Skiing in Lebanon

Did you know that you can ski in the Middle East?  You may have heard of Ski Dubai, an artificial ski resort inside the Mall of Emirates.  However, in Lebanon, you can find the real deal.  Lebanon is a mountainous country, with peaks reaching over 10,000 feet.  Often called “The Switzerland of the Middle East,” Lebanon has 6 different ski resorts on the Mount Lebanon range.

Skiing was introduced to Lebanon in 1913 by a Lebanese engineer who had studied abroad in Switzerland.  The French Army established the country’s first ski school in 1935, and the sport continued to develop, with cross country skiing gaining popularity in the 1990s.

Lebanon has much to offer in terms of natural beauty, and due to its small size, traveling between sites is relatively easy.  It is possible to ski amongst the country’s famous cedars in the morning, and then take a swim in the Mediterranean in the afternoon.  Lebanon is a country that truly has something for everyone.

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Zellij

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This type of tile work is called “Zellij,” it is in the Moroccan style and is mainly found in Fez.  Zellij is comprised of interlocked shapes, with the number 5 being very prevalent (pentagons, 5 and 10 point stars, 5 colors).  The number 5 is a significant number in Islam, there are 5 pillars of faith, 5 prayer times each day, and the hamsa (the Arabic word for 5) is used as an amulet for protection from evil.

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 Properly executing zellij designs requires steadfast attention to detail and strict adherence to mathematical calculations.  Thanks to measures taken by the Moroccan government, this technique has been preserved, and many capable Moroccan artisans remain to perpetuate the craft.  In fact, Moroccan artisans, renowned for their skill, are often hired throughout the Middle East to undertake restoration projects.

Artisans from Fez were hired to recreate a traditional Moroccan court within the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York when it remodeled its Islamic Art wing in 2011.  The result is an example of the highest level of Islamic craft possible today, created within the walls of a museum, and available for all to appreciate.

http://www.metmuseum.org/metmedia/video/collections/isl/building-the-moroccan-court

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/20/arts/design/metropolitan-museums-moroccan-courtyard-takes-shape.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Olive Oil Soap

Olive oil soap, made from olive oil and lye, is a Middle Eastern handicraft that dates back over a thousand years.  It is traditionally made in the Levant (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Israel, Jordan) from 100% natural materials.  Essential oils and traditional herbs are often added to remedy skin ailments such as dandruff, rosacea, eczema, and acme, as well as to heal wounds and sooth insect bites.  Olive oil has long been known to serve as a deep moisturizer, regenerating and softening skin cells.  Olive oil soap can be found today in suqqs and in apothecary shops, and is still commonly made at home.

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Check out Canaan Fair Trade to find out more info on olive oil soap, as well as other goods produced in Palestine.

Buy olive oil soap and support local artisans here.

Fairouz

Habbeytak Bessayf – (I Loved You in the Summer)

Fairouz is one of the best known and most beloved voices in the Arab World. With a career spanning over 60 years, there are many Fairouz songs to enjoy.  Her music is part of the soundtrack of the Middle East, often playing in the background, in taxis or cafes, slowing the modern day hustle and bustle down just a little bit.  I love Fairouz, and this song is one of my favorites.

English Lyrics:

In the cold days, in the days of winter
When the sidewalk has become a lake and the street full of water
This girl has come from her old house to await him.
He told her to wait but he has gone away
And he forgot about her and she goes away in winter.
I loved you in the summer, I loved you in the winter
I waited for you in the summer, I waited for you in the winter
Your eyes are summer, My eyes are winter
My love full is beyond summer and beyond winter
The stranger passed by and gave me a message
My lover had written with his tears
I opened the message whose letters are lost
And days passed, years made us strangers
While winter had erased the letters of the message
I loved you in the summer, I loved you in the winter
I waited for you in the summer, I waited for you in the winter
Your eyes are summer, My eyes are winter
My love full is beyond summer and beyond winter
Is beyond summer and beyond winter.

Mint Lemonade and Mint Tea

Mint, an herb long cultivated across the Middle East and North Africa, is renowned for its cooling and healing properties.  Its modern name came from an ancient Greek myth.  Persephone, the jealous wife of Pluto, transformed the object of her husband’s lust, the lovely young nymph, Minthe into a plant so all could trample her.  Unable to reverse the spell, Pluto instead gave Minthe a pleasant scent that intensified when she was tread on.  The name Minthe eventually evolved into Mint.  The versatile plant was used by the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans in aromatic baths, as a salve for sports injuries, and as an appetite stimulant.  In Rome, Pliny the Elder advised his students to wear wreaths of mint to sharpen their minds, and senators wore mint sprigs in the hope of enhancing their oratory skills and suppressing their tempers.  It has long been known to serve as a digestive aid, as an antiemetic, and as a cough suppressant.  It is refreshing when served cold and soothing when served warm.

Historically, mint is a symbol of hospitality.  The Greeks and Romans would rub mint on banquet tables to greet their guests,  and today, Moroccans are quick to offer a glass of mint tea as a gesture of friendship.

Both mint lemonade and mint tea are widely drunk throughout the Middle East and North Africa.  They are both easy to make, healthy (as long as you are much more conservative with the sugar than they are in the Middle East), and de-licious!

Moroccan Mint Tea:

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Mint Lemonade:

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Roman Ruins

The Middle East and North Africa have some of the world’s most well-preserved Roman ruins.  From Volubilis in Morocco to Jerash in Jordan to Palmyra in Syria to my personal favorite site, Baalbek in Lebanon.  The Roman Empire encircled the Mediterranean Sea, borrowing influences from each outpost to form a singular “Mediterranean” culture, which is still evident today.  Rome imported  wild animals (for the gladiator games) and grain from its MENA cities while introducing innovations such as aqueducts, roads, and arches.

The temples at Baalbek are dedicated to Jupiter, Aphrodite, and Bacchus, and are some of the largest and most artistic Roman temples ever built.  They represent the wealth and creative output of the Roman Empire at its apogee.

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The Temple of Jupiter at Baalbek

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Turkish Tulips

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While tulips are most often associated with the Netherlands, they are actually native to Central Asia, and were first cultivated under the Ottomans in Turkey.  They were introduced to Holland when several bulbs were given as a gift from Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent to Ogier de Busbecq, a Flemish Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.  They were then cultivated throughout the Low Countries by Carolus Clusius, a famous botanist, which set off Tulip Mania throughout the 1630s.  Tulip, “lale,” in Turkish, got its English name from the Turkish word for “turban,” “tulbend,” as they were perceived to resemble the traditional Ottoman turban.  The tulip was a very popular symbol in the Ottoman Empire, representing abundance, indulgence, and paradise on Earth.  It was often featured in Iznik pottery, and tiles, which were used to decorate the sultan’s palace and many imperial mosques.  Celebration of the tulip continues today in modern Turkey, where festivals coincide with the flower’s blooming season, and artisans continue to reproduce Iznik designs.

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    Iznik Plate