Yesterday evening after the rain, we went for a stroll. Unseasonably cool and fresh, I put on a jacket, a fantastic find (Italian, wool/cashmere blend, interesting plaid of browns without looking dated and required no tailoring) from our local thrift store for about one-hundredth of retail price, and because they are most comfortable for walking, my black Weston Golfs (hand-me-downs). I was already wearing a decent shirt (gift) and jeans (501s are like black leather jackets: always appropriate). All together, especially in combination with my age and spouse, I was about as close as I ever get to looking dapper-without-trying. These parts, if I do not shave for a couple of days, I pass as old enough to drive.

We strolled east on JFK and passed a remarkably diverse range of buildings, luxury villas, dense tenements, and derelicts (including the iconic Holiday Inn ruin), to the now-upscale and newly rebuilt Wadi Jamil district without being hit by a car or scooter even once. A large eye, clearly by Yazan Halwani, caught ours in a window at what appeared to be an art opening. His use of calligraphy always attracts me. He also had a large portrait of a young woman. We entered, were greeted, and were offered canapes and drinks. A pen-and-ink at the focus of the seats caught and held my attention (second above). It intrigues. It is composed of penned words, scribbles, and doodles without any obvious representation, yet the entirety presents something my mind interprets as a landscape. Specifically, a village or large farm (or even circus) next to agricultural fields. I cannot figure it out.

We then realized it was not an opening. Rather, it was an auction, and it might have been by invitation. We might be crashing it. I snagged a brochure and a couple of canapés, took some photos, and tried to pass as a player. My budget for the evening did not start at $4,500. My clashing shirt and jacket combination suddenly seemed inappropriately garish. I hoped it would accepted as an eccentricity so typical of foreigners here. We exited graciously and continued toward centre ville. Life in the city.


Out on our post-prandial promenade this evening after the rain, two separate storefronts with calligraphic carpets. The traditional one (with what look to be Koranic verses) in a store on the corniche near the Four Seasons, the modern (with unidentified text), yellow-on-black in the store on JFK across from the École Supérieure des Affaires on the way toward AUH from Ain el-Mreisseh. I like the modern one very much, enough to buy (but probably not if I knew the price), but I am content to regard its composition and ponder the concept of disintergrating words and letters.

Many years ago on a visit to Mhanna with my in-laws, they asked me to order my favorite dishes. Naive foreigner that I was, I asked for loubia biz zeit and mdardara. They did not serve it, and it was explained to me that this was a restaurant of the sort that did not serve those simple “popular” dishes commonly prepared at home. (I now like to use “popular” with this meaning: the synonym “vulgar” and “common” are associated with deprecation, and “popular” seems a mere statement of fact, even when it is not.) My understanding, reinforced by similar, though more subtle events, was that Lebanese did not appreciate home-made, but instead, prefered recognized brands in marked contrast to US self-reliant, pioneer attitudes or some such. Since then, my understanding has deepened and insight has replaced a polar, binary contrast between blind and materialistic obsessions with status symbol brands and virtuous, hand-crafted appreciation of artisanal virtue. Western goods, such as chocolates, whisky (even Johnny Walker of all things), and watches, are preferred when name-brand, yet makdous, pomegranate molasses, orange-blossom water, zaatar, and araq are all recognized as best when home made.

Some years after my request for simple dishes was rebuffed, again at Mhanna with my in-laws, I saw another table being served loubia biz zeit and mdardara. Nonplussed between confusion and tentative vindication, I managed to indicate the divergence of my earlier denial of service and current reality. “Oh, but it is Lent, and of course they serve those dishes during Lent.” I pondered the nature of fasting at a luxury restaurant, but as we had finished, did not have a chance at either.

This Monday, seeing ash crucifixes on foreheads reminded me that it was the first day of Lent for most Lebanese Christians. When I first experienced Clean Monday, I was very confused why everyone was starting two days early. Ending two days early would have been less surprising. More confusing was that no one here had heard of Ash Wednesday or Mardi Gras.

We happened to be at Mhanna sur Mer, our first visit to the one Mhanna (of three: this in Amchit, on the Debayeh highway, and in Zahleh), that serves fish. Very nice, very large, very obscure location with a beautiful view of the sea, and very empty on a rainy February day, yet still with their signature super-abundance of fruit, including what could have been the best pineaple I have ever eaten (or half-eaten: I had to stop myself from self-inflicted death-by-pineapple). Maybe 25 years later, I was still curious how Mhanna would prepare loubia biz zeit. My favorite, thick and oily, or thin and watery? So, I confidently ordered loubia biz zeit, and it arrived, a reasonable compromise: not oily, but not watery, and good, stewed green bean flavor without too much garlic. It paired well with the barracuda.

But beware the lee shore. A recent winter storm reminded me that the Mediterranean is not always docile. Growing up near the Pacific Ocean, I think of the Mediterranean as calm as a lake, so much so that accounts of storms in the Odyssey seemed unrealistic. Yet it is sometimes violent enough that ships move out to sea and the sensible do not park on the corniche. The Washingtonians manage very well, even when very tall.

This being the ancient Phoenician coast, the verse in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land comes to mind as an apt title. It is also the name of an acclaimed science fiction novel by Iain M. Banks.

View to the north.

Exploring this Gothic script for creating patterns yielded that of the top image: “nilochahtims” serially repeated and vertically juxtaposed with itself antiparallel. Think DNA, palindromes, C2 symmetry, and inverted repeats. As the name itself contains inversions, discerning the meaning masked by the abstraction becomes difficult, yet concomitantly, the pattern is clearer. Rightside-up is rendered with J. Herbin’s Poussière de Lune, and upside-down-backwards is rendered in Noodler’s Apache Sunset. Despite the compelling attractiveness, this is not intended for printing silk scarves. Instead, this is to determine a general method for creating name patterns and specific applcation to tooled leather goods, most likely notebook cases, belts, and possibly, even flip-flops.

Thus, general instructions:

Using the squat Gothic letters in the bottom image, in a middle row, write out the name (or word, words, or phrase) without spaces, back-to-back at least two, better three times (graph paper and tape may are handy, and even more usefully, pencil and eraser: I am somewhat embarrased to admit that I was doing it all with fountain pens, making mistakes, and starting over before realizing mechanical pencils have convenient applications in such tasks).

Use another sheet of paper, write out the name once twice so that one can cut two copies of the name from the paper. Do so. Be careful to leave strong links between letters so the word does not break.

Use the cut-paper names to find how the names can fit top-to-top and bottom-to-bottom (see middle two images). This where scanning the cut name along the written name is the easiest approach. Very carefully check that there are no conflicts. I prefer the top-to-top spacing to be the same as the bottom-to-bottom. Because there are usually fewer descenders than ascenders, bottom-to-bottom may offer more choices. In this case, I was lucky and had several choices top and bottom. This is not always so.

Continue the pattern until it can be seen how it will fill the space desired (or all surfaces).

If no close fits are apparent, one could increase the spacing, but that violates the esthetic: this is blackletter where ink fills the space. A better option is to change the name or use a variant letter form. Middle names can be included, be initials, or absent. The feet of the H, M, and N (common letters) can be sticking out or down: that half space can alter fit and allow closer packing. Ligatures, traditional or contrived, are many. If one’s children are not yet born, there is time to find a good name. It would be beautiful embroidery for receiving blankets.


I learned of the death of Ursula Le Guin this morning. She and Harlan Ellison, though very different, must be the two writers who had the greatest influence on me. Influence in that their works are the ones that I thought about most and still do. I encountered both during my formative years in the mid to late seventies. The Dispossessed must be the novel that most frequently comes to mind even forty years later. I recall puzzling over the meaning of the title of The Left Hand of Darkness. I suppose I still do and could try Wikipedia. Sometimes leaving things unknown is better. I never met her or heard her speak despite living in Portland. Sometimes meeting an author is disappointing, though in her case, I am certain not.

Gore Vidal, if I recall correctly, regretted the passing of the time when novelists were influential and celebrated, unlike today when those without any wit or insight into the human condition are now regarded so highly (though they must have sufficient insight to be popular). Yet, considering Le Guin, one suspects influence may be wide-spread and pervasive, even if not obvious to the masses.

A few years ago, I learned who her parents were, and suddenly, much of her approach made sense. My collection above includes what I have not given away or lost. I know I also have a copy of The Dispossessed because it is in the image of “A Science Fiction Reader,” 7 March 2014 post.

Rest in Peace.

Update 20180204: I finished rereading “The Left Hand of Darkness” yesterday, the paperback edition in the image. First, I confirm it is a masterpiece. Second, the meaning of the title is made clear in the book. It comes from a fictional poem (it is a real poem, but it originates in the novel) that begins “Light is the left hand of darkness” and relates to concepts of unified duality such as yin and yang and the hermaphrodite humans. Third, the foreward by the author is really fatastic (oxymoron). She discusses the idea of truth throigh fiction and whether the world created by her in the novel exists. So, nice concepts of contradiction and duality to reach deeper (higher?) understanding (insight), and thus fitting with the nominal theme of this blog.



Although restaurants here are all supposed to be non-smoking, few really are. Thankfully, Le Petit Gris accommodates its smokers across the street in a very comfortable fashion, depending on the weather.



Of Gothic majuscules, I have not found satisfying forms for W and V. Let us hope 2018 manages without them.

For calligraphic resolutions, I will spend time on Imperial Romans, Italic minuscules, and resume Arabic (Naskh), so I can improve my formal signs, handwriting, and Arabic reading.

A5, Pilot Parallel, Noodler’s inks. I wanted to use Fox Red, but it is too wet with every pen and paper combination I have tried. I will save it for work where permanence is more important than crisp edges.

Notice how the continuous stroke of the lower Y completely ruins it. Much elegance depends on such seeming subtleties. I cannot express the effect in words, only on them. Even were the red black letters black, the effect would be as pronounced.

This year’s card, A5, Pilot Parallel pens and Noodler’s inks. Traditionally, one would ink the black and then the red, and these two procedures might be by different specialists, especially if illuminated with gold leaf (it would be bad to waste the expensive by a mistake with the easy). At first, I wrote letter by letter, but then, bothered by pen changes and bored, I tried rubricating first and after.