While the book: Day of Honey, starts a little bit scattered, Annia Ciezadlo manages to bring it all together to an attractive memoir. It is divided in five parts the first starts in New York and speaks about her roots, the second one is about her “honeymoon” in Baghdad, the three other parts could be grouped into one and speak of her life experience and “adventures” in Lebanon and particularly in (West) Beirut. The book ends with an Epilogue and acknowledgements, and is pigmented with a selection of recipes before she finishes with a glossary, bibliography and an index.
The book makes an interesting read, especially since in its Beirut part it speaks about events I have lived, places I have been to or at least heard of.
I don’t know about the Baghdad part, but in the Beirut part the events are accurate, some of the views are a bit out of touch but it is expected from someone who has not lived there all their lives or knew the history of the place. Sometimes the view just flies over the surface of things and you can tell that it is due to a lack of understanding of the events repercussions or an unawareness of what lead to them, not because Ciezadlo is not willing to know, but it is the age old thing where you have to be there for many previous years to actually be able to fully see the situation. Let us call it a lack of deeper immersion.
Actually Ciezadlo comes out as unbiased in relating her events, the journalist in her comes out in those circumstances and she tells what she sees, then the human takes over to express the fears of someone caught in them.
Those fears seemed a lot less ingrained in her Baghdad part, or maybe it was due to a lack of realization of the depth and reality of being in a war zone, we see her become more aware or more in touch with these fears when she is living in Beirut.
She actually manages to draw attractive images of both cities, to give a fascinating view of places that have been long associated with daunting political events and bloodshed. And inevitably in the end she falls under the spell of Beirut. I have heard this so many times that it bewilders me.
Beirut is far from being perfect, but it definitely has its own charm and character. It is a city full of history and so many micro-cultures that it is surprising for such a small place. It is also surprising how most of the time these cultures don’t collide.
The view she offers of Beirut is mostly centered to what was once known as west Beirut, and the famous downtown. There is a whole part of the city that she missed, probably due to the lines left from the war and that a lot of people still don’t cross often.
She also sprinkles sayings and expressions in the dialects of both cities all over the book, written in Latin letters to show pronunciation then explained in English. I found it to be a cute attribute to the book, because it brings the reader a little closer to both cultures and mentalities.
She weaves in food talk in the mix, at times successfully and at times it felt somewhat superfluous but it was never distracting. I love the fact though, that she introduces the world to less known foods than the typical mezzeh/Barbecue mix that tourists get to taste in restaurants. Not that it is not representative or delicious, but it is not the sole or soul food of the place and it is a pleasure to see the light shed on less “glamorous” dishes, ones that are part of every day’s repertoire in a Lebanese cuisine.
I like how she draws her characters, she makes them human and sympathetic. Her mother-in-law Umm Hassane, is sheer comical to me, maybe because I have seen the character over and over again in reality, and somehow it draws the ultimate picture of the Lebanese Tehta (Grandma) which I will assimilate to the Italian Nonna.
Last but not least, the recipes. Again I am going to speak more about the Lebanese ones because I have more knowledge of them than the Iraqi ones.
There is something peculiar about Lebanese cuisine, it is so diverse and it can be so regional that the same dish can taste so different in the North, the Mountain, the Bekaa or the South and sometimes even from town to town. Although most of the dishes she includes are dishes I am familiar with, the recipes she shares are different from the ones I know. It is an interesting thing for me because I get to discover different tastes of something I have grown up eating over and over again. I can safely say that the recipes she shared and that I know have all been prepared in a different way from what I am used to. It will be interesting to try one of them cooked in a different way.
All in all I enjoyed reading the book. I don’t know if it is because there is a culture I am familiar with, so it appealed to me. Especially, since I share the author’s situation of international marriage, and as it happens it is the same nationalities: Lebanese and American.
What was especially funny to me is that a lot of the things she liked (foods in particular) and things that drew her attention were similar to Clint’s experience. He shared my chuckles as I read these passages to him.
I am not sure how this book will appeal to someone who is totally removed from the cultures, but it is a good way to be introduced if one is interested.