Reflections on art, fitness, family, politics and literature that hit me like bricks as I chauffeur my children from place to place...
A pink taxi
August 10, 2010
Tea with Teta
My first memories of my paternal grandmother were of a Grande Dame in her mid sixties. She had an open house, neighbors and relatives stopping by to visit her all the time. She was always ready to attend parties as well. I remember her closets full of silk dresses, her heeled shoes, the matching Gucci handbags. On her dresser, her string of pearls, her 4711 Cologne (which was avant guard because it inspired the Green Tea by Bulgari) and Elnett hair spray at the end of her grooming. She then sat in the back of her Citroen C3 hydraulic system which had a shark shape. I always sat next to her as she waited for the driver Youssef Ahmadiyeh (a druze from Sofar, with a heavy Qaf in his vernacular) to start the car. How grand her car seemed, even presidential! (presidents of France were known to have been driven in them in the 70s as well). While he warmed the motor, the car would ascend and the feeling in the back seat was magical! I can still picture my Teta (title given to grandmothers in Lebanon and Palestine) presiding over the large dining room table with its Syrian embroidered table cloth, for breakfast (that would make any modern Brunch pale in comparison, considering the variety of foods and condiments that were presented) or for lunch. Today, a gratin with beschamel at the fanciest restaurants will always remind me of my Teta. At her home, diners were always served on a trolley in front of the akhbar (News) as seen in the posting Beyrouth. Teta would go on lengthy walks with my parents when we visited her in Beyrouth. She lived in Doha, one of the rare gated communities of the city. Doha was on a hill, overlooking the Mediterranean sea (my dad would point to the horizon and simplify to me who only knew France from geographical representations: France is there, on the other side). In Doha, the roads were safe, with the rare car driven by a resident or visitor. As kids, we trailed along, ahead or behind the matriarch by a distance. She used a cane, a beautiful wooden one with a silver handle, which she "parked", next to a large traditional wooden coat hanger that greeted the rain and winter coats in the vestibule of the house. She walked at a snail's pace, with the same heeled shoes or heeled slippers (she never owned tennis shoes or even flats). She would always point with her cane to this tree, that house, with social stories. The tradition I was most fond of was tea time. She would send us to the kitchen, where her Sudanese cook, Sayed, would take a large bread out of the bread container (the steel one with sliding door) and cut the Lebanese bread into a single layered sheet on which he would apply Danish imported butter generously, which he would then sprinkle with granulated white sugar. He would finally roll it very tight into a snack that would make any mother cringe and any child happy: arousset sukar (literally translates as a bride of sugar). And as if those were not enough, we (siblings and/or cousins) would rush to the adults who would be sitting in front of the house, as if on the doorstep ( but it was quite a large area) who were drinking tea. My grandmother sat, with a fly swat that looked like a pony tail, and she would use it invariably to keep the flies from attacking the ka3k, which are dry circular or oval type cookies-crackers. I have always identified ka3k with Teta's tea time. Later in life, they were the perfect antidote to pregnancy morning sickness... Today is the first day of the Month of Ramadan. My Teta was the first person I remember who invited me to open the Holy Quran. She asked me to sit next to her and kiss the holy book and open it from the back: "the easiest suras to memorize are in the back", she explained. I remember her with fondness.
The pink taxi runs from 7 am to 7pm. It picks and drops off my 3 kids at school, ballet,judo, aikido, violin, climbing, riding, squash, basketball, skiing, skating, swim team, friends, grandparents and teachers. The car, not pink, but a black SUV, drives to Carrefour and Coop. To Club stretch for pilates and Aviation club for weekly workouts. It is driven by a woman who navigates on the radio, gets DJed by her 4 year old or sometimes quietly reflects. The thoughts are about politics, family, humor, literature, art or fitness. Sometimes they are excruciatingly longwinded, other times they are gossipy and hot.
I hope you will all enjoy!