The Good Life, à la Marseillaise

Saturday, July 25, 2015 | Marseille, France (map)

Dining seaside with the crew, including gracious hosts Mendouh and Mohamed, in Havana hats.
Mendouh thinks big. An Algerian Berber raised in southern France, Mendouh now lives in Algiers, running in the same mixed crew of Algerians and expats with whom I spend my evenings and weekends. He was one of the ringleaders of last November's memorable Marseille odyssey—an experience that weighed heavily in my decision to accept his latest invitation.

For his 31st birthday, Mendouh invited 120 friends—childhood buddies from France, drinking buddies from Algiers, plus his mother, brother, and seven sisters—to spend an extended weekend at a countryside villa he rented near the family home in Provence, outside Marseille. Nearly everyone invited made an appearance at some point during the weekend's events, which sprawled over several days at a scale more reminiscent of an extravagant Indian wedding than of your average birthday party.

In Taking Action for Syria, No Easy Answers

Sunday, July 5, 2015 | Syria (map)

Extending a hand: a Greco-Roman mosaic at the Syrian National Museum (Damascus, 2005)
In response to my post last week ("In Syria, Humanity and Heritage Suffer War's Irreparable Devastation"), a regular reader back in the USA wrote me to express his dismay at the state of affairs in Syria: "Why all the killing and destruction? It's just evil... and it seems like it is all around us." He concluded, "[It] seems there is little hope."

When you stop to reflect on the Syrian crisis, it can be easy to reach this conclusion. What hope exists for a place that seems to have generated nothing but bad news for five straight years? For a people whose desperation grows exponentially month after month?

Fatigue with the seemingly intractable sectarian conflicts of the Middle East has pushed many people outside Syria to simply tune out. Many ordinary Syrians feel the international community has abandoned them. (Sadly, it's largely true.) In