A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘vanity’ Category

loving thy neighbor

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 29, 2009

Today’s post was intended to be a tour of Doha’s nightlife. But my eye was caught yesterday by two news stories – or rather, by the popular responses to each.

When it comes to Lebanon, I sometimes find it hard to follow Christ’s second commandment. And as a Christian, the neighbors I find harder to love are more often than not Lebanon’s Christians.

I don’t mean this post to be one of casting the first stone – after all, the United States has had its share of intra-Christian sectarian woes. I recall one of our childhood neighbors telling me that as a child his schoolmates demanded to see his horns, because as Protestants they had been told in church that Catholics have horns on their head like the Devil. But that was 50 years ago, and I am shocked by what I have read this week.

My first shock came from an article in Monday’s Daily Star about the current mayor of Broumanna, Waleed Rizk. Rizk, the town’s long-time vice-mayor, whatever that means, became mayor after the previous mayor, Pierre Achkar, stepped down in order to be eligible to run for Parliament in the recent elections.

That isn’t the shocking part – I think that requiring candidates for one post to give up their current post is not a bad idea, and one that the United States  might consider. What shocked me is the reaction of some Broumannis to the fact that their new mayor is Greek Orthodox and not Maronite:

Traditionally the mayor of Brummana is Maronite, usually running along family lines with Pierre’s own ancestors Georges, Chachine and Georges standing before him.

But, for the first time in Brummana’s history the position has been given not only to a vice mayor but to a Greek Orthodox candidate.

“Usually they say in Brummana the mayor has to be a Maronite, and the vice is Orthodox but now what has happened is I am the mayor and I am Orthodox,” says the newly-appointed Rizk. “When people come into the office surprised that I am Orthodox, I say ‘no, I am not Orthodox, I am simply Brummanese.’”

Rizk says this couldn’t have happened unless the last mayor was forced to step down to run in the parliamentary elections and forfeit his job, leaving little time for a new election.

But now Rizk is having to battle people’s perceptions. “Some people say I shouldn’t be mayor because of my religion, but because I am working hard I am making them start to forget this issue,” Rizk says. “And I do believe the Brummanese will soon forget about it.”

This was shock number one: that the sense of sectarian entitlement extends to the municipal level, and is so deeply felt. For an American equivalent, try substituting race:

“When people come into the office surprised that I am African-American, I say ‘no, I am not African-American, I am simply a New Yorker’.”

“Some people say I shouldn’t be mayor because of my race, but because I am working hard I am making them start to forget the issue.”

Lovely. But there was a second shock – Rizk the sectarian under-dog is also Rizk the very self-entitled member of a big family:

He says that there have always been two families in Brummana who had the ambition to be mayor – the Achkar family and the Rizk family, which caused many years of rivalry. “Our ancestors always used to fight, but now we need to put the past behind us – we are doing what is best for the municipality.”

Right. What if ‘what is best for the municipality’ were the creation of a mayoral position open not only to residents with varied religious backgrounds, but varied family backgrounds as well?

The third shock, as some of you may already suspect given the theme of this post, has been the reaction on assorted blogs and other websites to the wedding of Nayla Tueini and Malek Maktabi, such as these. (I don’t mean to pick on the Ouwet Front exclusively, but the Orange Room’s website is currently down and I’m searching primarily for comments in English.) There are a few voices of reason, but what I notice most is the vitriol of those unhappy with her marrying a Shia – some because she is a Christian MP, and some just because she is Christian.

I personally am not a great fan of Ms. Tueini (or of Mr. Maktabi’s talk show), but the explosive hostility of some of the commentators leaves me with a deep cold pit in my stomach. This type of irrational anger can be  deeply corrosive. On the other hand, both their Facebook pages are filled with congratulations, and at least those posting their anger online are still in conversation with others more sanguine about the ‘mariage’.

I don’t have a good conclusion to this post. I hope for better things in the future, am glad to see  any movement in the political system, and think that mixed marriages could be a major source of strength for the Lebanon of tomorrow.

And I’m looking very much forward to writing a nice quiet post about Doha nightlife tomorrow.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Beirut, citizenship, Lebanon, politics, religion, vanity, women, words | Leave a Comment »

Tycoon Diamond

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 14, 2009

Another morning, another sad email from a Hong Kong banker. These Arab investors seem to be – pardon me – dying like flies, and their bankers all seem to think that I should be the one to profit from their families’ loss. But this is the first email to delve into my psyche and my – heretofore unknown to me – financial acumen.

FROM: Liu Yan Bank of China Ltd. 13/F. Bank of China Tower 1 Garden Road Hong Kong,

I sincerely ask for forgiveness for I know this may seem like a complete intrusion to your privacy but right about now this is my best option of communication. This mail might come to you as a surprise and the temptation to ignore it as frivolous could come into your mind; but please consider it a divine wish and accept it with a deep sense of humility.

[A divine wish? Are you sure that God gets personally involved in these types of things?]

This letter must surprise you because we have never meet before neither in person nor by correspondence,but I believe that it takes just one day to meet or know someone either physically or through correspondence.

[Ah: the love-at-first-sight-or-email approach to financial illegality. Super.]

I got your contact through my personal search, you were revealed as being quite astute in private entrepreneurship,and one has no doubt in your ability to handle a financial business transaction.

[Well – I don’t like to brag, but I do indeed know my way around a credit card purchase. And I’ve been very successful in selling off excess furniture and personal effects whenever I move.]

I am Liu Yan a transfer supervisor operations in investment section in Bank of China Ltd. Secretariat of the BOCHK Charitable Foundation 13/F. Bank of China Tower, 1 Garden Road, Hong Kong. I have an obscured business suggestion for you. Before the U.S and Iraqi war our client General Mohammed Jassim Ali who work with the Iraqi forces and also business man made a numbered fixed deposit for 18 calendar months, with a value of (I will disclose amount upon your reply) in my branch.

[There are two things I particularly like about this paragraph: First, the idea that this is an “obscured” business proposal – meaning what, exactly? – and second, that Mr. Liu is keeping the precise amount of General Ali’s deposit to himself until I demonstrate interest.]

Upon maturity several notices was sent to him, even early in the war,again after the war another notification was sent and still no response came from him,We later find out that General Mohammed Jassim Ali and his family had been killed during the war in a bomb blast that hit their home.

After further investigation it was also discovered that General Mohammed Jassim Ali did not declare any next of kin in his official papers including the paper work of his bank deposit. And he also confided in me the last time he was at my office that no one except me knew of his deposit in my bank. So, (I will disclose amount upon your reply) is still lying in my bank and no one will ever come forward to claim it. What bothers me most is that, according to the laws of my country at the expiration 3 years the funds will revert to the ownership of the Hong Kong Government if nobody applies to claim the funds.

[Um, I can think of a number of things in this story that bother me most. Just FYI.]

Against this backdrop, my suggestion to you is that I will like you as a foreigner to stand as the next of kin to General Mohammed Jassim Ali so that you will be able to receive his funds. I want you to know that I have had everything planned out so that we shall come out successful.

[Oh yes – as with the last Hong Kong email, I think this sounds like a great idea. Baathist Iraqi general killed by U.S. forces somehow declared a non-Arab American women his next-of-kin. Who on earth would doubt this?]

I have contacted an attorney who will prepare the legal documents that will back you up as the next of kin to General Mohammed Jassim Ali, all what is required from you at this stage is for you to provide me with your Full Names, private phone number and Address so that the attorney can commence his job. After you have been made the next of kin, the attorney will also fill in for claims on your behalf and secure the necessary approval and letter of probate in your favor for the transfer of the funds to an account that will be provided by you with my guidance.There is no risk involved at all in the matter as we are going adopt a legalized method and the attorney will prepare all the necessary documents.

[A “legalized method” for an illegal activity? Suddenly I have a new image of Hong Kong … ]

Please endeavor to observe utmost discretion in all matters concerning this issue. Once the funds have been transferred to your nominated bank account we shall discuss the percentage issue on your reply.

[Hunh. This whole proposal seems a little low in the numbers department. No disclosure of the deposit, and no disclosure of the percentages? I think I’ll go with the dead Saudi.]

If you are interested please send me your full names and current residential address, and I will prefer you to reach me on my private and secure email address below and finally after that I shall provide you with more details of this operation.

Best Regards Liu Yan

[And my regards to you, Mr. Liu. You’ve made my day. I’m not taking you up on your offer, but I definitely plan to put my “ability to handle a financial business transaction” to use by doing a little online shopping!]

Posted in advertising, Arab world, economics, Iraq, vanity | Leave a Comment »

hair, water, and taxis: Syrian triggers in Beirut

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 15, 2009

This morning, an article in The National by Rasha Elass caught my eye – and brought back memories. Rasha writes about her reception at a posh Beirut hair salon, when the stylist learns that she is Syrian.

Having lived in Damascus for some time before moving to Beirut, I too learned about the perils of my accent. Unlike Rasha, however, my learning was generally ex post facto. Hence in summer 2005 I was booted from a Beirut service for saying something too shami; and when I moved to Beirut, I avoided saying “water” for months after seeing the looks on waiters’ and shopkeepers’ faces when I asked for “moy” rather than “mai”. And I only learned to stop saying “lissa” one evening when the person to whom I had been speaking drew back from me as if I were diseased.

Ahh, memories.

In any case, my experiences were those of an outsider: someone who had committed the offense of learning Arabic like a Syrian, rather than a Lebanese – and not someone who had committed the evidently graver offense of being Syrian, like Rasha.

Here is her article – enjoy!

The Lebanese hairdresser had a sleight of hand typical to his profession, alternating quickly between his left and right hand as he cut, razored, pulled and tugged the strands of my hair. He came highly recommended by a friend, so I wasn’t worried about the way my hair was going to look when he was done.

But I was worried about him picking up on my Syrian accent, given that I was in an area of Beirut where many hold strong anti-Syrian sentiments.

And then came the inevitable.

“Are you Lebanese?” he asked.

Sometimes I purposely don’t speak Arabic when I venture into anti-Syrian areas in Lebanon. During a road trip to Batroun, a charming small town with a staunchly anti-Syrian community, my Lebanese friend made me promise not to say a single word in Arabic.

“They’ll pick up you’re Syrian from the minute you open your mouth,” she warned.

Though her concern was exaggerated – violence motivated by hatred is extremely rare since the end of the civil war in Lebanon – times were tense, and people might have been rude or snooty towards us if they had found out that I was Syrian.

Your accent in the Arab world is like an identity card. Even the unfamiliar ear can place you in a region, be it the Gulf, the Levant, Egypt or North Africa. The familiar ear can even figure out if you’re an urban or rural Syrian, a Damascene or from Aleppo, a Kurd from northern Iraq or a Shiite from the south, an Algerian or a Moroccan, and whether you grew up locally or abroad.

Accents also often are the butt of political jokes, like the popular favourite for Lebanese and Syrians taking political jabs at each other.

It pokes fun of the words moo and ma, Syrian and Lebanese slang for “right”, as in: “You’re coming to dinner, moo?”

“‘Moo’? What are we? Cows?” goes the joke.

“Better than ‘ma’,” it continues. “‘Ma’ is for sheep.”

Given my propensity to say moo, I couldn’t lie to the hairdresser, so I confessed that I was Syrian.

“Emm,” he muttered, his face visibly annoyed. I briefly worried he might purposely ruin my hair, which would be a disaster given I was to attend a posh Syrio-Lebanese wedding later and needed it to be flawless.

“You’re Syrian from both parents?” he asked.

Here, I thought, could be my way out. I could lie and end the conversation amicably, guaranteeing a good haircut. Or I could keep playing cat and mouse and see where the game took us.

“Umm, no. My mother is American,” I lied.

“Aaah, OK,” he said, looking relieved, as if everything about me finally made sense to him.

The most striking thing when travelling from Syria to Lebanon is how politicised everything is in Lebanon. While Syrians are bashful about discussing domestic politics, the Lebanese think nothing of asking you where you stand on their domestic political spectrum the minute they meet you.

“Are you with or against?” is probably the most common question in Lebanon after “what’s your name?”

I was still at the hairdresser’s watching my transformation in the mirror when I was asked this question.

“Are you with or against the Americans?” the hairdresser said.

Before I could answer, a customer in her mid fifties walked in frazzled, her short blonde-dyed hair brittle and uncombed. According to my friend, this hairdresser is known to the stars and the wives of politicians.

“Je suis en retard,” she announced to the hairdresser, her head appearing in my mirror. She spoke the French typical of Sodeco, a predominantly Christian neighbourhood.

How their conversation moved from “I’m running late” to comparing political affiliation is beyond me. But after exchanging the usual “ça va” and “walaw”, the latter being colloquial for no worries, they vented politics at each other.

“I know you’re a supporter of Aoun,” she told the hairdresser. “But I’m not,” she announced, her head’s reflection still floating in my mirror.

“And that’s why you were late,” he said in French, laughing.

The conversation ended as quickly as it started, and the woman sat herself down in a chair for a shampoo.

Turning his attention back to me, he made a reference to one pro and one anti-Syrian Lebanese politician and asked:

“Are you with or against Aoun? Or do you prefer Geagea?”

I mumbled something about not caring a whole lot for internal politics in Lebanon.

“Ah, mais vous êtes Syrienne. Vous aimez Hariri,” he concluded, half testing if I understood French, another telltale political sign for some Lebanese.

Fortunately, he got distracted and forgot to wait for an answer. When he finished my hair, I paid in US dollars, then thanked him in French. I walked out into the street, and my hair looked fabulous.

Posted in Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, Damascus, Lebanon, neighbors, Syria, vanity, women, words | 6 Comments »

dirty laundry

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 30, 2009

You may have noticed that I neglected to post anything yesterday. The truth is: I was hiding.

I took the first part of Edcomm’s Anti-Money-Laundering course after blogging about it on Saturday, planning to post the certificate once I had earned it.

But I didn’t earn it. I failed: I couldn’t get my quiz scores to reach the 80% needed to pass (and get that darn certificate).

I feel lame, and humbled – but I also feel a lot better about the AML program.  I still think that its use in Syria will be restricted to those who are corrupt and anger the regime, rather than for those who are corrupt but docile. But I’m glad at least that the bankers and other finance professionals working on corruption cases will in fact be professionals, with some level of meaningful training.

As for me, I guess this fully rules out any hope of a second-stage career in finance :).

Posted in Syria, vanity | Leave a Comment »

feeling loved: Lebanese spam

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 11, 2009

Last May, Nicolien wrote a charming post called “Inbox Lebanon” about all the Lebanese advertisements she found in her inbox each morning. I read the post with total envy: after two years in Beirut, my spam remained stubbornly stuck on North America. I had tried to make myself more attractive to Lebanese advertisers, signing up for e-newsletters and other things – yet still no one wanted to recruit me for a job in the Gulf, sell me electronics, or help me lose weight with a “regime minceur”.

When I moved back to the U.S. this summer, I set my dreams of Levantine spam aside and focused on enjoying the rather dull “improve your sex life” ones that come to my work email, the various financial scam emails that find me at home, and (of course) the pro-Israel ads that try to lure me on Facebook.

And then … like an advertising miracle … this morning I opened my Gmail account to find 12 emails in my “spam” folder. 12? I thought groggily. Usually I receive one or two per day – so I thought that Gmail must have suddenly begun spamming one of my subscriptions.

But no: it was spam, and spam of the best kind. Along with the three genuine junk emails in my spam folder were nine spam emails from Lebanon. I was delighted.

I’ll spare you the MP3 player ad and the one for a “presentable female” hotel sales executive, but I am pasting in this Valentine’s Day advertisement from Malik’s, the bookstore/stationery shop with outlets around Beirut:

valentinegift

I’m getting a huge kick out of it because – like many ads in Lebanon – it requires knowledge of two languages in order to get the full message.

Total hoot – and thank you, Lebanese spammers, for making me feel so loved 🙂 .

Posted in advertising, Arabic, Beirut, holidays, vanity | 1 Comment »

Waving the flag

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 30, 2009

This week has been one inordinately rich in flag imagery. On Wednesday, B kindly pointed me to this article from Now Lebanon, about a new “Arab Islamic Resistance Party” founded as a Shia alternative to Hizbullah. The party, which seems to have come out of nowhere, burst on to the scene last week with the claim that it has over 3,000 armed fighters, and that it might – it suggests coyly – have had something to do with the rockets fired into Israel during its bloody Gaza invasion.

Despite the press coverage, AIR-P (my suggested acronym) is having trouble getting itself taken seriously. Even Now Lebanon, which slavishly supports any non-Hizbullah Shia group, titled the article “Party of Odd”. As for Hizbullah (which translates to “Party of God”), its spokespeople have had nothing to say. As the article states:

Despite the Arab Islamic Resistance’s open and vocal opposition to Hezbollah, the Party of God has remained silent. They have not threatened Husseini as they are accused of doing to other anti-Hezbollah Shia politicians and religious figures. A Hezbollah press spokeswoman told NOW the party had no comment on Husseini or his new Resistance.

I don’t think AIR-P requires threats. In this case, I imagine that silence equals pity. The chattering class of Lebanese political commentators seem to have had much the same reaction:

Resistance watchers – analysts, authors and journalists – contacted by NOW said they’d never heard of Husseini and found it strange it took a television interview to bring a 3,000-strong actively-training force to come to light. Wouldn’t someone have noticed them earlier, was the resounding refrain.

As the author finally concludes:

it was quite a challenge finding people who knew much about Husseini.

“I doubt his wife supports him,” one religious leader said, after making yet another phone call on the ancient Panasonic fax machine at his side to a colleague in search of information on Husseini. In fact, interview after interview ended with the same conclusion: This is mostly talk.

The only person who seems to take AIR-P seriously sounds like a total oddball:

One person contacted for this article, Sam Bazzi, a Lebanese living in America who runs a website that monitors terrorist activities, claimed Husseini’s money comes from Iran and that he is, in fact, an undercover Hezbollah agent.

Right.

As far as B and I are concerned, the best part about AIR-P is its flag:

logo-main-012709031335

Where to begin?

First, the new resistance is partly armed with a pencil. As a writer, I am a strong believer in the idea that the pen is mightier than the sword. But a pencil? In the age of computers, this seems seriously retrograde. Also, this pencil has no eraser. Is AIR-P infallible?

And – not to quibble – the pencil and the gun are the same size. AIR-P is either planning to resist with one giant pencil or one very small gun.

Ah, the gun. I’m not an expert, but that looks much more like a M16 (American assault rifle) than an AK-47 (Kalashnikov). What self-respecting resistance uses U.S.-made weapons?

Next, the lettering. This script to me looks like the Arabic equivalent of bubble letters. I don’t find anything fierce, strong, upright, or resistant about those rounded qaffs and taa marboutas – they look like they belong on a twelve year-old girl’s school notebook.

Finallt, the rose dripping blood. Leaving aside the fact that the rose should also be red (historically, a yellow rose means happiness and/or friendship), the red of the blood means that this flag is a three-color print job – which is much more costly than a two-color job. As a budding resistance movement facing a tough economic climate, shouldn’t AIR-P focus on demonstrating fiscal prudence?

AIR-P is the most entertaining resistance movement that Lebanon has had in some time – or at least since Wiam Wahhab faded back into the woodwork. I can’t wait for Husseini’s next interview.

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Arabic, art, Beirut, friends, Lebanon, politics, research, rumors, vanity, words | 2 Comments »

a treehouse in the sea

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 28, 2009

Has anyone else heard about this? Qifa Nabki wrote in a group email that I received this morning. Am I the last one?

QN was talking, of course, about Cedars Island, a planned cedar-in-the-sea more-Dubai-than-Dubai development. I had heard about it, thanks to a Facebook status message that M posted last week:

M wants to move to Cedar Island.

Okay, I thought – M is fairly peripatetic – after which it slipped from my mind. Luckily, QN was a bit more on the ball – and has a hysterical, very on-point post about the development, which you can read here.

The project’s website is a laugh-out-loud hoot to read. Its news section recounts Tourism Minister Elie Marouni’s recent visit to developer Noor Holding’s offices, in which he “expressed his blessing” and wished them “big success”.  The project promises residents an “exotic, pleasant, and peaceful environment”, which will “mainly consist of 8 distinct zones.” What are these distinct zones? you might ask.  They are “zone a, b, c, d, e, f, g, & h.”

Curious to know what a cedar in the sea might look like? Me, too. After all, how one draws a Lebanese cedar often tells much about one’s political affiliations.

Here is the official rendering of the project:

cedar-islandSigh. It looks like a joke, doesn’t it? But as QN says: this is the real thing. And it will be located on the coast of Damour, between the airport (easy exit in case of troubles: a plus. distance from Beirut: a minus.) and Jiyyeh (easy access to a power station: a plus. increased likelihood of Israeli bombing raids: a minus.), where cedar imagery has been few and far between.

So.  Which cedar do you think Cedar Islands should most resemble?

Chamoun’s cedar?

chamoun-flag

The Kataeb cedar?

kataeb-flag

The Ouwet cedar?

ouwet-flag

The Lebanese Communist cedar?

lebanese_communist_party_flagThe national flag cedar?

lebanese-national-flagOr – my favorite, thanks to its slightly goofy shape – the AUB cedar?aub-logo

Cedars are a serious topic in Lebanon. If Noor Holding doesn’t fully understand what it is getting into, the lifestyle it promises residents could be “exotic” indeed.

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Beirut, cedar, construction, economics, friends, Lebanon, media, politics, tourism, vanity | 5 Comments »

Scrabble Gets Fair Play in Bahrain

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 28, 2009

Yesterday an intriguing item came across my Google alerts: the news that a Bahraini champion Scrabble player had been found guilty of cheating and banned from playing in tournaments for the next four years. Today I saw a follow-up article in Abu Dhabi’s The National, which I have pasted below.

Its a bit long, and Scrabble is not the world’s most pressing concern (and no, I am not saying this just because I lost a family Scrabble match over the Christmas holiday. Grandma, your unchallenged string of victories was well-deserved.). But I think this story is important, because it offers an example of an organization willing to enforce the rules of fair play – not something that happens in the Middle East all that often, and certainly not to Gulf citizens.

Even if you aren’t interested in Scrabble, I hope you will be interested in this article and the World English-Language Scrabble Players Association’s (who knew!) message that cheating is unacceptable.

The Scrabble champion banned from international competitions for four years for cheating will not be stripped of his local and regional titles, it was announced yesterday. The Bahrain Scrabble League Committee believes the ban “is punishment enough”.

Mohammed Zafar, 19, beat Akshay Bhandarkar from Dubai last June to win the Gulf Scrabble championship. He is also the Bahrain national champion.

Mr Zafar, who denies cheating, was barred by the game’s governing body, the World English Language Scrabble Players Association (Wespa), for breaking the rule about how players draw their letters while playing in a tournament in Malaysia in December.

“The decision is not to strip Mohammed of his titles,” said Roy Kietzman, a member of the Bahrain Scrabble League Committee and a special panel of four that met on Monday night in Manama to discuss Wespa’s decision.

“We felt it was humiliation enough to be charged with being guilty and being banned from Scrabble.

“For him, this is public humiliation in the Scrabble community. We feel this is punishment enough.”

Mr Zafar was accused of taking his tiles from the top of the bag and having a quick peek at them before letting go of any he did not want during the Causeway Challenge, held in Johru Bahar in Malaysia.

The rules of the game state that although players may give the bag a vigorous shake, they must draw tiles at shoulder length while looking away from the bag.

Mr Zafar is also banned from the Malaysian tournament for life.

The Bahrain Scrabble League Committee says it “fully endorses the Wespa decision that he was guilty”.

Mr Kietzman confirmed that Allan Simmons, the chairman of the Wespa inquiry and Britain’s national champion, had been willing to lower the penalty and cut the time of the ban by half if Mr Zafar had admitted his guilt.

“We are urging Wespa to make strict guidelines on what to do in the future. This was a precedent.”

Last year, Mr Zafar faced the two-time defending champion of the regional Scrabble title, Mr Bhandarkar, in a thrilling match that saw the use of plurals, bingos [when a player uses all seven letters at once] and plenty of theatrics.

Posted in Arab world, Bahrain, Iowa, vanity | Leave a Comment »

a fiction stranger than fiction: Blackline

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 27, 2009

This past weekend I spent some time hunting for videos to watch online while finishing an article that was due – well, overdue – to a very patient publisher. One of the online streams that kept me company while I wrestled with bad prose (mine) and awkward transitions (ditto) was CNN’s Inside the Middle East, which has a nice “best of 2008” trio of stories up on its website.

My favorite was a rather guilty pleasure: a piece about the “surreal” experience of filming a US action movie in Beirut. (You can watch the video segment here.) It brought back memories of a small but intense burst of news about the movie (now called Blackline: The Beirut Contract) last February, when nearby residents alarmed by the sounds of gunfire alerted the Lebanese Army to “action” that turned out to be more cinematic than real.

As you may recall, February 2008 wasn’t the least tense of times, and I remember the story inducing a few eyeball rolls among my friends. But if it was a relief in Lebanon, it proved titillating elsewhere: the story was picked up by several international news outlets, including the New York Times, which ran this piece:

Lebanon is a country on edge, with every side warning about foreign interference and the spark that could lead to factional war.

So when explosions and gunfire broke out in an abandoned building east of Beirut the other day, two Lebanese Army platoons quickly surrounded the site, guns drawn.

“Cut!” yelled a frightened American voice. The sounds of gunfire stopped abruptly.

It was a foreign film crew, not a militia. And if life sometimes imitates art, this was something stranger: The crew was making a movie about a group of armed foreigners who come to Beirut and almost set off a factional war by mistake.

(The NYT story continues here.)

I can see how tempting it would be to write a piece (or ten) about the irony of shooting a war film in Beirut, and CNN’s video clip was fairly interesting. But it featured this doozy of a quote by one of its producers, a man named Kirk Hassig:

We wanted to be the first movie to shoot in Beirut in 30 years, he said. There’s value to that. Those kind of things are added value in the way people perceive our movie.

Ugh. First of all, how could the interviewer not challenge him on his “first movie” claim? The first American movie, perhaps. But feature and documentary films were shot in Lebanon all throughout the civil war, not to mention during the past 18 years since it ended. What an ignorant claim.

As for the “added value”, I’m sure he’s right: I’m sure that this movie has already attracted disproportionate attention thanks to its on-site filming, and I’m sure that the “authentic” setting will drive ticket sales as well. But I think its rather bald of him to acknowledge this so cavalierly – and a bit disingenuous to pretend that filming a movie in Lebanon is either a pioneering act or one of bravery.

Count me in for a ticket, though. Even if all I do is fuss about the stereotypes that I am sure pepper the plotline (its about rescuing a hostage, after all), my eyes are longing for a little Lebanese scenery.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Beirut, economics, film, Lebanon, media, vanity, words | Leave a Comment »

scrub-a-dub Saturday and Sunday

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 12, 2009

Sniff, sniff, my nose went this weekend as I toweled off after my shower. I’ve changed soaps, and now I smell like a hammam – in a good way.

When I was home in Iowa over Christmas, I found a few blocks of soap that I had purchased in Damascus a few years ago. “Aged” soap might not sound as appealing as “aged” wine or cheese, but I don’t think it goes stale. (Any soap experts out there?)

img_1076

As you can see, the soap was made in Aleppo, and while it has no laurel, it does leave a lovely scent of olive oil on my skin. I’ve been missing the Levant recently, and my new-old soap has made me feel both closer to and further from the region.

Posted in Americans, Arabic, Brooklyn, Damascus, home, laundry, vanity, women | 4 Comments »