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Please note that this is a totally different review to the one I have written a while ago about the "Remixes" version of this album.
This is a review about the original album "Siempre es Hoy" by Gustavo Cerati. Dooyoo could not add it to its music records section, probably because it erroneously registered the name of the Remixes album in exactly the same way as this one...
In any case.... here is the review:
Gustavo Adrian Cerati Clark, or simply Gustavo Cerati, as he is widely known in his native Argentina and the rest of Latin America, has long ago reached the stage of "rock legend". But this legend is well alive and not kicking No, Gustavo Cerati does not kick; he exudes musical waves in vibrant rays that touch down on many people and warm them like the sun.
I have been caressed by one of these rays a few years ago, and it is still shining within me, becoming brighter by the day.
Born on the 11th of August 1959 in Buenos Aires, Gustavo started playing the guitar aged 8 and soon began singing in a church choir. Throughout his school years, he was known as "the Musician" of the school and so it was not a big surprise when in 1982, he formed a trio with two friends, which was to become one of Latin America's biggest ever rock bands: Soda Stereo.
I will not go into Soda Stereo's history in this very review, but it is essential to mention that this was the point that launched Cerati into the world of music. He was the quintessence of his band, writing most of the music and lyrics, and it was to be expected that he would want to go solo at some point, which he did.
In 1997, Soda Stereo separated, much to the dismay and woe of their fans. Gustavo had already released a solo album ("Amor Amarillo") while still with the band, in 1993, but the end of Soda Stereo meant that he could now fully concentrate on making his own music as he saw fit.
His second solo album, "Bocanada", came out in 1999 and the third one, "Siempre Es Hoy", saw the light of day in 2002.
It is this album I am reviewing.
I bought my copy from amazon.co.uk for £12.99, but it is now available from them for £9.60 or from £6.80 for a used copy.
"Siempre Es Hoy" (It is always Today) had been long expected. Never had Cerati taken so long in adding the finishing touches to one of his discs. But personal problems as well as other productions on which he was working were the main reasons for the delay.
A recent and very painful separation from a wife he dearly loved and 2 children he adores, obviously did not help. Or rather, ironically, it very much did.
"Siempre Es Hoy" is tinted with the colourful and intense emotions brought about by the anger and the hurting that such episodes in life unmistakeably plunge you in. However, it is a rather contradictory album in that, Gustavo having found a new love in his life, the other half of the songs are blissful emissions of the magic that a newfound passion thrusts you in.
If I have mentioned the above, it is because I find them relevant to the review and more to the point, it so happens that I discovered this album about a year after my
- then still reverberating - "official" separation from my own partner. It seemed to have fallen from the heavens; the lyrics echoed my own feelings so much, not to mention the music which worked like a specially made ointment to appease my inner torment, that I soon found myself trying to find out as much as possible about this artist.
Gustavo Cerati became my healer, my Musical Healer.
"SIEMPRE ES HOY" (It is Always Today) contains no less than then 17 tracks.
For convenience, I have translated the parts of the lyrics that I am including directly into English, but Gustavo sings in Spanish. (Sadly, I do feel that a certain essence has been lost in the translation, but still, it is better than no translation at all).
*COSAS IMPOSIBLES (Impossible things):
A rather lively song, starting with multiple keyboards and drums, soon joined by bass and guitar and many other instruments. As the title suggests, the lyrics are about wanting to achieve impossible things.
"In my dreams, I never lose the opportunity "
*NO TE CREO (I don't Believe You):
Is a calmly angry song, setting off with heavy drums and some vinyl scratching; Gustavo's voice is ironically extremely sexy as he (one assumes) addresses his ex-wife: "For so long now, it has been the same, listening to you "
The music intensifies as it reaches the chorus, with a lot of electric guitar, yet his voice remains calm and sexy throughout. There is decidedly "weight" to this song; you can feel he is annoyed and upset and the music echoes this feeling well.
"If it's the same thing to be your angel than to be some sort of disposable being I know that you are saying the truth; I know it; I know you, and I don't believe you!"
Bursting with energy, electric guitars propel you directly into the rhythm and the drums explode on the scene, followed by more guitars. This song is full of life, what some would call a serious "rock" song, and I find it impossible not want to dance to this or bang either head, legs, arms or all of them together.
According to Cerati, the lyrics are somehow related to Argentina's crisis (somehow still vivid now as when the album came out in 2002) but they are not easy to decipher, as his lyrics tend to be.
"Imaginary worlds are floating in the air "
"There is no such thing as a visionary artefact "
*NACÍ PARA ESTO (I was born for this)
A beautiful love song; happy and peacefully lively.
"I have followed the most voracious star and never has it led me so far "
*AMO DEJARTE ASÍ (I like to leave you like this)
The most raunchy song on the album (in a nice way); it also begins with this "weighty" feeling, introduced by drums, bass, as well as electric guitars.
Gustavo's voice is very sensual (it always is, but here it is made even more so)
as he sings: "Divine obscenity, to give a maximum of flesh, without freeing you from me I like to leave you like this.."
*TU CICATRIZ EN MI (Your scar in me):
Obviously referring to the pain of losing his ex-wife, the music is quite cheerful considering the topic; a declaration of hope despite all A lot of drums and guitar intermingled again, with keyboards, bass, percussion, samplers
"We swore by nothing else than rooting out the weed once and for all "
*SEÑALES LUMINOSAS (Glowing Signals):
Another love song full of life and glowing signals it is soft and melodious, clearly written by a man in love! The bass is the predominant instrument to begin with (but not alone) and is always easy to make out throughout the song, as it progresses though, electric guitars are more present along with the other instruments already mentioned.
Upbeat music with rather sarcastic lyrics, very lively again and flowing with a lot of ease. Gustavo's velvety voice as sensual as ever.
"It was very simple to take off; only a short time before you found yourself a new heart shamelessness is part of the diversion now let us see your show.."
I very much like this song, which begins with "bombos" (a sort of Andean drum) that remain throughout the song. It is upbeat yet tranquil, at least this is the feeling I get.
"This timber needs a heart to moisten it full of dust, it awaited my dried up song (or perhaps: full of dust, my dried up song awaited )"
Very intense with a lot of bass and grave keyboards, enhanced by higher notes on the guitar, "Casa" has a "deep" feeling to it. Gustavo is joined in the chorus by a beautiful female voice.
"It could be that thirst maddens the desert could it be madness that makes us so dance "
One of my favourite songs on this album; I sense it as very intense and mysterious. Forceful acoustic guitars ignite it and form what is to me the "skeleton" of the song, although some may argue it's the samplers or keyboards and the weighty beat in any case, it is made perfect by Cerati's pure and immaculate voice.
"All that is deep loves to wear a disguise "
"Let us separate love from the eagerness of mitigating pain to discard the flower only because of its thorns "
Setting out in a mellow/merry fashion, it builds up to a hip/hop (or is it rap??) passage, before getting back on a melodious road.
"It sounds like the wind and I've decided to erase time; I am my own altar
Tired of sarcasm, the price of silence is getting dearer "
*TORRE DE MARFIL (Ivory Tower):
Once more, a melodious and laid-back song, with intricate arrangements (as all his songs contain..)
"To oscillate without talking; a goodbye; the sensation that there is no end "
" If there is splendour, I shall be a blue-fired dragon ."
Very brief song, the title perfectly matches the weirdness and quietness of the tune. Mainly electric guitars whispering dreamy and enticing.
" In a free fall, I am not free "
Probably the title that reaches me more profoundly than all the others and touches my most inner core
It is hard to explain with words The electric guitars that introduce it are oozing with a feeling that must have been born from Gustavo Cerati's very soul! It is painful yet full of hope, it is deep and full of colourful orchids and stars (I have a lot of visions!!).
The chorus is very powerful and may I be allowed to emphasize anew the beauty of Gustavo's pristine voice. The whole song is built mainly around the electric guitar, but there is a constant fluttering of piano melodies and keyboards amongst other instruments.
"To know the other half is but little; to understand that simply being is purer.."
"I will put on my uniform of human flesh; I did not expect so much splendour "
"The end of loving to feel even more alive "
"Such as fire reflected upon the water, I depicted particles of God "
*SUDESTADA (A wet south-easterly wind)
Yet another song that personally moves me acutely, "Sudestada" is gentle and extremely sweet, but becomes more pronounced as it builds up. A lament shaped into a perfect melody. The piano paints the first notes of the song (played by another great Argentinean Artist as special guest: Charly Garcia) and the musical image is completed by guitars, drums and other instruments.
" I spoke of you, of my torment, of the day that was born in your mouth, of a new storm that is exploding "
Last song on the album, a wonderful declaration of love, but Cerati's love songs have nothing in common with what one tends to refer to as such. Imposing drums roll you in and are instantly joined by bass and many other strange sounding rhythms. It contains that same hefty feeling present in many of the other titles on the album and as the others also, builds up slowly before it gently explodes then plunges again
"It is the species that unite us, a mortal jump, to allow life to go on ."
I have tried to describe the feeling each song creates in me, but as you know, this is no simple task. It is worth mentioning that, throughout all of his songs, Gustavo Cerati never maintains a single (and hence rather dull and boring) rhythm. There are always several changes within each title, and he uses all sorts of musical instruments; guitars, bass, keyboards, percussion, samplers, trumpets, rodhes (whatever that is) and even laptops to name a few.
This of course, makes it complicated when trying to give any form of precise description.
Variety is most certainly present on his menu and it is only delicacies you will be served. Perhaps the most enchanting instrument is Cerati's very own voice, which so many envy and which trickles out of his insides like an unsullied, pure and fruity river of fresh water. Velvety and decidedly sensual; a very masculine voice.
Of course, it is simply not feasible to accurately "describe" music, as indeed it is often
impossible to elucidate one's own feelings. And what is music but one of the richest and most insightful feelings that many will ever experience?
Needless to say that I personally feel a very strong affinity with Gustavo Cerati's music, something which, clearly, not everyone is bound to sense. His lyrics, whilst by no means the most elaborate I have encountered, are never without significance, and their significance is never shallow. He uses a lot of almost metaphysical metaphors.
To me, his music is almost palpable, something I can wear on the inside.
Re-reading my descriptions, I cannot help but find a tinge of the ridicule in them, though I have endeavoured to refine each and everyone. I have no doubt that others will perceive them differently than I have, but if you wish to widen your musical horizons, this journey will have been worth it; do plunge into Gustavo Cerati's ocean, the beings you will encounter there will appear, at the very least, interestingly unusual!
© Lola Awada 2005
PS: For anyone interested:
Cerati's Official Website is www.cerati.com
and the following is another excellent website dedicated to him: www.graciastotales.com.ar
If you eat too much you will end up puking!
This is the moral of the story behind Marvin Wanted More!
Or perhaps there is a little bit more to it? Or a little less?
Maybe I like analysing too much
Marvin Wanted More is the first picture book by the very talented author / illustrator Joseph Theobald, who trained at Falmouth Art College and lives in the UK.
Joseph Theobald has illustrated other childrens books, of which Crows Nest (written by Sandra Horn); he also creates illustrations for various other projects.
The book is directed at children from 3 onwards and costs £9.99 (hard back) from most major bookshops, or £6.79 from amazon.co.uk (hard back as well)
A brand new soft back cover purchased from amazon.co.uk costs £4.79, they dont seem to have any used ones at the moment!
This is what one would term (albeit reluctantly) a fun book.
The story is simple and it is rather funny, while at the same time harbouring a little message for people like me who need to find a meaning in and for everything!
The illustrations are the strongest point of the book in my opinion. If my guessing is correct (and I think it is), Joseph Theobald used a mixture of oil pastels and watercolour for his delightful creations, that give a clean and pure impression to the images. The backgrounds are mostly smooth and a dreamy air pervades most of the illustrations. He uses bold colours yet manages to maintain a general feeling of warmth throughout.
Marvin is a sheep.
The author could not possibly have opted to work with a human specimen as a subject because showing a human stuffing himself with a myriad of foodstuff would simply not have worked as well as a nice cute fluffy white sheep innocently grazing grass, even if the seemingly sweet animal is as greedy as some of us humans can be and is clearly suffering from a severe case of binge-eating syndrome or even bulimia.
Its just cuter to be a deranged sheep than to be a deranged human.
(In my next life I want to be a sheep).
Marvin is (still) a sheep but he happens to be slightly smaller than your average sheep and not only does he suffer from severe eating disorders but on top of that he has an inferiority complex.
One day he was feeling rather gloomy.
Whats the matter? asks Molly.
Now Molly is your typical (not sheepish at all) sexy sheep chick, fluffy and gentle, who wears a pink flower behind her ear (because deep down she knows that she is not any different to the rest of the other sheep in the meadow and she also suffers from several psychological disorders which she simply hides behind her flower, but will she admit it? No way she will )
Marvin complains to Molly that he feels terrible about being smaller and not being able to run or jump as fast as the other sheep.
Im too small, its not fair
In this cruel world, even sheep have to be subjected to mental traumas due the genes they have inherited from their parents
But I like you as you are, said Molly.
(Then why are you going out with the bigger fitter sheep? thinks Marvin under his breath but hey )
Not convinced by sexy Mollys words, Marvin decides that in order to grow bigger, he needs to eat more.
So when the other sheep had finished eating Marvin ate some more.
What the author is at pains to reveal here, is just how hard it is for Marvin to control his fits of bulimia, but this being a childrens book, he is merely trying to protect our little ones from the fate that may one day await them or maybe its a warning.
So Marvin goes on eating and getting bigger and eating and getting bigger and eating and . Yes, all right you got the point.
Pretty soon, he could run and jump much higher than the other sheep (beats me, when I put on weight, I cant even think of jumping )
But was Marvin satisfied that he had now reached the same level of jumpiness and runniness as his mates? Of course not! His inferiority complex would not allow that to happen and so he was growing bigger by the day until he reached the point of no return and simply could not stop eating anymore
Dont eat the forests! called the other sheep.
Youre getting too big! cried Molly
(Fancy me now? thought Marvin under his breath again)
Eat the forests he did, and the mountains too to quench his thirst he drank up whole lakes (why did God never think of creating wine lakes he thought?)
But the greedy thing still wanted more
And so he ate one country after the other and when there was no space left on planet Earth for him to balance on
He jumped onto the moon and ate the world!
Although he was very big, Mercury and Mars were simply not near enough his point of reach to suffer the same fate as the Earth and only then only then did Marvin realise what binge-eating can lead you to utter loneliness
He was all alone
He missed the trees, and the meadow, and the other sheep, but most of all he missed Molly.
Now the author purports that this is why he suddenly felt sick I mean okay.. this is a kids book, but who are you kidding here???
In any case faced with his inner persona and the vast mysterious universe, Marvin finally admits to himself that he is indeed the undeniable object of an acute case of bulimia and that since this was so, he might as well take it to the end
And take it to the end he did by regurgitating the entire contents of his oversized stomach
Out came the world and everything with it.
I do hope that any myths compilers will be reading this, I think it is worth noting in future chronicles that the human race was once swallowed up and heaved up again from the very insides of a monstrously sized sheep (was one of the Nazca lines not in the shape of a sheep? No no ).
I will never cease to be amazed by the fact that, subsequent to this vomiting session, Marvin regained his original size and shape (if only it were that easy!)
And even more amazed that the earth was not gravely altered..
Although things werent quite the same as they were before
But Marvin was happy and what is more Molly, having had enough of being mistreated by the big strong fit sheep, had a flash of consciousness and suddenly realised that size DOES NOT matter after all, it is the tenderness that does it.
I think Marvin was tender (especially roasted with a nice glass of red heeheehee sorry vegetarians )
I like you just the way you are she whispers in his ear.
And seeing the look of past disillusion in her eyes, he believes her and says:
I like me just the way I am too.
So all was well that ended well
Is there a moral to this story?
Yes, I think there is: Dont be so bloody greedy and at least, once you have reached the goal you had set yourself, dont trample upon others to reach heights that will only dizzy you and where the light does not exist.
Have you learned your lesson yet?
© Lola Awada 2006
PS: I simply wish to point out here that no offence was or is in any way intended to any bulimia sufferers or anyone suffering from eating disorders; I suffer from them too, I have a friend who has been treated for severe bulimia for 10 years and I know that this is not a laughing matter. But if we do not use humour to liven up even the saddest and most tragic of topics, what else is there for us? I hope that no one will take this personally, but feel free to lynch me virtually if that makes you feel better
5 am in the morning.
A morning that began around 10 pm the previous night.
We arrived at the Glaciar Perito Moreno much later than anticipated, due to atrocious weather and an extremely luckily avoided certainly fateful car crash due to my ex-partners excellent driving reflexes, when our car very nearly skidded off a turning and into a rather pronounced ditch (we were not even driving at 50 mph).
Upon our arrival the place was deserted, there was no soul to be found. No guides, no guards, no humans, no other forms of animal life . But an overwhelming and breathing ice presence!
Although it was almost totally dark, we could perceive the distinct and noisy breath of the glacier and just about make out the shape of the face it presented before us.
Our son was safely and warmly asleep in the car and it was not long before my ex-partner fainted into the land of dreams or utter exhaustion, after our almost deadly drive.
But my usual obstinacy compelled me to communicate with the glacier!
So I donned my sacrificial outfit, cleansed my soul (or rather attempted to, it is far too dirty!), made a couple of prayers to any likely gods or spirits guarding the place, and left the car. My sacrificial outfit consisted of a down parka and woolly hat plus 3 pairs of socks magically fitting into leather boots. In fact, it was not that cold. It was early January, summertime in that austral magical land and as it had been raining, the temperature was on the mild side.
The first thing I saw when I left the car was a sign saying that you are not allowed to spend the night in this place. We were the only car parked in the purpose built small parking facing the glacier at a higher level.
Hmm There was no way I was going to risk waking my ex-partner up; especially that, considering the state he was in, not even the unlikely sudden collapse and melting of the glacier would have succeeded in the attempt. Besides, there were no guards and no apparent danger, and this being Argentina, laws are made to be broken, and we were not going to be the improbable exception to this rule. Not this time anyhow.
To reach the front of the glacier, I noticed that one had to walk down a little lane and all the way down some steep purpose built stairs, which I could hardly make out.
Was I about to risk my life in an endeavour to commune with Glaciar Perito Moreno by (invisible) moonlight?
Well of course I was
Feeling the sides of the guardrails with both my hands and carefully placing my feet on each stair, I managed to get to the front balcony facing the glacier. The silence was complete and only perturbed by the animate and regular breathing of Perito Moreno. Some louder cracking noises, akin to welcoming groans convinced me that the massive ice form was indeed offering me its particular salutations and I bowed!
Its mountainous stature was obvious, though all I could really see were some glittery bits here and there. Comforted by my nightly communion with a live glacier, I decided to make my way back up just as a soft drizzle began to veil the little that could be glimpsed from the scenery.
I reached the car in a secure state and lazily drifted into slumber with an unexplainable feeling of safety lulling me.
Part of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, which was founded in 1937 and declared a Natural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1981, the Glaciar Perito Moreno is one of Argentinas most famous attractions and considered by some as the 8th wonder of the world. I subscribe to this point of view! You may have seen images of it sprawled on advertisements for travel to Patagonia. The Glaciers National Park is located in the Province of Santa Cruz in Argentinean Patagonia and covers an area of more than 600,000 hectares (1,482,000 acres).
Discovered in 1879 by the Chilean Army Officer Juan Rogers, the glacier was renamed (not sure what it was called to begin with) Perito Moreno in 1899, in honour of the passionate and relentless Argentinean Naturalist and Explorer Francisco Pascacio Moreno, nicknamed Perito (1852-1919). Dr. Francisco P. Moreno (Honoris Causa) was the first Argentinean to travel in this area of the world and bequeathed (for having discovered it) the Nahuel Huapi area of Argentinean Patagonia, with all its lakes and wonders. Paradoxically, Dr. Perito Moreno never actually got to see the glacier named after him, but many sites in the Patagonian area, apart from the famous glacier, are named after him. It is said that he died penniless and without a parcel of land!
One of the few advancing glacier in the world, with a surface of a bout 250 square kilometres, length of about 30 kilometres and a present maximum height of up to 60metres 196 ft - above water level (although some sites claim that its up to 80 metres 262 ft), Glaciar Perito Moreno is probably one of the most impressive sights the human eye is likely to set itself upon on this planet.
In 1947, the glacier crossed the Canal de Los Témpanos (Iceberg Channel) and its constant advance ravaged many of the local forests when it crawled over solid ground on the edge of the Península de los Magallanes (Magellans Peninsula). Its constant expansion has throughout the years cut off the natural drainage of the southern side of Lago Argentino (Lake Argentino), known as Brazo Rico (Rico Arm), virtually turning into a natural dam and causing the water level to rise by up to 25 metres (it is currently predicted that the next water rise will reach 30 metres). The pressure caused by the trapped mass of water eventually becomes untenable for the glacier (or rather, the melting ice below it), and as the water filters through the ice, causing fractures and hollowing it out, inevitably, the dam collapses in a spectacular detonation of water and ice. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to predict when the caving in of the dam is likely to occur, nonetheless, many visitors go there with the hope that they will be lucky enough to witness this unique cataclysmic event, at a time when the situation is ripe.
5 am in the morning and the sun is yawning behind Fitzroy Mountain and Cerro Torre, the mountains crowning (or even circling) Glaciar Perito Moreno.
The same yawn stretches my jaws and my muscles alike (as much as possible when sleeping in the back of a car) and I waste no time in making my way out of the vehicle. The others are still fast asleep.
The sky is pink and gold, with mists of blue promising to enter the scene within the following half hour. I quickly go back to the car to pull out camera, tripod, lenses and film.
The firmament has now begun to glow in earnest and the peaks of the mountains are almost literally aflame. I stand on a vantage point near the parking, and from here can see that the crests of the glacier are shimmering like diamonds. It is not an exaggeration, the spectacle is such that I am dumb founded and nailed to the spot with fascination, hardly believing my luck at awakening in this enchanting place beneath such fine lighting and weather.
I am only stirred from my motionlessness by the approach of another car, from which a gentleman erupts, camera and monopod in hand and starts to shoot (images) frantically like something just out of a cartoon.
Oh yes, of course! I should take pictures! I remember.
Crazed, dazed and irreversibly amazed, I lovingly frame the beauty that lays before me, finding it extremely difficult to find a point of focus in this sea of improbably sculpted ice.
Several photos later and the gold in the sky threatening to depart at any minute, I walk back, through little paths surrounded by the bright red flowers of the Notro and the purple berries of the Calafate trees, towards the purpose built catwalks/runways/stairs, without the need to hold on to anything now, because I can see quite clearly.
It is a simple but very effective design of wooden stairs and vantage points in the form of balconies, running in different directions, so you can view the glacier from different spots. I am not sure which way to run I am literally running, trying to catch up with the light and I simply take as many pictures as possible from as many angles and viewpoints as possible. Wide angled, close ups, some with nothing but ice, others with the mountains, the trees, the debris
As I press the shutter once more, I realise that all traces of gold have vanished and that pink and blue are now waltzing above me interlaced with soft veil like cloud formations. Glaciar Perito Moreno has revealed enough secrets for one dawn and is now rousing by emitting blue radiance from its very insides.
To put it less poetically and in more glaciological terms, the intense turquoise blue emanating from some glaciers is due to the fact that the ice within them is very compact. The areas of a glacier that still contain air bubbles, allow the long wavelengths of white light to be absorbed, and we see its colour as white.
Where the ice is extremely compressed, the short wavelengths of blue light are transmitted, allowing us to view it in that colour. The more compact the ice, the longer the light has to travel, the shorter the wavelength and the bluer the appearance of the ice.
But at that very moment, I excused myself from practical science and saluted that of the occult by bidding the majestically overwhelming poise of the ice towering ahead of me good morning. Now, in bright daylight, I could seriously contemplate the true size of Glaciar Perito Moreno. As far as the eye could see, ice, ice, ice and even more ice stretched ahead. Solid, compact and very much here to stay. The more I looked, the more awe-stricken I grew.
I was standing on the lower balcony of the walkway; below me glistened the iceberg laden waters of the Canal de Los Témpanos (Iceberg Channel). Even the balcony that is closest to the glacier is a very safe distance from it, just in case!
Perito Morenos constant advance triggers a continuous accumulation of ice blocks in its 5 km wide front in the arms of the afore-mentioned channel, huge chunks of which are incessantly fracturing and collapsing into the water, transforming themselves into icy vessels sailing around their progenitor.
I felt as though I had receded in time and was standing in the middle of the previous ice age. My imagination which is slightly more developed than most could hardly encompass the sheer volume of solid water present around. Again due to its regular expansion, when the glacier presses against the solid ground at the edges of the mountains circling it, it causes pressure within its mass and the result is towers of ice pointing in all directions on its surface, as if attempting to reach the sky or free themselves from the glacier.
As I stood there and watched, the most lurid feeling I sensed was brought about by the resonance produced by the steady cracking of the ice and the eventual subsiding of hefty lumps of it diving into the channel. It is not easy to put into words and I will not attempt to, but as my ex-partner - who had joined me with our son by then pointed out, as a sizeable portion of the glacier threw itself in the water in a thunderous splash and ripples that reached the shore below us: No one ever sees the same Glaciar Perito Moreno, it is in constant metamorphosis.
That much is true indeed. At the very least the front of the glacier is forever re-sculpting itself in shapes of eternal wonder.
To reach Glaciar Perito Moreno, the best starting point and the one that most excursions start from, is the little town of El Calafate.
There are many expeditions on offer, ranging from just a bus ride to visit the glacier, or boat rides (always sailing at a very safe distance from it) and even the chance to walk on the glacier, accompanied by a specially trained guide.
Depending on the season, prices vary, but a simple boat ride can cost as little as $10, while a full excursion that includes a trek on the glacier may cost up to $168. Had we had the time and money, we would most certainly have done that, but it is not very practical with a very young child.
Although the expansion of the glacier has meant that many of the forests in the surrounding area have been destroyed by it, the flora and fauna is not to be underestimated.
There are still many forests, mainly of different sorts of Nothofagus trees:
* The Lenga or false beech - (Nothofagus pumilio) which is the most widespread in
* The Ñire (Nothofagus antárctica) and
* The Coihue, also known as Guindo (Nothofagus betuloides).
* There are also many Cypresses.
Smaller trees include:
* The Notro (Embothrium Coccineum) with its beautiful orange/red flowers.
* The Calafate (Berberis various types), with its perfumed yellow blossoms and
purple blue nutritious berries and
* The Sauco de Diablo (Sambucus Nigra)
Also to be found are some endangered (and not so endangered) animal species, of which:
* The Pudú or Venadito (Pudu Pudu), a type of deer.
* The Puma (Felis concolor), when it is not being chased by local cattle raisers.
* The Southern River Otter, foxes, armadillos and even Condors if you are lucky.
Visiting Glaciar Perito Moreno is one of those experiences that will undoubtedly stay with you for life. Yes, its size is very intimidating and impressive seems like a flyaway word But there is something more, there is a feeling that you get, that infiltrates itself within you as you bear witness to the expansion of a live glacier. Because bear witness you do. Perito Moreno gasps, wheezes and huffs in your face, reminding you just how fragile and ephemeral your life is and almost subliminally telling you to make the most of it Now, whichever way you feel this to be right.
It is a spiritual experience and most certainly a humbling one.
As far as we were concerned, we hovered around the glacier until well past noon, finding it very difficult to leave. Not many tourists arrived, strangely, although we saw two (tourist) buses. There is a little café / restaurant by the parking, with clean toilets, We did not sample any drink or food.
We left, as we have left every single place in Patagonia, with a mixed feeling of fulfilment, happiness, sadness, amazement and everlasting longing
As we drove off, Glaciar Perito Moreno shone on, breathed on and beckoned us to return at the first opportunity that may arise. Return we will, the opportunity can always be created!
© Lola Awada 2006
Separation from a person you love, whether for short or long periods of time is always a painful process for an adult. However used you are to it; the pain always hits you when this happens.
For a child, it can be more painful still, for it is not easy to explain in clear terms why someone goes away, especially when it is for a long period of time.
Sadly, it is a situation I have personally had to endure from childhood and I was aware, when my son was born, that he would have to go through with it as well. My family and his fathers all live abroad scattered around various countries in the world.
So grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and even friends appear and disappear as if by magic and his little brain, as much as his heart, are rather troubled by this shape of events.
To make matters worse, his father and I have been separated for a long time and he has not seen his dad for a long time. This has proven rather disastrous and any means of healing have always been welcome
So why this introduction?
Danny and the Great White Bear tackles separation in a rather sweet manner.
Written by Anne Cottringer and illustrated by Jenny Jones, this book is directed at children aged, I would say (they dont) 3 onwards.
It retails at £4.99 (softback) from most bookshops but you can get it from £2 for a used copy from amazon.co.uk
Mary Cottringer is a Canadian author who studied both in Ontario and London and has worked in television as a camerawoman and making documentaries.
She currently lives in England.
Other books she has written are: Bruna and Mary is Scary.
Jenny Jones lives in the Welsh countryside and is a fine artist and book illustrator. Other books she has illustrated are: Sandbear and Happy Birthday Amelia.
The story begins rather romantically with Danny sitting in the garden outside (well, it could hardly be inside!) with his father, looking up at the night sky.
Danny is sad because he knows that his father is leaving the following day, but his dad points up to the sky towards a cluster of stars and tells him:
Its called the Great Bear Before you go to sleep, look up at those stars. Wherever I am, Ill look up at them too and Ill be thinking of you.
The next day, Danny is making a superhuman effort not to feel sad
He tried not to be sad. He tried not to be cross. He tried to be a big boy
(and who says big boys shouldnt be sad?? Anyway )
..when all of a sudden there is a knock at the door and the next thing he knows a great white bear comes strolling in, walks around the house and makes himself very comfortable. Liking what he sees the white bear decides to stay.
The pair become friends and the bear accompanies Danny everywhere, to the least concern of his mother who declares upon discovering that a huge animal is roaming around the house: He can stay as long as he behaves (naturally!).
For days and weeks, Danny and the white bear play together and get up to all sorts of things; the bear helps him and looks after him with love and affection.
But when the night comes, Danny always has a peak at the sky to make sure that the constellation bearing his newfound friends name is still there, and indeed it is (he doesnt know much about the time span of cosmic evolution yet).
The book nears its end when Danny receives a postcard from his dad saying that he will be home soon, just as the white bear is beginning to miss home and thinking of leaving
One night, Danny could not get to sleep and neither could the bear. Both lie in bed looking up at the sky Although Danny finally reaches the land of dreams, the bear decides it is time for him to depart
Upon waking up the next morning, Danny finds his friend has gone. But just as sadness is about to get hold of him again he hears a key in the front door footsteps on the stairs and
Yes, you guessed it, it was not the white bear but you know who.
All right, the story is not the most original ever to have been written and not the most emotive either. But the illustrations are very warmly rendered and all the colours have a special tender quality to them. Indeed, I would say that the illustrations bring the message home much more than the text does.
I have no doubt however, that children perceive the whole story and images in a totally different light. They have their own very specific and effective way of relating to such stories in a manner that I dont think I can fully grasp.
Danny and the Great White Bear is in a sense a demonstration of the way a childs mind can work when faced with a difficult situation. You can give them a word, an object, an idea and they will spin a whole scenario around it to try and understand it and cope with it.
Okay, I may be pushing it but this is how I understand it.
Although this specific story is about a father going away, it can still be helpful for a child whose mother, grandfather, grandmother, friend, uncle . tend to go away rather often.
It simply teaches them that distance, albeit painful for the heart, is an obstacle that can be surmounted by imagination and feelings and above all, it teaches them that distance, however big, has no effect whatsoever on the strength and quality of the love you have for others and the love that they have for you.
I hope my son can understand this one day.
© Lola Awada 2006
Having completed my review on Damascus, I have decided to post this part of it separately for a couple of reasons:
Firstly, as it is extremely long, though I have tried to shrink a lot of information into very few pages. I know that many people are not particularly interested in reading at length about the history of a city or country, but I, for one, find it quite fascinating.
The history of Damascus in particular is remarkable and that is the main reason for which I opted for posting this information, as opposed to omitting it altogether.
The second reason is that its history is extremely complicated and quite confusing at times, hence needs to be read separately for easier digestion.
I trust that those of you who enjoy finding out about the diversity of certain lands, might appreciate it.
So here goes
The History of Damascus (known as "Al Shâm, in Arabic) is very old, long and quite complicated. I have tried to be brief, but this has proved extremely hard to achieve.
Damascus is the capital of Syria and has a very long and rich past. I have read somewhere that it is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, but I've read the same thing about other places, so who knows?
It is a natural oasis irrigated by the river Barada, and was once known as "Dar Meshq", which apparently means "well watered place".
There is firm evidence to suggest that Damascus was inhabited by a prosperous civilisation in the third millennium BC, but no one is sure which civilisation that was. Others suggest that it was inhabited as long as the 7th millennium BC. Not improbable, but there are no definite proofs.
The earliest reference to its name was found in 1975, in the archaeological site of Ebla, where the word "Damaski" was deciphered on a clay tablet.
The earliest documented history about this rich city dates back to 2000 BC, during its Amorite period, when it served as the capital of an Aramean Principality (the Arameans spoke a northern Arabian dialect which later came to be known as Syriac or Aramaic). Sadly, most Aramean towns are buried beneath the eastern part of the old walled city and are impossible to excavate as other historical monuments have been built on top of them. One of the major Aramean buildings, the Temple of Hadad (God of Storm) is said to be buried beneath the Great Umayyad Mosque
The Assyrian King Hadad Niari III besieged and took over the city in 841 BC, and in 572BC, it was the turn of the Chaldeans (Neo-Babylonians) to reign over Damascus, under King Nebuchadnezzar; not for long though, as King Cyrus of Persia arrived in 538 BC to rule over the city and establish it as the capital of the Persian Province of Syria.
The Arrival of Alexander and the Greek Period (and others )
But in 333 BC, Damascus was to come under western control for the very first time in its history when the armies of Alexander the Great swept through the near East, capturing the city (amongst other conquests) and marking the start of a "classical" civilisation, which was to last until 630 AD.
A lot did happen in the meantime! After the death of Alexander, in 323BC, a constant struggle between the Seleucid (Seleucus was Alexander's successor) and Ptolemaic empires led to much instability as control over the city regularly passed from one side to the other. Although the Greek era lasted for about 250 years, it did not leave a huge imprint on Damascus, and the crumbling of the Seleucid Kingdom made it easy for the Nabateans (Arabian tribe) to occupy Damascus in the beginning of the 1st century BC, shortly before that, the Armenian army had also passed through there!
Roman Period and Christianity
64BC was the year in which the Roman Empire appeared on the scene; General Pompey annexed Syria to the Great Empire and although Damascus was under the full control of Rome, it flourished significantly and gained a huge importance as the crossroads on the East-West trade route. In the 2nd century AD, it was given the state of Metropolis under Alexander Severus and soon after became a Roman Colony and a headquarters of the Roman Armies. Christianity was introduced to Damascus and the whole of Syria during this period and it was not long before it became an important centre of Christianity.
Byzantine Period and Arrival of Islam
As the Roman Empire broke down in 395AD, Damascus became part of the Byzantine Empire and maintained its importance. In 612 AD, the Persian King Chosraes II invaded and ruled Damascus until 627 AD when Byzantine rule was restored.
635AD saw the arrival of the Muslim armies under Khaled Ibn-al-Walid, who annexed Damascus (and Syria) to the Muslim Empire. Mass conversion to Islam followed, but although the Christians and Jews became minorities, they were still treated very well and with complete tolerance.
The Golden Age of Damascus started in 661AD, when Muawiyah Bin Abi Sufian established himself as fifth Caliph (or successor of the Prophet Mohammad), thus founding the Umayyad Dynasty which ruled for about a century over the Muslim Empire, of which Damascus became the capital, making it the most important cultural, economic and political centre in this extensive empire, which stretched from Spain and the shores of the Atlantic ocean, all the way to Iran and India. No less than fourteen Umayyad Caliphs ruled Damascus during this period.
Sadly, the Golden Age ended abruptly in 750AD when the Abbassids (powerful Arabian family settled in Iran) murdered the Umayyad Caliph, putting an end to the Umayyad Caliphate and occupying Damascus. The Abbassids destroyed countless of the numerous monuments built by their predecessors and proceeded to eradicate all traces of the Umayyad era. They moved the capital to Baghdad, in the process, plunging Damascus in 300 years of unrest, civil strife and successive assaults. The great city was almost completely burned down.
The Turkish Ahmad Ben Tulun captured Damascus in 878 AD, only to be overrun a few years later by the Ikshidis (of Egypt), followed by the Hamdanid Dynasty of Aleppo (in Syria).
The Ikshidis reclaimed the city in 969 AD but were driven out by the powerful Fatimids (of Egypt) soon after. Their century long reign (the Fatimids) was filled with unrest and opposition from inside and out. They soon lost control to the Seljuks (Turkish tribe converted to Islam) in 1076 AD under their ruler Duqaq, whose weakness allowed the Atabeg dynasty (Turkish) to take over under Tughtakin.
In 1069 AD, the first Crusade was launched and although Tughtakin held a truce with them, it did not last long. However a crusader King was defeated in Damascus in 1113 AD and until 1154 AD, the history of the city becomes extremely messy and impossible to go into without much detail.
It was during the second Crusade (in 1154AD) that Nour Ed-Din regained Damascus, defeating the city which was still besieged by crusaders. A great patron of Art and Architecture, Nour Ed-Din died in 1174 AD, leaving the city in the hands of Salah Ed-Din (Saladin), who started the rule of the Ayyubid Dynasty. He died in 1193AD and his uncle, Al Malik El-Adil, took charge through a coup and moved the Ayyubid capital to Cairo.
The Tartars briefly occupied Damascus in 1260, the same year in which the Memluks captured it, under Sultan Baybars. The Memluks ruled over Damascus in much prosperity until disaster struck in 1400 in the form of Tamurlane, leader of the Mongols. The Mongol invasion of Damascus (and other places) was notoriously bloody and Memluk Damascus would never fully recover from this fatal blow.
The Ottoman Era and Modern Times
Too weak to fight the Ottoman Turks who came to claim the city in 1516 under Sultan Selim I, the Memluk ruling over Damascus ended that year, and the Ottoman occupation would last until 1918, not without many episodes of incursions from Lebanon and Egypt which were eventually always crushed.
During World War I, the Ottoman Empire sided with Germany and Syria (therefore Damascus) was thrust into the conflict.
During that time, Sherfi Hussein of Mecca headed an Arab Revolution against the Turkish rule, and in 1918 as well, his son Faisal entered Damascus with his Arab troups, accompanied by British Forces, thus marking the end of a 4 century long Ottoman rule.
Shortly before this happened, in April 1915, negotiations between Sherif Hussein and Britain had resulted in a British guarantee of Independence for Syria (including present day Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan) as well as Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula, when the war ended.
However when a Syrian General Conference declared Syria an independent Kingdom in 1918, it soon came to light that France and Britain had secretly concluded the Sykes-Picot agreement, in which they "carved" the middle east into "spheres of influence", and the Syrian independence was very short lived indeed.
All guarantees were thrown to the wind and France landed in Syria, imposing its mandate, amid fierce resistance which was very swiftly crushed, forcing King Faisal into exile.
Finally, in 1941, during World War II, France recognised Syria's Independence, but maintained its military presence in Damascus and the rest of the country until April 17, 1946.
Syria's early years of independence were very politically unstable (with 5 coups between 1949 and 1954) until 1963, when yet another coup d'état by the Baath Socialist Party (later known as the March Revolution) was enacted.
The Baath have ruled Syria ever since that day, but "stability" only came back to the country with the accession to power of President Hafez El-Assad on the 16th of November 1970.
Hafez El-Assad died in 2000, leaving his son, Bashar El-Assad in charge, and the rest, as many will know, is history still in the making.
I hope that you have enjoyed reading this brief and rushed resume about a city whose past is undeniably intriguing, whose present is curious to say the least and whose future will most certainly hold more surprises.
© Lola Awada 2005
having given up hope of ever receiving a reply from the Dooyoo suggestion service regarding adding a category for Damascus (or many other travel destinations), I have decided to post this review about Damascus, the capital of Syria, in the only category available about this coutry...er... Syria.
I hope that you will not "punish" me for this.. and that you will enjoy the review..
Damascus (Al-Shâm, in Arabic) is not a city to spend a single day in, but due to "forces majeures", I had a choice between not going there at all or going for a day. So I went for a (marathon) day
This happened last October, while I was in Lebanon, a country which shares its entire north eastern border with Syria. The reason I decided not to stay for longer than a day was that I could not take my son with me. We were told that he would need a signed "authorisation" from his father (who was in Chile) in order to be allowed to enter the country. The fact that I was his mother and that he was on my passport did not change anything to this. For reasons too long to explain, I did not wish to be away from him at night and so I escaped for just a day.
I was travelling with my French passport and Lebanese ID, and I am not sure if all women travelling with children will be entitled to the same treatment or if it has something to do with the fact that I am Lebanese, so any ladies planning to go to Syria should check this first.
I have posted a separate review about the long and fascinating history of Damascus, simply because there is too much to say. So anyone interested may refer to that for more enlightening chronological information.
But now, I shall narrate the small adventure my sister and I enjoyed there
We were up at 6 am with the intention of taking a taxi around 7- 7.30 am. Upon our arrival at the bus terminal (which is also the "taxi terminal"), my sister, who is very experienced in the matter, having travelled to Syria several times, told me:
"They are going to descend upon us like vultures, don't believe anything they say, let me do the talking, and don't look too nice."
My lovely sister is as much a bundle of quivering nerves as I am and when faced with such vital decisions as choosing which taxi to take in Beirut, it is preferable not to contradict her and be quiet. Even I learned that.
Sure enough, the minute we appeared (two vulnerable females hahaha!) a dozen taxi drivers (they are usually Syrian, although some are Lebanese) surrounded us while at the same time arguing with each other as to "who had seen us first". I just followed my sister looking perplexed but trying not to smile and to look very serious. She sailed through the taxi drivers and their cars and finally, one said something which was the decisive factor for her.
We were led towards a gigantic and rather old Buick (many taxi drivers happen to drive these extravagantly large but very comfortable cars in the often narrow and jammed up routes of Damascus and Beirut.) and were lucky in that our driver decided not to wait for other passengers and departed there and then.
We paid him $10 each for a single journey from Beirut to the centre of Damascus. A bus journey would cost half the price, but you can never tell at what exact time you will leave and how long it will take you to get there.
The journey took us less than 2 hours and our driver stopped once in a bakery to buy Lebanese bread to give to the Syrian Customs officers; a sort of ritual that all taxi drivers perform - my sister assures me - to ease the whole passport checking process and be waved through swiftly across the border. Lebanese bread, it seems, is better than Syrian bread to their liking.
Strangely enough, when we did arrive at the border, our driver took our passports ("It's okay, don't worry" - my sister assured me once more) and leaving us in the car, had them checked and stamped for us, without anyone bothering to check who/where/what we were. They know him, he knows them; it's all a question of mutual trust. He took the many hot and delicious bags of bread in with him.
Entry into Syria was very easy, and within less than half an hour of crossing the border, we arrived into Damascus. A very hot and sunny day made the landscape surrounding the city look very dull and beige!
We got off safely in the middle of the city centre and our survival instincts were soon put to very good use to avoid being flattened by the waves of vehicles that surged all around us. My sister took my hand or grabbed my shirt like a paranoid mother, to drag me behind her as we ventured each road crossing. I cannot say whether this suicidal attempt is more hazardous in Beirut or Damascus, but I was too curious looking around to get frustrated.
What I most yearned to see in Damascus were its many renowned souks; it so happened that we alit a couple of streets away from one of the most famous ones: "Souk Al Hamdiyyeh" (Al-Hammadiyya, Al-Hamdiya).
Before I give more details about this particular one, I wish to explain that, though they are markets, the souks in Damascus are actually lines of small (or some larger) stores, as opposed to stalls. Having said this, there are areas where stalls are indeed to be found.
Dating back to the 19th century, souk Al Hamdiyyeh is a long, bustling and extremely colourful market, housed under an extensive and rather lofty archway. The simple but graceful design of the arcade allows daylight to filter through and all over the varied merchandise on offer. Graceful serpents of light greeted us as we arrived and only bade us farewell at the other end of the souk.
On a sunlit day, as was the case on our visit, the glow that caresses the multi-coloured wares gives the entire market a slightly bewitching look. Despite it being rather noisy and by no means a peaceful place, I found myself transported to the times of Scheherazade's Baghdad (What story would you tell your king today Oh Scheherazade?) as my eyes kept marvelling at the twinkle emitted by the abayas (a sort of long dress worn by many locals, both men and women) and their gold and silver intricate embroideries; the pink, red, yellow, green and purple long scarves, the vividly coloured glass and brass lamps that were crammed together in many of the stores, and the countless ornaments, trinkets, jewellery and all manner of garments that were laid out in shops looking like Ali Baba's cave.
It is, however, a sliver of romanticism that led me to talk about Souk Al Hamdiyyeh in this lyrical way; all that is on sale there does not shine and as it transpires, just about anything you could possibly think of happens to be on offer under its hefty roof.
Yes, local artefacts aplenty, ranging from clothes, shoes, scarves, carpets, furniture to entirely useless items that I struggled hard to find a possible reason of existence for, apart from beauty!
If the truth must be said though (and yes, it must), my initial mesmerization with the very first items that my eyes fell upon soon dissipated like sugar in a glass of water; it became less visible and apparent, but was still there. After seeing many similar items on display all over this market (and many other alleyways), I soon stopped gaping at every single item, but simply took their charm in my stride as one wandering in a never-ending field of abundant flowers.
I was there to look and had promised myself not to buy too many things, but I found that the prices of just about everything were very fair and much, very much cheaper than in Lebanon. You may haggle and it works, but even if you don't, you will probably get a good deal. The more things you buy from the same merchant, the better the price you are likely to get.
Streets of Damascus
We skirted off this enchanting market and into one of the many narrow streets that shoot out from it like branches on a tree. There are too many so I will not even attempt to name them. What is on sale in those just as charming streets, is pretty much the same as what is to be found in Souk Al Hamdiyyeh, but walking through them is an enjoyable experience, as you watch the daily life in Damascus unfold. There are many food items on sale in these winding streets; one thing that Souk Al Hamdiyyeh does not cater for, apart from cafés and ice cream bars (very good ice cream!).
My sister meant to show me some streets of the Old Damascus, which we soon reached. What I found most special was the interesting architecture of the houses and other constructions that line it. They are mainly simple yet very singular terraced houses, mostly bearing interesting wooden windows. It is hard to convey the humble yet warm appearance of Old Damascus, but I found it absolutely endearing. One thing that struck me is that some of the structures were so obviously oblique, that it was a wonder how they still stood there! But that, of course, is part of the charm
Sayyida Roqayya Mosque
Leaving a narrow street, we came face to face with the Sayyida Roqayya Mosque; an Iranian mosque, built in typical Iranian style. It is fairly recent (I did not find reliable information concerning the exact date it was built; end of 1990s it seems) and contains the shrine of Sayyida Roqayya, who was the daughter of the prophet Husein.
At this point, my sister and I put down our rucksacks on the floor and proceeded to change into respectable and acceptable attires, in order to be allowed entry into the mosque. We were both wearing long trousers and tea-shirts; to this we added long and loose cardigans and headscarves, covering all our hair. What ensued was a slightly hysterical fit of laughter at each other's metamorphosis, followed but a swift act of composure, as we had no time to lose!
Entering through the main gate, my sister was allowed to go inside unhindered but I was stopped by a guard who told me that I had to take one of the big bad black hooded robes that are lent for free to any female who appears not to be adequately dressed for the occasion. I cursed under my breath, as I saw no reason why this should be; I was dressed exactly as my sister was but I made no fuss and proceeded to cover myself up with what was gently handed to me.
By then, my sister was trying to hold back another fit of laughter, but we were inside and had to act accordingly, so we took our shoes off (you must always take your shoes off before entering a mosque), left them outside and walked towards the mosque proper, through a beautiful, fairly sized courtyard, in the middle of which an ablution fountain stood.
Before even making our way in, we were dazzled by the interior of the mosque A playful game of a million mirrors was being staged all over the ceiling, the multiple arched hall and halfway down the walls. Mosaic designs complemented the mirrors and below some of the cornices, verses of the Holy Koran were sketched in beautiful calligraphy. Immense crystal chandeliers hung gracefully almost everywhere and to add some colour, attractive stained glass windows shone their intense hues from the ceiling and the walls. It was beautiful, but a little too much for me.
Advancing respectfully, we walked down the corridor separating the men's quarters from that of the women's. May I point out that anyone may enter the mosque and I saw many foreign visitors inside. As long as you are adequately dressed and act with respect, there is no reason why you should not be allowed in.
All the floors are carpeted and the interior is immense. We looked inside the men's quarters (anyone may), but the women's were better, for this is where lies the even more lavishly ornamented shrine of Sayyida Roqayya (Lady Roqayya). The shrine is housed within a shiny gold and blue structure (it would take too long to describe in detail), around which women congregate; by placing their hands on it, they pray to Sayyida Roqayya, no doubt asking her to grant them some of their dearest wishes. I did not try doing this, for fear of setting the place alight, so I don't know if it works.
One more look at the men's quarters and we made our way out the same way we had gone in. I returned my black apparel and once clear of the mosque, we retrieved the scarves and cardigans as well.
Souk El-Bzouriyyeh (Spice Market)
We walked down the centre of Damascus, past ambulant street sweet vendors and carpets hanging in more twisting alleyways; sailed past squares packed with silver and gold jewellery and household goods; we paid very quick visits to some very beautiful khans (travellers' resting places, usually consisting of a very large square surrounded by an edifice and often a garden) which I will avoid describing, as it would take too long.
Then we arrived in souk El Bzouriyyeh (the Spice market).
Under an arched roof roof, lay before us a sea of spices, dried fruit, nuts, sweets of all colours, shapes and sizes and even some lively looking beads and pearls! Stores packed to the brim with exotic products, sackfuls more laid out in their entrances, hanging from walls and ceilings and calling at you: "come and smell me, come and touch me, come and try me "
As I was abusing my sense of smell and allowing my eyesight to be assaulted by the multitude of colours, I became distracted by a beam that seemed to have flashed past me. Turning around to find out what it may be, I saw an ambulant merchant wheeling a wooden cart heaped with a small mountain of literally fluorescent sweets! I mean it! They were glowing!
"Are they light up in the dark sweets?" - I asked.
To which I was only offered a puzzled glance as a reply. I thanked the sky for not having my son with me at that moment, or he may have been blinded by the glare given out by those bonbons. I wondered how many one would have to eat before becoming radioactive!
Returning to the "healthy sweets quarters" (if there is such a thing), my sister and I strolled for a few more minutes in this deliciously smelling place (very hard to define What we actually smelled!) before moving on to souk El-Harir (Silk Market), which is reached through a few streets perpendicular to souk El-Bzouriyyeh.
Souk El-Harir (Silk Market)
Souk El-Harir was built by Darwish Pasha in the late 16th century, and though silk is the main thing on sale, in the form of fabrics, outfits, scarves, ties and even table cloths, many other items are on offer. Copper and brass tableware, jewellery and the inevitable useless articles.
We were lucky to see a gentleman giving life (so to speak!) to the delicate textiles, on a huge and very old hand-weaving contraption. Hidden on one side of a store that resembled more a little square, he was tucked behind his machine, surrounded by shiny materials and strings; next to him, in a small cardboard box, lay some cocoons of pure silk. It is remarkable that such a tiny, insignificant ball of furry substance should be transformed into the delicate and exquisite elegant material this person was creating. He explained the whole process to us - still mechanically operating his apparatus - and explained that his job was very physically tiring, which was clearly obvious, as both his arms and legs were relentlessly busy pushing and pulling and pressing some thing or other.
I was surprised to find that souk El-Harir was much smaller than I had expected, but my sister told me that other streets around the one where we were wandering were also considered part of it.
After a quick lunch and a coffee in a very picturesque restaurant, we headed towards Azem Palace. In the heart of the Old City, this magnificent palace was built by one of the last Ottoman governors of Syria: Assad al-Azem Pasha in 1163, although it was not until 1749 that its construction was completed.
Today serving as Cultural History Museum, it is set amongst lush greenery and adorned with many magnificent fountains. There are many exhibits on show, mainly living quarters, school rooms and traditional clothing.
We did not stay long, but I found the place quite charming and very peaceful. It was easy to forget that we were in the middle of a very big city.
The Umayyad Mosque
By now, it was getting late (we wanted to leave before 6 pm for a particular reason) and we still had one very important visit to pay Damascus' greatest pride:
the Umayyad mosque (also spelled Omayyad or Omayyades).
The history of the Grand Mosque of Damascus (another name it goes by) is over 3000 years old. The Arameans first built a temple to their god of storm (some say of sun and thunder), Hadad, on the site where it now stands. In 1 AD, during Roman times, it was turned into, or a further temple to Jupiter was built on top of it (I could not find information to clarify this). The Christians transformed it into the city's cathedral (dedicated to St John the Baptist) in 330 AD and thus it remained until about 636 AD, year of the Arab conquest.
In the years that followed (and I have found too many dates regarding this, some of which were contradictory) this magnificent edifice was slowly built up to reach its full glory. It is said that Caliph Al-Walid was responsible for the onset of the construction of this mammoth structure between 705 and 715 AD, when it became the first of its type and soon became a blueprint for other mosques throughout the Islamic world, with its mixed styles coming into perfect harmony in a dance of Islamic architecture, embracing Byzantine and Persian influences. Sadly, its once magnificent anterior (or so we are told) was burned down during the Abbassid occupation of Damascus in 750 AD, when most of the city was turned to ashes.
Not only is it regarded as one of the largest and oldest mosques in the world, but is also deemed to be one of the holiest. It is made more special by its three minarets, each built at a different time: the minaret of the Bride (9th and 12th century), the minaret of Jesus (13th century) and the minaret of Qat Bey (15th century).
Once more, we donned our cardigans and headscarves before making our way in. Removing our shoes and placing them near a wall, we suddenly felt tiny at the sight that met our gaze. The immense courtyard that greets the visitor upon entering is simply a wonder. Lavishly decorated with a multitude of mosaics, surrounded by sumptuous arches, it will not leave you indifferent. In its centre sits the ablution fountain and on each extreme of the yard stand the Dome of the Hours and the delightfully embellished Dome of the Treasure.
A small garden near the north wall of the mosque is the location of the tomb of Salah Ed-Dine (Saladin), but we did not visit this.
We strolled around the courtyard as I was trying to make the most of the light falling upon it, which was almost perfect (but not quite) for photographs, before entering the mosque. Vast is a very modest word to describe its dimension; in comparison to the Sayyida Roqayya mosque, it was almost sombre, but certainly far less distracting to the eye and the mind and therefore much more appropriate for the purpose of praying and meditation. Outsized carpets covered the entire floor, giving it a very "homely" and welcoming atmosphere. There were not many people inside, though it is so large, that one would not readily notice. Some were praying, others sitting in the back chatting quietly and a not inconsiderable number of tourists (you can recognise them) were doing exactly what we were: inspecting and studying this enormous space in as respectful a way as possible.
We went in through the men's quarters and slowly walked through to the women's. In what I remember as being almost the centre of the mosque, lay a shrine, which is said to conceal the head of St John the Baptist. Some say it was sent by King Herod to Damascus to assure the Romans of his death; others say it was found during excavations, after the church was demolished. There are others variations on the theme.
After admiring the large stained glass windows and huge chandeliers, we made our exit through the door of the women's quarters. Peacefully smiling to myself at the pleasure of the sight I had just witnessed, I was brought back to reality by a man calling at me (more shouting really!). I wondered what I had done wrong; I knew that photography was allowed in there but what if the rules had been changed as I was passing by?
"Madam! Who let you in dressed like that?" - said the man.
"Moi?" - I wondered in surprise, pointing at myself with a look full of unexplainable guilt.
"Yes you! You are not properly dressed. Who let you in, this is not acceptable!"
Well the truth is that, when we first came in, the entrance was swarming with people, and although the guards saw us, they did not say anything to either of us. We were still dressed exactly as when visiting the Sayyida Roqayyaa mosque and I had feared an "arrest" upon my arrival, but this did not happen.
I told the man that the guards had let me in, and he started calling people on a sort of walkee-talkee, at which, all peacefulness promptly collapsed right at my feet, as though my clothes had been torn off.
"The shape of your thighs is visible underneath this cardigan, at least your trousers are wide at the calves, you should see the way some people enter this place!"
"Yes!" - I thought, suddenly ashamed at being the owner of visible thighs.
Thankfully, after throwing a fuss, inducing a slight onset of paranoia in me and leaving me feeling bewildered by his reasons, he let me go.
"Next time, make sure you wear a long black hooded robe, take one from the entrance".
Of course, of course, yes I will.
My sister did not find it funny at first (ok, her cardigan was ever so slightly longer than mine) but ended up laughing at me for being singled out each time!!
I did not let this ruin the remaining few minutes of my visit, instead I ambled once more through the courtyard - feeling very self-conscious - and watched children play and run after pigeons. A few more photos, one last look and goodbye Umayyad Mosque.
Before leaving Damascus to get back to the bus and taxi terminal, we had some delicious ice cream. This is where I shall quickly tell you that, first of all, ice cream is very good and very cheap there (about 20p for a large bowl or cone) and so is the food in general. There are countless restaurants and cafés, as well as "sandwich" shops, though what they sell is far more appealing and diverse than sandwiches.
Eating out will not ruin you (as tends to be the case in the centre of Beirut) and though Lebanese people told me to be weary of Syrian restaurants and food, I ate and drank there from various places and found everything delicious and did not have any stomach pains or side effects.
I do recommend Syrian food, which is similar to all middle eastern food, with little variation.
As I did not stay overnight, I have no idea what hotel prices are like, but a quick visit to expedia.co.uk or the many other hotel/travel sites will surely be more helpful than my rambling about it.
Flights to Damascus tend to start at £300 return (from London), but it very much depends on who you fly with and when.
Most Syrians speak some English and French, especially the younger generation, so this should not be a problem.
Goodbye Damascus, hello taxi terminal.
One word of warning: when you get to the thronged taxi and bus terminal, you WILL be turned into a magnet for as many drivers as will see you arrive. The idea is to find a taxi driver with enough passengers to depart straight away, so you do not have to wait half a lifetime. Unless you are prepared to pay for 4 places (which is the number of people they require before setting off), you will need to find a car who already has two willing travellers, or you will have to wait.
ALL of the drivers will tell you that they already have enough passengers and more often than not, they are lying. We happened upon the same driver who had driven us from Beirut, and he was quick to monopolise us over his colleagues: "they are mine" . We thought we were lucky, but we were not, it was another hour before we did leave, with alternating episodes of various fumes coming out of our ears and mouths, unutterable idioms and many exits from the car to look for another driver, who was waiting for passengers himself and besides, once you have agreed to travel with one of them, all the other taxi drivers will not want to "steal" you from their comrades. It is a gentleman's rule between them. When this does happen, they will insult each other heartily and you will think that they are about to murder each other, but in fact, it is all very amicable (or just about). So no need to fret.
About 2 hours later, we were home safely, our driver having dropped us off a couple of minutes away from my parents' home.
Needless to say, there is much more to see and do in Damascus, but I think that I have fared well for a single day there. There are many adventures that happened to us there which I have not recounted either, but I think you will agree that this has taken long enough already.
The diversity of this city is indisputably its biggest point of interest, I found the Syrian people very friendly, even when they knew I was Lebanese (for reasons long to explain, the Lebanese tend not to love the Syrians very much, though the opposite I did not find to be the case; I don't have this problem). I left it feeling I had only tasted a couple of bites from a very tasty fruit, and though my mother currently insists "now is NOT the right time to visit Syria", I sincerely hope that I may go back one day.
© Lola Awada 2005
Most people believe that the ultimate goal of the Alchemist is to turn lead (or other metals) into gold. Were it not for their intrinsic wisdom (often labelled as madness), Alchemists would be banging their heads against the wall, out of frustration at the lack of understanding of their arts (call it science
) supreme objective.
The true and fundamental purpose of the Alchemist is to reach enlightenment; Spiritual enlightenment, and to become one with the universe (its as simple as it sounds! Hehehe!). Turning metals into gold is but one of the excruciatingly patience-trying processes that Alchemists are supposed to go through to reach their Pierre Philosophale, a sort of metaphor for enlightenment, if you will. It is said that experienced and true Alchemists can turn metals into gold with the same nonchalance with which one would cook a bowl of pasta well perhaps not quite
Okay, I will not go any further into this, as this review is not about Alchemy and many books have not managed to explain the truth behind the subject
Fulcanelli! Where art thou?
I just thought I would start with this because it is relevant to the review (I think) and also because, as much as I love the book, the main purpose of the alchemist in it IS indeed to turn metals into gold (this is why I wrote his title without a capital A and why he ends up the way he does in the story!!)
The Last Alchemist was written by Colin Thompson, my favourite childrens author and illustrator, whose illustrations blow my mind (almost literally!).
If you wish to find out more about Colin Thompson, please do read my previous two reviews about his books:
The Tower to the Sun
where I have detailed his history further.
The book is available as a soft back from amazon.co.uk for £4.79 new and from £3.50 for a used copy.
It is directed at children aged 5 and over, but I started reading it to my son when he was 3 and a half and he liked it ever since!
A word of warning, I am giving away most of the story here, with ending and all, as I personally find it very useful for a parent who wishes to buy his child a book, to know what the entire thing is about.
Like all of Colin Thompsons books, The Last Alchemist contains a message, not very secret either. (Yes, I know, I have an intrinsic problem with messages!)
And like all of Colin Thompsons illustrations, The Last Alchemists are a pleasure for the eye (and the heart yes, I know, I have an intrinsic problem with heart issues too!).
The story is that of Arthur, the young apprentice of Spinifex, the nineteenth alchemist (who does not deserve to have his title spelt with a capital A!) of the king of a castle in the heart of an almost-forgotten country. Spinifex is grasping and secretive and mistrusts everyone, especially Arthur.
Like many kings before him, this king (who does not, for the time being deserve to have his name spelt with a capital K either!) had one dream: to discover the secret of gold!
For centuries, alchemists had worked deep in the heart of the castle trying to make gold from the simple elements of the earth. And for as long as they had tried, they had failed.
Spinifex is given an ultimatum by the King, who is starting to get seriously p***** off with the ineffectiveness of his previous alchemists (who dont deserve to have their titles spelt with a capital A either!) and this one:
If you cannot make gold by the Millenium, Spinifex, youre finished, said the king (who, at this point, still does not deserve to have his title spelt with a capital K).
Spinifex, freaked out and growing restless by the day, ransacks the great library where many books are kept, including those that recorded all previous experiments, and in his anger, destroys many of the ancient manuscripts (B******!).
He keeps sending Arthur out to get more gold to act as a catalyst, but little Arthur, who hasnt got a clue (or rather he does), keeps coming back with bagfuls of sunshine, marigolds, canaries and thousands of other things that shone like gold.
Spinifex has a go (or many goes) at Arthur and tears off the little hair he still has on his head (I made that one up, its not in the book):
You are an idiot. All you ever bring me is rubbish!
Arthur still cant quite make what the fuss is all about and asks the exasperated Spinifex:
Why is gold so important?... You cant eat it, it cant make you well if youre ill.
Stupid Child,- said Spinifex. Its priceless. It can buy you anything in the world.
Oh really?- said Arthur. Can it make someone love you?...
You understand nothing,- sneered Spinifex .
Oh but he does he does... (I am almost tempted to start writing spinifex without a capital S... there )
In any case, in his desperation, anger, frustration and rage, spinifex decides to travel all over the almost-forgotten kingdom himself, to gather as much gold as possible. He took everyones gold, even tore the rings from peoples fingers until there was no gold left anywhere
But still, experiment after experiment kept failing.
In the meantime, Arthur is having a laugh at Spinifexs expense with his mates up in the kitchens (or is it down?). The cooks daughter, Amy, (who knows a thing or two about true Alchemy I suspect), says:
The only true gold is whats in your heart.
See, I am not the only one obsessed with hearts and what have you!
As the countdown to the Millenium approaches, spinifex (who will never gain the honour of having his title spelled with a capital A) had turned completely mad. (I dont think he deserves this nice denomination). But he had constructed his biggest ever experiment; the one, he believed, that would finally make gold appear where there was no gold before.
He goes and tells the king (who, I am afraid, at this very moment, is still not worthy of having his name spelled with a capital K), the king says yeah, okay, lets see whatcha got then (not quite) and when the sun rises on the first day of the new century
All hell breaks loose and the entire experiment is turned into dust . Machine, gold, spinifex (who dies without ever having had his title spelled with a capital A and having even lost the minimal credit of having his first name spelled with a capital S) and all
And in the heart of the crucible, all that remained was a tiny pool of brilliant gold.
With this residual nugget, Arthur makes a tiny sunflower for the king (who will shortly gain the privilege of having his title spelled with a capital K, but not yet) and as the weeks and months passed and spring came back etc everyone felt as if they could live forever. (Perish the thought!!)
And at the end of the book, the King (finally worthy of having his title spelled with a capital K) realises that there were more important things than gold.
He realises that he has all that he could wish for and as a symbol of his realisation, one day, he even loses the little golden sunflower, which falls down and disappears in the ocean.
And they all lived happily ever after.. (No, I said that, its not in the book either.)
And here ends the adventure of Arthur, the King and spinifex (who was never worthy enough to ..)
I dont think I need to add any further blubber to the story, which seems quite self-explanatory. It is beautifully written and exquisitely illustrated. A story from the heart, and clearly, from a heart of gold (true gold!).
Recommended? Bien entendu
© Lola Awada 2006
I admire people who can convey an important message in the simplest and briefest of ways. I cannot do that easily.
When it comes to childrens books, it is essential not to go too deeply into convoluted terrain and complicated metaphors. Come to think of it, it sometimes helps in grown-ups books as well!!
Five Little Fiends is a very simple, short book, with just such a message.
The book was written and illustrated by Sarah Dyer, a young author / illustrator born in Brighton in 1978. It was her very first book, started as part of a project in her second year at Kingston University, where she studied for a BA in Illustration.
Sarah now lives in Surbiton and has written a second book entitled: Clementine and Mungo.
Five Little Fiends was the winner of the Nestlé Book Prize 2001, not that his means much to me, but I thought Id mention it
We acquired the book as part of a special 10 books package, but it can be bought from amazon.co.uk for £4.79 (soft back) new or as little as £1.45 for a used copy.
It is aimed at children as young as 2 onwards.
The book begins on a far away plain, where Five little fiends live inside 5 lonely statues.
Every day they would come outside and marvel at their surroundings.
But one day, they each decide to take the thing they like best from the nature that surrounds them. Thus, one takes the moon, one the sky, the land, the sea and the sun!
Taking their preferred thing into their respective statues, they soon realise that something is very wrong. Whilst they possess what they like best, it soon becomes clear that the beauty of what they so admired vanishes when all these elements are not gathered together
.. The sun could not stay up without the sky,
The sky was nowhere to be found without the land,
The land started to die without water from the sea .
So the Five Little Fiends have a little meeting and take a vital decision in order to restore the beauty they have by their own hands destroyed
I will leave it to you to find out how they do that if you havent already!
Sometimes, thinking we are acting out of love, we destroy the things we like best (or even the people we love dearly).
This very simple little book is truly enchanting in its simplicity. The frail and all important message that the balance of things is vital and should be respected is portrayed in a cute and witty manner.
The illustrations are very simple and the use of colour is quite limited to red, white and black, with a few splashes of other colours where appropriate.
What I like best is the fact that the Little Fiends act with wisdom, as opposed to them being angels. I do like this little detail very much!
My son loves this book and he can also read it by himself (with a little help from Maman).
I recommend it whole-heartedly; it is a little poem full of freshness!
© Lola Awada 2006
Pollution is not a topic that is very high on the priority list of children's books subjects, but Colin Thompson always tackles matters with a bit of difference.
Born Colin Willment, on the 18th of October 1942 in Ealing, London, his mother changed his surname to Thompson (his stepfather's surname) when he was 11 years old. He went to boarding school in Yorkshire, grammar school in London and studied art for 2 years in Ealing and Hammersmith. He worked as a silk screen printer, graphic designer and even made documentaries for the BBC for a while.
He lived a year in Majorca, followed by 7 years on a little island in the Outer Hebrides where he started working in Ceramics, something he would do for 20 years.
In 1975, he moved to Cumbria where he lived and worked in an old farmhouse on the edge of a forest for another 20 years. During his time there, he planted hundreds of trees and "made" a lake, which today is home to a family of mediaeval carp.
In 1990, he started illustrating children's books and by the end of 2002, had 30 books published. In 1995, he went to Australia for a visit and has lived there ever since.
Colin Thompson has 3 daughters and 3 grandchildren.
His favourite fruit is cherries.
His favourite music is Rock'n'Roll and old blues records.
He is left handed and colour blind (this absolutely amazed me!!)
"I always believed in the magic of childhood and think that if you get your life right that magic should never end. I feel that if a children's book cannot be enjoyed properly by adults, there is something wrong with either the book or the adult reading it."
From the first moment I opened a book of Colin Thompson's, I fell in love with his illustrations, his heart felt stories and was instantly viscerally jealous at the way in which he could draw Given half a dozen further reincarnations and 220 years of practice, I may aspire to become as good as him
The Tower to the Sun holds a frightening vision of what the future may hold.
The story starts in a future world so heavily polluted that the sun is no longer visible. Indeed, it has not been glimpsed for so many years that, "the richest man in the world" recounts to his grandson the way things once were:
"When I was your age, the sky was blue and the sun was so bright that you couldn't look at it."
"I know," said the boy, "I've seen pictures."
But all the boy really knows is a world covered by a thick mist and eternal clouds that have blocked the light from the sun to such an extent, that its existence is just another legend to add to the many existing ones, whose contents no one is certain whether they are truthful or a fruit of some rich imagination.
The richest man in the world is so nostalgic about the world's brighter days that he would give anything to see the sun once more.
So his grandson comes up with many ideas. But flying above the clouds was no longer an option, as "planes didn't fly anymore, not even for the richest man in the world." A world where so little fuel is left, that it is needed for "more important things than journeys through the clouds" (Bush would not like that, now would he? Ok I'll stop mentioning him!)
They try to build a balloon, but this also fails.
Then the grandson has an idea:
"We could build a tower," "A tower to the Sun."
The richest man in the world's initial reaction is that this would prove impossible, but thankfully, he ends up thinking:
"Why not? What use is all my money is I can't build dreams?"
And the construction of the dream begins. For 10 long years during which the richest man in the world grows older and his grandson becomes a man.
For a further 10 years, in which time the grandson has children of his own.
"But still they couldn't see the sun."
So they worked faster, building "the greatest machine ever made."
They built the tower using, amongst other things "fabulous buildings" from every continent of the world, piling them ever higher to try and reach the sun. Until at last, they could see the sky getting brighter.
Climbing up to the top of the tower, "the old man, who had once been the richest man in the world, sat at the top of the tower holding his great grandson in his arms. He felt the warmth of the sun shine on his skin as it had done in his youth "
As everyone was allowed to climb up the tower, every single person in the world embarked upon this adventure, until all had seen "the light that had given them life."
Thought provoking is the least that can be said about this book. The illustrations that accompany it are partly gloomy, but mainly bright, very much like the subject; still, not less outstanding for that matter. Extensively detailed and never dull, there is always something that will attract a child's attention and most adults' as well.
It is always difficult to tackle matters which are taken for granted; who could think of a world without sun? The scenario the author has chosen is nightmarish, but not impossible (nothing is impossible!), it is a warning of what may happen if we continue to ignore pollution and an invitation to educate our children about its possible consequences (without scaring the hell out of them, if possible!)
The whole idea of the book is, of course, to avoid at all cost the construction of such a tower from ever having to be even contemplated.
It is a challenge for any parent to try and explain such questions to a young child, but I believe there are issues that need not be explained; simply fed to the child through similar stories and our active involvement in the protection of the planet.
There is nothing more effective than personal awareness and commitment to make a child value and appreciate the world he is living in and some of the most important things in life which he and we should never take for granted.
© Lola Awada 2005
The Lebanon may not seem an ideal holiday destination to many, but to some, the idea is rather tempting. Most people are in a sense still frightened, because of the war that tore the country for over 15 years, from 1975 (although some say earlier) until 1990. Who can blame them?
The truth is, Lebanon has been rebuilding itself (too much in a way) since 1990, and although there have been episodes of car bombings and explosions in the past 15 years; they have not been much more numerous than many bombings that have shocked London in the past same 15 years.
At first sight, a country the size of Lebanon might seem insignificant, but size is certainly not an issue here.
Inside its 10,452 square kilometres (4,036 square miles), Lebanon is packed with interesting things to see. Historical and archaeological sites abound, the landscape is beautiful (although needs more protection), the food is delicious, night life in Beirut is booming and you are almost certainly guaranteed to have a good time.
Whenever I say that I am Lebanese, I almost always get the same reaction from people: Ah, the pearl of the middle east, Ah! It used to be such a beautiful country My father went there when he was young and says that
And I smile away thinking: Yes my friend, yes I know, I have heard this before, but the past is now gone, the present is limping and the future is as the future always has been: uncertain (So live for today!).
I have never known the pearl, and only really discovered my country of origin after having departed from it in 1990 and upon my several returns from 1994 onwards. Last year alone, I was there three times.
During the war, most archaeological, historical and cultural sites were occupied by one army or another, or one of the countless militias that sprouted in Lebanon like poisonous mushrooms. It is a miracle that they were not completely destroyed, and indeed, for the most part, suffered very little throughout the war.
Le Levant as Lebanon is often referred to in French, shares it southern borders with Israel and its North and Eastern borders with Syria. The whole of the west border is caressed by the Mediterranean Sea.
The country is divided into 4 physiographic regions:
*The very long but narrow coastal strip along the Mediterranean Sea.
*Jabal Lubnan, or Mont Liban (Mount Lebanon), extending from North to South, with the highest elevations reaching about 3000 metres (9,800 feet)
* The Bekaa Valley (spelled Beqaa or al-Biqa as well), which runs parallel to Mount Lebanon for about 175 km, or 110 miles.
* And finally the Anti-Lebanon and Mount Hermon ranges
This tiny country has had continual problems with both its neighbours for many years and still does, but this is not the point of this review, nor indeed is the war that has registered Beiruts name into many peoples brain. These two topics deserve reviews of their own, but I would rather avoid the subject, as apart from being painful, I fear I may not be fair or objective.
Most Lebanese fancy themselves as the ancestors of the Phoenicians, whose culture, sadly, is still not very well accounted for. Only bits and pieces have remained and the constant looting of archaeological findings and artefacts, especially in Southern Lebanon, has been a constant stab in the heart of scholars eager to learn more about this fascinating ancient civilisation. Education is the key, but poverty can be a worse killer than ignorance.
We know that the Phoenicians were excellent seafarers who travelled extensively and sold their merchandise to the most prominent other civilisations of the time (and far beyond, if some recent findings are to be believed). They are also known to have invented the first alphabet, but again, this is a topic for a separate review and I cannot pretend my knowledge to be so extensive as to allow me to do that. One day perhaps?
I have raised this point as you may meet many Lebanese who will tell you that they do not consider themselves as Arabs. They are Phoenicians. Indeed, their blood is most certainly forever marked by these ancestors of theirs, as is mine probably, but I also know that I personally carry Mongolian, Arab and Indian blood through some previous ancestors. What does that make of me?
If I was not Lebanese, I would not dare say that, but I find it offensive and right down stupid to deny half of your ancestors in favour of the other half. Because most people are completely ignorant of the long and frankly enlightening history of the Arab people, they only associate it to recent historical events and to Islam as an ending point. Islam = Muslims = Fanaticals = Terrorism. Non, pas moi! (No, not I!).
Sometimes, the longer road is easier to take, as it gives you more time for reflection, and reflection is the essence of enlightenment. Enlightenment, one would hope, encompasses understanding, tolerance and acceptance of all that lives. No civilisation, no people is better than any other. Why the shame?
Lebanese Muslims tend to have no problems, on the other hand, with wholeheartedly accepting their Arab ancestors.
Now is high time I changed the subject and got back on the road this review is meant to lead us to.
When you get to Beirut Airport, all seems normal. The airport was modernised a few years ago and although not very big, it is clean, with well-kept toilets, and boasts many duty-free stores.
The Lebanese are usually very friendly to foreigners, although officials may try to impress you by asking you unnecessary questions upon your entrance and / or exit from the airport, to seem very rigorous in what they do. I never get this, because I know the exact look I must give them to avoid it. Hehehe!!
As you leave passport control to pick up your luggage, there is a small chance you will be gently attacked by a hoard of luggage carriers eager to carry your luggage for you. You can pay them as much as you like, I like to be generous (although my father says I exaggerate) and I always give them $5. To me, £3 is not much, to them, it is a great help.
Lebanon is most definitely an easier place to visit if you have acquaintances there, as there are a few ways you have to learn and locals will know how to show you so many hidden corners of this land. But fear not, for even if you dont, you can grab a taxi outside the airport and most people speak a few words of English or French.
I have never stayed in a hotel in Beirut, as my parent still live there, but I have checked on Expedia and prices seem to range from £50 a night to over £200. Most big hotels are to be found there, Holiday Inn, Meridian, Sheraton etc and depending on the time of year, prices may vary.
I know there are smaller hotels, but I frankly dont know the prices. I believe a Lonely Planet guide book about Lebanon now exists and this may be a good reference.
The wonderful thing about Lebanon is its small size, which means you can travel the breadth and width of the country in relatively few hours. Most roads are new and easy to travel, but mountain roads will make you dizzy with their twists and turns.
Do not even think of driving there and I strongly advise you to wear a blind fold, take some valium or smoke a joint before getting into any car. If you believe in God, make a prayer, light a candle to any saint you wish, and prepare yourself for the ride.
Lebanese drive like there is no tomorrow. They respect nothing and no one, they curse at each other 234 times per minute as a rule and the traffic policeman posted in the middle of a junction to regulate traffic is usually a sure sign that a traffic jam is inevitable. Unless he happens to be having a conversation with one of the car passengers or a shopkeeper nearby, which is always preferable, as drivers have their own rules and know how to go by them, so long as a law officer does not interfere, and then all is well.
Traffic lights have been planted more as a decoration than any sort of useful traffic regulators and my sister and friends, who always stop at red lights, are constantly harassed by other drivers behind them and hailed as never mind that!!
Take a taxi. They are relatively cheap. Buses exist but for the most, dont go everywhere and you need an oxygen mask and a strong stomach to get on them.
Crossing a road is also a hazardous attempt to make. Most Lebanese seem to do it without a care as though life was not that important or they are simply blasé by the whole thing. I get the jitters after each road crossing and find myself cursing the entire spectrum of deities, their offspring, my people, the world and anything or anyone else that happens to be in sight.
This is part of the charm of Beirut some people tell me I suppose it is a matter of opinion
But now for the good things.
If you love beaches, beaches you will find a-plenty. From the north all the way down to the south, a long beach extends and yawns with arms outstretched, beckoning you to jump in.
In Beirut proper, most, if not all beaches are privatised. Hotels and resorts are built almost literally ON the beach. There are the poor people ones and the rich people ones. There is usually an entrance fee that goes from £1 to £5, depending on the place and the season. But if the hotel you book is near a beach, then it will most certainly have its own private stretch.
However, if you drive northwards, there are still natural beaches that are free to use.
There are some in the south as well, but I avoid them as most bathers are men, and women who do bathe, do so with their clothes on. The south is predominantly Muslim and any sight of bare female flesh might trigger an onset of hysteria from the locals. Perhaps not, but why take a risk?
I abhor crowded beaches and so my sister and I always drive to Batroon or Jbeil, towards the north, where many beaches are still unadorned, natural, nicer, and often have less people. During the high season though (usually July and August), most beaches everywhere are crammed.
Beaches in Lebanon are mostly brown sand beaches, some are pebble beaches though.
All private beaches have café, drinks and restaurant facilities. The food is good; the food in Lebanon is hardly ever bad, if it is Lebanese food. Sadly, McDonalds, Kentuckys and all the rest have invaded the country, but I am told, they have some special local menus, apart from the usual crap. (Sorry, cant help it!).
Beaches are nice, and the weather in Lebanon is a blessing, this means you can take a dip from May until October and sometimes even November!
I can confirm that there is such a thing as Four Seasons and Lebanon is a living proof of that.
Winter is rather mild (when I call my mother and its -10 degrees in London and stalactites are almost hanging from my eyelashes, she always complains that they are really freezing over there, 12 degrees, can you imagine this?).
In the mountains, it is different and temperatures do drop to minus zero.
Spring is a blessing and blooms flower everywhere, spreading a scent that reminds you how precious life is (unless you happen to live next to a rubbish dump or the refuse collectors are on strike or forgot to remove the litter from your street).
Summer melts even your determination away and everyones speech takes on a lazy drawl, to match the general posture of the population at that time, which is one of utter lethargic flabbiness.
Autumn is mild, charming and cradles agreeable breezes. It is the end of something, which entails the rebirth of many other things. I am not sure why, but it is a season when I feel loaded with hope.
Much more interesting than the beaches however, are the historical and archaeological sites. I will have to go through them without too much detail, but if any reader wishes to know more, I would be happy to prepare separate reviews on the sites that most seize your interest.
I must start with Baalbeck.
For Baalbek is the City of the Sun, in Greek: Heliopolis ( do not confuse it with Egypts Heliopolis) and one of the wonders of the world.
Nowadays, it is the agricultural centre of the Bekaa Valley, but it is most famous as the site of extensive Roman ruins; with some of the best preserved Roman temples anywhere in the world, especially the beautiful Temple of Bacchus.
What is known of the city dates back to only 332BC, when the Greeks conquered Syria (Lebanon used to be a part of Syria).
Every summer, there is an International festival held inside the ruins of Baalbeck, with artists from around the world (Placido Domingo is just one of the many who have honoured the festival with their presence.) If you do go there during the summer, this is not to be missed. Baalbeck is 85km away from Beirut.
Also in the Bekaa Valley, are the graceful ruins of Aanjar. Unlike most other ruins in Lebanon, Aanjar is relatively new, dating back to the 8th century AD, the Umayyad Period (this is the first hereditary dynasty of Islam). It used to be an important commercial centre at the time, but only flourished for a few decades.
Byblos, with its picturesque little port, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It is of Phoenician origin and historians date it back to at least 7000 years ago, possibly much more, but as history goes, records are missing or are not very clear on this subject.
There is a large and beautiful Roman theatre, by the sea, amongst the other Roman ruins and Byblos little market is a pleasure to visit, with its many cafés and restaurants. Byblos (Jbeil) is 37kms north of Beirut.
In the south as well (48kms south of Beirut) is the city of Sidon, the largest city in south Lebanon and its financial and commercial centre. Sadly, its history is shrouded in mystery, due to many plundering episodes. There is evidence that it was inhabited as early (or late) as 4000-6000 BC, but history books say that its Phoenician period began in the 10th to 12th century BC, only to create more confusion.
The first thing you will notice upon entering the city is the Crusader Sea Castle ( a fortress built by the Crusaders in the 13th century BC), its landmark today.
The founding of the city of Tyre dates back to the beginning of the 3rd century BC. Tyre was very famous, amongst other things, for its production of purple dye. It was a commercial city as well. Its vast ruins are remains from Greaco-Roman, Byzantive, Arab and Crusader times. Tyre is the South of the country, a few kilometres north of Sidon.
Beit El Dine (House of Faith), 50 km south of Beirut, is a glorious palace that was built in the 19th century by the Emir Bachir II, its construction took 30 years to complete, but the result is superb. Its graceful arcades and colourful mosaics, gardens, fountains and hammams are only part of its charm. During the summer, a Music Festival is also organised there and is in a way the rival of the Baalbeck one. The special lighting that is put in place for the festival alone makes it worth visiting.
There are many other historical sites to be found in Lebanon, and I have only mentioned the most important ones above, but the list does go on rather extensively.
Other places to visit in Lebanon include The Cedars. The cedar is the emblem of the country and millennia ago, Egypt was but one of the many civilisations who transported the wood from this fragrant and majestic tree to adorn their temples and other edifices as well as constructing their tombs.
The Cedars of Bcharreh (121kms north of Beirut), are home to the most senior cedars in Lebanon, some older than 3000 years. The sheer size of their trunks and their branches that stretch out in a motionless dance are humbling. You feel as though they were trying to whisper splinters of history in your ears while attempting to cover up scars. Beautiful forests where you can stroll in peace, even when there are many tourists; there is an overwhelming aura of serenity about the site that blows winds of wisdom in your face. (You lose it quickly upon departure though I am afraid).
On the way to Bcharreh, is the Museum of Gibran Khalil Gibran (Author of The Prophet). It is actually a place where he lived and where his coffin is to be found. The room in which he lived and composed many of his writings is simple but serene, surrounded by nature.
The Shouf Cedars Natural Reserve is the Middle Easts largest reserve of its kind and makes up 5% of the entire territory of the country. It is south of Beirut. You can see tiny sprouts of newborn cedars as well as trees as old as 2000 years there.
You need very comfortable shoes and you will be climbing up and down a lot, but you will not meet many people in the forests, as they are so extensive, it is easy to get lost. The scent of the trees is slightly bewitching and I found myself looking up their branches to surprise a fairy or two, but although cedar fairies only emerge in a murmur, their chant lingers in your ears and your mind for much longer periods.
There are more cedars forests to be found in Lebanon, but these two are the most important sites.
I do not wish to bore you and I feel that I have already mentioned a lot. The truth is there are so many places to visit in Lebanon that I feel guilty about the many ones I am inevitably going to leave out.
But before I depart, allow me to introduce to you Beirut City Centre, Le Centre Ville. This area was completely demolished and rebuilt during the 1990s. It is today a beautiful and very well looked after part of town. One long main road with countless side streets full of delightful cafés and restaurants, as well as all kinds of other shops (clothes, souvenirs, furniture..).
You will be able to sample the delicious Lebanese cuisine and the Narguileh, but then again you can do this anywhere in Lebanon, and frankly, while the atmosphere in the city centre is special, everything is over priced and tends to be very crowded. But it is beautiful anyhow.
Nightclubs, bars and discos are to be found around the city centre and in the north towards Jounieh, Kaslik, and in downtown Beirut. There is a lot of choice and not much difference with any of the European bars and discos I know of.
There are many markets throughout the country, namely in Tripoli, Sidon, Zahleh, Beirut itself and well I am sure you do not want the whole list.
As I have said too many times now, the list of places worth visiting in Lebanon is far too vast to list entirely, but one thing you must do if you go there, is visit lost little locations and villages all around. This is where you will find the best and probably cheapest restaurants and the friendliest, most genuine people.
They may not have shiny and glittery outsides or insides, or dressed up waiters and well designed menu cards, but they will have fresh ingredients, literally picked up from the garden 5 minutes after your order is placed ( I am going to slaughter the lamb, back in a few minutes just joking although not always actually!!). These are usually family run businesses and the owners tend to be very friendly and generous, and frankly this is where I have eaten the most delicious Lebanese specialities, without the fuss, but with the taste! (Apart from my Mothers cooking of course).
They are also much cheaper than some restaurants that I feel simply rip you off.
I trust everyone knows that Lebanese food is delicious but once more, I could dedicate a whole review or two just about this.
My country of origin is a country I have discovered again as though it were not the place I was born in. Too many painful memories have impeded me from feeling what most Lebanese feel for their land (although I know many have suffered so much more than I), a profound and deep-rooted love that makes them cry at the mere mention of the name Loubnan (Lebanon).
My fellow countrymen may find me unworthy and treacherous in what I say, but it is a genuine sentiment, which I cannot help and do not wish to conceal. Whilst I find my country a tremendously interesting area of the world to visit and I most certainly advise anyone thinking of going there to do so, there are too many things with which I am not at ease.
The Lebanese high society gets on my nerves to a point of absolute desperation. Most of them (and by no means all) are shallow to an alarming degree, despite what appears to be an all-embracing and far-reaching in-depth knowledge of many areas of culture. However it is as though their knowledge piles up on top of their spirits without a drain for filtering through; a necessity without which, assimilation of culture is improbable and often impossible. They carry their knowledge like a flag instead of learning from it, and tend to be more interested in the latest trends and fashions than any meaningful thought-provoking event. This is what alienates me from my own place of origin and I am sad to say that I feel like a total freak when I am there (I have never followed fashion in my life and quite frankly, clothes are what I wear because of the commotion I may cause if I dared to walk out the door in my natural state, and because it is cold in England! I do like nice clothes but my life does not revolve around what I am going to wear or what cream I shall use and what restaurant I want to be seen in, theirs often does!).
Most of my Lebanese friends feel the same as I do, and this is a situation that is making many youths leave the country.
On the other hand, simple people are always friendlier and easier to get on with, they do not usually carry their ego in a lorry (but sometimes in a car) and whilst you will find it hard to strike a conversation about any scientific topic with them (music, arts and literature are a science as well!) you can talk about human values and the way the coffee was brewed or the tabbouleh was prepared and that is fine, it is also worth learning and the warmth emanating from them glows into your own light.
Oh! I forgot to mention that you can practice many sports in Lebanon, skiing, climbing, surfing, trekking .
No really I am sure I have left out so many things, music, arts, more about the people there (no Lola, enough!), but I may write more reviews about specific topics.
Do allow me to reiterate once more the fact that Lebanon is a rich and beautiful country, most certainly worth visiting and there are some very interesting people to meet there, but I have warned you of some risks. : )
I am deeply moved by the songs that the famous Fairuz sings with her melancholic yet pristine voice, some of them make me cry, especially those about childhood, but my country is a wound in my heart that yet has not found the proper way to healing, and perhaps I should try to understand more and I am trying to, but there is no point in idealising a country where injustice is still ripe and where, along with the wonders, there are hidden histories that the well off are only too eager to dismiss, whilst the less well off are screaming with a silent scream Please hear my voice somebody
Do visit Lebanon if you have a chance .
© Lola Awada 2005
Until my son was two, I considered myself an almost perfect mother. I say almost as I do not believe in such a thing as a perfect mother. A mother has to accommodate her behaviour to the personality and personal, physical and emotional needs of her child, as well as the circumstances that life has thrust upon her at specific moments in time. This, all mothers will know, is not a very simple thing to do.
Until my son was two, I had never raised my voice at him, never felt nervous or upset or enraged at anything he had done or said. It was love, love and nothing but love and harmony. Despite moments of personal sadness (completely unrelated to him) and the occasional hard situation, nothing interfered with the wonderful relationship we had.
Then troubles arose. I became a lone parent just as his speech was becoming profuse and quite strong-minded while simultaneously and very much appropriately for a child this age - becoming even more active than he ever was (and Boy! Is he active!) and deciding to discover the world and develop his character as he saw fit. Acts of mischief became a routine and as patient as I endeavoured to remain, there were times when, frankly, it didnt work!
So he used to be told off nicely every now and then and come the age of three, he was a complete rebel!
Good! I thought, the child has a strong personality; I want that!
Yes, but sometimes he overstepped the limit to a point where even the Virgin Mary would have wanted to tear all of her hair off!! Thus arrived the slightly more energetic reprimands, which would sometimes reach a degree akin to a thermometer rising on a hot day in Morocco!
And sometimes, explosions ensued, and I, the loving mother, would be turned into an outright MONSTER!!
Needless to say, I felt guilty beyond reason and relief, and then spent hours talking to my son about why I had donned this horrible transformation and that if only he would LISTEN, perhaps blablablabla
He was about three when I found When Mum Turned Into A Monster on a website; I purchased it as part of a collection of books, but amazon.co.uk sell it for £4.79 for a new soft back edition.
The book was written and illustrated by Joanna Harrison, who is the author of many childrens books, including Dear Bear and The Three Wishes.
I would say that the book is directed at children aged between 4 and 8, but I started reading it to my son before he had reached 4 and he seemed very happy with it!
The interesting front cover shows you an exhausted and somehow metamorphosed mother, slumped into an armchair and holding her head in misery, surrounded by her two confounded looking children.
The mother has monstrous green hands and legs, huge green ears and a green trunk protruding from the place where her nose ought to be, and to top it all, two antenna like shapes sticking out from her forehead, ending with two eyes!!
The book is narrated by one of the children and the story begins on an early morning, with the first illustration in the book showing you a very messy breakfast scene, with brother and sister arguing over something and the mother trying to feed the cat while at the same time answering the phone.
The telephone call thrusts the mother into total mental mayhem. The childrens cousins are coming to tea, and Mum realises that the house is a mess and there is nothing to eat!
In a panic, she orders her children:
Children, make your hair and comb your beds, and do it properly!
Yes, Mum, we groaned. "We knew what she meant, she just wasnt quite herself."
A very stressed mother then embarks on the arduous task of clearing the mess from the house; vacuum leaning, washing the dishes, the toilet, sweeping
In the meantime, the children having totally forgotten about their mothers instructions to tidy up their room, have decided to transform it into a jungle camp, much to the horror and frustration of poor Mum.
But by then, it is time to go shopping and bundled in the car, the children start arguing again, causing the onset of their mothers mutation. Her hands have turned green and she looks downright furious!
Will you two STOP fighting! shouted Mum.
Needless to say, the supermarket experience is a nightmare and by the time they get to the checkout, Mum is looking dishevelled and fuming and has grown very visible green ears!
Unpacking the groceries results a chaotic event and the ever more tense Mum has by now developed her green eye-topped antennas and swiftly thrown the children out of the kitchen.
The story unfolds through a few other very unfortunate events, and the last straw is drawn when the children leave a muddy mess on the carpet, after having played with the hosepipe in the garden and eaten half the tea that Mum had worked so hard to prepare!
Running up to their bedroom, which, incidentally is still as messy as ever, they hear the footsteps of their mother walking up the stairs. What follows is akin to what one may call a human explosive eruption and the illustration that portrays this is that of a by now totally green mother, complete with hairy hands and feet, a long green tail and an interesting green trunk from which smoke and flames are abundantly being released!
- She tried to shout but all that came out was smoke and flames and a terrible roar. -
Oh no, whispered Sam. Shes gone completely BONKERS!
Indeed, she had. But then she realised what has happened and slouching into an armchair, a shattered Mum moans:
I used to be a nice person But all your mess and fighting, whinging and yelling, has turned me sob into sob A MONSTER!
What happens afterwards is a swift and very efficient realisation on behalf of the children of what seems to have plunged their mother to such horrendous depths.
Reconciliation takes place in a manner I will not detail, but from beginning to end, the story is very humorous and so are the illustrations, which are very simple though perfect for the subject at hand.
My son really likes this story. We have read it countless times and I have noticed that he doesnt tend to pick it up only when I have had a go at him, which is quite reassuring.
When he sees me very tense and telling him off for no reasonable motive, he sometimes reminds me that I should behave myself lest I end up developing green extra limbs. It usually makes me laugh and calms me down, but lets be frank, it sometimes makes no difference whatsoever and knowing that other mothers also turn into monsters as I occasionally feel I do, is not an excuse for perpetuating such a repulsive and terrible mutation.
I do recommend this book. I am certain that both children and Mums will enjoy reading it.
Tips for calming down when your children seem to think you are talking to them in an extra terrestrial language and when all manners of persuasion have failed and you are left feeling mentally squeamish and gripped by an unyielding desire to scream:
1- Tell yourself that life is very short and that one should not unnecessarily ponder upon such insignificant matters as your beloved son or daughter spreading the play dough on the carpet and stomping on it to see if it stays stuck; or deciding that the bedroom wall would look nicer in purple, hence deciding to paint it thus with his permanent colouring markers.
2- Convince yourself that it is of no great consequence that your family/neighbours/friends should find your house looking like a bombsite because your child is only able to play when ALL his toys are spread around the house. Remember, its YOUR house, YOU live here and if they dont like it, they should leave.
3- Tell yourself that it is good to allow your child to get up to various experiments, however messy these may be, as this allows him to develop more harmoniously and broadens his creative horizons (this means you are a Very Good mother) and better still, only look at what he is doing or interfere if you think that he may be dismantling the computer or washing machine; about to jump in the chimney or from the second floor window (to see if he can fly); un-sticking the living room carpet to find out whether monsters live underneath the floor; slicing his arm with a sharp knife to see what veins look like or attempting to hammer down the wall with the very hammer you hid the day before in the attic under 5 boxes full of lead!!
4- Sing very loudly and completely out of tune.
5- Put heavy metal music on and dance around the house, jumping up and down and running hysterically until all the bad energy has been released.
6- Bang your head against a wall.
There are other options, but they are not very advisable.
Good Luck dear Mothers (and Fathers!)
© Lola Awada 2005
The actual title of this album is "Reversiones/Siempre es Hoy" (or Remixes/Siempre Es Hoy).
It is a double album of remixes from Gustavo Ceratis previous album, entitled Siempre Es Hoy (Its Always Today), which I will review separately when my product suggestion comes through.
I find it surprising that this particular album of the fantastic artist that is Gustavo Cerati is one of the easiest to find in the UK and on many websites, indeed it is often the only one that you will find on some sites, but I have come to understand why this may be.
I purchased my copy in Argentina, but amazon.co.uk sell it for £11.99 new or from £6.95 for a used copy.
Gustavo Cerati is an Argentinean and one of the most famous living artists to come out of Latin America. Although he is seen as a Rock artist, his music encompasses too many musical territories to be penned down in any fundamental or strict sty.
More details about him at the end of this and in the next review, but I will now concentrate on the album.
"Reversiones" is made up of two discs, each containing 10 songs.
The album originated as a competition / project set up by Gustavo on his official website (www.cerati.com) whereby he invited his fans (and anyone interested) to send him demos of remixes of a selection of songs from "Siempre es Hoy". There were over 350 submissions from fans and even some famous artists from Latin America and Europe. A strict but very difficult selection was made and 20 songs were chosen to shape Reversiones / Siempre Es Hoy.
Not all the songs present on the original album were remixed, and in some cases, there are totally different versions of the same song.
The general feel of the album is very electronic or "technological" but I hesitate to place in a specific musical realm, as there are many mixtures of purely electronic (techno) music as well as marriages between rock and techno (and other things!)
Clearly, many "machines" have been used to distort - in a sense - the original songs; computer programs, synthesisers, keyboards, samplers but also other classic instruments, such as guitars and percussions.
Some titles are full of energy and extremely lively and stirring; perfectly danceable tracks which seem absolutely perfect for dance parties and raves. Others are much more subdued, mysterious and calm, which seem just as perfect for parties or just winding down.
The titles are very different from one another and each one is in itself a harbour of variety. There are no boring and dull tracks that rely on the constant and same beats or rhythms, instead a lot of changes develop throughout each song while many decorative sounds, jingles, whispers, whistles, hums and reverberations compliment them in a way that any person sensitive to musical details should be able to appreciate.
While Gustavo himself assisted in the remixing of a couple of songs (Vivo, Casa and Tu cicatriz en mí) the artists who participated in this album are the following; a few may ring a bell (or not!). I have written the title of the song that each one transformed next to their names, thus avoiding having to list them separately:
DJ Orange + 160 RMX (Altar)
Leandro Fresco (Casa & Fantasma)
Gustavo Lamas (Sudestada)
Wechsel Garland (Sulky)
Miranda (Tu cicatriz en mi)
Pura (No te creo)
Leo García (Tu cicatriz en mi)
Chord (No te creo)
Zucher (Tu cicatriz en mi)
Canu (Amo dejarte así)
Christian & Powditch(Camuflaje)
Daniel Montenegro (Amo dejarte así)
Before I give my personal opinion about this very album, do let me guide you a few steps further into the world of Gustavo Cerati, to allow you to understand the reason behind the enormous status he has gained in his native Argentina and the whole of Latin America.
His former avatar came in the shape of Soda Stereo, the band Gustavo formed with two friends in the early eighties, at the end of the "Dirty War" in Argentina. The band quickly became extremely successful, due the quality and originality of their work and their charismatic live performances. Today, they are revered by many as "The" best Latin rock band ever to have existed. This, of course, is a matter of opinion, but even those who do not particularly enjoy listening to Soda Stereo and/or Gustavo Cerati, recognise that Cerati has an unquestionable talent, both as a composer and a singer, for his voice is undeniably exceptional.
From the very beginning, Gustavo was the one who composed most of Soda's songs and wrote their beautiful lyrics. While there was some contribution from the other two members of the band, and sometimes from external artists (Daniel Melero being a name often associated with them), it was very clear who was the spirit of the band: Gustavo Cerati.
Soda Stereo released 14 albums during a period of 14 years (2 remixes and 4 lives included), and each album is totally different from the other. Although they are known as a rock band, and certainly that is very pervasive in most of their albums and especially on stage, they have travelled down many different musical highways and alleyways, and I will use no further labelling, but simply will say that their musical flexibility has certainly contributed to their on-going success.
Cerati has always known how to be versatile, with style. He has done pretty much whatever he wanted to do with his music, as if concocting musical potions from whatever ingredients he fancied experimenting with at different times throughout his career.
Gustavo released his first solo album (Amor Amarillo) while still with Soda Stereo, and never presented it live, out of respect for his band. In 1997, the band split up for good and he was finally free to get on with his solo career as he wished.
This is never an easy task for any artist, but Cerati is Cerati.
Some say that his solo career is simply the extension of Soda Stereo, but I personally am more inclined to feel that Soda was simply the shell he used before his explosion as himself; a thick shell indeed, but he has shed most of it. We all know that butterflies spring out of a cocoon, and as such we always relate them to each other, but Gustavo Cerati has definitely reached the butterfly stage.
"Bocanada", his second solo album came out in 1999 and it was another 4 years before his third one was released: "Siempre es Hoy".
He has also worked on many other projects in-between.
"Reversiones" was released about a year after "Siempre es Hoy".
I must admit that "Reversiones" or Remixes is not my favourite album by Cerati (although it is difficult to have a "favourite album", as I find them all very good), but I try to view it in the context it was born in. The fact that Gustavo's hand is not the one that has moulded these songs into their new shapes might be the reason, but I view the whole project as a helping hand on his behalf towards those of his fans who are trying to make it themselves into the world of music. Having your name associated with Gustavo Cerati and printed on one of his albums is no meagre feat, and I see this as a very generous deed.
After "Siempre es Hoy", Gustavo got into "electronic music" quite a lot, with Leandro Fresco and Flavius Etcheto, forming a sort of "side group" to his solo career called "Roken". This consisted mainly in improvising music on stage (although the whole thing started as a laugh in various hotel rooms) with laptops and samplers and some pre-recorded music, all mixed with many different other sounds and rythms.
I am not sure whether a CD of Roken will be released or not.
From what I know, Gustavo is at present in a "rock mood" and recording a new solo album which should come out at some point in early 2006.
It is nothing new that when a release from an artist comes out, rotten eggs are thrown from one side, and flowers from the other. More flowers have been thrown at Cerati than rotten eggs, and I throw mine in, for I must admit that he has helped so many flowers to grow in my own private garden
If anyone is in the least interested, or just to give you an idea of part of the extensive work that Gustavo Cerati has produced to date, here is a list of all his releases:
Amor Amarillo (1993)
+ Bien (2001) (Soundtrack, mainly instrumental to the movie "+ Bien")
11 Episodios Sinfónicos (2001)
Siempre es Hoy (2002)
Reversiones/Siempre es Hoy (2003)
With Soda Stereo:
Soda Stereo (1984)
Nada Personal (1985)
Ruido Blanco (Live) (1987)
Doble Vida (1988)
Canción Animal (1989)
Rexmix (Remixes from previous albums) (1991)
Zona de Promesas (Remixes with one great extra song) (1993)
Sueño Stereo (1995)
Comfort y Música para volar (special live show) (1996)
El Último Concierto A (Live, their very last explosive concert, Part A) (1997)
El Último Concierto B (Live, their very last explosive concert, Part B) (1997)
Colores Santos (with Daniel Melero) (1992)
Plan V - Habitat Individual (1996)
Plan V + Black Dog (1998)
Ocio - Medida Universal (1999)
Ocio - Insular (EP) (2002)
© Lola Awada 2005
Argentina is the land where my dreams currently lie. It is hard to explain, so please don't ask me why, for I am trying to elucidate the answer myself. Something seems to ooze out of the soil and filter through your bones, or perhaps I am imagining things
Imagining Argentina .
Well I did not mean to start in this way, but Argentina is the land of dreams, and the land of broken dreams. The land of broken lives that many have forgotten and many still recall. A land that served as the scene of some atrocities that many wish to hush, while others are striving to keep alive.
Why would you want to keep atrocities alive? - Because sometimes it is the only way to ensure they are never reproduced.
"Imagining Argentina" is a story, fictitious but real (figure that one out for yourselves) about these very atrocities.
The story takes place during Argentina's Dirty War, which started on March the 24th 1976, when in a very well planned coup, the Argentine armed forces toppled the government of President Isabel Martinez Perón (with the full support of the US government, for a change).
A military junta, headed by General Jorge Rafael Videla, took charge of the country and proceeded to "eliminate" as many liberals, leftists and "political terrorists" (and anyone suspected of supporting them), as they could get their hands on. As these "descriptions" have always borne a crystal clear definition, which allows to very specifically target the right "bad" people, with full proof, of course, thousands upon thousands of people started to "disappear" in a campaign that was to last until1982.
A post junta truth commission recognises that at least 10,000 people were "disappeared". Amnesty International puts the figure at closer to 30,000.
Most of these people were tortured, killed by firing squads or thrown from planes and helicopters into the Atlantic Ocean, never to be seen again. Some did escape, and towards the end of the Dirty War, some "prominent" prisoners were freed and allowed to leave Argentina.
I only wish to point out that recently declassified State Department documents, (obtained by the National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act), show that in October 1976, Henri Kissinger (who was then Secretary of State of the USA) and other high ranking US officials not only gave their full support to the Argentine Military junta, but urged them to "hurry up and finish the Dirty War before the US Congress cut military Aid".
I will quote one last sentence, uttered by Kissinger to the Argentine junta on the Dirty War, and go back to the movie: "The quicker you succeed the better".
And now, for the story
Carlos Rueda (Antonio Banderas) works in a theatre for children in Buenos Aires and is married to a journalist by the name of Cecilia Rueda (Emma Thompson), they have a teenage daughter by the name of Teresa (Leticia Dolera).
Cecilia is very troubled by all the stories of the "disappeared" and decides to write an article about it, despite being warned of the possible consequences by friends.
Yes, soon after the article is released, Cecilia is taken by some men from her home and disappears as well.
Not long after that, her husband, Carlos, realises that he has visions about what happened to some of the disappeared. I will not tell you how he discovers this or in which way he does it, it would ruin the film if you decide to watch it.
He tries to trace his wife's whereabouts through his clairvoyant gift and this leads to many "adventures" and more mayhem.
I refuse to give away more of the story, for the reasons mentioned above.
Intertwined within the story, are depictions of the protest marches that the mothers of the disappeared organised on an almost daily basis in the Plaza de Mayo (Hence, the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo movement) many of those mothers also disappeared.
There are torture scenes which I personally found very hard to watch (well, what do you expect). Although they are made to look as genuine as possible (and it works), I found that there is no unnecessary insistence, but enough to make your stomach reach your throat before changing the scene and allowing your organs to assume their normal place in your body.
All the actors did a convincing and emotional job, in my opinion.
Emma Thompson was criticised for taking this role, I don't quite see why?
Do you really prefer her acting next to Arnold Swartzneger???
I think her performance was exceptional and very persuasive, and Antonio Banderas seemed perfect for the role, as did the rest of the cast.
I did not find the movie to be dull or boring at any stage, but it is a very strong and shocking story and I would not show it to anyone under the age of 15.
I was left rather tense and enraged towards the end, but this may be due to the fact that I know many Argentines and know a bit about the history of Latin America, which has always been one of much suffering, and as some of you may know, it is a continent very close to my heart.
A better explanation could be that any sight or knowledge of such extreme atrocities and blatant injustices in a world that is supposed to be "free" always leaves me with a sense of powerlessness that grinds at my most inner core. So does the awareness that history is still repeating itself.
The Audio Options on the DVD are: Spanish (dubbed); English (dubbed); Spanish (subtitles) and French (subtitles)
DVD Video Options: Colour, widescreen, dolby.
There were no extras on the DVD that I rented.
The movie was directed by Christopher Hampton.
Writing Credits: Lawrence Hampton Thornton and Christopher Hampton.
It did not gain much acclaim upon its release; no cars blowing up, no men flying, no sex, no evil aliens trying to take over the Earth (although, it depends which way you look at this!) no one killing anyone else (or rather, too many killers but not killing in the colourful way we seem to revel in watching death arrive.)
However, the purpose of the whole venture was to portray the Dirty War that left Argentina scarred for generations, and to indirectly point a finger at the numerous other countries where such massacres are still enacted, as we speak; this purpose it did fulfil.
I recommend the movie very strongly to anyone concerned in any form of manner about human rights and their violation, or simply about human life and suffering.
I did cry for Argentina.
Like every woman on this planet (or so I hope), I have always been intrigued by men, but not until my son was born, did I realise how much I loved men and how little I understood about their internal mechanism.
Coming from a rather chauvinistic and sexist culture, where woman are viewed as lesser beings than men, I had often felt that the what shall I call it?... unfairness flowed in one direction, but suddenly realised that it didnt. Well, not in the same way anyhow.
When I became a lone parent and the father of my son was away for very long stretches of time, I suddenly panicked about my lack of knowledge about boys and men and all the vicissitudes attached to both their physical and emotional operation and maintenance (it shouldnt take a son to ask yourself these questions though!!)
So I began looking for books that dealt with this very delicate and somehow complex topic. I found a few, and Manhood was one of my favourites.
This book cleared many issues which I had long suspected and was overjoyed to hear another man confirm and expand: that men are delicate, sensitive, warm and more often than not, fantastic creatures, so frequently hiding under the disguises of rocks, false assurance or sex gods and regularly made to live their entire lives in this pantomime.
Manhood was written by Steve Biddulph, famous for his books The Secret of Happy Children and More Secrets of Happy Children (co-written with his wife Sharon Biddulph).
He is also the author of Raising Boys (I have written a separate review about this book), a very interesting read for anyone who cares about little or older boys!
The book is 256 pages long (or short) including index, bibliography and all. It retails at £6.39 from amazon.co.uk but I paid £9.95 for it from one of the major bookstores.
The book is divided into 12 parts, as follows:
1- The Problem
2- Seven Steps to Manhood
3- Liberation for the rest of us!
4- You and your Father
5- Sex and Spirit
6- Men and Women
7- Being a real father
8- Making school good for boys
9- Finding a job with heart
10- Real male friends
11- The Wild Spirit of Man
12- Mens Groups
The first chapter of the book starts with these words:
Most men dont have a life. Instead, we have just learned to pretend. Much of what men do is an outer show, kept up for protection.
There is a stigma that has somehow been attached to men in these modern day societies. Part of it may have something to do with the womens liberation movement, but I personally think that the problem is much older than that, and by no means am I trying to undermine that movement (give me a break, I am an Arabic woman, that should be a heavy enough guarantee!!)
For a very long time now, men have been expected to be a certain way and behave in a certain manner. To be males. No one seems to have bothered to explain what that may signify, apart from having an interesting piece of anatomy dangling between their legs (pretty useful as well!)
You will often hear expressions such as be a real man, typical man, behave like a man, hes not a real man (imagine saying to your cat youre not a real cat!! if he doesnt chase mice) etc which to me, make no sense whatsoever.
It may be due to the fact that I am still trying to figure out what a real woman is, but I tend to think more in terms of what being a human encompasses.
Because of all these unspoken but clear expectations of them, many men grow up to shut themselves in. Manhood deals with the reasons why this may be whilst giving some guidance as to what to do to overcome them. Often, just understanding the reason for which you do something (unconsciously perhaps) is the first door to freeing yourself from the trap.
The book states that the three enemies of men are: loneliness, compulsive competition and lifelong emotional timidity, and throughout the book, these subjects return at one point or other, and are explored in much detail.
Biddulph compares (in a very healthy way) the manner in which girls are brought up, to the education that most boys are subjected to. Indeed, whilst girls are often allowed to give full vent to their emotions, boys are usually encouraged to do just the reverse. The message that appears to be the clearest is that they should learn to be tough, to be the strongest and to always win, as well as avoiding in as much as possible to moan and complain too much. It is as though they are taught that having emotions is wrong and expressing them unashamedly, almost a sin!
This inevitably leads young boys to lock their inner feelings in from very early on, to avoid being called a plethora of names ranging from sissy to chicken to mummys boy. With time, this turns into an automatically mechanical habit, and the skills required to express ones emotions are buried so deep within them, that proper excavation of them becomes almost impossible, or at the very least, extremely difficult and painful.
These boys will turn out to be real men, their own body being the coffin of their own feelings, which will take much more than Jesus to resuscitate.
The Seven Steps to Manhood that the book refers to are the following, according to the author:
1- Fixing it with your father
2- Finding sacredness in your sexuality
3- Meeting your partner on equal terms
4- Engaging actively with your kids
5- Learning to have real male friends
6- Finding your heart in your work
7- Freeing your wild spirit
These seem quite self explanatory, and in fact, the subsequent chapters are thorough developments of each of the above points.
A huge emphasis is put on the role of the father to form (or deform) his sons life.
Whether one likes it or not, Biddulph proclaims: Your father is the person who first and most powerfully taught you what manhood means. He did this by just being your father .
I think this makes perfect sense in that, the first person a boy will want to imitate is his father (unless he is absent, it will be the next foremost masculine presence who will have this honour). Regardless of whether the father is a good or bad example, this will be the case; a young child does not make the difference between what is good and what isnt; his father is to him like a god and anything he does (up to a certain age) will be worth copying. The fathers behaviour is sucked up by the child and will pre-determine the way he acts for a certain period of time, until other male role models take over, if they ever do, or until the experience of life itself, mould him into a new sort of man.
As boys turn into men, they will usually feel that their fathers have either taught them nothing or not the right things. Steve Biddulph encourages men to try and sort it out with their fathers, whatever the differences may be, he even goes to the extent of advising men whose father is deceased, to try and sort it out posthumously!!
Few men seem to feel that their father was a Proper father, a good father who was always available and helpful. It is not surprising that it should be the case, when the fathers were probably brought up in a similar or probably harsher manner than the sons; it is a vicious circle which takes a lot of strength of character to get out of, and a lot of help and affection as well.
Biddulph encourages men to try and get their fathers talking, to almost force them to admit certain errors and to make them talk of their own feelings. He states that the father part of a mans life is an issue that needs clearing (if indeed it is not already so) if the man is to get on with his life without this cloud hanging over him.
Two chapters are devoted to sex and the relationship between men and women.
Sex is talked about in a very positive way (or else I wouldnt be writing this review, hehehe!), Biddulph refers to is as a spiritual experience, while emphasising that it should not be seen or felt as a bad or dirty thing, or a foreign part of you.
Growing up with a healthy view and idea of sex and the opposite sex (not the opposite OF sex) is the key to a having a future healthy sexuality. Unfortunately, it seems that most boys are made to feel that their curiosity about their own body, females (or other males for that matter) and sex is improper and worthy of punishment. Masturbation, an essential and healthy part of mens sexuality throughout life as the author makes very clear, is not acceptable by most parents, and this can create a long lasting sense of guilt in the boy and the future man. Of course, it tends to lead to more furious episodes of the punishable act, but instead of helping a boy to develop his sexuality normally, it frustrates him, fills him with a sense of culpability which will hinder his possibility of finding real and spiritual pleasure in his future relationships.
Biddulph insists that talking naturally about sexuality to a boy, and helping to educate him about his urges and deep physical sensations, as well as giving a positive image of the opposite sex is vital.
The role of pornography (as opposed to respectful erotica) is also a topic that has part of a chapter dedicated to it, and Biddulph is of the opinion that it does not show the opposite sex in a good light. Indeed it only portrays the animal side of sex, and this may not be the best way at all for a boy to discover this world, which is new to him.
A boy should learn from as early as possible, that women (or girls) are fully worthy of his respect and truthful affection. Without this, he will never make a good partner and will never find one silly enough to stay with him for too long.
The subject of man and women is painted in a very fair light. From the importance of listening to your partner, helping out on equal terms, being faithful, never making use of physical or verbal abuse, developing a loving relationship to not letting yourself be possessed by your partner or never daring to give your opinion for the sake of peace; a long discussion about the above and other relevant subjects is ensued with, once more, reasons as to how and why such complications may arise and how to deal with them.
Being a father is a very complicated and huge responsibility and learning how to be a good father involves a lot of knowledge, care and affection.
I will not delve too deeply into this precise chapter, as my review about Raising Boys went on sufficiently about it and I do not wish to be too repetitive, although I may already have; but I will merely reiterate the fact that Biddulph stresses the importance of fathers in bringing up boys; how a father can create a balanced man with the ingredients of love, affection, guidance, friendship, strictness and discipline, in the correct amounts, or totally ruin his sons life for the foreseeable future.
As in every chapter, reasons and solutions are laid down.
It has been known for many years, that boys have a slower intellectual development in the first years of their lives. This is why boys are more often than not the boisterous ones in the classroom and the playground.
There are many reasons for that, the main one being testosterone (please read my Raising Boys review if you wish to learn more, or buy the book!) which effectively renders boys more energetic than girls (not always though!).
Recognising that there is nothing wrong with that, and not making boys feel awkward about their energetic personalities is a step that all schools have to take, if boys are to feel happy and thrive in that particular milieu.
Helping them to channel this energy into positive activities is essential, while avoiding to encourage them to take part in sports that are too competitive, as these often lead to a sense of failure in frailer and less physically strong boys and can lead to bullying. The importance of taking part in a sport is to enjoy it, build up a sense of comradeship, and of course the physical exercise in itself.
Biddulph also suggests that more men should be employed by schools, and I fully agree with him. To see men as caring teachers and role models in their place of education can only help boys to blossom and feel more at ease in this environment.
Chapter 9 is about the importance of finding a job that you enjoy and where your heart is. Whether you are a boss or a mere mortal, your place of work should be a place of fun and satisfaction and you should neither abuse nor let yourself be abused.
Chapter 10 and one which I found most interesting, is that of finding real male friends and not just lads. It is usually easier for women to make friends and talk openly about almost any subject, essentially feelings and personal themes.
Men, on the other hand, find it harder to make real friends, and usually the conversations will range from sport, to women (often with the use of very derogatory vocabulary), to the races, tv programs or more intellectual issues, but hardly ever about emotional or very personal matters.
This is due to the way they have been pruned of the capacity to express what they feel and usually dont even know how or where to start. It must be extremely painful to be in this position, hence the importance of finding male friends who can understand the way that you feel and help you instead of making jokes about your fragile state.
Time and again, (male) friends who have known each other for years, will realise that for all these years, their discussions never once centred on what they were feeling; they may have shared extensive knowledge and have had great laughs, but there was always an invisible barrier between them as far as emotions were concerned.
Sometimes a smile, a pat on the back or a quick embrace can mean a lot. I think males have sensors all over them to detect the slightest sign of emotive manifestation and as much as they hate to admit it, they relish these moments.
Having Real Male Friends talks about the value of having male friends who are not constantly trying to compete with you or push you to prove that you are a real man; about the worth of a male friend who knows how to be affectionate and listen to you and your problems and not be out the door in 2 seconds when he feels that you may faint at his feet and it talks about many other things also.
The last two chapters: The Wild Spirit of Man and Mens Groups are very spiritual in nature, in a good sense. I know that many men are freaked out by the utterance of the word spiritual, but perhaps they should learn to explore it further, it bears many connotations which I dare think they may find of profound interest and meaning.
Mens Groups is precisely about that!
The Wild Spirit of Man is about the importance of nature to men (and women as well, but as this book is about Manhood, well ) and Biddulph talks to an extent about male initiations in different cultures and the relevance this had on their entrance into the adult world of males. It is, as I have said above, a very spiritual chapter.
Whilst there are a few points I personally did not agree with in this book, most points were of very useful, helpful and I could even say enlightening significance.
There are many things I did not mention, but certainly, the purpose of this review was not to spill the whole contents out.
I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Manhood and have re-read it many times, or at least specific parts of it. I would recommend it very strongly to all males and females who wish to know more about themselves or their partners, friends, sons .
As I have said at the outset of this review, I originally bought the book to make sure that I was not vulnerable to messing around with my sons upbringing because of my ignorance about his mental, emotional and physical functions. This book has certainly taught me a great deal about men, and in the process of reading it, the bud of my love for them has blossomed into a glowing bloom, which I now trust to be everlasting.
As a very personal note, my husband and I, although now very good friends, parted due to a reason which was extremely painful and quite humiliating for me, following a tumultuous relationship. I could very easily have fallen into the all men are the same, a typical man, all men are b******s trap; luckily, what remained of my past profoundly intense love for him, pushed me to try and understand why he had acted the way he had; I tried to find an explanation. Manhood clarified many of these reasons; whilst this was not going to patch up things between us, as I could neither change him nor had any desire to go back to him, it has helped me to understand some absolutely essential essences in men and certainly deterred me from repeating many mistakes that I previously made, in my future relationship(s).
I would encourage all women to read this book, again, just as much as men, and never EVER to fall into the typical man trap; there is no such thing as a typical anything, you cannot put an entire gender into one sack and throw it into the sea (this goes as a vice versa as well).
I am happy that I have read this book and others about men and I can confirm that I can count among my dearest and most trustworthy and loving friends, at least 7 males of which I can at this very instant think of. They all know and are not ashamed to talk about their emotions or listen to mine!
The reason I insist so much that women should read this book is that they may one day have a son (or already have one) and should be aware of the effect that hearing their mothers deride men can have on them as they grow up. As much as hearing a man talking disrespectfully about women can form their idea about this gender and create future complications and put downs of females, so hearing their own mother talk disdainfully about men and their father in particular, can make little boys feel bad about being boys and trigger a world of confusion and misunderstanding that will accompany and trouble them in their adult life.
As much as a woman should be complimented about her femininity and all that this word encompasses and made to feel wholesome in her incarnation, so a man deserves to be praised for his masculinity (and of course all the good things that this word also encompasses) and feel good and proud about being a male; only in this way, with mutual respect and admiration, can men and women ever contemplate to live in true harmony together.
© Lola Awada 2005
Because the school I went to used to feed us lessons by making sure we gobbled them up and then threw them back up as fast as possible, I frankly dont remember much from most of my lessons, especially history and geography, apart from a post vomiting relief followed by total amnesia regarding the subject in question.
So when my son developed an obsession for a particular globe, I decided it would certainly be useful for me to have this toy handy.
The globe in question was the Leapfrog Quantum Leap Globe.
Those of you who have children will know that Leapfrog make educational toys, and this one is very educational indeed. I wont go into their history as I dont think it is relevant.
It usually retails at £99.99, but you may find it on special offer in many stores for £89.99 or if you are lucky, as I was, for £75. Most stores do have it in stock and the offers vary from store to store and from time to time. Having checked various other websites, I can see that offer it for as little as £65!
You will find it on e-bay also, but personally, my advice is not to buy it from there. My experience with e-bay is that, for very wanted items, you are likely to pay more than normal store prices. I was getting desperate a week before Christmas, as the globe seemed to have suddenly gone out of stock everywhere I looked, but e-bay still had many auctions for it on offer, except they were selling for over £100 plus £10 postage.
I ended up buying mine from a mail catalogue for £75. Seek and you shall find (at a decent price).
Now £99.99 may seem overpriced and even £75 still does, but this globe is very special. It talks and even sings you see!
Like most Leapfrog toys, you have the magic interactive pen, which, by pressing on a specific part of the globe, will tell you the name of the country, state, the currency but wait here are the details:
There are two main options to choose from:
This is for learning without stress (the games are stressful).
You may turn the dial to learn facts about either of all these very educational alternatives:
*Name (of the country, state or continent)
*Distance (to measure the distance between two places)
*Comparison (to compare the population and land area of two different places by
touching both locations with the magic pen)
And by gently pressing the magic pen on a specific part of the globe, a (apparently British) mans voice will tell you the name of the country, its population or whichever fact you have the dial turned to. It will only tell you the facts one by one, so for instance, you cannot request to listen to the name, capital and population of the country at the same time.
My two favourite (never mind my son now) options are the Music and Time ones. The time because my friends and family are scattered all over the world, so it is very handy to just turn the globe on (heeheehee) and use the Time dial to check what the time is in Chile, Argentina, Lebanon, New Zealand, Senegal
The Music option will play you a (supposedly) typical sample of music from the country you chose. Most countries have the National Anthem and 2 or 3 typical music pieces. It is very electronic sounding, and some of the pieces of music are much longer than others. My son uses this more than any other option, but then again he is only 5 and this globe is supposed to be for Children aged 8 or over. Just trying to explain the concept of population, distance or area is still very difficult.
There are 3 buttons below the Fatcs options which allow you to change from Countries to States to Continents.
This is the other main option on the Leapfrog Globe. It is a set of different educational games, in which 1 to 4 players can take part. Each game has 3 skill levels.
*Free for All (which includes all the above categories as part of the same game or challenge, I prefer the word game)
Each game consists of testing your geographical knowledge by asking you to locate specific places around the globe within a limited space of time.
There are three buttons beneath the Eureka Challenge options; one is for setting the number of players, one to change the skill level and one to start the game.
A voice will tell what you have to do and ask you to press the start button when you are ready. Then you have 60 seconds in which to find as many countries, states (or whatever option you chose) as possible. At this stage, I have found that my blood pressure makes a jump for the skies and in my (greedy) frenzy to find as many places as possible, I cant make out Africa from South America My son, on the other hand, tells me that I have lost my mind and very calmly looks for the locations in question. He has been known to locate Cuba, Bosnia Herzegovina, Congo, Poland, Iceland and many other countries much faster than I can. Thankfully, his nerves do not take over like mine do.
The encouraging thing (for children, not for me, it insults my intelligence!) is that regardless of the number of places you manage to find, the voice will politely say splendid, marvellous, amazing etc and will refrain from telling you what an ignorant sod you may be.
I have found that this globe is a perfect detractor from any uncomfortable conversation and I often find myself producing it to some visitors who decide to argue amongst each other over silly things in my living room. Most people become so absorbed by the challenges on offer that their sense of hearing become swiftly impaired (perhaps Blair & Co. have played with this globe for too long!) and you are free to converse with more peaceful visitors unhindered.
The Globe is quite colourful and revolves easily on a firm base.
There is an on/off button, but it also has an automatic shut-off should you forget to do that yourself.
There is a repeat button to repeat the last thing that was said.
A handy volume control does what volume controls do.
A headphone jack is a very useful part of this toy, but you will have to buy the headphones separately.
It requires 4Cs batteries (UM-2 or LR14) and although a set is supplied with the globe, they are for in store demonstration as the manual says. However these lasted for over a month of intensive playing. Regular batteries lasted for a long time (over 8 months or so of less intensive but still a lot of playing). The voice will warn you when your batteries are running out. Time to change your batteries will be the first thing it says when you switch the globe on and our globe kept on working for 3 weeks after the first warning, so that is a very useful thing!
It has an A/C adapter as well, again, to buy separately (only 6-volt DC 500mA) and you should not use any other or else the ground will open up and swallow you.
The manual is tiny but contains all the necessary information.
Like with all other electrical items, avoid spilling your tea/coffee/beer/wine/vodka or any other liquids on it and dont go swimming with it. You are supposed to keep it away from foods as well and avoid extreme temperatures.
I am very happy that my son fell in love with such a useful toy and it has brought him (and me and everyone else who has ambled through our house since last Christmas) many hours of enjoyment, and much needed geographical education.
For older children (at which this is aimed), this would without a doubt make learning their geography much more fun and I do think that the price is worth it.
I do recommend this toy and I know a few people who have been convinced by their passage through our humble home and their subsequent addiction with the globe, to invest in this very useful toy for birthdays and Christmas and sheer whims!
© Lola Awada 2005