Tag Archives: Beirut

When Being Lebanese is an Insult

It’s Thursday night in Beirut, Lebanon: the beginning of the weekend. Or maybe just another day of the never-ending weekend we live in. I’m at a pub in Mar Mkhayel catching up with a friend. While inhaling three packets of cigarettes, none of which I inhale by choice (Did the ban on smoking in public pass? And if it did, are we abiding by it?), I notice the usual crowd. The same faces, and if not the same faces, then definitely the same types of people. Mostly foreigners, the NGO-working/article-writing/third-world-saving/cigarette-smoking/scarf-wearing foreigners who, of course, enjoy the “authentic” experience they’re having in a country that’s not quite as dangerous as Syria, but not as safe and sterile as the UAE. The foreign men dance in flip flops, backpacks on their shoulders, either exoticizing the Lebanese women or considering them beneath them.

Of course, there’s the Lebanese crowd as well. The men who live for this kind of experience, hoping to charm a foreign woman by showing her how “liberal” they can be. If the gods are not generous that night, they would settle for a Lebanese woman to dance and flirt with. The story is the same, told by my friends, heard in restaurants, witnessed in bars and experienced with anger. The ladies dance with the men, closer and closer as the night passes and the drinks accumulate. The man is encouraged, he leans in for a kiss, and the time passes. He thinks there is a good chance to take this woman home, but the woman might either be uninterested, unable to stay out till morning that particular night, or just not a fan of going home with a man she barely knows or doesn’t know at all. Of course, he is offended, but really, he is just frustrated, and out comes the typical response: “You’re so Lebanese.”

There it is, everyone, the insult of the bar scene in this country. We, Lebanese women, how dare we be so Lebanese? How could we be so conservative? Suddenly, we’re in the grade school of pubs, with a flag pinned to our shirt, backs turned to the class, and punished in the corner for being so Lebanese. We turned them down because WE’RE Lebanese, not because THEY’RE not interesting. Who can dispute this logic? Later, these men will meet at the “Chauvinist Convention of Lebanon” and pat each other on the back for such sharp observations and comments, they will applaud each other for discovering the reason behind the lack of sex in their lives, which of course, is not them.

Good job guys, you really pinned the tail on the donkey on this one.

 

Dima Mikhayel Matta


There is no Dignity in Being Lebanese

There is no dignity in being Lebanese. There is no pride or honor. Telling people where we’re from sounds more and more like an apology and hearing where we’re from sounds more and more like an accusation.

How can we even begin to address unity when we’re killing people who live in our neighborhood and belong to our own country and our own religion? How can we discuss improving way of life when we can’t even depend on affording bread? How do we envisage the possibility of being “more green” when we are on the streets burning tires? How do we talk of having independence and autonomy when we’re surrounded by countries who wish us ill and who want nothing but to see us fail and crumble?

There is no dignity in being Lebanese. There is only fear for not knowing what the next hour holds. There is only amnesia because we never learn from our mistakes. There is only meekness because we always follow and never think. There is only hatred and spitefulness because we never really solved anything and we never forgave.

Lebanon is stuck in one scene: Fairuz and Majida el Roumi playing in the background, families gathered around TVs and radios, listening to which part of the country is going up in flames and talking about the days of shelters and demarcation lines.

The rest is intermission.


Haiku High: Poetry over Fattoush and Sojok

There’s nothing like authentic Lebanese mezza, white wine and old Arabic music to make anyone a poet.

An Evening in a Photo

An Evening in Haikus*:

 

We went out tonight

Smoked cigars and drank some wine

Heels clicked in the street

 

Secret spies loomed near

Oum Kulthum and Bizr El Shams

Cupcakes to follow

 

Dabbling in left

His name was “Donny Parker”**

What could it have been?

 

I feel poetic

I’m on a Haiku high… oh!

On second thought, no

 

He just knew one note

But who knows, who knows, who knows

A poodle, promised***

 

Old man eavesdropping

Mustachioed and plumpish

Drinking Almaza

 

“Let’s go Dima

It’s time to get a cupcake

Have you paid the bill?”

 

*Haikus are a Japanese form of poetry made up of 17 syllables, divided into three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables.

** The name was changed to keep anonymity and mystery

*** Was originally “A dog was promised” but was changed under a poetic license. The comma was added for clarification. Indeed, the poodle made no promise.

 

Poems written by Dima Matta and Marjorie Gourlay – “You are my horizontal”

06/02/11 – At Barometre Restaurant


Art and Beauty in the Little Corners of Beirut

A lot of people complain about living in Beirut, being surrounded by concrete and construction, turmoil and traffic. We live and we expect beauty to come to us, but today, I found beauty and art in the little corners of Beirut.

We expect Beirut to give us grand gestures, we’re hopeless romantics who keep waiting for a big green field and sun-baked orange rooftops. We don’t take the time to realize that Beirut is a shy maiden, leaving little petals and short love notes for us to find.

I found beauty in walking in the rain, safe under my umbrella with my friend, whispering and laughing, clicking our heels in unison and forgetting how old life made us become.

I found beauty in a glass of white wine, warm pink cheeks and a dark wooden table in a small restaurant.

I found beauty in an old Lebanese house with a green door, a lantern and a red wall. In coffee, cupcakes and verses of poetry.

I found beauty in a hand-made lamp with spoons and little coffee cups hanging down, reminding me of the tea party in Alice in Wonderland.

I found beauty in a dimly-lit balcony, with one round paper lamp hung from a tall, arched, white Lebanese ceiling. All seen from a distance, like most beautiful things are.

My city has so much to offer, we just have to be willing to see.


In Gemmayzeh, “Gauche Caviar” Is on Your Right

If you are walking away from Downtown and towards the end of Gemmayzeh, you will find that the pub Gauche Caviar is on your right. You go in, you get a table, order your drink and sit. The music – if that’s what some choose to call it – is so loud that it makes you think that the people belong to mime theatre or to a German Expressionist movie. They cannot hear each other and shouting is just too tiring, so they perform, they exhibit quite a unique sign language not found elsewhere, their faces contort to make sure the emotions are well displayed and conveyed.

You look around and the movement is grotesque because not only do they want to “communicate”, they want to dance as well. The music is mostly techno/trance/house or whatever name they wish to give to the identical variations that are played in that pub. I can never tell one from the other and I have no wish to do so. Since talking is not an option, drinking is a must, people find themselves, glass in hand, probably a cigarette in the other, smiling at each other, sipping, blowing kisses, winking, sipping, BBMing, or combinations of sticking their tongue out and winking… then after a while, your face hurts and your facial creativity has run dry.

So you sit there, you try to dance but the music doesn’t really help and you end up doing a kind of interpretive dancing, where modern jazz and I-Had-Too-Much-To-Drink-And-Not-Enough-To-Say combine to create… art.

“Mamiiii et papiiiii got me the cutest caaaar!” exclaims the female linguist who has a knack for elongated vowels.

Leave it to Lebanese people to seek fun in a place with a name that seems to mock them. “Gauche Caviar”: you claim to support socialism but your lifestyle CLEARLY suggests otherwise. It basically means that you are not really sincere in your beliefs. INSULT! I don’t know if people who go there are socialists (I highly doubt it) but they definitely smell of caviar.

German Expressionism, also found at Gauche Caviar


Thick Glasses, White Socks, Knee-Length Dresses and War

The war took it all away. Things didn’t go out of style. War happened. Big, thick glasses, white socks and knee-length dresses and a time when each picture was art because you had to make it worthwhile. Then war happened. A picture of my mother and father during their wedding day. Cars aligned and drove to my father’s village while Beirut was being bombed. My mother only had lipstick on. There was no time for such luxuries.

Their honeymoon lasted forty days. They toured Europe, the States and even Canada. There was no war there. There, people still smiled in pictures.

The war happened and there is a picture of me being bathed in a little tin basin in a remote village where the bombs hadn’t reached yet. In that small house in that small village, “ ’Ersel ”, there was a well, or rather, a hole in the ground from where one could get water. Water so we can wash the dishes and the floors, water so we can bathe, water to drink.

Pictures of people that are now long gone, my mother pointed out each one: “God rest their soul” she said after every name.

War is so selfish. It made my sisters, when they were six years old, get out of bed, drag their pillows and sleep in the corridor as soon as they started bombing the city after nightfall.

The pictures became less and less. There was no time. Photos developed from being predominantly red to having distinct colors as Beirut turned gray.

Dima M.


Gemmayzeh: No Man’s Land

Gemmayzeh is where you get offered a drink and somehow end up paying for it. It’s where you go to be seen but not to be heard. Background music jumped to the foreground: People of Lebanon, I dare you to communicate! Maybe it’s for the best, for when they do try to communicate, they end up outside the door of the pub, talking about getting into a fight, gathering up the “troupes”, making not-so-subtle political allusions and suddenly the police is there and a night out is never a night out: it’s political.It’s men trying to mark their territory, drinking and pissing, rinse (most often not) and repeat.

Both men and women are hypocrites. Their main victim? Themselves.

“Let’s dress up and go to Gemmayzeh, I’m sure we’ll meet THE guy!” said the women.

“Let’s dress up and go to Gemmayzeh, if we act like we care and offer them enough drinks, maybe we’ll get a bit of lovin’ tonight” said the men.

You see them going into the pub, with a hopeful face, a smile, some money, good, well-applied (most often not) make-up or just good cologne for men, and… a plan.

You cannot go without a plan!

“You sit on one side and casually look around on your left, I’ll do the same on my right. If you find a man I might fancy on your side, we’ll subtly (most often not) exchange seats and vice versa.” said the women.

“Buy beer (or for the fancy men: Vodka) and wait” said the men.

The military strategies are out! Head to the trenches! Fun?! Who has time for that?

Then you see this one guy. This guy who is dancing and  singing along to The Doors’ “Light my Fire”. He has this certain je-ne-sais-quoi, he has a T-shirt that boldly states with an arrow pointing upwards towards his head “THE MAN”, while the other points downwards towards his precious family jewels “THE LEGEND”. You think: Maybe he reads Albert Camus in his spare time, or maybe he is well-versed in post-colonial theory. So you twist, turn, do all sorts of acrobatic movements to subtly (most often not) get closer. Adrenaline rush, prepare the smile, the little dance moves and the proper “See?-I-know-this-song” lip-synching. Then you hear him say: “ya zalameh, ktir 2aweya The Doors”. So you walk away, a man who knows his music would not simply describe The Doors as “ktir 2aweya”. You sigh: it could’ve been the start of something good.

And the women are dying for a little attention but if given some, they retreat and go into defensive mode: “shou?! He thinks I’m easy?!” But they crave the drama because it serves as excellent material for their next Facebook statuses and the next day’s gossip.

Then they leave. The make-up makes the women look like members of ” Kiss”; it has deteriorated and retreated to the very side of their eyes, between the small wrinkles. All hope is gone from their faces. They are tired, filled with self-doubt and confidence issues.

“Men just want the easy women, mish ma32ool, Lebanon has no decent men!” said the women.

“Yalla man, ghayra bi ghayra.” said the men.

“Gemmayzeh mantaka sakaniyya. Gemmayzeh is a residential area” said the posters.

“We didn’t get the chance to catch up” said I.

Because in Gemmayzeh, you do not communicate, you pay for your own drinks, you do not have fun, you are seen but never heard.

Dima M.