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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

    Thursday, December 28, 2006  
    - unprecedented fourth year in a row
    "I'm shocked and stunned!This is just so unexpected - a total surprise!When did this happen?"
    - www.renatobeidsworld.blogspot.com's Man of the Year, Renato Obeid on learning of the honour.

    Editor’s note: There has been considerable controversy of late over how one man can win four consecutive polls (as if that’s never happened before in the Arab world, or in the Western world for that matter – Australian Prime Minister John Howard is in his fifth consecutive term) but the editor maintains that this result is a true reflection of the wish(es) of the regular reader(s) of this blog (namely himself).
    Nevertheless, in the interests of transparency, President Jimmy carter is cordially invited to monitor next year’s poll to confirm that I haven’t coerced myself into voting for myself.
    As for allowing multiple candidates to run, that would be anarchy and, as the old Arabic proverb goes, better a hundred years of tyranny than one night of anarchy.

    8:00 pm

    I took to the streets in silent protest against my insomnia yet again yesterday afternoon, copping a bit of rain and snow (which doesn’t happen very often this close to the coast).
    For my troubles I was ‘’rewarded’’ with meeting The Taxi Driver Who Met George Hamilton.
    That doesn’t happen every day either.
    Every cloud has its sliver lining and to think that, there but for the grace of God, I could have been at home asleep and would have missed out on this.
    This middle-aged gentleman, who spoke English in a New York barman accent, had been the actor George Hamilton’s chauffeur when he visited Lebanon in its pre-war heyday and has obviously been dining out on that story ever since.
    He took Mr. Hamilton to the Casino Du Liban on three evenings in a row where Hamilton incurred losses of thirty thousand dollars a day at the blackjack table but, I’m told, didn’t care because he was only playing for the atmosphere.
    Hamilton gave the taxi driver to the stars a thousand dollars a day on those three days saying that his family probably needed it more than the people at the casino.
    Not such a big deal when you consider that, according to the taxi driver, this Hamilton was one of the Hamiltons whose forebear Alexander Hamilton is none other than the man on the US ten dollar note.
    Hamilton also offered to help him to immigrate to the United States but, hey, who needed to in those days (how many New York cabbies make a thousand dollars a day?).
    He has since regretted declining and was wondering how he could find Mr. Hamilton and take him up on his offer.
    I told him I’d Google him.
    I’m no George Hamilton so I negotiated him down to 10 000 Lira, quite an improvement on the preposterous price he first quoted me – he told me that he was ‘’expensive’’ because, apart from having a ‘’diplomat’s’’ car (a Mercedes 500 or something – not the height of luxury and not so unusual in a country where practically every second car is a Mercedes), he was also a tour guide.
    Although the only ‘’tour guiding’’ he did with me was of the most obvious variety – he pointed to a six storey high advertisement for Almaza beer (pictured below) and said ‘’beer’’.
    Thanks buddy – I didn’t see that six storey high image of a bottle of beer that has ‘’beer’’ written on it and even if I had have seen it, I wouldn’t have understood it without your commentary.
    Muggins me.


    UPDATE: The taxi driver isn’t the only one with fond memories of that visit.
    Denise Hartman, an American former resident of Beirut, kindly emailed me after reading this to tell me that she met George Hamilton and the late actor Sean Flynn at a record shop in Beirut and that ‘’they were very kind to an awestruck teenager’’.

    I didn’t carry an umbrella because it wasn’t raining when I set out and because, during a rainstorm, an umbrella is of little if any use with the rain coming in from all around you – left right and centre and maybe even from above.
    It’s also my experience that an umbrella might be of use in the city, where you’re protected from the howling rain by buildings etc, but up in the mountains it’s just not going to cut it.
    An umbrella in the mountains? – don’t make me laugh!
    Besides, athletes don’t carry umbrellas and racing bikes don’t have brakes.
    When I got over the initial horror, it felt quite liberating to be out in the open in the rain and snow without any protection.
    Anyway, even getting caught in the rain on this holy mountain is a serendipitous blessing – an impromptu ‘’baptism’’.
    Nothing happens entirely by coincidence in this land of miracles and believers.

    5:45 am

    Wednesday, December 27, 2006  
    Just got back from my walk to Jounieh.
    Although it was cold, wet and dark when I started out, when my insomnia’s particularly playing up (as it is at the moment) I prefer to go for a walk somewhat voluntarily and with dignity before I attempt to go to sleep rather than be dragged out humiliated later when I can’t get to sleep as I have to go for a walk after my second failed attempt at sleep.
    At least if I go for a walk beforehand I know that I’ve done what I had to do (taken some insomnia precautions) although results aren’t always guaranteed and sometimes I end up having gone for a walk beforehand and then having to go for another walk after my second failed attempt.
    My runners are a mess and I need new ones but, as with everything else I do, it’s a big production.
    I couldn’t find runners I liked in the sports capital of the world (Sydney) so how am I going to find them in Lebanon?
    Although runners are generally retarded all over the world these days – more like bloated shiny fluorescent tires than shoes.
    Note to self: thick socks don’t keep the water out but trap more water in than thinner socks.
    Thick socks are a scam.
    A coat works well – keeps you warmer and drier and keeps taxi drivers off your back.
    If I had a dollar for every time a taxi driver told me off for not wearing a coat or a jacket I’d have molto dollars!
    And it’s getting worse – last week the taxi driver’s friend told me off for not wearing a jacket or a coat.
    I can bet that Hilary Clinton wouldn’t have been so keen to write a book titled ‘’It Takes a Village’’ (to raise a child blah, blah, blah) if she lived in a culture where everyone told you (child or not) what to do all the time.
    How would she feel if some taxi driver or his friend told her to wear a jacket, not to be a lesbian etc?

    7:00 am

    Tuesday, December 19, 2006  
    Watching television footage of the latest bout of internecine Palestinian fighting (aka gang warfare), the question that comes to my mind is ‘’what is it about Palestinian militiamen (and Palestinian men in general for that matter) and leather jackets?’’
    They all seem to be wearing black leather jackets.
    It’s like Westside Story on the West bank.

    9:00 pm

    Sunday, December 17, 2006  
    If some people realized how stupid they are, they’d be geniuses.

    1:30 am

    Saturday, December 09, 2006  
    My72-year old aunt is the most unlikely of siege breakers but that’s exactly what she’s been doing.
    My cousin, Finance Minister Jihad Azour, is one the ministers currently holed up in the Serail (Prime Minister’s headquarters in Beirut) so my aunt has been ferrying loads of homemade food to him and his colleagues.
    My parents were at my aunt’s house tonight as my aunt was busy preparing tomorrows batch.
    Tomorrow’s menu includes kibbi nayye*, so a lady visiting reminded my aunt to include the raw onions that are a part of the kibbi nayye ritual.
    ‘’As if I’m going to send onions to the Serail!’’ my aunt replied.
    Raw onions aside, this wonderfully demonstrates Lebanese family values – no matter how old or how high up you are you still maintain family ties and you still call on your mum when you need her.

    *A raw dish of ground meat (usually lamb), bulghur wheat and various flavorings.

    8:00 pm

    Monday, December 04, 2006  
    Just got back from my walk to Jounieh, which I always consider a feat, but my greatest feat today is actually sneaking up on a taxi driver.
    How often does that happen?
    When I reach the bottom of the mountain, I try to be inconspicuous in order to not set off the gaggle*of touting taxi drivers that congregate there.
    Often to little success – they spot me and any other potential passenger a mile away.
    But today I managed to sneak up on one and address him through the open passenger side window.
    He startled and said ‘’you surprised me-I was looking the other way’’.
    These people have 360 degree vision – they ought to be border police.
    I felt like James Bond.
    I should have killed him while I had the chance.
    Next time, if there is a next time – that kind of thing doesn’t happen everyday.

    *That should be the collective term for a group of taxi drivers.

    8:45 pm

    Sunday, December 03, 2006  
    Trying to prove that the opposition doesn’t have Christian support, a reporter from the pro-government television station LBC asked a bearded (shock horror!) man at an opposition organized mass at Saint George’s Cathedral in downtown Beirut if he was a Christian.
    Beardy replied that he was but that wasn’t enough for the prayer policeman who asked him to recite the Lord’s Prayer which he then did impeccably.

    8:00 pm

    It’s funny hearing Lebanese Sunnis talk about Lebanese Shiites in exactly the same way we Maronites used to talk about them (the Sunnis).
    You hear comments along the lines of ‘’ they’re subservient to such and such a foreign country, they’ve now discovered the Lebanese flag’’ etc
    Even the Sunni media have joined in - Future Television were editorializing that demonstrators at the ongoing Hezbollah-led protests against the government are now waving Lebanese flags as compared to the Hezbollah flags they waved at previous events.
    It reminds me of the phenomenon in Australia where every previous wave of New Australians (immigrants) picks on the current wave of immigrants.
    Of course the Sunnis and Shiite aren’t immigrants (not recent immigrants anyway) but they are New Lebanese in the sense that they are newly patriotic and have only recently recognized Lebanon.
    The Sunnis have been New Lebanese for a little while and it looks like the Shiites are now becoming New Lebanese too.
    As a matter of fact, Hezbollah first started using the Lebanese flag after they claimed victory in the 1996 Grape of Wrath conflict against Israel – I remember them handing out Lebanese flags to refugees returning back to the south the day after the conflict ended (I took one just for its novelty value).

    Anyway, I think that we should all get a life and give politics a rest.
    But we can’t ‘’get a life’’ until people can live properly and people can’t live properly, regardless of who is in power, because of the inequalities in the Lebanese system.
    Inequalities that the Establishment want to maintain to keep people under their control and to be able to manipulate people into being their foot soldiers (which both political camps in Lebanon are doing at the moment).
    If we all had lives, we wouldn’t need them, we wouldn’t need politics we wouldn’t need ideology and we wouldn’t need religion – all those things are basically for poor people and are instruments to manipulate poor people with.
    In developed countries people don’t need politics, religion and ideology because they live in societies where the economy has replaced all those things.
    It can even be argued that people who are economically independent don’t even need democracy because the system runs itself and they just elect a new administrator every couple of years.
    And who cares about democracy when you don’t need it?
    When people are looked after they don’t care about any of these things.
    Look at Monaco which is ruled by an absolute monarch, look at most of the Gulf Arab countries and look at Singapore.
    Give people bread and circuses and they won’t care about the rest.
    Look after your people and they’ll leave the politics to you or they’ll at least limit their political involvement to talking about gay rights and the environment (same thing) at dinner parties.
    In Australia people are forced to vote because they simply don’t care – they don’t need to care.
    You take care of the economy for me and you can do whatever else you want.
    Destroy Iraq (a functioning country before the sanctions and the war) – what do I care? Just keep interest rates down.

    8:00 pm

    Friday, December 01, 2006  
    In the service down to Jounieh this morning we were listening to someone on the radio carrying-on about which popular Lebanese singers will be performing where on New Year's Eve.
    The driver turned around and asked me when New Year's Eve was.
    Rather than reply that it was on December 31st, I just told him that it was in a month’s time.

    Coming back home earlier on his afternoon, the taxi driver driving me up me up the mountain was telling me how well-off his archrival (another taxi driver who plys the same route) was – ‘’Just today he showed me a check for so and so many Lira!’’.
    I was impressed but not as impressed as I was when said archrival told me how rich this taxi driver was – ‘’He has three hundred thousand dollars in the bank – just today he was showing me his bank statment!’’.
    The implication is that the other is rich and that I should favour the poorer with my patronage.
    It’s funny that they both use the same sabotage technique – right down to both having seen documentary evidence of the others wealth that very day!
    Fortunately, they agree on something – like taxi drivers the world over they think that the country’s going to the dogs.

    2:45 pm

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