A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘tourism’ Category

a treehouse in the sea

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 28, 2009

Has anyone else heard about this? Qifa Nabki wrote in a group email that I received this morning. Am I the last one?

QN was talking, of course, about Cedars Island, a planned cedar-in-the-sea more-Dubai-than-Dubai development. I had heard about it, thanks to a Facebook status message that M posted last week:

M wants to move to Cedar Island.

Okay, I thought – M is fairly peripatetic – after which it slipped from my mind. Luckily, QN was a bit more on the ball – and has a hysterical, very on-point post about the development, which you can read here.

The project’s website is a laugh-out-loud hoot to read. Its news section recounts Tourism Minister Elie Marouni’s recent visit to developer Noor Holding’s offices, in which he “expressed his blessing” and wished them “big success”.  The project promises residents an “exotic, pleasant, and peaceful environment”, which will “mainly consist of 8 distinct zones.” What are these distinct zones? you might ask.  They are “zone a, b, c, d, e, f, g, & h.”

Curious to know what a cedar in the sea might look like? Me, too. After all, how one draws a Lebanese cedar often tells much about one’s political affiliations.

Here is the official rendering of the project:

cedar-islandSigh. It looks like a joke, doesn’t it? But as QN says: this is the real thing. And it will be located on the coast of Damour, between the airport (easy exit in case of troubles: a plus. distance from Beirut: a minus.) and Jiyyeh (easy access to a power station: a plus. increased likelihood of Israeli bombing raids: a minus.), where cedar imagery has been few and far between.

So.  Which cedar do you think Cedar Islands should most resemble?

Chamoun’s cedar?


The Kataeb cedar?


The Ouwet cedar?


The Lebanese Communist cedar?

lebanese_communist_party_flagThe national flag cedar?

lebanese-national-flagOr – my favorite, thanks to its slightly goofy shape – the AUB cedar?aub-logo

Cedars are a serious topic in Lebanon. If Noor Holding doesn’t fully understand what it is getting into, the lifestyle it promises residents could be “exotic” indeed.


Posted in advertising, Arab world, Beirut, cedar, construction, economics, friends, Lebanon, media, politics, tourism, vanity | 5 Comments »

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:


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 »

learning to brunch

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 16, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 »

more than a restaurant: lunch at the food embassy

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 9, 2008

This is just a short, busy-Tuesday-morning post about something that M and I found both charming and funny this past weekend in Oklahoma City. Not only is it not related to Lebanon, but its not even related to the Middle East – so feel free to skip if your time is precious today :).

After running errands with the rebar bride and groom Saturday morning, we returned to our hotel and set out, cameras at the ready, to explore Bricktown, the city’s old industrial area, which is now being reclaimed by investors and entrepreneurs as a nascent hub for nightlife and dining.

The area is filled with restaurants – great if you are looking for a meal out, less appealing if you are need of more mundane enterprises like a grocery store or pharmacy. And oddly enough, for a city with a rich Arab-American presence and twenty-million “Mediterranean” (i.e., Arab) delis, groceries and restaurants, none of the restaurants in Bricktown had anything resembling tabbouleh or even dolmas on their menu. (Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that this was an intentional slight. We didn’t see any sushi restaurants, either.)

Without the easy choice of a Lebanese restaurant to guide us, we were at a loss as to how to decide which restaurant we should try for lunch.

Luckily for us, however, we soon realized that we didn’t have to eat at a mere restaurant:

That’s right. We decided to have our lunch not at a restaurant but at the “Mexican food embassy”. And it was delicious.

Posted in Americans, food, friends, holidays, hotels, Lebanon, tourism, travel, women, words | Leave a Comment »

have camel fantasy, will travel

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 27, 2008

A few days ago, a work friend sent me an email that included this photo of Pakistani artist Huma Mulji’s work “Arabian Delight”:

(More of Multji’s portfolio, including additional photographs of Arabian Delight, can be viewed here.)

I keep returning to this image, because I can’t decide how I feel about it.

On the one hand, I find it a brilliantly witty commentary on the camel/desert/harem fantasies that continue to populate the minds of Americans and Europeans when it comes to the Middle East. I love how in this case a tourist is literally packing the fantasy into his or her suitcase.

And I can’t tell you the number of times friends and acquaintances have joked about the camel-riding they imagine that I do in Syria and Lebanon – even those who know better! (I haven’t kept a strict count, but its up there with the number of times I’ve been asked how I feel about having to wear an abaya. I’ve never had to wear one. In fact, the last time I wore one was to tour the Grand Mosque of Kuwait, where as tourists we were largely exempted from modest dress requirements – men and women alike. I chose to wear an abaya to be respectful … and because as a New Yorker I’m a sucker for chic all-black outfits :).)

On the other hand, Mulji’s piece involves an actual dead camel, which I think is pretty gross. Not to mention a bit disrespectful to the animal in question. Surely she could have made the same point using a camel made out of fake fur – or an inflatable one:

(Thanks to AdvertisingBalloons.com for this image.)

I’m still torn. What message do you get from Arabian Delight? Does it speak to you at all? And: could you imagine seeing this piece in a gallery exhibit in the Arab World? I can “see” it in Lebanon, but the taxidermy element makes me wonder whether it would be welcomed in the Gulf.

Posted in advertising, animals, Arab world, art, Iowa, tourism | 3 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 »

stadium seating for no one

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 12, 2008

Tripoli has been on my mind frequently in the past seven weeks – the weeks since I left Lebanon. As I have mentioned before, I am good at living in foreign cities as a resident (I can locate a neighborhood dry cleaners, a local locksmith and a good grocery store in record time) but I am a terrible tourist. Consequently, my first visit to Tripoli was the day before I left the country.

H’s family is from Tripoli, although none of them live there now. So part of the draw (and his incentive in taking me there) was to get a sense of the mysterious forces that make him tick his roots.

The other reason I wanted to visit Tripoli was to see the Rashid Karame International Exhibition Center, a World’s Fair-like complex designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in the early 1960s. (Yes, Niemeyer was Jewish – he was a native-born Brazilian but his parents were immigrants from … Eastern Europe? Russia? I forget. Lebanon has a number of modernist structures designed by Jewish architects, including the Gefinor Center in Beirut. I’m not sure how receptive the population today would be to a Jewish architect, but I’d like to think that he or she would be welcome. Some people in Lebanon do seem to conflate “Israeli” and “Jewish”, but many are able to differentiate the two categories.)

Construction on the Rashid Karami complex was begun and the major physical structures were completed, but none was finished. I don’t think that work stopped precisely in 1975 – my understanding is that it had slowed before then and petered out over a longer period, but I’m not really sure of the precise time line.

What I am sure of is that the complex is an utterly fascinating place. We loved wandering around its several buildings and spent over an hour there, despite the 95+ degree weather.

Fascinating, but also a bit eerie. What struck us most were the theater seats set up for outdoor performances. Apparently there have been some performances here – including one as recent as 2005, I believe – but in general, the seats look a bit forlorn. As does Tripoli in general.

(You can read a bit more about the complex here, at the World Monuments Fund’s website, or by googling Niemeyer and Tripoli.)

Posted in Arab world, Lebanon, photography, time, tourism, travel, Tripoli, weather | 3 Comments »

Beirut moments

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 26, 2008

This morning I went on a walking tour of our new neighborhood, sponsored by a local architectural preservation society. (H claimed work as an excuse, but I suspect that the 90-degree weather also played a factor in his decision. Its also cleaning time again in our apartment, so perhaps he was penning an ode to Lebanon’s housekeepers.)

The tour was definitely focused on Brooklyn, but for the alert tour-goer it did offer a few Beirut moments.

One, a similar “more is more” approach to electricity wires:

near the Gowanus ... or Gemmayzeh
near the Gowanus … or Gemmayzeh

And two, a shared “batten down the hatches” view of strangers:

"The enemy is everywhere"
“The enemy is everywhere”

I bet the guy who created that sign thinks I’m secretly a CIA agent, too 😛 .

Posted in Americans, Beirut, Brooklyn, home, laundry, Lebanon, photography, tourism, weather, words | Leave a Comment »