In these difficult times, the collective human psyche tends to clench up in an almost regressive state of extreme nationalism and social identity. I have never seen an overt celebration of Lebanon and a severe state of nostalgia and longing and belonging as I have seen since June 12. As we religiously reminisce about details and feelings and memories that we cherish and share, we might be mistaken to be living a sentimental bourgeois dream that only remains in our consciousness and that does not reflect the reality. Just like Fairuz songs. We have transcended from the bleak reality and imagery and evoked our mental treasures of what we see Lebanon was, is and should be. Maybe it is our way of locking the memory and preserving It from destruction. Maybe it is a foolish dream. Maybe it is a state of mind. So be it. Lebanon is and will remain the Levant of cultures, humanity, arts, love and our identity. It is heaven on earth but mostly it is the heaven in our hearts. Lebanon is my father. Tough, old and dignified. Beirut is my mother. Warm, ageless and beautiful.
Lebanon is like “Mais el Reem”, _Z says,"This play (as are all Rahbani plays) is charged with images and scenes, portraying the authentic, pure and simple lives of Lebanese dwelling in villages that inhabit the flanks of the mountains and are scattered throughout the country. Not only these images are long gone now (we never really lived them), but our generation even goes to the extent of claiming that they weren’t real to begin with, and they exist only in the Rahbani plays; or at least they don’t exist anymore. But strangely enough, these are the same images that we call to mind, once we speak of nostalgia, remembrance and recollection. It is these images (or similar) on to which we zoom-in whenever we need to summon to our memory, a nice, quiet, and peaceful tableau, where we can hide safely, and even for a little while, and escape the reality we do not want to deal with."
Ibn Bint Jbeil: "When one first exits from the airplane and enters Beirut's environment and smells its air, that earthy rocky sea-salted air, one is transported instantaneously into a mystical time and space. It is unlike anything else. A daze overtakes you. You become mesmerized. This state of emotional bliss remains with you as you drive through Beirut and smell its buildings and trees touch its walls, hear its human voices."
Lebanon is home to so many images and instances and emotions. An aroma of feelings and memories and faces.
mononoke: "Beirut is the the smell of polluted traffic. The sun on your arms. The sweat in your hair. The scent of the gardenias around my wrist. The taxi's zammour. His curses and yells. Suddenly remembering forgetting to stop for the 'rabtet khebez inti w jeyeh'. The sea on my lips the salt on my skin. Another sunburn today. The unmistakable smell of Beirut. The instant smile right as you exit the plane. On the balcony with chai and mne2eesh w labneh w zaitoun w ba3ed shwayyet zeit."
Misschatterbox: "Beirut at 30. Beirut is a Muslem man. Beirut speaks Arabic, French, English and Spanish. Beirut lives at Montreal, at Paris and at all the cities of the world. Beirut lives also at Beirut. Beirut is my mechanic at the corner, also my architect, mostly my friend, my patience, and also my strength. Beirut is reserved, discrete, wise and sometimes audacious, crazy and alive. Beirut loves women, refinement, music, exhibits, aromas, noise songs and all the cultures. Beirut makes me savor all this for Beirut is never blunt. Beirut makes me valse till 2 in the morning, just like that, because it’s Beirut. Beirut feeds me when I forget to eat. Beirut listens to my ridiculous love stories, my ridiculous worries, my tasteless daily life. Beirut is my friend.Beirut is a handsom young man who has black eyes. Beirut is a family at a porche singing for peace. Beirut sings and plays the instrument of life. I love Beirut because I read it for 6 months. Beirut at 31. Beirut is Christian. Beirut is a woman. Beirut is gossip, smiling, extrovert, cultured, curious and charming."
And what else?
Eve: "In Beirut, there’s something, like that, just like that. Stuck in the air, printed on the walls of small roads,dripping from the trees after the rain. There’s always a shortcut road that takes you to the sea. There are always cameras taking pictures, fearing that the eye would forget, fearing that the heart would drift. There’s a road built just to carry your dream, while you walk, not knowing where.There’s something in people’s eyes, like a question, like the old buildings, like an escaping look, like the ruin.In Beirut,there’s a secret that you don’t know until you’re at the airport with your bag… until you’re estranged stranded in young cities, one after the other, forever longing to your crude city, the city where “the difference between the darkness and the light is one word”… And you miss the familiar chaos where the cars park on sidewalks and people strut in the middle of the streets… And forever, for as much as you hide away, you’re haunted with the fever of Beirut, and you know the illness is part of you and you know that she will never leave you.In Beirut,There’s something bigger than me, and bigger than you. There’s an April that never ends. And a place, a place that, whenever you lose yourself, whenever you fall, whenever you hurt, you come back whispering the letters of its name once anew, in Beirut."
And you know she will never leave you. And you live it, you miss it, you can almost smell it and feel it and hear it.
Rewa: "Sometimes I want to open the window just to hear the noise of cars honking at each other all at once. The ka’ak seller pushing his old cart, heavy with freshly baked dough stuffed with ripe brown dates. The quiet sprinkle of thyme and sumac over handbag-shaped bread sold for peanuts. And speaking of peanuts, they sell them hot and roasted served inside outdated fashion magazine pages shaped like ice-cream cones. Listen to the aroma of simmering coffee creeping from the kitchen. I want to hear the neighbors arguing at the tip of the road, laughing at local sitcoms at night. The cold cough of their engines in the morning that drives them impatiently to work. The halt of school bus wheels ready to gather the future. Cries of church bells on Sunday fattening sleepy eyes. The sweeping Muezzin at dusk when it’s time to eat after a long day’s fasting. The sky giving birth to transparent rain drops the weight of leaves. Dip a piece of pita bread into a platter of mint-garnished labneh. I want to touch an olive tree. Do you know how much work it takes to make this bite complete? I want to hear my language spoken in French and English. I want to hear it uttered in Arabic. Sometimes I want to open the window to hear Beirut."
Beirut is a story forever to be told in so many ways. Beirut tells the story of Lebanon.
Ibn Bint Jbeil: "A state of enchantment builds as you drive out of Beirut and head into the country. You see a construction crew digging up the Earth on the coastal road. The Earth there is red with fire and warmth. It screams of fruit-juicy blood-love. As you continue on the coastal road, the strong smell of the Jnoub enters your nostrils and captivates your mind. You are no longer in control of your senses nor of your thought process."
Eve: "And how our faces resemble the heart and soul of this land. How they carry prints of our sand, our dust our papers and our dates.. How they resemble the vineyards of Bekaa and the apples of the mountain and Saida’s castle and Sour’s marina. How full these faces are of the summer’s sun, of December’s wrath, of rain dripples on the windows and of September’s last days. How our faces scream of springs, of mountain roads, of tree branches that witnessed our childhood, of stolen first kisses… How our faces draw smiles out of disasters and print the tears we dried with laughter… How you, My Lebanon, live in our faces…"
These are our memories. This is our story.
Mar: "Those memories are our balance. It is more a heritage than a dream. I strengthen that bond to my heritage through dreaming.These memories are real, they're in every corner. All you have to do is look closely and you'll find that they're real.I taste them in the fruit. Smell them in the summer breeze and the winter wind.I touch them when I hug my family after a long absence. I feel them when you're lost somewhere in the mountains and you ask a stranger sitting on his porch drinking his evening tea, about where you are, and that very stranger invites you in for a sip of tea and insists that you will have dinner " We7yet Alla bt'ba" ( In God's name you're staying for dinner), yeah, that complete stranger!It stirs emotions when you go to a grocery store you've only been there once and the vendor asks you to take the grocery and pay him some other time because he can't break a $100. Yii walaw ya 3ammo ma3le ma3le bta3tine bokra... I feel like crying then, because that kindness kills me.It's when I listen to my grandpa's poets and endless stories...The list goes on...It's there, you cherish its existence when you move away and look at it from a distance..It stares back at you reaffirming it's existence...When you go back, you embrace it and it devours you, every time.It's there..."
_Z: "I miss that kindness too! It also reminds me of my summers in the mountains. We would be biking all day long, and running around in the apple orchards. When we got tired, we would rest under the shades of a big walnut tree (jawzeh), or on the steps of a closeby porch to a house, or in some strangers' courtyard, looking to cool off and catch a breeze. A few minutes after we park our bikes, and take off our caps, the door opens, and out comes the Woman of the house to greet us with frozen glasses of sharab el toot (berry juice) and sandwiches (halloum w khyar). We drink, eat, rest, and head off politely, waving thanks and goodbyes... On our way we would pick an apple, wash it in the cold fresh waters of the many natural springs in the village, and continue to Rachid's Supermarket... He should be expecting us by now. We drop by "Hello Mr. Rachid" (marhaba m3allim Rachid!), and discuss "intellectual" issues (we were 8 or 9), and matters of concern to us. He would then offer us Bonjus ice cream (bouza 3a talej), and a Kinder Surprise chocolate. I later found out (years after), that it was my father who had ask Rachid to cater for our desires whenever we dropped by, and not to take our money (lira w noss); he would then pick up our bill (on trust) whenever he drove by, in his white Datsun 120y, for groceries, or for an afternoon cup of coffee and a game of backgammond. But that didn't take anything away from Rachid, he was the nicest man. Many times, our feeding crazes were on the house (bonjus + unika).He listened to us while we entertained him, and we were glad that we had a grown-up as a friend and yet another place where we could hang out. Him having the village's chocolate supply helped his case tremendously, but still Rachid was known for his genrosity and good spirit. Tfaddlo ya ahla bel shabeb! (Come in, welcome young men - youth)"
Wars come and go. We stay...
Rouba: "Yet between our havoc-wreaking wars we form steadfast friendships from different sides, we speak of freedoms of speech and freedoms of mind. We love and we hate and we love again.we kiss on the cheek, all of three slitheringly sloppy kisses on the cheek, with warmth.we have a mean sick sense of humour and we know it and we mock and we laugh and we fume and we laugh again. we curse our sisters' and our mothers' genitalia left and right.we breed and bud "artistes" just as fast as we capture the most chic suicidal stilettos, build the swankiest swingiest "boite" of a club on the memories of a graveyard, and expose brilliant expos and plays and books and restos and novel Beirut Time-Outs.and politics we bicker and bicker and bicker.sunnis bicker shiites bicker maronites bicker greek orthodox bicker roman catholics bicker druze bicker protestants bicker communists bicker socialists bicker grandfathers fathers mothers uncles aunts distant cousins and cousins brothers sisters babies bicker. but we are normal between wars."
And here you have it. So many images, so many memories that so many different Lebanese people share. I’ve had people telling me of course you’re nostalgic and you miss Lebanon, it’s home. I always wanted to say, no it’s Lebanon.