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"Top blog/Renato Obeid's World/Today's pick: This rambling weblog is worth reading not so much for its satirical posts but more for its insight into the minutiae of life in Lebanon, including the etiquette of road accidents and how to hire a taxi.”
-Jane Perrone, The Guardian
Wednesday, June 04, 2003
Going up to the pub, the service driver asked me the usual “where are you from?” type questions.
He asked me if I spoke Arabic when I was born (presumably meaning if I spoke Arabic from childhood) and I replied “I didn’t speak anything when I was born”
He didn’t pick up my sarcasm.
The car broke down about half a kilometer away from the pub because there was no water in the radiator so I walked the rest of the way up to the pub.Not the drivers’ fault of course but the manufacturers – they’re supposed to come with magic water in the radiator that lasts forever
After our regular pub quiz triumph we (Peter Casey, Chris, Michelle and I) went down to the Hole in the Wall in Beirut and continued the evening there drinking, a lot (surprise, surprise).
After that Michelle and I carried on, just like old times, going into Hamra for even more drinks (as we used to do after the much missed quiz at the much missed and now defunct Hare and Hound).
We ended up at the Evergreen (as we used to post-quiz a couple of years ago) just off Hamra Street – one of the few places in Beirut open all night and one of the few remaining pubs in Beirut and in the world for that matter and one of the few remaining dives in Beirut/the world.
When I say dive I don’t mean it in a pejorative way.
I mean it in a positive way in that it's a lovely cozy old (or at least old looking) and timeworn (looking once again) comfortable small pub full of character.
The requisite faded old banknotes from all over the world plastered on the wall – most of them complete with the standard signature and clichéd written comments from the donors.
"Best wishes So and So from So and So, etc".
Pretty much par for the course but there was one that cracked me up and was by far the most original I've seen in that clichéd, banal and predictable literary genre – a one thousand Lebanese Lira note that had written on it "haram, this could have gone to a homeless person for a manouchie, love Guy and Nooha".
The writing from the banknotes had spilt on to the walls too.
The owner, barman (he said he was "a one man show") and entertainment goes by the name of Amigo.
Not sure whether that was his actual name or a nickname but, nonetheless, Amigo is a good name for a barman.
He was certainly amiable with us and the three other patrons who were there – all bar staff from Paddy's Irish pub (sic*) downtown who regularly pop in after work.
A busman's holiday if ever I heard one of one.
Amigo laid before us a complete and extensive range of snacks –including little bits of cauliflower with accompanying dip, pickles, bits of cucumber and carrot (which you certainly don’t get at your local in Australia or anywhere else for that matter) along with the more conventional nuts, etc.
He proffered us free drinks which we politely declined on account of us having definitely drunk more than enough that night and invited us to breakfast which we also had to decline on account of us wanting to get home and to sleep before the sun came up (which Michelle, staying just around the corner, probably managed to do but I certainly didn’t - having to trek all the way over to Harisa).
Amigo told us that he didn’t have customers just friends.
Whilst a lot of others may just say that he certainly acted it out and lived it.
Looking like he's in his mid-forties, Amigo's been in that trade since he was fourteen and looked some what like Al Pacino albeit with longer hair and a less haggard face.
Nonetheless a face that did exhibit the effects of at least eight years, that’s how long he's owned the Evergreen, of running a pub seven days a week from dusk till dawn.
A very philosophical person not interested in money or status.
Mad as a hatter but, once again I mean that in a very positive way – I wish we were all as "mad" as Amigo.
To wit (amongst other things), he produced one of those mechanical toy parrots that repeat everything you say – "its" opening line was "you are very welcome Michelle and Renato".
We all had a lot of fun with that parrot but I just felt that the parrot could have been more independent and said his own thing rather than just repeating everything we said.
The Paddy's crew were saying, jokingly, "free drinks on the house" which the parrot was repeating off course.
Then it descended into "bollocks!" a la an associate of ours whom we call Peter Bollocks (after his habit of saying "Peter" a lot) who also frequents Paddy's where, like in any other establishment he frequents for more than ten seconds, he's famous for his catch cry of (you guessed it) "bollocks!".
Ten seconds being the maximum amount of time (the minimum being a lot shorter) that elapses before he says "bollocks!" because he's mandated by law to say it at least every ten seconds.
Despite all the fun we were having, like all talking mechanical toy parrot tricks in pubs all over the world (namely just this one) the talking mechanical toy parrot trick soon lost its novelty (believe it or not).
Michelle and I had bored of it long before everyone else there had.
Of all the bars in all the world that parrot had to walk into mine!
Although Michelle and I had previously frequented the Evergreen (a couple of years ago) we'd never really interacted with Amigo and enjoyed the full treatment.
I must say that the talking mechanical toy parrot made me nostalgic for those days.
Apart from that, I'm very lucky grateful that we and Amigos are amigos.
I certainly haven't felt so much at home in many other pubs – especially those pubs that affect friendliness and homeyness.
*Peter Casey rightly thinks that "an Irish pub is a pub in Ireland".
Speaking of pubs, there's another pub in Beirut (who I won't name) whose manager (an Englishman straight out of the pagers of the Viz comic) told a friend of mine that he had been promoted to "owner".
He also says that that pub is the most popular and successful pub in Lebanese history and that he's going to open up franchises in Kabul and Baghdad.
This is nigh on impossible - apart from the fact that those cities aren’t the most liberal in the world, his pub's name is a very generic one and hardly one that can be copyrighted as a proprietary name let alone franchised.
The area that his pub is in is fated to die – the governments trying to kill it with all sorts of arbitrary pretexts because it's competing with the Potemkin Village that is downtown Beirut.
So the owner's trying to sell it to him (have you ever heard of a Lebanese selling a money making venture?" my friend asks).
But Mr. Viz said that his cousin "talked to the Mufti* (sic) and that everything's sorted"
*The Muslim equivalent of an archbishop – not usually in the habit of helping publicans.
He obviously meant Mukhtar (mayor).
Years ago there was a bloke at the pub who I dubbed “Motor mouth” on account of his knowing “everyfing what there is to know about mo’ahs (motors – cars) ” and incessantly talking about them.
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