Tales of the Phoenix City – 29

Gaby was watching the ever expanding frame of her friend, taking pictures of her as she moved bare foot on her tiled floor, draped in a large lacy poplin white nightshirt. Nina was looking tired in the Beirut sinking sun, the sweet autumn wind finding its way into the apartment through the half closed green shutters, gently caressing people and furniture, reminding them that there were good reasons to stay, too. In spite of everything. Nina was arranging on her tray the delicious looking fig jam and homemade sweet anise kaak Lily had brought back from the Bekaa valley, pondering if her hunger was greater than the nagging nausea that had plagued her throughout the 36 weeks of her pregnancy.

– Jesus Fucking Christ, for the love of all that is good and holy, how, just tell me how, does your body manage to accommodate that alien in your belly?
Nina smiled patiently. After all, this was a question she kept asking herself, about four hundred times a day.
– Well, I’m not even sure myself. Sometimes I stare at my body in utter wonder, thinking it’s the most perfect, clever thing in the world…
– Please spare us all the hippy talk I am begging you, interrupted Gabrielle, all this hoopla about your body and its abilities yawn yawn yawn
– Ma hek, if you left me finish. So I was saying, sometimes I am amazed by what I can do, and other times I just feel so, well, full, so heavy, and achy, and moody…
– Are you naming the seven dwarves?
– No seriously, that whole pregnancy thing is no walk in the park. I will never understand the women who claim to have never felt better than when they were pregnant. It’s a huge strain on yourself, on your body and emotions, it’s like this tidal wave of change, you don’t recognize yourself. Everything swells to accommodate a person you’re creating, a person you feel jab and poke at your insides and punch and kick you. Sometimes I’d be sitting down and it’s like my bump has already a life of its own, it goes crazy from one side to another. How odd is that? It’s happening to me yet I can’t wrap my head around it.
– Well, you’d better start wrapping your head around it, seeing as you’re giving birth in about four weeks.
– Yeah no, i’m not.
Gaby started and looked up from her objective, trying to assess her friend’s tone.
– You’re not?
– I’m not.
– Okay then. What do you propose will happen? Will you keep that child inside your womb for all eternity, kangaroo style?
– No no,they shall take that child out of me, but I do not plan on ‘giving birth’ and ‘laboring’ and participating or cooperating in any way to the delivery of that baby. I’ll just let modern medicine do what it does best: fix things.
– You scared?
– To fucking death. The pain, Gaby, how does one bear the pain? I hear all that talk by the midwives about how beautiful and manageable everything is through breathing but i’m like, ‘quit lying to me, if breathing magically made the pain go away, women would not beg for epidurals and oxygen and the shit loads of drugs they ask for, half crying’. I’m not gonna lie Gaby, i am seriously wondering about how people deal with the fucking pain. I demand to know.
– Wait, I’ll go back to my extensive experience in giving birth to 14 children. How the fuck do I know? The whole process seems so foreign and remote to me. A bit like China.
– Nina chuckled, trying to get comfortable in her vintage upholstered wicker chair, putting her swollen feet up. Gaby resumed her frantic picture taking.
– May I ask why you’re all over me with your camera? You look like a paparazzi chasing Kim Kardashian.
– Who?
– Never mind. Just stop taking pictures of the sorry mess that I have become. And since we’re on the subject, please stop likening my vagina and its upcoming torture to China.
– Oh for fuck’s sake, can we please stop with the whole pity party? I am told many, many women have done what you’re about to do before. Apparently it’s even very probable that your body will know what to do by itself. So breathe. Didn’t they teach you anything in that drab, God forsaken prenatal classes of yours? Grace came with you and she bored me into a proper stupor with talk of dilatation and effacement and perineum and pushing and ‘managing the pain’ by breathing and whatnots. Seriously, if you could handle the pain of the preparation to the whole ordeal, you’ll do just fine at the event itself. Oh and by the by, I take pictures because you’ve never been so beautiful and I want to frame a couple of those for your child to see how perfect her mother was while carrying her.
– I didn’t know you were such a thoughtful, kind poet.
– Well, there I fucking go, the sensitivity of Verlaine trapped in the body of Patti Smith
Nina planted her eyes in her friends’. The intense gaze rattled Gaby, who stopped being flippant and held Nina’s gaze with the same intensity and gravity. Now was not the time for jokes.
– Seriously, Gabrielle. What am I doing? Did you see the state of the country and the world I am bringing that child in? Am I doing the ultimate selfish thing? I don’t really care about my child not really having a ‘father’ figure…
– Yes she will, she’ll have me!
– Seriously, ‘father figure’ simply doesn’t mean anything anyway, except maybe patriarchal oppressor. But I feel like I am under so much pressure. My body is definitely not my own anymore, by nature’s design and by people’s will, by the constant stream of ‘well wishers’, telling me I should give birth without medication, telling me I should breastfeed because it’s better, and don’t even get me started on all the parenting advice perfect strangers are showering on me. Sometimes i just feel like escaping but It’s like I’m stuck. I just would like to be able to claim my life and body back, but people are trying to sell to me the sacrificing, long suffering mother stereotype as the ultimate and best mother figure that could ever exist and I just don’t want this for myself, and i don’t want my child growing up thinking it’s ok and normal to be a slave to motherhood.
– Your tangled web of questions has confused me,not the least because i think, of all your organs, the most fucked up as of now, is your brain. Since when did you start caring about what people say? Seriously, you’ve been renting your body for the past nine months, bloody do what you want to do with it when it’s over. You’ve always been your own person, I don’t see why that should change. Raise your child the way you want to, telling her what you think is right and then let her make her own experiences. The way I see it, just let people’s remarks and comments slide off your back and carry on.
– You know, you’re a good cheerleader…
Gabrielle saw where this was going.
– No, please, no
– And as a good cheerleader and my best friend, I’d like you to come with me the day I give birth
– OOooh for fuck’s sake, Jesus Fucking Christ, no, fuck, no, don’t do this to me, Jesus, no, can you imagine me with the blood and the cutting of things, and the whole butchering, no, I’ll probably be taking pictures for my gore collection instead of helping you anyway, seriously, take Grace, she’s strong and responsible and lovely and has been to the classes, or Lily, she’ll sing hippy welcoming songs to your child, don’t take me, please
– I want you. You won’t let them bullshit me when i’m vulnerable.
– But
– I want you. Gabrielle, will you be my ‘birthing partner’?
– Oh Jesus Fucking Christ, yes i will but don’t ever, ever refer to me again as birthing partner. Ever.
– Good, said Nina, closing her eyes and relaxing. You were not hard to convince after all.
– I feel like i’ve been manipulated in some way, mumbled Gabrielle, fixing her filter yet again. Fuck.

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.

Family

You’re all right here, in front of me.

You’re the first thing I see when I wake up, you keep watch over me when I drift away, deep in slumber, you greet me in the morning.

I taped you to my wall so that I feel surrounded by the love you hold for me, the endless force pumping love into my blood. You and you and you and you. My flesh, my blood, my circumstances, my life, rejoicing in the good fortune that made us relatives and friends and family.

Some of you are no longer the image in my pictures, I chose to keep you young and happy forever, I chose to cheat myself into believing you had never changed. And in a way, that’s more honest, for the faces in the pictures reflect more the real you than what life has made of you.

Others are inexorably the same, the tender version of steady rocks, your faces maybe a little more lined, your hair a little whiter, the essence of the goodness in you intact.

I spread you lovingly on my wall, letting your faces embrace me every morning and every night, when I join again the safe haven of my home. I chose your pictures carefully, I held your smiles tightly across my chest, I remembered moments of laughter and of emotions and I translated it into a wall of you. A wall of love.

Can pictures be used as a shield? Can love keep the monsters under my bed at bay? I’m not quite sure, yet I’ve chosen to build for myself an enchanted amulet, a charm in the shapes of pictures that would keep you in my heart and keep me safe.

On my wall, my mother, holding my sister as a baby, my father holding me only seconds after I was born. My friends of 20, 15 and 10 years hugging each other, their young faces turned at a camera, blissfully careless of anything that was not in the now and then, our shared laughter still ringing into my ears. My love and myself, looking at the photographer, smiling our grave smiles, the smiles of people embarking on a perilous adventure together. Aunts, nieces, fathers, daughters, cousins, friends, people we chose, people who chose us, all in one place, swirling and melting into a slab of love concrete.

You’re all right there, in front of me.

You’re all right here, within me.

 

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?

Tales of the Phoenix City – chapter 13

The city was her haven, the slabs of concrete felt moist and tender beneath her feet, the piercing noises of every day life were the perfect symphony to her dreams. Gabrielle had taken to ramble through the streets whenever the political climate felt unstable and volatile, acting just the opposite of what everyone was doing. Instead of retreating home, she confronted the insecurity heads on, with the suicidal bravado of fools and heroes, going further deep within herself rather than within the closed four walls of a womb-like house where the feeling of safety was nothing more than an illusion. Thanks to the living hell that was her home when she was growing up, she knew full well that sometimes, houses and bricks can be the shield behind which oppressors operate. Her childhood house still haunted her to this day, and she knew very well that even people who knew her inside and out and since forever could not really understand what had happened there to leave such an imprint on her. In truth, no one had ever heard screams coming out from the cream colored rooms of her youth, her mother never had to invent some far-fetched story to explain blues and bruises. There was no open, visible case of violence to study.
But the violence was there, ensconced in the silence, in the tension of her two parents waging each other a mute war of wills, in the repressed movements of anger from her father, in his demeaning demeanor, in his outright indifference to his children. The violence was there in her mother’s Valium, in her sighs, in her elegant ennui, in her short temper and in her glaring unhappiness. Gabrielle had spent her childhood years trying to dodge imaginary and real bullets, not knowing where to turn, torn between the out in the open conflict outside of her doors and the war that wouldn’t tell its name within them. She had started taking pictures of everything she saw when she was thirteen even though she could not always have them developed because of the bombings, when the need to do something with her own skin got too scalding hot, turning to taking photos of herself and her body so that she could create a stare, an external pair of eyes through the camera, to mirror who she was, as no one around her seemed to be bothered. The old Leica soon became her best friend and the witness of an adolescent’s changing body, a change Gabrielle was very careful not to welcome by keeping extra slim. If becoming a woman meant becoming her mother, she’s pass on all the kebbe in the world.

At the time, she used to think it was either that or turning to drugs.

Thankfully, she grew up, and left this house of despair. She had now manage to create a safe golden peaceful home of her own that smelt of the delicious recipes of her lover, filling the walls with cinnamon, sugar and honey, replacing the acrid smell of tensions: however, the hint of the feeling of claustrophobia remained and was hard to shake.

As much as she loved Grace, she still had times where she could only bear being outside, by herself, something her partner understood and never questioned. She would leave early in the morning, her satchel safely strapped across her shoulder, her camera completing her hand, her phone switched to silent.
She entrusted the city with her head, and pleaded with Beirut to replace the racing thoughts and worries with bits and pieces of beauty gleaned here and there.
– Bonjour habibi!
Abou Brahim, her lovely neighbour who kept watch of everything happening in their alley, always greeted her in this French fashion, no matter how many times she would answer a hearty Marhaba Abou Brahim. A 3arouss picon in one hand, he would then proceed with asking her how she was, also in French, as if to demonstrate his various skills.
Gaby had shot him many times over, the fine lines on his worn out face the map of loss, pain and joy that had happened to the country, his droopy eyes always twinkling. Abou Brahim seemed to be always living in a state of perpetual relief, as if he felt happy and content since 1990, while Gaby, when she was in her exploratory moods, seemed unable to project herself in anything else than a dark pit of more conflict.

Which, in all fairness, was not far from reality, the way things were going.

Roaming the streets, she descended in her own self, her sharp trained eyes spotting every scenes, worried expressions of mothers going about their business, their joyful children hip hopping behind them, pensive, serious faces of older men reading the newspapers with the look of people smelling trouble a-coming. She tried capturing the essence of her Beirut, if in fact it even existed, as she seemed to doubt it lately. What if Beirut was nothing more than a mosaic of realities never colliding with one another? Until now, she had always pictured her beloved city as layers: the shiny, outrageous, in your face bling of the nouveaux riches downing Cristal while shaking fake breasts in front of an overweight Saudi being the first thing people and tourists would notice, with real, Beiruti people trying to make ends meet by working 14 hours a day on dire conditions, several layers below.

She had come to learn, through her lens, than reality was much, much more complex.

Losing herself in the graffitis adorning the walls of her city, passing the Phat and Ashekman art, walking further up to Hamra street, she noticed a tiny one hidden next to a parking lot, close to the Dunkin Donuts. She bent down closer and magnified it.

It read: if graffiti was useful, it would be illegal.

Pondering on this statement, and intrigued, she carried on, the smog of the outdated cars engulfing her lovingly in their cancerous mist.

Melancholy, that old friend, held her in her grip, and Beirut herself seemed so sad and lost, she could not do anything for her.

– habibti, there can’t be to Weeping Willows within your walls, one of us has to cheer up.

Travel Through Lenses: Geneva Meets Siberia

Link: Travel Through Lenses: Geneva Meets Siberia

julietstravels:

By now, you’ve probably heard of the extremely low temperatures we’ve been having in Geneva. Here are some pictures of the frozen lakeside and some personal tips on where to get a heart warming hot chocolate or delicious coffee in the City of Calvin and its surroundings:

1) Le Pain Quotidien,

Amazing blog post on my hometown!

Giving you a first taste of my last collaboration with Lebanese photographer Lara Zankoul. The idea was to have something in line with my next novel, D’or et de Poussiere, so I modelled for Lara and she worked her magic.  The whole serie will be posted soon on my Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Paola-Salwan-Lebanese-Author/194530360576882 Hope you Enjoy!

Second Series of the Maria/Frieda Photoshoot by Lara Zankoul








Model: Me

Photographer: Lara Zankoul Please Check her work, it’s outstanding

http://www.flickr.com/photos/larazankoul/
http://larazankoul.tumblr.com/
http://astridle.deviantart.com/
http://larazankoul.3rdward.com/