Posts Tagged ‘Journalism’

By Mike V. Derderian

A passionate embrace is flooded by streams of light. Gold yellow waves interspersed with darker shades the color of violet, red, orange and white engulf a man and a woman in a state of love.

Stand still, keep quite and watch the enamored couple; the only two who managed to find each other unlike the other men and women who roam the dream-like illuminated pieces of Hammoud Chantout, that are now hanging at Dar Al-Anda Art Gallery in Lweibdeh.

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State of Life, that measures 145 x 120 cm, is but one of the many impressive canvases that Chantout’s hands created. It  conjures up Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss. Chantout’s two lovers are caught in a vortex of colors that embody the enlightenment that their love brought fourth.

Unlike the two in State of Life, a title that Chantout used with other pieces, the others appear to be aloof and detached. Viewers will find them standing next to objects that Chantout’s brush brilliantly produced.

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Why is that male artist standing a few meters away from a red chair, while another, a female artist, is leaning on a rail amidst a haze of earthly tones?

Some of Chantout’s colorful personages, and I say colorful because uneven patches of color formulate their construct, are standing next to bright colored pieces of furniture while others are standing under trees that give away echoes of Africa.

Viewers crossing the entrance hall will find a set of six exquisite miniature tableaux to their right. Chantout cleverly created a landscape broken down to six pieces. Each pieces tells part of a story that could have happened anywhere around the world. The architectural edifices that Chantout relies on to create his sceneries give out the feel of Syrian rural mud houses.

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Born in 1956 Chantout graduated from the Suhail Al-Ahdab Art Center in Hama, Syria in 1975. In 1976 he was admitted to the Faculty of Fine Art with a 1st rank. He has been holding solo and collective exhibitions in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Canada, and Turkey since 1972.

At Dar Al-Anda one will also come across a book entitled Chantout and that allows viewers to take a glance at his impressive volume of  work.

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Copies of this book that holds haunting images that found their way out of Chantout’s beautiful mind are most probably on sale.

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The female figure dominates a lot of Chantout’s pieces.

The Bride with the White Mask (70 x 100 cm), Paradise (70 x 100 cm), Hope (80 x 100 cm), Angel (60 x 70 cm) and A Princess from One Thousand Nights (60 x 70 cm) are a celebration of the femme and her role in the building of humanity and the birth of mythology’; a legacy that some are trying to bury.

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Thanks to such poignant pieces by Chantout the celebration continues, and another memory is added to humanity’s collective memory, to remind us of the  femme that haunted the minds of artists throughout the ages.

With Adam’s Apple (60 x 70 cm), and that Dar Al Anda used for the cover of their beautifully designed brochure, a must have, Chantout offers us an interpretation of the ultimate illumination: Knowledge.

Illumination springs from darkness and as one goes through the details of Chantout’s pieces a balance is found. Where there is darkness there are also corners that are illuminated; corners where artists like Chantout, and the likes of him over the centuries, have found themselves standing to illuminate the path for the rest of us.

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Don’t search for clear answers in a painting, enjoy the emotions it yields within you. The above piece Oriental Princess (122 x 100 cm) is but one of many of Chantout’s pieces that will generate discourse in the minds of viewers.

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Anyone entering Dar Al Anda, before Chantout’s Illuminations exhibition wraps on April 25, will come across a torrent of colors and lines that carry within their folds a lot of passion and interpretations that will stir ones’ imagination.

For more information about Dar Al-Anda go to http://www.daralanda.com

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A footnote:

1 … 2 …  3 … 4 …

The text pointer flashed a couple of times before he started typing.

Two years passed since he last wrote a professional art review, a review that used to be published in The Star on a weekly basis; a review that used to be edited. He was edited by three individuals. The one he loved most passed away a few months ago. Rest in peace Abu Hassan.

In 2003 I joined The Star weekly as an intern. My dear father went with me. I managed to get a shot at writing an art review of a botanical exhibition at The Instituto Cervantes in Amman. It was a successful piece even though the exhibition and the description of the pieces were in Spanish. They were impressed and I started getting paid on a freelance basis. After a few weeks I managed to convince the editor that I would be able to write cinema reviews. I was given a column and was asked to come up with a name. Cinerama was born. After a year I got the job and I was a staff writer. Why a year? That’s another story for another blog post.

The above few lines demonstrate how I felt as I wrote this review after three years of not writing any. It only took me a moment to decide. I was outside Dar Al-Anda running an errand.

“It has been so long. Don’t you miss immersing yourself  in art? Go in!” I thought to myself. It was quite an emotional experience that reminded me of the eight years I’ve spent visiting art galleries in my Amman part of my work as a journalist; an experience I loved.

Hopefully I will get back to doing this more often ;-})

 

Palestinian Cartoonist Naji Al Ali was gunned down by the silencer gun of an unknown assailant. The finger that pulled the trigger was unable to silence the voice that lived on in his images and his most famous creation: Hanthala.

He was the father and Hanthala was the son. The strength of his words and lines were the holy ghost with which many people and comic artists lived by finding hope and solace in his black and white lines.

Al Ali died for many reasons. The one that resonates loud at this time and age since his untimely departure is the power of the word, the line and that of comics. Whoever killed him feared his words and his images.

Ali’s death like the death of Argentinian journalist and comic auteur Héctor Germán Oesterheld, who disappeared in 1977,  fueled the fire that was brewing within political cartoonists and comic artists around the world. It is 2012 and the art of cartooning and comics is as strong as ever and feared by corrupt politicians and leaders.

Sadly in this part of the world, the Middle East, comics and comic artists are still looked upon as a threat. Look what happend to Syrian comic artist Ali Farzat, who dared and drew Bashar Al Assad in an unflattering way. He was abducted, beaten to a pulp and his arms were broken. That’s another blog post by the way!

Forgive me if I don’t cover the entire history of this amazing art medium in tonight’s post. I will but in another post in which I will revisit with you the human casualties of this art form that was always and will be associated with the freedom of speech. Let us say for now, if it weren’t for artists and writer like Al Ali and Oesterheld the comics of today would live in fear. They not only gave their lives to their way of life but to the way of life of others like myself who believe in the power of the word and the line that interconnects to create a drawing.

Three days ago in 1987 Al Ali died but his work hasn’t. Hanthala is as alive as ever. The above poster is a tribute to a small part of me that is Palestinian. I am someone who loved Ali’s drawings but did not know much about him.

No one drew Palestine the way he did. The man’s work is like a fragmented eternal love poem of pain, death, angst, pride and dedication to his tormented mistress Palestine.

It is time for me to stop writing so you can Google this amazing artist. If you happen to be in Down Town Amman make sure you get a copy of his works from Abu Ali’s Kiosk and Al Jaheth Kiosk. Just ask about Naji Al Ali. Tell them he is an old friend and you miss seeing his poignant drawings.

“Drawing to me is a profession, a job and a hobby. Even though I’ve been working as a caricaturist for over 20 years now, I’ve never felt satisfied with my work. Sometimes I feel helpless in my inability to employ this expressive language in conveying my angst as it is quite immense. Still, drawing gives me an inner balance; it consoles me and at the same time tortures me. I often say that the caricatures I draw make me a fortunate man, and luckier from others, as it allows me to vent out my anxieties; others may die of the anguish that burdens their hearts and injects its daily dose of venom in their blood system. Seeing these people makes me realize that drawing consoles me,” Al Ali says.

Naji Al Ali quote translation by Sardine

Poster by Sardine

A day in the life of … a garbage truck team

Sayyed: Hearing a thank you or a pat on the back is what keeps us going

By Mike V. Derderian

After scanning the six mirrors lining the left and right sides of the truck’s compartment, Khader Abu Rommaneh nodded before he started operating the trash compactor. Two men dressed in orange overalls, in the meantime, could be seen standing at the rear loading area of the truck as its lifting contraption landed a dumpster onto the asphalt surface with a thud.

A short beep followed. Abu Rommaneh turned off the compactor before shifting into first gear gunning the truck through the back streets of Shmeisani. It is 8:30 a.m. and it is time to move on to another alley to collect the trash.

Nael Al-Joughol and Omar Al-Sayyed, the two waste disposal employees at the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM), had already stepped onto two foot ramps and held on to the iron handles that are fixed to the rear of the truck as it labored its way uphill.

The three hardworking men, whose first shift starts at 7:00 a.m., constitute the team that operates this colossal vehicle-cum-machine.

“I always was into heavy machinery. I used to drive a truck, which made it easier for me to learn how to operate this one,” a vigilant Abu Rommaneh told The Star; boasting that he knows his work route like the back of his hand.

Despite the air conditioning, a tangible acrid smell that Abu Romaneh didn’t seem to mind filled the driver’s compartment. Imagine how the smell is in the rear loading area, where the two men are forced to stay throughout their shift.

No sooner had he turned on the compactor, than the compartment started shaking irregularly. “It has an 8-tonne capacity. If the trash we collect is moist the compactor would work more efficiently through more piles of garbage” shouted Abu Rommaneh, always on the lookout for his two colleagues, before he added with a note of sympathy, “I try not to push those two as they are literally running the route.”

According to Abu Rommaneh there are 126 garbage trucks working round the clock in the capital Amman and its suburbs. So how does a compactor work? The rear loader compresses the waste against the moving wall of a cylinder hidden under a rectangular crate. The elliptical non-stop motion moves the waste to the front of the waste collection compartment of the vehicle.

Moments before Abu Romaneh pulled over, the two men could be seen running past the truck and reaching out to few plastic trash bins lined at the entrance of a villa; they hauled the bins and unloaded them inside the compressor in a matter of seconds.

“Look they’ve started honking [referring to three cars stuck behind the garbage truck]. We try as much as we can to avoid creating traffic congestion but people who shift the dumpsters to the left side of the street force us sometimes to park more to the left. This is the biggest problem that we face during our work, which is the result of conflicting neighbors, who keep shifting the whereabouts of the dumpsters that are in place according to municipal charted plan,” complained Abu Rommaneh, who mans the large truck with dexterity.

Another problem that faces them is solid waste like pipes, rocks, dirt, bathroom accessories and tree logs that the compactor is unable to crush. “There are special vehicles that roam the streets and clear such harmful objects out of the dumpsters,” Abu Romaneh, added, “People think the compactor can go through anything.”

As the two men stood knee deep in a pile of garbage at the loading area of a mall both men worked a total of 11 minutes. They patiently cleared bags of decaying meat and vegetables in addition to other types of soggy foodstuffs that emanated an unbearable stench—all the while without a mask.

“It is our job to keep Jordan clean,” said Joughol, who started out 12 years ago as a street sweeper and is now a truck runner, “I am content with what I do for a living.”

The three men, who head out to their families at the end of a non-stop six-and-a-half-hour shift, are proud of their jobs, which help maintain their country clean and disease free.

“Hearing a thank you or a pat on the back is what keeps us going,” stated Sayyed, who has been working for GAM for the past ten years, adding, “Surely there are people who sometimes treat us badly; however we cannot do anything but be polite and ignore their remarks and continue our work. “

The three men, Abu Rommaneh, Joughol and Sayyed, work together with an uncanny synchronization. They don’t need radio communication as their facial expressions and hand gestures are more than enough to get them through a taunting day, whether it was during hot summer mornings or freezing winter afternoons.

P.S:

A few days prior to the writing of this article Joseph Zakarian and I took a ride with the hardworking team of this garbage truck. While I sat in the front talking to Abu Rommaneh the amazing Joseph Zakarian, a great friend and a greater photographer, spent the entire time with the two GAM employees. It was one the best outings for a Day In the Life piece.

This piece/blog post is dedicated to all the hardworking waster collectors of GAM without whom are country would be flooded with garbage.

These pieces have been taken verbatim from the original edited series “A Day in the Life of a …” published in The Star Weekly on December, 16, 2004 , as I want to remind myself of my progression as a writer.

The series was edited by Walid Kalaji without whom I would have never scratched the skin to reach the mettle. I added the V a few years later as a tribute to my amazing father.

A total of 44 pieces were written. God willing I will publish one each month.

Their innocent faces and miniscule bodies became part of the photographs in the photo book that I’ve been carrying around in my shoulder bag for the past few days. I needed the book to remind myself that I had a video interview to edit and finish.

Every single page in the book had a child, or two and more, huddled together, innocently smiling or gawking at the camera in bewilderment. Like an eye catching detail, painted with vivid colors in the edge, center or upper right or lower left of a painting, the Palestinian children standing next to graffiti art produced by the Hamas and Fatah artists give Mia Gröndahl’s Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics a humanitarian aspect.

Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics is more than a photo archive of the graffiti art movement in Gaza that according to the book started in 1987; it is a book reflective of a photojournalist’s journey; a photojournalist who was intent on capturing the bigger picture but found herself capturing pictures that came with smaller pictures within: The children of Gaza.

Gröndahl, who was born in 1951, and lives in Cairo and Southern Sweden, is a photojournalist and the author of another photo book In Hope and Despair: Life in the Palestinian Refugee Camp (AUC Press, 2003).

She was aided by Sami Abu Salem, a Palestinian journalist from Gaza, who eventually became her eyes and ears (her guide and interpreter).

Children with glittering eyes and friendly smiles peer into our own eyes through Gröndahl’s lens that also caught, as she puts it in the first pages of her book, the gray walls of Gaza that were heavily splashed with the spray paint colors of graffiti artists from Hamas and Fatah. The majority of graffiti pieces in this amazing book were produced part of an unofficial graffiti war between the two warring factions.

In Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics you will find politicised graffiti art, slogans and murals of Palestinian martyrs from both sides of the Palestinian political spectrum. Some are amazing and some are simple; and you can also go as far as saying childish.  You will also spot congratulatory letters of Hajj, marriage and other social occasions worth celebrating with a graffiti.

I had the pleasure of meeting Gröndahl and Abu Salem during the launch and signing of her book part of The Festival of Alternative Arts: Urban Expressions in 2010. Prior to our interview at books@café I interviewed Miss Gröndahl and Her Excellency Mrs. Charlotta Sparre on my morning radio show on 96.3 FM, Radio Jordan.

You can find the video interview that I conducted, shot and edited here. Just click on this link Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics, The Interview

Blog post photo by Mia Gröndahl from Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics

By Mike Derderian

Star Staff Writer

The only words that came to my mind as I ascended the unclean steps leading to Cinema Rivoli’s hall were Dante Alighieri’s “abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

Standing amidst suggestive and provocative posters of films, displaying men and women in affectionate caresses, I paid JD one for a screening ticket.

A man standing at the doorway told me to go up a narrow stair situated at the left of the entrance that overlooked the crowded street of Saqef Al Sel. Seated on a chair in the middle of the second floor lobby, a bulky man jokingly asked me if I had bombs in the bag or if I was wearing an explosive belt. After groping the bag without opening it, the unshaved person “the fatso as he is referred to later” then gestured me to the stairwell saying, “its upstairs.”

After one more flight of stairs I started to hear the faint moaning of a woman but to my surprise it was not coming from a pornographic film. All was pitch black—a normal side effect that accompanies those who step in from the light and into darkness—an atmosphere that made me fumble for a place in a hurry.

Before I knew it, I was sitting in the third or fourth raw. The stench of feces and urine filled the place and as my breath grew heavy I had an urge to leave. White tile glimmered at one corner of the hall, where bright sunlight penetrated.

It was almost 2:00 pm when I entered The Rivoli. Time went by and I was still watching a movie in which two women and a man were being terrorized by a mean biker on a beach. I took another look at my mobile’s clock: It was 3:00 pm; I’ve been inside over an hour.

Anyone expecting a hardcore picture from the very moment they enter the cinema is in for a surprise. The faint moaning of a woman turns out to be nothing but the hushed squeals of a low grade actress in a French dubbed B-movie. 

Another French-dubbed movie but this time a Martin Campbell film entitled Defenseless starring Barbara Hershey was now playing. Was everything I heard about these places false? If so why were those people sitting there watching a French dubbed movie that I myself barely understood?

An old man, who was smoking a cigarette, was eyeing a boy sitting next to him. At first the boy changed seats and went back a few rows—apparently refusing the man’s advances. A few minutes later they weren’t there.

Less than half way through the film the flash of neon lights suddenly went on and the whole place was pulsating with light. What came to my vision was the following: bitten sunflower seeds scattered everywhere, seats covered with a nauseating black layer of dry dust and scum, a tainted floor, a bloody-red colored center stage covered with a glossy matter and men, who lay motionless the same way an animal stands still when facing the strong beam of a flashlight.

A well-built clean-shaven old man—probably at his late 50s with combed fair hair—then entered the hall announcing it was time for refreshments. It was an intermission and apparently everyone was obligated to buy something whether they liked it or not.

“You …  Abbas do you want tea or cola? I have Sunflower seeds and if you want we also have sandwiches,” the craggy faced old man announced addressing the seated men. “Anyone who needs to go to the bathroom can use the big fat man in the lobby instead of a toilet,” the old man said before bursting into laughter.

“All those whose zippers are open close them its tea time,” remarked the man, who spent 25 minutes distributing and charging money for the beverages and seeds, “ok in about three minutes boys you will watch a lot of jackhammer action.”

It was 3:40 pm when the projectionist stopped the previous film and activated another: a hardcore porn movie. The whole spectacle went on for almost half an hour, during which the scenes were automatically reshuffling.

Suddenly an abrupt edit switched the audience’s attention to a scene in a club, where everyone was dancing salsa after which a cheap fight scene ensued. They were playing an ordinary B-movie. In a cat and mouse game whenever the people responsible for running such theatres receive a tip that the Recorded Audiovisual Materials Department (RAMD) at the Audiovisual Commission will knock on their doors they simply switch CDs.

“Once that happens it is impossible to find where they hid the pornographic films. Such places have very intricate corridors and hidden rooms that no one knows of because they are very old,” commenced Engineer Mohammed Al Shawakfa, the director of the RAMD.

Al Shawakfa’s explanation is not far from the truth for anyone entering such places will see for himself how impossible it is to find their way out without help. There are three more cinemas known for screening pornographic pictures in the Downtown Area: Cinema Al Hussein, Cinema Zahran and Rhaghadan Cinema that was closed that day.

Cinema Zahran is bigger than the Rivoli and anyone who enters there will marvel at its construction and décor that reflects a prestigious past—no matter how distant it may be by now.

“Cinema Zahran, Cinema Al Hussein and Al Khayam were the biggest cinemas in Amman. I remember going there in my youth back in the 1960s. It was also a place where families can go to have an enjoyable outing which is not the case nowadays,” said Michel, who is in his late fifties and remembers watching black and white Arabic and Foreign movies at Cinema Al Zahran that was “quite luxurious even for its time.”

Luxury now rings of nothing but a callous present brought about by ill management, low maintenance and its inability to compete with state of the art cinema houses in Amman back then and the time being.

Over the years Zahran Cinema attained a morbid and eerie atmosphere that is revealed to anyone, who scales its steep stairs and goes beyond its ticket box, which is nothing but a table on which a bespectacled man who charges you JD 1,5.

A hanger like screening hall that lost its glitter a long time ago and replaced it with a light mossy undertone filled with rusty metal chairs is what is left. Less than thirty people were seated. Some were reading newspapers, some snacking on something they bought on their way and some were conversing with their friends. Some were alone.

The old man in charge of the buffet came into the hall and drew the curtains to block light from entering. The amplifiers hanging on the wall all of a sudden gave way faint static. Words filtered and it took a few minutes before shapes began to formulate on the big screen.

A man and two women were huddled around an old man, who was in bed. Looks like a normal family reunion right! Wrong. One of the blond ladies a few minutes later appeared in her under wear talking to someone on the phone in Dutch. Two minute later a couple were copulating and I realized that I am watching porn movie with a strange man sitting next to me.

“You don’t need to get mixed up with such people. It will bring you nothing but headache besides no video or DVD storeowner will give you porn movies unless you were one of his good and trusted customers,” a young Jordanian, who preferred anonymity, said.

Pornographic outlets are not the only things that RAMD has to deal with, for in addition to this underworld of porn that harbors perversity, prostitution and even pedophiles (which comes part of the Internal Ministry’s jurisdiction), they have to keep an eye for pornographic CD and DVD film peddlers, who shamelessly flaunt their goods in broad daylight.

“Why go to such places when I can buy CDs? When you have the Internet you can download lots of stuff from the privacy of your home computer,” a man who refused to give his name said.

“I know a man whose face looks like something hit by a truck but once you get to know him you find out that he is a nice guy,” a Jordanian, who added that porn suppliers double their activities after nightfall.

Some of the people The Star met with including Al Shawakfa agreed that the people behind peddling pornographic CDs in the streets are mostly men, who do not hesitate to cut anyone who dares stand in the way of their livelihood. Of course we bought a few CDs and upon inspecting them, we enjoyed watching a Hindi film and listened to a collection of the latest Arabic musical hits.

“It not that we are sitting here not doing anything but it is just as we have our ways they have theirs. These places are like fortress and by going there you risk getting stubbed. That is why we go accompanied by police and personal from public defense, “Al Shawakfa explained, further adding that those people would do anything to defend such a profitable income.

“What matters most is having evidence to give the public prosecutor and our problem is that no sooner we reach the cinema everything would be gone…cleaned out,” Al Sawakfa exclaimed, who also said that such cinema are also found in places in Zarqa and Irbid.

P.S:

This piece was published in 2006 and was edited by Walid Kalaji without whom I would have never scratched the skin to reach the mettle. I added the V a few years later as a tribute to my amazing father.

Blog Art: 

“Fail” digital art by SARDINE  (Mike V. Derderian). The reason why I called it “Fail” is because obviously someone failed in stopping the underground activities of these movie theatres instead of turning them into cultural-community hubs that would benefit local artists.

– Usually not suitable for the faint of heart but this post is okay –

The fiery flow in the unfathomed depths is rising. The acidic vomit has reached the esophagus. Weighed down by the bills of reality he is unable to move freely in the imaginary world.
Tired the writer decides to drink rum with his favorite author and journalist. He opens his desk drawer and pulls out a  water pistol that he safely tacks in his overcoat’s right pocket.
“You never know what might show up in those dark cerebral alleys!” he says to himself. Locking the doors he presses the lift’s button. Nothing! The elevator’s prehistoric engine doesn’t whir its usual symphony compliments of screechy cogs and oiled leather belts.
“Stuck again! Damn!”
With steps that are more like leaps he reaches the entrance of the old building that resembles the facade of a run down theatre in Al Balad (Down Town).
Spitting the gum, that lost its taste, the same way the memory of a teenage summer camp love affair fades in time, out of his mouth into the rat and cockroach infested drain he heads out to a pub not far away in his mind. After few minutes walk he finds himself in front of a shady establishment in Havana, Cuba.
The street sign reads, El Gato Loco. The moment he pulls the entrance handle fog-like smoke streams out the door.
There he is. His friend. Sitting with all the worries of the world buried deep in a young mind trapped in an old man’s body. He doesn’t show it. He will go out to the sea in about an hour or two.
His right muscled and hairy forearm is laid on the old wooden edge of the bar, inviting strangers to a manly game of arm wrestling, while his left arm is wrapped around the waist of a beautiful mulata.
He hasn’t shaven for a while. He is grumpy yet of jolly disposition that is obvious to everyone present. If life’s force was visible one would have been able to see it coming out of his pores and dripping from his furrowed brow.
He was talking out loud.
“Your sensibilities do not concern me. True one has to write for the ordinary reader but one must not relinquish his/her self while doing so. Writing is art reflective of one’s soul. You not only put your words on that piece of paper; you put yourself. You don’t see people complaining about paintings they do not understand. They simply refuse to talk about such paintings because they are afraid of being mistaken for idiots. Anyone can write and paint simple and that’s what gets them excited; a language they understand and that will move their swollen lips. Well, maybe they are idiots for not wanting to understand … a man’s effort, work, life … etc …etc … bullshit!” Hemingway barks.
His heartily laugh echoes across the stuffy room that smells of burnt out cigars, alcohol, cheap aftershave and delicious perfume.
“Welcome Mike! What brings you to Havana tonight? Have you seen Nick on the way here? You look thirsty dear boy. How about a drink of rum?”
I smile, take up the glass from his shaky hand, down its contents and go back to work. On the way back to my office I think to myself, “ADD is a bitch especially when you end up writing pieces of fragmented fiction instead of work! “

To be continued or not …

Blog art:

L’assassin  (Ink on A4 paper, canon scanner and Photoshop CS3) by SARDINE (Mike V. Derderian)

A day in the life of a… salop vendor

Shukri: Winter is the best season for sweets

Mike Derderian
Star Staff Writer

For those passing through downtown Amman on a cold winter day nothing beats a cup of hot salop (sa7lab) to warm their chilled bones and stop their teeth from clattering. Of course if you are one of those people who grew up with the traditional ambience of our old marketplace  then you are no stranger to Abu Rateb’s place where Mohammad Shukri has been making and selling the stuff for more than 17 years.

“Our recipe hasn’t changed; it is prepared by our employer’s sons, my father and myself,” commenced Shukri before being interrupted by a client, who asked if they had licorice juice. “No sorry, we only serve it during summer,” politely answered the 30 year-old Shukri to the disappointed teenager.

Located at the corner of Al Khayam Cinema’s Uphill Street, Al Mardini’s place according to Shukri has been around since 1951 and like the many shops in Al Balad (downtown) it has become a household name to a lot of Jordanians, especially to those who savor the spicy white blend.

Placed on a slow fire, salop gradually brews into a white thick liquid that consists of milk, starch and vanilla for flavor, announces Shukri. Before scooping salop from the brass caldron into a cup for an eager customer he slowly stirs it once or twice. The young man then skillfully sprinkles shredded coconut and cinnamon over the warm salop and places a wide straw in the cup before handing it over to the customer who takes careful sips—salop is near boiling—as he walks away in delight.

“In wintertime we switch to salop; however in the summer we sell cold beverages like lemon, licorice, carob and tamarind. We also sell warm harisa, which is our specialty, in addition to awama and the traditional sweet known as Asabe’ Sit Zeinab,” elaborated Shukri, “winter is the best season for sweets.”

Expressing his comfort at working with the Mardini family, Shukri says that a person working in downtown grows accustomed to the area, streets and neighboring shopkeepers. Consequently his long working hours at the shop appear shorter and less tedious.

“We open shop at 6:00 a.m. My shift starts at 4:00 p.m. and continues until 12:30 and sometimes till one past midnight. My father has been working with the Mardini’s for 37 years; today he happens to be on leave,” said Shukri, who further added that it was because of his father that he continued working in the business, “I wanted to help him out and here I am.”

On how they prepare the juices and sweets Shukri said that they have a small workshop located atop the shop where most of the beverages are mixed and sweets packed.

“I am an active person. As my shift starts late, I utilize mornings in doing my usual errands. Basically I don’t have a holiday but that doesn’t bother me much,” added Shukri, “our working days are almost the same and nothing much changes during festivities and holidays.”

As in any profession, the juice business isn’t void of intruders, who are in for the easy gain as the young man puts it. “Not everyone knows that it is vital to work according to a recipe. It is a lucrative business and this is what attracts them.”

According to Shukri people of all sorts and ages, especially the younger generation, are attracted to Abu Ratib’s salop place by word of mouth. “They come to us saying that their parents or grandparents used to come here and no matter how late or early it is, people still come to us,” joyfully added Shukri.

Most Jordanians nowadays live by the clock and are always in a hurry, so it is no longer a favorable pastime to stand placidly opposite Abu Ratib’s marble counter in order to enjoy a hot or cold drink, where trays of hot harisa glitter as the neon light reflects off its syrupy surface. However, you can always order a takeaway salop as Shukri puts it pointing to the plastic containers that are neatly placed on a shelf next to the hot caldron.

“A lot of Jordanians drink salop; it is a nutritious drink for the body, and wherever you go people know salop which is a very old recipe,” expressed Skukri, “there are a lot of salop vending shops in Jordan yet people prefer to come to us because of our reputation and the unique flavor we offer.”

P.S:

These pieces have been taken verbatim from the original edited series “A Day in the Life of a …” published in The Star Weekly on December, 16, 2004 , as I want to remind myself of my progression as a writer.

The series was edited by Walid Kalaji without whom I would have never scratched the skin to reach the mettle. I added the V a few years later as a tribute to my amazing father.

A total of 44 pieces were written. God willing I will publish one each month.