Tales of the Phoenix City, Chapter 11

Airport halls are all the same. Rows of humans treated like cattle, trying to bear the excruciating tedium that is waiting in line for an hour behind families of screaming children, haggard travelers harassed from waking up at the break of dawn to catch a flight schedule at an ungodly hour, excitement and laughters, a condensed sample of humanity stocked up under the same roof while waiting to be shipped someplace again.
Ziad could see all of this, and yet, couldn’t bring himself to feel part of any of it. He had become increasingly private these days, even more so than his naturally shy disposition. He sat for hours on ends, chain smoking,a medical note having absolved him from going to work, a burn out, they said, thinking about what is it that he wanted to do, and who he wanted to be, in his life. A whirlwind of questions tormented him. Outside, Beirut seemed to mute her usually buoyant self to allow the rickety racket of his thoughts bumping against one another. He often missed the delicious hour of dusk, realizing he had forgotten to eat at dawn, while the pomegranate sun drenched the concrete city in its ray of velvety, lava-like sunshine.
His sister had schedule an intervention.
Nina seemed very fond of interventions these days, and very worried about his disheveled state.
She was the one to blame for his mere presence at the airport.
“if you don’t book a vacation, I’ll tell Mom. It’ll upset her so much, knowing you all depressed, she’ll keep calling you all day everyday to make sure you’re not slashing your wrists somewhere in a dark corner, and next thing you know, you’ll be begging me to put a stop to it”.
Another thing Nina was very fond of was guilt-tripping, a trait inherited from their upbringing that his sister had perfected into art.
And so he went ahead and booked his ticket, choosing Istanbul, not really knowing why, hoping perhaps that the energy of the city would supply him with a renewed dose of optimism.
Waiting at the gate, his eyes shut from the mayhem of children and tired mothers around him , he allowed his mind to wander to Lili. Her hair, that delicious golden mane in which his fingers ran so freely not so long ago, her silky smooth skin, the three freckles she had on her shoulders, surprisingly mirroring his own trio of beauty marks at the exact same spot. Her quirky way of seeing the world, her slender fingers typing away on her computer, that hypnotic concentrated air she had when she was working on a story, her nose ruffled and her eyebrows knotted, her whole faced expressing intense thinking and reflection to find the right words, the right turn of phrase.
The longing for her was excruciating, and he asked himself for the umpteenth time if he had made the right decision, leaving her high and dry when things were getting serious.
Ziad had always fancied himself as some kind of bohemian, ready to pack his bags in under a second to participate to a Marxist conference, eager to take his guitar and stay up late until the little hours of the morning, smoking and composing, talking late into the night with the city that was his main inspiration, blessed by the semi silence of darkness. He was happy walking around everywhere, talking to idle people, taking pictures of everything and everyone, pictures that now adorned every inch of his apartment in a shabby building of Caracas. When Lili, serious, poised, strong-willed in a kind of quiet way Lili tumbled into his life, part of him wanted to run away, no matter how strong the love he felt for her. He was no white night in shining armor, he felt weak, and indecisive and lost, still trying to figure out who he was and where he was heading. He felt unfit and unwilling to take care of her the way he imagined she wanted to be taken care of.
That Lili never wanted a white knight in the first place, or could more than properly take care of her own self never occurred to him, and there he was, spinning his thread of golden prejudice and own complications until he could not see anything clearly anymore, blurring their powder blue romance into something much darker and foggy. Every day he felt more and more hemmed in by her and their relationship, and everyday he draft away from her, leaving her more and more confused and hurt, until there was nothing left between them but a ice cold awkward bundle of tensions that was begging to be pierced. He did it finally, after gathering up some scraps of courage, and she looked at him with the face of someone who has no clue about what went on in his head. She was no fool, and until that kiss she so unexpectedly gave him last time at Bread Republic, he had barely heard of her.
Now he was sitting in that airport hall, thinking that if only he had had the codes to navigate his life, if only he had be taught to open up and share his feeling and anxieties, then maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t be waiting for that flight by himself, and that perhaps he would have someone to talk about this fears to, someone who understood and scolded and comforted him more than his sister or his best friend.
He felt a tiny hand on his lap, patting his knee: he opened up his eyes to a black eyed girl toddler who had used his leg to strengthen herself while precariously walking over to her mother. Gently leading her way, Ziad felt he could give the same comfort to the woman he loved, and be comforted by her in the same simple way.
Sighing, he picked up his back and entered the flight, half hoping his depression would lift along with the plane.


Yesterday, I was browsing some pictures on Facebook (it’s called procrastination), when I stumbled upon a photo of my civil wedding. It’s a simple picture of my maid of honour, laughing, and I, amused, looking at her, smiling. 

The thing is, you see, she has been my friend for the past 24 years, and perhaps I was too immersed in the crazy wedding fog (not that I was Bridezilla, I simply have a Lebanese mother) to fully realise how much of a blessing it was to have your friend of 24 years stand next to you in such an important moment. 

There are many love stories, the strongest bonds not necessarily being the ones you build when you fall in love. My friend Ludivine and I know each other inside and out but never bore each other. We live thousands of miles apart, yet as soon as we see each other, it’s like our never ending conversation had never been stopped by distance, and we quite joyfully slot back into our routines, sharing our news, our jokes, our secrets. True friendships are like your best pair of jeans, the ones you’ve wore a gazillion times, yet they still fit perfectly and you never throw them away. I’m struggling to find the right words to describe what she means to me: we’ve been to hell and back together, we’ve been together in joy and sadness, like any other friends really. We’ve laughed and bickered and cried and fought and been pissy at one another, we’ve reconciled and forgot about it all, we’ve agonised over the come back of the denim shirt (so 90’s), we’ve dissected break ups over teas that were getting cold as our never ending conversations went along. 

On the day of my civil wedding, she was there, next to me, laughing and making me laugh, my sister in arms, and in itself it was a gift of life, to have two love stories around me, to feel hearts connected in time. 

On the evening of my religious wedding, she got up, her hands slightly shaking, she got up to make the traditional maid of honour speech. I kept looking at her, tears pouring down my face, half laughing, my heart overwhelmed, she got up, ever so pretty in her black bohemian dress, I looked at my friend of 24 years say her words of love and friendship to me, her words, the perfect embodiement of the mix of fun and serious moments we’ve had together, her words, en elegy of our past together, her presence, right there, the seal of all the wonderful things to come. 

I probably didn’t get the chance to tell her that night that I might have signed an unshakable bond with my husband that night, but that the one her and I have and nurtured is just as unfaltering, the way we probably intended it when we were exchanging black khol and blue gloss when we were 15, smoking our Marlboro Lights, thinking we were IT. 

Look in the Mirror, Tell Me What You See

Ahem, have you gained weight? Is a question I’ve been hearing more than I care to mention since I’ve been back to Lebanon. Mind you, it’s the kind of question I hear EVERY time I come back to Lebanon, so much so that if it were actually true, if I HAD gained aforementioned weight, I wouldn’t be able to go through doors now. And last time I checked, I was well able to. Talking about weight is at the same time commonplace and taboo. I mean, look at the amount of ink and saliva spent on talking and writing about diets and whatnots, yet people give each other sideways glances to assess weights, gains or losses of it, and think twice before making any comments (that is, if they have an ounce of good manners, which sadly is becoming less of a norm lately).

Usually, when such comments are directed my way, I obsess for two days (I’m an elephant and I’m never, ever getting nowhere near chocolate again. Ever) then I happily bite my manoukche back. But not this year. This year, comments made me wonder about neurosis related to weight, body image hysteria, and the obsession of bodies so slim you’d mistake them for visa cards. You see, the fact is, I have actually lost weight, about 4 kilos of it (clearly people whining about kilos haven’t experience the “let’s organize a wedding with a Lebanese mother” diet) and while I have to admit I was happy with the news (yes, even I fall pray to the feeling of happiness whenever I lose weight, although I know it’s a constructed feeling, not a genuine one, it was given to me by the media and by the Lebanese mentality that a woman has to be slim, something I try to fight, but clearly, haven’t been able to cancel altogether as of yet), I’m being very, VERY, careful not to lose any more of it, because one I do like my curves,  two, whenever I lose too much weight my spasmophilia goes haywire and no thank you, it’s bad enough as it is and three, I love food. I do, and I live in Lebanon, land of the delicious food, and Kate Moss can pout and tell me that nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels, I’m thinking, fuck that, clearly the woman has never tasted hot Knefeh in the morning.

The fact that these comments emanated from two über slim girls was not lost on me, and I started wondering if they considered themselves too slim, normal, or fat, and how distorted was their vision of their own body. I don’t think we ever see ourselves as we truly are: I have a friend who’s constantly on a diet, yet she’s one of the most beautiful girl I know and has a fine, healthy figure, while another one shocked me by telling me she was fat. I mean, you could fax the waist of this girl, and here she was, trying to convince me that she was, indeed, overweight.

I know everyone blames the media and people get tired of it, but the media IS to blame, so until they make an active step towards change, we’ll continue bashing them. However, I do think it would be wrong to think of the media as a separate entity hovering over women’s heads, dictating them what to do, what to eat, what to wear. We’re not victims, and difficult as it might be to disentangle ourselves from their messages, it’s an effort that is both worth it and needs to be done in order to reshape the media to a size that fits (yes, pun intended). Media productions are nothing but a reflection of the society they belong to: once society changes the way it thinks, the media, in order to sell, will simply have to follow. Especially if there is a boycott involved: perhaps one day the disappointing sales will prevail over the astronomical amounts paid by brands for advertising, and magazines will review their policies. The economic components and stakes of weight loss are huge: by showcasing unattainable standards of beauty (Perfect super big boobs, tiny waist, never ending legs) the media urges you to buy that cream that’ll make your cellulite go away, which you will do, because that’s the look you’re supposed to have Dahling if you want the perfect job, perfect man, perfect life. Lose 5 kilos and your life will be perfect, perfect, perfect. What no one tells you, however, is that you’ll feel hungry all the time, hence miserable and irritated, and that you’ll spend too much money on useless creams (I’ll say it once and for all: They.Don’t.Work). So let’s summarize: you’ll be grumpy, hungry and broke. Clearly, the recipe for happiness. Not to mention the constant guilt that will accompany each bite you’ll allow yourself to swallow: since when did food stop being enjoyable and NECESSARY TO THE MERE FUNCTIONING of your body to become this evil thing that is to be feared and loathed and agonized over?

In the Middle East, not only the pressure is to have a certain body shape, but cultural imperialism and integrated imperialism by local populations mean that dark skin, frizzy hair and every type of nose that is not tiny, straight and slightly going up are deemed unaesthetic and should be corrected with the help of creams (Fair and Fucking Lovely, I ask you, who wants to be stared at by some creep in a library?), serums and doctors (Come, said unethical doctor, let me make you look like everyone else (that’s if you’re lucky, otherwise you’ll just end up looking like late Michael Jackson)).

 The thing with resistance, is that it works. Madrid has cancelled too thin models from its fashion week in 2006 and some magazines and brands have showcased non photoshoped and regular women. These trends, while despised by the cosmetic and fashion industries, are welcomed by the public, and are to be encouraged.

Until the media changes, maybe it’s time to make our own internal revolutions. So here’s the first five points of the manifesto:

         People come in all shapes and sizes: trying to look like someone you’re not is a mere waste of time that could be used for something else. Like living your life, for example.

         Food is necessary. Unless you have a special condition, bread won’t kill you. Not eating will, however.

         You were born with a specific set of genes and bones, and modifying them is like getting Katie Holmes to smile. Go on, try.

         Health is vital. Cosmetic surgery isn’t. Heard about breast implants preventing doctors to detect early tumors, post surgical complications, teeth being removed from your gums because of the vomiting, iron and vitamin and magnesium deficiencies?

         Last but not least: you’re precious. Take care of yourself, eat tasty, healthy food, go for a relaxing massage, do absolutely whatever you feel like, as long as you’re the one feeling like it and not your ugly, guilty, influenced-by-media-and-mentalities (or mother) conscience whispering that you’re dissatisfied with your life because of measurements. Honestly.