Posts Tagged ‘The Star Weekly’

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 ;-})

 

By Mike V. Derderian

October 20 2008

“We have died enough. We die on a daily basis but what enrages me most is that our death is still primitive and happens so easily, which affirms our inability to learn more about it. It is like dying for the first time,” Satirist Muhammad Tommaleih, wrote, foreshadowing but not fearing death that will one day consume all.

The above quote by Tommaleih was featured in an article written in Arabic by Muhammad Shamma, a Jordanian journalist and radio presenter, who mourned Tommaleih, Jordan’s first and foremost satirical writer, who passed away on Monday, October 13.

“To describe him as a cultural phenomenon is not easy but he is a phenomenon. Through his articles and writings Tommaleih gives you a dose of reality and sincerity—honest and blatant sincerity without courtesies or euphemisms. Through his writings he embodies social reality with all its aspects,” Shamma wrote.

“I think that Tomaleh’s death and absence from the literary arena will have an impact specifically among sarcastic writers because he is one of the most influential book cynics among the new generation of writers. Although there are many cynical writers but they are not a creative talent like Mohammed,” Shamma later told The Star, adding, “he has always been strong willed and had a zest for life in spite of his misery.”

Even when he was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his tongue in 2004 Tommaleih stood up against life’s cruel judgment and disparaged his calamity in his daily writings in al-Arab al-Yawm newspaper. Still its impact was sensed in his writings whereby he started describing his mental and physical state after each and every chemotherapy session he underwent or a night spent in solitude at a hospital room.

His writings that mirrored life were doused with bouts of existentialism and his language was a hybrid of prose, poetry and everyman’s language, which would explain his appeal to Jordanians.

Born in Karak in 1957, Tommaleih wrote five books: Jawlet Arak (A Round of Aniseed liquor) (1980), al-Khaybah (The Disappointment) (1981), Molahazhat ala Qadia Assassiyah) (Notes on a Primary Case) (1981), al-Awghad al-Motahamsoon (The Enthusiastic Rascals) (1984), Elayha Betabi’at al-Hal (To Her Naturally) (2007) and Yahdoth Lee Duna Sa’er al-Nas (Happens to Me of All People) (2004)—in association with Emad Al-Hajjaj—in addition to the hundreds of pieces he wrote over a period of 20 years for local newspapers like ad-Dustour and al-Arab al-Yawm, where he continued to write since 1997 until his death.

Tommaleih had previously issued two satirical newspapers Qef (Stop) and al-Raseef (The Sidewalk) that he edited. He also worked for the satirical newspaper Abd Rabboh.

“We not only lost a special writer but also a literary figure with a unique creative output and a delicate personality,” ad-Dustour’s responsible editor-in-chief wrote in his editorial bidding farewell to Tommaleih, “Tommaleih always made sure to be a pioneer not an imitator. He was dubbed by many as the father of satirical writing, which is something he used to poke fun at as he only wanted a space, his thoughts and his style.”

Whether it was divine intervention or pure coincidence, I found Yousef Gheishan, a Jordanian satirical writer, standing outside Abu Ali’s Culture Kiosk in al-Balad (downtown Amman) where within its narrow space that was lined with books we talked about Tommaleih. “I wish there is a photocopier within reach so that I could give you a copy of a speech I am going to deliver about Tommaleih at a women’s,” Gheishan told The Star, as he rummaged through a folder he was holding.

“What can I say about Tommaleih except that he prodded us into thinking about life’s precious moments and constantly reminded us that we are alive! Our loss is great but we—his colleagues and readers—are still to feel the brunt of his death,” continued Gheishan, affirming Tommaleih’s title as the father of satire in Jordan, “he started a satirical column entitled Eyewitness at ad-Dustour in 1983 and its first piece was entitled The Sultans of Corridors. Tommaleih was also the first to launch satirical newspapers.”

Gheishan describes Tommaleih’s writing style as being unique and hard to imitate. “We always tried to imitate his style of writing but we never got close [referring to other Jordanian satirists] to his style that was closer to literary writing peppered with sarcasm,” Gheishan explained.

A day earlier Gheishan wrote in his column at ad-Dustour that he won’t request from the audience at a lecture he was holding on satirical writing to stand a moment of silence for Tommaleih. Why? “He most probably would laugh at us,” Gheishan laughingly stated before disappearing in a wave of people streaming by the kiosk.

What is bizarre is the disappearance of Tommaleih works from bookshops and book kiosks in al-Balad after his death was announced in local newspapers. “I don’t have a single volume. People probably are realizing the value of his words and writings, which would explain why there are no books left,” the Kiosk owner Abu Ali told The Star.

“I wept at his family home. His brother made me cry. Muhammad is part of me and it is hard to describe him. Mohammad is a playwright, a moviemaker, a poet and a storyteller. In my opinion he is the best there was in Jordan and the Arab world. He was an avid reader and a prolific writer,” Abu Ali, who knew Tommaleih since he was a student, said adding that he hopes that Tommaleih’s family would soon start reprinting his books that are now in demand as they were when he was alive. “There are no words to describe his words. He loved Jordan and he was loved by everyone, and I mean everyone.”

After my inquiry, Sami, another book kiosk owner, whipped out his mobile and called up his store so as to ask about books by Tommaleih. “Not a single copy. We have to re-order them,” he exclaimed before saying that many people have been asking for his books.

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.

A day in the life of… an envelope vendor

Bawwab: ‘I still have the spirit in me’

By Mike Derderian

Star Staff Writer

Prancing around holding a small key to a mailbox, the eight-year-old boy approaches the central post office downtown. He is proud for his father finally allowed him to bring in the incoming mail, if there is any.

As he goes into the office he passes by an old man sitting next to a cardboard stall, where a bundle of large and small envelopes are neatly aligned next to a set of paper-writing pads adorned with flowery illustrations.

Sixteen years have passed now, the child has grown into a man and he no longer rushes to the mailbox, a lot of things have changed.

The post office was given a more modern metropolitan wrapping, as if it will affect the circulation of the incoming and outgoing mail, some shop owners passed away peacefully or retired leaving their ancient business in the hands of their sturdy offspring. Yet, one thing hasn’t changed entirely, except in age and appearance, over the past sixteen years.

Abu Ibraheem, the envelope vendor with his stall full of stationary, still lingers around the post office watching life as it changes through his wet spectacles, wearing a wool hat that shelters his balding head and his undying dream of having a decent kiosk.

For those whom haven’t bumped into Ismael Ibraheem Bawwab during their rushed strolls at the first leg of Prince Mohammed Street then they will fail to realize that he has been standing there for more than 35 years.

Abu Ibraheem’s story started in the mid sixties when he decided to open up his humble rickety-rackety stall next to the post office’s former entrance in order to provide ends meat to his family. Selling writing paper, envelopes and pens was his only way to earn money and still is.

“It was easier for people to buy the necessary postal stationary from here than to go to offices and bookshops far from the post office. In addition to its being a decent source of living I felt like I was offering people a service,” commenced the elderly man.

A Sri Lankan woman handing over the 60-year-old man a coin grabs the envelope and rushes away into the scattered multitudes, before a man throws a friendly salute to Abu Ibraheem, calling him by his first name.

“When you treat people decently, they will in return treat you the same. I haven’t harmed any one throughout the years I’ve stayed here minding my own business,” gently expressed Abu Ibraheem, whom appears to know everyone passing up and down the street.

Even the policeman, who assists the old man in pulling the small newspaper stand into shelter from the scattered rain drops, appears to be on friendly terms with him and jokes with him all throughout our interview.

“My only demand is that the Amman Municipality would allow me to put up a small kiosk that will allow me to sit in out of the sun’s reach—It’s been ages since I’ve asked for that,” added Abu Ibraheem, masking a sense of bitterness for the way he was treated.

Having a kiosk will not only help boast Abu Ibraheem work—which according to him is sufficient to cover the costs of living for himself and his family—but to provide a comfortable environment where he can sit during a rainy day or a cold frosty morning, allowing him to spend longer hours working. “Rainfall, to me, means folding my stall, packing everything inside the wooden box I have around the corner,” said Abu Ibraheem pointing at the post office’s back entrance, “and going home early.”

Off course the ride home is not as easy as person would expect for the man resides in Sahab and he has to ride three different transportations in order to get in and out of Downtown Amman.

Abu Ibraheem supports a family of nine girls and five boys, whom according to the vendor were allowed a decent education through his selling envelops. “There were times I used to sell a hundred Dinar’s worth of stationary,” said Abu Ibraheem, who further added that he now barley sells above thirty or forty—the arrival of the modern correspondence technologies led to a decrease in sales.

“One of my sons works in the air conditioning business, he only earns JD 170, which barely suffice his own family’s needs for he is married,” explained Abu Ibraheem on why he still works. “Even if they ask me to retire, I will work, so long I still have the spirit in me.”

On how he acquires his merchandise, Abu Ibraheem says that he buys the stationary from different libraries and sells them at his stand, where a person can also buy copies of local newspapers.

“Believe it or not, a lot of people approach me by saying that my prices are expensive until they go to a library and find out that my prices are actually less,” smilingly says Abu Ibraheem, whose customers are mainly foreign laborers residing in Jordan, like Indian and Sri Lankan nationals.

Ironic enough for a man whose living revolves around selling epistle stationary, Abu Ibraheem admits that he doesn’t know how to read and write, which is one of the major reasons why he can’t find another job.

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.

A Day in the Life of a … Bus Driver

Abu Mariam: ‘Nobody can imagine the mistreatment we undergo’

By Mike Derderian

Star Staff Writer

They are the silent bystanders of a bustling life, the captains who guide their 13-meter yellow vessels through asphalt rivers, carrying those who cannot afford taking any other means of transportation as they go about their day-to-day lives.

Sameer George Abu Mariam is one of those bus drivers, whom you’d meet as you ride Al Sharq Al Awsat (Mideast) bus, and you cannot but to admire the veteran driver.

As people file slowly towards the half empty bus at the station, the sound of dropping coins in the toll box doesn’t distract Abu Mariam who examines those entering the bus with inquisitive eyes.

A young woman scouring through her purse’s contents approaches the toll box and tells Abu Mariam, “It’s hard to find change? I have half a JD; is it good enough?”

“The problem is we do not give change,” exclaimed Abu Mariam, who has been driving for more than 51 years, while the woman tossed the coin and proceeded to the closest seat.

“When it comes to my work as a bus driver, if I was counting on its income to support my family, we would have died from hunger. The JD 160 they are paying us is nothing in light of the growing expenses of life. In addition to this primary salary they pay us JD 5 for Friday,” continued Abu Mariam.

“My first trip starts at 6:00am and ends at 7:30pm—as you can see I’ve just arrived here,” added the father of two boys and two girls. “The long hours are to ensure transport continuity for we are lacking drivers.”

Before becoming a bus driver, Abu Mariam operated heavy machinery and was a trainer with a CCC license and a long experience. But in order to keep his meter running, the 68-year-old man became a driver at the end of his career; he says that a man at his age should not stop working.

“I worked at a lot of projects; however, whenever I finish working in a project I go back to driving buses. In that line of work I’ve toured the world; went to the Faukland, Botswana, Lesoto and even South Africa,” proudly said Abu Mariam, who also expressed his disappointment on the way people look down at drivers.

“What we suffer most here in Jordan is the treatment we get from people—the passengers. Nobody can imagine the mistreatment we undergo and it doesn’t stop with those who like to bargain their ride,” stated Abu Mariam, adding that this type of people argue a lot and tend to give them a lot of hard time. “In addition to that our major problem is that people do not abide to bus stops.”

Abu Mariam’s bus route, that consists of eleven buses, eight of which work around the hour, starts from Al Sharq Al Awsat station going through Ra’as Al Ein, the Fifth circle, King Abdullah’s Gardens, Safeway street, which is one of the rough spots for drivers according to Abu Mariam, and the final stop at the Jordan University.

“Today, a lot of people stand under the bridge adjacent to the Safeway seeking shelter from the sun. So, when I am driving a 13-meter bus I can’t simply stop for a young man gesturing for a ride under the bridge,” explained Abu Mariam. “First it’s against the traffic regulations in Jordan, second it’s prohibited and the third reason is if I get a ticket for loading passengers from there the company will tell me that it was against regulations, so I’ll be in trouble.”

Not only he has to account for his company’s strict regulations, but Abu Mariam also encounters transgressions of impolite passengers, like that 17-year-old teenager, who spat on the bus no sooner it went past him because Abu Mariam refused to pull over in a spot other than the designated bus stop.

“I did nothing! What can I do? So, I swallowed the insult and went on to the next bus stop, to my amazement he simply went on board not remembering his act,” said Abu Mariam, who added if he scolded the boy people would blame him, since he is older.

One would think that a day of driving from one bus stop to another consists of only problems such as these, whereas, Abu Mariam’s day is further disrupted by taxi drivers. “Our colleagues fail to see that a bus licensed to a load of 60 to 70 passengers cannot stop easily, as they foolishly dash in front of us.”

“I am simply passing time, I used to work in Oman as a heavy machinery trainer,” said Abu Mariam, who first obtained his driving license in 1953 and the heavy machinery license three years later.

The hard working bus driver, who resides in Al Ashrafia, has no problem in waking up at 5:00am to go to the bus station. And sometimes, Abu Mariam uses his own car to get to the bus stop whenever the company car fails to pick him up saying that money doesn’t count as much as the importance of getting to work on time, since he has to move at 6:00am.

Once work is done, Abu Mariam heads home where he finds comfort spending the remainder of the evening with his wife and children as he watches recorded television episodes of his favorite programs that he missed while driving people around Amman.

“Until now there are some passengers who fail to notice that they boarded the wrong bus. Bus drivers like me in other countries are totally respected by passengers. We drive you to your work, school and university so a little respect for drivers won’t hurt anyone,” concluded Abu Mariam. “I have to say that pedestrians, more than drivers, should be aware of traffic regulations, especially those who cannot wait to jump out of the bus no sooner it begins to slow down or the moment the door opens.”

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 October, 7, 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 with a symbolic illustration of the interviewee and his/her profession.