A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘shipping’ Category

Fun with Lebanon’s video division

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 24, 2009

Last week a long-awaited box arrived from Lebanon, filled with those things that – at the last minute – I couldn’t manage to fit into my luggage last summer. Many thanks to H’s mother for sending it off – and for dealing with what seems to have been a nightmare of Lebanese red tape.

In addition to requiring her to present an inventory of the box’s contents (wonder what Customs thought of the one and one-half pairs of gym socks?), Customs took it upon itself to make a more thorough, secondary search that seems to have involved turning my various wallets inside out. (Hope whatever leftover bakkala change you might have found was worth the effort, gentlemen.)

When Customs finished, the Video Division seems to have taken over.  Its industrious personnel must have enjoyed The Holiday (a long-ago gift from a would-be beau), Paris Je T’Aime (ditto), clips from various news programs, and my Macbook installation CD.

When they finished, they bundled all those discs into a nice manila envelope and sealed it with several stamps, including this one:


I hope that those of you who can read Arabic are getting as great a kick out of the date-stamp as I did. Someone was feeling nostalgic, I think: the stamp reads March 13, 2005.


Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, film, Lebanon, shipping | 2 Comments »

Levantine treasures

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 16, 2008

Two Sundays ago, H and I loaded ourselves down like mules and toted bag after bag to the new apartment. We finished around 6:30, sweaty and a bit grumpy as we realized just how much more we had to move (and paradoxically, how little furniture we had. Most of what we own is clothing and books.).

And then, as we rounded the corner and headed back to our old apartment, there it was – the brass table-top I’d always wanted to buy in Damascus:

Brass and other metal table-tops are a dime a dozen in Syria, where they range from inexpensive plain disks to intricately carved, beaten and burnished masterpieces. (And where many sport a beautiful star of David in the center – another instance of the artisanal openness we noticed at Beiteddine.)

This one is rather mid-range: it has a pretty design, and the lip has some raised design elements, but it has no Arabic or deeply intricate patterns:

I couldn’t believe that a Levantine brass table-top was there in front of us, leaned up against the facade of a junk shop called 2Silhouettes in the Window. I had always wanted to buy one, but my incurable cheapness consistently held me back: I didn’t want to pay for shipping, or for odd-sized luggage if I took it back by plane.

The store’s proprietor couldn’t believe that I was so interested in his “brass tray” – apparently it hadn’t attracted much interest. As I knelt down to get a better look at the design, he quickly walked over to us and offered to let us have it for 40% of the amount on its price tag.

A big Levantine brass table-top for less than a dinner at Monks? How fast could I say “yes”?

It needs a little polishing, and we need to find a base for it, but I’m thrilled that I finally have the brass table-top I’ve always wanted – and equally thrilled that it has a Brooklyn pedigree!

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, art, Brooklyn, Damascus, home, Lebanon, shipping, time, tourism | 4 Comments »

gassing up in Syria

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 13, 2008

Earlier this week, Iraq Directory published a translation of an al-Thawra article announcing that Syria is now charging market prices for gasoline for trucks crossing the border to Iraq. The price of gas in Syria is heavily subsidized: the article states that gas in Syria costs $.14/liter (yes, its the European system!) while market price is closer to $.80/liter.

Filling in the article’s gaps, I assume this means that these trucks typically fuel up at the Syrian side of the Syrian/Iraqi border, so they enjoy the subsidized prices and do not have to waste time (or put themselves at risk) stopping to fuel up in Iraq.

But why increase the price? I’m guessing that the answer has to do partly with finances, and partly with politics. Syria is running a major budget deficit this year, and I understand that proposals to cut the many subsidies that Syrians enjoy have been floated – and then rejected as politically untenable. Cutting the gas subsidy on trucks leaving the county won’t be anywhere as contentious as cutting the bread subsidy – or raising gas prices for ordinary Syrians.

I do not know for certain that Syria’s Iraqi borders see more truck crossings than any others – Lebanon’s export and trans-shipment economy depends heavily on Lebanese-Syrian land routes, for example. But any change in procedures on the Syrian side of the Lebanese border usually meets with a big outcry in Lebanon – as it did earlier this week. A slow-down that Syrian officials attributed to new security procedures set off anxious news reports on Future Television and passionate speechifying by the country’s political class.

As for the Syria’s Turkish and Jordanian borders, they seem occupied by other issues: Kurds and smuggling, respectively. So I imagine that targeting trucks at the Iraqi border was appealing as well because it promised the least political costs.

In any case, its interesting to see both the change in price and the fact that it was picked up as a news item of interest beyond the country’s borders. I love stories like this – under-reported administrative changes that slip through. I puzzle over them, like I puzzled over the story that the national Syrian football team had just hired, and then let go, new coach Antonio Cabrini.

Apparently Cabrini’s salary was to be paid directly by a Syrian company, but the national football federation decided that it should instead be paid indirectly through corporate sponsorships. And rather than this disagreement becoming the starting point for dialogue, it seems to have ended it – leaving the Syrians coach-less. Puzzling indeed. I’m sure there is a larger back story here, and I sure wish I knew it :)!

Posted in Arab world, economics, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, neighbors, politics, shipping, Syria, travel | Leave a Comment »

summer falls away: the change of seasons in Beirut ii

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 19, 2007

Its cool in the evenings now, although yesterday at lunch both Charles Malik and I were commenting on the sultry afternoon heat. I’ve been told that daylight savings time ends this weekend, although I need to double-check before resetting my clocks – as in the US, falling back and springing forward are moving targets, date-wise.

During the past few days I’ve been hit with an intense longing for autumn signs: the crisp apples, the bright leaves, the pumpkin carving. The last would make more sense if I were a more gifted carver – my pumpkins have been almost eerily similar over the years. Triangle eyes, triangle nose, smile with two teeth on top and one on bottom – its the most I can manage with my “oops!” knife skills.

And I keep dreaming of a costume party – again, not due to any brilliant displays of creativity on my part. I’ve been a cat for nearly a decade, minus one inspired turn as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”. But so much of life here is pageant anyway … why not celebrate it :)?

Yesterday morning I saw a little cargo ship sailing towards the port. Most of the ones I see in the mornings are much larger, and being pulled by a team of hard-working tugs. This one was smaller, and on its own – like me :).


Posted in Beirut, photography, sea, shipping, time | Leave a Comment »

is half a warden message better than none?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 24, 2007

Another day, another curious delight courtesy of the US Embassy in Kuwait and its warden messages.

Embassy of the United States of America
Kuwait City, Kuwait
June 24, 2007

To: All American Wardens
From: Consular Section
Subject: Warden Notice 2007 – 11

Please circulate the following message without additions or omissions immediately to all American citizens within your area of responsibility:

Begin text.
Yesterday morning 23 July, a suspicious substance was discovered in an envelope that had been delivered to the Embassy. The substance, after thorough testing, was determined to pose no health threat. Embassy operations continue as normal.
End Text.

My sister Sporty Diamond lived through the Washington, D.C. anthrax scare of 2001. In fact, I remember attending a Halloween party at her flat – dressed fetchingly as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” – at which the anti-anthrax drug Cipro was not only a popular costume choice but also a prescribed drug for several party-goers.

I suspect that the US Embassy’s mailroom staff might also have remembered the anthrax attacks (as might the sender of the mysterious substance). But why send out a half memo? Either send a memorandum that gives full details of the event, including why the substance was considered suspicious and what it turned out to be; or – if the Embassy fears a spate of annoy copy-catters – send no memo at all.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, citizenship, Kuwait, shipping, words | 2 Comments »

public piety i: Sunnis in Beirut

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 15, 2007

On Friday afternoon I made an end-of-week dairy run to the house of moo, as I am coming to think of my local ba2ala.


As I made my usual “what would I buy if I were a more inventive cook” perusal of its two aisles, I noticed something new in between the mayonnaise (for a small shop, it carries quite a mayonnaise selection) and the canned goods: a Qur’an.


It wasn’t stacked flat or set down as if someone had been interrupted while reading; it was placed vertically, with the front cover facing out. Leaving the mayonnaise and the canned artichokes to their own devices, I kept on walking. I have no objection to the shopkeepers’ decision to display their Qur’an on the shelves – after all, I have fond memories of the phrase I have seen on the backs of many Damascus cabs: “Don’t forget to mention God”. But its perch looks a bit precarious to me, and I definitely do not want to be known in my neighborhood as that insensitive foreign woman who knocked the Qur’an to the floor.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, art, Beirut, dairy, food, Islam, Lebanon, media, photography, religion, Sharjah, shipping, time, travel, women, words | Leave a Comment »

Consistency: the hobgoblin of a little mind?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 29, 2007

The other night I decided to take a break from my evening routine (working on my laptop while hitting “refresh” on my favorite news sites every few minutes to keep abreast of any recent bombings) and curl up in bed with a novel: Cairo House, by Samia Serageldin.


The curling up went beautifully, but the novel was … a disappointment. Well, not a disappointment exactly – it was more like a case of deja vu. I opened the book, began reading, and realized that I had purchased and read the same book two months before.

Sigh. I’ve done this before: purchase a book, read and enjoy it, give it away to someone and then, some time later, see it in a bookstore, mis-recognize it as one I have not read, and purchase it again.

At least I know my tastes are consistent, I tell myself whenever it happens.

Luckily, I now have new books to read, courtesy of my aunt, who gifted them to me, and of H, who brought them back from Kuwait on Sunday.

H called to let me know about the books within an hour of returning to Beirut – and I was initially delighted to hear about them. Thank you so much, I said. Let me know when you want me to take them off your hands, thinking: sometime during the two weeks that you will be here.

Actually, diamond, H replied, I’d like to bring them over as soon as possible. Its the type of thing where my mother will kill me if I leave them out on the coffee table.

Oh God, I said, thinking: what on earth is in these books that could so horrify someone’s mother?

For the next hour, I fretted over what type of books these could be. Were they too Christian? Were they too romantic? Did they advocate American imperialism? I couldn’t imagine anything my aunt might send to me giving offense to anyone, but … apparently they had.

When H arrived, I took the books and scanned them – titles, authors, covers. They were utterly … mundane. I looked up at H, who smiled and said apologetically,

I’m sorry for the rush, but my mother is one of those people who hates to have anything cluttering up the coffee table.

In celebration of not having offended H’s mother, I am off to curl up in bed with one of those books: Antonia Arslan’s Skylark Farm.


Posted in Americans, Arab world, Beirut, books, family, friends, Iowa, Kuwait, Lebanon, nightlife, shipping, travel, women, words | 1 Comment »

something rotten in the state of Syria: food related conspiracy theories

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 12, 2007

A few weeks ago my friend Charles posted a fiercely funny (ri)post(e) regarding the terrible Lebanese journalistic coverage of the “poisonous balloon” issue.

(For those of you who somehow missed this story, a bunch of balloons intended as a PR promotion for Israeli newspaper H-Ir apolitically wafted across the border into southern Lebanon. Residents there reacted by 1) catching the balloons and inhaling the helium and/or 2) calling the ISF, the Internal Security Forces, to secure what they called dangerous Israeli weapons.)

Charles said:

The Lebanese media is claiming that Israeli warplanes dropped poisonous balloons on Lebanon.

That sounded absolutely ridiculous to me when I read the headline. Have you ever heard of something like this before? Only someone who believes that the evil Zionist will stop at nothing to harm Arabs would believe this. Poisonous balloons? And what were people doing inhaling them, anyway?

I searched UN sites and found nothing about the alleged incursion. Then, I found this in Haaretz. It seems much more plausible.

When rabid apes escape from the Beirut port and invade the downtown, I’ll make sure to say they came from a Zionist ship. Israel will stop at nothing – NOTHING! – to keep Arabs from living in peace. Their seductive balloons entice people to sip their poisonous gases. And did you hear, it was a Zionist medical facility in China that invented bird flu while they were trying to create a virus that will kill all Muslims?

Reading his tongue-in-cheek declamation that “Israel will stop at nothing …” still makes me giggle.

Whiffs (pun intended) of another conspiracy came from a late-breaking SANA news story published at 2 this afternoon:

Rotten meat is confiscated on Syrian-Lebanese borders

The security men existed on the Syrian-Lebanese borders on Monday confiscated three tons of rotten frozen meat on the archeological al-Qantara Bridge allocated on Al-Assi River (Orontes) when a group of smugglers were trying to enter it into Syria by a truck.

Veterinarian medical sources in al-Qaseer town in Homs governorate, central Syria, said that the data recorded on the meet are not correct, asserting that the analysis of the meet showed that it may be not a buffalo or veal meet.

Rotten non-buffalo non-veal meat smuggling sounds like a very niche market to me.

Still, what a refreshing change from all the weapons smuggling.

Posted in animals, Damascus, economics, food, garbage, Israel, Lebanon, media, politics, shipping, Syria, travel | 2 Comments »

adventures in shipping: DHL and a Genius For Men

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 5, 2007

This morning I received a call that I had hoped would come today.

My parents, as always graciously picking up the pieces of my US life while I am abroad, had DHL’ed a set of airplane tickets to me at the end of last week.

I had initially wondered where to have them sent – my gym? a friend’s office? the closest university? – but my friend A. said: its a courier service. Have your parents address it with directions to your flat here, and include your mobile. DHL will call you when the tickets arrive and will bring them to you.

Brilliant! I said. As a New Yorker, I love home delivery.

I also love the Beirut DHL – though this love is due less to the company itself than to its felicitous office location (well, perhaps less felicitous these days) . It sits across the street from Sa7hat al-Najmeh, the heart of Beirut’s reconstructed downtown, and … just next to a spa for men.


When today’s DHL call came, though, it went differently than I had expected.

Please, tell me, the woman said: where is your address?

Hmmmmmm, I thought. Somehow the address my parents wrote – building name, floor, street name, local landmark, neighborhood – must have become separated from the package itself. Lucky thing my mobile number wasn’t lost as well.

I gave her my address; she took it down and said: can you be there at 4:00?

Of course, I replied, thinking: You have no idea how boring I am on Mondays. I will be home all afternoon, writing a lecture and doing laundry. 4:00 is fine.

Great, she said. We will be there at 4:00, a little before or a little after.

At 1:52, my doorbell rang.

Hello, said the man in the DHL uniform, I am here with your package.

And a lovely and most welcome package it is, especially since my address appears on it in full. Twice.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Beirut, family, home, Lebanon, maps, shipping, travel, words | Leave a Comment »