A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘stamps’ Category

more Lebanese beauties

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 27, 2008

Hello and happy Monday to all of you, from oh-boy-do-I-have-a-lot-to-do land. I’m giving a talk in upstate New York later this week, and although I used to make public presentations all the time, its been four months since the last one. So it is laying heavily on my mind today.

Before I start working on it, let me grace you with more Lebanese beauties from Faylasoof’s stamp collection. (Faylasoof, I am so sorry, but I am cutting out some of the flower stamps. There are just so many of them … and I have a very brown thumb.)

The stamp at the left is just stunning, isn’t it? It looks to me like it is a print of a color photograph (when you zoom in the image gets quite grainy) – and the subject is a circuit board. The stamp celebrates Lebanese industry – a field that seems to have gotten far more attention from the country’s post office than from its businessmen (and women, but in this period, mainly men).

The Arabic in this stamp shows a real evolution from some of the earlier – or at least more traditionally-focused – designs. Look at “Lubnan”: its close to the Ministry of Tourism logo, but cleaner. And take a look at the “25 qurush” – both the numbers and the qaff are incredibly stylized, but in a very streamlined, 1960s-modern way. They blow the boring “25 pence” on the left out of the water: rounded, dull numbers and a very generic “p”.

The middle stamp is another one that blends Lebanon’s Roman (well, probably intended as Phoenician) heritage with its geographic position in the modern world – not terribly interesting, and with much more traditional Arabic calligraphy. But the color – my goodness! The post office must have had plenty of pink left over after printing the Bal des petits lits blancs stamps, and decided that this was the way to make the best use of what remained.

As for the Lebanese post office, it is well represented in the green stamp at the right, which shows the old national post office building. (In French, the text reads “Hotel des Postes”, but the Arabic has “Dar al-Bareed”.) The stamp was canceled in February 1955, and the car in the drawing looks fairly 1950s, so I would identify this stamp as somewhat older than the first two – and certainly older than the Lebanese industry stamp.

These next two stamps are from the mid-1960s: 1968 on the left, and 1966 on the right.

On the left, a drawing showing some of the ruins of Baalbek to celebrate the 1968  Baalbek festival. Neither the Arabic nor the French scripts excite me much, but I think this may be the result of having to cram so much textual information into the margins. Designing bi-lingual stamps must be a real challenge.

On the right, another internationally-focused stamp – this one celebrating the 1966 World Day of the Child (Journee Mondiale de l’Enfant, or Yom al-Atfal al-A`lami). I like that the child in question is a little girl, and that she is shown outside the house. I personally think that her skirt could be a couple of inches longer, but oh well – it was the sixties, after all!

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Posted in Arab world, Arabic, art, Beirut, childhood, Iowa, Lebanon, stamps, time, words | 1 Comment »

time & stamps

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 23, 2008

Last night I attended a function for work, during which I was introduced to a woman of Lebanese-Saudi origin. How long were you in Lebanon? she asked me – and I realized that yesterday marked four months to the day since I left Beirut.

The passage of time matters to me for many reasons. For one, it means that its been four months since I last heard gunfire on a regular basis – just one of many normal nighttime sounds in my Beirut neighborhood. On a less exotic note, its been four months since I bought groceries in French, or in Arabic – or paid in a mixture of dollars and lira. So the passage of time signals to me how much my daily life has changed.

But it also suggests to me that my knowledge of Lebanon is moving from “present” to “past”. I’ve been told – and believe – that “in-country knowledge” has a shelf life of approximately six months. After this period – and without any major sustaining ties to the country, like family – one can no longer credibly claim to be able to speak about the country in the present tense. So come December 22, I will need to change my focus, and start to write about Lebanon in ways that acknowledge that the Lebanon I know is in fact a Lebanon that has evolved beyond my knowledge of it.

Not that this means that I won’t still continue to offer my opinion of this new Lebanon, of course :).

Back to Faylasoof’s stamps.

Today’s set includes more flora as well as a few stamps that are graphically very interesting. Look at this blue one at the top left, showing two men working with a pick-axe and a … I don’t know what. A blowtorch? At any rate, I like the verticality of its design and particularly the arabesque column at the left. And the two stamps on the right: cherries and figs, both of which are delicious in Lebanon, but as usual about which I have little else to say.

More flora in the bottom row – and you may notice that the fruits are from the same series that I posted when showing my little collection. I like them, and I certainly agree that Lebanon has good fruits – but I also imagine that fruit was a safe choice. Fruit isn’t sectarian: there are no Maronite oranges, or Druze pears. So I can just see how fruit would have been a happy, happy choice for the Lebanese post office.

I don’t find the pink stamp in the middle below particularly attractive, but I am curious to know more about it. The caption reads: “Ball of the Little White Beds 1964”. I am guessing that it commemorated some type of fund-raiser, but did Lebanese children really sleep in beds like this? Does anyone (Kheireddine?) know anything more about this?

The brown stamp at the right is another one produced in honor of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. The image on the left to me looks like a simplified Aztec calendar, while on the right I see a Phoenician ship with the Olympic rings emblazoned on its sails.

And below: grapes and flowers, another safe choice.

Posted in Arabic, Beirut, Lebanon, media, politics, stamps, time, words | 1 Comment »

visual interlude: more Lebanese stamps

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 22, 2008

Good morning to all of you from a little diamond who is very happy to be sitting at her computer at last. I arrived at work today, put my key in the lock of my office door, and … nothing. Feeling foolish, I checked that this was indeed my office; checked that I had the correct key; jiggled the handle; but still nothing.

One hour of the building manager’s very patient labor later, I am now in my office. My doorframe’s siding is now back in place, and the offending lock has been tested and sprayed to remove any particles that might have rendered it inoperable.

And I am now settling in to a busy day – so I will leave you with a quick post on more of the beautiful Lebanese stamps that Faylasoof so kindly sent me.

At the top left is another one of the Beiteddine stamps that I have in my collection – but look at the two beauties next to it. The script (in Arabic and in French) is rich and gothic, and that man with the hoe looks like he is planting half in the nude. I’m not sure how the image relates to the International Labor Organization (mentioned at the bottom of the stamp), but apparently it does. And the stork in the stamp next to it is carrying not a baby but food for “World Nourishment Day”, sponsored by the FAO.

The stamp at the bottom left is equally rich: it commemorates the 19th Olympic Games, held in Mexico in 1968 (that’s an Aztec head at the left, I believe). Look at the lettering in “Liban” – its strong and graphic, and looks like a paint stencil. On the right: grapes and flowers. Pretty, but as usual I don’t have much more to say about flora :).

The two stamps at the top of this section celebrate Lebanese statesmen. Do you recognize them? Bishara al-Khoury is at the left, and Hassan Kamel al-Sabah is at the right. Isn’t the calligraphy gorgeous? Even the “qaff” (for “qurush”) is elegantly done.

And at the bottom: more flowers at the left. To me they look like poinsettias, but that is very much an amateur’s guess. At the right, a mystery. In Arabic, the text reads: “Lebanese Union for Weapons”, but the flags are from a number of countries. Is this some kind of fencing organization? Does anyone know? I like the stamp’s design, but the idea of a Lebanese arms union makes me snicker a bit.

Posted in Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, Lebanon, stamps, time, tourism, travel | 3 Comments »

birds & butterflies: even more old Lebanese stamps

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 7, 2008

Here is the next set of stamps from Faylasoof’s first scan – and with it another chance to demonstrate my skittish math skills. Yesterday, I told you that I had divided the scan into quarters. Well, I actually divided it into sixths. You do not want me figuring out your portions of the dinner bill, estimating how many yards of fabric for curtains, or measuring how much space your car needs to fit into the garage without being whonked by the garage door :).

I don’t have as much to say about this set of stamps: they are mostly birds and butterflies, both of which I vaguely appreciate, but about which I have little to say. I can say that they are pretty, and that Lebanon is lucky to have such diversity, but that’s about it.

Here is section number three (of six!) of the first scan:

And here is section number four:

This one is a bit more interesting to me because of the Beit Meri stamp. (The Arabic script says: “Jeitaoui”.) All I know of Beit Meri is that it is a Christian suburb of Beirut with some truly ugly high-rise apartment buildings. Now, thanks to this stamp, I know that its history dates back to Roman times.

(If you would like to learn a bit more about Beit Mery’s Roman ruins, there is a short post on Google Earth’s community site written by the ardently named “Phoenician Pilot”. You can also try the city’s website, MOBMAS – for Municipality of Beit Meri – Ain Saadeh. And if you are looking for a Beit Mery a little closer to home, try this one – a Roman Catholic hermitage located in Yakima, Washington.)

Posted in advertising, animals, Arabic, art, Beirut, bugs, Iowa, Lebanon, media, stamps, tourism | Leave a Comment »

cedars, Litani canal, and bunnies: still more old Lebanese stamps

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 6, 2008

After my first round of posts on old Lebanese stamps, Faylasoof kindly offered to share photos of some of the stamps that his father had collected as a high school and college student. They are beautiful – and there are tons of them! (And according to Faylasoof, this is just the tip of the stamp iceberg: apparently his father amassed a tremendous number of regional stamps in his collection.)

Here is a sampling of the first set of stamps that Faylasoof so kindly scanned in and sent to me. I’ve split the jpg into quarters, and am including two in this post.

Here’s the first quarter. Look at the first four stamps on the top left: they show three different treatments of the cedar tree. The middle two show the most naturalistic cedar, while the purple one at the far left is the most stylized. My favorite is the blue: the stylization helps me read the tree more clearly, while the natural setting anchors it in Lebanese soil.

If you look down further, to the next row, you’ll see another purple stamp showing an arched bridge – or acqueduct. The text is a bit small, but it reads: “Litani irrigation canal” (in French). The building of the Litani canal was a major undertaking in Lebanon, and not an entirely happy one. Intended to help modernize the south, it involved extensive US aid (and oversight), and became a highly politicized, highly Big Dig-style enterprise, with slow progress and kickbacks for all. But the stamp looks nice:

As for the stamps on the bottom row above, let me address the center one first. With its hard lines and grey and blue palate, it looks to me like it should be promoting nuclear energy, space exploration or heavy industrialization. But no: it celebrates 1967 as the “International Year of Tourism” (in French).

And the two animal stamps that flank it just make me laugh. They are so, so different from all the other Lebanese stamps I have seen. When I look at them, all I can imagine is that perhaps someone in charge of stamp designs had small children who loved animals; or perhaps someone’s cousin was a budding artist; or perhaps they simply had run out of other ideas. They aren’t bad stamps, but they are very different in theme and design from all the others.

Below is the next quarter view of the sheet of stamps that Faylasoof sent. The top left two stamps really appeal to me: I like the linearity of the imagery and the active positions of the house builders. And I get a kick out of the two supervisors, in their overcoats-that-look-like-lab-coats, ushering in the modern era of building with engineering plans rather than intuitive know-how. But I don’t understand the Arabic text, which reads: “ighatha wa taameer”. I know these words as “relief” and “longevity”. Are they supposed to indicate that building via architectural and engineering plans results in longer-lasting houses that provide greater relief to their inhabitants? Or is there some better translation that I am missing?

The stamp on the top right, of course, shows Beirut’s famous Pigeon Rocks.It also uses a particularly beautiful calligraphic treatment of “Lebanon” (the two squiggles at the stamp’s top right, for those of you who do not read Arabic). This same treatment is still used today by the country’s Ministry of Tourism.

The bottom row shows the third stamp in the “barnyard animals” series, as well as another iteration of the Litani canal.

Thank you, Faylasoof – I’ve greatly enjoyed looking at each of these stamps!

Posted in advertising, Amman, Arabic, art, Beirut, economics, Lebanon, media, politics, research, stamps, time, words | Leave a Comment »

planes, maps, and vistas: more old Lebanese stamps

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 18, 2008

Today I am holding my tongue, as otherwise I would find it lashing out at the Lebanese Forces and the Marada, two Christian militias-turned-political-parties. The night before last, partisans from both sides got into an argument over where the Lebanese Forces could paste posters advertising its “Martyrs’ Mass” this Sunday – an argument in which neither group was probably as innocent as they now claim, and which ended in the shooting deaths of one man on each side.

I imagine that they have both been added to each side’s list of “martyrs”, although thanks to ST’s helpful distinction (which you can find in the comments to my post on the meaning of “shahid”), I would say that they are both more accurately described as “maghdour” – deceived. After all, what deception to think that hanging posters is a cause worth dying for – and what a terrible self-deception that they and their living comrades commit, in thinking that this is how Christians should live. I suspect that Christ, whose fundamental message was “love thy neighbor” (followed shortly by “turn the other cheek”) is horrified by the acts Lebanese Christians commit in his name.

And as you can see, holding my tongue is one of my particular talents, ha ha.

Back to the stamps. Today I have a total mish-mash to show, starting with this trio. The top left has an image of a man … who I must admit I don’t recognize (help, Kheireddine!) and a map of the country. Feel free to try to pick out Shebaa Farms, the Litani, or any other area that has become a political hotspot since this stamp was issued.

The top right stamp shows a lovely view from the arches of what looks to me like Beiteddine, while the bottom set of stamps, whose cancellation mark also looks to me like 1958 (October 30, if I am reading the “X” correctly), show a lovely and very Lebanese landscape.

This second set of stamps also offers a mix of themes and styles. The top left stamp continues Lebanon’s message of technology, progress, and connection to the outside world by showing an airplane – a good message to send via international mail, since I imagine that many people in the 1950s would not have thought of Lebanon as a country easily accessible by air.

The next two stamps show two figures (hunters?) passing through a meadow ringed by trees. Its a bucolic scene, but it also offers a sign of Lebanon’s modernity: there is a plane passing overhead.

And the stamp at the bottom right celebrates another source of Lebanon’s beauty and natural wealth: a massive waterfall.

Posted in advertising, Arabic, art, Beirut, cedar, guilt, Lebanon, media, stamps, time, travel | 4 Comments »

neurosis and women bloggers (and a few more old Lebanese stamps

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 17, 2008

Thanks to the newspaper I read on the subway, I learned that I likely blog because I am open to new experiences (good) and highly neurotic (not so good, but not so inaccurate either). The paper mentioned  recent study conducted by psychology professors at the University of Arizona, “Who Blogs? Personality Predictors of Blogging”, which focused on the following:

The Big Five personality inventory measures personality based on five key traits: neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, and conscientiousness. There is a growing body of evidence indicating that individual differences on the Big Five factors are associated with different types of Internet usage.Two studies sought to extend this research to a relatively new online format for expression: blogging. Specifically, we examined whether the different Big Five traits predicted blogging. The results of two studies indicate that people who are high in openness to new experience and high in neuroticism are likely to be bloggers. Additionally, the neuroticism relationship was moderated by gender indicating that women who are high in neuroticism are more likely to be bloggers as compared to those low in neuroticism whereas there was no difference for men. These results indicate that personality factors impact the likelihood of being a blogger and have implications for understanding who blogs.

Yes: we are likely to be fond of new experiences; and if we are women, we are likely to be neurotic – a word often overused and which apparently means something like ‘easily distressed by life and daily events, but still rational’. Yep, that’s me.

Today I have two sets of stamps to show. The first combines a set of Roman columns, a globe with Lebanon facing the viewer, and a lovely calligraphic treatment of “the Lebanese republic”, in Arabic at the top left:

This second set I love – actually, I adore. The set is focused on Lebanon’s technological development: the top two focus on electrical lines, while the bottom two focus on industrial production:

I know, I know: these stamps are much more about fiction than reality. Those electrical lines look much more up-to-date than the mid-century ones I’ve seen around the country, and we all know the quality (and quantity) of Lebanon’s power supply. And after independence Lebanon’s leaders chose to focus on developing its service sector at the expense of its industrial sector – so the country’s factories were (and still are) only a small part of the national economy.

But still – the stamps are lovely, and so sweetly optimistic! (And if you look at the cancellation mark on the stamp at the top right, you will see that it was dated March 6, 1958.)

Posted in art, Beirut, Lebanon, stamps, time | 1 Comment »

strength and independence: Lebanese stamps in 1959

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 16, 2008

This is post #2 on my “collection” of old Lebanese stamps. I’ll get to the “strength and independence” of the title, but I couldn’t pass up this wonderful article from Naharnet:

Police Have Clue to Mazraa Bomber

A surveillance camera has recorded shots of the car from which bombs were hurled into Beirut’s Mazraa thoroughfare inflicting severe damage. Security sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the tape also includes footage of a biker “wondering suspiciously in the area.”

The camera, according to the sources, is owned by one of the shops that was targeted Monday by a bomb explosion.

Police investigators are launching a hunt both for the biker and the white BMW vehicle, they added.

One thing that has amazed us is the almost total inability of the Lebanese police, forensics and other investigation to identify suspects for the major crimes committed in the country. Yes, they always manage to round up a few “suspicious persons” seen near the scene of the crime, but their likely culpability usually appears to have more to do with their Syrian nationality than any evidence.

So the idea that the police actually “have [a] clue” in the case of the hand grenades thrown Sunday night around Corniche al-Mazraa is a big step in the right direction – and despite my initial skepticism, maybe it is a sign that the ISF’s American-sponsored training is actually working.

Their focus on the suspicious biker, though, worries me. After all, I wonder at a lot of things when I am in Beirut. I hope that this doesn’t make me the target of some future investigation.

Back to the stamp collection. These stamps celebrate Lebanon’s “3azza w istiqlal” – its strength and independence, which seems to be guaranteed by the World War II-looking soldier saluting behind the Lebanese flag.

All well and good, except that the cancellation mark on the row of stamps above seems to suggest that they were processed by the Baabda post office in 1959 – a year after the country’s strength and independence had been sorely challenged. (Not to mention its unity, which happily the stamp designers did not mention.)

The graphic is a bit clumsy, and the Arabic text below is just the standard typeface, which I believe is taken from the old thuluth script. But there’s a sweet decorative mark between the ayn and the zaa – a little calligraphic moment in an otherwise very sober design.

Posted in Arabic, art, Beirut, Lebanon, media, politics, stamps, time, words | Leave a Comment »

Lebanese history, par avion

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 15, 2008

I’m currently listening to the recorded message of a government office in Cairo, telling me an Arabic version of “All lines are currently busy. Please stay on the line and the first available operator will take your call.” I know that this office is open until 4:00, but I’ve been on hold for ten minutes, and my belief that its officials are in fact still busily working at their desks is growing increasingly tenuous.

So, while I listen to a tinny version of … could it be? … “Beauty School Drop-Out”, set to Muzak, I’m taking the opportunity to do a little blogging.

Months ago, I thought of doing a project with mid-century Arab world stamps. The inspiration, rather long in gestation, comes from the tables at a cafe in Damascus’ Shaalan neighborhood: Beitouna. The cafe’s proprietors had renovated their family house, and had designed tables with glass surfaces and “shadow box” compartments beneath the glass, in which they had strewn old coins, stamps and other mid-century memorabilia.

Beitouna’s menu was pretty 3adeh, but its location was convenient and I loved watching the bustle of the street from the tranquility of its second-floor window tables. And I loved looking at the old stamps – I remember entire series dedicated to Syria’s athletic accomplishments in something like the “Soviet Games”, not to mention the short-lived appearance of “Arab Union” stamps.

So in an idle fit of online shopping one afternoon in Beirut, I decided to see what Lebanese stamps might be available on Ebay. And, let me tell you: there are a LOT of old Arab stamps for sale, and they are very, very cheap.

These aren’t collectors’ items – they are all used stamps, although for me this is part of their charm. And I am sure that the vendor from whom I bought a big envelope filled with Lebanese stamps wondered why I was willing to pay $2 + shipping for them. But I did, happily – and I think I got a great bargain.

The stamps show a great variety in style, motif, and the fonts used. I think they are all 1950s-1960s, but I could be wrong. Here are two photographs I took last night of assorted stamps from my “collection”.

The first is a set of stamps on a fruit theme. If you look closely, you will notice that each cost a different amount – and that in French the value is in “P” (for “pence”), while in Arabic it is “qaff” (for “qurush”):

This next photograph is of two stamps from the same set, showing a man (want to bet that he is Phoenician?) decorating an amphora, which I have heard originated in Lebanon/Syria and was eagerly adopted by the Romans.

The stamp below it is very curious: it has a stylized bird on the top left, an ocean liner or cruise ship at the bottom right, and the symbols of the twelve signs of the zodiac circling around the cedar tree. I think its a visually striking stamp, but I am stumped as to what its message might be:

Today should be a busy one, in Beirut and New York. In Beirut , politicians and ordinary citizens are getting ready to welcome (or not) the national dialogue and the challenges it will bring; while here finance professionals and ordinary citizens are getting ready to withstand (or not) the latest financial collapse and the challenges that it will bring.

For those of you working to meet either challenge, I wish you strength and hope that the stamp photos give you a brief respite from the day’s tasks 🙂 .

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Arabic, art, Beirut, Lebanon, stamps, time, travel | 2 Comments »