Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Phones, towers and rings

This is mainly for the non-Lebanese readers of my blog.

This article, and the information contained within it, has been the talk of the town of late.

Whatever the ramifications of the report, or even of this article, Lebanon seems set for turbulent times.

On hotels…

This weekend, the wife and I headed off to spend a night at Locanda Corsini in Naas /Bikfaya.

Following this post, I was eager to discover if I’d be tagged as a high roller with a Lebanese ‘companion’, but alas, no such excitement occurred.

We went through the usual ID handover and photocopying procedure without the receptionist batting an eye, despite the fact I handed her an AUB alumni card as my official ID and the fact that my wife and I don’t have matching family names.

I must say I was slightly disappointed. Firstly, I was looking forward to experiencing a phenomenon I’d only heard about previously, secondly, I clearly don’t look like a high roller.

Anyway, all of this leads me to think that, perhaps, slightly more expensive hotels might not enforce the policies mentioned in the previous post, even if they let the likes of me through the door.

As for the hotel, very nice. We were worried that it would be a little old fashioned and it was, to a certain extent, but it all came together nicely. The food was very good, however it was pretty pricey for what it was.

Monday, 22 November 2010


Sitting watching the parade this morning, it struck me that something quite incredible has occurred in this country since I starting coming here in 2002/2003.

I remember watching as a bemused newcomer as the furor following Rafic Hariri’s killing slowly changed into a genuine movement of unity. The, seemingly, countless bombs, deaths, pointed fingers, theories of external, internal and international actors.

Watching ‘The Gucci Revolution’ as a guest of Beirut was something to behold. The moniker was apt, but also unfair.

I remember sitting in any number of Gemmayze bars hearing the ‘inside story’ of the events, surrounded by Lebanese and foreign members of the press.

It was early days in terms of my time in Lebanon and the feeling was, genuinely, hopeful.

Sadly, these days, like so many others, I am worried for the future, but hope that the various parties involved will resolve their issues. Sectarianism is a fact of life in Lebanon, just like my home, just like my home, it needs to be addressed.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Services and me…

I took my first service in about a year last month and I’ve been doing so fairly frequently since. It got me thinking about services / cheroots / shared taxis, whatever you want to call them.

When I first came to Lebanon (to live, rather than on holiday) in 2004, services were my main mode of transport. Living in Hamra meant that just about everywhere was too far away to contemplate walking on a Friday night and generally getting out and about relied on the use of services.

When I first appeared here, with little or no Arabic (compared to my pidgin-French-English mash, which gets me by these days), services were my worst nightmare.

Ok, so you’re supposed to be able to get to most places for a thou’, or two at most, right? That’s what my Lebanese friends had told me. Try that with a “fresh off the boat”, pale skin tone and a lack of Beiruti jaow. Not going to happen.

So, there I am sitting listening to how the price of petrol has gone up, or that how the guy’s got children to feed. Sure. I’m sure the guy who sells me my Lights also has kids to feed and bills to pay, doesn’t mean I have to haggle over my pack of coffin nails. But, ok, I want to get to Torino to meet my girl, and that means I’m getting in, regardless of the cost.

Whatever, suffice it to say that white guys, yeah, we get screwed when it comes to services.

 "AUB students ahead, I've got the dumb
foreigner,you go for the Lebs, we'll split the 
difference, back here in an hour."

However… they’re also an educational goldmine that all too often goes unexplored. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told about party A, or party B, politician A, or politician B’s inner most thoughts. Now, that might not sound like much, but, as a foreigner first arriving in the city … it’s great. The majority of Lebanese you talk to tow the official party line, they’re at least wary of the fact that you’re a pale face and they don’t want to upset, or confuse you – alternatively, you’re sticking by rule no. 19. Service drivers? Hah. Once they’ve decided that they’ve scammed you enough, they’re a fount of useful (or it is useless?) information. Sure, that information is as biased, screwed up, inaccurate or simply baseless as any other, but it’s delivered with an enthusiasm that, frankly, is often missing in polite society. Whereas other Lebanese might groan and sigh when talking politics, the service driver? It’s his life.

Added to that, around Hamra and Gemayzeh certainly, chances are Service Man speaks at least five languages. English, French, Arabic, Danish and Gaelic are ones I’ve come across. That’s great, but it makes the times when you just want to sit in the back and relax difficult… claim you don’t understand Arabic and he’ll start chatting to you in whatever language you do…

Two enduring service moments remain me with from my early days in Hamra… firstly, sitting in the backseat after having too much to drink, usually via the helping hand of Pacifico’s Tony, head bouncing around, wishing for Malak al Batata to appear ahead … suddenly the tires hit Hamra’s cobblestones and, I’m home. Rashad’s going to hit me up with the best sharwarma on this side of town, a cold bottle of Rim and my bed await upstairs … home sweet home.

The second revolves quickly knocking back a cup of coffee at Younes, back when it was still little more than a corridor with a few chairs outside, cursing as I burnt myself, and then jumping into the back of whatever red-plated monstrosity came around the corner, then off to Saint Joseph for four hours of Arabic language self-flagellation.

Those were the days.

Does anyone have any interesting service tales to tell?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

A request...

Firstly, my apologies for a prolonged absence. My Mac recently took a trip to the great orchard in the sky and between that and a particularly busy period at work… well…

Why Steve? Why?

However, one thing that’s come up, and eaten up a lot of my time is something that I’m hoping will be of interest to the consumers and creators of the regional blogosphere.*

I can’t go into specifics at present, but here’s my request –

I’m looking for the best English-language blogs from the Middle East and North Africa.

I’d appreciate it if you’d recommend any blog that you read on a regular basis that gives a je n’sais quoi.

If you don’t want to add them to the comments, please email me.

*I hate the word “blogosphere”, however, it’s also somewhat faster than typing that nebulous melange of blog writers, Twitter uses and devotees of social media who, just occasionally, might have something interesting to say. And, yes, in terms of the “just occasionally” part, I include myself.