Lebanese arm wrestlers revive century-old tradition

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Lebanese men compete in an arm-wrestling championship in the coastal city of Jounieh on July 13, 2018. (AFP)
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A Lebanese girl shows her muscles during an arm-wrestling championship in the coastal city of Jounieh on July 13, 2018. (AFP)
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Lebanese people compete in an arm-wrestling championship in the coastal city of Jounieh on July 13, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 08 September 2018
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Lebanese arm wrestlers revive century-old tradition

  • As far back as the 19th century, men in villages across the country would show off their strength, locking hands over a table
  • A single fight can last a few seconds or several gut-wrenching minutes, with at least two referees hunched over the table to spot fouls

JOUNIEH, Lebanon: On a seaside podium in Lebanon, Halim el-Achkar locks hands with an opponent, exerting pressure until he slams both contestants’ forearms down with a fearsome growl, to win the bout.
His rippling biceps etched with tattoos, the 25-year-old is thrilled that the country’s century-old pastime of arm wrestling has been given a new lease of life.
“I always loved this game. For me, it’s a symbol of strength and manliness,” said Achkar, sporting a neatly trimmed black beard.
“This discipline must be taken up more, so we can shine abroad the same way we do in basketball,” he added.
The tournament in Jounieh, a Lebanese town just north of the capital Beirut, is the second annual nationwide contest organized by the country’s arm wrestling federation.
Established last year, the body already boasts 750 members whom it trains to perform at international standards, founder Karim el-Andary told AFP.
“The goal is to put Lebanon on the world map,” he said.
It’s a goal that looks achievable, since two federation members scored gold medals at a competition in Italy last year.
But Andary is driven by more than a quest for international recognition.
“Arm wrestling is rooted in Lebanese tradition. We inherited it from our grandparents. It’s our duty to preserve it,” he said.
As far back as the 19th century, men in villages across the country would show off their strength, locking hands over a table — or even just lifting rocks.
“This tradition was widespread across the country,” said Maroun Khalil, who heads the Lebanese Federation of Heritage and Traditional Sports.
“It was both a playful pastime and a way to resolve disputes in villages without resorting to bloodshed,” he said.
The old sport has drawn in new fans in Lebanon.
Dozens gathered in Jounieh to watch men and women grapple for gold.
A single fight can last a few seconds or several gut-wrenching minutes, with at least two referees hunched over the table to spot fouls.
Pierre Harb, 31, stepped up to the elevated competition platform.
“Arm wrestling has been part of my life since I was a child,” said Harb, competing professionally for the first time.
Despite possessing bulging arms and facing a 14-year old opponent, luck was not on his side.
Harb’s rival — imposingly tall and bulky for his age — swiftly triumphed.
Competitors were seeking to secure their slots in the annual national final on September 9, which will crown three champions: one in the under 90 kilogram men’s category, one above that weight, and one woman.
Of the 300 participants in this summer’s nationwide tournament, one in six were women.
And it’s the first time women have competed at the national level.
In Jounieh, Amany Abi Khalil, 22, was determined to crush the misconception that physical strength is a purely male domain.
“I came here to show that women can take part in this sport without becoming less feminine,” said the theater undergraduate.
“Some were surprised by my decision, but my parents and my friends supported me,” she said.
A competition was also held for male and female members of the army and security forces.
Claudine Aoun, head of the National Commission for Lebanese Women, watched enthusiastically from a ringside sofa.
“Women taking part in this competition is a message” that they can operate in sectors previously associated with men, she said.
The winner of the women’s competition on the day, 16-year-old Teresa Bassil, agreed.
When she stepped up to the stage for the awards ceremony, she did so among a sea of male judges clad in red.
“Strength is not just a man’s thing. Women too can be strong,” the teenager said softly, dressed in a purple t-shirt with her hair tied back in a ponytail.


Marie Antoinette’s exquisite jewels go under the hammer

Updated 12 November 2018
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Marie Antoinette’s exquisite jewels go under the hammer

  • The treasures were secretly whisked out of Paris in 1791 as King Louis XVI, his queen and their children prepared to escape during the French Revolution

GENEVA: Marie Antoinette’s dazzling diamonds and pearls, unseen in public for two centuries, will go on sale in Geneva on Wednesday in what is being billed as one of the most important royal jewelry auctions in history.
The treasures were secretly whisked out of Paris in 1791 as King Louis XVI, his queen and their children prepared to escape during the French Revolution.
They are part of a major collection, held by the Italian royal House of Bourbon-Parma, that is being sold by Sotheby’s auction house.
Out of the more than 100 lots, 10 pieces belonged to the ill-fated Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France before the revolution.
She was guillotined in Paris in October 1793 at the age of 37.
“It is the sale of the 21st century. Because how do you top Marie Antoinette?” Andres White Correal, Sotheby’s senior director of jewelry, said last month.
The highlight is Marie Antoinette’s Pearl, a natural pearl and diamond pendant valued at $1-2 million.
A natural pearl and diamond necklace composed of three rows of more than 100 slightly graduated pearls is expected to fetch $200,000-300,000, as are a pair of pearl and diamond pendant earrings.
A monogrammed ring containing a lock of her hair is valued at $8,000-10,000.
A fine natural pearl and diamond necklace is meanwhile priced at $40,000-70,000, while a double ribbon bow diamond brooch is estimated at $50,000-80,000.
“It is one of the most important royal jewelry collections ever to appear on the market and each and every jewel is absolutely imbued with history,” said Daniela Mascetti, deputy chair of Sotheby’s jewelry Europe.
The jewels followed a winding path highlighting European power dynamics in the 18th and 19th centuries.
According to accounts written by the queen’s lady in waiting, Madame Campan, Marie Antoinette spent an entire evening in the Tuileries Palace wrapping all her diamonds, rubies and pearls in cotton and enclosing them in a wooden chest.
They were sent to Brussels, governed by her sister Archduchess Marie-Christine, before being sent on to the French queen’s native Austria, and to the safe-keeping of her nephew, the emperor.
In 1792, the royal family was imprisoned in Paris. The king and queen were executed the next year, and their 10-year-old son, Louis XVIII died in captivity.
Only their daughter, Marie Therese of France, survived. She was sent to Austria in 1796, where she was given her mother’s jewels.
She had no children herself, but passed on the jewels to her niece and adopted daughter, Louise of France, Duchess of Parma, who in turn left them to her son, Robert I (1848-1907), the last ruling Duke of Parma.
They have been privately owned by relatives ever since.
Wednesday’s Bourbon-Parma sale also contains jewelry belonging to Charles X, including a diamond tiara; jewels from empress Marie Therese of Austria — Marie Antoinette’s mother — and Austrian emperor Franz Joseph I, who died in 1916.
The fleur de lys tiara, made in 1912, contains diamonds from the collection of Charles X, Marie Antoinette’s brother-in-law, who died in 1836. It is estimated at $350,000-550,000.