Our priest at the Church of the Epiphany has been instructing the children on how the church year differs from the marketing year. While “Christmas” may start in October – or even July! – to merchants eager to sell their wares, for church-going Christians, Christmas starts on Christmas Eve – and is celebrated, each and every day, until the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrating the Three Wise Men traveling to find the Christ Child in Bethlehem.
“I know what I want for Christmas this year,” I said to my startled friend, “I want you to fix my camel. I have all the things, or most of them, but I haven’t a clue where to start.”
My friend is a very busy woman. She has so much on her plate. But there was not a sign of reluctance on her face. “I LOVE doing camels!” she exclaimed!
“I want it to look like a camel coming with the Wise Men to bring gifts to the Christ Child,” I told her, and she got it without any explanation – yep, gold, frankincense, myrrh . . .
The camel is everything I had dreamed of – and more. She made little bags, she created a treasure chest of gifts, she even included my sewing machine and a coffee grinder!
I have three little Wise Men following the camel, bringing gifts. The Qatteri Cat has inflicted some damage; one is missing a foot and I can’t find it anywhere. I was able to glue a head back on, and a feather on another . . . The Qatteri Cat does not get Epiphany.
A lawyer from Texas A&M did a wonderful film, sent to me by my sweet daughter-in-law’s dear aunt, called The Star in which he presents the result of his research to find scientific evidence that a Star might have stood still over the little city of Bethlehem at the the time pinpointed for the birth of The Christ. It’s an amazing and insightful video, the life work of a devoted man.
We were talking about marriage prospects, and I mentioned one young man.
She hesitated, then told me “we don’t marry with this family.”
“Why not?” I asked her. “He’s handsome, and kind, and I am told that they are the richest family in Qatar.”
“They are Iranian,” she said shortly.
“Iranian?” I asked. “They are Qatteri! They have been here more than ten generations!”
She grinned at me.
“It’s not enough,” she said. “They are still Iranian.”
I saw a mention of this book in an Amazon.com referral as a book I might like, and was almost set to order it when something said “go check the stack of books Little Diamond left for you” and sure enough, I already had the book.
I use books as an incentive to get me through life’s inevitable tasks I don’t like – like “if I finish this project on time, I get to read this book as a reward.” It works for me.
When I first started reading Marsha Mehran’s book about three Persian sisters starting up a cafe in a small Irish town after fleeing Iran, I found it sour. The author has a critical point of view, and generally speaking, I don’t like hanging around with people who criticize others and judge them harshly. At the beginning of the book, Mehran introduces a lot of people, many of whom we are not meant to like.
Even the sisters are not all that sympathetic – at the beginning. But also, near the beginning, she discusses Persian cooking, the idea of balance in a meal, hot and cold, spicy and bland, so you kind of get the idea that if there is sour, then there will also be sweet. In addition, at the end of each chapter there is a wonderful recipe, a wonderful, fairly easy-to-follow recipe, and she included one, Fesanjan, that is my all-time favorite Iranian dish and now, I know how to make it, Wooo HOOOO!
Three sisters, orphaned by fate, held together by love and duty, start a cafe, which, against all odds, becomes a raging success. Raging success does not heal all the old wounds, however, nor the hearts that bear them, and we learn through the book what the sisters have borne and overcome.
It turns out to be a sweet book, one well worth reading. And oh! the recipes! In each chapter, there are also hints that make them even better, so you can’t just copy out the recipes and use them, you really have to read the book.
It’s a pity that two of the most wonderful countries in the world – Syria and Iran – are off limits. We’ve been back to Syria, and it was everything we remembered (see the Walking Old Damascus blog entries) but oh, how we would love to explore Iran. Sigh. The world turns, and we can only hope to be able to get there in our lifetime. Stranger things have happened.
Sent to me by my good friend – it’s an Iranian joke:
What’s the difference between the USA and Iran ?
In the USA , they have Obama, Stevie Wonder, Bob Hope, Johnny Cash…
In Iran , we have Ahmadinejad, no wonder, no hope, no cash…
This book was on my (huge) “Read Me” stack, and I picked it up for a change of pace. As I started reading, I wondered “how did this get there?” My first instinct was it was a recommendation from Little Diamond. As I was reading, however, I came across a segment that was what our priest had read in church around the Feast of the Epiphany about the birthplace of the wise men who came seeking the Christ Child after his birth. I wrote down the title and ordered it from amazon.com (which has some copies used from 72 cents).
William Dalrymple wrote this book when he was a mere 22 years old. He and a travelling companion took off to trace Marco Polo’s journey from Jerusalem to Xanadu, where he was taking oil from the sanctuary lamp to Kubla Khan.
In a world where we have all been taught to be so careful, they take incredible risks. They travel on the cheap – staying in fleabag hotels, sometimes sleeping “rough”, i.e. out in the open. They travel any way they can – an occasional train, but more often a truck, a bus, whatever is going their way. One very long segment they travelled on top of a pile of coal.
They travel from Jerusalem up through Syria and into Turkey, then turn east and cross Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan to China. They have some amazing adventures, see some astounding scenery and because of their mode of travel, have a lot of time to talk with their travelling companions or people in the cities where they are staying.
I am blown away that an unmarried couple would cross Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. I guess they told people they were married to share a room (they were on a budget) and they were only friends, not a couple, but what a risk. I am astonished that they were never asked to produce a marriage license or any proof of marriage when they stayed in hotels. I am astonished at the girls (one left in Lahore and another joined him, but these are girls who are friends, not anything more) would travel on the backs of trucks full of men, and never blink an eye.
The book is occasionally hilarious. Most of the hilarity results from foods they have to eat – sometimes it is the only food available – or from misunderstandings because of lack of a common language, or due to their frequent bouts of diarrhea, what I really liked about the author was that he was rarely pompous, and when he is funny, it is usually about some conversation he has had, or some mistake he has made.
One of my favorite parts of the book happens in Iran:
As we sat waiting for the bus to Tabriz, the next town on Marco Polo’s itinerary, we watched the mullahs speeding past in their sporty Renault 5s. Iran was proving far more complex than we had expected. A religious revolution in the twentieth century was a unique occurence, resulting in the first theocracy since the fall of the Dalai Lama in Tibet. Yet this revolution took place not in a poor banana republic, but in the richest and most sophisticated country in Asia. A group of clerics was trying to graft a mediaeval system of government and a pre-medieval way of thinking upon a country with a prosperous modern economy and a large and highly educated middle class. The posters in the bus station seemed to embody these contradictions. A frieze over the back wall of the shelter spoke out, in the name of Allah, against littering. On another wall two monumental pictures of the Ayatollah were capped with the inscriptions in both Persian and English:
BEING HYGENIC IS DIRECTLY RELATED ON THE MAN’S PERSONALITY
ALLAH COMMANDS THE RE-USE OF RENEWABLE RESOURCES.
We had expected anything of the Ayatollah. But hardly that he would turn out to be an enthusiastic ecologist.
The challenge of this journey is to follow as closely as possible the path Marco Polo took, but two segments of the journey go through off-limits areas. They find a way into one, to discover later it is an atomic testing area, and the second, at the very end, around Xanadu, they find receptive Chinese officers who take them to have a brief glimpse of the ruins of Xanadu while booting them out of the area. As they stand in Xanadu, they repeat a poem that every American child grows up with in English Literature:
In Zanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of gertile ground
With walls and twoers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills.
Where blossom’d many an incense-bearing tree:
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
I liked this book. Dalrymple is a history major, and often quotes from historical – even obscure – texts to illuminate what he observes. I think I may look at a couple more he has written since.
It’s Friday afternoon, and I can hardly believe it. We are here. Now THIS is my idea of a romantic getaway – please! Keep your chocolates (although I do love chocolate!) and your roses, keep your long lingering dinners and fabulous wine, but take me someplace where I have really wanted to go, and I will be your slave forever. You da man, AdventureMan. You know how to win my heart.
It is a glorious day and the museum has just opened. There is a huge parking lot and little carts ferrying the older people and women with small children to the entrance, but it is a nice walk, not a hard walk. Families are streaming in, and (gasp!) admission is FREE! You have to go get a ticket; I guess maybe that is how they keep track of admission statistics, but this beautiful museum, floating out over the gulf, all white and clean and gorgeous, filled with priceless objects of art, it’s free? Amazing.
We decide to start with the Beyond Borders exhibit, a special collection of art that integrates Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions in an art collection. There are so many pieces that make me gasp in awe. I see one, and I can’t resist, the camera is out of my bag, I see others snapping photos with cell phones, but I know the rules . . . hmmm. But there is nothing posted here saying “no photos!” I ask the guard if I am allowed to take photos and he tells me “You are welcome, madame, all through the museum, you may take photos.”
I am in total shock. All through the museum? I can take photos?
Here is the piece that moved me so much that I gathered up the courage to ask. It is a Madonna, painted in Aleppo, Syria, I believe, and it has an Quranic sura written in her halo:
The museum is my oyster, and my battery is dead. I didn’t bring another. Some things happen for the best, and I tuck my camera back in my purse and AdventureMan and I try to absorb what the Doha Museum of Islamic Art has to offer.
It is an impossible task. There is SO much. Not everything is well documented, and then there are sections which are amazing. There is so much to learn, and so much beauty in this museum.
If I had to choose my favorite thing of all, it would be some tiles from Kashan. In an earlier post, commenter Daggero mentioned that the word for tile used in Kuwait is “kashi” and now I know that it comes from these tiles, made in Kashan around the 1300′s (Gregorian calendar) which were famed for their intricacy, their interlocking designs, and their high quality. There are also Iznik tiles in the museum, which are thought to be greatly influenced by these tiles from Kashan.
I had no idea, but the tiles just blow me away. I would love to create some tiled rooms back in my Seattle house, with reproductions of some of these amazing star shaped tiles. For me, that was the highlight of this trip. I know there will have to be many more – this museum is filled with treasures. Free – for all the people. And yes – the gift shop is awesome!
“Oh! You’re putting your Christmas things away!” I noticed, as I was picking up my friend.
“No, no, not until after Epiphany!” she said. “Our tradition is to take down the tree when Epiphany is over.”
Tomorrow, January 6, is The Feast of Holy Epiphany and in celebration, I will post two more works of art I found to celebrate the wise men seeking the child by following a mysterious star. Many people are still looking for a scientific foundation for the Star of Wonder and if you click on the blue Star of Wonder it will take you to a very good discussion of some of the possibilities from BBC News.
I like this one because the Wise Men have on clothing that really looks Persian:
Here, in a painting by Murillo, they look, not surprisingly, Spanish/European, except for the African!
I wonder if in their travels, these wise men came through Kuwait?