A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘graffiti’ Category

Beirut layers

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 13, 2008

As my remaining days here grow shorter, I find myself increasingly interested in signs of the passage of time – like this stretch of wall below:

The wall has an old Amal flag painted on it, with various other painted graffitis, and several generations of posters advertising concerts, plays and other cultural events.

I like how they all accrete on top of one another. Its not the prettiest part of Beirut, but to me these layers of signs and graffiti images are incredibly interesting. How do people decide that this particular street, and this particular stretch of wall in particular, is the one best suited for their “advertising”?

(The white band that appears to be stretched across the wall is actually on the street side of the sidewalk. Its from the Vivicitta half marathon/5K that was run two weekends ago – a run that drew a great number of people, judging by the number of runners/walkers I passed on my way to the gym that morning.)

Meanwhile I’m hoping that the series of little earthquakes that Lebanon and Syria have been experiencing over the past few months – including a 4.0 an hour ago – doesn’t mean that a bigger one is on its way. I’m used to thinking of Lebanon as having political disasters, and the US as having physical ones – and with the terrible flooding in my home state this week, I’m full-up on natural disaster anxiety.

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Posted in advertising, Beirut, graffiti, home, Iowa, Lebanon, media, words | 2 Comments »

oops! missed a spot

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 17, 2008

Last week’s spring “cleaners” appear to have missed a few pockets in Ras Beirut. I saw this old graffiti this morning on my way to the gym:

Its definitely not new – the paint is faded – but its hard to miss. The PSP is Walid Jumblatt’s militia-turned-party, and definitely not part of the opposition.

Guess they overlooked this street 🙂 .

Posted in Beirut, graffiti, Lebanon, media, politics, words | Leave a Comment »

“the sectarian state in the trash bin”: political graffiti

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 15, 2008

Both yesterday and this morning I took my camera with me as I walked through Hamra on my way to the gym. Here’s what I saw yesterday: lots and lots of flying swastikas stenciled onto building walls, like this one towards the start of Sidani Street:

The swastikas are interesting, and many people, from journalists to bloggers, have commented on them. But look at this photo again. The swastika is only one of several interesting things happening in it.

First, the black graffiti’ed text, which pre-dated last week’s invasion. It reads: “The sectarian state [al-dawla al-ta2ifiya] bil-zabala [in the trash bin]”. A nice sentiment, even if I’m skeptical about how deeply it is held.

But the graffiti has been “deleted” by the SSNP, in the same way that the pro-Mustaqbal graffiti I mentioned yesterday has been. Apparently the Qawmi-s have no problem with sectarianism.

And look a bit further left, to the very edge of the photo: do you notice the start of an Arabic word graffiti written in red? ta7 something. I don’t know what it means – its a longer word, with a mim and some other letters, that I didn’t recognize – but I saw it twice elsewhere in western Hamra yesterday.

Whatever word it was, it must have been an offensive one. This morning I noticed that it, and it alone, had been painted over with white paint.

And now look to the right of the flying swastika. Do you see the graffiti artist’s tag? Here’s the same image, but zoomed in a bit:

This tag was not here before, and it is now all over western Hamra.

The easternmost place I have seen it is on the western wall of the Atallah Freij building on Omar Abdul Aziz (for Lebanese readers who are pffft’ing at my use of street names: this is the street that takes you from Hamra down to Bliss Street. Its first cross-street has an HSBC on the left-hand corner, and its second has the Atallah Freij building.).

Yesterday, Atallah Freij sported three flying swastikas and this tag; today I noticed that the flying swastikas have been scrubbed off. They aren’t really gone, but they have at least morphed into circles of pink paint stain. I’ve seen a few other scrubbed pink circles on Sidani as well – bravo to those men and women courageous enough to take back their walls.

Here are two more examples of the SSNP’s graffiti artist’s tag:

I can’t read what it says – but I’d be grateful to anyone who can.

H says that he is surprised that a graffiti artist would have gotten involved in last week’s fighting, because most graffiti artists stay out of politics. The idea that one of Beirut’s many talented graffiti artists participated in last week’s takeover is pretty depressing – so if anyone can suggest other reasons for this tag’s sudden appearance, I would be grateful for that as well.

Posted in Beirut, graffiti, Iowa, Lebanon, media, politics, words | 2 Comments »

missing the message …

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 6, 2008

Over the weekend, a graffiti appeared on the eastern end of Sidani Street in Hamra – a black and blue image of a little girl holding a “please, honking forbidden” sign in her left hand, which was also attached to an IV drip.

Weird, yes – especially since the paper sign appears to be an intentional part of the graffiti. There are two girls, half a block from one another, and both are carrying signs. But the signs don’t have the same text – the other girl’s sign says something about not crying wolf – like, “don’t honk unless its an emergency”, I think.

Last night someone added blood to the stump where her right arm had been – before it was just black. So now the graffiti is both weird and rather graphic:

I’m no medical expert, and I don’t mean this in bad taste, but what I think of when I see this image is “the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing”. Why is her left hand getting such good medical care, when her right hand is … gone?

After all, if my arm had been ripped off and was now spurtling blood, I would expect the good doctors who had given me an IV in my left hand to be doing a bit more to save the right hand that I had just lost.

And as much as I admire dedication to a cause, I diagnose this girl’s insistence on continuing with the no-honking manifestation as a sign of shock.

Its almost summer. bring back the ice cream cone graffiti, please!

Update:

I took a photograph of the other graffiti girl yesterday morning, just before the country started to collapse (guess I should have read more into that missing right arm):

The sign actually says: “As in the story of Peter and the wolf”, but I think the message is the same.

Posted in advertising, art, Beirut, graffiti, Lebanon, women | 3 Comments »

summer falls away: the change of seasons in Beirut

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 15, 2007

The days are still warm here, but this weekend the air changed. Its drier and cooler – no longer the heavy humidity of summer.

I miss the glorious autumns of New England, but I love the change of seasons here as well. The trees in my yard are losing leaves here and there, and when I leave for the gym in the mornings, the sun is only just rising.

This graffiti began appearing here and there in mid-summer – a perfect image for the hot July weather:

ice-cream-graffiti.jpg

(That’s my shoe, evidence of gym-going me. For those who love Pumas and shop in the US, a small hint: you can always find a range of good women’s Pumas at the Nordstrom outlet on 2nd and Pike in downtown Seattle.)

Ice cream doesn’t sound so appealing once the cooler weather sets in – and even less when the winter rains start. I can’t wait to see what the next season’s graffiti is – a mug of tea? a scarf? or – my favorite – an umbrella?

Posted in Beirut, food, graffiti, Lebanon | 4 Comments »

Eid eve delights: dinner w friends and graffiti reading :)

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 12, 2007

Last night I had a very delightful dinner with K and three of K’s friends (including Michelle Woodward of Photo Beirut) at Spaghetteria, the old-school Ayn El Mreisseh restaurant next door to the posh (and paying-for-the-atmosphere pricey) Casablanca.

spagh.jpg

The food was good, and the service sweetly attentive – and the view over the Corniche was unbeatable (even by Casablanca, where the scene on the Corniche interests patrons nowhere near as much as the scene inside the restaurant!).

But as the logo (which looks nothing like the restaurant’s sign or menus) suggests, Spaghetteri’s heart lies with the spaghetti joints of the 1950s. The entrance features a set of slightly sagging blue vinyl banquette seats, and to enter the main dining room you pass the manager/cashier (seated at a little desk) and a very vintage revolving dessert display case, which last night was taking three lonely creme brulees on an endless carousel ride.

I think my great-uncle comes here, I whispered to K as we walked in.

Your great-uncle comes HERE? K asked, no doubt wondering why I had never before mentioned having local relatives.

Well not here here, I said. But if he did live in Beirut, he would definitely come here. Spaghetteria has that kind of feel to it – memories of swinging nights of cocktails, “macaroni” and bouffant hair-dos.

Our bouffant-free table stayed there for nearly three hours, talking and laughing and enjoying the promise of a Friday off. G called twice – once just past the two hour mark, and once just before we left. You’re still there? he asked the first time. You’re still there? he asked the second.

After we left, we wound our way back up towards Hamra via two sets of “secret” staircases that K knew (I guess they’re not secret to people who live here, K said while pulling out a flashlight so the stair-challenged among us – i.e., me – could make our – i.e., my – way without falling.).

Michelle has taken a number of photographs of Beirut’s graffiti and has made an effort to get in touch with local graffiti artists, so when we came across a wall rich in images, we stopped to take a look.

Some were familiar, like the head-in-the-sand ostrich that is all over the part of Hamra just south of AUB. We spent some time pondering what double-entendre “2arnabeet” could be, since it was graffiti’ed in the same block print font as the less ambiguous “fist me” and since the artist hadn’t stenciled any other vegetable names on the wall.

Finally, we came upon one with two lines of text, repeated at intervals on both sides of the street.

What do you think this means? M asked. We all stepped back in hopes of making the blurred dots and letters clearer.

The bottom line says: Ain El Mreisseh – behind the mosque, I said, but I can’t figure out the top. We puzzled over it for a few more minutes, coming up with translations for each of the top line’s three words, but unable to make sense of them as an ensemble.

Mmmmm, K said sagely. How about: steps of identity for rent?

It fit, kind of – we had just come up a staircase, and presumably there was a mosque somewhere nearby.

This morning, woken by the 7:00 Eid prayers, I looked the words up in my favorite dictionary. Not quite as rich in symbolic meaning as K’s suggestion, but perhaps more useful for people in need of cheap wheels:

ﺘﺄﺠﻳﺮﻟﺩﺭﺍﺠﺎﺖﺍﻠﻬﻮﺍﺌﻳﺔ

means: Antenna Motorcycle Leasing.

Posted in advertising, Beirut, blogging, food, friends, graffiti, holidays, words | 9 Comments »

the hot new color for fall: more red lines in Beirut

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 3, 2007

This week has been a busy one, and its only half over. I’ve started a new job, and getting settled – new tasks, new responsibilities, new schedule – has meant some serious adjustments – errr, “growth opportunities” – for me.

On Monday I walked home in a bit of a haze, tired from my first full day. As a result, I had already passed this sign before its meaning dawned on me:

img_0006.jpg

Some days it seems that the Arab world is entirely criss-crossed by red lines. My friends in the news and publishing world talk about “red lines” around subjects they cannot mention in print or on air, for fear of censorship or punishment. And of course Lebanese politics are rife with red lines, as one of my favorite bloggers noted earlier this summer in a post evocatively titled “Oh boy – another red line!” During the last elections, the March 14 candidate’s posters declared that “Beirut is a red line”. I’m not sure how that works, logically – doesn’t it mean that Beirut is off-limits? – but it looked good on the poster.

Red lines with local or national significance are one thing, but this banner is a mystery. Saudi Arabia is now a red line? Lebanon has more than enough domestic problems to tackle without attempting to involve itself with its regional neighbors.

The group or organization that erects the banner usually identifies itself just below the main text – in this case, a group called the People of Nu3mani League. I’ve never heard of them before, but now I’m eager to learn more.

Update, October 4

I was eager to learn more, and as always, H was there to help. First, I misinterpreted the “Rabitat Al al-Nu3mani: “Al al-Nu3mani” is another way of saying “The Nu3mani family” – I thought it was a grander designation. Second, H says that the “red line” is in reference to Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa insulting the Saudi kingdom earlier this fall.

Well – that clears up the mystery, but not the issue of why the Nu3manis are taking it 1) so personally and 2) so slowly. Did it take them more than a month to paint this banner? And again: don’t they think that perhaps their energies would be better expended defending Lebanon?

Posted in advertising, Arabic, Beirut, graffiti, Lebanon, media, Saudi Arabia | Leave a Comment »

what’s your news?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 6, 2007

G knows how much I love Beirut’s creative graffiti artists. When I checked my email this morning, this photo was waiting for me like a sweet little gift in my inbox:

akhbar-graffiti.jpg

The word inside the television set is “al-akhbar”, the news – which also happens to be the title of Lebanon’s major opposition-friendly daily newspaper. Although the graffiti works equally well as a comment on television as Lebanon’s primary news medium, I think the similarity in font is not accidental:

alakhbar.gif

(I should note that G thinks I am quite silly for trying to link the graffiti to the paper.)

Those of you familiar with Lebanese politics may be snickering at the placement of this graffiti: kitty-corner from one supporting the rabidly Christian, pro-March 14 Kata’ib. As for me, I think its nice to see Achrafiyeh embracing a little diversity :).

Posted in art, Beirut, graffiti, photography, politics | 2 Comments »

a leader by any other name …

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 11, 2007

This weekend should be a busy one both for and in Lebanon. For some of my friends, it promises to be a big beach weekend; for others, its the chance for a long weekend in Istanbul; and for G, it means an eagerly-awaited reunion with a high-school friend.

For Lebanon’s politicians, this weekend brings the long-anticipated and much discussed summit in France, which has been receiving great international attention thanks to its inclusion of Hizbullah – the first time the party has been welcomed as a Lebanese political participant by a Western government.

I’m optimistic about the talks, although I am pessimistic about the Lebanese political system overall. Much as I complain about faults in the US system, I miss the idea of political parties when I am here.

Parties, as in institutionalized organizations whose life and relevance does not depend on the charisma of one particular man, or the long-standing eminence of one particular family. For example, the GOP may have supported Bush pere et fils, but it does not need them – its institutional structure and voter base are what give it strength and longevity, not any one political figure.

With that on my mind, I scowled at one of the graffitis I pass every morning – graffiti that was painted on the walls late this spring, and that no one in the neighborhood wants to (or feels safe to) take down:

na3m-li-za3im-tayyar-al-mustaqbal.jpg

Its a message of support for Saad Hariri, and it says: “yes to the leader of the Future Party”.

At least, that’s how I would translate it for comprehension in an American context.

But the word I’m translating as “leader” is “za3im”, which is less a political leader (or even a business manager, which is the primary function of the US party heads) than a charismatic figure whose leadership is grounded in his monopolization of both the means of force and the local patronage networks.

And the word I’m translating as “party” is “movement” or “tendency”, two much more transient entities.

I’m optimistic about the talks in France, but that graffiti reminds me that what I wish Lebanon’s political class would take from France is a civics lesson.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, citizenship, French, friends, graffiti, Lebanon, politics, research, words | 1 Comment »

Nation of stars

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 1, 2007

Sometimes I see graffiti that baffles me, like this one, which I noticed a few weeks ago but only got around to photographing this morning:

nation-of-stars.jpg

I see that in the meantime it has been tagged by the heart-bomb graffiti artist, who has been peppering Hamra with a new crop of February’s romantically explosive images.

Translated, the graffiti says:

the nation of stars

I am here

But what does it mean? And how to punctuate it? Should it read:

Nation of stars – I am here!

or

the nation of stars, and I am here

I thought it might be a quote (the omnipresent Fayrouz, perhaps?), but google searches in both Arabic and English have turned up nothing.

I have no idea what the correct punctuation should be (though eagerly await any suggestions!), but I love the way it looks on the wall.

Update

I love it. I post this piece on the mysterious graffiti, turn off my computer and head off to meet K for lunch, and come back to find that H has not only identified the phrase – its the first line of a poem called “Watan al-Nujoum” but also provided a link to it. Its author is the early 20th century Lebanese poet Ilya (Elie) Abu Madi.

H says: you should hear little children sing it at school – its a huge performance, with hand gestures and all.

I can’t wait. I’m going to waylay some pre-schoolers and get them to perform this poem for me :P!

Posted in Arabic, art, Beirut, citizenship, graffiti, Lebanon, photography, stars, words | 8 Comments »