Mops and shops

sparkling supermarket floors

Smart Lebanese supermarkets, like the mall, offer middle-class locals a few dust-free hours of relative serenity and indulgence, in the Lebanon that would exist if its various incarnations could only stop bickering amongst themselves and find unity in materialism and good food. It’s a day-trip to the West, complete with Marmite, peanut butter, American cake mix, organic chocolate and croissants at the bakery counter.  It is a highly convincing effort, but a small detail gives the game away. Just like a European store, it has an abundance of choice, special offers at every turn, staff in unflattering uniforms and it is clean. Too clean, in fact. The impeccable surfaces betray the cheap labour of the third world. A handful of staff spend the entire day propelling wide mops down the aisles and back. Where else would you see   Read the rest of this entry »

Peacetime bedlam

men at work in the dark

One thing that hits you in Beirut is the constant commotion. The air is always laden with shouting, drilling, generator chugging, car alarms, sirens, wedding fireworks and screeching brakes. Drivers voluntarily add to the noise by leaning on their horns at random but frequent occasions. The result is a healthy din. All this type of noise means peace and prosperity. Making noise means you are alive. When there is peace, the Lebanese build on Sundays, on bank holidays, they build in the dark, huge beams lighting up multi-storey buildings after the swift nightfall. Cranes mushroom across the city overnight adding storey after storey of luxury apartments and office blocks.

In sharp contrast, at times of fighting all is quiet save for the dry staccato of machine guns and the more substantial thud of RPGs. Unless the gun battles are on your doorstep, this is often quieter than an average day of peacetime cacophony. In May 2008, when Hizbollah fought for,  Read the rest of this entry »

Life forms on a Lebanese road

goldfish and snakes for sale on roundabout

The traffic is like cattle. It flows endlessly over the uneven terrain of potholes like a drove of sturdy Welsh black cows jerking across hummocky pastures down the hillside, flank to steaming flank, belching and jostling to lead, straying briefly from the herd to snatch a tasty bite from one of the kaaka bread or chestnut stalls that line the roads. The decorative white markings which may be found on certain stretches of shoddy tarmac have as much influence on the vehicles as one would expect them to have on livestock. Occasionally the gregarious behaviour hits a snag, as a rebel element swerves into the fast lane without indication and lurches across the excuse for a central reservation to effect an about-turn on the highway.

Pedestrians, like flies on a hot day, are an  Read the rest of this entry »