Charlize Theron’s feet would have a rough time in Beirut
Ah the Beirut of the New York Times. Such a joyous place. The tablecloths are starchy, the wine is sweating, the yachts are bobbing, Harleys and Ferraris roar down the streets, and of course, the mini-skirts are out turning heads. But there is one hitch. High-heeled dames must tread cautiously according the Times latest piece: “The boardwalk’s rough planks, a nod to maritime authenticity, present a design flaw perhaps foreseeable in this city: Women with Louis Vuitton handbags are forever extracting their spike heels from the cracks.” That’s right beautiful people, you might want to leave those Louboutins at home. Lame I know, but other than that, as one air-kissing lipstick lady cooed in a mix of Beirut Italiano (which we are told is the type of stuff this city’s “mix of nonchalance and cosmopolitanism” is made of): “Finito la mishkala!” –i.e. a poor transliteration of “The problems are over!” But whose problems are we talking about? And to whom, as the article’s headline suggests, does “Resurgent Beirut Offers Haven Amid Turmoil…” apply to? Does it address the hundreds of thousands of Syrian, Palestinian, Iraqi, Kurdish, Sudanese and other refugees that scrape together a meager existence against the xenophobic threats of locals in this tiny fear-soaked, lawless strip of Mediterranean coast? Or is it the majority of Lebanon’s 4 million population that spends half their lives without proper electricity because the state is too corrupt to provide it? Does this “eddy of peace” as the Times writer calls it, provide refuge to young college grads who flee this country in droves because they know they cannot be protected against the gangsters that brazenly roam the streets in black tinted windows? Does it shelter the hard-working young professionals who have no choice but to remain but yet cannot afford a home in Beirut because their clan did not rob a bank or buy one. Does Lebanon appeal to aspiring local journalists when there is no rule of law, no judicial system and assassinations are the norm? Thankfully, the Times writer reminds us that “Lebanon’s leaders scramble to keep the political peace.” But missing in this shallow missive is the fact that over $100 billion dollars is sitting in secret deposits managed by the country’s banking dynasties to help those leaders “cope” with the rough job they have-and have had for generations. Other dictators must be envious of the Lebanese elite. But who wants to spoil the couch comfort food of the Saturday Times with real problems and real people? Anyway, this article is not about locals. Why should it be? It’s written for tortured Western minds for whom “Lebanon’s image remains frozen in old snapshots: sectarian massacres, hostages tied to radiators...” What a shame that: “Many Westerners do not realize that Lebanon is still safe, and fun.” Perhaps what Beirut really needs is more signs like this:
Surely a small measure could help bring us closer to “Lebanon’s latest effort to recapture the prewar 1960s — when Brigitte Bardot was a regular and Beirut was a fashionable port of call.” Or was that whole “Paris of the Middle East” narrative–now so effortlessly recast– just a product of a long tradition of American editors sending reporters parachuting into ‘exotic’ places they know little about?
For the rowdier side of Beirut night life see my piece for MTV last year here.