Earth Day & Best of the Fest Connection

The Golden Harvest will have an encore screening at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival as part of the Best of the Fest screenings–Super!

Wednesday, April 24 at 4:50 pm at St. Anthony Main:

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Trees grow in White Bear Lake

 

I lived in a house only once in my life.  For three years. It was in Minnesota in what was a kind of small town back then called White Bear Lake.  I was six but I still remember the couple who lived in the house before us saying to my parents that they never had a chance to plant the yard because they had their hands full with a teenage girl that was always in trouble.  That’s why they were moving.  I wanted to know more about that girl but I was sent out to that empty yard.  A few years ago, I went to a look.  They were little stick trees when we moved away.  Today, the trees are taller than the house.  No olive trees, but a great apple trees.

So it fits that The Golden Harvest, which was inspired by dad’s love for trees, will play again at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival as Best of the Fest.

GETTING HERITAGE IN WRITING: This Month’s Aramco World Cover Story

These are just some thoughts of mine after my third visit to Cape Town, this time to write this month’s cover story for Aramco World Magazine https://www.aramcoworld.com/en-US/Articles/March-2019/The-Handwritten-Heritage-of-South-Africa-s-Kitabs

Cape Town's Bo Kaap

Celebrating Heritage Day in Bo Kaap

The first time I saw the Western Cape, I thought “This looks just like Los Angeles,” and then I thought, “This looks just like Lebanon.”  I’m not just talking about the magnificent mountains and endless sea. The townships remind me of the camps in Lebanon, certain Cape Flats areas remind me of Compton, and Simons Town, with its dramatic cliff homes and a local museum hosting a meditation workshop with Tibetan chanters, reminds me of Santa Monica.  But South Africa’s landscape is all its own, mired in a history all its own. Historian Joline Young has been digging through Western Cape Archives for 20 years to recapture the town’s history, as the archives had been closed to non-whites during Apartheid. As we were walking through Simon’s Town one Saturday afternoon, “We have generations of trauma in our genes.” While that’s not biologically possible, you see a lot of people chasing their genes. That afternoon we ran into a 50-year old woman, Shirleen, whose mixed-race family was relocated (forcibly removed from Simon’s Town) during the Group Areas Act.  This was her first time here, and she and her husband were trying to figure out where her uncle’s fishing restaurant would have been.

Simon's Town

Simon’s Town’s Harbor

Zainab Davidson, better known as Auntie Patty, would have had an answer.  She literally mapped the whole town from memory, which inspired her to turn her family home, Amlay House, which was confiscated during the Group Areas Act, into the Simon’s Town Heritage Museum, dedicated to preserving the Muslim heritage of the town. She is part of the story in “The Written Heritage of South Africa.” She was 60-years old then.  She’s 84 today, and lives above the museum with her husband.

I sat down one day with a sheet of paper and I drew a map of Simon’s Town, all the roads, just to see if I still remembered who lived here.  I remember the old fisherman, and the old Dutch church, and I remembered lane by lane the cottages, and bigger houses over there.  And I took all lanes and went house by house until I had this whole map of our community here in Simon’s Town and it ended at Simons Town Station. Yeah.  And then I said to my husband, man I want to start our own museum. –Zainab Davidson (Auntie Patty), interviewed at Amlay House in September 2018

The Golden Harvest to Premiere at Thessaloniki International Film Festival

Every filmmaker making a film on her own dreams of it opening at a Top 10 ranked festival.  We are delighted thus that The Golden Harvest will make its debut on March 4 at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival in Greece.  Not only is it a great festival–it’s in the country with the highest per capita consumption of olive oil.  We’ll post photos later.  More Information on The Golden Harvest

Filming at Monte Testaccio in Rome38143468_10156701536623447_2233407483823521792_o

 

The Celebratory Pancake in Abundance

In their modern day interpretation, most religious holidays that are about deprivation and/or sacrifice are counterbalanced in their present day celebration with gluttony. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Diwali and yes Ramadan. Newspapers reveled last year in stories about hundreds of people being hoisted onto emergency room stretchers in Qatar, Jordan and elsewhere, due to complications from overeating during this month of fasting. One could even go further and say that there is gluttony in the grab for power and oppression across the Middle East at this time, particularly surrounding Jordan, where I am writing from now.IMG_1972

Part of that greed has resulted in arrival of refugees, rich and poor, from neighboring countries, most noticeably in the past three years of Syrians, who have not only brought their broken hearts—they have brought their Ramadan efficiency. Damascus and Aleppo are known as food capitals in the Arab world, having held that reputation for centuries. However, it’s not the old traditions that got my attention the other day. It’s rather how those traditions have become so much easier to mass produce. Take for example the grandness of the atayif machines, making it cheaper and easier for us all to eat more atayif, machine that can produce 60 atayif a minute. Atayif (qatayif) is the desert of Ramadan. It’s a pancake that is stuffed with cheese or walnuts or a clotted cream sort of thing and dunked in syrup, a basic principle that carries over to many pancake recipes around the world and to Arabic sweets in general. Few nations are without a pancake of some kind, but most of them are made at home. Atayif is rarely made at home—it is bought at bakeries and stuffed and baked at home. They are actually easy to make, but when you’re fasting all day, why bother when they are so easy to buy.

Sometimes you can still find bakers on the sidewalk making them on their griddles. But mostly today, there is the atayif making machines. I wonder where these machines go and hide the rest of the year—they could be used to make some many other semi liquid batters into yummy things, perhaps say crepes. Although, an embrace of former colonial rulers’ baked goods seems to be out of vogue at the moment in Middle East.    IMG_1969

I enjoy the watching the larger machines at work—well actually it’s bakers standing in the sun making them work. Batter goes in, atayif come out—orderly, predictable, comforting. The big machines are a big part of the newly opened Syrian bakeries. It’s likely the machines were designed in Taiwan (ANKO), maybe Lebanon, and they dwarf the smaller machines found in Jordan, never mind the griddles.

When baked, atayif is a simple food, not too rich in complications or calories–f you eat only one or two. But the machine makes it so easy to make more faster, and for some of us that means eating more faster.

Sometimes I wonder if maybe we didn’t make food machines so efficient, not only would emergency rooms be less busy, our heads would be clearer, and we’d have time to think of things that were more pressing than our adequately filled stomachs. Beyond hunger, food is an easy, relatively inexpensive way to sedate oneself—or a nation–whether it is to fill up loneliness or as a numbing device to shut out the din around us that asks us for questions that most of us feel helpless to offer, as we have no answers to solve them.

IMG_1976

 

Aatayif (if you want to make a small amoutn)

1 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast

13/4 tsp. sugar

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup semolina

6 tbsp. milk

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

10 tbsp. butter, melted

 

For the filling:

11/2 cups shelled walnuts, finely chopped

4 tsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

 

For the syrup:

2 cups sugar

1-2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Orange blossom flower water (optional)

 

1. For the pancakes: Dissolve yeast and sugar in 2/3 cup warm water in a

small bowl and set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes. Combine flour and

semolina in a large bowl, then add milk and 1 cup water and beat on medium

speed with an electric mixer until smooth, 2-3 minutes. Add yeast mixture

and continue beating until batter is smooth, about 1 minute. Combine baking

soda and 1 1/2 tsp. water in a small bowl and beat into batter on medium

speed. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm spot until

batter is foamy, about 1 hour.

2. For the filling: Combine walnuts, sugar, and cinnamon in a medium bowl and

set aside.

3. For the syrup: Put sugar, lemon juice, and 11/2 cups water into a medium

saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring often,

until sugar dissolves, 2-3 minutes. Keep syrup warm over lowest heat. A spoon of rosewater or orange flower blossom water can be added to the syrup at this point.

4. Preheat oven to 350°. Heat a medium cast-iron or other heavy skillet over

medium heat until hot but not smoking. Brush skillet with a thin layer of

oil. Pour 1/4 cup of the batter into skillet and swirl skillet to spread

batter out to a 5″-wide pancake. Cook, undisturbed, until bottom is browned

and top is covered with bubbles and no longer moist, 1-2 minutes. Do not

flip pancake. Transfer pancake to a clean surface and cover with a clean dry

dish towel. Repeat process with the remaining batter to make 12 pancakes in

all, brushing skillet with more oil as needed.

5. Put 1 pancake, browned side down, on a clean surface. Spread 2 tbsp. of

the filling down center of pancake, fold pancake in half, and press seams

shut to enclose filling completely. Repeat process with the remaining

pancakes and filling. Brush both sides of filled pancakes with melted butter

and transfer to a baking sheet. Bake until warmed through and cheese nice and gooey, 5-6 minutes. Dunk

pancakes, 1 at a time, into the warm syrup. Serve with remaining syrup on

the side.

Another Place the Deer and the Antelope Roam (or Why Abu Dhabi is Called Abu Dhabi)

I’ve been spending a lot more time around animals lately than I ever thought I would. And if you asked me to guess where I might one day be maximizing my time with deer and antelope, I probably wouldn’t have picked Abu Dhabi. Especially as I lived in a place called Minnesota, where people hunted them for fun and for stew and where I was much closer to the North Pole and Rudolph. I also always thought Bambi needed a forest.

Arabian Oryx at Preserve

Arabian Oryx at Preserve

But next time you’re in Abu Dhabi, take a look at the 50 dirham bill. It might not go far in the mall, but it will get you a cup of karak tea, a few Chips Oman sandwiches, and the chance to see look at the Arabian Oryx inscribed on it.

Dhabis

Dhabis

The Arabian Oryx was just about extinct until the late founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed, began a conservation project to save them more than a decade ago. Today, they are getting released into the wild again, but good luck spotting them in the vast, desolate horizon of rolling sand dunes. Today, the best place to see them is at the Al Ain Zoo. Unless you are lucky enough to be my senior class, who has spent the last several months working on a documentary about the vets/zoologists/international cowboys working on the UAE’s Oryx preservation project. (more on that to come).

Baby Oryx

Baby Oryx

When you see your first Oryx, he or she will look you straight on—with eyes that are the stuff of poetry. In Arabic, tell a woman has the eyes of an Oryx, and you attesting to her she has captivating beauty.

But beauty is not only what meets the eye: the Oryx have mastered the desert–they travel in herds, they are a symbol that water is near, they can outlast a camel in the heat, and they don’t let it slide if you try and mess with them. They can prance agilely at 90 kilos. And beauty is power, too. Watching what they do to each other’s horns when they fight, you know you don’t want them coming at you with them.

In a desert, these are all beautiful qualities.   Something worth being named for. Indeed, Maha is a rather common name throughout the Middle East, and it is the Arabic word for the Oryx. And Maha is not alone. There is also Reem or Reema, another popular name and gazelle. And the cute little one called the Dhabi, which yes, is native of Abu Dhabi. There are lot of stories about how the dhabi helped the island of Abu Dhabi get its name, kind of like there are abundant legends about places in the US named after bears and beavers. And just maybe while English language countries don’t name baby girls after deer, gazelles and antelope, it got me thinking the word “Dear” and “Deer” in English perhaps are not that far off from each other. A rather dear deer thought that failed the test when I discovered ‘dear’ is from something that is extinct: old Norse.       Oryx Relatives

My Friend Sami Deeb

In May, I learned that I would be doing two events in Seattle as part of my book tour. I made a mental note right away to let my childhood buddy Sami D. know soon.  We had grown up together, and spent hours hanging out as teenagers, he, Sami Z and me.  And as adults, we’d stayed close for many years, helping each other out with life from across long distances.  Of all the questions we asked each other as kids–who do you think will get married first, who do you think will leave Beirut first, even who will retire first –we had never asked each other who would die first.  In recent years, we hadn’t been in contact as often, but when he had e-mailed a few months earlier, he did not tell me that he was ill.  He was always in my heart, I knew he’d think it was cool that I’d gotten my book published, and he and his wife could come to the reading as for once we’d be in the same city.  A week later, he passed away, as I learned through his sister, Lamya, who he had idolized.

Sami D was one of the great things in my life—kind, sweet, funny, honest and sincere, and I will always miss knowing he is here.  When I was in Seattle, I had lunch with his wife, Mari, and their son, and Sami’s dad, Samir.  Samir also came to my reading, and when he walked in the room, I knew Sami was there, too.  Mari is one of the most amazing women anyone could ever meet, and for reasons having nothing to do with losing her husband at a young age and for lovingly taking care him during what was a difficult and painful illness.  It is her wish that I share with you these words Sami wrote shortly before passing away.

As You See Me..
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
As you see me lying dead
Have some thoughts pop in your head.
My body silent, soul awakes
I send my love from heaven’s gates

Now gaze up high towards the light
Summon all your strength and might
I’m trusting you to do what’s right
Never leave from my spirit’s sight

Look at me, I’m resting free
Then leave and love each faithfully
Remember me as you will,
Calming waters, deep and still.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

See Yourself Alive..
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As you see yourself alive,
Thrive and arrive at your wildest contrivance.

Believe in five criteria
To help survive trials and violence.

Seek brightness and dance.
Cry a teary river, take a chance.

Your dreams derive from being alive,
Provide pride and driving force afire.

Look into your eyes,
There are no lies there.
you are wise,
And your kindness will be all you ever had.

Sami Deeb – 2009My friend Sami D.My friend Sami D.