A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for February, 2008

typically Lebanese New Yorkers :)

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 27, 2008

Can you get online? G asked me this morning via sms. I need to show you something.

We’re not in touch as much these days, so I thought it might be something urgent. I rushed through my post-gym shower routine (made briefer by the fact that yes, I did indeed forget to pack my hairbrush today) and hurried to work.

Do you know the Facebook group “The Lebanese Club of New York? G asked when I had arrived and logged on.

I rushed for a FACEBOOK issue? I began wondering grumpily. But luckily G explained.

I don’t know the group – I’ve never heard of it. But evidently it knows me – or at least one of its members does.

This is the group’s page on facebook.

This is the post I wrote about seeing a painted mark on a hiking trail in Austria that looked like the Lebanese flag.

Ladies & gentlemen of Lebanon and New York: I am delighted that you enjoyed my photo, and touched that you chose it for your group.

But as an administrator of a facebook group myself, I can tell you that uploading the group’s photo requires that the uploader say that yes, he or she has the right to do so.

So naturally I am concluding that the members of this group are not merely Lebanese, but also telepathic :). They must have read my mind and known that I would be delighted that they like the photograph.

And if they are reading my mind right now, they will know that I am thinking of my favorite 212/718 Arabic (not Lebanese, sorry!) restaurants. And as fellow New York gourmands, I would love to hear about their favorites as well 🙂

Posted in Americans, Beirut, blogging, food, Lebanon, New York | 2 Comments »

Fraying at the seams: Syrian society under pressure

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 25, 2008

This post is for M, with whom I had many delightful adventures in Damascus from 2003 to 2005 – despite the occasional streak of sexism-turned-violent there that the latest US warden message highlights.

On Saturday, the US Embassy in Syria issued this warning:

 

In a recent incident still under investigation, a Western expatriate woman was accosted by a man in a stairwell. While the Embassy has few details at this time, we would like to take this opportunity to remind the American community of basic personal security practices.

While the overall rate of crime in Syria is low compared to other countries around the world sound residential security practices are a must in any environment. The success of these measures largely depends on the consistent and active commitment of every family member to maintaining a secure home.

Building Lobbies: Make it a habit to close your lobby door upon entering your building, and encourage others to do so.

Checking for Vulnerable Points: Survey your residence from a burglar’s point of view, particularly if you live in a garden apartment or on a lower floor potentially accessible from street level. Are there sections of your garden wall where climb-over or forced entry would be relatively easy? Do any trees or overgrown brush provide exceptionally good hiding places? If your apartment has a secondary access point (like a garden gate), is the lock substantial?

Security Lighting: Ensure that your stairwell lights remain in working order.

Lock all doors at all times. Lock up as you enter the house, and take a moment to verify that all doors and locks—including gate grills — are secured before turning in for the evening.

These are all things I do without thinking, even at my parents’ house in Iowa. They are all simple practices, small things that keep us safe in today’s world. They aren’t just house related: I set my handbag between my legs or on my lap rather than on the chair next to me reduces the likelihood of it being stolen or rifled through, for example.

These are all things I do without thinking, so I did them whenever I was in Damascus, just like I do them here. And assaults do happen in Damascus and in Beirut. I know multiple women friends in both cities who have been attacked by men who thought a foreigner would be either interested (because we only come to these countries because we are so over-sexed, you know) or easy (ditto).

I’m sorry for the woman this happened to most recently, and I am proud of her for going to the embassy. I hope she knows someone with enough wasta to go after the guy who assaulted her – because he’s not likely to feel sorry otherwise. And neither is his family, who will likely say: she asked for it – its not his fault.

It is his fault, and theirs too, for fostering a culture of male entitlement and female stereotypes. Nice job, anonymous woman; and nice job, US Embassy.

Posted in Arab world, Lebanon, Syria, women | Leave a Comment »

the power of denial

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 24, 2008

One of the many valuable lessons my aunt IntXpatr has taught me is to look closely at statements of denial. This weekend, a denial issued by the Jordanian government has been making the rounds of regional news sources.

The Jordanian government wants everyone to know that it is NOT training the Hariri family’s Future Party in the use of military grade weapons. Reports to the contrary are ALL LIES.

And they probably are. I’ve heard rumors about this since last summer, but if they are true, the Jordanians have done an awful job. The Mustaqbalis do seem to know how to fire their guns, but judging by the altercations last weekend, their sense of strategy and tactics could use a major overhaul.

Still, the denial is both vague and definitive – a sure sign that someone has put a bee in the Jordanian bonnet. Here is the original article, from the government-friendly Jordan Times:

AMMAN (Petra) – The government on Thursday rejected as “baseless and incorrect” recent reports by newspapers and websites that Jordan supplied “Lebanese elements from the Future Movement” with weapons and supervised their training. In a statement carried by the Jordan News Agency, Petra, Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications Nasser Judeh dismissed such reports as “fabricated and pure lies”, saying they target Jordan and its efforts to help preserve the security and stability of Lebanon.

Describing Jordan’s policy of “noninterference in the internal affairs of any state” as “consistent and plain”, Judeh said Jordan will always support and encourage dialogue among Lebanese political powers to reach agreements among themselves to safeguard Lebanon’s national unity and its higher interests.

He said the news reports’ allegations aimed to defame Jordan and undermine its support for the “brothers” in Lebanon and of helping them confront the dangers threatening their country.

Judeh appealed to the Lebanese people to confront attempts to fuel discord and “destabilise their country”.

He stressed that Jordan condemns such attempts, which, he said, are carried out to serve political agendas.

As the saying goes:

Denial: its not just a river in Egypt.

Posted in Jordan, Lebanon, politics | 1 Comment »

rumors from the grounds up

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 23, 2008

I thought you would already have left the country, the neighborhood coffee vendor said to me this morning as I walked past him.

What? I said, snapping out of a hausfrau-like but pleasant daydream about which stores I would go to on my Saturday morning grocery run.

Aren’t you planning to leave? he asked me again.

I assumed he was asking about my reaction to the “situation” here, and the increase in gunfire & scuffles over the past few weeks.

No no, I said, trying to snap myself from “do I need peanut butter?” to “calm, reassuring foreigner” mode. I’m fine here – and I’m busy with work.

But you must leave, he said, shaking his hands and frowning. By Wednesday. On Wednesday, Israel will attack.

Um, WHAT? The peanut butter debate whisked itself to my mental back burner.

Yes, he continued, with bombs and airplanes. And just in case I didn’t get it, he made “boom boom” and fighter jet noises.

Mmm, I said. Yes, I remember those sounds from the 2006 war.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t take invasion predictions from my coffee vendor terribly seriously. But earlier this week a Lebanese colleague told me about the homeless man who lived in her neighborhood during her childhood. He was sweet, harmless, and slightly touched in the head – and when the Israelis invaded Beirut in 1982, he turned out to be one of their top brass.

Although I appreciated his warning, I can’t imagine that Israel wants anything to do with the words “Lebanon” and “invasion” these days.

And if it does, I sure hope it doesn’t happen on Wednesday. I have two morning meetings and a heap of other things to do that day – and no time to deal with an onslaught of Israelis.

Posted in Americans, Beirut, childhood, espionage, explosion, Israel, Lebanon, politics, rumors, time | 4 Comments »

I’ve got your (plate) number

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 22, 2008

On Tuesday H and I had lunch at the new Tabkha (well, new since mid-summer) in Hamra. It was a socially symmetrical lunch: as we sat down, we each realized that we knew someone else dining there.

H’s restaurant acquaintance was Raed Rafei, a local journalist who works with the LA Times. I don’t know him, but he has kindly commented on this blog before, and he writes for “Babylon and Beyond”, the blog published by the LA Times‘ Middle East-based journalists.

Raed wrote a post for B&B early Tuesday, commenting on a Gulf News story about the most expensive license plate in the world. I had read his post during a morning news scan, and was delighted to meet him in person.

License plate auctioning has become a major fundraiser for charities in the Emirates, as this Gulf News article published in advance of last week’s auction suggested:

Dubai: License plate No. 1 is expected to set a new Guinness World Record for the most expensive car plate in the world when it goes under the hammer at the much-anticipated auction on Saturday at 4pm at Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi.

“Expectations for Plate No. 1 are high”, said Abdullah Matar Al Mannaei, Managing Director of Emirates Auction, the official auctioneer for Code 5 distinguished number plate auctions.

“We are confident that we will set a new record,” Al Mannaei said, adding that Emirates Auction has registered with Guinness World Records and will supply them the required material to issue the certificate if the record is broken.

The record-breaking event is creating an international media storm – CNN’s coverage was the top downloaded video from their website the weekend of February 1, 2008.

“We wish Emirates Auction all the best with the Number 1,” said Damian Lawson, Auctions Marketing Manager for the UK’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), the government agency which sells personalised plates in Britain.

Emirates Auction already holds the records for the top six most expensive plates worldwide.

Plate No. 1 is only the third one-digit number plate to go on sale so far, and by far the most prestigious.

Plates No. 5 and 7 sold for Dh25.2 million and Dh11 million respectively in 2007 – almost 10 ten times the value of the luxury cars they now adorn.

Both were snapped up by Abu Dhabi businessman Talal Ali Mohammad Khouri, who has signalled his participation in the upcoming auction to media outlets.

“In a short period of time, Emirates Auction has grown to be a leader in the Gulf region’s auction industry”, said Tommy Williams, President of the U.S.-based National Auctioneers Association (NAA), one of the largest trade associations for auctioneers.

“The quality and professionalism of their work can be witnessed by the remarkable returns of their auctions,” Williams added.

The last five auctions raised $56 million from 393 plates, which went towards the support of special needs projects and victims of road accidents.

All proceeds from Saturday’s auction will go towards building a national rehabilitation centre for traffic accident victims – the first of its kind in the UAE.

It will be run along the lines of the most advanced rehabilitation centers in the world and will provide physiotherapy, and other medical, psychological, social, occupational and recreational support.

Along with Plate No. 1, a total of 90 distinguished license plates will be on offer at the Saturday auction, including special numbers such as 96, 100, 212, 1111, 2001 and 31313.

The word “distinguished” is used much more frequently in Arabic than in English. Countries are always described by state news agencies as having “distinguished relations” with one another, as opposed to the less elevated “diplomatic relations” that countries have in the American and European press.

For license plates, I think the term more often used in Lebanon is the same one used for mobile numbers: pretty. Having a “pretty” number is a sign of wealth – or at least of connections with those in power.

Why? Because license plate issuing works differently in the Arab World than it does in the US. In Lebanon, you can register with the state and receive an ordinary, six or seven digit plate – which costs next to nothing. Or you can use your connections and your money to buy a much more expensive one, two, three or four digit plate – and preferably a pretty one.

What makes a license plate pretty? Its not the paint job – in Lebanon, the plate is white, with black numbers and a blue vertically oriented rectangle at the left-hand side. But the white color varies from white to cream, and the blue can be anything from royal to teal, depending on what private company has created the plate.

What’s special about the lower-number plates is that they appear more distinctive with their fewer digits. And what’s “pretty” about them is either the way the numbers look, or the patterns they form. A symmetrical plate, like 212, is pretty. So is a serial plate, like 7878, which in Arabic looks like a V followed by an inverted V, repeated.

And when you see a pretty number, you know it wasn’t issued for a nominal fee – it was purchased, for a sizable amount, or it was given to someone as a favor.

I first learned about “pretty” plates (and mobile numbers) on a weekend trip to Lebanon in 2002.

Its ridiculous, this focus on “nice” numbers, my hostess told me. Its a number – as long as it functions, who cares how it looks? But she is an academic – she can afford to have an off-beat point of view. Her son was more practical.

Listen Diamond, he told me, you have to understand. A pretty number says that a guy has real money. For a woman in this country, she needs to know that the guy she might marry is financially secure. He might drive a sports car, but it might be rented.

But if she sees that he has a nice nimra [license plate number], he continued, she knows that he is for real.

My friend’s perspective helped me see the expensive license plate phenomenon in a new light: that spending $100,000 on a three-digit license plate was a means of communicating solid wealth.

But $14.5 million for a license plate … my goodness!

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Beirut, economics, friends, Lebanon, license plates, words | 2 Comments »

Fluent Applications Wanted

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 21, 2008

This post is for H, who starting tomorrow will be actively engaged in whipping Press TV’s muhajababes into camera-ready shape.

Press TV, which I have written about before, is the English-language 24-hour news channel sponsored by the government of Iran. Several of its shows broadcast from Beirut, and from what I have seen of the channel, its actually pretty good.

Its intended to compete with Al Jazeera English, and to focus more on the Middle East. Al Jazeera English focuses on the whole world, which sounds lovely until you turn it on hoping for an update on events close to home, and find yourself stuck in the midst of an extended feature on life in New Guinea.

Anyway. Press TV is on the air and still growing, judging by the advertisement I read in today’s paper:

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H has been wondering just how fluent Press TV’s Beiruti tele-casters are. Judging from this advertisement, I would say: hopefully more fluent than their recruiters.

Applicants are the humans who will be hired for the job (and, one hopes, their language skills). Applications are the forms they submit as part of the hiring process: CV, resume, application form.

I edit CVs and resumes in my spare time, for friends and family – and I can tell you that a CV can make many promises on which it cannot deliver.

So, Press TV: have a care when hiring. Don’t take those applications’ claims to “excellent English skills” at face value!

Posted in advertising, Beirut, media, politics | 4 Comments »

Checking in: the mysterious Beirut Hilton

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 18, 2008

My parents are coming for a visit next month, and I am counting down the days. I can’t wait to see them and show them “my” Beirut, including the ishtirak and/or generator I am about to break down and buy. (And if there is anyone I can pay off to ensure a tranquil, bomb- and protest-free week, please let me know.)

I bet there’s a Hilton, my Hilton Honors-loving father said brightly when they first decided to come here.

Well, yes and no.

There is half a Hilton on Edde Street, in Hamra. I don’t think it will be ready by next month. In fact, I don’t think it will be ready, ever. Its been in the same half-finished state since I moved to Beirut.

And apparently there was a Hilton, or at least almost a Hilton, until the war broke out in 1975. The building was complete, but the hotel hadn’t officially opened … and once the war broke out, it stayed closed.

Professor Jeff Andrews of the University of Texas posted a photograph of the destroyed Hilton (taken during his 2001 visit to Beirut) on his webpage:

hilton_beirut.jpg

No, parents – you are definitely not staying there. The never-quite-open-for-business hotel hosted assorted militia-men during the civil war, and when the war ended, the building apparently sat unused, like many of Beirut’s buildings still do today.

Like the Holiday Inn, the Beirut Hilton seems to have become an iconic reference-point for visiting journalists. A January 2004 Travel + Leisure article about Beirut had this to say:

Above the fashionable seaside promenade known as Avenue de Paris, the towering Beirut Hilton still stands in all its bomb-damaged ignominy (“It’s an eyesore,” a disgusted pedestrian said when I stopped to snap a picture of the abandoned hostelry).

And, also like many Beirut buildings, by the early 2000s, the Beirut Hilton had investors and a restoration plan. Lebanon’s Investment Development Authority’s (IDAL) website reports that:

In August 2003, IDAL concluded a Package Deal Contract with Hilton Beirut for the US$46-million refurbishment of the five-star hotel in the Beirut Central District. The project will be completed in 2004/2005 and will create around 200 full-time jobs.

You can see drawings of the planned hotel here – just ignore the “estimated completion: 2006-7”.

The Hilton has missed its chance to open in 2007, but it seems that hope still floats for a 2008 opening. In December, 4Hoteliers, a hospitality industry publication, described the new Beirut Hilton as a “first”:

The scheduled opening of the Hilton Beirut in June 2008 represents another first for Hilton, this time in Lebanon. With 158 rooms, this prime business property overlooking the capital’s corniche will have a very contemporary look and feel.

And if you want to match your household fixtures to those of the new/old Hilton, you can do so. Hans Grohe outfitted the hotel, and describes its’ work here.

Before I continue, I would just like to recap what I’ve written thus far. In 2003 the hotel was about to be renovated, and in 2004 Beirut residents were complaining that it was an eyesore.

This is very interesting, since Britain’s Controlled Demolition claims that it demolished the hotel in 2002:

The Beirut Hilton Hotel, which was built in 1975, but never occupied, was imploded on Sunday, July 14, 2002 by NADC Charter Member, Controlled Demolition, Inc. (CDI) of Phoenix, Maryland and their client, Optimal Engineering Consulting & Contracting, SARL, (OECC) of Antelias, Lebanon to make room for a new hotel. Twenty-seven (27) years ago, just days before the grand opening, the Hilton Hotel became the site of fighting in Lebanon’s Civil War. Christian and Muslim militiamen fought room to room for control of the building and other nearby hotels. The Hilton, two (2) other major hotels and other high-rise buildings were ravaged by the fighting. The building was one of the three (3) major hotels badly damaged, but not rebuilt, in Lebanon. Located in the City Center, the Hilton stood out in a major redevelopment area which, in recent years, had erased the scars of the fifteen (15) year long Civil War.

CDI’s international affiliate, CDI UK, Ltd., supervised preparation operations being performed by OECC at the site. CDI’s preparation plan called for explosives to be placed on 6 (SIX) floors in the structure: two (2) lower floors consisting of heavy concrete column and beam construction and; (4) upper floors, constructed of reinforced concrete shear walls. By working in so many locations throughout the structure, CDI was able to beautifully fragment the debris, facilitating OECC’s ability to meet their six (6) week schedule to prepare the site for new construction.

Utilizing approximately 350 kg of high velocity explosives, in 880 locations, CDI felled the structure at exactly 10AM before thousands of spectators with no harm to surrounding buildings. The entire sequence lasted only ten (10) seconds.

The Hilton property and building were abandoned long ago by the US-based hotel chain and a group of Lebanese businessmen purchased the structure two (2) years ago. A new 5-story hotel will be constructed in its place.

(And yes, if you click through to the Controlled Demolition page, you can watch a video of the Hilton collapsing.)

A 2000 article in the Pakistan Economist confirms that the Hilton had been purchased and was scheduled for demolition, and I have found several other similar reports:

A feast was being prepared for the inauguration party of the Beirut Hilton when the civil war erupted in April 1975 and the 400-room hotel found itself in the middle of a battle zone.

Management took out a small advert saying the party was postponed indefinitely. The hotel never opened, turning instead into a looted and burnt-out edifice like the rest of the hotel district along the Mediterranean seafront.

Now, 25 years later, the Saudi-run Societe Mediterraneenne des Grands Hotels has obtained a long-awaited permit to demolish the ruin and build a new 20-storey Hilton at a cost of $70 million.

I don’t get it. Were there two downtown Beirut Hiltons operating before the war? The video doesn’t give the impression that there was much of the old Hilton left to renovate or restore. And I’m definitely not holding my breath for the Edde Hilton to open its doors – or install windows – any time soon.

Posted in Beirut, construction, explosion, family, holidays, hotels, Lebanon | 5 Comments »

the 80s are back: Civil War geography in Beirut

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 17, 2008

Last night H, C and I went for a lovely, flavor-filled dinner at – where else? – Monks. We left around 9:45, heading back towards Ras Beirut via Bishara al-Khoury and the Basta road.

We weren’t the only ones out last night, but we were the only ones not pumped up with testosterone and aggression and/or wearing army uniforms. The swarming mass of fighting shabab and ring of soldiers was difficult to miss.

Fi action tonight, H said as we all turned our heads left to get a better view. It was a strange sight – to me it looked no more impressive than a scuffle in the parking lot after a high school football game. But the soldiers were taking it seriously – and trying not to get involved. I saw two soldiers pull their fellows back when the latter tried to intervene.

If the Army is afraid to intervene when 20 year olds are fighting with their fists, I understand why it did nothing on Thursday when we heard the machine guns.

We drove cautiously along the road towards Bishara al Khoury, until we heard the distinctive sound of rock hitting Army helmet.

Enough spectating, H said, hitting the gas. We’re getting out of here. I saw the look on that soldier’s face, and I don’t think we want to be here any longer.

It was a rough night in Beirut – not in terms of shooting (I didn’t hear any gunfire, surprisingly enough) but in terms of the number of hot little fights that erupted in the border areas of the city’s many neighborhoods.

You know, C said to me as we waited in the car a bit later, this is all just entertainment for a bunch of unemployed guys with time on their hands.

I think that’s true, but I wonder: at what point does the entertainment get serious – or at what point does it become more fun to fight with real weapons?

And what I also wonder is why the Lebanese media are egging them on. Today’s Naharnet article says:

West Beirut clashes wound 20 people amid mounting tension

West Beirut? Geographically, we were nowhere near the west side of town. We were one block from Sodeco – in what I consider Achrafieh.

Where we were can only be called “West Beirut” if the reference point is the Civil War. Then yes, technically what we saw took place in West Beirut – except for the rock throwing, which took place on the East Beirut side of the Green Line.

Green Line geography, Naharnet? Did your writers miss the 1980s that much?

(Naharnet is the English and Arabic language news site for An Nahar, a mildly right-wing, storied Lebanese newspaper. I check it for news updates, but its headlines are usually more slanted than the paper’s.)

Posted in Americans, Beirut, explosion, food, friends, Lebanon, politics | 2 Comments »

Lunch with love and protesters: Valentine’s Day in Saifi

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 16, 2008

Like many people in Lebanon, I had Thursday off, thanks to Prime Minister Siniora’s declaration that February 14 would be a national holiday in honor of Rafik Hariri.

I didn’t mind – it would have been difficult to get much done on Thursday anyway, with half the country staying home for fear of roadblocks and political tension, and the other half turning out in force either to the March 14 rally downtown or to Imad Mughniyeh’s funeral in Dahiyeh.

With two dueling politicized commemorations scheduled, not to mention Valentine’s Day, Thursday was the perfect day for a holiday – and a luncheon.

M & M live in Saifi, just below Gemmayze and a few blocks from Martyrs’ Square, where the March 14 rally was being held. None of us is ardently March 14, especially on a rainy winter day – but we all do like to eat, and we all love to keep up with current events. So when M invited H & I for lunch, we happily accepted.

Outside the downtown area, the city was largely deserted. I took this photograph of Hamra at 9:30, when the street is usually packed with honking cars & trucks:

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Ghost town.

We left for the M’s early, before noon, assuming that it might take us ages to reach their neighborhood. But we had almost free rein over the roads – at least, over roads like Basta, which were far from the scene of either side’s gathering, and heavily policed by army patrols.

In fact, the only trouble we encountered was the usual kind: parking trouble in Saifi/Gemmayze. Pasteur Street was blocked to non-neighborhood cars, and most street parking was taken by Ouwwet and Kataeb supporters who had come for the rally. Luckily, I had worn “walking” heels, and H had brought an umbrella – so we were well-prepared, by New York standards at least, for the long walk to M’s.

What amazed us were the number of people leaving – it was 12:30, and the rally was only half over, but the cold and rain were clearly sending some people off in search of warmth and dry clothing.

People leaving the rally on the near side of the divided road; people going to the rally on the far side:

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For us, the afternoon was all about warmth and dry clothing – not to mention good food. M had made a thick vegetable soup, followed by mjaddara with raita for me, and beef lasagne with salad for the normal (i.e., meat-eating) guests.

As we ate, we listened to the speeches and tried to discern who was speaking and what was being said. Since we heard both the rally’s loudspeakers and the Kataeb headquarter’s rebroadcasting, it was mostly a wash.

I think he just said “Hariri”, J said at one point. J’s Arabic is limited to “hello”, “thank you” and “all of it”, for when he goes to the barbershop for a head shave – but given the day and the occasion, “Hariri” was a good guess. (And when we needed confirmation, H would check with the television in the living room, where all the news channels were broadcasting the rally.)

Looking towards the northern edge of Martyrs’ Square from M’s mezzanine terrace:

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Looking towards the upper center of Martyrs’ Square (the white tent covers Hariri’s grave):

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Looking down at Pasteur Street and the lower end of the Kataeb building:

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Looking across the way to the next building, whose rooftop had been rented by France 24, according to H:

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The square emptied quickly once the rally ended – by the time we left the M’s, the neighborhood was as empty as Hamra had been that morning. But as we spooned up the chocolate mousse-cum-praline that M had made, round after round of machine gun fire reminded us that quiet is a relative term.

Does someone in Gemmayze love Nasrallah, who was just finishing his eulogy/call to war? We couldn’t figure it out. And what I can’t figure out is how five utterly sane people can hear sustained machine-gun fire and consider it so normal 😐 .

Posted in Beirut, food, French, friends, Lebanon, media, neighbors, photography, politics, rain, television, time, traffic, umbrellas, vanity, weather | 2 Comments »

Plagues & locusts?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 16, 2008

This past week has been an earth-shaking one for Lebanon – and not only in terms of the firepower put on display. The country has been hit by three earthquakes in rapid succession, including one yesterday afternoon, a little after 12:30.

The earthquakes’ epicenters have all been in the south, but have been large enough (yesterday’s was 5.1) to be felt in most parts of Beirut.

Of course, those of us with a tendency to obliviousness missed them. In my office, the shake was so slight that neither I nor another colleague felt it. Head in the clouds, you might say; while the colleague with her feet more firmly planted on the ground immediately asked us: did you feel that?

Reactions to the earthquake among my friends have been largely humorous.

Because life in Lebanon isn’t exciting enough, one said.

Even the earth is weird here, said another.

I think its the end of days, said a third.

Err … well … that last one wasn’t so humorous, actually.

And since the earthquakes have been felt up and down the fault line, which stretches south to Israel and Palestine, they have gotten tangled up in the region’s political messes as well – as proof that God is taking sides.

For example, the first commenter on Raed Rafei’s blog post about the earthquake for the LA Times took yesterday’s quake as a sign that God protects Israel:

These quakes are centered in southern Lebanon, and this last large one occurred right about the time when the terrorists had [once more] declared war on Israel.
G-d speaks, is anyone listening?

Well, Elisheva, I think being chosen may have gone to your head. Sending a quake to south Lebanon that also hits Israel seems a bit of a mixed message on God’s part.

If the quakes are a message from God, I think their message is more of a kick in the pants. I imagine that God has a few things to say about sharing, living together in harmony, and working to create a brighter future for all Lebanese. And I imagine that God’s patience with leaders who instead spend their time pontificating on podia, whether live or by video uplink, is wearing thin.

And just in case God decides to shake Lebanon’s cage a bit more in the next few days, I’m writing down the safety tips that H’s mother has provided. In case of a quake, take shelter in a stairwell or a doorway. Don’t go outside until the quaking stops, as you might be hit by falling debris. And make sure the gas is turned off, so a quake doesn’t cause a gas leak.

The gas is off. Guess it will be an eat out/order in weekend :).

Posted in Arab world, Beirut, earthquake, friends, Israel, Lebanon | 2 Comments »