The Epitome of Lebanese Love Songs

I have read somewhere that when we are happy we enjoy the music, but when we are sad we understand the lyrics. This more or less sums up my experience with Lebanese love song “Rah Halfak Bel Ghosn”.

Truth be told, I never even liked its melody as a child, deeming it a ”typical boring traditional music for grown-ups.” However, much later on, during my expat years, I started realizing that this classic, written by dialect poet Michel Trad, was nothing short of a gem among love songs.

It tells of a man sending a little bird as a messenger to his beloved who lives in a remote forest, to see whether she still loves him, and if not, to bring him back even the tiniest keepsake from under her hands or even feet.

Emotional value aside, the song is precious as it provides a vivid snapshot of the idyllic Lebanese lush nature of the time. The flawless vocal performance of megastar Wadih elSafi, the typical Lebanese melody, the simplicity of the lyrics and the platonic mood, are the magical ingredients that make it a timeless classic.

I admit I understood those lyrics in my forties last year, in an epiphany, and became smitten with them ever since. And what better way to share them with the world than translating them into the most international of all languages?

Ladies and gentlemen, my translation of Wadih Safi’s Rah Halfak bel Ghosn. Enjoy 😉

Swear to me little bird by the branches
by the leaves, the shades, the springs
by the One who streaked your wings with a quill of light
by the One who lets you sway to the blue of the breezes

that you would fly, little bird, to a cottage of broom
lost, roofed with flowers
floored with gray amber
and droplets of green dew,
amid shades and shadows

And when you see a grapevine canopy
with a door tucked underneath
and a pretty girl with a book in her hand…
greet that pretty girl for me!

If the winds abates
rub your wings against the ceiling, the walls
on scattered clothes
on the rugs, the shirts
on all that was torn apart
on the blue bench
on the inebriated moon, that reminds her of me

And if no remnants of our love are found
hush the creek, little bird, and leave
but fly down and bring me
from that faraway hill
from that faraway wood
some keepsake, some relic

from the scribble of her hands
from beneath her feet,
some beakfuls of dust, some beakfuls of dust…

From Michel Trad’s original text in Lebanese Arabic:

رح حلفك بالغصــن يا عصفور
بالورق بالفي بالنبعات
بالزيّح جناحك بريشة نور
بالمرجحك مع زرقة النسمات
بتطير يا عصفور
عكوخ من وزّال غويان سقفه زهور
مـــفــــروش بالعنبر
حب الندي الأخضر
دنيّ ظلال ظلال
دنيّ ظلال ظلال

تقشع عريشة وباب بفيتها مزوي
وحلوة بإيدها كتاب .. سلّم على الحلوة
وإن هديت رياحك بتمرمغ جناحك
عالسطح عالحيطان
عثياب مذرية… عالبسط عالقمصان
ع كل شي تخزق
عالــمقعد الأزرق
عالقمر الســــكران
البيذكرها فيي آه فيي
بيذكرها …فيي
وإن كان ما في شي
من حبنا باقي
بتسكّت الساقية يا طير وبتمشي
وبتغط تحمل لي يا من هاك التلة
يا من هداك الغاب شي ذكر شي قشة
ومن خرطشة ديها من تحت إجريها
شي نقدتين تراب ..
شي نقدتين تراب..

Translating Musical Notes: My Do-Re-Mi/C-D-E Downloadable Annotated Piano Keyboard Diagram

Are you a professional musician or a music student who is only familiar with either one of the musical note naming conventions and have a hard time memorizing/studying/remembering the other set of names?  

Look no further, for you can now download a piano keyboard diagram that I have compiled in pdf format, initially to cater for my own needs and that I have thought to share. 

The background is that following a thirty-three-year pause, I finally decided last year to resume the piano lessons that I had initiated in Beirut, at the tender age of 9. 

I have to admit it has been thrilling not only to get back on track with note-reading, playing new tunes and fixing whatever wrongs the long years of inactivity did to my hands and posture, but it was also a pure joy to rediscover, from an adult (and a language professional) point of view, the wonders of musical notes that constitute by all means a language in their own right.

As a globetrotter and a polyglot, it was inevitable for me to search for musical scores and partitions to play from other countries, namely the English-speaking ones, since these countries and their language are the most prolific in terms of music production and enjoy a huge footprint on the net, respectively. 

The major snag to me however, was the different names assigned to notes. Where I was used to Do Re Mi, there was C, D, E etc. And since those letter-names are not assigned according to an alphabetical order they could not be easily associated to their counterparts in the solfège nomenclature. Therefore, I found it imperative, in the initial stages at least, to draft a comparative list with those two sets of names to help me memorize them. 

Eventually, I had the idea of writing the double names on a piano keyboard diagram (cf featured picture here above), that can be easily downloaded, printed and shared. 

One might ask: how come notes are named differently in different countries?

To answer that, I will provide as follows a  brief historical overview on why notes are named differently in various countries.

Most countries in the world use the naming convention based on the solfège syllables that is, Do–Re–Mi–Fa–Sol–La–Si, including ItalySpainFranceRomania, most Latin American countries, GreeceBulgariaTurkeyRussia, and all the Arabic-speaking or Persian-speaking countries.

However, within the English-speaking and Dutch-speaking world, notes are typically represented by the first seven letters of the Latin alphabet (A, B, C, D, E, F and G).

This letter-name system is the work of 6th Century Roman Senator and Philosopher Boethius (Boezio in Italian). He used those Latin letters to signify the notes of the two-octave range people were using at the time, which looked like that:


Later on, with the expansion of the octave range, the number of used letters shrunk and their sequence changed, ending up with the modern format: C-D-E-F-G-A-B. 

Then almost 5 centuries later, an Italian monk of the Benedictine order by the name of Guido d’Arezzo proposed the Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Si configuration which became later the basis of the solfège system.

Guido d’Arezzo first came up with Ut–Re–Mi–Fa–Sol–La that he took from the initial syllables of each of the first six half-lines of the first stanza of the Gregorian hymn Ut queant laxis (Inno di San GIovanni in Italian, or Saint John’s Hymn) which looks as follows:


It has sometimes been suggested too that the solfège syllables were really derived from dāl, rā’, mīm, fā’, ṣād, lām, tā’ – the syllables of the Arabic solmization system درر مفصّلات Durar Mufaṣṣalāt (meaning “Separated Pearls”) during the Islamic influences in Medieval Europe. However, such claims remain unsubstantiated.

Back to the diagram , it is downloadable on the link below in pdf format and can be printed out and/or used on electronic devices according to your needs. 

Hope many of you would find it useful:


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Se amate i poeti, citate i traduttori.

Narragonia Express - Il blog di Milton Fernàndez

Se amate i poeti, citate i traduttori. Sono loro a rendere universale ciò che universale non è. Neruda, Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Prevèrt, Benedetti… non scrivevano in italiano. C’è qualcuno che si è preso la briga di tradurli per voi. Ha forse commesso dei tradimenti, si è concesso delle libertà, ha sbagliato (a sua insaputa). Per questo si firma in calce. E’ il suo modo di prendersi le proprie responsabilità.
Come sostiene Octavio Paz, “tutti i testi sono originali perché ogni traduzione è diversa. Ogni traduzione è, fino a un certo punto, un’invenzione, per cui costituisce un testo a sè”.

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Latin-Arabic Alphabetical Order Equivalence Chart


After years of being away due to motherhood-induced upheavals and globetrotting, I am finally back, more intent on sharing my translation-relevant insights, experiences and eventual tips.

Indeed, the other day as I was using an older version of MS Word, I realized that it only included in its bullet points numbering lists the conventional alphabetical order in Arabic (أ ب ث د …) which is not useful  because the order to use in such collation processes is the phoenician-inspired semitic Abjad configuration (that is آبجد هوز حطي كلمن سعفص قرشت ثخذ ضغظ).

I encountered many situations where such an order was not included in the MS Word or Openoffice version I happened to be using, or even in situations of interpretation, and had therefore to write down an improvised chart listing the Latin alphabet with its equivalent Abjad letters on post-it notes, that were later lost and had to be redone whenever the same situation reoccurred.

So I had the idea of making a downloadable spreadsheet of such a chart that can be saved either in its soft or printed format. And of course I thought to share it with any eventual colleague out there. So you only have to click on the link, and download it from the File Menu of Google docs or print it out directly.

Hope many will find this useful.

Lebanon’s Glory in the Heart of Rome

A linguist by profession, a Lebanese by birth and an expat by choice/destiny.  These are the factors that explain, I suppose, why I am an assiduous seeker of Lebanon’s subtle cultural fingerprints around the world… inside words.

Yes, words!

Words say it all you know! Etymology is the key to hidden valuable secrets enclosed within words.

Historical truths and glorious pasts lie under a thin layer of the dust of time, waiting to be revealed by a sharp eye and a keen sense of curiosity.

Questioning the names of places, of persons, of things, always reveals their origin and links them to dimensions unknown to us.

As far as Lebanon is concerned, everywhere I looked, when abroad, I almost always found some connection, some link, that referred to our Lebanese heritage.

In this very instance, I happened to be strolling in the narrow streets of Rome by night to burn some of the calories gulped in sometime before at a restaurant serving exquisite Roman cuisine in the Testaccio area.  As I crossed Via Portico d’Ottavia, I looked up inadvertently and something caught my eye. A word engraved on a small dome in the middle of the street. A word that said: “Libani”!

Libani in Latin could only mean one thing, one name, one place: LEBANON. My homeland.

I went closer and there it was:  a small cupola-roofed sanctuary with one sentence engraved on it: “GLORIA LIBANI DATA EST EL, DECORUM CARMELI ET SARON”.

Even though I have never studied Latin, my brain cells scurried to work out  connections between scattered pieces of knowledge stored in there for years… A mental-mnemonic process at the end of which I was finally able to utter the translation: The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and SharonIsaiah 35:2.

I knew it was a bible verse praising the beauty of Lebanon.

I knew that “Gloria Libani” is the title preceding the names of the Patriarchs of the Maronite Church (check the link).

But I did not know the reason it was there.

I took the pictures (figuring here above) and hurried back to my hotel room, turned on my laptop, activated the Wi-Fi connection and typed in some keywords on my Google browser. And there I found it. An article in Italian explaining it all.

That sanctuary was a temple dedicated to the Virgin Mary. According to the exact wording of the article it was “dedicated to the Lady of the Carmel, otherwise known as the Lady of Mount Lebanon”!

For the readers that are not well-versed in geopolitics, in modern times the Mount Carmel (Garden of God) and the Mount Lebanon are each located now on two hostile territories.

Strange how history changes transforming in the process the division of lands and ultimately ideas and perceptions.

The article also mentioned that this sanctuary known in Italian as Il Tempietto del Carmelo (The little temple of the Carmel) was built by a family of grocers in 1759 to shelter a picture of the Virgin Mary placed upon an altar.

Due to negligence and subsequent degradation, both the picture and the supporting altar were lost, but the structure remained.

Fortunately, in 2004 restoration works were initiated at the cost of 97.000 Euros, and finally the cupola and the engraved inscription crowning it were restored.

Being located at the entrance of Rome’s Ghetto, locals also regard it as a symbol of peace vis-à-vis the inhabitants. But that’s another issue.

In the period when I made this discovery, Lebanon’s name in the media was particularly associated with all negative things imaginable.

Finding its name unexpectedly, glowing by night in all its glory in the heart of Rome and on top of a Marian sanctuary, within a sentence paying homage to its biblical splendour, was not only refreshing but also a witness to its beautiful and spiritually rich past, that for sure will make its way back again to the collective consciousness of humanity, against all odds.


Lebanese Translators and Diglossia


Diglossia… A curious Greek-based term I came across a few years back , and which served as an eye-opener to the linguistic “situation” I have been unawarely facing since birth, practically.

A good definition is the following: “In linguistics, diglossia is a situation where, in a given society, there are two (often closely-related) languages, one of high prestige, which is generally used by the government and in formal texts, and one of low prestige, which is usually the spoken vernacular tongue. The high-prestige language tends to be the more formalised, and its forms and vocabulary often ‘filter down’ into the vernacular, though often in a changed form.”

And this what exactly applies to Lebanon and probably to Arab-speaking countries, where the written language differs in many respects with the one spoken.

The matter actually goes beyond the “level of speech” as in the mainstream European languages. There you might have “Argot” in the French language, or Slang in the case of English.

However, The problem with dialects of Arabic, is that they differ from the classical written Arabic, not only on the level of words origins and sentence structures, which is only used in written material and read on the broadcast news bulletins and other formal speeches, but they also differ in logic and structure. Here lies an unconscious problem for translators which reflects automatically in the work of many of them.

For instance, in Lebanese dialect the same word means foot and leg “Ejer” إجر (a deviation of

“Rejel” رجل in classical Arabic). In the latter the word for leg is “Saq” ساق.

In my work as a reviser of Arabic translations for a subtitling company, in 99% of the times I had translators writing “Rejel” instead of “Saq” obviously due to the confusion of the dialectal term in their head.

In order to make them aware of the nuance, I used to show them the monolingual Arabic dictionary’s entry of “Rejel” defining the foot as the body part extending from the ankle to the toes, while “Saq”, the leg, is the limb extending from the knee to the ankle.

I had also the same problem with the word “Left” designating the direction. The classical term in Arabic is “Yassar”. The dialectal commonly uses “Shmel” (a deviation of Shimal) that might means left, but is mainly used for designating the North. And here again, many translators would write “he went to “shimal” إتجه شمالاً which might imply to readers that “he went North” and not left يساراً.

Unfortunately, examples abound in that regard.

The crux of the problem lies in the fact that we automatically assume that “we speak Arabic” while in fact we speak and think in our local dialect, which is a tongue that developed in a path of its own, due to many pre-Arabic and post-Arabic linguistic and cultural influences (Syriac, Turkish, Persian, French but to name a few).

One of the possible solutions would consist in raising the awareness of the translators and language professionals to this matter and inviting them to read further and think in classical Arabic when writing it or translating it, and not confusing this mainly written language with their daily spoken dialect.