A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘bugs’ 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 »

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 »

nerd love: a day at the Silk Museum

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 26, 2008

What would you do if you had a free afternoon in Lebanon? There are so many options: beaching, shopping, cafe’ing, eating.

But if you were as nerdy as me, you would ask your boyfriend to take you to the national silk museum :).

Actually, it was partly H’s idea: he had seen an advertisement in the Hamra Domtex shop (which, despite its industrial-sounding name, sells nice fabrics) and thought that the museum was something I would enjoy.

The museum had also been running weekly advertisements in the Daily Star:

I do love silk, but I’m not convinced that learning more about its production would help me forget any serious worries. But with a hook like that, who could resist?

The museum was fascinating. I knew that Lebanon had been a major center for silk production starting in the mid-1800s, and that it had temporarily boosted the economy, while in the long run forcing large numbers of peasants into debt (or propelling them towards migration to the US and South America, in search of higher wages – in much the same way as Lebanese today leave for the Gulf).

But I didn’t know much about silkworms, the little creatures that actually produce silk threads. They are basically the caterpillar stage of the silkworm moth, and the silk thread is what they produce when spinning their cocoons. They go through five stages of growth, from little specks of baby worm to these behemoths (which are each about 2″ long):

Yes. Not the most attractive bugs in the world, but very interesting. One thing I had been told about the silkworms was that you can hear them eating. They eat constantly – we learned that they have special ducts on their bodies that breathe for the worms, so that they never have to stop munching to take a breath. And we could indeed hear them – a soft crunchcrunchcrunching of the chopped-up mulberry (toot) leaves that the museum staff provide for them.

This is what the cocoons look like when they have been spun and the worm is metamorphizing inside them:

Silk comes in several shades, ranging from white-white to a sharp lemon yellow. I’m not quite sure what determines the color variation – it has something to do with diet and something to do with climate, but I don’t know the details.

In order to unravel the cocoon, silk workers today and in the past use a series of hot and cold water baths. The hot water loosens the silk threads, and the cool does … err … something. Maybe its role is simply to cool the cocoons down enough to be picked up – I don’t remember. They then use a coarse brush to pick up the thread, and start unraveling, feeding the unraveled thread into a skein of three or four cocoon threads and winding it around a bobbin to be spun.

Our tour guide didn’t mention what happens to the metamorphizing worm during this process, but I don’t think the hot and cold baths, or the unraveling generally, is kind to them. But even “wild” silkworms have what seems to me to be an absolutely awful life.

After spending their worm-hood eating and molting, they labor to create a cocoon so they can transform into … not a beautiful butterfly, but a pale white moth. Its blind, and although it has wings, it cannot fly. The silkworm moth lives for roughly 24 hours, during which time it has to crawl around blindly in search of a mate.

As I said, its not a pleasant life in either case. But I loved learning more about a fabric whose origins had always been hazy to me.

(More about the rest of the museum in my next post!)

Posted in Beirut, bugs, Lebanon, silk, time, tourism, travel | 4 Comments »

a day in the country

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 25, 2008

Last weekend, while the Doha negotiations were still underway, H and I decided that we needed to get away from it all. So we joined one of Lebanon’s many outdoors appreciation groups (Blue Carrot, Esprit Nomade, and Vamos Todos are the best known, but there are others) for a hike in the mountains.

It was a “typically Lebanese” hike in many ways: we waited 45 minutes after the scheduled departure date to make sure that the “group” had all arrived; we stopped for manoushe before starting our hike; and when we did start, we hiked for 10 minutes and stopped for 20, hiked for another 10 and stopped for 15, hiked for another 10 and then stopped for tea and coffee. (No, I’m not exaggerating – I was wearing a watch!)

But it was a convivial group and we enjoyed the much-needed dose of fresh air and sunshine – not to mention the hike leader, who knew a great deal about the region, and entertained us with bits of history and geography.

He also had a great sense of humor. As we passed an area covered in scrub flora and rocks of all sizes, he said: w hal manta2a ghaniye kteer bi ramal, with an utterly straight look on his face. It was a type of richness, I suppose – and his description made us all laugh.

View behind us as we started the first ascent:

View overlooking the Metn and/or Keserouan, I forget which (and as an American I claim no skill in geography):

It was a lovely day, and worth the two days of hobbling around that followed. Sore muscles and work-appropriate heels don’t mesh well together.

Posted in bugs, health, Lebanon, travel, weather, women | Leave a Comment »

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 »

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 »

snail goo

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 17, 2007

Lebanon is facing so many important issues right now: political, economic, social. For example, as I walked to work today the sudden appearance of a tank parked at the intersection I cross reminded me that today is yet another election day in Lebanon.

But today the country will have to look after itself, for I have more pressing concerns.

My home is being invaded by snails.

I’ve mentioned my slow-moving neighbors before – every so often one or two climbs its way up my building’s walls, and once I looked up from my computer to find one perched on my interior wall. The climbing instinct, I suppose.

This weekend, I noticed that an entire snail colony was making its leisurely way up my north-facing outside wall. I don’t mind snails when they stay outside, but there were at least ten. I was starting to feel a bit out-numbered, but I tried not to let paranoia get the better of me.

But yesterday morning paranoia turned to panic. I went to my mudroom to put in a load of laundry, and noticed that the floor had long shiny streaks on it. AS DID MY CLOTHING.

I had been goo-ed. Ugh. Happily, I have a ready supply of rubber gloves. As I gathered a load of darks, something round and heavy fell onto the floor: a large, rather sheepish-looking snail.

I frowned. The snail curled in around itself.

I’m sorry, I told it, but this is just too gross for me.

And I am sure that this snail is now building a happy life in my garden, after a brief airborne journey from my mudroom window to its new home.


Posted in animals, Beirut, bugs, home, humor, neighbors | 6 Comments »

vintage wonders: the AUB Vacufume

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 27, 2007

Earlier this week I snuck into the AUB library to rifle through a few old books. Books there were a plenty, although not many students, curiously enough.

As for “old”, I found something hiding beneath a stairwell that looked like it had begun its days when Lebanon was a newborn:


Of course, I had to take a photo – I couldn’t imagine what purpose this 1950s Space Age-style container might have.

Happily, as I was uploading the photo, curiosity prevailed, and I googled “vacufume”.

Thanks to several archivists’ listservers, I now know what a Vacufume is. Its a fumigation chamber, designed to kill library and archival pests – termites, beetles, silverfish, and lice, among other unwelcome critters. (If this sentence hasn’t already exhausted your interest in the subject, I highly recommend the Getty Conservation Institute’s Inert Gases in the Control of Museum Insect Pests. For more on vacufume chambers specifically, see pages 65-66.)

This made the “wash” cycle and pressure gauge more comprehensible – not a water wash, but a nitrogen (“anoxic”) wash.



The books I had hoped to find proved to be less useful than I had hoped – but the library excursion was very much a learning experience. AUB: where the “B” stands for “Bug-free” :).

Posted in academia, books, bugs | 1 Comment »

Creepie-crawlies in Hamra

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 4, 2007

Today appears to be “gross bug” day in greater Hamra, thanks perhaps to the strange khamsin-with-humidity weather that we’ve had for the past few days.

A nasty long-bellied black crawler greeted me in my salon when I woke this morning. This bug was the stuff of science fiction movies – massive pincers framing its face, long shiny body. Ugh. Blown to life size, it would be terrifying.

As it was, it was merely creepy, in a unique, deeply unsettling way – so much so that I considered reaching for my camera, to document its frightening physique for any interested B-movie-makers.

But I decided my post-photo plans for the bug would violate the spirit if not the letter of the US laws prohibiting snuff films. So instead of taking a photograph, I took out my “kills all insects” spray can and left the bug to endure a rather awful writhing death while I went off to make tea.

As it turned out, the dying bug did have an audience – a giant-sized cockroach, which I noticed on my return from the kitchen.

I hate roaches. I know they are common in urban spaces, blah, blah, and having one in your house doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a dirty human being who lives in filthy squalor and has no sense of personal hygiene, but … seeing one in my apartment does raise a lot of anxieties.

Luckily, I have as many hard-soled heels as I do anxieties, and the roach soon joined his movie-star brother in bug heaven.

Having deposited garbage bags bearing their bodies by the concierge’s room on my way out (she’ll give them a ‘proper’ burial in the neighborhood bin), I left for the gym. As I walked past the university, a softly whirring thing flew down from a nearby tree and perched itself on my shoulder.

I looked at it. Ew. Ick. Double Ick. If there is any bug I hate more than a cockroach, it is a flying cockroach. What kind of bad insect karma had I brought upon myself?, I wondered as I quickly brushed it away.

Away, but not far enough away. When I looked down at my gym back, it looked back up at me, almost as if it were a … pet. Ugh. No pet bugs for me, thank you. I brushed it off with my handbag and continued on.

When I reached the gym, I noticed a new spa treatment being advertised in the elevator:

The New You Sliming Treatment

it said.

Enjoy a slimed down new you.

Mmm. Thank you, but I feel quite sufficiently slimed already.

Posted in Americans, Beirut, bugs, humor, Lebanon, women, words | 2 Comments »