GRAPES AND WINE
In his book about People of Sham – Syria & Lebanon – Prof.
Adil Abu Shanab tells the story of an Arab sheikh who got into
a discussion with one of the French occupation officers during
the French occupation of Syria. The French officer had invited
some Syrian dignitaries to a dinner. One of the invitees was an
old sheikh with his white beard. When the French officer saw the
old sheikh eating with his fingers, he asked him:
‘Why are you not eating like us?’
The sheikh replied: ‘Do you see me eating with my nose?’
The French officer sheepishly answered: “I mean, why don’t you
use fork and knife?’
The sheikh replied: ‘I am sure of the cleanliness of my hand, but
are you sure of the cleanliness of your fork and knife?’
This shut the French officer up, but he made up his mind to
get vengeance on the old sheikh. At the feast, the wife of the
French officer was sitting to his right and the daughter to his
left. The French officer, to spite the man of God, asked for wine
to be brought, and proceeded to pour for himself, his wife and
daughter. He started to drink in a way to annoy the sheikh.
He asked him: ‘Listen O sheikh! You like grapes and eat them,
At which the sheikh replied in the affirmative.
The French officer continued talking, pointing towards the
grapes, hoping to beat the old sheikh: ‘This drink is from these
grapes, so why do you eat the grapes, but keep far from the
All the guests looked at the old sheikh, feeling that he would
have no answer to that.
The sheikh calmly replied: ‘This is your wife, and this, your
daughter, is from her, right? So how is it that your wife is
legitimate for you and your daughter is not?’
It is said that the French officer immediately ordered for the wine
to be removed from the table.
Think that you are gliding out from the face of a cliff
like an eagle. Think you’re walking
like a tiger walks by himself in the forest.
You’re most handsome when you’re after food.
Spend less time with nightingales and peacocks.
One is just a voice, the other just a color.
(Translated by: Coleman Barks & John Moyne)