The dark eyed, hazel haired Italian Fountains Cafe server smiled at me as she sees me open my palm with a bunch of coins in them. I figured out it is easier to just let them pick up the coins which they need rather than to try to hold each coin to the sun, investigate it to decipher out all the engravings, 15th century emblems, and the detailed ornamentation of the crown of her majesty, what denomination of a coin each is, before I do the math and give the right combination.
Then proceeded to sit on the patio overseeing the Italian Fountains in Hyde Park. The Italian Gardens is a 150 year old ornamental water garden located on the north side of Kensington Gardens in Hyde park. It is believed to have been created as a gift from Prince Albert to his beloved Queen Victoria. After my friend Walid joined me, we took a strol down the serpentine river, and stoped by the Kensington Palace, which is a 500 years old castle with so much history, the last of which is becoming the home of Princess Diana.
We didn’t have time to tour the castle from inside, but we toured the memorial garden for Princess Diana, and since it was a sunny and gorgeous day, so we proceeded to our destination for the day: Portobello Market in Notting Hill.
Beautiful cafes and restaurants lined the streets on our way, then you are struck by the beautiful facade of colorful houses, and at times, the clean consistent white facade of houses, with the flicker of white and rose pink flowers blossoming of the trees, as it was spring. The market was diverse and fascinating, and the food was amazing and variant. We tried to eat small portions from many places, but could not resist picking up some mini clementine and raspberries from the fruit carts. I had a falafel sandwich out of the 10’s of falafel parlors. She added dill to it, which was my first time trying that, and it gave it a special taste. I asked her where is she from.
‘How does a Ukrainian manage to make falafel?’ I asked.
‘I don’t, Mustapha does!’
‘And does Mustapha do good Falafel?’ I asked with a silly smile, as if there was any other answer but yes. Perhaps, I just needed to hear it to justify my choice among the line up of falafel carts. Choice always makes things more difficult. That is why religions and governments remove much of it from people. Choice breeds responsibility. Choice is a manifestation of your capability as a human to reason and rationalize, and your incapability as a human to make decisions to a degree of certainty. It is always, always, always, a hit or miss. It is impossible to tell, because opportunity cost is mostly hidden, and that is multiplied by the butterfly effect. Hence, life is beautiful through these unexpected turns every minute of your travel, and perhaps also your life in general.
I had a chocolate coroisant from one place, but craving coffee, I looked and found on yelp this place called Farm Girl. Farm Girl was hidden among the houses. There was a delicate side sign inviting you in into an open yard, then into a cafe. An African guy jumped at us welcoming us with a French accent, asking us to wait till a table frees. Above the cafe is a drama class for children. They were singing and laughing. The sound mixed with the aroma of the flowers, and the several languages spoken in the air, and I felt I am breathing humanity. A beautiful mosaic of multi culturalism and globalism. There were 3 Saudi or Kuwaiti girls sitting, few French couples, two girls from Luthainia, another couple from France but dressed like American rock stars, and the barista was from Portugal while our African waiter was from France, but born and raised in London. We shared an avocado with pomegranate toast sandwich. I added a pouched egg on it, while Walid added honey to it. The waiter could not believe that Walid will add the honey on the avocado, so he tried to confirm the request by saying: “Honey … like Honey from Bees … bzzzzzzzzz” and started flickering his hands like a bee, as a mother would do to her 2 years old son explaining honey. Walid looked at him through his glasses, and gray eye lashes, paused for a second, then said “Yes” while trying to figure out if he is saying something wrong. To clear the confusion, I told the guy to just bring honey for my coffee. I needed to get over this clash of international cuisines for minute.
While walking, I found a place flickering with Arabian lamps and ornamentation called Sitara Interiors. I entered and as I talked to the heavy bearded man there, he asked me “are you Egyptian?”, and I told him that I am Lebanese. He said, ya I was thinking you look Syrian. His name is Ahmad and he is from Afghanistan. We talked about Trump and the Brixit. We talked about traveling in Europe, about Afghanistan, and about Arabesque design.
Arabs have an identity crisis at this stage of their history. The tribal Arabic identity has completly been hijaked by Islam in the 7th century, and Arabs melted in Islam, and Islam melted in them. Their identity became an Islamic identity, and they integrated their pride, their sexism, misogyny , idealism, bravery, extreme generosity, magnanimity, chivalry, nobility, knighthood, and prowess into Islamic theology and doctrine. They preserved the ethnic favoring of the Arabic language and Arabic enthnicity through the eye of religion, and they ruled the world through out the Omayyad and Abbasid dynasties. The Othaman Empire came as a shock to the Arabic Islamic identity, since Turks now ruled the Islamic world. When Arabs started to redistinguish themselves from Islam again, under British influence, the Arab treason took place by the Arabic revolution of ALShareef Hussain from Arabia. Ask Lawrence of Arabia about all the details and British betrayal.
After the fall of the Othaman Empire, and the betrayal of the Arabs by their allies who became their colonial occupiers, Arabs had an identity crisis. It took years, and in some cases decades to get rid of colonialism, and by then, Arabs resorted to monarchy as a natural evolution for tribalism. Not all the monarchies survived, except for 8 countries (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Morocoo, and Jordan). Trying to sort out a new Arabic identity, Panarabism showed up, glorified by Jamal Abdulnasser, and Baathism was born, established by Michele Aflac. There was also a movement to bring back Islam as an identity, and perhaps the only identity, hence the Muslim Brotherhood was born.
The Muslim Brotherhood seed resulted eventually in a variety of theocracies, from the Islamic Republic of Iran, to ISIS. Baathism fell after becoming cruel dectotorships, and Paanarabism never breathed life practically except with the short lived, ill remembered, United Arab Republic. After the recent Arab Spring, the identity crisis was manifested through the failure of these revolutions to succeed , or when creating change, to produce a clear vision or identity.
As a Lebanese, what is Lebanon to me other than a line drawn by Sykes-Bicot. I feel as much Egyptian as Lebanese as Syrian as Moroccan as Yemeni. Then, what makes Arabs. Is it the language, ethnicity, or genetics? Arabs discriminating against other minorieties in their countries doesn’t make sense, since they themselves have not figured out their own identity.
We wanted to catch sunset on the Thames, but the furthest we could get to was Bukingham Palace. The Queen was home. Magnificent castle and beautiful location indicating the closeness of the Queen to the people. I remember living my child hood in the UAE that I have never seen a castle for one of the ruling Sheiks. The highway to their castles were off limits. I understood the feeling a Brit feels when he says my Queen.
We ate at a wonderful restaurant called Wagamama near Victoria Station, and headed back where we slept earlier this time after a stressful couple hours searching for the next hotel in what seemed a very busy week in London.