It’s a hot Saturday afternoon, an early summer warmth too ripe for April.
Passersby on this side of the new waterfront are dressed up in fancy clothes; no place for improvisations, bags shoes and hair are on exhibit. People come here to see and be seen. It’s a people’s watching spot.
Signs caution: no eating, singing, cycling or musical devices allowed on the sidewalks; words written in English explain to you standing there that you are on private property. Security guards are on watch closely for effect.
Beirut’s bourgeoisie nonchalantly parks its cars in the newly built underground—(or undersea?) parking. Carefully landscaped with tree gardens, they brim with busy tables. Waiters are abuzz, as are the insides of restaurants. Cafés and restaurants tightly line up one after the next. You look for the signs to distinguish one from the other and acquaint yourself with the names of this new urban set-up.
Soon, there will be the promised promenade, reaching to the roof of the marina residential building. We will, it seems, also walk on concrete.
Meanwhile, Saint George’s beach on the other side is busy waging its war on Solidere again, with small declared states of belligerence. With the aid of chairs and the ever handy security personnel of a stateless state. The chairs, facing the path, are empty, turned backwards; while the latter defy anyone to trespass or walk out.
Here, it seems like we are in another state.
I wonder who it is, who is in prison. The people walking in this older alternative bay, the people outside those “barricades” on the other side, or those watching this open display of political animosity, helpless or amused.
While others wander around, looking a little less fixated on the pier of the posh Zaytuna bay, a picture perfect Lebanon gears into its best pre-summer season.
100 meters ahead. The handicapped flower seller with polio is back again trying his luck on the Corniche. Every flower seller you see there is always peculiarly tidied up. Hair combed back, with all the effort to appear one’s best amidst all the poverty held silent underneath.
A fisherman with a small fellow (probably his son), holding a fishing rod too, are standing on the underpass edge below. Close to the sewage pipe.
One of them once said, I remember puzzlingly, more fish could be found next to the sewage. Who would deny that, even with humor, to those accepting so little with so much?
Here is the real Beirut. Here is the mass of people you will never see in the sterile columns of Western newspapers, like the most recent piece in the New York Times (again). They like us this much, selling on their pages advertisements for local real estate companies, busy troubling what’s left of the landscape. The difference is that staggering, that you’d think yourself transported to another state, to a much poorer forgotten hurdled assembly of people, on this sole public promenade provided in Beirut.
Here, places for leisure are illegal infringements on public property and largely “organically put up”, with trappings added over what a past season had damaged.Here is what you do not see in wannabe Hamra pubs, Gemmayzeh joints, rooftop cafes or boutiques in “Solidere places for life” and its Zaytuna bay. An older oud player with glasses and a tarbush hat is playing, here where singing is allowed, nudging to small cash people leave aside. You start noticing too more and more older people begging on the streets, like those conspicuous grandmothers holding medications for alibis. Migrant workers breaking off shift hours walk next to joggers, tourists and small mobs of wasted unemployed youths and dreamers. What you are seeing here is the 40% that official social studies statistics inform you about sanitarily –through research aided by funding money from foreign donor agencies, who are living below the poverty belt of 400$ a month per family.
A brand name is fabricated. Forget satirical stories of Hommos in Guinness books and flashy Lebanese fashion designers going to Hollywood. Lebanon, with no resources of its own, is more and more a label for an entertainment playground in the Middle East, something more deviant than Dubai, and now more foreigner-friendly than Cairo…“Ahlan wa sahlan” with open desperate broken arms, amenable also to nests of spies, glad to bow for anyone for the mighty dollar. While fuel tank prices reach the equivalent of days of food stipends, and social anger about uninhibited living costs reach levels similar to the 1958 small choked-trial -of -a- revolution.
Read all about it in a loaf of bread, the corruption of those in power revealed in every deal made with every cartel for every ingredient used to make 3aysh –Egyptian for bread— an Arabic equivalent to the word life: fuel and basic elements, flour and sugar. 3aysh in Lebanon.
The lottery seller goes back and forth looking for buyers on the Corniche.
If you are unsatisfied with this fabricated Lebanon; if this Lebanon strikes a dissonant tone with your notions of happiness; if you always find yourself here yearning to live somewhere else other than your country, if you stand behind people who are striving for fairer social security, adjustment of wages and costs of living, make your voice heard. Join the movement for secularism and oppose what’s being imposed on you.