Thursday, September 07, 2006

Abu Mousa

Today, when I returned to the house at about four, having already eaten tasteless pieces of breaded, boneless chicken at one of Damascus' many shwarma and catch-all short-order restaurants, Abu Mousa asked if I was hungry. By God, I told him, I’ve already eaten, but it wasn’t very tasty. I cooked today, he told me, and there’s still some on the stove. Come, eat. I couldn’t refuse. There, in a covered pot was a large helping of Arabic rice with sliced potatoes and tomatoes and zucchini, still warm. It was delicious. I finished a plate, then another. There’s fattoush in the fridge, he told me. Fattoush is a traditional Levantine salad and one of Abu Mousa’s specialties: diced cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, a bit of lettuce and pieces of fried pita, doused in olive oil and lemon juice. It was to his standard.

On other days, in the morning, he has invited me for lunch -- the principle meal in Syria, as in many cultures -- and I have accepted, but today he did not. Not wanting to take advantage of very generous hosts, I dined out with a friend. As I was finishing his rice and fattosh, Abu Mousa took a black marker and wrote in Arabic on a piece of blank paper: “Restaurant Abu Mousa welcomes you. Open night and day.” He posted it on the kitchen cabinet, his way of telling me that I am welcome to eat with him whenever I please.

Abu Mousa -- father of Mousa, his eldest son, a hotel manager in Palm Springs, Calif. -- was born in 1926 in a village in the mountains north of Damascus. The son of a shepherd, he spent the summers with his father and his sheep, sleeping under the stars. Fifty years ago, after having served in the Syrian army, where, incidentally, he learned how to cook, he moved with his family to the house where he still lives. He worked as a police officer in Damascus until retirement. During the summers, he sleeps outside on a simple bed on the second-floor terrace. It reminds him of those early summers in the mountains, he told me. He often returns to the village and brings back figs and grapes and sheep’s cheese, as he did last weekend. Everything is fresh in the village, he says. Now, he’s trying to visit America -- he’s been several times before -- to spend time with his two sons. He was recently refused by the U.S. embassy, but he’ll try again. Until then, I’ll join him for lunch.


Blogger Ernest Scribbler said...

Bob -- I am so glad to be able to peek into this culture through you. But would you mind writing down the recipies for some of this stuff? It sounds good, but more important, it would allow me to feel a little bit more connected.

6:56 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home