You Say Goodbye and I Say Hello

Saying good bye s a bitch. And I should know, I’ve been doing it for the last 20 years. You see, it all started when it became apparent that I were a Lebanese living abroad but regularly going back to Lebanon. That usually pretty much entails a lot of going back and forth, of hellos and good byes, of tears of joys and sadness and let me tell you something, learning heartache at such a young age just can’t be good for your soul. Growing up, things improved a little in the sense that I taught myself not to be In shambles each time I left Beirut ( and that was a good thing, I just couldn’t be looking like a panda twice a year, it was just not on), but I couldn’t prevent little cracks in my heart from happening nonetheless. At that time, I made a promise to myself: I will go and live in Lebanon one day.
Which brings me to now, as this is exactly what I’m doing. The only tiny, teeny, oh, barely apparent itch was that I had kind of overlooked the good bye component of relocating in Cedar Land. I was living the dream! Going back where I belonged! It was fantastic!

Until my niece came along and played with me and chased me yelling PatAAAAA at the top of her lungs, making me realise I wouldn’t be seeing her every week like I do now. Oh. Not to mention my sister looking at me, tear-stricken, as if I were going to live in Zimbabwe in a wild savannah full of lions and cheetahs, never to come back. We’ve always been something very akin to drama queens in the family.

So apparently, here comes the hello good bye ballet again. Now I know this is ridiculous, I know everyone nowadays have their hearts fragmented in all parts of the world, I know I have Skype and email and texting and phone calls. No, really, I know. I’m just a selfish cow, I like all the people I love right there in front of me, where I can see them.
So I’ll say good bye in 2 days, then they’ll come visit in a month or so, then I’ll go and visit them. In the meantime, I’ll build strong ties and bonds in Lebanon, and then will come the time to say good bye to them too.

AAaaaaaaaaaaRrrrrGggghhhhh. Now don’t ask why people’s heart fail sometimes.

On Being A Hypochondriac

Tout bien portant est un malade qui s’ignore.

Jules Romains, Knock

Hi, my name is Paola and I’m a hypochondriac. 

I think it just needed to be said. You see, most people would think it’s not normal to be calling the French SAMU for an indigestion, but that’s the kind of thing me and my best friend Ludivine would do in a heart beat. 

Now please don’t get me wrong: we really, truly, are lovely girls who’d give you the shirt off our backs and everything. It’s just that when we have a headache, we automatically think we have a brain tumour. 

The worst part of it all is the amount of bad faith we can show. Let’s take situation one: I feel queasy, with a strong headache. I go and complain towards a normal person, who will tell me, naturally enough, that it’s probably something I’ve eaten and that it’ll pass. My answer to this perfectly sane and sound piece of advice? One, Cry: and what do you know? Are you a doctor? I don’t think so! Two, carve the worst possible scenario ever: I have meningitis and you just don’t care! Three, huff and puff and go on Google: “meningitis symptoms”, “Doctissimo” “Imayhavecanceranddie.com”. 

Then, when it’s all over, when, after calling about 23 different doctors who repeatedly tell me it is NOT meningitis, that I should STOP going on Wikipedia to make my own diagnosis, that it IS something bad I’ve eaten, I’ll go back to the normal person, all smug and happy, and tell he or she: you see? There was absolutely no need to worry like you did. You can be so nervous for nothing sometimes. Which often times seems to spark murderous thoughts in the mind of my interlocutor. Funnily enough, even though the probability of dying at the hands of a friend or parent I’ve driven mad is probably much higher than me getting meningitis, I never worry about that. For those of you who like me are Big Bang Theory Sheldon Cooper worshippers, just picture a gassy Sheldon knocking on Leonard’s door, thinking he might have Ebola when really, he’s just eaten way too many Brussels sprouts. There, picture clear enough?

Us Hypochondriacs just love each other’s company. No, really, we relish it. Why, you ask? Well because we can ask and probe and reassure one another until blue in the face, and no one can tell us to stop and come back to the lovely fields of sanity, because, well, we’re all as bas as each other, like: “Do you feel the same lump I’m feeling here? Here, I’m telling you, you’re not touching properly!” or “I’ve been feeling tired. I might have lymphoma.” or the best of the worst “I’ve bumped my head. I have a brain haemorrhage now”. 

The saddest part of it all is that, when we’re having a crisis, we truly, really believe that our fantasies are true and that we’re on our way to eternal sleep. Non hypochondriacs might think we’re just drama queens and kings, which I strongly resent. Hypochondria is like a compulsion, and no matter how many doctors you see or exams you take, you don’t feel reassured more than half a day. Then, you just go back to wanting to live in a hospital in case you might need a CAT scan. 

But why are we wired this way, one might ask? Some people argue it’s because of a tough medical family history, some think it’s the fear of dying. Other simply think we’re Molière’s Imaginary Invalid. 

I choose to blame the media, who tell us to worry about our health: we’re just over-achieving students.

Portrait: Charbel

Charbel. Charbel is a gentleman, no, really, he is and woe betides he who tries and say the contrary. All these nasty rumours, he’d crush them in a second if those were still the blessed times of the war. 

Truth be told, Charbel was kind of involved in some militias or another during the Civil War (why do you think you’ve never seen his arms? Too many tatoos that’d make you cringe, that’s why) and he kind of enjoyed it. There was a little smuggling here, a little torturing there, some good old fighting, then everyone would make friends again in one of the many brothels the city hosted in these halcyon days. There he and his fellow militiamen would drink themselves into oblivion, one hand on Sameera’s boobs and the other trying to draft the next attack on some camps or another, drowning in the vapours and hallucinations of the many drugs they had access to. Charbel still thinks of these moment with misty eyes. 

Then, just as business was flourishing, these fools had to to go and meet in Taef and ruin it. Ah, nevermind, he still managed to make a good bucketload of money over the course of the war, and thanks to that Amnesty, no one was ever going to ask him anything about all the times he had fun driving his car with one or two guys attached to it. Bliss. 

But Charbel had to be cautious about all this and not start showering his money right, left and center. He needed a good cover, so he started opening shops. And restaurants. And shopping malls. Who said anything about money laundering? Ya3ni ma ma3oul, people have to make a living, it’s not a laundering of any kind, nothing’s dirty. Yalla, take that ridiculous amount and go, 7el 3anneh! Yes, Charbel had to bribe (what a strong word! Those were just gifts!) a fair amount of people to get away with it, but he managed, and if the money wasn’t sufficient, he would send over one or two of his best men for a little nightly visit. 

Now Charbel is considered a prosperous business man, and loves showing off his external signs of wealth: (armoured, let’s not forget he might still have one or two enemies in the shadows) Hummer that his driver launches at full speed on the autostrade, honking like there’s not tomorrow as if to say “Make Way! VVVVVVIP Coming! Move, You Low Life Mollusc!, trophy wife, overweight children and platinum watch. 

But as Charbel enters his 800 square meter residence over Kaslik, he can’t help but feel a little bored. He misses the days of militia camaraderie, the drunked nights, the sense of dangers. So he pours himself some Courvoisier, and dials the number of one of his many mistresses that his wife pretends she doesn’t know about. 

With a sigh of pleasure, he’ll kick back and relax, waiting for Sandy to come over and entertain him. Ah, That life ain’t half bad after all. 

Not bad, he’ll think, from militia vermin to business tycoon. He wonders who could play him in a movie. 

Second Novel: D’Or et de Poussière

Ok Lovely People, my second novel, D’Or et de Poussière, is born! I’m currently sending it to publishing houses so please send me lots of good vibes on my way to publication! 

I’ve posted many sneak previews of the novel that you can find on this blog on or my Facebook page (in Notes) https://www.facebook.com/pages/Paola-Salwan-Lebanese-Author/194530360576882 

Thank you! ❤

Is There Still Time To Do That?

Your hand was shaking a little this morning as you patiently drew the line of your lips. You tried to ignore the quiver of your mouth, the salty water that was ruining your make up, each drop taking bits of the pretence away. Your cursed yourself for being so weak, for being so petty. What’s more, you needed your make-up to stay on, to be the mask you needed to wear at that wedding. 

You were happy for her. Really, you were. 

It’s you you were sad for. 

Composing yourself, you put your dress on, letting the lilac silk caress your body, soft as a feather, the garment shaping your shadow, fitting you like a glove. Not too bad, you will think, if I didn’t know better, I’d even let myself think a nice figure would still matter. 

The nice figure, as the beautiful face, were of no use to you. No sharp cheekbones, full lips or hazel eyes made any difference: you still made all the wrong choices at all the wrong times, oblivious of your instinct, deaf to the warnings, blind to the dazzling truth. Hoodwinked, that’s what you were, and now that you’ve awoken to the hard cold reality, you seriously wonder if he didn’t bewitch you, if he didn’t use some of his many voodoo skills to make you lose all senses and throw yourself into something you knew deep down will only cause you harm. 

You now put on your earrings, the salty tears have stopped, you’ve managed to recompose yourself, and you realise, that’s what people expect of you. Demure, classy, soft and tender, the ever present and understanding best friend, the doting aunt, the good daughter, the flawless sister. How odd, that no one ever seems to think that there might be the real you, buried somewhere deep under the layers of roles you force yourself to play. 

Looking at yourself in that mirror, you wonder how come life always gave you the supporting roles, and never the leading ones. 

I should have whined more, you think, I should have screamed more, demand more, cursed more. Lived more. Is there still time to do that? 

No time to think any longer, you silently wrap your stole around your delicate shoulders, spritzing yourself with a perfume a fierce actress once made legendary, considering that It wouldn’t be too bad if you made the legend happen for yourself, for once. 

Is there still time to do that? 

The bride is now happily walking down the aisle, blooming and a little scared, going towards a future she has no guarantee would be brighter than yours. But she decided to take a shot, and to hell if the dream would turn into a nightmare, if perfection would not meet her. She was living. 

Is there still time to do that? 

And maybe it was the ecstatic mood, maybe the radiant bride cast towars you a bit of her magic, but it had been a long time since you thought: well, you bet there is.

Portrait: Teta

Teta doesn’t really like that nickname, it reminds her of her own teta, an old lady, a lovely one, granted, but one who loved fitting into the teta cliche, with her cross around her neck and her labneh making and her kebeh labanieh and her sheesh barak, and her permanent black attire. She loved her, but she hated the teta concept: as soon as you become a grand mother you all of a sudden seem to have to make jars of jam and mouneh and be exclusively devoted to you children
and grandchildren. Teta has always been an active woman who fought at great lengths to keep her job and her family, both of which she loved dearly and struggled dearly with, and all of a sudden, because she became a grandmother, she was supposed to act as if all those years never happened and start behaving as if nothing mattered more than the perfect baking of her home made bread.

Er, why?

It seems even her daughter frowns at her when she says she can’t look after her child, as if Teta’s sole purpose in life now was to be full time super nanny, because of course, what else should she be doing? She’s old!
Teta mutters to herself, seated on her lovely balcony full of fresh flowers, and looks down at her wrinkled hands: when does it ever stop? I got judged when I was young for having my own mind and saying loud and clear what was on it, I got judged when I grew older for loving my ridiculously badly paid job instead of staying at home with my kids and now that I’m old, I’m getting judged for not acting the part.  Teta doesn’t look the part: she loved her husband more than anything else in this world, but would never dress only in black ad vitam eternam, the az3ar would never stop laughing from above. She’s not been to a surgeon to keep her features from testifying her age and chose to grow old gracefully. She’s neither the self effacing older woman nor the grandmother who’d rather die than say she actually has four grandchildren. 
The other grandmother doesn’t help, either. This one, she’s like the walking cliche on the Teta with a capital T: ya 3omri, to2borneh teta ana, let me make you some impossibly complicated dish in my quaint old kitchen with special mouneh that I brought from the mountains! Yi 3aleynah heyde, she makes me feel so bad.
Gloomily, Teta sips her delicious orange blossom flowers coffee, thinking of the so-strong-it-aches love she holds for her family, how crazy she’d go is something happened to them, how unfair society has always been, asking her to define herself only in relations to them, to choose, all the time, all these choices. Her own mother told her all these years ago it was every s woman’s lot, that suffering was something that came with the female condition. Teta never believed it and now she’s punishing herself, feeling bad when she should not.
Today, Teta’s available to mind her grandchildren, and, while she starts tidying up her place, she immerses herself in her life, in her role.
If a mother is a role model, then a grandmother should be an even bigger one.
Role model. I like that. I like that my granddaughter will retain a sense of self until the day she dies, I can teach her that. I might not make sheesh barak, but I will develop her curiosity, read with her and always tell her to hold her ground, no matter the circumstances.

Now humming gaily, Teta puts the hot chocolate cup down and prepares the sahlab ice cream. The little devil will come home hungry from school, and she needs her energy for the women’s cooperative Teta’s taking her to today.

To Read: Teta, Mother and Me, By Jean Said MAkdisi

How to live with a revolutionary without losing your head (or his) – Social – iloubnan.info

Link: How to live with a revolutionary without losing your head (or his) – Social – iloubnan.info

I’m OVER excited to introduce the Revolutionary Series on the Lebanese online newspaper iloubnan.info!!! Illustrator and designer Maya Zankoul is providing the illustrations, and they’re simply fabulous. 

Meet us every friday for your weekly advice on how to live with a revolutionary without losing your head! 

On the Dangers of Being a Writer in the Age of Technology

Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.  ~Sholem Asch

10:00 am 

Sits in front of computer, with notes and thoughts on progression of new novel. 

10:05 am 

Checks e-mail inboy n°1. Ooooohhh Goody! My ASOS parcel has been despatched! Now what about my Boohoo one? What? I have 25% off the new collection? 

No. I shall be strong. Write.  

10:06 

5 notifications from Facebook. I have to check them, haven’t I? Not replying would be so rude. OOOOhhh Dina has tagged me! And Nadine has posted on Nasawiya!

10:26

Just lost 20 minutes writing utterly important comments on Facebook. This is just basic human decency.

10:27

Check e-mail inboy n°2. Maya has written to me! So what’s cooking Mayoush? Oh new illustration! I have to open it, save it, admire it, reply to Maya. After all, she’s gone through all the trouble of actually doing the illustration, and, as said before, I’m a decent person aren’t I?

10:30

Ping!

Dina on GTalk!

11:30

Problem solving session with Dina, Best Friend. Couldn’t have possibly left her with her dilemna of glittery phone case VS vintage one. That would be absolutely against our very rigid and strong Friendship Code, and what’s more important, a novel or a friend? My point exactly.

11:32

I’m hungry, I wonder what’s for lunch…Oh what could I make for dinner tonight?

11:33

Marmiton.org, 750g.com and PtitChef really have the best recipes. I shall pick one, draft the grocery list, and then REALLY get into that novel. That Noha character really is lacking something. And I still need to deepen a bit Shirine’s past.

12:15

Grocery list done! NOW to business.

12:20

“Shirine

12:21

Lunch!

14:30

That really was a lovely lunch. My colleagues are so funny.And that salad!

14:32

Need to recheck emails. People should have replied to my Facebook posts by now. Oh I’ve been mentioned on Twitter!

14:35

Two replies. Right, to Business.

14:36

Those dresses really are lovely. And I do have 25% off them. Couldn’t hurt to have a closer look.

15:00 (Minus 60 Euros)

“Shirine était particulièrement songeuse…

What’s the word I’m looking for in French? Let’s go on wordreference.com for 2 seconds

15:15

Deeply entrenched in “10 Ways You’re Screwing Your Relationship”. Damn, I had no idea I was doing all that. In any case, these things are only designed to make 1) women buy more crappy books on the same subjects and 2) make us feel bad about ourselves

16:00

Browsing on Amazon.com. That reference to book reminded me, I want that book from Simone de Beauvoir, ohh look at that, they’re suggestion books I might like.

Well this one, and this one and this one.

16:30

Right, to business

16:32

” Shirine était particulièrement songeuse ce jour-là”.

Oh my Phone!

17:00

By the lake, with friends, eating ice cream.

After all, all this computer can’t be good for me. And I’ve written like… one sentence.

Tomorrow, no excuses, I’ll be glued to my novel!