"Humor is a funny way of being serious"
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Copyright© 2001-2010, Renato Obeid
"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
Friday, January 20, 2006
Went to the hairdresser's and shopping in the afternoon – taking advantage of a perfectly timed respite in what passes for wintry weather here in Lebanon.
Lebanon has one of the best and most temperate climates in the world and perfectly delineated seasons that are on the whole neither too hot nor too cold nor have any other extremes of weather that you get in some other places.
So stable is the weather that I often think that the thermometer isn’t working as it has a tendency to just sit there doing nothing and displaying the same temperature.
Discussing the weather, the pharmacist joked that the moderate climate was why Jesus Christ chose to live and die in this part of the world rather than Europe or America.I suppose he’s right – it’s a perfect climate for outdoor events
The weather in Lebanon is so regular that it reminds me of the Fast Show news parody set in a fictional Mediterranean European country where the weather forecast is always “scorchio’’.
Not that it’s always hot (scorchio) here but it’s always what ever season it is.
I.e. in winter it’s wintry, in spring it’s vernal, in summer it’s summery and in autumn it’s autumnal.
Being pedantic, I always look up the day’s weather online but I must be the only person in Lebanon who does.
A weather reporter in Lebanon must be less busy than the Maytag repairman.
Monday, January 16, 2006
Just got back from catching up with old friends in Beirut.
Regretted having to part but did not regret being repatriated to this canton and was particularly relieved to see women without chadors and veils as I often am when coming back from Muslim areas.
It’s ironic that you see less chadors and veils (namely none) in some regions of Lebanon than you will in the cities of Europe, North America, Australia or anywhere else in the world for that matter.
Friday, January 13, 2006
MARCHING TO THEIR TUNE
Although the March 14th 2005 mass rally was a great showcase for Lebanese freedom, the so called Cedar Revolution was arguably the first ‘’revolution’’ waged on behalf of the Establishment.
Beware the day before the Ides of March.
People took to the streets for the house of Hariri, Joumblat and other chieftains – an indication that they’re quite happy with their feudal systems (borne out by the subsequent elections which saw those feudal lords actually gaining seats in parliament) but wanted an ‘’independent’’ feudal system without Syrian oversight.
Since then, the ‘’new’’ old order has paid lip service to the March 14’ers, constantly invoking their name while they lick their lips in anticipation of distributing the spoils of the post-Syrian Lebanon.
The other ‘’Marchists’’, the equally feudal but pro-Syrian marchers who took to the streets on March 8th, are also clamouring for their share of the spoils.
Despite some disagreement between the two factions over how to fill the vacuum left by the Syrian withdrawal, they will eventually revert to the unity that characterizes any Establishment.
Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri (March 8th is circled in red on his calendar) recently called for middle ground between the March 8th and March 14th movements (how about midday March 11th?)
What Lebanon needs is evolution not revolution and that looks like it’s still a long way off.
Evolution negates the need for revolution, evolution is revolution.
All the Hariri gang took from that famous day is its name – paying no heed to the hopes and aspirations of so many well-meaning people whom they duped and exploited for political gain.
As Lebanese politicians previously divided us for their own purposes, they are now bringing us (at least Maronites, Sunnis and Druze) together for their own purposes.
Hopefully in the future we can come together for the right reasons and without the political middlemen in between.
It looks like Lebanese sectarianism has been reduced from its previous dangerous lynch mob state to a more benign chauvinism more akin to peaceful nationalism.
After all Lebanese sects are nations unto themselves who still live among their own, prefer their own and are still apprehensive of the other by mere force of habit and history but are too smart and have seen too much to turn against each other violently when incidents that are calculated to do just that occur.
It’s reassuring to see Lebanese practice this new ‘’white’’ sectarianism rather than just caring for themselves - the individualistic Punic Faith of their ancestors.
Hopefully one day this can be extended to the actual wider nation itself.
Although Lebanese are more polarized now than they ever have been, the silver lining in the cloud is that it’s good that they are differing on something other than religion now – I suppose that differing on ideology is a step up for us.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Finished stacking my new bookshelf today.
It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be as I had to struggle with the age old dichotomy and dilemma of choosing whether to stack them according to genre (more methodical) or according to size (looks neater).
I went for the later and now have a rich mixture of neat and orderly lines of books – the randomness making it all the richer and more colourful like a box of assorted chocolates.
Now that I a have proper ‘’homeland’ for my books I’m on a Munich-style hunt (a la Mossad’s relentless hunting down and killing of all those involved in the kidnapping of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics) for all the books I’ve lent to people over the years that haven’t been returned (and there are enough of them).
Although I’ve borrowed many books myself, I’ve returned every one of them – evidenced by the fact that there is not one book on my bookshelf that is of doubtful provenance.
There’s only one book that I’m not one hundred percent sure of - Dale Carnegie’s ‘’How to Win Friends and Influence People’’ that has my good friend Will Minchin’s name on it.
Suffice to say, I never read it (everyone I know can attest to that) so I couldn’t possibly have pilfered a book I didn’t care for.
So if any of my friends and family see me eyeing their bookshelves, I'm not admiring their superb taste in literature but am on a covert mission to ‘’bring them home’’.
My bookshelf’s main source of amusement for my young cousins appears to be the John Updike novels.
They’ve all separately, at one stage or another, looked over my books and laughed at the name which they think is ‘’up dick’’.
Saturday, January 07, 2006
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAIL
Friday, January 06, 2006
My notebook’s on the blink (literally, the screen is “shivering” and darkened), so I’ve gone back to my old better habit of reading proper literature instead of reading online newspapers etc (a Sisyphean task - as soon as you finish the day’s newspapers, it’s time to start all over again with the next day’s newspapers).
I’m reading a "notebook" (aka a "book") I bought for 2500 Lebanese Lira ($1.6).
This example of a brilliant millennia-old “cutting-edge" technology is about the size of my hand, 600 pages of text and has an endless power supply.
Compare $1.6 with the $121 the local C**tpaq agents want to charge me to import an adaptor (which they think may be the problem) from overseas (my Compaq laptop is comparatively ancient and they allegedly don’t have an adaptor for it), which I have to pay for whether or not the adaptor proves to be the problem or not.
This equivalent of having to buy an item of clothing without being allowed to try it on first would have been okay at Moscow’s Gum department store during the Soviet era but is not acceptable in a modern so-called capitalist economy (I think Lebanon veers more to the feral capitalist side though)
That plus a $50 service charge to examine the computer if the problem doesn’t turn out to be the adaptor means that I could end up paying $171 before I even know what the problem is.
Although I’m enjoying my reading, I’m faced with the Scylla of exorbitant anti-free market practices and the Charybdis of not having a properly working computer.
I’m writing this on waning battery power - it barely gives me enough time to check my spam (believe it or not but I actually read my spam because some of them have proverbs and quotes etc.).
But I still speed-read the papers as a sort of sorbet to cleanse the palate between reading heavier stuff.
A kind of break yet still reading – like a jogger running on the spot while stopped at the side of the road waiting for the traffic to pass or for the lights to change or like a swimmer treading water.
Reading the papers and other periodicals is also like the starter or aperitif for a literary feast – at the start of the day I always read the papers to ‘’warm up’’ for proper reading and at the end of the day I read the papers to ‘’warm down’’.
And I’m not going to run out of books to read anytime soon.
I’ve been raiding the discount sections of two Beirut bookshops for a couple of years now – a veritable goldmine of literature classics sold for 2000 to 2500 lira.
They’re new not second-hand but are older prints.
That people just don’t read books anymore, let alone classic literature, is my gain.
In my biggest acquisition I bought fifty books, in two visits, weighing ten kilos (I weighed them when I got home) for one hundred thousand lira – that works out to ten thousand lira a kilo!
That’s literally as cheap as chips – a fifty gram bag of chips costs around five hundred lira here so a kilo of chips (20 bags times x five hundred lira) would cost ten thousand lira (the same as a kilo of books).
I don’t buy books just because they’re on sale but it’s coincidental that the books I read, old classics that I’ve been paying top dollar for over the years, are the ones that are now on sale.
As if weighing the books wasn’t eccentric enough, when I get home I also wipe the covers with rubbing alcohol (not that they're dirty it but it freshens them up a bit after years on the shelves and in storerooms)and put my literary laundry outside on the clotheshorse to air for a couple of hours.
God only knows what my neighbours must think of me.
The taxi driver driving me home after one of my literary jaunts, seeing me lugging bags of concealed printed ''produce'', must have thought that was I shopping for actual produce because he told me that his friend was selling discount vegetables off the back of a truck and recommended him to me.
I was too embarrassed to tell him that I was lugging books not beets.
These back editions are not only cheaper but also smell nicer – I love the sweet vanilla like smell of old books.
Newer prints just don’t compare, they hardly smell at all and when they do, it’s a tangier tarter smell than the sweet settled smell of older books.
READING LOLITA IN LITTLE TEHRAN
I’ve pretty much mined and depleted that vein though – along with some people you’d think least likely to be interested in classic English language literature.
I went to one of these bookshops only to find the discount section completely empty.
The shop assistant told me that a Hezbollah orphanage had bought the whole lot (including everything they had in storage).
Two thousand dollars worth!
Who knew that Hezbollah was so interested in Daniel Defoe?
Maybe the next generation of Hezbollah fighters will be challenging Israelis to duels at dawn by taking a glove off and slapping their faces with it.
I wish they would – this old-fashioned way of dealing with grievances man to man was a lot more gentlemanly and spared everybody else.
Good on them and good luck to them – English literature is tough enough for any kid, let alone a Hezbollah orphan.
My English teachers in high school had to put up with whining complaints from the back of the class such as ‘’Miss, when we go to a job interview are they going to ask us if we’ve read ‘Of Mice and Men’?’’.
Say what you like about them but at least they look after their own.
Which is more than can be said for us – Christians often remark that the Muslims and the Muslim religious bodies look after their own better than we do and that if the church loosened its purse strings a bit, it could wipeout poverty and unemployment in Christian areas on its very own.
Not such a wild claim when you consider that the various religious groups are estimated to own about a quarter of all Lebanese property.
Monday, January 02, 2006
Watching bits of the Australia versus South Africa Test cricket match live on Supersport.
Last time I was in Melbourne (early 2002) I was telling my friend Noel that I had only managed to attend the first day of a particular funeral back in Lebanon.
‘’The first day!’’ Noel exclaimed’’ it sounds like the cricket’.
I explained the elaborate Lebanese funeral ritual to him – how the afflicted receive visitors paying their condolences for three successive days after the funeral etc.
On reflection, it does sound a bit like Test cricket which takes place over a maximum fives days but often doesn’t last that long.
And just like the cricket in some parts of the world, some of these rituals are televised live on Lebanese television (usually when it’s a political figure).
Most recently, the tragic assassination of Lebanese journalist and parliamentarian Gebran Tueni and its aftermath last month received extensive live television coverage for five days – the assassination on Monday, the funeral on Tuesday and three subsequent days of his family receiving condolences.
I find the rampant sectarianism of cricket very disquieting though - bowlers are classified according to their religious affiliation (either orthodox or unorthodox of all things)
It sounds like the sort of classification you would have had in Constantinople after the Great Schism!
It reminds me of the positive discrimination I used to engage in when hosting my programs on Lebanese radio - I remember making sure that Muslim participants were amongst the winners in the phone-in competitions I used to host.
I even remember the manager picking out Muslim names for me on occasions to counterbalance our station’s predominant sectarian and regional demographic.
We were even frantically looking for a Shiite DJ at one stage when the government began to regulate and licence radio and TV stations and required that staff had to be from all sects.
(where does one find a Shiite DJ in a pinch?).
Not surprising when you consider that Lebanon is the ultimate diarchy with Christians and Muslims represented 50/50 in parliament, the bureaucracy etc (or they’re meant to be anyway).
I’ve even been told that in the old days executions were even carried out according to this 50/50 ratio.
Executions aren’t so common in Lebanon these days but the last executions, in January 2004, appeared to follow that same formula – a Shiite, a Sunni and a Maronite were executed.
Sunday, January 01, 2006
WHERE’S THE PROBLEM?
-Shiite ministers withdraw from Lebanese government
-Border with Syria remains closed
Customer service is not exactly a Lebanese forte.
Somebody I know told me about how he’d tried to bargain over some stuff he was paying for at the register (‘’you gotta haggle’’ in Lebanon).
The bill was for 120,000 LL, so he suggested to the cashier that they forget about that 20,000 Lira at the end.
‘’No’’ she replied ‘’you’ll pay that 20,000 Lira before you pay the 100,000!’’ Needless to say, he left the stuff there and walked straight out of the shop.
Only to be followed by the manager who implored him to overlook the cashier’s rudeness – apparently she was new to the job.
I’d hate to see what she’s like when she gets more established and confident there.
Talk about turning on a dime!
So many of the politicians who are now so vociferously attacking Syria and the Arab League are the very same politicians who so vociferously defended Syrian and Arabism not too long ago and persecuted anyone who disagreed with this.
Don’t Lebanese media outlets have archives?
I suppose the term opposition politics in Lebanon really means opposing yourself - saying the exact opposite now of what you were saying this time last year.
I don’t think that the war of words being waged by the media and politicians both in Damascus and Beirut is in the interests of the Syrian or Lebanese people.
Granted, most Lebanese people have serious issues with Syria but most of them just want to get on with their lives.
I liken being anti-Syrian now to being anti-Turk or anti-Ottoman.
They’re gone – we need to tie up some loose ends but it’s over, it's history (just like the 400 year Ottoman occupation is).
My being anti-Arabism does not make me anti-Arab just neutral towards them and neutral is something we have never been in this country (when we were pro-Syrian and now that we’re anti-Syrian) although, ironically, it is the only thing we can be with such a divided population.
So why don’t we try something different?
Namely, try less – less is more.