Four-minute Arab lunch

Can’t take time to cook? This lunch took exactly four minutes to prepare, including washing and drying the bowls. Before and after: hummus with sumac (from the bagged spice section of the Arab store–or you can skip this part) sprinkled on the top, sage tea (ordinary black tea bag and sage leaves), cracked green olives, frozen pita bread (defrosted in toaster oven), and labna (middle eastern style thick yogurt). Put the water on to boil and pop the bread in the toaster oven while you put everything else in the bowls.   To eat, break off pieces of the bread and use it to scoop up the hummus and labna. A small bowl is for olive pits. The tea, with meremiah (Jordanian sage) and sugar, needs to sit for a few minutes before drinking from an everyday Arab casset shai (tea glass).  Zacky!
arab-lunch-before

arab-lunch-after

If you put it on a tray you can carry it to put on the floor, so all your bedouin friends can sit with their farshas in a circle on the floor and eat family style from the same dish, or you can put it beside your computer to eat with all your imaginary blog friends.

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Blessed Hands

hand-right-iv-darkSome things in the Arabic language are counterintuitive. In English, if someone offers you tea, “thank you” means “yes, I’ll have some, thank you for bringing it.” In Arabic,  shokrahn is a polite refusal: “thanks, but no thanks.”  The correct affirmative response in Arabic would be izlamoo idayk (masculine) or izlamoo idaykee (feminine), meaning “Allah bless your hands”. In other words, may Allah bless your hands so you can continue to offer tea with them–the ability to be generous is a gift from Allah.

While you’re sitting around drinking tea, one thing you might do is compare hands with your companions. Some people are said to have a mark of the “ninety-nine names of God” on their palms.  On one hand is written the Arabic symbols for the numbers eight and one (the sum being nine):  ۸۱ with the reverse pattern written on the other hand:۱۸. So the numbers add up to nine on each hand; reading both hands side by side gives the number ninety-nine.

hand-left-500px hand-right-500px

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What’s your sign?

horoscope-button-largeEvery once in a while it’ s fun to do a bit of navel-gazing.

I have long been a fan of the playful insight of Bob Brezsny’s horoscopes at freewillastrology.com. Hopefully my new horoscope widget button for his site link does justice to the complexity of the kind of thought that can only take place in symbols.

Here’s my horoscope for this week:

Kenneth Koch wrote the poem “The Boiling Water.” Read this excerpt: “A serious moment for the water is when it boils / And though one usually regards it merely as a convenience / To have the boiling water available for bath or table / Occasionally there is someone around who understands / The importance of this moment for the water — maybe a saint, / Maybe a poet, maybe a crazy man, or just someone temporarily disturbed / With his mind ‘floating,’ in a sense, away from his deepest / Personal concerns to more ‘unreal’ things.” In the weeks ahead, Gemini, I encourage you to be one of those crazy floaters — someone who tunes in to the serious moments that are normally outside your personal concerns. You need a strong dose of the hidden reality behind the obvious reality.

e-Arabs

Tired of politically slanted “news” items about the Middle East? Seems like everyone has an ax to grind, an ethnic or religious group to demonize (preliminary to….?), a book to publicize, or vitriol to barter for that coveted Western visa.

Time to escape the self-serving agendas and look at the ordinary people. Oh, sure, you can find the same old, same old politics in Jordan if you look hard enough, but most Jordanians just don’t go around with a chip on their shoulder hating one group or another.

For a more refreshing, and probably more realistic snapshot of the Middle East, try Wasapnin Jordan, written by a British ex-pat (click the page tabs for photos of Jordan and Amman), or try picking something at random off of the successors to Planet Jordan:  Jordan Blogs, Quaider Planet, or  Girly Gator (sometimes the Arab women like to blog away from the guys)–these are all blog aggregators with several hundred blogs on their blogrolls.

hiv-public-announcement-in-arabicThere’s nothing like a Jordanian blog to give you a slice of real Arab life. Here is just one sample from Jordan Blogs. Moey, who says he  has two friends suffering from AIDS right now, has designed a public service announcement for HIV.  The slogan in Arabic says “When cheating, make sure you’re protected.”  (Click image for larger view). According to his profile:

The free time I have becomes more and more precious to me as the years go by. I’m a working student, I work for one of the most notable advertising agencies in the world. I also like my quiet time to balance out the social leanings of my study and leisure.

If you want some edgy cartoons with a definite pro-Palestinian slant, try Abu Mahjoob. It can sometimes be difficult, but is easily as creative as Doonesbury. Cartoons are in the archives, and the forum is always good for a couple hours.  For those who are more comfortable with same-sex forums, there are also forums for only women or only men.

[Note: This post for some reason has become a magnet for Russian spam comments. Do they not notice the irony of spamming a website in a language other than the one it’s written in? I have translated them with a machine translation tool and kept the ones I like–but with the links neutered!]

Presidential Oath of Office Tag Cloud

wordle.net is a website that will create tag cloud art from a group of words. Since today is inauguration day, the phrase that comes to mind immediately is the presidential oath of office. Here is the official oath from Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

presidential-oath-of-office-screen-cloud2And here it is in a tag cloud. The font is “Kenyan coffee”. The color combination is “blue meets orange”.

Here is a video of today’s  oath of office, administered to Barack Hussein Obama by Chief Justice John Roberts. Does anyone seem to be a bit nervous?  And isn’t it supposed to be “the office of President of the United States”?

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Rumproast Flame War (just kidding)

rumproast3Thanks to the RumpRoast for inviting my comments, and thanks to all the Rumpsters who commented here.  Actually, thanks to John D, specifically.  Now that he has identified himself as the one who sent me the super secret email, I guess it’s not a secret anymore. [Note: If you want to read the original email, he has added it to the comments at January 23, 2009 at 7:34 pm.]

I want to start to respond to all the comments by saying something general about Islam, since so may people commented about that specifically, then I’ll try to answer the rest of the individual commenters separately.  And there’s a final thought at the very end.

But first let me just repeat Answer #5 from my FAQ in the original thread:

Q: [X] person on [Y] website is not a nice person and said something I don’t agree with.

A: I don’t care.

rumproast1Several people have gone into detail about various Puma commenters, and to tell you the truth, I haven’t followed every single personality and every single ping pong among the many people who comment on various Puma websites.  I don’t necessarliy agree with 100% of what every commenter writes.  I do read all of Murphy’s posts at pumapac.org.

There are some 500 or more comments that come across my feedreader every day just from the pumapac.org  blog, and many more that are on the blog that for some reason never make it through the feedreader.  That’s a huge number of comments to read, even if that’s the only blog you look at.  It would be a huge number of comments for any moderator to keep track of and try to keep every person to a party line, if the Pumas did have a party line.

Perhaps some of the disappointment some of the Rumpsters have with the PumaPAC blog is that it isn’t a neatly prepackaged product and doesn’t fit any neat genre that they are used to.  The posters are of all types, all ethnic groups and income levels, and levels of education and internet experience. They don’t have a supreme dictator telling them what to believe. They do have a lively dialog, lots of points of view, and some disagreements. Some issues are getting worked out and some ideas are being kicked around for the first time. No one is having a single point of view crammed down their throat–there is a lot of educating going on, and a lot of times, education can’t happen until the person is ready for it.

It might not look tidy from the outside for someone who is used to receiving their talking points pre-digested, but maybe if you feel so strongly about some issue, instead of just sitting back and making smug remarks on a blog none of them will see, why don’t you enter the conversation–without the elitist snarks and repetitive Axelrod talking points–and ask them about what they think? If the only reason you interact with someone is to provoke some sort of reaction that you can use somewhere else to try to “prove” some predetermined negative opinion you’ve already formed, then go back to some other forum and make remarks that “prove” you are “superior”, they will sense your hostility, and I can guarantee you’re not going to have a dialog–or convince anyone of your own point of view.

Okay, about Islam.

Several people have pointed out some very extreme comments about the Middle East.  I wrote more about the Middle East internet thing yesterday here, and I posted the hate mail I received on the topic  here. (Scroll down to the screen shot of the email, then click on the NSFW image link to see it without the child-friendly asterisks, then read the rest of my comment about who may have written it.) If you’re going to point out the negative comments, you will also have to point out some of the long time Puma commenters who have responded very favorably and have left some positive, compassionate thoughts about Islam here as well.

The point I want to make is that no one knows who is making those comments. They seem to appear long after everyone  in a U.S. time zone has gone to bed, in fact, about 8 or 9 in the morning Tel Aviv time–or Gaza time. And the people who post them don’t seem to have any other comments to make about American politics or women’s rights.Anyone could write them.  In fact, I notice a few Rumpsters already have Puma accounts and  occasionally talk about posting comments at PumaPAC. So for all I know, the Rumpsters themselves could have written it.

That said, Murphy has also posted a few things about the Middle East, some of it not very complimentary about the treatment of women in those countries.  In particular, Murphy has published some photos of extreme acts against women that deserve to be more widely known–I only wish she had printed links to articles describing the scenes. Someone needs to do this–to hold extremist Moslems accountable for the acts they do in the name of their religion, that is giving Islam a bad name. You won’t find that here.  Remember my “about” page?  I’m the one who wants to suspend mistrust and look for common ground. But someone needs to do hold some feet over the fire when it comes to Islamic treatment of women, and do it in a responsible, accurate way.

Some of the over-the-top right wing  comments about “jihad” (it’s “struggle”, for Pete’s sake, and can be accomplished by studying the religious writings or by…housework!) only serves to mask some of the valid criticisms that can be made about the culture. Unfortunately, the right -wing bigots make responsible criticism very hard to tell apart from pure hate speech.  That’s another reason I go after them online.  They make valid criticism look like one more prejudicial smear job,  and set back the rights of women around the world.

~~~~~~~~~

Now, responses to some of the individual comments I haven’t already responded to.

kcindenver, thanks. With the war winding down in anticipation of the inauguration, I think we’ll see less boilerplate Middle East spam in the forums.

Mrs. Polly, I can’t answer for the structure of PumaPAC.  As with most new populist organizations, it is very ad hoc, and will probably evolve, but seems to be the only women’s organization involved in activism at this point, and the only women’s organization that crosses class boundaries, or has any patience for the blue collar/ union values and aspirations. I also can’t answer for the individual you are talking about, as I know nothing about the context of what happened or any of the underlying issues.  I did see the film and the tacky comments about appearance and voice, but AFAIK this is not someone who speaks for Puma. I don’t see the problem with the sidebar widgets you are talking about on any of the computers I use.  I wonder if you are using Internet Explorer? It’s notorious for stuff like that. Here’s the free Firefox download.

pumarubbernecker,

Who do you have back there

I’m glad you asked.  I have kat in your hat 01.18.09 at 8:55 pm

but you seem rational enough on the surface that I’m curious how you don’t see what a giant trainwreck of crazy the PUMAs are

That kind of comment is a prime example of why Rumpsters get called stuff like immature fratboiz. If you want to deconstruct it, it’s a bunch of non-specific adjectives that don’t really say anything, except that the writer has a negative opinion of something.

It’s like this.  Say you want to describe a car.  You say “A nice car.” Now everyone can visualize the car, right? Not at all.  Now you say “a green two door car with purple leather upholstery and a sun roof.”  Now people start to visualize the car.  You don’t have to say if it’s nice or not because people can see the car for themselves. Or you can just do like Kat in your Hat and wait until Murphy isn’t looking, then post a video that expresses your opinion about teh motivations of someone who would write a giant trainwreck of a crazy comment like that.

Sean, as I indicated elsewhere, I have no knowledge that the Pumas are the ones writing the anti-Palestinian spam.  In fact, several Pumas have commented favorably on some of the first-hand stuff I have written about Islam here. The people writing the offensive stuff don’t talk about American politics and they don’t come out in the daylight, at least when it’s daylight on this side of the globe. I suspect they don’t care about Puma at all but are just using the PumaPAC forum for their own purposes. I actually find it sort of interesting in a canary-in-the-mine sort of way.

Betty Cracker, the post I was referring to was  on the Rumproast,  not some other blog:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Dear Democrats
More like this, please.  Thank you.
Posted by Kevin K. on 01/13/09 at 05:52 PM

The link was to a blog with a photo of a fat person with a wheelbarrow.  Obviously I would like to see “less like this, please.” I have no problem with “the Daily Pig”.  It singles out people for their actions, which they are responsible for, and not their appearance,  which is an accident of birth. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for employers like Dov Charney. Since I don’t have a trust fund, I need to work in order to eat. American Apparel did the right thing in removing Charney from contact with employees , but they still are paying the price for his indiscretions. He was not just some jerk schmo lurking in the alley, he was the CEO.   Let’s hope there aren’t more like him still out there–waiting for your own daughters when they get old enough to look for work.

I notice, Betty Cracker, that your blog has the “b-word” in one of the titles–and linked with violence towards women no less. I see where violence against women has become slick and trendy these days. Looks like the Rumpsters are helping that trend  along just a little.

Clownshoes the Clown, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I have never written about those subjects. If you think something I have written is “racist”, do point out where specifically, and say why you think it is “racist” instead of making vague menacing  accusations. As far as “levels of trust and approval”,  although your statement seems a bit like unsupported assertion/adoration at this point, there are people who do measure this.  As might be expected, public trust in the government dropped sharply after Watergate, but rose slowly after that.  I doubt if you could collect statistically significant data at this point before a government is actually in office. Your “shooting fish in a barrel” comment doesn’t make any sense at all. Are you saying you want to shoot me? Kindest regards to you too. Oh, and this pretty much sums it up as far as mysogyny in the campaign.

yetanotherfreakingbrit, I would be curious as to which of Murphy’s posts you found offensive. Also I’m not quite sure which of Murphy’s posts contains the “conspiracy theories” you object to, but the mission statement is here. Looks to me like this is their program:

  • Passing the Equal Rights Amendment after 86 years of struggle
  • Monitoring the 111th Congress and advocating for legislation that supports our mission
  • Documenting and Protesting sexism in the mainstream media AND educating the public about its widespread and long term effects
  • Developing a national women’s rights curriculum for all American children
  • Researching and investigating voter fraud and campaign finance violations during the 2008 election
  • Protecting women’s lives by strengthening anti-femicide laws and drawing attention to the crisis of woman-lynching in the United States

John D, thanks again for the invitation.  As I’ve said before, I don’t think you can draw any inferences from something on one website linked to by one commenter late at night when the thread is pretty obviously unmoderated. As far as the “Kill them em all. Let God sort them out,” quotation, that’s often used by right wing blogs in reference to suicide bombers, but the old military proverb goes back much further than that, to at least Roman times–in Latin: neca eos omnes, deus suos agnoscet.

~~~~~~~~~~

One final thought. Everyone posting here has a mother, a sister, a daughter, or is one themselves.  What do you see as the agenda for women during the next four to eight years?  What outcomes do you want to see in 2009? Then, as Bill Clinton would say “Tell me how, and be specific.”

Gene Robinson’s Prayer From the Back of the Bus

bishop_gene_robinson_portrait_2005Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in America, was chosen to give an invocation at the Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial today, but for some reason the prayer wasn’t broadcast with the rest of the show.  “The producer of the concert has said that the Presidential Inaugural Committee made the decision to keep the invocation as part of the pre-show.” (But the rest of the pre-show was broadcast… hmmm.)

It was actually a pretty good prayer.  It started out “O God of our many understandings” a reference to the twelve step traditions of AA and other groups, which has been a part of the bishop’s own life.

Here is the full text of the prayer.

“O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will bless us with tears – tears for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women in many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless this nation with anger – anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort at the easy, simplistic answers we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth about ourselves and our world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be fixed anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility, open to understanding that our own needs as a nation must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance, replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences.

Bless us with compassion and generosity, remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable.

And God, we give you thanks for your child, Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, inspire him with President Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for all people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our ship of state needs a steady, calm captain.

Give him stirring words; We will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking far too much of this one. We implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand, that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity, and peace. Amen.”

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Write a poem, win a pan

What is art?

Jimmy, the boyfriend of Robin at Caviar and Codfish, a really good food blog, has it figured out.  He has a competition going:  post your own poem about food in the comments and win an exotic piece of cookware.

By posting your own food poem in the comments section (any length, any form) you might just win yourself a ScanPan! You can also submit an unusual but successful egg recipe — quiche, frittata, scramble, whatever (not all cooks fancy themselves poets, after all, and everyone should have a shot). Robin and I will choose our favorite poems and recipes, aiming for a total of five entries (though we might include more if it’s close); then — because poems and recipes are in many ways subjective and because we’ll surely know some of the contestants — we’ll use the random number generator to pick the winner.

So that’s the secret of choosing good poetry–it’s totally random.

My favorite poem so far (written by  “Jeremy”)  is:

Herbs cook quickly in a wok.
It’s not only Chinese — how fast
Thyme fries.

…although someone has posted the witches’ chant from Macbeth.  All I can say is “Cheaters don’t win, and winners don’t cheat”.

The deadline is midnight Tuesday, so now you’ve got something productive to do during Monday’s holiday and Tuesday’s  inauguration.

UPDATE:  Comments at Caviar and Codfish are now closed, but I’ll be watching with great interest for the winning poem.

The Real Necronomicon

Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will remember how the very mention of the dread Necronomicon, the forbidden book of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, could send chills up the spine.  The Necronomicon  was supposed to be totally fictional, but today I happened to sit next to a Yemeni woman who told me about a real prohibited book of the occult in Arabic, Ahmad al-Buni’s Shams al-Mar’arif al-Kubra, or “The Sun of Great Knowledge”,  that the Necronomicon may be based on.

The Necronomicon

cthulhu-lesser-evilThe fictional Necronomicon, of course, was a mouldy hidden manuscript containing the ancient secret devices for awakening the  Old Ones such as the dread Cthulhu. To quote the Necronomicon:

That is not dead which can eternal lie.
And with strange aeons even death may die.

According to Wikipedia, in a posthumously published back story, Lovecraft said

the Necronomicon was originally called Al Azif, an Arabic word that Lovecraft defined as “that nocturnal sound (made by insects) supposed to be the howling of demons”.  Alhazred is described as being from Sanaa in Yemen, and as visiting the ruins of Babylon, the “subterranean secrets” of Memphis and the Empty Quarter of Arabia where he discovered the “nameless city” below Irem. In his last years, he lived in Damascus, where he wrote Al Azif before his sudden and mysterious death in 738.  In one short story the Necronomicon was hidden inside a copy of Qanoon-e-Islam, a real book.

cthulhu-no-more-yearsLovecraft himself said the Necronomicon was his own invention:

Now about the “terrible and forbidden books” — I am forced to say that most of them are purely imaginary. There never was any Abdul Alhazred or Necronomicon, for I invented these names myself. …. As for seriously-written books on dark, occult, and supernatural themes — in all truth they don’t amount to much.

Ah-HA!  Lovecraft DID know about some such books.

Al-Buni’s Shams al-Mar’arif al-Kubra and other manuscripts

al-buni-cover-pageDetails about Ahmad al-Buni are scarce, but sources say he was an Alexandrian Sufi who died in Cairo in the year 622 Hijri / 1225 Gregorian.  Unlike the Picatrix, an Andalusian grimoire of the same century (partial translation here) , al-Buni’s Shams al-Mar’arif al-Kubra has not been translated into English.  According to the publisher’s description (several pages of this book here):

This is the leading text of Islamic Occultism, written by the mysterious Cabbalistic Sufi Ahmad al-Buni. This work is about the Secrets of the Asma Al-Husna (the 99 “Excellent Names” of God), the mysteries of the Huruf Muqatta’at of the Qur’an (the enigmatic letters appearing at the start of some chapters), and it discusses the influence exercised by the sun, moon and stars at the time of preparing prayer-charts or phylacteries. There is a great deal on magic squares, numerology, alchemy, amulets, many formulae for day-to-day use, and much more. The Shams al-Ma’arif rivals the Picatrix in importance. Most of the “time-tested” books on sorcery in the Muslim world are simplified excerpts from the Shams al-Ma’arif. Both the Picatrix and the Shams al-Ma’arif were probably a model for H. P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon. More intriguing, perhaps, is the similarity between some of the symbols in the Shams al-Ma’arif and the veves of the Voodoo tradition.

Another similar (and I think beautiful) al-Buni manuscript, but with different magic squares, Shemsu al-Ma’arif wa Lataifu al-Avarif, can be seen here.  According to this grimoire wish list, the book may also be known as Kitab Shams al-Ma’arif, and the author may also be known as Abu’l ‘Abbas Ahmad ibn ‘Ali ibn Yusuf al-Buni al-Qurashi.  Apparently there were several versions of these works all attributed to the same author.  A discussion of the al-Buni works “Gazing at the Sun, remarks on the Egyptian al-Buni and his work, the Corpus Bunianum” by Jan Just Witkam is here.

al-buni-illluminated-page

al-buni-magic-squares

Palestinian Scuttlebutt: “Mish Harb”

This week the Middle East blog chatter has been heating up.  Blogs that cater to American politics have seen a sudden influx of right wing pro-Israeli propaganda of the most extreme kind.  These cut and paste spam artists start work long after even the west coast Americans have gone to bed.  Like maybe at about 8AM Tel Aviv/Ramalla/Amman/Jerusalem time.  And they never discuss American politics; they just drag out every anti-Palestinian, pro-settler propaganda piece that ‘s ever been done in the last 10 years. For a while, I tried to counter the hate, but it was like trying to empty the ocean with a thimble.  Then two days ago the Israeli-bots  went mostly silent, or cut back on the comments, until yesterday when Israel announced the unilateral cease-fire against Hamas in Gaza–along with a resumption of the occupation of Gaza that they had unilaterally ended in 2005.  (It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out they would announce a cease-fire before the American inauguration Tuesday–the Middle East is completely attuned to the American election cycle.)  My curiosity was piqued and I had to make a foray over to the Arab neighborhood to see how the Arab street was taking this.

It turns out they are taking it very well.  In fact they are jolly.

Mansef, I decided.  I’ve got plenty of hummus at home–tonight I would have to eat something special.  Arriving at my favorite mansef place,  I saw in the window a sign that said, “Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you have never been hurt. Dance like no one is watching.”  Not very Arab, that.  And inside the furniture was covered with drop cloths while a half a dozen Arab men sat around a big table with huge argila pipe discretely on the floor between them. They cheerfully waved me in.  “Remodeling,” said one, proud of the word.  “We can accommodate you”, said another.  I was in the right place, for sure.  But the mansaf special was yesterday.  “We have mansaf”, they declared confidently.  Just for kicks I ordered the kubba too.  Of course they didn’t have it.  On the South Side it’s always on the menu but they never have it.  You have to go to the North Side.  Mint tea, but with dry mint.  Can’ t have everything. In the winter you should really drink sage tea, but it’s the thought that counts.

From my hiding place in a booth, I couldn’t help but overhear what they were saying–and although I couldn’t follow the conversation  it was pretty clear what they were talking about.  Filasteen, Iss-rah-el, Muser (Egypt), Mubarak, Hamas, and of course yahood. One topic after another was discussed and dropped.  No saber-rattling, for sure. I would recognize that sound.   Then agreement around the table.  “Mish harb.”  (Not war) “Mish harb.” “Mish harb”, everyone agreed–cheerfully. “Did you solve all the problems of the world yet”, I asked on my way back from paying the tab.  “Not yet”, one said, as cheerful as anyone can be without alcohol consumption, “but we’re this close.”  He held his thumb and finger an inch apart.