The authentic heart of a country (especially an unknown one) is uncovered only through the stories of its people. Some of these stories are significant and inspirational, bathed in floodlight. Others – my favorite ones – are simple, humble, and humane, often inconsequential. With the careless lightness of dandelion seeds wafting in the air, they land here and there leaving only subtle marks. Each one of them may be blurry or incomplete on its own, however, in their totality, they weave a social fabric that not only embodies the identity of the country, it also unites us all on a plane that is both higher and deeper than the fragmented reality in which we often isolate ourselves. And, even though such stories do not come with valuable insights, they emanate peace and tranquility, reminding us that reaching out, listening, and connecting is the most gratifying part of any journey. [Read more…]
In the Chouf valley of Lebanon, in between Deir Al Qamar and Beiteddin Palace, there stands the Moussa Castle – a construction of a quite imposing magnitude. Unlike most of the typical tourist attractions in the country, this one does not represent any major civilization, nor does it commemorate a landmark of historical significance. Still, every year numerous visitors stoop to pass under its low entrance door, captivated – like bees to honey – by the story of love, ego, and betrayal out of which the building emerged.
The castle was single-handedly built by Moussa Al Maamari, a Lebanese man, now in his mid-80s. Today, Moussa does not frequent the dimly-lit rooms regularly; yet, his presence is palpable not only in the construction itself but in the overall ambiance, like a spirit destined never to let go. After all, he spent 60 years of his life (that is, 21,900 days or 394,200 hours) carving each stone separately, or crafting the numerous clay animated figures that populate every room and corner! It is not easy to get detached. Not for Moussa, anyway. [Read more…]
By the time we had reached the upper plateau of the Citadel’s stronghold, it was already mid-day. The city of Tripoli in Northern Lebanon unfolded through a composition of multiple canvases, each framed by the square shape of crenellations and windows. On one side, the Nahr Abu Ali river – one of the most important, culturally and historically, rivers of Lebanon – licked the foothills of the fort, and, were we to bend a bit outside the apertures, we would see the humble white dome of Takiyya Mawlawiya, the 17th c. Sufi hospice. At our backs, the old walls revealed ten centuries of history, from the Crusaders to the Mamluks and the Ottomans, all intertwined as tightly as the fortification structure itself. And on the other side, there spread a panoramic view of the old city. The elegant minaret of the Al Mansouri Great Mosque protruded above a densely-knotted cluster of shabby buildings, the lot much smaller than the multistoried atrocities that surrounded them in similar compactness. Decaying colors, curtain-like tents hanging from the balconies, endless strings of tattered-looking clothes, and worn posters of politicians everywhere. I secretly admitted to myself that the scenery below was not very inspiring, and the praises for the city sung for centuries by numerous travelers might be a memory of bygone times. But Lebanon is not a country to be experienced only through the senses; rather, it is a land to be felt with the heart. [Read more…]
The evening was mellow; Venus and Mars glistened playfully on a clear, ink-blue sky, and there was a floating brightness in the air, bestowing an illusion of glow on the marble ruins of Athens. Plaka’s narrow alleys remained empty, dotted with a few scattered pedestrians whose presence reinforced rather than softened the quiet solitude of the dusk. It was Wednesday, on a February night.
We entered Amaltheia creperie on Tripodon street – both the shop and the lane being unusually quiet, as if in a reverie of their own. [Read more…]
The first time I read the book “Women Who Run with the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, the famous Jungian analyst and powerful cantadora (storyteller), I remained astounded at the quality of guidance we get from folktales, and the level of my ignorance in understanding and using their priceless advice. Gradually, I realized that although our intellect takes the tale’s plot at literal value, the psyche invariably translates the elements and designs into a much deeper-seated wisdom and, if let free, it uses this wisdom to enrich our already acute power of intuition. Ever since, I search into the nooks and corners of every story, looking for the details I might have missed, the messages I overlooked, and the growth of the tale’s main characters who, on the surface, may look raw and simplistic, deep down though they are profound and complete. As I proceed, I steadily delve deeper into my own psyche, recording my observations, perceptions, and insights to comprehend this subtle development that comes through further reading and, above all, conscious living. [Read more…]