Tag: food

This is my paradise

As I walk the busy Damascus streets I watch workmen move steel girders onto awaiting lorries, all around me impatient drivers blast their car horns, this is the chorus to my daily Arabic life.

In front of me a man hammers a giant mortar and pestle making real hand-made ice-cream; no electric churners here, it’s all so physical. Brightly coloured bags filled with a variety of fresh juices for Ramadan adorn stalls all along the street – an irresistible selection of mango pomegranate tamarind liquorice, and much more.

A cockerel croaks it’s last breath before it’s head is removed swiftly ready for today’s kebab, there is no frozen meat here. A hen looks nervously at me as if it knows it’s inevitable fate, it stands there, un-caged and docile steadfastly refusing to fly away.

The wonderful smell of za’atar turns my mind back to food; its the Damascus smell – a mix of sesame and thyme spices, eaten with fresh olive oil on bread. I find it hard to walk past the 24-hour hummus cafe in the Christian-end of the street; packed with people eating the wonderful creamy chickpea tahini dish with bright coloured pickles and fresh Arabic flat bread.

I indulge in a bowl hoping it may somehow protect me from the poisonous Arak I had the night before. The white cloudy drink had stolen another night from my life, this time I found myself drinking with one of Syria’s most famous and revered writers, this 60 cigarettes a day man talked of his achievement at always writing political dramas for TV and cinema without ever being threatened or questioned by the authorities; for whatever reason he is just left alone. “This is my paradise” he tells me proudly “Here I do what I want and say what I want”.

I try to ask him about ‘The red line’, referring to the invisible line that most “sensible” Syrians know not to cross in order to maintain their ‘freedom’, “There is no red line” the writer tells me laughing, “The red line only exists in the mind, it is there to guide us!” Others have told me that it exists to allow the authorities to pick up who they want when they want, as a means of exerting a little bit of pressure now and again.

I lose myself in the history of these streets, it is like stepping back in time with it’s wonderfully terrible anarchic noise and disordered chaos, this is the life I love and miss so much when I am back home in the West. Time passes quickly when I walk these streets, each journey bringing me something new and often never repeated, the randomness, the shocks, and the surprises I crave in life are here without fail everyday on this dirty noisy Damascan street.

The noise of the street can be crippling and then, suddenly, as the Ramadan breakfast breaks, it becomes quiet with not a soul in sight, and an eerie empty silence envelopes the once bustling street.

Soon, hidden, out of sight, the people will break their fast and eat for the first time in the day, as I slowly wander the empty street alone, arrested by its silent dirty peaceful glory.

Biotic Food and the Unsung Hero

I was drinking with a Japanese friend, Mie in an Irish bar last night. I love watching the Japanese eat fish and chips and drink pints of Guinness. The eager young girls are on the look-out for Western guys, the Western guys on the look-out for Japanese girls. Mie had read my blog last week about the homeless salary men in San Ya district of Tokyo. It made her cry, it made her think of her life growing up in Japan and the many things she’d done against her will, in order to fit in.

I enjoy talking with both Mie and Mayumi (the production assistant). Both women are looking for their place in modern Japan – but as they change and grow as individuals – this rigid society is dragging its feet to follow them. There are technological advancements here each day, but cultural ones come slow. Modern Japan is still governed by tradition deeply rooted in the feudal past. But I don’t think Japan can really move ahead until women are accepted as equal. Something the fat old men in power find hard to accept, but things are changing. They can certainly down their pints in the Irish bar.

I said goodbye to Mie at Shinjuku station. I was starving and had forgotten to eat. Most restaurants close at 11pm in Tokyo. Crazy. You can drink until 5am but no food after 11! I head to the hotel, pushing my way trough crowds of people avoiding the temptation of entering another bar. Then I get a call from Mayumi the production assistant, she is in tears about the production. Some of the other European film makers do not want to work with her company and she feels responsible. I tell her not to worry and that she is wonderful. She works so hard and does her best. Japan is so demanding in so many ways that we in the West do not appreciate. I’m beginning to sense the pressures of living here now.

For a moment I sense I’m finally ‘becoming Japanese’.

Then a woman jumps out of a bar and beckons me inside. I signal to the woman to wait. Mayumi is still crying on the phone. The woman is waving, I’m smiling, Mayumi crying. I know I should just go home, but now I have stopped, I’m looking at the bar. I’m consoling Mayumi on the phone. She starts to feel better. I invite her to join me for a drink. She tells me she cannot. She is staying with her friend tonight who she is worried about. “She been suicidal and I need to watch her”. God damn it, another example of this high pressured existence. In a country with over 30,000 suicides last year, I guess you have to be careful.

Ten minutes later I’m ‘Lost in my own Translation’ in a bar with Bourbon in one hand and my head in the other.

The next day I’m woken by the rain. Outside I see a homeless man sitting on the pavement; he has chopsticks in one hand and a dirty plastic bag of food below. He is looking mystified at the policeman who stands above him. In a forceful but polite way the policeman is trying to move the man on. I walk past, hurriedly, hungry for my lunch, and into a plush micro biotic cafe. £6 sees me right with a ‘raw lunch’ of I don’t know what. But it felt healthy. As I leave I look into the beauty salon opposite. I catch a glimpse of a couple of girls partially visible through a half opened door. I stop and watch them for a moment. A seductive moment created by the place, time, partial visibility, or maybe just the micro biotic food. For a moment I cannot move.

I love to stare in Japan, just like the Japanese do when they are abroad.

Then I glide out through the luxury automated doors. They are as clean as the pavement outside and as the buildings around. As clean and perfect as the skin on the face of the woman who works at the micro biotic restaurant. She looks so perfect and happy she makes me feel happy even when I’m sad. Or maybe that’s the micro biotic food. I don’t know.

But today is Sunday, I feel aimless and it is raining.

I pull out my 100 Yen umbrella and join a sea of 100 Yen umbrellas that fill the pavement. I see a homeless man cowering under his 100 Yen umbrella. I notice a Chanel carrier bag over his shoulder. Without thinking I follow him, we are both hiding under our umbrellas. He stops at rubbish bins to look through them. Then he continues. Today my life in Japan feels as aimless as his. What is remarkable is he doesn’t realize he is the hippest homeless man in Japan today. I take a couple of secret photos, not meaning to steal from him, or to invade his privacy.

Because for me he is the unsung hero of my film today and I always want to remember him.