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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

    Sunday, April 27, 2008  
    Just got back from my walk to Jounieh.
    Because it was late I didn’t call my usual nighttime taxi driver even though he’s very reliable and is on-call twenty four hours a day.
    I don’t usually call Lebanese taxi drivers because they’re notoriously unreliable and unpunctual but I discovered the only reliable taxi driver in Lebanon about two months ago.
    So I decided to try another taxi driver I encounter on my late-night walks who, like every other taxi driver, is always shoving his phone number at me and urging me call him at any time because he’s so reliable blah-blah-blah.
    I called him and came to the conclusion that this barbarian shouldn’t even have a phone let alone use it for business purposes – it took him quite some time to realize that instead of shouting into the phone like a savage he should just put down the f***ing volume of the music that was blaring in the background, if he was in the car, or step out of the strip club he was probably in if he wasn’t in the car.
    He finally told me that he couldn’t pick me up because he was in Beirut.
    ‘’Tomorrow’’ he said.
    Yeah, that’s great – I’ll just stand around on the street for twenty four hours waiting for him until tomorrow.
    I told him that I wouldn’t be calling him tomorrow or any other day for that matter and that the country was full of taxis.
    Next up I called a taxi company that a relative had recently recommended to me.
    After haggling over the price with the philistine who answered the phone (even though their brochure clearly listed the price) I told him that I wished to be picked up at such and such a place in forty minutes time.
    It takes me about thirty five minutes to get to the bottom of the hill but I usually factor in five minutes of extras, sundries.
    Not good enough for this bloke – he asked me for an actual time that I wanted to be picked up at even though I’d clearly stated that I wanted to be picked up in forty minutes time.
    So I did the maths for him.
    ‘’Okay’’ I said ‘’ what’s the time now?’’
    Even though I knew what the time was, I wanted to make sure that this philistine did because I had my doubts that he could even tell the time.
    Justifiably so – ‘’what’s the time guys’’ I heard him yelling out.
    Obviously time is important to him but not so important that he’d do something drastic…like wear a watch!
    After his extensive consultations (with guys not just one single solitary measly guy), he reported back to me ‘’it’s three o’clock’’.
    ‘’No it isn’t I replied, it’s 3.15’’ (or maybe Big Ben and my watch are fifteen minutes fast because I set my time by the BBC World Service).
    If time is so important to him shouldn’t he actually know the correct time?
    ‘’So please have a taxi waiting for me at 3.50’’ (when the big hand is at three and the small hand is at fifty…).
    Like clockwork, I was at the bottom of the hill at 3.50 and, as I suspected, the taxi wasn’t.
    Surprise, surprise!
    Even though I gave up waiting for Lebanese a long time ago, I waited fifteen minutes just to be correct.
    I also couldn’t be bothered walking an extra ten minutes or so into Jounieh or possibly even further.
    I can understand why the operator wanted an exact time from me – Lebanese are getting more ‘’punctual’’.
    He wanted an exact time at which to stand me up and keep me waiting at.
    Not for him is standing up or keeping a person waiting at an approximate time like most Lebanese, say fourish in this instance.
    No, he wanted the exact time at which to stand me up.
    He wanted to stand me up ‘’punctually’’.
    So I walked into Jounieh proper and got a taxi from there.

    4:45 am

    Friday, April 25, 2008  
    Joking with a friend in an online conversation about my tendency to spout quotes for every situation, it dawned upon me that what the world really needs now is a quoting superhero.
    Quoteman would run around in a shirt emblazoned with a Q saving the world with a well-chosen apt quote for every situation.
    ‘’’We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are’ – Anais Nin.’’
    ‘’Thanks Quoteman – you saved the day, if it wasn’t for you and your quote there would never have been peace in the Middle East!’’

    My friend asked me if I had actual quote books but I don’t because that would be cheating.
    Quotes should be acquired naturally during the course of one’s normal reading not lifted from a quote farm although I must admit that those books are pretty interesting.

    2:00 am

    Wednesday, April 23, 2008  
    - thus spoke the Hajji Um Ali
    The Hajji just picked up and ate a tiny piece of bread that she’d dropped on the kitchen floor.
    It was well within the five-second rule* and well within the way she was brought up.
    The Hajji Um Ali (her nanny when she was a girl) used to tell her that you’d be picking up with your eyelashes in the after life any dropped bread that you didn’t pick up now.
    This only applies to bread because it is the staff of life so pumpkin-wasters (for example) won’t have to pick up pumpkins off the floor with their eyelashes in the after life.
    The poor Hajji (all of five years old at the time) apparently wasn’t taking any chances – she’d pick up and eat dropped bread but she’d also try to practice lifting stuff of the table with her eyelashes just in case (obviously to no avail).
    And to think that I thought that the pick-up-sticks game of my childhood was difficult.
    Picking up straws with straws is nothing compared to picking up stuff with your eyelashes!
    Strange – you can’t eat pigs but you can (and HAVE TO!) eat stuff that’s been picked up off the floor.

    *’’A popular polite fiction regarding the eating of food that has fallen to the floor or ground…The substance of the rule is that if food falls on the ground, it may be safely eaten as long as it is picked up within 5 seconds.’’ (Wikipedia)

    6:30 pm

    The taxi driver recently asked me about learning English.
    But he doesn’t want to go to classes like normal people but wants a computer program that’s translated from Arabic to English to teach him English.
    Even that must be too strenuous – surely there must be a pill that you can take to learn English!
    I imagine that such programs exist but I can’t imagine how useful they would be.
    Maybe for a genius but I find it very presumptuous that a taxi driver can assume that he can learn English (or any language for that matter) from a CD!
    The arrogance of ignorance is outstanding.
    Anyway it’s not like he wants to learn English for noble purposes but so that he can rip-off people in another language.

    And I don’t buy this Continental European propaganda that English is an easy language to learn.
    English is the language of Shakespeare, the language of the Bible (well my Bible’s in English) and was the language of the empire that the sun never set on.
    I can’t believe that there are some bourgeois Lebanese who still spout that highly offensive old chestnut about French being the language of culture and English being the language of business.
    Anyway, it’s not the language but what you do with it and it’s parochial to think that one’s language (whatever it is) is superior or special.
    Some retard once told me that she was ‘’in love with Arabic’’.
    How can you be in love with a language?
    It’s like being in love with a computer program.
    A language is just an enabler, a medium, a means to an end.

    5:20 pm

    Saturday, April 19, 2008  
    Another week and another stand-off between polygamist cultists and the Feds in the United States.
    My legal reading of this is that the US Constitution forbids polygamist marriages (and even monogamist marriages for that matter) when it forbids ‘’cruel and unusual punishment’’ in the Eighth Amendment.
    Also the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution forbids double jeopardy.

    11:00 pm

    I had to interrupt my start of the day reading of the newspapers online because the Hajji needed to make an ‘’important’’ phone call to Tripoli to deal with the crisis du jour.
    Someone’s daughter had left her husband.
    ‘’If you’re going to call every Muslim commoner who’s left her husband today, I might as well get you the Tripoli phonebook’’ I protested to the Hajji.
    ‘’You might as well call a cat who’s just left her ‘husband’ because even that is rarer’’ I pleaded to no avail.
    Aware that no man can stand in the way of the Hajji one a mission, I reluctantly surrendered the phone line.
    Although divorce is famously easy in Islam, it’s generally the lower classes that practice it with such frequency and relish.
    If these people read as many books as they ‘’wrote’’ (the marriage contract in Islam is called ‘’writing the book’’) they’d be geniuses!
    And before they get married and divorced they seem to get engaged to different people on a daily basis.
    I’m no sociologist but it seems to me that the Muslim lower classes – like the lower classes everywhere (just watch the Jerry Springer Show for confirmation) - are always squabbling.
    These daily doses of drama are like a sport to them.
    "There is material for a dozen buccaneering stories to be picked up in the hotels at Circular Quay" Robert Louis Stevenson observed of colonial Sydney.
    By the same token, there is material for a dozen soap operas to be picked up in the day’s events in one Tripoli household.
    Such squabbling is the characteristic of the lower classes but an important distinction to make here is the short-term nature of such squabbles as these people don’t have the patience to maintain a long-running feud.
    Just as soon as a squabble erupts, it is forgotten and replaced by another one.
    They’ll forget about it and move on to something else long before you do.
    That’s what I’ll often tell the Hajji who takes these things at face value and gets worried.
    ‘’Call them back in half an hour and you’ll find that they’ll have forgotten about it and moved onto something else’’.
    As I said before, squabbling is endemic to the lower classes anywhere, but it seems to me that in Lebanon Christians don’t tend to squabble so much.
    Maybe it’s because they’re to busy trying to rip people off and make money.

    Maybe commoners fight more because they’re less inhibited and protective of their reputations than gentlefolk or maybe, quite simply, because there’s nothing else to do to like they ‘’dance and drink and screw, because there's nothing else to do’’ according Pulp’s brilliant 1995 hit “Common People’’.
    Common people care about appearances in the superficial sense only i.e. their looks and their clothing often dressing “better’’ than gentlefolk because they’re complexed and have the typical demotic misconception that class is about superficial appearances and luxuries whereas class is really about character not cloth.

    5:45 pm

    Friday, April 18, 2008  
    ‘’When I joined the Labor Party, it contained the cream of the working class. But as I look about me now all I see are the dregs of the middle class…’’
    - Kim Beazely Snr

    I used to consider all Australian Labor Party leaders as secular Caliphs of the Australian labor movement and used to regard them with the same reverence that Muslims used to regard their Caliphs but, to further the Caliph analogy, the era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs (as Sunni Muslims refer to the four Caliphs who ruled after the Prophet Mohamed and before the schism) ended with Simon Crean.
    I don’t recognize any Labor leader after Simon Crean.
    I respect Mark Latham’s intellect and think that intellectually he is a worthy successor to the old-style intellectual Labor leaders but politically he is the equivalent of Mustapha Kamel Ataturk who abolished the Caliphate.
    Although Paul Keating had certain counterrevolutionary class traitor tastes and policies he was still a Labor man at core and at heart.
    Anyone who can cuss and insult (albeit inteligently and creatively) like he does is still a son of the Left and a son of the streets and the people as far as Im concerned.
    Vladimir Lenin was (eventually) right when he said ‘’the Australian Labor Party does not even claim to be a Socialist Party. As a matter of fact it is a liberal-bourgeois party’’ but was just a little chronologically off – only now has that come true.
    A sad end for one of the oldest political parties in the world and the party that formed the first Labor government in the world in 1899.

    4:00 pm

    Wednesday, April 16, 2008  
    A neighbour (of the dry laconic sardonic type endemic to this part of the country) was telling me about a Saudi he knew who wasn’t particularly clean.
    ‘’He got around to washing his d---* let him wash his face too’’.

    *The longer more comprehensive Muslim ritualistic ablutions, which are conducted before major events like Friday prayers, a pilgrimage etc, include washing the private parts.

    I can’t actually read or write Arabic but I think that if I wait around a couple of years I won’t need to.
    Lebanese Arabic transliterated into Latin letters is fast becoming all the rage here especially amongst the younger internet generation.
    In Lebanese internet chat rooms you won’t see a stitch of Arabic script but Lebanese Arabic written in Latin script.
    In fact Latin font is the only script allowed in the ICQ Lebanon chat room for example (ostensibly because some computers don't support Arabic font).
    My young cousins will chat away for hours in instant message exchanges on the internet with their friends in Arabic written in Latin script.
    I’ve even seen advertisements in newspapers and on billboards, television promos and blogs that employ the same technique.
    Lebanese Arabic could eventually go the same way as Turkish which abandoned the Arabic script for the Latin script they now use.

    2:45 pm

    Sunday, April 06, 2008  
    Just got back from my walk to Jounieh.
    The taxi I caught back up was an old beat-up screwdriver in the window pane type so I asked the driver whether the window opened.
    ‘’You can’t open it’’ he replied.
    ‘’So it doesn’t open?’’ I asked.
    ‘’Oh yes, it opens’’ he replied ‘’but you can’t open it’’.
    ‘’Why not!’’
    ‘’Because you’re sweaty* and you’ll get 'struck by the wind'’’
    Not wanting to offend his animist sensibilities I replied that he was right but that I was hot so I proposed and negotiated a compromise whereby I would open my window but he would keep his window closed thus warding off deadly crosswinds!
    And I thought that Windows Vista was complicated!

    *I wasn’t sweaty but they all assume that you’re sweaty because you’ve been walking.
    I very rarely sweat when I walk and when I do, when it’s really hot, it’s barely and certainly not apparent or visible.

    9:15 pm

    Writing is a form of neurosis as the old adage goes.
    Sometimes I’ll be away from my Dictaphone (e.g. in the shower) and I’ll think of something that I think is important (but in actual reality is just crap like everything else I write) and I’ll be figuratively gasping for air until I finish what I’m doing, rush to my Dictaphone, grab it as if it was an oxygen mask and gush out what I have to say.
    Then I can breathe again.
    I write because I ‘’have to’’ (I feel compelled to) and not because I want to.
    I don’t think that anybody writes because they want to.
    Writing is a compulsion thus arguably more of a mental illness than a job or a hobby.
    I would argue that an amateur writer is someone who writes in ‘’cold blood’’ (i.e. without passion) and the difference between an amateur writer and a professional writer is not that a professional writer gets paid, published or praised but that a professional writer is someone to whom writing is a compulsory form of purging.

    1:30 pm

    Tuesday, April 01, 2008  
    The Hajji has become quite religious in her old age.
    Nasser and the revolution are long dead and the Lebanese Sunni elite have embraced religion and/or Zionism (from Nasser to Netanyahu in just one generation).
    Whenever a family member goes any where, the Hajji will stand at the door whispering under her breath and waving her hands around.
    This daughter of a secular Sunni feudal family who became revolutionaries du jour during the Nasser era thinks she’s praying but it’s unlike any praying I’ve ever seen but looks more like something someone casting a spell would do.
    To the uninitiated it also looks like she’s begging.
    Once she chased my brother Guy and me down to the garage and was standing next to the car doing her magic as my brother and I were in the car preparing for our blessed journey.
    ‘’Give her a thousand lira, that ought to do it’’ I suggested to my brother.
    He promptly got out of the car and gave her a thousand lira.
    It works at the traffic lights!

    5:30 pm

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