‘Olden Days’ in Saudi Arabia

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Updated 05 April 2013
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‘Olden Days’ in Saudi Arabia

I remember my first day in Saudi Arabia as if it happened yesterday. My Saudi husband, Saud, and I arrived in Dammam — in the middle of the night — straight from our honeymoon in my country. It was winter time, so I was wearing a coat, stockings and gloves. My husband had previously told me that women here cover their heads, therefore I had tied a lovely silk scarf around mine, just before getting out of the plane.
The plane landed and passengers started to proceed through the exit. It was almost my turn. I was excited, I wanted to see everything right away. It was dark outside. There were only the airport lights which blinded me the minute I stepped out of the plane. I started to descend the steps. The heat was unbearable, the hot humid air was like a steam bath. With my coat, stockings, gloves and scarf I felt I was walking into a huge oven. We entered the airport building, a plain crowded room. It was nothing to compare with the beautiful airports which were built years later throughout the country. I looked around and all I could see was a mass of white, walking clothes. What a strange sight this was for me! There were men everywhere and all of them were wearing the traditional Saudi dress, the “thobe,” a long white ankle length garment and the “ghotra,” a large white headdress. The men walked in all directions around me. I felt lost in a strange world where I must have looked like a freak. I walked as if in a dream. I kept close to Saud, I was afraid he might disappear, swallowed up by the white crowd. He was one of the few men wearing Western clothes. I did not know it at the time, but this was the last time I would see him in pants and a shirt. From now on he would only ever wear a thobe and a ghotra or a “shmagh” (a checkered red and white head cover).
I walked straight ahead. I was feeling a little scared and intimidated. I was holding my beauty case when I suddenly felt someone snatch it from my hand. I froze in astonishment and fear. I whispered to Saud, “Someone took my beauty case!” I honestly thought it had been stolen. What a surprise I had when my husband simply answered, “Oh, it’s my brother!” I didn’t understand right away, and asked myself, “What does he mean, his brother? I have neither seen nor talked to anybody. I haven’t been introduced to anyone.” This was my first encounter with the Saudi way of handling any relationship between a man and a woman. No greetings were exchanged, no words were spoken, not even a glance because we were in a public place. I tried to hide my bewilderment and I must confess, my embarrassment. Right away, I found myself so different, so ignorant about the traditional ways. I was a true fish out of water. Soon after did I realize that I was also something like a zoo animal in display when conservative women (relatives and neighbors) started coming to see, visit, observe me as a strange never-seen-before “object” of curiosity. In those days a Western woman in a Saudi household was as rare as a black pearl.

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Ancient musical instruments get an airing in Athens

Updated 21 June 2018
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Ancient musical instruments get an airing in Athens

  • The phorminx, the kitharis, the krotala and the aulos — string and wind instruments reconstructed by musical group Lyravlos — echoed among marble statues in Athens’s National Archaeological Museum.
  • Music was an integral part of almost every aspect of ancient Greek society, from religious, to social to athletic events.

ATHENS: Hymns sung to the Greek gods thousands of years ago resonated from ancient musical instruments in Athens on Thursday, transporting a transfixed audience to antiquity.
The phorminx, the kitharis, the krotala and the aulos — string and wind instruments reconstructed by musical group Lyravlos — echoed among marble statues in Athens’s National Archaeological Museum as part of World Music Day celebrations.
A family of musicians, Lyravlos have recreated exact replicas of the ancient instruments from natural materials including animal shells, bones, hides and horns.
Music was an integral part of almost every aspect of ancient Greek society, from religious, to social to athletic events. Today only some 60 written scores of ancient Greek music have survived, said Lyravlos member Michael Stefos.
Stefos said they interpret them as best they can, relying on the accuracy of their recreated instruments.
“Joking aside, ancient CDs have never been found,” he said.
Their performance included a hymn to the god Apollo, pieces played at the musical festival of the ancient Pythian Games in Delphi and during wine-laden rituals to the god Dionysus.
Michael’s father Panayiotis Stefos, who heads the group, travels to museums at home and abroad studying ancient Greek antiquities and texts in order to recreate the instruments.
“Usually each instrument has a different sound. It is not something you can make on a computer, it will not be a carbon copy,” said Stefos.
The difference with modern day instruments?
“If someone holds it in their arms and starts playing, after a few minutes they don’t want to let it go, because it vibrates and pulsates with your body,” he said.
French tourist Helene Piaget, who watched the performance, said it was “inspiring.”
“One sees them on statues, on reliefs, and you can’t imagine what they might sound like,” she said.
World Music Day is an annual celebration that takes place on the summer solstice.