Friday, September 30, 2011
I moved to a new neighborhood and my new balcony opens to a whole different world. Let me first position this balcony in context. This is a quasi-posh street in Achrafiyeh. The building overlooks a fast growing fancy neighborhood with mostly 11- story buildings and curtain glassed balconies. I sit there and watch for hours, but nothing goes on. The view from this side of the apartment is dull. Everything is square and straight. I move my eyes from floor to floor in the building across and see nothing. My thoughts go to the invisible maids behind those clean and thick white walls. I imagine them sitting on kitchen floors weeping in a vertical line on top of each other on every floor. This is the only balcony in my apartment because the building was architectured to turn its back to an old, poor, and unorganized neighborhood, not only stealing their direct sunlight but suffocating their breaths with a gray aluminium wall. Our ugly back is the best and only view they got. No one in my building has probably ever cared to know what's behind the wall. Those are my neighbors. I run into them in the elevator. They mumble a few french greeting words, scan my outfit, and fake a smile. That's the limit of our interaction. They must hate my guts because my car in the parking must look like a stain among their fancy lined up porsches. My car is not that bad although it does need a few repairs, polish, and cleaning from time to time (you can only send cash, we do not accept checks!). These were my neighbors until I drilled a huge window in the aluminium back wall and a whole new world opened before my eyes. That is now my new balcony. On this side, curtain glass has not yet invaded flowery balconies and people still grow small vineyards on their terraces. You have an old man who lives with his dog. He has all sorts of vegetables in small pots lined up on his clean and beautiful terrace. Three of his aged friends visit him at night to play bridge. In another building lives Rodrigue, whose parents waved to us one day and invited us for some Arabic sweets when he passed his official exams. The old man was invited too. And you have the ugly half naked guy who watches football every night while sipping his Arguileh on the balcony, coughing his smoke on the nostrils of his 3 year old daughter on his lap, and cursing the Barcelona team. And you have a 16 or 17 year old boy, who every now and then, brings a huge Lebanese Forces flag, takes up the balcony, and waves it slowly and elegantly, watching the reflection of the neighbor's drying clothes on its gleaming cedar. That's all very chaotic you think? wait till you hear about that woman who placed a whole sound system on the balcony turning it towards my hole in the wall, and playing Fares Karam at a maximum volume all day. To be fair, she doesn't start playing it before 8 o'clock in the morning. And you have another invisible neighbor who practices the Derbakeh (Tableh) on Najwa Karam's songs. One day, I did scream and asked her to put the music down. She did for 5 minutes then put it back again. I swallowed my anger, and decided to shut up. Who am I to be annoyed, I chose to open this window to hell. But then the Lebanese Forces boy comes out with his dancing flag. My anger goes out of control and as I was about to decide where to deflect it, the Tableh stops, the Fares karam song ends, and Rodrigue smiles to me. I turn to the old man and say: Would you shut your fucking dog up?! Silence followed, and I felt that the neighborhood froze for a second. I close my new window and I decide to practice rolling my French Rs. Maybe, I am the one who is trapped.