Friday, September 30, 2011
The traffic jam in Beirut today was unprecedented, after they closed the roads around the ESCWA building. I had planned to meet with a friend of mine, coming from Hamra, in Gemayzeh. After an hour on the road, we call each other to lament our misery on both sides of the city. Suddenly, it felt like East and West Beirut are back on the segregation map. As we were talking, I had an idea, I say, how about we meet tomorrow instead? My friend says: What's going to change tomorrow? but she says okay, where? I say: Skype. Puzzled, she asks, where is that? never heard of it. I say, yes you did, it is not a place, it is an online application. While everything is going slower in this country, tomorrow, the Internet will be the only thing that will go faster.
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.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
I bought an I Pad and I should admit that it is awesome. I almost want to take back what I said about the feel of books, the smell of books, etc. Of course, my father was at awe. He didn't comment this time. Nothing surprises him anymore after the net to phone invention and the escalator! You need to see those inventions in the eyes of technology illiterates to admire them. He was turning the E-book pages and probably thinking if that device can also read his mind. Why am I talking about the I Pad? yes, the I Pad made me think that technology advances in a funny way. Devices start big and then they start getting smaller and smaller. Take the mobile phone, at one point, the smaller the phone was, the trendier. One of the Motorola phones was too small that you would think this is just the battery. Then they start getting bigger again until they reach an optimal size somewhere in between. But apart from the size, everything is getting slimmer. Soon we will carry our brain in a suitcase, a slim one, and hope we don't forget it at home.
It's been a while since I last blogged. Even blogger moved to a new interface in my absence. But a lot more has been going on lately. The part of the world where I live is a pandemonium. I am not a fan of big words but pandemonium seemed perfect. In the face of such an uproar, silence seemed wise. Yet, two pictures widely circulated caught my attention lately (see below), and in these two pictures and the moral abyss between them lies our human condition. How does the human mind wander at the first sight of these pictures? Does it turn inward? Does it dwell on the metaphysical, social, moral, or historical questions? Of course that depends on a wide set of factors. Your cultural, moral, social, geographical, and other backgrounds determine your reaction. For instance, I read an article about a certain Saudi cleric who issued a Fatwa forbidding girls from sitting with or talking to their father in the absence of the mother. That Sheikh would comment on the picture by asking God's forgiveness for the woman on the left is topless! There too, in the moral abyss between that crook and any other reaction lies our human condition.