tuque /tūk/ n Canadian English, var. toque [19th c. Canadian French, from the French toque, from the Basque tauka] 1 A close-fitting knitted cap, often with a long tapering end or tassel or pompom. 2 fig Something quintessentially Canadian.
souq /sūk/ n from the Arabic سوق var. souk 1 An open-air marketplace. 2 fig A central meeting place for the circulation of news and ideas.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Tuque by any other name...

Question from a loyal Tuque Souq reader: "What's with the Tuque Souq? Isn't it supposed to be Toque Souq?"

Well reader, I'll beg your pardon of my customary brevity, for a journey so long in the making as the lifespan of the tuque deserves a tale almost equally enduring (and perhaps somewhat lofty, given its place above our hearts).

Is it a toque or a tuque, or can it be both? Why have a Tuque Souq and confuse people when you can have a Toque Souq and let people go on with their day?

After all, the toque is pretty much enshrined in Canadian English. It's the standard in, for example, the Canadian Press, which pretty much means its the norm in most Canadian print media, certainly outside of Quebec. In Canadian French, on écrit la tuque, except if one is referring to a chef. Are we not all canadiens? Can't we have a single Canadian orthography for this one universal comfort, our beloved knitted hat?

The toque is Canadian. Nobody's arguing that. In America, it's a ski hat, or something similarly wordless, but it's not part of that country's linguistic fibre. In fact, in the unabashedly American Merriam-Webster dictionary, you won't find an entry for ski hat, or stocking cap; for toque, MW says it's a woman's small, brimless hat. This makes perfect sense, of course, given an earlier era of the word's history in Europe. But I'm not sure where you'd find it—the word, that is—in use in America today.

In Canada, the discussion of the hat's spelling is subordinate to the ubiquity of its wearing; nevertheless, its role as a national emblem—such that one would use it as the Canadian representative in a Canadian-Middle Eastern blog title—behooves a certification of a truly Canadian spelling.

As far as this blogger is concerned, that spelling is tuque.

Cue the wordmeisters, please, for a little support:

The dictionary with the most celebrated pedigree (though it was the latest in coming to Canada, and recently rendered editorless) is the Canadian Oxford English Dictionary. The COED enters toque as:

toque noun 1 /tūk/ (also tuque) Cdn a a close-fitting knitted hat, often with a tassel or pompom on the crown. b a long knitted stocking cap. 2 /tōk/ a woman’s small brimless hat. 3 /tōk / a small cap or bonnet for a man or a woman. 4 /tōk/ a tall white hat with a full pouched crown, worn by chefs. [French, apparently = Italian tocca, Spanish toca, of unknown origin; sense 1 by assimilation from Canadian French tuque.]

(Note in particular the different pronunciation of toque in definitions 2-4; the toque meaning knitted hat and the toque meaning chef's hat are not uttered similarly.)

There is also a theory out there that the toque's descent from the Spanish toca—from the verb tocar meaning 'to touch' or 'to knock—far from being unknown as the COED suggests, is substantiated by an etymological hypothesis that the flaps on these knitted hats 'touched' or 'knocked' the back of the neck, at least in medieval Europe.

The Canadian edition of Collins English Dictionary repeats some of the COED’s entries, adding that toque, in Canada, is a variant spelling of tuque (not, it is worth noting, the other way around). On the subject of origin, Collins is a bit more daring, suggesting that the old Spanish toca, meaning ‘headdress’, probably comes from the Basque tauka, or ‘hat’.

I love the Basque reference. Anytime the Basque language comes up in etymology, you know you’ve got an old word on your hand, and a hardy one. Basque is pre-Indo-European; the perpetual onslaught of Romance tongues for the past 2500 years couldn’t dislodge it from the mountains of northern Iberia.

(Canucks take note: the increasingly defunct word eskimo, morphed from the French spelling esquimaux, is also from the Basque: it means ‘raw-meat eaters’, a savage epithet bestowed by 16th-century explorers and fishermen. Hence our belated switch, in politically correct times, to the local inuit.)

More importantly, Collins traces the origin of the word toque—spelled as such, referring to a headpiece of some kind or another—to 16th century France. In other words: pre-Canada.

(At this point as opportune as any other, it would calm this blogger to acknowledge that our indigenous Canadians may sit out this particular debate on Canadianness; however should they disagree with the case for the tuque, as the senior partners in Canadian civilization they should certainly be party to the debate, if so moved. Anybody know the Ojibwe for tuque?)

To wit, the Collins definition of the entry tuque:

tuque /tūk/ n Canad 1 a knitted cap with a long tapering end. 2 Also called toque, a close-fitting knitted hat often with a tassel or pompom [c19 from Canad F, from F: toque].

The Canadian OED grudgingly concurs, even if it stubbornly labels tuque a variant of toque:

tuque noun var. of toque 1 Canadian French, ultimately from a pre-Romance form of tukka, ‘gourd’ or ‘hill’.

So, we have a morphology of tuque that stretches over many centuries and across various languages; its eventual meaning of a very particular kind of hat derives possibly from its shape, as in the pre-Romance tukka which may have influenced the Basque tauka, which may have been a hat that 'knocked' the back of the neck. The early-modern European French toque is another in a long series of localized foreign words, in this case toca and/or tocca from neighbouring Romance tongues which followed the Basque. Sometime later, the English language appropriated toque without changing the spelling. And later still, French Canada came up with tuque, which it then lent to English Canada, albeit probably after the latter had come to some kind of agreement with the toque because of its other definitions.

So while now toque and tuque are English-language lexical cousins, only the latter is truly Canadian. The tuque was firstly Canadian French, and as much as an earlier English took toque from a European French, so Canadian English has taken tuque.

Bottom line, if you’re Canadian—and you're referring to that now quintessential Canadian knitted hat and not a chef's poofy lid—it’s a tuque.

(Now I'm not just making a case that tuque should replace toque as the dominant spelling in Canadian usage; I'm advocating for the complete annihilation of toque as a form that defines our national headdress. Sure, I'm usually a 'live and let live' kind of blogger. But not in this case!)

In the 19th century, French-Canadian voyageurs called their knitted hats tuques. No one knows exactly when the instance of the first such spelling occurred, but we know these folks weren't chefs or dainty broads or old-country blue-bloods. They were Canadians. It's possible they were Canadians who couldn't spell toque correctly, whose subtle modifications in diction predisposed a phonetic spelling patently au courant. It is therefore possible that we owe our single most cherished national garment to the vicissitudes of illiterate beaver trappers.

Yes, we are Canadian! And so is our tuque!

The voyageurs roamed the Quebec backcountry, trapping and trading and logging and pioneering, wearing their tuques with pride, or at least with warmth.

North of a trading junction called Trois-Rivières, they saw a hill that looked exactly like the cap on their heads. They built a pulp mill there. They called their new town La Tuque.

The voyageurs gave way to the Québécois, who in addition to carrying on the tradition of the tuque also donated to their English-Canadian kin another local word turned national: poutine.

(Worthy of note, poutine dates only from the late 1970s, lest any notion that the voyageurs in their tuques scarfed on poutine survive!)

In Canada, we tend to play a lot of defence when it comes to our linguistic neighbourhood; at the centre of our famously robust labour for national identity is a guiding fear that other civilizations will figure us glib, as though we're just cherry-picking lexical strategies in various shades of grey while otherwise preoccupied with our colourful—or sometimes colorful—Canadian lives.

But we are not just all pop and circumstance.

I don't know who thought toque was a good idea for a word pronounced tūk but it's time to give that loony the heave-ho. We didn't invent the tuque, but we did invent the tuque, and it's time to register our one, truly lingua canada idiom not just with history's great etymological detours but with our own national consciousness.

Well, I hope that answers your question, reader. But please go ahead and make your case for toque, or touque, or wiiwikwaan. After all, the Tuque Souq is a marketplace of ideas, a this-and-that mélange of histories and perspectives, a metaphor for Canada, if you will, like a bolder, hardier e pluribus unum, a multis e gentibus vires. Or whatever.
—The Tuque Souq


With this posting, the Tuque Souq is pointing its compass east and going on summer hiatus until September. Très bon été à tous!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Qaddafi defends a woman's right not to be a man

Today's Arab woman is not an ottoman, echoed one of the messages of Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Qaddafi on his recent history-making visit to Italy.

The colonel excoriated his fellow Arabs who treat women as "pieces of furniture which you can change when you want, and no one will ask you why you have done it."

This quip, delivered to an audience of more than 1000 Italian women whose audience the Libyan leader requested on his official state visit, earned Qaddafi praise from some Italian women's rights groups, who declined to specify exactly which Arabs they believed the colonel was talking about.

In related news, Qaddafi arrived happily in Rome escorted as usual by his all-female bodyguard corps; it is not known exactly what rights this particular women's group has vis-a-vis the colonel.

"There is no difference between men and women on a human level," Qaddafi said to his audience, before adding an explanatory self-contradiction: "God made men and women, we must respect the differences between the sexes."

Mara Cafagna, a former beauty queen and topless model who now happens to be Italy's Minister of (ahem) Equal Opportunities, was quite taken with Qaddafi's message of women's liberation. Qaddafi's speech is "a strong clear message against the abuse of women," she said.

But other women in Qaddafi's audience were skeptical, noticing that Qaddafi's bodyguards--far from traditional notions of military protocol--spent most of the time serving their boss drinks.

"He really is on a different planet," said one female guest at Qaddafi's event. Natch!

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, himself an assiduous defender of a woman's right to bare arms (et cetera), showered Qaddafi with the kind of attention he usually reserves for 18-year-old models. And as a result all this political canoodling between the two great lovers of women, all Italians should benefit from lower fuel and electricity bills in the near future.

Qaddafi concluded his speech to the gathered audience of Italian women by asking rhetorically, and referencing a policy that is only applied in Saudi Arabia among Arab countries: "Why should these [Arab] women have to apply to the head of state for the right to drive a car?"

The audience, noted a report from the Guardian, applauded politely,

Then Qaddafi lost them when he added: "This is a matter for their husbands or brothers [to] decide."

As the booing and hissing dislodged him from the rest of his speech, a smiling Qaddafi invited everyone present to visit Libya whenever they wanted, and quickly left the stage.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

How to Twitter a Free Iran

As the election protests in Iran enter their second week, authorities are cracking down on real journalists and (ahem) citizen journalists (bloggers, facebookians, twitterese, flikrish) alike who are disseminating the information that allows the clandestine organization of the protests to continue.

Most of you out there in Twitterland have already been told to set your location setting to Tehran and your time zone to GMT +3:30 (Iranian time); Iranian authorities are tracking cyberdissent by these and other measures, so as the theory goes, the more non-Iranians that tweet in Iranian disguise, the fewer actual Iranian agitators the Ayatollah will be able to track down, shut down, and shut up.

From a posting on #iranelections cyberwar guide for beginners,* here are the ways in which you can help free Iran from your own home, office or Starbucks La-Z-Boy:
  1. Do NOT publicise proxy IP’s over twitter, and especially not using the #iranelection hashtag. Security forces are monitoring this hashtag, and the moment they identify a proxy IP they will block it in Iran. If you are creating new proxies for the Iranian bloggers, DM them to @stopAhmadi or @iran09 and they will distributed them discretely to bloggers in Iran.
  2. Hashtags, the only two legitimate hashtags being used by bloggers in Iran are #iranelection and #gr88, other hashtag ideas run the risk of diluting the conversation.
  3. Keep your bull$hit filter up! Security forces are now setting up twitter accounts to spread disinformation by posing as Iranian protesters. Please don’t retweet impetuosly, try to confirm information with reliable sources before retweeting. The legitimate sources are not hard to find and follow.
  4. Help cover the bloggers: change your twitter settings so that your location is TEHRAN and your time zone is GMT +3.30. Security forces are hunting for bloggers using location and timezone searches. If we all become ‘Iranians’ it becomes much harder to find them.
  5. Don’t blow their cover! If you discover a genuine source, please don’t publicise their name or location on a website. These bloggers are in REAL danger. Spread the word discretely through your own networks but don’t signpost them to the security forces. People are dying there, for real, please keep that in mind.
  6. Denial of Service attacks. If you don’t know what you are doing, stay out of this game. Only target those sites the legitimate Iranian bloggers are designating. Be aware that these attacks can have detrimental effects to the network the protesters are relying on. Keep monitoring their traffic to note when you should turn the taps on or off.
  7. Do spread the (legitimate) word, it works! When the bloggers asked for twitter maintenance to be postponed using the #nomaintenance tag, it had the desired effect. As long as we spread good information, provide moral support to the protesters, and take our lead from the legitimate bloggers, we can make a constructive contribution.

*The instructions also come with a warning: "Please remember that this is about the future of the Iranian people, while it might be exciting to get caught up in the flow of participating in a new meme, do not lose sight of what this is really about."

In other words, please don't meme and run. The Twitter Revolution needs you!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Kafka and/or Kafkaesqueness help save Canadian in Sudan

Hear, hear!

The Globe and Mail was all up in the face of the Harper government yesterday after a federal court judge ordered that Abousfian Abdelrazik--the Canadian citizen imprisoned, tortured, and stranded in Sudan for the past 6 years--be returned home to Canada posthaste.

Kudos to Globe journalist Paul Koring for following the case so meticulously and outing the injustice at every turn. Cheers to Gerald Caplan for penning a scathing op-ed without referencing Kafka (everyone else did, including the judge, who likened Abdelrazik to the protagonist in The Trial). Grudging thumbs-up to cherry-picking human-rights guru and Liberal MP Irwin Cotler and celebrated Israeli writer David Grossman for their rebuke of Harper and CSIS.

Excerpts from the Globe's friday blitz of the Abdelrazik story:

"To the very end, the Harper government maintained a consistent attitude toward Abousfian Abdelrazik: mean-spirited, callous, destructive. Instead of announcing that they were willing at long last to allow this innocent Canadian citizen to return home from Sudan, instead of a hint of remorse for his ordeal, instead of explaining how our government intends to help him restore the life they stole from him six years ago, all he and we got was a begrudging eight words from the Minister of Justice."
--Gerald Caplan

"[Maher] Arar got an apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and $10-million in compensation for Canada's role in getting him shipped to Syria where he was tortured. In Mr. Abdelrazik's case, the involvement of Canadian governments lasted far longer and was more direct..."
--Paul Koring

"After such a judgment, our government has little moral choice. This case is no longer about legal arguments, if it ever was. It is about a Canadian citizen stranded in Sudan and a government that has shown wrongful resolve in keeping him there."
--Irwin Cotler and David Grossman

"The document, marked 'secret,' shows that the Bush administration knew Sudan was about to release Mr. Abdelrazik from prison in the summer of 2006, and wanted help from Canadian police and anti-terrorism agents to try to charge him."
--Paul Koring

"As well as the Conservative government, a previous Liberal government was involved in denying Mr. Abdelrazik the right to come home. But since the Liberals were in power, two major inquiries, including one into Canada's role in the Maher Arar affair, have criticized Canada for how it deals with torture states. The Conservative government had an obligation to learn something from all that."
--Globe editorial

Here, too, is the Globe's timeline of events in the Abdelrazik affair. Notable is what Conservative Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon did personally to deny Abdelrazik his rights.

Related Tuque Souq post: Canadian in Khartoum celebrates year of squatting in embassy

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Israeli Prime Minister heads off to Fantasy Camp

Israeli prime minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu delivered a little fairy tale of a speech [full text] last weekend at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv, specifically timed as a sort of response to U.S. president Barack Obama's earlier speech in Cairo.

Netanyahu had promised to speak "honestly and courageously" about the future of the Middle East peace process. What he was, in fact, honest and courageous about was the fact that he has been living in fantasy land for most of the past 16 years.

No, seriously. After delivering the speech, in which he seemed to have no grasp of any progress made in Israeli-Palestinian negotiatons in recent memory, Netanyahu got back on the bus to Middle East Fantasy Camp, where apparently he's been spending most of his time since 1993.

Recently, the Tuque Souq intercepted an email that Benjamin Netanyahu sent home to his family from his fantasy world:

Hello mother, hello father,
It's great to be back here at Fantasy Camp after my exhausting journey into reality. I hope the speech went over well. One of the
counsellors here helped me with it.

It was a great day here at the camp. We built another 3 new settlements in Samaria this morning, and some of the kids from from the Kedumim section put up some outposts in the Judean hills. They're really getting good at it now.

Yup, Fantasy Israel is really turning out to be a great place to be. It's so nice not having any Arabs around... or what are they calling them these days... 'Palestinians'? Whatever. I've never heard of 'Palestinia'. Sounds made up, like that other imaginary place, Canadia.

Of course, we're still building a
Separation Wall here. But just for fun. This morning me and Goldie went for a walk in the hills. We thought we got lost for awhile, but luckily some nice friendly settlers helped us find our way back. Who needs a Road Map when you've got settlers?!

I think I mentioned in my speech how totally awesome the settlers are, and how I hope they just keep growing and growing, naturally... you know, with the storks bringing them more settler babies.

And how cool is it that there are no more Arabs anywhere, including Jerusalem, so Israel can be a totally Jewish place? I mean, sure there were some Arabs here before 1948. But then they left, and we haven't seen them since.

You can't really imagine it until you are here. I mean, all that stuff you have to deal with--occupation, an Apartheid-like situation, international law, the peace process, human dignity--they totally don't exist here. We built the
Third Temple last week. Heck, next week we'll build a fourth, right on the beach in Gaza. Why not?!

Oh sure, Fantasy Iran got a little upset and threatened us with Fantasy nukes, but we just nuked 'em first! Then we nuked Oman, just because we can.

Anyway, I'd better end this letter soon. Tonight me and some friends are going down to the Jordan river to skip stones. Then there's a bonfire in what used to be Jericho. Now it's a playground.

Lots of love,


Friday, June 12, 2009

Ayatollocracy Votes Today

Iran's presidential elections are today!

Defending champion Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the slight favourite to repeat, after running what has been called a "dirty" campaign against his rivals, and principally his main challenger, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Musavi.

Mr. Musavi is seen as the progressive candidate, supported by former president Mohammed Khatami, who withdrew from the race in March after a brief flirtation with another run at the top.

One of the biggest story lines of the campaign is whether Mr. Musavi could separate himself from Mehdi Karrubi, former Speaker of Parliament and also considered a progressive candidate. Iranian moderates and progressives fear a vote-split between the two, which of course would favour Mr. Ahmadinejad.

The fourth and final approved candidate, Mohsen Rezai, former chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guards--the elite state police unit--is considered a long shot and who is still a wanted man in Argentina for his alleged role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre.

Women in cities, students and ethnic minorities--all of whom tend to vote more progressive than the national average--figure to play a prominent role in today's outcome.

The two front-runners have sparred mainly over domestic and economic policies. They agree very generally on Iran's right to nuclear technology, although Mr. Musavi has accused Mr. Ahmadinejad of turning Iran into a pariah state over the issue. Both agree that the West's attitude toward Iran must change, but the progressive candidate has tacitly argued for dialogue with the Obama administration.

An unbelievably exhaustive analysis of the candidates is here. Read on, and follow the results as the day continues. Big day for Iran and the world.

[Left to right in the photograph: Rezai, Ahmadinejad, Karrubi, Musavi]

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hollywood plans Somali Pirate movie

Last month a group of elderly pensioners cruising the ocean before death fought off a potential pirate hijacking in the Gulf of Aden. With a "dagnabbit" here and a deck chair thrown there, the feisty septuagenarians scared the Somali pirates into submission, and the latter withdrew their assault.

That's just the kind of gumption that Hollywood is hoping to turn into box-office gold next year when it brings the Somali Pirate saga to the big screen.

Film producer Andras Hamori (Big Nothing; The 51st State) has secured the rights to the life story of Andrew Mwangura, who's sometimes referred to as the "Pirate Whisperer"; as the director of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program, he and his outfit have an uncanny knack for tracking and breaking the news of pirate activity.

And Samuel L. Jackson will be cast in the lead role.

Opposite the hero will probably be a villain in the form of Ali Mohamed Ali, the infamous pirate negotiator and some say the mastermind behind the so-called chaos of Somali piracy. Wily, crafty and a step ahead of everyone, Ali is the perfect nuanced mirror-image of Mwangura.

Tuque Souq casting suggestion: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Other actors needed: Winona Ryder (as the investigative journalist), Sean Astin (as her cameraman), Jack Black (as hostage #1), Mos Def (as hostage #2), Harold Perrineau (as the Somali pirate captain), Jean Reno (as the President of France), Chris Cooper (as the arrogant captain of the Shipriders), Tilda Swinton (as the UN negotiator), Paul Sorvino (as Colonel Muammar Qaddafi), and a cameo by Denzel Washington (as the reclusive philosopher pirate king).

Producer Hamori will also need a director with thriller cred and experience crafting multi-layered stories.

Tuque Souq directing suggestion: I know a lot of people would say Tony Gilroy, but for slightly understated action that preferences dynamic storytelling, let's say Stephen Gaghan.

The hard part will be writing a script that respects both the elegant complexity of the whole institution of Somalia Piracy and the inane simplicity of a band of shoeless Somalis hopping an outboard with an RPG and taking down a two-million-tonne freighter.

Tuque Souq screenwriter suggestion: J.D. Zeik, aka Ronin-writer.

Not a bad lineup. But if the Tuque Souq is hired as a consultant, we'd be tempted to lob the entire project to Noah Bombach, celebrated writer/director of Kicking and Screaming, The Squid and the Whale, and Margot at the Wedding. To the delight of audiences, this would result in a respectably concise and verbose 97-minute film in which the pirates all live together after their heist and figure out what they want to do with their lives, realizing after some agonizing personal reflection that the world might just be as messed up as their worst fears, and that this is okay, really, because it is the process of the discovery of one's own flaws and insignificance that is the true essence of... piracy.

Not to mention this scene:

Hostage #1: "Oh, I've been to Mogadishu. Well, I haven't 'been to Mogadishu' been to Mogadishu, but I know that thing, that, 'Stop shaving your armpits, buy a matching set of RPGs, date a warlord, now I know how bad American imperialism is' thing..."

Hostage #2: "They have good coffee there."

Hostage #1: "... 'how bad American coffee is' thing."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lebanon votes March 14 on June 7, McFalafel expansion safe

Lebanon's March 14 movement defeated the March 8 movement by six days, er... points, in Sunday's elections, ushering in the country's first ever peaceful transition from status quo ante to status quo.

Somewhere in the shadows, reclusive Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah breathes a sigh of relief. No wait, there he is giving a press conference.

A contrite Sheikh Nasrallah accepted the defeat of his majority Shi'ite party Amal--which is aligned with other parties including that of pro-Syrian Christian general Michel Aoun in a bloc known as the March 8 movement--in the Lebanese parliamentary elections. The combined March 8 bloc took only 57 seats out of 128, a surprisingly low total.

The remaining 71 seats were scooped up by the dozen parties that comprise the March 14 movement led by Saad al-Hariri, son of slain former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, whose bloc is decidedly pro-Western, patently anti-Syrian, and ambivalently pro-McFalafel.

Analysts suggest that the Lebanese swung decisively to March 14 out of fear that Hezbollah would set up an Islamic Republic if victorious. More likely, Hezbollah never really wanted to lead anyhow.

After all, leadership means making decisions, being accountable, forging compromises, and a whole host of other things that lead inevitably to declining poll numbers, restless and implacable constituents, scandal, and finally death by electoral stampede in the next vote.

Why the hell would Hezbollah want that, especially as long as they get to keep all their guns whether they win or lose?

In fact wholly unrelated to the Lebanese elections, the McFalafel is a sandwich first introduced in Egyptian McDonald's restaurants in 2000; it has since spread to McDonald's in Lebanon and Israel.

McFalafel is also the name of a new fast-food joint that opened recently in a Hasty Market convenience store in Toronto's Islington Village. Dundas and Islington is a wee bit far from the Tuque Souq's home, especially since we have Ali Baba's just a block away. Anybody out there try the new McFalafel yet?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Life in a Riad: Travels in Morocco

Husband and wife world travellers and Tuque Souq cousins Dean and Vicki Bradley (no, they're not each others' cousins; inbreeding in our family has been banned for at least 2 generations) just finished up a three-week trek through Morocco as part of their year-long, round-the-world expedition.

A common setting for their travel dispatches, the riad: a type of Moroccan manor whose splendor includes a central, interior garden or atrium. They're quite often turned into little hotels and/or restaurants these days.

Riad [ رياد ] is from an old Arabic word for garden and is also closely related to the word riyaada [Arabic: ريادة ] which means, coincidentally for our travellers, pathfinding or exploration.

From Dean's blog, Backpack Adventures, he writes of an adventure to find a riad:

A little skeptical about whether we were actually being taken to the Riad, or if he was leading us around aimlessly, we followed him along the narrow and twisting alleyways. The further along we walked the worse the pathway became, with broken sidewalk pieces and stones scattered on the ground. We finally arrived at a large wooden door and the young boy rang the doorbell. There was no sign indicating that we were at the correct place, so we just hoped that the staff knew who we were. [Read more...]

On her blog, Stories by Vicki, she imagines an alternative story of holiday life in a riad:
Aliana slipped through the grand stone-carved doorway into the back kitchen to prepare mint leaves for Madame Monjée’s tea. It was 8:00am, which meant the patisserie driver should be there soon to drop off the croissants, baguettes and sweet pastries. As one of their premium guests at Riad Belle, Madame Monjée had very specific requests for her petit déjeuner, however the large tips more than made up for her high demands. Aliana felt grateful for her job at the Riad, and especially to the owner, Ms. Lacroix, for giving her the opportunity to work at such a beautiful hotel. [Read more...]
Having tasted the sweet pleasures of life in Morocco, the intrepid couple are now trekking through Spain. alhamdullillah ala salaama, you two.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Obama's Arabic gaffe: "... a woman's right to wear the hajib"

U.S. President Barack Obama's speech to the Islamic world from Cairo was a resounding success of Platonic love and Sesame-Street diplomacy. Sure, he reduced most differences between Islam and the West to a difference in religious tradition and made several normative conclusions therefrom.

But overall, Obama was respectful. He was knowledgeable. He didn't point his finger too much.

He also threw in a little Arabic: a soft shukran mixed in with English "thank you" when he came out on stage demonstrated that Obama was willing if timid to test-drive his Arabic skills.

He brought a message to the Orientals from American Muslims: assalaam alaykum.

And he name-dropped on the liberty in America protecting Muslims. Quoth Obama (at about the 3-minute mark of the above video):

"... That's why the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hajib."

The right of girls to wear the chamberlain?

Of course Obama meant to say hijab; commonly translated as veil or headscarf.

Though related in their triliteral roots (h-j-b), hajib [pronounced, as Obama said it, hajeeb; Arabic حجيب ] is an archaic word that means, in English approximation, chamberlain, a medieval manservant. Today in some places it may be used colloquially to refer to a doorman outside an apartment building, although the more common term is haajib [Arabic حاجب ].

Wearers of the hijab [pronounced hijaab; Arabic حجاب ] are probably not offended by the gaffe, even if "wearing the chamberlain" could for a juvenile imagination be a silly double-entendre.

Just to be on the safe side, to prove that he's not anti-veil, Obama's handlers should have him wear the hijab on his next visit to the Middle East, perhaps on a photo-op with a local hajib.

After all, following a goof on Canada that irked this blogger, a contrite Obama donned a tuque to win back the hearts of Canadians:

(But he still points his finger too much.)

Friday, June 5, 2009

World Cup 2010: Iran bombs; Israel bombed... Tunisia safe

The next batch of critical World Cup qualifying matches gets underway this weekend. Middle East/North Africa countries Egypt, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Sudan are all still alive. [See our last Tuque Souq World Cup 2010 post for more background.]

But those of you dreaming of an Iran vs Israel grouping in South Africa next year--dream on. Israel took only 1 point from back-to-back disappointing games against Greece in April, and now find themselves in 4th place behind Greece, Switzerland and Latvia(!) in Europe's Group 2.

(In a scheduling quirk, Israel do not play this weekend while most of Europe does, and actually they don't play again until September 5th against... Latvia!)

In Asia, the Iranians, who just sacked their coach, have about a snowball's chance in Qom of qualifying after a 2-1 home defeat to Saudi Arabia in March knocked them to 4th place in Asia Group 2, four points back with 3 to play. Assuming they beat UAE (June 10), they'll still have to win in North Korea (June 6) and probably get a point in South Korea (June 17) to have a chance at a third-place finish, which would yield a playoff.

Saudi Arabia rallied to beat UAE last time out, and need only to win their final home game (June 17) against North Korea to finish no worse than 3rd place in Group 2, and in fact could finish second barring Iranian fortune. Heck, they could win the group if they upset South Korea in Seoul (June 10).

Bahrain certainly will be the representative in the Asia playoff out of Group 1. The Islanders picked apart arch-rival Qatar in April, and coupled with Qatar's 4-0 drubbing in Uzbekistan four days earlier, the Q's are finished. Bahrain finish with a game in Australia (June 10), which they will lose, but then a home victory over Uzbekistan (June 17) will be enough to see them into a playoff bout with the 3rd place team in Group 2.

The United Arab Emirates, like Qatar, are now booking golf trips for the summer of 2010.

Over in Africa, they're only 1 game (out of 6) into the final qualifying round, which also resumes this weekend. Beloved Tunisia looked sharp in a 2-1 away victory over Kenya on March 28. They return to Stade du 7 novembre on Saturday to take on Mozambique, and then stay at home to face rivals Nigeria on June 20. Win those two, and Tunisia become prohibitive favourites to emerge from Group B.

Egypt waxed WTF in being held 1-1 in Cairo against lowly Zambia back in March. This Sunday they play away to Algeria, which drew 0-0 with Rwanda to open their final round.

Morocco were pitiable against Gabon, falling 2-1 in Casablanca. Next up: a trip to mighty Cameroon Saturday. Er, Cameroon lost to Togo last time out. Group A is upside down.

Sudan, 1-1 drawers against Mali, play Benin on Sunday.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

National Magazine Awards gala is Friday

This Friday, Canadian magazines will win awards. Guaranteed! The 32nd annual National Magazine Awards gala is June 5. I'll be there.*

Earlier we took a look at 4 Middle East-related articles up for awards this year. Should victory transpire, they'll grab a place in history alongside these other recent NMA winners covering the Middle East:

Last year (the 2007 awards) George Jonas won a Gold award in the Essays category for his 7,600-word, um, essay/saga: "Meditations on Israel" published in Queen's Quarterly. I tried to get through it and failed. Obviously the judges fared better. (I've linked to the article on Jonas's personal website; if you can find the original QQ publication, there are some nice accompanying photographs.)

In 2006, Deborah Campbell won a Gold and a Silver award for "Iran's Quiet Revolution" in The Walrus... fantastic piece on the fabric of Iranian society just as the nuclear issue was first heating up (pun intended). The same year, George Jonas (again) won a Gold award for "The Spielberg Massacre" in Maclean's, in which he ripped the director for messing with his book about the Munich tragedy.

In 2005, it was The Walrus again: A photo essay by Rita Leistner, "Al Rashad"--about an Iraqi psychiatric hospital--won a Gold award in the Words & Pictures category (obviously the captions were great). (Unfortunately the above link doesn't call up the entire photo essay, just the intro.) "The Peace Wager" by Kathy Cook, also in The Walrus, won a Silver award for reporting on the Darfur crisis.

And just so you don't think that every award-winning Canadian magazine article about the Middle East has to be either published in The Walrus or by George Jonas (or in English, for that matter), in 2004 the venerable Michel Vastel won a Gold award for "Ma guerre d'Algérie" in L'actualité, ruminating on the 50th anniversary of the start of the Algerian war for independence, in which Michel Vastel fought. [Find out a bit more on this in the latest Ryerson Review of Journalism's profile of Vastel, who died last year.]

See you at the gala.

* I have to be there; it's the perk of my day job.