Visit to Cecil Hourani in Marjayoun

By: Suzanne Marea Packer (New Zealand-Australian writer)

Translated by Elie Nadaf

Nobody would place the age of nearly one hundred years on the shoulders of Mr Cecil Hourani. He is as sharp as a tack with a memory so deep and rich that I felt truly humbled in his presence.

We sat in his home in Marjayoun, the homestead of his grandmother. Marjayoun, a major town in South Lebanon, has the widest, manicured boulevard and the cleanest streets in Lebanon. The home of Cecil’s ancestors is approaching 120 years old and still boasts many of the original features including high, varnished wooden ceilings and pieces of antique furniture and objects abound.

Outside is a magnificent terraced garden that shows off Pine and Mulberry trees, lavender bushes and giant daisies are everywhere with a vegetable garden at the bottom terrace. One of Cecil’s passions is to work in the garden when in Lebanon.

Cecil graduated in 1939 but alas World War 2 arrived, his studies were interrupted and consequently his life has taken him down many different pathways. Apart from a book of memoirs – An Unfinished Odyssey published in Beirut- he has written a book called JORDAN-THE LAND THE TABLE- which describes the cuisine of that country as a combination between the meat and the milk of the Beduins with the cereals and vegetables of the villagers.  Palestinians and Circassians from the Caucasus have also contributed their cuisine. So I am left wondering about the way the western world has become full of allergies and is heading to gluten free when the combined flours of today are used to try and rectify this problem and yet are the flours used thousands of years ago.

When in London, Cecil spends his time between concerts, reading and visiting antique shops. His passion is classical music.

I was proud to know Cecil visited New Zealand to see his grandson Skandar Keynes     the actor who played the role of Edmond in the movie The Chronicles of Narnia. He expressed his delight at having visited and witnessed the geographical beauty of New Zealand.

Many years ago Cecil also owned a cheese factory in France and has one place left in the world that he would love to visit and that is Uzbekistan, Central Asia.

It was a very proud day for me to spend a day with a very proud son of Marjayoun, who also spoke of the business that brought wealth to his family and his village. The Mulberry trees produced an abundance of silk from the silkworms that spun in the trees in his grandmother’s orchard. Sadly, this industry has almost vanished in Lebanon as it went to other shores, such as India and China.

At this moment Cecil is busy writing a biography on the life of his father, Mr Fadlo Hourani – a project that will keep him busy for a while.

We departed with my thoughts of this very demure and slight of stature gentleman who imparted so much knowledge that will enrich me forever.

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