Middle East: Israel


Our next country is the country of Israel.  Israel is on a narrow stretch of land on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Israel is unique because, although it is surrounded by Arab countries like Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt, it is a Jewish homeland.

Dome of the Rock

The land of Israel is important to the history of Jews, Arabs, and Christians, and the religions of Judaism, Muslim, and Christianity. Israel’s history is one of success in many areas of life — from its culture to its economy.  Israeli leaders seek to find ways to end the ongoing fighting between Israel and the Arab countries in the region.  Although a permanent peace agreement has not been reached, the Israelis want to continue to work toward one.  They know that peace is important to the nation’s future.

Historical Facts:

ancient ruins

To understand Israel today, it is important to know its history.  Jews first lived in the region during Biblical times.  But through the years, as various foreign conquerors invaded the area, large numbers of Jews were forced to leave.  By the late 1800s, most of the people living in the area, which was called Palestine, were Arab.


Meanwhile, in Europe a Zionist movement toward establishing the land of Israel as a Jewish homeland had begun to grow.  The goal behind this movement was to create a place where Jews would always be welcomed and protected, especially after World War II and the terrible things that happened to Jews in Nazi concentration camps in Europe. But as large numbers of Jews arrived in Palestine, Arabs began to resent them. Tensions ran high. In November 1947, the United Nations tried to ease the tensions.  It called for a division of the land into separate Jewish and Arab nations.  In May 1948, the independent country of Israel was officially born.

Arabs in Israel

However, the Arabs refused to accept the Jewish homeland.  Within 24 hours the united armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq attacked the new nation.  But Israel survived.  By 1949, it had defeated the Arab forces and added some of the land that had been set aside for a new Arab state to its own boundaries. About 150,000 Arabs were already living in the newly acquired territory.  They were angry that a separate place for Palestinian Arabs had not been created.  Now they had to adjust to being a minority in a Jewish homeland.  However, the Israelis insisted that they had to hold on to the seized area to defend against future Arab attacks.

six-day war

A 1948-49 struggle known as the War for Independence began a series of conflicts that continued through the years.  Although many thought Israel would never survive an ongoing Arab attack, it did. And in the Six-Day War of June 1967, Israel seized additional Arab territories.  They included the Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, and the West Bank. Israel now controlled an area where more than one million Arab Palestinians already lived. As a result, the bitter feelings increased.

peace protester

Later, peace agreements required Israeli troops eventually to begin leaving the controlled regions.  Still, not everyone was pleased with this requirement.  Some Israelis insisted that they should not have to return territory that was important for Israel’s defense. Peace efforts were also made more difficult by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).  The PLO consists of a number of united Palestinian Arab groups who want to create a separate Palestine.  The PLO and other similar groups launched terrorist attacks mostly against Israeli civilian, or non-military, targets.  In return, Israel struck PLO-held areas in surrounding Arab nations.  As a result, the peace process has been put on hold many times.  And Israel must constantly be ready for more military action.


cliffs in Israel

Israel is a small country – not quite 11,000 square miles, about the size of Hawaii.  Its landscape is quite varied.  Within its borders are mountains, deserts, seacoasts, and valleys.  Its western border is on the Mediterranean Sea, but it also has the Negev Desert, which is its driest region and has nothing but sand! Israel is also varied in its culture. As a country, it has an unusual blend of ancient places and beliefs, as well as modern things and people.  Historical and archaeological sites exist near hip, scenic beaches and busy, noisy cities.  The Western Wall, once part of the Jewish temple and one of Judaism’s holiest sites, is one of the many ancient religious places in Israel.


Israel’s gardens

Israel is not rich in natural resources, such as coal, water, and natural gas.  But many people there live comfortably.  This is partly because a large number of its early inhabitants had valuable job skills that helped get the country started.  The Israelis also wisely used whatever was available to them.  They irrigated dry and desert lands for farming.  They drained swamps when the land was needed for crops.  Israel has also been fortunate to receive money and supplies from the United States and other countries.

Israel’s exports

Today, Israeli factories manufacture paper, plastics, scientific instruments, chemical products, packaged foods, clothing, and other items.  Its farms produce fruits, vegetables, poultry, eggs, and grains.  Underwater mining operations in the Dead Sea have yielded potash, salt, bromine, and magnesium.  Copper, clay, and gypsum are also mined in the desert.

tourism brochure

Israel’s economy depends heavily on tourism.  Visitors enjoy the country’s warm dry summers, which last from April to October.  Winters in Israel are cool, but mild.  Since the area is rich in Biblical history, religious journeys to the region are popular, especially around major religious holidays such as Christmas, Passover, and Easter.


Mediterranean Jewish food

In recent years, many fine restaurants have opened in Israel, to the delight of both residents and tourists.  Like its people, Israel’s food is quite varied.  Menus often reflect the different backgrounds of those living there. Traditional Middle Eastern foods such as falafel (fried chickpea patties), shawarma (roasted lamb slices), and borekas (cheese- or potato-filled dough) are common.


But European Jewish dishes including chicken soup and gefilte fish are also readily available. (Gefilte fish is ground fish that is formed into balls or patties and cooked in fish broth or baked in tomato sauce.)


Jewish young people

Israel has a population of about six million people.  Although they come from various parts of the world, most of its residents are Jewish.  Recently, thousands of Jews from both the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia have settled in Israel.  With people from so many different places, it’s easy to see racial, ethnic, and cultural differences among Israeli Jews.  Yet as Jews, they have a common religious bond. Other people living in Israel include Muslims, Druze, and Christians.

Palestinians protesting

There are many Palestinians who remained after their territory became part of Israel.  Arabs in Israel do not always get along well with the Jewish majority.  The Palestinians often have complained of inferior schools, housing, and job choices.  Tensions between the two groups have been worsened at times when Palestinians have openly sided with anti-Israeli groups.


new housing

Most people in Israel live in the northern or central part of the nation.  Most of them live in apartment buildings in cities.  Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, is its largest city.  It is a holy place for Jews, as well as for Christians and Muslims.  Tel Aviv, on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, is the country’s second-largest city.


Only a small portion of the people live in the countryside. Some people live in a collective community known as a kibbutz.  Kibbutz members work, but they don’t receive pay.  Instead, they are given food, housing, child care, medical services, and other necessities.  In a kibbutz, everyone shares in the work, property, and profits. Originally most kibbutzim were farming communities.  But today many develop and run high-tech factories that produce a variety of products for sale to other countries.



Hebrew is Israel’s official language.  English is also spoken and is taught in schools.  All Israeli street and road signs are written in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.


Yeshiva – high school

No matter where they live, Israelis value education.  There is free public education for everyone through grade twelve.  There are also a number of colleges and universities for students who wish to continue their education.  These include Haifa University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University (the largest Jewish university in the world), and the Technion Israel Institute of Technology.



Like the United States, Israel is a democracy.  Democracy is a way of governing in which the people choose their leaders in elections.  Israel’s lawmaking body is a parliament known as the Knesset.  The country does not have a written constitution.  It follows a set of basic laws established by the Knesset. Although Israel has a president, that person does not have a great deal of power.  Instead, the Israeli prime minister acts very much as the U.S. president does. Elections for the prime minister and Knesset are usually held at the same time.


Just as in the United States, Israelis can vote when they turn eighteen years old. Israeli men and almost all Israeli women who are not married must enter the military when they turn eighteen.  Men must serve for three years.  Women are required to serve for two years.



Israel is rich in art and culture.  It has many museums and theaters.  Israeli writers, painter, and sculptors have become well-known throughout the world.  Award-winning Israeli authors include Chaim Bialik, Amos Oz, and A.B. Yehoshua. At times, Jewish themes are evident in the work of Israeli artists.  Some of the most interesting works capture Israel’s struggle for survival. Music is another important part of Israel’s heritage.  The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is respected throughout the world.  There are many less well-known orchestras in Israel as well.

Vocabulary Words (Hebrew):


  • Hello — Shalom
  • Thank you — Toda raba
  • Good-bye — Shalom
  • Peace — Shalom
  • Please — Be’vakasha
  • Music — Mussica (moozeeca)

About the Music:

Jewish dance

Since Biblical times, music and dance have held an important role in many Jews’ lives. Jewish music (and dances) have both been influenced by surrounding Gentile traditions and Jewish sources preserved over time.

The history of religious Jewish music spans history from Biblical to Modern times. The earliest religious music was based on the music used in the Temple in Jerusalem. According to the Mishnah, the regular Temple orchestra consisted of twelve instruments, and a choir of twelve male singers. A number of additional instruments were known to the ancient Israelites, though they were not included in the regular orchestra of the Temple, such as the uggav. Though scholars do not completely agree what the uggav looked like, some think it was the panflute or panpipes.

Much of Orthodox Jewish music is performed by men due to religious restrictions on men hearing women sing. In the 1980s, Tofa’ah was the first female Orthodox band and has paved the road for Orthodox Jewish female performers.

Modern Israeli music is heavily influenced by Jewish immigrants from more than 120 countries around the world, who have brought their own musical traditions, making Israel a global melting pot. The Israeli music is very versatile and combines elements of both western and eastern music. It has a wide variety of influences from the European Jews and more modern Hassidic songs, Asian and Arab pop, especially Yemenite singers, and hip hop or heavy metal.

From the earliest days of Zionist settlement, Jewish immigrants wrote popular folk music. At first, songs were based on borrowed melodies from German, Russian, or traditional Jewish folk music with new lyrics written in Hebrew. Starting in the early 1920s, however, Jewish settlers made a conscious effort to create a new Hebrew style of music, a style that would tie them to their earliest Hebrew origins and that would differentiate them from the style of the Jewish people of Eastern Europe, whom they viewed as weak. This new style borrowed elements from Arabic styles. “The huge change in our lives demands new modes of expression”, wrote composer and music critic Menashe Ravina in 1943. “… and, just as in our language we returned to our historical past, so has our ear turned to the music of the east … as an expression of our innermost feelings.”

Young people played a major role in musical development as Israel became a country in the late 1940s, and in making new popular Jewish songs. The government saw music as a way of establishing a new national identity and teaching Hebrew to new immigrants. The national labor organization set up a music publishing house that printed songbooks and encouraged public sing-alongs. This tradition of public sing-alongs continues to the present day, and is a characteristic of modern Israeli culture.

About the Artists:

Moses and the burning bush

The Burning Bush takes its inspiration from a wide variety of music from the old Jewish world, embracing both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi cultures. Folk songs in Yiddish from Poland, Russia and Ukraine, instrumental dances of the East European Klezmer bands, and mystical dances of the ultra-orthodox Hasidim, mix with the great tradition of Sephardi song from the exiled Spanish communities of Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and Morocco. They also feature songs from the Jewish communities of the Yemen and Iraq, sung in Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic. Much of this music is preserved in the oral tradition, reflecting the musical language of the countries where Jewish communities settled over the centuries. Ballads, folk songs and romances, some dating back to Medieval Spain, co- exist with melodies of Greek or Turkish origin from the late Ottoman Empire. Yiddish songs and Klezmer melodies show the influence of early jazz with the immigration to the New World at the turn of this century. Many songs were sung in the home from mother to child; others were written for the ghetto theatres; some reach right out to us like the lullaby ‘S’dremlyn feygl’ from the Vilna ghetto; all portray the universal themes of love, sorrow, devotion and the vicissitudes of everyday life. The Burning Bush’s interpretations reflect the local character of the music through the use of traditional instruments and styles of performance. For the music of the Ashkenazi world clarinet, accordion, violins, cymbalom and bass predominate; for the Middle Eastern aspect of the Sephardi repertoire the group use less familiar traditional instruments like the oud, rebec, riq and the goblet-shaped drum, the darabukka. Listen to the song and look at the lyrics.  Tell in the comment box what you think about the song — have you heard something like it before? What instruments did you hear? What did the music make you think of? Would you listen to it again?  Remember, the comment is worth 5 of your 25 points!!!

Rad Halaila

Write two paragraphs in reaction to the music, the information about Israel, and the pictures in the post — one paragraph for the reading and one for the music.  Tell about any interesting things you learned and what you think about Israel as a place and a culture.  As always, you can earn up to five bonus points for defining words you don’t know and using them in a sentence. This assignment is due Tuesday, June 5.  This is the last day of school, so make sure you get your homework in!

Wailing Wall — the last part of the old temple from 2000 years ago


Middle East: Iraq

land between two rivers

Our next country is the country of Iraq.  Iraq covers an area once known as Mesopotamia, or “the land between the rivers”.  Its two great rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, supplied water for some of the world’s first civilizations.  Where they meet, they form a new river called the Shatt al-Arab.  For centuries, people living near the two great rivers built houses out of reeds.  These rivers continue to make life possible in a region that has undergone centuries of change and is still changing today.

Iraq is located in Southwest Asia in a region known as the Middle East.  The country is about the size of California.  It shares borders with six nations: Syria, Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.  Iraq’s capital is Baghdad.

camel caravan

Iraq’s history has been shaped by its geography.  Its famous river valley provided fertile farmland in the midst of great deserts.  Its location, along the camel paths linking Asia and Europe, made it a key center for trade and culture.  Up until the 1950s, camel caravans were used to cross Iraq’s large desert (about 40% of the country is desert).  Today, trucks are more common.  Now the country sits on what is believed to be one of the largest oil supplies in the world.

talking with soldier

Iraq’s location has also contributed to its long history of war.  Ancient conquerors came from all sides to claim the rich land between the rivers.  More recently, wars with neighboring countries expanded to involve distant nations, like the US.  Today, Iraqis struggle to find peace and make the most of their rich resources.



Almost one-third of Iraq is made up of flat desert plains.  Most Iraqis live close to the rivers in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley.  The two rivers merge in southern Iraq.  Flooding in this area creates marshes in which date palms thrive.  These wetlands are also havens for many types of birds.  Iraq is an important rest stop for birds migrating between Asia and Europe. Greater flamingos and their young feed in the salty lakes and marshlands of southern Iraq.

dry wadi

Iraq’s desert is home to nomads, known as Bedouins, who are animal herders.  In the mountains of Iraq, farmers may live in small villages where the houses are made from dried mud.  Dry riverbeds run through parts of the desert.  These are called wadis.  During the rare times it rains in the desert, wadis can suddenly flood.  Northern Iraq has rolling plains, snowy mountains, and Iraq’s only forests.  In winter, the plains get enough rainfall for crops and wild plants to grow.



Iraq has wild animals, such as camels and jackals, that can survive in the desert.  Gazelles, foxes, and wild pigs live on the plains or in the forests.  Ducks, herons, and many other birds are at home on the marshes.  At one time lions and a kind of antelope called an oryx were common in Iraq.  Now they are extinct there.  Arabian horses originally came from Iraq and other areas of the Middle East.  Today this fast, beautiful breed can be found around the world.


Sumerians in a chariot

In about 3500 B.C., a people known as the Sumerians lived in Mesopotamia.  They created the world’s first civilization.  They built the first cities, invented wheeled vehicles, and developed the first known writing system.  Since then, many other peoples have invaded and controlled the land that is now called Iraq.


Early Mesopotamian cities were built around temples.  These temples sat atop towers called ziggurats.  People believed that ziggurats connected heaven and earth.  Priests used the temples to perform sacrifices to the gods and to read the stars.  There are about 25 known ziggurats in Mesopotamia.  It took millions of bricks to build a ziggurat.  There were up to seven levels, and some towers rose 300 feet high!  Priests reached the temple by means of a spiral staircase or ramp on the outside.  There were living quarters on the temple grounds for priests and servants.

Hammurabi dictating laws

In 2334 B. C., a king named Sargon established the world’s first empire in Mesopotamia.  A Mesopotamian king named Hammurabi created the world’s first written sets of laws.  In about 1750 B.C., the laws were carved into stone slabs that were decorated with pictures and carvings.  Persians from the east invaded the area in 539 B.C.  They came from the land that is now Iran.  Two hundred years later (339 B.C.), the Greeks defeated the Persians.  Alexander the Great, the Greek king, planned to make the great city-state of Babylon the “capital of the world”.  But after his death, rival groups fought for control of the land and Babylon was destroyed.

gold treasure of Ur

In 622 A.D., a powerful new force arose in the region.  Armies from the Arabian Peninsula swept across the Middle East in search of a new religion called Islam.  In 762, Baghdad became the capital of a vast Islamic empire.  The city was built in a perfect circle on Babylonian ruins.  Treasures were found in the ruins of the ancient city of Ur — gold, jewels, and other precious things in the tombs near the new city of Baghdad.  Arabic became Iraq’s main language and Islam its main religion.  Many mosques, Islamic churches, were built, featuring domes, colorful tiles, and towers called minarets.

Modern Days:

British officer and King Faysal

In the 1530s, Baghdad was seized by the Ottoman Empire, led by Suleyman the Magnificent.  The Ottomans came from what is now Turkey.  They ruled until the end of World War I (1918).  After the war, Great Britain took over and created a new country from three Ottoman territories: Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul.  The British chose a king to rule Iraq.  His name was King Faysal.

Saddam Hussein

In 1958, army officers overthrew the third and last Iraqi King.  The officers struggled for power.  In 1979, an officer named Saddam Hussein emerged victorious.  H became the first president of Iraq. Hussein ruled as a dictator.  in 1980, he started a bloody and costly eight-year war with a neighboring country, Iran.  Two years after the war ended, Hussein invaded Kuwait.  In 1991, a group of nations led by the United States entered the war and forced the Iraqis out of Kuwait.

war in Iraq

The agreement that ended the war allowed the United Nations to check for illegal weapons of mass destruction.  But Saddam Hussein’s government repeatedly tried to keep out the weapons inspectors.  In 2003, the United States, Great Britain, and other allies invaded Iraq.  Their goals were to remove Hussein from power and destroy illegal weapons.  Officially, the war was over in weeks.  However, the fighting continued for years.  Hussein was captured and later executed.  No weapons of mass destruction were ever found.


After the fall of Saddam Hussein, the task of setting Iraq on a stable course was difficult.  The economy was in ruins.  There was a lot of violence between different ethnic and religious groups.  In 2011, high levels of U.S. troops were still in the country.

Mother of Inventions:

Mesopotamian school

Iraq was the birthplace of some of the world’s most important inventions.  The ancient Mesopotamians gave us the 60-second minute and the 60-minute hour. They developed the first accurate calendar, the first maps, and the first schools.  The Mesopotamians created the signs of the zodiac by grouping stars into 12 sections.

cuneiform tablet

The oldest known writing system developed in Mesopotamia around 3200 B.C.  It is called cuneiform (KYOO-nee-uh-form).  This script used about 600 signs instead of an alphabet.  Each sign stood for a word or a syllable.  Signs were written by pressing a reed into soft clay tablets.  Writing was first used to keep track of goods sold or stored.  A tally of sheep, or bags of wheat, for example, could be made on a tablet.


By about 2000 B.C., writing was also used for stories and poems.  The legend of Gilgamesh, the world’s first written story, was engraved on several stone tablets.  It tells the tale of a Sumerian who was part god and part human.

hanging gardens

Iraq is known for its magnificent architecture.  According to legend, Mesopotamia was home to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, built by King Nebuchadnezzar.  These were lush gardens built high off the ground.  They were considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (the lighthouse in Alexandria, Egypt, was another).  Many beautiful mosques were also built during the Golden Age of the Arab Empire (about 750-945 A.D.)

Scheherazade telling the king a story

During this Golden Age, Arab scholars discovered the written works of ancient Greek scientists and philosophers.  It had been thought that these works were lost.  However, Arabic translations of them had been preserved.  Scholars in Baghdad translated the books into Latin, the scholarly language of Europe.  These translations proved important to future philosophers and scientists.  The most famous literature to come from the Arab world was the Thousand and One Nights.  It is a collection of 1001 stories, within a larger story about a king who married a wife every day and beheaded her the next morning, until a wise girl named Scheherazade captured his interest by telling a story but not finishing it, so the king kept her alive to hear the end.  By the time she had told all 1001 stories, he was in love with her and could not kill her.  The most famous stories from this collection are Aladdin and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.


Kurdish nomad with her horse

While the population of Iraq is largely Arab and Muslim, there are different ethnic and religious groups.  Some of Iraq’s earliest records describe a mountain people, thought to be the Kurds.  The Kurds live in the northeast, in the mountainous areas near Iraq’s borders with Turkey, Iran, and Syria.  Many herd sheep or cattle for a living.  They form the second-largest ethnic minority in the country.  Iraq has been a home to many Christians and Jews.  Muslims are divided into two major groups — Shiite (SHEE-ite) and Sunni (SOO-nee).  These two groups have had periods of conflict in the Middle East.

Kurdish refugees from Iraq

Kurds have lived in the regions of Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey since about 2400 B.C.  Most Kurds are Sunni Muslims.  After World War I, world leaders promised the Kurds a homeland but gave that land to Iraq and other nations instead.  Many Kurds continue to fight for independence.  In the 1970s, Saddam Hussein’s government tried to stop the Kurdish independence movement.  Many thousands of Kurds were killed.  International agencies came to the aid of Kurds fleeing Hussein’s forces.  Today, Iraq’s Kurds have regained some of their rights.


Islam is the national religion of Iraq.  The faith was founded by the prophet Muhammad in 622.  All Muslims believe in one God, called Allah.  Their holy book is called the Qur’an.  When Muhammad died, the Sunni Muslims won the battle to lead Islam.  Many Shiites were then shut out from positions of power.  About 90% of Muslims in the world are Sunni, but in Iraq they are in the minority.  Today, historical conflicts between Iraq’s Shiites and Sunnis, and its Arabs and Kurds, are some of the obstacles to a peaceful, stable Iraq.

Iraqi family in the park

Everyday life in Iraq centers on the family.  The oldest male is the head of the household.  He controls the family’s property.  He makes decisions about the children’s education and their future careers.  He may even decide whom his children will marry.  It is not unusual for parents, grown children and their families, and other relatives to live together under the same roof.  This is particularly true in Iraq today, because of the war and resulting poverty.  Houses in poorer parts of Baghdad have no electricity.  In summer, families spend time in their courtyards where it is cooler.


street in Iraq

Iraq’s economy was once based on agriculture, although less than 15% of Iraq’s land is suitable for farming.  Now, most Iraqis live and work in cities.  Outdoor markets are common in Iraq.  There are stalls selling food and traditional crafts, such as leatherworking, metalworking, weaving, and dyes and spices.  Exposure to modern life has broken down some traditions.  Iraqi life has been further changed by the violence and economic stress caused by decades of war.  Yet many Iraqis manage to maintain their daily routines and traditions.

Iraqi school

More than 20 years of war and economic chaos have taken a toll on Iraqi society.  Many Iraqis struggle to make a living and survive.  Sometimes children drop out of school to help their families.  Up until the 1990s, Iraq was known for its excellent educational system (about 70% of adults can read and write).  However, after the war years, there are signs that conditions are improving.  More children are staying in school.  In 2007, more than half of all teenagers attended high school.  Perhaps this generation of children can grow up to lead a stable, unified nation.


family eating Suhoor together

Iraqi hospitality is legendary.  Even when food is scarce, an Iraqi host will feed a guest.  Popular meals include stuffed eggplants or peppers and meat and vegetable skewers called kebabs.  Dishes made with chickpeas or lentils are typical.  Fruits and pastries filled with almonds or dates are common desserts.  Iraqi families share special meals together, like the meal eaten at dawn during the holy month of Ramadan (around September), called Suhoor.


Iraq’s team at the winning game

Soccer, or football as they call it, is Iraq’s most popular sport.  Under the rule of Saddam Hussein, members of the Iraqi national football (soccer) team were often punished and tortured when they lost matches.  In 1996, Iraq was ranked 139th in the world.  After 2003, the Iraq team had to play home matches in other countries because of threats by terrorists.  The team has improved tremendously since Saddam Hussein’s death.  In 2007, Iraq won the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup.


mother and daughter in headscarves

Both men and women dress modestly.  Men typically wear a long-sleeved robe called a thawb, or long-sleeved shirts and long pants.  Some women wear an Islamic style of dress, called a burkha: long black robes with scarves to cover their hair and face (except for the eyes).  Other women choose to wear modest Western-style clothes (like we do).  In Iraq, only children or athletes appear in public in shorts or short-sleeved shirts.  Also, Iraqi men and women traditionally do not display affection in public, except to children; no hugs, kisses, or even holding hands.

Vocabulary Words (Arabic):


  • Hello — Shakumaku (like saying ‘hey’ to your friend); Marhaban or Elu (just hello)
  • Thank you — Shokran
  • Good-bye — Ma’as salaama or Illa lika
  • Peace — Salaam
  • Please — Balla
  • Music — Musiqa

About the Music

celebration in Iraq

Modern Iraqi music comes from three cultures — Arab, Persian, and Turkish.  Maqamat is one popular form of Arab classical music.  High-pitched singing is accompanied by violins, drums, and an oud, a pear-shaped stringed instrument (we saw them in Egypt’s music as well).  The oud is a very old instrument; instruments that look like it can be seen in ancient Mesopotamian art.


Bedouin songs are also popular in rural areas.  They are often performed on a rebab.  This instrument is similar to a violin, but with a single string.  The rebab came from Africa to the Middle East over many centuries.  It is made from wood and animal hide.

About the Artist and Song:

Ilham al-Madfai and Khyam

Ilham al-Madfai is an Iraqi guitarist, singer and composer. al-Madfai’s combination of Western guitar style with traditional Iraqi music has made him a popular artist in the Middle East. He has been nicknamed ‘the Baghdad Beatle’.

al-Madfai began studying guitar at age twelve. He formed The Twisters in 1961, Iraq’s first rock and roll band.  al-Madfai moved to England to complete an engineering degree. While in London, he became a regular at the Baghdad Cafe, where he met fellow musicians Paul McCartney, Donovan and Georgie Fame.  Returning to Baghdad in 1967, he began to mix Western and Eastern instrumentation and rhythms. al-Madfai developed a major following in Iraq in the 1970s, but Saddam Hussein’s rise to power in 1979 compelled the artist to leave and take construction jobs around the Gulf for much of the following decade.

al-Madfai returned to Iraq shortly before the First Gulf War (early 1990s) and was subsequently banned from leaving the country. He emigrated to Jordan in 1994, where he presently lives. al-Madfai was granted Jordanian citizenship from King Hussein for exceptional talents and achievement. On 9 August 2010 he was the featured artist in a late-night prom at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Ilham and other musicians

Listen to the song and look at the lyrics.  Tell in the comment box what you think about the song — have you heard something like it before?  Does it remind you of anything?  What instruments do you hear? Would you listen to it again?  Make sure you answer all four questions in the comment box to get your full five points!!

Sayeb Ya Kalbi Sayeb

Write two paragraphs in reaction to the music, the information about Iraq, and the pictures in the post.  Tell about any interesting things you learned and what you think about Iraq as a place and a culture.  As always, you can earn up to five bonus points for defining words you don’t know and using them in a sentence. This assignment is due Wednesday, May 30.

cutting reeds in the marshes

Middle East: Egypt

map of Egypt

Visualize pyramids, temple ruins, and mummies.  Where could you find all of these?  If you said ancient Egypt — you’re right!  Our next country is the country of Egypt, which is in the northeastern corner of Africa.  It is a rectangular-shaped land bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Sudan to the south, and Libya to the west.  Israel and the Red Sea lie to the east.  A small part of Egypt called the Sinai Peninsula lies technically in Asia.

Landmarks and Climate:

Nile River

Although Egypt has a land area of more than 385,000 square miles, most Egyptians live near the Nile River or the Suez Canal.  Within this fertile region, almost half of the people live in cities while the rest live in some four thousand villages in the deserts and mountains.  As you can see in the photo, the line between fertile area and desert is very sharp — it depends on where the Nile floods each year where things can grow.


The weather in Egypt is fairly warm and dry.  Autumn and winter temperatures are usually between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  During the summer, temperatures may rise to over 114 degrees!  The Mediterranean coast gets about 8 inches of rain each year — and it’s the wettest part of the country (the definition of a desert is an area that gets less than 10 inches of precipitation in a year).  In southern Egypt, several years may pass with no rain at all.

Ancient History:


The ancient Egyptians developed a great civilization about 5000 years ago.  They invented a 365-day calendar, a form of math, and a system of picture writing known as hieroglyphics.  They had the first national government.

statues at Karnak

They built magnificent temples, palaces, and monuments.  The pyramids–built as tombs for their rulers, called pharaohs–still stand as a tribute to their amazing skills.  Hieroglyphs decorate the inner chambers of the tombs.  The Great Sphynx, with a lion’s body and a human head, is as high as a seven-story building.

lighthouse of Alexandria

Dozens of ancient artifacts lie underwater in the harbor of Alexandria.  Divers have found the remains of one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World — the lighthouse of Alexandria.  Greek king Ptolemy II built it in the 200s B.C.  A large mirror and a fire provided the light to guide ships through dangerous, rocky waters.  The lighthouse stood for about 1500 years before powerful earthquakes weakened its structure, and it finally tumbled into the sea.  Today, Egyptian authorities plan to build a museum to display some of the sphynxes and statues recovered.

Modern History:

Coptic pope

For many years, the nation’s culture and its military reigned supreme.  But Egypt was eventually conquered, first by the Greeks, and later by the Roman Empire.  Egypt then became a province of Rome.  During this period, Christianity was introduced in Egypt and a large Christian community developed.  Coptic priests serve Egypt’s Christian minority.  In A.D. 639, Arab Muslims from Syria conquered Egypt.  Muslims follow the faith of Islam, and their rule greatly changed the country.  The people adopted the Arabic language and many became Muslims.

Egyptians in the Ottoman army

Various Arab dynasties, or ruling families, controlled Egypt until 1250 when the Mamelukes seized power.  Then from 1517 to 1798, the Ottomoan Turks ruled Egypt.  In the late 1700s, Egypt became important to European nations who saw it as a land bridge and sea link to Asia.

broken-nosed Sphynx

In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte led his French army into Egypt.  Napoleon brought many scientists and scholars to study in Egypt, although his soldiers were not as kind — they defaced many monuments, even breaking the nose off the Sphynx!  With the help of the British, Ottoman troops drove the French out by 1801.

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali, an officer in the Ottoman army, became Egypt’s ruler in 1805.  During his reign, much was done to improve education, farming, and industry.  Unfortunately, Muhammad Ali’s descendants were not strong leaders.

Suez Canal

Muhammad’s grandson, Ismail, sold Egypt’s rights to the Suez Canal to the British government.  The Suez Canal, built years earlier by a French company, linked the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, greatly reducing the sailing distance from Europe to east Asia.  Britain wanted full control of the Suez Canal, and in 1882 it invaded Egypt.

Britain invading Egypt

Under British control, the royal dynasty established by Muhammad Ali reigned in name only.  Although the British made some important improvements in Egypt, the Egyptian people bitterly resented their presence.  In 1922, Britain finally granted Egypt its independence.


Egypt’s last royal dynasty ended in 1952 when Egyptian army officers, led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, forced King Farouk I, Muhammad Ali’s last ruling descendant, to leave the throne. In 1953, Egypt became a republic.


Hosni Mubarak — Egypt’s current president

Egypt’s constitution, adopted in 1971, calls its government an “Arab Republic”.  It has three branches — an executive branch, a legislative branch known as the People’s Assembly, and a judicial branch, or court system.  An Egyptian president may serve an unlimited number of six-year terms.  The president appoints one or more vice presidents as well as his Council of Ministers, or cabinet (advisers).  As in the United States, the Egyptian president is also head of the nation’s armed forces.

Egyptian army

Like the U.S. Supreme Court, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court determines whether laws are constitutional.  The nation’s legal system is based on Islamic, English, and French law.



Egypt faces difficulties in industry and business today.  Industrial growth has not kept up with the growing population.  There are problems in agriculture, as well.  In the past, the nation produced enough food for its people.  But now, nearly half its food has to be imported.

Egypt exports petroleum, raw cotton, cement, rubber products, and other manufactured goods.  However, earnings from exports do not meet the cost of the nation’s imports.  And funds from tourism and the Suez Canal do not close this gap.  As a result, Egypt has had to borrow money from other countries.

Present Day:

Camp David Accords

As an Arab nation, Egypt has been involved in wars with Israel at different times between 1947 and 1973.  In 1978, however, Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat took a bold step to end the conflict.  He met with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and U.S. President Jimmy Carter to work out a peace plan.  The result — the Camp David Accords — led to the first peace treaty between an Arab nation and Israel.

assassination of Sadat

Unfortunately, other Arab nations condemned Sadat and rejected the peace treaty he signed in 1979.  Islamic extremists caused unrest in the region.  In October 1981, Sadat was assassinated by members of his own army who believed he had betrayed his country. Hosni Mubarak, the next Egyptian president, kept the peace with Israel and maintained relations with the United States.  Mubarak also tried to mend Egypt’s ties with other Arab states.

tourist brochure

By the 1990s, Egypt also had to deal with terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists.  They wanted to hurt Egypt’s economy by discouraging tourists and foreign investors. The Egyptian government is actively working to improve education and industry as well as to fight terrorism.  Many feel certain that a country with such a splendid past will surely have a brighter future.


Bedouin boys on camels

The Bedouin are nomads who wander in the desert with their animals.  In recent times, many Bedouin have settled down and become farmers.  Nubians, from the south of Egypt, are the largest non-Arab group.  There are also some Italians and Greeks in Egypt.

Cairo market

Life in Egypt’s cities differs sharply from village life.  Cairo, Egypt’s capital, is the largest city in Africa.  Many Egyptians are drawn to the cities for a better life. Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city, face many of the problems seen in urban regions throughout the world today.  Widespread overcrowding results in makeshift housing and a lack of public transportation and community services.

Cairo montage

Great wealth and dreadful poverty exist in Egypt’s cities.  Beautiful homes are found near slums; home can be a charming waterfront apartment or a corner in a slum district.  Well-educated Egyptians are employed in various professions and businesses.  People without skills often work as laborers.


More than half of all Egypt’s people live in the countryside.  These are mostly farmers or peasants who rent small plots of land.  Most of them live in mud brick homes with straw roofs.

Egypt school

Unfortunately, only half of adult Egyptians can read and write.  Boys are more likely to be educated than girls, so twice as many Egyptian men as women can read.  Many who are students do go to high school, but few of them ever go on to college.  Some college students attend one of Egypt’s thirteen universities and some go to school in other countries.  All of Egypt’s schools are government-controlled and free, including universities.


Muslims praying

Religion plays an important role in Egypt.  Most Egyptians are Sunni Muslims.  A devout Muslim prays five times a day and follows Muslim laws.  Minority religious groups include Egyptian Copts, a Christian group who make up a small part of the population, and an even smaller number of Jews.


Egyptian food

Egyptian food includes a great variety of fruits, vegetables, and fish.  For breakfast, most Egyptians have ful medames — cooked dried beans mashed into a paste with olive oil and spices.  It is eaten by dipping bread into the paste.  Lamb or mutton is the most popular meat.  It is often served on kebabs — cut in chunks and cooked on a skewer with onions and peppers.  Grape leaves stuffed with rice are popular as well.



Soccer is a favorite sport in Egypt, and many people also enjoy handball, squash, and tennis.

coffee shop

But recreation usually means socializing with friends.  Egyptians like to sit and talk with one another while sipping thick, sweet coffee flavored with spices.  They also enjoy sweet tea.



People who live and work in cities usually dress like people in North America and Europe.  Poor people in both cities and villages tend to wear more traditional Egyptian clothing.  In recent years, more Egyptian women have dressed according to Islamic teachings.  They wear long robes and a veil that covers their arms, ears, and hair.

Vocabulary Words (Egyptian):


  • Hello — As Salaam alakum, or just Alo
  • Thank you — Alf šukr
  • Good-bye — Maa al salama
  • Peace — Salaam
  • Please — Min fadlak
  • Music — Musikka

About the Music

gods and goddesses

The music of Egypt has been an important part of Egyptian culture since ancient times. The ancient Egyptians credited one of their gods, Hathor, with the invention of music, which Osiris, another god, also used as part of his effort to civilize the world.

The oud is a guitar-type instrument traditional in Egypt.  Ancient Egyptians also played recorders and clarinets. Percussion instruments, lyres and lutes were added to orchestras by the Middle Kingdom. Cymbals frequently accompanied music and dance, much as they still do in Egypt today. Egyptian folk music, including the traditional Sufi dhikr rituals, are the closest contemporary music genre to ancient Egyptian music, having preserved many of its features, rhythms and instruments.  In general, modern Egyptian music blends these traditions with Turkish, Arabic, and Western music.

Egyptian wedding musicians

In the last few years, Egyptian pop music has become increasingly important in Egyptian culture, particularly among the large youth population of Egypt. Egyptian folk music continues to be played during weddings and other traditional festivities. In the last quarter of the 20th century, Egyptian music was a way to communicate social and class issues. Among some of the most popular Egyptian pop singers today are Mohamed Mounir and Amr Diab (whose music is below).

Muslim music

Religious music remains an important part of traditional Muslim and Coptic celebrations called mulids. Mulids are held in Egypt to celebrate the saint of a particular church. Muslim mulids are related to the Sufi zikr ritual. The Egyptian flute, called the ney, is commonly played at mulids. The music of the Coptic Church also constitutes an important element of Egyptian music and is said to be very similar to ancient Egyptian music.

About the Artist and Song:

Amr Diab was born in Port Said, Egypt on October 11, 1961. Although his father worked for the Suez Canal Corporation, he possessed a fine singing voice of his own and encouraged young Amr to sing. The boy’s talent showed itself at an early age. One evening when he was only 6 years old, Amr accompanied his father to a festival in Port Said. When they visited a local radio station, Amr was invited to sing the national anthem, “Baladi, Baladi”. The governor of Port Said praised him and gave him a guitar as a prize. Diab’s musical talents extend beyond his singing – he also knows how to play oud and piano. Amr Diab graduated from the music program at the Cairo Academy of Art in 1986.

His first album, Ya Tareeq, was released shortly afterward and proved to be an instant success. However, the hit song that brought him worldwide fame was, “Habibi, Ya Nour el Ain.” That song gained the title of Arabic Song of the Year, and with its Spanish fusion sound it defined a new genre of music known as “Mediterranean music.”  Diab was one of the early artists to record music which later became known as al jeel, or “generation” music – pop music created in Egypt in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

According to Let’s Go Egypt, Diab is the best-selling Arab recording artist of all time. He has received the World Music Award in the category of “Best-Selling Arab Artist” three times – in 1998, 2002, and 2007. In 2003, Amr Diab won two major awards in a poll done by Nile Variety TV. One was “Best Music Video” for the song, “Ana “A’ayesh,” and the other was Best Singer.

Amr Diab has a daughter from his marriage to Sherine Reda (Mahmoud Reda’s daughter), and three children from his later marriage to Zinah Ashour.  Amarain is a love song, maybe written for Amr’s wife Zinah.

Listen to the song.  Tell in the comment box what you think about the song — what instruments do you hear? What does the music make you think of; what does it sound like?  Would you listen to it again? This is 5 of your 25 points, so don’t forget to do this!

Amarain — Two Moons

Write two paragraphs in reaction to the music, the information about Egypt, and the pictures in the post (one paragraph about the post and one about the music).  Tell about any interesting things you learned and what you think about Egypt as a place and a culture.  As always, you can earn up to five bonus points for defining words you don’t know and using them in a sentence. This assignment is due Wednesday, May 23.

camels and pyramids

Europe: Greece

Greek flag

Our next country is the country of Greece.  Greece is special in at least three ways.  First, one of the oldest civilizations of the European continent was born in Greece.  Second, Greece is the most southern country in Europe.  Third, Greece is really two countries in one — a combination of old and new.

rocky coastline

Greece is a small country, larger than New York State but smaller than Florida.  The mainland extends fewer than 400 miles in any direction.  In Greece, you are never more than 85 miles from the sea.  Barely 51,000 square miles in size, this tiny country has a population of over 11 million people! Three countries form Greece’s northern border: Albania, Macedonia, and Bulgaria.  In its northeastern corner, Greece touches Turkey.  


On a map, Greece looks like a human hand with long, crooked fingers reaching into the sea.  Away from the rocky coastline, the land rises and falls like waves.  Blue mountain ranges separate green plains and valleys.

the view from Santorini Island

Greece has hundreds of islands, sprinkled like diamonds across three seas: the Aegean Sea to the east, the Ionian Sea to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south.  The Greek Isles are a vacation paradise of quiet fishing villages and lovely beaches.

Mount Olympus

The highest point in Greece is Mount Olympus, rising 9,570 feet above the surrounding seas.  Its peak is often frosted with snow or hidden in clouds.  To the ancient Greeks, Mount Olympus was the home of Zeus and eleven lesser gods and goddesses.

An Island — Crete:

Minoan bullfighting

Crete is the largest of the Greek Isles.  Beginning about 5000 years ago, a people called the Minoans lived there.  They built grand palaces and practiced a sport similar to bullfighting.


According to legend, a man-eating monster called the Minotaur terrorized ancient Crete, but he was killed by a hero named Theseus, a son of Zeus, the king of the Greek gods.  Today, Crete has more than a million residents — no gods or monsters, but lots of fishers and farmers.

A City — Athens:


Athens is Greece’s seaside capital city.  It has high-rise apartments, churches, schools, and people everywhere.  It also has cars and noise and smog; like many cities, Athens is heavily polluted.  Athens seems a lot like any big city — until you look up.

Right in the middle of the hustle and bustle, on a flat-topped hill called the Acropolis, stands a huge stone building called the Parthenon.  This structure was built almost 2,


500 years ago, during the proudest days of ancient Greece.  It is a reminder of Greece’s glorious past.  It is known for its rows of high columns. As many as thirty teams of oxen hauled each large piece of stone for one of the Parthenon’s columns!


Mycenaean warrior and lady

People have lived on the Balkan Peninsula, the land that is now Greece, for at least 8000 years.  About 3600 years ago, a Balkan people called the Mycenaeans created the Greek language.  An inventive and warlike culture, the Mycenaeans controlled the Mediterranean Sea with warships and swords of bronze.

statue of a man throwing a discus, an Olympic sport

Ancient Greece’s most famous period, the “Golden” (or Classical) Age, began about 2500 years ago.  During this period, the ancient Greeks built the Parthenon and other beautiful buildings.  They also carved huge statues from marble, a hard stone that can be polished. Today, Classical Greek architecture and art can be found everywhere.

Socrates and other philosophers

The ancient Greeks developed philosophy, which means “love of knowledge” in Greek.  Their philosophers were wise people and teachers who questioned the old beliefs in gods and monsters.  They used science and reason to explore the mysteries of life and nature.  Some of the most famous Greek philosophers were Socrates, Aristotle, and Sophocles.

a painting of men meeting in Athens

Ancient Greece was also the birthplace of democracy, which comes from the Greek word demokratia, meaning “rule of the people”.  Rather than being told what to do by rulers or priests, many ancient Greeks chose their own leaders.  Today, the United States and Greece are both democracies.

Alexander the Great

One of Greece’s major historical figures was Alexander the Great, who became king of Greece in 336 B.C.  As captain general of the Greek army, Alexander conquered a huge area of land from Greece to India.  After Alexander’s death, his four generals divided up the empire.  For the next 2000 years, Greece was ruled by Rome, Turkey, and other foreign powers.  In 1830, Greece finally became an independent country again.

Modern Life and Culture:

Donkey on a narrow street in a Greek village

Modern Greece is governed by a president and a 300-member parliament, which makes the laws.  Greece is not a wealthy country, but it has good schools, a rich culture, and a low crime rate. Today, one-third of the Greek people live in or near the capital of Athens.  The rest of the people are spread among hundreds of farming and fishing villages.  In some parts of Greece, especially the islands, people use more horse-drawn carts than cars.


salad with feta

People around the world agree that most Greek food is delicious.  Lamb, fish, and spinach are favorite foods.  Feta or goat cheese is served at many meals, and so are olives and garlic.


Greeks are known to be friendly, social people who enjoy getting together for big dinners.  One common group meal is souvlakia — Greek shish kebab.  It is made by threading chunks of meat and vegetables onto a stick and roasting it over a fire.

Gyros (YEE-rohs)

Special foods include gyros (meat roasted on a turning spit and then put into a pita), dolmas (grape leaves stuffed with rice, meat, and spices), and spanakopita (a “lasagna” of phyllo dough layered with spinach and lots of cheese!).


Baklava is a famous and popular dessert — phyllo dough, rolled very thin, and layered with lots of honey, cinnamon, and sometimes nuts.


Greek feasting

In Greece, weddings and holidays always mean parties and feasting.  An important national holiday is March 25, Greek Independence Day — much like America’s Fourth of July.

Easter torchlight procession on the island of Corfu, Greece

The biggest Greek holiday of all is Easter, celebrated everywhere in carnivals with dancing, music, and church ceremonies.


ancient Olympics

Beginning in 776 B.C., Greek athletes came from far and wide to a valley called Olympia.  To honor the god Zeus, the athletes competed in wrestling, jumping, chariot racing, and other sports.  Ancient Olympians were crowned with wreaths of laurel leaves, not medals of gold.

lighting the torch in Greece for the Vancouver Winter Olympics

Today, the Olympic Games (Summer and Winter) are each held in a different country every four years.  The games still begin at Olympia, though, with the lighting of the Olympic flame.  The torch is carried to the host city by relay runners and by plane.  Then an Olympic athlete is chosen to light the official torch to begin another Olympic Games.  This year, 2012, the Summer Olympics will be in London, England.

Greek podosphero (soccer) players

The Greek national sport is soccer, or podosphero (football).  Many children begin playing soccer almost as soon as they can walk.  The Greek national soccer team competes worldwide.  Basketball is also very popular today, especially in schools.

Education and Employment:

ancient Greek boys in school

In the past, many people in Greece were not literate — they could not read or write.  Today, nearly all grown-ups (95 percent) in Greece can read and write.  Greek children now attend school from ages 6 to 15.  All education is free.

farmer and donkey carrying hay

After finishing school, many young people take jobs in the cities.  Others make their living by fishing and farming.  Ocean shipping is also a major industry in Greece.  Many young Greeks become sailors and travel the world.


Greece has a mild climate and a long growing season.  Important crops include beets, grains, olives, and grapes grown for making wine.  Just as in ancient times, sheep and goats roam Greece’s rolling hills, providing milk, wool, and meat.

Santorini’s famous blue and white houses

The scenic beauty of Greece, along with its fascinating history, makes tourism its most important business.  Every year, millions of visitors come to Greece and its enchanting islands.  Many tourists come for the beaches, the food, and the friendly people.  They also come to see the Parthenon and other reminders of Greece’s golden past.  Few other countries can offer the striking blend of the ancient and modern that is Greece.

Vocabulary Words (Greek):

Greek kids in traditional costume

  • Hello — γειά σου (geiá sou)
  • Thank you — σας ευχαριστώ (sas efxcharistó)
  • Good-bye — αντίο (antío)
  • Peace — ειρήνη (eiríni)
  • Please — παρακαλώ (parakaló)
  • Music — μουσική (mousikí)

About the Music


No Greek festivity is complete without live music.  Folk musicians still play instruments invented centuries ago, such as the zournas, a wind instrument like an oboe.  The bouzouki, another traditional instrument, looks like a pot-bellied guitar.  Modern music — from symphony orchestras to rock and roll — is popular in Greek cities.

About the Artist and Song:


Glykeria, “The Sweet One” in Greek, has been a successful female singer in Greece for many years.  She was selected to represent Greece in the Europalia ‘82 festival in Brussels. In 1986 she sang at the opening ceremony of the World Championships held for the first time at the Athens Olympic Stadium, broadcast to 120 countries all over the world. She has sung in concerts in Greece and abroad (Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Cyprus, Israel) and Turkey.


In 1993 she performed in Israel for the first time. She ended her performance with her own captivating version of an Israeli anthem “Shabechi Yerushaly’im” (“praises to Jerusalem”) in Hebrew. In 1998 she was the only foreign artist to be invited to sing in the special memorial event for Yitzhak Rabin, the beloved leader who was assassinated three years before, attended by 200,000 people in Tel Aviv.

Tik Tik Tak is a popular love song by Glykeria.  The translation of the lyrics is below.

Tik tik tiki tiki tak goes my heartbeat
When I see you pass by
Tik tik tiki tiki tak
I want, my sweet-bird
To guess where you are going

My sweet-bird
I want to ask you
But I am afraid of displeasing you
Why, when I speak to you
My heart starts beating

Tik tik tiki tiki tak
It’s my heartbeat
When you look at me laughing
Tik tik tiki tiki tak
My crazy sweet-bird
When you tease me

Listen to the song and look at the lyrics.  Tell in the comment box what you think about the song — what does the music make you think of? What instruments do you hear?  Would you listen to it again?  Remember, your comments are 5 of your 25 points — make sure to answer the questions!

Tik Tik Tak

Write two paragraphs in reaction to the music, the information about Greece, and the pictures in the post (one paragraph for the post and one for the music!).  Tell about any interesting things you learned and what you think about Greece as a place and a culture.  As always, you can earn up to five bonus points for defining words you don’t know and using them in a sentence. This assignment is due Wednesday, May 16.

Moonrise over Santorini

Europe: Russia

Our next country is the country of Russia.  Russia stretches across the top of Europe and Asia.  The country is almost twice as big as the United States.  It is so large that Russia shares its frontier with fourteen countries.  Russia’s largest neighbors are Kazakhstan and China to the south and southeast.

The Arctic Ocean forms the country’s northern border, where it can be very cold during the long winters.  But winters in the capital city of Moscow in western Russia are no colder than those in the midwestern United States.  The weather in southern Russia is usually warm and pleasant.  Rain falls on the rich earth, making southern Russia a prime farming region.


The rugged Ural Mountains stretch along Russia’s western frontier.  Gold, salt, and coal are mined in this mineral-rich region.  At the foot of the mountains are the steppes, the vast rolling plains of central Russia.  This land is also very fertile, perfect for growing wheat and corn.  Russian farms there also produce sugar beets, sunflower seeds, fruit, beef, and milk.  Farm workers grow and harvest cabbage, a vegetable that is popular among Russians.

Part of the vast Caspian Sea washes the coastline of southern Russia.  It is the world’s largest body of water surrounded by land (larger than Lake Superior!).  Fishers catch sturgeon, perch, and herring in the Caspian Sea and sell them in busy outdoor markets throughout Russia, in cities like Astrakhan.

Russia’s Volga River is the longest waterway in Europe.  It winds its way south from northwest Russia to the Caspian Sea.  Many tributaries pour into the Volga, causing its swiftly flowing blue-green waters to rush even faster.  Through the centuries, the river has been a major transportation route.  Even today, barges carry goods to and from factories along the shore.


Almost 142 million people live in Russia today (the peak was nearly 149 million in 1991, before the breakup of the Soviet Union took some land and people away from Russia).  Most people have homes in urban areas of the European part of the country, or western Russia.  This is where most jobs in factories and offices are found.

Due to its location, Russia has always been a crossroads nation, a place where people from many different backgrounds passed through.  Among the earliest people to arrive were the Slavs.  They settled between the Baltic Sea to the northwest and the Black Sea in the southwest.  Over the centuries, other ethnic groups arrived on the scene.  They may have been members of an invading army or traders from faraway lands traveling there to sell their goods.  Some of these people decided to live in Russia rather than return to their original homelands.

As a result, groups such as the Tatars, Ukrainians, Chuvash, Bashkir, Belarusians, and Moldavians have also called Russia their home (though Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova are now separate countries).  They each have their own languages and customs, yet all of them also speak Russian.  Today, many foreign businesspeople live in the big cities, where English, German, and Japanese are frequently spoken.

In ancient days, the term Russ or Rus was often applied to the eastern Slavs who lived on the great steppes, or fertile plains, around the fortress of Kiev.  This powerful city was very important from the 800s to the 1100s.  Although it is now the capital of Ukraine (with a modern-day spelling of Kyiv), it is still referred to as the Mother of Russian Cities.  From Russ comes the word Russia.

Moscow is one of the world’s largest cities, with about 8.3 million people.  A massive fortress in Moscow, called the Kremlin, is the traditional seat of Russia’s head of state, as well as Moscow’s most famous landmark.  This part of the city is surrounded by thick walls and includes many palaces and cathedrals.

St. Petersburg is another important Russian city where the early rulers of Russia once lived.  The city’s beautiful Winter Palace is a world-famous art museum.  It was home to Russia’s royal rulers until 1917.


Russia is a very old nation, dating back at least 1000 years.  By A.D. 988 its princes ruled over the territory of today’s European Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.  Over the centuries Russia continued to expand its territory and gradually became a world power.  The strongest male rulers were called czars, and the female rulers were known as czarinas.  These titles were similar to those of king and queen in other countries.

Peter the Great was one of the most important czars.  He took power in 1689, when he was only seventeen years old.  Peter wanted his country to be as modern as western Europe.  He built ships and expanded his army, as well as founding St. Petersburg.  Catherine II, who came to the throne in 1762, was another strong ruler.  She continued to spread Russia’s influence and is remembered for supporting her country’s arts and culture, including music.

Some Russian leaders were not good rulers and paid little attention to the country’s many peasants, or farm laborers.  The rich people in the ruling class owned most of the land, while other Russians remained poor and uneducated.  Some Russians lived in extreme poverty.  Many people objected to the way in which the country was governed.

People who supported an extreme change in the way Russia was run were called Communists.  The idea of communism is that all goods should be held in common so that no one has to go hungry or do without.  In practice, the state would run the country’s businesses, farms, and schools.  Commissars, or Communist Party government officials, would be in charge of everything.  The Communists hoped that this system would help the peasant class of Russians.

As World War I (1914-1918) wound down, a revolution broke out that resulted in the czar being toppled.  Russian revolutionaries attacked the Winter Palace in October 1917.  A civil war followed, in which the Communists gained the upper hand.  The new Communist government believed that Russia had to deal with its own problems first and could not afford to remain in the war.  So, Russia signed a separate peace treaty that withdrew the country from World War I.

Communism and Afterwards:

Russia took a new name in 1922, officially becoming the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR.  The original Russia, though large, became just one of 15 republics in the country.  The new USSR was now the largest country in the world.

The Communists had promised big changes and a better government.  Instead, they focused on dreams of world domination.  The government oversaw the economy and ran all aspects of people’s lives.  To keep control, secret police closely watched what everyone did.  Police arrested people suspected of plotting against the government.  The Communists murdered millions of people who disagreed with their ideas.  Others were exiled, or sent away, to Siberia, a remote, intensely cold part of the USSR.

During World War II (1939-1945), the USSR was attacked by Germany.  Joseph Stalin, the leader of the USSR, appealed to the people to defend “Mother Russia”.  Seeking help, the country became a major ally of the United States.

After the war the USSR set up rigid Communist governments all over Eastern Europe.  Free Western nations (like Britain, the USA, and other European nations) objected to the Communists’ cruel methods of running the territory they controlled.  This difference of opinion was called the Cold War (because no battles were fought).  Yet over the years the economy of the USSR grew weaker because it could not compete with the West.  By 1991, most Russians were not satisfied with the Communist government.  In August 1991, a crowd of people gathered in Moscow in support of democracy.  The Communist system collapsed.  The republics of the USSR split from one another, becoming independent nations again.  Russia was now simply Russia once more.

Today, the Russian government is headed by a president elected by the people.  The president is helped by a cabinet of ministers.  The law-making body is known as the Federal Assembly.


Russia is trying hard to strengthen its economy.  Industries are being updated so the country can produce goods to sell in other nations.  Russian factories make airplanes, ships, trains, and electronic equipment.  The country is also a leader in exploring outer space and operates scientific workstations far above the Earth.  The Russian space station Mir (which means peace), in orbit above Earth, played an important role in the history of space exploration.

The ruble is the basic unit of Russian money.  About 30 rubles equal one US dollar in what it will buy.  A ruble is divided into 100 kopecks, which is similar to a dollar being made up of one hundred pennies.


Russian families start their busy day with zavtrak, or a simple breakfast.  This is often just a cheese or ham sandwich with a cup of tea.  Children love kasha, any cooked grain served with milk, sugar, and butter.  Sausages, fish, and stew are some of the foods served during the main meal in the middle of the day.  Borscht is a popular Russian soup made from beets, cabbage, and potatoes.  Children look forward to eating bread baked fresh every day.  Later in the day, families gather around the kitchen table for supper, called uzhin.  Together they talk about their day at school or work.  A popular evening meal consists of potato pancakes with mushroom sauce.


Celebrations and holidays are important parts of Russian life.  Many towns hold a snow festival in the town square on New Year’s Eve.  Children and parents dance and sing around bonfires, which ward off the chill.

December 6 is the Feast of St. Nicholas, a holiday when gifts are given.  Most Russians also celebrate Orthodox Christmas on January 7.  Eating a big meal is part of the fun.  A priest is invited to bless the home, and he sprinkles holy water in each room.

On Easter Sunday, mothers give a loaf of bread to the priest for a blessing.  This special bread has a round top layered with sugary frosting that makes the loaves look like the domes on Russian churches.  When the bread is served at home, older members of the family are the first to be served the delicious crust.

Russian Independence Day is on June 12.  During this celebration, parades of youngsters carry red, blue, and white flowers.  These are the colors of the Russian national flag.


Marvelous Russian authors are noted for their very real portrayals of the lives of their fellow citizens.  Alexander Pushkin, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Leo Tolstoy are among the nation’s best-known writers.  Stage plays by Anton Chekhov are gripping and true-to-life.  Writer Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for describing his life in a prison camp twenty years earlier.  He had protested against the Communist system and was sent to Siberia for his beliefs.


The circus has always been one of the most popular forms of entertainment in Russia.  Everyone loves going to see the highly skilled circus performers.  Daring acrobats or gymnasts balance on thin wires high above the arena floor.  Clowns make the audience laugh with their jokes and silly costumes.  Bears, camels, dogs, horses, lions, and even hedgehogs perform under the watchful eyes of their trainers.

Vocabulary Words (Russian):

  • Hello — Privet
  • Thank you — Spasiba
  • Good-bye — Dosvedanya
  • Peace — Mir
  • Please — Pozhaluista
  • Music — Muzyka

About the Music:

Russian music includes a variety of styles: from ritual folk song, to the sacred music of the Russian Orthodox Church, and also includes several important composers from the 1800s and 1900s, as well as various forms of popular music.

The most popular kind of instruments in medieval Russia were thought to have been string instruments, such as the gusli or gudok. Archeologists have uncovered examples of these instruments in the Novgorod region dating as early as the 1000s. Other instruments in common use include flutes (svirel), and percussion instruments such as the treshchotka and the buben. The most popular form of music, however was singing. Bylinas (epic ballads) about folk heroes such as Sadko, Ilya Muromets, and others were often sung, sometimes to instrumental accompaniment.

Russia was late in developing a native tradition of classical music because the Orthodox Church had forbidden any music that was not religious.  But beginning in the reign of Ivan IV, the Imperial Court invited Western (European and American) composers and musicians to come to Russia and teach people how to play non-church music. Peter the Great saw European music as a mark of civilization and a way of Westernizing the country, so he encouraged more and more composers and musicians, as well as Western inventions, to come to Russia.

The first great Russian composer to write opera using native Russian music was Glinka, who composed the early Russian language operas Ivan Susanin and Ruslan and Lyudmila.  Russian folk music became the primary source for younger Russian composers. A group that called itself “Mighty Five”, wrote many famous pieces of music, including operas like The Snow Maiden (Snegurochka), SadkoBoris GodunovPrince Igor, and Khovanshchina. Many of the works by Glinka and the Mighty Five were based on Russian history, folk tales and literature, and are regarded as masterpieces of romantic nationalism in music.

The Russian Musical Society also began around this time (1859). The RMS founded Russia’s first Conservatories (schools for music) in St Petersburg and in Moscow, where the great Russian composer Tchaikovsky, best known for ballets like Swan LakeSleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker, learned to write music. Another famous composer is Rakhmaninov, who also studied at the Moscow Conservatory where Tchaikovsky taught.

In the 1930s, under the regime of Joseph Stalin, music was forced to be contained within certain boundaries of content and innovation. Composers were discouraged from experimenting with new sounds or new instruments, and required to have their music “approved” before it was performed.  Some composers had to leave the country when their music was considered “anti-Communist” by the government censors.

Jazz was introduced to Soviet audiences by Valentin Parnakh in the 1920s. Singer Leonid Uteosov and film score composer Isaak Dunayevsky helped its popularity, especially with the popular comedy movie Jolly Fellows that featured a jazz soundtrack. Eddie Rosner, Oleg Lundstrem and others contributed to Soviet jazz music.

Rock music came to Soviet Union in the late 1960s with Beatlemania, and many rock bands arose during late 1970s. These bands were not allowed to publish their music and remained underground until the fall of Communism in 1991.  Rock music media has now become common in modern Russia. The most notable is Nashe Radio, which is promoting classic rock and pop punk.

About the Artist and Song:

Multi award-winning Zulya Kamalova is the leading singer of Tatar and Russian music today. Zulya has developed a totally original approach as an affirmation of her unique identity – an affirmation that takes her Tatar and Russian background to totally new places and in completely new ways. Zulya has produced nearly 10 CDs to date, together with her band The Children of the Underground, two of which on their release in Europe spent several months in the top 10 of European world music charts.  Her latest release “Tales of Subliming” (2010) has received 5-star reviews in Europe.  These albums feature traditional and original songs in her distinctive Tatar style but with unusual instrumentation, presenting traditional music from a new perspective. 

A native of Tatarstan-Udmurtia region of Central Russia, Zulya began performing Russian and Tatar songs at the age of 9. Later she studied music and languages at university level. She made a dramatic decision to settle in Australia in 1991 and, inspired by the diversity of cultures, began to share her music with Australians.

Listen to the song.  Tell in the comment box what you think about the song — what does the music make you think of? What instruments do you hear?  Would you listen to it again?  Remember, your comments are 5 of your 25 points — make sure to answer the questions!

Sibele Cecem

Write two paragraphs in reaction to the music, the information about Russia, and the pictures in the post (one paragraph for the post and one for the music!).  Tell about any interesting things you learned and what you think about Russia as a place and a culture.  As always, you can earn up to five bonus points for defining words you don’t know and using them in a sentence. This assignment is due Wednesday, May 9.

Europe: Spain

Our next country is the country of Spain.  Spain is located on the Iberian Peninsula in the southwestern corner of Europe.  It shares this tip of land with Portugal.  Spain’s northern neighbors are France and Andorra.  They are separated from Spain by the jagged Pyrenees Mountains.  To the south are the deep-blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.  To the northwest is the Bay of Biscay.

Spain is separated from Africa by the Strait of Gibraltar, a narrow body of water that separates the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.  The Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea are also part of Spain, as well as three small islands off Morocco’s coast and two enclaves in North Africa.

Historical Facts

Merchants from ancient cultures around the Mediterranean visited the Spanish peninsula to buy, sell, and trade goods.  By 19 B.C., all of Spain had become a colony, or outpost, of the Romans.  The Romans remained there for several hundred years.  They built beautiful temples, amphitheaters, and baths that still exist today.  After the Romans departed, various warlike people from northern Europe settled in Spain.  Each left its mark on Spanish culture.

The Moors from Africa conquered most of Spain by A.D. 719.  They were a fierce, proud people who followed the Muslim faith.  The Moors were noted for their knowledge of art and science.  They built splendid cities like Cordoba, Toledo, and Seville.  The rest of Christian Europe, however, feared the Moors because of their different religion and customs.  Christian armies drove the last Moors from Spain in 1492.

With the Moors finally gone, Spain turned its attention to the rest of the world.  Under Spanish monarchs, or rulers, like Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand V of Aragon, Spain became a great power.  Brave adventurers such as Christopher Columbus were sent across the unmapped oceans to establish colonies far away from home.  Tough Spanish soldier such as Francisco Pizarro and Hernan Cortes conquered the Inca Empire in Peru and defeated the Aztecs in Mexico.  Hernando de Soto explored lands from Florida to the Mississippi River.  Francisco Vasquez de Coronado traveled through the American Southwest.  Priests accompanied the armies.  They carried the message of Christianity to the kingdom’s newly acquired territories.

From the 1500s to the 1700s, resources taken from its colonies made Spain very rich.  Valuable minerals and exotic foods such as potatoes, corn, and tobacco were brought to Spain from these distant lands.  Merchant ships called galleons carried gold, silver, and precious stones back to Spain from the Americas.  However, terrible storms often wrecked the lumbering vessels.  Treasure hunters still seek the remains of these long-ago ships, lying quietly somewhere on the bottom of the ocean.


Spain has a varied landscape with five major mountain ranges.  These towering peaks make Spain the highest nation in Europe after Switzerland.  A large central plateau is surrounded by rugged hills.  Some of the countryside is rich and green.  Other parts are dry and windblown.  A small portion of Spain is covered with forests.  There are also pastures where sheep can graze.  The mountains of Spain are dotted with small villages.

The Tagus (Tajo), Guadiana, Duero, Rio Mino, and Ebro are the mightiest rivers in Spain.  Dams block several of these waterways.  Hydroelectric or water-powered plants use the energy of moving water in these dammed rivers to produce electricity for homes and businesses.

Spain’s crumbly, mineral-rich soil contributes to growing marvelous grapes that make fine red, white, and sparkling wines.  Large groves of ancient trees produce delicious olives.  These are pressed into excellent oil, which is sold around the world.


Spain can be very hot and dry in the summer.  The winters can be cold and wet, especially in the north.  Yet for much of the year, Spain’s climate is pleasant.  Friends can relax at outdoor cafes after work or school.

Politics and Government:

After the reign of Queen Isabella I, Spain fought a series of bloody wars with its neighbors throughout the 1700s and 1800s.  These countries battled over who would control trade routes or colonies.  It became very difficult to protect Spain’s farflung territories.  Some were captured by other countries or lost through revolutions by the people who lived there.  Spain used military force in an effort to control rebels in its colonies, such as Cuba, but Spain gradually lost its influence abroad.  In 1898, Spain was defeated by the United States in the Spanish-American War, and Spain had to give up most of its few remaining colonies.  Among them were Cuba and the Philippines.

Following political unrest at home, King Alfonso XIII left the country in 1931.  A republic formed in which the Spanish people could elect their own leaders.  However, not all of the Spanish people wanted the king to leave.  This resulted in a terrible civil war that lasted from 1936 to 1939.  Thousands of people were killed, buildings were destroyed, and crops were ruined by the fighting.  Enemies of the king eventually won, led by General Francisco Franco.  He was a dictator, a ruler with absolute power who controlled Spain with an iron fist until he died.

At the death of Franco, the monarchy was restored.  Control of the country went to King Juan Carlos, Alfonso’s grandson.  He quickly reformed the government and made it more responsive to the people.  The country is now a parliamentary monarchy, with the king as head of state.  The prime minister handles the day-to-day running of the government.  The National Assembly, consisting of a Senate and Congress of Deputies, passes laws.  All of the national politicians meet in the capital city of Madrid to conduct business.


Spanish families enjoy getting together and eating.  Lunch is usually the main meal of the day.  Much of Spanish cuisine on the coast features seafood such as eels, cod, and squid.  Regional specialties in other parts of Spain include bean soup, cheeses, and apple cider.  Paella is another popular dish, made with rice, meat, and seafood.  Paella is named after the skillet in which it is cooked and served, called a paella pan.

Spain is also noted for its many types of wine.  When everyone is having a good time, Spaniards offer a toast and say, “A su salud!” This means, “To your health!”


With more than 46 million residents, Spain is Europe’s fifth most populous nation.  The people are a wonderful mix of the many cultures that have called Spain their home over the centuries.

The Basques are a distinctive group with their own customs.  Most live along the mountainous border with France.  They speak Spanish, but they also have their own language, called Euskara.  Some Basques want total independence from Spanish authority.  A few support the use of violence to achieve their aims, but most Basques pursue their goals in a peaceful manner.

Barcelona, Madrid, and Valencia are the most heavily populated areas in Spain.  Many Spaniards are still farmers, yet a growing number of young people have moved to the cities to work in the computer and service industries.  Spain’s other major businesses include tourism and chemical manufacturing.

The country also takes its international responsibilities seriously.  It belongs to such organizations as the European Union and the United Nations.  These groups help with relief efforts in poorer parts of the world.  They also provide peacekeeping  soldiers in regions where war might break out.


The Spanish enjoy parades and parties on their public holidays.  National Day on October 12 celebrates the country’s freedom.  It marks the day when explorer Christopher Columbus reached the New World.  Spain’s constitution is honored on Constitution Day, December 6.  On these days, school is out, and most adults have a day off from work.

More than 90 percent of the population consider themselves Roman Catholics, so the Christmas season is one of the most festive times of the year in Spain.  Many homes and town squares exhibit a large nativity scene, called the nacimiento.  Villages hold Christmas markets where vendors sell toys, candy, chestnuts, and delicious apples.

Bullfighting is a popular folk tradition in Spain.  The fight is held in a large sandy ring called the plaza de toros, the “place of the bulls”.  Fighting bulls are a special breed and are very fierce.  The bullfighter, called a matador, lures the angry animal with elaborate cape movements.  The kill is made with a sword.  Famous bullfighters such as Manolete (1917-1947) are admired throughout the country.


Many Spanish people love sports, especially soccer, or futbol.  Spain’s many talented players make for exciting games.

Spaniards also love hiking and bicycling along the country’s back roads and along its trails.  The waters off the country’s sun-drenched beaches offer excellent swimming.  Surfers flock to the coastline to catch a ride on a wild wave.


Spain has a great literary history.  Many of its authors have won international prizes.  One of the country’s best-known works of fiction is the novel Don Quixote, written by Miguel de Cervantes.  The famous story tells of a kindly, slightly crazy, gentleman who thinks he is a knight and goes out to right what he sees are the wrongs of the world.

Along with El Greco and Francisco Jose de Goya, Pablo Picasso was among Spain’s most famous artists.  Son of a Basque drawing teacher, Picasso studied in Barcelona and Madrid.  His first art show was in 1901 in Paris.  Picasso’s paintings are bold, colorful, and vibrant.  One of his most famous paintings is Guernica.  It depicts an air attack during the Spanish Civil War.  Picasso produced hundreds of works of art now shown in museums and private collections throughout the world.  His exhibitions always drew large crowds of art lovers.  His paintings are very valuable.

Vocabulary Words (Spanish):

  • Hello – Hola (OH-la)
  • Thank you – Gracias (GDA-see-ahs)
  • Good-bye – Adios (ah-dee-OHS)
  • Peace – Paz (PAHS)
  • Please – Por favor (pour fah-VOHR)
  • Music – Musica (MOO-zee-kah)

About the Music

Flamenco is a musical heritage that began in Spain’s southern region of Andalusia.  It is now heard throughout the country.  The music is believed to have been developed by the Gypsies, a race of people from northwest India.  They appeared in Europe in the 1600s and still travel from place to place.  Flamenco dancing involves stamping of the feet and vigorous hand clapping to the sound of a guitar.

About the Artist and Song:

Pubill Pere Calaf, better known by his stage name, Peret (born in Mataro, near Barcelona in 1935) is a Spanish Roma (gypsy) singer, guitarist and composer, and is perhaps the most representative figure of the Catalan rumba and flamenco.

He is famous for his technique of playing the guitar, known as the fan, which, besides the use of the strings, the soundboard is used as a percussion instrument, and also for his almost juggler-like ability to spin the guitar 720 degrees quickly during the song (don’t try this in band!).

His first recording was in 1947, and he went on to make many more popular recordings in the years since then.  His last album came out in 2007.  In 2011 he was honored by his hometown of Mataro, which named him “favorite son of the city”.  He, and his music, have been in several movies, beginning in 1963 and ending, so far, in 2001.

Some refer to Peret as “the Elvis of rumba catalana” as much for the important role he has played in bringing the style to a wider audience as for his
occasionally garish clothing. Peret was a pioneer at blending flamenco with Latin rhythms and rock and roll.  The result was rumba catalana, also called rumba flamenco, a style familiar to anyone who has heard the Gipsy Kings.

“Para Poder Olvidarla” (To Be Able to Forget Her) is from Peret’s 2007 album Que Levante el Dedo. Now in his 70s, Peret still sings about love and loss.

Listen to the song.  Tell in the comment box what you think about the song — have you heard music like this before? What does it make you think of?  What instruments do you hear?  Would you listen to it again? Make sure to answer all the questions in your comment for full points!

Para Poder Olvidarla

Write two paragraphs in reaction to the music, the information about Spain, and the pictures in the post.  Tell about any interesting things you learned and what you think about Spain as a place and a culture.  As always, you can earn up to five bonus points for defining words you don’t know and using them in a sentence. This assignment is due Wednesday, May 2.

Europe: France

Our next country is the country of France.  France is a country in Europe a little smaller than Texas.  France is known for fine food.  It is also an outstanding art and fashion center.  The capital of France is Paris, which is known as the City of Lights.  It is also considered by many to be one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

But there’s much more to France.  The country has snow-capped mountains, fishing villages, sunny beaches, and a lovely countryside dotted with orchards and vineyards.

The country of France is a land of beauty, history, and culture.  A famous American once described the city of Paris as “everyone’s second home.”  Perhaps the same could be said of all of France.

Historical Facts:

In ancient times, people known as the Gauls lived in the region now called France.  They were conquered by Julius Caesar and the Roman army between 58 and 51 B.C.  After the fall of Rome in the A.D. 400s, France was invaded by a number of Germanic tribes from the east.  These included the Franks, after whom France was named.  By the A.D. 800s, the French emperor Charlemagne (Charles the Great) had made France a large and powerful kingdom.

After the 10th century, France was ruled mostly by a series of monarchs.  The monarchy reached its height during the reign of Louis XIV (1638-1715).  Known as the Sun King, he built the fabulous Palace of Versailles.  But building grand palaces and paying for a series of wars strained France’s finances.  The rulers who followed Louis XIV continued to tax the people heavily, despite severe food shortages.

In what became known as the French Revolution, the people rose up in protest.  On July 14, 1789, crowds stormed an old fortress and royal prison in central Paris called the Bastille.  The king, Louis XVI, was overthrown.  On September 21, 1792, France was declared a republic.

The new French republic soon had to defend itself against attacks from nearby countries.  But French forces successfully pushed back the foreigners.

During this time, a young army officer named Napoleon Bonaparte had been steadily gaining power in the military.  He eventually overthrew the French government and declared himself emperor.  Napoleon helped strengthen the government of France by changing its administration and legal system.  Before his defeat in 1814, he had paved the way for France to become the successful nation it is today.


France may seem small compared to the United States, but it’s the largest country in western Europe.  The bodies of water bordering France are the North Sea (very cold!), the Strait of Dover, the English Channel, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea.  The Cote d’Azur (koht-duh-sur, or Blue Coast), known to most tourists as the Riviera, lies on France’s Mediterranean coast.  Towns along the Riviera often have brightly painted houses and beautiful gardens.  The area has many lemon, orange, fig, and imported palm trees.

In other regions of France, forests are enormous.  More than 130 different types of trees grown in the forests of France, because of the various climates.

The climate in France varies in different regions.  Along the Mediterranean Sea, people enjoy warm weather throughout the year.  Other areas in France are cool in the winter with highs of about 45 degrees Fahrenheit.  Summers tend to be warm with highs of about 80 degrees.

Paris is France’s largest city.  More than 9 million people live in Paris and the surrounding area.  France has many other large cities.  Marseille, Toulouse, and Lyon are among twelve French cities with populations of more than 350,000 people (about the size of Minneapolis).  Twenty other French cities have more than 200,000 inhabitants.  The total population of France is about 65,000,000 (as much as Texas and California combined!).

France is separated from Italy by the Alps mountain range.  At the border between France and Switzerland are the Alps and Jura Mountains.  The Pyrenees Mountains divide France and Spain.  Other countries bordering France are Germany, Andorra, Monaco, Luxembourg, and Belgium.

One place to go in Paris is the Champs Elysees (shanz ay-lee-zay), an avenue in Paris and one of the city’s finest promenades, or walks.  The Champs Elysees (Elysian Fields, the Greek name for heaven) extends from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe (Arch of Triumph).  Famous hotels and the Theatre de Marigny line the famous avenue.  At the upper end of the avenue near the Arc de Triomphe, busy cafes, shops, hotels, and movie theaters bustle with people.  The Champs Elysees is always a favorite stop for both the French and visitors to Paris.


France’s government is led by a president who is elected to a seven-year term in office.  Like the U.S. president, this person heads the nation’s armed forces.  France’s president also directs foreign policy.  The president chooses a prime minister, or premier, who oversees the daily running of the government.  Among other duties, the prime minister submits new laws to Parliament.  The Parliament is similar to the U.S. Congress.  It consists of the National Assembly and the Senate.  French citizens elect members of Parliament, just as people in the United States vote for their representatives in Congress.  The prime minister also sees that the laws are carried out throughout the country.  France also has a Constitution which guarantees that the country remains free and independent.

The Economy:

France is a prosperous nation.  It has the fourth-largest economy in the world, after the United States, Japan, and Germany.

Manufacturing and mining are important to the French economy.  It is the world’s second-largest exporter of aircraft and the fourth-largest exporter of cars.  Other products made in France include iron, steel, medicine, computers, radios, televisions, chemicals, cosmetics, textiles, perfumes, and wine.  France is also known for its fine china, glass, and pottery.

The country is a leading producer of farm products, too.  Fruits, vegetables, and dairy products (including more than 300 different types of cheese!) are among them.  It is also the second-largest exporter of wines.  Only Italy produces more.

France has long been considered the fashion capital of the world.  Every year, people in the international fashion industry come to see the French designers’ latest clothing lines.  France is also the number-one perfume exporter in the world.  Many French perfumes are famous for their popularity — and their high prices!


The families of most of the people who live in France have been there for a long time.  The population also includes people who have moved there from Portugal, Algeria, Italy, Morocco, and Turkey.

City people usually live in houses and apartments.  Many French cities are pleasant and beautiful.  In some places, laws limit the amount of traffic and the types of buildings that can be constructed.  But city life can be expensive.  As a result, many people live on the outskirts of the cities or in nearby towns.

Only a small portion of French people live in the countryside — on farms and in villages.  Some are farmers.  They usually live in single-family homes instead of apartments.

French children must attend school from age six to sixteen, but many go to the country’s free nursery schools from the time they are three.  After high school, some students continue their education at universities.  Others attend schools known as grandes ecoles (great schools).  These schools train students for high-level positions in the military, government, engineering, business, education, and other fields.

Most of the people in France are Roman Catholics.  Smaller numbers of Muslims, Jews, Protestants, and people of other faiths also live there.

Art and Culture:

France has a rich cultural heritage.  The movie camera was invented in France in 1895.  Today, many French filmmakers continue to produce excellent films.

France may be best known as an international center for artists.  Many creative painting styles and trends began in France.  Famous French painters include Pierre August Renoir, Claude Monet, and Henri Matisse.  Other world-renowned artists who came to France to paint were Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Miro.

There are more than one thousand museums in France.  Millions of visitors tour them each year.  The Louvre – one of the world’s largest museums – is a “must-see” stop for many tourists.

In addition to holding thousands of works of art, the museum itself is a masterpiece.  In 1989, a huge glass pyramid designed by Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei was opened at the Louvre.  It serves as the entrance to the museum and has become a favorite Paris landmark.

France also has more than 1500 monuments.  The most famous one is the Eiffel Tower, located in Paris.  Built in 1889 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, the tower stands 984 feet tall.  Visitors can take elevators or stairways to the top.  On the way, there are restaurants, a weather station, and great views from the observation platforms.  About 5 million people visit the Eiffel Tower every year.  It is France’s most popular attraction.

Theater is also important in France.  National theaters, national drama centers, and playhouses put on more than fifty thousand performances a year.  In addition, French music has long been praised.  Outstanding French composers include Hector Berlioz, Claude Debussy, and Joseph-Maurice Ravel.

Carmen, by the French composer Georges Bizet, is among the most-performed operas in the world.  France is also a hot spot for jazz, an American musical form.  Many American jazz players have moved to France because the French love jazz so much.

The French are famous for their literature, as well.  The work of French writers such as Moliere, Jean Racine, and Victor Hugo set a high standard.  The Disney film The Hunchback of Notre Dame was based on a book by Hugo.


Most French people eat three meals a day.  They eat dinner late in the evening, at about 7 PM, and their largest meal of the day is at noon.  France is known for its food.  French cooking is considered by many to be the best in the world.  French chefs have originated such great dishes as a fish stew called bouillabaisse (BU-ya-bez) and escargot (es-car-GO, or snails), served in butter sauce.  The crisp, skinny loaves of French bread called baguettes (ba-GETS) are famous around the world.  And, of course, the French desserts, called patisserie, are wonderful and come in too many types to count!


Most French people enjoy sports.  Many take part in an outdoor sport on a regular basis.  The most popular activities include soccer, bicycling, tennis, skiing, basketball, and rugby, which is similar to American football.  In 1998, France won the World Cup in soccer.

The biggest national sporting event in France is a bicycle race called the Tour de France.  In this event, held every summer, more than 200 professional cyclists pedal through 2,409 miles of France and neighboring countries (about like driving from New York to Las Vegas).  The race is run in about 25 stages and takes three weeks to complete.  The finish line is in Paris, down the Champs Elysees.

Vocabulary Words (French):

  • Hello — Bonjour (boh-zhoor)
  • Thank you — Merci (mare-see)
  • Good-bye — Au revoir (oh-vwahr)
  • Peace — Paix (pay)
  • Please — S’il vous plait (see vous play)
  • Music — Musique (Mew-zeek)

About the Music

France is a very musical country. French music history dates back to organum in the 10th century. Troubadour songs of chivalry and courtly love were composed between the 10th and 13th centuries. By the end of the 12th century, a form of song called the motet arose, accompanied by traveling musicians called jongleurs. During the Renaissance, Burgundy, France, became a major center for musical development.

Traditional styles of music have survived most in remote areas like the island of Corsica and mountainous Auvergne, as well as the more nationalistic regions of theBasques and Bretons. In many cases, folk traditions were revived in relatively recent years to cater to tourists. These groupes folkloriques tend to focus on very early 20th-century melodiesand the use of the piano accordion.

The late 19th century saw the dawn of the music hall when Yvette Guilbert was a major star. The era lasted through to the 1930s. During the 50s and 60s, it was the golden age of Chanson Française.

American and British rock and roll was also popular in the 1950s and 60s, and indigenous rock achieved some domestic success. Punk rock and heavy metal found some listeners. Beginning in the 1980s, Les Rita Mitsouko became very popular throughout Europe with their unique blending of punk, new wave, dance and cabaret elements.

The most important French contribution to musical innovation of the past 35 years is a form of computer-assisted composition called “spectral music”.

About the Artist and Song:

Alain Le Lait is a French native who grew up near Paris, France.  He moved to the United States in the 1970s and now lives in Colorado.  Since 1990 his CDs have been praised by parents and teachers alike and many of his songs are used in schools throughout the U.S. and Canada.  In 2005, Alain was chosen by McDougall Littell, a leading publisher of textbooks to write all of the songs for their ‘Discovering French’ 1 and 2 books. When not making CDs or playing in some of Colorado Springs’ finest cafes, Alain teaches French.

En Voici, En Voila is a fun song about the different kinds of foods people like to eat, since France is famous for its food.

Listen to the song.  Tell in the comment box what you think about the song — Have you heard something like it before?  What instruments do you hear? What does it make you think of?  Would you listen to it again? Remember to answer all four questions in the comment box (or notebook) to get your points!

En voici, en voila

Write two paragraphs in reaction to the music, the information about France, and the pictures in the post.  Tell about any interesting things you learned and what you think about France as a place and a culture.  As always, you can earn up to five bonus points for defining words you don’t know and using them in a sentence. This assignment is due Wednesday, April 25.