How’s Your Week Been? Poke at Boke, Sailing on the Water, and Jazz at Nonna.


How’s your week been? Have you done anything fun yet? I sure hope so. I was reviewing my Travel Oregon plan, which basically involves me having fun on a regular basis. I wanted to check in with myself and see if I’m reaching any of my goals, and I’m glad to say that today, I achieved three (!) of them. Three in one day. Woot woot! (If you haven’t seen my list, you can check it out on my Travel page.)

And as for today’s adventure? First, I met my daughter, Maddy, at Boke Bowl for a Poke Bowl (seriously). Then, I went sailing with the family and Maddy’s boyfriend, Jeff. Finally, I went to Nonna with Vini to hear Rebecca Kilgore, Randy Porter, and Tom Wakeling. (For those of you who don’t know, Vini is my husband, Peter’s, nickname.)

Even though I’ve eaten at Boke Bowl before, it was only once, at least three years ago, so I’m calling it a “new” experience. In fact, the last time I was there, I went for the ramen and they had a very limited menu. This time, the food I ate was brand new on the menu, and the menu has been greatly expanded!

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I just love delicious, healthy food!

The Poke Bowl was made of cold ramen noodles, arugula, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, and of course, poke (marinated raw tuna, pronounced “po-kay”). If you’ve been to Hawaii, you probably know how good poke is. If not, I would definitely recommend trying this dish. It was light but filling, and very tasty. It’s seasoned with an Asian inspired vinaigrette, and Maddy and I added some soy sauce and togarashi table-side. We also ordered a trio of buns, which were little folded pockets of steamed dough (similar to char siu bao at a dim sum place).

20170927_151659Ours were filled with beef brisket and Asian slaw; pork belly with pickled veggies and hoisin sauce; and fried (!) chicken with a mustard aioli. All in all, I’d have to say, “yummy, yummy, yum yum!”

Later that afternoon, we took what will most likely be our final sail of the season. Now I realize you might be thinking, “how can sailing count? It’s not like the rest of us can just head out for a sail…,” but here’s the thing. 20170927_181932 2You totally can. If you know us, and you’re in the Portland area, all you gotta do is let us know you’re into it. Then, when we go sailing in the future, we’ll give you a call and you can come along. Seriously. We love sailing with our friends. Consider yourself invited!

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Maddy is a dragonfly magnet.

Finally, Vini and I hit Nonna for some nosh and jazz. Two of my favorite things! If you go to Nonna, here are some of the things I recommend:

The Fauxloma – a new, non-alcoholic drink concocted by our bartender that includes grapefruit juice, peach syrup, lime, salt, and club soda. It was barely sweet, tangy, and delicious! The shrimp fritters – crispy on the outside and shrimpy on the inside, with a luscious garlic aioli.nonna's charcuterie The charcuterie board – different every time. Always good. The burrata – served with heirloom tomatoes and a mess of baby greens with balsamic reduction. It was at once, silky, rich, and bright. Really a nice balance of flavors.

Becky KilgoreThe jazz was spectacular – natch. Becky Kilgore, is of course, a wonderful vocalist. I loved her set lists too! Some great, familiar classics, but also, some songs I’d never heard before, which is always a treat. No need to mention how terrific Randy Porter is on piano, but I’ll mention it anyway. He’s such a great soloist, and he’s one of those guys that just makes it all look so easy! Finally, I’m giving a shout out to Tom Wakeling, whom I’ve known for a very, very long time, and also whom I forget is a really great bass player! I used to hear Tom play with the Kicks Band back in the day. There isn’t always a lot of solo time for the bassist in a big band. So, Tom, I wanna say, I really enjoyed hearing you play tonight and you blew some great solos, man!

Seriously, people, get out of the house! There are so many amazing, fabulous, fun things to do here! Anywhere special you like to go? Let me know! I love suggestions. In the meantime, think about coming down to Ronnie’s jam at the Prime Rib on Sandy Boulevard, Sunday night, October 1. That’s my next planned outing. Hope I see you there…

And here, for your listening pleasure, is a little snippet of “Them There Eyes.”

#bokebowl #nonna #beckykilgore #randyporter #tomwakeling #sailing #traveloregon

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Adrift in Long Beach, Washington – Part Three: Hiking Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and Kites, Kites, Kites!!!


20170812_094016Hiking Willapa National Wildlife Refuge – Saturday was the last day of my trip, and I set off early for the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. I’m not really one for “drives,” as I tend to hate sitting in a car, but this was a fairly short, 20170812_094005extremely scenic one. This landscape is like no other I’ve seen in the Pacific Northwest. There’s a wildness to it, a starkness, that’s nonetheless deeply beautiful. As should be the case with a wildlife refuge, there was an abundance of birds, not always seen, but always heard. There’s another art walk (denizens of Long Beach love their art), and that leads to a longer, steeper hike called “Cutthroat Climb.” It wasn’t particularly cutthroat, but it was a climb. I’d been told more than once to bring mosquito repellent, but a) I didn’t have any with me, and b) I tend to not take good advice, even when I should. The downside of that is, I left the refuge with about 25 mosquito bites. The moral of that story is, bring repellent, or don’t stop moving! The upside is, I was bitten about 50 times this summer in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and am apparently immune to the itching. Woot woot!

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A beautiful picnic table at the refuge, poetry by e.e. cummings.

This trail is representative of the typical Pacific forest, with spruce, alder, hemlock, salal, huckleberry, deer fern, sword fern, and oxalis.

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Will I ever tire of the beauty of trees?

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Can you believe it? A labyrinth right in the middle of the hike.  

The forest was alive with bird song. And at the top of the hill there was a labyrinth. This was particularly fortuitous for me, as my trip coincided with a ladies’ labyrinth walk I was missing in Portland. How lovely to find this special treat, just waiting for me. Not for nothing, I was completely alone on the hike; something I really appreciate, and something that is increasingly rare around here…

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I got back to the hotel in time to pack up, eat my delicious leftovers, and say goodbye to Dusty, the lovely, friendly, helpful gal at the front desk, and just because I wasn’t ready to leave Long Beach just yet, I decided to stop at the Kite Museum. Here are some super cool kites featured at the kite museum.

 

And here are some super cute posters from Long Beach International Kite Festivals of yore:

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So many amazing posters.

Don’t be like all, “now that I’ve seen all this on Leila’s blog, I don’t need to go to the kite museum myself.” Trust me, there’s still plenty to see, not the least of which are the many kite flying videos shown from around the world. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

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It was hard to choose just two.

 

 

 

 

 

So there it is, my weekend stay in Long Beach, Washington. So glad I went. If you’ve never been, check it out, and when you go, say hello to my new friends at the Adrift!

 

 

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Adrift in Long Beach, Washington – Part Two: Discovery Trail


Discovery Trail – Part Two: I slept in today. Yeah, I know, big surprise for the people that know me. It was cool and windy, so I bundled up (undershirt with shelf bra, performance tank, performance tee, AND performance long-sleeved shirt with zipper at the neck. Never let it be said I’m not a wuss about the weather…), rode into town to buy a hat (!) at Dennis Company’s sidewalk sale (grey knit beanie, $3.50, right on), and headed south on the Discovery Trail.

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A nice lady and her dog.

I started at Bolstad Avenue, and biked the roughly five miles to Cape Disappointment State Park. What a beautiful ride! While mostly flat, the trail has a few gentle ups and downs to keep it interesting, and some curves – watch out, I had to brace myself once to keep from sliding out as I rode rapidly down one particularly sharp turn. You can’t always see the ocean from the trail, even though it runs parallel most of the way. But there are some sections where you can pause to watch for whales, or walk down to the beach below. The trail itself has its own charm. Beautiful stands of shore pine, California laurel, salal, and seagrass line the trail.

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When you’re up close, it’s easy to see why they’re called “turkey” buzzards.

As you get closer to Cape Disappointment, you begin to see a more forested view, with spruce, alder, and lush stands of sword and lady ferns. Check out this turkey buzzard drying its wings; I couldn’t believe how close he let me come!

When I arrived at the park, I locked up my bike (thank you, Adrift Hotel), and walked the 1.3-mile trail to the North Head lighthouse. You can bike all the way, but on a fixed gear bike, no thank you! It’s not unbike-able, but it is a steady climb, with some fairly steep sections, and I’m a wimpy bicyclist at best.

 

The lighthouse is closed for renovation, as you can see here. This information board shows you what the lighthouse looks like in perfection. The view of the beach below is quite beautiful. There’s another lighthouse at the park – an active one, manned by the U.S. Coast Guard. There’s a two hour time limit on the hotel bikes though, so I didn’t quite have time to check it out.

20170811_133659              lighthouse picture

As I returned down the trail, I saw a little unmarked path off to my right. I followed it to this little hollow, with another lovely view.

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View from a hollow.

All told, I biked approximately 9 miles and walked/jogged almost 2.5 miles. I stopped frequently to take pictures, talk to people on the way, eat the very ripe, very yummy salal berries I found everywhere, and spent roughly three hours on this trip. (Yes. I was late returning the bike. Those of you who know me are thinking, “of course you were, Leila….”)

All in all, it was a rather pleasant expedition, I must say. Back at the hotel, I enjoyed a snack (the rest of my pizza and some fresh blueberries from my friend, Lesley), and (yes) a nap. Mmmm. I took this particular nap on the beach. I’m not sure how long I slept, but I’ll tell you one thing, I slept like a baby!

Later that night, I enjoyed another delicious meal at Pickled Fish. Flat iron steak, cowboy beans, greens, and grilled polenta. Perfectly seasoned, perfectly prepared. (Sorry, folks. As a rule, I’m trying to avoid the ubiquitous food photo.) I also ordered a dessert, a rare occasion for me. The chocolate mousse with caramel sauce was smooth, creamy, and delicious. I saved half the meal and dessert for the next day, and patted myself on the back for all that self-control.

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That’s a lot of tribbles.

I had a lovely evening walk yesterday, but today after dinner I was plum tuckered out, so I headed back to my room to pick up where I left off in my Star Trek marathon – Season 2, Episode 15: The Trouble with Tribbles. See folks, that’s the beauty of vacation; doing whatever the heck you want at any given moment.

 

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Life Goes On (and on and on and on)


When I first sat down to write this, I started crying and I couldn’t make anything coherent come out. That may sound a little extreme, but I have a feeling a lot of people who read this will relate.

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There are people who actually live in the Gorge. And then there are the rest of us, who just “live” in the Gorge. It’s our living room. I think we call it that. It sure feels that way. So many, many of us here in the Portland area spend  a LOT of time there. We all have our favorite hikes, swimming holes, waterfalls, weekend camping spots, etc.

 

 

I feel like we won’t really know what the new normal will look like until the fire is out. For now, there’s anger and sorrow and worry. When I think of that foolish, foolish kid and his equally foolish friends, I think about how I want him to be really sorry for what he’s done. Not sorry about what’s going to happen to him, but sorry about the act itself and how very much damage he’s done. I want him to realize the import of it all. Hopefully, he will have more insight today than he did three days ago.

cropped beach scene

I also hope that we can all think about stupid things we’ve done that could have had catastrophic consequences, but didn’t. Not because we’re better than that, but just because of sheer dumb luck. Or the grace of God. So maybe we can try to not hate this kid. Even now, through the haze of fear and sadness. Even through our anger and grief.

 

 

I was in Seaside with some dear friends the day the fire broke out.  When we were talking about it, my friend Essiet said, “there’s always hope. Something good will come out of this. There’s always something good that can come out of something bad.”

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We went to Cannon Beach, and while we were there, I was looking around at all the trees. There are still trees. Even in the Gorge, there are still trees, and there will be when this is over. We went to Indian Beach at Ecola State Park. We were walking around the rocks and I was looking for tide pools. At first, I thought, “there’s not much here.” But as I looked more closely, I realized that there was life everywhere.

 

 

You’ll see the haze in these pictures. Just like in Portland, the sun and moon were red from it, and everything was a little fuzzy. It’s a sad reminder of how deeply we are all affected by this fire. Of just how far-reaching it is.

 

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Even on the coast there’s a red haze.

Still, there WAS hope everywhere. There was life everywhere. Here’s some of it. Many of these pictures may seem like nothing special, except that right now, a stand of old growth trees that’s still standing seems like something very special indeed. And there’s sea stars and anemones. And tiny little crabs.

This website doesn’t support video, but if you head over to my Facebook profile,  https://www.facebook.com/leila.piazza, you can see the greatest little video of this tiny little crab eating dinner. It’s really sweet.

 

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See the video on my Facebook page!

I know this in no way makes up for what’s happened. I know we’ll all be grieving, and even as I post this, we still don’t even know the extent of our loss. But life DOES go on. And on and on and on. Thank God. So this is my offering to you. Something to look at that isn’t the devastating destruction of something we love. Here is something life-affirming. Something hopeful. And I, for one, could use a little hope right now.

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Still standing.

 

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Adrift in Long Beach, Washington (or how I finally took a real vacation).


Exploring the Long Beach Peninsula – Part 1

I’ve never been to Long Beach, Washington, or anywhere on the Long Beach Peninsula before. Say whaaat? Yep. That’s right. Over 20 years spent traveling to our vacation home, Piazza Beach House, in Seaside, Oregon, and I’ve never ventured farther north than Astoria! Crazy, right?

I took this week off from work, determined to finish the finish work created by the new windows I installed in May, (And no. I didn’t finish the finish work.), but was also keen to get away for a few days and relax and enjoy myself like a real person taking a real vacation. I knew I’d be heading to Seaside by Sunday to clean the house between renters, so picking a vacation spot in the area was key. And then I remembered my friend, April, mentioning Long Beach, Washington. She said it was one of her favorite coast locations, and that she and her hubby, Jacob, loved to stay at the Adrift Hotel and eat at the hotel restaurant, Pickled Fish. I trust their taste implicitly and knew they wouldn’t steer me wrong. Lucky for me, there was a two-night opening at a reasonable price on the days I wanted to travel.

Long Beach, Washington. The world's longest beach.

Long Beach, Washington. The world’s longest beach.

When I arrived, I quickly discovered that Long Beach is the kite capital of the world, featuring a kite museum and annual kite festival! Additionally, there are ample opportunities to hike, bike, walk, and run in and around town, as well as outdoor art installations, a cranberry museum, and many small shops and antique stores. There are go-karts, moped rentals, horse rides, mini-golf, and many kid friendly activities, making this a great location for travelers of all ages. It was easy to see that I wouldn’t be able to do everything I wanted to do in just two days. Sigh.20170811_133947

The Adrift is right on the beach and the Pickled Fish has a lovely ocean view. It’s a pet friendly hotel, which I love, but I also failed to realize why there are ear plugs next to every bed. That is, until a sad, distressed puppy whined for an hour when left alone in his room. Use the ear plugs. They’re your friends. The pet friendly vibe is only the beginning of the hotel staffs’ efforts to make visitors feel right at home.

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The view from the Pickled Fish.

There are complimentary bikes available with locks and helmets and fresh cucumber water, citrus water, coffee, and tea available in the lobby 24/7. (The tea selection was impressive in its depth of choices.) A sitting area in the lobby, game room on the second floor, and reading room on the third floor (featuring shuffleboard, ping pong, and a wide selection of books and DVDs) meant that guests weren’t restricted to doing everything in their hotel rooms, and made for ample opportunity to meet fellow travelers. It’s clear that the Adrift is seeking to provide a great experience for their guests, not just a place to sleep while traveling.
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Shortly after I arrived, I went to the restaurant for happy hour. The drink of the day was a Moscow Mule. The Mule was perfect. Tart and gingery, with a good kick of vodka to it.

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Northwest rustic industrial design (is what I’m calling it).

I also ordered a cup of clam chowder, served with focaccia. Yummy, yum, yum, yum! Seriously. There was corn in the chowder (gets the thumbs up from me), and the clams were chewy but not tough, and very tasty. The creamy broth was rich but not overpoweringly so. In short, a delicious clam chowder.

Afterward, I decided to take a bike ride. These are cute, single gear bikes, and that’s fine, since the town and local Discovery Trail are basically flat, with only gentle rolling hills. I tooled about town and was happy to find a visitors’ bureau. It can seem superfluous, these days, what with Yelp, Trip Advisor, and all the travel blogs (like this one!) on the web, but let me tell you, it was awesome!

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Super friendly, knowledgable people are my favorite thing!

The gals there knew the area well, and the lady I spoke with wrote a lot of helpful information right on the brochures she gave me. Here we are in front of a map of the town. I’m working on my selfies, but clearly, I still don’t know how to look right at the camera. Neither did she, so I suppose it’s all good.

 

 

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Still working on my selfies. How do those darn kids do it?

After my stop at the visitors’ bureau, I decided to bike part of the Discovery Trail. The trail begins at the north end of Long Beach at the Breakers Hotel and ends either to the south at Cape Disappointment State Park, or forks east to the port town of Ilwaco. Today, I simply biked a couple of miles right here in town. I had read before coming that there were art installations all along the trail. I was curious, how could they protect the paintings from the rainy weather? I’m not very bright sometimes! The art is, of course, wood and metal sculptures, designed to survive the weather and the test of time. Along with the sea creature sculptures, there are also information boards with quotes from Lewis and Clark, and charming drawings by young, local artists, full of information about the animals and their habitat.

20170810_175729I took a nap back at the hotel (hey, it’s a vacation!), then headed to the Pickled Fish for dinner – I wanted a chance to sample more of the menu. Boy, was that a good idea! I ordered the pizza of the day – garlic cream sauce, roasted corn, prosciutto, basil, and fontina.  The pizza was nicely charred, with a tender, chewy, crispy crust and great flavor. I was happy to eat several pieces (exact number to remain unnamed), and take the rest for the next day. The hotel provides a refrigerator in each room and a microwave on each guest floor, which makes eating leftovers easy and convenient.

The restaurant also features live music seven days a week. As the wife of a musician, I can’t tell you how awesome I think it is that Pickled Fish supports local music. Tonight’s offering was indie folk music performed by Ash Reiter & Indianna Hale, not my usual fare, but I really enjoyed their sweet honky-tonk sound.

Graziano Foodservice - Outstanding in their field!

Graziano Foodservice – Outstanding in their field!

Pickled Fish is great about recognizing local purveyors, with a list of food suppliers written on a barn door that fits in perfectly with their rustic industrial design. Full disclosure: one of their suppliers is Graziano Foodservice, the company my husband works for – I didn’t know that when I booked my stay here. Here’s Luis and Arturo (they’re so cute! They call me Mrs. Peter) – I ran into them when I set off on my bike ride.

After dinner, I took a nice meandering walk up the boardwalk, past the Long Beach sign, and back to the hotel. The wind had died down, and as is often the case on the coast, the evening felt warmer than the afternoon.20170810_230427_001 2

Thanks to the hotel staff, friendly locals, beautiful views, and delicious food, my first day of vacation in Long Beach, Washington was a smashing success!

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Spreading confusion with facts? Or, hey, isn’t it about time for another war?


From CNN affiliate, Gant Daily:
“The White House said Tuesday the Syrian regime and Russia are trying to “confuse the world community about who is responsible for using chemical weapons against the Syrian people in this and earlier attacks.”
Yes. Russia and Syria are trying to confuse the world with those damn, pesky FACTS! Facts like these:
 
From the U.N. report on Ghouta: Appendix 5, p. 18
 
“Limitations: Fragments and other possible evidence have clearly been handled/moved prior to the arrival of the investigation team.”
 
Appendix 5, p. 22
 
“Limitations: During the time spent at these locations, individuals arrived carrying other suspected munitions indicating that such potential evidence is being moved and possibly manipulated.”
 
Or how about, from a previous post : 

“In Ghouta, the U.S. insisted the chemical weapons attacks were carried out by the regime, based on it’s own independent evidence? This same evidence was examined by Theodor Postol, a weapons expert at MIT (that’s right, Massachusetts Institute of Technology), who concluded that the rockets, “could not possibly have been fired at East Ghouta from the ‘heart’, or from the Eastern edge, of the Syrian government controlled area shown in the intelligence map published by the White House on August 30, 2013.”

 
Also, from Carla del Ponte, a member of the UN commission of inquiry, about Khan Al Assal in 2012:
 
“Testimony from victims of the conflict in Syria suggests rebels have used the nerve agent, sarin, a leading member of a UN commission of inquiry has said.”
 
“I was a little bit stupefied by the first indications we got… they were about the use of nerve gas by the opposition,” she said.”
 
Gee, this is so confusing. On the one hand, the U.S. government and media insist the Syrian government has used chemical weapons. On the other hand, NO EVIDENCE has EVER been presented that held up to any scrutiny at all, showing the Syrian government used chemical weapons. All the evidence cited by the U.S. government had been tampered with, or discounted by chemical weapons EXPERTS. Meanwhile, the only conclusion about chemical weapons use ever drawn by U.N. investigators pointed to rebels using it. But could they? Did they have the means? Well, apparently, yes.
From Reuters:
“Earlier, several Turkish newspapers had reported that 12 people from Syria’s al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front who allegedly had been planning an attack inside Turkey and were in possession of 2 kg (4.5 pounds) of sarin, had been detained in Adana.”
From a Turkish newspaper, Hurriyet Daily News, citing an incident following the Adana events:
“Para-military police were forced to shoot out the tires of the vehicles to stop them, and three drivers jumped out and fled in the direction of Syria. One of them was arrested, the General Staff said, without specifying the nationality of the suspect. The haul of sulfur and the other unidentified substance will be examined by a team of army specialists, the statement said.

Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense (CBRN) units from the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency have been examining the seized material, noted the statement.”

 
Oh those pesky, pesky facts. Isn’t it just easier to ignore them and keep repeating the mantra, Syrian government….chemical weapons….Syrian government….chemical weapons….and anyway, isn’t it about time for another war? If one won’t conveniently present itself to us, isn’t it the U.S. government’s job to create one for us? After all, is it even possible to make America great again if we’re not slaughtering millions of innocent people halfway around the world in the process? 
 
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An analysis of economic and political problems in Syria before the war


Someone recently asked me, given my clear and unwavering support for the Syrian government in the Syrian war, if there was any single criticism I could make about the Syrian government. (I think they somehow believe I’m so blinded by, gee, I don’t know what, infatuation, that I think the Syrian government is perfect – as if any government is or could be).

I would also like to state that while I do believe these are valid points, I don’t think any of them justifies violently overthrowing the government. The president of Syria, Bashar Al-Assad, sincerely wanted to bring political and economic reform to Syria. He was hampered by what we call “the old guard” in the government. This is my opinion, but is also an opinion widely expressed by Syrians, even those that oppose the government. However, President Al Assad was able to enact some modest political and economic reforms. I believe that there was a possibility for larger and lasting economic and political reforms in Syria had the war not started, but I also believe that the war was created by outside forces that cared nothing for Syrian citizens and reforms within the country, but sought only to control the Syrian government to advance oil pipeline plans and geopolitical interests.

Nonetheless, it is worth considering these points, and I hope that the current truce leads to an end to the war, and the true political opposition within Syria and the Syrian government work together to begin to address the economic and political problems that were facing Syria before the regime change war tore our country apart. Anyway, here’s my list.

  1. The Syrian government should have had a path to citizenship for the Kurds and other ethnic minorities. I’m actually not sure if Palestinians and Armenians were granted citizenship, but I know the Kurds weren’t. Many Kurds would perhaps reject it, because of their desire for a Kurdish state, but I think many would have accepted it and their nationalistic feelings would have been more Syrian. This would have created more cohesion between the Kurds and the rest of the country. I have to mention too, that this came out of Gamal Abdul Nasser’s push for Pan-Arabism, which sought to create an Arab State, and thus excluded non-Arabs from citizenship. I think that one of Syria’s greatest strengths was the sense of nationalism that created a cohesive society where people didn’t separate themselves along ethnic or religions lines. Citizenship for all would strengthen that feeling. This doesn’t really have anything to do with the war. The Kurds are not fighting the Syrian government, but I do think in general, it was a mistake.
  2. The Syrian government should have ended the kind of corruption that was seen as creating winners and losers. In general, people were fed up with having to bribe people all the time, but that was a somewhat fair form of corruption. Everyone “tipped” the police, government officials, etc. more or less the same. And I now have many friends in the United States who say the system there was much better (initially they came here saying they hated all the bribery in Syria. But here they have found that since you can’t bribe anyone on a small level, government officials are always telling them “no.” They say, at least in Syria, I would have to pay, but I would get what I want.) But the nepotism was problematic in some parts of Syria. The people I know in Homs say it wasn’t an issue with employment, but friends in Latakia (Christians) say it was a problem in the north, where Alawites could get a job easily but Sunnis couldn’t because Alawites were more likely to know someone in a higher position at a large company, especially state companies like oil refineries or factories. This was seen as economically disadvantaging the Sunnis. Now, I have to say, in general, nepotism is a common practice in Syria (and hey, who are we kidding, the US too), but in the North, this became a big problem, as the drought pushed people off the land and into looking for factory work, highlighting this situation for many. Beyond this situation, I would say there was a general sense of frustration with the notion that friends and of the government were obscenely wealthy and the common man had no means of entry into that stratosphere (again to be fair, I think the same situation applies here in the U.S.)
  3. The drought was a major economic problem, which the government had no control over, BUT what I have heard and read is that friends of the Al Assad family were given the rights to large commercial farms and they over irrigated. Family farmers who had been in the region for generations complained, but the government did nothing to curb the practice. The locals felt that this damaged their farms, and exacerbated the drought by hastening the depletion of the water table. Additionally at this time, Turkey broke a water contract with Syria and Iraq, decreased the amount of water they were willing to sell to those countries, and entered into new, more lucrative contracts with Israel. Those three things created the perfect storm, and many Syrians lost their livelihood. It’s worth noting here that that may have been a strategy to destabilize Syria, as Turkey has been one of the leaders in the war to overthrow the Syrian government (in other words, their actions with the water contracts increased the economic woes of the farmers in the north). This lead to…
  4. Many from the north flocked to Aleppo, where they had a hard time finding jobs. The economy was depressed (that’s the US and Europe’s fault – it was the world economic collapse due to the housing and banking crisis), so jobs were hard to come by anyway, then the market was flooded with job seekers. Other complaints were that the government didn’t help the displaced by increasing the capacity at schools, housing, etc. Why did this turn the Sunnis in the north against the government?
  5. In part, because of the government actions or lack of action above. But also because radical clerics from Saudi Arabia were infiltrating the mosques in the north, Homs, and other regions, and preaching against the Syrian government. The Syrian government made a mistake here in allowing the rhetoric. They didn’t want to be seen as acting against the Sunnis, and also, acting against “religion” in general, since the country prides itself on separation of church and state and religious tolerance.
  6. This was a mistake, this tolerance for preaching jihad. But equally harmful to the government’s reputation was that they DID oppress secular activists who spoke out blatantly against the government. This was a mistake, in my opinion, because the secular activists mostly wanted political change and were unlikely to draw violent people to their cause (although there were many Muslim Brotherhood activists that tried to present themselves as secularists – they were often behind the violence at the protests). Still, many of the vocal secular critics would have pushed for change within the political system, not violent overthrow. As we know now, the violence came primarily from followers at the radical Sunni mosques, where they were not only incited, but armed as well.
  7. The Syrian government should have lifted emergency law when Bashar Al Assad was initially elected in 2001. At that time, there was no need for emergency law, and the tenor of the country changed. People were not afraid of being dragged out of their beds at night. Openly active, vocal critics of the regime still faced arrest, imprisonment, etc. for being vocal and active, but the average person didn’t have the same fear as they did under Hafez al Assad that the mukhabarrat (secret police) would come get you because a neighbor overheard you complaining. But while some older people did say, “you still have to be careful what you say”, the majority of people I talked to said they had no fear of that anymore, “the government doesn’t do that anymore. You can complain all you want as long as you don’t slander a specific person by name.” In other words, “the water system stinks. The government isn’t taking care of it like they should,” was fine, but “so-and-so in the water department is a corrupt thief,” was likely to get you in trouble. Mind you, I don’t agree with that (arrest for free speech that is. I’m fine with civil action for slander). Additionally, the government DID allow all other political parties to operate on a local level (EXCEPT the Muslim Brotherhood), and people didn’t fear being known as part of a political party that wasn’t Ba’ath. People in my family were in a different party and they met with their members all the time, discussed politics openly, made petitions to the local government representatives, etc. and everyone in the neighborhood knew who they were. They had absolutely zero level of fear that they would be dragged away and arrested. So I do believe the government made a mistake in not explicitly ending emergency law (and I think they should have enshrined freedom of speech and media in the constitution as well), but the oppression story is far more nuanced than some want it to be.

Now, many Syrians feel that the government should have been MUCH harsher in the beginning and put down the elements that were violent. This is oddly, the most common complaint I hear from Syrians, not that the government was too forceful, but that they weren’t forceful enough. I tend to disagree with the notion that that would have stopped the war. Since the war was clearly launched by the US, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar, nothing the Syrian government did inside of Syria was going to stop it. Except of course, President Al Assad agreeing to the oil pipeline plans of Saudi Arabia and Co.

Well, there’s my list. Let me know if you have any questions, comments, etc. (please be respectful).

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