Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 20

That must have been her thousandth cigarette.

Fine, so she was smoking like a chimney. So who cared? You had to die from something didn’t you?

Granted, you were not forced to do so agonizing with your blackened lungs, but still. And in any case, smoking was the only thing that kept her balanced at the moment. You know, the usual addict excuse.

Jesus Fucking Christ, did these chairs need to be so rickety? Bread republic really was too shabby for its own good. Sacrificing comfort for some Old World Bourgois Boheme was not worth it. She tried to convey waves of aggression to the oblivious waitress, Melat, who always seemed to float several meters above the ground. Her slender figure seemed to gracefully slalom between tables, while her stare went beyond everyone’s head. Gabrielle sometimes thought that looking at her was like looking in a mirror: slim, sharp and eyes closed for no one to see what was behind.

Today, she quite simply hated everything. And everyone. But most importantly, herself.

Nina came, that dreadful Beirut Princess in tow, closely followed by a Lily who was looking quite disheveled. Quite a bit like someone who had just stumbled out of bed. With someone, that is, not from a deep slumber with Orpheus.

– Habibi, you look like shit.

Nina stated the unnecessary obvious.

– You should see how I feel inside.
– No need. It’s all there on your face.
– Thanks Nina my love, always a relief to see you. How’s the fucked up life of Little Yas?

– So i’m not stupid BP any longer? It’s so good to feel like I’m finally turning into a human being with you Gaby.

Lily was not joining the usual greeting banter.

– Lil! What’s up 3omri? Even looking and feeling like shit I indulge in our little uplifing dance. What’s wrong?

– Nothing.

– You’re like the worst liar there ever was, said Nina rummaging into her huge bag for God Knows What. AND, my delirious brother has stopped answering my calls altogether, so I’m doing an intervention at his place after our brunch here. I’m not overly worried, mind you, he’s probably deep in his existential angst, asking himself whether Trotsky really was right.

– I slept with him!

– Who,Trostky?

– VERY Funny Gabrielle! Ziad! I slept with Ziad! Nina! Say something, don’t sit there looking as if you saw a ghost!

– Gabrielle. Give me a cigarette, no but and don’t object, give me a cigarette right fucking now I need it.

Gabrielle obeyed. She knew when not to upset Mother Nina.

– Lily. Nina’s voice was dangerously low. It was the Icy Queen Tone she used with her friends, family and clients when they were being particularly unreasonable. Lily. My brother means the world to me you know that. And you mean the universe. But my brother is a stupid immature dickhead who still needs to find out who he is and he’s bad for you.

– I love him.

– Great, we’ll bring the violins some other time if you don’t mind, I’m not finished yet.

– Oh Goodie.

– Nina, let her speak. You’ll have all the time in the world to lay down your judgment and tell her what she should do.

Nina looked at Gabrielle as if she had lost an ally. Seriously, where was the world coming to if people didn’t listen to the voice of reason, aka, herself?

– Fine, she conceded curtly.

Lily sighed. This was not going to be easy.

– So, after I had taken the high road and decided I would wait and see, the events carried me away, if I may say so. He kept calling me,playing me music, stupid things really. Said his life was meaningless if I wasn’t in it. He said a lot of things, mouhem, he said that I was the only one that mattered. But I wouldn’t listen, or I would, but wouldn’t answer. And so. So he showed up one evening. He looked at me Nina, he just had to look at me, and something melted, deep inside. Next thing I know we’re kissing and clinging on to each other as if we were drowning. He carries me, he carries me and I let him, one look and I’m gone and honestly I kind of lost track of time, and space and everything. Just his skin is enough.

– Ewww that’s my brother we’re talking about ewwww

– And it has been like that since then. He comes, we have, yes Nina cover up your chaste ears, we have mind blowing sex, we share a cigarette, he looks at me, he opens his mouth to speak and I shut him up, with a kiss or my finger on his mouth.

– But why? The Beiruti Princess seemed puzzled. Mesmerized, moved, and very, very puzzled.

– Because I don’t want to spoil it with words. I know words. I work with them. I know they can spoil everything, they have that power.

– Speaking of words, I read the new and improved version of your column, it’s brilliant.

– Yes yes, thank you Nina, but for now my brain is frozen, I can’t think of anything else than your brother.

– That’s because of all the sex, volunteered Gabrielle.

The waitress was waiting for them to order, poised with her pen in her hand. God knows for how long she’d been there. She probably did not know it herself. All 5 women in a circle, none of their minds within.

– I’ll have a ginger juice please, thank you

– An raqwe please, no cardamom no sugar no nothing. I want it black please

– A double espresso

– A latte with extra milk and sugar

– This is disguting Yasmine, this isn’t coffee.

– Thank you for your input Gabrielle. I’ll have a double latte with extra extra milk and sugar please.

– D’you know darling, perhaps we might very well be able to do something with you

Melat floated away, leaving the four girls deep into their shared silence.

– I’m in love with a man who doesn’t want to become one.

– I’ve never really been in love.

– Shut up Yasmine, you’re like 12, you have all the time in the world.

– Fuck off Gabrielle I was almost married.

– Good girl, you’re learning to fend for yourself.

– And why were you looking ashen when we came?

– Grace wants us to leave Lebanon.


Lily’s outcry was overpowered by something none of them had seen before.

Nina was crying. In itself a sight more distressing than the last visit of the Pope, which, let’s face it, was extremely disturbing.

– Nina, Nina stop this, stop this this minute, Jesus Fucking Christ, Lily do something, Yasmin, bring her water, Nina I’m not going anywhere, khalas, I’m just fighting with Grace at the moment We’re not leaving, khalas habibti dakheelik if you stop crying I’ll even be nice to Beiruti Princess over here, shou fi, lek shou fi, redde! Is it the shop?

Nina smiled between her tears.

No the shop is good, I wanted to tell you about this, but no, it’s silly, I just, I met someone.

The girls took a collective intake of breath. Nina’s private life was usually kept very private, as in, she worked all day all night and did not seem interested in anyone, even though lots of men, and women, seemed very interested indeed.

– And I think I’m pregnant. Except I’m so scared I’m in complete denial and don’t want to take neither the test, nor his calls and I’m petrified and this is why I’m not smoking this cigarette you gave me, that’s because I’m so scared, and I’m not sure I want it if I really am pregnant. My mother will die.

They all looked stunned.

– What?

– The Fuck?

– Jesus. Jesus.

Gabrielle couldn’t bring herself to finish off with Fucking Christ. A couple of meters away, sitting at a nearby table, Hamed from Mashrou3 Leila was writing down lyrics for a new song while humming Imm el Jacket. Beirut lived on, its noise filling the deathly silence of their table.

Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 19

So much sun. So much freaking sun in this freaking city. No matter how hard you wished for it, the weather simply could not make itself match your Mood.
Jesus fucking Christ, as Gabrielle would say. Gabrielle was a lesbian. Not that there was anything wrong with that. She had just never been friends with one. Oh God. Sometimes she asked herself if she hadn’t made the biggest mistake of her life. Everything now seemed so unknown and blurry. Wouldn’t it have been better if she had gone through her wedding and complied with what was expected of her? Right now she would have been sipping a latte in her white and gold marble living room, in her upscale building overlooking Rawche.
Instead, she was following up on some order placed by Nina, in a cramped studio on a rickety chair.
Granted, she WAS sipping a latte.
I mean, you could take a girl out of her bourgeois comfort zone, but you could NOT take her out of her fondness for sweet coffee.

Shedding one life really was like shedding a skin: it left you raw and vulnerable.

Only for a short while, had said Nina. After that you become stronger.

She often wondered about Nina. How can one person be so fucking serene all the fucking time? Didn’t the woman get depressed over her single status? Didn’t she fear winding up alone, old and left out? She had asked her that very question during one difficult night, after her mother had barged into the workshop, barking imprecations of doom, death and destruction, in which the words “shame”, “inheritance” (or lack thereof) and “dishonor” came back quite regularly.
The past few weeks seemed to have been filled with these words, transmitted by aunts and cousins and of course her mother, until they had become like a regular tune, a distant stream of hurt, a cruel song she kept hearing at the back of her mind, without her even realizing it.

After a while, the words had stopped hurting her and she was only left with an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt. She had let everyone down. Her family, who had paid so much money on this wedding and who had done nothing except wanting her own good. Her ex-fiancé, who, despite being atrociously boring, arrogant and petty still did not deserved to be left in this way, and her friends, who could no understand why she had deserted their shared lifestyle. The worst part of it all was that her father had not called her.

It was bad, all round.
A thought kept nevertheless rearing its rebellious head. It was a thought that kept her awake at night, that kept her from running back to the life she had just left: my life is mine.
The fact that her parents loved her in their own way and had spent money on her did not give them the right to decide everything for her. They could no longer buy her. Her fiancé did not really love her, not like she wanted to be loved: he saw her as a prized possession, a woman with class and relations and money, a wife that would have made him look good. He would soon find another fiancé to play trophy wife with: she was well placed to know they abounded, she wasn’t the sole specimen of her breed. The fact that she sincerely regretted hurting people did not make her change her mind: to the core, she felt she had made the right decision.

It was just that she wasn’t used to 1) stand up for herself 2) have everyone being crossed with her and 3) not needing everyone’s approval every time she did something.

Her sheltered upbringing had shielded her from the evil in this world, but had failed to build up her strength. She was now taking an advanced, express class in Having Her Own Mind 101.
Failing the exam terrified her.

She looked around her: particles of dust were dancing in the rays of sun peering through the blinds. Muted noises came from the outside, signs that life, against its better judgment, still went on. She was as unimportant as dust: one day, this too shall pass. The Beiruti Princess felt crushed, drained, as if the hurtful words and judgment had washed her of her previously brilliant colors. She had found a small studio for an affordable rent, and reminded herself she was Nina’s PR/Communications/assistant now.

I am Nina Haddad’s aide now. She asks for my opinion. She respects it. I earn my own money.
I’m standing on my own, two, shaky, too thin, feet.
That felt odd, but nice odd, like when she let herself out of her flat every morning, that shiver, that thrill of independence she got every time the turned the key in her lock. Or when she had told the party planner to straighten her manners when she was talking to Nina’s petites mains. Had she been like that before? Belittling women that had she deemed uneducated, backwards, out of it. When she had met them, she had felt wronged, like these women did not fit the image she had forged of them. They were so much stronger than she could ever be. Some more friendlier than others, they all had good and bad days, they were all desperately human.

Independence was bitter sweet. She sighed.
Her phone rang, caller ID withheld. Absent-mindedly she picked it up.

The voice at the other end made her eyes fill with spontaneous tears.

My heartbeat is off. 

It misses the hum of my beloved. 

The hustle and bustle, the unnerving life, the stubborn heat.

The friends, the jokes, the laughter.

The tears, the anxiety, the choking. 

It misses that flower fallen on the asphalt. 

It misses its life, its gorgeous, eternal Beirut. 

Une Réponse à Ziyad Makhoul

Cet article est une réponse à Ziad Makhoul dans L’Orient-Le Jour

Cher Monsieur Makhoul,


Votre billet dans L’Orient- Le Jour m’ayant caressée dans le mauvais sens du poil, je vous prie donc de bien vouloir m’excuser de ma réponse, qui ne vous plaira sans doute pas.

Votre ton condescendant à l’égard de la décision prise par le groupe Mashrou3 Leila d’annuler sa première partie au concert des Red Hot Chili Peppers masque à mon sens une absence totale de compréhension de ce qu’est la campagne BDS. C’est dommage d’avoir recours à des stratagèmes agressifs alors qu’ouvrir une page web me semble à la portée de votre infinie sagesse. Mais enfin, passons.  A toutes fins utiles, merci de consulter la page de la campagne, sait-on jamais, vous pourriez éventuellement apprendre des choses : www.bdsmovement.net.

Avant toute chose, je vous prie de garder vos insultes sectaires pour vous : j’étais parmi les personnes demandant à Mashrou3 Leila de s’abstenir d’ouvrir pour les RHCP. Non Monsieur Makhoul je ne fais pas partie du PSNS, non Monsieur Makhoul je ne fais pas partie du Hezbollah (et soi dit en passant, ces groupes politiques sectaires ne détiennent pas le monopole de la solidarité avec le peuple Palestinien) et j’ai le sens commun de ne pas me définir en tant qu’intellectuelle, et quand bien même je le ferais, je vous prie encore une fois de vous abstenir d’y ajouter ‘de pacotille’. J’ai tout de même un Master en droit humanitaire, ca m’embêterait que mon pauvre papa ait payé ces études pour qu’ensuite l’on vienne me gratifier de ce genre d’épithètes peu affectueuses vous en conviendrez.  Laissez-moi ajouter que l’extrême majorité des personnes demandant à Mashrou3 Leila de s’abstenir de jouer ne font partie d’aucune des catégories que vous avez créées : il serait donc de bon ton de votre part, et bien, pourquoi pas, de les garder pour vous.

Les choses étant ainsi posées, je me permets de rentrer dans le vif du sujet : vous admettez vous-même que seuls les Palestiniens qui ‘pourront se le permettre’ seront fous de joie à l’idée de voir les RHCP en concert. Il n’est pas clair si vous entendez par là financièrement ou autre, mais permettez-moi d’attirer votre attention sur ce point, car il est crucial à la décision de Mashrou3 Leila. Le fait est que de nombreux Palestiniens, indépendamment de l’ampleur de leurs moyens financiers, ne pourront tout simplement pas écouter les Red Hot, car l’Etat Israélien réduit leur liberté de mouvement au-delà de tout entendement. Selon les permis qu’ils possèdent et que le gouvernement Israélien prend un malin plaisir à changer à tour de bras sans aucune autre forme de procès, les Palestiniens ne peuvent pas circuler entre la Cisjordanie, les Territoires de 1948 et Gaza. Cette absence de liberté de mouvement est couplée d’une violation quotidienne des droits humains du peuple palestinien : arrestations et détentions arbitraires, harcèlements au point de passage et par les colons, torture et traitements inhumains et dégradants, appropriation de terres par les colons et j’en passe. Voilà donc les politiques de l’Etat Hébreu à l’encontre des Palestiniens : des politiques d’apartheid, ni plus ni moins.

Le boycott est une action pacifique visant à affaiblir le régime d’apartheid Israélien et les mécanismes qui lui permettent d’améliorer son image au niveau international. Cette stratégie a été utilisée en Afrique du Sud avec beaucoup de succès, et est donc utilisée pour la Palestine. Israël a identifié le BDS comme étant la deuxième plus grande menace à sa sécurité après l’Iran, signe du succès de la campagne s’il en est.

Les RHCP ont refusé l’appel au boycott : ils n’ont donc aucun problème à fermer les yeux sur ce qui se passe en Israël et dans les Territoires occupés (et au Liban, juste pour un petit rappel, Israel n’a jamais vraiment montré énormément de respect pour nous il me semble).  Mashrou3 Leila a décidé qu’ils ne pouvaient en faire autant : que danser et chanter pour un groupe qui se moque des droits humains de tous les peuples va à l’encontre de ce en quoi il croit. Ils ont donc annulé, pas parce qu’ils sont à la botte de Hassan Nasrallah, mais parce qu’une position de principe équivaut à toutes les ouvertures de tous les groupes du monde.


Et laissez-moi vous dire une chose : Mashrou3 Leila ne s’est pas suicidé. Nous ne les aimons que plus, ils nous donnent l’impression et l’espoir qu’un Liban solidaire et conscient est possible, chose que l’élite politique actuelle et ses sbires et supporters nous ont enlevé il y a bien, bien longtemps. 

A letter to Mashrou3 Leila

Ya habibi,

You rocked me to the sounds of your ballads.
You made my heart beat a little faster when your words seemed to speak and whisper to me only.
You danced with me, you got me drunk with joy and happiness while I was twirling to the sound of your voice and violin.
You asked me not to forget you: my heart skipped a beat. I smelt the Jasmin and heard the abuse 3al 7ajiz. Like so many Palestinians.
You were the musical arm of our voices, or at least I wanted you to be. We don’t always get what we want, no point in being a brat now.
You inspired me, you dared to utter words that proved your courage, the courage to challenge an obsolete establishment. You did so with humor and laughter and melancholy in your voice. It reflected my state of mind, I was grateful a public figure dared taking this step, I was grateful talent and opinions mixed.

Soon, You are scheduled to open for a well known band. I can understand your excitement and sense of achievement. It really is a seal of your success.
But habibi, this band will be going to entertain apartheid. It will make oppressors dance and jump, it will be oblivious of the People who could not get there to see them, because they’re Palestinians, and because Palestinians need papers and permits and procedures to circulate freely in their own country. In their own land. It will turn a blind eye on the daily human rights abuse and violations Palestinians have to endure. It will turn a blind eye on the occupation, in Lebanon and in Palestine, and on the sufferings of people who have to endure its consequences.

In your hands, you have tremendous power: the power to say no. No, we will not open for a band that prefers avoiding the truth. No, we refuse to be part of the normalization of atrocity.

In your hands you have the power to say yes. Yes, we will play and open to the Red Hot Chili Peppers if we manage to convince them to cancel their show in Israel. Yes, we have the power to enforce what we stand for, to remain politically aware of our actions.

Habibi, do you realize the amount of power you hold in your beautiful hands? Use it. Use it wisely.