March 24, 2009
The Daily Star in Beirut is running an ad on its web site for hookahs and tobacco. If I’m not mistaken, that’s Barbara Eden in the ad. It certainly doesn’t look like any Lebanese women I know. I guess the agency figured that since “I Dream of Jeannie” is still in vogue in the United States – well, it’s one of the series that gets re-run ad nauseam while better ones stay on the shelf – then Barbara would be a good image for this campaign. I’ve been told that my grandmother, Selma Aoun, whom I never met, smoked a hookah, which the Lebanese and Syrians call something like arghille. (I have pictures of my grandmother; she looked more like Salma Hayek than like Barbara Eden.) Another common Arabic term for the water pipe is shisha, which evokes one of the materials a person might smoke in such a device. I have never smoked more than a few cigars, but I have always envied the image of the smoker. Not the crowd I recently saw huddled outside the back door of a restaurant in Morristown, but the thoughtful pose of the Edward R. Murrow. I have always wanted to place a Meerschaum between my teeth during a conversation and nod from behind the blue haze as though to say, “Hmmmmm. I’ll have to see what Spinoza had to say about that.” According to family lore, my grandmother’s arghille had several pipes, so that she could share it with her visitors. I fantasize about getting out that fez I bought at the Moroccan restaurant at Epcot, sitting cross-legged on the floor, and squinting through the smoke at two or three men in dark glasses as we plan the raid on Aqaba. Of course, even if I could sit cross-legged on the floor at my age, I couldn’t get up without assistance.