Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Santa Claus

Chapter 2:  The storm gathering strength (1357-1364)

Childhood of Antoun

About 11 of age, Antoun desired to ride a horse after watching a squadron of cavalry crossing the town square.  The father of Antoun, Youssef ,felt embarrassed when he was asked point blank by his kid:  “Cannot we afford to buy a horse?”  He replied:  “Suppose you are riding a fine horse and your neighbor friend Amin decided to emulate you and bought an even finer horse, then how would you feel?”  Antoun said: “I’ll buy the best horse that money can buy.”  His father retorted: “Thank God we are forbidden to buy horses; otherwise your mother would turn your pink body blue in no time.”

Antoun stuttered in astonishment: “Who dares forbid us from owning a horse?” His dad patiently said: “The Emir and his noble class of relatives and associates do not authorize the plain citizens to look at them as equals and they decided that owning and riding horses should be of their prerogatives.” Antoun glared at his dad and after a few seconds said: “How different are these noble people from us?  Are they richer or stronger than us?”  Bou Antoun inhaled deeply and said: “They are somehow richer in lands that they never work with their own hands, but mainly the Viceroy of Tripoli supports them with his army and security men; any recrimination from the people is considered stepping outside the law and order they agreed on among themselves.  Anyway, you’ll have to deal with your mother for expanding your ambitions.”  Antoun got persistent and said: “I like horses and want to raise horses.  Can’t we raise horses like we have cows, goats and chickens?”  His dad replied: “No! We are not allowed to raise horses as owning a horse is out of the question and not because of financial affordability.  We are not a noble class and this privilege is denied us. Now go a play.” Antoun said: “I will own my horse one day and nobody is going to withhold from me what I feel is good.”  His father suddenly burst out and said: “God have mercy on me!  Your granddad is going to haunt me for the rest of my life.” Antoun questioned his dad: “What did my grand father do that was so awful?”  His father flushed and uttered: “It is none of your business. Suffice you to know that since he was permitted to ride horses as the Emir’s cavalry guard he turned to hell the lives of many inhabitants and got in countless troubles. So, I order you to desist in this unlawful project.”  Antoun’s reaction was out of place and banged his right hand on the floor screaming: “I want a horse!” The next second his father hit him for the first time, then Bou Antoun turned his back and stepped out quickly of the house to hide his wet eyes.

In the following week, Bou Antoun tediously managed to convince Jamila to let her son tend the Emir’s stable in the Capital Mtein during the next winter season.  The initial excitements were displaced by the actual tasks that the job entailed, and Antoun grudgingly went about the menial dirty tasks of cleaning the stables, carrying feed and whatever that takes to fill a twelve-hour day’s work without having the right to even lead a horse; but Antoun still loved horses and badly wanted to ride horses.  His tough job cured him though from day dreaming about horses.

Christmas Eve that year was different for Antoun who spent it at the house of a distant relative by the name Abboud, a renowned carpenter.  A couple of days earlier, a passing makareh (man transporting goods and messages from village to village on a mule or a donkey) delivered to Antoun a well wrapped bundle containing dried raisins, walnuts, molasses, honey, a few apples, a pair of winter galoshes, a headdress and a gift to the Abboud’s family.  It was an evening that many average families celebrated around a covered burning “mankal” filled with charcoal and stacked with crackling roasting chestnuts.

Every now and then, an unconscious kid would forget to peel the head of a chestnut, occasioning a detonation that scattered burning red dust.  The whole family was sitting along the walls on pillows nibbling on mezze, everyone dipping their bread and hands in the varied sizes of dishes. The kids would immediately make a savage run on the bzourat (a mixture of assorted nuts) with side orders of dried figs and raisins to the great sadness of Abboud who could not enjoy his traditional protracted and leisurely dinner.

A game of card called seven and a half was in full swing and already children were crying and sobbing for the loss of a few wagered dried figs, beans, or round playing stones.  Adults and older kids would go to midnight mass and the rest would sleep in heaps on Jeddo Milad’s (Santa Claus) steadfast promises to bring them gifts by early morning.  It was a very warm and cozy room and a happy night for Antoun who did share the honor of sloshing through the fresh snow with the family for midnight mass; he sauntered into church wearing his new galoshes and headdress like a grown up peacock.

The first ten minutes of mass were exquisite in novelties but Antoun fell asleep shortly after the liturgy droned on and kept up its monotonous pace and intonation.  He woke up the next day in an unfamiliar perched up bed and then found under his pillow a little black polished wooden horse wrapped in a cloth bundle stuffed with sweets and candies.  He never knew the real offerer of that precious horse which he kept amid his belonging wherever he traveled, though he suspected someone.

At fourteen, Antoun had to leave schooling, as was very common at that period, but his mother encouraged him to buy and borrow books to further his knowledge and made him read aloud in the evening gatherings because she noticed that his bright mind could further the status of the family.  The young Antoun turned out to be well built and tall for his time of about 180 cm in stature. His jaws were strong and square and his cheekbones high; he had large shoulders, long dark hair, large front, big black and spread out eyes, elevated large size ears, a rather long and aquiline nose and long shank legs.  Antoun never lacked an audience when he was ready to show off his talents.

The hard facts

At last Antoun learned the hard facts; although he was not to expect owning a horse he could nevertheless own simple carriages lead by mules or donkeys.  After a bitter period of subdued anger he practiced some carpentry and reverted into tinkering with mending carriages in his barn on his free time from the field.  He enlisted Latifa to help him paint, upholster the interior and embellish the carriages.  Antoun worked hard cultivating the land but with no real pleasure and his father suffered for the unhappiness of his son. However, Bou Antoun discovered a sharp mercantile mind in his son:  he never missed a religious event honoring a saint in the vicinity that he did not set up a booth to sell sweets and varied stuff that children craved instead of wasting his time like the other kids of his age.  By fifteen years of age Antoun was allowed to drive the business carriage, going house to house selling produce, butter, yogurt and cheese and anything that was in demand.

Finally, at sixteen his father negotiated a deal with a nobleman specializing in breaking and training horses for stage coaches and fancy carriages in the coastal town of Antelias. He learned how to get acquainted with a horse, talking nonsense to him to get the horse used to his voice, slapping and pushing him around gently so that the horse knew he was not going to be hurt, then he would throw an old harness on him and yank it off several times till the horse accepted the harness without flicking a muscle.  Then, teaming with an experienced horse breaker, Antoun would fit the horse with reins or walk in front with the lead rope, speak loud when the horse disobeyed or speak gently when the horse learned the task and then offering him a carrot. Hitching and pairing a horse to a coach was the hardest part in breaking a horse until the novice horse learned to do his share of the pulling in the team and together to step along smoothly.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

June 2021
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