Category Archives: Middle East

Retroactive Out-of-Business Restaurant Review: Jerusalem’s Upscale Roman Munchies

Roman waitress at the archeologist-run "Cardo Culinaria" restaurant where Roman soldiers once dined in between rampages. Note the beverages being served in archeology-style pottery.

Roman waitress at the archeologist-run “Cardo Culinaria” restaurant where real Roman soldiers once dined in between rampages. Note the beverages being served in archeology-style pottery.

(Note: The Cardo Culinaria is where I was “tricked” into eating duck for the first and only time by thinking it was lamb. Liked the taste, but still can’t emotionally accept the idea of eating Donald or Daffy. Moreover, I LOVED the idea of archeologists running their own restaurant.  Sadly, this kitschy tourist attraction went out of business years ago. Consider this travel story, originally published in 1997 by the Robb Report, a loving memorial tribute.)

JERUSALEM’S UPSCALE ROMAN MUNCHIES: A FIRST CENTURY DINING EXPERIENCE

 By Darren Garnick

JERUSALEM – When conquered by Rome, eat what the Romans eat.

That was likely the philosophy of some Jerusalem restaurants eager to curry favor with Caesar’s army after it trampled the Holy City more than 2,000 years ago.

The Roman soldiers are long gone, but a group of quirky Israeli archeologists have brought their taste buds back. Promising an authentic “First Century Dining Experience,” the Cardo Culinaria only serves roasted duck, chicken and lamb — dishes preferred by the Roman-Judaean chefs at the time.  Beer, regarded as the “drink of barbarians,” is eschewed in favor of wine.

Customers are assumed to be pro-Emperor and enjoy royal fringe benefits.  Servants, known elsewhere as waiters and waitresses, hand-feed grapes to guests and fan them with large palm fronds.  Soothing harp music is played during the meal with fire eaters and jugglers entertaining between courses.

There are other Roman theme restaurants around the globe – most are concentrated in gluttonous Atlantic City and Las Vegas – but the Culinaria has more clout to claim authenticity.  The restaurant sits on the ruins of the Old Roman Cardo, the main drag of Jerusalem in 63 BC where Roman troops socialized and made their military headquarters when modern day Israel was  known as Judaea.  Visitors walk through excavated Cardo columns on their way to the restaurant’s entrance.

Though pegged as a tourist spot, the food at the Cardo Culinaria is surprisingly upscale.  Keeping in line with the Roman feast tradition, portions are generous and most foods are all-you-can-eat.

The schlock factor can be adjusted to individual tastes. Diners are invited to wear violet and golden togas over their clothing, Caesar laurels in their hair, and Trojan helmets breastplates for silly photos after dessert.  But unlike in the real Roman Empire, there is no coercion to assimilate. Business suits are not sent to the lions.

When the restaurant first opened in 1989, forks were not provided because the Romans only used knives and spoons. Semi-sweet carob juice was also served instead of lemonade.  But modern customer tastes forced modern concessions. Owners did not want to run a historically-accurate restaurant with empty tables.

“In the beginning, we had hired a chef to best duplicate the recipes and cooking styles of 2,000 years ago,” recalls manager Rafi Nahum. “We served the food and people said, ‘This is very interesting.’”

“We knew the moment that people were calling our food ‘interesting,’ it didn’t taste good,” he adds.

Small two-pronged forks were soon introduced after it became clear that customers hated to eat with their hands.  According to the Cardo Culinaria menu, which is more of a crash history course than food guide, there have been some significant beverage compromises, too:

“Water supplies of the ancient world were generally not fit to drink, but as a concession to modern taste, we will provide water on request. Beer was considered the drink of the barbarians and was not drunk in Rome.  However, malt beer was widely available in Judaea and will be served with some meals.”

Harpist  Betty Klein concedes that the Cardo sometimes has no choice but to fudge with history a bit.

“Unfortunately, we can’t recapture the music because we don’t know what it was like. We can kind of guess different intervals, but the Romans didn’t leave any records for us,” she says. “I’m kind of doing this blindly.”

**

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Wish it were a Cubs fan in 1986…

Like all NY Post coverage of landmark events, this Khadafy farewell is an instant collector's item. (Click pic for more info)

There are now doubts as to who actually killed Moammar Gaddafi, but the accuracy and brilliance of the subhead cannot be challenged.

Two more thoughts on the drama:

1. Khadaffy (we’re using the different spellings to take advantage of SEO options) died like a villain in a Carl Hiaasen novel. As his killers (who could be as mean as Gadaffy) put it, he lived his last moments like a rat in a sewer pipe.

2. A damn shame that President Ronald Reagan didn’t take Khaddaffy out in his reprisal strike after the Berlin disco bombing. Then the Libyan dictator would have been offed by a Chicago Cubs fan.

For more “Culture Schlock” Libya coverage, see Khadaffy’s earlier vow not to surrender “like a woman.”

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Trading Card of the Week: Hafez Assad

I'll trade you two Albert Pujols and a Saddam Hussein for Hafez Assad and a Dictator to Be Named Later.

Card #187 from the 1991 Topps Desert Storm series.

Kids don’t stick trading cards in their bicycle spokes anymore. Heck, do kids even get off their rear ends and ride bikes these days?

I can’t imagine that this Hafez Assad card was that popular on the playground. If you think that Bashar Assad is now being an unreasonable man, his daddy was not the posterboy for Amnesty International either.

Yet, Topps makes Hafez sound like a harmless old man who just yells at the neighborhood kids to get off his lawn. Here’s the inscription on the back of his rookie card:

“The President of Syria, Hafez Assad played an important role in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. As the leader of a radical Arab nation and Iraq’s neighbor, the Allied coalition was happy to have Syria’s cooperation and help. However, Hafez Assad always made it clear that Syria’s cooperation hinged on the issue of Israel not becoming involved in the conflict. With this in mind, Assad still contributed troops and arms toward liberating Kuwait from his old rival Saddam Hussein.”

I’m sure the people of Kuwait remain SO grateful for the three armored snack trucks that Syria sent to the front lines.

And as for Israel “not becoming involved in the conflict,” I can tell you first hand that they got involved.

(If you like to collect more risque Middle East artifacts than trading cards, check out “The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie.”)

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Prince of Egypt: Steven Spielberg’s Country Music Moses

Prince of Egypt Moses Pharaoh

Val Kilmer is the voice of Moses

Culture Schlock — By Darren Garnick
“Country Music Moses won’t get a free ride at the box office”

Originally Published: The Telegraph, August 18, 1998
**

“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why dost thou cry to me? Speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward. But lift up thy rod,and stretch out thy hand over the sea and divide it – and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.'”
— Exodus 14:15-17

“The Prince of Egypt tells the story of two men – one born a prince, the other born a slave … A lie made them brothers, the truth will destroy a kingdom and forever separate them … The country music ‘inspired-by’ album will feature an all-star lineup of the some of the genre’s top selling recording artists, including: Vince Gill, Reba, Randy Travis, Clint Black (and) Wynonna.”
— DreamWorks press release.

DreamWorks SKG – the superstar movie studio formed by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen – is tiptoeing through the Promised Land. Wanting to avoid any mass scale protests upon the release of their upcoming Moses cartoon, “The Prince of Egypt,” they have reportedly sought the advice of dozens of Christian, Jewish and Moslem clergy.

Giving religious leaders too much say in shaping an animated feature can be a dreadful mistake. For evidence, check out the old kids’ TV program “Davey and Goliath.” There’s one minute of action (i.e. Davey breaks a window) for every ten minutes of spiritual introspection and guilt. But based on promotional trailers showing in theaters now, gripping visuals such as Pharaoh’s armies, pyramid construction scenes and the Ten Plagues, should avoid the boredom problem.

Big name celebrity voices – including Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Sandra Bullock, Steve Martin, Michelle Pfeiffer, Martin Short and Patrick Stewart – will ensure a high entertainment value.

Val Kilmer Sandra Bullock Jeff Goldblum Michelle Pfeiffer

The Voices of the Prince of Egypt

However, the creators are doomed to fail miserably in achieving an authentic or a controversy-free film.

The real Moses had a terrible stutter and hired his brother Aaron as the official “Let My People Go” spokesman. Will movie goers pay eight bucks
to listen to star Val Kilmer stutter for two hours? Doubtful.

“Prince of Egypt” also faces the same wrath as any movie or TV program which dares to tackle the history of the Middle East. When Disney’s “Aladdin” hit the screen, it was assailed for portraying the ancient Arabian culture as too violent and barbaric. Unless the building of the pyramids are going to be presented as free job training programs, “Prince of Egypt” will likely generate complaints of anti-pharaoh slander.

As chief courier and guardian of the Ten Commandments, the character of Moses will be under tremendous scrutiny. The potential of Hollywood cheapening his stature is a religious landmine. If McDonald’s, for example, comes out with a Moses Happy Meal, the prophet’s stature may descend to the same level as Princess Jasmine or Buzz Lightyear.

Cognizant of religious sensibilities, DreamWorks executive Walter Parkes recently told the London Telegraph that all merchandising tie-ins will be carefully considered for taste and appropriateness. He promised there will be action figures, but “no burning bush night lights, no Red Sea shower curtains (or) no 40-days-in-the-desert water bottles.”

There are three CDs planned: the regular soundtrack and two inspirational albums (one country music, one R & B/ gospel). The music, scheduled to hit the shelves by mid-fall, should appease most Bible readers. DreamWorks say the songs stick to “themes inherent to the film’s story, including love, faith, freedom, deliverance and family.”

But no matter how many clergy DreamWorks consult, even Moses can not emerge from the cartoon dessert without controversy. Try this one for starters: “Prince of Egypt” is scheduled for release on Dec. 18, 1998.

That’s right, Passover’s big star is about to compete with Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman.


THE ANNOTATED SCHLOCK

In retrospect, I wound up liking this movie — despite the time-wasting chariot races and the buddy-buddy international brotherhood subtext.

There’s a rather moving (and tasteful) slavery montage with animated hieroglyphics.

And I wish that Dreamworks execs were a little more creative with the merchandising. Personally, I would have loved the opportunity to buy a Red Sea shower curtain or a Burning Bush nightlight.

**

MORE EXCLUSIVE PASSOVER COVERAGE:

** Why I would have been a horrible Pharaoh !

** Schlock Flashback: Steven Spielberg’s Country Music Moses

** The Joys of Plastic Lice: Passover toys celebrate Ancient Egypt’s regime change

** Schlock Flashback: Origins of the Moses Duck

** Let My Tastebuds Go: I dare you to try Passover breakfast cereal!

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Filed under Darren's Archive Vault, Middle East

Egyptians to Israel: 30 years of peace is OVERRATED

Egypt's October 1973 War Panorama Museum  (New York Times photo)

Egypt's October 1973 War Panorama Museum (New York Times photo)

One of my biggest regrets during my post-college backpacking jaunt through Cairo was that the October 1973 War Panorama Museum was closed.

Like a kid stretching his neck over the fence at a shut-down amusement park, I stared through the iron grates at a sculpture garden decorated with Russian MiG fighter jets.  I wanted to at least bring home a snowglobe from the gift shop, but the place was undergoing renovations.

This museum is a monumental tribute to Egypt’s “victory” in the 1973 October War (or Yom Kippur War if you’re willing to acknowledge the military value of surprise and meanness to attack on a religious holiday).

According to the Egypt State Information Service, the museum was inspired by President Hosni Mubarak’s 1983 trip to North Korea and is divided into four areas:

The Circular Hall: Highlights the achievements of the Egyptian Armed Forces in the period from 1967 to 1973.

Hall 2: In which the crossing of the Suez Canal is graphically shown.

Hall 3: Showcases the achievements of the various branches of the Army during the October War.

Hall 4: A library with a reading hall attached.

Now, thanks to The New York Times, I can see what one of the museum panoramic views looks like.  Looks like a lot of Egyptian model railroaders were employed by the state in some kind of job stimulus package.

The Times also reports that many younger Egyptians are pissed about the 1979 Camp David Peace Accords. An entire generation grew up without shedding a drop of blood in the Sinai desert and they are pissed.

They saw a couple of war movies and well, it looks like a whole heck of fun!

From the Times:

“Today Egypt is not influential in anything,” said Osama Anwar Okasha, a leading Egyptian television writer. “It is a third-class country in this region. Egypt was the leading country and it gave up this leading role. Now it is like a postman, delivering messages.”

“The public mood is dark all around right now, and the sentiment points to the treaty as the start of Egypt’s decline and diplomatic impotence.”

But the 81-year-old Mubarak, who has been eligible for his AARP membership for those same 30 years, is still alive and he remembers how unfun bleeding in the Sinai can be.

Yet, he’s also the guy who likes to build war museums. Even if his exhibits don’t tell the full story (memo to Mubarak: Israel won — even Wikipedia says so), I still want my October Panorama snowglobe.

LINKS TO MORE MIDEAST SCHLOCK:

* Visit the Hezbollah Children’s Museum!

* Learn the Arab-Israeli conflict’s impact on Syrian lingerie exports!

* Compared to Jessica Simpson, how popular is Yasser Arafat at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum?

* Reminisce about the Saddam Hussein Yard Sale!

* Netflix Kitschy Pick of the Day: Otto Preminger’s “Exodus!

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Filed under Asinine Mideast Analogies, Foreign Affairs, Middle East, Travel Gems

Middle East Surprise: “Austin Powers” Fembot Fashions Thrive in Syria

"The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie" -- Images courtesy of Chronicle Books

"The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie" -- Images courtesy of Chronicle Books

What’s really underneath those burkas?

If you’re a Syrian bride on her wedding night — or even a bridesmaid at the bachelorette party — chances are there could be a Tweety Bird thong that plays the soothing tunes of Kajagoogoo. Anyone who grew up in the MTV age is intimately familiar with that British pop band for their 1983 anthem, “Too Shy.”

Or perhaps you might see this the next time you are underwear shopping in the outdoor Damascus shuk. There’s no way this is more comfortable than 100 percent organic Syrian cotton:

"The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie" -- Image courtesy of Chronicle Books

"The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie" -- Image courtesy of Chronicle Books

These fashion gems were culled from a kitschy new coffee table book by Syrian lingerie experts Malu Halassa and Rana Salam. Despite the bondage theme above, most lingerie drawers north of the Golan Heights are filled with cutesy feathers, fake flowers and fur. Liberace meets the Fembots from Austin Powers. Without the nipple guns.

The authors joke that they sometimes felt trapped in a “1970s transvestite disco.”

Think a plastic cell phone would ever make it into a Victoria’s Secret thong?

Cell phone thong courtesy of Chronicle Books

Cell phone thong courtesy of Chronicle Books

“Doesn’t matter whether you wear a miniskirt or a hijab, it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to put on some of those outfits,” Halasa says. “Rana and I ended up admiring those women, and we thought some women in the developed world could use a little joy like that in their lives.”

So what does this have to do with the prospects of Middle East peace?

As U.S. Sen. John Kerry raves about the potential of an Israeli-Syrian thaw, the authors have their theories. Check out my full book review, “Damascus After Dark,” in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz.

You’ll learn….

… Which Israeli leader the authors would like to dress up in these outfits, and it is not Bibi Netanyahu.

… The previously undiscovered link between the 1973 Yom Kippur War and meteoric rise of the Syrian bra industry; and

… Regardless of the cultural context, can Tweety Bird possibly considered a sexual turn-on?

If you prefer the old-fashioned print layout, which includes more fascinating fashion pictures, the PDF download is available here:

“DAMASCUS AFTER DARK: How the kitschy Syrian approach to underwear cuts through the image of the all-concealing burka” (Page One) (Page Two)

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Filed under Asinine Mideast Analogies, Austin Powers Fembots, Foreign Affairs, Middle East, Syrian Lingerie

Yanking Yasser: Evicting wax terrorists is a slippery museum slope

Reality Check: Most visitors to New York's Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum would rather fondle Jessica Simpson's tush than caress Yasser Arafat's beard.

Reality Check: Most visitors to New York's Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum would rather fondle Jessica Simpson's tush than caress Yasser Arafat's beard.

CULTURE SCHLOCK — By Darren Garnick
The Telegraph

Originally published: June 1, 2001
**
In perhaps the most ludicrous government act since the Nashua City Council outlawed back-to-back yard sales a few years ago, the New York state legislature is exploring the possible eviction of a wax Yasser Arafat from the new Madame Tussaud’s museum in Times Square.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) and 50 of his fellow lawmakers called on the museum to give Yasser the boot solely because of his career choice: terrorism. The demands are largely symbolic because Madame Tussaud’s is a private business and could, if they wanted to, replace Tony Bennett with Ayatollah Khomeini as their official greeter.

Nonetheless, smelling good copy from the New York Post, Hikind and his supporters recently picketed the museum to pressure Gov. George Pataki to cancel a June 14th Republican Party fundraiser scheduled there. Pataki won’t give up his opportunity to charge $100,000 for stuffed mushrooms and cocktail franks. But the governor did say that he would party with non-terrorist wax figures to prove his opposition to evil and his support for goodness.

Here’s what apparently only Madame Tussaud’s understands: wax museums need villains to counterbalance the heroes. Including unsavory characters in these kinds of exhibits is vital. O.J. Simpson belongs in the mix. So does Tonya Harding. And Ivan Boesky. And every Russian leader (who died every two weeks) when Reagan was in power. Toss in the CEOs of tobacco companies.

I visited Madame Tussaud’s the weekend after Assemblyman Hikind’s protest. Well before I got to the world leaders room, I was offended. I was first outraged by the disproportionate representation of New York Yankees. Mickey Mantle… Joe DiMaggio… George Steinbrenner… disgusting. Not a Red Sox cap in the building. Then, there’s Woody Allen, a “comic genius” who gets away with sleeping with his stepdaughter because he made a few good flicks in the 60s and 70s. And perhaps the most offensive of all, Larry King, proof that the devil is swinging deals for journalist souls.

It’s instantly apparent that this wax museum, which attracts far more foreign tourists than Americans, has no interest in making political statements. Why bother rooting for one side, when you can herd bitter rival factions into the same gift shop? If there is any conspiracy, it was forged between the museum and Kodak. This is a Disneyland where the costumed characters don’t take lunch breaks or strike for health benefits.

Madame Tussaud’s is all about pictures.

Scene 1: An Italian visitor instructs his young son how to pose with supermodel Elle McPherson. The boy, whose height placed him at eye level with the wax figure’s chest, instinctively stretches his arm around Ms. McPherson’s shoulders. No good, says the father, shaking his head. He redirects his son’s hand, firmly pressing it on her behind and smiles. Perfect picture. A father-and-son bonding moment.

Scene 2: Indian man eyeing John Travolta. The tourist hands me his digital video camera, a model which no doubt is the most expensive on the market, and inexplicably asks me to record him for “six seconds.” Like Stallone in both the Rocky and Rambo movies, Mr. DigiCamera writes, directs and stars in his own films. “Hi there!” he says, waving at the camera. “I am here with my friend, John Travolta.” Cut. End of shot. No exploration of his fictitious relationship with Mr. Travolta. No references to Olivia Newton-John, Vinny Barbarino or the Boy in the Plastic Bubble. Imagination, unfortunately, does not come with the camera.

Scene 3: Museum visitor getting a little too intimate with jazz legend Louis Armstrong. Oblivious to everyone around him, the man is caressing Armstrong’s teeth. He does so for at least 15 seconds, an amount of time bordering on obsessive (disclaimer: I am not a licensed psychologist). The guards are looking the other way at Princess Diana, the only wax figure in the museum to be surrounded by fancy velvet ropes.

Yasser Arafat needs no bodyguards at Madame Tussaud’s. Most visitors walk right by him, preferring to be photographed with Pope John Paul II or Lady Di. The anti-Arafat crowd has nothing to fear and nothing to gain by his eviction. The wax Yasser is unloved. Nobody wants to fondle his scraggly beard or pinch his terrorist tush.

**
Darren Garnick’s “Culture Schlock” column appears every Friday in The Telegraph’s “Encore” magazine. Feedback and ideas are welcome via e-mail at cultureschlock (at) gmail.com.

Yasser Arafat's wax alter-ego is socially shunned by Fidel Castro's wax alter-ego at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in New York

Yasser Arafat's wax alter-ego is socially shunned by Fidel Castro's wax alter-ego at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in New York

RELATED LINKS
Culture Schlock Story: “Threatened by Wax?: Arafat deserves museum spot as much as the Penguin or the Riddler.”

BostonHerald.com“Shedding no tears over the wax Hitler beheading.”

Schlock Blog: “The Hezbollah Children’s Museum: A Cross-Cultural Study”

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Filed under Asinine Mideast Analogies, Darren's Archive Vault, Favorite Columns, Foreign Affairs, Middle East, Politically Incorrect Products, politics, Yasser Arafat wax statues