February 28, 2010

I Went to Caracalla Friday Night.

Yes. So I went to Caracalla Friday night. The prime-minister knew I was going, so he showed up too (ahum). He thought “if she’s going, I’ve got to see this too.” Well, what can I say about Caracalla? Given that I was invited, I should speak only good.
I was with two people new to the Middle East, and they most certainly had never even heard of the founder of the UAE, sheik Zayed (if you wonder what on Earth I am talking about now, you sort of understand how we felt last night). For a while we thought it was some allegorical play about Jesus. Since that might be a bit odd, we assumed it was probably about the prophet Mohamed, it being his birthday that day anyway. After all, there was a birth somewhere in the desert and wise men that showed up with advice, and a wise man – Merlin wizard style – who sort of spoke the scenes together. The English translation – from classical Arabic – did not help much either. In between these acts, that puzzled us for quite some time, these dancers ran around, making big leaps left and right, but other than that, no real choreography could be discerned. Nor a story line.

Finally, it dawned on us that this was a tribute to sheikh Zayed, whom I had never heard of before, but that is due to my own ignorance, and who is the one who united the warring tribes into the United Emirates as we know them today. The founding father, so to speak.

The plot was missing. And the Caracalla dancers failed to impress me. Except for the Dabkeh. But even there, I must say I have seen more impressive displays of (impromptu) Dabkeh at weddings here.

Luckily, a dance troupe from Russia, China (I think) and some hot dancers from Spain saved the day at the last 15 minutes of the show, which made up for the earlier confusion, so we all went home happy.

February 26, 2010

On Predicting Doom & Hip Sandbags

I have been disregarding the news for a while, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the muscle flexing all over the place. Everyone is in on the game; local as well as international sources are either preaching war or predicting war. Dark clouds are packing over Beirut.
Sandbags on the green line, 1991
I find it hard to believe that Hezbollah would give the Israelis another excuse to bomb the smithereens out of us again, after Hezbollah leader Nasrallah said on New TV that had he known, they would not have done it, just as I find it equally unlikely that the Israelis will bomb us to smithereens again after the 2006 debacle. Now political leaders all over the world are - in general - not known for their superb governing skills, and people make stupid decisions all the time, and thus my argument is not likely to hold any ground.

However, I am going to ignore all these drums of war, as it is my experience that what you expect is not what is coming. But for all those ‘doemdenkers’ (Dutch word for prophets of doom); I present you with something colorful for these dark days; the designer sandbag.

A sandbag is a sack made of burlap, polypropylene or other materials that is filled with sand or soil and used for such purposes as flood control, military fortification, shielding glass windows in war zones and ballast’ (source).
A sandbag installation by Antenna Design
I still remember Beirut during the days when sandbags were a common sight on the streets; entire store fronts were covered with sandbags. But they’re a bit drab in color, and so this is the perfect item for any hip Beiruti who wants to be well prepared - yet glamorous at the same time - in case these prophets of doom have a case.

They’re designed by a company called Antenna Design, who say that they ‘are giving the sandbag a new 'skin' and context, which transforms the way it is perceived allowing it to enter a different realm of existence.' I think that is totally befitting for this town.

Now all we need is a Lebanese entrepreneur, and we’ve got a new trend going.

February 23, 2010


My apologies if you are receiving advertisements (di’ayeh) on your cell phone from companies you have never ever shopped at. It’s probably me.

You see, when I just got my cell phone, and this is some years ago, I did not quite understand this link between asking for your phone number and name, and companies sending you advertisements. So it happened that I once bought baby shoes at Pablosky. While at the cash register, waiting to pay, the lady asks me for my phone number and name. Stupid me, I thought it was for the bill. Something they put on the bill. Yes, what an idiot, you may think, why would they put the bill in your name, but hey, they come up with some odd things in this place.

But I figured out pretty soon why they wanted my name and number. Because I have been receiving advertisements on my cell phone from Pablosky ever since. This is some 7 years now. And they have a sale every 25 days, judging from their advertisements. Never mind that I no longer have kids that will consider wearing Pablosky shoes. I still get their advertisements on my phone. Which can be very annoying, because sometimes a day passes by that you do not receive one single call or message. Not one! And then when finally you hear your inbox go “plink", it’s the frigging Pablosky store again. 70% off on baby shoes. Please, I am a size 40!
And so the next time they asked me for my name and number, I told them I had no cell phone number. Very odd, when that phone starts ringing in your bag right at that moment. Or they give you this look of “Ah, poor foreigner, no cell phone. Probably working for an NGO.”

And so for a while I resorted to giving out phone numbers from people I disliked. Now they would get these annoying advertisements from god knows what stores. Even amusement parks where my daughter was invited for birthday parties would ask for my number at the entrance. Did you get an advertisement from Youppie Park? That was probably me. Rio Lente? Yep. Waterworld? Yes, that one too.

But remembering the phone numbers from people you do not like is way too complicated, and so these days I resort to giving numbers out that are very close to my number, but not exactly. So if the cash lady asks you, “could you repeat your number?”, I come up with a number that at least sounds the same to the one I had just given her. I get a perverse pleasure in it. When a shop lady asks for my number, I insist on giving at least 3 numbers. “One for my sister in-law, she really likes shopping here.” (Not.) When they forget to ask me, I remind them. “Could you keep me informed on your sales please? Here are my numbers.”

And so, if you get 7 of these stupid advertisements a day, from stores you have never ever shopped at, nor probably will ever shop at; sorry. It was I who most likely gave them your number.

February 20, 2010

What Did I Tell You?

Didn’t I tell you we love a celebration? Any celebration? Any excuse not to have to go to work? Well, we just got another one: March 25 had been voted as a day off!

Cabinet decided to make March 25 a national holiday to celebrate the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The decision was taken during a Cabinet meeting on Thursday held under Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the Grand Serail. "Virgin Mary concerns both Muslims as Christians in the Qoran and the Bible, and this day must be on a joint holiday," Hariri told Cabinet ministers, who promptly agreed. (Source)

Can you tell me what christian country still celebrates this day as a national holiday. In this day and age? Anyone? Spain maybe? Or Portugal? Vatican City? Maybe? No, I just checked. Even Vatican City doesn't celebrate this one. But we, holier than though, do.

I know the assumption is celebrated in France, on August the 15th. That’s when Maria(supposedly) went to heaven. But what is the annunciation? Well, as I am from Holland, I had to look that one up, being from a not very religious nation, that is. I was clueless as to what happened on annunciation. Well, it is the moment that Maria announced she is pregnant. Or to be more correct, the moment where the angel Gabriel tells her she is going to have a baby.

I challenge anyone living in Holland to tell me that they knew that. But we’re having (yet another) day off. That totals to 18 public holidays. Versus 9 in Holland. You don’t hear me complain.

February 18, 2010

A Beautiful Life

Last night, I saw a glimpse of the ‘old Beirut’. When Beirut was ‘Beyrouth’. The Beirut from the time when this city really was the ‘Paris of the Middle East’. The Beirut of the high society and fast movers, of king makers and culture, of skiing in the morning and water skiing in the afternoon. Yes, that Beirut. The legendary Beirut, the city we only know from stories. The Beirut that had seized to exist well before the beginning of the civil war. The city that we somehow doubt really existed.

I had dinner with one of its ‘Grande Dames’.

She did not speak much. But when she spoke, you saw snippets of a beautiful and glamorous life. Of skiing in the Cedars in the fifties, when in Europe no one had even heard of skiing yet, and water skiing at the St. George Yacht Club, when women in the western world were only just barely gaining their independence. Of nights out in Monaco, of operas in Paris, and ballets in Vienna. Of parties with presidents, princes, marquises and movie stars, of cabriolets and yachts. Of residences in Paris and Acapulco, of beauty queens and billionaires. Of painters and composers, fashion designers and owners of airline companies and multi-nationals, and photo-shoots for Vogue and l’Officiel. It sounded so simple and natural, not snobbish at all. Just a matter of fact.

She spoke about her work. She – in her eighties – still goes on business trips. She is in negotiation with jazz ensembles and sopranos and still meets with presidents. Those that shared that beautiful life with her are all long gone, or had their fortunes turned. Yet there is no regret that those days are bygones.

The scales have tipped since then. Old money has long gone, the ‘nouveau riche’ have taken over town, and they don’t have that subdued style. It’s all flashy, and on the outside. But last night, over a simple dinner with this beautiful lady, I saw bits and pieces of that Beirut.

I am not easily impressed. But last night, I was impressed

February 17, 2010

Wordless Wednesdays

This city is mainly about destroying and new construction. But every now and then, you see that the old heritage is preserved. That gives hope.

February 14, 2010

All You Need . . .

Sometimes all you need is . . . an empty beach . . .two scrounged plastic beach chairs . . .and a friend . . .who has a husband . . .who sends over a waiter . . .with a bottle of white wine . . .
and chips with a dip . . . to make a lovely day.
and a beach babe doing stretches on a a flat tire for added entertainment.

I’m telling you; the weather has been absolutely gorgeous lately. No skiing though, but who needs to ski if you have the beach. It took me a while to get out of Beirut today, on account of the demonstration downtown. I don’t know anyone anymore who is going to the demonstration. It used to be that I didn’t know anyone not going. But five years was all the politicians needed to alienate everyone, and I mean everyone; all sides are fed up with politics & politicians.
I saw on the news that somewhere in Indonesia muslim ladies in chador are demonstrating against Valentine’s day, being an American cultural infusion and all that, and they’re burning the teddy bears with the hearts and all that stuff. Luckily we’re not that narrow-minded in; any excuse for a celebration is a good excuse. Last week it was Saint Maroun, sometime next week it’s Mohamed. We celebrate everything in this place. Life’s too short not to.

February 10, 2010

February 08, 2010

You Know He Is Lebanese . . .

. . . when he manipulates two phones at the same time. (Click on the photo for the live version.)

February 07, 2010


Faraya slopes

I met some foreigners this week that had never been to Lebanon before. And the misconceptions were quite revealing. They thought this was quite a dangerous place. I understand that part; we’ve got 15 years of civil war to erase from people’s memories, and for some reason, this Lebanese civil war sticks like tar. Nobody seems to think of Sarajevo as a dangerous place anymore. Yet Beirut keeps that stigma. One blogger, Jad Aoun, is keeping track of these misconceptions; they’re called the ‘Looks Like Beirut’ Awards. But what surprised me even more was that local Lebanese, i.e. people that are Lebanese and are living in this country, warned these foreigners not to venture anywhere, because ‘you never know’, and ‘they might kidnap you’ or ‘someone might not like you because of your government.’ I was absolutely appalled. I have lived here for almost 20 years, have visited every corner of this place and often on my own. And I have never ever experienced anything that you could consider xenophobic.
And so to get back to today; Did you know that many people do not know that you can ski in Lebanon? The weather was fantastic, the traffic horrific, and the mood good.

Indiana Joneses at Dinner

Even Indiana Jones has to have dinner. These business dinners are quite an affair. Between phone calls with ministers, army generals, navy seals, prime-ministers, boat crew, journalists, kids at sleep-overs, captains and board members, they managed to eat, and conduct a very animated table conversation about flight-inspectors, plane-crash investigators, how planes crash, why business class passengers have been found but not economy class, about spending 18 hours in the air in a fighter jet over the Bering Sea and missing the flight deck cable a total of eleven times, refueling in the air four times, ship wrecks downward drafts in storm clouds, power surges in fuel tanks and lots of other very interesting things.

Looking at their phone screens, instead of the lovely table companions at their side

Parts of the Ethiopian flight 409 have been found, and it seems to be a matter of days before the entire plane has been located and the lifting of parts begins. The Lebanese navy is slowly preparing for the retrieval of the many victims.

February 06, 2010

Indiana Joneses

Beirut, Friday morning 7:00 A.M.
When I came home from work yesterday, it turned out my home had been turned into a base for treasure seekers/black box locators. They are quite an inspiring company; It’s like I had four Indiana Joneses on the coach. I have heard tales that could keep me blogging for quite some months to come. These are you regular day adventurers; They’ve retrieved Space Challenger Shuttles from the sea, silver coins from armadas, ceramics from pre-revolutionary trader ships, been chased by the Spanish navy, had to deal with body bags, all kinds of shipwrecks and have been experiencing lots of interesting things while working here in Lebanon. They are here to find the Ethiopian plane (which I understand they may have finally found some pieces of) and the 2 black boxes (of which they hear a beacon, but somehow cannot pinpoint, yet they are so close they can practically smell the things).
Beirut, Friday evening, 7:00 P.M.
But in the meantime, I leave you with a picture of last Friday, when we said goodbye to one of our favorite waiters at the HRC; Ringo. He’s going on to brighter horizons. And I’m going skiing with terror Theo today.