A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘home’ Category

Everything gets better with olive oil

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 8, 2009

Its been one of those weekends: I brought work home, a semi-common occurrence, and have been dancing more or less efficiently between that and the usual thrilling mix of laundry, grocery-shopping, and other errands.

By mid-afternoon yesterday, I desperately needed to get away from the computer and to do something active. Well, semi-desperately: I didn’t find myself rushing off scrub the floor, for example, but I did find myself pulling out the bottle of “Copper Brite” that the Iowa Santa had put in my Christmas stocking.

I’ve mentioned my bargain brass table before, as well as my various efforts to restore it to shiny glory. I’ve polished it with polish and lemons, and it has gotten better looking with every bit of elbow grease. But it was more than time for another go with sweat and chemicals.

Here is the table half-way through the scrubbing process:


It looks like the table version of a “before and after” laundry soap ad, doesn’t it?

When I finished, I thought back to my aunt’s description of what women she has known do with their polished brass: rub it with olive oil.

Ordinarily, I would have googled “olive oil” and “brass” in advance, but this was a somewhat on-the-fly decision, and I hesitated to open my laptop with traces of Copper Brite on my fingers.

Feeling somewhat foolish, I washed my hands, grabbed my bottle of olive oil and a set of fresh paper towels, and began rubbing a thin coat on my table.

To be honest, it felt like a more metallic version of rubbing oil on the Thanksgiving turkey, which made me feel even sillier. But the table looks great, and I understand from my post-oiling google that the oil will help keep it from tarnishing again.

Brass: one more item made better with olive oil 🙂 .


Posted in Arab world, art, Brooklyn, home, time, women | 2 Comments »

Ace Hardware: Lebanese landmark

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 28, 2009

As I mentioned in a post last month, last spring I began seeing billboard advertisements for the new Ace Hardware on the road between Charles Helou and the Port. (One of the many joys of being a passenger is that I get to spend more time watching the world pass, and less time worrying about passing motorists!) So when I began seeing Ace Hardware advertisements in the Daily Star this winter, I was glad to see that the store was fully on its way to opening.

And what a grand opening it must have been. Take a look at this press release, published on Wednesday:


I’m still puzzled by the idea that the Lebanese have harbored a secret desire for do-it-yourself handy-person projects, which is what I think of when I think of Ace. I wouldn’t do plumbing, but I have changed many a door knob and cabinet handle, have hung mirrors and paintings, and have been roped into assorted painting projects – all with a fair degree of enthusiasm. I’m not sure that this same spirit is as valued in Lebanon – so I have been wondering who Ace’s customers might be.

Thanks to this press release, I know: the Sin El Fil Ace Hardware gathers people “in large numbers”, who come “from all walks of life” and “from different parts of the Country”, as well as from the U.S. Embassy. (Actually, I have no doubt that Michele Sisson is capable of any household project – and would likely do it with both grace and aplomb.) I hope this is true, and that Ace’s grand opening is a “landmark event”, not only in the history of Lebanese retailing but in the evolution of Lebanese culture. A “can-do” spirit and a “let’s pitch in” attitude could do wonders for the country.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Beirut, construction, home, Lebanon | Leave a Comment »

scrub-a-dub Saturday and Sunday

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 12, 2009

Sniff, sniff, my nose went this weekend as I toweled off after my shower. I’ve changed soaps, and now I smell like a hammam – in a good way.

When I was home in Iowa over Christmas, I found a few blocks of soap that I had purchased in Damascus a few years ago. “Aged” soap might not sound as appealing as “aged” wine or cheese, but I don’t think it goes stale. (Any soap experts out there?)


As you can see, the soap was made in Aleppo, and while it has no laurel, it does leave a lovely scent of olive oil on my skin. I’ve been missing the Levant recently, and my new-old soap has made me feel both closer to and further from the region.

Posted in Americans, Arabic, Brooklyn, Damascus, home, laundry, vanity, women | 4 Comments »

Life in the wintry mix

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 29, 2008

The forecast calls for a “wintry mix” tomorrow, I said Friday evening, looking up from my computer screen. What do you think that means?

The icon under the forecast descriptor showed snowflakes, rain, and funnily-shaped blobs that looked a lot like my memories of cellular mitosis.

When we awoke the next morning, it was to the sound of a constant stream of little taps on the windowpanes. Apparently, the mitotic cells represented rain pellets: freezing rain in which each raindrop carried a frozen hail pellet at its core.

Roads are often described as “sheets of ice” during Iowa winters – but in this case, the rain pellets really did create a thick ice glaze over everything.

I think this is a day that the State Patrol advises “no unnecessary driving”, my father said as we creeped our four-wheel-drive way to the gym. I wonder whether going to the gym qualifies as necessary.

Well, I said, noticing that Perkins’ (a local diner) parking lot was fairly full, If breakfast at Perkins counts as necessary, surely going to the gym does!

Driving wasn’t too bad – but getting out of the car was a challenge. My father’s car is a bit tall for me, so when he let me out on the street on our return home, to pick up Friday’s mail and then walk to the house, I put my foot down on the icy road and kept on going.

Happily, my backside turned out to have enough padding to keep my fall from involving more than a few light bruises, but it was a good reminder of the dangers of ice.

This is one of the living room windows, thickly coated in ice:


The west-facing windows were totally covered, while the east-facing windows had only individual ice splotches:


It was a nice day to be inside, and to be grateful for cozy indoor heating.


Posted in home, Iowa, weather | 2 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 »

the danger of family gatherings

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 26, 2008

The danger of family gatherings like Christmas is that while you are having so much fun together, small details get neglected.

After opening our Santa gifts, my parents, grandmother, and I moved to the kitchen to put breakfast together.

In the midst of the breakfast bustling – getting out the coffeecakes, cooking the little smokies, making oatmeal – I decided to make a cup of tea. In the microwave, which for me is a luxurious treat (I haven’t had a microwave since 2000 or so – no space in New York, and not enough wattage in Beirut).

What’s that smell? Big Diamond asked. Big Diamond could be a perfumier, her sense of scent is so nuanced. I rarely smell anything when she asks that question.

I think its the sausages, I said, lifting the lid so she could get a better smell.

It smells a bit like bay leaf, my mother said, unconvinced – but since none of us smelled bay leaf, she agreed that it might just be the sausages.

When the microwave beeped, I maneuvered around my father, who was giving the sausages a good stirring, opened the microwave door and took out … an unusually hot, unusually light mug.

This is the danger of family gatherings: that because you are having so much fun together, you neglect small but critical details like adding water to your cup of tea.

This is what a tea-bag looks like, after spending two minutes in a microwave with no water:


And yes, nuked tea bag does smell like bay leaf.

Posted in family, food, home, Iowa, women | Leave a Comment »

prepared for the storm

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 23, 2008

After reading my post about preparing for snow and other storms, my father sent this reassuring email:

I read your blog and did want to offer a few comments to alleviate your concern about any power failures we may experience while you’re here.  I actually used one of several working flashlights that I carry in my briefcase; there is a flashlight in the garage that uses either of the two charged power drill batteries that are with it opposite the refrigerator and the “still-looking-for a new home wine cooler; and if all others fail, there is the “dog-locator” flashlight attached to the dog’s leash.

The fireplaces actually use natural gas which was why I was able to turn on the upstairs one using the standing pilot light and then went to the basement to light that pilot light.  Mom has me extinguish both each summer as it adds to the heat the a/c must deal with, but I had previously lit the upstairs pilot.  Heat circulation from the two fireplaces is limited when the power is out, since the circulation fans are electric.

This is more than you needed to know, but I wanted you to feel more secure while you’re out in the country for the holidays.

I do feel secure, and well-loved – and slightly amused to learn that my father carries “several” flashlights with him at all times.

And I know that I can add to my father’s list by enumerating the location of various candles in my bedroom and the downstairs bathroom, as well as matchbooks from … well … all of my matchbooks are from overseas, actually. I  know that my bedroom desk has a set from Oxygene in Damascus and another from the Movenpick at the Dead Sea, not to mention assorted sets from Beirut. So if the power fails again, my childhood bedroom will have light thanks to the Levant’s smoking-friendly boites and restaurants.

I’ll be in Iowa tonight – over several rivers, a few woods, many fields and through a bunch of nasty winter winds. Its okay: I’ve brought a few books, and I’m looking forward to being home!

Posted in family, home, Iowa | 3 Comments »

preparing for the storm

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 22, 2008

My neighborhood is always quiet early in the morning, but the hush was different on Saturday. It was a snow hush – the quiet that comes from the presence of a soft white coverlet, draped over everything from tree branches to car hoods.

My office closed early on Friday afternoon, along with a number of others. It wasn’t the absolute volume of snow – we had three inches, at most. But three inches in a city that relies heavily on public transportation and that rarely gets any snowfall was more like seven or eight inches in Iowa. I was glad that we were sent home – I took a book in case the trains to Brooklyn were slow (or stuck), but it was a relief to be able to be cozily ensconced in my apartment by 5:00, rather than after the dark and cold had truly settled in.

This is how my street looked, early Saturday morning:


Its been a big weather week for the entire continental United States – or, in honor of Abu Owlfish, perhaps I should describe it as a Weather week. From Seattle to New York, the country seems covered in snow, ice, and freezing temperatures.

My parents lost power last week – briefly, they said, but still a rare occurrence.

I realized that I have no idea where our flashlights are, my mother said to me after recounting how my father had turned on both (electric) fireplaces. And even if I did, I doubt they have fresh batteries.

Part of the problem, I think, is that American houses (like most modern homes) are designed with the expectation of a steady and relatively inexpensive flow of electric current that not only lights but also heats and cools. I wouldn’t know where to find flashlights at my parents’ house either – and I doubt that the two electric fireplaces would be able to provide much heat.

But I am prepared for power emergencies – after living in Lebanon, I know almost instinctively what to do when the power goes out.

I know where my flashlight is – stuck to the hood of the stove (its magnetic) for easy access. I know where my candles are, as well as my matches and two back-up lighters. And I know that I can keep myself warm by bringing a chair into the kitchen and turning on the stove. (Actually, this I learned years ago from friends with a semi-legal sublet in Chinatown – but it came in handy in Beirut.)

Its good to be prepared for emergencies – but it was better to be home on Friday with the power on, so I could wake to a warm apartment, a hot cup of tea, and a fast Internet connection on Saturday.

Posted in Beirut, Brooklyn, home, Iowa, Lebanon, weather | 3 Comments »

Lebanese Arabic: filling in the blanks

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 21, 2008

Living in Lebanon for so long has left me with curious gaps in my Arabic. There are plenty of words that I learned at one point and have simply forgotten, of course – but there are also plenty of words that in Lebanon I simply never used.

Yesterday I braved the ice-encrusted sidewalks to do errands and a few loads of laundry. When it came time to switch my loads from washer to dryer, the only one open was directly behind one of the laundromat’s Maghrebi employees, who was busily folding a fresh load of “serviced” laundry.

Most of the laundromat’s employees speak English as well as any native speaker, but I’ve noticed that this one avoids talking with customers. I should speak to her in Arabic, I thought. After all, I just need to ask her “Would you mind moving a bit so I can use the dryer?”

If only I had needed to ask to use the washer.

What is the word for “dryer”? I thought frantically as my mind remained blank. Why can’t I remember it?

Well, probably because I’ve never owned a dryer – not in Beirut, not in Damascus. What would it be? I wondered to myself. Jaffaf? But I didn’t want to risk it – I’ve tried using grammatical logic to come up with Arabic words before, and it has never ended well.

It wasn’t jaffaf exactly, but I was close: its مجفف. Yep – I looked it up as soon as I returned home.

Of course, this was the second Lebanon-specific gap in my Arabic that I discovered this past week. The first came thanks to the Russian government.

Hunh. What is the word for “Air Force”? I wondered as I read about Russia’s agreement to provide Lebanon with MiGs.

Technically, I believe, there has always been a Lebanese Air Force – although its flying capacity has been largely theoretical for the past few decades. But when people talk about the Lebanese military, they usually talk about the army.

I’m not holding my breath for a sudden infusion of dryers into my next stint in Beirut. But I do hope that the Lebanese Air Force becomes a major institution in its own right.

Posted in Arab world, Arabic, home, laundry, Lebanon, neighbors, women, words | 1 Comment »

giving thanks

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 28, 2008

I hope that those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving had a wonderful holiday yesterday, food coma and all. We – my parents, sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and dog – had a delightful, relaxing day filled with a mix of old and new.

The old: the same debate about how long to cook the turkey, which has been a feature of Thanksgiving and Christmas since I was little. Experience it again … for the very first time! I always find myself thinking, and wondering about deja vu.

The new: a delicious sweet potato tart, courtesy of the New York Times:


And, thanks to my mother’s generous sweet potato-purchasing (she kindly did the grocery shopping before we all arrived), we have enough shredded sweet potatoes for our decorate-the-tree breakfast tomorrow. If you’re in the neighborhood (and don’t mind an equally long-running family debate over lights and tinsel), feel free to stop by.

And if not – happy Thanksgiving weekend to you. I’m thankful for each and every one of you: for reading, for commenting on, and for linking to and forwarding these blog posts. Your comments inspire many of my posts, and I learn so much from all of them. Thank you.

Posted in Americans, food, holidays, home, Iowa | 5 Comments »