sábado, 11 de febrero de 2012

Not my Beirut

An image speaks more than a 1,000 words.
When I was walking last night and saw this image, I confirmed it.

The image shows a billboard on the side of the street, with the plans and sketches of a new and modern appartment building that is being built on a street in Mar Mikhael. This is a very cool area, full of old-style shops, buildings and restaurants. But older buildings are being slowly replaced by newer ones as the area gets gentrified.

What I liked about the image was the desperate move of a pedestrian who, seeing that his/her neighborhood is getting a "face lift" (like everything/everyone else in this city), took out a permanent marker and voiced his/her protest with a "Not my Beirut" scribble.

I liked this because I think it depicts, first, a very clear trend in this city to get rid of old, many times historically significant buildings, to replace them by some modern, stale and pseudo european looking constructions. Second, this image depicts two sides of society that I have encountered in my 18 months in Lebanon. There are the people who want to hide, facelift or upgrade Beirut. And there are the others, which this urban protester probably belongs to, who celebrate, cherish and try to preserve their heritage.

I wonder if after the horrors of a civil war (and forgive me for this very broad and generalizing assessment), one would want to forget the past, erase it, pretend it didn't happen to make it hurt a little less. In this context this modernization impulse would be more of a denial or self-healing mechanism, depending on whom of the two abovementioned categories of Beirutis you ask.

But in this impulse of wanting to be modern, to erase what happened before, Beirut is loosing little by little its soul. Take a walk on the new Zeituna Bay (which, by the way used to be famous back in the day as a place to find prostitutes), and you will feel in Miami. You will be surrounded by Chanel and plastic surgery. And it will be soooo Beirut, that you will feel you are not in Beirut.

Does that make sense? Beirut is aiming at not being Beirut.

As an outisder, an observer, a passer-by, I just think this is a pity. This place has so much to offer as it is.  I would take Bourj Hamoud 100 times over ABC. It is alive. And it is not trying to be something it is not.

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