Scent of tradition lingers in Lebanon’s ‘village of roses’

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A villager harvests Damascena (Damask) roses that are used for essential oils, sweets and cosmetics, in the village of Qsarnaba on May 11, 2023. (AFP)
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Zahraa Sayed Ahmed harvests Damascena (Damask) roses to produce rose water and syrup, in the village of Qsarnaba on May 11, 2023. (AFP)
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A villager harvests Damascena (Damask) roses that are used for essential oils, sweets and cosmetics, in the village of Qsarnaba on May 11, 2023. (Joseph Eid / AFP)
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Damascena (Damask) rosebuds. (AFP)
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Updated 18 May 2023

Scent of tradition lingers in Lebanon’s ‘village of roses’

  • Oil derived from the famed Damask rose --- named after the ancient city of Damascus — is a staple of perfumers
  • The ancient Damask rose had been exported from Syria to Europe for centuries since the time of the Crusades

QSARNABA, Lebanon: On a gentle slope looking out over Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, villagers work their way across pink-dotted terraces, gathering perfumed Damask roses that are used for essential oils, sweets and cosmetics.

The rose harvest “gives you a bit of hope, it makes things beautiful, it calms you down — it gives you strength to carry on,” said Leila Al-Dirani, picking the flowers from her family’s land in the village of Qsarnaba.
A soft bag tied around her waist and her hands scratched from the thorns, the 64-year-old plucks the small, pink buds from their bushes as their rich and heady scent wafts across the hill.
The oil derived from the famed Damask rose --- named after the ancient city of Damascus located just across the mountain range separating Lebanon and Syria — is a staple of perfumers.
Experts swear by the flower’s therapeutic properties in fighting infection and as a relaxant, while rose water is used across the Middle East both as a refreshing drink, in sweets such as Turkish delight, to scent mosques and even to bestow luck at weddings.


After a morning collecting roses, the workers in Qsarnaba drop their fragrant bundles at a warehouse in the village where they are paid based on their harvest.
At the facility carpeted with pink petals, Zahraa Sayed Ahmed — whose first name means “flower” — buys the raw materials to produce her rose water, syrup, tea and jam.
Around four years ago, she set up a small workshop at her house, using a traditional metal still that “belonged to my grandfather,” said Sayed Ahmed, 37.

With a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of rose petals, she said she can make up to half a liter of rose water.

Zahraa Sayed Ahmed produces rose water from Damascena (Damask) roses, at her house in the village of Qsarnaba on May 11, 2023. (AFP)

She then also bottles and labels her modest production by hand, putting it on limited sale locally.
“The production of rose water is a part of our heritage,” said Sayed Ahmed. “In every home in Qsarnaba there is a still, even if it’s just a small one.”
The rose season only lasts a few weeks, but it is a busy time for Qsarnaba’s residents.
“This year is the first year that we didn’t bring workers to help us because the production is low and we couldn’t afford it,” said Hassan Al-Dirani, 25, who has been picking the flowers alongside his mother, Leila.

A woman serves a drink made of rose syrup at a house in Byblos on May 15, 2023. (AFP)

Since late 2019, Lebanon has been grappling with a devastating economic crisis that has seen the local currency collapse and pushed most of the population into poverty.
“The rose harvest and all other harvests have lost about 80 percent of their value... because of the economic crisis,” said local official Daher Al-Dirani, who hails from the extended family that is the biggest in Qsarnaba.
“But the roses help people put food on the table,” he added.

A worker sells traditional dessert Kunafa, at a shop in Byblos on May 16, 2023. (AFP)

Exported from Syria to Europe for centuries since the time of the Crusades, the ancient Damask rose is also cultivated in countries including France, Morocco, Iran and Turkiye.
“Our village produces the most roses out of any village in Lebanon” and more than half of the country’s rose water, Sayed Ahmed claimed proudly, as the captivating scent lingered in the air.
“Qsarnaba is the village of roses.”

Saudi Music Commission CEO sets sights on education sector at XP Music Futures

Updated 10 December 2023

Saudi Music Commission CEO sets sights on education sector at XP Music Futures

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Music Commission is aiming to see 1.3 million Saudi students enrolled in music classes at school, the CEO of the Music Commission Paul Pacifico said at an XP Music Futures panel in Riyadh tilted “Sound Governance: Crafting the Future of Music Policy.”

Pacifico said that 26,500 kindergarten teachers are being trained to teach music and “music is going into school as a compulsory subject” for kindergarten, elementary, and middle school students in the Kingdom. 

He added: “1.3 million Saudis will be doing music school for the first time. And we'll be developing that program up through middle school. It'll be elective in high school. We're working with the first four universities in the Kingdom to build lots of faculties and support music programs.” 

The panel discussion featured industry professionals Lutz Leichsenring, co-founder of Vibelab, and Mai Salama, founding partner of Creative Industry Summit. It was moderated by Jake Beaumont-Nesbitt, director of innovation and education at the International Music Managers Forum.

Pacifico says the Music Commission has three main objectives: Music policy, education, and the commercial sector.

“(Firstly) The development of copyrights, intellectual property, licensing, recreation, all the aspects you think of when you think of government. Secondary is education. So, we are responsible for taking the lead on the education strategy for the Kingdom … (for) the entire commercial sector. We're responsible for supporting the development of the live music sector, recording and publishing.” 

He told Arab News that the commission aims to support non-mainstream music genres through programs and festivals like the International Jazz Festival in Saudi Arabia.

“The thing is to not treat these genres in silos, to look at them as an intersecting creative community. How do we support the community and how do we let the grassroots tell us what music is needed? … it's about fostering creativity and enabling a young population,” he said.

Nicolas Cage shares career insights and teases ‘Dream Scenario’ at RSIFF

Updated 09 December 2023

Nicolas Cage shares career insights and teases ‘Dream Scenario’ at RSIFF

JEDDAH: During an “In Conversation” panel at Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival, Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage captivated the audience in an hour-long discussion on his notable performances.

Moderated by Lebanese presenter Raya Abirached, the event saw Cage start off by sharing the story of his name change from Nicolas Coppola to Nicolas Cage at the beginning of his career.

He recounted instances of on-set bullying during the filming of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” where his talent was called into doubt due to his relation to renowned filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.



Cage disclosed: “They would quote lines from ‘Apocalypse Now’ and change them to ‘I love the smell of Nicolas in the mornings’ instead of ‘napalm in the morning.’”

He acknowledged how directors and filmmakers might not want the name Coppola associated with their work, which led him to change his name. Cage explained: “I didn’t think any filmmaker in their own right would want the name Coppola above the title of their movie. So, I changed my name predominantly for business reasons.”

Reflecting on his role in the 1987 comedy film “Moonstruck” alongside Cher, Cage shared an amusing conversation in which he asked the singer why she wanted him in the movie. Cage recalled her response: “‘I saw you in ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’ and thought it was like a two-hour car accident, and I had to have you.’”



Cage evaluated his past works with enthusiasm, naming “Vampire’s Kiss,” “Leaving Las Vegas,” “Raising Arizona,” “Adaptation,” and the highly anticipated A24 production “Dream Scenario” as the five scripts he considers to be the pinnacle of his 45-year journey in the industry.

Providing a glimpse into his future endeavors, Cage unveiled details about his upcoming film “Dream Scenario,” where he will portray an ordinary man who mysteriously starts appearing in the dreams of others.

Cage also expressed his interest in exploring television and said: “I’m thinking about television. My son turned me on to ‘Breaking Bad,’ and I saw Bryan Cranston stare at a suitcase for one hour. I never get time to stare at a suitcase for an hour. I said, ‘Let’s do some TV.’”

He revealed his intention to transition to television while maintaining a selective approach to film projects, citing his desire to spend more time with his 15-month-old daughter as a motivating factor.

Cage also discussed the impact of winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Mike Figgis’ “Leaving Las Vegas” in 1995. He credited the award for providing him with creative freedom and the opportunity to pursue his artistic vision. Cage joked that the award gave him a “tenure” to make movies, allowing him to work with directors while still retaining creative control.

During the conversation, Cage revealed a fascinating tidbit about almost starring in a “Superman” film directed by Tim Burton.

However, this exciting project was ultimately shelved due to the apprehension of studio executives. Cage explained: “Tim was riding high after the success of ‘Mars Attacks!’ Initially, they considered Renny Harlin to direct, but I knew that playing such an iconic role required hitting the bull’s eye. We came incredibly close, but the studio made the decision to cancel the entire production. I believe they were concerned about the potential cost and whether they would recoup their investment.”

Egyptian actress Amira Adeeb nabs Hollywood breakout role in Jeffrey Elmont’s ‘No Nation’

Updated 09 December 2023

Egyptian actress Amira Adeeb nabs Hollywood breakout role in Jeffrey Elmont’s ‘No Nation’

DUBAI: Egyptian actress Amira Adeeb announced this week that she is set to star in the upcoming Hollywood film “No Nation,” directed by Jeffrey Elmont. 

The actress, who has starred in Egyptian TV hits such as “Naql Aam” and “Meet Gal?!,” took to Instagram to share the news with her followers. 



A post shared by Amira Adeeb (@amiraadeebb)


“I’ve been sitting on this for six months and not a single person had a clue, not even my parents. I think I’m more proud of my big mouth for keeping this a secret than anything,” she wrote to her 1 million Instagram followers. 

“So much to say and so many feelings to be felt but I’ll wait a bit and more details to come,” she teased.  



A post shared by Amira Adeeb (@amiraadeebb)


The actress also thanked Elmont for believing in her and for “casting an Arab girl in a non-Arab-cliché role.” She added: “Working with you has been a blessing.” 

Model Nora Attal walks Chanel’s Manchester show

Updated 09 December 2023

Model Nora Attal walks Chanel’s Manchester show

DUBAI: Scintillating colors and celebrity flair lit up a gloomy Manchester on Thursday as the British city — famous for its past textile industry — flaunted the latest fashion in a prestigious Chanel show, which British Moroccan model Nora Attal walked.

Lashed by rain and plunged into winter darkness, the city’s gritty industrial heritage was not an obvious choice as the setting for the glitz and glamour of the French luxury group’s Metiers d’Art event.

The blazer was cropped and featured a flower on her chest. (Chanel)

But the show captivated as models strutted down the catwalk sporting dazzling bermuda shorts, mini-skirts and eye-catching outfits under a temporary covering in a city center street.

Attal, 24, graced the runway in a pink tweed skirt suit — a quintessential British classic —with gold buttons. The blazer was cropped and featured a flower on her chest. She wore a gold chain belt on her waist, matching bracelets and black ballerinas to complete the look.


A post shared by CHANEL (@chanelofficial)


Actor Hugh Grant, director Sofia Coppola, local football stars Ruben Dias and Luke Shaw, as well as brand ambassadors Charlotte Casiraghi and Kristen Stewart, were among the celebrities in attendance.

“I loved the rock attitudes, the 60s looks,” British actor Jenna Coleman told AFP.


A post shared by CHANEL (@chanelofficial)


The northern English city was a hub of the 19th century industrial revolution, processing half of the world’s cotton in 1860.

Chanel’s creative director Virginie Viard said Manchester was the starting point for a musical culture that changed the world, inspiring her to bring the show there for its pioneering and creative spirit.

Attal, who has walked the runway for major fashion houses including Tom Ford, Tory Burch, Tiffany & Co., Fendi, Burberry and Valentino, is a Chanel fixture and has walked the runway for the storied brand a number of times over the years.


A post shared by CHANEL (@chanelofficial)

She hit the runway for Chanel in October 2022 at Paris Fashion Week, where she showed off a number of looks as part of the label’s Spring-Summer 2023 showcase. The ensembles were part of a 71-piece collection designed by the fashion house’s creative director, Virginie Viard.

In June this year, she took part in a campaign for Chanel Beauty, in which she posed wearing a pair of black sunglasses. The model was also seen holding a pocket-sized capsule of Chanel hand cream and lying in long green grass with her oversized branded shades.

Industry leaders talk building grassroots culture at Riyadh’s XP Music Futures

Updated 09 December 2023

Industry leaders talk building grassroots culture at Riyadh’s XP Music Futures

RIYADH: Investments, events and community interaction are key to growing Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning music industry, a panel at the XP Music Futures conference was told on Thursday.

Music industry leaders and government officials took part in the panel at the event’s third edition, which is being held from Dec. 7-9 ahead of MDLBEAST’s Soundstorm festival.

“What I’ve noticed in Saudi Arabia from my visits is that there are entities who are taking the initiative to set up the grassroots culture … their scope is to teach people how to make music,” said Ramy Al-Kadhi, head of commercial at streaming platform Anghami.

Panelists said that investment is musical education is critical, with the Saudi Ministry of Culture establishing the Music Commission to direct funding into the Kingdom’s homegrown industry.

Creativity hubs for up-and-coming musicians, such as JAX, Riyadh’s art district that hosts spaces for music, fashion and art events, are also working to promote Saudi artists.

“We’re really proud of our community and we’re trying to always bolster their creativity, to keep them all alive, to have them all together in this space. It’s the community — it’s not anyone else but the community,” said Omnia Abdulqadir, communications and marketing director of JAX District.

Events like XP offer creatives a chance to learn and share their experiences, pushing the grassroots scene forward, the panelists said.

Other important steps include using existing cultural spaces, like museums, to initiate collaborations with the music industry, said Dr. Basma Al-Buhaira, managing director of the Center for Fourth Industrial Revolution in KSA.

Inclusivity must also be promoted for people with disabilities, as well as older artists, panelists said.

Other speakers, including CECO founder and creative consultant Dalia Fatania, and The Warehouse founder Mohammad Al-Attas, highlighted the power of technology to bolster musical talent.

The Warehouse also hosts open mic nights and jam sessions to encourage a culture of creativity.

Monetization of work is important for budding artists, the panelists said, encouraging young Saudis in the industry to work with brands, take on educational roles, sell merchandise and collectibles, and collaborate with other industries.