I remember when I was maybe four- or five-years-old going to the big Christmas party at my Grandpa's work. Grandpa "D" drove a truck for a commercial construction company in Youngstown and kept attending their holiday soirees years after he retired. Loving the open bar with all the pop you could drink, I went at least two or three times with my grandparents. Would have been the late '70s. But the events harkened back to the baby boom years when men worked the same job for their whole adult lives and the companies in turn genuinely seemed to care about them. The parties reminded me of something out of Goodfellas--women with beehive hairdos, a lot of Italian guys drinking 7&7s, everybody smoking. Kids got a mesh stocking full of candy, but you had to sit on Santa's lap. Santa (never a big part of DeGenaro Christmases) was neither my mom nor my sister, so I hated that part. But I did it all for the candy.
Couldn't help but think of those parties this evening while riding the "party bus" back to Beirut from Tyre. The occasion: Nicole's office Christmas party. Now, her office is here in Beirut but in the spirit of Christmas--most of her co-workers are Christian--the attorney who runs the NGO decided to take everybody to the South of Lebanon for a fancy party. No Santa. Definitely no 7&7s. And the smoking came courtesy of nargileh, not unfiltered Chesterfields. I should add that Nicole works three days a week for a human rights organization--actually, a law firm that operates an NGO as a kind of philanthropic arm, doing studies and reports, for example, on women's issues and other middle-eastern social concerns. Folks at the office decided to do it up right, so they rented a big van to take everybody down to Tyre, a beautiful city along the beach. Nicole got snacks for the ride and I thought for sure her choices (potato chips, American chocolate) would be poorly received. I was wrong. Who doesn't love Pringle's? Note to self: if you even suspect that Arab pop music is going to be played loudly, don't sit right by the speakers.
The South is so beautiful. Banana and citrus trees lined the roads. And the oranges are in season right now, so all the roadside markets had enormous bins of many varieties of them. Of course the roads are also lined with markers of the violence that is too often a part of life in that part of the country. At one intersection we passed a memorial-of-sorts that consisted of a parked tank (one of our mates on the party bus told us it was an Israeli tank captured in 2006) with a Hezbollah flag flying over it. And along the road are pictures of young men from the region killed in the various wars and skirmishes along the border. We ended up at a fancy, seaside restaurant, and the head attorney told us that if we wanted to stay there overnight, he'd arrange a separate car back to Beirut for us. We were tempted by the generosity, but stuck with the one-day plan.
We had a huge feast, with all the famous Lebanese appetizers (lebneh, hummus, tabbouli, grape leaves, kibbeh), and delicious fresh fish from the sea. They know Nicole (who won't touch fish) well and ordered her a mixed grill. What a great crew she works with. Like most Lebanese, they love to party. Had a nice time chatting and hearing about Christmas plans, most of which involve the phrase "going back to my village." We moved to a different banquet room for coffee and dessert. Luckily, the hotel had a huge bowl of those fresh organges we had passed on the ride down, not to mention loads of other sweets. Didn't even have to sit on Santa's lap.
Forgive me if I've already relayed this story on facebook, but I can't help but love conversations with our landlords' little boys. Knowledgable about American history and geography, they love to chat in the lobby of the building. Last night, I went downstairs to run down the road for a couple mana'ishe for Nicole and I but got side-tracked in the lobby. Explaining what Nicole does at her office, I used the phrase "civil rights," and that opened a whole can of worms.
You haven't heard the story of Rosa Parks until you've heard it from a little Lebanese boy. After discoursing on "Dr. King" (yes, he calls MLK "Dr. King") while drinking a cup of the tea his mom sends down on a little tray in the elevator for whomever is working the front desk (we sometimes share the elevator with the tray!), his next story started with, "And there was a girl..." and I just knew this one would be about Rosa Parks. I told him I've sat in the actual Rosa Parks bus and he was definitely impressed. He's one bright kid, although we have an ongoing debate now because he insists Lebanon is the smallest country in the world. He also thought that there were no people in Florida. But I'm telling you, about most things connected to geography, he's one smart kid. And of course, he's fluent in English and French, as well as Arabic.