martes, 19 de febrero de 2013

Death and Love in Beirut

Last week I was engaged in all sorts of debates with friends about the meaning of Valentine's Day in Lebanon. I must say that I am quite impressed by how adamant some people can get about celebrating or not celebrating the day, as a matter of ethical principle in some cases...

A Lebanese friend told me that celebrating Valentine's Day was a rather new phenomenon, and that even if it was in the end a "commercial" holiday when restaurants, flower shops and teddy bear makers would do anything to sell a mass produced ideal of romance, she still liked to celebrate it. As a matter of fact, Lebanese- according to her- use any occasion or excuse to turn it into a holiday. She then proceeded to explain that during the war, when (I quote) "death always waited behind the door", anything was a good reason to forget the misery and the pain, and celebrating even the smallest things became a matter of survival.

I thought this was a rather interesting way to put things in perspective, as the Lebanese do celebrate loads of holidays and have special dishes for the weirdest occasions (take Snayniya, for instance, a dessert made to honor the occasion of a baby's first tooth). And I also thought that the image of having death waiting for you behind the door was rather spooky.

Valentine's Day in Lebanon is a day off, not because the Lebanese are particularly into the holiday, but because the 14 of February also commemorates the assassination of the late Rafic Hariri. You walk on the streets and will see everywhere adds for diamonds, roses and hearts alongside billboards with dark images and political messages inviting you not to forget his death. In the words of another friend, "On Valentine's Day, politicians even managed to take love away".

This day brings about yet another contradiction that I don't seem to understand about Lebanon. How can one celebrate, while morning at the same time? I guess if death had been - and these days seems like still is- waiting behind the door, I would try to make the best out of life. Even if that meant buying a stupid teddy bear.

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