Thursday, January 25, 2007

Your views, please...

I am calling on all my cyberfriends to help..

Some of you might know that I have three lovely children.. In their studies, they are pursuing very different careers.. my eldest daughter is a 'pure' scientist.. she is a PhD Student in Genetics / Molecular Biology, a field that is far too cerebral for a simple-minded guy like me.. My son is in his Third Year at Medical School.. (he wouldn't listen to his old man and do Accountancy instead!..). My younger daughter, (she and my son are twins), is doing something completely different.. She is an accomplished musician, and is in her final year at University, studying World and Popular Music.. At the moment, she is up to her eyeballs preparing her dissertation, which is about Fairuz, the public perception of Fairuz and the impact of her music on the Arab society.. It started as an attempt to look at the role of feminine voices in Arabic music, and slowly morphed to this current topic..

And here is where you, my dear cyberfriends, can help...

Dana is collating views of people who grew up listening to Fairuz, (whether they like her work or not, so this includes you, Abu Fares!..), and she has set a few questions that I would be grateful if you could spare a few moments to answer..

The questions are not aimed at academics of Ethnomusicology, nor necessarily at professional musicians, although the views of such illustrious company would be greatly welcome and highly appreciated.. The questions are aimed at the rest of us.. those who grow up listening to the songs of Fairuz, and the music of the Rahbani brothers.. Whether you like Fairuz or not, Dana is really looking at your perception of Fairuz and the effects of her work on Society.. So, your views and your answers will be of immense help for Dana..

Dana loves her music, and enjoys what she does immensely.. She is very serious about her music.. She is planning to do a Masters degree next year, and the topic is likely to be a major expansion on the topic of her dissertation.. She will probably end up writing a definitive book on Fairuz, as, she assures me, there is nothing like this written about her!.. (whereas so much has been written about Um Kulthoum, for example..)

Anyway, and without any further digression (digression??.. Moi?!...), here are the questions:-

  • What is your opinion of Fairuz as a performer? Do you like or dislike her music?

  • What is it about her music that you like/dislike? (e.g. her voice, the lyrics, the music, feelings associated with the music, etc.)

  • Fairuz's popularity and success are beyond question. What do you think contributed to this?

  • Fairuz was extremely important on the music scene across the Arab world. Why do you think this was?

  • Fairuz was a village girl and was from a poor background. Do you think this affected her popularity, and why/why not?

  • "Fairuz sang about our everyday life". Do you agree with this statement? Why/why not?

  • Fairuz and the Rahbani brothers were a team. Do you agree with this? Do you think Fairuz would have been as successful without the Rahbanis?

  • Zahrat Al-Mada’en was a particularly significant song due to the timing of its first performance (a few months after the fall of Jerusalem in 1967). Do you remember the first time you heard it? What emotional impact, if any, did it have on you?
This last question, in particular, brought back some very deep-seated emotions.. I heard the song live when Fairuz sang it, for the first time, at Damascus International Fair Festival in August 1967.. mere months after the fall of Jerusalem.. Even as a lad of ten, I was overwhelmed by the power of the song and the emotions it evoked.. Now, almost 40 years later, every time I hear it, I still get goosebumps, and the hairs on the back of my neck stand on their ends... but, again, I digress...

So, my friends.. do you think you can spare a few minutes to answer these questions??.. Please feel free to be as brief or detailed as you like.. but please be faithful to your real feelings about the topic..

Thank you very much, my friends.. I know I can count on you..

(Photo by SB: Dana, November 2003)

Friday, January 12, 2007

The pleasure of being tagged.. (yeah, right!..)

One of the main pleasures of blogging is that you get to 'meet' people in cyberspace, and through their writing and through their thoughts, you get to feel that you know them... The flip side to that, as far as I am concerned, is that they may get to know more about you as well.. Being a rather private person (or so I thought!..), I am not very comfortable bearing my soul in public.. and, as I have once said, it is not a pretty sight, anyway!.. Not that I have many 'skeletons in the cupboard' or anything.. I really do not have much to hide.. Nevertheless, the concept of opening up and answering intimate questions about my thoughts and feeling, strikes fear in my heart!..
Hence my deep unease when I get a comment on my blog with the terrifying words 'You have been tagged'!..
However, I do feel almost duty-bound to respond to such approaches.. I have to accept that such tags are part of the joys of blogging, and I will, grudgingly, respond to the latest one from my newly-found friend Dubai Jazz...
Dubai Jazz posed a few probing questions, and my first reaction was 'Surely, he must answer these questions first.. right?..' So I posed a challenge to DJ, to which he rose admirably!.. My pathetic attempt to snooker Dubai Jazz backfired so spectacularly!..
So, here I am, trying to give some witty, but truthful and unpretentious answers, to a set of very clever and rather awkward questions.. Let's see how I fare!..

1- Are you a principled person? Or are you pragmatic?
The question seems to suggest that you can be either one or the other.. I maintain that a wise man must be both.. I am certainly principled when it comes to core issues, like those of honesty, probity, honour and duty.. At the same time, I am quite pragmatic when it comes to many day-to-day matters.. I am not a stubborn person. I am very accommodating, and always try to see matters from the other person's perspective.. My view is that if you accommodate people, they are more likely to accommodate you..

2- Do you believe in people or in ideas?
What good are people without ideas?.. and where do ideas come from, but from people?.. Great ideas need charismatic people to carry them through, or else they remain just that.. great ideas.. The value of an idea is in how it contributes to the betterment of society and humanity. Great people have the vision to allow them to apply good ideas (not necessarily their own) for that purpose... In my book, people win.

3- How good are you in separating what is business from what is personal?
My problem with this question is that my business is very personal!.. I get involved in my patients' problems.. I sense their anxieties.. I share their concerns... and, to some extent, I share their jubilation, as well as their grief..
I have been in the business of Emergency Medicine for over 15 years, and I often have to break unexpected bad news to people.. I still find it very hard to tell someone that they have lost a loved one.. I always tell my trainees that, with time, you should get better at breaking bad news, but that doesn't mean it should get any easier.. I maintain that if such a time comes that I can break bad news to someone about their loved ones, and not feel a touch of sadness myself, then that would be the time that I should quit!..
So, in brief, I am not at all good at separating what is business from what is personal.. nor would I want to be!..

4- Do you have role models? How good are you in following their trajectory?
I have several, in fact.. and by the nature of that multiplicity, I am not good at all in following the trajectory of any of them!.. My course in life is charted by the complex amalgamation of a number of 'role models', each of whom had some influence on my thoughts and practices.. from my father, to a few of my teachers and mentors, even various national and international figures.. each of those had some impact on what constitutes the Syrian Brit of today.. No doubt, future acquaintances will continue to have some effect on shaping my future path..

5- A British saying goes: “Manners maketh a man”, what else do you think makes a man ‘a Man’?
I firmly believe that it is 'Deeds that maketh a Man'.. Not words.. not simply manners.. but deeds and actions..

6- Do you believe in taking risk? Do you follow your guts feeling? Has it ever failed you?
(First of all, this is cheating!.. This is not just a question.. These are AT LEAST two questions!..)
I believe in taking calculated risks.. I do not believe in being foolhardy, but I also feel that some risk-taking is essential for moving forward in every aspect of life.. Luck, no doubt, favours the brave..
As for following my gut feelings.. well.. I have done on many occasions.. and, of course, you win some, you lose some.. One several occasions, it paid off.. but on one or two occasions, my 'gut feelings' have let me down quite spectacularly..

7- Have you ever been through a ‘paradigm shift’? if not, do you believe that such process exists?
If what is meant by 'paradigm shift' is a 'St. Paul-style', 'thunderbolt-like experience' that changed my beliefs, then the answer, I am afraid, is a boring 'No'.. If, on the other hand, it refers to life-changing experiences that constantly modify and alter one's behaviours and attitudes, then the answer is a definite 'Yes'... I have no doubt that today's Syrian Brit is a much more mellow, reasoned and sensible person (making him, perhaps, more boring), than the Syrian Brit who, at the age of 19, refused to pay a bribe to a Traffic Policeman who wanted to fine me for something I have not done, and ended up spending the night in custody, and paying twice the amount in the morning to be released!..

8- Do you believe in unilateral love? Have you ever been through such experience?
I do believe in unilateral love.. As for the second part of the question, I wish to invoke the Fifth Amendment, giving me the right to silence, to avoid self-incrimination!..

9- How good is your assimilation within your social sphere?
I believe that I am very well assimilated within my social sphere.. Furthermore, I am happy rubbing shoulders with the best of them out there.. I am not intimidated by the 'Socialite', by the 'Big Pretenders', or by 'the Good and the Great' .. I can hold my own in most environments, and I enjoy challenges.. (particularly ones that I end up winning against the odds!..)

10- Can you name some of your new year’s resolutions?
Well. what can I say?.. It is only January 12th, and some have already been forgotten!..
Getting better organised?.. Already fallen by the wayside.. Finishing that paper I have been writing for months?.. Well... plenty of time to do that.. Sorting out my ever-expanding filing cabinets at the office?.. I will probably delegate that joyful task to my long-suffering Secretary!..
On a serious note, I set out wanting to get fit again this year, and I still intend to. I like working out, and I enjoy the buzz I get from exercise. Last year, I suffered a slipped disc (two, in fact) which resulted in me being almost bed-bound for a couple of weeks, and limited my ability to exercise.. However, I am determined to regain my fitness.. Very soon... Just.. don't push me.. I will do it in my own time.. OK?!...

Well, Dubai Jazz.. my friend.. Here are the answers to your tag!.. Are you satisfied now??...
Photo by SB: In the ground of The Imperial Summer Palace outside Bangkok

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Syrian Brit is one-year-old...

It is exactly one year since the Syrian Brit was born.. (I mean the Blog, of course!..)..
As I have alluded in a recent post, I started blogging sometime after I got interested in the various lively discussions that I have come across on the Syrian blogsphere.. I just wanted a medium through which I can express my thoughts.. I do not claim any particular skills or specialist knowledge, apart from life experiences, broad-based reading, and, I would like to think, a degree of commonsense..

When I started blogging, I had no idea how addictively enjoyable this business is.. I had no idea how intimate would become the knowledge that one develops of fellow-bloggers..

I have acquired a few new 'cyber-friends', like Rime, Abu Fares , Omar, Fares, and many, many others.. I had some interesting and very entertaining comments and e-mails from people like Ghalia, Ihsan, George, Ascribo, Gottfried, Miss Levantine, and many others.. I made contact with Abu Kareem, whom I had the good fortune to meet when I was in Beirut back in the early Eighties..

I must say, I am not a particularly prolific blogger, but I find writing to be a very therapeutic exercise.. It allows me to relax, put my thoughts in order, and get my brain organised.. After all, I don't want to sound like a rambling idiot, or make a fool of myself in front of the wide Cyberspace.. even if I know for sure that no-one is actually reading!..

The entertaining, intelligent, and informative posts and comments that the Syrian bloggers make are a constant source of inspiration to me, and a source of enjoyment, fulfilment, and immense pride... I sincerely hope that, one day, I will have the opportunity to meet them in person, to thank them for making my 2006 that much richer for knowing them all..

So, time permitting, I hope to see you all, hopefully more frequently, in 2007..

(Photo by SB: Dinner at Kuala Lumpur Tower.. but that's a story for another time!..)

Rome.. a personal view..

You can tell we were approaching Manchester.. The gusts of high wind, the blustery rain, the dark skies... 'Manchester weather' was there to welcome us back!.. As the plane landed in Manchester Airport, we all felt that we were coming back to Earth... in more sense than one..
We had a wonderful time in Rome.. Uninterrupted sunshine, to start with.. It was quite cold in the evenings, but there were times during the day when I was in short sleeves.. (It was quite a refreshing change from the bad weather my wife and I faced when we went to Istanbul in November.. then we had blustery showers, thunderstorms, and even snow!..)
We arrived late on Christmas Day, and spent the evening looking for a place to eat!.. (My son needs to be fed at very regular intervals, or he becomes very irritable!..)
Next day, we went out exploring.. Very quickly, we got our brains round the public transport system in Rome, and soon afterwards, we became the proud holders of weekly tickets that allowed us to use the 'Metroplitana' (Rome's Underground Rail System), buses, and trams for a whole week... and from there on, there was no stopping us!.. Armed with a map, and Roma Pass (a ticket that allows you free, or reduced-rate access to museums and archaeological sites), we managed to do most of the obligatory touristic landmarks of this incredible City.. In addition, we have managed to get a real feel of the City, by strolling along its elegant streets and beautiful squares.. The girls did some shopping.. from the ultra-exclusive shops along the Via Dei Condotti and Via Del Corso (where they did mostly 'window-shopping', I am relieved to say!..) to the delightful Christmas markets and street stalls in Piazza Navona and Campo de Fiori, where they managed to pick up quite a few bargains.. (You see, my wife is a professional haggler.. I mean, World-Class.. I am talking Olympic standards!.. If she doesn't get these stall-keepers to go down to a tiny fraction of the asking price, she would not be satisfied..)..
Three lost and confused tourists..
(expertly led by the Syrian Brit)
Piazza Navona... and Campo De Fiori

We even came across Sha3ban Abdul Raheem (or was it his twin brother?..) manning a market stall on Via Sannio near Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano.. (In fact, this guy is half-Egyptian, half-Indian, living in Rome, as my ever-inquisitive wife found out.. Talk about a 'Global Village'!..)
I loved the laid-back attitude of the Italians.. I mean, they take a two-hour lunch break, when everything stops!.. Civilized or what!..
And when the Sunday strollers decide to walk in the street (rather than on the pavement), cars just meander slowly, and wait for people to get out of the way!.. and not a horn ever sounds... (However, I did get a bit worried about their laid-back approach to health and safety, when, on New Year's Eve, people started setting off fireworks in the midst of the packed square!..)
The streets, the Metro stations, and the Metro trains, were steaming with buskers of all kinds, origins, and persuasions.. And not to be outdone, there was a young boy (probably of Arab origin) playing 'Derbakkeh'!!...
Pan-pipe 'one-man' band ... and a 'Derbakkeh'-playing busker
Another thing I loved about Rome, in addition to the delightful food, fantastic coffes, and yummy ice-cream (and don't get me started on Italian ice-cream!..), I loved the street sellers, selling roasted chestnuts.. I love roasted chestnuts, not just for the taste, but also for the smell and the beautiful childhood memories it evokes.. (Before my parents moved to a house with central heating, we used to roast chestnuts on the top of sobet el mazote.. or even better, at Grandma's house, we used to do that on top of sobet el hatab.. Happy days...)..
Most Italian women, as far as I could see, come in one of two models.. They are either, slim, tall, and delightfully elegant, or short, plump, and still delightfully elegant.. Of course, there are vartiations on these themes!.. (I could not take any pictures.. I feared for my life.. My wife would have either strangled me, or made me eat the camera, with fatal results either way!..)..
I was really struck by how much the Italians looked similar to us Levantines... I could have sworn that I have seen several friends, neighbours, and family members!.. In fact, on two or three occasions, I almost found myself wrapping my arms around some beautiful girl, thinking she was one of my daughters!.. (Well, that was my excuse, anyway.. and I am sticking to it!!..)
Rome can be described as one large open-air museum.. In every street, and in every little square, there are fantastic works of art.. You would be walking down a tiny narrow street, and suddenly, the space opens up, and you are in the middle of some amazing piece of art.. Just look how the Fontana di Trevi suddenly explodes into life as you approach it from the tiny narrow streets surrounding it..
We found out that you really need to visit each place at least twice.. once in daylight, and once at night.. The view is vastly different, as is the ambiance of these places.. The pictures of Il Vittoriano (derisively nicknamed 'Rome's false teeth'!..) are an example of what I mean..

The same also applies to the Basilica of St. Peter at the Vatican.. The daylight view is quite different from the night view, although equally awesome.. (I really believe the word 'Awesome' must have been created simply to describe the Basilica..')..

The Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, and the Basilica of St. Peter, were simply amazing.. After we went around the inside, we went up to see the Dome.. Soon we found out that we will have to go up 551 steps (and , of course, down again..).. Not only that, but we also had to pay for the pleasure!... I tell you, though, it was absolutely worth it.. At the end of the narrow (and I mean, really narrow!..) stairs, we were rewarded by a panoramic view of Rome from the top of the Dome.. and that was just dazzling...
Between us, we took more than 2300 pictures.. some 2.85 GB of files!.. The above are only a tiny sample... but I will not bore you with pictures you can get in any holiday brochure.. I also took some 6 hours of digital video, which I still have to edit and sort... That will take me some time, considering I am back at work on Monday..
Rome was delightful.. We walked anything between 10 and 14 hours every day.. We did in one week what many people would do in three.. I strongly recommend it, particulary with young enthusiastic company, who made it all so much fun, so lively, and so enjoyable.. I loved this holiday, not just because of the beautiful City we visited, but also because it gave me an opportunity to spend a great time with my kids, whom I miss immensely since they went off to build their own lives..
Nevertheless, next time, we will do it the romantic way.. just me and my lovely wife...
(All photos by SB, or other members of the Syrian Brit Clan)