jueves, 24 de febrero de 2011

Drama Queens (and Kings)

If anyone knows a Mexican, they know they will have a share of the most delicious drama. Man... us Mexicans, we love drama. We are experts, masters, no, artists in the field of drama. And the juicier, more intriguing and sentimental we can make it, the better.

Also we have very artistic and elaborate ways to express our passion for drama. Drama ranges from fist fights in bars, jealousy between couples, rolling with pain on the field during a soccer match, shouting like crazies during our independence day... But man, our music really portrays it. And the best example for this is Mariachi.

I mean... there is nothing like Mariachi. To express love, a heartbreak or just plain disappointment in life. Mariachi during weddings, during quince anios, during farewell parties... Or for serenades, when our loved one needs reassurance of our absolute devotion to her/him.

Mariachi is something like our national sport, and also our national addiction. Hey, who has not sobbed when drunk at some sad Mariachi tune?

While I am asleep,
I dream that we are walking, very close
Towards the blue sky.
But when I wake up,
The sky is red, I miss you...

I mean how can you not cry, and cut your veins in the process?

Well, I have found an equally dramatic obsessions among my dear Lebanese... Oh man. Lebanese love to relish in drama, as much as we do! And the most exquisite expression of drama is the unmatchable... Fairuz*. I recently was translating one of her tunes during my Arabic class... I felt at home, goose pumps and all. I think I have found my drama "fix" in Lebanon. Look at her, she is brilliantly dramatic!

I loved you in the summer, I loved you in the winter
I waited for you in the summer, I waited for you in the winter
Your eyes are summer, my eyes are rain
Our meeting is left behind the summer and the winter

Some similarities between the two, you think? I'm telling you, I feel at home!

*For all those Lebanese reading this, please do not see this as diminishing Fairuz. How could I? She is the "Ambassador to the Stars" after all.

domingo, 20 de febrero de 2011

Smoking in Beirut

One of the things that always strikes me when I go to Mexico is how much people smoke. Smoking is very much a social exercise, that yes, is very bad for your health, but nevertheless an ever present element in any kind (yes, even family meals) of Mexican social life.

Lebanon is pretty much the same. People smoke everywhere, all the time. Sometimes I wish that there were some bans to smoking indoors and public places-as there surprisingly are in Mexico. My clothes haven't smelled like smoke so bad after going to a bar since I was 16.

But something that we don't have in Mexico that much are arghuilehs. Arghuiles, Narguilehs (or Nargeela in Arabic), Shishas, or Hookahs are these incredible devices, otherwise known as water pipes, that are used pretty much by everybody in Lebanon. You see students and old people, men and women, rich and poor "drinking" arguileh (they don't call it smoking arghuileh, but drinking it) for hours and hours while chatting or playing backgammon.

Arghuilehs were introduced in the 15th century by the Ottomans (however, it's origins are apparently Indian), and it is used traditionally in many places in Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and has become trendy recently in other places in the world. I know that in Mexico a friend opened a small bar back in 2002 called "Hookah Lounge" and it is now extremely successful.

In Lebanon, arguilehs are usually made of glass and some are very simple looking, while others extremely elaborate with pompons on the pipe and all. And you can buy little ones, in a box to offer as a gift, or with a "to go" kit, so you can bring your pipe with you, wherever you go. As a matter of fact, I was snowshoeing with some friends last weekend, and on the top of the mountain, two guys were drinking arguileh sitting on plastic chairs!

I think the only problem with arguileh is it's deceivingly healthy smell. I mean, the thing tastes like "grapes" or "green apple". And the smoke that comes out of it smells really nice. And the smoke goes through water... But the reality is that drinking one is the equivalent of smoking one pack of cigarettes... Ouch.


miércoles, 9 de febrero de 2011

Hiking away

Here I am once again (like in the song), trying to convey the awesomeness of Lebanon.
If you get a bit bored of the traffic and urban life in Beirut, and going skiing is definitely not an option if you don't want to spend 3 hours seating in traffic, you always have the choice of going hiking.

Yes Lebanon, or Lubnan as you would pronounce it in Lebanese Arabic, comes from the word "lbn" which means "white", a reference to the snow-capped mountains. There are lots of hikes you can do in Lebanon, and this weekend was the first time I went on an organized trip to do one with some friends.

We used Lebtreck , a good company to book some day trips leaving from Beirut to discover Lebanon. I heard that Cyclamen is a good company too, but I have personally not travelled with them.

So the day starts early on Sunday (maybe a deterrent for some), and the first stop is a small shop where you get a Manoushe (best food evaaaaa) before starting your hike. Then you travel on a very, very, very, very (OK, did I convey my discomfort?) narrow road in the mountain till you reach 1000 m of altitude.

As we arrived to the mountain near Jbeil (sorry, I forgot the name) , we discovered, just like that, without any notice, some Greek ruins! I don't know about you, but I personally don't associate Lebanon with Greece. Well, I guess it's time for me to review my history books, since they were here, no doubt about it:

We kept walking and came across some water falls that had muddy water, which at some points looked red. The legend says that the river, called Nahr Ibrahim, turns red because of Adonis' blood, who was killed by a wild boar.

Adonis was in love with Aphrodite/Venus, and there was some pretty cool drama going on there, so I recommend the story. An interesting fact is that Beirut was named after their daughter, Berytos.

After walking for 3 hours, in the mountain, we were all satisfied with the amazing sightseeing, the fresh air, and also our workout (hey, it wasn't easy, believe me, especially not for a city girl like me!).

To close, we had a late lunch at a family's house in a village in the mountain who, for about 10 bucks, cooked for us an amazing meal of rice with chicken (djej w roz), Fatoush (awesome salad with pitta bread), hummus (the real deal), little sausages, and loads of fruit. Knock your socks strong coffee was of course the perfect concluding step to an awesome meal and weekend.

sábado, 5 de febrero de 2011

Beauty in chaos

The term "Cultural activities" engulfs such a vast array of things, that it will take me a long time to describe everything I have seen since I've got here. I mean, culture is composed of the arts, customs, and traditions of a place, and Lebanon is so rich...

I am going to highlight some of my favorite things for starters. This is not an exhaustive list, since a) I have only been here for 6 months, and there are still loads of things to discover and b) many would argue with me that what I am depicting here falls into other categories, such as recreational or entertainment. So please take this as the anecdote of an individual's experience of the "cultural scene" in Lebanon.

I must say that the more I live here, the more I am amazed by the Lebanese refinement, especially in terms of everything that has to do with design. The first thing that caught my eye was interior design. I don't know about you, but I had never seen, in any country in the world, such attention to detail. There are some restaurants where the decor, the plates, and even the waiters outfits match the design of the walls and furniture.

Some examples of places that I personally like a lot from an interior design point of view are the following:


Cafe Blanc

Museums in this area are quite cool too. I mean you can go to places like Byblos or Baalbek that are literally open air museum, with fantastic Roman ruins. However, the National Museum is this gorgeous little hidden jewel near where I live.
It is not very big, but some of the pieces exhibited there are worth the trip. Some pieces come directly from sites such Byblos, and the variety of artifacts you find in it - from the Roman, Byzantine or Arab conquest periods - give you a sense of the richness of Lebanon's history.

A place that I have been meaning to visit but haven't, is the Sursock Museum in Achrafieh. I think they specialize in modern art. But what really calls me is the building itself:

Which brings me to another topic: architecture. I have seen some gorgeous buildings around here, including, yes, night clubs. Look at my previous posting on Beirut's nightlife to see some very cool clubs, built by the likes of Bernard Khoury, among others.

And something worth noting is the number of Film Festivals in Beirut. I have been to at least 4 of them in the past 6 months, including a German/Russian festival, a Latin American Film Festival and one that had to do with Human Rights recently. A film that I was particularly moved by was the documentary "12 Angry Lebanese" based on the American film "12 Angry Men". The movie is very powerful; it shows the life of 12 Lebanese men who are in prison. The film's musical score was composed by the inmates themselves and is beautiful.

Why did I call my blog post "Beauty in chaos"? I guess that in the midst of political tensions, lots of anxiety, and Beirut's traffic jams, I wanted to remind myself of the beauty this place has to offer. It is very very beautiful. Ktir Helou, as they say here. And I also wanted to remind myself of the beautiful things humans can create instead of focusing on all the harm we can do.