December 25, 2011

A very Merry Christmas

A very merry Christmas from Holland (not Beirut), where I spent Christmas in the company of family and friends. Due to a misunderstanding – a common thing in our family – half of the family thought we had the traditional Christmas dinner last night, while the other half was getting ready for tonight. My SIL had mentioned we’d do the dinner on Christmas Eve, which was understood by two of my brothers as the evening of Christmas day, not the evening before Christmas. And that was quite a good thing, because as a result, we are having two family Christmas dinners.

Unfortunately it is not a white Christmas, unlike the last two years, and so I am cheating and leave you with a picture of last year; the Christmas tree yard in my village, where people come to buy their tree. This one was taken right before Christmas, and all the big/good trees were gone.

And so a merry Christmas, and a happy and healthy 2012 to all.

December 23, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas

Hubbie said he wanted to go to the mountain house over the weekend.

I’m no great fan of mountain houses. It’s a major migration, as far as I am concerned. You have to haul up an incredible amount of junk with you, because you cannot really remember anymore whether you have sugar up there, or matches, or salt, or water, or clean sheets and towels, and so you drag it all up, and once up there, you realize you were thinking exactly the same last time, the time before, and so you end up with an obnoxious amount of sugar and salt and the rest. You forgot the wine of course, and the onions, and the coffee, so you end up having to go to the local supermarket anyways. Who’s going to feed the cats and the birds while you’re gone, and what dog comes along and what dog stays behind? Your children pack for 16 days, instead of a two day weekend, it doesn’t all fit in the car, the gas bottle is always empty once you get there (we cook on bottled gas in Lebanon, yes yes). Once there, you spent the entire Saturday cleaning the house, and Sunday you spent packing for the return trip to Beirut. And just when you are about to leave, the house has finally warmed up enough to sit in the living room without wearing a ski jacket.

But heck, the teenager (soon to be adult) announced he was not joining us, and so it would be just us and our daughter, and so I got suckered into this romantic getaway.
Then the old aunt decided she would join us.
So the housekeeper wanted to come along.
The old aunt had a friend over from Tripoli, and invited her too.
Then a friend of mine called with a request, she had a sudden work engagement; could her daughter sleep over at our house?
And finally my SIL had a medical emergency in the family, and along came two more children.

And so our romantic group of three became a troupe of nine.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas; "marshemellows (chestnuts) roasting on an (open) fire"
That’s much better. Mountain houses are more fun when there’s life in the place. And in the evening we roasted marshmallows on the fire. It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
I'll be spending this Christmas not in the mountains, but on the flat lands of the Netherlands. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas from there.

December 11, 2011

A Lovely Sunday Morning

You see the Meditarreanean Sea on the left (hard to see maybe) and the snow up ahead?

By some miraculous occurrence, my kids and the cousin from a sleep-over   were up and dressed and bundled up into my car by 9 A.M. Sunday morning. Had I planned it this way, it wouldn’t have happened.  Not sure what made it happen.

This view always gives me a very luxurious feeling

I had to pick up something in the mountains early morning. I know why the teenager in the group came along; he had the option of ‘either you go study, or you go with your mom.’ I guess the second one tagged along because the teenager came, and the third came because the second one went.

And so early in the morning we drove up to the mountains. Early Sunday mornings in Beirut are gorgeous; there is almost no traffic. That’s what I like about the days after bomb explosions; everyone stays off the road, and Beirut is lovely without traffic.

Villages in the mountains

Driving along the Corniche, you can see the snow-capped mountains on the other side of the bay through the palm trees in between. This view always gives me a feeling of luxury. It’s like a mixture of Aspen and Monaco. While you drive in the sun, you can see the snow. It’s a cliché – and a rather incorrect one at that – that you can ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon in Lebanon. Traffic makes it virtually impossible.

Main street (often the only street as well)

The weather in Beirut is still warm, and way up near the snow very cold, but at about 6, 700 meters, - where we had to be – it is brisk and fresh.  Too cold for T-shirts, too hot for jackets. And up in the mountains, when you drive through the villages, the smell of manakish permeates the air.

The cheese manakish ready for the oven
The manakish goes into the oven (I'm a sage person myself),

Colin Thubron wrote in his book The Hills of Andonis’ that the christian villages in the mountains are separated from the druze villages by muslim villages. I wonder who told him that. It hardly is true. He may be forgiven; it was one of his very first travel books, and he wrote it in ’68. Many villages are mixed now (up to some extend).  The separation is still there in the minds of people though. Different faiths may live next to each other, and they will mingle in daily life, but they will not marry each other.

while the kids wait outside and watch the traffic pass by

The kids wanted manakish for breakfast. (You don't think I had them fed by 9 A.M. as well, do you?) I like cheese, but in my family there’s a preference for zaatar (thyme). The village manakish store was busy, and in between the baking, the lady suggested I dress my children more warmly, asked me where I was from, whether my husband was Lebanese, what village he came from, whether I liked it better here or in Holland, and remarked that it was good I had three children. I decided not to tell her they weren’t all mine.
Cheese manakish . . .
. . . . and the zaatar.

We ate breakfast in the main street of the village. We were quite a sight. I don't think they see many 'foreigners' in winter time.

We all had one; the teenager ate  four  (?!). Where does it go?

And then, when I was done with my errand, we went down the mountain and back to Beirut, where by this time, traffic had picked up from the lunch crowd. A lovely Sunday morning, if I say so myself. 

View over Beirut

December 06, 2011

Saint Nicolas in Beirut

A Christmas tree and somebody's legs

I already had my Christmas tree up a week ago. No self-respecting Dutch decorates their Christmas tree before St. Nicolas, which in Holland is celebrated on the eve of December 5th, but I’ve been out of the country for so long that that is a tradition I have ditched. However, we did celebrate Saint Nicolas on Sunday, and so now I can come out of the closet with my tree.
Saint Nicolas is checking in his Big Book to see whether she has been nice

The Dutch community in Lebanon is a small, but pretty tight one. Quite a few of them are ‘doing life’ which is what you get when you marry a local boy. And on Sunday we drove to the mountains above Beirut to celebrate Saint Nicolas. It is quite close to the Lebanese tradition of Saint Barbara , but that’s a different saint all together.

Of the few tradition we Dutch have, Saint Nicolas is one you celebrate if you have ‘believers’ in the family. ‘Believers’ are in general small children up to the age of 12. After that (or probably way before that, but they still play along in order to get gifts) they no longer believe in this bishop of Spain who miraculously drops by on the night of December the fifth, and doles out presents to all the Dutch children, no matter where on Earth they live.

Two apprensive children, waiting for the verdict of Black Pete to see if they get a present or not

I still have one believer in the house, a nine year old, who was slightly disappointed this year over the gift that Saint Nicolas had chosen for her. “I wouldn’t have gone for a suit case,” she said, after viewing the little blue suitcase on wheels. Well, better luck next year (if you still believe by then; otherwise, no gifts).

We’re lucky that we’re still celebrating it with Zwarte Piet (black Pete), Saint Nicolas helpers. In Holland there’s been a debate going on for quite some time about the possible racist implications of Saint Nicolas’s black helpers. In Canada, the Dutch community was not allowed to celebrate it with the black helpers.  (You read this, H? That's right next door to you. Oh, those Canadians).
No worries about this in Lebanon.

December 04, 2011


Too much work, too many things to organize, no time to chill and December - one of the busiest months - has barely started. I am soo ready for my retirement. Birthdays and holidays and celebrations and dinners and meetings and what not. I am busy like there is no tomorrow. And for some reason, the older you get, the fewer friends you’ve got left, yet the busier my social life has gotten. Go explain that equation. And so I cherish the slow moment.

Like this one, when I picked up my daughter from school after work, and we walked home along the seaside. No need for jackets just yet. A one hour of peace.