Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Metn district

My Sunny Levant 

(Rainbow over the Levant)

Antonios (1346-1381)

Chapter 1: Genesis of family from the Metn district

After his wedding, the minor landlord Youssef Fares spread the word that his first born boy would be named Antoun.

His wife Jamila was a proud and steadfast person and made her young husband promise to expand their one large-room home to include a private bedroom with door by the time she gives birth to a child. Jamila also wished not to have to step outside for bodily needs and washing, as was common, because she had a deep sense of privacy and propriety.

The stone house was a tad larger than the neighbors’, but resembled them by the lack of modern amenities. At night, bedding were removed from a special drawer to replace the cushions that spread around the room.  The tiny kitchen was located on the north-west corner.

Eleven months later, Jamila gave birth to Latifa, a girl.  It was too early for Youssef to despair and his immediate second attempt produced Youmna, a girl, thirteen months later.

Within fifteen days of Youmna’s birth, Youssef went ahead with his project for a large family and was stopped dead in his track.   The strong headed and shrewd Jamila sent him packing to the fields to work harder and give priority to feeding his growing family.

A year went by and Youssef’s male friends and relatives smirked at him and nicknamed his eldest daughter Antouneyeh which precipitated Youssef in a state of isolation, shunning friends and acquaintances.

Jamila sensed that business was deteriorating and the atmosphere in the house darkening and so she decided to give the nod for Youssef to resume his cherished project of producing a boy and crossed her fingers that destiny would turn more clement: Jamila did not believe in large families and mocked the traditional economic viability that feeding more mouths is the panacea for riches and life’s security in advanced age.

Jamila hired a helper to salvage the energies of Youssef and economized in everything except on substantial breakfasts and suppers, understanding that destiny had to be catered to if enterprises had to be successful.

Jamila would boil water in cold weather to warm Youssef’s feet after a day’s work and rub his back and shoulders with a warm wet cloth; everything had to contribute to begetting a healthy boy who should be called Antoun.

Youssef Fares was a wreck when his wife was pregnant for the third time and could no longer appreciate the jokes of his close friends, attributing the successive birth of females to his weak virility and the dominance of his wife in family affairs. The whole community knew that Youssef wanted to call his first-born son Antoun and so he was nicknamed Bou Antoun (father of Antoun) immediately after his marriage.

Youssef had driven Jamila to the walls in the last nine months, ordering her to pray more rosaries than needed, spending plenty of money on religious donations and making her submit to all kinds of traditional requests that would guarantee giving birth to a baby boy this time around.

In 1346, the big three kilograms baby Antoun showed up in his entire splendor.  Many exhaled a deep sight of relief, especially Latifa his eldest sister.  Jamila was drained from every ounce of energy and experienced a period of baby blues that lasted two weeks; she directed Youssef not to receive visitors while she was sick and to delay any major celebration until she could be ready to participate fully in the baptismal ceremony.

For the first time, scared to see his strong wife in such a state of depression and weakness, Youssef reluctantly postponed the grand celebration and sent word to the neighbors to temporarily guard his house from well wishers until Jamila was up to the task of honoring guests.

Jamila tried to breast feed big baby Antoun for two days and gave up this arduous and ineffectual endeavor, so that Youssef had to find surrogate mothers for the frequently and ever so hungry Antoun.

The house allowed only breast-feeding females to enter in the first week and then Bou Antoun had to carry his new-born son to different houses, at least four times a day, and suffer accidents and the humiliating caprices of little Antoun until a permanent deal to breast feed the gluttonous Antoun was arranged.

One night, Youssef confided to his wife his apprehensions about the baby boy; it seems that while he was carrying his boy to a feeding mother the baby constantly tried to rummage through his chest, proving that he was unable to be discriminating in a hungry state.  Youssef failed on the spot to describe his own embarrassment, but when he realized the purpose of baby Antoun,  in a weak moment, he revealed to Jamila that he felt his neck independent of his body, his head revolving in all directions for signs of any witness to Antoun’s behavior, his face scarlet hot with shame.

These two weeks of personal tending to his baby son’s needs proved a wealth of direct attachment and close bonding that not many fathers experience in their life time.

Bou Antoun threw a grandiose banquet for the occasion of baptizing his son and he entertained his audience as the supreme king sneering at his friends and threatening them for dire consequences if any of them dared any worn out jokes about virility and lack of authority.

During the festivity, Bou Antoun would dart flaming glances at Jamila and the only responses received from her steel cold eyes he correctly interpreted as saying: “Forget it.  Wipe it out of your mind.  You got what you wanted and do not expect any further special attentions.  Just sit tight and wait if and when I give any new signals.”

Youssef spent his energy expanding his business and planning for Antoun’s future who grew up comfortable among women; a great deal of self-esteem sharpened his mind under the watchful eyes of his strong spirited and hard-working mother.  Antoun was officially weaned within 18 months but he knew his surrogate mothers and felt at home attempting to breast feeding from anyone he was familiar with.

The next four years opened many neighbors’ doors to the growing Antoun who used to help himself to double and three portions at each meal when food was being served, his being most welcomed as a member of the family.

Jamila was obliged during the many special occasions to cook extra portions of sweets to be offered as gifts to the multitude of surrogate mothers in order to repay the favors of her neighbors and as compensation for the ravages done to the neighbors’ depleting pantries.

At 8 of age Antoun was sent to a nearby religious school to learn reading and writing in both languages of Arabic and Aramaic, and some elementary arithmetic. He was also introduced to the rudiments of the French language from a learned monk.

In the afternoons, Antoun helped on the family farms and ultimately was responsible for the accounting.  During religious holidays his sisters and he used to memorize whole sections of the Bible and then act scenes to entertain the family and guests assembled before dinner.

Since girls were not to go to any school outside their homes, his eldest sister Latifa would hang out with Antoun and share his school lessons on pretence of keeping an eye on his scheduled school assignments.

One day, Latifa overheard a disgruntled man cursing saint Anthony because he donated some money for the Saint in order to recover a precious lost object to no avail. Latifa put a twist on the saying and her mom heard her chanting: “Mar Antoun of Mrouj, big thief and far gone senile.”  Latifa was to ask forgiveness on her knees in front of the saint’s statue and wear a male St. Anthony frock for a month.

Novel:  Rainbow over the Levant (A historical fiction)

Introduction

In 14th century Levant, an Arabian stallion was a Cadillac symbol among the noblemen in Mount Lebanon; horses primarily meant a Panzer tank for the forces of the viceroys governing the provinces on behalf of the Mameluks’ Sultan in Egypt.  Luca Antonius, nicknamed “Al Fares” (The Knight), begot Youssef Luca who begot Antonios Youssef Fares.

Luca Fares served in his youth as a knight in the personal guard of the Emir in the county Capital Mtein in the Metn district in central Mount Lebanon   He was a Christian Orthodox with religious allegiance to the declining Byzantine Empire and was a hot headed character and got entangled in many brawls that finally discredited the good judgment of the Emir.  The Emir had no choice but to fire Luca from his entourage and sent him packing with a small fortune and an admonition never to return to Mtein.

Luca bought himself a piece of land near the current village of Khonshara, less than ten kilometers from the Capital Mtein, but never stayed long on his land.  The peasants cultivating his land had field days during his many peregrinations outside his fief until his eldest son Youssef took over.  Luca was killed mysteriously on a hunting trip and Youssef set his mind to take roots on his land, cultivate it stubbornly, forget about horses and knight ship and then married a strong headed, down to earth wife.

Geography of Mount Lebanon

The current Metn County as the other counties of Mount Lebanon are naturally bordered by the Mediterranean Sea in the West and the western chain of mountains in the East; the small river of Nahr Kalb that dries up in summer time separates this canton in the North from neighboring Kesrouan with the Sannine Mountains on the East.  At the time of the story, the Metn was separated from the coastal shore administratively and juristically. The mountainous Chouf region formed the southern borders where the Moslem Druze sect, a Fatimide splintered schism from the Shiite Moslem religion, had taken roots a century and a half ago.  The Druze sect had just been created and was small, weak, and facing serious persecution.  Across the eastern slopes of Sannine lays the major town called Zahle in the Bekaa Valley; this is the largest valley in Lebanon rich in wheat and cereals.

The Bekaa Valley running between two chains of mountains north to south about one hundred km long and twenty five km wide on average was the main region to grow wheat and cereals.  Caravans to and fro that valley passed through the Metn to trade wheat and winter stocks of goods such as potteries, olive, olive oil, cutleries and silk cloth. The journeys were long, arduous and dangerous in these unpredictable and lawless periods. Thus, the caravans were guarded by trained fighters and their leaders were familiar with the various fief lords and gang lords.

At the time of the novel, the Metn did not extend to the sea and its total superficies was no more than 800 square kilometers, 40 kilometers from east to west and 20 kilometers from north to south.  Mount Lebanon is naturally divided in counties separated by deep small river valleys running east to west and emptying in the Mediterranean Sea. The religious affiliations in Mount Lebanon at the time were from north to south: Christian Maronites in the Bshari and part of the Betroun regions, Christian Byzantine Orthodox in the current Koura, Byblos, Kesrouan and Metn regions, then the middle part under the Druz sect concentrated in the Chouf region and the southern part of Jabal Amel of mostly Moslem Shiaa.  The Moslem Sunni were primarily entrenched in the littoral.

The Metn, as all Mount Lebanon regions, is an area of hills and valleys with many streams of fresh water. The inhabitants conquered the hilly lands by structuring the parcel of lands in a cascading step design for planting and growing fruit trees, olive trees and green vegetables.  This was hard work since the walls of these parcels of cultivated lands had to be built of stones removed from the land itself.  The Metn was under the rule of the Viceroy of Tripoli, more than a hundred kilometer to the north on the seashore.

The region was not densely inhabited and the Christian Maronite sect did not yet make any major inroads in that part of Mount Lebanon and was based mainly in the northern Mountains, east of Tripoli.   It can be conjectured that less than 60 thousand souls lived in the Metn at the time. The language was a mixture of Arabic, Byzantine and Aramaic slang (the main language during Jesus Christ period and for many centuries to come). Female dressed with several layers of colorful garments very similar to the nowadays customs in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Cherkessk. The male wore the traditional colorful vests with a large band of cloth, black or red, wrapped several times around the waist and pantaloons, black or white, tight at the ankles and oversized around the crotch.

The Roman Christian missionaries had barely made a dent during the last two centuries and had closer relationship with the Maronite sect than with the other Christian sects who did not recognize the infallibility of the Pope.  The Crusaders’ clergy were more intent on fomenting troubles every time a bishop was to be elected or consecrated than promoting enlightenment.  It might be surmised that a few small religious schools were instituted and artisan shops catering to the war efforts of the crusaders prospered.

This story starts in 1346 when the Mameluks’ dynasty in Egypt had already captured every Crusader’s strongholds in Lebanon and Syria’s coast line and pushed back the Mogul invaders beyond the Euphrates River in 1262.  Holako the Mogul had entered Baghdad in 1258 without resistance and devastated this glorious city, spread havoc and plundered it for 40 days. The Mogul hordes emptied the vast libraries of books and manuscripts and drowned them in the Tiger River, and then executed the last Arabic Caliphate Al Mustaesem.  A flourishing Arab civilization that existed for five centuries was annihilated.

Part 1:  My Sunny Levant; Antonios (1346-1381)

Chapter 1: Genesis of a Metnit family

After his wedding, the minor landlord Youssef Fares spread the word that his first born boy would be named Antoun.  His wife Jamila was a proud and steadfast person but made her young husband promise to expand their one large room home to include a private bedroom with door by the time she gives birth to a child; she also wished not to have to step outside for bodily needs and washing, as was common, because she had a deep sense of privacy and propriety.  The stone house was a tad larger than the neighbors’ but resembled them by the lack of modern amenities; at night, beddings were removed from a special drawer to replace the cushions spread around the room while the tiny kitchen was located on the north-west corner.

Eleven months later, Jamila gave birth to Latifa, a girl.  It was too early for Youssef to despair and his immediate second attempt produced Youmna, a girl, thirteen months later.  Within fifteen days of Youmna’s birth, Youssef went ahead with his project and was stopped dead in his track.   The strong headed and shrewd Jamila sent him packing to the fields to work harder and give priority to feeding his growing family. A year went by and Youssef’s male friends and relatives smirked at him and nicknamed his eldest daughter Antouneyeh which precipitated Youssef in a state of isolation, shunning friends and acquaintances.  Jamila sensed that business was deteriorating and the atmosphere in the house darkening and so she decided to give the nod for Youssef to resume his cherished project of producing a boy and crossed her fingers that destiny would turn more clement: Jamila did not believe in large families and mocked the traditional economic viability that feeding more mouths is the panacea for riches and life’s security in advanced age.

Jamila hired a helper to salvage the energies of Youssef and economized in everything except on substantial breakfasts and suppers, understanding that destiny had to be catered to if enterprises had to be successful.  Jamila would boil water in cold weather to warm Youssef’s feet after a day’s work and rub his back and shoulders with a warm wet cloth; everything had to contribute to begetting a healthy boy that should be called Antoun.

Youssef Fares was a wreck when his wife was pregnant for the third time and could no longer appreciate the jokes of his close friends, attributing the successive birth of females to his weak virility and the dominance of his wife in family affairs. The whole community knew that Youssef wanted to call his first born son Antoun and so he was nicknamed Bou Antoun (father of Antoun) immediately after his marriage.  Youssef had driven Jamila to the walls in the last nine months, ordering her to pray more rosaries than needed, spending plenty of money on religious donations and making her submit to all kinds of traditional requests that would guarantee giving birth to a baby boy this time around.

In 1346, the big three kilograms baby Antoun showed up in his entire splendor.  Many exhaled a deep sight of relief, especially Latifa his eldest sister.  Jamila was drained from every ounce of energy and experienced a period of baby blues that lasted two weeks; she directed Youssef not to receive visitors while she was sick and to delay any major celebration until she could be ready to participate fully in the baptismal ceremony.

For the first time, scared to see his strong wife in such a state of depression and weakness, Youssef reluctantly postponed the grand celebration and sent word to the neighbors to temporarily guard his house from well wishers until Jamila was up to the task of honoring guests.

Jamila tried to breast feed big baby Antoun for two days and gave up this arduous and ineffectual endeavor, so that Youssef had to find surrogate mothers for the frequently and ever so hungry Antoun.  The house allowed only breast feeding females to enter in the first week and then Bou Antoun had to carry his new born son to different houses, at least four times a day, and suffer accidents and the humiliating caprices of little Antoun until a permanent deal to breast feed the gluttonous Antoun was arranged.

One night, Youssef confided to his wife his apprehensions about the baby boy; it seems that while he was carrying his boy to a feeding mother the baby constantly tried to rummage through his chest, proving that he was unable to be discriminating in a hungry state.  Youssef failed on the spot to describe his own embarrassment but when he realized the purpose of baby Antoun,  in a weak moment, he revealed to Jamila that he felt his neck independent of his body, his head revolving in all directions for signs of any witness to Antoun’s behavior, his face scarlet hot with shame.  These two weeks of personal tending to his baby son’s needs proved a wealth of direct attachment and close bonding that not many fathers experience in their life time.

Bou Antoun threw a grandiose banquet for the occasion of baptizing his son and he entertained his audience as the supreme king sneering at his friends and threatening them for dire consequences if any of them dared any worn out jokes about virility and lack of authority.  During the festivity, Bou Antoun would dart flaming glances at Jamila and the only responses received from her steel cold eyes he correctly interpreted as saying: “Forget it.  Wipe it out of your mind.  You got what you wanted and do not expect any further special attentions.  Just sit tight and wait if and when I give any new signals.”

Youssef spent his energy expanding his business and planning for Antoun’s future who grew up comfortable among women; a great deal of self esteem sharpened his mind under the watchful eyes of his strong spirited and hard working mother.  Antoun was officially weaned within 18 months but he knew his surrogate mothers and felt at home attempting to breast feeding from anyone he was familiar with. The next four years opened many neighbors’ doors to the growing Antoun who used to help himself to double and three portions at each meal when food was being served, his being most welcomed as a member of the family.  Jamila was obliged during the many special occasions to cook extra portions of sweets to be offered as gifts to the multitude of surrogate mothers in order to repay the favors of her neighbors and as compensation for the ravages done to the neighbors’ depleting pantries.

At 8 of age Antoun was sent to a nearby religious school to learn reading and writing in both languages of Arabic and Aramaic, and some elementary arithmetic. He was also introduced to the rudiments of the French language from a learned monk.  In the afternoons, Antoun helped on the family farms and ultimately was responsible for the accounting.  During religious holidays his sisters and he used to memorize whole sections of the Bible and then act scenes to entertain the family and guests assembled before dinner.  Since girls were not to go to any school outside their homes, his eldest sister Latifa would hang out with Antoun and share his school lessons on pretence of keeping an eye on his scheduled school assignments.

One day, Latifa overheard a disgruntled man cursing saint Anthony because he donated some money for the Saint in order to recover a precious lost object to no avail. Latifa put a twist on the saying and her mom heard her chanting: “Mar Antoun of Mrouj, big thief and far gone senile.”  Latifa was to ask forgiveness on her knees in front of the saint’s statue and wear a male St. Anthony frock for a month.


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