A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘parenting’ Category

the namesake chicken

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 10, 2008

Two days ago, I received a group email from my friend H, who was brimming over with excitement about his new role in life: uncle.

[My niece] is less than 48 hours old, and, like all babies, is believed by her family (us) to be the cutest thing alive, EXTREMELY bright for her age, and very interactive, H wrote.

As an aunt, I know exactly how H feels – and I was delighted that he wanted to share the news with us.

But I was flummoxed by what came next:

P.S. Diamond, H added, you get a chicken because the baby has your name!

Don’t worry – H’s niece isn’t really named “Diamond”, although “Massa” is used as a girl’s name in Arabic. Her name is my middle name, which is much less flashy.

And while I have been thinking about getting a pet – there are so many animals in need of loving homes in New York, as in Beirut – I wasn’t exactly dreaming of a chicken. (Nor, I imagine, are my landlords.)

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H very kindly promised to keep the chicken until my next trip to Lebanon (which I imagine will please his roommates even less than my landlords). Apparently the giving-a-chicken-to-people-with-the-same-name-as-a-newborn was a new tradition for him, too.

As for his family, they have a lot of chickens to buy. My middle name isn’t the most common in Lebanon (imagine the truckload that families naming their son Fadi must order), but I do know a few women with it as their first names.

I wonder whether farmers give volume discounts: Namesake Chickens! 10% off if you buy six or more!

Happy uncling, H – and please take good care of “my” chicken!


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Posted in advertising, animals, Arab world, babies, Beirut, friends, humor, Lebanon, parenting | 3 Comments »

good parenting

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 30, 2008

I saw this advertisement in the online edition of the Daily Star, the English-language Lebanese paper, on Wednesday, and it made me terribly sad:

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This is a legal notice to Hassan Trabulsy that his child or children are about to be placed in foster care or an orphanage. From reading it, I could tell that he obviously hasn’t been around to take care of him/her/them in some time, since his address is listed as “parts unknown” – but also that someone must have reason to think that he returned to Lebanon. And the court is trying to let him know what is happening with his child/children, and to give him one last chance to come back to the United States and be a good father to him/her/them.

In the US, when parents split up, custody generally goes to the mother. We see mothers as the primary, care-giving parent.

In the Middle East, when parents split up, custody almost always goes to the father. Children are his responsibility, but also his right – and they belong to him. Hence as my friend M told me years ago, when I asked him how his mixed-marriage parents decided which religion he should follow, Religion follows the father. And religious courts automatically award custody to the father.

Its a tragedy whenever either parent chooses to abandon his or her responsibilities towards his or her children. But coming from a culture in which fathers are so centrally involved in raising their children, I found it all the more heart-breaking that Trabulsy should abandon his.

Except that when I googled his name to find out more, I learned that he didn’t – or at least, he only abandoned one of them.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Hassan Trabulsi had three children with his American wife Holly: Tristan, Afif, and Serena. Afif and Serena are fraternal twins, and Serena has Down’s Syndrome.

Holly and Hassan, who went by “Richard” in the United States, divorced in 2004, and Holly received full custody of the their children. In 2005, Hassan asked Holly to allow the two boys to come to Lebanon to spend the summer with him. At the end of the summer, he told her that he was not sending them back.

I suspect that this loss-of-custody notice is for Serena, in whom Hassan/Richard seems to have taken no interest. And knowing that he abandoned one child while abducting the others is even more heart-breaking. This is not an example of good parenting. Hassan Trabulsy should be ashamed of himself, and so should the rest of his family.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, babies, childhood, family, Lebanon, parenting | 6 Comments »

learning to brunch

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 16, 2008

Last week I received a charming news update from AME Info, titled: “Dubai hotels issue guidelines on brunch etiquette”.

Interesting, I thought to myself, wondering what exactly this entailed. In the US, brunch seems to be either a wholesome post-church family activity or a sluggish friends & lovers post-Saturday night-drinking gathering. Happily, the two groups usually brunch at different times (the churchers are up-and-at-’em a bit earlier than the partiers) and different venues – but both seem to do fine without guidelines.

What could these guidelines be? I wondered. A step-by-step guide to following either of the US models seemed excessive; and more basic hints like “napkin in your lap” seemed both condescending and also, if truly necessary, important for all meals – not only brunch.
Several hotels in Dubai have begun to inform guests of the etiquette expected of them at Friday brunches, Gulf News has reported. Al Qasr Hotel, part of the Jumeirah Hotel Group, has started leaving cards on dining tables that list the do’s and don’ts of brunch behaviour. The move comes as a British couple was found guilty of having sex on a Dubai beach after consuming a large amount of alcohol at one of the city’s brunches.

I typed in “Dubai brunch guide” and happily this article, from Australia’s Daily Telegraph, soon set me straight: brunch was the occasion for distributing the guides – not their focus.

Guests at one of Dubai’s most popular hotels are being handed ‘etiqutte guides’ at brunch to avoid being arrested for showing too much public affection after two British tourists were convicted for having sex on the beach nearby.

The Madinat Jumeirah hotel advised that guests should “employ discretion” and “anything more than a peck on the cheek” could result in police involvement, reports the UK’s Daily Mail.

The guides suggest the hotels guests could be arrested for inappropriate public displays, are left on tables at the hotel’s weekly brunch event.

Not quite as much fun as imagining a guide that instructed people following model one in the fine art of determining whether orders of sugar-spike items like cinnamon rolls and pancakes are really the best choice for one’s children. Or instructed people following model two in how much grease will soothe one’s alcohol-ravaged tummy, and how much will further irritate it.

But a very interesting testimony to Dubai’s ongoing efforts to navigate between its heavily promoted overseas image as a place of fun and magic, and its need to remain accountable to Emiratis who appear to feel concerned that their culture and mores are slipping away.


Posted in advertising, Arab world, church, Dubai, family, food, nightlife, parenting, tourism, words | 1 Comment »

proper young ladies

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 17, 2008

Yesterday evening, H and I headed uptown to have dinner with his three preteen nieces, who have been spending the week with their grandparents. The three girls don’t get together very often, so this was a big, much-anticipated trip for them.

H had met up with them earlier in the week, and while he loved seeing them (he’s a good uncle), he did sound a bit haunted afterwards. I understand – I was a twelve year-old girl once, and I know how terrifying a pack of us them can be.

H got each of them two books as a good-bye present: one relating to what each girl had said she wanted to be when she grows up, and one a collection of Arabic phrases and expressions, transliterated into English script. They loved both, and while we waited for our salads, they decided to test us.

How do you say, “Do I need a prescription for this?” one asked.

How do you say, “I think there’s been a mistake here?” another quizzed us.

What does “3aiza twaleet” mean? the third asked me. Yes – “3aiza”, not “beddi”. Lebanese Arabic books are only available on special order, so H had to get an Egyptian version.

H was thrilled that the girls liked his gifts, and I was delighted to see that they were so excited to learn a bit of their ancestral language. And it wasn’t until we began walking them home that they began to wonder where the “cuss words” were located in the book.

I’ve done a bit of research on immigrant assimilation, and one piece of conventional wisdom is that ability to speak in the tongue of the “old country” disappears with the second generation of immigrants born in the US. Food habits last longer, and so do food words – Italian-Americans who don’t know a word of Italian still happily serve family pasta recipes, for example.

I haven’t seen any research done on the longevity of curse words and insults among immigrant communities, but judging from H’s nieces, they last longer than food words.

H’s siblings don’t speak Arabic, but they apparently incorporate a few key terms liberally when English just isn’t enough – and their daughters have clearly been all ears.

Where is sharmouta in this book? one asked, mercifully waiting until we had exited the restaurant, since the unwrapping of the Arabic books brought the maitre d’ over to say that he and the staff were all Algerian and delighted to meet us. The sight of sweet preteen girls excitedly repeating “sharmoutas, sharmoutas” might have made their welcome a bit less warm.

Listen, H said, frowning. There’s one thing your parents have never gotten right, because they never learned Arabic properly. They don’t know how to properly pluralize these words.

Its not “sharmoutas”? one niece asked, puzzled.

No, H said. And like a good uncle, he instructed them: Repeat after me: “shrameet”.

Shrameet, shrameet, they chorused.

Now, “manyoukeh”, he said. Manyoukeh, manayek.

Manayek, manayek, they said, their focus drifting a bit as they locked arms and began zig-zagging across the sidewalk.

And Uncle H, one asked boldly. What’s that really awful expression?

What expression? H asked, taken aback.

The one that Jiddo taught us, they all said, smiling. And really, what’s a grandfather for if not to indulge his grandchildren?

I’m not telling you that, H said firmly. Its very graphic, and you don’t need to know.

It was something like “ardi feet”, one said, musingly.

I’ll call my brother, said another. He’ll remember. But “ardi feet” sounded right to him, too – so apparently she kept on dialing family numbers.

H finally gave in, as a bribe to get them to quiet down while we walked through the foyer of their grandparents’ building. But don’t ever use this, he said. And anyway, it doesn’t really work for you to say.

A little while later, as we watched video footage they had taken earlier in the week, the landline rang.

Oh hi Dad, said niece number two when the phone was passed to her. Sorry to bother you. I just called earlier because I wanted to know how to say “a*ri feek” – but I figured it out, so its okay. Thanks for calling back!

I tried to imagine my Lebanese female friends using that phrase in conversation with their fathers – at age twelve or even as adults. Even in the most mellow families, I doubt that the conversation would have continued as breezily as hers did: with a casual okay – see you tomorrow! love you! and the phrase in question relegated to being a minor side note.

Curse words may last beyond the second generation, but when they become heritage rather than ordinary terms I don’t think they carry quite the same force as they do back home 🙂 .

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, childhood, family, Lebanon, parenting, women, words | 4 Comments »

Byways of Byblos and other Jbeil gems

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 21, 2008

Today H suggested that we take my parents to Jbeil for lunch by the sea and a tour of the Bronze Age-to-Roman era ruins. I am a terrible tourist: I never make it out of Beirut myself, and am thus utterly incompetent when it comes to planning others’ out-of-town excursions. So my parents will have H to thank for whatever non-Beirut experience of Lebanon they have.

And what a wonderful experience today was: a respectable yet not overly long ramble through Jbeil’s ancient sites (“We believe in executive summaries when it comes to ruins”, my mother said after a brief pass through the castle), followed by a wander through the old shops and a lovely, embarrassment-of-riches lunch at Dar al-Azraq.

As we made our way through the shops, a book caught H’s eye.

That looks like something you’d like, he said. And it was: a 1964 copy of Bruce Conde’s Byways of Byblos.

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Why are they stopping? my mother asked my father.

They found an old guidebook, my father said. You know – its their thing.

It sure is – and this book was a bargain. For 5,000 Lebanese lira ($3.33) I have a new treasure to add to my collection – while the poor shopkeeper, who kept trying to interest us in aghabanis, has a new “What do foreigners really want to buy?” question to puzzle over.

When I got home last night, I googled Byways of Byblos for more information about the book and its author. And what a wealth of information there is about him.

No, M – Bruce Conde was not a spy. In fact, he had a long career as a Yemen-based correspondent for various philately publications.

Yes, that’s right: the Byblos aficionado was also a stamp expert. And some of his article appear quite intriguing to the non-specialist as well, like March 27, 1972’s “Sharjah’s coup will have philatelic repercussions; recalls first issue” from Linn’s Stamp News.

Odd as this may sound, it seems that Conde’s investigative philately reporting got him in trouble with the Yemeni government. After publishing several articles investing an alleged stamp racketeer named Mr. X, Conde was deported: in December 1959, Linn’s reported on “Bruce Conde, Linn’s Middle East Correspondent, Expelled From Yemen; Mr. ‘X’ Prime Suspect”.

I can only imagine the drama Conde’s deportation brought to the stamp world. If you would like to get a sense of the number of articles/editorials published about the story, you can read their titles here.

And if you thought that a guidebook-writing stamp journalist was a hoot, just wait until you read what else I learned about Mr. Conde. No, M – he wasn’t a spy.

Bruce Conde was the pen name of A. Bruce-Alfonso de Bourbon-Conde. He was a French aristocrat from California who taught at AUB and wrote for the Daily Star before moving to Yemen and converting to Islam under the name Abdurrahman el Kindi, where he wrote for various philatelic publications.

That’s right. Doesn’t it make ordinary lives seem so … ordinary? Apparently it made his own life seem ordinary, too – because Prince Bruce-Alfonso de Bourbon-Conde was born with a less illustrious name: Bruce Chalmers.

Here’s what one ‘historical fakes’ site has to say about him:

It appears that “prince Bruce”, born a U.S. citizen as Bruce Chalmers on December 5th, 1913, claims that he is descended from the princes of Condé and that his ancestor went to California before 1830. Mr Chalmers was the son of Thomas Hugh Buckingham Chalmers (born 1883 at Stockton, California, died 1917) and Margaret Bruce (born 1887 at Santa Cruz, California and died in 1913 five days after Bruce’s death). Margaret claimed descent from Louis I of France and Thomas claimed to be a descendant of the Stuarts. On June 29th, 1939, Bruce Chalmers obtained a judgment of the Superior Court for Alameda County, California, changing his last name to Bourbon-Condé. He served in the US Army Air Corps in W.W.II under the name Bourbon-Condé and in the Korean War on General Ridgeway’s staff and received the French Croix de Guerre. He attended the American University at Beirut and, after becoming involved with the Imam of the Yemen, surrendered his American citizenship.

And here is what another had to say:

an unnamed contributor to the July 1985 issue of the French monthly journal “l’Intermédiaire des Chercheurs et Curieux” … writes that while he was stationed in Japan from 1946 to 1949 as a member of the French liaison mission to the Supreme Allied Headquarters, he recalled an American friend mentioning a fellow American officer Major Bruce-Alfonso de Bourbon-Condé. His curiosity was aroused and he looked for an opportunity to meet the personage. Invited to a wedding in Osaka where he knew that the major would also be a guest, the French liaison officer made the trip from Tokyo to present his respects to “His Highness”. The confrontation took place among a small group of American friends he had thoroughly briefed on the Bourbon genealogy. The “prince” was in uniform but it seems that every accessory that he carried was strewn with fleurs-de-lys, his handkerchief, his cigarette case, his wallet and probably his socks and underwear. The liaison officer explained that as a Frenchman he was indeed honored but somewhat mystified to be introduced to His Highness, especially since the latter’s existence totally upset his notions of history: the last Condé having, to his knowledge, ended his days by hanging himself from the hasp of a window of the chateau at St.Leu in 1830.

The “prince” made no effort to deny it and said “actually my name is Smith (or Brown or Evans, it makes little difference) but, to make a long story short, my mother was the niece of someone who was the daughter-in-law of someone who was the friend of someone who was the mistress of the last Bourbon-Condé. Since the name is more romantic than Smith, I thought I would take it on.

Naturally. At least he had a sense of humor about it :).

The site also notes that
Another French witness, Mr.G. Dardaud, who was impressed by Condé, states that he met him when the latter was a young Arabic-speaking professor at the American University in Beirut in the 1950s. The professor, engrossed by the history of the Middle East, was also a journalist and wrote serious articles on the countries of the region for the English-language paper “Daily Star”.

I’ve had my doubts about both AUB’s and the Daily Star‘s hiring criteria, but I didn’t realize that they were an issue in the pre-war era as well.

At any rate, Conde returned to Beirut when he was deported from Yemen, and seems to have lived back and forth between the two countries until the civil war began here. He spent his final days in Tangiers, and died in 1992.

As for Jbeil itself, Conde claimed in his preface that his interest was piqued by revelation of a family connection:

“As a descendant of the family [who] built the castle and other Crusader structures of Jbeil, and [who] ruled this part of Lebanon for nearly 200 years, the writer, who now regarded Byblos as the old home place, again went all out for Crusader lore.”

In the 1100s, the daughter of a Crusader ruler of Byblos married the prince of Antioch and became the mother of the Prince of Cyprus, whose descendants became the ancestors of the House of Conde. Bruce Conde may have joked about his spurious nobility in private, but in print he claimed it unabashedly. Definitely not an ordinary man.

You can find additional information about Conde on philately listservers like the one here. And you can probably find additional copies of Byways of Byblos (or his other book, See Lebanon) on Ebay.

Posted in academia, Americans, Arab world, books, Lebanon, parenting, vanity, words | 10 Comments »

getting and having: on laundry & love

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 9, 2008

Last night H & I took my aunt’s advice and went out for date night. We had a hoot of a time – especially since one of us is a very fine dancer.

“Date night” was a very satisfying end to “laundry day”, or rather “work and errand punctuated by laundry folding” day. Truth be told, a trio of sweet maids did the laundry, and I merely showed up at folding time – my kind of laundry day.

An advertisement I’ve seen on several billboards recently is also focused on laundry: a 6-kilogram load washing machine on sale from Homeline.

The washing machine looks fine, but the ad copy has been driving me nuts:

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I get it – the new father of two wants to get a new washing machine so he can catch up on his sleep. Right – because so many Lebanese men do the laundry.

But that’s not what bothers me about the advertisement – its the bad grammar.

Just got his second baby? In English, one “has” a baby. The verb “to have” is a dictionary-recognized synonym for “to deliver” or “to give birth”. “To get” is not. You can get a disease, or get a new car, or acquire a new diamond bracelet, or even get (in the sense of “become”) married. You cannot get a child, because a child is not a possession.

On the other hand, I have heard several Lebanese people talk about siblings or friends “getting” children. So perhaps the ad copy was written wrong intentionally. You never know 🙂

Posted in advertising, babies, beer, Beirut, Lebanon, nightlife, parenting, photography, words | 1 Comment »

Seattle smells and other odds & ends

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 28, 2007

I smell marijuana, my mother said on Christmas Eve as we walked down the stairwell in the retirement condo in which my grandmother lives.

I smell peanut butter, I said, thinking that this was a more likely smell for a small building full of people whose average age exceeds 75.

What are you two talking about? my father asked. Since he was the one stuck carrying the bags of trash from our Christmas Eve dinner down to the outside dumpster, I imagine that his nose was having an entirely different experience.

Ahh, Christmas with the family – so many moments of unanticipated laughter!

Today, of course, the news was grim – not from Lebanon, but from Pakistan. I wonder whether I would have had the courage that Benazir Bhutto had, to return to Pakistan knowing that she would be a target of “fundamentalists” (which increasingly seems like a convenient cover for Musharref).

My father and I watched the news this morning as we worked out at the gym, and read from the scroll that protesters were shouting “Killer, Killer, Musharref”. I don’t know Urdu, but I do know that it takes many words from Arabic. In Arabic, “muqatil” is one word for “killer” (the simpler is “qatil”). “Mughatil” is assassin, a difference of one letter: qaf versus ghayn. In Iran, people pronounce the qaf as a ghayn, so that “Qur’an” is pronounced as “Ghur’an”.

So I’m guessing that what they were chanting was “muqatil, muqatil, Musharref”, which has a better “ring” to it than “qatil, qatil, Musharref”. And I’m also guessing that they were playing on the killer-assassin connection. Guessing, but by no means sure. What I am sure of is that Pakistan has lost someone who put her life at risk in order to serve her country – unlike its current president, who expects the country to serve him.

And to illustrate the cliche that life goes on despite tragedy, my parents & I spent the morning running errands around town, with thanks to:

A sweet Russian tailor, who is kindly altering some too-long jeans and silk trousers (since the alternative, that I grow six inches, is appealing but unlikely).

Target, which provided a much-needed 4×6 rug for my foyer that has the dual virtues of being cheap and fluffy enough to muffle the sounds of my concierge’s deep-throated Sri Lankan spitting.

Bed Bath & Beyond, which prompted my mother to install some bath-time fun for my grandmother’s guest bathroom:

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Yes – feet-shaped anti-slip mats for the tub. I’ll let you know how they work after my next shower.

Posted in Arabic, explosion, family, holidays, home, parenting | 2 Comments »

Teach your children well

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 16, 2007

It happened again – twice last weekend, in fact.

The first time, I was shopping at the local grocery store. I was standing in the housewares aisle debating whether to buy some locally made items as stocking stuffers, when a young girl ran past.

She was around eight years old, a charming brunette in a dress and wire-frame glasses. She was out on a shopping excursion with her dad, and she was having a ball. As she ran past me in search of something or other, she called back a continuous stream of Arabic chatter to her father, who answered her with a big smile in his voice.

Then he saw me, and suddenly the unsolved problem of Lebanese identity reared its ugly head. He switched to English mid-sentence, and I watched as his daughter’s step faltered.

She half-turned, clearly wondering why her father had suddenly changed languages – not simply adding a word or two of English, but making a definite switch. I wondered as well, but I doubt we reached the same conclusion.

Why do Lebanese people care so much about demonstrating their language skills in front of foreigners? This man and his daughter weren’t speaking with me. I’ve never seen them before, and I am certainly in no position to judge their language abilities.

Nor did I appear to be anyone of particular substance, pawing through the mug assortment in grotty braid and gym clothes, in hopes of finding the Starbucks mugs I had seen there several weeks previously (yes, real Starbucks mugs although judging by the $2 price tags I doubt that Starbucks sanctioned their sale). Why did he care whether I knew that the two of them can speak English – and why place so little value on Arabic?

The same thing happened the following day. I stopped in the women’s locker room on my way out of the gym. As I stopped to say hello to the attendant, I could hear a mother talking to her children in the lounge area – talking in Arabic.

The mother was seated on the couch with her toddler son, trying to put him in a sweater. His older sister – three, four years old – was across the room, changing the channels on the television. As I walked in, the mother looked up at me and … suddenly switched to English.

The little boy dropped his arms and looked up at her, confused. The girl stepped back from the television and turned toward the couch, surprised. When they noticed me and made the connection, I cringed.

What lesson are these parents teaching their children?

Posted in Arabic, Beirut, childhood, education, family, London, parenting, words | 3 Comments »

Family entertainment? sex & severed ears on Saturday morning

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 4, 2007

Yesterday morning I went to the gym at my usual weekend time – 9:00. The bank of televisions was already on when I arrived, and I settled myself on a machine facing two of them: one showing LBC’s Saturday morning children’s show and the second showing a young Kyle MacLachlan driving a convertible around a sweetly winsome American town.

When Laura Dern appeared next to him, in a 1950s high school girl’s full skirt and cardigan, I thought: how sweet – a high school romance.

When Isabella Rossellini appeared on screen, with a full 1980s bouffant hairdo and silk dressing gown, I thought: Oh, surely not.

But it was. Star Movies’ Saturday morning broadcast was Blue Velvet.

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As in the US, Saturday morning around most of the Arab world is a weekend morning – prime time for child viewers.

As the film progressed, I found myself increasingly horrified at the thought that young children might stumble across it while channel surfing.

Here’s how Amazon describes the film:

David Lynch peeks behind the picket fences of small-town America to reveal a corrupt shadow world of malevolence, sadism, and madness. From the opening shots Lynch turns the Technicolor picture postcard images of middle class homes and tree-lined lanes into a dreamy vision on the edge of nightmare.

Sounds promising already, doesn’t it?

After his father collapses in a preternaturally eerie sequence, college boy Kyle MacLachlan returns home and stumbles across a severed human ear in a vacant lot. With the help of sweetly innocent high school girl (Laura Dern), he turns junior detective and uncovers a frightening yet darkly compelling world of voyeurism and sex.

Voyeurism and sex – two words that always say “children’s television” and “family fare” to me.

Drawn deeper into the brutal world of drug dealer and blackmailer Frank, played with raving mania by an obscenity-shouting Dennis Hopper in a career-reviving performance, he loses his innocence and his moral bearings when confronted with pure, unexplainable evil. Isabella Rossellini is terrifyingly desperate as Hopper’s sexual slave who becomes MacLachlan’s illicit lover, and Dean Stockwell purrs through his role as Hopper’s oh-so-suave buddy.

Did I mention the oral sex? The dead man with a sock stuffed in his mouth? Whoever edited this film for television – and whatever Gulf censors approved it – had a rather curious interpretation of acceptable programming. I’m an adult, and was working out in a room of other adults (most of whom, mercifully, were far from this particular television) and I was embarrassed that this movie was playing in front of us.

Amazon concludes that Blue Velvet, which it calls a “nightmarish masterpiece”,

is a disturbing film that delves into the darkest reaches of psycho-sexual brutality and simply isn’t for everyone.

I second that opinion and would like to suggest that a film that received an “R” rating  for sex and violence not be shown during primetime television house for “G” viewers.

Posted in Arab world, film, media, parenting | 2 Comments »

time & distance

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 24, 2007

Last week my family had dinner with a friend of mine and his son, Lebanese-Americans both. 

Where do you live? the son asked, in between bouts of marshmallow-roasting-stick-fencing with my mother. (It was a designer bistro, complete with X&O-style make-your-own s’mores on the dessert menu. Those of you who know my mother get one guess as to who said “en garde” first :-P!) 

When I told him, he said:  wow, that’s far.

Is it? I thought to myself curiously. His grandparents live in Raouche, which I have always thought of as very far west. Nor is my neighborhood particularly far from the apartment his parents keep for holidays in Beirut.

Yes, he replied emphatically. I know exactly where you live – in Baalbek.

Well. I do not live that far from central Beirut, or whatever his reference point was. Baalbek is 30 miles away, at least.

On the other hand, the perception that I live at some time-space distance from the rest of the world is rather widely held.

For example, G insists that my apartment exists in a micro time-zone, one 15 minutes behind the rest of the city. My office, G tells me, is 6 minutes behind – closer to “normal” time, but still a bit slow.

Usually I am on the receiving end of these micro time-zone jokes – but sometimes I get to be the one doing the teasing.

Yesterday, for example, G asked: when do we go on summer time?

Well,  I said, my neighborhood started daylight savings time in April. Perhaps yours does it differently.

G lives in an area near-ish that where Brammertz, the current head of the UN’s Hariri investigation, is staying. Proximity proved an inspiration:

Perhaps your area hasn’t changed because it is on Belgian time, I suggested, smirking at my wittiness.

Pffffft, G said, before heading off to London on a business trip that I suspect will include a stop-off in Greenwich to let the time-keepers there know that time has come loose in Lebanon.

Today I am amusing myself wondering what Lebanon would be like if different areas could choose their own time zones.

Perhaps the Gulf citizens who used to vacation in the hills near Beirut would feel more comfortable if those areas adopted Saudi Arabian or UAE time.

Perhaps francophone areas like Achrafieh or (tee hee hee) Qoreitem would feel more settled in their split identities if their clocks matched those of la patrie.

And of course those who see Iranian conspiracies around every bend would keep their ears open for the sounds of ahl al-beit calls to prayer ringing out half an hour before the others.

Imagine the possibilities.

Posted in Americans, Beirut, family, friends, holidays, Lebanon, maps, parenting, time, words | Leave a Comment »