Friday, November 29, 2013

Scraps of Beirut

I was looking through a notebook trying to find something I had written recently when I came across a few pages about Beirut that I never typed out and posted. They aren't dated, but I wrote them after To the Lighthouse, so it had be in November 2011. This post is bits and pieces of things I observed. I've only made minor edits here; I've left the substance intact.

* * *
Each morning I sit at a coffee shop to have my morning cup, and fortunately it is warm enough to sit outside. The terrace is not too far from this block's garbage bins.

Digging through the garbage is a full-time job, a recycling process forced into existence by sectarian poverty, a class of second class citizens of Lebanon. The endless stream of garbage that goes into the bins (how do people have so much trash?) is kept from overflowing by the nonstop procession of small trucks arriving to salvage whatever can be sold or recycled for money.

What it must be like to make your living from trash. Boys who should be in school are often part of this parade of humiliation, too poor to afford or appreciate education. The shame has long gone from them; they have accepted the cards dealt to them. What are their options? On Planet Earth, if you are born into poverty, that is what you are. There is no escape from it. That's why rags-to-riches stores are so glamorous to us - they are so rare they are notable.

Plastic bottles are treasure for them; metal of all kinds finds its way into the trucks. I watched a boy beat a portable fan against the pavement until it ceded its intestines to him. A rusty garbage pail, an empty butter container, a jug of vegetable oil. They are very particular, very quick, and it doesn't take long before one truck leaves and another takes its place.

I wonder about the situation of their women at home. Probably second-class citizens of the second-class citizens, cooks and cleaners and invisible souls held down by the ignorance of religion or the necessity of poverty.

* * * 

I just witnessed a guy wanting to park his car in a spot where another guy had put a ladder to save the spot. He made a turn, blocked the intersection, got out of his car to move the ladder, argued with a guy who explained the spot was saved, got back into the car, and ran into a parking post, cracking his bumper in the process. He left after a couple of minutes. Then, the car for whom the spot was reserved pulls up and runs into the car in front of him.

* * *

There's finally some grass growing in Sanayeh Gardens. It's not pretty; weeds and patches of brown throughout, but it is a vast improvement from the barrenness that had plagued it when I first started coming here.

Sanayeh sits across from the Ministry of Interior, a building in which I once sat in a meeting with Ziad Baroud, who was minister at the time. It's now controlled by Michael Aoun, who is best buddies with Hezbollah. I'm quite certain the man who followed me to this part of the park and is sitting on the bench across from me is some sort of "intelligence," though intelligence is hardly the proper word for the paranoid idiocy that goes on in this country. I can feel him watching me as I write this. Creepy.

It's quite nice to be sitting in a t-shirt in the sun. Autumn in Washington has depressed me greatly.

Good news on the Sanayeh front, as the "New" Sanayeh Gardens will open in May 2014. Looking forward to seeing the renovations. I doubt I get to Beirut before then, unless Santa Claus brings me a million dollars for Christmas.

* * *

[Written on top of the page: "A House of Many Mansions" Kamal Salibi, "La chatelaine du Liban" Pierre Benoit]

Martyrs Square, downtown Beirut. We hear the term in the Arab world and think "suicide bomber" or victim of dictatorial oppression. Martyrs Square in Beirut was the site where the Ottomans hung Lebanese journalists for daring to demand independence during the First World War.

The history of Modern Beirut is a history of __________ of journalists. From the executions at Martyrs Square by the imperial Turks to the assassination of Samir Kassir by the Syrian mafia, Beirut has been a gauntlet of danger through which many journalists have not emerged. Yet journalists are drawn to the city and the functional chaos. To many, if feels like the center of the universe, a "laboratory of modernity," as Kassir called it, the intersection of past, present, future.

The blank should say "assassinations" or "dangers" or something of that nature. I never thought of the appropriate term to use there. "Sorrow" might be appropriate.

* * *

[Here is a whole page of notes - I guess I had intended to write more about the journalists in leaving it mostly blank. "Laodicea - Seleucids" is written atop the page. Laodicea is the name of several Greek cities built by the Seleucid Empire in the 3rd century BC. Laodice was the wife of a Seleucid king who became heir to the throne. He cheated on her when he was emperor, so she poisoned him and started a war because of it, known as the Laodicean War or the Third Syrian War. I have no idea why I wrote the note.

The word "energetism" is written on the page as well. Energetism is a philosophy of science involving the primacy of energy over matter. German scientist Wilhelm Ostwald was the most enthusiastic proponent of the concept. I'm not sure why I wrote down the word, but it makes sense given that I'm interested in the world beyond the physical realm, that which is more than just materialism.

"St. Jude martyred in Beirut" is also scribbled on the page. This, according to various sources, happened in 65 AD. It's only appropriate that he was killed in Beirut, as he is the patron saint of lost causes.

"Khodr = George." I guess someone told me that "Khodr" is the Arabic form of "George."

Finally, someone named "Jimmie" wrote his name, email, and phone number on the page. I don't know who he is.]

* * *

[Top of  page: "THINGS TO GET: Bananas, candle, matches/lighter, t-shirt, notebook, phone card." Mmm...Lebanese bananas are the best.]

No matter the violence, no matter how many times they've tried to kill each other, the Lebanese of the various sects don't claim their version of God is superior to the others, not like American Christians who have the naive belief that America is a "Christian" nation and who would outlaw other religions if that pesky little thing called the first amendment didn't get in the way.

Lebanese sectarianism is tribalism in a modern mask, its chieftains are the leaders of wealthy families and the mafias often mistaken for political parties.

It's true. Tough for Westerners to understand that religion is just an excuse for powermongers to fight their turf wars, but Lebanese sectarianism is less about religion than it is about territory and control. Sect is just another word for tribe.

* * *

I see things as they have been and could be; the past is the present is the future because time does not exist. What is, is. Roman ruins still stand in alternative variations of what they had been, their purpose no longer the worship of gods but to satisfy the curiosities of tourists, historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, philosophers, writers, sociologists, psychologists, scientists...the temple of Bacchus, the God of Wine, stands very much intact in territory currently controlled by Hezbollah, who often closes liquor stores on the grounds that alcohol is immoral. 

How do we fight the greed of men who care not how many people suffer and die for their petty desires? How do we fight the ignorance that entraps youth who follow ideologues who tell them to fight for such petty desires? How do we provide the jobs for those youth so they don't fall into those traps? You're not going to change the minds of adults whose minds are firmly entrenched in the beliefs instilled in them since childhood; rare is the adult who is brave enough to look in the mirror and say, "What do I need to change about myself?" But it seems that it's easier to be drawn into the negative than to better one's self.

At this moment I'm staring at a table of Scientologists who are trying to recruit new members to their cult with falsehoods and deception. They're offering a free "Stress Test," in which they'll "reveal" to the desperate that the problems in their lives are a result of stress and offer Scientology as a means to alleviate said stress. Banned as a cult in France and German, these people have recently opened a new building they say will teach superpowers and "raise the dead." Who gets drawn into this insanity but the vulnerable, those who are unhappy with their lives? It's the same mentality of the people of the various sects of Lebanon. Despite the real and tested possibility of destruction, they go on with their sectarian insanity, hang their political banners in the streets to mark their territory, fight at universities, places that are supposed to be about higher learning.

Will it ever end? 

I believe that Lebanon is the answer to the problems in the Middle East. If you get Lebanon right, the dominoes fall. Forget Israel, forget Saudi Arabia, forget Syria and Iraq...if the Lebanese could just set up a functional state, if they could implement real democracy, if they could overcome corruption and fix their infrastructure problems, if, if ,if, if, if...

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