A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘romance’ Category

Sunni Love, take two

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 19, 2009

I bet that you thought that “Sunni Love, take one” was going to be about Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s parents, didn’t you? I did too, to be honest. But the failed romance between Sultan and Alia was a pretty good story on its own. And happily Time paid the same media attention to the next Saud-Solh love story: that between “brawny, globetrotting” Talal and the “sparkling” Mlle. Mona.

I’m still not sure where Tola is, but I do love the $8 dowry. Happy Monday-morning reading!

SAUDI ARABIA: Trinkets from Tola!

For years, as he watched his 40-odd sons (the exact number has never been reliably checked) grow to strapping manhood, Saudi Arabia’s wily and sentimental old King Ibn Saud cherished a wish—to unite one of them with a daughter of his old friend and champion, Premier Riad El Solh of Lebanon. After El Solh fell before an assassin’s gun (in 1951), Ibn Saud sent his boy Prince Sultan, 29, to offer sympathy and a small token of affection ($79,000 in cash) to the Lebanese Premier’s widow.

During the course of these amenities, a romance flowered between young Sultan and dark-eyed Alia El Solh, eldest of El Solh’s daughters. But disillusionment set in. Alia, a Western-educated 22-year-old, learned to her chagrin that Sultan already had at least one other wife, two sons and four daughters. Sultan hired a private eye and discovered that his bride-to-be was a feminist agitator with a firm determination not to hide herself behind a veil and live in a harem. One month after old Ibn Saud went to his grave, the marriage plans were canceled (TIME, Dec. 21).

Last July, for the observance of the third anniversary of El Solh’s murder, another Ibn Saud heir, brawny, globetrotting Talal, son No. 18, journeyed to Lebanon to pay his respects to the bereaved. His piercing eye soon singled out Mona, the dead Premier’s sparkling 18-year-old third daughter. After one quick glimpse. Talal invited himself to dinner on the following day. A day later, he proposed marriage. Mme. El Solh said it was up to Mona, and Mona cast down her eyes and murmured yes. Last week, after agreeing to pay a modest dowry of 25 Lebanese pounds ($8), Prince Talal signed his name in the marriage register alongside that of Mona El Solh.

Oil-rich Talal provided his bride with a few trinkets as well. Items: a necklace containing 263 diamonds and an emerald; an engagement ring with a marquise diamond approximately an inch long, half an inch wide; a gold mesh bracelet, a diamond-studded necklace, and a hunting-case wristwatch adorned with seven large diamonds and several smaller ones. More important, Talal bought himself a 20-room mansion on the mountain road to Damascus, which suggested that Mona would not be cooped up all year round in a Saudi Arabian harem.

And there was one other matter. “I don’t like to make conditions, and I made none. But I’m sure he won’t marry any other girls,” Mona said confidently.


Posted in Arab world, Lebanon, romance, Saudi Arabia | 3 Comments »

Sunni Love, take one

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 18, 2009

I should be calling this post “Lives of the Rich and Famous: 1953” – but “Sunni Love” was too much fun. While poking around in Time‘s online archives, I found this December 1953 gem about the non-marriage between a son of Ibn Saud and a daughter of Riad al Solh. Its a bit overwrought in parts (“with dark eyes that pierced like a Bedouin’s”, not to mention “he paled and muttered to himself” – seriously?), and a bit stereotyped in its views of Muslim Arab women (after all, the piece is titled SAUDI ARABIA: Western Woman) but its a good story, and Mlle. al Solh certainly sounds like someone I would have wanted to be friends with. Enjoy!

The bullet that killed Lebanon’s first and greatest Premier, brilliant, little Riad el Solh (TIME, July 30, 1951), distressed the generous heart of old Ibn Saud, autocrat of Saudi Arabia. The old lion of the desert could always count on an ally when El Solh was representing Lebanon. Ibn Saud wept and vowed to look after his old friend’s widow and four daughters. Tragically in the patriarchal Arab world, El Solh died without leaving a son.

So in the summer of 1953, when 29-year-old Sultan Al-Saud arrived in Lebanon, he bore his father’s sympathy to the bereaved family and an offer of $79,000 to the widow so that she might finance the mansion her husband had begun. Then Emir Sultan’s eye lighted upon 22-year-old Alia Solh. She was slender and bright, with dark eyes that pierced like a Bedouin’s when she was talking and crinkled when she smiled. She was also the big girl on campus at the American University of Beirut, where she studied political science and practiced it by leading demonstrations for women’s rights, daring hapless cops to shoot her down.

The Spark. Though Sultan was Ibn Saud’s 16th son, he was one of his favorites. Unlike some of the other 43 sons, he was able and hard working. As mayor of the capital city of Riyadh, he had done a first-rate job, and in negotiations with Aramco he had amazed the American oilmen with his quick mind. Matchmakers suggested that Alia and Sultan would make a good couple; Ibn Saud and El Solh’s widow agreed. Sultan heeded his father and in traditional Arabic style delicately indicated his wish to Mme. Solh through go-betweens. Unaware of all this, Alia went off to England, then to Paris for a holiday. Quite by chance, Sultan appeared in Paris, too, and inquired around about his bride-to-be. What he heard alarmed him. He hired detectives, who reported that Alia was indeed no strict Moslem maiden but was gadding about the Left Bank with a young crowd, behaving herself like a thoroughly emancipated, Western-style 22-year-old.

The Flame. When Alia returned to Beirut this fall and learned of the marriage negotiations, she laid down conditions. She would marry Sultan if he would join the foreign service and live in Washington, Paris, London, Beirut or any other civilized place. She would not live in Saudi Arabia, where women stay in seclusion. She would never wear a veil. Sultan must marry no other woman and must agree to live his entire life with her. Sultan must put a large sum in escrow just in case he should decide to leave her.

When Sultan heard these terms, he paled and muttered to himself. Added to what he had learned about Alia in Paris, this was too much. Though he wished to honor his dying father’s dynastic wish, he wanted a traditional Moslem wife, not a Western woman. Meanwhile, in Beirut, Alia did some fast research on her own and discovered that Sultan already had at least one wife, as well as two sons and four daughters.

Last week it was all over. The matchmakers bowed out. Alia was back in her political science classes at the American University of Beirut. Sultan tended to his job of governing Riyadh and seemed a good bet to become Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Agriculture. Both heaved great sighs of relief. Their families were disappointed, but also aware that times have changed in the Middle East.

Posted in Arab world, Lebanon, media, romance | 2 Comments »

there goes my heart: Valentine’s Day at Roadster

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 6, 2009

The Daily Star sprang back into action this past Monday, and I am delighted to report that its press stoppage did not change one bit of its quirky contents. Right now, the classifieds section includes advertisements from hotels and restaurants advertising their Valentine’s Day packages – mostly including special menus and live music.

Roadster Diner, a kind of faux-glossy American diner with outlets around greater Beirut (and, if memory serves me, the Gulf), is also advertising:


Technically, this isn’t too far-fetched an idea, since Roadster’s motto is: “There goes my  heart”. But I always understood this to refer to the delicious grease that goes into true diner food – not to the idea of diner romance.

I’m having a hard time imagining celebrating Valentine’s Day at a diner, even for lovers gifted with a strong sense of irony. But I’m also having a hard time coming down too hard on Roadster. In addition to a fondness for its pleasantly spicy tuna salad sandwich, I was charmed last year when its servers began introducing themselves by name  – a la US chain restaurants, but in Arabic. So: if your heart belongs to milkshakes and fries as well as your sweetheart, Roadster may be the place for you 🙂 .

Posted in Arabic, Beirut, food, romance | 1 Comment »

when honesty becomes a test

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 6, 2009

Yesterday I came across this very interesting piece from Abu Dhabi’s The National, written by Hani Bathish (formerly of the Daily Star), called “Honesty is not always the best marriage policy“.

Its a sexy title, but the actual article addresses a much more substantive issue, and shows the Dubai Courts’ family section in a very progressive, pro-woman light. The “policy” in question belongs to husbands who ask their wives to provide the details of their romantic pasts (and, since this is Dubai, “romantic pasts” seems largely limited to crushes, phone conversations, and maybe some handholding) as a sign of trust and full disclosure, and then hold these pasts against them.

I’m not sure that I agree with family counselor al Hamadi’s view that “anything that hurts a partner’s feelings must not be revealed”, but men – or women – who invoke honesty as a test are merely being manipulative.

Here’s the article:

DUBAI // The Dubai Courts’ marriage guidance section yesterday took the rare step of issuing a public statement advising women not to reveal details of previous relationships to their husbands.

The Family Guidance and Reformation Section warned that absolute honesty in a marriage may turn “from a blessing to a curse and may serve to destroy a family” if the information undermined trust or hurt a partner’s feelings.

“It is not the husband’s right after marriage to demand his wife tell him her life history nor ask her questions which would only contribute to increased divisiveness in married life,” wrote Abdel Aziz al Hamadi, a family counsellor in the guidance section.

The statement was prepared after a woman’s query to the section, which offers counselling to couples seeking divorce. The service seeks to resolve marital differences and, where possible, prevent divorce.

The Government has said divorce rates in the UAE have risen significantly in recent years.

In May, the Islamic Authority issued a sermon on divorce, urging men, who often initiate divorce, not to do so lightly.

A sermon in August urged parents not to force their children into unwanted marriages.

Mr al Hamadi said it was counterproductive for a wife to tell her husband about any previous relationships.

He said such revelations would in most cases sow the seeds of doubt and mistrust and have a psychological impact on a husband that would take him years to get over.

“A smart husband would do better not to ask his wife after marriage to reveal her life history, as by so doing he shows that he entered into a relationship with a woman without knowing anything about her,” Mr al Hamadi said.

He added that it was a man’s right to ask such questions before marriage, but not after.

“Such questions as ‘who did you love before me?’, ‘to whom were you engaged?’ or ‘with whom did you go out?’ only serve to increase divisions between a couple and are a warning sign of the imminent end of the relationship.”

He said honesty was a pillar of a happy married life, and that there was no alternative for developing a loving, intimate relationship, but opinions differed over whether such honesty should be absolute or selective.

“Honesty between couples is not as some suggest absolute, since by such a definition honesty turns from a blessing to a curse and may serve to destroy a family, especially if either or both spouses are not mature or understanding enough or have enough trust in each other to accept certain truths,” Mr al Hamadi said, adding that anything that hurts a partner’s feelings must not be revealed. At the same time he stressed that honesty remained the “spinal column” around which a sound family life is built.

“Many forget that a believer is commanded to be discreet concerning events in his or her life in which he or she veered of the straight and narrow,” he said.

“As for a spouse’s life outside the home, whether in relations with friends or a spouse’s own family, such details must not be revealed to a partner, as revealing them does not serve any purpose and friends’ and family’s confidence must be kept.”

The guidance section often deals with requests from wives in desperate situations, either suffering from husbands who are abusive or fail to provide for them adequately, seeking a divorce.

The section’s counsellors endeavour to resolve their differences.

Posted in Arab world, Dubai, family, romance | 1 Comment »

“The book ends differently than the movie”: Body of Lies

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 28, 2008

Those of you living in the United States have probably heard about the new Ridley Scott movie, Body of Lies. It came out earlier this month: another CIA-in-the-Middle-East adventure flick, starring Matt Damon and Russell Crowe.

You might not have wanted to see it in any case, given what the New York Times called its “grinding tedium”. And you may have been turned off by what even reviewers noted was an improbable romance between Damon’s character and a Jordan-based Iranian refugee nurse (They scoffed at the religious and cultural differences, but readers with experience in the region will be scratching their heads at the thought of Iranians in Jordan. The Iranian refugees I know all live in Damascus.)

Well, guess what? As my AP English literature teacher used to say in high school: the book ends differently than the movie. And in this case, the book begins and middles differently than the movie, too.

You will love this book. The characters are beautifully drawn – they come alive immediately. The region is aptly portrayed, with the minor exception of the one hospital scene, which takes place not in Amman but in Tripoli. (Who goes to Tripoli for non-emergency medical care, when Beirut is only two hours away?)

I’m not going to tell you the plot, but I am going to tell you that it is not only very different, but much better than the movie.

And I will give you a few hints.

First, the main character’s name is Roger Ferris.

Second, his dearly departed grandfather spoke very little and only vaguely about his origins in the “Balkan region” of the Ottoman Empire.

Third, the Jordanian mukhabarat plays a starring role – in a good way. (When asked about torture, the director says: we find torture incredibly ineffective. But we know our reputation, and we make use of it. The sounds of screaming in the prisons? All a recording.)

Fourth, there is romance and a strong woman character (woo hoo!), but she is not Iranian.

This is not an anti-American book, and it is not an anti-CIA book. It is a gripping read, and it offers something that we need to see much more of in contemporary American literature: Muslim heroes.

Posted in Americans, Arabic, books, citizenship, Damascus, espionage, family, home, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, politics, romance, Syria, words | 4 Comments »

glamour & espionage: Vichy Lebanon

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 6, 2008

H’s dream of ordering a whiskey straight up at the old St. George Hotel Bar died in the mid 1970s – but Beirut was glamorous for decades before. During my flight home from Seattle, I entertained myself with Open House, a 2000 novel written by Nabil Saleh, a Lebanese-British lawyer perhaps better known for his writings on Islamic (la riba) investing.

Here’s what Open House‘s back cover had to say about the story inside:

Beirut in 1940-a carefree social whirl under the shadow of war, a city of torn allegiances, treason and love. After France’s crushing defeat by the German army, the pro-German Vichy French control Lebanon and Syria, while Britain tightens her grip over Palestine and Iraq. Diplomats and politicians manoeuvre as spies and agents intrigue in the narrow and deadly streets.

Commandant Robert Herve’s plotting to remove the Vichy High Commissioner, Nadine de Kebourg on a secret mission from France. Albert of the Jewish Agency and the socialite Odene Philips and Rashid Habib, a journalist caught in a tangle of greed and loyalty. These and many others are the actors in a tense and powerful drama, shot through with dark humor.

The writing gets a bit over-wrought, but the story is good and the texture of the setting is really wonderful. Its a great joy to read a book that gets the geography of Beirut right – and it also gives a sense of what kind of center Beirut’s downtown area used to be. The Vichy connection is also interesting – several characters are Lebanese Jews, not particularly interested in Zionism but very concerned about rumors that Vichy regulations regarding Jews will be implemented in Lebanon.

All in all, a delightful airplane read – although I’m still mystified by the Chinese lanterns on the cover:


Posted in Beirut, books, French, Lebanon, nightlife, Palestine, politics, romance | Leave a Comment »

What the Lebanese are really thinking about these days

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 7, 2007

Its not the constitution, as far as I can tell. Or at least, that sure isn’t what Lebanon’s mobile phone advertising community is thinking about.

The other evening, my mobile phone beeped with a text message.

I was expecting a text, so I quickly dug through the outer pocket of my handbag to find my phone, but the sms I received wasn’t the one I expected.

YOU wanna BLOW a SWEET GOODNIGHT KISS on ur Beloved? Yeaa! YOU can DO it NOW! Just send P49 to 1069 and Get a FANTASTIC Message to SAY “GOOD NIGHT” in ur WAY!

No, definitely not what I expected. But perhaps I should have been less surprised. After all, a few days previously I had been invited to:

Send NOW a “HOT HOT GOODNight!!” to ur Girlfriend! SURPRISE HER! Just send P45 to 1069 and Enjoyy!

Well, I was rather surprised to learn that I have a girlfriend. Perhaps I should have figured something was up sooner, when I was encouraged to:

Get NOW Thousands and Thousands of Kisses!! WAAAAAAAW! That’s COOOL 🙂 Just send P41 to 1069 and Enjoy KISSING!!!

At least that one sounded G-rated. The sms ad prior to it was a little racier – and had a personal touch:

Hi Dear

U Can Enjoy Our EXTREME LOVE Services by sending to 1069: L1 M1 N9

Apparently “EXTREME LOVE” comes in three versions.

Posted in advertising, Beirut, humor, Lebanon, media, romance | Leave a Comment »

feeling loved

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 20, 2007

For the past few days I’ve been receiving a number of love messages from Lebanon’s sms advertisers, like:

في شخص بحبك بالسر بدك تعرف مين اتصل1429

Someone loves me secretly – and if I want to know who, I only have to dial 1429 to find out.

This was more convincing until K mentioned that she had received the same sms. Either the same man loves us both – secretly, of course – or 1429 is the sms equivalent of the romance-based email spam I used to receive at work.

What K has not yet received, however, is the EXTREME “Love Kiss” sms:

Get NOW the EXTREME “Love Kiss”!! That’s Trendy and FANTASTIC! Just Send K1 to 1069 and Enjoy this COOL “KISS” 🙂

I am partial to smiley faces with noses (the “-“), but skeptical about the EXTREMEness, Trendiness and COOLness of a digital kiss I have to pay for. As Billie Holiday tells us, love for sale is at best “love that’s only slightly soiled”!

Posted in advertising, Beirut, friends, music, romance, vanity, words | 1 Comment »

his & hers spam emails

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 30, 2007

I usually identify pretty strongly as a woman. I like men, but I’m very pleased to be on the hair & nails side of the gender divide (not to mention the more reflective and better organized side).

Recently, however, my sense of womanly self has been taking a beating. My work email has become the darling of spammers, all of whom appear to believe quite strongly that I am a man – a man with rather pressing needs and some deep insecurities.

This morning, I received an email from Lenny, who promised that “she will love you more than any other guy” thanks to his pharmaceutical offerings. This was rather cheering, since I was already regretting Friday’s decision to pass up Cheri Levy’s “last chance to super-charge your performance”. After all, Kristen was telling me: “beautiful Russian women are waiting for you”.

It may be good that I held off on the PEP, Viagra and the Russians – as it seems that I, or at least my male alter ego, have the chance at some 1950s style domestic bliss:

Good day, dear

I dream of a family and of a loving husband. I know this happens rarely but I indeed don’t put shopping, beauty salons, friends or new shoes on the first place. I wish to be with my loving husband and our children. I love to cook, and I dream to cook for my husband. I like to grow flowers and to read books and I dream to read fairy-tails for our little kids. I know how to keep the house clean and tidy and I will be happy to sit with my husband on a porch with a cup of tea and watch the sunset… If you are that person, if you are my man, you can find me at http://loveisaclick.com/feelheal and I will answer you with my best respect and honesty… I will impatiently wait for the beginning of our future.

Waiting for your reply

Cecy P

It is tempting – I would love a live-in cook, not to mention a housekeeper. But I’m going to decline Cecy P’s offer. After all, I grew up in the post-women’s movement world. I expect equal pay for equal work, Title IX sports funding, and spam emails that address me as the lovely woman I am :-).

Posted in advertising, garbage, internet, research, romance, vanity, women | 2 Comments »

desert love

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 17, 2007

I have the anonymous arabist to thank for this laugh-out-loud hoot of a website:

Sheikhs and Desert Love: a Database of Romance Novels

and no, its creators did not develop this site as a joke. Visitors can search by title, author, publication year, topic and theme, editors’ choice and … country.

Yes, country. The site creators have created a clickable map of “fictional Arabia” so readers can search for novels from their favorite, mostly non-existent countries. I’ve copy-pasted the image here (but for the full clickable experience you must visit the site):


Its well worth a visit, not least for editor’s choice reviews like this one, for Diane Dunaway’s 1982 Desert Hostage:

The novel, which spans two generations, is searing hot. Beginning with Englishwoman Anna’s capture by a powerful desert sheik, the story unfolds to tell the story of her son who is born during her captivity–though unbeknownst to anyone but Anna, the boy is not the sheik’s biological son. Raised as an Arab, Karim soon finds himself on a mission of revenge when the sheik is murdered by an English soldier, Clayton. He vows to avenge his death by detroying Clayton, as well as his family. The story takes a sharp twist when the very woman he falls deeply in love with, Juliette, is the daughter of the hated Clayton. Naturally he imprisons her in his harem, but his feelings for Juliette run deep. There is no way she could just be another concubine destined to live the lonely harem life…and plenty of hot encounters between them make it abundantly clear that she will soon become his one and only. Good fun, and a great read!

What qualifies a book as an editor’s choice, you might wonder?

Books are chosen based on the strength of and the chemistry between the characters, the development of storylines, and the swoon factor of one or more romantic scenes. Novels with an attempted-escape-through- the-desert segment and that take place in a lavish yet remote palace are generally given high marks.

Happy perusing!

Posted in Americans, Arab world, books, garbage, guilt, holidays, maps, media, romance, women, words | Leave a Comment »