"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Saturday, May 15, 2004
Tasting Roots, Watching Sirens
Phoe-ni-cia Usage: geographical name
1 : ancient country SW Asia at E end of the Mediterranean in modern Syria & Lebanon
2 : my heritage
"Naaannnaaa!!!" he screamed in my ear for at least the forty third time.
And to make it worse, he had started leaning towards me when he did it so that there was only inches from his mouth to my eardrum.
"Thats not your Nana," his father or something said.
"Yes it is! NAAAAAANNNNAAAAA!!!!!!"
And so forth.
I was sitting at this years Lebanese Food Festival, trying my darndest to have a good time. Every year on a (usually) beautiful May weekend, I have the chance to go to a local festival hosted by a Maronite Catholic Church where the entire congregation is Lebanese.
My own heritage is Lebanese also, on my mother's side. She was 100%, so I am half.
Now, I should explain something here. Lebanon today is not the country my family came from. No, my heritage was from the older inhabitants.
The arabs who live there today are mostly people who arrived after the civil wars in the 1960's. They are the same people as the Palestinians and several other nations.
On the other hand, my roots go back not through the arabs, but through the Phoenicians. We were not a desert people living a nomadic lifestyle. We were seafaring adventurers but mostly we were merchants and traders.
After at least 3,500 years of inhabiting that land, we were driven out and dispursed to the winds in the civil war, in a mass exodus referred to as the "Lebanese Diaspora." My great uncle would tell of going to sleep to the sound of gunfire and mortars every night. I have at least one cousin who joined the resistance and no one has heard from her since.
Pretty sad for a people who built Solomon's temple, Carthage and Tyre, and were the first to circumnavigate Africa.
But there's more, and this is cool stuff.
We not only colonized the entire Mediterranian, but established Marsielles and a lot of other cities in Italy, Spain and France. In Malta they still speak Phoenician!
And beyond that, not only is there apparently evidence of Phoenicians in Australia, but there was a colony in Britain, and some think the Celts were Phoenician.
Perhaps most intriging, to me, is that they have found Phoenician inscriptions in the United States, in Massachusetts and Iowa and elsewhere.
Oh, and the alphabet. We made that.
"NAAAANNNNNAAAAAA!" "That's not your Nana." "Yes it is!"
The food, by the way, was top notch although the portion sizes have shrunk over the years I think. Or maybe I'm just bigger. No, it's the portions, I'm sure of it.
They had all the dishes I remember from my childhood at my grandmother's house. Hummus, which is a dip or spread made from sesame seed paste and chick peas. Rice and beef, seasoned with allspice and cinnamon and wrapped in grape leaves or cabbage, or stuffed into hollowed out squash. Meat and cheese pies. Kibbe, which is kind of like a meatloaf but with wheat instead of bread. Fried honey dipped donuts, and baklava.
Well, ok, she never did the donuts but I'll bet she would have if she had one of those deep fryers.
This year we had come earlier in the evening than usual, and I was regretting it.
"NNNAAAAAAANNNNNAAAAAAA!!!!!" "That's not your Nana." "Yes it is!"
But one of my favorite parts of the festival each year is the dancing. A lot of the young girls and ladies at the church will form groups and do traditional dances.
One group will have all little girls, then one a bit older, and so on up to a group that had the mothers and other "grownup" ladies. Each group dresses in a different color combination.
And they are wonderful to watch. They start heading for the stage while I am getting seconds for my wife and I on a couple of things, and when I get back the kid next to me and his group have left, perhaps to hunt for Nana.
Good. I settle back and prepare to enjoy myself.
And it is neat to see them, each one proudly embracing their heritage. I'll bet that almost none of them have ever been to Lebanon, but right there is a little piece of it, a piece of the way it should have been.
Joy and wild music, jumping and spinning maidens, heady scents of braising shish kabobs and cinnamon, everyone in a good spirit and enjoying the day.
That's the way it ought to be, I think.
Each of us has a heritage to share. To some, like myself, it may be a pretty clear cut one, at least on one side. To others, it may be a mixture of many heritages. Every one of us has a story that is ours alone.
My mother's family name is Abu-arab. That means "Father of the Arabs." That was a name given to my ancestor because the Bedoin tribes liked him that much, thought of him that way.
Then again, there are stories that my own surname, Hursey, comes from Wales and came from "horse thief." Odd that, it has a funny kind of justice to it.
Your name has a story or two in it as well. Be proud of that.
Taste your roots. Dance the dance.
Celebrate who you are.
It is certainly desirable to be well descended, but the glory belongs to our ancestors.
Plutarch (46 AD - 120 AD), 'Morals,' 100 A.D.