Tomorrow (has) (not) (been) another day

“Tomorrow is another day.”  Great ending for a classic movie.  But, really, how stupid.  Another.  Day.  So, tomorrow is not the same day as today, but another, different, one.  In other words, tomorrow is different from today, and today is different from tomorrow.  A-ha.  Isn’t it a stupid line? Am I just stupid for not getting it? Or am I just caught in a stupid, stupid, fucking stupid, time. 

Must be a luxury, to be able to claim ‘tomorrow is another day.’  I mean, I wish I could just say it, more so with a Vivien Leigh, teary-eyed smile.  But I can’t, because I have proof that today is, in fact, just like the day before it, which is, in turn, like the one before that.  There’s no sign of any real change happening soon.

Explosion takes the life of… so many killed… dozens injured… 100’s of thousands angry in the streets.  This was  a day a couple of days ago.  This was also a day some time back.  This was also a day many years ago.  Same day. 

Throughout the last few days, I was glued to the news.  I was a nervous wreck.  I thought it was because of fear, or worry.  My feelings were very intense.  In the beginning, I couldn’t grasp at the cause of that intensity, until, that is, on the day of General Hasan’s funeral.  I heard my first name mentioned on the news, which made me really look at the horrific scene.  “Mazen,” the reporter seemed like he was calling me to look closer.  I had been watching but I guess I wasn’t really seeing.  I caught a glimpse of his two sons, standing there in the mosque over their father’s casket, their eyes looking for meaning around them.  I could hear them silently scream “what’s happening?” to everyone around them, and I felt the breath of those words stifled back into their lungs.  I realized, for the first time in a quarter of a century, that I still had that exact same breath, rotting, at the bottom of my lungs.

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25 years ago I stood where those two boys are standing now.  My heart goes out to them and to everyone who lost someone and didn’t get a chance to mourn in silence.   To everyone who needed to just be sad but had to endure a parade of rage around them.  I need a moment, please.   Everyone, take a moment, please.

Has nothing changed?

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Longing

They were lying naked in bed, covered up in thick soft blankets, heat combined into one source, hearts beating in unison.

“I read somewhere that objects don’t end at their visible boundaries.”

Their skins mingled, their body parts automatically and awkwardly intertwined into a sensible lot. They were breathing each other, intoxicated and unaware of where one starts and where another ends.

Comfortable. Serene. They surrendered to the high of non-bodily desire, tried to merge into one new being. Discomfited. Unrequited.

– I miss you.
– But, I’m right here.
– I know.
– …

The ultimate tragedy of love is that it cannot ever be fully consumed. Its bitterness lies in its being an unsatisfiable hunger. It is heartbreak, by definition.

The ultimate joy of love is that it cannot ever be fully consumed. Its sweetness lies in its being an unsatisfiable hunger: uncontrollable, always rising, never ejaculated; an endless spring of nourishment for us to enjoy, ponder, consume.

It is nature, by definition.

– I miss you too.

Tarboush Ras Abu-l Abed

Tarboush. The candy(?) formerly known as Ras-el-Abed. A little piece of momentary happiness. Chocolate-covered white goo resting on a thin wafer, oozing with calories and unnatural substances… delicious! Most of us grew up loving it. It had a politically incorrect name that we somehow have not been able to shake away. No bad intentions there just force of habit.

I asked my friend Wael, Chef and owner of the soon-to-be-open JAI KITCHEN what this little concoction is made of; he offered to make a giant one. Of course, I agreed -of course. So we decided to share this with the world. We had attempted it once before and it was a success, a not-so-well-documented success all the same.

So, here it is, the recipe, the how-to. Chef Wael graciously offered Jai’s Kitchen. Friends helped and dropped in unexpectedly. Here’s the video:

We’re going to eat it this weekend! 🙂

If they could talk…

I wonder what they would say to all of us today.

The Kiss and the Nation

I must have been between 10 and 14. Two or three years before the Israeli invasion of 1982. Lebanon was by most counts a Palestinian base and a bastion of ‘Arab Dignity.’ Our TV experience consisted of a few daily hours, and two and a half channels, and we had a manageable supply of print media. Sabah (Lebanese diva Sabah, that is) must have been in her late 50’s or early 60’s. I had seen her at the airport a couple of years before, and she looked like a russian doll. Wearing a baby blue satin coat with white fur lining (back when fur was acceptable) and a hat to match, she made me stop and stare. I stood there frozen, looking at that woman whose aura expanded into a huge circle around her, engrossing me into its field. She looked gorgeous.

I must have been between 10 and 14. I didn’t know much about Sabah’s music, but that encounter made me watch out for her when she or her name appeared on TV or in print. And it did. That year, Sabah came under media attack. They attacked her, calling her all sorts of names, because, she had appeared on a french talk show, and had apparently kissed another guest hello. The guest was Algerian-born Jewish singer Enrico Macias. I have heard a lot about Macias’ support of Israel but I’m not sure if that’s true or not. All I know is that the guy has been trying to visit his homeland Algeria and he has been denied entry. Anyway, point is, she said hello on a talk show. Whether or not you and I agree with her saying hello is besides the point. The point is not the hello, it’s the “kiss.” I remember distinctly that she was being called names and attacked, not on the basis of ‘Imperialism’ or ‘Zionism’ but of her being a woman, who dared kiss a man, nonetheless a Zionist man. I’m dropping all the allegedy’s from this text by the way.

She kissed a guy, and whether or not she did, no one in the media liked it.

Fast forward to a couple of years back. I had obtained a big collection of Sabah songs, and fell upon a song called “Killa Bawseh” meaning “it’s just a kiss.” The whole story came back to me as I listened to the song, which may very well be about that incident. Why else would she sing a song like that, around the time of the infamous kiss? Anyway, whether or not the song is about the incident, in the final count, thirty or so years later, it’s answering to it. The song is in Sabah’s usual fighting spirit. It denies ‘the’ kiss, but then proceeds to talk back to the media about the value of ‘a’ kiss, and about their unhealthy negative obsession with it. Here are the lyrics of the song, along with a quick translation.

بوسه ما بسنا وعقلن طار
كيف لو بسنا شو كان صار

We didn’t kiss and they went nuts
What would’ve happened if we had?

كلمة بوسه عملت هوسه
اه يا بوسه يا مي ونار

The word ‘kiss’ caused a hiss
Oh, kiss, you are water and fire

بوسه بتوعي مدينه
يا مدينه حيرتيني
وانا مين بدو يوعيني
وياخدني بألبو مشوار

A kiss wakes up a city
Oh, city you confuse me
Who’s going to wake ME up
and take me for a joyride in his heart?

اسمعني يا البي اسمعني
سر البوسه مضيعني
بسأل حالي شو يعني
وبضيع بحر الأسرار

Listen to me, my heart
The secret of the kiss is escaping me
I ask myself what does it all mean
And I get lost in the sea of secrets

رح خبي البوسه للعيد
وأهرب فيها بعيد بعيد
ولما بتحلا المواعيد
ازرعها ورده بالدار

I’m hiding the kiss till the holiday
And running away with it far far away
And when times gets sweet again
I’ll plant it, a rose, in the middle of the house

Check out the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35GjW4g8MM4

Thirty years ago, Sabah stood up for her right to kiss and sang this song. I love her forever for it.

Why am I digging all this up, you ask? Because yesterday, more than thirty years later, twitter was in an ‘uproar’ over another kiss. The internet was ‘ablaze’ with the news that Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel prize winner and former candidate for Egypt’s presidency, has kissed Angelina Jolie. I repeat. ElBaradei kissed Angelina Jolie at an awards ceremony. To make it all worse, he kissed her at the Cinema for Peace festival in Berlin. How dare he, now let’s leave everything, spring, autumn, and probably spring again and focus our attention on this crazy bit of news. And as if the news wasn’t bad enough, I had to scroll down and read the comments. Oh, the comments. Why do i ever read the comments on Alarabiya. I’m at fault here, I know. Some commentators joked, others lamented the state of Arab leadership, and some were even ‘understanding’ -because it is Angelina after all, or because ‘in the west’ they do that, kiss hello that is. Seriously? In the west? People in Jordan and Egypt still don’t know that people in their own countries kiss hello? On twitter, I was seriously surprised at the amount of negative and satirical comments, from people -revolutionaries- I was following. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Revolution. Yes, let’s change everything but our minds. Jean Genet once said that “The main object of a revolution is the liberation of man… not the interpretation and application of some transcendental ideology.” Allah yirhamak ya Jano!

But, in perfect Diva style, I will let Sabah upstage Genet this time and quote another of her songs:

تغندري يا مغندرة
تدللي يا زغيرة
منمشي فشخة لإدام
منرجع عشرة لورا

Prance, little prancer
Be playful, little one,
We walk one step forward
We go backwards ten

Give me a kiss gone unnoticed and I will give you a nation!

My pantry experiments

I have never expressed how much I love spices. Working with them, cooking them, smelling them, and last but not least, experimenting with them. On my travels, no shop can attract my attention like a spice shop. I also adore tea. Again, tea shops really attract me. So this hobby of mine has been finding a new expression. I’ve been making spice and tea blends.

I started out with dehydrating the rind and peels of tangerine, lemon, and, blood oranges. I also dried out some ginger roots. If you want to try it, make sure you use organic products, especially the citrus fruits because apparently the chemicals stay in the peels. The drying process is easy. You can use a dehydrator, but I just laid them out near the heater, the process is fairly easy and fast.

I tried a few blends until I reached the following. Here are some of the ones I’ve reached, starting with the tea’s.

1- SWEET SPICE: I used 1 tsp each of dried ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and clove (after lightly pounding the last 3 with a mortar and pestle, don’t over-crush, just one or two pounds), and a 1/2 tsp of dried lemon rind. Mix them with about two cups of good quality black tea leaves. The result is awesome, perfect after a big meal or early evening. I’ve been testing this and everyone is loving it.

2- I call this FLOWER POWER: 1 tsp each dried lavender, mint, rosemary, baby roses (lightly crush with your fingers), clove, 1/2 tsp chamomile, and 1 cup of black tea leaves. The ingredients are soothing and great for the digestive system. I haven’t tested this yet but I have to just say that it has a beautiful fragrance!

3- SWEET CINNAMON RUSH: And a rush it is! I used less than half a tsp of crushed nutmeg (be careful with the nutmeg, too much can be tricky), 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1 tsp of dried orange rind, and 1 and a 1/2 cups of a black tea leaves. I’ve tested this twice already and the response is great. This is quintessentially a cinnamon tea, for the many cinnamon lovers out there.

4- TANGERINE DREAM: I couldn’t believe my taste-buds! 5 tsp of dried tangerine rind, 1/2 tsp of dried lemon rind, 1/4 tsp of crushed cinnamon sticks, 3 tsp dried mint, 1/2 cup of green tea leaves, 1 cup black tea leaves. When drinking it, hints of a very pleasant aroma hits up you nostrils.

5- LEMON-GINGER: 2 tsp dried lemon rind, 2 tsp dried ginger, 1 tsp of dried hibiscus, 2 tsp of dried lemongrass (apparently he middle of the stalk is the most fragrant but I put everything), and 2 cups of black tea leaves. Tested this with my difficult to please family and they loved it. This is great if you have a cold or are feeling tired.

With all the above tea’s, be careful because they are strong blends, so steeping time should not be more than 3-4 minutes (except for the Tangerine Dream which may need an extra minute if you like your tea strong). For a chart of the usual times of steeping, consult this webpage: http://www.artoftea.com/learn_about_tea/steeptime.html

And remember: never boil the tea. Turn off the heat at boiling point and then add the tea leaves.

Now for the spice blends. I made quite a few blends, but here are the ones I’ve already used in cooking and can confirm how awesome the are:

1- DRIED HARISSA: I am a huge chili fan, and i *love* Harissa. The problem is I don’t like the supermarket variety, and cooking Harissa, though a fun experience, can be problematic and tedious because of the chili chopping discomforts, especially since it is impossible for me personally to work with gloves. I saw recently on a website that they sell dry Harissa, and that gave me the idea: why not make my recipe out of dried ingredients, and either use the mix dry, or mix it with olive oil and lemon juice just before using (which is what the website -whose name I forgot- recommended). The only thing I feel like the mix loses is the dried lemon. I thought about crushing it into the mix but the idea kind of scared me for some reason. I ended up placing a couple of full dried lemons in the airtight container with the final mix. I know, maybe this is meaningless but it looks nice! In the paste version, I would use fresh red chilies, fresh garlic, and precooked sweet red bell peppers. My Dry Harissa mix contains: Dried red chilies (I used the variety form my balcony and a variety a friend got me from Nigeria -Thanks Christine!), caraway powder, cumin seeds, cumin powder, sweet chili powder, a little paprika, salt, coriander powder, and garlic powder. The result looks beautiful and tastes awesome! No more burning fingers for a while!

2- GARAM MASALA: I have always wanted to make this mix. I looked it up online and there are many ways to make it. Apparently in India it’s not the same across regions and families. I ended up with a mix of equal parts of (powders) clove, cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper, and last but not least half the amount of sweet chili powder, which gives the mix a nice sweet twist, and also a nice color.

3- SHISHIMI TOGARASHI: Oh how I love all things Japanese! This mix goes really well with fries and chips. I sprinkled some the other day into a bag of chips and was licking my fingers long after I finished the whole large bag, and I’m trying to lose weight too! 🙂 I looked into many online recipes and this is the one I ended up with. 2 tsp White sesame seeds (toasted, I used organic), 3 tsp Szechuan pepper corns, or white peppercorns if you prefer, 3 tsp dried tangerine rind (I mixed with blood orange rind because I ran out), 1/4 tsp hot chili powder, 2 and 3/4 tsp sweet chili powder, 1 tsp toasted black sesame seed (it was a bit expensive so I opted out, but I love it so much I’m going to get some and add it), 1 tsp poppy seed, 1 tsp nori seaweed. Don’t over grind; leave the black sesame whole.

More experimenting to come!

Sahhtein.

Look what’s hiding in Ain el Mreisseh

In a little cul de sac in Ain-el-Mreisseh, amongst the many red-lit fleshpots and the burned out hotels, is a treasure. A theater. I think, from the inscription, that it belonged to College de la Sagesse. I’m afraid that someone somewhere is working on a plan to destroy it and build a new ‘tower.’ I heard from the area residents that it is being joined with the burned out hotel to the back of it, to build a huge residential project. Check out this gem:

Imagine with me for a second, close your eyes and make a wish, that maybe this will be fixed up and will become the permanent theater space that it deserves to be, that we deserve it to be. One day, Mazen, one day.

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