And another one by Lara Zankoul 🙂
Giving you a first taste of my last collaboration with Lebanese photographer Lara Zankoul. The idea was to have something in line with my next novel, D’or et de Poussiere, so I modelled for Lara and she worked her magic. The whole serie will be posted soon on my Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Paola-Salwan-Lebanese-Author/194530360576882 Hope you Enjoy!
Bring me bitter chocolate, she said, the blackest and the bitterest you can find, please, to reflect how I feel.
Her words hung awkwardly in the air. What are you supposed to say when someone you barely know opens up to you in the most unexpected, blunt and sincere way? She said it half joking, probably not to spoil the buoyant Beiruti mood, the laughters, the glasses clinking, the distant voice of the young woman singer providing the soundtrack to her woes. Her mouth tried going slightly upwards when her eyes remained hollow, two hazel spheres burning my own retinas, trying to convey the most universal message: if you can’t help me, at least try and understand me. Her bleakest feelings in a heartbeat, barely time for the onlooker to catch the vibe, to comprehend the silence, barely time for an eyelid to shield her soul and for her social mask to be back on.
She caught my eyes, and understanding started fizzing between her and I. Come dance with me, she said grabbing my arms.
She was not asking. She was pulling me, yet pleading with me. Come dance with me, for this moment, and this moment only, I want to forget who I am, and I need you to be my crutch so that I can face these people and these stares wondering about me, judging me.
Her, the woman whose headscarf kept on perfect position throughout those glorious minutes where she found herself again, her old self, the woman she lost somewhere along the way in a fit of crazy, stupid, inconvenient love.
And so I danced, not because I felt like it, but because I wanted to provide her with the break she so needed, because I could almost feel in my own mouth the ferruginous taste of her bile, the acrid disappointment of what she thought was but appeared would never be. I danced and I twirled and I jumped and I laughed along with her because she was like a prisoner on bail and that I wanted to do anything, anything for her to smell carelessness and forgetfulness again and caress the feeling of being free. I danced because I knew how she felt, I just had to look at her to think, Ah, but for the Grace of God, Go I, for I, too, knew bitterness and hurt, and I too, had needed shared laughs and the touch of a hand just to get through the next minute.
He was absent yet he was here, everywhere, in all her talk and in all her movements, he was in every glance she kept shooting towards the door, in her jumpy mood, in the ever slightly shaky hand that brought her drink to her lips. He was the much beloved threat that poisoned her, the frown he always wore now transposed to her own face, his of disapproval, hers of constant worry. I could only imagine the constant pain she had to live with, the constant ache of loving so deep someone who passed on judgements to her so often she could never trust him again, lies were were her only refuge.
What can you do when somebody you barely know pours out their soul to you? You get up and dance, you take her hands in yours and you laugh, you dance and you laugh and you sing out loud, in the hope that all the singing and jumping and dancing will pray the Devil back to wherever it came from, and keep the terrible fear at bay.
Even for a second, especially for a second, you sing and forget, and in that moment, life becomes possible again.
For the Sams (SamSam and Petit)
Brace yourself for stories of mysterious medina gateways, ochre and royal blue clashes of colours and mountains of couscous: this is morocco were talking about.
I did see Casablanca’s medina (or at least the entrance of it) and perhaps one tenth of the entrance of the royal palace in Rabat, but the truth is, as I went there for work, I now know tiny little streets adorned with orange trees ( after all, we ARE in Morocco) rather than beautiful touristy places.
And in a way, I’m glad I do.
Take that blue taxi with me on our Rabat journey, and I’ll show you kindness and hospitality. First of all, Moroccan taxi drivers don’t sleazily look at you in the rear mirror, trying to make eye contact that’ll prompt heaving noises emanating from you as you vomit, the way Lebanese drivers to. Well, none of the exactly 10 taxis rides in two days I took did, so I m just basing myself on that statistics. Second, they don’t insult you if you don’t have exactly their fare the way same Lebanese drivers do. Instead, they’re just kind and nice and polite. (For a more in depth look at how much of a nuisance Lebanese taxi drivers can be (most of them ex militiamen) please see here)
In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m kind of rather chatty and love to start conversations, like with that Nigerian student we dropped on our way to les Orangers. He was amazing: he was the ultimate co pilot you’d want to have, showering Fuck you man! Right left and center to anyone who dared to come in front of us or was not respecting priorities, which kind of happened a lot. Pulling over at the Nigerian embassy, he just went: that’s my flag right there man! His good mood was contagious, so I just laughed and told him I had gone to Nigeria and loved it, which owed me a thanks man! And a high five. Then he properly looked at me and went: where are you from?
Now this question is often tricky, as answering you’re Lebanese can have several effects, some of them unpleasant (as in: Lebanese huh? Sleazy disgusting stare, wink wink) (damn you Haifa Wehbe) (damn you patriarchy) but I took the plunge anyway and gave him my Cedarland origins. Aha! Lebanese huh? Can I have you number? As he wasn’t sleazy or invading my private space Or giving me horrid winks, I politely said no ( I’m married you see) ( gGod sometimes it really does serve me well) and he went his way, wishing us good luck and carrying on his buoyant journey. He said he’d been in Morocco only for a few weeks: I couldn’t help wishing him well, and hoping he’ll still fire fuck yous to inconsiderate drivers.
This left me and my cabbie on our way to a teeny street tucked away in les orangers, taking on our way a Lalla going about her business in another part of Rabat. After circling the orangers for about ten minutes it became acutely clear that I didn’t know where I was going, that my cabbie didn’t know where I was going and that it was a bit of a problem. Automatically, Cabbie and Lalla made it their own private mission to drop me at the exact point I should be dropped if their life depended on it. Loubnanyah? Asked Lalla with a grin. Naam, said yours truly with an even bigger grin. Ahlan! You have to learn maghrebi! We’ll find where you need to go! And with that all other plans were put to a halt and the quest began. So here I was, sitting at the back, stuttering apologies for wasting people’s time ( I’ve lived in Geneva, city where if you’re not polite, you can be shunt out of Switzerland by Calvin or something) Cabbie asking on his left, Lalla on her right, until we arrived, me still apologizing, them still shouting words of welcome.
When I retold that story to my Moroccan best friend, she said they loved Lebanese, to which I just think that it’s not that they love the Lebanese, it’s just that they themselves were kind. Mind you, I often heard the ‘we love the Lebanese’ claim in Tunis, Egypt and now Morocco. If we loved ourselves as a people as much as other people love us, we would have gotten rid of our appalling so called politics a long, long time ago, but anyway, I digress.
Talks of elections, constitution reviews, organic laws and 20th February movements, slut walks and Islamist political parties rolled during two days, and I found myself back on the plane to Beirut, my mouth full of cornes de gazelle and my mind and heart set on Moroccan tales.