Streets of Beirut VI

stacking chairs

This Friday’s photo shows a team of men collecting hired chairs after an outdoor event near Martyrs Square. If you look closely you can see a chair in motion being tossed onto the truck. Not only do the Lebanese subscribe to the outdoor living called for in a Mediterranean climate, they also manage to spend an impressive amount of time on top of vehicles, using them as ladders or shop stalls or catching an open-air ride in the back.

Names related

rival baptismal sites where John the Baptist is said to have preached: Israel (left) and Jordan (right)

Many of the distinctions between Anglo-Saxon culture and that of the Middle East come down to individualism on one side and communal living on the other. This is typified in the most basic prop of social interaction and key element of first impressions, the names we give during introductions.

The British – and even more so the Americans – work hard to find an individual name for their children. This name will, they feel, express the child’s uniqueness and help it to be viewed by others as an individual.

So they can’t call it Joe – there’s already an Uncle Joe. They can’t call it Emma – there will be three Emma’s in its class at school. They can’t call it Jonathan because people will shorten it to Jon and there are so many Johns. They can’t call it a whole range of wonderful names simply because they are just too common. Common is the worst insult for a name. They want their kid to be special. But not too special. Not strange.

It’s a hard balance to strike. It is surely easier to have a regional shortlist of top names, all of which – within the given community – are beyond criticism, true classics. Names like  Read the rest of this entry »

The best man’ouché joint in town


Beirut is known for its see-and-be-seen culture. At work or play, the Lebanese like to dress to the nines. Glad rags are the order of the day, every day. Sunglasses are a permanent fixture, eyebrows are subjugated, and manicures are as fresh as a jus d’orange pressé. Thirty-somethings blitz the sales in full-face make-up but remain impeccable thanks to the domestic help that they’ve brought along to carry their growing pile of purchases and keep the kids quiet by stuffing them with chocolate. Matriarchs in full hijab wedge themselves into café chairs on pavements complaining about back-pain, bright stilettos peeking out from under their black folds. The maid gets to put the bags down and, like the children, have an ice-cream and play – or rather to play mummy, which is not quite the same thing. But of course she doesn’t need a sit-down since she’s not the one wearing stilettos. The other mothers sit back and sip their espresso, languidly comparing purchases and indiscreetly commenting on the appearance of passers-by from behind their sunglasses.

oven and peel

So it is sometimes refreshing to deal with some down-to-earth  Lebanese whom you might not bump into strutting the Beiruti triangle between tanning salon, manicurist and designer stores. My man’ouché kiosk is an ideal place for that. Not only does it serve what are arguably the best mana’iche in town, they come with a big smile and a mini Arabic lesson from the vivacious woman whose family runs the joint. Her friendly, outgoing manner is the only  Read the rest of this entry »

Streets of Beirut IV

pristine machine

This looks a lot like somebody’s pride and joy.  Two wheels are the only way to get through Beirut’s horrendous commuter traffic, though there are plans for a water taxi to pick passengers up along the coast and drop them off in the capital.