Saturday, May 30, 2009

the farthest East I have been

We arrived in Bahrain earlier this week. We left Beirut Airport, flying with Bahrain Airlines, first over Jordan and then Saudi Arabia. If we have time when we get back to Lebanon, we might take a bus trip to Damascus, Syria. Or, if my relatives insist, as they have, it will have to be a car trip. We'll see how much we can fit in; I'm not to go to Byblos or Baalbek until my sister-in-law arrives in Lebanon. Wait, she said. As my husband and I flew across the skies over the desert, looking down out the plane window was like seeing through a veil of sand. Just a hint of the ever present sand/dust that hangs sometimes imperceptibly and other times quite visibly in the air. Sunglasses are a good idea for morning walks. It does not rain now here in Bahrain so the sand dust hangs around.

Once out of the air conditioning of Manama Airport, I knew I was going to need a few days to adjust to the heat. Oh, my. Sounds like a cliche, but it's oh so true: like walking into an oven. Oh, my. I think I said that to myself 20x before entering the refreshing air conditioning of my sister-in-law's Jeep. I hate air conditioning--but not here.

Of course, the heat is unbearable only for a northerner like me, whose genes for millenia have been programmed to survive the cold. Heat? What I have come to know as hot is the next person's day to put on their wool toque and sweater. I'm sure the legions of Indian workers that fill Manama find what I would call oppressive heat, quite lovely. Milder than India. Indeed, from out the window, I noticed an Indian man walking, wearing a warm scarf wrapped around his neck--in 40 plus temperature. Without a bead of sweat to give away any discomfort. All the women encased in black abayas and hijabs and at time niqab don't betray any discomfort with the heat, either. And the traffic and cars, which I find constant and congested, the Indian workers I'm sure would find a relief from what they left behind in India. So, it is all relative. My congestion, another person's ease. My difficult heat wave, another person's pleasant day. My dilemma of what to wear to stay cool, not a dilemma.

I spent the first 2 days inside, sitting on the couch, feeling slightly queasy, moving more slowly, and falling asleep like a stone way before my bed time, then waking up late in the morning, oversleeping, feeling groggy and bleary. Such is my northern embodiment.

Yesterday, however--thankfully--I perked up, came back to my "real self" and with my husband and his sister, went to the beach.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Taynal Mosque

one of the gates to the Taynal Mosque

the city of Tripoli outside the gates of the Mosque

by the gate, before you enter

lamp on the way to the front doors, where the dead bodies are prayed over.

I have a story about entering through the doors of the Mosque, which I will tell you later.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

a morning walk in Bishmezzine

I have only been in Lebanon for 4 days, but I can whole-heartedly say that everyone should come to this wonderful country! Of course, I am staying in one of the most interesting places filled with the most interesting, hospitable, and genuinely friendly people, and, of course, excellent food. My days are full with so much to write down but too busy doing interesting things to find the time.

View from the balcony outside my bedroom. It is night now as I write this. The sound of hundreds of croaking frogs are broken by the crying howls of hyenas coming from somewhere under these tall old pines. Behind the pines are the mountains.

On Saturday morning, I went for an early morning walk with my husband. These yellow sun-button flowers graced the ground beneath a grove of old olive trees. Geckos slithered quickly out of our footfall. The occasional lizard popped its head over a stone wall.

The sun is hot first thing in the morning and in a different place in the sky than I am used to (as a northerner), so it is disorienting. I thought it was 11 am when I looked up in the sky and I asked my husband, How long have we been walking? We'd better get back. We promised your brother and his wife to go with them to a luncheon. My husband looked at his watch and said, it's only 9 am. We've got lot's of time. The dappled shade under the olive trees is inviting.

Many of the olive trees are hundreds of years old. Now is not the time to watch salt intake when delicious olives abound! I've eaten the best olives...

...and the best oranges. Fresh oranges right off the tree for breakfast or a snack. The fields around me are full of orange trees, olive trees, grapevines, pear trees, mulberry trees, fig trees, peach trees, walnut trees, almond trees, and trees bearing small juicy apricot-colored fruit with 3 large brown stone pits that I have no name for in English. The mulberries stain your fingers a deep purple. My mother-in-law makes a cooling drink from the mulberry juice. My sister-in-law makes a cooling refreshing drink from sour orange-like fruit. My husband's cousin gave me a glass of refreshing drink made from orange blossoms when my brother-in-law brought me there on his moped for introductions on the way to his house to met his wife's sisters.

The pomegranates are beginning their bloom and will be ready late in summer. My brother-in-law told me it is a very messy process to make pomegranate syrup, very sticky and gooey so he's always looking for someone to help with this. I said, I won't be here then, so I can't help.

Old widower uncle who lives alone dries fava beans on the floor of his patio. I'll tell you more about his 150 year old house later.

There are roses everywhere. Old uncle widower, my sister-in-law, and many other inhabitants of Bishmezzine are collecting rose petals now to make rose water soon. I will post a post on roses and making rose water later.

On our walk, my husband and I passed this old sanctuary on the way back home. It is just up the road from where the Turkish artist, Atta, lives.

He's been here since the 70s. He invited us in to his studio home on the corner after shouting out to my husband, "Are you Omar's brother?" (in Arabic) as we walked past his place. After showing us his portfolio, he wanted to make us some tea but we said as we had a lunch invitation in Tripoli, we had to hurry back.

A rusty sign hidden behind gardenia and jasmine bushes tells travelers where the sanctuary is.

Friday, May 15, 2009

from thunder bay to beirut

photo from

I arrived at Beirut airport via wonderful Air France yesterday. No time for the beach yet; we only zipped by the beaches on our way up the coastal highway north to Tripoli, and from there to a quiet spot in the countryside called Bishmezzine.

Friday, May 8, 2009

angel A and B

Angel A lives in my garden. She's tiny and unobtrusive, peeks past the birch bark lying alongside the pink astilbes that have yet to surface out of the recently thawed earth. Angel A is just a piece of plastic but she's quite charming. Hardly anyone notices her, though.

Angel B also lives in my garden. She heard that it's going down to -1 tonight so she's decided to go back to sleep.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Obama is a brand

image from New York Fashion

Branding human flesh has a long history, including as part of early Christianity and predates the colonization of "the new world." In the days of slavery and the plantation economy of colonial capitalism, enslaved people were considered less than human by those who claimed themselves to be superior. Horrifically, some African Americans were branded like animals, that is, literally, their flesh was branded and burned with the mark of the person who was exploiting their labour and lives, that is, the person who thought he or she owned their lives and bodies. They were branded to show possession and sometimes for punishment for running away.

Today, the idea and practice of branding has changed. Now, many of us willingly brand ourselves. Some literally get symbols burned into their flesh to show their supposed renegade lifestyles or make a statement on their supposed uniqueness. But for many more of us, we symbolically brand ourselves, and we do that with a passion that we defend. We become walking billboards for corporations, doing the work of advertising their products (see, for example, Collections on the Parasuco site).

But not only people brand themselves, institutions (like universities) and countries do, too.

Obama may be the first African American man to become the US president, but he is also an industry, an image, and a symbolic brand. From small time entrepreneurs looking for their piece of the Obama brand or marketing service vendors helping to get the Obama brand into the White House door via t-shirts, mugs and magnets, to the heart of the US itself: neo-liberal corporate capitalism, the cult of Obama offers consumer-citizens new pleasures of illusion. Chris Hedges has written an excellent piece "Buying Brand Obama", which I have excerpted below, but should be read in its entirety:

"Brand Obama offers us an image that appears radically individualistic and new. It inoculates us from seeing that the old engines of corporate power and the vast military-industrial complex continue to plunder the country. Corporations, which control our politics, no longer produce products that are essentially different, but brands that are different. Brand Obama does not threaten the core of the corporate state any more than did Brand George W. Bush. The Bush brand collapsed. We became immune to its studied folksiness. We saw through its artifice. This is a common deflation in the world of advertising. So we have been given a new Obama brand with an exciting and faintly erotic appeal. Benetton and Calvin Klein were the precursors to the Obama brand, using ads to associate themselves with risqué art and progressive politics. It gave their products an edge. But the goal, as with all brands, was to make passive consumers mistake a brand with an experience."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

pussywillows in spring

Every spring, my father used to bring home a bunch of pussywillows when he came back from an early season fishing trip with the men. My sisters and I always looked forward to this simple gift. So, I thought I should continue this tradition of bringing home a bunch of pussywillows. I used to bring some home regularly when my kids were little, but now that they're adults, I got out of the habit. But I think I'll start this spring ritual again.

I put the pussywillows in the blue vase my mother bought me a few years back on my birthday. The nice thing about pussywillows is that they don't need any water to stay fresh. Just put them in a vase. My sister, Katja, said, "you should hang colourful thread on them." Was she thinking of virvon varvon? When George, an elderly Anishnabe fellow who I see down by the creek sometimes, saw me carrying my bunch of pussywillows home, he said, "When I was little, we used to paint the pussywillows all kinds of colours." I wondered if this is what they taught him at residential school, when the nuns, priests and teachers inculcated the students with Easter. He told me his father is dead now, too. In the happy hunting grounds, he laughed. Maybe they're both up there, he laughed. Maybe they are, I said.

I picked the pussywillows from the small bush beside the pond that is beside the lake, while I was out walking Musti and Tassu the other day. In the field on the other side of the pond, we saw the entrance to a critter's home. You won't be able to walk through this field in the summer, only in the spring when the grass, wildflowers, weeds, and burrs have not yet taken over. Musti's tail is already full of old burrs.

Musti also found another critter's entrance, but this one was much bigger. She and Tassu were sniffing and snorting around that hole, trying to get their snouts inside. Perhaps it's the home of a groundhog, with tunnels under the earth under those old boards left abandoned many years ago. There's all kinds of industrial junk in that field.

[click to enlarge]

Lakeside of the pond, in the shallows of the bay, the blue heron was out fishing.

Monday, May 4, 2009

a trumpeter swan flew

over my head the other day as I walked over the overpass. I've been searching for a sight of a swan since I found out from under my floorboards that we do get swans migrating through. The swan trumpeted loudly as it flew directly over my head, startling me. It was loud. But I hadn't expect it to come looking for me and so I wasn't expecting to see it, and so I was so surprised to see it, and it was flying so fast out towards the harbour, that all I have to show you is the harbour.

The ice miraculously disappeared the next day. You can see the overpass in the far left background.

That ice out past the point--it's gone now. Disappeared over night. I have to keep repeating that because it's so surprising to me. We've had a long cold winter.

Early in the morning, however, depending on what the temperature dipped to at night, you might see a thin skin of ice by the shore.

A small red squirrel has come out of its hiding hole by the viewing platform. Behind it, you can see the old train caboose, painted orange, which is not its original colour, and a corner of the old train station, no longer used for trains.

The squirrel shares ground with the groundhog, who has dug a tunnel under the rocks deep into the earth. But I imagine the groundhog gets to have its say first as

have you seen the size of its claws?

Walking back up the trail. Upriver. The creek is full of snow melt now. Lots of anglers on its shores in the morning, casting for speckled trout.

Down river. An old Victorian claw foot bathtub recycled. Filled with earth now. It will be blooming soon.

Friday, May 1, 2009

doggy stroller

I saw this doggy stroller advertised in a Walmart flyer a while back, and I couldn't believe my eyes. Actually it says "pet stroller," so I guess it is meant for dogs, cats, pigs (I had a friend once who had a pet pig inside her home, and carried its photo in her wallet), ferrets (I saw someone walking a ferret on a leash not that long ago and the ferret was acting like a ferret, that is, acting wild!) and other animals, even wild animals that we in North America decide we want as pets. I admit, our family has had a pet dog, a gecko, a series of cats, birds, 2 rabbits, pigeons, fish, and 3 turtles. And one of my sons had an ant farm at some point.

We in North America are the ultimate consumers of ridiculous, wasteful stuff that has caused environmental and species destruction. Our homes are full of the stuff that we buy which we no sooner get it, then it's out of style, so in "our generosity" we give to the Sally Ann or March of Dimes, or throw it in the garbage. The pet industry is huge. The pet box store in our city is huge. No lack of stuff to buy for your pet no matter what it is.

Sometimes out on my walk at the waterfront I see a big golden lab that has only 3 legs. It seems to be hopping along fine and is not bothered by its missing leg.

Why on earth would a dog need a stroller? Or a cat? Or is it for the owner?