Old objects tell stories. For New York Times foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid, the colors and patterns of antique cemento tile spoke of a time of greater tolerance, a period of religious and cultural diversity in his ancestral home in southeastern Lebanon - part of the Levant. This region, also called the fertile crescent, a place that Muslims, Jews, and Christians of all brands call home, includes a group of countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean Sea stretching from Turkey to Egypt. In his memoir House of Stone, a collage of history, politics, and home renovation, Shadid describes the Levant of the past as:
…a way of thinking that bound Asia Minor to the Middle East and Egypt to Mesopotamia. It was in essence, an amalgamation of diversities where many mingled, a realm of intersections, a crossroads of language, culture, religions and traditions. p. 119
Saving the original tile in the home built by his grandparents kept a small part of this older Levant alive, said Shadid. It was “a stand against loss.” Shadid’s grandfather, Ismer Samara, his wife Bhajia, and their six children fled the shade of olive and lemon trees for Oklahoma in the wake of WWI when France and Britain were playing with maps, drawing like Harold and the Purple Crayon. The generals and politicians marveled at their charts and congratulated one another on their capacity to compromise. The people, who lived within the new lines on the paper wept for their children who now lived across closed borders, wailed at the violence of marauding gangs, and whispered to one another words they could not say out loud - we must leave.
Reusing materials like the cemento is good for the earth but, perhaps, more importantly, it is good for the soul. Cemento, said Shadid, “was not just a relic of its time; it was a tribute to the imaginations it nourished. That is why I wanted it in my home…” p. 119 Shadid, a two time Pulitzer Prize winning war reporter who had been shot in the shoulder on one occasion, and taken hostage in Libya on another, who died on the way back from clandestinely reporting in Syria, saw beauty and the promise of human ingenuity in the patterned tile carpets. Each square a piece of hope.