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the in-between: a call to arms


I'm sleepless in a basement in Paris.

The floor is untreated concrete, the bricks lazily painted white, the structural columns still speak of the wood corset that held them up, the ceiling divided by nine lines that hold the floor above. The basement could be a bunker.

If I were a Lebanese artist in his/her late 30s, I would be thinking of the civil war. I would be thinking of a possible art project where I would film myself in this very bunker talking about my memories of the newspaper headlines, the phone calls, the letters, the sound of gunshots and explosions I heard...
on my television set in Paris or London or New York.

If I were a Lebanese artist making an art piece about the civil war, I would not make it. Friends who have heard screams, seen scattered limbs and trembled with the shaking foundations do not talk about war. It resides in them, it has marked and scarred them, but it is stowed away in a faraway place. If I had seen blood in the streets, I would not want to remember it.

An honest piece is a raw bite taken out of the cold hard truth. Don't remember war from a postcard, don't even think you can imagine the terror, your paintbrush will lose its false bristles the moment you touch upon that blank piece of canvas that is your memory of war.

Do we need a new war to stop talking about the old one?

If you must pay your debts to the war that you fled, confront it, contemplate it and challenge it. And then maybe talk about the contemporary Lebanon that is half empty with witnesses and half full of deserters, and then maybe talk about why we are, who we are and how we are. Propose to us our identity instead of proving that you thought of back home when the sky was red beyond the horizon, show us our image so that we can be better, show us a direction so we know where to move on.

This is a call to arms to those that do not want to talk about war, but want to combat the mountain of residue resting on the shoulders of those who know, and want to construct instead of blow more dust in the wind.

This is a call to armistice.

Now, go make some art.




I'm sleepless in Paris.

There were no clouds, no grime-coloured pollution. The view from the squat rounded window was stupefyingly beautiful. I could see Mzaar, Laqlouq, then the coloured-in rectangle quilt of the Bekaa, squashed jellyfish villages in a sea of brown earth, rising and rolling, and then the Syrian desert...

My mouth was in a perpetual "wow".

"Is it your first time flying over Lebanon?", boomed the voice from behind.

I turned to see a pair of dark brown eyes.

"No, I'm Lebanese. Bass hala2 tzakaret la aya daraje 7elo hal balad."

In the conversation that followed it became clear that we had more in common than the flight number. His wife was of the same origin as my other half. He showed me a photo of his son: a heartbreaker in the making.

"Fi tlet 7loul: ya btejeh te2e3deh 7addeh, ya ana be23oud 7addik, ya bet oulileh 7el 3annik"

"I'm not moving, my seat is great. You come on over."

He got up and sat down in 32D. I was in F.

He was going on a business trip. I was just in between. I would have rather not gone on this trip and I showed it by travelling with a single carry-on and my casual clothes. It was an obligation. I welcomed this man who would replace the ghost of a TV screen, which I was so looking forward to, on a three hour flight.

When he turned around to order another bottle of red wine, I gave him a once over. He was tall, six foot five or more, in a neat burgundy polo, crisp dark blue jeans, with a decent summer tan. His large nose protruded conspicuously; although it lacked the angled geometry of Adrian Brody's regal proboscis, it added a certain masculine integrity to his face, for his eyes spoke of feline sensuality that could ignite on innuendo. Even his lips, quite unseemly at first sight, would present the first word with a little purse and that expression would linger long after the sentence had drowned in the swarm of the aircraft's engines. Amidst his thick black hair lay elegant sporadic lines of silver. To sum him up: a handsome well-trimmed "plastic surgeon" with the face of a sly cat from a Far East Asian illustration.

When the on-board meal cart arrived, they were all out of fish.

"Don't start on the chicken yet, sometimes, you can manage to squeeze out the last dish, wait for me while I go and ask," he said as he got up.

He was back after a couple of minutes, "I'm sorry, it will have to be chicken."

By the time I was done with my meal, he was ordering a third bottle of wine, not without a teasing glance at my glass of orange juice.

"I prefer good wine," I replied in defence.

"Can I ask you something?"


"Can I take you out to dinner tonight?"

My stomach dropped to the swamp of hard decisions. Murky waters, murky morals.

This wouldn't be the first time I'd go out with a married man, and even though I didn't see it as something ethically criminal on my part, I was now in a very different place than I was back then. After countless one-month wonders, relationships that start intense and wane away, I was growing sceptical about their long-term benefits. The question of that week was: how many stories of "it was great until it wasn't" do I need to finally give up sideline distractions? And Mr.Aisle would definitely fall under that category. He'll be great until he has to return to married life.

On the other hand, I am a firm believer that we live moments of friendship, of love, of passion, as opposed to that false notion of permanent no-matter-what-till-death-us-do-part. 

What if Mr.Aisle proves to be great company, an indefatigable source of joy and inspiration, just as Freud in his time was?

"I'll think about it".




I'm sleepless on Ligne 12.

Crossing Paris from point A to B, to reach an X. I'm calm, yet unsure of his motives. The last time I saw him he was leaving to work, disheveled and in his dorky glasses, and I was leaving to the airport.

I refrained from contacting him while in Beirut, to let him know that I had indeed moved on, and to spitefully put him in the same drawer with all the other Parisian flings.

Ever since I've been back I've been so disinterested by the opposite sex. In one month I had had collected enough to last me all through the summer and more.

I told that to Lucifer. I had to be honest. And it's not only out of empathy, by telling lies to others or by not saying anything at all, you are also lying to yourself. Slowly, the truth you know becomes harder and harder to discern against the background of lies that you have woven for this and that, for him, for her. Being frank also allows you the freedom to concentrate on details that matter rather than the details that serve as decoration.

Lucifer, despite being a "technical" catch was clearly not the guy for me. He has a sadness that is not within my power to dissipate, and I know that somewhere down the line, the smile on his face or the passion in his eyes will prove to have been a temporary reaction.

I exit the underground: I'm in the suburbs but it doesn't look like the other side of the wall, newspapers and news channels built up so many expectations that crossing the peripherique was a near peripeteia. I thought I'd see cows.

"Je suis en route, attends moi à la croissement".

Crisses and crosses, my fingers fiddled with the possibilities that were about to ensue.

I saw him at the red light. I'd finally see the new home I had heard so much about.

We drove through the narrow winding streets. I was disoriented, had no idea where I was, where we were going, when we would arrive. It felt like a long time. My right hand held my left fist, left thumb trying to calm them both down. He noticed it, but I could not help it.

We drove into the garage. A portrait of his brother hung on the wall.

"C'est ton frère?"

"Non, c'est son ami."

The white living room looked out unto the forest.

"Have you seen Twilight? This room reminds me so much of their house!"

"Non, je ne l'ai pas vu, mais tu n'es pas la première de le dire."

I told him about my holidays in Beirut. I gave him the olive oil soap he had asked for. He talked about his next trip, his dislike for London, politics... I was so focused on his fast French that I had no time to form an opinion. Not that I had any. Global politics I could never retain in that little head of mine. I felt ignorant and noted to myself that I should read more news, for dinner conversation's sake.

We needed to get physical. "Tu sais jouer?"

He handed me the racket and the empty white ball. "A toi de servir."

We hit the ball back and forth, the only extra rule was not to interrupt the eye contact between us. It wasn't so hard, although eventually I lost, 13-21, but it helped to sew back the gap of the few weeks between the last time we had been together and now.

He opened up a wine of Alligote. Same as last time, only better. The hour long match had warmed me up, I had my legs up on the L-shaped sofa tucked under me. My elbow was up on the backrest, my head resting, hair falling on shoulder. Comfort, finally.

Comfort, is worth it. There is nothing better in human relationships. I'm done with formalities, done with power struggles, done with labour, done with stiffness. Why seek mediocre company? Why talk about the weather when it can be warm inside?

["Pas de prise de tête", says the girl beside me into the telephone on the adjacent table at the cafe de trottoir]

Exactly. No heads held high, no writhing hands, no tapping fingers, just comfort.

But with Pope, it was always a final destination. A journey to get there was inevitable. The weekend headlines, the weather report, the future forecast. Slowly, our polarities would begin to change so that we could both become one large magnet pointing to the South.

With cooking dinner out of the question, we moved straight for the dessert. Good ole recipe of home-made fondant au chocolat-like skin, natural, familiar, butter-smooth, equator warm, tantalising, mouth-watering...

Simply divine.

Sometimes, it is the best choice to go for your favourite dish on the menu.

"I didn't think a human voice could be so loud," I later told Flutterby during one of our Skype sessions.