A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘guilt’ Category

planes, maps, and vistas: more old Lebanese stamps

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 18, 2008

Today I am holding my tongue, as otherwise I would find it lashing out at the Lebanese Forces and the Marada, two Christian militias-turned-political-parties. The night before last, partisans from both sides got into an argument over where the Lebanese Forces could paste posters advertising its “Martyrs’ Mass” this Sunday – an argument in which neither group was probably as innocent as they now claim, and which ended in the shooting deaths of one man on each side.

I imagine that they have both been added to each side’s list of “martyrs”, although thanks to ST’s helpful distinction (which you can find in the comments to my post on the meaning of “shahid”), I would say that they are both more accurately described as “maghdour” – deceived. After all, what deception to think that hanging posters is a cause worth dying for – and what a terrible self-deception that they and their living comrades commit, in thinking that this is how Christians should live. I suspect that Christ, whose fundamental message was “love thy neighbor” (followed shortly by “turn the other cheek”) is horrified by the acts Lebanese Christians commit in his name.

And as you can see, holding my tongue is one of my particular talents, ha ha.

Back to the stamps. Today I have a total mish-mash to show, starting with this trio. The top left has an image of a man … who I must admit I don’t recognize (help, Kheireddine!) and a map of the country. Feel free to try to pick out Shebaa Farms, the Litani, or any other area that has become a political hotspot since this stamp was issued.

The top right stamp shows a lovely view from the arches of what looks to me like Beiteddine, while the bottom set of stamps, whose cancellation mark also looks to me like 1958 (October 30, if I am reading the “X” correctly), show a lovely and very Lebanese landscape.

This second set of stamps also offers a mix of themes and styles. The top left stamp continues Lebanon’s message of technology, progress, and connection to the outside world by showing an airplane – a good message to send via international mail, since I imagine that many people in the 1950s would not have thought of Lebanon as a country easily accessible by air.

The next two stamps show two figures (hunters?) passing through a meadow ringed by trees. Its a bucolic scene, but it also offers a sign of Lebanon’s modernity: there is a plane passing overhead.

And the stamp at the bottom right celebrates another source of Lebanon’s beauty and natural wealth: a massive waterfall.


Posted in advertising, Arabic, art, Beirut, cedar, guilt, Lebanon, media, stamps, time, travel | 4 Comments »

going vintage

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 4, 2008

We’ve started the moving process: H picked up the keys to our new apartment on Friday, and this morning we did a three-trip mini-move. I started laughing while carrying two desk lamps and the rest of our salad dishes: to anyone watching us arrive at our new building, we must have looked like the big winners of a local “stoop sale” – the local term for what my East Coast college friends called a “tag sale” and what my fellow Midwestern suburbanites know as a “garage sale”. Would-be sellers work with the retail space they have, I guess.

And in a way, we are the big winners of the city-wide sale that happens daily on Craigslist. We didn’t call about the “pop-up bed”, but we are outfitting much of our new apartment with deeply discounted, gently used furniture, most of which we have lugged home on foot. (The lamps were the lightest objects; the heaviest was a solid – a very solid – wooden desk, which we could only carry 20 feet at a time before pausing for a quick rest.)

Much to my surprise, H is as much a bargain-hound as I am – or more. I think he would rather die than buy used furniture in Lebanon, but here he seems to have fully embraced the “when in New York, do as the wacky New Yorkers do” ethos. And it goes beyond Craigslist: H’s has discovered a genuine talent for finding good-condition used furniture on the street (its a New York thing: people put clothing, furniture, and all sorts of other odds and ends out on the sidewalk as a form of community recycling.).

Of course, H justifies the used/free furniture by saying that: we don’t want to spend a lot of money on furniture when we don’t know how long we’ll be in the US, and we probably won’t want to ship it all back with us. He makes a good point – and I can think of at least one new-found treasure that definitely won’t be shipped anywhere: our television.

I had seen a notice on craigslist advertising two desk lamps (the same ones I carried this morning) for $10 each, and asked H to call about them while I was in a meeting. The lamps are terrific, and were evidently part of a fire sale that included a dresser and a television – all for $10 each. We didn’t like the dresser, but we did need a television, even if it did come with … a built-in VCR.

That’s right: our new television was “born” in 1993. We won’t get to experience the joys of HD when New York officially switches over in 2009, but we can watch Arabic channels through our satellite subscription. (H called the satellite company to confirm that it would be compatible with our “retro” technology. Oh yes, said the woman who answered the phone. My television is from 1987 and it works just fine.)

If we shipped a 15-year old television to Beirut, H’s parents would probably disown him – not to mention his friends. And since it weighs almost as much as I do, even shipping it as freight would cost more than a new television. But its perfect for our New York life: with the money we saved on buying a new television, we can pay for at least three months’ worth of our satellite subscription. (We’re really missing the 20,000LL-for-100-channels satellite subscriptions of Lebanon’s gray market.)

And going vintage with our technology does have one advantage: we can catch up on the several movies about Lebanon that are only available on VHS.

First up is a B movie – in fact, it may be a B-minus movie: a 1974 thriller called Three Days in Beirut.

Here’s how one movie website describes the film:

When an African premier is kidnapped by terrorists, a crafty and smooth-talking soldier of fortune (Calvin Lockhart) allies himself with a sexy American interpreter (Diana Sands) in order to rescue him, while dodging assassins’ bullets. This gripping odyssey set against the background of the turbulent Middle East co-stars Seth Allen, Thomas Baptiste.

If you go here, you can read the New York Times‘ more restrained review, as well as see the original VHS cover. When you do, you’ll understand why the film’s original title was Honeybaby.

I think it was renamed Three Days in Beirut when it was re-released in 1983, in order to capitalize on the city’s vastly altered image. (I’m not totally sure that this was the reason, but this is my deduction.) Hence Rogers Video, in Canada, describes the movie as being set in “deadly Beirut” – a description that would have made no sense in 1974.

Of course, we have higher-minded VHS movies to watch as well, including Once Upon a Time in Beirut, in which two young Beirut women turn away from the destruction of the war to look at Beirut through films from the 1920s through the 1970s. If you’re in the neighborhood and feel like catching a film on a television born in the Clinton era, please let us know. If we don’t have enough chairs, we can always look on Craigslist :).

Posted in Americans, Arab world, art, Beirut, Brooklyn, guilt, Lebanon, media, television, time | 4 Comments »

at last, a cheerful giver

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 18, 2007

During Ramadan I wrote about Dar al-Aytam and its charitable giving solicitor’s unflattering assessment of me as uncharitable. When the Red Cross/Red Crescent came by last week, I was better prepared.

I pulled out twice the amount I had donated to Dar al-Aytam. The two young men collecting funds smiled, then frowned.

I’m sorry, said the first, but it isn’t enough. This campaign was announced last night on television – didn’t you see it?

What is it with the “thanks for the thought but your donation is unacceptable” mentality in this country? I wondered, gritting my teeth. But this time I was determined to get the stamp on my door-frame.

I’m afraid I don’t watch much television, I said, smiling apologetically. How much more do I need to give?

The television campaign apparently called for two and a half times what I had given – an amount far outside the donation range of the average Lebanese person, but still cheaper than Dar al-Aytam’s $2,000.

I wanted the stamp, so I paid. And as soon as the two men had gone, I stepped out into the hall and took a photo, to record it for posterity.


I felt smug all the rest of the week – after all, I had proof before God and everyone (i.e., my neighbors) that I was a generous person.

Yesterday, though, I realized that I hadn’t noticed the stamp in a few days. I’m out of town for a few days, so I can’t double-check the door-frame. But I suspect that the stamp fell victim to my concierge’s cleaning streak.

Its alright though – losing the stamp is merely a good reminder that charity, to “count”, must constantly be renewed.

Posted in Beirut, economics, guilt, Lebanon, photography, vanity, words | 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):


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 »

turning Lebanese

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 25, 2007

What felt like crisis on Monday now feels normal, so quickly do we humans adapt. Well, easy for me to say – anyone with a car here probably feels the changes much more acutely, as they scramble for parking in neighborhoods where street parking is now prohibited, or wait in long lines at an ever-changing array of roadblocks in and out of the city.

The joke I found waiting for me in my inbox this morning said: Fatah al-Islam threatens to become Christian if the Lebanese army does not withdraw from the border of Nahr al-Bared.

This afternoon, G passed on the AFP report that al-Qaeda is threatening to target Christians in Lebanon unless the army withdraws from the camp. Even while I shudder at the thought of al-Qaeda establishing a more active presence here, something about the mis-communication apparent in these two communiques makes me laugh.

Meanwhile, on to more superficial topics like … fashion.

My aunt sometimes tells me: Little Diamond, you are turning Lebanese.

However, when I opened the box of clothing that my parents had sent from Salzburg, I realized that she was targeting the wrong family member. It is my mother who has become Lebanese.

I grew up with fairly staid swimming suits – conservatively cut or racer style, in the red-white-and-blue colors favored by our all-American country club. Even when I graduated to bikinis, they were … not so bikini. I like to swim, not to preen, and I definitely don’t like having to ask myself: if I do this somersault / turn / handstand, will my suit follow me?

Moreover, my idea of a really eye-catching bikini color is … black. or … navy. sometimes, when I feel particularly daring, I put on one that is navy and … white.

My swimsuit fashion sense is hence a bit plain for Lebanon, although I have happily adopted the bikini-with-heels beach club fashion that here is de rigueur. I believe that heels go with everything :-).

Back to the box of clothing. When it finally arrived I tore through the packing tape and spent half an hour trying on the treasures it contained – tops in various styles and various shades of black, brown and white, my “colors”.

When I dug down towards the bottom, I found a much more colorful treasure – and one that appeared much more likely to have come from a shop in Beirut than from one in Des Moines:


Yes – the top is made of a shiny turquoise fabric. And yes – that is a sequined flower on the left … er … side. Thank goodness I have heels that match!

Posted in Americans, Beirut, clothing, family, fashion, guilt, holidays, Iowa, Lebanon, photography, sea, vanity, women | 4 Comments »

security blankets: sleep in troubled times

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 22, 2007

“You’re like a five-year-old child”, G said yesterday afternoon, upon hearing that rather than going directly home after work I had gone for coffee in Hamra with my friend S. I disagree, of course, but I think the childhood analogy works well in other respects.

I suspect that many of us have our own adult versions of the security blankets (or, in my case, stuffed seal named Artica) we used in childhood. During moments when “the situation”, as the Lebanese call it, deteriorates, I take mine to bed with me.


Last night I emailed a careful but reassuring analysis of Sunday & Monday’s events to my aunt and sister and went off to brush my teeth.

As I washed and dried my face, thinking how nice an early night in could be, I heard the boom that was the car bomb in Verdun.

It wasn’t particularly loud – nothing like the bombs from last summer, which thudded in my heart as well as shaking the glass in my windows.

It wasn’t particularly loud, but it was … different. I knew what it was immediately.

What was strange to me was how normal the nighttime neighborhood sounds were immediately after the bombing – no running feet, no slamming shutters (instead, I heard shutters opening as people tried to see where the explosion occurred), and no sirens.

I live near one of the main arteries that leads to Verdun, which is often used by ambulances and police vehicles whenever there is an emergency. The sirens did not begin to wail for ten or fifteen minutes – long after I had found my flashlight, put my mobile in to charge (in case the electricity should go for any reason), and booted up my computer.

To be honest, I’m not sure which was more impressive: the fact that by the time my computer was booted the Free Patriotic Movement’s newssite was already reporting on the explosion (while LBC, al-Jazeera, al-Arabiya and the English-language sites were still silent), or the fact that my mother in Iowa knew about it within 20 minutes. Since when has the Midwest been so focused on Beirut? I mused idly while chatting with her online.

Bedtime came close to midnight, after I was satisfied that I had exhausted all the immediate news of the bombing. And as the photo above shows, I curled up with my favorite bad-times-in-Beirut items: mobile phone, radio, and flashlight.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Beirut, childhood, explosion, guilt, home, Lebanon, media, news, photography, politics, time, words | 3 Comments »

“the pigs’ water trough”: mis-adventures in Arabic

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 13, 2007

On Sunday afternoon I was invited to lunch at the house of a family whose eldest child I know from the states.

Their apartment building is in an area not too far from mine, in another well-known-to-be-Muslim neighborhood of West Beirut. On Saturday night my friend H drove me there so I would be able to find my way on Sunday. (In ‘typical Lebanese’ small-town Beirut fashion, H knew the building because their mothers are friends, and an uncle lives in an adjacent building.)

H’s instructions were excellent and much appreciated, but at one intersection I still hesitated, unsure whether I should turn left or go straight.

Beirut being Beirut, there were plenty of soldiers around, so I decided to ask two of them for help.

There are times in life that feel like “car accident” moments, in which I see the accident coming but am somehow powerless to stop it.

In this case, the accident was linguistic.

When my friends had called to invite me for lunch, they told me the name of their area: Sakiet al-Janzeer. Hmm, I remember thinking, that sounds quite a lot like khanzeer. I must be careful not to mix up the two.

Sakiet (saqiyya) means irrigation ditch or canal – some type of water trough.

Janzeer isn’t a word I know, but the dictionary tells me that it (jinzeer) means chain or track, like the chain of a necklace or the track of a tank.

Khanzeer, of course, means pig.

The direction of this particular misadventure may now be clear.

I walked up to the two soldiers lounging on the corner, pushed back my sunglasses, and asked pleasantly,

Where is the pigs’ water trough?

Oh, I could have killed myself – I was so embarrassed. As for the two men, they were killing themselves with laughter.

Posted in Americans, animals, Arabic, Beirut, family, food, friends, guilt, home, Islam, Lebanon, prosciutto, religion, words | 2 Comments »

what’s in a name? cleaning products in bad taste

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 12, 2007

After lunch this afternoon (a rather delicious lentil salad that I make whenever I feel the urge to be at once lazy (its very easy) and French (it reminds me of Paris)) I decided that it was time to bid adieu to my kitchen sponge.

I knelt down and opened the doors to the cupboard below the sink and grabbed what I took to be the bag of replacement sponges, left over from the renovation work done before I moved in here.

After standing back up, I looked at the bag and saw …. this:


In the United States, “steel wool” is an old, unflattering and deeply judgmental term used in the early and mid 1900s to describe African-American hair.

Sometimes the explicit racism of this region leaves me speechless.

At other times, of course, it sends me to the internet.

Negro Steel Wool is sold by Oscar Weil, a German company which sells steel wool products under several different brand names to various markets around the world.

Although Negro is not listed under the company’s “brands”, it does appear in a product suite photograph:


Negro, Oscar Weil’s only Middle Eastern market product, is also absent from the company’s “countries” map, which shows Oscar Weil brands and the countries in which they can be found. I find it appalling that this company still sells a product under the brand name “Negro”. No doubt there are arguments centering on ‘brand equity’ and ‘market-share’ – none of which impress me.

As for Lebanon and the rest of the region, this to me seems at once a terrible exporting of Americana and a classic case of what we call “the pot calling the kettle black”.

After all, this is hardly a region known for its abundance of naturally straight hair.

As for me, I’m throwing out the bag and putting the remaining steel wool pads into an FAA-approved, quart-sized clear plastic bag.

Posted in Arab world, Arabic, art, Beirut, guilt, Lebanon, photography, politics, science, words | Leave a Comment »

the US Congress takes on genocide

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 6, 2007

My friend M sent me this very interesting piece from Monday’s Washington Post. It is tongue-in-cheek, but it is also quite serious – about the very real occurrence of a genocide against Ottoman Armenians, planned or no; about Turkey’s unwillingness to take the final steps to maturity; and about the very curious phenomenon of the United States Congress taking an interest in the matter. (I’ve italicized the funniest – and also least funny – sentence.)

The House’s Ottoman Agenda

By Jackson Diehl
Monday, March 5, 2007; A15

Can a nonbinding congressional resolution really matter? Most are ignored by everyone except the special interests they are usually directed at. Even the House’s recent resolution on Iraq was dismissed by both President Bush and Democratic antiwar leader John Murtha. Yet a vote expected next month on a nonbinding House resolution describing a “genocide” in the Ottoman Empire beginning in 1915 has the potential to explode U.S. relations with Turkey, sway the outcome of upcoming Turkish elections and spill over into several other strategic American interests, including Iraq and Iran.

So, yes: The Armenian Genocide Resolution sponsored by Rep. Adam Schiff does matter, logically or not. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul spent several days in Washington last month lobbying against it, though the Turkish-American agenda is chockablock with seemingly more important issues. Friends of Turkey in Washington, from American Jewish organizations to foreign policy satraps, are working the Hill; so is the Bush team. On the other side is the well-organized and affluent Armenian American community, 1.4 million strong, and some powerful friends — including the new House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

Here is a debate that could occur only in Washington — a bizarre mix of frivolity and moral seriousness, of constituent pandering, far-flung history and front-line foreign policy. And that’s just on the American side; in Turkey there is the painful struggle of a deeply nationalist society to come to terms with its past, and in the process become more of the Western democracy it wants to be.

Start with the pandering: Schiff, a Democrat from Los Angeles, cheerfully concedes that there are 70,000 to 80,000 ethnic Armenians in his district, for whom the slaughter of Armenians by the Young Turk regime during World War I is “anything but ancient history.” Local politics also explains why a resolution that has failed numerous times in the past 20 years is suddenly looking like a juggernaut: Pelosi, of San Francisco, also has many Armenian supporters.

“There’s a sense of momentum now about the resolution that we haven’t had before,” Schiff told me. “The votes are there in the committee. The votes are there on the floor.” If Pelosi allows the resolution to be brought up, as she has reportedly pledged to do, it will probably pass. Its language is almost comically heavy-handed: It begins by declaring that the House “finds” a series of 30 paragraphs of facts about the genocide, ranging from the number killed (1.5 million) to the assertion that “the failure . . . to punish those responsible” helps explain subsequent atrocities, including the Holocaust.

Imagine the 435 members of the House, many of whom still don’t know the difference between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis, solemnly weighing whether Schiff’s version of events 92 years ago in northeastern Turkey deserves congressional endorsement. But the consequences of passage could be deadly serious: To begin with, Turkey’s powerful military has been hinting that U.S. access to the Incirlik air base, which plays a key role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, could be restricted. Gul warned that a nationalist tidal wave could sweep Turkey and force the government to downgrade its cooperation with the United States, which needs Turkey’s help this year to stabilize Iraq and contain Iran. Candidates in upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections could compete in their anti-American reactions.

No wonder the Bush administration as well as even Democratic-leaning foreign policy experts, such as Clinton-era ambassador Mark Parris, are trying to stop the resolution. Yet theirs, too, is a contorted campaign. After all, historians outside of Turkey are pretty much unanimous in agreeing that atrocities against Armenians worthy of the term genocide did occur. Though Congress may look silly with its “findings,” the continuing inability of the Turkish political class to come to terms with history, and temper its nationalism, may be the country’s single most serious political problem. Prominent Turkish intellectuals, including a Nobel Prize winner, have been prosecuted in recent years under laws criminalizing “insults” to Turkey — such as accurate accounts of the genocide. In January a prominent ethnic Armenian journalist was murdered by an ultranationalist teenager.

Maybe Congress has no business debating Turkish history, maybe it is doing so for the wrong reasons. Yet if Turkey is to become the stable, Western-oriented democracy that it aspires to be, its politicians will have to learn, at least, to react the way everyone else does to nonbinding House resolutions: that is, with a shrug.

Posted in Americans, Armenia, friends, guilt, neighbors, news, politics, Turkey, words | Leave a Comment »

geek piety: new Lenten vows

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 2, 2007

My aunt Intlxpatr posted ten days ago about her Lenten vow: better language.

When not weathering the firestorm of publicity coming from the latest (very good, very timely, and very scary) Seymour Hersh article, the New Yorker has come up with a Lenten vow for internet geeks:


I’m not sure I could do it … this would be a tough vow to keep.


(I’m not even attempting to live a Google-less life. This update deals with the New Yorker and Seymour Hersh’s article.)

In my opinion, the Daily Star (Lebanon’s English language daily) has grown markedly more biased since it began accepting US AID money for its “Lebanon Examiner” section. It covers government and March 14 coalition members’ activities with almost as much assiduity as LBC TV covers the daily life of Ambassador Feltman.

Hence, I read the paper’s short Wednesday editorial, Imminent strife on the ground or on the pages of the New Yorker? with a rather curled lip. As a New Yorker, any attack on the New Yorker‘s fabled fact-checkers courts derisive remarks about the professionalism of the accusers.

However, after drinks with my friend R last night, I read Michael Young’s editorial in this morning’s paper, Sy Hersh: the dark side of spun a lot with a different attitude (despite its title, which is a painfully awkward dangling pun and makes rather false claims about the author’s closeness with Hersh).

In general I find Young’s editorials unbearably pompous. He blends the two sides of his heritage in a deeply unappealing way: marrying the unshakeable sense of special-ness of the Lebanese to the self-righteousness of the American. Nonetheless, he shares R’s disquiet at Hersh’s mis-understanding of Lebanese politics.

Young makes the same point that R did last night over a very rich bottle of red wine: that the actual state of affairs in Lebanon’s Palestinian camps, and the Siniora government’s relations with them, are nothing like Hersh describes.

I’m not ready to dismiss Hersh’s article out of hand, as Young is, but I did read this morning’s editorial more hermeneutically (with a big thank you to my alma mater for introducing me to Gadamer lo these many years ago!) than I usually do.

Posted in art, Beirut, blogging, family, guilt, holidays, humor, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lent, media, religion, women, words | 1 Comment »