New York through Lebanese eyes
Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 24, 2008
Yesterday we met for lunch: H, I, and L, who is in from Beirut for a working vacation. (That’s “I” as in “me”, not as in some mysterious friend whose name begins with I.)
We were all delighted to see one another, of course – but H was particularly delighted. This has been the Week of Lebanese Visitors for him: his brother was in town last weekend; his friend W is here for work until Saturday; and L is visiting. And for him, Lebanese visitors mean Lebanese analogies.
What do I mean by this? Let me explain.
We love our apartment, but the landlords are almost Yankee in their reluctance to turn up the heat more than is absolutely necessary. In other words: our apartment can be brrrrrrrrrr chilly at times, especially for men used to more Mediterranean climes. (I don’t like the cold either, but I’m used to it: my mother Big Diamond grew up in Alaska, and she sets the thermostat accordingly.)
Do you know what its like? H asked L eagerly while we were waiting for our food to arrive. Its like you’ve rented a chalet in Faraya, and when you get there you find that the owner has [insert graphic and physically unlikely verb here] you by not buying any mazout for the chauffage.
Hahahahaha, said L, who understood H’s analogy immediately. Apparently when this happens, the owner often simply insists that the chauffage (the heater) is broken – when really he (or she, but more often he) is just cheap.
One of L’s friends has recently moved to Brooklyn, so we were discussing how the borough has become a real mixture of upscale, gentrifying areas; older, ethnic enclaves; and poorer “urban” areas.
Jay Street/Borough Hall was ranked one of the worst three subway stations in New York, H said, trying to explain that proximity to Manhattan does not necessarily make for a wealthier area. L looked at him politely – ranking subway stations is a pasttime better appreciated by New Yorkers.
So H tried again.
You know what its like? he asked. Its like Basta.Or like downtown after the war, when everything was still torn up. Instead of subway tiles on the walls, this station just has the grout where tiles used to be.
Ah okay, said L, smiling. After all, who in Beirut doesn’t know Basta?