Posted by: audreydk | August 25, 2010

Thank you (shukran)!

Hello all! I just wanted to thank everyone for checking out my blog and for all of your comments! In formal Arabic, one says shukran (as is written above in Arabic calligraphy) to express thanks, and a common response is tikram aiounak (thank you for your eyes). Isn’t Arabic so lovely and wonderful?! Also, since the Lebanese dialect is French-influenced, one can say merci or merci ktir (thanks alot!). So, shukran, merci ktir and thank you to all who read this blog. Also, feel free to continue making comments and let me know what you’d like to write about next if I continue to blog. Yalla bye!

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Posted by: audreydk | August 25, 2010

I left my heart at Dany’s

Dany’s bar is little hole in the wall pub on a tiny street in the Hamra district of Beirut where I live. Christine took me there for my first night out in Beirut to watch a World Cup match and I instantly fell in love with place. I watched almost every World Cup game there, made new friends and maybe even danced on a table or two :). In the afternoon, Dany’s is an escape from the heat and has free wifi. In the evening, it can overcrowded, smoky, and loud- exactly what a local dive bar should be.

Posh rooftop bars are all the rage in Beirut right now, like Skybar, White, and Le Capitole (I only made it to Le Capitole). These do offer lovely nighttime views of downtown, their interiors are chic and there are a lot of pretty people to be seen. Yet, they are a little highfalutin for my taste and I prefer something bit more low-key. So, bring on the graffiti-ridden interior and endless bottles of Almaza beer!

This is what a Mexican beer looks like.

Above is a local concoction known as a “Mexican beer.” It consists of the juice of one lemon and a salt-rimmed glass, filled with Lebanese-brewed Almaza. I think of it as the summer beverage of 2010 and I recommend it- it’s light, refreshing and well, cheap. Below are Rawad and Marino, aka, the best bartenders in Beirut!

Posted by: audreydk | August 24, 2010

Random pics

People:

The Grad students from my Arabic program

Christine, Sami and I, out on the town...Sami's too cool to smile.

At Dany's 2 year anniversary.

Places:

Ahoy, McWorld!

Entrance to the Mohammad al Amin Mosque, downtown

The beach in Beirut that doesn't charge $20 to get in!

Things:

All I want for Christmas...

These displays signal the approach of Ramadan

"Open Happiness..."

Posted by: audreydk | August 24, 2010

Shatila

Shatila in daylight...

Shatila is a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Beirut. What began as groups of simple tents when Shatila was opened by the UNRWA in 1949, transformed into concrete huts by the 1960’s. Now Shatila is an entire neighborhood, set off the main boulevard, complete with its own beauty salons, tall concrete apartment buildings, grocery marts and nargileh stores (what many Americans call hookah). This is not to say that Shatila possesses anything resembling luxe. Like all refugee camps, Shatila’s inhabitants are impoverished and most buildings are pockmarked concrete shells.

Pictures of Arafat and other Palestinian heroes adorn the walls of Shatila

Shatila is known as the site of the September 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres, in which Phalangist allies conducted raids on the camp that killed a disputed number of civilian refugees.  Estimated casualties range between 700 and 3500, and at least indirect Israeli involvement in the incidents is undeniable.  Thus, the name Shatila is synonymous with sectarian and political violence, like so many words in Lebanon.

My friends and I decided to visit Shatila for a concert, of all things.

There was festival and concert for the Children and Youth Center of Shatila, which was, like any event these days, posted on Facebook!  The cab ride was just the beginning to an interesting evening. Four young women- three American and one Lebanese- piled into the back seat and asked to be taken to Shatila. “Shatila?” the cabbie countered with a frown, no doubt wondering why tourists would want to see “that” part of town, but we persevered…and he got us there, eventually.

The driver first tried to drop us just outside the larger neighborhood known as Shatila, but luckily, our native Lebanese friend urged him on, insisting there was a concert we wanted to see in the camp (Merci ktir, Marwa!). After about 15 minutes of asking directions and maneuvering through the tiny streets of the camp, we were in the bowels of Shatila and the driver curtly dropped us and got the hell out there.  We were a bit nervous to go where I found out even the more macho Lebanese men fear and refuse to tread, but then turned a corner to find the concert!

We were quickly ushered to our seats- plastic lawn chairs in the middle of playground near a camera which was recording to broadcast the concert live on T.V.  We sat in a crowd that consisted mostly of grandmothers and mothers with their children and listened to traditional Arabic music.  It is a music that I describe as infectious- whose long emotional pauses followed by quick upbeat sets demands that everyone joins in clapping, yelping, and swaying.

I found myself tearing up during the event, not only for the feeling of the music, but by the attitude of my fellow concert-goers, who were mostly Shatila residents.  In short, Shatila residents and supporters make a decision that, despite being refugees for generations, they have life to celebrate. In addition, holding a concert to benefit the youth center is a strong statement about the the desire to continue to live and undergird a strong Palestinian identity. It is a fierce variety hope of which I am not sure I would be capable in the same situation.

During the concert, Palestian flags were handed out like candy to excited munchkins and were waved enthusiastically.  Want to learn more about Shatila? Take a look at Joe Sacco’s magnificent graphic history “Footnotes in Gaza”.

Posted by: audreydk | August 24, 2010

Spicy!

The Lebanese clearly have a good taste, and it’s hot! Hot sauce is not hard to find and in this tiny Armenian sandwich shop, they even have bonafide “Louisiana Red Hot Sauce”.  This reminds me of my roots, so here’s my shout out to the Schexnaidre clan- so, crawfish, file, gumbo and all that!

Posted by: audreydk | August 24, 2010

Downtown

Downtown Beirut, and indeed, much of the rest of the city, is a showcase of extreme juxtapositions.  The heart of downtown has been formidably reconstructed from what it was after the civil and 2006 wars into spotless buildings with traditional Lebanese facades, lined with quaint new cobblestone avenues.  Other areas are less consistent, where glitzy new high-rise apartments sit next to completely gutted concrete buildings that remain from the 2006 war.  These buildings often lay empty, perhaps housing squatters or military barracks.

Save the Egg!

An example of a reminder from prewar Beirut is the Beirut City Center Building–better known as the Egg Theater. The former cinema was originally designed by the Lebanese modernist architect Joseph Phillipe Karam, and it was built in 1965 as a part of a larger, three-building complex, when Beirut was dubbed the “Paris of the Middle East”.  The Egg is an odd and wonderful part of downtown, but it is endangered!

The Egg is set to be torn down to build the new $1.2 billion Beirut Gate project in its stead. According to the United Arab Emirates based newspaper, Gulf News, the Gate is a “development project comprised of 8 plots strategically located in downtown Beirut. The project will ultimately represent the new style district within Beirut where it includes residential, commercial and entertainment components.”  This unfortunately signals the demise of the Egg, but there are Beirutis fighting for its survival, like Dana Bdier, who created a “Save the Egg” facebook group that has exceeded its 5,000 member limit!  I, for one, strongly support its preservation because, if for no other reason, this building has withstood years war and represents Lebanese creativity and determination.  Why can it not be restored and used as a cinema as it once was?

Here is the undeniably eye-catching Mohammad al-Amin Mosque that marks the center of downtown Beirut, which was built between 2002 and 2007 by the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was buried beside it. While I did not make it inside, it is an example of the beautiful architecture present in downtown Beirut. The fountain below is another example of a more modernist design in downtown.

Posted by: audreydk | August 24, 2010

Don’t fix it if it ain’t broken

Poor Nancy Ajram, I’m making an example of her (haram!). You may remember Nancy from such Beirut blogposts as “Football Fever”. She is a famous Lebanese singer, who is also famous for her remarkable plastic surgery makeover as pictured above. She is not alone in her well-known transformation, other Lebanese celebraties have had them as well (…ahem…Haifa Weibe…cough…Rola Saad).

Then again, plastic surgery isn’t that rare in Lebanon. While I was there, I heard a French-language news story that claimed Lebanon had outranked Brazil in the competition for the country with the most plastic surgery, but I’ve found little evidence to support this (In fact, most sources I found ranked the U.S. as #1 in this shining category). I’m guessing the numbers about surgery in Lebanon get spiked by other Middle Eastern tourists who come to vacation in liberal Lebanon and get their nosejob on.  Nonetheless, in Beirut particularly, I saw a remarkable amount of bandaged noses and manicured cheekbones and chins, on both men and women. Please keep in mind, however, that many Lebanese are opponents of plastic surgery.


The music video above is entitled “Funky Arabs”, and its Lebanese singer, Jad Choueri, guarantees that Arabs are “modern” by way of flashy cars, revealing clothes, general hypersexualization, and of course, botox! It’s unclear how much work Jad and his videomates have had done.

This music video, as creepy as I find it, does carry one redeemable message that Westerners need to hear: being an Arab is not synonymous for being a terrorist. Beyond that, American right-wing politics and the media must stop spinning fear-mongering messages that propagate negative stereotypes about Arabs, Muslims, and people of the Middle East more generally (more on that later). Yet, Jad seems more concerned with fetishizing superficial “funkiness” of botox that apparently signifies a “modern sense”.

A woman with a nose like me (or a young man), would most certainly get their shnoz done, which I think is sad. Noses are beautiful, sexy and so unique, why make them all look alike under the knife? Luckily, I’ve grown quite fond of my Schexnaidre bump and have no intentions of changing it! And, I can save that potential plastic surgery cash for buying all those rhinestone-encrusted five-inch high heels.

Posted by: audreydk | August 2, 2010

A Military Presence

Lebanon is a country presently at peace, but as a tribunal for the political assassination in 2005 of former Prime Minister Rafic Harir is coming up in September, the climate is becoming more tense. For me, this only means I have to avoid taking pictures of political buildings and at worst, I get my camera broken before I depart in a week. For the Lebanese, the threat of tension, violence and even war may be nigh…any outcome depends on who you talk to. Everyone is aware of the potential powder keg, but few people I talk to seem overly concerned.

Here are some “guards” at the castle in Tripoli, which is where I took most of these pics. These “civil soldiers” don camouflage and are a liaison between the police and the military; they pepper the streets of Beirut and oversee checkpoints all over the country. I snapped this pick to show the size of guns that are on many a street corner.  In fact, I don’t really notice them anymore- these commonplace arms are here for protection against potential combatants, not tourists.

Here are the checkpoint stations that I referred to, they are usually surrounded with these sandbags and sometimes camouflage as well. I have never seen anyone get stopped, and we have never actually been stopped, we just nod at the big man and he waves us on. Below, tanks line the main drag outside of the Tripoli Castle.

Posted by: audreydk | August 2, 2010

How could I not take this picture?

Just like the lamp from "A Christmas Story"...

Lucky for us, the vendor has chosen to use a mirror to showcase all that these shoes/ leg straps have to offer to the potential buyer.  It’s like a gladiator sandal on steroids that got attacked by a bedazzler!  I asked if they had them in pink, but apparently black is the only color these treasures come in.  And rightly so…pink would just be tacky.

Posted by: audreydk | August 2, 2010

Street Art

Like many cities, Beirut is filled with graffiti and it often makes for formidable entertainment when one is on a long walk. Many marks are political statements (of which I know little) and some are more general aesthetic tags by artists, or kids with extra time and spray paint.  Above is a twist on the classic Mediterranean and Middle Easten Eye in the Hand of Fatima.  Traditionally, the eye is supposed to ward off enemies, envy and bad mojo in general, but this one is making a distinctly brusque statement and there is no need to translate the Arabic! Below is a more classic image of the evil eye from the web in jewelry form, which very common in Beirut and all over the Mediterranean world.

Above, the red “Intifada” refers to numerous Palestinian political movements or “uprisings”.  The picture below captures how everyday life and politics mix in the act of boycotting anything from Nestle to the popular clothing store H & M. Boycotting Nestle here is about as easy as boycotting Proctor and Gamble, or corn syrup in the States. It can be done, but not without an effort, and many people I talk to claim to be “cafeteria” boycotters 🙂 .

Mark of a local hip-hop band that tags everything!

And back to politics…the old proverb about “good walls” may ring true everywhere, but here it refers to Palestinian-Israeli relations, or Arab-Israeli relations more generally.  The gift-wrapped package to the right is a bomb entitled “Gaza.”  While the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is always on the minds of the Lebanese, their opinions and beliefs are extremely diverse and the images here represent only a fraction of the local political spectrum.

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