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.

 

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Miss G.

Nous nous sommes rencontrĂ©es un peu par hasard, surtout par erreur. Je n’aurais jamais du postuler Ă  ce poste, Miss G. n’aurait jamais du m’engager, mais voilĂ , ce genre de choses arrive, et c’est comme ça que je me suis retrouvĂ©e employĂ©e dans une institution financiĂšre
ça a durĂ© un mois.

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

Miss G et moi, on se serait jamais comprises de toute façon. Elle refusait d’appeler ses collĂšgues par leurs prĂ©noms, regrettait le temps des secrĂ©taires stĂ©nos-dactylo et dĂ©testait devoir composer ses emails elle mĂȘme. C’est pour ça que quand je ne faisais pas de photocopies, je l’aidais Ă  rĂ©diger ses mails. Elle aimait rĂ©flĂ©chir Ă  haute voix avant de dĂ©cider 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 sociĂ©tĂ© Ă©trangĂšre et il fallait faire bonne impression face aux nouveaux directeurs! Elle voulait mĂȘme que je rĂ©ponde au tĂ©lĂ©phone mais je n’ai jamais appris Ă  transfĂ©rer les appels et Miss G a du se rĂ©soudre Ă  rĂ©pondre elle mĂȘme quand elle en a eu marre que je raccroche au nez des gens.

Oui j’ai trĂšs vite dĂ©cidĂ© qu’on ne pourra n’aurait jamais s’entendre. De toute façon, j’étais beaucoup trop prĂ©tentieuse Ă  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 Ă  imaginer l’ébauche d’une idĂ©e de roman (comme il y aura des douzaines dans les annĂ©es a venir) et, sous prĂ©texte d’analyser des stratĂ©gies de comm en ligne, je profitais de l’un des seuls ordinateurs de la compagnie Ă  avoir accĂšs aux rĂ©seaux sociaux. Le reste du temps, c’est Miss G qui l’envahissait. Elle posait des questions auxquelles je ne savais jamais rĂ©pondre, me donnait Ă  lire de la paperasse toute moite tellement elle aimait abuser des marqueurs roses et jaunes pour surligner de paragraphes entiers. Elle se mĂ©fiait d’Internet et quand, prise d’un accĂšs d’ambition professionnelle passager, j’ai proposĂ© un plan de restructuration des activitĂ©s numĂ©riques (avec prĂ©sentation Powerpoint imprimĂ©e et surlignĂ©e) elle m’a conseillĂ© avec un sourire condescendant de mon concentrer sur des choses “sĂ©rieuses”.

Je ne voyais que des habitudes de dinosaures dans une entreprise calcifiĂ©e par une bureaucratie Ă©triquĂ©es et un paternalisme de la variĂ©tĂ© la plus idiote. Ce que j’oubliais de remarquer, c’était que Miss G. Ă©tait la seule femme de la compagnie Ă  avoir son propre bureau et un poste de direction Ă©levĂ©, mais comme je me noyais dans la paperasse Ă  imprimer et Ă  photocopier et Ă  classer dans les classeurs, je ne voyais rien de plus que son verni Ă  ongle marron et moche.

J’ai prĂ©sentĂ© ma dĂ©mission aprĂšs 2 semaines de travail, ça l’a beaucoup choquĂ©, elle qui n’était que dĂ©termination pour le meilleur et pour le pire. Elle m’a demandĂ© de rester 2 semaines de plus pour rĂ©flĂ©chir Ă  ma dĂ©cision et j’ai immĂ©diatement regrettĂ© d’avoir dit oui. Quand, cette pĂ©riode Ă©coulĂ©e, j’ai confirmĂ© que je quittais, elle m’a dit que plus tard je regretterais.

Miss G, je ne regrette vraiment pas d’ĂȘtre partie mais je regrette un peu mon manque d’intĂ©rĂȘt pour votre personne. Le reste de mon parcours professionnel s’est dĂ©roulĂ© dans des environnements autrement plus paritaires, que cette compagnie dĂ©bile mais j’ai quand mĂȘme trouvĂ© peu de femmes qui ont su s’imposer comme vous. J’aurais du poser des questions, demander comment vous avez fait, et, en Ă©change, j’aurais pu faire des efforts pour vous apprendre Ă  aimer l’informatique
tant pis.

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 RaĂșl 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.

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 cafĂ©.

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 cafĂ© was really more cyber than cafĂ©. 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 cafĂ© 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.

La vie est ailleurs

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

La RĂ©volution. On n’y est pas encore mais il s’est passĂ© quelque chose, un changement dans les mentalitĂ©s, l’idĂ©e qu’un autre rapport de force est possible. Pas de gros bouleversement, pas encore, mais l’idĂ©e d’une possibilitĂ© c’est dĂ©jĂ  Ă©norme.

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

La mobilisation sociale pour occuper l’espace publique, les institutions, changer le systĂšme, c’est souvent et avant tout un jeu de hasard. Dans son Ă©tude de la rĂ©volution iranienne, Charles Kurzman souligne qu’au moment oĂč ils choisissent de descendre dans la rue, les manifestants ne savent pas Ă  l’avance s’ils seront nombreux ou seuls. La dĂ©cision se fait dans un contexte d’incertitude, de rumeurs, de chuchotements. Oser s’exprimer, oser exister, c’est le premier obstacle Ă  franchir dans un rĂ©gime ou la structure isole et sĂ©pare les gens.

Bref, mademoiselle a des lettres. C’est que l’ai thĂ©orisĂ© ad-nauseam ce matin du grand soir ! J’ai lu les livres, j’ai rĂ©digĂ© mes dissertations et, dans ce qui semble dĂ©jĂ  ĂȘtre une autre vie, j’ai passĂ© des heures, des nuits et des weekends a imaginer mon pays en mieux, a rĂ©flĂ©chir a la mĂ©thode, 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 prĂ©sente, et il y a de quoi se sentir bĂȘte. 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 dĂ©gout de la pourriture, dĂ©gout de la corruption, du racisme, de la bĂȘtise, 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 imposĂ©e. 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 cafĂ©s! J’ai dissĂ©quĂ© Charles Levinson qui voyait un mĂ©gaphone virtuel pour l’opposition dans la blogosphĂšre Ă©gyptienne, j’ai bu d’innombrables Ă©tudes sur les samizdats et je pensais que ca me servirait, de savoir parler de media et de RĂ©volution.

J’étais Ă  Londres en 2011 et sur l’écran de mon laptop je voyais les arabes se rĂ©veiller. C’était l’Egypte, la Libye et la Tunisie ; mĂȘme pour la Syrie nous avions eu de l’espoir.
J’étais Ă  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 rĂ©volution manquĂ©e un lendemain de Saint Valentin et j’avais mal.

Trop de pourriture, de celle qui se cache derriĂšre des dĂ©clarations idiotes, de la pourriture qui fait peur aux gens en brandissant le salut des chefs de guerre, de la pourriture Ă  nettoyer de toute urgence. Ca pue tellement, on ne fais plus semblant d’ĂȘtre mieux que ce que l’on est et ça fait du bien. Il paraĂźt que mĂȘme la nature se rĂ©volte, qu’il y a une tempĂȘte 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 rĂ©veiller. Jamais je n’ai autant eu hĂąte de rentrer chez moi.

Petit coup de gueule : Marc Jacobs est un sale type

Paris en automne de l’an 2000quelquechose, au musĂ©e des Arts DĂ©coratifs, une amie et moi nous nous sommes faites belles pour mieux apprĂ©cier 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 lĂ  des parisiennes avec leur airs de regarder tout le monde de haut et de travers derriĂšre leurs jolies franges acajou de parisiennes. Il y a deux japonaises, stylĂ©es jusqu’au bout des ongles, l’air sorti tout droit de Dover Street Market, dans leur basket suĂ©doises qui me rendent verte de jalousie. Et il y a bien sur des « gulfies » comme disent mes potes bahreĂŻnis. Celles la sont koweitienne : maquillage chaleureux, l’air Ă©panoui et les bras chargĂ©s 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 rĂ©trospective qui commence avec les dĂ©buts de layetier-emballeur-malletier de Louis et ses ingĂ©nieuses 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 AmĂ©riques. Je me rĂ©concilie avec le marron monogrammĂ© qui m’horripile dans ses incarnations les plus rĂ©centes. Je m’extasie devant les trĂ©sors d’ingĂ©niositĂ© dĂ©ployĂ©s pour crĂ©er 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 Ă  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 dĂ©filer 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 Ă  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 dĂ©forment les os. Elles rĂȘvent de disparaĂźtre dans une taille zĂ©ro. Elles se pĂąment pour des designs qui les dĂ©testent. 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, mĂ©thodiquement, avec le sourire elles payent une fortune pour se faire avoir. Trop souvent la mode, c’est juste un sale type.

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.