Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bread of Beirut | New Writing | Granta Magazine

Photo by Julien Harneis.
Tonight I found this wonderful article below on twitter via NY Time's Mark Bitten titled Bread of Beirut | New Writing | Granta Magazine.

I've included this excerpt from the longer article which I totally recommend you read. I followed up with notes about the writer and her book 'Day of Honey'. As Syria is currently darkened by war these words on the central place of shared food and humanity from Beirut are a reminder of how people struggle to go on with daily life. This writing had such beauty in it for me. I hope you'll agree.

To mark the publication of Anthony Shadid’s memoir House of Stone– which is full of the tastes and smells of traditional Lebanese cooking – Annia Ciezadlo takes us to her bustling local bakery in Beirut; reveals the mysteries of their best recipes and explains why they can also be places of refuge during times of war.

Relationships are fragile in Beirut. Instability at the top filters down into your intimate life. Neighbours, brothers, sisters, lovers – they can all turn on you overnight. Governments collapse. Friends emigrate. Houses that survived the Ottoman Empire disappear in a week, killed off by sky-high real estate values. Trust is essential; trust is impossible. That’s one legacy of the long, lingering civil war, which officially ran from 1975 to 1990 but never really ended.
But the furn is another legacy. During the war, cooking gas would periodically run out. When that happened, Beirutis returned to a tradition as old as the city itself, the habit of the communal oven.
The practice of sharing an oven goes back to the ancients, when Babylonian temples fed their subjects on the leftovers from the feasts of the gods. But the urban public oven came into its own in the medieval Whenever there’s the threat of violence, people rush to the bakery for bread, of course, but also, I suspect, for reassurance.Mediterranean. In cities all around the Middle Sea, Christians and Muslims, Arabs and Armenians alike brought bread and other foods to the oven at the pandocheion, a Greek word for inn that means ‘accepting all comers’. For a small fee, the public baker would cook your food, saving scarce heat and fuel for all to share – a kind of culinary carpool. Private ovens encouraged segregation; public ovens led to mixing, cross-pollination, and negotiation – in a word, relationships. And probably, I imagine, a fair amount of food and recipe sharing across religious and ethnic lines.
I looked up this writer Annia Ciezadlo and found her book Day of Honey which looks like something I would love to read.
Book by the article's writer.

"Her book is among the least political, and most intimate and valuable, to have come out of the Iraq war…  There are many good reasons to read “Day of Honey.” It’s a carefully researched tour through the history of Middle Eastern food. It’s filled with adrenalized scenes from war zones, scenes of narrow escapes and clandestine phone calls and frightening cultural misunderstandings. Ms. Ciezadlo is completely hilarious on the topic of trying to please her demanding new Lebanese in-laws. These things wouldn’t matter much, though, if her sentences didn’t make such a sensual, smart, wired-up sound on the page.... Ms. Ciezadlo is the kind of thinker who listens as well as she writes. Her quotations from other people are often beautiful, or very funny…. Readers will feel lucky to find her. —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Her epicurial tour cracks open a different Iraq. She looks into its dusty cookbooks, explores its coffeehouses and savors the foods of its many regions and religious sects. Her book is full of more insight and joy than anything else I have read on Iraq.... Her writing is at times so moving that you want to cry for countries destroyed, but she writes with such wisdom that you don't fret over the future of these 4,000-year-old civilizations."The Washington Post Book World
From the writers Website: Read more here.

A luminous portrait of life in the war-torn Middle East, Day of Honey weaves history, cuisine, and firsthand reporting into a fearless, intimate exploration of everyday survival.
In the fall of 2003, Annia Ciezadlo spent her honeymoon in Baghdad. Over the next six years, she broke bread with Shiites and Sunnis, warlords and refugees, matriarchs and mullahs. Day of Honey is her memoir of the hunger for food and friendship—a communion that feeds the soul as much as the body in times of war.
Living in occupied Baghdad, Ciezadlo longs for normal married life. She finds it in Beirut, her husband’s hometown, a city slowly recovering from years of civil war. But just as the young couple settles in to a new home, the bloodshed they escaped in Iraq spreads to Lebanon and reawakens the terrible specter of sectarian violence. In lucid, fiercely intelligent prose, Ciezadlo uses food and the rituals of eating to illuminate a vibrant Middle East that most Americans never see.
We get to know people like Roaa, a determined young Kurdish woman who dreams of exploring the world, only to see her life under occupation become confined to the kitchen; Abu Rifaat, a Baghdad book lover who spends his days eavesdropping in the ancient city’s legendary cafés; Salama al-Khafaji, a soft-spoken dentist who eludes assassins to become Iraq’s most popular female politician; and Umm Hassane, Ciezadlo’s sardonic Lebanese mother-in-law, who teaches her to cook rare family recipes (included in a mouthwatering appendix of Middle Eastern comfort food). As bombs destroy her new family’s ancestral home, and militias invade her Beirut neighborhood, Ciezadlo illuminates the human cost of war with an extraordinary ability to anchor the rhythms of daily life in a larger political and historical context.
From forbidden Baghdad book clubs to the oldest recipes in the world, Ciezadlo takes us inside the Middle East at a historic moment when hope and fear collide. Day of Honey is a brave and compassionate portrait of civilian life during wartime—a moving testament to the power of love and generosity to transcend the misery of war.

lipstick jihad - Covering War At The Dinner Table
Image from Jezebel
Some of the most wonderful experiences of hospitality I can recall come from people from this region of the world. Tonight in my Journaling class we read the words of Sufi Poet Rumi...such grace!
“Christian, Jew, Muslim, shaman, Zoroastrian, stone, ground, mountain, river, each has a secret way of being with the mystery, unique and not to be judged” 
― Rumi
“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralysed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds' wings.” 
― RumiEssential Rumi
“The ground's generosity takes in our compost and grows beauty! Try to be more like the ground.” 
“Work on your strong qualities
and become resplendent like the ruby.
Practice self-denial and accept difficulty.
Always see infinite life in letting the self die.
Your stoniness will decrease; your ruby nature will grow.
The signs of self-existence will leave your body,
and ecstasy will take you over.” 
― Rumi
Wishing you a lovely week,
x Sophie


vogel said...

wonderful post - I'm going to see if the library has a copy of Day Of Honey

thank you


Blue Sky Dreaming said...

Sophie, You just gave me the best Monday with this post. Brought to tears reading and then the words of Rumi...beautiful, forgiving and perfect...thank you! I will follow up with this author and the book!

annamaria said...

Dear Sophie what a treasure you have found. I read it once but I want to look into it more and find the book.
When I had my first two children I lived (for six years) on the island of Skopelos in Greece. Our neighborhood baker (using a wood oven) would bake everyone's food on Sunday morning while the villagers went to church. On their way back they would pick up their large pans and head off for lunch. It was one of those things that I barely noticed then (since I was young and foolish!), but have since treasured as a precious memory...Thank you so much for this post.

Sophie Munns said...

Hi Vogel,
good to meet you... loved seeing your work over at your blog! Hope you track down the book!

It is such moving writing ...and yes... the Rumi words felt so right. So with you on this!

Dear Annamaria,
Treasure indeed!
Skopelos ... sigh... no doubt difficult times in some ways. But memories... yes I can imagine.
I stayed for weeks on Ikaria in 87 and watched people bring their baking to the local oven. Somehow I think the revival of that could be a damn good thing in a lot of places. Love your story... have you ever painted it?
xx S

Mlle Paradis said...

lovely post sophie!