A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘holidays’ Category

Arabian nights, Christmas-style

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 27, 2009

Santa stockings are a great source of fun for our family. Stocking stuffers run the gamut from nail files and travel earplugs to magazines and golf balls. And they include goofier thinking-of-you items as well. This year, my stocking included this bag of candy:
An “Arabian Nights” candy mix? Total, total mystery. All I see on the corporate website is that this is a “classic Christmas candy”. Perhaps it has something to do with the Nutcracker?

I have no idea, but I laughed with delight when I found this bag in my stocking. The more Arabian nights, the better!


Posted in Americans, Arab world, food, holidays | 2 Comments »

the Levantine Easter Bunny

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 12, 2009

Last year, I celebrated Easter in Beirut with my parents and two friends, enjoying a rousing but sweet morning church service, followed by a melt-in-your-mouth salmon filet and hoots of laughter at brunch.

This year, the Easter bunny must have known that what I needed most wasn’t more chocolate, but a few easy-to-make reminders of the Levant (well, with a bit of maghrebi cuisine thrown in for variety). This is what I found when I opened my Easter “basket” – a big cardboard box that arrived courtesy of UPS:


Happy Easter to those of you who are celebrating, happy Palm Sunday to those of you who will celebrate next week, and happy Arabic-food-made-easy cooking to me 🙂 !

Posted in family, food, holidays | 2 Comments »

branded snow

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 5, 2009

How did we miss this event last year? I asked H in an email, attaching this advertisement:


Last year’s March calendar was pretty empty around this time – not even a facial or a lunch date penciled in.

I like the “Cedars’ snow” stipulation for snowman-building materials, H replied. I do too – partly for eco-friendly reasons (no fair carting in “foreign” snow just to build a bigger snowman) and partly because as a former marketer, I love branding.

You know, H continued, a cynical view would suggest that this is meant as a diversion to any Mouarada activities taking place on the 8th.

I hadn’t thought of that. Politicizing snowmen? In Lebanon, anything is possible :).

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Beirut, cedar, holidays, Lebanon, mountains | Leave a Comment »

feeling loved: Lebanese spam

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 11, 2009

Last May, Nicolien wrote a charming post called “Inbox Lebanon” about all the Lebanese advertisements she found in her inbox each morning. I read the post with total envy: after two years in Beirut, my spam remained stubbornly stuck on North America. I had tried to make myself more attractive to Lebanese advertisers, signing up for e-newsletters and other things – yet still no one wanted to recruit me for a job in the Gulf, sell me electronics, or help me lose weight with a “regime minceur”.

When I moved back to the U.S. this summer, I set my dreams of Levantine spam aside and focused on enjoying the rather dull “improve your sex life” ones that come to my work email, the various financial scam emails that find me at home, and (of course) the pro-Israel ads that try to lure me on Facebook.

And then … like an advertising miracle … this morning I opened my Gmail account to find 12 emails in my “spam” folder. 12? I thought groggily. Usually I receive one or two per day – so I thought that Gmail must have suddenly begun spamming one of my subscriptions.

But no: it was spam, and spam of the best kind. Along with the three genuine junk emails in my spam folder were nine spam emails from Lebanon. I was delighted.

I’ll spare you the MP3 player ad and the one for a “presentable female” hotel sales executive, but I am pasting in this Valentine’s Day advertisement from Malik’s, the bookstore/stationery shop with outlets around Beirut:


I’m getting a huge kick out of it because – like many ads in Lebanon – it requires knowledge of two languages in order to get the full message.

Total hoot – and thank you, Lebanese spammers, for making me feel so loved 🙂 .

Posted in advertising, Arabic, Beirut, holidays, vanity | 1 Comment »

Listening In: Arabian Business reader comments on Dubai’s cancelled New Year

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 3, 2009

I enjoy reader comments, particularly on newspaper sites, and particularly in response to articles of local (or, in small countries, national) importance. I learn a great deal from them – well, at least from the ones that don’t degenerate into name calling, as some do! – : they tell me how local readers, for whom the article’s subject is a pressing and personal issue, feel.

Recently, I have been following reader comments on an Arabian Business article about Sheikh Maktoum’s decision to order all public New Year’s celebrations canceled.

The first responses – and many subsequent ones – were positive and wholly supportive, like this one, by a reader named Na:

God bless the ruler!!!
And may our blessings be with all the palestinians at this tough time.

Others were less moved by Maktoum’s decision, like Rob Tolley, who wrote:

Do you think not celebrating New Year is going to make a difference? Instead of canceling all celebrations if UAE feels that strong about the issue, send in some financial aid and military to assist.

When I last checked the comments, there were 83, amassed over several days. This article – and Sheikh Mohammed’s decision – touched a nerve, and people were clearly eager to comment on it. I don’t want to overstate the tenor of these comments, but I did notice a few trends. Those who approved of the cancellation tended to emphasize ethnic solidarity or religious behavior, like Yaseen:

Sheikh Mohammed has demonstrated what an exemplary leader he is. Muslim nations need to show a strong stand against Israel and demonstrate clear support of Palestine…. Well done Sheikh for doing exactly that!!! Esp in the month of Muharram – a time when the sahabe demonstrated their true faith in the face of aggression!

Muharram is the first month of the Muslim calendar, and historically a time when wars and other military ventures ceased (in the Christian world, Lent and other feast/fast times were also periods of truce). The “Sahaba” were Muhammad’s companions, who stood by him despite the many hardships that the early Muslim community endured.

Those who disagreed with Maktoum’s decision tended to say that it was either unhelpful or unrelated to Palestine, or that it would harm Dubai’s growing reputation as a tourist destination.

For example, Bahraintaxi suggested that Dubai’s ethical behavior might be better off if it started with a focus on the moral issues of domestic life:

Personally, I’m no great fan of New Year celebrations, but this is very odd. What on earth is the connection between New Year celebrations and what is happening currently in Palestine? What right does ANYONE have to tell us what we can and cannot celebrate and when? This is facile gesture politics: if Dubai wants to take a high ethical stand on political and social issues, it doesn’t take a genius to think of 101 things that ought be be banned in the city before New Year celebrations are!

Wael put the cancellation in terms of tourists and the individual’s right to choose: I think this is very bad for Dubai’s image as a touristic destination. There is no respect for the individual choice. I guess the end of the Dubai mania has already started.

And some suggested that a more effective tactic would be to ask hotels to donate a percentage of the night’s take to aid the people of Gaza.

In addition to calling for solidarity or religiously appropriate behavior, those who supported the decision described it as a triumph of “conscience” over “business” – a sign that Dubai would put humanity first.

I understand that in the end only the big public parties were canceled, or were restricted to eating and drinking, no dancing or loud music. I’m torn about the value of this: my parents and I did talk about the incongruity of celebrating the New Year – or any celebration – while people elsewhere were suffering. But we agreed that staying home, in and of itself, would do little to ameliorate their situation. Our feeling was: celebrate, but lift your voice in support of those suffering, and send money to aid those in need.

You can read the ongoing discussion here.

Posted in Arab world, Dubai, holidays, Islam | Leave a Comment »

“Happy New Yea”

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 1, 2009

Last night my parents and I went to the local symphony orchestra, which was hosting a “Cirque de la symphonie” night for New Year’s Eve: a symphony orchestra concert complete with a (largely Russian) troupe of jugglers, acrobats, contortionists, rope, and balancing acts.

The performance was wonderful – the music was well-chosen (we particularly liked hearing Ravel’s “Bolero” as the counter-point to a soaring, elegant aerialist), the performers were magnificent, and the symphony’s conductor was goofily charming, in a down-home Midwestern way.

We had only decided to attend the concert on the 29th, prompted by the sudden realization that we had no New Year’s Eve plans. Well, I had invites to assorted parties in Beirut (too far) and New York (too many tourists), but we had nothing arranged in Iowa. So we were delighted to realize that we all thought that a night at the symphony sounded like great New Year’s fun.

Realizing that the only seats available were in the “nosebleed” section (of the 2,735 the symphony hall seats, we estimated that 2,650 of them were in front of us) dampered our enthusiasm slightly – but not much. After all, my mother has multiple pairs of binoculars, thanks to her neighbor bird-watching hobby. And I have a beautiful pair of antique opera glasses, passed down from my grandmother when I was 11:


They don’t have quite the power that contemporary binoculars do, but they were fine for me!

Before the symphony, we had dinner at a local restaurant, whose tables had been decorated with New Year’s horns and other items. My mother picked up one of the razzers and spun it around a few times, while I tried on the “Happy New Year” headband.

Diamond, my father said, smiling, I love the headband, but the “R” is bent back. It looks like you are saying ‘Happy New Yea’.”

Happy New Yea indeed: yea to a new year, and all the opportunities for bright beginnings (a new political course for the US; better spending habits for our citizens; stability and peace in Iraq) and endings (to the attacks on Gaza – and all the other, less in-the-headlines violations of human and political rights that occur around the world) that a new year brings.

Posted in Americans, family, holidays, Iowa, time | Leave a Comment »

Happy New Years’

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 31, 2008

For the past few years, the major holidays of the Abrahamic faiths have been all bunched up together – which I love.

Two days ago was the Islamic New Year – or Hijri New Year, since Muslims follow what is known as the Hijri calendar, which starts from the flight of Muhammad and the nascent Muslim community from Mecca to Medina. Western Christians follow the Gregorian calendar, named after a 16th-century pope who decreed that one October would be short a few days in order to correct miscalculations made by the previous Christian calendar, the Julian. Guess this “clerical error” in calculation is one more reason to be grateful that the Arab world kept Greek traditions of math and astronomy alive!

In Arabic, “the New Year” is “Ras al-Sinna”, or “head of the year”. “Ras” also means “top” or “apex”, but I like “head”. After all, the New Year is the time when we reflect on the course of the previous year and try to map out our course for the year to come.

(For those of you who find “head” and “top” boring, my dictionary also suggests the more poetic “noggin”. Happy noggin of the year to you, too!)

For more on the topic of hijri and Gregorian calendars, Saudi Aramco World has a wonderful little article summarizing the history of both. I’ve pasted the article text here, but if you want tips on converting the two calendar years back and forth, click on the link to the original article, which lists calculations and helpful websites.

Here is the article, “Patterns of Moon, Patterns of Sun”:

The hijri calendar

In AD 638, six years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam’s second caliph ‘Umar recognized the necessity of a calendar to govern the affairs of the Muslims. This was first of all a practical matter. Correspondence with military and civilian officials in the newly conquered lands had to be dated. But Persia used a different calendar from Syria, where the caliphate was based; Egypt used yet another. Each of these calendars had a different starting point, or epoch. The Sasanids, the ruling dynasty of Persia, used June 16, AD 632, the date of the accession of the last Sasanid monarch, Yazdagird III. Syria, which until the Muslim conquest was part of the Byzantine Empire, used a form of the Roman “Julian” calendar, with an epoch of October 1, 312 BC. Egypt used the Coptic calendar, with an epoch of August 29, AD 284. Although all were solar, and hence geared to the seasons and containing 365 days, each also had a different system for periodically adding days to compensate for the fact that the true length of the solar year is not 365 but 365.2422 days.

In pre-Islamic Arabia, various other systems of measuring time had been used. In South Arabia, some calendars apparently were lunar, while others were lunisolar, using months based on the phases of the moon but intercalating days outside the lunar cycle to synchronize the calendar with the seasons. On the eve of Islam, the Himyarites appear to have used a calendar based on the Julian form, but with an epoch of 110 BC. In central Arabia, the course of the year was charted by the position of the stars relative to the horizon at sunset or sunrise, dividing the ecliptic into 28 equal parts corresponding to the location of the moon on each successive night of the month. The names of the months in that calendar have continued in the Islamic calendar to this day and would seem to indicate that, before Islam, some sort of lunisolar calendar was in use, though it is not known to have had an epoch other than memorable local events.

There were two other reasons ‘Umar rejected existing solar calendars. The Qur’an, in Chapter 10, Verse 5, states that time should be reckoned by the moon. Not only that, calendars used by the Persians, Syrians and Egyptians were identified with other religions and cultures. He therefore decided to create a calendar specifically for the Muslim community. It would be lunar, and it would have 12 months, each with 29 or 30 days.

This gives the lunar year 354 days, 11 days fewer than the solar year. ‘Umar chose as the epoch for the new Muslim calendar the hijrah, the emigration of the Prophet Muhammad and 70 Muslims from Makkah to Madinah, where Muslims first attained religious and political autonomy. The hijrah thus occurred on 1 Muharram 1 according to the Islamic calendar, which was named “hijri” after its epoch. (This date corresponds to July 16, AD 622 on the Gregorian calendar.) Today in the West, it is customary, when writing hijri dates, to use the abbreviation AH, which stands for the Latin anno hegirae, “year of the hijrah.”

Because the Islamic lunar calendar is 11 days shorter than the solar, it is therefore not synchronized to the seasons. Its festivals, which fall on the same days of the same lunar months each year, make the round of the seasons every 33 solar years. This 11-day difference between the lunar and the solar year accounts for the difficulty of converting dates from one system to the other.

The Gregorian calendar

The early calendar of the Roman Empire was lunisolar, containing 355 days divided into 12 months beginning on January 1. To keep it more or less in accord with the actual solar year, a month was added every two years. The system for doing so was complex, and cumulative errors gradually misaligned it with the seasons. By 46 BC, it was some three months out of alignment, and Julius Caesar oversaw its reform. Consulting Greek astronomers in Alexandria, he created a solar calendar in which one day was added to February every fourth year, effectively compensating for the solar year’s length of 365.2422 days. This Julian calendar was used throughout Europe until AD 1582.

In the Middle Ages, the Christian liturgical calendar was grafted onto the Julian one, and the computation of lunar festivals like Easter, which falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, exercised some of the best minds in Christen­dom. The use of the epoch AD 1 dates from the sixth century, but did not become common until the 10th. Because the zero had not yet reached the West from Islamic lands, a year was lost between 1 BC and ad 1.

The Julian year was nonetheless 11 minutes and 14 seconds too long. By the early 16th century, due to the accumulated error, the spring equinox was falling on March 11 rather than where it should, on March 21. Copernicus, Christophorus Clavius and the physician Aloysius Lilius provided the calculations, and in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII ordered that Thursday, October 4, 1582 would be followed by Friday, October 15, 1582. Most Catholic countries accepted the new “Gre­gorian” calendar, but it was not adopted in England and the Americas until the 18th century. Its use is now almost universal worldwide. The Gregorian year is nonetheless 25.96 seconds ahead of the solar year, which by the year 4909 will add up to an extra day.

And here is the link to the original page.

Happy belated and soon-to-come New Years to all of you. I’ll be celebrating with family this evening, and looking forward with hope to a better 2009/1430. Given that both years ended with this terrible Israeli assault on Gaza, it may be time to invoke the cliche: “there’s nowhere to go but up”. We can only hope.

Posted in Americans, Arabic, family, holidays, Iowa, Islam, time | 3 Comments »

diversity where you least expect it: Arabic lawyering in Iowa

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 27, 2008

On Monday, my father sent me the scanned image of an advertisement he had noticed in the Des Moines paper: an English-Arabic language advertisement for a bilingual tax presentation to be conducted the next evening:


We were both a bit surprised: Iowa has a measurable Lebanese- and Syrian-American population, descendants of the immigrants who came here in the early 1900s. But their Arabic is generally limited to food words. And Iowa has a long-standing Muslim population, as witnessed by Cedar Rapids’ Mother Mosque, but not necessarily an Arabic-speaking one.

My father offered to go to the presentation, since my flight wasn’t scheduled to arrive until later that night. But thanks to the country’s weather woes, he instead spent the evening driving halfway to Chicago, thinking I might get stranded there. I didn’t, but my flight to Iowa was delayed long enough that he was able to drive all the way back and still reach the airport before I did.

So: no answer to the Arabic tax advice mystery. But we hope that there was a big turnout: we like seeing diversity in our state! And thank you, Dad, for devoting your evening to your daughter’s interests: first in Arabic, and second in getting home for the holidays :). (And thanks to my mother as well, who kept me updated on my changing flight status, and waited up until the wee-est of the wee hours to make sure we got safely home!)

Posted in Americans, Arabic, family, holidays, home, Iowa, travel | 2 Comments »

Merry Christmas from the Iowa/Brooklyn/Beirut Santa!

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 25, 2008

When I awoke this morning, Weather.com told me that it was 1 degree outside. That’s 1 degree Fahrenheit, not Celcius – i.e., 31 degrees below freezing. And with the windchill factor (Iowa is almost a Plains state, so there is LOTS of wind, and not much to break it up), it is -14 degrees.

Brrrrr! I’m glad its warm inside, and glad that the power is totally, unequivocably on.

My aunt’s Christmas post this morning mentioned our family’s position on Santa: that “as long as you believe in Santa Claus, Santa Claus will come.” Very true – and I can see four over-stuffed Santa stockings in my parents’ living room, testaments to the importance of belief :).

What Intlxpatr didn’t mention is that there are two types of Santas in our family: the original, who comes in the middle of the night, keeps reindeer, and leaves lots of little gifts in our stockings; and the regional, who exists in multiples and delivers his/her gifts by regular US mail.

The regional Santas are tireless promoters of their homelands, and many of them are real food connoisseurs. They also delegate shipping duties to relatives who live in the Santa’s area. Hence growing up, the Hawaii Santa often sent macadamia nuts via our cousins, who live on one of the big islands. The Seattle Santas (its a big city, and we had many relatives in Seattle) sent box after box of Frangoes, which we of course “sampled” immediately after unwrapping.

This year, the Brooklyn Santa dubbed me the official shipper for assorted borough-themed gifts, which were sent off to Sporty Diamond, her husband Research Diamond, and the rapidly growing nephew. And I see that the Damascus Santa has nominated my aunt to send a few very intriguing packages to me – merci, khalti! I remember when the Shami Santa enticed me into bringing two cans of one of the local Syrian soda brands back for my father, who had found it much tastier than Diet Coke. Regional Santas remember these details 🙂 .

Of course, some Santas have more regional delicacies to offer than others. The Iowa Santa used to be at a culinary disadvantage – what was he/she going to offer: Christmas corn? – but thanks to our mid-1990s discovery of a group of upper Iowa nuns and their caramel-making enterprise, the Iowa Santas were able to compete successfully with the Frango – er, Seattle – Santas when it came to make-you-sick-but-they-taste-so-good sweets.

We’re opening Santa gifts in an hour, after which we will have breakfast and then get dressed. The family and regional Santa gifts will wait until this afternoon: we’re scheduled to be local Santas and deliver hot lunches to eight elderly people. Its a big volunteer operation: dozens of people donate their time early on Christmas to make the lunches, and dozens more donate their mid-days to deliver them. It doesn’t make for a perfect Christmas for the recipients – after all, they enrolled in the program because they would be spending the holiday alone – but it does give them a meal cooked and delivered with love and friendship.

Merry Christmas from Iowa 🙂

Posted in Americans, childhood, family, holidays, Iowa | 3 Comments »

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 »