A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

“doing normal”

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 14, 2008

I’m back at work this morning and feeling a bit aimless. Before I left last week, I carefully arranged my work in piles – a thinking-ahead effort by my last week’s self to smooth my eventual return.

I appreciate my own thoughtfulness, but unfortunately it hasn’t prevented me from being scatterbrained today. Thus far I’ve caught up on email, looked at the piles and merged two of them, but I haven’t yet come up with an outline for my day. Usually I have a whole list of tasks, big and small, and by 9:45 am humming well along. Today I seem to be more of a slow lurcher.

And today again I seem to be one of very few in my office, if not the entire building. There has been no trash collection since last week, understandably, and the bathrooms could use a bit of a spiff-up. In short, the place feels a bit abandoned, which isn’t helping me kick myself into productivity.

We came back to the city last night, delighted to be back home but also hyper-aware of the subtle differences. The streets of “West Beirut” were unusually quiet, even for 10 pm, and the buildings were hushed. When we reached my neighborhood, we had our pick of street parking – meaning that many of my neighbors must still be away. But the streets themselves were dark. Although the power was on, the street-lights were off. The darkness wasn’t dangerous, but it did make me want to scurry inside.

When we dropped off our guest in Hamra, where he lives, we noticed that the fast food spots on Bliss, across from AUB, were open. They had customers, but not enough even for a row of double-parked cars – let alone the triple-parking that reduces Bliss from four lanes to one on most evenings. Across from our friend’s building was a freshly painted trio of SSNP flying swastikas, or whatever its logo is meant to resemble. And under the logos, in three white plastic garden chairs, sat three late middle-aged men.

They weren’t armed, and they weren’t young hooligans – in fact, they all jumped up to warn H when they thought he might back up into the one other car out driving in Hamra. But they definitely weren’t sitting there just to enjoy the evening hawwa – they had no coffee, no tawla board, and no arguileh.

Today it all feels normal, kind of. The sun is shining and my gym is open – and old men do sit out on the streets in plastic garden chairs. But there are almost no cars on the roads, and from what I saw this morning, many of the shops and restaurants remain closed.

Ten years ago, I saw an art exhibit at the SF MoMA with my college boyfriend, called “Doing Normal”. I didn’t like the exhibit, but I remember it.

The exhibit was built around the idea that there is a difference between simply being normal – going about one’s daily life unconscious of one’s habits – and doing normal. Doing normal is by definition artificial – its the conscious attempt to dress normally, speak normally, behave normally, go to work normally, run errands normally, go out at night normally, etc.

“Doing normal” is the fiction of normalcy in un-normal times, and that is exactly what my part of Beirut is doing right now.

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