Tag Archives: lebanon

Nation Blanding: Hedonism and the Underselling of Beirut

There’s a video currently making the rounds, featuring an over-excited Richard Quest extolling the virtues of Lebanon’s hedonism and joie de vivre, while he prances around its handful of rooftop clubs dressed like that weird uncle in your family no one talks to, who hits on 16 year olds at weddings. And wears white loafers. When I first stumbled on the video, I wasn’t sure whether I should feel a mild sense of pride or a profound sense of shame. I have opted very firmly for the latter, for a number of reasons.

I mean the show is called Future Cities, and is supposed to be about how cities are positioning themselves for the future (the name kind of gives it away) through development and sustainability. Quite how cramming thousands of people into sweaty clubs ensures Lebanon’s sustainability, is quite beyond me.

However much I enjoy positive portrayals of Lebanon in the media, I’m not sure that showing its three most inaccessible venues is really the way to go. I mean, when they cover Mykonos or Ibiza, I’m pretty sure there isn’t a slum where people live on less that USD 2 a day within walking distance. Before I’m accused of hypocrisy, sure I go to these places. But I don’t think they’re our greatest achievement in thousands of years of history. Not by a longshot.

Plus the video features Ke$sha. Why would I listen to Ke$ha’s opinion on anything? For starters, she has a dollar sign in her name, and anyone with monetary symbols in their monicker loses points on the Credibility-meter. So, I’m pretty sure her musings about how Lebanon’s energy mirrors the energy she puts in her shows, can be safely ignored.

And what’s all this nonsense about joie de vivre anyway? I’m sorry but I have yet to see a genuine example of someone loving life when I go out in Lebanon. We go to clubs with 3000 people, but hang out with the 20 we already know. We all look inward at our table. People stare into their Blackberries and iPhones trying to figure out if something more exciting is happening elsewhere, because they’re under the impression that they are in no way contributing to the complete lack of an atmosphere here, and it’s everyone else’s fault. If they can tear themselves away from their apparati, it’s to give someone across the club a death stare. Then maybe bbm somebody about it.

And before anyone says it’s just the rooftops, I have to disagree. Go out anywhere, and it’s the same. Batroun, Sour, Gemmayze, Jounieh. Maybe Hamra’s bar scene is a tiny bit different. I have yet to see anyone actually dancing outside the sweaty confines of a salsa night. And no, guys, slicing the air with the palm of one hand and shaking your vodka tonic around in the other, while you bob your head to the newest Taebo Cruise, or whatever his face is, track does not constitute dancing.

I’m sick of people confusing self-medicated post-traumatic stress with a love of life. Drinking yourself silly is not an affirmation of life. It can be a lot of fun, sure, but don’t call it joie de vivre. People not caring about tomorrow isn’t a smart thing. Shocking, I know. Many people at these clubs didn’t live the Civil War, they have every reason to plan for tomorrow. They’re young and educated and living in a period of relative, if tenuous and tense, stability. But they don’t, because they’re inheriting their parent’s misplaced insouciance…

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Reel Festival 2011.

Reel Festival 2011.

The Reel Festival kicks off tonight at the Metropolis Cinema in Sofil. Check out the schedule over the coming days, and keep your eyes peeled for my coverage of the event over at Hibr.me

13 Types of Lebanese Facebook Profile Pictures

The Three Quarter Turn
This is the standard pose of the Lebanese fashionista. She has spent hours fine-tuning the exact angle that puts forward her every flattering feature. She puts up one of these pictures on a weekly basis, bringing her total tally of profile pictures to at least 137. There is an increase of activity during the summer months, when her tan means that less Photoshop expertise is required.

The Photoshopper
This type of person is a close relative of the TQTer. Saturation levels, contrast and brightness are all essential elements in getting the skin tone right. The person is most probably not a graphic designer (as they fall into one of the categories below) but has enlisted the help of a cousin who works at a web design agency to crop any undesirables out of the image and scratch away that pesky pimple on her right cheek.

The Bride/The Groom
We all know how everyone in Lebanon is obsessed with marriage. Obsessed with getting married, going to weddings or hating your best friend who got married before you. So wedding-related profile pictures deserve a whole field of academic study. They come in an array of variations. There’s the photo of the groomless bride, engulfed by half the annual production of flowers from Holland in her parents living room. There’s the solitary groom, who’s motivations for using a picture of himself without his bride, and looking quite dashing, can seem disquieting. There’s the picture of the happy couple. If they’re facing the camera and set against the backdrop of exploding fireworks, not so romantic. If they’re locked in an intense gaze into each others eyes, happy future ahead.

The Baby
In a concerted effort to show you that they’ve grown up faster than you, your friends from the Bride/Groom category, will move on to the Baby category within a year. They will post a picture of their little cherub, which will make you momentarily wonder if they have gone Benjamin Button on you. Some babies are as cute as teddy bears sliding down a rainbow, and some look like the love-child of Wayne Rooney and the Cookie Monster, but you’ll invariably comment: awww. Hayete. So cute.

The Childhood Photo…

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Article in Trashed Magazine.

The folks over at Time Out Beirut have launched a new student publication, aptly named Trashed. They asked me to write an article to motivate young Lebanese kids to stay in the country. Click on the photo to read it, but be warned, most of my argument revolves around my chest hair/beard.

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Our Man in Beirut

As 2009 slowly comes to an end, Beirut is full of expectation at the upcoming arrival of the hordes of expats for Eid and Christmas. As is usual during the holidays, our sprawling and chaotic capital will double in size. Expect traffic jams as far as the eye can see, lots of gesticulating drivers, queues in restaurants and inflated prices all around.

Up until last August, I used to be one of these returning exiles. I’d sit in the offices of the bank I worked for, a soulless concrete and glass block in London, staring out at the perpetual drizzle and gray skies and think of Beirut. Then, suddenly, I decided it was time to quit and move back to Beirut. The use of the term “move back” was even surprising to me, as I’d only ever lived in Beirut for about 6 years during high school and university. The rest of my years have been spent in the aforementioned drizzle. But I’d always had this longing, even before I’d ever set foot in Lebanon in the 90s, to one day inhabit the country whose faded Ministry of Tourism posters I had plastered around my childhood bedroom on Queen’s Gate.

In the months since I’ve moved here, I’ve dealt with the daily frustrations every Beiruti endures. I’ve spent hours baking in the August sun in the Beirut Port waiting for my furniture, books, DVDs and albums. I think importing a container full of RPGs would have been less cumbersome. It appears books (of which I had 34 boxes) are far more threatening to the powers that be. I’ve endured the traffic jams, the aggressive drivers, the frustrated traffic cops, the bored telephone receptionists, the over-zealous security guards, the gossipy housewives, the faux-hippies, the faux-jetsetters. I’ve gotten used to the fact that people can smoke in restaurants, clubs, hospitals, airports, offices. I’ve tried not to stare at the botched nose jobs and garish dress sense. I’ve accepted that my internet connection slowly evaporates as the rain starts to trickle and then pour down through flooded streets. I’ve accepted that on the sunniest of days, my internet connection is still only about a 20th of the speed of the one I just left behind in the West.

Then one day, I flipped. I refused to believe I lived here. I’d tell people vaguely that I lived between Beirut and Paris. I promptly packed my bags and went to Paris for over a month. Since I quit a soul-destroying career in finance, I’ve decided I would take up my one and only passion, writing, and make a career out of it. I’m currently working on a book about Saudi Arabia’s regional wars, as well as a first novel. While I was in Paris, I was also working on an online magazine I’d been developing for a few months. Since most of my intellectual fodder comes from Manhattan-based publications, I wanted to launch an online arts & culture magazine in the same vain. I could basically live anywhere I wanted and work from my laptop.

Then, a week ago, I returned from Paris. I found the same insistent cab drivers at the airport, the same cops shouting vague threats at incorrectly parked motorists outside the arrivals terminal. My heart sank immediately. I was back. A few days of moderate depression ensued, with daydreams of my next flight out of here. Then one morning, I decided to head to my father’s ancestral village. One of the last places where I can escape to without the burden of car horns and wireless internet. I had always admired how my father has travelled to the four corners of the earth, but still only finds true peace amongst the pine trees of his native village. Sitting on a sundrenched terrace, staring down a sunlit and green valley all the way to the sea, I realized my place was in Beirut. I finally accepted that I now live here.

As I drove back to home, thoughts were racing through my mind. As soon as I got back into the 21st century, and found my wireless connection, I purchased this domain to the page you’re now reading. I have now scrapped my initial ideas for an online magazine, and will now direct my online efforts towards this blog. The daily musings of a returning expat, with all the frustrations and joys that this implies. As Beirutis and Lebanese, we’re quite good at complaining about our plight, but we’re not really proactive about it.

Over the years I’ve posted a few thoughts on Lebanon and the Lebanese on my personal blog and on various forms of social media (you can read a couple that I’ve reposted on this blog get a taste of what’s to come). Some have been plagiarized; others quoted on blogs and in books. The last note I posted on my Facebook profile drew 80 responses, so it’s pretty obvious a lot of people share my frustrations and hopes, and more importantly they want to discuss them.

So, on Monday night, this blog was born. The title “Our Man in Beirut” is a reference to the byline attached to foreign journalists and the segways made by news anchors to war correspondents. I thought it was appropriate as I often feel like a stranger in my own city. You’ll find my own musings as well as links to videos and articles of interest, with some form of snooty commentary from yours truly.

Enjoy, and thanks for reading.

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Flying Kebab – Episode 5

Flying Kebab is a narrative web series that follows the adventures of a Brazilian photographer, Nando, played by Fernando Borges, as he tries to make sense of his heritage and his inheritence on the streets of Beirut. The series kicks off as Nando is informed of a mysterious inheritance left to him thousands of miles […]

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You Know in Libanon You Can Ski and Swim in Ze Same Day?

This post was first published on November 4th 2009 on my personal blog. It has since been forwarded as an email, on Facebook and ,again, plagiarized by the unimaginative.

A few years back I wrote a piece called “Becoming Lebanese: A Step-by-Step Guide”. After I posted the thing on my blog, it went viral on a couple of social networks and gained a new life as an internet forward, which still puts a smile on my face when I receive them from the oddest of sources. A few unscrupulous souls even claimed the piece as their own and printed it in various places. But who cares, the point is, we Lebbos love making fun of ourselves from the time to time. Or so I thought.

It’s interesting to see how people read a satirical piece of that kind. I’ve bumped into friends who’ve read and it and said “ya man, zat’s so true. There’s lots of Lebanese zouzous man”, completely oblivious to the fact they are the butt of this particular joke. Herein lies our major problem as a nation: we are convinced we have no flaws, and if we admit some flaws they’re a cute by-product of our awesomeness.

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