domingo, 24 de julio de 2011

Piano concert under the stars of Lebanon

I recently attended an incredible concert in the midst of Roman ruins a couple of hours away from Beirut. The setting couldn't have been more perfect.

As I was seating and watching my surroundings, I couldn't help but being, once more, surprised by Lebanon. I mean, this is a country that is constantly under some sort of political, economic or social instability. And here, in the midst of what would be considered "hostile" territory (indeed, some unfortunate Estonians had been kidnapped in the area in March this year, and were released recently), I am listening to a world-class pianist perform Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin. I did take some video, but -helas- the Internet speed in my apartment will not allow me to upload things to YouTube :(

Top moments of the night:
1. When in the middle of Prokofiev's Sarcasms a series of loud bangs where heard, probably (hopefully) fire works coming from the village nearby in celebration of a wedding or other equally significant event (and the audience of course, pretended not hearing them)
2. When in the middle of the concert, we heard the Call to Prayer, loud and clear. Here, again, the audience and performerpretended nothing was happening. The performer did stop at some point, in a highly theatrical pause, that I suspect had more to do with a little mental break from the noise, than with the music itself.
3. The kebab stand and Pepsi vending machine, inside of the ruins, for all hungry concert- goers searching for a lat night snack.

Overall, the performance was incredible, the setting amazing, and the organization impeccable. Which brings back my overarching conversation around the contradictions of Lebanon. On the one had, you have this chaotic, disorderly country where things seldomly work properly, and on the other, you have this amazingly cultured, sophisticated and refined people, who give you access to experiences that you would never dream of seeing.

Here are some more pictures of an unforgettable night. Enjoy.

lunes, 18 de julio de 2011

Home Sweet Home

I am just coming back from a 2-week conference in the US. I hadn’t been there since last year when we moved to Beirut and this was also the longest I have been away from Lebanon since I arrived.

I spent a couple of days by myself before and after my conference. I noticed during these days that things seemed unexciting and I was bored and slightly numb. There was an overall sense of monotony.

Being usually an upbeat and active person, I kept asking myself what was wrong. I couldn’t really figure it out. This was not my usual self. And then I remembered a comment some American friends had made upon their return to the US after living for years in Beirut. Things were predictable. There were no surprises. Life was dull.

On a bus in the US, I was feeling tense and uneasy. I wasn’t really sure why. Then, I realized that the bus was there exactly on schedule, and it left me exactly at the bus stop. “Why am I so nervous?-I asked myself- There is no need to be nervous or on edge on public transportation here. In the US, things work.” There was nothing to figure out.

Yesterday, I was walking in this amazing mall. Full of amazing stores. Full of pretty, new things that you could only find there. As I was walking around, I felt tired and empty. I just couldn’t do it. The ads, the sales, the stuff. I was completely overwhelmed and anxious and had to leave.

Finally, today on the plane back, as I was watching the news on a tiny TV screen, I realized – to my surprise- that I hadn’t watched the news for over a week. I say to my surprise, because when I am in Beirut I usually read the news in the morning, at lunchtime, and sometimes in the evening. Yes, in Beirut it is totally normal for me to follow the news all the time. Because if I don’t, not only am I totally out of the loop, but also, I have this feeling that I missed something important that could prove key in times of crisis.

In the US somehow I felt disconnected. Not really sure what that meant. I felt isolated and alone. Very far away from everything. I felt like I was not at home anymore.

So now I ask myself… Have I become used to Beirut? Have I become an adrenaline-addict, car-honking, chaos-loving, person? Have I pushed comfort and order aside, to embrace the unpredictability of Lebanon? Wasn’t the US the ideal, what I wanted all along?

This is completely unexpected.

But as I am on the plane, I can’t help but feeling relaxed. And strangely safe. A bit more free. And yes, the flight with Lufthansa was more orderly than the flight with MEA. But as the saying goes “Home is where the heart is”. Well, I guess I am going home now. Because it is now clear to me that my heart is in Beirut.

domingo, 3 de julio de 2011

The Cancun of the Middle East

A couple of weekends ago I was invited to a “Mexican” beach party in a beach club near Beirut. I think I went more out of curiosity than of patriotism. I mean, after seeing the poster for the party- with a pretty bikini girl with a sombrero on, and an inviting “Arriba, Arriba, Andale, Andale”- how could I say no?

So here I come, with my jean-shorts and my official Mexican soccer team T-shirt ready to experience some relaxing beach time on a Sunday afternoon.

When my husband and I got to the beach club entrance, we realized that there were bodyguards at the door, and a list. And our names had actually being put on the list. “Hmmm…” I thought to myself. “I think we didn’t understand what a Sunday afternoon beach party in Lebanon was all about”.

When we started walking inside of the beach club I realized that I was-yet again -severely underdressed (and overweight). Yes, Lebanese women wear high heels and make up even to beach parties.

As we arrived to where the party was taking place, my husband’s jaw dropped, and quite frankly mine did too. Let’s say that right in front of us was a Girls-Gone –Wild meets Cancun Spring Break meets Playboy Mansion.

Our host greeted us with a vigorous champagne splash in the face from a bottle that he had been shaking over the dancers. And as I looked around me I realized that I didn’t have to go to Cancun anymore to experience the crazy spring break frenzy. Cancun had just come to me! Right here in Lebanon, on a Sunday afternoon!

I must confess I was a bit overwhelmed at the beginning by the techno music, the high-heeled girls dancing on the top of the bar with only their bikinis on (that is besides the shoes) and the drinking directly from the bottle from the guys. Gosh I am getting old.

But you know what? They had REAL Mariachi hats hanging from the ceiling and that gave me the little boost of confidence that I needed. Those hats were the only Mexican thing about the Mexican party besides me (and the chilies hanging from the ceiling). So this hot Chiquita put the Mariachi hat on and then showed those Lebanese girls some Mexican moves.

After a couple of hours people just… left.

And all the crazy party, noise and girls wearing mini bikinis were replaced by a beautiful sunset over the Mediterranean Sea. My husband and I looked at each other baffled and just started laughing. Where else can you see these contrasts, from intense partying to a romantic sunset in a matter of hours? Only in Lebanon.