Sunday, January 31, 2010

morning walk

I saw only one other dog walker this morning. Can't blame anyone for not heading out for a walk; the paths are treacherous bumpy skating rinks and the wind was a biting -28c. If you live southeast of Thunder Bay, you are behind the pink clouds. On those cold crisp mornings by the harbour the whole sky opens up in a magical way. You can't tell from this photo, but walking along the shore this morning you feel yourself to be both completely inconsequential and absolutely at one with a larger whole.

Not even a crow in sight.

Friday, January 29, 2010

a purple question

I spontaneously bought a small pot of crocuses last Sunday at the grocery store. I was on my way back from my early a.m. walk and I needed to pick up some cream for my morning coffee. That's when the small crocus pot caught my eye. At that point, it was a small mass of green grass-like spikelets.

I hemmed and hawed over buying it, worrying that the leaves and corms would die by the time I walked the half k home in the -25c icebox. The dream of having the surprise of purple on my dining room table in the midst of winter, however, was simply impossible to resist. I bought it. To protect it from the cold, I wrapped the flower loosely in a few sheets of paper towelling and popped it in my cloth bag.

It didn't' seem to suffer as it rewarded me with a peek of purple blooms a few days later, and now it is in full bloom. My old hand-me-down make-do digital camera does not even begin to show the beauty of the crocus, but I think the slight blur gives a soft water colour look to the little purple majesty.

I know this crocus is not the saffron cultivar, but I wonder, can I use the yellow stamens and styles for saffron?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

first lines

First lines are important. Opening lines can grab you immediately and pull you into a story, making you drop what you should be doing--like marking papers or pulling laundry out of the washing machine so you do not forgot to take it out like you sometimes do.. Opening lines call out to you: read.

First lines of a novel or short story are laboured over, or perhaps they come to the writer unasked, surprising her or him.

My sister asked me if I was going to get a Kindle.

Absolutely not, I said. I spend enough time staring at a screen.

The glare and the scrolling and scanning and jumping about promote lack of concentration on words and ideas. Kindle is the opposite of sinking yourself into a book. Of paying close attention to extended ruminations. To me, Kindle and e-reading are anti-yoga. Being in the moment is illusive in our fragmentary schizophrenic e-reading. Will the Kindle promote slowing down and reflecting on words or more of the anxious leaping through bits and pieces of people's thoughts?

The 'hyper' in hyperlink is just that--makes for hyperactive disconnected anxious reading. Being fragmented is not necessarily good for the spirit.

Although there can be benefits to online reading and to a Kindle, nothing can replace a book. The handling of books. The silk of covers and pages. Books have a presence. A book is like a small door that you hold in your hand. A threshold place where you enter the words of an author. I may be wrong, but somehow the idea of a Kindle in your hands would not encourage a similar communion with the author. The text is mediated through digital technology and that is much different than paper technology.

With all your books on a Kindle, how would you savor the moment of reading all the first lines of a pile of new books on your table?

Here are the first lines of the books I received in the mail this morning:

"I'm thinking about you now instead of following Zemzem's example and inching forward on all fours so the gunman doesn't see me, or clutching the prayer beads like my grandmother and praying to God and His prophets for all I'm worth." Beirut Blues a novel by Hanan al-Shaykh

"Umm Hassan is dead." Gate of the Sun. Elias Khoury

"Sitting in this bus I am, as in any vehicle, be it plane, train, truck, or boat, myself an object in a magic container whose inner sides are at this moment in a state of suspension." Master of the Eclipse. by Etal Adnan

"Ten thousand bombs had landed, and I was waiting for George." DeNiro's Game by Rawi Hage.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Strange and delightful

Starting late Saturday evening, after watching--or should I say watching and sleeping through and puzzling about -The Saddest Music in the World (by Guy Maddin, this film is certainly one of the most surreal movies we've seen, although others see it as an overlooked gem, preposterous, yes, but strange and delightful), my sisters and I noticed that heavy snow was clearly on its way to cover the dirty melting snow of the last few mild days. It took my sisters quite awhile to clear the snow off the car before heading back to my mom's place in the dark.
By Sunday afternoon, when I went to my mother's house with some family members, where we ate pizza and salad and two kinds of cake and my sisters and I did yoga together--giving our mom some lessons on becoming a yogini, too--the towering trees in our mother's backyard were struggling under the weight of heavy snow. When I returned home late in the evening (others had left earlier), it took me quite awhile to clear off the snow from the car. Nary a soul on the roads.
Guess we will stay in today. The roads are dangerous and quite a few schools are closed. People are staying off the roads as much as possible. I have not seen the squirrel yet.

The glass legs of the beer baron, that we didn't get. Are they a surreal intertextual reference to cinderella's glass slippers? My son said, actually, Cinderella's glass slippers were made of squirrel, of squirrel skin. It was a mis-translation from the French. Cinderella was French, we asked? So, this provoked some discussion on the traveling of stories and how they change form place to place, teller by teller. My son explained that the word glass and the word squirrel in French were mistranslated into English. Cinderella's slippers were more like mocassins, he said.

One of my sisters said, that doesn't make sense. Cinderella was going to the ball with her mocassins on?

I kept imagining a woman with 2 squirrels on her feet.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

a carpet in a Siberian grave

In my previous post I mentioned 14c Ibn Battuta's mention of other travellers' mentions of their journeys to northern regions, towards what we now call Europe and Russia. Tellingly, a carpet brings to light old travel routes of cultural and trade exchange, as the oldest Persian/oriental carpet was found in Siberia, in the frozen grave of a Scythian prince.

The origins of the carpet, the Pazyryk, is a site of debate, with the local and the distant all vying for validity, but cross cultural motifs, influences, and materials are evident--or at least up for interpretation in a broad field of symbolism. The 24 deer running on this carpet have been interpreted as pointing to a Mesopotamian symbolic origin. The deer hint of reindeer or elk, but they are spotted as reindeer and elk are not. Spotted fallow deer were abundant in the Middle East and the Persian region in the ancient past. Tom Verde writes in an article on the history of Oriental carpets in the visual representations of European royalty, religion and status:

"The world’s oldest surviving knotted pile carpet, now in St. Petersburg, Russia, dates from these distant eras: the Pazyryk carpet from the fifth century BC. Well-preserved and technically advanced, it features a design of grazing deer and horsemen. It was discovered in Siberia in 1949, in the frozen grave of a Scythian prince. Scholars are divided over the Pazyryk’s origins: While its knots are Turkish, its motif is Achaemenian, that is, Persian.

In Europe, returning Crusaders were probably among the first to import eastern carpets in large numbers. However, the craft was well-established in Al-Andalus (Islamic Spain), where the 12th-century Arab geographer and philosopher Al-Idrisi wrote that in Murcia “are made woolen carpets which cannot be imitated elsewhere,” and the 13th-century Andalusian writer Al-Saqundi noted that the “celebrated” carpets of Murcia “are exported to all countries of East and West.” When Eleanor of Castile—princess of Murcia’s political rival to the north—traveled to England in 1255 to marry the future Edward I, she brought with her, as part of her dowry, tapestries and carpets with which she decorated her private chambers. It was around this time that depictions of Oriental carpets began to appear in European paintings.


'During the Renaissance, more carpets were made for export to Europe than for the local Turkish trade,' [said carpet dealer Seref Ozen] .... In contrast to their humble origins as domestic, tribal weavings', Özen said, the oversized Oriental carpets in European paintings were evidence of a consumer base that simply could not get enough.

'The European market was an Orientalist market, and Orientalists tend to overdo it,' he remarked. 'We don’t put carpets on tables in the East; we put them on the ground to sit on.'

And to pray on..."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Ibn Battuta changes his mind about a tundra journey

Ibn Battuta. He would've definitely had to change the camel for a team of husky dogs if he had decided to go, after all.

Below is a short excerpt from an article by Samar Attar on medieval Muslim and Arab accounts of travels to northern lands. In this section, Attar refers to Ibn Battutah, a 14th c Muslim Moroccan Berber traveler and explorer. Part of Battutah's writings of his 30 years and 113,000 miles of travels were translated into English in 1929, Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354. Just as Scheherazade's stories go on and on and never die, so too Battutah's travel narrative continues to travel. Battutah had a desire to go and experience the tundra, but changes his mind. Too bad! I would've liked to read what this traveller from the South would've had to say about the north:

"Another fourteenth-century Moroccan traveler, Ibn Batutah (1304-1377), offers a new account about certain Nordic people in what he calls the Land of Darkness. Ibn Batutah's narrative differs widely from that of Ibn Hawqal and Ibn Rustah. Here there is no mention of the name Rus, or the city of Artha, or Arthan, or of the killing of foreigners. The emphasis in Ibn Batutah's narrative is on the inhospitable and unfriendly nature of certain people in the Land of Darkness towards foreigners and strangers. According to this account, these people seem to lack any desire to socialize with the Other even in essential matters such as trade. The Land of Darkness is defined as a vast treeless plain of arctic regions. It is distant from Bulghar forty days.

Here is what Ibn Batutah in his book Tuhfat al-Nuzzarfi Ghara'ib al-Amsar wa 'Aja'ib al-Asfar says:
   I have heard about the city of Bulghar and wished to
visit it to see for myself what is mentioned about the shortness
of its nights and days. I have asked the Sultan to send someone
with me on my journey. The distance was about ten days from
his city. He did. I had someone to take me there and bring me
back to him. We arrived there during Ramadan. Just as we had
the sunset prayer we ate our meal. Then the Mu'azzin called
for the evening prayer. We prayed and soon afterwards it was
dawn! Days also become short in another season. I stayed in
that city for three days.

I had wished to enter the Land of Darkness. One can
go there from Bulghar. The distance is forty days. Then I
changed my mind. I had to take lots of provisions and the
journey was not really worth it. One had to travel in small
carriages pulled by husky dogs. This tundra is covered with
ice. No foot of any human or animal can stand there. The dogs
have nails which manage to clutch to the ice. Only strong
merchants who own one hundred or so carriages are the ones
who travel there. They had to take along food, drink and wood,
for there is no tree, or stone, or anything in these regions. The
guide is the dog who had crossed this land several times. It is
valued about one thousand dinars. The carriage is tied to its
neck. There are other three dogs as well. Other carriages
pulled by dogs follow. If the main dog stopped they would all
stop. No one would mistreat this dog or beat it. Food is given
first to the dogs, not to humans. Otherwise dogs get angry and
leave people to die in this tundra. (17)"
A more contemporary representation of Ibn Battuta, found in a shopping
centre in Dubai.
I think this Ibn B would have had no lack of Finnish or
Russian women warming up to him in the cold snowy night of the tundra....

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

to sleep with a prayer to the Beloved in your heart

Khalil Gibran's poem On Love from The Prophet, recited by Dorna Djenab.

“I wrote over the threshold of my house:
leave your traditions and enter.
No one entered.”

The Qadisha Valley. Bsharre. Watch and weep.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

33 stones

"What Keeps us Still" from The Breathing Field. p. 32 illustration by Eric Dinyer

That darn pillow on the bed in the hotel room. I knew I should have tossed that oversized cloud on the floor and slept without one. Why don't we listen to our inner wisdom? That grandmother telling us what's best for us, nagging from the dark corner of our mind?

So, a knot entered the muscles below the back of my neck. A tightening. I did some yoga in the hotel room (I brought my yoga mat!) and again when I returned home.

We had left late afternoon, a dull gray sky overhead. Dusk fell quickly. Half way home, we were driving in the inky blue darkness. No starlight, no moon, above us only dark. Behind us only dark. To the front dark. Where was the road, anyway? It was like traveling along a dark ribbon, with a pale yellow stripe in the center. Like driving through the bottom of the ocean. I much expected to see an octopus slide across our headlights. Or, like driving through a mountain. Then, a troll might suddenly hang upside down from our windshield.

I just came back from lecturing. That knot came back. I need some poetry. So, I scanned my shelves and pulled out a small slim dark blue book I once bought in a bargain bin. The book is called The Breathing Field Meditations on Yoga. It is a collection of poems by Wyatt Townley with illustrations by Eric Dinyer.

It never fails when I trace my fingers along the spines of books; someone calls. Always the voice I need to hear.

There are 5 sections to this poem; these are the first 2. The poem is called

Having Spine by Wyatt Townley

A string of shells on the ocean floor
that mother and grandmother grew

in the dark, pushed from the depth
of the belly, wave by wave, into

a hardening world. The spine twists
behind a lectern. Tucks into a chair

in the back row. Shoved
against a lover, thirty-three stones

skip across a lake, looking for home.

Having spine tells us from them.
Keeps us from snaking around.

It's pure chameleon: water, fire,
earth, air. Feel it turn

into mermaid, hot air balloon,
flight of stairs, waterspout...

French windows swing
over the bay. The moon

streams in. A cat jumps out.

Monday, January 18, 2010

sky over Rainy Lake

The sky above

The ice below, or the ice huts of the American men.

Earlier that morning, looking out my hotel room window, I saw the lights of skidoos bobbing towards the huts.

The American town of International Falls, across Rainy Lake and Rainy River from Fort Frances. We did not attempt to cross the border, not only for the reasons I mentioned earlier, but we thought, are studded tires against the law in Minnesota? If so, we wouldn't have been able to cross simply because of our snow tires. Besides, did we want to pay the $8 toll to leave the US? Pay them after most likely first being questioned?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

the racialization and political economy of suffering

Below, I am posting an edited version of my recent writings to my students in my class on globalization.

Suddenly, our television screens are once again full of crisis. We have all been witness to the terrible earthquake that has caused untold death, injury, destruction and trauma to Haiti and its peoples, and we grieve with the people of Haiti, our fellow Haitian Canadians, and all of their/our loved ones.

But it is also important to keep the complex history of Haiti in mind in understanding why there has been such a massive level of destruction and huge numbers of deaths and injuries–and a slow international response to that.

One question to think about is: why are so many Canadians (and other North Americans and Europeans) content to live in a world that only lifts its head at times of crisis? Reacting only at times of crisis is considered dysfunctional in relationships and families, so why do we continue to do that? Fail to address the root causes? Fail to look at how our behaviour is part of making the crisis–and it needs to change. Why haven’t we learned to change how we deal with each other.

In these troubling times when the media culture moves from one crisis to another, dropping them for the next one (the lasting social and physical effects of the Tsunami and Katrina, the Gaza mass killings of early 2009, and the 2006 destruction of Lebanon by Israel—all with lots of maiming and destruction paid dearly by lower class people primarily—are no longer newsworthy, and they have been dropped from view as if they have somehow been resolved), rarely reporting on or discussing any comprehensive analyses in their corporate or mainstream media shows or online sites (and rarely bringing in critical thinkers as guests), and creating reductionist “poor them”/ “we are blessed” dichotomies that feed the inequalities… well, we need to think about the neoliberal policies and racialization that have helped in an overdetermining way to create these unnecessary death traps.

I came across two good articles, Our Role in Haiti's Plight by Peter Hallward, and The Incapacitation of Haiti by Ashley Smith (and there are other good critical essays out there, too) that provide some context to the scale of destruction and how that has happened. The authors, in various ways, think through how neoliberalism, globalization, power relations, historical legacies, and continuing but shifting race and class intersections of inequalities are part of today's terrible suffering of Haiti.
There are a lot of critical questions that emerge from this latest and horrific tragedy that has devastated Haiti. While keeping in mind the absolute necessity of delivering immediate help and support to Haiti, its peoples, and Canadians and other nationals who work and live there, and keeping the people above all discourse, at the same time, it is crucial to ask ourselves hard questions. Questions that reveal that such a level of destruction and death is not simply a natural disaster, and from that perspective, could have been avoided or alleviated.

Yes, there was a cataclysmic earth quake; that is undeniable. But the sheer mind-numbing level of death, suffering, and destruction did not have to be part of the ‘natural’ disaster.

This morning I watched the CBC news about the destruction. They mentioned that Haiti had been a colony of France and its peoples enslaved, and then there was a slave revolt, with Haiti becoming the first free black nation. Then the report jumped to stats on the number of people who live in poverty. That Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

But there was no contextualizing of where that poverty emerges from– no explanation of the complex intersections and legacies of French colonialism/imperialism and contemporary neoliberalism–which includes Canadian government complicity in the overthrow of the democratically elected Aristide government of Haiti and the implementation of neoliberal “reforms” that have devastated the Haitian people. No comment on the racialization discourses and the economic policies that create that ongoing abject poverty and our neglect of doing anything about it–indeed, our support of its continuance.

No. In fact, our PM came on tv this afternoon to address the suffering of Haiti and measures to help Haitians in Canada and who had applied to come (and this is a good thing), but he commented, too, on the beneficial role Canada has been playing in Haiti since the 1990s.

Well, a neo-liberal's beneficent help is someone else's continuing neo-colonial dispossession.

As commenter, Chanda, to blogger A Canadian Lefty in Occupied Land explains (thanks to Shana to send me this link), to gain their emancipation, after the slave revolt, the Haitian people were subjected to a cruel 20 year embargo. Then in 1825, the French government ordered the Haitian people to pay reparations to them for their freedom, 150 m francs or the equivalent of 21 billion dollars in today’s money. That debt was not repaid until 1947. Further, there was an American invasion in 1915. This devastated the aspirations of Haitian peoples to progress, to use that two-faced discourse of modernity.

Knowing the history of Haiti (mine is but an extremely crunched version, very truncated) reminds us that to understand how contemporary policies and social, cultural, political, and economic relations work, it is crucial to look at how history and legacies of power relations, unequal hierarchies of privilege and disadvantage, especially colonialism and imperialism, are part of making sense of what is before us. Neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism signal that we have not moved past racialized and classed global power relations.

Indeed, we have entrenched them, hidden them in the language of democracy and aid.

It is also crucial to look at the inequalities that are in our own neighbourhoods, towns, regions, and nation. Canada and Canadians in general have a continuing–and increasing–problem of ignoring the gross inequalities in some of our Indigenous communities, that are a legacy of colonialism–and denial of a history of injustice–and continuing neo-colonialism strengthened by neoliberalism.

They too only make our media when there is a crisis--even then, often times not, or not in ways that allow the key role that Canadian history, institutions, and everyday racism play in abetting them. We have an ongoing terrible tragedy of youth suicide in Indigenous communities, but many Canadians are not aware of that, or if so, they do not care enough to do anything about it. We are kept ignorant and/or have absorbed the stereotypes that blame the victims for structural problems that cause personal and family hell.

For many, it is less troubling to give “aid” to Africa and send money “over there” (this is an argument I have with Evangelical Christian groups like my mother's who are always sending care packages to Africa but have no connection with nor do work with local or regional Anishnawbe peoples who are in dire straits) rather than open up the can of worms that is Canadian history and contemporary injustices that favor particular groups of people at the expense of the continuing dispossession of others, especially Canada’s First Nations peoples, Inuit, and Metis.

This is not to suggest that we should not send money to Haiti; I believe those with some means have a moral obligation to do their share; what I am arguing is that we live crisis to crisis, ignoring the larger problems that create inevitable tragedies due to our ignoring gross inequalities, and that our responses are racialized and classed and exist within neocolonial ideologies, and that throwing money while ignoring structural change reproduces “our” power/”their” dispossession

We should be doing both/and. We should give money and do activist work and pressure our governments—maybe become the government, run for government. We should not pit the local against the global. It is not a choice of either / or. We should not reinforce binaries that are unhelpful to deconstructing complex intersections of transnational relations.

For example, ‘the global’ may be some Canadians ‘local’, too. Canadians are multiple; we are not only Anglo-, Irish-, Scottish, or French Canadians. Canadians are Haitians, too. Being Canadian means being Haitian, too. One example, there are 100,000 Canadians of Haitian descent living in Montreal. People carry their homes, their multiple belongings, with them in their imaginations. Place is material but place is also an imaginary construct with which we join an imagined community-or communities. We do not belong to one place or one community; our identities are multiple, our neighbourhoods are multiple, our cultures are relational, our lives are intersecting.

The question to ask is: what/who do we mean when we say Canadian? What do we mean when we say local? How are racialization discourses implicated in our understandings of Canadian? of help? of who we help? of how we continue not to investigate political and economic factors?

Canadian policies have shaped the tragedy of the gross inequalities of Haiti, so we are complicit in Haiti. Our privileges as Canadians are dependent on their continuing disadvantages. There is no disentangling of “us” from “them.”

Some of the questions to ask as we do our small share to immediately help the people of Haiti in their time of crisis, is, what are the politics of aid? is the current way that the international community steps in actually productive in the long run? does the "beneficent" international community create real, meaningful structural change that will help eliminate these ongoing tragedies and crises? That will lessen and reduce the scale of destruction, death, and injury due to natural crises like earthquakes? That addresses long term meaningful change—directed by the needs and plans of those affected—rather than short term aid that we direct and the benefits power cabals be they governments, corporations, NGOs or lobby groups?

If we actually addressed gross world inequalities would the images of suffering flooding our tv screens lessen? change? Does showing suffering people's severe trauma and personal deep pain on our over-sized tv screens in our cosy living rooms without contextualizing where that comes from produce meaningful change? Are we bearing witness to their suffering in a way that will make us rise to action? or do we reassure ourselves by seeing ourselves as blessed and change the channel, rather than ourselves?

Friday, January 15, 2010

ice huts across the way

Rainy Lake is a sheet of ice now, and I can see the ice huts of the Americans across the lake. The ice huts are laid out along the horizon, like a small village laid out in a string. I heard the men have some wild parties in those ice huts. And that they stay in those huts all winter, any chance they can get. Refusing to go home.

Ice huts must be winter substitutes for garages, where men go to escape.

Last winter when I was here in Fort Frances, sitting alone, eating my supper in the dining room at Place Rendezvous, looking out the big plate glass windows to the line of huts across the lake, I asked the waitress, "where do the women go to escape?"

She thought abit then said, well, I have a craft room. My husband is not allowed in there. Her sewing machine is in there. Her computer is in there. She does some scrapbooking, too, in her "room of one's own."

Does your husband have his own room, too? like a computer room just for him? I asked.

No, she replied, he has the couch and the big screen tv in the den.

Last winter, in February, I snapped this photo of an old elm on the banks of Rainy Lake, from the steps of Our Lady of Lourdes Church. Today, I drove down to Fort Frances this afternoon with my husband to keep him company. It's his turn to teach classes here. The top photo was taken last fall when I was here and I walked along the shore of Rainy Lake and saw this graceful old elm on the bank of the lake.

I don't think I'll try crossing into the US this time. What would the border guards think of my husband and I together, both with Lebanese stamps in our passports? If we say we want to go shopping at KMart will they believe us? When we say we will have supper at Barney's will they doubt us? Does having Lebanese stamps in your passport put you at the bottom of the 13 country, 653 million person long US extra measures security list?

Guess we'll stay on the Canadian side.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

the net is like a large endless library

"This anthology displays a large scope of reactions to the 2006, 33 day war on Lebanon. With such names as Etel Adnan, Paul Auster, Hoda Barakat, Hassan Daoud, Mahmud Darwish, Robert Fisk, Mazen Kerbaj, Zena el-Khalil, Alexandre Najjar, Hanan al-Shaykh, and Brian Whitaker, this book was praised as a landmark book. This collection of drawings and writings by prominent authors and artists is dedicated to the children that are suffering from the after effects of the 2006 war. All proceeds from the anthology go to Lebanese children's charities."

In the last week, I've ordered, from various online sources, about 20 books written by Arab and Arab diasporic writers. I ordered Lebanon, Lebanon as I would like to read on writers' perspectives on the Israeli invasion of Lebanon 2006.

I will be teaching a course in the summer on Arab Literature of the Diaspora, so I've got a lot of reading to do. Although I've got some books in mind, I haven't selected exactly which novels, short stories, memoirs, or poetry books I will include, so I thought I would read a wide variety and think so more. One of the books I ordered is

This anthology of Lebanese women fiction writers is a mix of works by well established authors with the likes of Emily Nasrallah, Hanan Sheikh and Aalawiya Sobh alongside younger women and their different preoccupations. These voices bring out the complexity and diversity of our multi-cultural society by dealing with such issues as the civil war, romanticism in a conservative society, dysfunctional families, immigration, etc.

I also ordered:

The Stone of Laughter by Hoda Barakat
This novel tells the story of Khalil, a gay man in war torn Beirut with no political or military affiliations. When the two men he loves are killed Khalil retreats into isolation paralyzed by guilt and fear. A bold and radical novel which shook preconceptions about Arab women writers.

I found these 2 books while reading a very interesting online book newsletter of Alinea Librairie Antoine in Lebanon that I stumbled on after leaving Taste of Beirut and visiting her artist friend, Mona Trad Dabaji.

I read through all the sections of the newsletter of Antoine Online and have lots more books in mind to put on my shelves. Another book I ordered is Sitt Rose Marie by Etel Adnan from Antione as I could not find it here for a good price! The Canadian Amazon edition was $100!

The editor of the newsletter, Marilyn Zahkour , wrote up a list of books that she thought were among the 10 novels by Lebanese writers that could be considered "must reads" for a national book list. This is helpful for those, like myself, who wish some windows into the complexities of Lebanon via literature.

Marilyn Zakhour writes:

"A couple of months ago, Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, implemented a four-part color coded “Revolutionary Reading Plan” whereby participants in the so called reading groups are led by a “group leader” who directs the conversation through sequences of reading selections that progress with an ideological agenda ( When I first heard about this plan I couldn’t help but wonder which books or authors would make it on our national reading list (should it be devoid of a political agenda). Here are our picks... [click on her name above to find the list]

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Stopping to buy some muikku on the boardwalk in Jyvaskyla. My friends, Saara and Minna, imbibe. My sister and I stayed at Saara's place, and Minna, a Finn who lives in Germany, had, like my sister and me, come to Jyvaskyla to present a paper at the FinnForum 2001 conference. Next FinnForum is in Thunder Bay this May. See you there....with smelts this time?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


This little fish is beloved in Finland. Muikku. Sano muikku translates to 'say cheese', even though muikku is fish and cheese is cheese. It's an expession used to get someone to smile when taking his or her photo. I found this wooden wall hanging in an artisan's market somewhere on the road from Jyvaskyla to Juonikyla some years back. Now it hangs cheerily on my kitchen wall, reminding me to smile.

We don't have muikku in Canada, or at least I am not aware if there are any. We have rainbow smelts. Every spring someone gives me a bag of smelts. I went smelting many years ago to the mouth of the Current River as it empties into Lake Superior, but you have to do that in the dark and when I saw the water rat run past my shoe, I wanted to go home. But still, that water rat did not compare with the tarantula that came to check out my shoe in Lebanon.
But smelts are not muikku. Smelts are small, too, but longer than muikku; muikku has bigger eyes. In Jyvaskyla, on the boardwalk by the lake, I saw large frying vats where these tiny fish were fried up by the basketful for drooling Finlanders. Saara, our host, laughed deliriously and shouted, You must taste muikku! They are delicious! The muikku's were scooped up and stuffed into paper french fry cups and then smothered in mustard, ketchup or other condiments. Everyone was smacking their lips on these fish fries.

No wonder the Finns say, "sano muikku". Brings a smile to your lips.

Monday, January 11, 2010

on the road to Baalbek part 5, or seeing Venus with new eyes

"At that time the earth was so high up
women hung out clouds and laundry on the same line
angels gripped their skirts to keep them from following stray souls"

~ Venus Khoury-Ghata

Can you imagine hanging your laundry at the edge of the Qannoubin (Kadisha) Valley? I love hanging laundry out on a sunny day, so Khoury-Ghata's poem spoke to my laundry-loving soul. It seems the Qadisha Valley keeps returning to me. This holy valley is a World Heritage Site. The people who live along its parameters have Her holiness in their bones and souls, and it comes out in the most creative ways.

The above poetic except is from the English language translation of Venus Khoury-Ghata's poem for noha al hegelan. Yesterday, I was doing some reading on Khoury-Ghata, who is one of the Lebanese poets I am introducing to the students in my class on the writings of Arab women. Khoury-Ghata was born in Bsharre (which is also the birthplace of Khalil Gibran). I did not know that about Venus when we traveled along the edges of the Qannoubin Valley, passing Bsharre on our way to Baalbek, but now that I know that, I have to re-read all her poems!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

mouse vision and eagle eyes

Mouse vision helps you look closely at what is right before your eyes. This morning on my walk with Musti and Tassu to the lakeshore, I saw this beautiful abandoned bird's nest in a poplar along the banks of McVicar Creek. In spring, the yellow warblers will return and fill the shrubs and trees lining the banks of the creek, darting their bright yellow colour from spot to spot. When you see yellow warblers, you will also see brown-headed cowbirds nearby. They lay their eggs in the warblers' nests. The yellow warblers brood the cowbird eggs, too, but unbeknownst. When the cowbird hatchling emerges, it eats the eggs of the yellow warbler.
Eagle eyes help you look expansively at your surroundings. With eagle eyes you look outward, casting your gaze across a broad sweep of open space. Then, through eagle eyes you realize you are a mouse.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Harper: shake hands with Mubarak

Stephen Harper and Hosni Mubarak share something: both of their governments have deported George Galloway! Certainly, thwarting the humanitarian work of a peace activist is not an honor to share; however, their dastardly methods won't stop Galloway. 139 Viva Palestina trucks carrying mostly medical supplies have finally entered Gaza after a long journey. 59 trucks, however, were confiscated by Egypt. The Viva Palestina convey left England on Dec. 5, crossing the continent, but were denied entry through the Nuweiba port by the Egyptians (although they had had earlier permission), then had to take a lengthy detour/back track through Syria and via a Turkish ship arrived at the Egyptian port of El-Arish. Then they were told they could not pass through Rafah border but had to go through an Israeli border crossing, which of course would have meant that the aid trucks would be denied entrance, hence riots erupted and beatings by Egyptian police and security. Since having crossed into Gaza, 7 have been ordered arrested by the Egyptians for inciting violence.
viva Palestina route maps here

Friday, January 8, 2010

goat kibbe at Le Mortier

When you go to Ehden, the first visit is to Le Mortier, a restaurant that serves the giant goat kibbe footballs I told you about last post. The first time we went to Le Mortier the roses were in bloom
the lavendar that fills the boulevard in front of the restaurant was just beginning its purple outburstroof tops are ideal places to dry your laundry as the sun is hot on the roof. The line of white towels from the restaurant are being bleached and sanitized by the sun. when you sit down at the outdoor patio, a holy sight greets you: the Qadisha Valley. The valley is the beginning of the journey to Baalbek and runs up to the goats in the last post. The valley is spelled many ways and it is also known, as my brother- and sister-in-law call it, the Qannoubine Valley (spelled also Qannuben or Kanubin).
these are the famous giant kibbe balls. They have a specific name, but I can't remember it. Inside they are hollow and have a big blob of animal fat (sheep, I think) that melts when they are cooked. This way of serving kibbe (there are hundreds) is one of the favorites of my brother- and sister-in-law whose summer home in Ehden we were guests at. You cut it up and share it.

And, of course, Arab hospitality being so overwhelmingly spectacular--indeed, I believe the word/concept 'hospitality' must have Arabic roots--before all else, you are taken --and treated--to the various specialities that different restaurants are known for. So, every visit is an adventure on the gastronomy route, where one collects knowledge about the culture, the land, and the people through food and the heavenly practices associated with it.
Mezze begins the experience of social eating. I have a story about shanglieshi (the bowl on the upper left with a yogurt herbed ball circled with tomato and onion), which is one of my favorites, but that story belongs to my visit to the Khennak Hmaroo, or industrial working class part of the city of Tripoli.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

on the road to Baalbek part 4

The minute we got out of the car at the top of Qurnat es-Sawda, as if on cue, a herd of goats began running towards me.
I couldn't believe my luck to bump into a herd of goats as they were crossing the mountain top.
The goats were everywhere, swarming among us.
They were moving quite quickly. In the distance lay Tripoli and the Mediterranean Sea, but the goats were nonplussed with the view.
Their hooves had trod this familiar ground many times.
I asked, "are these the goats whose meat we ate in the huge kibbeh footballs at Le Mortier in Ehden?"
an old pukki/billy goat gave me a look
off they went as quick as they had come
The owner of the goats. As you can see, climbing the mountain slopes with his goats means he saves on a gym membership.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

the way folks see it: northwestern Ontario

All of these photos are by people who live in the Thunder Bay region who have uploaded their photos onto the Weathernetwork site where I check the daily temperature. This photo by Dave Klaus
buck by Ron Lacey
wrong turn at Musselwhite Mine. photo by David Westhaver
winter wonderland photo by Shirley Oikonen
This photo by Dave Achipee.
fox photo by Wendy Keats
photo by Cindy
Grandpa's moose. photo by Glena Clearwater
wild turkeys take to town. Chris Garbo
block of ice cut out of Surprise Lake. photo by Roy
winter sleighride. Ron Bortolan