Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 28

Lily loved the atmosphere at Em Nazih.
She’d come in the afternoons, when the hustle bustle of Beirut was kept to a minimum, shielded from the craziness by the small stone terrace tucked away in a tiny alley off Gemmayzeh.
She came to write in peace, the soft humming of the distant noise rocking her into concentration, her thoughts and agile fingers on her keyboard only interrupted by the sweet clinking of glasses and arguileh being cleaned. She felt at home, working away and taking her time to talk to Ali, one of the staff members, or with one of the daughters of the owners who taught Arabic to the plethora of alternative youth and possible secret services undercovers calling Beirut home for about three months. Rana, Nada and Nivine were all equally delightful and funny and Lily relished the moments she spent with them, all the while stuffing her face with the delicious batata harra made by their mother. The spices and coriander tickled her tongue while she laughed at Nivine’s latest tale of her pupils who often seemed puzzled to say the least by Lebanon in general and Beirut in particular. During these moments, she always felt incredibly lucky to live here, flaws and all. She had started to train herself in seeing beauty in the littlest things and it hit her hard just how much beauty there was going around.
Em Nazih’s tenants and patrons were a mix of Lebanese taking a breather from a city that could be overwhelming at the best of times and Western and Arab tourists and students learning Arabic and getting to know a country they only knew through the vilifying lens of their media back home. The bewildered looks on their face showed just how much they had trouble processing the clash between representation and reality. Em Nazih’s crowd was a melting pot of artists, secret agents, declared and underground revolutionaries, students, researchers, tourists, family and friends of the owners and staff. It was a place where good food met serious whispers, where laughter died in the fragrant smoke of the Arageel and where the cries of triumph of lucky backgammon players melted away in the frenetic honking that was Beirut’s regular soundtrack.

However, Lily had no time today to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. Today, she was writing a piece on a new young woman author whom Gabrielle knew through her gazillion networks. The author had just launched her latest novel which dealt with two women in Aleppo trying to forget their damaged past and forge a future for themselves (these feminists, thought Lily, you can’t ask them the time of day without them writing a novel on women’s paths and oppression and stereotyping and whatnots). She had enjoyed the book nonetheless, and thought featuring the author in her column along with a photoshoot by Gabrielle could make a nice little piece.

And so there she was, taking notes for her article while Gaby’s voice in the back garden resonated against the stone walls. Grace was also there to assist Gabrielle, and perhaps, just perhaps, to soften the blow that could be Gabrielle’s personality. Poor little author.
Except the author seemed to be taking a great liking in Gaby, sharing the same vision as her friend and furthering her suggestions.

– Right, sit down in front of this door! Great, show me your hand with the rings! Grace, habibi, where is the cherry lip gloss? We could really work with some colors here!

Lily watched as the author put on more make up. Gabrielle really had a good eye: the author was wearing a deep mint green midi dress with matching green open toed ballet flats adorned with golden butterflies, topped with a lavender belt. The deep pink lipstick made her black eyes and hair stand out. Gaby had her pose in front of a pinkish door, her back to a weather beaten wall. The overall effect was urban, a tad melancholic and romantic with an edge, which suited the atmosphere of her book just fine.

– Tayb, now try and climb on this ledge.
The author’s eyebrows went up to her hairline.
– Listen Gaby, I do not climb ledges. As a matter of fact, I am not known for my climbing, or for my motor skills for that matters, so excuse me, but I think I will not go anywhere near that ledge.
Gabrielle looked a little discomfited while Lily and Grace stifled a laugh. Gaby didn’t seem to know what to do with this highly unusual opposition. A look to Grace who was busying herself with the make up bag to mask her hilarity had her frown, then laugh as well.

– Fine, no ledge. Jesus Fucking Christ, I hate divas. Yalla, sit down in front of this derelict door and turn your head this way!
– Much obliged, piped the author with a playful smile.

Lily was enjoying this column more than she had thought. The clicking of Gabrielle’s camera to her back, she started gathering the notes of her earlier interview with the author, making it into a coherent, witty and informative text. At some point, she had asked the author if she, like one of her characters, had a way too keep on fighting when life threw hardships at her. The author had this quirky response Lily had not paid attention to before.

Yes I do. It’s going to sound supremely stupid and cheesy, but it helps me nonetheless. When I feel like I can’t cope with life anymore, I shake myself and ask myself ‘what would Beyonce do?’. Seriously, can you imagine this woman being depressed or taking crap from anything or anyone? She’d sass them into oblivion. Now as a feminist, I see clearly how she participates to an industry that oppresses women in many ways but regardless of that. She exudes force and control and just sheer vibe of life. So I instantly picture myself like Beyonce in an impossible headdress, sky-scrapers heels clicking away as I pound the floor looking at life and shaking my head like ‘Oh no no no, this ain’t how it’s going to happen’. And yes I feel better’.

Writing this, Lily paused and took a sip of her Turkish coffee.

What would Beyonce do?
Huh.

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