The concept of Mediterranean living brings to mind many images – olive groves, orange blossom, a certain style of shutters. For me it is also now embodied in the white plastic chair. This inherently second-rate and usually battered looking article is ubiquitous in Lebanon. Too cheap to bother about it being pilfered, it sits on uneven pavements, on balconies, outside tiny stores, on building sites.
It speaks volumes about a climate for outside living, where people sit on the balcony and watch their neighbours instead of TV soap operas. It comes into its own during the periods of intense inertia prescribed by the heat of a summer afternoon.
The plastic chair plays a key role in the esteemed Lebanese activity of waiting. Shopkeepers waiting outside to tell you not to park on the two metre stretch of road outside their shop (they’re saving it for customers); traffic police, bored of signalling, waiting for their colleagues to relieve them; guards watching over building sites, idly playing cards, waiting for the high-rise to be completed to then move their young family on into the ground floor of another skeleton tower; soldiers languidly draped at checkpoints and on street corners waiting for something – anything – to happen, waiting for a war.
It is a staple in a world which hankers not after hustle and bustle. It says, We have time to sit down; and we are happy to be seen doing so. There is no guilt culture about taking time out to do nothing here.
It also says, This is our space; we belong here. It is the same communal space shared by country folk the world over, but armed with the plastic chair the Lebanese have hung onto their shared space in villages and cities alike. The street is their sitting room.