September 28, 2008

Sunday Pick-Nick and such

While on a picnic with SIL (sister in-law) somewhere northeast in the mountains of Lebanon, in a region called Koura, we ran into a multitude of hunters.
It is the bird migrating season right now. More than 500 million birds pass over the Middle East twice a year in the autumn and spring on their way from Asia and Europe to Africa and back again.
I doubt many of those will make it if they pass over Lebanon. Every idiot in the village was out with a gun. We tried to find a quiet pick nick spot, but they were literally shooting up the entire neighborhood.

Isn’t it against the law?” tried my sister in-law, while passing a hunter on a small country road that blocked our way as he was aiming into the sky...
What is?” asked the guy. BANG!!
Well, hunting.”
Where have you been living?” came the reply.

We hadn’t even gotten around him when one fell right next to us. The man was about to snap its little neck when the kids created an incredible pandemonium. Now what was that bad man going to do? Kill a bird? Ohooh noooo! Tears, screams and moaning escaped from the vehicle, and the man had little choice but to let the thing go.
Not only did he have to let it go, we had to safe it. And so we were stuck with a lame bird on our pick nick. It’s a really pretty bird, shot in the wing. I’m not sure what to feed it, and so we’ll see if we can get it to a birdwatcher tomorrow. (Anyone in Beirut?)
The north is olive grove country. Hills with terraces filled with olives. The hills are chalk white, and the colors are real pretty.
We finally found - after many kilometers on white chalked off- roads and through olive groves - a quiet spot, far away from the hunters, in a dried up canyon of the Jaouz River.
It wasn’t a very tranquil pick nick however, because the first thing they picked up was a nasty greenish centipede, and then one smart-ass in the family had to lecture us extensively on the danger of flash floods in canyons of dried up rivers, especially since it has been raining quite a bit these last two days. We did not budge. We told him we had heard of people getting swept away by flash floods in Egypt, Jordan and Israel, but never in Lebanon.
You don’t die of flash floods in Lebanon. The thought alone is preposterous. We’re way too glamorous for that. And then when we drove home we got stuck in the ever-lasting traffic jam of Jounieh.
So how was your Sunday?

Update: It’s a rainbow bee eater, 'just programmed to catch things on the wing. Once an insect lands the bee-eater ignores it, even if in plain sight. Bee-eaters are almost strictly predators on flying insects.’ (source). Any suggestions how to heal a broken wing?

Random Thoughts

Ever wonder where your old car ended up? I frequently do. I just sold my white pick-up, a car that got me over vast parts of the Middle East the past seven years and never ever let me down once (well, only once), and that was – condescendingly – referred to be my friends as ‘Sokleen ', due to the fact that the local garbage company (Sokleen) drives the same car.
A fantastic vehicle, and I wonder about its new owner. I still see my old Nissan Patrol driving around town now and then, and wonder how they keep that thing running. When I sold that one 8 years ago, it was already consuming more oil than gas. And do they drive with gas masks? After the dog had barfed in the back of the car, and my son –, had stepped all over the seats with ‘human refuse‘ under his shoes (after a walk on the Ramlet el-Baida beach one winter afternoon), that car had to go. And what about my little Morris Marina, that had so much dog hair on the back seats that when you’d drive with open windows (and you had to for the most part of the year, because it didn’t have AC), flocks of hair would fly all around the car?

Anyway, these thoughts came up when this – formerly Dutch - car from J. de Groot (Installatie Bureau uit Voorschoten, 071 561 86 55) drove by Saturday afternoon while I was running errands all over town. If Mr. de Groot from Holland ever wonders, like I frequently do –I can help him out. His car is alive and kicking in Beirut. It probably got around more than de Groot ever did. This car is currently not getting around. How about this for a problem solver?
And this one remains a favorite with me; the peddler of all. Quintessential Lebanese.

September 25, 2008

On Inspiration (Again)


What inspires the blogger of late
To make no more of a wall than an open gate’

(After Robert Frost, a Cow in Apple Time)

This inspiration issue is truly becoming an issue with me. Friends even mail me to check if I am really alright. (Thank you Theo, Mark and Dimphy). No, I am fine. I just bought a new car, the school year has started (no report cards due until December, so that’s always a good time), my housekeeper says she’ll stay on until the new one comes in, which takes a load off my back and mind, friends are inviting me to their birthdays and hubbie says (shows) he loves me. What more could you want?

But I am truly puzzled by this lack of inspiration. How come that this town, this country, which has inspired me for years and years, suddenly fails to stimulate me?

It is not that we lack the misery. We’ve got power shortages for years to come, the Syrian army is gathering at our borders, the Israelis are warning they are ready to bomb us (again), the mood on the streets is nasty, and we’ve got an inflation rate of some 20%, although when I look at my weekly grocery bill, I think 33% is more like it. The only good news is that we’re not suffering from the financial crisis the way the Americans are, but that is because we’ve been suffering already for the past 10 years, so we got used to it.

Enough material to provide inspiration for years to come, you’d think.

And then, when this afternoon I went to organize the insurance for my new car, there was a traffic policeman guiding me through the process of inserting 500 Lebanese pounds (23 euro cents or 0.33 dollar) into a parking meter. Out came a perfectly white ticket, giving me exactly until 8:06 the next morning to park. (Some 16 hours of parking time).
Now if anything takes away my inspiration, it is digitalized parking tickets. Before you know it, this place becomes just like Abu Dhabi (god forbid) or Dubai (god forbid even more).

What on earth am I going to write about, if we have arrived at digitalized parking tickets? Not much (as I have just proven).
But I wrote it anyway, to steer the conversation on this blog away from Marijke and her sleeping bag (upon her request), and back to life in Lebanon.

I guess what I need is an adventure. I’ve got a 5 day holiday coming up, and I plan to go places. Maybe this will inspire me. Anyone in for an adverture? Sigh.

September 10, 2008

Happy Birthday to Marijke

Today a post on one of the Dutch old-timers in Lebanon; Marijke.
And why? Because today she turns …, well, let’s just say it is her birthday today. And even though she’s 100% Dutch, she currently has lived longer in Lebanon than she has lived in Holland. She’s been through quite a bit of Lebanese history, experienced the Israeli invasion of 1982, lots of civil disturbances, bombs in front of her, bombs behind her, and today it is her …… birthday. And so, to make it a bit memorable (it’ not every day that one turns …), a figured I’d put her on the blog today.And to give you an indication as to how old she is getting; just take a look at that sleeping bag she used this summer while we were in Paris together. A real original, totally retro, Paisly design, sleeping bag. It is a real one, still from the late 60’s, early 70’s. That sleeping bag totally rocks, Marijke.

September 07, 2008

How We Move Things Part III

How We Move Things Part I
How We Move Things Part II

And if you really want to shake things up, try driving to the Beqaa Valley in the RIGHT lane only. I think I've lost every possible screw and nut that my car possesses. My intestines are somewhere behind my lungs right now. (You'll ony get this one if you take the Damascus Rd to the Beqaa Valley now and then. It is brutal, that right lane)

September 06, 2008

Interest(ing)

Saturday morning on the Corniche

My inspiration is slowly seeping back.
I went to the bank to deposit $3000 dollars. When I get the receipt, I see that I actually only deposited $2994.
“I think I deposited $3000”, I say.
“Yes, but we send the bills to the States, and we charge you for that”, the lady at the counter replies. 0.2 %, as a matter of fact.
I’ve never heard of anything like it. I pay for withdrawing money from ATM machines other than my bank, and now I pay for depositing money as well. My understanding of banking was that I was the one getting money for putting it in a bank account, such as interest.

This one fits in the category of the tip at Burger King.

Yes yes, I feel it seeping, the inspiration.

September 05, 2008

Traffic in this place, of course, is always a great source of inspiration for me. And while I listened to Neil Simon on the radio, singing about the '50 ways to leave your lover', these guys made me wonder about the 50 ways to meet your destiny.
This is about a-quarter-of-an-inch type of work. At break-neck speed. I never saw one getting crushed.
A Travelling Salesman

September 03, 2008

Uninspired

I’d said I’d start writing/blogging again on September 1st, but I must say I feel strangely uninspired by the ‘Beirut of late’.

Getting back into the mood after a two month absence, is hard enough. And coming in from a place where people wait in line, do not interrupt conversations and pick up their own trash, it usually takes me a day or three before I comfortably wallow in chaos again.

With the ‘chaos wallowing’ comes the inspiration.
Some writers need isolation, others need 6 sharpened pencils and lined yellow legal pad absolute, while there are those that need to multi-task (say, cooking for instance) while writing. Chaos does it for me.

I need chaos, unplanned events; bursting boilers and plumbers that don’t show up, cars that break down at times when pay-checks don’t come, children with beyond-poor grades when the end of the schoolyear nears, cats that throw up in the kitchen, supermarkets that close due to ‘civil disturbances’, bullet holes in the fa├žade of the building and militiamen with nasty grins around the corners.

Maybe it is the start of Ramadan? Maybe politicians have even outdone themselves and can no longer be interested in their own dysfunctional discourse? Maybe the price of oil has finally affected the import of arms and ammo and the like (wishful thinking)?
I don’t know.

But I am uninspired by this town at the moment, and so I will leave it at that.