Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Baby You're a Firework (Or, Was That Gunfire....?)

Apologies again for no photos. The internet has been erratic and unfriendly to me, and is collapsing under the strain of uploads and such. This is also why I am not able to comment properly, or respond to comments. Please stay tuned, though! There was a visit to the beach, and to the National Museum as well. For now, though, I must resort to a crowd favorite: The Top Something List! ("Something" because I have no clue how long it is going to be, and I don't like boundaries and rules anyway.)

1. This evening, I was startled by what seemed to be an endless barrage of gunfire. My mother in law kept reading her newspaper calmly in the dimming light, seemingly oblivious to the noise outside. She even opened a lovely french door to let some fresh air into the apartment. I didn't want to alarm the children, so I steadied my voice and said, "Hmmm! Whatever could that noise BE?"

MIL: (Puts down paper, semi-annoyed: What?? OH. THAT. It's fireworks. Don't worry.

AM (Alarmed Maggie): Really? In the middle of the day? Is there a wedding?

MIL: No. People celebrating, because the results of the national exam came out.

AM: So, it's not gunfire....?

MIL: Well, it might be. But it's mostly fireworks.

(Sister in Law walks in) SIL: What, you can't tell the difference?

Actually - no. I can't. It all sounds very loud and scary. I know I am just a milk-fed Westerner unused to war, chaos, coups, revolutions, and street protests, but the idea of people shooting into the air AT ALL is frightening. There have been stories of brides in villages getting killed by wayward shrapnel, and people sitting on their balconies drinking coffee have been struck dead as well. Because, well, what goes up must come down. Believe it or not, it's probably easier to get killed in a traffic accident here. (Unless real war breaks out.)

As an interesting adjunct to all this: when something goes awry, for example, and the plumber/painter/biscuit maker doesn't show up, the excuses are a lot different here. Cars don't break down, dogs don't eat homework. It's more like, "Well, you know that revolution underway in Syria? The plumber is really the head of an underground political party and went back. Who the hell is going to finish remodeling the bathroom?"

2. According to my husband, Germans have been pegged as The World's Least Funny People in some new survey. Now, although I cannot name one German comedian offhand, and any German movie I have ever seen has given new meaning to the words "intense", "serious", and "despondency", I find this hard to believe. How could a people that embrace the singing talents of Michael Knight be unfunny? And LEAST funny? How about, for instance, the Kazakhs? (Nothing against these fine Turkic people.) Are the Germans less funny than them?

3. I consider myself fairly intelligent and cultured, but the metric system is driving me nuts. When someone says, "Oh, it's about 20 centimeteres tall", I can't picture the dimensions. The same with temperature. I know 40 C is HOT, but my mind won't let me believe it. (This frustration is in no way indicative of my views concerning metric vs. avoirdupois. And if you think I am being uppity with my vocabulary, I'm not. I have been doing a lot of crossword puzzles.)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Shrubberies (Nothing Too Expensive).

Finally! A photo. This is the Crusader castle at Byblos, by the sea.

Another view:

This is a view into the Qadisha Valley from the steps of the Gibran Khalil Gibran museum. Gibran was a Lebanese-American poet, artist, and writer, probably best known for his work "The Prophet". Taking pictures inside the actual museum is not allowed, but there must be photos floating out there, somewhere. A former monastary carved into the side of a mountain, the museum is a beautiful space filled with his writings and original artworks, as well as the site of his final resting place. Gibran emigrated to Boston in his younger years, and only made it back to his hometown of Bsharri after his death.

"Faith is an oasis in the heart which will never be reached by the caravan of thinking." - Gibran

I have a thing for doors - especially closed ones.

The symbol of Lebanon, Cedrus libani. There used to be giant forests of it carpeting the mountains, but all that is left now is a tiny patch. Mentioned abundantly in the Bible, the trees were used to build King Solomon's temple in Jerusalem, ships for those itinerant Phoenicians, and as an ingredient for mummifaction in ancient Egypt. More recently, they have provided inspiration for the megaband U2, resulting in the subpar, kind of depressingly atmospheric song "The Cedars of Lebanon". The trees are very very large, and obviously, very, very old.

More to come.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Beirut Blues (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly).

Apologies for the lack of photo illustration. As it is, I had to navigate the site in Arabic, and adding a picture is more than I can handle at the moment. (Confession: by "navigate", I mean click on random highlighted phrases. I'm not great at reading Arabic, much less so when it is 2 pt. type.)

Now that I have internet, and am able to calm my frazzled nerves with the knowledge that Lindsay Lohan will never, ever change her ways (I will still root for her though! I'm not giving up!), I can turn my eye to more important matters, such as placating my minions. Ah, dear readers. Do not chafe at being called minions! It is a temporary hallucination brought on by the same winds that bring on the delusions of grandeur that feul the despots of the Middle East! That being said, the biggest tyranny in Lebanon at the moment is probably the crushing desire to have lots and lots of money, instead of just pretending to. But I digress. You are not minions, you are friends! So, friends, on we go!

Because more Lebanese live outside the country than in it, summers are a great time to try to come to terms with the dichotomy of Lebanon. The returning diaspora throws Lebanon's uniqueness into sharp relief. It is neither East nor West, neither rich nor poor, and, depending on the day, political ambitions of the elite have either fractured its generous heart or, well, people just want to get to the beach.

I won't go on and on in my first post from abroad. Instead, I give you a top five list to peruse: Five Things About My Trip Thus Far.

1. Yesterday, we went to Jbeil, also known in some circles as Byblos. Popular as the eponym for Lebanese restaurants around the world (along with The Cedars and The Oasis), its real claim to fame is that it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. My girls were NOT excited to be going at first, saying they didn't like "old stuff". (This from kids who know what ruse Penelope used to ascertain that haggard old guy that showed up like an abandoned dog on her doorstep was really, in fact, her beloved hubby Odysseus.)They changed their minds quickly when confronted with the ruins. Something about seeing history made real never ceases to inspire and arouse curiosity. Nothing like checking out the Crusaders' old stomping grounds! (And the Egyptians. And the Phonecians. And the Romans...and....)

2. When I was but a wee lass, I despised Lebanese food. I thought hummus was pasty, stuffed grape leaves were for goats, and cringed at the way tabbouleh seemed to lodge itself so permenantly in between my teeth, the flecks of salad were capable of being excavated weeks later (or so it seemed.) It was boring; we ate it all the time. I just wanted a piece of pizza. Now that I have grown into a wise(r) old(er) woman, I see this outstanding global cuisine for what it truly is: DELICIOUS!!! Although I prepare and eat Lebanese food frequently enough at home, I tend to avoid the production of foodstuffs that take a village to prepare (i.e., most Lebanese food). Back in ye olden times, friends, neighbors, and relatives would gather round, creating sumptous feasts for armies of eaters. Now that so many people have jobs outside the home (read: women), people are picking up takeaway. (Some of it Lebanese, or in Beirut, you can opt for McDonald's delivery. Yes. That McDonald's. Like it's any good fresh! Try your Filet o' Fish after it's been scootered around a polluted motorway!)We had a wonderful meal yesterday by the sea at a place called Chez Sami. A beautiful grilled red snapper, with an assortment of mezze (Think Lebanese tapas.) Beats that smoked filet any day.

3. Speaking of dichotomies (or maybe tri-chotomies), one thing that never gets old is what cunning linguists the Lebanese are. (Groan! Go ahead!) A standard greeting is, "Hi! Keefak? Ça va?" ("Hi! How are you? Everything good?") People greet you in French, Arabic, or English - or sometimes a mixture of all three. It's fun. And confusing. And also has a not-so-fun, deeper political subtext which I will not go into now. Just think of it as being very metropolitan.

4. I miss American washing machines. These tiny European ones don't do a very good job. Although I give many thanks that I don't have to hang my laundry on the line. (It's hard to do that in a bustling city - besides the issue of smog and construction dust, there is the glaring fact that your neighbors can see all And I didn't bring cute undergarments!)

5. Terrible traffic. Tempers that flare so passionately, you can see how wars break out in an instant here. Families of five riding one tiny scooter (without helmets!) Exorbitant cell phone rates. There are plenty of things to complain about in Lebanon. Some of it makes me miss home so badly: the organization, the clean, uncluttered streets. But then I remember that THIS is me, too - a big part - and probably goes a long, long way toward explaining my complicated and chaotic self.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sunday Playlist (or, Leaving on a Jet Plane)

OK, kiddos. I'm leaving, but hopefully that doesn't mean this is goodbye forever. (I so hate that word. Nothing ever lasts, does it?) Maybe I will have more exciting things to blog while I am away. At any rate, in case something happens (I am always filled with anxiety when I am headed overseas) know that I love you all, and if I ever did anything to hurt anyone, intentionally or not, I am so, so, so sorry. So morbid! Enjoy perhaps the weirdest playlist in blogdom!

(And there was much rejoicing in the village.)

Nine Inch Nails - Hurt
Adele - To Make You Feel My Love
David Gray - The One I Love
Barry Manilow - Weekend in New England
Britney Spears - Toxic
Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Patsy Cline - I Fall to Pieces
Bruce Springsteen - Thunder Road
The Airborne Toxic Event - Wishing Well
Flogging Molly - If I Ever Leave This World Alive
The Head and the Heart - Sounds Like Hallelujah
Muse - Can't Take My Eyes Off You
Queen - I Want to Break Free
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles - The Tracks of My Tears

Friday, June 17, 2011

Happiness is a Warm Gun (or, The Magic iPod).

I have been in almost a coma of unhappiness this week, for about 6.5 reasons. It's been so bad that when the cashier at my neighborhood grocery store asked, "How are you today? Find everything you were looking for?" I wanted to say, "Actually, no. I did not. Perhaps it is because you don't carry a cure for the shattered hopes wrought by too many years watching insipid chick flicks, reading Jane Austen, and listening to pop music."

Five of the reasons for my gloomy disposition are too personal to delve into at the moment, but the other one and a half are as follows:

1 - Incessant fighting with progeny (twin school-aged girls) on the eve of a long summer trip to see in-laws and other family;

.5 - The inability of local dining establishments to produce a Tomato-Basil Soup that does not taste like tepid pizza sauce in a bowl.

When I am in this state, only two things help assuage my misery: prayer, and divination. (Three, if you include New York Times crossword puzzles, although their difficulty often brings forth severe anxiety relating to my potential as future Mensa member.) Prayer is personal and introspective, requiring little more than a quiet place and some concentration. Divination, however, needs tools.

The ancients were big fans, with oracles and their attendant priests or priestesses being quite the rage. Perhaps the most popular spot was the oracle at Delphi, until the Christians put an end to it. (Apparently getting high off the fumes billowing from the spring and predicting the future was deemed kind of pagan.) Plenty of other options sprung up to fill the basic human desire to know the unknowable: horoscopes, tarot, magic eight balls (The kind you shake, not the kind you consume. Although that COULD lead to some visions, I suppose...) All of these pale in comparison to my favorite fortune-telling device: my iPod.

Scoff not! My iPod is wise, all-knowing, never wrong! I admit, my musical taste is eccentric at best, laughable at worst - and yet - no matter. This is how it works. I concentrate. Squint my eyes. Ask a question. Press the 'forward' button ONCE. (The iPod is on 'shuffle', and I must accept the result. No pressing again.) LO AND BEHOLD! An answer appears. Let's give it a go, shall we?

1. Will I ever be happy again?
Tom Petty - "Even Walls Fall Down". That's actually a good one!! Nice and hopeful.

Some days are diamonds
Some days are rocks
Some doors are open
Some roads are blocked

Sundowns are golden
Then fade away
But if I never do nothing
I'll get you back some day

2. Will my children be functioning members of society?
U2 - "A Day Without Me". I'm going to take that as a yes. Yay!

3. Should I work at becoming a more bloggy blogger?
Elton John - "I Want Love". Now, other than the fact that this random selection seems to point to the fact that my musical tastes are decidedly middle-aged (I plead the fifth...) I think this says it all.

Experimenting with adding music to the blog! Click on the streampad player below, or just click on the song.

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Scar Tissue
U2 - One
Tom Petty - Here Comes My Girl

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Spam I Am.

Today, I came face to face with irrefutable proof that I lead a fairly mundane existence: the contents of my junk mail folder. My friends complain about all manner of lascivious letters, be it in the form of invitations to chat rooms, entreaties to buy recreational drugs, and the like. Behold, now, the 10 most recent items clogging my junk mail folder. "Clogging" is inaccurate. Peppering, perhaps?

1. Real Estate School
2. Start Your Own Franchise
3. Trucking Career (The internet is obviously desperate that I procure gainful employment...)
4. Business Credit Card (see??)
5. Certified Nursing Assistant (Well, at least I seem to have many talents!)
6. MGM Grand Las Vegas (Do they want me to work, or vacation?)
7. Bra (Sexy and supportive! Wow. That's it? Not even Victoria's Secret. Just..."Bra".)
8. Cooking School (I feel like a Barbie with all these career Astronaut next?)
9. EZ-Online RX - FINALLY. But it's all Viagra and Cialis and Levitra. Not quite up my alley.
10. Tires - REALLY? Ok, I did buy a tire online ONCE. Maybe that explains it.

Not only is the spam uninteresting, I barely get any. Maybe my email provider is doing a great job at separating the wheat from the chaff. Maybe I just need to get a life.