Thursday, October 9, 2014

Legends of the Fire Spirits by Robert Lebling

While doing research for a novel set in Fez, Morocco (and yes it involves jinn), I came across Rob Lebling's excellent book, LEGENDS OF THE FIRE SPIRITS: JINN AND GENIES FROM ARABIA TO ZANZIBAR.
Amazon listing for the book

LEGENDS OF THE FIRE SPIRIT is a fascinating compendium that gives the reader a multi-faceted view of the jinn. It covers many centuries of lore and history, tracing origins of the jinn in mythology and religion. It does a great service in delving into how the jinn appear in Islam, and then introduces the reader to the jinn legends through specific countries in the Middle East, from Morocco to Turkey and Iran. In addition, it traces how jinn have been written about in western literature.

Personally my favorite part of the book is the transcription of an interview with a jinn, as well as the specific descriptions of the various jinn of Morocco. And then there's the wonderful foreward by author Tahir Shah.
Whether you are curious about paranormal beings, or are interested in the topic of jinn specifically, I recommend this book. It is full of detail and covers a wide range of topics, reflecting years of dedicated research by Lebling. This book is truly a labor of love.  Lebling maintains a facebook page in which he updates people on news of the jinn. Legends of the Fire Spirits Facebook Page

When I wrote to him about how the book was doing, he responded,

". The book has done well for such a specialized topic. The UK hardcover edition has sold out, I think, and it went into paperback there last March. There is still a US paperback edition in print by Counterpoint. I think jinn lore is on the verge of going viral.... there have been a few horror films on the subject over recent years. The ScyFy channel was interested in doing a documentary on jinn phenomena, and contacted me shortly after publication, but they shelved the idea for the time being.... I think people are always looking for new concepts to expand their imaginations. Vampires and zombies have done the job. Maybe jinn are next!"

Lebling has also published a novel of the paranormal set in Saudi Arabia. The title is THE ANOMALY: A Novel of the Empty Quarter - you can read it on his blog - here is the link to Chapter One. He is planning to publish it as an e-book once the serial version has been published (the story is complete - he's just doling it out on his blog as a serial). He also has a couple of novels in progress including a post-industrial fantasy set in Arabia.

One of Rob's other interests culminated in his work, NATURAL REMEDIES OF ARABIA. Here is a link to the book on

Rob Lebling and feathered falcon friend - somehwere in Saudi Arabia
I don't know Rob personally, but we both write for Saudi Aramco World magazine. He has a wide range of interests that he shares with readers through his blog, his books and his features in Saudi Aramco World. He currently lives in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and works in public affairs for Sadara Chemical Co., a jv between Dow Chemical and Saudi Aramco.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Wood Thrush Serenade

Readers of this blog know I'm a bird-call fanatic. I can name them all, like the instruments in an orchestra. But there is one bird's call that is above the rest; the call of the Wood Thrush. This summer we have one in our neighborhood. He or she sings in the evening and in the early morning. In the mornings it has been blissful to wake up to the serenade. I can scarcely believe we are being treated to these concerts each day. We have our windows open and the song begins even as we are sleeping. It is so special to me to hear this song; one of nature's most amazing gifts.

Henry David Thoreau wrote this about the Wood Thrush, in 1853, "This is the only bird whose note affects me like music. It lifts and exhilarates me. It is inspiring. It changes all hours to an eternal morning." In his journals he wrote, "The wood thrush is a preacher who "makes a sabbath out of a week day." I agree completely.

Here is a Wood Thrush singing at the Mount Auburn Cemetery near Boston.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

2014 Arab Dance Seminar Filling Up Fast

This November's Arab Dance Seminar is already 75% full. Why? Because we have the added boost of Aisha Ali as an instructor. One of the pioneering dance ethnologists who traveled to Egypt in the early 1970's, Aisha recorded and filmed Egyptian folk dancers and produced an LP of their music. She is an authority on dance in Egypt. Second reason: the topic is THE DANCE OF POLITICS : How Politics, The Law, and Social Codes Affect Dance in the Arab World.
The seminar will run from November 7-9, 2014 and takes place in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Join us, it promises to be an amazing weekend! If you are at all interested, act fast because it always sells out very quickly.

A link to the website, where you can register, is here.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Haydn Sunrise

The final weeks of this tough winter have been a challenge for all. The other day I needed a pick-me-up while running errands so I popped a CD into the car. It has become a favorite of mine in the last couple of years. It features big orchestral pieces by Mozart, Gluck and Michael Haydn using the so-called Alla Turca style... with lots of oboes, clarinets, cymbals, triangles, kettle drums, military marches and instrumental ornaments. The most famous of this genre is Mozart's overture to his opera, Abduction from the Seraglio.

Each time I listen to this CD, I love it more. The sheer bravado and joy, and the wake-you-from-the-dead energy gets my blood pumping.

One piece is different from the others. It is a slow 4/4 - not really a march, but it has the pace of a person walking. Hearing it, you can easily imagine yourself taking part in a deeply profound processional. It reminds me of the glory of the sunrise - and the wondrous transition from winter to spring. The same simple theme repeats with increasingly dramatic variations. It is inexorable and ultimately triumphant. So this morning it was amazing to waken from my sleep hearing it play in my head. It was as if my brain decided to wake me up with this musical treat and to remind me that spring is coming. With every hour it gets closer.

The piece is by Michael Haydn. It is the Andante Adagio movement from the compositions he wrote for Voltaire's Opera, "Zaire" in 1771. Michael Haydn was Joseph Haydn's younger brother. Michael was known for his sacred music compositions.

Try as I might, I couldn't find any recording of the piece on-line to share here. It can be heard on the CD entitled "Alla Turca" put out by Collegium Aureum and can be found on Amazon. It seems to have become a collector's item; the prices for used CD's range up toward $200! If you can find it in your local library, the track is #6, and it's the second movement, which I think is "Andante Adagio".

Link to "Alla Turca" CD

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The White Album performed in its Entirety

Last night we attended the best rock music concert either of us had been to in decades: a concert led by Tom Appleman, a professor from Berklee College of Music and his musical guests. They performed the Beatles White Album in its entirety. Tickets were only $12 and it was general admission seating, so those of us who got there early lucked out with great seats in the first ten rows. This pricing/seating policy reminded us of the way things worked decades ago at typical rock concerts. The early birds got the best seats.

From the first sounds of the airplane landing in the beginning of "Back in the USSR" to the final words in "Good Night", the concert rocketed us to the stratosphere. We were grinning so long and hard I thought my face muscles would cramp! There was an eight year old kid sitting near the front who knew every song and sang along. There were grannies and lots of students from Berklee. It was multi-generational fun. Some babyboomer age fellows waiting outside the concert hall said, "Finally, after 45 years, the concert we always wanted."

The group played every song in the order of the album. They didn't say a word until after they'd played the entire first album's songs. And the pauses between numbers were as quick as the pauses between numbers on the LP. But it didn't just seem like an imitation. No, this performance did something that has been needed for decades. Good musicians bringing the songs of this studio recorded album to life.

The three guitarists dominated - Appleman, Corin Ashley, and Joe Musella. It was really amazing watching them switch gears with each song. This album has so many different styles it was dizzying to take it all in. All the musicians were great, but in addition to the leads, the piano/vocalist Brian E. King did yeoman's work, pulling together so many keyboard styles, even joining in on guitar and manning the firebell. Matt Burwell on percussion sang Ringo's songs and did a great job, bringing a Ringo-like quality to his performance.

It was hard to say which was our favorite. For me, hearing "Everybody's Got Something to Hide, Except for Me and My Monkey" was astounding in its power being played live. It was an unexpected surprise that this song would just pop like that. But there were so many moments like that in the concert.

This was a very special evening. It was lovingly produced, with a lot of hard work and raw talent - to sing all 30 songs in order with hardly any pauses. It was such fun to watch all the musicians come and go - including the string quartet, and the brass players.

I am hoping they will do this show again. Perhaps it will become a mid-winter tradition, and spread to other cities. It's totally a worthwhile project. All in all, a fantastic achievement.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Jeddah Heritage Festival 2014

Man wearing traditional headdress of Jeddah

My memories of my days in Saudi Arabia are in many ways centered in the old city of Jeddah, known as al-Balad, or the Balad. When I return for a writing assignment, I always visit there, wandering in its alleys and taking in its special spirit.

In recent years concerned citizens and officials have worked to preserve and revive the culture of the old city - for its coral brick mansions still stand high on the hill overlooking the Red Sea. The city is at the heart of my first novel, and so knowing these efforts have been going on is thrilling.

In January, 2014, the Jeddah Heritage Festival took place there and attracted approximately 750,000 visitors. All kinds of traditional crafts were demonstrated. People cooked and sold traditional food. People wore the old costumes of the Hijaz. Last but not least, folkloric performances of music and dance took place on the last day. Below are selected photographs from the English Language daily Saudi Gazette and a video from the other daily the Arab News. The video is of a folkloric group walking to their performance place. One man is carrying an electric heater that would be used to tighten the drumskins in the humid weather.

Here is the video!