Monday, December 20, 2010

Egyptian Concerts and Storms

I've been in hiding for the past couple of weeks, in short taking a break from getting myself into trouble. The holidays are here; sort least the Schutz gang makes it feel like Christmas. I suppose the biggest news is that we drew blood to sign next year's contract. You heard correct, we're staying put. The Camels and Tacos misadventure continues.

This holiday we are going to a less exotic part of the world. Portugal has been high on my list while Paris is Ana's dream. We compromised and split the holiday between the two places where neither of us speaks the language. The plan is to stay in hotels as little as possible and try out some couch surfing by staying with locals. It's like being on a punk rock tour all over again. 

December has also been a month of concerts. Last night the Cairo Symphony was in town and Dr. Greg our esteemed music teacher/conductor/man of many adventures and tongues gave his usual "I'm about to jump out of my skin" pre-concert lecture. A movie has to be made about Greg. Period. Our small group was treated to a Mozart overture and concerto and Beethoven Symphony No. 5. 

A few weeks prior I entered the world of Egypt's best well known contemporary composers Omar Khairat. You either love or hate the guy's music. He played four sold out evenings at Alexandria's Bibliotheca Great Hall. I met up some co-workers after my questionable 15 minute teeth cleaning (more on that later). I bought a ticket from a scalper (at face value) and sat front row for 2 plus hours of what sounded like a soundtrack to an elephant hunt with Arabian music blended with the themes to The Rockford Files, Beretta, with a touch of Dynasty (or Dallas) for good measure. Each composition felt more dramatic than the previous. The majority female audience doused him with bouquets by night's end.  

Omar looking suave for the ladies

Omar in action

Last week's severe storm that left a path of destruction in Alex. Below are photos borrowed from an e-mail a co-worker sent. I shot some video but decided not to post it. The waves were massive and breaking at least 300 yards out.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Dia de los Musulmanes

A couple of recent cross cultural linocuts.


Friday's Best

Poor Dumb Bird

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wine, Hizbollah, Saida, and Jounieh

In Bekaa Valley you have Hezbollah, Wine, and Hash (Red Leb)...though we only got to experienced two out of the three.

From left to right: Hezbollah Secretary General Sayad Hassan Nasrallah, angels, an angel holding a scroll, a golden spirit blessing a missile, a soldier gazing at a missile, and a praying child against scattered clouds and a sparkling sky. 
Back to Chateau Ksara , Lebanon's largest winery operating since 1857. This year we skipped the tour and the tasting and went straight for the delicious salad bar, cheese plate, and a bottle of wine. We made our own self guided tour into the caves and found an unlocked door leading to resting bottles. We fought off temptation taking only photographs.
The Chateau had a large display of their Antique bottling equipment. 
Our goal for the day was to reach Saida (Sidon) in the south. I had the bright idea that instead of crossing the mountains back towards Beirut a better adventure would be to drive through the valley past what appears to be the only lake in Lebanon (El Qaraaoun). We past vineyards, wineries, and some goat herding along the way.
Halloween idea for 2011, maybe my brother George and I can tag team on this. You up for it?
If it wasn't those damn McDonalds collector's glasses then it was Khomeini billboards. Long story short, dusk was fast approaching as we were driving southbound and we came to a military check point. The stern looking soldiers didn't allow us to proceed forward because we were three Americans and a Brit. One of the officers took our passports and said "Hezbollah, too dangerous" and made us turn the car around. We were handed back our documents after a successful 180 and told to drive back to Beirut. So close but yet so far, this will go into the books as a two hour misadventure. But damn, seeing the lake and driving over unmarked speedbumps was well worth it.
We finally reached Sidon (Saida) only to be told that the two hotels were full. It felt like smaller Tripoli with a bigger middle finger pointed at us. We hopped back in the car and drove a few km north to the severely neglected Mina Beach "resort". Chewing gum smeared on the television speaker and duct taped glass on the balcony door was one of the amenities the resort included. On the plus side the sounds of the waves were nice and the view was decent as long as you didn't look north at the smoke stacks dumping blackness into the blue skies.
Maybe in the summer there's water in it.
The Sea Castle in Saida
Plastic only beaches.
One of the main attractions in Saida is the Musee du Savon (Soap Museum). Since it was the Eid, it was officially closed. A young lady acting as a tour guide for a small group worked her magic on the security guards and got us in. Additionally everyone bought stuff at the gift shop without a cashier. I'm sure the guards left a note with the money paper clipped to it.
Stamps for the soap.
More soap stamps.
Racks of soap. The museum is set in a 13th century building. I overheard the guide talk about how many of the buildings in the old town souq area are being renovated. This would be a fine example of one of them. 
We escaped out the back door into the souq area. Lebanese love their politicians.
Falafel sandwiches, the breakfast of champions. Here's how it is done: pull open the bread, place 4 falafel balls in the center then puncture them like they did something wrong and you're very angry at them. Next sprinkle some cilantro, slice a tomato, generously pour tahini, and roll like a burrito. Wrap with paper and twist the bottom to avoid spillage.
The master at work.
Q: What do Muslim boys in Lebanon get for the big Eid
A: Guns
Credit goes to Sonny for taking all the kids with guns photos. He called this one "Amir's first shotgun"
Gonna cap that infidel.
We said goodbye to the south only to come back to fully booked hotels in Beirut. There was nothing for the four of us thanks to the Eid. The front desk man at the Port View Hotel told us to go to 15 km to Jounieh, "where the bars and Christians are, Muslim families won't be staying there" True enough we found a room at the Zoukotel Hotel. The old man running the front desk was tops, as a bonus he was born and raised in Alexandria. The morning we left he told us that he was going to come and visit us...inshallah. The above bottles of wine are from the Don Carlos Bar. They'll open one for you but it will set you back between $500-1000 USD.  
Not only did Don Carlos have 50 year old bottles of vino, but the endless bottles of vintage cognac were displayed on almost every shelf. Sadly the establishment has seen better days. Opposite the bar are tables with all the place settings intact. Upstairs sits an out of commission kitchen. There is definite character here of a bygone era and back in the states a place like this it would be deemed a museum of sorts.
Happy campers prior to the bill, perhaps with priced drink menus and no funny business when it came to the check, this would a nice place to come back to. Let's hope the owners do the right thing.
The Zoukotel Hotel style wise is rooted in the 70's and that's a good thing! It would be Sonny's and Christine's final night. I felt a little sad dropping them off at the airport the following morning. It had been quite an experience we had together and just like that it was over. 
View from the hotel room. After our friends left the front desk man made us a deal to stay another night and that included a new but smaller room.
The ABC mall in Achrafiye had quite a nativity scene on the top floor near the duty free book shop where I picked up Off The Wall: Political Posters of the Lebanese Civil War by Zeina Maasri. It is mind blowing learning about all the warring political factions in Lebanon; it is still a true volatile mess.
Martyrs' Statue riddled with bullet holes and all surviving 15 years of civil war.  
Martyrs' statue and square is to commemorate Lebanese nationalist hung by the Ottomans during World War I. We enjoyed our last supper at Joe Pena's in Gemmayze before the haul back to Jounieh. Basically our last day in Beirut was just as uneventful as this last sentence.