You Killed My Dreams, Too

I am currently baffled by some online phenonmenon, for lack of a better word.

No, I’m not talking about Saad Hariri’s Twitter account, although that’s pretty funny in itself.

I’m talking about women undergoing plastic surgery, plonking themselves in front of their webcam and talking.

And that’s it.

These women seem to have observed the trajectory of Haifa Wehbe and the likes: be beautiful, and if you need a corrupt doctor to be so, then by all means buy that pair of boobs, pout in front of a camera, shake that tiny booty in a gold mini dress and what do you know, you’ve gotten yourself a “career’, with many rich men spending fortunes on you and all eyes on you, you, you.

I mean, they have nothing to say or show, that absolute necessity to create something and maybe share it with the world that possesses all artists is completely absent.

They’re in it for the money and the fame. Every thing they do is directed towards these two goals: be rich and famous. Lara Kay, one of the latest sensation of that category, states it herself in many instances: “Yes I have done plastic surgery but it works so what?”Here, please understand the “it works” to attract attention and most preferably rich men.

The times we live in are terribly frustrating for our egos: economic hardships ensure we need to work unrewarding jobs to make ends meet, with only tiny pools of leisure . Besides, there’s a need of recognition and validation of our own selves: lost in the anonymity of the masses, the individual finds itself insignificant, a tiny ant labouring day in day out. Hence the pursuit of fame that is perceived to be the ultimate goal in life, bringing in its stride happiness and money. The trend of reality TV has made it all the easier for everyone to think their problems will go away with a flick of a remote control, and frankly, with the intellectual/artistic/creative level shown on most programmes, it is no wonder absolutely anyone think they can make it. When I see the sums Kim Kardashian is paid to insult her sister on TV, I wonder if I shouldn’t make a sex tape myself (Bazinga).

Social media has enabled many people to “be discovered”, regardless of their talent. Virtually everyone can have their 15 minutes of fame, and people tend to forget that every work of art, every initiative that might lead to fame is, well, work, and takes effort and dedication, and that fame is not in any way the purpose of that work.

Capitalism has long merchandised everything: art, women’s bodies, people’s lives. The wanna-be famous such as Lara Kay and Myriam Klink are nothing but by products of a system that sees everything as marketable goods . I’m not siding with bloggers and people who have been bashing them with epithets such as “whore” “charmouta” and other insulting comments targeted as their expressions of sexuality. However, I do have an issue with that expression being the incarnation of what men want, and designed to attract said men, impersonating gender stereotypes to the extreme in the sense that they’re reducing themselves to a body and looks, making their appearance their major feature, as if it were the most important thing. Even Kay’s video clip looks like sexist soft porn, the way it’s done exploiting her body and reducing it to certain parts: close ups on her vagina and buttocks, languid expressions and pouts with bee stung lips. There doesn’t seem to be any fun in their appearances, they’re not enjoying themselves, they’re merely going through the motions of exciting thé viewer, of being what they think they should be to get noticed.

Watching and listening to “songs” such as 3antar and 2ataltouleh el a7lem actually made me a little sad more than anything else. Sad because despite many decades of women’s movement, it seems to have achieved littled in terms of erasing the stereotype of beauty being the most important thing for a woman and her only way to get ahead. And sad because sexuality is supposed to be creative, and fun and sensuous and an adventure. Not a means to get showered with gifts and two cameras on one’s self.

Tales of the Phoenix City – 17

The creature looked pale and panicked.

She also looked like she had been through a war.

Wearing a wedding gown, that is.

– I left.
– I can see that. Good timing, Yasmine. Really, you couldn’t have done better. What did you do, jumped off the white Merc?
– Oh shut up, would you, and let me in.

For once, Nina was not offended by Yasmine’s peremptory tone. The little resident devil in her mind was doing a little victory dance, while the resident angel already felt guilty at the thought of having instilled doubt in her young client’s mind.

Yasmine past through the door, the ruffles of her dress enveloping her in a sea of caring, soft silk and lace. It seemed to Nina that the once dry, tense woman had a new suppleness about her that seemed to increase at every step she took, as if the shackles that had been binding her up until now were slowly unknotting themselves.

When she barged in, Nina had been sketching a new collection of dresses. They partly were inspired by the Palestinian embroidery and were all the shapes of caftans. She had added special details to the shape of the sleeves for the winter dresses, something akin to lady dresses in the European Middle Ages. The long sleeves matched the caftan shape: each detail completed one another perfectly, making the dresses well balanced, nicely fitting and very original, as they were going against the trend of strapless bodices everyone seemed to be producing right now. The summer dresses were all light as feathers, heavily inspired by Ancient Greece and Egypt, all draped gauze, their sexiness the result of their sheerness, revealing by hiding. Nina, as always when she was creating, had been utterly happy, immersed in her own world. She was supposed to draft business plans and loan applications, but somehow the figures had turned into shapes and drawings and three cups of tea later, she was already imagining how the models would look in her dusty-golden colored dresses.

Then Yasmine had knocked on her door and brought with her mayhem, as seemed to be her habit.

She was currently perched above Nina’s drawings, as if appraising them. Nina let her peer through her swollen, red eyes, thinking seeing some art and calming down her thoughts might help her. She busied herself making strong black coffee, and sat on the couch between the two fitting rooms she had. She spread toffees and macaroons before her, and patiently waited.

And waited.

Yasmine seemed to have gone mute.

– Feel like explaining why you’re here looking at my drawings, casually dressed in your wedding gown on what should have been your wedding day, instead of actually being at your wedding day?
– I told you, I left.
– Sweetheart, I’m going to need a tiny little more than that.
– Well, at first I had completely dismissed your advice and all your blabbing about not needing to get married and all.
– Why thank you, I love it when people drop by to insult my judgement.
– But then, Yasmine ploughed on, then, now and again I’d get an icy cold feeling of impeding doom. An anxiety I could not really define, a blurry, shadowy feeling that something was not quite right, a feeling that would jerk me awake at night, my heart racing and my temples pounding. I felt than my stomach was going through a washer and drier, I don’t know… So I kept smoking and not eating and my mother started noticing something was wrong. Not that she’s a good listener, my mother, but you know, between two important lunches she started noticing her daughter was wasting to nothing. So I took a leap of faith and tried explaining to her that I did not love my fiancé and was having second thoughts about the wedding. She looked at me as if I had hit her with a spade. She started off with a kind of contained rage, she said that often love harmed a marriage more than anything else and that I’d grow into loving my husband. She mentioned children and affection and all these concepts that meant I was signing up for a loveless life, being bored until I died. I must have looked what I thought, because Then she went ape-shit.
– Ape-shit?
– Kinda crazy.
– Thank You.
– She screamed, saying I simply could not humiliate her and my family this way by calling off the wedding at this stage, that I was being selfish and spoiled and a brat, after all the money she and my father had spent on me and on that wedding. I told her the money she had spent was more to make her look good in front of her friends than to really make me happy and that sometimes I looked at her and saw myself in a couple of years and that made me want to scream and kill myself.
– Ouch.
– Yeah, she did not take it well.
– Ya think?
– She had a kind of mirthless laughter And told me I was already like her, obsessed by spending and what people would say about me and my looks and that if anything, I’d be worse than her in a couple of years. Them she stormed out.
– I’m sorry. I feel if I hadn’t put these ideas into your head you wouldn’t have had to listen to these things.
– No it’s not your fault. It’s not even my mother’s. She was raised to be this way, just like I was. I think what she’s told me jolted me out of my apathy. On the day of my wedding, today, God, I feel like it was a million years ago, as they were dressing me in the hotel room, and joking and laughing, I felt very, very empty. I felt as if I were drained, emotionally and physically. I realized I wanted much more for myself than being married and spending money and having children and live vicariously through them. I discovered ambition. These ideas are still confused in my head, but I did know I did not want to go through the whole ordeal of the wedding. So I pretended I wanted to have a few moments to pray before going. They all looked at me a little oddly, but I think they thought I was being jittery because of the wedding night. They all think I’m still a virgin of course, the poor things. They re delusional. Anyway, I waited until everyone went out of my room. I called a taxi and told him to wait for me in front of Goodies in verdun. Then I grabbed whatever money I had, some clothes, and took the service elevator down, paying everyone on my way to shut up. And I took the cab.
– And you came here.
– And I came here. I did not know where else to go, and they won’t come straight to you looking for me.
– Ok. You do realize I can’t hide you here ad vitam eternam. You’re gonna have to deal with the family mayhem eventually, it s part of the process. However I can provide you with a safe bolt hole here until you decide what you want to do. And don’t forget, I have a business offer to take up with you once the craziness had calmed down.

Nina took in the sad little face, the anxiety and fears before her, and impulsively hugged her like a mother consoling her child. Yasmine gave out a wail under the tender touch of Nina, tears she felt she had repressed for a very, very long time.

– Jesus Fucking Christ, who’s the Weeping Widow here?

Gabi had come.

A Letter to Beirut

Dear Beirut,

Writing this letter is no easy task, believe me.
I came to you all arrogant and sure of myself, thinking you will fulfill the idea I had forged of you: I had romanticized you to death, my head full of frangipani trees in full bloom, a festival of life and colors, the hope and sheer force of life of your inhabitants conquering all.

You seemed in a huff to have been reduced to this post card. It’s like you couldn’t wait to show me your darker face.

At first, I let you rock me softly to the rhythm of your summer vibe. It was nice. It felt familiar, I was used to you this way.

You were only gearing up your weapons.

We became more acquainted. Like in all relationships, came a time where I started noticing your flaws. The process was painful, you see, I so wanted you to be perfect. I soon realized I had to refrain myself from giving the finger three times a day to your unconscious drivers, your chaos unnerved me, it was no longer happy and somehow functional. You became unpredictable and moody, or maybe that’s how you’ve always been but my loving heart had chosen to ignore it for so long. Distance has this kind of power.
The lights on you were dimmed by the injustice,by the shocking inequalities. I was, and still am, upset by you, by how you let yourself be looted and disfigured and weakened by people, your own sons and daughters, who regularly chose money, greed and profit against you. I thought you had more strength. I thought you had more integrity.

I was very upset indeed, I didn’t want you to disappoint me.

You shrugged. You seemed to scold me for being such a fool, for thinking you had nothing better to do than fulfill gratuitously my expectations. It was like you screaming at me to get a move on: if I didn’t like what I saw, I was welcome to try and change it.

So I pulled up my sleeves.

And started believing in you again. I believed in you when I heard Nadine speak, I believed in you when I shared a cigarette with Farah on Martyr’s Square while our hearts were tighten with anxiety for you. I believed in you while working with Tamara and Sara, I believed in you through Abir’s pictures. I believed in you when I walked through your streets, asking for the martyrs of your wars not to have died in vain, while rice was being showered over us. I believed in you when over a thousand of us screamed against violence against women, I believed in you whenever I noticed an act of kindness, whenever the old woman in my office building calls out to me a warm “tfaddaleh” just because i am passing in front of her flat.

I see your flaws clearly now. They regularly make my blood boil. They make me want to scream. They’re there, and Beirut, my love, I don’t like them.

But I choose to believe. I have no other choice, you’re under my skin and it looks like you’re staying there.

It seems you and I are in a more honest place right now. I see you for what you are. You seem to be content of it, you seem satisfied.

I know, because now that I’m leaving you again, you set all the frangipani trees in full bloom.

Tales of the Phoenix City – 16


The word had a beautiful tone to it, a sound so rich and profound it felt like it was pounding streets by itself.

After the whole drama with Ziad, Lily had stayed up all night, tossing and turning, asking herself a hundred and one questions. Oddly, the questions pertaining to Ziad were not the most difficult ones: yes she loved him, but she was no fool, and she was not going to run back to his arms just because he had a kind of epiphany while roaming the streets of Istanbul. She needed time. They needed time. They could see each other, spend time together, and see where it would take them.
She had told Ziad as much while on the phone with him at Nina’s office. Nina had looked at her with something very akin to admiration and contentment. The unspoken approval of her friend had convinced her she was making the right decision.
It was odd, that after so many tears and questions, she had held back when he had come back. Something she forgot she had had knocked on her door, and that was her own will. And a little of self respect too.
Ziad seemed sheepish on the phone. He knew her well, he knew she was not one to take decisions lightly. He knew her serious nature, he knew she was not being coquettish or pretending to make him wait in vain. Lily had integrity, and that prevented her from being manipulative. Oh no Ziad only knew her too well, and in his mind she must have looked like some modern day Jane Eyre, a woman who could be passionately in love yet restrain herself if she thought it was not the best for her.
Her mood was anxious but not sad: the interrogations that inhabited her head were no melancholic soliloquies. The racing thoughts attempted a grasp at her life. She had been in Beirut for over three years now, writing aimlessly at her newspaper on life and style. Her last piece had almost made her throw up, as she went interviewing a famous party organizer who regularly threw half a million weddings and engagement parties, the pearls and gems on the vases full of extravagant, flashy flowers almost blinding her.

On her way back, she had seen the guy who always stands at the end of the Accaoui steep street, selling Chiclets. He was wearing his usual surgical mask, purportedly to shield him from the Beirut deathly fumes.

The sight sickened her. The inequalities tightened her chest. She felt worthless. What she had once thought to be the perfect easy job that would enable her to carry on her own research and writings on the side was beginning to feel like an ongoing advertisement for a system she only felt contempt for. When did style had stopped being a detail, a moment of grace in one’s appearance, manners or lifestyle and had started becoming the price tags on things and events people did not need? She was supposed to be writing about life, God damn it, and yet, life, real life, and not it’s reproduction on glossy papers, seemed absent from the pieces she wrote so dispassionately.

That night, Lily picked up her phone.
– Jesus Fucking Christ, for the Lord’s sake, whoever the fuck you are, just go and sleep and call me in about ten hours. Jesus!
Gabrielle was no woman to be awakened at the crack of dawn. Lily smiled in spite of her mortification at awakening her friend’s language and cranky mood.
– Ahem, habibti Gaby, don’t scream, it’s me. Lily.
– I swear, don’t habibi me, I swear, if you’ve woken me up to blab about Ziad for the umpteenth time, I shall be very rude to you, very, very rude indeed.
– But you’re rude anyway! Anyway, this is not about Ziad, and stop yelling you’ll wake Grace up and I only meant to wake you!
– You seem in an awfully good mood for someone who’s awake at this hour of day! Or is it night? I’m not quite sure. Gracie is still sleeping like the angel that she is, thanks to her earplugs. She’s a smart one, that girl, I should follow her lead.
– You can’t. You’ve taken an oath to be always on call, just like me and Nina, so shut up and stop complaining for about two seconds, so I can tell you while I’ve taken the risk to awaken the beast.
Lily heard the flick of a lighter and Gaby inhaling on her cigarette. She dived in.
– Look, I would like to give a new twist to my column…
– What, you’d like to interview rich old codgers on top of their wives?
– I remember distinctly to have asked you to shut up. Anyway, I’ll have you known that I precisely want to stop interviewing these people, and start giving a space for the people who actually bring the life and style to this city. You know, like the penniless student who’s dressed so flawlessly with her mom’s vintage clothes, or the old dekken bringing food to his older neighbors with his basket, or the group of friends smoking arguileh and diving into the sea on The Corniche. I want to see less fake noses Gaby, it’s making me lose a little bit if my soul, I feel like I’m selling myself and my skills to the people who can buy pages in our newspapers.
– Yeah Lily, of course, YOU’re an evil capitalist bitch.
– Laugh all you want, this is how I feel anyway, and I need your help. I need you to take splendid photos of my subjects. The paper might go with the new pitch easier if it looks immaculate and nice, even though they’ll push me to carry on with the old stuff. What do you think?
– I’m in, of course I’m in, now can I please go back to sleep? I’ll still be in in a couple of hours, and I might even be friendly.
– Go habibti, go. Thank you.

Sitting down in front of her window, the dove grey of the Beirut dawn sky blushing its pink hue, Lily turned on her computer.

– Now let’s see what we make of you, Beirut!