Masses at mass

rainbow chicks

Easter is officially over. For five days, religious chants filled the supermarkets while shoppers – in priestly frocks, nuns’ habits and hijabs – stacked their trolleys high for a marathon long weekend. Fireworks went off at churches in irregular spurts from early morning through to the wee hours. I wondered if they were lit in return for donations, just like candles but more showy. The accountant sent a text message saying Qam el Messih haqan (in truth Christ has risen) and crowds streamed to and from mass constantly, carrying with them whiffs of incense.

But now the Pepsi stalls which sprang up outside cemeteries are gone and the white shrouds on the large crosses pinned to lampposts  Read the rest of this entry »

Barbarism and decadence

dusting the traffic lights

Oscar Wilde once quipped that America was the only country to go from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between. Lebanon, it could be said, has swung from civilisation to civilisation with barbarism and decadence at every turn, from the Phoenecians who are claimed to have invented the alphabet down to today’s technophile bling-addicts.

Every day the population faces a black out of three to six hours, but the Virgin Megastore in the rebuilt downtown is open til midnight. Adverts for four-door refrigerators line the highway, where, in equally disproportionate measure, beat up old bangers with bits dropping off rub shoulders with Jaguars, Maseratis, Porsches, Ferraris. The political situation is unpredictable, sometimes balancing on a knife-edge above the abyss of civil conflict, but consumerism triumphs over all as the Lebanese focus on long-term issues such as nose jobs and  Read the rest of this entry »

Retail therapy for all

maid in mall

Stepping inside one of the spotless modern malls is all it takes to forget the bullet-riddled façades and abandoned shells which still stand witness to the civil war. Beirut has imported this US concept whole and wholeheartedly, right down to the western prices. It is the perfect antidote to realism, the great escape from petty power politics for the world weary. The gleaming shop windows, pristine marble floors and vigorous air conditioning smooth away the discomfort of the grime, the dust, the poverty and the heat outside. Here the high-street stores of London, Paris and Rome ply their western wares to well-off locals and Saudi tourists until late in the evening seven days a week.

Behind each family in the bright shining mall trails a Filipina or a Sri Lankan, or maybe an African girl. She carries the designer brand purchases or pushes the pram, wipes chocolate from chubby grubby fingers, mops the noses of snotty  Read the rest of this entry »