Elie Joseph Tohme waited around four hours for the French President Emmanuel Macron to arrive at Fairouz’s house to present him with his gift, a custom-made ornate backgammon board with the president’s name ingrained on it.
Elie Joseph Tohme wanted to greet the French president with a souvenir from Lebanon. Tohme inherited this craft from his father, Joseph Tohme, who passed away four years ago, and since then, he has been walking in his father’s footsteps after making some adjustments to how the boards are made in his atelier.
Tohme, who had previously presented this gift to around 120 prominent figures inside and outside Lebanon, said he was proud of his family’s heritage and called on youths of today to take an interest in Lebanese craftsmanship to keep it from dying out.
He went on to tell Asharq Al-Awsat: “Since childhood, I have been passionate about this craft, which my father was a master of. He used to make the backgammon boards and decorate them using his classical methods. But when I took over the business, I decided to make a few adjustments to the craft, having it art combine that of the East and West.”
Tohme explains how he maintained the backgammon boards’ oriental character while supplementing it with Western methods that are not very familiar in Lebanon. “I usually decorate the boards with oriental designs and ordinations inlaid with nacres. I incorporated laser technology to avoid prints that could be erased off the artifact over time. Using Aptos wood, walnut, olives, and yellow lemon, I make a board and add the name of the person to whom it is given. A small box is made for the dice. The player shakes them inside and then throws them on the table floor, thereby warding off the accusation of cheating.”
Tohme presented this gift to several Lebanese presidents and politicians, Queen Silva of Sweden when she visited Lebanon in October of last year, and even delivered it to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I am proud to present these artisanal pieces to Lebanese who value craftsmanship, as well as to foreign figures, as it allows them to learn about our authentic folk heritage.” He adds that “in addition to the option of engraving names, I was able to find a way to engrave on the stones of the table as well. When fans who enjoy the game see their names on its stones, they become more enthusiastic and are encouraged to win. I also polish it with copper in order to make it heavier so that players don’t have to worry about it slipping between their fingertips.”
Tohme presented this gift to Lebanese and Arab artists. And his biggest dream remained to offer one to Fairouz.