Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 14

The boat was a bit rocky, the crowd, a mix of citizens going about their usual business and tourists exploring the city, all smiles, the flashes of their camera creating memories they will replay on rainy days to cheer them up.
Amongst them, a tall, skinny, dark haired man bearing an air of deep ennui. Ziad had spent a bitter sweet ten days, torn between discovering Istanbul and marveling at every little corner and the continual anxiety he felt for Lebanon and his friends and family upon hearing news that did not bode well.
By that time, he felt he was a Master at existential angst: come on over, Jean-Paul Sartre, and I’ll give you a run for your money. Thinking of Jean-Paul Sartre, he thought of Jean-Sol Partre, the imaginary alter ego of the famous philosopher imagined by Boris Vian, which invariably lead him to think of that terribly cruelly beautiful novel, l’Ecume des Jours, a love story so funnily painful Ziad felt he bled a little each time the read it.
Not that he would ever admit it: after all, he had a reputation to live up to, a hard shell to sustain. The musician in him tended to lend a specific song to each of this reaction and life events, and he sometimes felt he needed the “You’re so Vain” treatment.

His hotel bore the delightful name of Anemon and was located at the feet of the Galata Tower, in a lively neighborhood called Beyoglu. Every morning, Ziad forced himself out of the plush bed and dragged his lead body to the roof top terrace overlooking the city, where he could have his strong, black Turkish Coffee while watching boats passing by on the Bosphorus. He had a unique view on the Blue Mosque and the Agha Sophia, while he for once allowed his mind to wander at the slow rhythm of the boats before him.
At first, he thought his looming depression would keep him pinned to his bed and that he would only get up to open and raid his mini bar, but Istanbul, just like his beloved Beirut, seemed to have a mind of her own and not bend to anyone’s will, rather making people abide by her rules.
So on he went, slowly at first, exploring the neighborhood and going as far as the Istiklal Caddesi, where he sustained himself on Mante and Cimit, then realizing he was actually enjoying himself and pretty soon, started walking around everywhere. Down from Beyoglu, passing the little Turkish designers boutiques and buying a green jacket for Nina, sure that the cut and fabric would pass her almost unattainable standards, to the Galata bridge, where he actually stayed for almost a day, talking to fishermen and fishmongers, lost in the deep Turquoise shade of the sea, to Eminonu, where the violent colors of boats and ferries waiting for their passengers cheered him up to no end.

Upon crossing the Galata bridge, he was faced with the exquisite beauty of the “new mosque”, that was nonetheless several centuries old, the multi-dome architecture making him think of a slate blue wedding cake.

On and on he walked, and each of his steps screamed and ached for Lily. He wanted to show her the little streets he had discovered off Istiklal Street, an incongruous path made of restaurants and bars, with colorful lanterns giving it a warm redish glow. He wanted her to be there when he improvised a mini concert in one of the restaurants with local musicians. He wanted to make love to her in the pink Istanbul dawn, he wanted to wake up with her rolling her hair around his fingers, the out of key voice of Bob Dylan singing that there was music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air. He wanted not only to be tangled up in Blue, he wanted to be tangled up in the blue of her eyes. He wanted to be stupid and romantic and in love.

When the sad news of death and destruction in Tripoli and Beirut came on his TV and in his newspapers, he had rushed to the phone, only to be greeted by the disheartened voice of Nina:
– We’re all ok habibi, don’t worry about us and have fun in Istanbul.
If Nina was calling him habibi without a hint of irony and if she did not nake fun of him or scold him for one thing or another, then something had to be very, very wrong.

He pondered on calling Lily. You know, just to make sure she was fine and ask her to look after his sister. For once, he kind of had a good reason to actually call her.
But his courage failed him, and rather, he had organized a teleconference on Skype with his political alliance to decide which position to adopt. The comrades had organized a candle light vigil to signify that they were firmly standing against the oppression of war, an event that was sparsely attended. Nevermind, he thought, better small attendance than not organizing anything, even if there is three of us, it’s better to show we are there, we exist, us the opposition to the whole system.

He knew Lily must have gone to the vigil, he knew she was as concerned as he was, and suddenly, he asked himself if she hadn’t been right from the beginning. When they broke up, she had told him it would be easier if they stuck together, united in love and in principles, but he felt as if she were an added responsibility at a time where he was arrogant enough to think he had the Revolution, capital R, to think of, and blind enough to miss the fact that it would indeed be easier to share his worries and thoughts with her. She’s so clever and you’re such an animal,he admonished himself. 7ayawein, 7ayaweinm he kept echoing in his mind, God but I’m a little fucker.

The phone kept on ringing, his heart beating to its rhythm.
There a click, a pause, then a caramel like voice answered: hello?
A gulp.
An intake of breath.
A plunge taken.
A pause.
” I’m a 7ayawein”.

Dear Bob,


You don’t know me, but many were the times when you saved me from insanity and inanity.

Let us rewind, if you’d allow me. I was a teenager, firmly believing that Noel Gallagher was the height of musical genius, convinced that Oasis was the answer to the grim-faced middle aged people who assured me rock’n’roll was dead. Those were the days when I wore oh so proudly my Che Guevara t-shirts, when I had paint up to my hair, when I used to say that I was born way too late. I wanted “music in the cafés at night and revolution in the air” (allow me to quote you, My dear, dear Bob, your songs have entered my blood stream a long time ago, and Tangled up in Blue is just one of my many you-related obsession).

Then someone (whom I will never be able to thank enough) introduced you to me, and something shifted. Quite literally. I could never get over your lyrics, your out of key voice, your mystic touch, your political stance, your love letters, your pure joy, your out of this world melancholy.  The sad thing in life is that you never know when something important is happening to you, you go along quite happily along the lines of your day, thinking this is just another normal moment in my normal life, you go along and you just don’t pay attention, only to blame this forgetfulness and lack of focus, as I’m blaming my own carelessness at this very moment, cursing myself for not paying attention to your first song that was ever played to me. As things go, I can’t say, my dear Bob, if it was Never Say Goodbye (“you’re beautiful beyond words, you’re beautiful to me, you can make me cry, never say good bye), or Mr. Tambourine Man, or one of your hundreds of amazing songs.

However, what I do remember, is my everlasting emotion when listening to Tomorrow is a long time, my feverish enthusiasm to the Times They Are A-Changing, my giggles when listening to your young, fresh, so out of tune voice on All I Really Want to Do. What I do remember is how I thought for a very long time that Just Like a Woman was the sexiest song that was ever written, your voice caressing the words, turning them into a sugary lullaby.

What I do remember are A Hard Way’s Gonna Fall lyrics. I’m sure you remember them too:

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’,
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world,
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’,
Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’,
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’,
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter,
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley,
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard,
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Today in Palestine, my dear Bob, and around the world, hundreds of thousands are whispering, their plea growing louder: Please, do not go and play in Israel in June. Please, like Elvis Costello and Gil Scott-Heron, take one last stand against an oppressive regime that is, everyday, killing, starving, discriminating, threatening and scaring an entire population. Israel has and still is violating Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, its executionneer’s face well hidden by the complacency of the International Community.

Civil society, on the other hand my dear Bob, is no fool and a whole movement is standing up against oppression.Thousands of people will be asking you on your birthday not to go and play in Tel Aviv, not until the Separation Wall (deemed unlawful by the International Court of Justice in 2004) is taken down, not until your palestinian fans are allowed to come and see your concert without passing through dozens of checkpoints, if they make it at all.

So join us. And tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it.

Thank you.

For more info: https://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=116628888365109&ref=ts

As if he were singing to me…

Right, so I have a slight tendency to be obsessive. Like, when I was 12 and had just discovered Oasis, I decided that I will be in love with Liam Gallagher for all eternity and that I had to listen to “What’s the Story? Morning Glory” two thousand times before my mother threathened to destroy my CD player and, just to be on the safe side,to go to Manchester to kill aformentionned beloved Liam so she wouldn’t have to listen to another “because maybeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee you’re gonna be the one that saves meeeeeeeeee” one more time.

That’s how bad I was. And please don’t get me started on my Bob Dylan phase. I wanted to reverse time and become Suze Rotolo so that I could be the one on the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan cover.

See, I told you. Obsessive.

Alas! Time has not made any improvment to my disorder, and I’m happily as obsessive as ever, except maybe now I’ve come to terms with the fact that I don’t necessarily need to be in love with a musician to listen to the same record over and over and over again. And then a bit more. I’m not a teenager anymore (Thanks Jesus Christ and all his angels and all his saints for good measure, Hell must be a pleasant place next to living with teenage angst, but that’s not our current point).

It usually takes me a while before full fledged obsession kicks in. I usually start off being quite normal, like, ooohh nice song I like it.

Then, if the song is really good, something happens.

Exhibit1 : First time I listened to Wonderwall, I was like, boy this Mancunian needs a hair cut. Then something in Liam’s electric voice triggered something inside of me, a sadness, a melancholy (yes, more teenage angst) and I was as good as done.

Exhibit2: First Bob Dylan song: All I really want to do, I really thought this had to be a joke. Somebody who sang so out of key probably needed to be a genius. And what a genius. Bob’s still my friend for the nights when I can’t sleep, I don’t even need to play his records, my brain’s has recorded them all.

So first time I listened to Shadi Zaqatan and Friends, I enjoyed their music, thought the lyrics were deep, moving, interesting.

But that was about it really.

Then, one day, I just paid a little more attention to one song in particular, Bshoufek fil Balad, and that’s when it happened. The lyrics, Zaqatan’s voice, so deep and pure, the song transformed into a love letter, an aching one, a one where you wanted so badly to talk to the person but simply couldn’t.

I’ve been listening non stop to the record for two days in a row now, and have no plans in stopping. The songs speak to me now, to some hidden chord inside of me that understands the love for one’s land, the anger and the hope.

My obsession and I are old friends now, we’re like an old couple, too into one another for me to be wanting to get rid of it.

PS: I’m obsessive yet generous, here’s the song, please like it so we can all be obsessed together