Friday, April 29, 2011

Welcome back, Sergey

Welcome back, Sergey, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Wonderful to have you back with us in Amsterdam, Sergey ( Steblina, here on flickr)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

FROM DAMASCUS - a very measured post from someone in Damascus at the moment, as found on the Syria Comment blog of Dr J. Landis

Omar, the butcher, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.


The conversation on this blog mirrors those taking place on most major media networks. One side, pro-opposition, feels that J. Landis is being too supportive of the regime, not sympathizing enough with the difficult experience of the protesters. Simultaneously, the other side, pro-regime, believes that J. Landis is attacking the Syrian government and siding with the protesters.

Discussion boards on Al-Jazeera are following a similar pattern: of those posting, half blame the network for fomenting hate for the regime, while the other half blame them for not reporting enough brutality & abuses… and both sides are dishing out the insults. I had hoped to find a more intelligent, constructive, and respectful conversation here; after all, though these are emotional times, we are all searching for truth.

People, I think it should be clear that what is happening in Syria is more complex than a simple, “two sides” conflict of “people” vs. “regime.” This is not a black & white issue. Also, there are significant elements of truth to the sentiments expressed by both those who support the protesters, and those who believe that the regime is still Syria’s best option.

I encourage both sides to understand each other, beginning with those who feel the regime is the best option. I think that whether or not the regime should stay, we must recognize that the grievances of protesters are genuine. This has not been a nice government. It has been the cause of great suffering and loss for thousands of families and individuals over many years. If you’re not aware of that, you haven’t yet learned of (or are hiding from) the reality of authority in Syria. The decades of abuses and unchecked selfishness of this government should make any revolt on the part of the populace understandable. Even if the threat of a Brotherhood/Salafi/Wahhabi (in other words, “social exclusivists that may tolerate violence”) element is legitimate, we can understand that Sunnis have experienced abuses, injustices, and oppression, that would only serve to increase their movement toward more fanatical, exclusivist persuasions.

At the same time, while I encourage those who support the regime to acknowledge the feelings of protesters/opposition, those who find themselves highly sympathetic to the opposition similarly need to exercise sensitivity to the fears of the minorities in Syria, who are uncertain about a post-Assad Syria. The Islamist element is real and present; it is not healthy; it will never be healthy; it will never preach a message of loving coexistence with spiritual identities outside the bounds of the “Big 3″; it will never promote loving acceptance or appreciation for what are seen as one’s heterodoxical neighbors.

I find myself very sympathetic with those who oppose the regime. It’s difficult to like it. But when I consider the alternatives, I can’t kid myself about the sectarian nature of this country, the decades-long grudges that oppressed families/groups still harbor, the centuries-long fears held by minorities, some of whom didn’t originally hail from this area, but who found refuge from their own persecutions in the mountains of the Levant.

Let me share an anecdote that can illustrate what many Syrians are feeling in this period. I sat three days ago for breakfast on the balcony of a local friend. She is in her mid thirties. She has no love for this regime. Her father was imprisoned by this government for about 15 years, tortured extensively, and upon his eventual release, was never able to have the same functionality or command over his body or mind, instead needing to be cared for at home, and finally wasting away. He died last year and I witnessed the sobbing of my friend, whose adolescence had been robbed by a regime that we could say killed her father. This shines a light on the true, disgusting character of this government. And now… she tells me that she hopes it will stay. As we sat for breakfast on the mountain (Qasuun) overlooking Damascus, she said “I want the government to be changed, but if this opposition wins, everything we have here,” she waved her hand at the city beneath us, “will be destroyed.” In part she’s referring to the violence that will occur as the regime continuous to fight the opposition, in part she’s referring to the sectarianism that could result from the loss of a security apparatus, and in part she’s referring to the rise of Islamism in a post-Assad period that lacks a prepared opposition having a legitimate plan for governing.

Revolutions are exciting and it’s fun to see something big happening in the news. It’s fun to see the dominoes falling, to speculate about the next country to go. Maybe the inevitable is that Assad power will fall (and maybe this is for the best, maybe not), but please recognize that if this occurs, many people’s lives and futures will be drastically affected, many will experience great loss, many will suffer, and many will never recover.

On Friday, I sat in the Old City, pondering the notable change apparent in the silent streets, the lack of women and families out and about. I sat in a deserted coffee shop. The owner received a call informing him of a disturbance somewhere near Zebletani/Bab Sharqi, and the possibility for it to spread down the Street Called Straight. He closed and told us to run home as quickly as possible. Simultaneously, demonstrations were occurring in Midan, placing our area between two areas of activity. It is not fun and games here; it is life and death. This is not to say that protests should persist or go away, but just to point out the seriousness of these events. I sat in a fancy but deserted restaurant last night, that’s usually bustling. The waiter said, “People are just too afraid to leave their houses.” Maybe the people should continue to rise and depose the regime. Or maybe the regime’s stay will keep more people safe than would a post-revolution Syria. Whether the regime battles it out with the people, or falls and an unprepared society tries to form a new nation, both scenarios spell grave suffering for many.

Many people who (like me) consider themselves pro-democracy, pro-individual freedoms, and pro-human rights, seem to feel that they must–on moral principle–automatically support any pro-freedom movement or oppositional uprising that takes place. Experience is showing me that it is more complicated, and that there is no shame in stepping back, pausing, and asking, what will happen on the other side? Who is prepared to lead? What will the conditions of security be like?
I believe in the rights of Syrians and I sympathize with those who resent the crimes and tortures of the regime. But before you plunge headlong to give your wild, exuberant support for “revolution,” please ask yourself if you can articulate any realistic plan for a post-Assad Syria.

This message was posted in response to the following blog, showing the sort of people who are behind the so-called Syrian Revolution: Syria Comment

Monday, April 25, 2011

Happy Birthday, Italia - 150 anni!

Fiat, made in Torino, Vespa, made in Italy

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter lunch in Turin

Easter lunch in Turin, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

After two-and-a-half days of walking around Turin, and with the sun beating down, we decided we could treat ourselves to a nice Easter Sunday lunch. Mario had taken us to Piazza Filiberto Emmanuele for an ice cream the evening before and it seemd to be the right sort of place to go to find good food. We did very well, finding this place serving a gastronomic menu of local cuisine for a very nice price, whilst seated outside on the terrace watching the world go by. Just what we needd to rest our feet, not exactly what our already bloated tummies needed, by the way.

The menu above shows that we would be served:

Crudites with a nut sauce (with hidden anchovies which Fred detests)
Ham and egg in aspic
Rabbit meat
Sweet caramellised onion
Asparagus canneloni with cheese sauce
Tagliatelle with some minced bird meat and herbs
Goat cutlets and veal marinated in herbs

It was delicious!!!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Flickr meet in Torino

Flickr meet in Torino, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here we are at the Capuccino Monastery which has great views over the city of Torino with Mario, my friend off flickr/

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Flagellation of Christ

The Flagellation of Christ, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Three scenes of Christ being flagellated as seen in Milano this morning. We are now in Torino, where we will be spending Easter weekend, so more religious inspired pics to follow.

Buona Pasqua a tutti!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A week before Easter, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Aspects of Al-Emarah Palace in Najran

Continuing an occasional series of door knobs.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Young flower man of Tihama

Young flower man of Tihama, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

I found this description of the traditions of the flower men of Tihama on this site:

"The Tihami people who inhabit the Tihama area are extremely unique because they shun modern ways and prefer to live following their own rich heritage which is clearly demonstrated in their dress, housing, daily lives and celebrations. Unlike the majority of men in Saudi Arabia who wear the traditional white thobe the men of Tihamah wear colorful sarong-like izars. Men in the Tihama area are often referred to as 'Flower Men' because they will sometimes wear a ring of sweet-smelling herbs and flowers in their hair. The homes in Tihamah are built with stones and the roof is made of wood which is all that is needed in the mild weather of the area. Marriage usually occurs at an early age and families are often large due to their great love of children. Each family owns a herd of goats that is used for their meat and milk but more importantly to feed their guests following their local customs. On special occasions the men of Tihama will gather and dance to the music of their own voices. The dance will often begin with the men in a line and later they will move around themselves in circular motions. The tempo of the music will then change and the dancers will bend down and move up in quick successive motions. The Tihami folklore dances are just one demonstration of the people's great care to maintain and preserve their ancestral traditions."

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Furry, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The plants are bursting into flower and it is the perfect time to make maximum use of my macro lens. This is one of the nicer close-ups I have managed to capture.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Our Amsterdamse fig!

Our Amsterdamse fig!, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Having first seen figs on Jean Paul's photostream and then in Najran, how could I not buy this fig tree which was for sale in a shop on the Albert Cuypstraat when I visited it to buy our two blue hydrangeas for this year?

The fig has been planted in one of the big pots we have in front on the house (in the sunshine) and we wonder how long it will take before the three figs are taken by a passer-by!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Blue in the Blue Mosque

Blue in the Blue Mosque, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The sun came out finally in Istanbul after a long period of cold and cloud, just in time to capture this beaiutiful sight. I was in Istanbul for a day as an extended stop-over on my way back from Saudi Arabia. I had noticed that the weather page on was forecasting a nice sunny day and, as it turned out, after a cool, cloudy start, the sun came out, the temperature shot up and the jackets came off.

Apart from meeting Jean Paul (see below), it was so great to be back in my favouritre city after being away for more than a year, enhanced by the fact that Istanbul is in the middle of the tulip season, adding colour to almost every corner of the city. Istanbul rightly reclaiming its name as the tulip capital of the world.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

THE tulip city (and it certainly isn't Amsterdam!)

As Andrei guessed, it is Istanbul, here facing out towards the Marmara Sea. Tulips were very popular under the Ottomans and were exported to Holland, where they were further developed. Now Holland exports bulbs to Turkey, where the City of Istanbul has bough many millions of bulbs and palnted them all over the place in a way certainly not seen in Holland. I have never been to Turkey or Istanbul in April and was lucky to sneak part of a day there today as a stopover on the way back from Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Flickr meet - introducing Jean Paul

A wonderful set of coincidences meant that, all of a sudden, I got meet my friend, Jean Paul from flickr, earlier today I joined him first for lunch, with the group and then later for a tea.. And, what a lovely guy he is. Hopefully, this will just be the first of many.

Now, finally at home, after 12 days away, time for bed.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Colourful baskets from Yemen

Colourful baskets from Yemen, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The souk in Najran has many items made across the border in Yemen, including these baskets and basket tops (below). These baskets are used to store dates and tajin.

Monday, April 11, 2011

France bans the burqa

As France bans the wearing of the burka and niqab today, time for a small series showing the beauty of the Muslim woman.

These women here are all showing their faces, and this would be allowed in France under the new law. It is just that there are different traditions within Islam regarding women's dress.

Although it might be a bit arrogant or presumptuous of me, I think the main thrust of The Prophet's message is that men and women should dress modestly and I think we can see here, that modesty can certainly be achieved with an open face to the world.

Still, I think that one of the main points we can be proud of in the West is the freedom we allow people to behave and think the way they like, albeit with certain restrictions, aimed at protecting fellow citizens. I can't help but think that the new law n France is a spiteful one put in place by people with an intolerant, discriminatory attitude, looking tp divert attention from real problems by scapegoating a tiny minority.

OK, Turkey went even further when the nation was being born and is still more restrictive than most other European countries, but there was a different agenda then, one of secularising and modernising the whole country. Quite different to demonising and picking on a small minority in an otherwise free society.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The most surprising vineyard - in Najran!

The most surprising vineyard, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

I really wasn't expecting to find vineyards in the south of Saudi Arabia, to be honest, but here they are in the wide wadi of Najran. The garpes, of course, are not used to make wine but to make sultanas, which are often added to rice to increase the flavour. There is always something wonderful about vineyards and they are so often to be found in the most beautiful parts of theworld. I will be expecting to see the first buds appearing on my grapevine when I get home (which I am now hoping will be on Wednesday),

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Ballabriggs wins the Grand National and I get the first, second AND fourth home!

Liverpool hero - Red Rum

FIRST and SECOND and FOURTH in the National!!!!!
1 Ballabriggs
2 Oscar Time
3 Don't Push It
4 State of Play
And not only that but my Mum and my cousin took my tips. Brilliant! And to think I had no confidence in my 'tips'!

As for the Grand National result, this brings us back to my first National of 38 years ago as mentioned above as the trainer of Ballabriggs was none other than the rainer of Britain's most famous racehorse ever, namely Red Rum who won the first of his three nationsl (he came second in the other two) on that cool cloudy day back in 1973! Here is a photo of Red Rum;s statue.

Grand National Day 2011

Grand National Day 2011, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

It's Grand National Day again today, a day which has been importnat to me since 1973 when Red Rum just got up on the run-in to beat my pick Crisp. One of the most important days of my year and one I look forward to every year. I have been to Aintree twice but, to be honest, the coverage on the BBC is so good, you don't really need to go to feel the excitement. Every now and then, as now, I have been away on Grand National day, today in Riyadh, in 1980 in Kuala Lumpur and in 1998 and 1999 in California. With the coming of the internet age, it seems as if I will be able to watch the race (after the event) on - just need to make sure I navigate around the page without seeing the result!

My pick for this year, Always Waining, did not make the field, being number 41 of a maximum field of 40 runners. However, he ran in the shorter Topham Chase over the National fences yesterday and despite being tipped by me here on flickr, he actually WON at 14-1! And, I managed to get my Mum to put a few quid each way on for me.

I have no idea who will win today and I don't really care too much for most of the horses running, although I have put a small part of my winnings yesterday on Ballabriggs, Oscar Time and Becauseicouldntsee (I HATE that sort of name!). My colleague Ian's wife gave birth to a Grand National baby today, and his name in Evan. So, for coincidence bets we have State of Play (already come in 3rd and 4th in a National and available at 33-1) trained by Evan Williams as well as Santas Son (the biggest outsider at 200-1) running. If you are backing any horses, good luck.

This is Saleh with his two year old colt a couple of days ago in Najran.

Friday, April 08, 2011

2,500,000 photostream views - the Flower Men of Tihama

There are not many photos of the Flower Men of Tihama on flickr, or indeed on internet. They live in a very remote part of Saudi Arabia near the border with Yemen and there are many road blocks and security checks before you are allowed into the area. In fact,. I think foreigners/westerners are not supposed to go there without a permit band a guide, but somehow we managed it. INitial requests to take photos of these chaps was met with a no or a wave of the index finger, but eventually we managed to get them to warm to the camera, with these (and a few more as the result). I was very happy to 'get' them!

In the meantime, thank you so much for all your view, comments, friend invitations, support and friendship over the past few years. It started off as just a place to upload photos from our trip to Middle East and Africa, where our friends and family could follow us on our journey from Istanbul to Cape Town. It has ended up as a place to make friends and keep up with their photos, their passions and their lives. It has led to a number of treasured meetings with fellow flickr friends,. the latest being London, Jeddah and Budapest, with Turin on the horizon. Looking forward to that!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

A taster for tomorrow: flowers from Tihama

After passing numerous roadblocks and being lengthily questioned twice, we finally made it down to Tihama near the Yemeni border today. Saw some amazing sights, some of which I'll be uploading tomorrow, all being well!

Hey hey! The GPS reading on this photo would have had us about 20kms from the Yemeni border. There have been problems in the past with unrest among the Houthis of Yemen and I think this is why the road checks are so vigourous.

Also 1,127 meters above sea-level. I was taking pics on the way back in the afternoon to see how high we had to climb from the wadis of Tihama to the mountain passes which brought us back to the plateau along which runs the Abha to Najran motorway.

Sand dune jumping

Sand dune jumping, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The Aintree Meeting starts today, culminating in Saturday's Grand National, the ultimate test of stamina and jumping for a horse. Celebrated here with a couple of my own jumps over the sdand dunes near Mecca. No tips this year, but Always Waining can be backed at 20-1 for the big race tomorrow and if I was in a country where I could bet, I'd be having a few pounds/euros/riyals on each way!.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Camel riding with a cowboy hat in the Arabian desert

Greetings again from Saudi Arabia. This was from a trip to the desert just outside Mecca on Sunday. Have moved down to Najran for the weekend (Thursday and Friday) and hope to see some old friends as well as photograph some of the beautiful mudhouses and forts which can be found here.

A evening cruise along the Jeddah Corniche

Another one of the many mosques built onto man-made promontories along the Jeddah Corniche.

Ship of the desert

Ship of the desert, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

A bull camel, seemingly with a smile on his face despite the strong wind blowing the sand around. Note the tattoo on his neck.

Isabelline Wheatear

Bird of the desert, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

This is a very handsome Isabelline Wheatear who stuck around on this gorse bush long enough for me to manage to take quite a few snaps of him, even one or two in good focus!

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