Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The book recommendation of the week: Day of Honey, by Annia Ciezadlo

As a passionate reader of almost any kind of books, when it comes to the issue of foreign affairs and international relations in general, I am a lot interested in the side of 'soft power diplomacy'. I love in-depth analysis and interviews and strong statements, but I discover that besides the political arena it is much more life than we expect. 
This is the case with Annia Ciezadlo's book, the Day of Honey, described as a 'memoir of food and love'. She is a journalist by profession, with a multicultural background, that follows her husband originary from Lebanon in the Middle East and ends up by falling completely in love with the area, mainly with its food and warm people. 
After more than 6 years of direct experience in the area, she is able to better understand the politics - or to despise the politics completely - starting from her experience in the lifestyle of the area. Because food plays an important role in this respect, the lecture of the book will reveal you a very simple yet not enough explored aspect of the art of cooking: it is a very powerful public diplomacy weapon that can turn bridges into windows of opportunity for a new perspective. 
As in the case of sports, we should not overestimate the value of food: mainly in the Middle East, the delicious plates could be as well weapons in a symbolic war between nations. But Annia Ciezadlo see the bright side of the dish and explores the cultural habits associated with it in Iraq and Lebanon. 

The ugly side of wars

Wherever it takes place, the war "forces people to concentrate more on sustenance than on taste" and she had the occasion to see such switches of focus during her stays in Iraq and Lebanon. Very diplomatically, she succeeds to escape almost all the usual stereotypes of the writing memoirs of people sympathetic to the region. You will not find in this book propagandistic accusations about the failures of the Bush administration in Iraq or a Hezbollah-like explanation of the war in Lebanon. It was interesting to see how Hezbollah succeeded to win the hearts of so many people during the conflict with Israel in a dysfunctional country without reliable political party able to cope with dysfunctional situations. Otherwise, I am sure that if Lebanon would have been a normal democracy, it was unacceptable that a terrorist organization launch regularly bombs against another country and even kidnap its soldiers. The so-called ‘Party of Gd’ is in fact a group supported by Iran and Syria and driven by hate and destroy the lives of young and educated Lebanese people. Accusing others for the failures of the local elites to provide an alternative to the current situation is the real ‘convenient lie’ that destroys the future of many countries in the region. Countries from the regions should learn how to really love their country and invest more in the education of their children not in the wealth of corrupt religious leaders.

Enjoy your dish

'Home was wherever you broke bread with people you loved' says wisely Annia and I fully agree with it. Our world could be an enjoyable place if before starting the negotiations, the diplomats will stay together at the same dinner table and will share the stories of their cultures and their memories about food. If you are passionate about cultural diplomacy - as I am - you should include this book in your compulsory bibliography. If you are interested in the history of the Middle East, you should do the same. And if you are only looking for a pleasant dish to change your perspective on life after a long diplomatic work, please be careful at the end of the book where you can find many recipes whose preparation will bring you closer from a new universe. 

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