A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘New York’ Category

fun with medics

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 4, 2009

This morning I had an annual check-up with a new doctor. Well, in fact all my doctors are new – the result of a new insurance provider and a new neighborhood. I’ve chosen them a bit at random: my requirements are that they be within walking distance of office or home, have received their final degree no earlier than 1992, and have published in their field.

(I did think about adding “speak Arabic” to this list, since my insurance provider’s website can also sort doctors and dentists by languages spoken, but decided that this was just a bit too weird of me.)

As part of each first visit to the people who now keep me healthy, I have had to fill out various types of “medical history” forms. These forms ask fairly standard questions, but I have learned that my answers can cause rather non-standard responses.

Tell me what Beirut is like, a friendly dental hygienist asked this fall, while wedging a machine that looked frighteningly like a small electric sander into my mouth. (Apparently its better than a toothbrush – perhaps because the goo and plaque melts off one’s teeth out of fear.)

Ttttssssnnnnceeee, I said while trying to preserve my tongue.

Today, my medical history was evidently so remarkable that the doctor called me into her office for a pre-check-up chat.

I just wanted to say, she said, that you are the only patient I have ever seen who listed “Beirut, Lebanon” as the last place he or she had been for this procedure.

But in all other respects, we both agreed, my health is totally boring :).


Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, health, New York | 1 Comment »

falafel epiphanies

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 7, 2009

Last night I had an amazing dinner at ilili. The mezzes were overpriced – $9 for tabbouleh? – but so, so good. And the esmalieh bil ashta was almost beyond words – it more than made up for the freezing cold night.

This morning I found an homage to more homestyle Arabic food in my new Cooking Light‘s letter from the editor, who cheerfully informed readers that:

“Homemade falafel is a revelation – even reheated for lunch”. And yes, the bolding is in the original quote.

Um. I’m game to test the magazine’s falafel recipe, although skeptical about its lack of bekdounes. But revelatory falafel? Revelatory, reheated falafel?

I think the Cooking Light crowd needs to get out more.

Posted in Arab world, food, Lebanon, New York, nightlife, words | 6 Comments »

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 »

seven years of fat, seven years of lean

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 11, 2008

This is a sad day for those of us who were in New York, Washington, D.C., or rural Pennsylvania when the planes hit seven years ago. What I remember most clearly is the confusion of it: I was walking home from the gym when the first plane hit the World Trade Center, and so I had no idea that anything had happened until my friend K called from work.

Diamond, something big has happened, she said tightly. We don’t know what exactly, but a plane has hit the World Trade Center.

That’s awful, I said sympathetically, while thinking to myself: oh, K is always a bit dramatic. I’m so sorry for the people in the plane, and those who witnessed it – but I’m sure that the building will be fine.

No, I remember her saying to me. You don’t understand – our cell phones aren’t working and we can’t get any of the news sites to open.

At the time, I had just moved into a new apartment with a roommate. We had no television and no radio, and only a dial-up internet connection. When K hung up, I tried to go online, but it took ages to connect. And she was right: I couldn’t get any US news website to load.

My mobile phone wasn’t working well either, but I was finally able to reach my father, who had been on his way to vote in their town primary election when he realized that what he was hearing on the radio was not a replay of the 1993 World Trade Center attacks but breaking news.

Later I learned that my sister, who lived in Washington, had also been able to get through to my father. She had been at the doctor’s office when the plane hit the Pentagon, and didn’t know whether she should continue to work or return home. 

It was still early enough that people wondered whether more planes might still be in the air and heading towards unknown targets, so my father cautioned her: try to avoid walking near any building that looks like it might be a target.

My sister looked around and saw government buildings, IMF buildings, embassies and other political headquarters. 

But Dad, she said, this is D.C.. Every building here could be a target.

Three years ago CNN replayed its full coverage of the day on its website, and I watched it from 8:30 am, curious to see what I had missed by being away from the television that day. What I realized was that there was as much confusion on the television as I had experienced on the ground. The news didn’t break immediately, and when it did, the newscasters were unsure how serious – or how big a story – it would be.

The coverage evolved gradually from breaking news into a morning newscast to full live coverage of a story that superceded all others – but even then, confusion reigned. The screen clearly showed the second plane hitting the second tower, but the commentators missed it entirely – and when they were informed of eyewitness accounts reporting the second hit, they initially dismissed them. None of us could believe what happened at first, I suppose – which one could call a gut response or a “failure of imagination”.

Just like 2001, its a beautiful sunny day today, although several degrees cooler than it was then, and the clouds are a bit thicker in the sky. I’m seeing my city with two sets of eyes today, both a bit misty – and its hard to reconcile the seven years that separate them.

Posted in Americans, explosion, home, neighbors, New York, politics, time, weather, women, words | 1 Comment »

the Beiteddine of Brooklyn

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 7, 2008

It may have been wishful thinking.

Or it may have been that I didn’t get enough sleep the night before.

Yesterday I looked up during my walk to the gym, rather than straight ahead or – ahem! – at the shop windows. And I saw something familiar – wooden mashrabiya-style additions to a stone (well, brick) building:

It looks so Lebanese, I thought to myself as I pulled out my camera. I can’t wait to get home and compare it to the photograph I took at Beiteddine.

When I did, I realized that the two approaches to wooden building extensions weren’t quite as similar as I had thought. Here’s the photograph of Beiteddine:

Well, it was 6:00 AM. As you can see, Beiteddine’s build-out is a bit more elaborate, not to mention bigger – kind of like Beiteddine itself compared to the brick building.

But I loved feeling, at least for a little while, that a direct connection between New York and Lebanon existed just a few blocks away.

Posted in Beirut, construction, Lebanon, New York, vanity | 1 Comment »

familiar flag :)

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 20, 2008

This week’s issue of Time Out magazine included a quiz on flags of the world. Look at number five:

I’ve been spending far too much time and energy trying to deconstruct the hint that the flag’s tree “Kind of looks like a Christmas tree, but it probably isn’t”, wondering whether it was a commentary on Lebanon’s majority-Muslim population.

But then I looked at the Lebanese flag again, and the Time Out editors are right. That cedar does kind of look like a Christmas tree.

(As many of you probably know, Time Out is now publishing a Beirut edition again. Time Out Beirut published two or three issues starting in Spring 2006. Its premiere issue included a terrible interview with Haifa that had all my journalist friends snickering at its gaga tone, especially since they all knew the magazine’s editor, who had conducted the interview. But it was a welcome addition to Beirut’s social scene, and each issue was better than the one before. If it offered overseas shipping, H and I would definitely subscribe.)

Posted in Americans, Beirut, cedar, Lebanon, media, New York | 1 Comment »

Going local

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 28, 2008

Yesterday I stopped by an office building to run an errand. The elevator bank was directly across from the main staircase. Ordinarily, I would have taken the stairs – I like to walk, and I respect the environment. But my Save the Earth side peters out after the third floor of stairs, so I decided to take the elevator.

There were three people waiting for an elevator already, and none appeared to have just arrived. So when the elevator came, I was surprised to see not one but two women press the first floor (Lebanon operates on a European floor counting system) button.

I could have walked backwards up the staircase in less time than they spent waiting for the elevator. And neither of these women would have been the worse for a short workout.

When I lived in New York, there was one building whose elevators were always full. Whenever my friend N got on, he would look at the buttons pressed. If only a few were lit, he would say: Great – we’re going express.

But if multiple were pressed – particularly between the fourth and sixth floors, both of which offered easy stair access to other floors and to the street – he would say: Oh. Looks like we’re going local today.

I think of N’s comments whenever I get on an elevator here. Since very people here seem to share my if-its-under-three-floors-I-can-hoof-it belief, I spend a lot of time going local in elevators. And a lot of time hearing N’s words in my head, and trying not to giggle.

After all, few things empty an elevator faster than a passenger giggling exuberantly to herself – and I certainly don’t want to make anyone get out and walk!


Posted in Beirut, elevator, New York | Leave a Comment »

typically Lebanese New Yorkers :)

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 27, 2008

Can you get online? G asked me this morning via sms. I need to show you something.

We’re not in touch as much these days, so I thought it might be something urgent. I rushed through my post-gym shower routine (made briefer by the fact that yes, I did indeed forget to pack my hairbrush today) and hurried to work.

Do you know the Facebook group “The Lebanese Club of New York? G asked when I had arrived and logged on.

I rushed for a FACEBOOK issue? I began wondering grumpily. But luckily G explained.

I don’t know the group – I’ve never heard of it. But evidently it knows me – or at least one of its members does.

This is the group’s page on facebook.

This is the post I wrote about seeing a painted mark on a hiking trail in Austria that looked like the Lebanese flag.

Ladies & gentlemen of Lebanon and New York: I am delighted that you enjoyed my photo, and touched that you chose it for your group.

But as an administrator of a facebook group myself, I can tell you that uploading the group’s photo requires that the uploader say that yes, he or she has the right to do so.

So naturally I am concluding that the members of this group are not merely Lebanese, but also telepathic :). They must have read my mind and known that I would be delighted that they like the photograph.

And if they are reading my mind right now, they will know that I am thinking of my favorite 212/718 Arabic (not Lebanese, sorry!) restaurants. And as fellow New York gourmands, I would love to hear about their favorites as well 🙂

Posted in Americans, Beirut, blogging, food, Lebanon, New York | 2 Comments »

the things that foreigners do

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 10, 2008

As I have mentioned before, I love walking. One of the characteristics that distinguishes the great cities of the world from those that are merely good, as far as I am concerned, is their walkability.

Paris, London, New York, Rome, Tokyo: Storied cities. Cities with uncommon vibrancy. Cities whose residents walk, and which as a result have a dynamic vivacity at street level.

Beirut should be one of the world’s great cities. It should be a city peopled with pedestrians. It should pulse with the colorful humanity of its inhabitants.

Instead, it pulses with me. To be fair, Hamra gathers a fairly sizable group of promenaders on weekend afternoons, and on weekend nights clumps of revelers … well .. clump on the sidewalks in front of the more popular bars.

But when I walk – going from one place to another, with the purpose of running an errand, going to work, meeting friends, and so on – I frequently find myself with almost zero competition for sidewalk space.

This was the case last Friday evening, when I decided to walk to the Monroe Hotel, where I was meeting a few friends for a “final, really final” showing of Haki Niswen, the Lebanese Arabic-language adaptation of The Vagina Monologues.

(More on that in a future post. If I stood out on the street while walking to the hotel, it was nothing compared to the degree to which I stood out – the only, and very obviously, non-Lebanese – at the theater.)

I chose to walk because it was a beautiful evening and because it would be short – ten minutes, fifteen minutes at the most. And it was a lovely walk: the air was fresh and the night sky was breathtaking.

But logistically speaking, the walk was a total pain. I’m not talking about the checkpoints, the armored personnel carriers or the Internal Security Forces stationed here and there. Yes, they were interested in me – but as a curiosity, not a security threat.

The challenge was much more literal: the sidewalks leading down to the hotel were cordoned off with cement barricades connected by chain linked metal “ropes”. So each time I came to the end (or the start) of a block, I had to hop over the metal “rope” in order to continue on my way.

I’m not much of a damsel in distress, even in three-inch heels. So delicately picking my way through the barricades was really no trouble.

But in terms of adding force to my campaign to make Beirut a great city – in terms of demonstrating the joys (and the virtues) of walking to the Beirutis passing by in cars and taxis … well … I suspect that it was at best a wash.

Instead, I imagine that most of the people who drove past me shook their heads, smiled, and said to one another:

Look – there goes another foreigner, doing those funny things that foreigners do.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Beirut, New York, Paris, traffic, travel, women, words | 1 Comment »

creepy-crawlies in Hamra ii

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 2, 2007

A recent survey of my apartment found that humans are not the only creatures who enjoy air conditioned interiors in hot weather. As a result, I went to the store this morning in search of some bug powder.

I found a familiar brand – Baygon, part of the Bayer family of companies. (Bayer is one of those incredibly diversified multi-nationals: If bugs are giving you a headache, they have bug sprays and powders. If you have an actual headache, they have aspirin.)


Baygon’s bug products aren’t sold in the United States – the brand was familiar to me for another reason.

Many moons and several generations of global terrorist attacks ago, I worked as a project manager at a boutique design firm in midtown Manhattan. While I was there, my boss and mentor, who I adored, landed a major Baygon redesign.

None of the Americans in our office had heard of Baygon. All of the foreigners – Brits, Norwegians, Australians – had. But we soon learned.

Midway through the project, the company decided to do focus group research on the new design schemes. They chose their … Asian market, rather than the European one on which we had been working, and sent us the “text” to incorporate into the designs.

The text was in Chinese characters, and it was given to us with the characters all in one continuous line. Our designers had no idea which characters were involved in making what words – which was critical as they needed to know where they could make line breaks.

None of us read Chinese, but one little diamond among us was known to order in frequently from a nearby noodle shop.

Mee Noodle Shop is a New York institution, with fragrant little outposts all over the city. In case you should find yourself in New York soon and have a hankering for noodles, here is the menu: meemenu.pdf.

And yes, it is thanks to the kind staff at the Mee near our office that Baygon’s Chinese-speaking customers today have packaging that says “roach and ant powder” rather than, say “ro achanda ntpo wder”.

Back to my current bug adventures.

I sprinkled Baygon’s magic powder hither and yon, in all corners and along the “runways” of my apartment (a rather accurate description of my hallways on days that I am late in leaving for some appointment). The results thus far have been pleasingly effective, although (somewhat less pleasingly) more visible than I had anticipated.

I had assumed that the powder would act as a deterrent, keeping the local cockroaches out of my apartment. Quite the contrary. They all appear eager to emerge from their little hiding places and walk through the powder, which allows them to spend their last wriggling moments on earth in my sight – an intimacy I was well prepared to do without. Since this afternoon, I’ve escorted four to their earthly resting place, and have resigned myself to the likelihood of coming upon more before the day is done. ugh.

Posted in Americans, animals, Arab world, Beirut, home, humor, Lebanon, New York, time, words | 1 Comment »