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  • prequel

    "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, September 29, 2004  
    - "food schmood" is the acclaim on the continent as space tourism edges a step closer in the Californian desert
    In a live cross to the studio, CNN's Miles O'Brien gushed "it connects with ordinary people in a way government backed flights don't".
    Yeah right – it's the "people's spaceship"!
    Move over Ibiza, Majorca and Cyprus!
    All you need is a Lonely Planets guidebook and a couple of million dollars and you're there!
    This guy's already in space, what planet is he on!?!
    Hands up who's sick of boring bored billionaires and corporations and their media publicists co-opting us!?!
    The only practical potential benefit from all of this is that Richard Branson (who's behind this*) now has the ability to emigrate to the moon – that's if he's through bombarding us with his self-publicizing mincing around in (pilot powered) hot air balloons , trains, planes, spaceships etc.
    I have two unread copies of his autobiography given to me as presents (by two different people – nobody hates me that much) "Losing My Virginity By 'Fucking' Everyone!" (my addition), written in the "I Made A Billion Dollars Now I’m Writing A Book About It For People Who Think That They Too Can Make A Billion Dollars If They Read Really Carefully A Book Written By Somebody Who Made A Billion Dollars" genre, which I'll give away to the first alien who'll sponsor Branson's emigration to outer space (they can read them both at the same time with their two heads).

    *He hopes to roll out $200,000 a pop commercial space flights within three years - not much more expensive than current fares on his so-called low-cost Virgin Air once all the hidden costs are factored in

    6:45 pm

    Renatoobeidsworld is accepting tender applications for a new Official Manouchie Purveyor after the incumbent won a seat on the local municipal council in Sunday's revote and hasn’t opened since.
    The successful applicant will be issued with a royal warrant entitling him to display my coat of arms and the right to represent himself as being "by appointment to renatoobeidsworld".
    Applicants are invited to email a CV, sample of their manakish and a sworn declaration that they will never run for political office to be received by no later than lunchtime tomorrow.

    F--- Darfur – send me emergency manouchie aid!

    Day Eleven* of the Great Manouchie Famine of 2004
    - worse than the Irish Potato Famine ( a couple of years without "fries with that" never killed anyone!)
    My erstwhile manouchie purveyor is a good intelligent bloke, very popular in the community and certainly deserves to be a councilor.
    I don’t know that much about his policies but nowhere in his manifesto does it mention anything about starvation!
    The situation is desperate – if it doesn't improve I may have to get married (I couldn't make a manouchie if my life depended on it)!
    The good news is that he's pro-Sandy – he used to feed her and look after her.
    Is it a coincidence that the ticket backed by Sandy's tormentors failed to win one single seat?
    The pro-Sandy ticket had a clean sweep, wining all twelve seats.
    Despite that, you can't eat dogs (unless you're Chinese, Vietnamese, Laotian…) – so next time I'm going to back a pro-manouchie candidate.
    Who say's I don't address the real political issues?
    I'm going to lodge an appeal with the electoral commission and force a third vote – this is wrong, it's national politicians who are starving us not local politicians!

    *He was busy campaigning for a week before Sunday's election

    4:00 pm

    Sunday, September 26, 2004  
    Not content with being indirectly responsible for millions of deaths, General Mikhail T Kalashnikov, the inventor of the Kalashnikov rifle, is now to expand the circle of death with the release of Kalashnikov Vodka*.
    What next for Mr. Kalashnikov, cigarettes, air shows?

    *Liquid Stalin – it's killed more Russians then Uncle Joe ever managed.

    3:47 pm

    Thursday, September 23, 2004  
    Went for my customary emergency walk this evening (with my young cousins this time) – a half hour walk down the mountain until I'm parallel to the Paradise Buildings and then back up which I do only when I absolutely have to.
    We detoured at one of the roadside restaurants that dot this area and had pizza for dinner.
    On the way back we stopped outside another of those restaurants to visit our friend the (now) friendly guard dog (she used to be real bitch though) – a German sheperd bitch who lives in a humpy next to the restaurant she guards.
    Either she's sick of us or is losing her edge – I had grown accustomed to her ferocious barking rattling me as I went on my 6.00am emergency walk (couldn't sleep so I was "sleepwalking” – walking so that I can sleep, escaping the insomnia and trying to outwalk it or lose it) but that is no more.
    These days she barely even notices us – sometimes she doesn’t even dignify us with a bark or, if she does, she just performs a perfunctory bark, as if just to prove to us that she's doing her job but doesn’t want to waste her time on people she considers insignificant and not a threat, and goes back into her humpy.
    Or maybe childbirth has slowed her down – there are now two cute little pups (not chained up like their mother) who used to just wag their tails and look at me as their mother let loose a tirade of abuse.
    They'd look back at her with quizzical expressions that seemed to say "he looks alright, he seems pretty friendly, why don’t we try and befriend him instead?"
    She's not the first guard dog I've seen gone soft – years ago there was a ferocious guard dog called Duke at my uncle's house in the north.
    Well he started off ferocious but eventually he must have been corrupted by the lackadaisical staff there and ended up quite tame to the extent that, towards the end of his life, my aunty even disclosed the attack word to me.
    I'd always wanted this canine code and had even considered reading out the entire dictionary to him until I fluked upon that one word that his trainer had programmed him to attack on*.
    I've since forgotten what the actual word was but I'll never forget Duke, the apathetic aristocratic guard dog.

    Don’t ask me how a guard dog can be popular with children, but Duke was very popular with the kids.
    I was once teasing my little cousin Foad about him - “Duke’s a dog!” (universal insult).
    “No, he’s a ‘oow oow’” (the Arabic “translation” of “woof woof”) he defended.

    *IMPORTANT ADVICE: To avoid accidental sooling, this shouldn’t be a commonly used term such as "ahlan" (welcome – very commonly used in Arab societies) or your bitten guests will be left feeling less than welcome.
    "Ahlan Mr. Prime Minister!... Down Duke!... Bad Duke!...Let me get you a bandage for that Your Excellency."
    In fact, I recommend that you scour ancient manuscripts for hapax legomenon to use as an attack word or even use the term "hapax legomenon" itself.

    Umm...make that one little puppy...I'm sad to announce that this morning when I went for a walk I saw one of the puppies dead on the highway.

    On Another walk, I encountered, for the first time ever, the so-called “guard dog” “unplugged” (unchained).
    What do she do?
    N OT H I N G!
    She even shrank away from me!
    It’s all been a big lie!

    *Sorry, I got a bit carried away with the Maoisms.

    11:30 pm

    Tuesday, September 14, 2004  

    Stills from the Zapruder Tapestry showing the assassination of King Harold II - where exactly did the fatal arrow come from, was there a second archer, was there a cover-up?
    (Photo courtesy of the Warren Commission Report, 1068)

    Watched a television documentary on what I call the Zapruder Tapestry - the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the assassination in battle of King Harold II during the 1066 invasion of England by William the Conqueror.
    Was that artist quick or what? - capturing that entire elaborate scene not with a camera (a la his twentieth century counterpart Abe Zapruder's video camera footage of the Kennedy assassination) but with a needle and thread as it was occurring!
    Did they have to stop for him to rethread?
    Speaking of documentaries, the "history always repeats itself" maxim couldn't be truer" - the History Channel always repeats itself.
    Cable television doesn't mean more programming, it means the same programs more often.

    1:32 pm

    Thursday, September 09, 2004  
    Terrorist groups have continued their Jihad on locals who live or work next to or just happen to be passing by a Western Embassy with an attack outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.
    The suspected car bomb failed to penetrate the embassy premises but killed passers by (eight Indonesians to date), as per usual in these cases.
    The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has issued a travel advisory advising Australians to avoid the vicinity of the embassy – the first time that I know of that a government has advised its citizens to avoid it.
    Not the worst idea I've ever heard!
    This is not the time for scoring political points (which this piece is by no means attempting to do) but I think that while Australia has had to go to war alongside the US for some sixty years now (and before that the UK), the current government has shown too much enthusiasm when what is essentially required if (it shouldn’t be a fait accompli) we chose to go to other people's wars is that we just do our obligation* quietly and hope that nobody notices us (it worked in Gulf War I).
    I think that that advisory should be extended to Indonesians also – the poor innocent unfortunates who always bear the brunt of these attacks and the terrorists.
    Australians have fought other people's wars with distinction and courage (almost bordering on enthusiasm) for over a hundred years and continue to do so, so they would be even more formidable if they had to fight to defend their own country (the men are just as tough).
    Indonesia is no slouch either with their very tough stance against terrorists – imprisoning them for several months, often years until a court finds them innocent and releases them.

    *The ANZUS Treaty with the US and New Zealand (sometimes, when they feel like it) can be read in a way that requires us to "defend" America even if it isn’t on American soil (if it's read without reading glasses, in poor light and whilst squinting).

    11:18 am

    Scientists analyzing atomic specimens gathered by the NASA Genesis sun probe which crash landed in the Utah desert on Wednesday have announced that they believe the sun to be covered in a type of sand identical to that of the Utah desert.
    NASA is still to determine whether the samples were contaminated (i.e. with sand) after the casing of the capsule cracked open on impact in the sandy desert.
    Scientists were also startled to learn that the sun's sunglasses (often depicted in joke pictures*) were missing and that German tourists to the sun get up at sunset to lay their towels on beach lounges and claim them for the day.

    *Like this one Sun - I've just downloaded ten thousand of these, so brace yourself as renatoobeidsworld becomes the first news outlet to use Smileys!

    renatoobeidsoworld – your most trusted name in Smileys!

    1:58 am

    Wednesday, September 08, 2004  
    Franz Ferdinand has won the Mercury Music Prize.
    It's the first time in its seven year history that the prize has been awarded posthumously – Hapsburg Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Belgrade by a crazed fan in 1914.

    4:31 am

    Tuesday, September 07, 2004  

    Order your copy of the Lebanese Constitution, on Microsoft Word for extra easy amending, now!
    Amend the constitution "once exceptionally" twice without realizing a contradiction in terms (Presidential mandate extension 1995 and 2004); amend eligibility provision (Presidential election 1998) and much, much more!
    Put the dumb into addendumb now!

    Lebanese Constitution - all's well that amends well ®

    5:45 am

    Monday, September 06, 2004  
    Got home a couple of hours ago from a pleasant evening at Paddy's with my pub quiz teammates and a visiting friend of mine from the British Foreign Office, aka The State Department*

    *That's the joke in case you missed it).

    3:45 am

    Friday, September 03, 2004  
    Lebanon Doesn’t Decide 2004
    - Dude, where's my election?
    The Lebanese parliament has voted to amend the constitution to allow for an extension of the incumbent President's mandate, forestalling a constitutionally mandated election.
    That concludes our live coverage of
    Lebanon Doesn’t Decide 2004
    - Dude, where's my election?

    5:00 pm

    foresteal: verb, to steal an election by amending a constitution to forestall that election (Modern Lebanese, FORE+STEAL)

    4:59 pm

    Wednesday, September 01, 2004  
    There's a taxi driver who insists on calling me William despite the fact that I have revealed my actual name to him (once I think and quite a while ago).
    When he first got into this William habit (it must have been early summer), I just ignored it because I didn’t want to contradict him - it wasn’t as if I was going to ask him for his daughter's hand in marriage or anything like that that would require him to know my actual name.
    But it's now entered the public domain somewhat – previously, I'd get into the cab, he'd call me William and we'd drive off, but, the other day, he screamed it out from across the road!
    The longer I leave this the harder it will be to actually resolve.
    He must be stopped!
    This little parallel universe of his - where I'm William - has got to be destroyed!
    What kind of person goes around calling people William when their name isn’t William!?!
    But I can hardly turn around and tell him that my name isn’t William after I've acquiesced to this moniker mix up all this time!
    So I urge civic minded citizens to converge on the Ghadir Bridge and confront this madman and set the record straight!
    He can be found opposite the pharmacy, usually during the day, in an old blue Mercedes and his name is William.

    Possible other scenarios I'm currently considering for resolving the William Crisis
    -Moving (me).
    -Moving (him).
    -Changing my name to William.
    Although I haven't gone that far, the other day I did ask a friend of mine, who was with me in the taxi, to not call me by my name - abandoning one's name, albeit briefly, is just one step away from changing one's name to William or something.
    -Getting everybody else within earshot to call me William.

    Another taxi driver calls me a David.
    And this one’s even worse because he’s always asking me ‘’you’re name’s David isn’t it?’’ and I’m always correcting him to no avail.I’m all things to all taxi drivers

    8:10 pm




    "On that day, the Virgin was proclaimed Sovereign of the mountains and seas, and Queen of Lebanon."
    "...and the queen of the sky rose above Harissa like the cedars of Lebanon"

    -Descriptions of the inauguration in 1908 of Our Lady of Lebanon
    (harissa.info and opuslibani.org respectively)

    Visitors to Lebanon literally can't avoid her - some six hundred meters above the crescent-shaped Jounieh harbor (twenty kilometers north of Beirut), perched atop the highpoint of a mountainous forest, is the two hundred feet high twenty-ton bronze statue of Our Lady Of Lebanon, the centerpiece of the Maronite Catholic* "Vatican".
    Harissa** is a busy tourist and pilgrimage destination (especially during the Catholic Month of Mary when thousands of the faithful perform the pilgrimage on foot, often from as far afield as Beirut), the shrine compound includes a restaurant, souvenir shop and the most recent major addition - the distinctive modernist concrete and glass Maronite cathedral whose ribbed concrete roof is reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House.
    Inaugurated in 1991, the giant one hundred and fifteen meter high, 3500 person capacity cathedral was designed in the style of a Phoenician ship and a cedar tree (the national symbol that adorns the Lebanese flag) and the interior built in a way that attracts one's attention towards the massive windows - through which the whitewashed statue of the Virgin Mary can be seen above, as if suspended in the heavens.
    Unfortunately, there don't appear to be set opening hours for the cathedral but rather it is open or closed according to the events or services being held there.
    Not the end of the world - it's better viewed from the outside as its minimalist interior, in such a large almost cavernous space, gives it a somewhat barren empty aspect on the inside as if all the emphasis had been concentrated on creating that unrivalled view though the windows.
    Much cozier and more convenient (open all day and night like the rest of the place) is the Em el Nour (Mother of Light) Chapel in the twenty meter high base of the statue.
    Look out for the biblical inscription at the entrance that reads (in Latin and Arabic) "I elevated like the Cedars of Lebanon" - a reference to the cedars of Lebanon so abundant and famous in antiquity (commonly called "The Cedars of God" by the Lebanese, they were used to build King Solomon's Temple) yet now so dangerously depleted that the cedar across from the chapel is the only one you'll see unless you trek out to the patchy reserves to the north and south.
    Once you've done the inside, climb the one hundred and four steps up the winding spiral staircase to the statue where you can light a candle or simply take in the magnificent panoramic view - as far south as the southern suburbs of Beirut and as far north as northern Lebanon.
    With an area of only 10,452 square kilometers, Lebanon is a compact patchwork of layers of coast, city and mountain all seemingly stuck together seamlessly and this is by far the most comprehensive and spectacular view of that.
    Religiously minded visitors will liken the trek up the statue, amidst these surroundings, to ascending to heaven, I liken it to the ideal location for chasing a villain up to his last refuge in a James Bond movie (in fact, the whole place has a dramatic Bond movie scene kind of feel about it).
    It's certainly a view to die for.
    Some one hundred meters from the back entrance of the cathedral is the Greek Catholic*** St Paul's Basilica - built in 1947 in the classical Byzantine style it is as traditional as the Maronite cathedral is modern and provides excellent juxtaposition.
    It is open to the public but, once again, doesn't appear to have set hours but monastic daytime hours are a general rule of thumb.
    Bordering the Cathedral grounds (also towards the back entrance) is the Apostolic Nunciature and some four kilometers down the mountain is the 17th Century Patriarchate of the Maronite Church.
    Both are generally accessible to the public but, due to their tight security, not the easiest of places to gain access to.
    The Holy Mountain, as it's understandably often called, is also home to a myriad of churches, convents, monasteries etc.
    Despite its obviously Christian character, Harissa's appeal is by no means restricted to people of that faith - at least half the visitors appear to be Lebanese and other Arab Muslims.
    Attending a mass there recently, I saw a Gulf Arab tourist (in his full national costume) walk in and out a couple of times as if pondering whether to actually attend the mass but then, as if he'd thought the better of it and decided not to get too carried away, leave.

    The most spectacular approach to the "queen of the sky" is the sky route - the cable car (telepherique), caught from its terminus one hundred meters north of Jounieh along the old coastal road, is said to be the world's only urban variety. Delivering passengers through the city, forest and clouds that often shroud the mountain in only ten minutes and for 7, 5000 Lebanese Lira (5 USD) from10.00 am to 11.00pm seven days a week.
    Just as spectacular is the winding mountain road, a service (shared taxi - usually an old Mercedes) can be caught from the Ghadir turnoff (ma'fra' Ghadir, just before Jounieh when coming from Beirut) or the Foad Chehab Municipal Stadium turnoff (ma'fra' Foad Chehab, just after Jounieh) for 2,000 LL.
    10,000LL to have the taxi all to yourself - a taxi fare is usual five times (for the five passengers they cram in) the service price.

    When inter-factional fighting tore apart the until then united Christian community during the latter stages of the Lebanese civil war, it is said that the statue of the Virgin Mary (already built with her arms outstretched by her sides as if in supplication) turned towards Beirut, where the brunt of the fratricidal fighting was occurring, as if beseeching her wayward flock, and stayed in that position to this very day.
    It's a nice story but analysis of before and after pictures does not give credence to this and indicate that she has always been where she is now.

    Visiting Lebanon on a US State Department sponsored regional goodwill tour in 1963, the late jazz legend Duke Ellington was so inspired by Our Lady Of Lebanon and the Holy Mountain that he recorded a composition called "Mount Harissa".
    On the "Far East Suite" album (1966), it is described by reviewers as being "an elegant little six-eight number" and "haunting".
    Prior to Lebanon, the Duke was in Baghdad where his visit happened to coincide with a military coup (his hotel was just across the road from the attacked presidential palace).
    Asked for his assessment of the coup by newsmen in Beirut a few days later he said "those cats were swinging man!"

    *Living mainly in Lebanon and relatively autonomous due to their historical isolation (initially in a proto-Orthodox and now Muslim region) the Maronites are in communion with the Roman Catholic Church and are the majority Lebanese sect according to the last census (conducted in 1932).
    **Meaning "protector" in Arabic, Harissa, the name of the host village, has become synonymous with the shrine.
    ***Another of Lebanon's nineteen officially state-recognized sects - Pope John Paul II, who visited Lebanon and Harissa in 1997, called Lebanon "a message (of coexistence, tolerance etc) not a country".


    1:29 am

    I used to spend most of my time reading great literature, now I spend most of my time writing nonsense.

    12:25 am

    A Lebanese friend of mine who had been working in Iraq has recently returned home due to the deteriorating security situation there.
    That's as good an indication as any as to how bad things are getting in Iraq – you know that things are really getting bad when the Lebanese leave!
    The Lebanese are always the always the last to go, whereas, according to my unscientific table, the Australians are the first to go (in terms of governments advising their citizens to leave), followed by the Brits, the Germans, the Americans and finally (as far as developed Western countries go) the French.
    So, as an Australian Lebanese, I often don't know whether I'm coming or going.

    Mum and dad recently attended the wedding of a young Lebanese man from the north who had recently been kidnapped briefly and released while working in Iraq.
    Poor bastard – out of the fire and into the flame.

    12:20 am

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