A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘sea’ Category

Cedar Island: mis-underestimating the Lebanese government

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 27, 2009

It looks like Cedar Island, the is-this-an-April-Fool’s-joke project planned off the coast of Damour (and which I have written about here) will now be slower to – tee hee – take root.

The Kipp Report published an article today stating that:

Work on Cedar Island, an $8.2 billion artificial island off the coast of Beirut, Lebanon, will be postponed until after the parliamentary elections in June. The project developer, Noor International Holding, confirmed to MEED magazine that it underestimated the amount of time the Lebanese government needs to approve a project of this size.

In February, Noor announced it hoped to begin construction before the end of May, ahead of the elections in June.

”We are still waiting for permits from the authorities, so everything is on hold,” a spokesman for Noor said. “Hopefully we can move after the elections before the summer vacation starts.”

I’m trying not to laugh and also trying to decide whether the slow government approval is a genuine problem, or merely a euphemism for “let’s see how things go after June 7”.

The article continues:

According to the developer, the project will take four years to construct and will house over 40,000 residents. The island will be a comprehensive community, and will feature villas, apartments, shopping complexes, schools and hospitals.

The project has received a flood of criticism due to its size and location: environmentalists insist that the nation is not in need of Dubai-style constructions to lure investors, and point to the negative impact dredging will have on marine life in the project’s construction site, and economists question whether the developer can secure the funds required to complete the project.

”I cannot see who will do it and how the funding will be secured, particularly when states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with billions in reserves, are halting projects,” Lebanese economist, Louis Hobeika said to Beirut-based newspaper The Daily Star.

Mohammad Saleh, the chairman of the board of directors at Noor International Holding, insists the project will attract funding in spite of the global economic downturn:  “I am not worried about the global crisis, because my main target is Lebanese expatriates who have nostalgia for their country and would like to invest in it,” said Saleh.

”Unlike foreign investors, these people are used to Lebanon’s system, its ups and downs.”

I believe that – but the idea that there are 40,000 Lebanese and expats dying to live in a pretend cedar off the coast of Damour leaves me less than sanguine.

Posted in Arab world, Beirut, construction, sea | 2 Comments »

Lebanese, Ireland, and the Titanic

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 13, 2009

Yesterday was a lovely, relaxed holiday – lots of time with friends, and beautiful spring sunshine. But I also learned that it was a sober holiday for some: yesterday, a number of Lebanese-Irish commemorated the 97th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, which happened on the night of April 14th to 15th, 1912.

I’ve mentioned before that the ship carried a number of Ottoman Syrians, many of whom would today be described as Lebanese. For American and European upper classes, the Titanic was the latest, greatest luxury liner – but for the many other people who made up its steerage classes, its specialness lay solely in the fact that it was bringing them far away from the land and people they loved, and towards a – hopefully – more lucrative and thus happier future.

This article in the Irish Times helps bring this aspect of the Titanic‘s story to life:

THE 97th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic was marked by a ceremony in Cobh, Co Cork, yesterday.

The Irish Lebanese Cultural Society laid its first wreath at the annual commemoration which got under way shortly before 3pm.

The laying of the wreath highlighted an often-overlooked statistic: 123 people from Lebanon travelled on the Titanic’s maiden voyage in 1912, along with the mostly-European passengers and Asian crew.

The small village of Kfar Mishki in the lower Bekaa Valley of eastern Lebanon was devastated by the loss of at least eight of its inhabitants. Another village, Hardeen, lost 12 of its locals while eight others survived.

The tragedy of the sinking of the Titanic is commemorated every April in Cobh.

Cobh, then known as Queenstown, was the Titanic’s last port of call on a journey which ended with the loss of 1,517 lives.

Posted in Arab world, Lebanon, research, sea, time, travel | Leave a Comment »

mollusk silk: more from Bsous

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 12, 2009

Since it is the season of love, indulge me as I return to one of my Lebanese loves: the Bsous Silk Museum. I’m not actually a great silk wearer, but the history of silk production in Lebanon is one of my favorite stories.

Any thanks to a casual remark from one of my former professors, I am now curious about the name of the town itself. I understand that “Bsous” comes originally from a Syriac word, and wonder whether it might be linked to the word “byssus”, which appears in the Old Testament – in Exodus, where it is often translated as “linen” or “wool” or even “yarn”. Byssus is the term for the silk-like threads that some types of mollusks (shelled creatures in the mussel and clam family) secrete to anchor themselves to the sea-floor. (Think this sounds gross? Schedule a visit to the Bsous Silk Museum and ask to meet the silkworms.)

Merriam-Webster tells me that “byssus” comes from Middle English bissus, from Latin byssus, from Greek byssos flax, of Semitic origin; akin to Hebrew būṣ linen cloth. And apparently byssus silk and worm silk were seen as much the same – both somewhat nubbier and more linen-like than the silk we use today, thanks to the difference in hand-spun and machine-spun threads.

You can probably figure out my question. Do any of you know whether “Bsous” the town derives from the same word as “byssus”, and whether there was any ancient connection between its land-based silk-making and sea silk? Bsous isn’t a coastal town, so I’m guessing that the term “byssus”/Bsous was used by analogy, but I’m curious whether it was applied first to silk worms and then to silk clams, or vice versa.

Posted in academia, animals, Arab world, Beirut, bugs, clothing, education, Lebanon, research, sea | 1 Comment »

Hi, you; Intah, hiyak: Seattle ferry names

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 19, 2009

Warning: This won’t be funny unless you speak both Arabic and English, and are a bit goofy besides.

Last night we decided to take a post-dinner ferry ride from Seattle to Bainbridge Island and back, so we could enjoy seeing how beautiful the city skyline is at night. Thanks to our unusually efficient planning (and the fact that there was no competition for waterfront parking), we arrived at the Seattle ferry terminal with many minutes to spare – some of which we put to good use reading the “historical timeline” that runs up and down the length of the entrance.

This timeline entry, listing the ferries that were built in the 1960s, made me laugh and laugh:

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The first two ferries sound like the start of a conversation in Lebanon: English greetings, but with an Arabic touch.

Hi, you! One person might start.

Intah, hi-ak, the other might respond. The “ak” is the “you” – just like “kifak?” means “how are you”, with “kif” meaning “how”, “ak” meaning “you”, and the “are” implied within the structure of the language.

So: Seattle’s swinging 60’s ferries were way ahead of the linguistic curve :). Who knew?

Posted in Arabic, family, Lebanon, sea, Seattle, time, tourism, words | 1 Comment »

Seattle sparkles

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 19, 2009

Seattle was beautiful today – utterly beautiful. I have more to post from this weekend, including shots of a very nice pro-Gaza protest we ran across yesterday – but for now, a shot of the harbor water catching the sunlight this morning:

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Taken on the waterfront walkway across from the lower level of the Sculpture Park, which we wandered through this morning as the sun was just beginning to dry off the nighttime damp.

Posted in family, photography, sea, Seattle, weather | Leave a Comment »

a watch named Beirut

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 18, 2008

Things seem to be heating up a bit in Lebanon, as what Naharnet is jingoistically calling “the war of the magnetic tapes” shifts into a higher gear. So maybe that’s why the latest Lebanon-related mention in my inbox suggests going underground for a bit – or to be more accurate, going under water.

Did you know that there is a surfing watch model called the Beirut? I certainly didn’t – but now I know that it not only exists, and is made by a company called Rip Curl. I also know that it costs anywhere from $120 to $150, and that it is water-proof to a depth of 100 meters. And its a pretty watch (although sadly it only comes in a men’s version):

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If you’re a surfing male looking for a stylish watch named after a mildly dysfunctional Mediterranean city, you can buy it here.

To be fair, the company did not single out Beirut alone. It sells a series of watches named after cities (Munich, Zurich) and neighborhoods (Bel-Air, Bronx).

And I suppose I would prefer to own a surf watch named “Beirut” than one named “Atlanta“.

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Beirut, Lebanon, sea, words | Leave a Comment »

victims and martyrs

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 31, 2008

I’ve been enjoying a lovely lovely weekend at home with my parents, enjoying the quiet tranquility of life in suburban Iowa. And since its been a while since I was last here, I’ve also been enjoying the chance to reacquaint myself with the odds and ends that I have been storing here: artwork, clothing, and, of course, a large aghabani collection.

I have several of these beautiful Damascene tablecloths (you can learn a bit more about aghabanis here), including one in light blue and another in a rich salmon as well as the more classic cream, white, and red versions. Now that I am back in the US for a bit and actually have a suitable table, I’m looking forward to taking one back to Brooklyn.

While here, I’ve also had the chance to follow up a bit further on the Syrian Young Men’s Association and other Syrian/Lebanese-American clubs, thanks to various online resources. I haven’t learned anything more about SYMA, but I did go off on a very interesting tangent: the Titanic. In addition to carrying the leading lights of British and American society (not to mention Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet), the Titanic apparently carried a significant number of Syrian/Lebanese immigrants, coming to the United States as steerage passengers.

The subject of Syrians on the Titanic is fascinating, and I will post more about it soon. But in this post I want to focus on something I learned from an article by a woman named Leila Salloum Elias, about how the Syrian community in the United States worked together to respond to the tragedy of the Titanic‘s sinking. For Arabic speakers, it was a particularly difficult tragedy to deal with, since the names of the dead were reported in English-language newspapers first. The combination of Arabic names written down at the ports of entry by French or other non-English speakers and cultural differences in what defined a “full name” (Syrians tended to give their first names and their parents’ names, and perhaps a village or family moniker, which Americans) meant that for the first few weeks after the ship had sunk, some families grieved unnecessarily, thinking that their relatives had died.

The problem of names was compounded by the slowness of early 20th century communication: relatives in the United States might know that family members were planning to join them soon, but they rarely knew when these family members left Syria, or what ships they traveled on.

Elias’ article was fascinating, but what really made me sit up and take notice was this:

Equally important were the reports [in US-based Arabic-language newspapers] about memorial services for the victims that allowed the community to mourn together … In vivid detail, Al-Sa’ih [a New York-based paper] described for its readers the memorial service held for Niqula Khalil Nasr Allah and that members of the Syrian community having come to pay their respects to the Nasr Allah family on the death of “al-shahid”.

The title of the Al-Sa’ih article from which Elias drew this quote was also titled “Al-Shahid”.

I don’t know Elias, but I assume she noted the word “shahid” for the same reason that I am mentioning it here: because today “shahid” is understood – at least in the US – as part of that great stereotyped mishmash of suicide bombers and jihadis. But in the Arab world, “shahid” is used for all kinds of tragic deaths: the Lebanese soldiers who died fighting in Nahr al-Bared in 2007, for example, were all described as martyrs, and so were the people who died during the mini-war in May.

In English, we would call these people “innocent victims” – and there is a word in Arabic for “victim”, with the same connotations of sacrifice as our English word. And on the surface, “martyr” and “shahid” also share the same connotations – both refer back to an earlier sense of a martyr as one who died bearing witness to a belief.

But seeing the use of “shahid” in this 1912 article about a Titanic victim makes me wonder whether the contemporary Western understanding of “shahid” isn’t a bit skewed. Rather than seeing it as an exclusively Islamic term, it might help Americans and others to learn just how many shahid-s there are in the Arab world, and how few die in service of religion.

It might also help to expand the definition of “shahid” to one that includes a more messy (but not less accurate) term like “victim of a wrongful death”, or “victim of an unnecessary death”. Arabic linguists, what do you think? Would that be stretching the word’s definition too far?

Posted in Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, Iowa, Lebanon, politics, sea, words | 7 Comments »

yesterday’s beaches

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 2, 2008

The air changed this week – its still cold at night, but the chill is less wintry. The air smells like spring, and it feels like it, too – slightly heavier and more humid. And with the change in air has come an evolution in our weather-related sports conversations: from skiing to beaching.

I hear that before the war everyone went to beaches in Ouzai, H said to me the other day.

We paused for a minute to absorb that idea. Today’s Ouzai does not scream “beach club”. It is a lower-class suburb of Beirut, largely populated by poor Shiites who fled from the south during the Israeli occupation (and overlaid with waves of other internally displaced refugees).

My only experience in Ouzai was quite positive: I bought my first set of pillows and coverlets there – big thick traditional ones that feel incredibly cozy on cold nights.

It was February 14, 2006 – the one-year anniversary of Rafik Hariri’s assassination – and I had just arrived to Beirut from a conference in Kuala Lumpur. I was moving into a new apartment, and I had nothing – just a set of sheets that I had purchased in Malaysia. And because it was the first year anniversary of Hariri’s death, everything in Beirut was closed.

As I contemplated the unhappy prospect of camping out in my own apartment, sleeping under a sheet and my winter coat, my landlord took pity on me.

I’ll take you to Ouzai, he told me. They aren’t mourning Hariri there.

He was right – all the shops were open, and I slept in warmth and comfort for many nights in my Ouzai bedding.

But before Ouzai was known for its inexpensive, handmade “shaabi” furniture and conservative ways, it was known for its beach resorts.

My 1965 copy of Travel Lebanon lists them among the city’s “swimming clubs”: Saint Michel, Saint Simon, Riviera, Acapulco, Sands, Coral Beach, and the Beach Club. A day pass could be had for 2 or 3 Lebanese pounds, and cabanas, apartments and even houses could be rented for the season, for 700-7000 LL. My, prices have changed :).

The beach clubs boasted restaurants and bars as well as swimming facilities, and most offered surf boards for rent as well.

The area around Ouzai has been inhabited since ancient times, and has been the subject of several archaeological studies. But its name comes from a Sunni (I assume) religious scholar from Baalbek:

Among the residents of Beirut during the Medieval Period who became well known was Imam Al Aouza’i. Bom in Baalbeck in 707 or 712, his personal name was Abd er Rahman bin Omar. A learned man of his day, well versed in Islamic technology and law he moved and became stationed in Beirut were he practiced and distinguished himself. He became a world- famous Moslem jurisconsult of the first and second centuries of the Hijra, and was regarded as the Imam of Syria (Jidejian 1993:12). He died in 774, and the Moslem shrine on the south coast of Beirut was erected for him.


It is said that the Imam Al Aouza’i was extremely fond of the Hantus village and that he often expressed the wish to be buried beside the tiny single-domed mosque, in which he taught (Conde 1955:20). After his burial in 774 Hantus was virtuallv destroyed by an earthquake and when it was reconstructed and reinhabited, it was name after this holy man and benefactor, Al Aouza’i (Conde 1955:20). Since than, Al Aouza’i has become Lebanon’s second holiest shrine. Imam Al Aouza’i’s original 7th century needle-like white minaret mosque building is the small room with a low dome which adjoins the minaret on the east (mountain) side. The mosque marks the resting-place of its famous namesake, and has since become the name for this region
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I took the information above from a May 2000 Council for Development and Reconstruction report on “The Beirut Urban Transport Project”, sponsored by the World Bank. The full text is available online, and it is extremely comprehensive, covering developments from Roman times to the present for most of Beirut’s neighborhoods. It has this to say about Ouzai’s beach resort days:

Only with the opening of the Beirut International Airport, in nearby Khaldeh, did one witness the intensive development of the beach area, and the unmistakable southem expansion of Beirut toward the red sand dunes in the back of the beaches … In 1955 the Al Aouza’i sector remained a sleepy summer resort for Beirutis who still preferred the traditional ways of the country over the foreign-style further north beach resorts of the St. Michel and St. Simon.

To be honest, suburban Beirut geography is not my strong suit. What I understand from the above report is that Ouzai proper had “traditional” beaches while today’s Bir Hassan had the chi-chi beach resorts. But I could be wrong

There are some very sweet photographs posted online by Beirutis who do remember the old resorts, including a few childhood ones posted by Gus Ramadan on flickr. You can see pictures of a young Gus at St. Simon with his father and cousin here.

Thanks to its beachfront property, Ouzai has also been the unhappy recipient of military strikes over the years, including the 1982 Israeli invasion. I found the Saint Simon beach mentioned in this context in a letter sent from the “Permanent Observer of the Palestine Liberation Organization” in Beirut to the United Nations Security Council as the Israeli attacks continued, asking for UN support in condemning and stopping the attacks. The full report is available online here (the UN maintains a wonderful online archive of its Palestine-related documents); and below is what the PLO had to say about Israeli attacks on West Beirut and its beach suburbs:

In the early morning hours of today, 26 July 1982, less than five hours following the night attack on the refugee camps of west Beirut, the Israeli forces renewed and escalated their attacks against the besieged western sector of Beirut. For more than two hours, commencing at 1.30 a.m., Israeli land and sea-based heavy rocket, artillery and tank fire indiscriminately hit the areas of west Beirut: Ouzai, Ramlet al-Baida, the Fakhani district, Bir Hassan, Bir al-Abed, Haret Hraik, Mar Elias and the airport vicinity. The three refugee camps, Sabra, Shatila and Burj al-Barajneh, were shelled once again.

Under the cover of that fire, which continued until 3.30 a.m., Israeli naval units attempted to approach the Saint Simon beach shore in the Jnah/Ouzai region. Our defiant Palestinian and Lebanese defenders were able to repulse the attempted Israeli sea-borne landing.

At 10 a.m. today, 26 July, Israeli artillery, rocket and naval shelling of west Beirut resumed. For two hours, the Israelis pounded the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital and concentrated on the Ouzai and airport region as well as the refugee camp, Burj al-Barajneh.

“Defiant defenders” sounds a bit melodramatic, but I imagine that writing in between bouts of shelling makes one less interested in understatement.

H remembers hearing that the US marines landed on the beaches of Ouzai, where the mixture of men in fatigues and girls in bikinis caused mass confusion on both sides. The marines wondered: but isn’t there a civil war on? while the sunbathers wondered: is there a movie being filmed here today?

I can’t find anything online to back up that story, although I can tell you that googling “marines Beirut beach landing bikini” sure does produce some interesting results. But if anyone else knows more, we would love to know! It sounds almost too good to be true – too typically Lebanese! – but it could be :).

Ouzai was hit during the 2006 war, and its population may be hit in a different way by Hariri-led plans to tear down the slums and build beachside condos, if this dated but fascinating LF forum debate is still accurate. I probably won’t be going there in my bikini anytime soon, but I like knowing about this other side of Ouzai.

And for those of you who might be interested in seeing photos of Saint Simon and other Ouzai beaches in their heyday, Skyscraper City has a wonderful collection of old photographs from Lebanon. Try pages 32-35 for beach resort images.

Posted in Beirut, childhood, construction, holidays, Israel, Lebanon, sea, swimming, time | 5 Comments »

Sunday on the Syrian Beach

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 11, 2008

Sunday is family day in Lebanon, and if you are a foreigner with no family around, it can be a lonely day – especially around lunch-time, when the sounds and sights of extended families gathering for a big meal out or at home are difficult to miss.

As a result, Sunday is a very good day to spend time with one’s family of friends – so I was delighted when M suggested lunch with her and J in Raouche.

The day was beautiful: sunny and warm, a lovely reminder that spring is on its way to the Mediterranean. We ate on the terrace at Petit Cafe, enjoying the blue sky and the waves crashing against the rocks.

After lunch, M suggested a walk on the corniche. Not the Ras Beirut corniche – the corniche in Ramlet el-Baida2, overlooking the rather inappropriately named “White Sands” beach.

I think of it as the Syrian Beach, M said, because who else would go there?

Well, she does have a point. The sands weren’t filthy, but there was quite a lot of debris. And my friend A, who has indeed swum at Ramlet el-Baida2 before (he’s Canadian), got out of the water when he remembered that dead livestock (mostly goats and cattle) tossed overboard from cargo ships tend to wash up there.

The beach had a few determined picnic’ers on it, and the corniche was filled with people out enjoying the sunny afternoon. But we were definitely the ones to look at: three foreigners piling out of a well-tended SUV who spent the first few minutes gawking at an equally well-tended 1975 VW Bug.

All in all, it was a great family Sunday in Beirut 🙂

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Posted in Americans, Beirut, Canadians, economics, food, friends, Lebanon, sea | Leave a Comment »

the wide winter sea

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 13, 2007

I love the ocean in winter – I love its cool tones and I love its wildness. Walking around the harbor in Jbeil after lunch on Sunday reminded me of how deeply the ocean speaks to me: in the majesty of the cresting waves and the rhythm of their ebbing I feel the beating of my own human heart.

I also love the fading light of winter afternoons – light that both warns us of the coming night and reminds us of the coziness of home and the warmth of friends and laughter.

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Posted in friends, Lebanon, photography, sea, time, weather | Leave a Comment »