a melon-scented argileh.

Yesterday, for example, spell-checker gifted me with a real doozy of an sms. Earlier in the day, my mother had texted me to say that she had found an old favorite skirt of mine in her closet. She offered to mail it to me; I said I could wait until we meet up at the end of the month for the wedding of a family friend – unless she would rather not have to make room for it in my luggage.

As you can tell from my recounting, these were fairly run-of-the-mill sms’es. But when I got out of the subway yesterday evening, my mobile began beeping immediately.

Will ship briefcase-sized pig to your office, my mother wrote.

WHAT? I thought to myself, torn between laughter and alarm. After all, my organization does a lot of work with Muslim communities in New York and elsewhere – and it is Ramadan. Not to mention that the local grocery stores are already stocking up their matzoh products in preparation for Passover.

I’m not sure whether pigs even come in briefcase sizes, but I am pretty sure that the arrival of one in my office building would make me persona less-than-grata with members of at least two communities (and, of course, our landlord).

Luckily, however, my mother had re-read this sms message. As I digested the idea of a postal service pig, another text arrived from Iowa.

OOOPS! she wrote. That would be ‘pkg’, haha.

Posted in Americans, animals, Iowa, Lebanon, words | 4 Comments »

have camel fantasy, will travel

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 27, 2008

A few days ago, a work friend sent me an email that included this photo of Pakistani artist Huma Mulji’s work “Arabian Delight”:

(More of Multji’s portfolio, including additional photographs of Arabian Delight, can be viewed here.)

I keep returning to this image, because I can’t decide how I feel about it.

On the one hand, I find it a brilliantly witty commentary on the camel/desert/harem fantasies that continue to populate the minds of Americans and Europeans when it comes to the Middle East. I love how in this case a tourist is literally packing the fantasy into his or her suitcase.

And I can’t tell you the number of times friends and acquaintances have joked about the camel-riding they imagine that I do in Syria and Lebanon – even those who know better! (I haven’t kept a strict count, but its up there with the number of times I’ve been asked how I feel about having to wear an abaya. I’ve never had to wear one. In fact, the last time I wore one was to tour the Grand Mosque of Kuwait, where as tourists we were largely exempted from modest dress requirements – men and women alike. I chose to wear an abaya to be respectful … and because as a New Yorker I’m a sucker for chic all-black outfits :).)

On the other hand, Mulji’s piece involves an actual dead camel, which I think is pretty gross. Not to mention a bit disrespectful to the animal in question. Surely she could have made the same point using a camel made out of fake fur – or an inflatable one:

(Thanks to AdvertisingBalloons.com for this image.)

I’m still torn. What message do you get from Arabian Delight? Does it speak to you at all? And: could you imagine seeing this piece in a gallery exhibit in the Arab World? I can “see” it in Lebanon, but the taxidermy element makes me wonder whether it would be welcomed in the Gulf.

Posted in advertising, animals, Arab world, art, Iowa, tourism | 3 Comments »

bulls gone wild

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 20, 2008

I’m de-fragging the computer that hosts our office’s shared files, and there’s not much work I can do until it finishes. Thank goodness for Naharnet, which is reporting on a major, crisis-inducing Resolution 1701 violation – an attack Israeli bull:

A bull which had infiltrated Lebanese territory from Israel has attacked Spanish peacekeepers and headbutted their vehicles before being shot dead, An Nahar daily reported Wednesday. It said the UNIFIL troops were erecting an electric barbed wire to prevent Israeli cows from entering Lebanese territory at the Baathaeel pond when Israeli soldiers unleashed the wild bull on the peacekeepers.

A Spanish soldier shot the bull dead after it ran towards the U.N. troops and began headbutting their vehicles, the newspaper said.

The peacekeepers then buried the bull and continued their work to erect the wire, which according to An Nahar, it has stopped the infiltration of Israeli cows to the pond area.

I’m dying laughing at the idea of a bull “infiltrating” enemy territory, not to mention the accusation that the IDF “unleashed” it on UNIFIL. Can’t you just imagine the discussion in Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s office?

We couldn’t get Hizbullah to surrender when we used our F16s, and we couldn’t get them to surrender when we tried a land invasion – but by God, we will get them to surrender to our attack bull.

Given that the Israeli government is currently threatening to target “the entire Lebanese state” (not to mention “all the Lebanese” people) if it “legitimizes” Hizbullah, I think that it is planning something more than a livestock invasion.

As for the poor UNIFIL soldiers who had to first defend themselves from attack and then bury the bull, my heart goes out to them. I’m sure that many days in Lebanon are a bit surreal for them – but today must have reached a new level.

Posted in animals, Arab world, Beirut, dairy, espionage, humor, Israel, Lebanon, media, neighbors, politics, UNIFIL, words | 2 Comments »

hating Beirut (with Tuesday morning update)

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 24, 2008

My parents left this morning, and since then two things have made me seriously consider buying a ticket and jumping ship on the next upgradeable flight out of here.

I lived in Manhattan for eight years and never once had a rat in my apartment. But today I find that I am on my third Beirut rat in nine months. There are rat feces all over my bedroom, and urine on my favorite chair.

And while I was scouring my apartment for possible rat hiding places, a three-inch spider crawled out from under one of H’s bags. So I unblocked the kitchen door and grabbed two cans of “all insect killer” from the cupboard below the sink.

Perhaps these sprays kill all other insects, but they did nothing to this spider. Here’s what finally worked: using one can’s bottom rim to slice the spider into bits. And yes, I did have to wait half an hour for its limbs to stop twitching before I could scoop them into the trash.


I’m working from home today, and I can hear the rat slamming against the kitchen door every fifteen minutes or so, trying to get out. Thank God my mother left all her spare travel Kleenex packs with me – not quite as good as a hug, but better than using a shirtsleeve to wipe up all my tears.

I hate this city’s culture of irresponsibility. I hate the filth – metaphoric and physical – in which people choose to live. If Beirutis would act less like vermin’s best friends, throwing empty wrappers and coffee cups and God knows what other garbage onto the streets and sidewalks, perhaps the number of actual vermin would go down to a normal level.

Tuesday morning update:

When H came over yesterday evening, I warned him about the rat.

Its okay, he said. I don’t mind.

Its not the rat itself I’m warning you about, I said. Its me. I’m insanely grouchy – just wait until you see the blog post I wrote.

But H came over anyway, armed with logic and rationality.

There are rats everywhere, he said.

No there aren’t, I insisted. Not in people’s apartments. I don’t know anyone who has had a rat in their apartment in the United States.

I had a rat in my apartment when I lived in San Antonio, H said, furrowing his eyebrows in a sweet “please don’t say you hate this place – I’m from here” way.

Oh, I said, feeling the day’s self-righteousness slipping out of me. Okay.

Posted in animals, Beirut, bugs | 7 Comments »