Tags Posts tagged with "Amin Maalouf"

Amin Maalouf

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    Culture Minister Gaby Layoun

    Here’s an excerpt from my op-ed appearing in today’s Daily Star:


    Dear Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Culture Minister Gaby Layoun, Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud President Michel Sleiman and Kettaneh Group,

    If you don’t mind me asking, where were you yesterday when the home of Amin Maalouf one of our nation’s greatest writers was being bulldozed?

    Prime Minister Mikati: when Maalouf was inducted into the 40-member Academie Francaise last year, you said his writing was “a source of national pride.” How then did you approve the demolition? Your culture minister, Gaby Layoun, reportedly signed off on it. What message does that send to our authors, intellectuals and artists? That we appreciate them, but might sell their homes if the price is right? 


    Dear Minister Layoun, last year you also sang the praises of Maalouf’s work attending his induction ceremony, calling it “a great pride to raise high the name of Lebanon and change the conflict and war image that has stained our country.”  

    But doesn’t the violence of the post-war bulldozers, which have probably claimed as many if not more historic Beirut buildings, also stain our country? Everyday in Beirut, we are tearing down the stories of our past in pursuit of the almighty dollar bill.

    What if school students were assigned to read Maalouf’s books? They could visit the place where their words were conceived, sit in the garden where the author daydreamed, breathe in the neighborhood that informed his imagination? What if the words jumped off the page, and the students could be inspired themselves?

    Minister Layoun, how can we nurture our culture if we do not celebrate our culture producers? If you were culture minister back in 1940s, would you have approved the demolition of the Khalil Gibran home as well?

    Continue reading my column at The Daily Star here.

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      Here are some photos of the current demolition happening at the former home of Amin Maalouf, one of Lebanon’s best-known authors. Apparently conservationists have just lost the battle to preserve the building.    

      These photos were taken this morning by Maalouf’s cousin Roya Kanaan, who tells me the developer Kettaneh Group, has unilaterally begun the exterior demolition despite a series of meetings in which the multinational firm showed a willingness to engage in preservation efforts. Of course these photos seem to tell a different story:

      I’ve written extensively about the history of the Maalouf home, which has been rented by the family since 1950. Read my interview with Maalouf’s son, Ziad, and see photos of the interiors he sent me.

      If preserved, the iconic century-old home could have played an interesting role in a possible rejuvenation of the historic Badaro area. See pictures of the neighborhood and the role it undoubtedly played in Maalouf’s writing here.

      But instead of preservation, we’ll be getting yet another overpriced high-rise, appreciated by the few elites who can afford it.

      Read here about the now-failed efforts to reach the Kettaneh Group, according to Kanaan.

      As always, I’ve hoped that the Kettaneh company respond to these pieces–and the accusation that they have sidelined preservation efforts– but I have yet to hear anything from their side.

      UPDATE 5:30PM:

      I’ve just been down to the site and the demolition seems to be moving quickly. The entire elevated terrace has been destroyed and now wrecking crews have begun destroying the home itself:

      If that were not bad enough, it seems one of the house closet doors is being used to fill a gap in the perimeter wall:

      Are Amin Maalouf’s own furnishings being used to conceal his home’s destruction?

      While at the site, I also met a few of the guys from Save Beirut Heritage as they were doing interviews with the media outlets that had been dispatched to the scene.

      I asked why they were not able to stop the destruction and they said Culture Minister Gaby Layoun had already signed off on the demolition.  (This is the same Minister Layoun who approved of the destruction of a 2nd century BCE site believed to be a potential Phoenician dry dock earlier this year.)

      Culture Minister Gaby Layoun

      In the case of the Maalouf home: “the Minister said ‘he was sorry,'” Naji Esther from Beirut Heritage told me, recalling an earlier phone conversation with Layoun. “He said ‘he didn’t notice’ that the site was made of sandstone.”

      Esther explained that sandstone composition is one of many factors that can qualify a site for preservation. Apparently hosting the life of one of Lebanon’s most prominent authors, does not qualify for anything.

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        There is no news about plans to demolish author Amin Maalouf’s former Badaro apartment, covered on this blog last week.

        A meeting with the developer, Kettaneh Group, did not take place on Friday as had been hoped, according to the prominent writer’s cousin Roya Kanaan. She says she could not reach the multi-national construction firm last week, despite its promise to discuss alternatives with the Maalouf family before launching a luxury high rise at the location.

        But Kanaan says there have been other “encouraging meetings” over recent days with groups and individuals concerned with heritage, and promises to update me on developments as they happen.

        For now, I can share some interior photos of the Maalouf apartment including the author’s bedroom and desk, taken by his son Ziad Maalouf:

        These photos were shot before the appartment was vacated last year after the building was sold for a reported $10 million, according to Kanaan. Notice bullet scars from the civil war above bed.

        Here is how the rest of the house looked:

        Amin Maalouf’s mother Odette and his sister Hind:

        Portrait and statue of Odette by her late husband and renowned journalist Ruchdi Maalouf, who first rented the home in 1961, when Maalouf was 12:

        Odette, pictured below at the building entrance, was the last Maalouf to live in the house, though her son and grandchildren often visited:

        For more on the history of the home, and its significance to Maalouf’s writing career, see my full interview with his son last week.

        On a related note, a group of school children visited the home last week after reading about it’s planned demolition on this blog:

         The pictures were sent to me by their 8th grade literature teacher, Kathleen Saleh, right:

        Hopefully these students won’t be among the last to see and appreciate the house of a local literary giant before it is gone.

        If anyone has more info (particularly from the developer’s side) please feel free to post in the comments below. 

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          The developers that plan to demolish the house of Lebanese literary legend Amin Maalouf have agreed to suspend works until this Friday, Maalouf’s cousin Roya Kanaan has just told me over the phone.

          The Kettaneh Group, one of Lebanon’s biggest construction firms, plans to build a tower on the Badaro property where the Maalouf’s lived (as tenants) for the last 50 years, but have now given the family until the end of the week to come up with an alternative plan to salvage the home.

          Kettaneh, which also operates a massive pharmaceutical, energy and automative business across the Middle East, had originally proposed a sort of monument to Maalouf (the only Lebanese inductee into the exclusive 40-member Academie Francaise), according to Kanaan who represented the family during the meeting.

          Maalouf’s office on the second floor looked down into the back garden of the home until last year.

          Such a monument would be incorporated into the proposed new structure, which will reportedly span around 20 floors of high-end residential apartments. But Kanaan refused the deal, arguing that the Maalouf home, an ornate 100 year-old garden mansion that gave birth to the career of one of Lebanon’s greatest writers, should be preserved.

          “If you are going to build a statue to Amin, really it doesn’t do anything for me,” Kanaan said, recounting her meeting with the developers today.

          When asked what she thought should be done, Kanaan counter-proposed: “I want you to help me raise money to buy it back from you.”

          Kannan says the Badaro estate could be turned into a cultural, literary or exhibition space. But with the property costing Kettaneh some $10 million, she fears that purchase could be insurmountable on such short notice.

          And because she was only given access to Kettaneh company representatives, and not the the actual Kettaneh family– one of Beirut’s wealthiest– she fears today’s meeting could have been a mere gesture.

          “Do they really want to save the house? I don’t know.

          “I don’t know where they really stand. They could begin tearing it down tomorrow morning.”

          The Maalouf home, which was located on the second floor of the iconic mansion, was still used as the writer’s library and office until late last year when the family was forced to evict.

          Maalouf, the author of such award-winning titles as “Rock of Tanios” and “The Crusades Through Arab Eyes” had lived in the home from adolescence through to the beginning of his early writing career, according to his son Ziad who shared some of the family history with me in this post last week.

          Ziad added that Maalouf’s 12th major work “The Disoriented” takes place during “that important period of his life” when he lived and worked from the now-condemned Badaro home.

          UPDATE: 6/11/12

          New pictures this afternoon. So far no construction has begun.

          Back view of the home, showing old art deco-like metal perimeter fence still in tact.

          The Maaloufs lived on the second floor since 1961

          While taking photos, a 67-year-old man passing by told me he remembered marveling at the building when he as a child. He estimated it to be around 90 years old.

          “This style could not be found anywhere,” he said, pointing out the detailed trim around the windows. He said the facades were carved in place. “Today they are pre-fabricated.”

          The building also features an elevated front garden, which is typical of some older Beirut villas.
          Kettaneh plans to replace the Maalouf home with a new high rise, which could resemble the glass and steel towers already sprouting up around the neighborhood behind it.  
          With the nearby museum and quaint shops and restaurants, the Badaro neighborhood still retains a lot of pre-war character.  

          This a panorama shot of the Maalouf home (right) in the context of Badaro.

          Back panorama shot showing towers emerging behind the Maalouf home, changing the character of the neighborhood. Will the Maalouf home meet a similar fate? 

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          I just got off the phone with Ziad Maalouf, a son of Lebanese literary giant Amin Maalouf, who’s childhood home (pictured above) has recently been sold and is reportedly slated for demolition.

          After posting an article and some pictures on Facebook about this story, I was contacted by my colleague Massoud Derhally, a former longtime Beirut-based correspondent, who put me in touch with the Maalouf family.

          Ziad, 36, the youngest of three sons, phoned me from Paris and explained that the land owners have actually been trying to evict his family for at least a decade: “They’ve been talking about forcing us to leave for the last 10 to 15 years,” he said.

          The Maalouf family had moved into the building, located in the Badaro area, around 1961 and occupied the second floor apartment. Amin Maalouf, author of over a dozen books and the first Lebanese inductee into the prestigious 40-member Academie Francaise, spent his formative years in the home from the age of 12 to 22.

          The period marked the beginnings of Maalouf’s writing career, his son Ziad, a journalist for Radio France Internationale, explained.

          “They were very important years,” Ziad said, noting that Maalouf had begun working as a part-time reporter around the age of 16, alongside his father, Ruchdi Maalouf, a well-known journalist and poet in his own right.

          As a student, Amin Maalouf’s room overlooked a courtyard garden and he had access to his parent’s library, “the books that made him,” Ziad said.

          Amin fled to Paris in the mid 1970s at the outset of the Lebanese civil war, but continued to spend time in the home in the preceding years and regularly visited with his family.

          “The library was just the way it was until the end of last year,” Ziad said. “It was the place where he grew up: reading literature, listening to the radio; nothing changed.”

          For the younger Maaloufs, stepping into the home was like entering “a ghost of the past,” and a living memorial to his late grandfather Ruchdi, who passed away in the 1980s.

          “It was a very beautiful apartment, 500 square meters. It was untouched since the 1970s; the paintings on the wall, the shell holes, the bullets. The house was right on the (civil war) demarcation line.”

          Amin Maalouf’s 91-year-old mother was the last of the family to reside in the home. She packed everything up late last year after losing a number of legal battles to the owners and developers.

          “We don’t have a home in Beirut anymore,” Ziad said. “We have no place to stay–except with friends or family, which is sad.”

          While his father was “very moved” by the interest of activists who have sought to shed light on the demolition, Ziad says he has not made efforts to prevent it: “My father is a very humble man. He is not the type of person to demand his memory be kept alive.”

          He may also lack the resources to do so: “We are a famous family, but not in fields that make money,” Ziad said with a chuckle.

          But the younger Maalouf is worried the move is part of a larger trend in the Beirut real estate market: “It’s a symbol of a city that does not respect its past, but destroys it.”

          He laments the continuous loss of 1930s-1950s iconic Lebanese architecture in favor of new towers, many which remain empty; the product of real estate speculation more than planned development, he says.

          “These landmarks, you can’t rebuild them. You can capitalize on skyscrapers for the future, but you can also capitalize on your history and those who build the pride of your country.”

          “The former does not exclude the latter. The only thing is who decides what to preserve and where to build skyscrapers–if you need them.”

          Correction/Clarification:

          Ziad Maalouf is 36 not 33 as originally posted. He would like to clarify that he was returning my call and not initiating the conversation. It should also be noted that this piece is told from the family’s perspective and is not intended as a definitive history but rather a starting point for research on this topic. I welcome any comments or different interpretations to address the issues brought up in this post.