Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 24

It was always the food. Grace had noticed that during her early upbringing in Paris. The insistence of making food that reminded you of home. The comfort of smelling well known flavours, the pleasure of doing something that linked you with your homeland, the bitter sweet sensation of your heart tasting home yet unable to be there.

This is why she became a chef. She wanted to recreate this comforting sense, but she also wanted to add a bit of joy to the nostalgia, she wanted to be creative, to give hope.

Exile is the bitterest bile, the pain gnawing at your soul in the most corrosive manner. You leave your life behind, it’s as simple as that, you leave in a hurry, you forget half of your things, mostly because you think you’ll be back in no time, but also because you don’t want to take everything with you. No, that would make things definite.

Some left never to look back, to shield themselves from the pain. Others could not let go, just little enough to make life bearable again, and thus let themselves drown in a pool of guilt and regret. How could I leave? What did I just do? How is my family going to cope? Shouldn’t I be next to them, sharing their fate? Reclaiming one’s right to have a peaceful life never quite made it up for this insane feeling of foreboding and shame emigrants feel.

And so they cooked. The Lebanese would make large vats of hummus and tons of tabbouleh, the Palestinians would fry cauliflowers and aubergines until blue in the face for their makloubah and sprinkle their kitchen red with sumac for their msakhan, and now, now the Syrians. Grace was more and more invited to dinners where kebab bkaraz was lovingly made with special cherries from Aleppo, the last frozen remnants that people who left did not forget to pack, eating the muhammara with a knot in her stomach as she tasted such an acute sadness and longing for home she could barely swallow.

Gabrielle and herself had started a cookbook that was due for the end of the year, when her publisher wanted to release it for the holidays. The book was called Twisted: Creative Lebanese Cuisine where she would artistically present her rose water Muhallabieh sprinkled with almonds and raisins and Gaby would shoot it to make it look like an art piece rather than something that was meant to be eaten. The book was almost done and ready to be sent for printing but somehow Grace seemed dissatisfied with it.

– This is lovely and it will probably sell well and be very popular and keep me from having a day office job for a while.
– But?
After five years, Gabrielle knew where there was a ‘but’ in sight.
– But this doesn’t feel right. Something’s amiss. I feel it’s a bit pretentious, missing the point of what I had wanted to do in the first place. I don’t know if I’m making myself clear, but what I truly would want to do is sit down and cook with other people and talk and apply a balm to their wounds.
– With Olive oil or something?
– Mock all you want, this is what I feel.
– Well then do something about it!

Unlike Gabrielle, whose philosophy ran along the lines of ‘Jesus Fucking Christ, stop whining about it and bloody well do something about it’, Grace’s will was as strong but more reflective. She needed to ponder on things before throwing herself in them.
And so she thought about it. She thought about it when she was talking to her editor, she thought about when when she was cooking, each spices revealing their secrets to her, she thought about it when she was picking pictures with Gabrielle for their book.
And so one day, she found herself knocking on Nina’s door.

Her friend’s pregnancy had started to show and she had never looked so radiant. She told her as much, leaving Nina to look at her doubtfully.

– Radiant? Are you kidding me? Habibti, I throw up what seems to be a gazillion times a day, I feel pain in muscles I didn’t even know I had and most of the times I feel like sitting down with a one kilo pot of Nutella and eat myself through the remaining 7 months except I can’t because everything makes me nauseated. Radiant, my ass.

– I find it uncanny how pregnancy is almost channeling the inner Gabrielle in you. If you start yelling Jesus Fucking Christ every second, I’ll take you to a voodoo priest to lift the spell from you.

– I might let you. To what do I owe the pleasure of seeing you?
– I need you to put me in touch with the different women you work with, especially the Palestinians, and women from different parts of Lebanon. I’ve already spoken to my Syrian friends.
– Oh-Kay. May I ask why?
– I’m putting together a soul kitchen. I am calling it Cooking for Exile. The idea is to form a core group of people cooking together, mixing specialties from Lebanon, Syria and Palestine, and then sell what we do, but with no prices. People can come and buy their food at the price they deem just. All proceedings will go to women refugees and organisations that put in place gender friendly spaces, as I hear it’s been quite a catastrophe so far. This is why I need to speak with the people you work with. I know you pay them decently and they might be interested to participate even though it’s not going to bring then any money.

Grace finished her explanation feeling a little self-conscious and sheepish, bushing slightly while Nina exclaimed: brilliant! It’s fucking Brilliant! And they can bring and sell as well the pouches, collars and and clutches they make.

– So will you help me?
– Of course I will! And Lily can give you coverage on her newspapers, since she’s been subtly changing the focus of her column.

For the first time since she had formed her plan Grace exhaled.
She was determined to make exile sweeter, with what she could do, with what she knew what to do. Love, she found, even though directed to an indistinct mass, was a powerful drive.

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Manucure à Quatre Ans: Nouvelle Obsession Libanaise

Quote

http://leplus.nouvelobs.com/contribution/721286-manucures-a-quatre-ans-nouvelle-obsession-libanaise.html

Ma réponse à l’article paru dans L’Orient Le Jour sur les salons de beauté pour petites filles au Liban

A Day in the Life of The Revolutionary

A day in the life of a Revolutionary

07:30: Alarm rings. The Revolution never sleeps, why should the Rev? And by extension, why should you?

07:31: Opens eyes. Asks you if you’re a socialist revolutionary. You’re a 28 year old highly tired woman who hasn’t had her coffee yet. Your eyes still closed, you say no. You distinctly remember mumbling something along the lines of ‘fuck off, you and the revolution’

07:35: Anguish. He’s married to a bourgeois reactionary. How did that happen?

07:36: No point in dwelling on this, after all, isn’t he supposed to attract people as much as he can to the cause? He shall overcome. Gets out of bed.

07:37: Turns on YouTube. Puts on his playlist ‘Revolutionary Songs for the Revolutionary’.

07:38: L’Internationale blaring from the computer for the whole world to hear. Enters showers. Starts singing.

07:39 – 08:20: Showers, get dressed, while you’re being treated to Bella Ciao, L’Internationale, Na7na El Thawra Wou El Ghadab, complete with his own voice and a little dance routine. Murderous thoughts threaten to choke you.

08:25: Practices mock speeches in front of mirror to other make believe revolutionaries. You tell him he looks like a rambling dictator. Abruptly stops, looking wounded. He has woken you at an ungodly hour to the sound of L’internationale. You consider yourself entitled to hurt him. You have no shame. You live to vex him.

08:30: Asks you again if you’re a socialist revolutionary. Tells you you have the thinking already, and that the step from feminist to socialist revolutionary is really quite minimal.

08:32: Applies band aid to where your shoe hit him.

08:35: Makes you coffee.

08:36: Sits in front of computer for the daily ‘Revue de Presse’.

08:37: You break a glass, cut yourself, noisily look for a pretty band aid, burn yourself with your hair straighteners, call your mother who yells in the phone as if you were in Zimbabwe (while she actually lives 30 minutes away from you). Rev doesn’t budge.

11:00: Finishes reading up daily press round up. Newspapers in English, French and Arabic have been read, shared on Facebook, insipid authors have been duly insulted, inept so-called political leaders (real oppressors, sucking the blood of the people, more like) have been exposed. All geared up for next attack.

11:00-12:30: Updates blogs. Keeps finding new photos, writes new articles. ‘This is the real face of the revolution, not the crap mainstream media is showing! Let Us show the truth’

12:30: Doesn’t eat. Having lunch is for bourgeois capitalist who have the luxury of time. The Revolution can’t wait.

12:35: Calls you. Asks if you’re a socialist revolutionary. You tell him his persistence reminds you of the black days of Stalinism, and would Comrade Trotsky approve of this oppression he’s exerting.

12:36: Whimpers. Did you just call him a STALINIST????

12:36-18:36: Reads.Writes.Researches. Reads. Writes.Researches. Occasionally speaks to self and computer. Reads. Writes.Researches. Reads.Writes.Researches.Sends emails to political groups admonishing them for lack of activism. ‘I want the flyer ready for this Saturday, I insist, we need to spend the afternoon traipsing after people, pressing it on them until they’re too scared to refuse’. ‘Did you do the flyer? Did you?’ ‘Ce n’est pas sérieux!’

19:00: Has dinner with you. Artfully leaves books on the hope that you’ll read them. You toss the anthology of the Bund aside and very purposefully open a stupid novel in front of him.

19:05: Starts actually telling you about the Bund.

19:06: Gently removes your head from the oven, promises he’ll stop, then takes off for Revolutionary meeting.

23:30: Comes back. Wakes you up ‘we’ve had a fantastic idea! We’re gonna do a flash mob, a round table and a demo on Saturday afternoon! yes! At the same time! Yes!’

23:35: Skulk as you told him no one will come to the three at the same time and why does he like waking you up all the time? Why?

23:40: Starts first Skype call of the night with Comrades abroad. Half asleep, you hear some ‘jokes’: ‘And THEN! I Told him he was an entrist! HAHAHAHAHAHA’. You believe you were facepalming in your dream.

02:40: Finally turns off light. Gives you a kiss.

02:41: In the dark. All his blissfully silent.

02:42: Asks you if you’re a socialist revolutionary.

How to Live With A Revolutionary Without Losing Your Head: Or Beiruting His

The Rev is back. Not that I had felt his adventures would be gone forever, but at some point you have to evolve past the bourgeois witticism and actually get your hands dirty in the Revolution.
Which I did, but let’s face it, I am worse than useless with an AK-47 and much more apt at sitting on my privileged ass and observe the dynamics propelling the Revolutionary at the heart of the struggle.
While we have been busy with other things, the Rev has been deepening his understanding of The Cause and The Revolution. The Rev has even moved for a while and lived in Beirut for a year. You thought you’d have a year long honeymoon. He thought he could get closer to the centre of the revolutions shaking the Middle East. You thought you’d travel around Lebanon for the scenery and the people. He thought he’s travel around Lebanon to interview trade unions activists and fellow revolutionaries.
Clearly, you had the same expectations. Same wavelength anyone?

The Rev arrived in Beirut a bit worried: I mean, Lebanon really has a long standing tradition of conservatism and a neo-liberal, ugly capitalist economy. Ah but never fear, for historical materialism is applicable everywhere, and Comrade Trotsky would never allow you to despair! Let us be like Comrade Guevara and ignite focos everywhere, even at the heart of the counter-revolution!

Now you have only been once to the Lebanese Amn el 3am, and didn’t like the experience too much. The place could have had TORTURE CENTRAL written all over it, it was so bleak and testosterony and miserable. However, all of a sudden, you started imagining the rev getting arrested, beaten up and locked up in a cell somewhere. I mean, all this bashing of the police and security forces could not possible do him any good: this unit? A sectarian cell! And this one? An even more sectarian institution! Down down with the sectarian system down!

You lost a bit of weight, naturally, from having your stomach knotted in a nice little bow of anxiety, which was only made worse by him insisting he needed to go to Nabatiyeh, Zahleh and other places to interview obscure leaders of obscure factions. But the Rev could not confine himself in Beirut. I mean, Beirut is all well and dandy but there are other fields to discover, other souls to awaken to the wonders of the Permanent Revolution. You let him go, then started worrying after him not calling you. You’d think he was being held, or that he had a car crash on Dahr El Baydar, or worse, that he had finally gave in, joined one faction and started his military training. Eventually, he’d call: ‘Hi! Sorry! I was having such an interesting conversation! Then they kept me for Siyadiyyeh! Then I tried to convince them that Stalinists were an ugly breed and that they needed to join the 4th international’!

The Rev could not be in Lebanon and not go to the Palestinian camps. You went with him once. You wanted to, alternatively, lie down and weep, kill Lebanese authorities, burn dawalib and stomp your feet, screaming it’s not fair! It’s disgusting! Shame on the country who keeps human beings in such a state! Tfouh! Tfeh! Akh! Needless to say, you were utterly useless.
The Rev, however, because he is enlightened by the warmth of the Revolution and inhabited by the spirit of Comrade Trotsky, knew exactly how to behave. In no time, he knew everyone in the camp, played football with kids (whom he annoyed, I mean the kids wanted to play football, he wanted to use football in order to share excerpts of the book he’s working on, Comrade Trotsky at the Kolkhoze, a kind of Children’s book with barn animals except in this one agricultural workers owned their means of production) and was having tea under the flag of the Jabha Sha3biyye, bemoaning the death of Comrade Habash. You know, as you do.

Just a regular day in the life of the Rev.

Now aren’t you happy the rev is back? Stay Tuned, for the Rev had much more adventures in Beirut!

She Said Her Body Was A TVed Massacre

She said today her body was a TVed massacre and I didn’t quite understand.

Then the pictures came. One by one, they spoke of death and despair and destruction and annihilation. I see blood and infinite sadness, and there’s a scream inside my head.

If this isn’t ethnic cleansing, I don’t know what is.

 

So-called civilized organisations and officials whisper things like ‘right to self-defense’, ‘need to avoid harming civilians’, ‘restrain on both parts’. Mumbling in their ties, their eyes not quite meeting the camera, avoiding the lens shooting through their guilt.

Demonstration in Beirut, photo by Nadine Moawad

 

I look at them. I look at these be-suited gray men and women writing behind their computers a whole bunch of civilized lies, and this resolution asked for, and that agreement called for, and please let us all have some restraint, let us all respect Israel’s right to self-defense. And there’s a scream inside my head.

 

They publish communiques, feeling self-important and useful, the arrogance of their fancy words getting to their despicable heads.

‘Right to self-defense’. ‘Do not harm civilians’.

 

They spend 5 paragraphs counting the numbers of rockets fired from The Strip and the effects they had on the sheltered Israeli populations while they allocate two sentences to the Palestinians victims, for fear of being accused of being biased. They edit and proofread and review and comment and publish. And there’s a scream inside my head.

 

For it to be ‘self-defense’, there would need to be a side attacking the other. And there is. There is the Israeli side occupying, deporting, murdering, oppressing, leaving under siege, slaughtering.

There is resistance. Firing whatever they have because they shall die free until their last breath, because they refuse the death that comes from under the boot of a Tsahal soldier, busy taking pictures and posting them on Instagram. Oddly, it had seemed to me resistance was a right under something called the Geneva Coventions.

 

For it to be ‘self-defense’, there would need to have something called proportionality, something I do not see. For it to be humanitarian law, there would need to be targeting military objectives, and not constant shelling of civil, inhabited areas.

 

For it to be ‘self-defense’, there would need to be some kind of justice, and justice, my friend, has sailed away from the People of Palestine a long time ago.

 

So don’t come to us with your statements and your restraint and your letters talking about ‘self-defense’. Don’t come to us, for we are no fools to your lies.

 

She said today her body was a TVed massacre and I didn’t quite understand.

And now I do.

 

 

Blurry Filters

 

On this faded photo, your smile says it all.

Here you are, between the distant weddings of even more distant cousins, smiling and laughing, your head thrown backwards in the sun. This faded picture tells it all, the person you were then, the person you will never be again.

It was a bitter-sweet moment, sitting like this, leafing through old albums of old pictures showing people who are long gone, those who died and those who changed forever, people who can’t be found again. Time had given colours its blurry filters, softening the edge of their faces, mellowing the crude blues of the beach scene, the kind of patina we try to recreate instantly with our Instagrams, in total vain for nothing can replace the years going by, the dust settling, the tears staining corners.

The more I went deep in your past, the more my disbelief grew: was it you, this dimpled groom, was it really you, this cheerful person? Or were pictures lying, the way they usually do, barely grasping one angle of the reality of that day, of that moment? What if the instant shot had seized what seemed like happiness, while inside your heart was breaking, or you were annoyed, or grumpy, or simply tired? You’re smiling, and that smile shields your emotions in better ways than a mask would have. I can’t find you in that picture.

They say a picture can say a thousands words, but words can describe all the nuances, all the hidden, concealed feelings one doesn’t want to show. Pictures are always kept to help us relieve happy memories, retracing who we are, rewriting our history in a way that is always embellished. Glossy pictures building a life of parties and celebrations and fun holidays, shelving aside the pain, the divorces, the separation, the grief of death. A shiny life, stripped of its honesty. The one picture I keep close to my heart is a Polaroid of my mother the day after I was born. She’s deathly pale, she seems exhausted, no posing, no make up, no theatrical set up: she’s just lost half her weight of blood, she’s happy, yes, but Christ she’s entitled to be tired and she won’t smile at the indelicate person taking that picture. There it is. Honesty. It’s out there in the open, it’s raw and brutal, but it’s real and it doesn’t lie.

Like your smile on that picture, your smile on that faded picture concealing the hurt and fear buried deep inside, your smile not letting on the person you were to become.

And I wonder. I can’t help but wonder and it’s doing my head in: was it really you? Or were you already the person you became, this sliver of the man you were?