A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘beer’ Category

Beirut: banding together

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 10, 2009

One of the many events currently taking place in New York’s busy cultural scene is a music festival called “Sounds Like Brooklyn“, which features musicians from – yes, you guessed it – Brooklyn. And the headliner band, which played a concert this past weekend, is called Beirut.

The first time I heard of this band was – appropriately enough – in Beirut, during drinks at Bardo. An incredibly lush piece came over the sound system (a nice break from the usual music played there) and B, whose blushing description of meeting his girlfriend’s parents belied my friend A’s description of him as “a total rogue”, smiled and said, That’s Beirut.

The song was “Scenic World”, and the lyrics are actually quite depressing – but the music is stunning. (You can listen to it here.) Does it sound Lebanese? Not at all – and that’s the rub.

Beirut-the-band has no connection to Beirut-the-city. No Lebanese musicians, no Lebanese musical influences, although the group does claim a strong interest in Balkan harmonies. I wish there were a deeper connection – as do the numerous journalists who have asked Zach Condon, the band’s founder, to explain its name. Perhaps its the fault of youth: Condon was only 18 or 20 when he chose the name, and (thanks perhaps to beer pong?) he seems to have thought nothing more than: “sounds cool”.

Of all the articles I found that addressed the group’s name, this one – a feature in the August 6, 2006 issue of New York Magazine – made me the saddest. I know where I was on August 6, 2006, and I know how I felt about “the Beirut situation”.

Here’s what Condon had to say:

Condon’s band has grown to ten members—just in time, it would seem, to defend its name. “You know, it’s ironic,” he says, addressing the “Beirut situation” before a rehearsal in his Bushwick loft. (Spackle covers everything, including the pots and pans. He and his roommates are trying to build individual bungalows, maybe buy a pool table.) “One of the reasons I named the band after that city was the fact that it’s seen a lot of conflict. It’s not a political position. I worried about that from the beginning. But it was such a catchy name. I mean, if things go down that are truly horrible, I’ll change it. But not now. It’s still a good analogy for my music. I haven’t been to Beirut, but I imagine it as this chic urban city surrounded by the ancient Muslim world. The place where things collide.”

I still like “Scenic World”, but I’ll wait to hear Beirut play live until they do a bit more research into their city.


Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, art, beer, Beirut, Brooklyn, Israel, media, music, news, words | Leave a Comment »

liquor licenses at home and abroad

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 7, 2008

Years ago, during my first summer in Damascus, I was fascinated to learn that Syria’s laws prohibit serving alcohol within so many meters of a mosque – or at least, this is how the law was explained to me. It made sense – after all, most believers agree that Islam does not welcome alcohol – although a Christian friend later mentioned that similar rules apply to churches. And really, what worshiper would like to come out of a service to find disco music and drunken revelry just next door?

I assumed that these laws reflected the religious sensitivities of people in the Levant, and filed away the information in the “interesting facts” folder of my brain. But yesterday I was reminded that I live in a country that is also filled with religious sensitivities. After reading a letter to the editor questioning how a midtown church could receive a liquor license for its new restaurant, I did a bit of research and learned that most US state and city laws restrict liquor licenses – and especially bars – to a set distance from houses of worship and schools.

Here is the relevant section of New York State law:

    7. No retail license for on-premises consumption shall be granted  for
  any premises which shall be

    (a)  on  the  same  street  or avenue and within two hundred feet of a
  building occupied exclusively as a school, church,  synagogue  or  other
  place of worship or

    (b)  in a city, town or village having a population of twenty thousand
  or more within five hundred feet of  three  or  more  existing  premises
  licensed and operating pursuant to the provisions of this section;

    (c) the measurements in paragraphs (a) and (b) of this subdivision are
  to be taken in straight lines from the center of the nearest entrance of
  the premises sought to be licensed to the center of the nearest entrance
  of  such  school,  church, synagogue or other place of worship or to the
  center of the nearest  entrance  of  each  such  premises  licensed  and
  operating  pursuant  to the provisions of this section; except, however,
  that no renewal license shall be denied because of such  restriction  to
  any  premises  so  located  which  were maintained as a bona fide hotel,
  restaurant, catering establishment or  club  on  or  prior  to  December
  fifth,  nineteen hundred thirty-three; and, except that no license shall
  be denied to any premises at which a license under this chapter has been
  in existence continuously from a date prior to the date when a  building
  on  the  same  street  or  avenue  and  within  two hundred feet of said
  premises has been occupied exclusively as a school, church, synagogue or
  other place of worship; and except that no license shall  be  denied  to
  any  premises,  which  is  within  five  hundred  feet  of three or more
  existing premises licensed and operating pursuant to the  provisions  of
  this  section,  at  which  a  license  under  this  chapter  has been in
  existence continuously on or prior to November first,  nineteen  hundred
  ninety-three;  and  except  that this subdivision shall not be deemed to
  restrict the issuance of a hotel liquor license to a building used as  a
  hotel  and  in  which  a  restaurant liquor license currently exists for
  premises which serve as a dining room for guests  of  the  hotel  and  a
  caterer's license to a person using the permanent catering facilities of
  a  church,  synagogue  or  other  place of worship pursuant to a written
  agreement between such person and the  authorities  in  charge  of  such
  facilities.  The  liquor authority, in its discretion, may authorize the
  removal of any such licensed premises to a  different  location  on  the
  same  street  or avenue, within two hundred feet of said school, church,
  synagogue or other place of worship, provided that such new location  is
  not  within a closer distance to such school, church, synagogue or other
  place of worship.

    (d) Within the context of this subdivision, the word "entrance"  shall
  mean a door of a school, of a house of worship, or premises licensed and
  operating  pursuant to the provisions of this section or of the premises
  sought to be licensed, regularly used to give ingress to students of the
  school,  to  the  general  public attending the place of worship, and to
  patrons or guests of the premises licensed and operating pursuant to the
  provisions of this section or of the premises  sought  to  be  licensed,
  except  that where a school or house of worship or premises licensed and
  operating pursuant to the provisions of this section is set back from  a
  public  thoroughfare,  the  walkway  or  stairs leading to any such door
  shall be deemed an entrance; and the measurement shall be taken  to  the
  center of the walkway or stairs at the point where it meets the building
  line  or  public thoroughfare. A door which has no exterior hardware, or
  which is used solely as an emergency or fire exit,  or  for  maintenance
  purposes,  or which leads directly to a part of a building not regularly
  used by the general public or patrons, is not deemed an "entrance".

Very interesting. Establishments that serve alcohol are thus restricted not only in terms of their distance from schools and houses of worship, but also in terms of how many there can be in a particular area relative to the size of the overall population. I am not sure whether New York’s population is simply so large that the population requirement is satisfied, or whether it has been granted a general exemption, but there definitely are a lot of bars and restaurants clustered together here, in both the city and the boroughs.

In any case, I am glad to have had the chance to think again about the many ways in which we on both sides of the world are alike – and for the reminder of how far I sometimes travel in order to learn more about my home country 🙂 .

Posted in Americans, Arab world, beer, Damascus, New York, nightlife, religion, research | 6 Comments »

morning in the suburbs

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 11, 2008

Good morning and happy Sunday from Beirut’s suburbs. Its a beautiful day, and finally it seems that the city is becoming as calm as my current view of it suggests:

I think I’ll take advantage of the calm and blog about something trivial 🙂 .

I’m an early sleeper and an early riser, so when I’m not living solo, I often spend my first waking moments indulging in a little forensics.

Yesterday afternoon we were joined by a mutual friend who had made it out of Hamra during a lull in the fighting. This morning, my CSI Lubnan investigations tell me that his presence has added greatly to the guy-ishness of H’s apartment.

961 beer bottles on the kitchen counter … cigarettes in the ashtray … TV remote controls inter-mixed with recharging laptops – all the trappings of a Saturday night at home in media-savvy guy land.

But I’m mystified by one thing: there are also five or six torn pieces of kleenex scattered around the living room and front hall, leading into the kitchen. They’re clean, but torn.

I can understand the remote controls (staying on top of the wada3) and the laptops (staying in touch with friends around the country and the world).

I can understand the beer (Saturday night) and the cigarettes (small acts of rebellion, justified by the wada3).

But what on earth were they doing with the little tufts of kleenex?

I’m tidying up my laptop as I ponder this utterly mystifying question, and sorting through photos I’ve taken over the past few weeks.

This is a photo of the Corniche, coming towards Ain El Mreisse, that I took on Wednesday afternoon. Thanks to the strike, the road was totally empty – shocking at the time, but now merely a footnote to all the events since then:

Posted in Americans, beer, Beirut, friends, home, kleenex, Lebanon, media, politics, words | 3 Comments »

getting and having: on laundry & love

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 9, 2008

Last night H & I took my aunt’s advice and went out for date night. We had a hoot of a time – especially since one of us is a very fine dancer.

“Date night” was a very satisfying end to “laundry day”, or rather “work and errand punctuated by laundry folding” day. Truth be told, a trio of sweet maids did the laundry, and I merely showed up at folding time – my kind of laundry day.

An advertisement I’ve seen on several billboards recently is also focused on laundry: a 6-kilogram load washing machine on sale from Homeline.

The washing machine looks fine, but the ad copy has been driving me nuts:


I get it – the new father of two wants to get a new washing machine so he can catch up on his sleep. Right – because so many Lebanese men do the laundry.

But that’s not what bothers me about the advertisement – its the bad grammar.

Just got his second baby? In English, one “has” a baby. The verb “to have” is a dictionary-recognized synonym for “to deliver” or “to give birth”. “To get” is not. You can get a disease, or get a new car, or acquire a new diamond bracelet, or even get (in the sense of “become”) married. You cannot get a child, because a child is not a possession.

On the other hand, I have heard several Lebanese people talk about siblings or friends “getting” children. So perhaps the ad copy was written wrong intentionally. You never know 🙂

Posted in advertising, babies, beer, Beirut, Lebanon, nightlife, parenting, photography, words | 1 Comment »

like water for mezzeh: lunch in the chouf

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 29, 2007

Last Sunday’s drive through the Chouf took us through lovely Deir al-Qamar, M’s village (which my friend R terms rather less romantically “my ancestral thing-y”). I ought to have taken photographs, but all my artistic efforts on the way up had made me carsick. By the time we reached the checkpoint on the way to Mukhtara, I was delighted to have the chance to stop for a bit.

The soldiers solemnly took M’s and T’s ID cards, as well as the car’s registration. When T told me to get out my passport, one said: bas al-shabab. Only the guys [literally, the youths]. Someday a woman will commit a terrible act of terrorism in this region, and the shockwaves will be monumental. Until then, though, I am happy to keep my passport in my (uninspected) handbag.

Once the soldiers saw T’s ID, their manner changed. From Xxxxx? they asked, smiling. Yes, T replied, grinning back at them. Ana walad al-balad – literally, I am a child of the country, but in this case meaning more Yes, I am from around here. With a local in the car, they judged us no threat to Jumblatt, Mukhtara’s most famous (and most likely to be targeted for assassination) resident, and waved us on.

Of course, we weren’t headed to Jumblatt’s palace, but rather to a well known restaurant nearby. The restaurant is a complex of buildings and terraces, built into the rocky mountainside, with a waterfall cascading down in the back.

This photo looks back towards the entrance from the main front courtyard:


This photograph was the view we had during lunch, from our table at one of the lower (and quieter) terraces:


These two show the waterfall:




The food was incredibly delicious, and our table was enlivened by the presence of the two cousins who now tend the restaurant, which their grandfather began decades ago. T’s good friends from university days, they kept the dishes (and the arak, for anise lovers) coming to our table.

It was a lovely day, marred for me only by one small cross-cultural difficulty – one that crops up now and again, particularly in nice but more traditional restaurants like this one and the ones I know in Damascus.

In the United States, restaurant bathrooms are quite strictly divided by sex. Men and boys use the men’s restrooml; women and girls use the women’s. Bathroom attendants, when they exist, work in the gender-appropriate restroom.

Here, however, it is quite common to find an adolescent boy as the bathroom attendant covering both bathrooms. While I understand in my head that there is nothing inherently creepy about having a fourteen year old boy come in to the women’s restroom to hand me a towel, I can’t shake my American sense of “my space is being violated”.

I can’t shake it, but I do try to compensate with an extra generous tip!

Posted in Americans, Arab world, beer, Beirut, citizenship, Druze, economics, friends, holidays, Lebanon, mountains, time, tourism, travel, vanity, weather, women | 1 Comment »

Cars, cars, everywhere: traffic problems

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 17, 2007

I’ll start this post off with a totally unrelated “Some days you feel like a nut …” anecdote:

Yesterday my friend M called to ask whether I would be interested in working with him on a local project. After my saying “yes”, he told me: Diamond, what we need is to develop a pattern whereby I don’t ever even need to see you.

Do you know, I replied, laughing, I’m quite certain that no one has ever said that to me before. I imagine that there are people who have thought that, but they haven’t told me directly.

Well. He’s been under a lot of stress recently, working on the launch of a project called “Now Lebanon”, whose recurring delays have led me to wonder whether “Later, Lebanon” or even “B3ad shwei, Lubnan” might not be more appropriate titles.

Also, I’ve never really seen him without the leavening presence of alcohol. Perhaps the vino softens him up a bit :-P.

On to the real post. My friends in Damascus, both Syrian and non, have complained for the past four years about the increasing traffic in Damascus.

Qualitatively, everyone knows that the number of cars on the roads has increased, thanks to the government’s early 2000s relaxation on purchase and ownership restrictions and a more recent decrease in car purchase taxes (reduced two years ago, from something like 213% to 67% ).

An article on road safety in today’s issue of Lebanon’s English language paper had this statistic:

In Syria in 2001 for example, there were 779,562 vehicles present. In 2006 that number had increased to 1,211,721.

In five years, the number of cars in Syria has grown by nearly half a million. No wonder everyone complains about the traffic!

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, beer, Beirut, Damascus, economics, friends, humor, Lebanon, media, research, Syria, travel, vanity, words | 1 Comment »

Beirut by any other name: beer pong debates in Lebanon?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 28, 2007

Last night I saw The Queen with Charles (who wrote about our fellow movie goers at Chou – infijar?). I tend to drag my feet at going to the cinema but the film was quite good. Charles proved to be a very amiable cinema companion, although he did insist on our finding “our” seats, despite the almost total emptiness of the theatre. I understood, though – I like to be anchored, too.

The best part of the Tuesday movie night might have been the walk home. We walked west on “Charles’s street”, Avenue Charles Malik, whose other name, Hikmeh (Wisdom), referenced a character trait that was not our strong suit. Walking through downtown was easy, but getting back to the west side involved several rather undignified fence and guard rail scalings. The city was beautiful by night, though, as it always is. We both deeply regretted our camera-less states.

BEFORE all this, though, I went for drinks in Gemmayze with G – a delightful evening of laughter and wide-ranging conversation. Our talk took a sudden turn from politics to sports, about which I know nothing. I soon learned that the owner of the vodka & seven keeping company with my Ksara rouge was quite an expert in … table tennis.

Wait. Do you mean ping pong? I asked, sitting up in my seat. Fantastic, I thought. Now my darkest, most potentially awkward question about life in Beirut can finally be answered.

Err, I began eloquently. So … you know … I mean … do you … do people … does one … mmm … is beer pong played here at all?

You mean ping pong, but with beer? G asked. How does that work, exactly?

Mmmm, I replied, Its a game of doubles with cups of beer and with funny distinctions made about hitting the rim versus sinking the ball into the cup. Oh, and … there’s a variation, called beirut.

Wikipedia, the current go-to site for relatively accurate first-dip research, has a brief post on beer pong here, although it lists beirut as an alternate name for the same game.

When I was in school, beirut was a slightly different game, involving more cups and no paddles. “Pyramids” of plastic cups half-filled with beer were placed on each side of the net, and players competed by attempting to “sink” the ball into a cup.

Why “beirut”? Because the sinking was like the fall of a missile, or a bomb. Hence the awkwardness: US college students have co-opted the site of a long, brutal, and bloody civil war for Thursday latenights.

I have for a long time wondered whether beirut the game had entered the consciousness of twenty- and thirty-something American raised Lebanese (and also whether they found it funny, or offensive). Wondered, but been too shy to ask until G’s fortuitous table tennis side showed itself.

*** I should note that as a non beer-drinker, beer pong and beirut were games I watched from the sidelines. White Russian or Midori Sour pong would have been more to my sweet-tooth tastes.

Also, things seem to have changed since my college days. Judging from the recent spate of articles in college newspapers and college oriented websites, beirut has become the standard form of beer pong. See for example Beer Pong vs. Beirut, or Naming the Game: Beer Pong or Beirut.

Posted in Americans, beer, Beirut, college, friends, garbage, news, words | 3 Comments »