jueves, 22 de marzo de 2012

The Lebanese Scooter Diver (or LSD)

Lebanese Scooter Drivers, otherwise known as LSD- because you think you are hallucinating when you see them- are some of the most common individuals you encounter in your everyday life Beirut. They are everywhere and deliver all sorts of things.

They are the first thing that scares you when you first get here, especially when you cross the street. You curse them for a while, but in time, you learn to appreciate their bravado (or stupidity depending from which angle you choose to see them). You just get used to them coming from all sides. And I must admit, they make me smile at least once a week.

You see, the LSDs have some special characteristics that make them fascinating individuals to me. Please allow me to recount them so you get a sense of their uniqueness:

LSDs are artists: they just don’t drive around a scooter in the streets of Beirut. They create their route. This can include driving on the sidewalk when there is too much traffic (zigzagging among pedestrians if necessary), doing a 3-point turn in between cars in a traffic jam or driving in the opposite direction of traffic on a highway. Pure talent.

LSDs are practical: If they have 2 kids and need to get somewhere, they’ll squeeze them in the front. If their giant German shepherd needs to go to the vet, they’ll squeeze it in the front (I have seen this with my own eyes). If they need to deliver an arguileh (water pipe) to someone’s house, they just squeeze it between their legs, drive the scooter with one hand while holding the burning coals on the other. Anything can be transported on a scooter. The sky is the limit.

LSDs are renegades: if someone wants to pass them, they go faster. If you are on their way (on the sidewalk) they’ll honk. If someone asks them to wear a helmet, they wear it without the strap (which makes me wonder why they are wearing it in the first place). If it rains, they’ll build a metal roof on their scooter. If there’s a little space to squeeze into, they’ll take it. They leave by the motto “You snooze, you loose”.

LSD defy the law: Nature’s, reason’s or traffic’s . No rules apply to them. If they need to deliver a sheet of glass during rush hour, they’ll bring it on their legs, it won’t cut them. If a car comes to a crossing, they’ll speed up, it won’t hit them. If there’s a red light or a do not enter sign, it doesn’t apply to them. They don’t follow rules. They make them.

It takes some ballsy dudes to be LSDs (and sorry for the “dudes” but I haven’t seen any scooteryet in Beirut so far). Not any-one is allowed in this very selective club. I guess some of us just prefer the lameness (and safety) of our cars.

So here’s to all LSDs out there. May the road keep them safe.

PS: This blog post is dedicated to my beloved C and his month-old scooter (and his safety).

lunes, 12 de marzo de 2012

Once a Lebanese, always a Lebanese...

This Mexican went to Mexico, that is why there were no blog posts.

So after a couple of days at the beach, visits to Mayan temples, a lot of tacos and everything you can put inside a tortilla, and some good tequilas with friends, I have many things to report.  Which in a way have given me even more motivation to write this blog. Because Mexico and Lebanon are so connected. They really are.

During this trip, and to my surprise, a lot of people approached me to tell me about their Lebanese roots. I had no idea. And these are people I have known for years. But I guess people with Lebanese roots are so integrated in Mexican society that the question just doesn't come up. What is funny is that I ran into my friend Ziad, my friend with last name Karime (I am guessing Karam at some point), or my friends whose mum's a Khoury (Kuri in Spanish)... I know now that these names are from Lebanon, but when I was in Mexico I just didn't consider this.

But what I wanted to write about is our very own Carlos Slim Helu. The richest man in the world. A Mexican of Lebanese origin. Not that I particularly care about the man, but you can't help "bumping into him" while in Mexico. Indeed, there is a saying in Mexico that "we all contribute daily to his pockets", and this is not far from the truth. The guy owes the telephone company for the whole country after all, just to name one of his businesses.

One of the things Mr. Slim did recently was opening a museum to display his art collection. He called it "Soumaya" in honor of his late wife. I visited the museum and was at first not impressed with the design of the building. I didn't think it really matched or harmonized with its surroundings.

Source: Fodor's
Once I was inside, I was happy to see that the museum has no entrance fee. The museum's interior design reminded me of the Guggenheim in New York, with its spiral corridor. But the museography was poor, unfortunately. There was not a very clear narrative; it felt just like someone with a lot of money had bought a lot of stuff and had displayed them matching them by... color (or some random logic like that). I am not an expert, but this was my experience.

What really called my attention was the upper room. This is were the Lebanese in Carlos came out (with all respect to my Lebanese colleagues and friends for this broad generalization).

Man, this room was a display of wealth.  This room was an in your face "I am ridiculously wealthy".
Source: Atlas Obscura

You see, Mexicans like to display their wealth, but we are a bit more discreet (or subtle) with it. Out of need (because of high crime rates) or just because overwhelming displays of wealth are considered of bad taste. Walking through this room felt like walking in Beirut, in front of LeGrey Hotel next to someone in his Ferrari and LV outfit.  This was like the botox lady with diamond rings in each finger. This was the Swarosky studded Tag Heuer mobile phone.

Indeed, all those black things on white pedestals you see in the photo are actually Auguste Rodin's originals. And Dali's. Yes, you read it right. This man OWNS not one but dozens of Rodins. Like you and I own socks.  And the way the art was displayed was such a slap in the face.

Don't get me wrong, the pieces are gorgeous. But the feeling you get in the room is "Wow, this man is loaded". It's almost overwhleming. It has almost nothing to do with the art itself. So I guess Mr. Slim has remained a bit Lebanese at heart. He likes to show he's got money. He likes to show who's boss.