Adonis Diaries

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“An open book: A life of remembrance” by Maitre Phares Zoghbi

A livres ouverts, une vie de souvenirs”, a biographical book

I am a frequent visitor to the Phares Zoghbi’s library in Cornet Shehwan. Unfortunately, the librarywas turned over to the University of Saint Joseph for management, as long as the library find domicile at Zoghbi’s house.

I asked the resident director of the house-library, Rita Zoghbi (not a relative), about books that Maitre Zoghbi has published and she gave me two of them free, both written in French: “Liban: le salut par la culture” and “A livres ouverts, une vie de souvenirs”, a biographical book.

Two months ago, I overheard Maitre Phares asking Rita about the final count on the books in his library and she replied: “I think we reached over 50,000 manuscripts and counting”. I am still baffled why Maitre Phares decided on the Ph in his name instead of the simple F.

“A livre ouverts: une vie de souvenirs” by Phares Zoghbi is a biography of an individual trying to discover his entity, his culture, and his philosophy to life.  The author lost his father when he was ten.  Phares’ mother had to let go of her son. His married uncle, without child, volunteered to adopt him in Lebanon.

From a care free life style in Brazil, the author had to experience a controlled and restricted atmosphere in a non urban environment in Lebanon, where communication was limited, since the new family could not speak Portuguese and he could not speak Arabic or Spanish.

I was pained that the author had to forget and forgo the Portuguese language when he moved to Lebanon and had to learn Arabic and French.

It is my contention that a language that you can master its reading is an additional soul that enriches your perspectives, enlarges your horizon, and increases your moral character and diversifies your philosophy on life.

Maitre Phares is one of thousands of Lebanese children, like me, who had to learn or relearn their mother tongue when born overseas, simply because we have no strong national spirit to unite us and stick to a national language which is Arabic.  The schools overseas that teach Arabic are so scarce and so poorly taken seriously that we feel plagued by an inferiority complex that drives us to master other languages to an extreme.

The problem of how a language can balance between the scientific exigencies and the cultural demands is even more acute in Arabic, notwithstanding that updates on the new development and social changes that require new terminologies and different structure in expression are not followed up.

Maitre Phares mentioned several people and books that affected his system of beliefs such as Emmanuel Mounier “Le Personnalisme”, Denis de Rougemont “L’Aventure occidental de l’homme”, Jean Guiton “Portrait de M. Pouget”, Pierre Boisdeffre ” Metharmorphose de la litterature de Barres a Malraux”, A.M. Alberes “L’Aventure intellectuelle du XX siecle”, Jorge Amado “Bahia de tous les saints”, Rene Habachi “De l’homme et de la connaissance”, Malraux, Bergson “L’Energie spirituelle”, Teilhard de Chardin “Le phenomene human”, Camus, Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir and Michel Foucault in “Les mots et les Choses” who is the representative of the Structuralism movement that announced the “death of man” and the irrelevance of the subject matter, since human kind is basically doomed even before Earth vanishes to smithereens.

I quote: “Man is an invention that the archaeology of our thinking easily proves that man is a recent creature and that his end is coming soon”.

Claude Levi-Strauss has become a major source to Maitre Zoghbi to comprehend “structuralisme” or the new science mouvement; Levi-Strauss’ published  books are: “Tristes Tropiques”, “Mythologiques: le cru et le cuit”, “Du miel aux cendre”, “L’Origine des manières de table”, and “L’Homme nue”.

Maitre Zoghbi is on the lookout for any philosophy that would restore his belief in man and personal evolution.  The favorite magazines (revues) of Phares Zoghbi were Esprit and Les Temps Modernes.

I am proud and happy that our neighborhood has a library founded by the sweat and dedication of an internationally cultured man.

“Liban: le salut par la culture” discusses the meaning of culture, the Lebanese political and social realities and the viable remedies, the Lebanese national pact, the genesis of Maitre Phares’ philosophical views, the subject of the Francophone, a sarcastic description of the US dollars supremacy, and other topics.

The chapters on Lebanon are interesting and offer rich perspectives; even the many sections that deal with topics about the social and political problems of Lebanon that I am familiar with they are still worth reading carefully because I discovered a few gems and personal and historical facts.

The definition of culture and what culture is needed for the Lebanese as a people is worth diagnosing.  During the colloquium of Avignon in April 1982 that discussed establishing a Euro-Afro-Arab university in Alexandria (Egypt), since Lebanon was still involved in a civil war, Jacques Berque said: “La culture c’est le movement d’une societe qui s’ efforce de chercher ses explications et de se donner une expression”. (Culture is a society’s movement at the look out of explanations and finding an expression)

I quote “La culture n’est plus fin de partie, elle est appareillage; un projet de retrouvaille qui ramasse le passe, le présent et le future dans une perspective d’un grand dessein qui galvanise les désirs et les espoirs, un projet qui œuvre sur l’environnement, produit du médiat et de l’immédiat”.

In that perspective Maitre Zoghbi delineate the following principles for a socio-historic research for our culture:

1. Islam admits the idea of a state-nation. There is nowhere mention in the Koran or in the 7adith that when Moslems are part of a nation that Islam should dominate.

2. As the Christian religion should not be confounded with the periods of inquisition, Islam experienced long periods of tolerance and the sourate of the Table is an example.

3. That historically and sociologically, the culture of any community cannot dissociate from its surrounding.

4. If the West is presently our primary source of cultural nourishment the East is our lot, our beginning and our destination.

5. That this enterprise of long-term cultural osmoses and synthesis should not entitle any constraints in religion, ethnic particularities, any refusal of differences as long as the communal effort is preserved.

In support of these principles the author was encouraged by the views of many intellectuals that converged with his opinions like Antoine Messarra, Michel Hayek, Roger Arnaldez, Hisham Nachabi, Youssef Ibech,  Sobhi Saleh, Rene Habashi, and Jean Maroun.

Frankly, I have realized that auto-censorship in this confessional, feudal, and isolationist system that exhibited fascistic pressures on cultural movements that might exhibit serious threat to its survival.

Maitre Zoghbi explained in great length the historical creation of the Republic of Lebanon.

In 1919, Father Henri Lammens summed up the historical evolution of the Syrian nationality in well defined geographical borders and tradition, which the classical Antiquity and the Greek, Roman, and Arab empires recognized the fact that the people within these natural borders constitute one nation.

In fact, the colonial powers recognized that the people in the Near East constituted a cohesive entity within natural boundaries linking the east and Africa with rich and qualified human resources and natural raw materials and might eventually disrupt the colonial trade and expansion.

The current political States established by the mandatory powers should not erase the fact that we are one people in history, geography and culture regardless of political consensus among the political states to live as independent states.

It is true that Israel would like to divide these States even further, according to religious sects in order to provide political legitimacy to its existence and also to be able to subjugate these tiny and helpless states.

The Israeli archives prove that the Maronite Patriarchs and the Maronite parties of “Al Ketlate Al Watania” of the Edde family and “Al Kataeb” of the Gemayel family were in constant negotiations with Zionism long before its foundation as the State of Israel.  Many Maronite clergy and political leaders were in cohort with Zionism so that it might acquire some political legitimacy in Lebanon in the face of the Moslem majority.

The issue of national resistance against the successive aggressions of Israel on Lebanon and the neighboring Arab States has been discussed.  The author mentioned the articles of Michel Chiha in the daily “Le Jour” where he warned in 1948, four days after the foundation of the State of Israel, that resistance is a question of life and death for the Near East and Egypt.

Again, either the author wanted to restrict his references to articles written in French and didn’t want to venture into translating from Arabic manuscripts or he just wanted to select articles that appeared in the daily “L’Orient Le Jour” or most probably the auto-censor is working against the teaching of Antoun Saaadeh. 

This leader Saadeh has founded a party in 1937 for the purpose of uniting the people against the Zionism development; he warned that if an organized force is not formed to counter the ever expanding forces of Zionism then the State of Israel will be founded and we will have to suffer the consequences of existence for centuries.

Sa3adeh also was the first to warn that oil is an international weapon that was not used to counter the schemes of the Western nations in Palestine.  Actually, Sa3adeh was summarily executed because the British and American were anxious to have the oil pipeline “Tapeline” contract ratified.

Habib Abu Chahla, the appointed Lebanese lawyer for Tapeline, was the force behind convincing the President of the Republic Bechara Khoury to get rid of that nuisance of Antoun Saadeh who fought against the comprador economy in Lebanon.

A section was reserved to analyze the Sepharades Jews, over 65% of the Jews in Israel, who came from the Arab States and carried with them the customs and traditions of the Orient and were forced not to learn Arabic and dissociate from their oriental culture as a heavy baggage for the development of a modern Israel.

“Trekking syndrome”

Note:  This is the edited version with further details of the previous post “Promised Paradise way on Nahr Ibrahim (Lebanon)”

My body is aching from yesterday horrendous adventure. In the last three weeks, my nephew has been trekking sections of Nahr Ibrahim (Abraham River, in the district of Byblos) in company of the wonderful and non complaining dog Misha.  Last Friday, my nephew blundered in my earshot that he is going trekking on Saturday.  I invited myself to be part of the trekking party.  My nephew didn’t respond: he was hoping that I am jesting most probably.  The next day I got my tiny backpack ready for the adventure; my nephew was pretty much lukewarm confronted with this readiness on my part; he might have serious reservations (you might read my post on trekking in Sad Shabrouh for preliminary reasons.)

Obviously, I am wearing my swimming trunk: It is a matter of trekking by a river bed but my nephew warned me that we will have to “wade” in sections of the river.  In my mind, wading means being submerged to the waist at best; I didn’t take into account reasonable factors such as slipping or falling into deep holes.

We left around 12:30 pm and quickly the mobiles brought news of a jammed highway which means most of the members will be late a couple of hours to the meeting place.  The Armenians in Lebanon were demonstrating/“celebrating” the holocaust they suffered by the Turks around 1915 and on.  William, Hanan, Misha, and I parked on the road of Nahr Ibrahim and ventured to the river shores. William, Hanan, and Misha decided to push forward in the jungle; I opted to dip my feet in the cool water.  Half an hour later a group of five showed up; among them Clown Me Sabine and her Mexican assistant Gabie.  I told Gabie: “Ahora, me lise Jorge Amado, el Brazilian de Bahia”:  I am currently reading the French version of “Navigation de cabotage” (navigating along the coastal ports of seas or rivers.)

The new comers promptly clowned lizards on the river rocks for 20 minutes; then, feeling degraded by lizard behavior they raised their adventurous spirit by one notch: They started to move from one rock to another very cautiously.  The mobiles brought news that the larger body of the trekking party is heading toward destination; the lonely small village of Shwan in the bottom of the river valley.  Thus, William, Hanan, Misha showed up and we got on the move.  We met two men carrying towels where we parked: they are to simply descend a few stairs, reach the river, take a swim and leave.

The party was of around 20 members in 5 cars.  We parked in the lowest valley village I know.  It was a road to damnation fit for barely one car but you had to backtrack for miles to let the opposite cars pass you by.  To my surprise, we were not to head straight to the river but along a long detour of 45 minutes walk: This is called “trekking syndrome” to first base.

We reached a section on the river to cross; it is about only ten meters; it is not a roaring Amazon by any stretch of the imagination. Big George hopped leisurely to the other side; he is wearing just a swimming trunk and a tiny backpack.  I was encouraged to be among the first strong hearted members of the trekking party, as is usually the case.  I tied my old pair of khaki sneaker around my neck and raised my jeans to the knees; that should do the trick. The first few steps got me face down; I am all wet and thus nothing mattered anymore.  I hurried my “wading” exercise and fell down several times before I reached destination.  I am bruised, physically and emotionally.

The few cigarettes I had in my shirt pocket are ruined; I decided to remove the cigarettes from the wet box to dry out the cigarettes; I gently picked one cigarette from the box; the filter part easily separated from the body of the cigarette; it was the same case for the other cigarettes one by one; I had the pleasure of a discovery: the process of manufacturing local made cigarettes is basically gluing the filter part to the finished cigarette.

I undressed completely save my swimming trunk.  A few members were aligning a tree trunk to permit female members crossing the river safely.  Someone said to wait for my nephew since usually he brings a rope for that purpose. I cursed my hastiness only to realize that my nephew wanted to make this adventure a Seal or Marine exercise: you have got to feel the pain!

George was in the middle of the river playing the school or scout guard in case of emergencies.  Suddenly, George exclaimed “I feel cold.” George remedy to warming up was to run like Tarzan to the promised paradise. It goes without saying that I was the first to follow George.  I was not running at all: my wet sneakers weighted 20 pounds.  Then, I saw George hiding behind a bush up a mount like Tarzan; I was climbing to rejoin him when he pre-empted me: “Don’t climb. I lost my way” Now George climbed a high rock in the river watching for any arriving company.  I ended “wading” my way by the river side to paradise land.. I am glad to report that “bodily navigation of cabotage” by river side made much sense to me.  A few members of the party advanced me using a secret path to a meeting location.  I said: “Better not stop. Let us move on to the Promised Land.”  Karim said: We have reached destination!”  That was a major letdown.  Apparently, the goal was to reach a puny and sickly waterfall.

George hopped behind the Nahr Ibrahim “Water fall”, climbed a rock and sat like Buddha.  I lacked the energy to remove my sneaker and Jean (weighting 50 pounds), then climb a slippery stupid rock and emulate Buddha.  I was the first to vacate Nahr Ibrahim Paradise and got lost on my way back; I got entangled by lichen and other sorts of nasty prickly branches.  I am back to “wading” by the river side. I realized that both my sneakers’ soles are floating free; held miserable by the tip of the shoes.  I was no longer fooling myself: a military helicopter should land and take me home.

I reached first “base” wetter than a disgruntled cat. One of soles had vanished in the river. I didn’t wait and immediately re-crossed the Rubicon wading using my favorite technique known around the world as “Adonis49 super efficient wading technique” to be emulated by Marines and Seals.  I reached second base and harangued the dozen members who smartly refused to cross the ridiculous ten-meter wide section to get going and follow the leader: I wanted to locate a sunny spot to dry my clothes.  A smart girl reminded me that the sun is no longer in vigor and barely could warm an ant.  Nothing could assassinate my plan: I have got to be first back to the parked car. On second base there was a dying bonfire left by two dozens of foreign youths we met previously.  A plastic bottle was still sending fumes; someone said: “You are burning toxic materials”.  Oh, I forgot to mention that most members of the party are lovers of ecology and of the strictest kinds; many are by far more vegetarians than cows.

I lost my way again and waited for a member to show me the correct secret path. My nephew picked up the second sole and volunteered to relieve me of my weightless backpack: any pound less is a great boost to my morale. The last 100 yards to destination was the most voluptuous and rewarding trip stretch ever.

When we arrived home my nephew placed my sole-less sneakers on my room threshold along with one sole.  I asked him: “Why did you do that?”  I thought that I left my useless sneakers where we were parked as a warning to trekkers in the village of Shwan to cancel their project.  Devilish William refused to leave any material evidences that might discourage trekkers in those damned vicinities.  I made the last effort to visit my sister just to tell her “I think it is a miracle that I am back”.  My sleeping sister could not but chuckle and interject: “You are supposed to know better than anyone what a trekking project means to William.”  This trekking was a well planned project to inflict most pains and humiliation but I turned out to be a leader on my way back; and second to leaders most of the adventure.


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October 2020
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