ROSE AND ZAATAR

A TASTE OF A LIFE IN LEBANON

Month: December, 2013

Back in 5…

If my blog was a shop I would put a sign on the door saying ‘Back in 5’ .

Today we fly to Europe and won’t be back for 5 weeks.  My internet access will be intermittent and I don’t plan to publish any posts, but I’m hoping to use this offline time to do some essential blog maintenance- a sort of early spring clean-so you may see some changes here and there, like little snow-drops poking their heads up through the winter ground.

But until we meet again I send my end of year wishes for whatever your heart wishes.

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First and Last

A week ago today we had a last dinner with two dear friends, our first friends in Lebanon, who are about to leave the country. I realised that this farewell meal took place almost exactly two years after the first time we invited them to our house for dinner.Then we were still fresh and new in Beirut but our friends already knew its secrets.

And since the beginning they have shared them generously with us, from a photocopy of a bus map to an apartment needing new tenants; holding our hands while we learnt to walk (or rather take taxis)  until schway, schway, slowly, slowly we found our way, and were even able to share a few secrets with them.

We may no longer need their help to navigate Beirut, but it won’t be the same place without them. Without their kindess, their care, their way of connecting one person to another, weaving an intricate web of friendship, in this crazy-captivating-contradictory city that we’ve all called home.

We’ll miss you our first friends, and so will the city, but your legacy will last.

Winter

In  Arabic, the word for rain and the word for winter are almost the same. One brings the other.

My Filipino cleaner, who sleeps better when it rains, likes to give me a weekly weather forecast. Even though I’m sure she gets her information from the TV like everyone else, I somehow always believe her more, as though she feels it in her bones. She has become my weather oracle.

Last Monday, when it was still unseasonably mild, she told me

Tomorrow it will rain. For 3 days.

I passed her prediction on to my taxi driver later in the day when we were discussing the warm weather and lack of water. Inshallah he said, God willing.

It turned out that he was willing and the cleaner was right. The next day the rain came and according to another taxi driver, and the even-crazier-than-normal traffic, we were now officially in Winter.

According to the concierge’s wife, Winter was actually here quite a while ago. I know because one morning on my way out of the building she pointed at my daughter’s outfit (cosy cord dungarees and cardigan) and said something that I think included the word rain and I imagined must be a reprimand as I am always being told that my daughter must be too hot or too cold.  But when the neighbour translated I found out she was saying:

It’s winter now and she is wearing warm clothes.

So it’s a good thing…? I double check I’m not being told off.

Yes!

Meaning, after a year of dressing my baby, I had finally got it right (by Middle Eastern standards that is- most of my expat friends’ babies were still in short sleeves, as after all the weather was still warmer than an English summer at that point!)

A biscuit by any other name would taste as good

Yesterday I finally returned a dish belonging to the concierge’s wife (we are still going strong with our Great Plate Exchange). This time it was piled with homemade biscuits and I tried to explain what they were, stumbling over my words. I couldn’t remember the Arabic for ginger, if I ever knew it at all.

Shou ismon…?  What’s its name…?

She smiles and shrugs. Bass tayebin! But good!

I smile and shrug too, hearing Shakespeare in my head (a rose by any other name would smell as sweet). I want to say I hope so but I can’t think of the Arabic for that either- it seems blasphemous to use inshallah (God willing) for biscuits.

Later at Aziz, the worth-the-walk-uphill delicatessen that we visit almost weekly, the shop assistant gives my sweet-but-getting-sleepy-(and grumpy)-girl two tiny biscuits, one for each hand. She calls them petit four, while the down-to-earth-baker on the corner of our street would call them cookies. But the baby doesn’t care, and at this point neither do I, as they keep her busy almost all the way home.

Three on Thursday

Three slate grey cups of tea, set on a table, three storeys high into the sky, full of rain.

Three little girls, playing with a toy tea set, side by side, their hair in three shades of brown.

Three stories of the start of love, shared by their mothers, set in more than three countries and more than three colours.

Airbrushing for babies

This morning you woke up with a red pimple above your eyebrow- to match the little scratch on your cheek and the faint bruise on your forehead – just in time for the passport photos we had to get done to renew your residency permit. 

Why today? I wonder, trying to kiss the remnants of your breakfast off the unscratched cheek, and smooth your hair down in an attempt to make you presentable.

But I needn’t have worried as on the finished photo there are no traces of pimples or porridge on your porcelain perfect skin. They even ‘photoshopped’ your fringe.

Well this is Beirut after all.