Havana rum rum rum

Havana, March 2015, the Yankees are coming! In a few month the American embassy in Cuba will raise the Stars and Stripe, restrictions will be lifted and the cruise ships will anchor!

Well… not quite. At the time of writing, CNN tells me that “Travellers should be able to show their visit helped the Cuban people or had an educational component to it.” So grant money first AND THEN unbridled wild tourists spending green gringo dollars…

The Canadians have been coming for years, in grand resorts where reception can book you tickets to see the Buena Vista Social Club Show. The Europeans are here too, mostly Germans and French, but I’m pretty sure that it’s because of Americans that I see renovation works all over the city.

So anyway, it’s 2015 in Havana, the Americans are coming and Carmen doesn’t care. It’s all good as long as there is rum, as long as she can dance in her kitchen at 3am with her boyfriend the dance instructor, as long as her swollen arthritic knuckles can still hold the cigarettes she chain-smokes all day long. All day long, every day, always a celebration.

It’s women’s day today and she explains that the government makes a big deal out of any random holiday because that’s how you keep people busy. Flowers will be distributed to women on the streets, speeches will be made for the women of the revolution and socialist gloriousness will ooze off every word. Whatever, Carmen has seen it all and she doesn’t care. Her boyfriend doesn’t need a special day to go down on her and celebrate the phenomenal woman that she is right there on the living room floor. We know because we almost walked in on them one night as we left our room to get a glass of water…

Carmen has been renting out rooms in her casa particular for decades. Even before 1997, when it was still illegal, she just had to tell her guests to stay away from the balcony so the neighbours wouldn’t denounce her.  You do what you have to do and you keep going. Glorious Carmen, the more she drinks, the louder she gets, announcing she would have been a billionaire in a capitalist system! Let the yankees come and she’ll show them!!

We just got back from an evening of touristy exploration and she’s just getting started. Her guy, the one who never spends the night but always seems to be around, gets another bottle from the fridge; he tells her she smokes too much and makes us coffee as we listen to Carmen’s random stories. Occasionally, she remembers to slow down to make sure I understand everything because I’m the only one who’s not fluent in Spanish.

There’s no place like Cuba she tells us, she’s been to Italy where he daughter lives, ridiculous place! People don’t know how to party there. It’s was someone’s birthday, they cut a cake, had some wine and by 11pm people kissed goodbye, wished another Auguri and all went home!!! That’s so wrong and so sad! In Havana, Carmen tells us there’s always music, always good cheer, always another drink. Best schools in the world, top notch healthcare; It’s all good, nobody starves in Cuba, and there’s work for those who want to work. Even the government is getting better. Carmen doesn’t mind communism, it’s not as bad as religion. She can’t stand the catholics with their crosses, and distrusts the Santeria crowd with their dolls and their colourful pearls, but she’ll do business with all of them, with Jews and Muslims too she adds looking in my direction. Carmen doesn’t mind. Carmen doesn’t care, Carmen’s had a good life she tells us.

Now capitalism is coming and maybe she’ll see something new. If Cuba goes capitalist then she will be a billionaire because she’s smart and nobody can fool her. That’s why she has nicer curtains than her neighbours, that’s why she got new furniture last year. And if it doesn’t work out? If Raúl Castro is leading them straight to hell by shaking hand with the devil? well Carmen says she’ll just sell her curtains and buy another bottle of rum, then go dancing with her guy at the neighbourhood social club.

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Doing nothing: The lost art of a lazy afternoon.

I’ve spent endless days perfecting imaginary conversations with strangers. Having real adventures with a book so good I forget to see people for a whole weekend. I’m a lazy woman with a lazy life and that’s how I like it.

People don’t seem to get it when I’m basking in glorious idleness.

I hate pretending I’m doing things. People think I’m busy because I don’t go to brunch with them, then get upset to find me in a coffee shop reading a book instead. Silly people. I never said I was busy, what I want is to stay un-busy! I don’t want to commit, not even to brunch. Especially not brunch.

I want to preach the happiness of walking out the door with no plans, the special delight of owning your afternoon!

Go to the movies alone, take notebooks and a laptop to your favourite cafe if it helps overcome the weirdness as you sit and stare at people. Let a frothy cloud of blankness gently massage your brain cells. Embrace the adventure of idleness and let yourself daydream to endless possibilities.

I miss summers when I was a teenager and nobody expected me to do anything anyway.

I miss that brief moment in time, somewhere in Tabarja, in the late 90’s on a Sunday afternoon. I was still learning how to befriend hangovers with huevos rancheros and beer at noon in one of those ugly chalet-complexes built like a pox on the Lebanese coastline. I didn’t know there would come a time where I’d miss my polluted Mediterranean so, instead of enjoying the beach, my friend and I wore flip-flops and crossed the road to the cyber café.

I’m not sure how we started going there, or why even. Maybe for the weed, or to meet that guy she was seeing without her parents knowing. Maybe he had the weed and that’s why the parents didn’t like him. Anyway…. It was one of my first ventures out of the boring greyness of school and family where nothing interesting ever happened! In that joyful microcosm of useless Sunday afternoons, I discovered my thirst for other people’s lives.

It’s a shame I was so shy, I could have had some nice chats but instead I sat in a corner, terrified every time people came my way because that meant I actually had to interact with them. The girl who worked there didn’t seem to mind my mutism and in between naps she’d sit next to me to smoke cigarettes and tell me about her other job doing night shifts as a nurse in the nearby hospital. Basically it was shit pay and crap hours so every now and then she’d get me to help edit her CV so she could apply for nursing jobs in the UAE. Her boyfriend would sometimes visit, he wanted to go to the UAE too and was always afraid she’d get a job there and leave him behind. Occasionally they’d fight.

The cyber café was really more cyber than café. Just a room with long rows of desks and old computer laboriously connected to the wild wild west that was the web back then. People didn’t have laptops so we’d all have to use the same sticky keyboards with piece of cheese puffs stuck between the keys, making sure we avoid the weird stains on the space bar. Armies of loud scrawny boys would come together to play those violent networked games boys like to play. They kept running next door to buy supplies of snacks and drinks and always got yelled at. If the door was closed and the AC was on, the kids got told off for letting the heat in. If the door was open and a kid slammed it shut on his way back in, he’d be cursed till eternity for wanting us to choke in cigarette smoke.

The place was a fucking cancer aquarium alright. Everyone over the age of 14 chain-smoked. Especially me, mostly as a way to fight social anxiety. The older teenagers at the café smoked as they typed away dramatic love stories on MSN, all of them lucky Casanovas virtually dating tall thin hot blondes in Canada or Sweden. There was also my friend and her guy, occasionally disappearing for hours. Sometimes, a taxi driver would come in for his afternoon break, a sweaty stressed man who smoked Viceroys, He’d take a computer at the very back of the room, near a corner so he could enjoy his porn in peace. Outside, also smoking cigarettes, there was a guy and his guitar who was waiting to become a star. Even back then I think we all knew he’d make it, he had that glow. Sometimes he sang, once or twice he tried (hopelessly) to teach me a few chords. Most of the time he just played and smoked.

The nice thing was that I didn’t have to pretend I was busy or doing anything. Nobody questioned my right to just sit there and look around and even if we never spoke much, that’s exactly why I liked everyone there. We were all just there, getting through Sunday afternoon, and that was bliss.

In transit, washed ashore

A few months ago, Europe noticed people taking the most perilous of roads towards the hope of something better because it couldn’t be worse; embarking on crazy journeys because staying would be crazier still. Tiny bodies washed ashore, families facing closing borders when only death is waiting back home. It has brought up the best of humanity in beautiful acts of solidarity, but also sometimes, the worst of the worst in idiots with their fantasies of inbred nations.

They deserve so much better. All those students and doctors and carpenters and musicians whose lives have been put on hold as the world pretends it was an unpreventable fatality. As if we didn’t know about barrel bombs; as if Asma al Assad hadn’t graced the pages of Vogue; as if peaceful protesters were ever given a fighting chance; as if Da’esh appeared out of nowhere and without warning.

Every time I see a face in the news, I can’t help wondering if it’s someone I know. A Syrian friend with whom I lost touch, someone I crossed paths with in Hamra 3 years ago, or maybe in an airport, somewhere in transit since their journey started so long ago, when the world wasn’t looking.

Spring 2012:

The sulking teenage sitting next to me on the Beirut-Cairo flight had the same name as me. I found out because her father, mother, grandparents and 3 little brothers kept trying to talk to her but she was insisting on being a sulking and decidedly unhelpful teen, despite the fact that her parents looked like they would really like to take a moment for themselves and have a good cry. Instead, they were shepherding the whole family away from hell. The adults looked so tired, so overwhelmed, the kids were being loud and had way too much energy, so she just decided to ignore her family.

Still, she was a teenager, excited and anxious about her first time on a plane! That made it hard to sulk too much, especially when the pilot turned on the engine and she started praying in whispers as she clicked on her Tasbeeh tally counter. A pink bedazzled child’s counter that matched her veil.

You were ignoring your parents but seemed happy enough to chat with me. You told me how you left Syria and how Lebanon only provided a short respite. You told me that Egypt will be better because it had to be. That you had visas and relatives in a town with a name you couldn’t remember. You were curious about everything, asked me where I was going, why I was travelling alone, and how old I was. I found the attention flattering but would have liked to hear more about you instead. You had little to say about Syria, said you hated politics and that was that.

During landing she panicked a bit, grabbed my hand and we laughed together but only for a moment. Back on solid ground, time was in motion again. Travellers grab their bags and must get going. The family had a long bus ride to their final destination, I was waiting for my connecting flight. I only had a small carry-on for a 3-day business trip, each member of your group had a big backpack and several carrier bags. Standing up, they all looked even more tired, even the kids appeared worried and thoughtful. This is when the father whispered a few words to his daughter who then asked me if I would like them to wait with me until my next flight. Now I was the one overwhelmed by his thoughtfullness when their own road was so hard. In contrast with their worries, their kindness, the ordeal they were not done facing, the burning uselessness of my own lightness felt like a hundred stabs in my gut.

Smile, say “no thank you”, say you’ll be fine. Wish them godspeed and be on your way.

Christmas 2013

I never saw man looking so exhausted, so ready to just shut down. Sitting behind me at the boarding gate, waiting for a flight to Beirut, I heard him repeat the same story again and again, at least 3 times in the span of the same phone call, trying unsuccessfully to end a never-ending conversation on the absurdity of passports. On the other end of the line, I imagined half a dozen relatives passing the phone around, all asking the same questions and hoping for a different answer. So he kept repeating:

He tried everything he could, there’s no point trying again.
They’re not letting Palestinians into Jordan.
He’s on his way back to Beirut, no he doesn’t have a plan.
He really wants a good night’s sleep and a shower, no he doesn’t have a plan.
He’s tired, he’ll talk to them when he sees them, back in Lebanon, he’s tired.

It’s a story easy enough to guess. He tried to enter Jordan but that’s not happening for Palestinians from Syria so he’s going back to Beirut. It’s a disappointment for the whole family waiting at the other end of the line.

Summer 2014

K is quite possibly the smartest young man I’ve met in a long time. He’s a fighter with the energy only young people can have and judgemental ruthlessness as a survival skill.
In a matter of months, he could speak Turkish fluently and didn’t understand why his fellow countrymen couldn’t.

He got a job and wonders why other Syrians are taking so long to adapt.
He’s already thinking of his next step and despises those who still dream of going back.
His mother and siblings also left and are scattered around the globe.
He is young enough to survive and can’t afford to empathise right now.

K says there’s nothing to go back to, if only his father didn’t cling to the dream of country and nation. His father who stayed in Damascus, alone in the big family apartment, eating frozen meals and watching state news on TV. This is the saddest part. He hates remembering that part.

At some point, between sips of beer and tequila shots on a Monday night in Istanbul, I thought I saw a little boy whose only wish is to be back home, at the family table, sitting with the people he loves. With a strangled sob he only said:

My relationship with my family is sponsored by Skype.

We’re still in touch, he’s thinking of hitting the road. He deserves so much better but the world sucks right now. They all deserve so much better than our inaction.

La vie est ailleurs

Selon Theda Skocpol, une révolution est “la combinaison d’une transformation culturelle profonde et d’un bouleversement de classe massif (Skocpol, 1979).

La Révolution. On n’y est pas encore mais il s’est passé quelque chose, un changement dans les mentalités, l’idée qu’un autre rapport de force est possible. Pas de gros bouleversement, pas encore, mais l’idée d’une possibilité c’est déjà énorme.

Il aura fallu que la pourriture se pointe aux portes de chacun, que l’odeur engouffre les cerveaux pour que le peuple se lève.

La mobilisation sociale pour occuper l’espace publique, les institutions, changer le système, c’est souvent et avant tout un jeu de hasard. Dans son étude de la révolution iranienne, Charles Kurzman souligne qu’au moment où ils choisissent de descendre dans la rue, les manifestants ne savent pas à l’avance s’ils seront nombreux ou seuls. La décision se fait dans un contexte d’incertitude, de rumeurs, de chuchotements. Oser s’exprimer, oser exister, c’est le premier obstacle à franchir dans un régime ou la structure isole et sépare les gens.

Bref, mademoiselle a des lettres. C’est que l’ai théorisé ad-nauseam ce matin du grand soir ! J’ai lu les livres, j’ai rédigé mes dissertations et, dans ce qui semble déjà être une autre vie, j’ai passé des heures, des nuits et des weekends a imaginer mon pays en mieux, a réfléchir a la méthode, a discuter comment et par qui!
Mais mes nuits d’étudiantes sont loin, moi aussi je suis loin du Liban, je suis ailleurs, dans un pays ou je ne suis pas non plus vraiment présente, et il y a de quoi se sentir bête. Je ne me sens exister nulle part.

Alors je tweete, je vis au fil des photos que mes amis partagent sur Facebook. Chacun apporte avec lui son dégout de la pourriture, dégout de la corruption, du racisme, de la bêtise, de la peur. Eux, ils sont sur place et debout sur la place qui leur appartient, ils sont beaux. Leurs slogans me font rire et je les partage avec d’autres qui eux aussi vivent leur Liban a distance imposée. J’attrape des bribes et je partage comme je peux et c’est tout.

Ca aussi c’est dans mes dissertations du temps ou je passais trop de temps dans des cafés! J’ai disséqué Charles Levinson qui voyait un mégaphone virtuel pour l’opposition dans la blogosphère égyptienne, j’ai bu d’innombrables études sur les samizdats et je pensais que ca me servirait, de savoir parler de media et de Révolution.

J’étais à Londres en 2011 et sur l’écran de mon laptop je voyais les arabes se réveiller. C’était l’Egypte, la Libye et la Tunisie ; même pour la Syrie nous avions eu de l’espoir.
J’étais à Londres et mes amis anglais, polonais et irakiens me demandaient « et le Liban ? ». Et le Liban quoi ? Et le Liban rien!
Je me rappelais une révolution manquée un lendemain de Saint Valentin et j’avais mal.

Trop de pourriture, de celle qui se cache derrière des déclarations idiotes, de la pourriture qui fait peur aux gens en brandissant le salut des chefs de guerre, de la pourriture à nettoyer de toute urgence. Ca pue tellement, on ne fais plus semblant d’être mieux que ce que l’on est et ça fait du bien. Il paraît que même la nature se révolte, qu’il y a une tempête de sable pour bien remuer les ordures, pour que personne n’ose oublier la merde qui s’engouffre dans nos narines. Et c’est horrible. Et ça fait du bien. Et il n’y a pas d’autre solution parce que le pire arrive de toute façon et il faut se réveiller. Jamais je n’ai autant eu hâte de rentrer chez moi.

Petit coup de gueule : Marc Jacobs est un sale type

Paris en automne de l’an 2000quelquechose, au musée des Arts Décoratifs, une amie et moi nous nous sommes faites belles pour mieux apprécier l’expo « Louis Vuitton – Marc Jacob ». Elle arbore son beau sac Louis Vuitton et moi ma veste Comme Des Garçons dont je n’ai pas fini d’amortir le prix…et dans notre empressement qui frise le ridicule, au moins nous ne sommes pas seules :

Il y a là des parisiennes avec leur airs de regarder tout le monde de haut et de travers derrière leurs jolies franges acajou de parisiennes. Il y a deux japonaises, stylées jusqu’au bout des ongles, l’air sorti tout droit de Dover Street Market, dans leur basket suédoises qui me rendent verte de jalousie. Et il y a bien sur des « gulfies » comme disent mes potes bahreïnis. Celles la sont koweitienne : maquillage chaleureux, l’air épanoui et les bras chargés de sacs : ChanelBalenciagaLouboutin presque en un seul mot tellement il y en a!

Toutes ensembles, d’une chambre a l’autre, nous suivons le parcours d’une rétrospective qui commence avec les débuts de layetier-emballeur-malletier de Louis et ses ingénieuses malles de voyage, source de mes plus beaux fantasmes: Chacune est un bonheur entier, avec un petit secret parfois. Elles se transforment, racontent milles et une histoires et je me laisse emporter dans le fantasme d’un long voyage en bateau vers les Amériques. Je me réconcilie avec le marron monogrammé qui m’horripile dans ses incarnations les plus récentes. Je m’extasie devant les trésors d’ingéniosité déployés pour créer ces merveilles. Bref, ces malles sont mon histoire d’amour la plus durable mais doucement, le show se gate. Plus on avance dans le temps, plus mon sourire se crispe, les belles malles disparaissent, les robes majestueuses se font rares, Marc Jacobs s’approprie LV et m’énerve. Fini les valises aux secrets amusants:

Il imprime des blagues à la con sur des Joke Bags…« My wife went to the beauty shop and got a mud pack. For two days she looked beautiful. Then the mud fell off.” Il parait que c’est un “social statement”. Il fait défiler Kate Moss avec une cigarette un jour national de lutte anti-tabac. Ca s’appelle un « fashion statement » ! Les mannequins ont des masques d’oiseaux, et rampent à quatre pattes !

Autour de moi, les parisiennes, les japonaises, les gulfies et toutes les autres, elle adooorrent.

Elles ont des orgasmes secs dans les yeux pour chaussures qui déforment les os. Elles rêvent de disparaître dans une taille zéro. Elles se pâment pour des designs qui les détestent. Ca sent mauvais tout ca, ca sent le zyclone B.

Trop dramatique ? Pourtant ce n’est rien de moins que des femmes qui disparaissent. Doucement, méthodiquement, avec le sourire elles payent une fortune pour se faire avoir. Trop souvent la mode, c’est juste un sale type.

Silly Summer Sweetness

Last week we had a few beautiful sunny days. They’re beautiful because there are so few and it makes me roam around the office like a lost koala, daydreaming and being completely useless. We’re all just walking around, going outside for a meal, a cigarette then a chat. the sun is out in Dublin. We take long breaks and then we leave work early for a picnic in the park, so happy to sit outside basking in all this light that we have missed so much. Our bodies remember that we are more than just productivity machines with our asses stuck to chairs that have wheels at their feet. the sun is out in Dublin. It takes me back to lighter places, my notebooks are filled with the hardship of people, stress, loss, but today light is there. I want to force my thought towards a selfish kind of happy, the soft nothingness of last summer ending, and a september day in Istanbul.

He brought sweet wine, the kind teenagers like, but it’ll do. The cheese is good and the olives are fabulous. We eat them with our hands as we pretend to flirt and make sure we achieve a decent volume of conversation before we move on to what we’re meant to do. I’m already in his room but this is the Middle East and we don’t do straight lines. There’s always some complication, some twisted plot before we can get to what we’re meant to do.

In the beautifully sunlit hotel room, large gulps of insignificant Turkish wine mark the intervals of our insignificant conversation. Because I’m a lady and these are silly times, it makes sense for me to drink enough to pretend I wouldn’t act like this sober. Is it so wrong to not want conversation? Like…seriously, I don’t wanna talk at all. We navigate the twists and social knots, we jump through cultural loophole and thankfully the charade doesn’t last too long. At least he brought condoms, saving me the trouble to take mine out of my purse.

The sex is quiet and long and soft. Particularly lazy and lustful Mediterranean sex…the kind that people have had for centuries when they take a day off and have the city to themselves. He says corny words I never asked for but it’s ok because it’s such a corny day anyway. It smells like jasmin, how perfectly corny is that…

Somewhere in the back alleys behind Sultanahmet, our thoughts drifts to the random confines of everything and anything and all these thoughts join us here in the room and it’s shocking, sad really, to see how bad they are.

10 times the anger for every happy smile, Sixfold the frustration for every achievement, It feels bad and wrong to enjoy a sweet summer day in the midst of our ugly mess, Jasmin smells so stupid when the Middle East is such a mess.

It’s not fatality when our demons have faces and names so we say them out loud as we reclaim the day.

We’re silly people you and I, but it’s fun, and necessary and such a gratifying exercise. You nibble my ear, I place a curse on Erdogan, I bite your lip as I wish the plague on Bachar al Assad, Somewhere under the sheet, your tongue in my wetness makes me scream and I summon the Goddess Maat to bring justice to Egypt, Saudi and Sudan. Then hours later, a million hours later, when I have landed back on the bed, back in your room, smoking a cigarette, I am still cursing the monster Baghdadi.

We’re all giggly and exhausted, I have my head out the window so I can smoke and you’re still enumerating corruption cases in Iran. With each puff of my cigarette I cast a spell on every name your say. While I’m at it, I hiss some hate at the stupid loophole knotted culture when it’s so much better to live naked and honest. It’s all so corrupted, that’s why innocent people die.

We reinvent the world, banish famine and religion, we imagine the Middle East that could have been; where everyone would have soft cotton sheets and a beautiful sunlit room to enjoy the magic that human bodies can do. A place where every day could be a sunny, sweet, easy, lazy, silly, happy summer day for everyone, the kind of day everyone deserves to have.

Learning rubbery morals, down the rabbit hole we go

I remember that time you called me in the middle of the night, sounding very upset but unable to tell me why.

That nameless guy you were seeing, the one you never introduced to your friends, he never called to confirm he got home safe, never texted you back and there was a heavy storm outside that night.

Too sleepy to assemble the pieces, I just asked if you at least called him. That’s when I heard you trying to strangle a sob. No you couldn’t call, what if you woke him up!

Your stories never made sense; they always had so many holes. I wanted to hug you through the phone but for the longest time I never said anything, and just watched you alone with your burden.

Never being able to tell us what’s on your mind.

Looking at us, knowing we know, pretending nobody knows.

People staring, whispering, being mean to you.

Having to leave work early and getting home late, never able to explain where you are from 5 to 8.

Cancelling plans with your friends when he had time to meet up, joining us at the last minute anyway because he couldn’t make it. Never explaining why you couldn’t plan ahead.

Checking your phone all day long for texts, but rarely phone calls.

Then again I was so very innocent back then, so stupidly radical and so ridiculously judgmental, way beyond anything I ever had the right to claim. Maybe it’s for the best that we never mentioned it all this time. Back then, I wouldn’t have known how to tell you that it’s ok, that we all need to fall down our rabbit hole and sometimes, sometimes or very often, it’s not going to be what our parents dreamed up for us. Sometimes or very often, we’re cast in roles that are harder to perform.

Today, with wiser eyes and softer edges, I can see the color gradient in a world I once thought was sharply black and white. Grey areas are everywhere now, and real sin nowhere in sight. We all end up rolling in mud one way or another; we have to be ok with it or go mad.

It’s like alcohol. The first sip of beer at the family table tastes sour and unpleasant. You’re a teenager and although you want to want the beer, sodas still taste so much better. Wine is bitter and whiskey is simply foul so you might start off with fizzy sugary cocktails until you get the hang of it. One day you’re drinking vodka straight from the bottle and that’s when your taste buds are tamed…

…or that’s when your moral absolutism is adjusted, made flexible, rubbery even. That’s when you become an adult who doesn’t drown in the ways of the world.

Of course, you can wrap it in a veneer of sophistication and make it fine wine, pretend you’re enjoying the malt in your scotch or whatever makes you feel better. Either way, the trick is finding what works for you, and you must be very careful not to go too far. Alcoholics are punished by never being allowed another drink. Isn’t that a chilling fate? Sinners who cross the fuzzy line and make a bigger mess than they can handle are kicked out of the playground.

I’m still learning but I’ll get the hang of it eventually.

The Chardonnay Slumber Party For Reluctant Grown-ups

It’s the girl’s night in that trumps all girl’s nights in.

The night in you have when you’re 30, home for the summer, and you’re reconnecting with people you haven’t thought about in ages.

Like a slumber party, with girls from school you don’t know that well but your parents are friends so you’re stuck.

At least there’s Chardonnay now so it’s fine.

Once upon a time, we shared a school playground but back then we had nothing to say to each other. Somehow we reconnected on Facebook and since we’re all in Lebanon this week, we just HAD TO meet up.

This is the first time we meet as 30-something. It happened a bit randomly, us reconnecting, and I went there like it was a chore, but really I had nothing better to do. The older I get, the fewer friends I have in Lebanon, the harder it gets to coordinate reunions with friends scattered around the globe. That’s the real reason we’re all here tonight, we have nothing better to do while we’re visiting the family in a country that we all plan to return to someday.

Same schools, same socio-economic backgrounds, same age, similar starting-points, such different paths. The differences that didn’t matter when we were 13, the lifestyle choices that seemed funny or secondary when we were 22, this is when they all feel very real.

Yes, this is what it all comes down to:

These are the Louboutins you can afford if you study hard, go to engineering school and become a banker.

This is how bad your skin looks and how bad your liver feels if you did too much drugs in your early 20’s.

This is the haircut you get when you live in Dubai.

This is the accent you get when you live in Ireland. 

We are the closest thing to each other’s alternative reality, we are each other’s “what might have been”, if only we had done things differently. There’s no lesson to learn though, it’s too late for that. For the first time in our lives perhaps, we can see to what extent our paths have irremediably diverged and there’s just no going back.

30 is very grownup.

30 is not 28.

30 is no joke.

This is not a drill, why do we still feel so unprepared?

White wine is poured, white whines too. Small, innocent complaints, random nagging, stories from around the world, life events, things we need like to tell each other because we’re all so far from home now and the point of no return is still so new it hurts. Not just in life but geographically, it’s now clear we’ll always be far apart, so we savour our random girl’s night in and pretend we never got lost.

The older you get, the more you value those precious people who knew you before you were an adult. Those who knew you before you made a mess of your life, before the discreet plastic surgery, those who know your mother’s cooking, those who knew you before you took all the wrong turns, those who pronounce your full name with the right accent.

We can pretend it doesn’t matter and forget that one of us has a baby and a mortgage, that some of us still live like teenagers, that one of us just had to move back home and that one of us has had cancer. We can pretend life did not happen, that we’re still in our playground, gossiping about classmates whose last names we forgot. We can pretend just for tonight.

It feels so good to hear people say my name with the right accent.

Incoherent thoughts because I think I want to stay

This woman I know well… She lives her life like it’s performance art, always on the edge of disaster. She craves attention like her daddy left her at the crib. She smokes cigarettes like cancer is salvation. She’s like her country and it’s not pretty, but oh boy is it shiny!

Her crazy high-heeled shoes are neatly aligned on her bookshelves and it looks cooler than an Almodovar movie set, sometimes there’s still dirt or dog poo on the sole of what is certainly not a genuine Manolo. It’s just all so awkwardly glorious.

And when I think of her, I fondly think of Lebanon, and Downtown Beirut in the very early days of the millennium. Yeah I love the dead inelegance of Beirut’s kinky shiny downtown. My parents, who have known its old souks and dirty streets decades ago, do not approve. The artsy Hamra crowd certainly does not approve, neither do the artsy fartsy Ashrafieh cool kids.

It doesn’t get enough love because it screams MONEY, And because the nouveaux-poor love to hate the nouveaux-riches, And because all the other obvious clichés

Anyway, that’s beside the point. I love it. I’m not talking about lively Uruguay Street, or the occasionally busy Beirut Souks. I love the dead corners around Parliament Square, those destined for tourist who are not there, where restaurant chairs got old and rusty before enough people sat on them, where ice cream shop employees are always on a cigarette-break because nobody ever buys ice cream. Its tackiness screams survival. It says you can reinvent yourself, and not be what you were born to be… But that’s no way to love a city, like a weird curiosity to observe, that’s not OK. So many things are not OK… Real life is not OK. The hopeless look in my friend’s eyes as she tries to comfort her 2-year-old son, terrified by the sound of fireworks. Behind them, someone jokes that the kid will need to toughen up when Da’esh comes.

It stopped being funny a while ago, but crap humor is a coping mechanism like no other.

Showing tourists around Byblos and telling them to just ignore the soldiers, their big guns and their random tank on the harbor. Just close your eyes and imagine what could have been, what can still become.

Is there still time to dream beautiful plans for Lebanon?

At a yacht club, hotties in Armani are tanning, trying to ignore the sewage waste in the Mediterranean right in front of them. There are tanning next to sewage waste!

Lebland is beautiful, just ignore all the crap.

I am home for the summer, trying to pretend I’m better than those who treat home like it’s a hotel. Occasionally running into people from high school, we do a quick headcount: Those who left, those who stayed, a few returning, every choice loaded with significance perhaps, but we’re not sure what. Stay…leave….return…never return. To stay is as political as it is poetic in the hope it carries. In the despair in carries. Stay but make it count. Make your mark. Make a baby, build a company, be something and if you fail, fail with splendour. No-one will notice anyway. To leave is an act of survival as much as it is an act of lunacy in the hope it carries. Leave but do something great. Build an empire, climb a mountain, and let them know your name and the name of your country. If you fail, nobody will ever say your name.

She lives her life like it’s performance art, always on the edge of disaster. She always thought the future would give her more, She thought Chanel and Cartier would be in the cards, But she was dealt fake Manolos with dog poo instead. Still she makes it all shine while she still can.

La Java-niaise

Grisonnant et agaçant, tu ne plais plus et tu le sais. Même tes étudiantes de première année ne sont plus impressionnées, surtout pas la jolie boulotte aux yeux verts, tout le problème est là.

C’est pour ça que tu paniques, que tu as trop bu ce soir, et que tu m’appelles au secours. La jolie fille toute ronde aux yeux verts se fiche de toi. Tes CDs de Gainsbourg et de Ramallah Underground, tes livres de Nick Cave, elle s’en fiche !

Elle n’a probablement jamais acheté de CD et d’ailleurs elle ne sait pas qui est Nick Cave. Et puis, elle n’a pas le temps, elle doit travailler pour rembourser à la banque son prêt étudiant. Les temps sont durs, même si tu ne le sais pas. Plus personne n’a le temps, et toi tu n’es pas encore vieux.

Obsolète. Tu es comme mon Walkman Sony jaune que j’avais à 10 ans. Comme mon Discman qui lui a succédé, et puis mon IPod qui ne sert plus à rien depuis que mon portable l’a remplacé. Personne n’a le temps de te chercher pour te faire recycler, alors tu traines dans la poussière, oublié au fond d’un tiroir. Le futur que tu espérais n’aura jamais eu lieu, le passé que tu as voulu non plus.

Alors tu t’ennuies, tu postes trop de selfies sur Facebook, sans comprendre à quel point c’est ridicule. Tu as même envoyé un Poke aux yeux verts ! Un Poke sur Facebook !
Tes citations de Gainsbourg 3 fois par jours, on s’en fiche aussi. Comme des photos de couchers du soleil à Rio, les liens que tu partages pour une bonne cause, tes commentaires sur les photos des autres, tes exercices de style. Personne n’a le temps de faire attention à ta page Facebook.

Arrête de te plaindre, tu n’es pas à plaindre, même si tu fais pitié.
Le recueil de poèmes que tu as publié il y a 20 ans a glané une poignée de prix, mais plus personne ne s’en rappelle.
Aujourd’hui tu écris parfois des slogans pour l’agence de pub d’un cousin.
Tu donnes des cours pour enseigner ce que tu ne sais pas à des jeunes qui rêvent encore.
Tu a faillit être quelqu’un, mais seulement faillit
Et puis la vie a repris son cours, sans toi. Le monde lent et langoureux que tu aimes n’a rien à faire ici.

Même moi j’ai mieux à faire que de t’écouter. Et moi j’en ai surtout surtout marre d’écouter La Javanaise et Gainsbourg que j’ai toujours trouvé plouc. Tu l’aurais su si tu écoutais autre chose que le son de ta propre voix et celle de cet absurde individu qui, somme toute, n’a jamais rien fait de très transcendant. Bruler de l’argent à la télévision, quelle idée !! Il y a trop de guerres, trop de chômage, trop de réalité qui réclame notre attention a grands cris. Non, vraiment désolé, personne n’a le temps, ni pour toi, ni pour Gainsbourg, ni pour sa Javanaise.

White Collar Office Blues

So I’ve gone corporate.
And it’s a weird world out there.
Not a job but a lifestyle, a never-ending toothpaste commercial.
By far the best lifestyle I ever had by the way.
Like…seriously.

So smile, and don’t you dare not show those pearly whites.
Smile. Nobody here is afraid of wrinkles because they’re all so very young with great skin, the product of a lifetime of balanced nutrition and regular attendance at the gym.

It’s like college in American movies and the thing that makes this place magic is also what eats away at it.
27 year-olds stressed out because time is running out, wishing they could go back to being 19 and do things right this time.
35 year-old looking around and feeling alone.

Smile you’re one of the lucky ones,
Unless you’re feeling trapped.

Don’t you fucking dare not smile!
No place here for the un-perfect.
The atmosphere grows thick with internal monologues just left hanging there, for everyone to taste and ignore:
Did I speak enough at the meeting? did they see what a special snowflake I am?
Did I speak too much? Did I sound too negative? That would be the worst thing to be.
Am I giving all I can give? Everything? Everything everything? Surely there’s more left in me, I need to find it and give it now!
I need another chocolate bar.
Someone saw me overeating; they can all see I’m an emotional eater, that I’m not strong enough.
Why did they have lunch without me today, should I make more of an effort to show I’m a cool person to work with?
What if they find out I don’t really know SQL?

They have kayaking gear and carefully curated personalities.
They’re so lucky to be here, so privileged and special.
They’re so lucky to touch the aura of all that amazingness.
It’s glorious, that pink bubble of gum.

Nothing else in the world matters more.

That was not even a joke.

It’s the Willy Wonka factory. Any day now they’ll see I’m a fraud and drown me in the chocolate river.
I don’t want to be called out.

But, somewhere inside my head there’s a song.
A red banner and a raised fist.
The need to shout, revolt and break things.

The key is to believe that bubble gum can mend everything.
Work in progress.

Like a Christmas chick flick with the Night Watch

Four women traveled North to see the Northern lights.

The Strong One was too strong; she kept head-butting things, never on purpose. Just because she was so strong in her resolve to always do what’s right. We all know this inevitably gets you in trouble.

The Smiley One was kind and fun. You’d never guess how sad she really was, mourning a loved one who left the party way too soon.

The Happy One had worked hard at being happy. It hurt her that much more when sometimes things worked hard the other way.

The Dreamer spent too much time dreaming. She stared into the proverbial abyss and found a big pile of nothing staring back. She also loved Game of Thrones and hoped wisdom would come with winter.

Far away in Tromsø, up there in the Arctic Circle maybe they’d age a year in a week?

Cameron Diaz could star in this movie, and of course Queen Latifah should play me.

The great North was a landscape of poetry proving right every redundant cliché, with luminous nights and voluptuously dark fires.

Except the girls kept slipping on ice, falling and getting bruises. They were just too angry and too tipsy for the North. On snow and ice, you must walk slow and take thoughtful steps or you’ll fall flat on your ass. They learned how to leave their baggage behind and walk with a purpose in the process, thinking every movement and each step.

That was a good lesson.

They were also too loud, and it bothered the Northerners. The girls had to learn to be quiet and patient when they spoke. Their minds were too crowded with blue thoughts and bits of anger. They couldn’t hear the snow talking, and it gave them migraines. They had to look and listen, so they forced their brains quiet and focused.

That was an interesting lesson too.

How very Eat Pray Love right? This is the part where at least one of them meets a man, maybe a hot Jon Snow?

That part doesn’t always happen in real life. Mostly it was random conversations with randomly interesting people: a chef proud of his work in fancy restaurant, a Portuguese heavy metal musician, a freegan German tour guide.

What matters more is all the fun they had exploring the food J

Potato, leek and turnip are the vegetables of the North. Not an eggplant in sight, no hint of a good tomato. No sunshine at all. Fish is fermented, the meat salted and dried, lutefiske (fish softened in water and lye served with mushy peas) was a dark adventured in itself! The unfamiliar served in a platter! It all felt so medieval…in a good way, like a festive feast in the castle! It was a World of Warcraft Christmas banquet.

Things were going well.

On November 19 everything went wrong.

The Smiley one drank too much and remembered things were not OK. The Strong one got upset, tried to break another wall and hurt herself, things were not going right. The Happy one got sad news, things were not going her way. The Dreamer went online to upload vacation pictures on Facebook and read the news from home.

23 dead and 160 injured on November 19, 2013.

In her anger she forgot to take a thoughtful step so she slipped and fell on the ice. The others were each in their own little hell too. One hid in the closet, another in another bottle of beer. Someone put played loud music and nobody wanted to do the dishes.

And when they took a walk together, the North worked its magic. It made them slow down, think quietly, accept that things were not right. The North was still there, as imposing as the impossible improbability of Norwegian cuisine, even when everything sucked. The complicated world, the hurtful nonsense of everything, it was also still there, but they could cope. They could move forward on snow and ice.

Boucles brunes et des nœuds plein la tête!

Take all your problems
And rip ’em apart
Oh Oh Oh
Carry them off
In a shopping cart
Oh Oh Oh

Galway-Dublin en bus sous une pluie de juillet, la batterie de mon portable est vide et j’en suis réduite à écouter deux californiennes qui discutent soins capillaires derrière moi. Elles ont des accents de Valley-Girls, gorgés d’un soleil qui n’a pas sa place de ce coté de l’Atlantique. Et puis surtout, elles m’énervent. La voix la plus aigue est catégorique : les coiffeurs sont la race du mal et les séchoirs l’instrument du diable. D’ailleurs ca fait 5 ans que sa chevelure n’a pas vu de peigne.

Pas besoin de me retourner mais je le fais quand même pour trouver un joli visage encadré par un magnifique rideau de cheveux lisses, comme un chatoyant halo de soie. Sous ma tignasse ébouriffée je frémis de jalousie en pensant à toutes les fois où mes cheveux sont partis en guerre, subi brushing et plaques de céramique, lissages chimiques et aérosols asphyxiants, sans que jamais, mais vraiment jamais, je ne sois aussi bien coiffée que cette fille dans le bus, en fin de weekend à la campagne, un jour de pluie.

Dans les pubs, les jolies filles sèchent leurs cheveux mouillés au dessus d’une bouche d’égout. Moi c’est plus compliqué. Tout, en général, pour moi, est plus compliqué. Du moins c’est ce qu’on m’a dit souvent: « Tu es trop compliquée, tu compliques tout ». La phrase méchante qui racle l’air comme une injure pour me faire taire. Comme si je le faisais exprès de ne pas vouloir être lisse et simple.

Cut up your hair straighten your curls
Well, your problems hide in your curls

Ils ont raison Meg et Jack, dans ma tête comme dessus, ça frise, ça boucle. Ça pousse lentement, en hésitant parce que ça ne sait pas ou aller, ça fait des noeuds et puis ça s’envole tout les mauvais sens. Ca s’énerve, ça s’exprime, c’est imprévisible et pas toujours joli, ça réagi mal au brossage, même dans le sens du poil et puis et ca s’électrise. Ça tourne en rond trop souvent, parce que je n’aurais jamais l’assurance ni l’évidence de la californienne aux jolis cheveux.
Ce n’est pas faute d’avoir essayé, ma toison noire je l’ai voulue bleue ou rousse, je l’ai voulue lisse et soyeuse, j’y ai ajoute des extensions qui m’arrachaient le scalp, je l’ai tuée à la Kératine et quand j’en ai eu vraiment marre, je me suis rasée les tempes pour mieux m’énerver quand ça a repoussé n’importe comment.

Ma théorie n’a fait que s’affirmer avec le temps et maintenant j’en suis sure, au risque de paraître plus niaise que je le suis: dans la vie, il y a les filles qui ont du mal a se coiffer, et puis les autres.

J’ai toujours voulu ressembler aux autres. Celles qui ne passent pas trois heures devant le miroir pour un résultat pitoyable. Celles qui peuvent se lâcher les cheveux sans « faire désordonné » comme dit ma mère. Enfants, elles avaient des bandeaux mignons, et moi des queues de cheval, souvent mal faites. Occasionnellement, j’avais droit a des millier de petites nattes : a droite, la femme de ménage éthiopienne qui travaillait chez mes parents striait mon crâne a toute vitesse et d’une main experte ; a gauche, plus laborieusement, ma mère tentait de l’imiter. J’aimais bien ça mais j’aimais moins la curiosité antipathique des autres personnes et leurs rictus débile en commentant sur mon « originalité » avec des « yiii chou mahdoumé » un peu jaunes.

Parce que je ne voulais pas être originale. Je voulais etre comme les autres.

Un soir de Sainte Barbe, pour compléter un costume de Morticia Adams, le premier brushing professionnel de ma vie a été une véritable révélation. L’adolescente pas très soignée que j’étais est vite devenue accro au brushing à 5.000 livres libanaises offert par beaucoup de coiffeurs à l’époque. D’innombrables passages plus tard, j’ai aujourd’hui plus rarement envie de me faire bruler le crâne de façon regulière, mais je reste fascinée par ces usines de quartier qui lissent lissent lissent a la chaine, dans le bruit des séchoirs et du générateur, l’odeur de brûlé et la chaleur, toute la journée. Chez Simon, Baha, Toni, Khalil, (Pour une raison qui m’échappe, les professionnels de l’esthétique se passent de nom de famille), on lisse, on répare des petits désastres (surtout les miens, quand je me coupe les cheveux moi-même en pleine crise de nerf nocturne), on crie parfois « Walaw demoizel Haram! » si les cheveux courts ne sont pas a la mode. On rajoute des extensions blondes en servant du café et en discutant de la soirée a venir. On fait venir l’esthéticienne pendant que la teinture teint et on allume une cigarette sans demander la permission. On s’impatiente quand une autre cliente passe avant et on lit des anciens numéros de Mondanité. Moi j’aime regarder les femmes qui se regardent, quand elles draguent le shampouineur de 16 ans et quand ca sent bon le cheveu brulé.

Mais je m’égare et l’américaine derrière le bus m’énerve encore. Elle me rappelle une amie, blonde lisse et américaine aussi, qui se coupait la frange elle-même. Bien sure, pour elle c’était facile. Nous étions toutes les deux étudiantes à Londres et fauchées. Par peur de paraître futile, je jugeais nécessaire de lui cacher que je maintenais ma coupe pixie bouclées chez un coiffeur hors de prix de Knightbridge parce que tout est plus compliqué quand les cheveux frisent. Mon amie américaine comme nos voisines indiennes aux chevelures de rêve n’auraient pas compris. Elles « adoorent » mes boucles et ne comprennent pas le fardeau qui vient avec.
Ou peut-être que c’est vraiment moi. Cheveu frisé ou pas.

…your problems hide in your curls

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Not my finest post but I’m thinking of writing in French every now and then, hopefully next time I’ll be less rusty.

It’s not polite to say I don’t like Persian food and it’s not cool to be Maronistani – Political wankering in East London

Sitting in a circle on the floor of someone’s East London bedsit, we’re discussing the evils of cultural appropriation. There’s an American who misses Iranian pomegranate juice, an Iraqi and a Russian are debating whether London “makes more sense” than NYC, then complain about the price of rent everywhere, even in Berlin! Even in Lagos!

We should walk into a bar…

Instead, someone cracks a Hannah Arendt joke. I’m not sure I get it because I’ve never read anything by Hannah Arendt, maybe a couple of reviews here and there, just enough to preserve a veneer of culture with reasonable credibility to survive moderately academic circles. I’m not that well read and whatever I did read, usually in the adrenaline rush of writing a last-minute dissertation, left nothing more than fog in my brain.

I lost track of the conversation about half an hour ago but someone just said the words “post-racial” and now there’s a debate going on… I feel should contribute. I should sharpen my Gramsci and brush up on my Castells.  They’re throwing around obscure references and never-ending quotes that may or may not make sense. It’s not like we’re listening to each other anyway.

Privilege… oppression… the difference between a migrant and an expatriate. Semantic bubbles fly around the room, heavy with the smell of whatever it is that my friend cooked for us. I don’t like her food. If I said that, I’d probably get a long lecture on how it’s not politically acceptable to discard the ancient and varied Persian culinary tradition (“ancient” and “varied” said with emphasised reverence).

She can’t cook. I don’t like overcooked vegetables, or the spices overload she’s addicted to, or undercooked basmati rice but we agree that all choices are politically motivated so it’s not polite to say I don’t like my friend’s food…

Instead I just play the vegetarian card. I don’t really like meat anyway but they don’t know that so they think it’s an admirable political commitment. It’s cool to love non-European food; it’s also very cool to eat on the floor. It’s cool to be Nigerian, Arab or Burmese but we’re careful to pretend we don’t treat our friends like fashion accessories. Exotic is good, but it’s not OK at all to say it explicitly. We’re horrible wankers. As a Middle Easterner, I’ve got a fair amount of clout, except I would be more interesting for them if I came from a better defined history of oppression and less engrained capitalism. Maronistan is not authentic enough, not interesting enough.

If we were brave enough to grab a mirror this is what we’d see: Useless media degrees and the luxury to read Marx all day long. Getting graded for intellectual masturbation as we contribute nothing of use to society. We may not drive Lamborghinis but it’s hypocritical to forget that we are privileged because we’re in our 20’s and 30’s, discussing the politics of oppression in an East-London bedsit, complaining about the price of rent in Lagos.

I guess it’s mean of me to say that… I know it’s wrong to deny anyone an opinion, I also know my friends are brave and smart and their voices matter, that academia at its best and at its worst can move people and mountain. But…we’re such wankers.

Epilogue:

Our friendship survived, cemented not threatened by relentless criticism of each other’s life choices. I love my friends, brilliantly beautiful individuals. Collectively, we can be an irritating bunch, plagued by unoriginal condescending assertiveness.

Two or three of them are now exceptional scholars, doing important and relevant work. They’re not the ones you’d expect I must say, certainly not those who once screamed the loudest.

The pothead raised over a million dollars for some super-smart development initiative in his rural hometown.

The revolutionary works in the oil industry…

I’m still a fraud, and I’m still not sure what I’m doing.

Strawberry tart and a letter to 12 year-old me

I don’t know if it already started, maybe soon, maybe last year, but just in case you don’t know yet my darling, shit is about to hit the fan.

Everything will hurt. It will last a very long time.
You’re about to be hurt for a thousand years.

You wanted something else, and you wanted more, but what I know, and what you don’t know yet, is that it’s gonna be fine anyway.

And how I wish I could tell you…

Don’t listen to them, to the parents and teachers and friends who will stab your brain with their tolerant smiles, uncomfortable silences and absurd chuckles as they tell you time will fix you.
You are not broken.
I can see they already told you that time will smooth out your edges; turn your angles into soft and manageable curves.
Baby they are dead wrong, I promise you, they are wrong.
You are fine, you are great, you are GRAND as they say here. Your edges are ok, your principles don’t need compromise.
And their words, they are poison.

How I wish you already knew that there is nothing they can teach you.
I know you’re already not listening to me, that you’re letting them break you, and that it’ll take another decade to undo all the harm they’ve done.

The good news is that you are stronger than you think (and other things Winnie the Pooh says); strong enough for me to find you again, so many years later, and now it’s ok. That’s the one promise I can make.

Listen to Bikini Kill, Listen to them a lot more, try to understand that what you have is strong, that you can happen to people and things, just as much as people and things will happen to you.
Stay kind, it does not make you stupid. Don’t let them make you so hard.
Don’t let them tell you your lipstick is tacky, your hair unkempt, your t-shirt too childish.
Don’t let them bully you into smiling when you don’t want to.
Don’t let them zombie you to death.

Would you listen to me if I kicked you in the face?
Probably not.

You will listen to them, and do as they say.
And it will not fix you, and it will not make you sane.
Because you are not broken, and because you are ok.

Then again, maybe it’s meant to be. How else are you supposed to learn?
At least you will learn, you will learn so much.

But all these years lost, it still makes me a little bit sad.
You like Strawberry tart. You like eating all the strawberries first. Only after that can you go for the cream beneath it, making sure its all gone before biting into the pastry base that you like to eat dry.

But that’s a silly way to eat! People stare, and they ask with a stupid sneer: “What’s the use of a tart then? if you’re eating each ingredient alone!”

I used to know but I don’t anymore, you haven’t had a strawberry tart in 17 years.

The Doudou shots tasted a little like blood

For as long as I can remember, bombs and bombing have been a fact of life. We sometimes mourn the dead for a day, that’s it.

Until the next one.
There is always a next one.
And somehow we pretend we didn’t hear.

I went home last week, for Christmas and all that.
I had kibbeh, tabboule, fattoush and imposed a permanent all-you-can-eat ma’ouche buffet in my mother’s kitchen. I drank the beer of my teenage years, even if compared with glorious Irish stout, my darling Almaza tastes like really bad lemonade. I saw all the places and people I’ve been missing for 5 months: serious Mar Mikhael hipsters, smiling cool kids in Hamra, scary botoxed alien women with impossibly smooth foreheads at the hairdresser’s, weird old taxi drivers shouting obscenities out the windows of vintage cars.

I had ginger cookies made by my poor mother who was torn between the despair of having a fat daughter, and the maternal need to feed me food I’ve been missing. As I was having a second serving of fattet batenjein while requesting a knefe for breakfast the next day, she told me how happy she is that I’m living abroad.

I hate it when she says that.

And she told me (again) the story of her swimsuits.

It was summer; she had just bought new swimsuits when the civil war started (“exploded” as she said in French). Her swimsuits were all left at Saint Simon beach, where my grand parents had a cabin. She never went there again, and she never got to wear the brand-new swimsuits.

It’s odd, the random details we remember when major events fuck up our lives. Sometimes, the thought of being away from Lebanon when disaster strikes is what keeps me awake in anguish at night, I wonder which item I’d miss most if I’m locked out…

The photo albums I never had time to scan and digitize,
My gold necklace made of my grandfather’s worry beads,
All my books?
Maybe something random like old posters I refuse to throw away

And where will all the people go? All the friends I need to see to stay sane? Most of them are already scattered across the globe, where will we meet? where will we hope to return?

And then a bomb exploded, and innocent people were murdered. We stopped counting the bombs and the people a looooong time ago.

We went out to pretend it was still Christmas and the doudou shots had the metallic taste of blood.  People on the table next to me talked about a revolution, about immolation.

But there is no country to save
Were we ever a nation to begin with?
What’s our national cause anyway?

I don’t know, but when it was time to leave Beirut, I just packed a carry on.

I left my jewellery with my mom again,
I didn’t scan the old photos,
I didn’t take my books.

I will not be locked out of my country.

My country.
Mine.

Today there was another blast, and my Irish beer tastes like blood.
People are being murdered on the street. Don’t pretend you didn’t see.

Anger goes well with Merlot

Sometime it’s hard to be mature, calm and graceful. Well…. most times in my case.
I did well today though… these are the things I did not say:

“Fuck off”
“No, you don’t understand, please go away”
“You have no fucking idea, don’t hug me, go away”
“Shut up”
“I’m too tired to explain, and I don’t give a shit what you read in the news. Whatever I say, you won’t understand, go away”

Instead I smiled and thanked well-meaning people who all are “very sorry about what’s happening in Lebanon and in Syria”.

The thing is, these are genuinely nice people, and relatively well informed, and I really wish I could be nicer to them but it’s exhausting. And they don’t understand. How could they understand. Nice, politically-correct people with solid smiles and positive attitudes.

Tonight, I just want to finish my bottle of wine, be angry, and say outrageous, violent, and hateful things. The world can kiss my ass.

Where do you go when you’re angry?
When you’re sorry you can’t be part of the solution, because you don’t know how.
When you’re afraid that next time you go home, people you need and places you love won’t be there anymore.

I don’t mind that much when I’m in Lebanon. But it’s impossible not to worry when you’re not there.

In RAGMAG!

So much to write about, so little time! (and it looks like I lost this summer’s notebook, been looking everywhere and it’s driving me crazy!!!)

It has been a crazy month as I recently shipped myself to Dublin, a lovely city with lovely  people and great beer but bad at making cocktails and worst at bureaucracy. I’m almost settled now so I hope to have a next post very soon. Meanwhile, you can pick up the August issue of RAGMAG where I wrote a little essay about relationships, turning 29 and refusing to compromise. I’m very excited about this collaboration because it’s perhaps the only magazine in Lebanon that actually cares about publishing interesting content rather than just press releases.

If you read the essay, I’d love to hear your feedback here or on Twitter. Am I right or just a delusional romantic? If you’re outside Lebanon or for some reason don’t have access to the print publication, I’ll post a link here as soon as they post the piece online.

I’ll have my dessert first

Skyping with my friend and she said:

“Really you’re a woman of wonder, every time we think you’re settled, you throw everything away lie a child breaking her own favorite toy. Every time you make a royal mess of your life, and we think you’re about to hit rock bottom, you come up with a new trick and receive the gift of a new beginning. That guardian angel of yours sure is doing a good job!!”

I won’t smile my coy “not sure what you’re talking about” smile because I owe my friend the courtesy of an honest answer. Also because… as random as it may seem, I usually do things on purpose (not, mind you, always with a sense of purpose).

And what I do is…always eat dessert first.

My friend, that guardian angel you think is watching over me? It’s a demon. A demon for the girl of many demons… how appropriate. Anyway he’s my ride and that’s my secret.

Sometimes I think it’s a little unfair, so many people behaved better and reaped no rewards. A guardian angel would have taught me a few lessons in maturity, given me a hard time for my own good. But I’m a summer child and I eat desert first.

Verily, my demon, I love you, and I owe you a lot

Especially that time I was an asshole for driving so fast. You made sure only my pride and my car died on the highway that September afternoon.

11 years later, I’m still amazed my demon made sure I don’t kill anyone in that car crash and every time I come across a not-so-sober-asshole like me, I say a silent atheist prayer hoping their demon is as good as mine.

Thank you for protecting me every time I didn’t protect myself. Thank you for the kindness of strangers, all those amazing people, so many of them loved me and trusted me more than I deserve. There are favors I’ll never be able to return, but I often raise my glass to the blessings and goodwill they brought into my life.

Selfish is the only way to be when you eat desert first. That was an important lesson, one amongst many. That’s the lesson that still burns but I must admit it was well played. And it was worth it. Thank you for all the travels, the second chances, all those times I got to reinvent myself.

Thank you for the lovely crème brulée, the masterful mint sorbet, the very excellent lemon-meringue pie of my life. It’s a rare and wonderful privilege to eat at Lucifer’s table. A sweet thrill of many delights.

Of course, every party has to end.

When the time comes to bite into that disgusting bitter endive salad, with the nasty Roquefort dressing, I’ll do it with a smile I promise, and I’ll still be thankful for ever time I followed the fireworks, ran to the cliff, bungee-jumped with no bungee, and you made sure I landed on my feet.

If for every undeserved sweet moment, I must go through misery ten-fold, I’ll do it gladly. That time will come, probably soon and I don’t mind it, not one bit! Because I don’t want to savor the sweet when I’m 89 and asleep, when I’m in a rocking chair and ready to rest, I want dessert now.

I have to write a report

Banging one’s head on the wall… not just an expression.

I’ve been awake for 2 whole nights.

I have to write a report.

I have to quantify, assess, evaluate what I’ve seen.

People I’ve met, their families, scarred legs, relatives in jail, fear, sadness.

Real sadness, real hopelessness, a reality that reminds that my own blue feelings are bullshit.

I call bullshit on my report.

Nobody’s going to read it, and even if they do… I know enough to know it won’t matter.

Sir, help is not coming. Your life does not matter; you’re not the right country, not the right religion. Your raided house does not matter; Your son, who has been living in hiding for two years, he does not matter.

Budget will not be allocated anywhere it could have a significant impact. Your enemies are too powerful. Your allies are the wrong ones.

In the debate that matters, any other argument will remain purely academic.

I thought I had it figured out, as a consultant, I consulted. I could work with fashion brands, restaurants, and it allowed me to also do “what I really care about”. Human Rights? Riiiiiiiiiiiight…Alright! So glad I’m moving on to a “real” job, in an office, and a manager telling me what to do and what to think.

Sir, if you still think I can help you… you’re in bigger trouble than you can even imagine.

I’m sorry I’m not important enough to change that, and you’re probably even less important than me.

Policy is a bullshit word… I agree.

Instead of answering my silly questions, maybe you should follow your cousin’s advice and learn about explosives.

There I said it.

Hold me, kiss me…Gasoline me.

I usually know how to pick them, and I usually pick those who pour gasoline on my fire.
Nothing like gasoline to clear your head after a long complicated day. That’s why I like psycho wackos and uncomplicated libidos.

You….you measure everything because excess would be bad. You take my body like a commercial airline pilot would take flight ME35 to Paris, always in control. The ride is smooth and the landing soft. Middle East Airline passengers would cheer and clap in unison for you… then again, the Lebanese cheer for anyone who takes them for a ride. (Even politicians riding them straight to hell; but that’s another story).

Is it? Not really, both stories are about getting screwed. #JustSaying…

I noticed that you never ever break eye contact. It’s nice; you’re nice in bed and generous and highly precise with your hands, your mouth, your cock, which never stray away from reasonable erogenous zones. I can enjoy this ride with the sweet certainty that I’ll get my happy ending. It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon and these are my thoughts as I softly rock back and forth on top of you. Damn…you don’t even blink! And.Every.Movement.Is.Perfectly.Paced.

It’s a little annoying.

So intensely focused on me. I bet it’s all a show. I bet you think about Laeticia Casta when you push my legs to the side, or that Cromwell biography on your bedside table when you gently, methodically impale me.

Really, I want to know: What do you think about when we fuck?

Ooops. You don’t call it “fucking”, of course not. I’m sorry about that. But, Darling-Dearest, we don’t use the “L” word either, so what shall we call this? Coitus? Frankly it sounds appropriate enough.

Babe… why are we having Victorian sex?

When we met, I thought I had spotted a wolf in your eye. But you were drunk that night and today you’re not. Yet sex is not everything, it’s you I want, nobody else. I just wish you were a bit more…more.

My Blackberry’s red light is blinking, I wonder if I’ll make my Thursday deadline at work, if I can afford a trip to Rome next month and if I’ll be able to buy an apartment next year. I wonder if my parents will stop nagging me about how I live my life, if the universe will conspire in my favor or not.

Eye contact always. Dude… what are you hoping to see in there? You never look at my ass or between my legs. You’re such a gentleman you won’t even play with my tits counterclockwise.
I know I’m being vulgar. It wouldn’t hurt if you were a little vulgar too. Would you do rude things to me if I asked you? Would you know how?

My Blackberry blinks blinks blinks while you delicately take my breast like it’s a hand-grenade, your kisses are sweet and exactly how they should be.

Great Goddesses of feminism forgive me, but I wish this man would grab my hair.

My phone is still calling me. Exactly how wrong would it be of me to check it for a quarter of a second? I could do it while we switch positions…maybe you wouldn’t mind.
IknowIknowIknow it’s incredibly impossibly rude. It’s horrible and nobody should ever do that.

You carefully grab my hips to switch positions, as planned, as you always do, and it’s so sad that.you.always.do.it.egg.zact.ly…. exactly! Abso-fuckin-lutely!

Like you did yesterday.
Like we’ll do it tomorrow.
It’s fine; it’s perfect, it’s right.

And that’s when I look at my phone, only for a short second

That’s when your hands leave me, and I know I hurt you.

I know because you were hard a second ago and now you’re not. You’re walking away from me.
Ohshitohshitohshitohshitohshit
Just to get a glass of water, and now you’re back. And you’re just standing there.
Ohcrapofcrapohcrapphcrapohcrap

I hate that I hurt your feelings, I really do. You would never hurt my feelings. I should apologize for being so rude. This time I really mean it, but that’s not going to fix anything is it? The thing is, you’re so sensitive it scare me sometimes. Your soul is so much more fragile than mine and it scares me a lot. I don’t know how to be around people with more bruises than me. I want to make you hard again but you just step away and you’re not smiling. You’re confused, and I feel horrible. Your eyes are two big question marks and there’s so much I wish I could tell you:

Rage is good. Rage will do us more good than Aspartame tenderness, since rage is all both of us have in us right now.
If you wanted, we could just screw the worries right out our heads.
Fuck me hard.
I won’t break, neither will you.
I am consumed too, it’s OK, we can burn together.
Be real, be honest, we can handle this. We don’t have to overthink and perform all the time.
It’ll feel good I promise. It’ll feel great.

Please let’s stop having absent-minded Victorian sex, I hate it!

I must have said at least one of these things out loud because at some point you come back to me; and I don’t need to open my eyes to feel every single one of your thoughts exploring every inch of me, including places I never knew existed.
I love that you’re finally not afraid, and I’m finally not afraid.
No, I’ll be honest… at some point I’m almost afraid you’ll go too far, but it’s worth it. Absolutely worth it. I’ve never been more…more.
You grab a chair and move it in front of the bedroom mirror. Oh challenge accepted! I love your smile; I love your smile so much it hurts. Your malicious twinkle is back. Your hungry wolf-ness is back. We’re both just taking what we want. Drinking pleasure from each other for what seems to be an eternity.

What shall I call that? I don’t know what to call that.
I’ll be nerdy and call you my Wolverine.

Hell yeah…Wolverine.

And when we finally explode together… wow.

Yucky detail alert: it’s funny how your semen was scalding hot! Never saw (or felt) anything like it before (or since.)

Anyway…Spectacular! You deserve a standing ovation. Except I’m exhausted and I can’t move because you just fell on top of me, and you look so happy, so rested.

And then…

Finally… both of us blissfully sated.

And we’re so tired.

In my brain and in your brain, everything, every cell is asleep… that is the whole point.

And then….
You: aaaa ohwooowwww *cuddle*
Me: mmmmmmm

I want to push you away and go find personal space like I usually do, but you look so happy, I’m happy too. My brain can’t formulate words just yet anyway.

1h later
You: Sandwich?
Me: Water please
*Eat, drink, sleep*

2h later
You: That was…intense. Consumed, we need to talk about what just happened. Hey, are you OK?
Me: *snores*

I’m not really sleeping… I’m thinking again…. Just a little. All I can think is…

we did it, we figured it out. I’m so glad we did it and I love to hear you laugh.

GoGo Train Wreck Banal (Orzo salad at Doha International Airport)

What kind of sick people make an orzo salad and call it tabbouleh? The Doha airport Costa Cafe people that’s who! Anyway it doesn’t matter, nothing matters, it’s just too early to be at the boarding gate so this will do just fine.

Nothing matters. We’re the bright kids with useless degrees. We’re sooo media, like Gary Shteyngart would say, if his characters had a say.

All around us is Qatar, crazy Qatar that owns PSG and Camden markets and the world. We only see the airport. The temporary version of the airport because the real thing is still under construction.

So here we are, almost 30, and we’ll never have diamonds in our soup. We’re the very qualified and relatively inexpensive workers of a lost planet; Doomed to have no home as we pretend our careers matter.

They don’t.

We will not change the world.
We will not invent ice cubes.
We will survive and not thrive.
We will win health insurance with our jobs.
We will lose health insurance when cancer catches up.

We will sometimes miss “home”, we might “go back” and leave behind everything we built to go looking for a home that has changed without telling us; we might “just stay there” and grow old alone, in a country where our accent is funny and where it’s usually too cold. We might start from scratch somewhere new, we often do, in a place where our accent is also funny, where we have nothing. We will be nostalgic about things that didn’t use to matter: the taste of a good apple and going to the beach every day, 5 months a year.

I can’t tell people I’m sick of living so randomly. I keep changing careers, changing destinations, pretending I know what I want. How do people build lives? I don’t know, don’t know how. I just got an email, a new job, in a new country. I’ll get packing as soon as I get home since I have no reason to stay where I am.

Right now it’s just a Qatar layover, lay over, roll over, submit.

You’re eating a sandwich, we’ve met before, when I had long hair. That was ages ago. The substance of our conversation: I’ve been wearing glasses since I was 2 years old, because that’s how long it took for my parents to discover I’m cross-eyed. So I was the cross-eyed girl, afraid to poke her eyes out with lenses, I wore big spectacles before they were approved by fashion magazines. This is how I can see that you have grey in your hair too and it’s kind of a relief. But we’re young, still young, aren’t we? No we’re not, not really.

So why do I feel so dumb, so bored, so teenage spirit so so so so cold. I’m a grown up, I’m wearing high heels, not that high but look! They’re cobalt blue! Granted, these are wedges, not heels but my ass is improved all the same.

These are the fuck-me pumps of a girl who lives in flats. “Flat-shoe advocate.” That’s what it says in Arianna Huffington’s twitter bio. But I’ll never be Arianna Huffington, I’ll never be successful, I’ll never be anything, and neither will you.

Instead we’re an Edward Hopper scene in drag: everyday sensuality gone cold. In our eyes there’s glitter and gold. And we shine baby! We shine bright.

I have a headache and there’s that Lilly Allen song nagging me “when she was 22, her future looked bright…” Ha!

Let’s be honest, let’s try. I’ll start: The only point is coitus. The only point of a wide array of elaborate, sexy, sensual, cinematic flirting touching smiling conversing, holding hand but it stings. Holding hands stings, kissing burns. He might grunt, look pathetic or (total buzzkill) call out for mother! (happened to my friend’s sister and now all the girls know because, we gossip). she might or might not moan, scream, snort or just fake-pornstar it (apparently my friend’s sister does it, yeah men gossip too). Few things are as unsexy as coitus. Oh what an ugly word! That’s exactly why I use it.

And it’s very wrong what they say about it being a moment of union. It’s isolating as hell because nobody understands; the man whose dick is going limp inside you will not understand what happened a few moments ago… Inside you. Still it’s what keeps us sane, remembering we’re nothing but mammals with lace thongs on a brazilian wax.

This is what we do, this is how we do it. Let’s do it. Everything else is uninteresting.

Let’s pick another plane, let’s not even ask where it’s going and let’s hope it’s Mexico. No, in fact I really don’t care where, Destination is a mute point, destination is always a brick wall.

Haussmanian Bliss

Look at you! Everyone in the room finally knows your name! Ironically enough, I forgot it, but please excuse my goldfish memory. I do remember it was an absurdly medieval European name that you can only find in Lebanon and very Catholic French families who vote Front National. A fortunate choice as it turned out.

Anyway how are you? I almost didn’t recognize you, but yeah look at you now! So relaxed, dominating the conversation, making sure everyone is eating and drinking because you’re home now. Well done! Seriously I’m glad, because last time we met, (what was it, 5, 6 years ago?) I wasn’t sure you’d make it.

It was a big Sunday family lunch at someone’s secondary residence in Nice. 3 generations of loud Lebanese in France, (French of Lebanese origin might be the preferred appellation), mixed with 2 or 3 French wives confirming successful integration. I was a guest passing through, just a good friend. You were someone’s distant cousin, a new arrival, fresh from the much-fabled, slightly despised, homeland. Not everyone knew exactly how you were related, but you were family so they cheered for your homecoming.

We’re about the same age but you looked a bit older to me, also a bit naive and I found you exhausting to talk to. I had never witnessed such an utter state of stress and confusion in another person. Man… you were literally sweating (and this is an appropriate use of the word “literally”). It only got worse when you overheard the teenagers making mean jokes about your haircut and resolutely uncool outfit… In retrospect, I realised you probably thought a lot was at stake for you that day. I think you didn’t see how they loved you already and unconditionally, with all the strength of large families who care about family.

It was a typical close-knit Lebanese clan who had planted new roots all over the world because that’s what they do. The French chapter really started at some point during the civil war: grandma followed her son to a bourgeois Parisian suburb. When another crisis erupted in Beirut (Lebanon becomes Beirut when you leave) she “brought” her other son then found a job for her niece’s husband who, in turn, got his brother a visa after “the Hariri infijar”.

One way or another, the whole family was forced into the great adventure of exile but they pooled resources, worked hard and persevered until they all arrived safely to the sweet shores of Comptoire des Cotonniers stores, shopping for something that looks good with beige pants.

Of course, tabboule was often on the menu, and they sometimes watched old Fayruz videos, but both the videos and tabboule could only really be enjoyed from the comfy perspective of one of the nicer parts of French suburbia. This was their story, a fairly typical one, so typical I thought myself silly for finding it interesting.

Despite your alarmed state, their fulfilled, generous cheerfulness was everything you aspired to, and it showed. Oh your hunger really showed as you tried so hard to impress people who never noticed how much they impressed you. Frankly it was a bit painful to look at. You listened so attentively, kept asking random detailed questions, I never saw anyone try so hard! Your frowned face was a diagram of deep concentration, we were almost afraid to interrupt whatever went on in your head.

And when you finally spoke… oh dear!

In your haste to get rid of your accent, you pronounced everything too fast and it came out gibberish-y so everyone had to ask you to repeat each word as you maintained inadequate speed for such a lovely lazy Sunday. Your choice of newly acquired French slang (from TV?) included at least 2 racial slurs that made the French wives gasp in horror and the teens choke in laughter at the other end of the table.

You knew you had said something wrong, everybody knew you knew, and they knew that you did not know what. Ergo awkward silence and more choked laughter. Teens can be assholes, especially those who did not grow up with the weight of preparing for exile.

You, on the other hand, had been preparing. By the end of the meal you were already planning the rest of your life here, mentioning your visa situation to your lawyer-cousin, inquiring about the businesswoman-cousin’s developing venture and relating it to your past experiences. When everyone was relaxing, enjoying a cigarette, one last glass of wine, you were still alert, standing up straight and focused, calculating ways to worm yourself inside as you collected phone numbers.

Fast-forward a few years and here we are again, Central Paris this time and look at you! Perfectly at home in this perfectly Parisian home, in a perfectly Haussmanian building. Is “Haussmanian” even a word? I don’t know but I bet that you know this sort of things now. You accent is not awkward anymore, the new haircut looks slick and your satisfied grin is proof that you know you’re doing well. Now the racial slurs only come out on purpose, isn’t that nice! You’re still trying a bit too hard but it’ll pass. Soon you’ll even be wearing the right shoes but I’m afraid the tacky watch will never go away.

Now will you please relax for real? Why are you still so exhausting to talk to?! Chill out! And if you think my words are mean, don’t be upset, smile instead. Smile that ugly sneer I dislike, with the comfort of knowing the poison in my words is just cheap bitterness with a hint of petty jealousy, for you have found your place, and the serenity of belonging, of being where you want to be. Me, I’m still trying.

All it Took Was Hayete (and we were eating Boursin)

We were watching TV, drinking wine, snacking in bed and enjoying it immensely because mature people shouldn’t be leaving crumbs in bed.

I was laughing at a particularly funny scene of The Big Bang Theory when you handed me a cracker with a piece of garlic Boursin (yummm) and I distractedly said “thanks hayete”.

And you asked me what “hayete” means. Anyone who knows me should know this word because I abuse it in the most annoying way. And you know me!

Or maybe not that well. A few days before, you had asked me why I read Lebanese local news in English, why I don’t own any books in Arabic, and why I sometimes speak to my Iraqi friend in English. The answer took a whole afternoon. I had to explain my school, basically structured like a French colony; a national education system where math and sciences are either in French or in English, never in Arabic; I had to explain classical Arabic vs. Dialects, and why I think the Dialects should be recognized as official languages. I had to explain confused Lebanon and Beirut my rebellious babe.

Because if you don’t know these things you don’t know me.

And now “hayete”? That tacky irritating over-used term of endearment that carries all the sweetness of Arabia to wash down all the bitterness of Arabia. Yes yes, I’m getting carried away, but I’m nothing if not a drama queen, please don’t act so surprised.

How could you not know this word when our level of intimacy was Garlic In Bed On A Friday Night?

You know me. You’ve been through every centimeter of my body and you’re probably familiar with the cellulite on my ass. You know that in my second drawer on the right, underneath my crazy lingerie collection, I stash a few big cotton knickers for when I get my period. You’ve seen me shave my legs, how could you not notice the history of Lebanon marked somewhere on my skin?

You know everything.

You never judged me when I had anxieties, and you never tried to stop my blue brand of craziness. You were always very careful about everything, except that one time: I still remember the day you noticed the very old, very faint scars on my left arm and you counted them; and then you made me promise I would never ever have any more. I kept telling you the scars were very very old but they made you angry anyway.

You know everything, really everything. It doesn’t matter that we’re done, I’m glad there’s someone out there who knows everything, and I’m glad that it’s you.

But you didn’t understand every word and that thought still makes me sad.

Instant Noodles and Great Sexpectations

I have a little cousin who’s 14. When I talk to him, it scares me to think that his baby-face awkwardness could hide the same fire, the same foolish unformulated lust I once had, when I was 14 and awkward too.

Kids like me stay quiet in the hope of taking up less space. I was the girl who grew so tall one summer that she suddenly had to slouch to fit in group photos; the teenager who grew boobs before growing a thick skin. All the other girls wore the same clothes that never fit me, they had the same hairstyle that I couldn’t figure out. I also knew that soon enough, they’d all look exactly like their mothers, up to the details of their big botoxed foreheads and stupid smiles frozen in perpetual ecstasy for designer shoes.

I didn’t mind because I wasn’t really in boring Lebanese suburbia; oh no, I was on the road with François Villon, Elsa Triolet and Anaïs Nin.

I only started paying attention to reality on the day the new girl joined our class. She was older than us, as tall as me, with bigger boobs that were never hidden. She was loud, and tacky with an impossibly big nose and glitter on her nails. She knew older boys and I thought she was the height of sophistication and experience because she knew how to take the bus to Hamra. She was everything my other classmates were not, and I found it enchanting so I made her my best friend.

Her house had dust-bunnies everywhere and no adult supervision. We did each other’s nails in the kitchen and ate instant noodles with Doritos for lunch. It felt so bohemian! My parents (who hated her) didn’t even know what instant noodles were!

Suddenly I was tired of being quiet. My first act of rebellion was to get my unibrow separated by a cheap neighborhood beautician. I still remember my mother’s unprecedented fit of rage when she saw my butchered eyebrows. Mother was right, eyebrows never really grow back, but it was a meaningless detail compared to the thrill of finally getting to invent myself.

For the first time, being tall for my age presented an advantage. With enough makeup, I could look older, I could look more interesting and more adventurous. I wore long velvet skirts with black lace shirts and bought lingerie that would put a burlesque dancer to shame. I also clumsily mumbled naughty jokes that I thought were sassy (but I don’t think anyone ever heard them). The next logical step was to do what all my heroes did: fiery embraces, glorious fantabulous sexual exploits.

But that’s the thing about my heroes, they were all really good with words and it makes everything seem fantabulous.

I had been flirting with boys for a few months and so far the most notable embraces I had experienced seriously lacked fieriness. Instead they involved unpleasantly sloppy kisses and a boy struggling with my new red bra while I pretended not to notice and kept my shirt on. Still, I was determined to discover what all the fuss was about.

It was a Friday night; we had beer, Doritos and noodles at my friend’s place. There were 4 of us on that sofa: me, a faceless boy playing with my hair, my friend, and her boyfriend. When we turned off the lights, the faceless boy’s hand found its way on my belly. We had planned video entertainment for the evening and I was honestly excited about watching a porn movie for the first time. Somebody pushed play and we saw a random scene featuring at least 3 erect penises and 2 women.

And I thought…

WOW

HELL NO!!!

It was so gruesomely fascinating I couldn’t take my eyes off the scene, but first things first: I not-so-subtlety made sure the boy moved to the other end of the sofa since my friend and her guy had somehow ended up on the floor, presumably doing things I no longer found enchanting.

And then I focused on the issue at hand:

I didn’t even know a woman could open that wide! I mean, theoretically I knew of course, but that remained very very very theoretical until I saw it. What that actress had between her legs resembled some carnivorous flower on speed.

About 20 minutes into the movie, I finally managed to turn off the TV but I was already traumatized by an anal sex scene and some very hardcore deep-throating as the actress kept trying to maintain a look of perpetual bliss, as if to reassure me, while she worked on a monstrously big penis that gave me nightmares for a week.

That Friday night, I essentially concluded that sex was a nasty and violent affair. After doing some calculation, I also decided that there was no physical way for me to actually do it, since penises were too big to fit in my non-pornstar vagina. You see, I had (naively) thought of porn as the theory I could check out, along with the works of Germaine Greer, before taking the big leap.

I was, obviously, an idiot.

Dotty Eating Madeleines From Fauchon (And California Blah)

I used to keep travel diaries but I lost some and destroyed the others. This is an encounter I had in an airport, with an awesome woman named Dotty. I don’t remember much beyond feeling impressed, it’s hard to transcribe here and it was so long ago, but I wanted to talk about her anyway, write whatever I do remember before I forget it all.

Charles de Gaulle Airport, August 2008, we were both killing time at the boarding gate. I had the messy hair and chipped nail polish of travelers in transit. I liked that you had pearls pinned in your white hair, like a child playing dress-up or an ironic twist on the respectability old age supposedly bestows. Boring pearl necklaces are not for the likes of you. Dotty you were once more hot than beautiful, and now you’re an elegant old lady; that’s not an easy transition but you aced it.

Yes you looked like a springtime New Year’s Eve. Not the nice motherly type (you didn’t even offer me one of those madeleines you were eating, straight from the bag bought at the Duty Free Fauchon), no you’re just a hot adventurer who doesn’t mind that she’s now a little bit older than yesterday.

I didn’t notice you at first; I was lost in my travel plans and excitement over crossing the Atlantic for the very first time (San Francisco!!!). I always daydream in airports (I daydream everywhere) but you came and talked to me and I know it’s because my face says “hey, stranger, come tell me your story, please fill my head with your wonderfulness” so you did just that.

You sat next to me, and asked me where I was from, the one-word answer would be my only contribution to the conversation.

“Oh, yes. Lebanon, I had a Palestinian neighbor once, isn’t that close? She was Palestinian but they celebrated Christmas. Are you Muslim or Christian? You also have Jews right? Oh no wait I think my neighbor was Iraki, same skin-tone as yours though”.

Dotty dear, I loved that you actually didn’t give a shit if your neighbor and I were Lebanese, Palestinian, Iraki or Martian. I cannot stress how deliciously refreshing I found your political incorrectness.

You simply wanted to tell your story and I happened to be there. So you told me about that Christmas of 59, when you were alone with 2 kids in a rat-infested apartment. How you almost fell apart, but you chose not to, and that nice neighbor who often invited you and your kids for lunch.

I do appreciate a good story but Dotty, you’re such an inconsiderate narrator! You started here, stopped, and remembered something else; picked up another storyline and forgot. You assumed I understood obscure historic facts, then went on explaining the obvious. Did you enhance any of it? It was exhausting but so fascinating! Unfortunately, 5 years later, I forgot all the fascinating parts. I just remember your resilience.

Her real name was Marguerite, but Dotty was easier to pronounce for the American family that “took her” to Boston when she was just 17. She was a jeune fille au pair and it was her first time away from her village near Nice. Because the East Coast was more fun than the village, she decided to meet a man and stay. He was Polish and together they had 4 kids. 2 of them were already born when Dotty realized he wasn’t making enough money. She thought of leaving him but he was a good man and they had kids so she suggested a move to California “where there was well-paid work for Polish men on construction sites”. He refused but she packed her bags and the kids and just went without him. She was broke, survived by giving French lessons, and against all odds, got her happy ending when a few months later her husband finally showed up.

Dotty you don’t choke on life do you? Did you always have it figured out? Were there moments of doubts? You move forward anyway.

Stubborn Dotty, as stubborn as her own mom. Actually when we met at the airport, Dotty was on her way back from her mother’s who was at the hospital with a broken hip following a car accident. The 90 year-old lady refused to stop driving but kept crashing the car and this time her hip crashed as well! Dotty was very annoyed because the trip made her miss her grandson’s birthday.

Your mother Dotty?!?! All I could think of was how amazing it was that her mother was still alive while she looked so old herself! In my family, grandparents consider themselves lucky to live long enough to see their grand-kids. This is because we’re confused people who over-think values, question life, and let ourselves be savagely consumed by worries. We only reluctantly bring children into the world, like an afterthought we’re afraid to regret later.

Marguerite, Dotty, you never lost you way, or did you? I’m really glad you were the first person I met on my trip. You’ll forever be my California, my San Francisco, my Golden Gate. If you had seen what I saw, you’d understand.

What I saw was damn ugly! Hordes of tourists roaming around Haight-Ashbury, looking for bits and piece of the Summer of Love in a Jimi Hemdrix t-shirt and a Janis Joplin poster. My friend took a picture of me in front of the City Lights bookstore (because, at the time, I still had hopes to write a novel of my own someday) and by doing so, we just added a coat of slime to the legend.

Then again, what else was I supposed to be doing in San Francisco? I was a tourist too, just another onlooker watching old hippies waiting to die without healthcare. The smartest of them had joined the commercialization of San Francisco’s interesting past; they kept their hair long and clothes colourful to attract more customers into their cool bookshops, thrift stores and eccentric cafés. There were also so many homeless old people, like children who suddenly grew old and didn’t understand why the music stopped. Tourists took pictures of them too and then gave them a dollar. It was obscene.

Oh there were young people too, I went dancing with them in San Jose where everyone is a computer scientist and much smarter than me. Back then, the revenge of the nerds was in full swing and these whizz kids were milking it for all its worth. But it was a Thursday night and the Silicon Valley is just another factory town so at 1AM the music stopped mid-song, the lights were brutally turned on and everyone formed an orderly line towards the exit as the staff started cleaning up the club. To this day, it remains one of the biggest cultural shocks of my life.

The next day I woke up in random suburbia, I forgot the name but there were Starbucks cups and Louis Vuitton bags everywhere, the ugly monogrammed bags that everybody owned at the time. It was weird and sad like old fluorescent plastic.

Anyway, what I want to say, Dotty, is that I’m glad we met before I boarded that plane. California disappointed me but you didn’t. Dotty I’ve been typing away for almost one hour to explain what I mean, but it doesn’t work, I keep deleting everything. Cole Porter is more accurate and more eloquent:

Moving On: The Job Interview

I should have said something to the confused parking attendant who clearly was wondering if I was a dangerous psycho, or just a harmless psycho. Maybe he thought I was crying because he charges LL7.000 for 1h of parking in Hamra.

All I could do was sit there in my car, smile stupidly, feeling the warm tears flow out as the tension slowly evaporated and my head, as much as my heart, came back to life.

Sir if you’re reading this, please know that there’s nothing wrong with me (well… nothing too dangerous anyway), I was just enjoying my return to life, I’m really sorry for bringing my confusion into your parking lot. I was just at a job interview… and something wonderful happened!

I can’t believe it took so long, what a draining process.

Denial
His departure was scheduled, our ending was agreed upon. After that, there would be no reason for us to ever be in the same country again. He asked me to keep some stuff that didn’t fit in his suitcase so we could have them shipped “or something”. I was glad to store the sweaters and jeans, confident that I’ll get a happy ending because 3600 Kate Hudson movies can’t be wrong.

So, as he packed she thought, “shut up, shut up, shut up, or you’ll say it”. Clenching her teeth so hard it hurts, she tried to think of everything else, everything but. She focused on how much she hates his stupid retarded superstitions, how annoying he can be after sex, when she needs a quiet moment, but he plays exalted baroque music on his phone, his exaggerated manners when there’s really no need, how he picks his nose when he thinks she’s not watching.

Shut up, shut up, shut up, think of all these things and do not, under any circumstances, think about how good he always smells, like soap and fresh laundry. Don’t think about his voice, about his storytelling skills, about his eye. Do not think about it, do not tweet it, do not tell your friends about it.

I just wish you could hold my hand for a little longer. It’s quite simple, I want you to hold my hand for a little longer, and at least I’d have that. You never seemed to care and that’s your biggest advantage in that charade. But had I known that earlier, I would still not have behaved any better.

At the same time, I don’t want you around anymore. We’ve been too mean to each other lately.

Anger
On the day he left…. well I didn’t handle it very graciously. I was never much of a lady anyway.

For the record, I am not sorry, not at all.

Bargaining
The question is: Were things easier before the age of Facebook, Skype, Twitter and Whatsapp?
Pah! Knowing my determination to behave like an idiot, I would have found a way to send drunken messages via pigeon carriers and smoke signals!

Also for the record: you’re an asshole. You’re an asshole for coming to me every time you needed a shoulder to cry on. You’re a selfish fuckhead for those late night chat sessions when nobody else would listen to you whine. So you had a rough year… well guess what, me too!

Depression
Eventually I understood:
I had to invent a life without him.
Even if I had no idea how.
Because I really had no idea how, I took a plane back to Lebanon, and I went to sleep.

Pfffffffffffftttttttttttttt This is the sound of common sense leaving my brain.
For a long time, nothing felt more dramatic than reaching out to his side of the bed and not finding him there. It’s amazing, a person’s ability to feel sorry for themselves, knowing fully well that:
War
Hunger
Cancer
Homelessness
AIDS
are dramatic.

A man leaving you is actually no big deal.

Acceptance
Anyway I digress. The point is, I slept for a long time, and then I woke up one day feeling as numb and dumb and tasteless as a bad Marilyn Manson song.

I thought I might as well get a new job, one I would like. This is how I ended up at this job interview that morning.

There was nothing special about the job or the interviewer. I think I was nervous because I had forgotten how to interact with people, but at some point he said something funny, and I smiled.
And I thought he was cute
And I liked the sound of his voice
And I thought he sounded smart and interesting

And then you left my head – someone else said it better than me – “not with a bang but with a whimper.”(Yeah that’s one more overused and stolen line, sue me).
Maybe the process was long, maybe not that simple, but it ended with a whimper, so soft I almost missed it.

And then
I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I had found anyone cute or hot or interesting. Before I knew, I was (clumsily) flirting, joking, blabbering, laughing.

For the first time in a long time… I felt.

It doesn’t seem like much but it was like an ocean. All this during the job interview.

It was so strong that I had to immediately send my friend a message, to tell her that I liked someone, that I was human again.

It was so strong I needed a moment in that parking lot to be able to think again.

Believe it or not, I did get offered the job. Of course, I didn’t take it, because even I am not stupid enough to put myself in a situation where I think my boss is very attractive.

Really, what a draining process, I’m glad it’s over.

And then, and then what?

When The Hobbit -that unnecessary addition to a franchise I never cared for- came out, I thought of you.
Today I saw the latest episode of How I Met Your Mother and we met the mother!
I bet you liked her: cute, girl-next-door type, sweet. I know that’s your type, I just pretended I didn’t know because… oh I’m sure you understand.
Sometimes, I worry about you. Because real life surely brought you down, far from the cushioned pedestal I built for you. I hope you learned to like your nose. I hope you see bits of what I saw in you. Anyway… you’ve got an alligator smile, the morals of a pirate and a twinkle in your eyes; on your better days you even speak like a prophet and you certainly know how to tell a good joke.

I’m done with that.

An Apology

Hey! Hey you!
You once said I could never make you forget about me.
Well 2 months ago we were in the same restaurant at Zaytuna Bay… either you didn’t recognize me or we both avoided each other on purpose.

Anyway, I just wanted to say… I’m sorry.
Don’t you dare laugh at my face! You have to believe me, I am so very sorry… about everything.

Remember how you told me how a lesson in humility would do me good? Well I got schooled. Life kicked my ass and now I finally understand what you meant. You look surprised… but we all have to grow up eventually, even me.

It’s weird how my year with you didn’t taste of anything. It’s probably because at the time, I was (briefly) one of these girls who don’t eat. I shopped a lot, I went out and drank a lot, but I didn’t eat, at least not every day…what a peculiar way to live… But that’s another story and I’ll tell it another day.

Today I owe you an apology.

I’m sorry I wasn’t nicer. You laughed at my jokes, endured my mood swings and sent me flowers. You didn’t mind that I was rude and socially awkward, and that I refused to smile at your glossy friends with long blond hair and designer shoes. To be honest, these women intimidated me (they still do).

I called you Gatsby and you thought it was a compliment because you never read the book (movie coming out soon, don’t miss it!). Actually I thought it was cute, the way you tried so hard. It also scared me a little, how patient you were, your sweet determination to stick around, no matter how much of an arrogant bitch I could be. You introduced me to people as “the girl you’ll marry someday” but it just wasn’t working, not because of the age difference, or because I didn’t like your friends, but because I simply didn’t love you.

When I wanted to end it and you decided not to let me, you scared me even more. I tried everything short of pushing you out an open window. I even cheated on you, and told you about it. You got very angry, you said mean and hurtful things to me, but you never left. I didn’t understand at the time, but now I do.

Maybe it all doesn’t matter anymore. Remember how you always said you admired my strength and independent spirit? My fuck-you attitude? It was just a veneer, and now I let the veneer go. If we met today, I don’t think you’d like me. My fearless zest, my arrogant feistiness, it’s all gone. He took it away.

In case you were still wondering, this is what happened. A man happened to me, I loved him, he didn’t love me back…silly story really.

I had no idea it hurts so badly.
I didn’t know that when it happens, life gives you no choice, and that you can only endure and hope.
I finally get it. Not passion, not infatuation, just plain old love. And that hurts like fuck!!!

You missed quite a show… Karma was waiting for me around the corner with a machete. I didn’t just step down from my pedestal… noooo, I squirmed on the floor, I begged on my knees. I smiled, fluttered my eyelashes, and then I cried. I tried every trick, submitted to every whim, I read his favorite books, quit smoking for him and did things I had only seen in porn movies before. I made a fool of myself…repeatedly. You would have enjoyed the irony of my desperation. I, of all people, should have known that it doesn’t work, that when someone doesn’t love you, you can’t magically make them love you back, even if they stick around for a whole year. Even if they’re sweet, even if they hold you tight all night.

In case you were wondering, he’s not that hot, not that cool. Actually, he’s ridiculously superstitious and he likes wearing luxury logos; you know how much I despise that! There’s nothing particularly special about him, yet, he was The One.

Heheee yeah I’m using silly syrup-y expressions these days. You see, nobody told me that all the words are true, all these word in love stories, all these bullshit expressions are true! I had no idea!!! So many clichés… If I’ve learned anything from this whole debacle, it’s how basically animal we really are. And those flowery feelings that poets wrote about, how much they really hurt.

It’s so real, everything else feels fake. His touch can really make my heart skip a beat, then pound faster, then make time stop. It is true when they say you can drown in a person’s gaze. A moment of confusion will make you stutter, then lost for words, and you WILL NOT be able to pronounce words because you mouth can get desert-dry in a millisecond. And blood will freeze in your veins when you’re in panic-mode. I felt my knees shaking like in a comic strip, and I was horrified, so horrified my stomach turned.

I think I never had any real feelings before I experienced the torture of extreme feelings. I could only express what went through my mind with words like “iceberg” and “volcano” and “tornado” and “hurricane”. It was exhausting.

You know I’m no stranger to drama, or sadness, but my usual poison comes in a Bell Jar. THIS was new. This thing, this feeling that my happiness depends on one person who could make or break every moment. Lighting up when he said something sweet, saving a special place in my heart for every word. I became that idiot who talks about him all day long, that girl waiting for his phone call, over-analyzing an sms, I became the kind of person I once made fun of…

Was it that bad for you? It couldn’t have been. I’m sure nobody, in the history of humanity has ever loved someone like I loved this little shithead. I never thought it would happen to me and when it did, I had over a quarter of a century to catch up on. I fell for him like a hopeless castaway. How do people survive love?

So anyway I just wanted to say I’m sorry.

I’m not as proud these days, not as cool, but a lot more mature, and when a soppy love song plays on the radio, I feel for the composer. When my friends share with me the troubles of a broken heart, I give them a hug and I mean it.

Sometimes I also think: how banal, how trite the whole affair was! I could have done so much better. A more interesting play, better characters, more depth to the whole episode. Yes this could have been better played; I certainly do hope it doesn’t happen again. But at least it was… enlightening.

Warberries

warberriesThe planes have been buzzing for a week. Over my head, inside my head. It’s The Mess. The Mess so big it has eaten generations.

Darling Wild Child, Lebanon.
Irritating Teenage Drama Queen, Lebanon.

Identity Crisis…. it’s ok baby, you’re finding yourself, Lebanon.

Cynical Old Whore, just add more lipstick, it’ll be fine, Lebanon.

While everyone gets a turn and seeds their venom deeper, Lebanon.

Masochistic Fetishist Non-Nation, what shall we do with you?

Smells like 2006, nauseatingly chocolat-y and I can’t sleep. Summer had started with a barbecue, good music and a new dress. I had baked a chocolate cake and made big plans for July. It was going to be a sweet epic summer.

Oh it was epic alright…

We were laughing at someone’s joke when phones started ringing, half the party went home, the rest moved to the TV room. Planes, shelling, war. Just like that, life froze until further notice. After Sayed Hassan’s speech, a girl brought my cake from the kitchen and started eating “This is bad, she said, I need chocolate”. We had chocolate cake and lots of wine.

The next day, a friend lost 3 cousins and one uncle, all gone in one bomb. I was safe, in another part of the country, might as well have been another planet.

After talking to her, I baked 2 batches of cookies, 2 batches of meringue, another chocolate cake, and I discovered that baking helped me think.

That summer was a suspended moment in time, I talked to people I never talk to because we were stuck together, discovered new places in my neighborhood,because there was nowhere to go, but there were no new games to be played.

The worse part was being powerless.
The worse part was feeling trapped.
The worst part was the well oiled machine of Lebanon. We know what to do in times of crisis, what food to stock, how to get gas for the car, fuel for power generators, been there done that and we’ll teach it to our children who will do the same someday.
The worst part was watching death on TV, like a video game, while I baked.

How could I tell people I couldn’t find a way to care. Of course I was annoyed, I was upset, I hated feeling trapped and stuck. I was horrified at the atrocities, I was angry too. But deep inside, I was mostly numb. That’s not Lebanon’s mess, it’s my own and the fact that I can’t connect.

I couldn’t get myself to care, at least not enough, not enough to do something about The Mess and that’s not normal. It can’t be normal, true empathy is missing from my brain.

One day, I woke up wondering if it was really all happening for real. So I drove to the Sanayeh garden, to parking lots, to schools. Officially, I was helping an NGO deliver supplies. Perversely, I was checking if it was true, trying to understand, to get myself to feel, making sure it was not a sick joke The Mess was playing on us.

If I had told them it still didn’t feel real, they would have probably punched my teeth in.

At night, I went out into deserted streets, feeling guilty for wanting to go out and dance, and drink, and scream myself stupid. Survival mode is not living.

But mostly, that summer, I baked. I drowned in chocolate. I baked cookies, meringues, creme brûlée, fed it all to stressed out people watching TV and nervously munching on my food.

I dipped strawberries in chocolate, it’s ridiculously easy and really good for my nerves. Basically, all you do is dip strawberries in chocolate (Ha!). It’s not rocket science but it takes time to dip the strawberries one at a time, gently, and in the end, your brain stops, which is a relief. Good thing everyone loved them, my warberries.

I also dipped meringue in chocolate. They were not Pinterest-pretty, not even store-bought pretty, more like a gross battlefield in red black and white.

At my most disturbed, i mimicked bombs as I dipped strawberries, trying to get into the pilot’s head, understand why. At my most alarmed, i just stopped, left it all there and left the house.
I walked around, usually ending up at the beach where I was alone. I took advantage of that by removing my top when I was in the water. At least I could free my neck from my swimsuit’s annoying strap. It wasn’t enough to relieve the tension.

The tension of feeling like cattle.

The Flaming Lamborghini

There are probably different recipes but this is how we did it. I forgot the measurements, we never followed recipes anyway, and it was always good. Damn…it was great 🙂

Coffee liqueur
Absinth
Sambuca
Blue Curacao liqueur
Bailey’s

Pour the Sambuca + Kahlua + Absinth in a cocktail glass.
Pour the Bailey’s and Curacao in separate shot glasses. Set fire to the cocktail glass, try not to burn your eyebrows as you sip from the glass with a straw. While you drink, add the Bailey’s and Blue Curacao. Drink the whole thing in one go.

And drink and drink and drink and go!

When you and I crossed path, you were carrying some heavy baggage.

That was a euphemism; please allow me to clarify: When we met, your life was a disgusting mess, with metaphoric flies buzzing around the real scumbag that you are, as you bulldozed through everything life had given you.

A former junkie of the lowest sort, you were reduced to chasing highs in a swamp of vodka and tequila, with the comfortable determination of those who stumble through youth on purpose, rolling in the mud with gusto. It was all-good because your Daddy made sure there will be a warm cushion waiting in the end.

I had long black hair (blue black said the label on the bottle) and so much eyeliner I could hardly open my eyes; you called me your princess. BANG!

Oh it was a proper courtship. You phoned at 3 am to make me listen to a song you liked, you made mixtapes for me because my car didn’t have a CD player. One mixtape every morning for a week, what girl could resist! You wrote me a poem, A POEM THAT YOU READ IN PUBLIC! And it was good (Seriously, you’re a better writer than I can ever hope to become).

So there was no way I was going to listen to all the reasonable voices around me: friends, even your family, even strangers, including the bartender at your favorite bar: “Destructive destructive destructive” they all said. I answered with a laugh: “Appetite for Destruction” (awesome album, stupid answer). To be fair, I’m self-destructive enough on my own, I would have found a way to fuck up even without you, and I’m glad it was with you.

You psycho wacko! You toxic tornado! You beautiful bastard!

Flamboyant fucker you had style.

Everything you did, you did with panache, with a loud scream, with a war anthem. Your talent for life, your voracious hunger for booze, for speed, for sex, for ME was spectacular.

Oh I knew I was a poor substitute for something you once heated in a spoon, but I had never been desired with such enthusiasm. Always a force of nature, when you held my hand, when you went down on me, when you just smiled at me. Your moves in bed, your sense of rhythm, and the earth-shattering orgasms you gave me! Every time was the original Big Bang, as many times as I wanted, everywhere I felt like it. I just had to tickle your arm and you knew what to do, even if it meant doing it while our friends were waiting in the next room. Shameless, I know. Few have made me feel so gloriously lustful, so religiously adoring, so dangerously uninhibited.

Hormones are amazing. In between my permanent afterglow and all the drinking, I didn’t mind all the disgusting things about you: poor hygiene, disgraceful language, Sojok-flavored kisses from Mano’s even though I’m a vegetarian. Once you even left bits of kafta in my mouth (I just gagged while typing this).

We were starving for each other, loving each other with such urgency, probably aware that our bright flame would be quick to burn (too cliché? Sorry). It was my first semester at university and I zombied my way through classes, sometimes already drunk by noon. I quickly earned my “weirdo” label and was soon shunned by the cool kids, those who had accepted me in their inner circle the previous summer.

Whatever… you were my Splendour in The Grass, the Sal Paradise to my Kerouac and you were certainly more fun than Sky Bar (even the original Sky Bar, before they moved to Biel) and whatever club was cool at the time. We were having homemade Flaming Lamborghinis and drinking cheap vodka from the bottle on the beach in Jbeil. We fell asleep with our pants off in your car, somewhere on the road to Beiteddine, and never made it to that concert. We went driving very fast on the highway at midnight, which was very stupid. We went tiro shooting while drunk, which was incredibly stupid. And then we had that very loud, very public fight in front of Khalo’s shop in Monot, and a friend from high school saw me. This time I was mortified.

It ended disgracefully for both of us, but I’d rather not remember that part. It ended absurdly because passion is our only compass, and sober we make quite a useless pair. It has been more years than I care to count (Almost 10), but every now and then, someone notes (with admiration) how well I can hold my liquor. This is when I think of you and smile.

His pomegranate fantasy, my big disappointment

He had what I was looking for: The confidence I try to fake, the kind face of a man with sparkly eye (but not a pretty boy, I’m not into pretty boys). Beautiful hands, long fingers that made me think naughtiness all afternoon. His voice was the best part, a voice that has sex in every word, like he could have made me faint me with bad syntax and the right intonation. This must be why I didn’t realize how stupid he actually sounded. Then again I only ever hear what I want to hear.

I should have reacted to his bullshit questions about Lebanon, instead I just laughed them off:
“Does your mother make homemade pomegranate juice?” (Not that it’s technically improbable but what’s with the romantic search for authenticity?!)
“Can you make hummus?” (nope, but I sometimes serve Tesco’s, pretend its homemade and everyone’s happy)
“Is Lebanon dangerous?” (@#$%%*&#@ – OK so maybe it’s not always super stable, but fuck you for asking- )

Anyway, my mistake. And by the way, I thought he was hot, but I really wasn’t expecting what came next:

The caveman attitude I did not love; taking over my bed and watching me with a stupid satisfied smile. But we were already there, I really needed to unwind and I knew I was not getting any sleep that night anyway. So he caressed my ass for the first time, in the timid way of a man trying to dominate, but not sure if he’s allowed or not, not sure if she likes it or not…And just then, his sexy X-rated voice said those dreadful words: “So do you belly dance? C’mon belly dance for me!”

That Orientalizing prick, that pompous human larva, laying there on my bed, trying to live out his Harem fantasies. He fucking thinks he’s Haroun al Rashid?!?! Honestly I wasn’t looking for an earth-shattering romance, not even a summer fling, but I had no intention of being a notch on anyone’s belt as he samples his idea of “ethnic sex” like it’s the fucking ethnic aisle at the supermarket!

In my imagination, I punched him in the face; I stepped on his balls with my sharpest stilettos while I gave him a lecture about stereotypes and quoted Edward Said (or something clever like that)

Outside my imagination I’m just not that strong, and honestly, I had no idea how to react. I really wanted to bounce back with a witty answer, express with exactitude how offensive I thought he was; however I must admit, to my great shame, that I had no smart, civilized, or even honest answer for him.

I accepted the fact that this was not my Gender Studies class, and that people are idiots. I could have asked him to leave, maybe I should have, but I didn’t. I really wanted to unwind (yup, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it). So I relaxed, found a smile and semi-jokingly called him an idiot then suggested he strips for me instead.

He did, while singing “Leave your hat on”, after this little ice breaker it turned out to be a good night. 2 days later he called to ask me for brunch but I was busy, twice, and that was that.

I still don’t know how I should have reacted. The intersection of sex (actual sex) and gender politics is a weird grey area because we do all sorts of things in bed that are totally unacceptable in other social interactions. I’m sure that there are plenty of girls out there who love to play Sultan & Harem, just like there are probably many who like to pretend they’re Khaleesi. However if it’s a one night stand you just don’t throw your kink out there, hoping the other will respond positively. Specially not “culturally-sensitive” kinks. (That’s the most sugar-coated way I found to phrase this because this guy is still a clumsy asshole).

Condoms, cold pizza, rubber burn

20130505-212319.jpg

Even when It’s bad, it’s still pretty good. This is supposedly true about both pizza and sex. Mr. Sensitive and I have tested that theory to its very last limit.

It’s not his feelings that are sensitive, certainly not; Mr Sensitive has sensitive skin, and he thinks it’s a perfectly good reason to avoid condoms.

So “trust” is what Mr. Sensitive has to offer instead: “walaw babe, don’t you trust me?” He is asking me, quite literally, to trust him with my life, trust him not to give me AIDS, herpes, not to get me pregnant. Actually, Mr. Sensitive never felt the need to get tested before, because fuck logic, so I’m supposed to trust him, AND his previous sexual partner, and HER previous sexual partner, and who knows who else.

The thing is, rubber is absolutely nonnegotiable for me. I know he’s silently cursing me for this, but my pre-teen years were marked by 1990’s French teen pop magazines, an the French are big on STD awareness and prevention, specially in the 1990’s, when AIDS was relatively new.

Here’s a secret: I’m on the pill, just in case the condom breaks. If I tell Mr. Sensitive, he’ll take it as a cue to stop using condoms and the argument will never end.

Another secret: I’m getting rubber burns too, because last month we ran out of things to say, and instead we have sex 4 times a day. Sometimes it burns like hell because its taking us both a lot of time to orgasm, well let’s face it, the sex is bad. He used to give me volcanoes 4, 5 times, every time. Now I fake it if nothing happens after 40 minutes.

We didn’t break up yet, because we’re both working hard at the moment and in between reading sessions, it’s nice to have each other’s warmth. It’s also still nice to have leftover pizza at midnight together. The pizza’s cold but it’s still pretty good; even if we have nothing to say to each other, there’s a new box of condoms on his bedside table.

Enter title here.

You are not here so I can think now, and try to make sense of things. Did I like you? do I need you? I don’t know.

I know I like I tuna sashimi, it’s so pretty to eat. But to survive the trauma of being alive every day, I need large servings of Spanish rice, I need to bite into jalapenos. Sometimes all I really need is a drink or two or three: Riesling or Cuba Libre, with Captain Morgan or Sailor Jerry. Yeah you know what I like, and that I like it cool. These are the things I need and the things I like, and you’re not on that list.

I want you. This is as true as Pucci scarves put me in a sunny mood. As simple as booking a plane ticket, which is my favorite thing to do,  ever. Plane tickets are about hope and making plans, a fresh start and feeling a little dizzy from the altitude. But being with you feels even better. With you I can just stay in bed all day and be goofy and not wear makeup, not even mascara or my best Nars lipstick, not even nail polish.

I love the honesty of Banksy’s art because honest is what I always strive to be. I love weird fucked up families in Wes Anderson movies, because I’m a little weird and fucked up too. You, I do not love (but I breathe better when you hold me). If I love anything about you, its is me through your eyes (and all my friends agree that I look prettier on pictures you take of me). No matter how hard I try, I cannot hide the fact that you make me incredibly happy (but maybe that is not something you need to know).

It’s not what you think. If I had to write a love letter, I would address it to La Duree Orange macaroons; maybe Raspberry macaroons too; but not to you. If I wanted to tell tales of lust, Louis Vuitton vintage streamer trunks would come to mind. I can spend hours just staring at those sinfully gorgeous steamer trunks in the Beirut Louis Vuitton boutique. I could sell a kidney, forget where I’m going, just to travel the world with those trunks. I only admire the sun and I only crave for chili-flavored chocolate. I do not crave for you.

But I am homesick for you. Now before you get all smug and proud, you should also know that you were not, and by far, the best lay I ever had. Seriously, we had no chemistry, even at our best, and I still think that’s very weird.

When things were really bad, when I thought I was going crazy because things were so very bad, you managed to make me laugh. I cannot thank you enough for being so funny and supportive during that disastrous week, when I thought I was going crazy. I know it made you feel awesome because you love to make a woman laugh. The neighbors could hear me laugh that week (and sometimes cry) and I did not care.

I was careful not to ask for more. You are a good friend and I resent you for it. How could I not? I should be forgetting your last name but I never will (bastard). I’m homesick for you, but I have more affection for rockstars who make me smile (Keef) and my favorite food ever, man’ouche (And the fact that you don’t like zaatar is weird) than I have affection for you.

By the way, I decided that next time I’m feeling sad or hormonal, I will not call you anymore. I will have a red bean mochi instead.

Yeah I’m oral, you already know that don’t you? I drink, I smoke, I bite my cuticles and I eat my feelings, what else is there to do with feelings? So I sit there, and I eat lovely La Duree Orange macaroon, chili-flavored chocolate, and I’m listening to the Rolling Stones. I can go get red bean mochi later, or have a zaatar saj man’ouche. I can get any food I want in this city and at this point, I’m seriously considering investing in a Louis Vuitton steamer trunk, but it is a sunny day and the only thing I really want is to go for cappuccinos with you.

This is not what you think. This is not a passionate love letter, not a desperate last attempt to seduce you, or get your heart to beat a least once for me. It is just a fact stated: I’m homesick for you.

Brioche for 2

  • pre-heat oven (180°)
  • 3 eggs
  • 15 (yes 15) tea spoons of powdered skimmed milk
  • 2 tea spoons of baking powder
  • 3 tea spoons of artificial sweetener or stevia 😦
  • Sometimes I add orange juice, orange zest and/or cinnamon.
  • Mix, pour in a cupcake pan
  • Bake until golden, about 10 minutes

Sometimes you wake up without me, because I’m already up, making that stupid diet brioche you like, from that Dukan recipe we found online. These are the mornings when I need to be alone and think. It’s really just an overconfident sweet omelet in disguise. We call it brioche because you’re on a permanent crusade against flour, real sugar, and everything that makes life easier. This is why you have abs of steel, and this is why I always wonder if you secretly hate my body.

When I’m upset, I usually put too much stevia, and the brioche become bitter because it’s not real sugar. You never complained because you know better than to complain when I’m already upset. When I’m in a good mood, I secretly use real sugar instead. I don’t know if you ever noticed, but this is when you like it the most. My favorite is with cinnamon and orange, why don’t you like cinnamon!!!

I whip the dough until I’m done thinking, that’s a long time spent whipping something that has no flour in it.

I used to toss it all in one big pan but now I think it’s prettier in little cupcake shape. There’s a moment you never see, when they’re in the oven, all golden and puffy, I almost believe I’m making real brioche.

And we eat them for breakfast.

I don’t know why I wrote this in present tense, and I don’t know why I still bake this when I need to think in the morning.

The cheese sandwich

  • Mature cheddar
  • Mango chutney
  • Mayonnaise (a tiny tiny bit)
  • A slice of tomato
  • A slice of apple (for the crunch)
  • Bread
  • Make a sandwich, toast it

That morning, my whole life was packed in 2 suitcases and I remember thinking “Ok… so this is what rock bottom feels like, I think I can handle it”. I was back in London but did not have a home anymore. A few days earlier, I had found a room to rent online, from some guy who was traveling for a month. Beyond that, I did not have a plan. As always, my life had no plan.

My plane landed in Heathrow and I had nowhere to go but this room in an apartment very far from my old neighborhood. I did not want to go back to my old neighborhood. It was 6am and still dark; I didn’t have the keys to the apartment, only an address, and the phone number of the guy who would be my flatmate.

I sent him an sms, notifying him of my arrival, and, because it was still very early, I looked for a nearby cafe where I could wait until he woke up. But it turned out the Flatmate was waiting for me at the apartment. A sweet, considerate man with a nice smile and funny jokes. Like me, he came from warmer sunshines, and like me he became a passionate Londoner. By the time I took a shower, he had a cheese sandwich waiting for me in the kitchen. I was so touched I took a picture, and I remember thinking I should remember this moment. I remember thinking I should write about this. For the record, ladies and gentlemen of the Jury, I hardly ever take pictures of food I didn’t make myself. Look, not even an Instagram filter:

My unique state of desperation, loss, confusion, exhaustion, and the Flatmate’s nice, spontaneous gesture were really the only reason I actually ate mayonnaise, mango chutney and cheddar. Under ANY other circumstance, this would not have been possible. I had always hated all 3 ingredients. Until then, I had lived a year in London, cursing the smell of mature cheddar and the taste of chutney.

I was scared when my plane landed, this sandwich reconciled me with a city I love.

It also tasted pretty good, and now I make it often (without mayonnaise). The familiar warm cheese, interrupted by the friendly crunch of apple, made more interesting with the sweetness of chutney, brought back home in the tomato freshness.

Or maybe it’s just that moment, that moment was perfect.

Of course, the Flatmate turned out to be weird and annoying, the unique kind of weird you can only discover when you share a bathroom with someone for a month and half: long enough to know all their quirks, not long enough to get over it. His jokes will soon stop being funny. He will make dinner again, and I won’t like it. I will eventually hate him and that flat, but on that morning, with that sandwich, the Flatmate was the nicest person on planet earth.

The man with freckles

This place you say you love so much, it’s honey, you say.

Stars, incense, sunshine sweet like honey, you say.

This dream you think you know,

How does it end?

 

You say nectar, and you say lust. Sweet mediterranean honey.

How you mix Beirut, Sanaa and Tangier. All the same isn’t it, honey?

Jasmine and AK-47, you make a place I’d love to see!

So many thing you say you see, but sometimes it’s like you don’t see me 😦

 

You do fantasize me well but I don’t care for myrrh or mint tea.

Agraba is not real, I’m real!

I’m eating pasta, not spices nor honey, and I’m waiting.

 

I’m waiting for the stories to end, for your Arabia to die.

For the novelty to fade out, for clichés to run dry.

I should have left long ago but I’m waiting.

 

Miss G.

Nous nous sommes rencontrées un peu par hasard, surtout par erreur. Je n’aurais jamais du postuler à ce poste, Miss G. n’aurait jamais du m’engager, mais voilà, ce genre de choses arrive, et c’est comme ça que je me suis retrouvée employée dans une institution financière…ça a duré un mois.

Un mois entier dans un bureau où il ne faut pas de mettre de jeans, un « vrai travail » comme dit ma mère, et comme j’en ai rarement eu par la suite. A imprimer chaque email et à les classer dans de grands classeurs qui iront récolter la poussière dans de grandes armoires…parce que Miss G a peur de perdre ses emails. Un mois à faire des photocopies de pubs de magazines et à les ranger dans d’autres grands classeurs a coté des magazines eux-mêmes au cas où Miss G voudrait revoir l’original.

Miss G et moi, on se serait jamais comprises de toute façon. Elle refusait d’appeler ses collègues par leurs prénoms, regrettait le temps des secrétaires sténos-dactylo et détestait devoir composer ses emails elle même. C’est pour ça que quand je ne faisais pas de photocopies, je l’aidais à rédiger ses mails. Elle aimait réfléchir à haute voix avant de décider quelle tournure de phrase serait plus convenable, et me regardait de travers quand je n’avais aucun avis sur la question. La boite venait de se faire acheter par une société étrangère et il fallait faire bonne impression face aux nouveaux directeurs! Elle voulait même que je réponde au téléphone mais je n’ai jamais appris à transférer les appels et Miss G a du se résoudre à répondre elle même quand elle en a eu marre que je raccroche au nez des gens.

Oui j’ai très vite décidé qu’on ne pourra n’aurait jamais s’entendre. De toute façon, j’étais beaucoup trop prétentieuse à l’époque, du haut de mes 22 ans. En fait je n’ai pas fait grand-chose la bas. J’ai du passer 4 semaines à imaginer l’ébauche d’une idée de roman (comme il y aura des douzaines dans les années a venir) et, sous prétexte d’analyser des stratégies de comm en ligne, je profitais de l’un des seuls ordinateurs de la compagnie à avoir accès aux réseaux sociaux. Le reste du temps, c’est Miss G qui l’envahissait. Elle posait des questions auxquelles je ne savais jamais répondre, me donnait à lire de la paperasse toute moite tellement elle aimait abuser des marqueurs roses et jaunes pour surligner de paragraphes entiers. Elle se méfiait d’Internet et quand, prise d’un accès d’ambition professionnelle passager, j’ai proposé un plan de restructuration des activités numériques (avec présentation Powerpoint imprimée et surlignée) elle m’a conseillé avec un sourire condescendant de mon concentrer sur des choses “sérieuses”.

Je ne voyais que des habitudes de dinosaures dans une entreprise calcifiée par une bureaucratie étriquées et un paternalisme de la variété la plus idiote. Ce que j’oubliais de remarquer, c’était que Miss G. était la seule femme de la compagnie à avoir son propre bureau et un poste de direction élevé, mais comme je me noyais dans la paperasse à imprimer et à photocopier et à classer dans les classeurs, je ne voyais rien de plus que son verni à ongle marron et moche.

J’ai présenté ma démission après 2 semaines de travail, ça l’a beaucoup choqué, elle qui n’était que détermination pour le meilleur et pour le pire. Elle m’a demandé de rester 2 semaines de plus pour réfléchir à ma décision et j’ai immédiatement regretté d’avoir dit oui. Quand, cette période écoulée, j’ai confirmé que je quittais, elle m’a dit que plus tard je regretterais.

Miss G, je ne regrette vraiment pas d’être partie mais je regrette un peu mon manque d’intérêt pour votre personne. Le reste de mon parcours professionnel s’est déroulé dans des environnements autrement plus paritaires, que cette compagnie débile mais j’ai quand même trouvé peu de femmes qui ont su s’imposer comme vous. J’aurais du poser des questions, demander comment vous avez fait, et, en échange, j’aurais pu faire des efforts pour vous apprendre à aimer l’informatique…tant pis.