Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 23

This city.

This city gets under your skin, invades your bloodstream. You can’t ever leave it, even if you travel, emigrate, destroy your passport and burn down your house.

This city stays. It leaves an unshakable bond, an imprint on your forehead, like the most vociferous mistress, stronger than passion, fiercer than tenderness. Love.

This is what Gabrielle had told Grace. She could never leave it, not with what was happening, not with Nina needing her, not with her own self needing the air of Beirut now more than ever. Sulphur, Diesel, Jasmin, Magnolia and Oud. She would not, could not leave this air, she’d suffocate. Intolerance, prejudice, harassment, she’d face it all, she’d fight it all, but she was not to leave.

Grace had only asked one question. The most terrible she could ever have asked.

– Do you love this city and your life in it more than you love me?

Gabrielle had not believed what she’d heard. Grace was not usually like this, she and her, they epitomized the modern couple, free from the shackles of jealousy and possessiveness. Perhaps Grace’s vulnerability was triggered by Gabrielle’s iron will, by the gleam of absolute decision she had seen shine in her lover’s dark eyes. No prevarication, no hesitation. She would stay.

– There is nothing or no one that I love more than you on this earth. But if I leave, Grace, I’ll die. Misery will consume me whole. The Guilt, the horrid guilt of my comfort overseas would eat me whole. I know myself. I won’t be able to cope. It’ll be the end of me. I will stay but I want you to think about what is it that you want.

– I want you.

– And I want you. But if you stay for me, then one day, if and when something happens, you will resent me, and I could not bear it. Simply could not.

It was Grace’s turn to show her will.

– Listen. I love Beirut as much as you do. I wanted to leave because the climate of hatred we have to live under is unbearable. Do you know why I always wake up at 04:30? Because 04:30 is the blessed hour where everyone just shuts up. People are slowly stirring in their beds, some are praying, others are dreaming. Coffee is on the way, and everyone is still too suspended between wake and sleep to think of hating. I wake up while you’re still deep in slumber, and I look at the pink dawn over the crumbled gray buildings, I look at Beirut and an insane feeling of love, deep, deep love for every bullet hole, for every teeny tiny rock shakes me whole, like if I could hold the city tight against my chest in an eternal embrace, I would. I would be staying for my own happiness, which is be with you, here. But you will have to get used to the fact that sometimes, when I’ll be overwhelmed, I will want to leave. It doesn’t mean I will actually do it. It just means I’m human, I get weak, and I don’t see why I should keep silent about it. Is that too much to bear?

Gabrielle was speechless. Five years, and through and through these five years, Grace still knew how to amaze her. Petite, soft spoken Grace, sitting on her velvet armchair, looking straight into her eyes. From the outside, it looked like she was the calmest, quietest person currently having the calmest, quietest conversation. But her eyes gave it all away.

There was nothing left for Gabrielle than to walk up to her, cup her face in her hands, and kiss her.

Later, Gabrielle would go for a walk, her rib cage a little looser, her breath, a little less shallow, relieved to have straighten out the hollowing decision that had been hanging over them for the past month, poisoning each of their caress, looming over their heads like a malevolent bird.

Later, Gabrielle would roam the streets of the city she was almost ready to sacrifice so much for. She would go and talk to the mothers, sisters, and wives of the 17 000 disappeared in Syrian prisons who were holding their daily sit in in front of the UN, asking for a tiny bit if peace of mind. ‘It’s the not knowing that kills you’ said a Stereophonics song. It’s the not knowing what happened to their lives, their hopes, their loves, and there they were, sitting in front of people and institutions that could not care less about their shattered lives, that only demanded forgetfulness of people, that only demanded obedience and quiet. Gabrielle would whip out her camera and start taking pictures of these women and of the pictures they were holding, because after all these years, after all these words, the only things they were left with were pictures. All the while she would be playing in her head a song she liked by Shadi Zaqtan , a song which spoke about 11 000 empty places. 17000 here, 11000 there, and God knew only how much everywhere else. Empty places filling thousands of hearts with sorrow.

She would come and sit and talk. Then she would pack her bags, her heart a little bit heavier, so much sadness, so much unbearable suffering, the torture of not knowing what had happened to the person you loved the most. She would pack her bags, and a decorated staircase would appear in all its multicolored glory, an older woman sitting on her balcony would see her pass by and would ask her to come and have coffee with her.

Gabrielle would shoot and shoot and shoot, images to replace bullets, life to replace death, excerpts of life and hope, because Beirut, no matter what, always gave you a reason to hope. Yet another. Reason to hope.

In another life, in another apartment, Nina, a hand on her womb and another on the phone, was preparing herself to have the toughest conversation she would ever have in her whole life.

The line crackled a bit. One, two, three rings. Then the receiver was picked up.

– Hi Mama!

Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 22



We forget, she said. That’s our problem, we lure ourselves into thinking we’re leading perfectly normal lives, we do it so well, we forget we’re standing on red hot lava, threatening to drown us at any given moment.


The pile was betting taller and bigger. Another suitcase was needed. Nina gestured to Lili to bring her the blue one with the encrusted copper embellishment. Below, Ziad was at the dekken, buying primary necessity supplies, getting diapers and toothbrushes, his cheeks a bit flushed when getting lady pads.


Nina was leading the operations from her armchair. The blast had been so violent and unexpected, she had started bleeding and almost lost the baby she wasn’t so sure she wanted to keep. Although now she was. Feeling the warm, thick liquid running down her legs and the panic that followed were enough signs that she wanted this child, no matter what. She just had to inform the father. Which would have to wait.


Someone buried behind several stores of groceries who appeared to be Ziad entered her flat, followed closely by Hamdi from the dekken who was lending a hand. Lily was sorting out clothes, Gabrielle was organizing food and toiletries,  Ziad was running errands and Nina was barking at the TV and orders to her audience, not necessarily in that order.


– Shut the fuck up! Can someone please, please kill me now? Someone, anyone!

– Well if you keep yelling like that at everyone, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find someone to volunteer putting you out of your misery, and ours.


Gabrielle had been shocked into a stupor by the attack and the shootings, burning of tyres and cheap political manipulation that followed, as if they had taken all of Lebanon’s magic and sweetness with the flick of a detonator.

They had all tried contacting each other, running around like mad cows everywhere, trying to get reception. Lili had been in bed with Ziad, the intensity of their physical relation only rivaled by the distance filled with things left unsaid between us. What they could not say in words, they put in sex, tearing each other apart to try and find the meaning of what they felt, of who they were, and who they could be. Nina’s voice bearing the horrible news stopped everything around them, as if the crumbling of buildings in Ashrafieh was mirrored in the crumbling of their very souls. Lily had cried and cried and cried, over the fragility of life anywhere in general and in Lebanon in particular, over the ever elusive nature of what we foolishly take for granted.


Ziad took a look at her and he knew. But it would have to wait, too.


Grace had taken the news with the quiet strength that came upon her whenever the crisis was so severe she considered she had no other choice. She put on a coat, and went to cook for people. For the survivors, for the volunteers of Ashrafieh for All, for anyone who needed something warm in their stomachs to take the horrible feelings of pain, loss, grieving and despair away. Gabrielle had taken off to give blood, her O+ group being so highly requested.


They had all watched on Sunday the funeral of Wissam Al Hassan, and had all threatened to break the TV when March 14 thugs came on storming the Serail, when Nadime Koteich decided his despicable moment of fame had come. A various chorus of ‘Fuck me!’ ‘Fuck you shut up you stupid fuck!’ and other flattering epithets were thrown at the various dirty corrupted politicians who egged their followers towards violence and hatred. When Saad el Hariri came on urging for peace and calm, Lili started laughing uncontrollably, seriously verging on a nervous breakdown and had to be taken out and given water by the others so she could come to her senses.


Now they felt like the blood of the martyrs was theirs, that with each deaths and injuries, veins and arteries of Beirut and of the whole of Lebanon had been cut out too, and the hemorrhage would be difficult to quell. Beirut was bleeding heavily and it came to a point where watching her agonize reached intolerable levels of pain.


This is when Nina slammed her hand on her table, making cutlery rattle and her neighbour start.

– Wake up! Wake up! What’s wrong with you? Move, yalla, get a move on, let’s go help.


And so they had gone. Yasmine, Nina, Lily, Gabrielle, Grace and Ziad, soon followed by their friends, families and acquaintances. They went to Nasawiya to gather food and supplies, they had gone to help. While the political evils were hiding behind their shades of cowardice and calculations, trying to get a vote here and there, a death here and there, curiously oblivious of all the hatred and contempt they inspired to the population, they, the youth of Lebanon, rolled up their sleeves and got to work.


For Georgette and Jana and for all the victims of the insanity of conflict and war.

For themselves, to keep ice cold fear at bay and the scraps of normality they still retained.

For the injured, the neglected, the outcasts.


But mostly, because there was no other choice. Life, in all its terrifying simplicity, had to go on.


Nina, sitting in a corner, was sewing white blouses.

–       For the white march tomorrow, she answered to those who asked. For we’re marching, as Beirut has always done, we’re marching.



Beirut Never Dies



My Beirut is wounded. Shocked and saddened, she looks at her open, bleeding wounds, mesmerized, as if in a daze. She was not dreaming though, it really did happen to her. How odd, to think it thought of itself more or less healed, the wounds only painful scars, to realise it’s as vulnerable as ever.

My Beirut is crying, it saw its men and women weeping in despair, it had to hear once again the hypnotic sirens of ambulances rushing people in limbo back to the shores of life, it had to catch its breath again as the dead were giving their last one. It was confused, it had thought those were nightmares long gone.

My Beirut is angry, It would like to silence the so called politicians exploiting its despair, it would like to meet the coward perpetrators behind this insult, this injury to its glorious name, it wants a fight with someone, anyone, to make sense of the senseless, to comprehend what can’t ever be understood.

My Beirut is tender, it walks the walk of the shadows of death with the ones departing her, cleansing their blood away from their faces and wiping away the tears of their loved ones. It stands proud amongst the vileness around, it kicks with contempt the abomination of criminals.

My Beirut is hurting, the thousands, the millions hearts that love her are hurting with her, and that beating, that never ending beating, still resonates in our ears and minds. Do you listen, you cowards, do you hear, you murderers, do you hear that silent noise, that thumping like thunder? They’re our hearts, reminding you, once and for all,





On Fashion,Clothes and Style

Mamzelle Popeling Vintage Shop in Carouge, Switzerland

I love clothes. No, really, I do, as a matter of fact, I’m this close to organising guided tours through my cupboards. I’d love to have a walk incloset where I can just lie and look at the acres of fabric spread before me.

This doesn’t make me a superficial person. This makes me a person who likes clothes. And bags. And shoes. Although I love shoes so much they’d probably deserve a post on their own.

Thing is, I don’t know if it has anything to do with getting older (30 has never looked so close), but I’ve been wondering lately if fashion hasn’t gone all cuckoo on us (this, from the woman who used to wear skirts with FEATHERS and Mao Tse Tung appliques, skirts and dresses above trousers, and every type of colours known to manking together, Jesus, I really am getting old). Anyway, browsing through different shops, some thoughts jumped at me (as you do, you know, as shopping can make one quite philosophical).

First of all, I’d like to know where most designers live, and more importantly, I’d like to know If they live in a country of perpetual sunshine and warmth, where tropical birds frolic in the trees. No, really. You see, I live in Switzerland, land of the cold, cold winters and dreary autumns. I go out and I work. I need my body temperature to avoid dropping to 34 degrees, because otherwise I’d die. Therefore, I would really like to know where all the long sleeves have gone? Why is the vast majority of clothes I find flimsy dresses and skirts, lightweight trousers and open-toed shoes? People, I am nor Kate Moss posing for Glamour, neither an It-Girl fuelled by alcohol. I need clothes I can live in.

Secondly, I also would like, no, I demand, to know why has everything in affordable places turned to polyester?

I work for an NGO. Me have no means to spend and absolute fortune on a black top. By the way, don’t you hate that? You’d enter a smart shop, thinking ok, I’m gonna invest in a item of clothing, sorry, a piece, and there you’d find yourself staring at a black cotton t-shirt on a hanger, the snooty salesperson holding it as if it were a Phoenician vase, the price tag discreetly indicating 600 Chf. Er, no. Not gonna happen. Nevertheless, I’d also like not to catch fire if there is a storm or if I sit too close to the radiator. This is getting quite unnerving.

Mamzelle Popeline Vintage Shop in Carouge Switzerland

Thirdly, why have people forgotten the words of that beloved man, Yves Saint Laurent? I mean, the man said ‘We must never confuse elegance with snobbery’. He also said ‘Fashion fades: style is forever’, which is something that should be at the entrance of every shop in the world. That would prevent me from seeing women in 12 cm stilettos, pleather leggings, fake eyelashes and a cleavage up to their bellybutton every morning before coffee. Girlfriend, you look in pain. That can’t be good. You’re sweating like a pig under that pleather legging. Most importantly, you’re not a Pussycat Doll going to a concert. You’re going to work. You need to be able to focus and not keep thinking of the hour of freedom where you’ll be able to wear something that allows you to breathe. Stop following trends, find your style, liberate yourself from the clothes and live happily ever after.

Finally, shopping has started to make me uneasy: between the non-ethical ways of producing (child labor anyone? Violations of workers rights? Really, someone, anyone?) and the current society of over consuming, I’m finding myself checking the corporate policies of my favourite shops and just buying vintage. At least, when I go and visit my friend Emmanuelle at her shop Mamzelle Popeline in Carouge, I get chocolate, she pours me tea, and between and a vintage suitcase and her creations, we take our time, and talk. Could it ever get better than that?

Tales of The Phoenix City – Chapter 21

The door remained stubbornly closed.

– Nina! Nina open that door! I know you’re in there! You’re not a Prima Donna before a representation!

The lock bolted and he was faced with the blotched, reddish, disheveled face of his sister.

– Ok, now you’re going to tell me why you’ve been avoiding me this way. Is it because of Lily, who, by the way, is ignoring me as well? What’s wrong with you, you’ve never done that to me before.

Nina banged the glass of ginger tea she had been drinking on the wooden table.

– Ziad! Contrary to everything you seem to believe, the world doesn’t revolve around your little person! Neither me nor Lily have given you much thought lately to be honest. Pardon us for having lives besides of you.

The harsh tone shocked him. Nina had almost never snapped at him: she teased him, made fun of him, laughed at him and scolded him, but was never grumpy and snappy, deliberately pushing him out of her world. They were as close as siblings could be, Ziad sometimes composing music for Nina’s shows, each other being the recipients of their own innermost secrets. His sister’s silence hurt and alarmed him at the same time. What could be so wrong that she would hide away from him? What had happened to her?

– Well, that’s always nice to hear anyway. So what’s your excuse for pretending you’re an only child?

Nina winced at the mere word. Child. A Child. Jesus, was she going to be a mother?

Ziad saw his sister blanch and proceeded to panic in due form.

– Khalas, that’s enough! You’re pale. You’re elusive. Your answers are vague. You’ve been avoiding me. What is wrong with you? Nina! It’s me! Your brother, Ziad, me! I know I haven’t been perfect and always available to you lately, but I’m still, well, me! What’s up?

Suddenly Nina felt very weary, as if all the fight had gone out from her. She had felt immensely tired lately, making her bless the day she had hired Yasmine as a PR/ assistant as she was the one making the workshop run.

She plonked herself on her beloved club armchair with a sigh and started crying. Ziad, always the last person to know how to react when faced with tears, let his panic levels shoot out of the roof.

 – You’re sick? Are you sick? You’re sick! I know it! What’s wrong with you, what, is it cancer? Is it? I told you to go and do all the tests you were supposed to take! But did you listen? Nooooo Miss Nina Haddad never ever listens to anyone! And what am I supposed to do then? Huh? Mom is in Canada at Auntie Rania’s, so I can’t even summon her here. She’s always been right of course, you’re so stubborn it’s not even funny. And, it’s too hot in your flat, just open a fucking window will you, it’s like the fucking House of Usher in here.

Nina took a look at her brother’s worried face, waving and gesturing frantically in her small apartment and felt a sudden urge to laugh.

Outside, the night had started to fall. The sun had begun its descent towards the sea, plummeting in the deep blues and greens as if for a kiss. It was one of these common yet ever so graceful Beirut sunset, all sanguine oranges and pink hues, the sky inflamed with blood against the icy blue of the water. The view worked its magic and helped her calm down a bit. Very softly, almost as a whisper, she asked Ziad to sit down, showing him an empty pouf in front of her. Rather, he sat down at her feet, his big black eyes humid with worry, looking up at her, his gaze never letting go of her face. My beloved brother, she thought. Like this, he almost looked like her baby brother again, the same that had so violently rebelled against their father’s death, not understanding it, not wanting to accept it. Then again, it was not possibly human to ask a fifteen year old to accept serenely that he won’t grow up with his father by his side.

Oh Baba. He was yet another victim of 15 years of civil war: he might not have been shot by a bullet, he might not have been executed, but the years in the shelter, worrying over his family, trying to make them survive in the mess and horror had taken their toll on him, weakening his heart until one day, at 53, it just stopped working. He had dropped by his sisters, brought them labneh and cheese, came home and dropped dead on the couch. And that was it, really. The tears and the cries and the frantic calls to the ambulance were all drowned in a blurry mix in her memory. Only one thought had hung on: she was not to see her father again.

And now she was pregnant with a child she was not so sure she’d want to keep.

 – I’m pregant.

– I swear, for a second, my heart stopped beating.

– Yeah well, make it work again, and listen to me. I’m pregnant, it’s still early stages, I’m completely freaked out, haven’t told the father yet, he too keeps calling me and knocking on my door and I pretend not to be home.

– Who IS the father?

– You’re not gonna like it.

– Because I’m liking the rest?

– Do you remember that guy who came about three months ago, asking to potentially buy Nina Haddad Creations and split the shares?

– That God-awful capitalist?

– That God-awful capitalist.

– Well apparently I don’t have such a problem with capitalists, as I seem to go out for coffees with them, then lunch, then dinners, then to bed, then to carry their children, then looking for hospitals to have an abortion.

Ziad looked up at Nina, at her distressed face.

– Nina. It’s gonna be ok. It’ll be ok. I’m here. Your crazy friends are here.

– You bet we are, hollered a voice, banging the door open. Well, if this isn’t the AntiChrist.

Nina lowered herself down to Ziad: remind me to take my spare key from Gabrielle.

– Jesus Fucking Christ, you think Beiruti Princess doesn’t have one? She’ll give it to me.

– No I won’t.

– Yes you will.

Grace hugged Nina fiercely and dropped a lemon pie on her lap.

– Gabrielle, stop swearing and bring napkins. We have decisions to take.

Nina couldn’t decide if it were the situation, or the hormones, or her friends’ kindness, but soon she was in tears again.

– Oh for fuck’s sake. Easy there waterworks!

I will be at the Salon du Livre de Beyrouth!

I’m coming to Beirut to present and sign my new novel at the Tamyras booth, Oublier Alep!

I’ll keep you posted on the time it takes place and on updates about the event! Hope to meet  you there!

You can check a summary of my author profile for the Salon here

Salopes en Marche

De nombreuses personnes frissonnent en entendant le terme “marche des salopes”. Comment un mot si négativement connoté peut-il être érigé en étendard de la libération de la société de son carcan normatif de genre? Tout a commencé lorsque un policier canadien, Michael Sanguinetti, a déclaré au cours d’un colloque en 2011 que les “femmes devraient éviter de s’habiller comme des salopes pour éviter de devenir des victimes”, comprenez donc, pour éviter de se faire abuser sexuellement. Le mouvement SlutWalk était lancé.

De nombreuses féministes ont beaucoup débattu et débattent encore de la nécessité de se réapproprier le mot “salope”,car en effet l’on est en droit de se demander comment un mot qui a toujours été une insulte peut être réapproprié. Germaine Greer explique dans son article pour le Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/women_shealth/8510743/These-slut-walk-women-are-simply-fighting-for-their-right-to-be-dirty.html) que les femmes se réappropriant le mot “salope” réclament tout simplement leur droit à être sale (signification originelle du mot anglais slut), libérée sexuellement, en un mot, d’être libres d’être ce qu’elles désirent.

Au delà d’un simple mot, c’est tout un concept oppresseur pour les femmes que les Salopes tentent de renverser, et à travers lui, tous les stéréotypes des genre: une femme qui est active sexuellement et choisit elle-même la fréquence de ses rapports sexuels ainsi que ses partenaires est percue négativement par la société toujours prompte à l’affubler de noms d’oiseaux peu flatteurs tels que “salope” alors qu’un homme dans la même situation est célébré comme un Don Juan, un homme après qui toutes les femmes se pâment. Le postulat des Salopes est simple: il est nécessaire de renverser cette pseudo-logique réactionnaire et surtout complètement absurde qui soutient également que la manière dont une femme s’habille influe sur son risque de se faire agresser sexuellement, ce qui est non seulement insultant pour la femme car la responsabilité de ne pas se faire violer est mise sur elle, mais également pour l’homme, qui dans ces conditions n’est vu que comme un pénis sur pattes ne pouvant retenir ses pulsions dès qu’un centimètre carré de peau féminine est visible. Si mettre une mini-Jupe et contrôler ma vie sexuelle fait de moi une salope, alors soit, j’en suis une et j’en suis fière. Donnons donc une nouvelle signification positive à ce mot. Pour information, l’objectif ultime est que l’activité sexuelle d’une femme, tout comme celle de n’importe quel homme,n’amène ni questions ni haussement de sourcils: bien qu’il semble choquant qu’en 2012 l’on soit encore obligé de le rappeler, le corps d’une personne lui appartient et elle est libre d’en faire ce qu’elle veut.

Que l’on soit d’accord ou pas avec le nom du mouvement n’est par ailleurs que secondaire aux principes cruciaux pour lesquels celui-si se bat. Renverser les stéréotypes de genre, certes, mais également mettre au coeur du débat politique et collectif des questions jusque là jugées privées sont au centre des revendications de ce mouvement clairement féministe. La Collectif organisateur de la marche des Salopes de Genève qui se tient aujourd’hui à 14:00 énonce très clairement ses buts et objectifs sur son site web (www.slutwalk.ch):


Buts à atteindre :

– Faire des violences sexuelles une question collective, sociale et politique et non pas individuelle et privée.

– Reconsidérer la notion de consentement.

– Faire changer la culpabilité de camps.

– Cesser de hiérarchiser les violences sexuelles.

– Montrer que les violeurs ne sont pas victimes de leurs pulsions mais responsables de leurs actes.

– Faire cesser les discours sur le comportement dit « provocateur ».

Revendications :

– Changer l’art 190 du code pénal Suisse (qui décrit comme « un acte sexuel subi par une personne de sexe féminin». Un homme ne peut donc pas être violé ; les pénétrations buccales et anales ne sont pas considérées comme des viols.)

– Financer des études sur les violences sexuelles.

– Former la police afin qu’elle soit à même de recueillir les plaintes.

– Faire de la prévention auprès des potentiels agresseurs et non auprès des victimes.

– Parler des violences sexuelles dans les cours d’éducation sexuelle, civique…

– Obliger les responsables de violences sexuelles à prendre concience de leurs actes.

Lorsque l’on lit les articles ayant trait aux marches des Salopes de part le monde, force nous est de constater qu’une autre revendication, souvent tacite, émerge du mouvement de manière organique: celle d’être différent, de faire le choix de sortir des binaires de genre.

Enfin, le mouvement vient contrecarrer le projet des culturalistes de tous poils qui aiment à diviser entre les féministes d'”orient” et “d’Occident”: de Toronto à New Delhi, de Beyrouth à Paris, les mêmes revendications. Le même combat, celui contre la patriarchie universelle, et qui appelle de ses voeux l’affaiblissement du mouvement féministe révolutionaire et internationaliste. Appelez-nous Salopes ou quoi que ce soit d’autre, cela ne changera rien à nos luttes: No Pasarán! 

Photo de la marche d’aujourd’hui https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.496907833672465.126198.194530360576882&type=1&l=11368b11d6