Monday, October 31, 2022

How about Them Apples?

54.How about Them Apples? (31 October 2022)

The last few apples from a half-crate
bequeathed to us (5 Oct. 2022 - Geitawi)

As the people await the outcome of deliberations to select yet another paragon of mediocrity, ineffectiveness and corruption to lead the country, and as Lebanese, young and old, meanwhile engage in their mindless mimicry of that most worthless and idiotic of American holidays, Halloween, my mind goes to things of slightly greater value in this autumnal season. That, of course, includes the beauty of the changing colors of deciduous trees, visible elsewhere in the country, but hard to find in Beirut, where any sort of tree is happily sacrificed for the sake of building empty concrete-and-steel structures (if you know the right people). In our previous home in the east coast of the U.S., we reveled in that yearly shift from greens to warm tones, deep reds and bright oranges and shimmering yellows that heralded the cooling weather. When we come across the smallest evidence of those colors in the countryside, we experience a moment of joy and wonder at God’s handiwork refreshing our eyes and spirits.

Clouds on the horizon, and the sun
illuminating the illegal landfill on the coast
(13 Oct. 2022 - towards Bourj Hammoud)
            Another aspect of this season, also connected to our previous life in the U.S., has to do with one of the quintessential gifts of the land in the fall, namely apples. They are plentiful in Lebanon, and are available in several varieties, from sweet to tart. Sadly, apple cider hasn’t really caught on, but apple vinegar is prepared in great quantities for a variety of uses. For whatever reason this year (I leave that to your deduction), the market for apples is glutted, and domestic apple production is a losing proposition. When visiting Ainjar recently, friends there said that they are leaving their apples on the trees – and the ground – because they cannot sell them, and therefore it is meaningless to harvest them. And then they gave us a huge bag of apples, just gathered that morning, to take back to Beirut to enjoy. Fresh. No chemicals. Delicious. And unsaleable.

The neighborhood transformed into a street
in Egypt for a movie filming
(30 Sept. 2022 - Geitawi)

            Last week, on one of my shopping trips (which I do by foot, since I can get some exercise that way), as I entered a nearby fruit stand, I noticed that a middle-aged woman was talking with the grocer about apples, their price, the varieties and so forth. Probably just another interested shopper, I assumed. Until I was leaving the shop and saw that she and the shopkeeper had walked over to her car, where the open trunk revealed crates and crates of apples… And she was continuing to talk about apples and negotiate a price for them. It bothered me, not just because of the reason for the glut of apples in Lebanon today, but also about the state of the “middle class” here, which has taken to driving around to neighborhood fruit stands to sell a bit of their homegrown produce. And to add to the inscrutability of the situation, the cost to the consumer is not dropping as it should, but rather continually increases. It’s not just the poor who are bearing the brunt of the self-serving “leaders” running this drama, but all strata of society. As my mother used to say when astonished at something, “How about them apples?”

The odor of burning garbage can't hide the
beauty of wedding flowers and the joy of
a wedding! (15 Oct. 2022 - Khalil Badawi)
            The irregularities of life here have become something of a routine. Strangely, the near-complete lack of municipal electricity – a total of about 10 hours for the entire month of October – has made life more predictable. We know that whatever the schedule is for our supplemental power (“ishtirak”), that is when we have power, amounting to a little under 12 hours per day. Since we live in the same building as my office, that adds another 4 hours on weekdays. So, sitting in the dark, or shaving in the dark, or doing my online Arabic lesson while I wait for the lights to come on, is just another feature of life in Lebanon. Add to that the irregularity of the office internet, which the provider cuts for anywhere from a half-hour to 3-1/2 hours during work hours, and one becomes inured to things that would cause major emotional upheaval anywhere in the “developed” world. Except perhaps with looming energy shortages this winter, the developed world will know how the other 90% of the world lives (statistic courtesy of me making it up).

It's a bit of a drive to get there, but
at last I've found some equipment
to start my exercise program
(2 Oct. 2022 - Sawfar)

            I have a human Arabic teacher who has an amazing command of the language, and an amazing amount of patience with me and my esoteric interests. Fortunately, as a schoolteacher she is aware of all of the classroom tricks that someone in his 60s tries to pull off and keeps me moving forward. It will soon be six years since we began our lives here, and although I have accumulated a fair amount of exposure to the language, gaining facility in Arabic for daily interactions remains a hill I need to climb. Doesn’t help that my job is conducted mostly in Armenian with some English. We’ve begun to focus exclusively on spoken “Lebanese”, which I expect will propel me up that hill.

            I also have a mechanical Arabic teacher. It’s an “app” on my devices, and it has more than a few quirks. Those quirks help me maintain my interest (292 days in a row and counting). I particularly like the mispronunciations that the developers haven’t bothered fixing. Things like “tabibbouleh” for “tabbouleh”, and “shishai” for “shai”, and the American city “Safanennah” instead of “Savannah”. I’ve even taken to pronouncing those words the same way!

LebCat 54: Keep walking and mind your own
business. I'm working for the security
company (3 Oct. 2022 - Geitawi)
And I continue to invoke my mother, especially when I see the insanity around us and the barbarity inflicted on Armenia and Artsakh while everyone is looking somewhere else, and the self- and other-inflicted miseries overtaking so many. Things like this may no longer amaze me, yet I can’t help but say, “How ’bout them apples...”   [LNB]