Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Don't cry for me Beirut

Lebanon is burning again, but my client is going ahead with his promotional parties, complete with gifts and games, for the crowds in the ski resorts. I’m told there are crowds in the ski resorts – sporting freshly styled hair to match designer winter gear and having the kind of good time previously only achieved by frat parties and the carnival in Rio.

They tell me there are other crowds in the small bars, the large coffee shops, houses and classrooms, and they’re all having a good time too. The country has apparently gone into default mode and is once again fighting abuse with arak, shelling with shisha. Perhaps it’s the supreme victory, to just not acknowledge adversity.

But I remember my Lebanese colleagues in Dubai during the recent battering from Israel. The TV in the lounge was on all day, turned to the news, punctuated by phone calls from home. Someone's grandparents evacuated just in time. Yet another shelter hit, a brother still on the road. Someone's mother is in a stranger’s car because hers is buried in rubble. A wife and child are nearly at the Syrian border but the bridge has just gone so they're taking a detour. A sister has reached the French embassy in Achrafieh. And then 5 minutes later, on the news, they've just bombed Achrafieh.

On the TV, they saw places they recognised and used to live in being destroyed. Bus stops, schools, friends’ houses, cafes, shops. And they desperately cared. But they just carried on – wrote briefs, sent out artworks, designed logos, met clients, raised invoices, sported freshly styled hair to match the designer fall collections. It was not a dramatic show of bravery, it just was.

Visiting almost exactly a year before this, my first impression of the country was a stoic silence that enveloped me when I stepped out of the airport, bubbly Lebanese friend notwithstanding. It rose from the streets, the mountains, even the sea, and sat there impassively behind the chaos of Beirut’s roads, the high drama that is any Lebanese interaction. The people were going to great lengths to forget, but the land remembered.

But these are fanciful conclusions by someone whose besetting sin is seeing pathos where there is none. What do I know of war, civil or otherwise? I’ve never been woken by an air raid siren or heard a gun shot in the night (or day). No tanks rolled down the streets of my town and the only curfew that marred my impressionable years was of the parental variety.

The Lebanese probably have it right. When they’re ringing your curtain down, demand to be buried like Eva Peron. Make your exit like a star, dancing out across the tables under sparkling chandeliers, singing at the top of your voice: “You can’t take my spirit, it’s my dreams you take”.

Friday, January 26, 2007

A singing map of the US?

Sweet Home Alabama Lynyrd Skynyrd
Road to Alaska Bee Gees
There Is No Arizona Jamie O'Neal
The Hills of Arkansas Black Oak Arkansas
California Dreaming Mamas and Papas
Bound For Colorado Jackson Browne
Connecticut: None
Hello, I'm In Delaware Dallas Green
Mainline Florida Eric Clapton
Georgia On My Mind Ray Charles
Blue Hawaii Bing Crosby
Idaho Nerina Pallot
Illinois, I’m Your Boy Dan Fogelberg
Goin' Back to Indiana The Jackson 5
Hills of Iowa Dar Williams
Kansas City Fats Domino
Kentucky Woman Neil Diamond
Louisiana Bayou Dave Matthews Band
Maine: None
Maryland I’m Coming Home Vonda Shepard
Going Back to Massachusetts Bee Gees
Especially In Michigan Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Biggest Ball Of Twine In Minnesota Weird Al Yankovic
Roll On Mississippi Charlie Pride
The Wide Missouri Bob Dylan
Wild Montana Sky John Denver
Nebraska Steve Earle
Sands of Nevada Mark Knopfler
New Hampshire: None
Sometimes, New Jersey Saves The Day
New Mexico Hank Williams Jr
New York, New York Frank Sinatra
Just A Little Bit South Of North Carolina Dean Martin (both of them are featured here so it counts as two)
The Boys From North Dakota Lyle Lovett
Four Dead In Ohio Crosby Stills Nash & Young
Oklahoma Hills Woody Guthrie
Portland Oregon Loretta Lynn
You've Got A Friend In Pennsylvania A New Found Glory
Rhode Island Is Famous For You Shining Down
South Dakota: None
Memphis Tennessee Chuck Berry
Luckenbach, Texas Willie Nelson
Utah features in “My Elusive Dreams”
Moonlight in Vermont Ella Fitzgerald
Virginia Tori Amos
Christmas in Washington Steve Earle
West Virginia features in “Country Roads”
Wisconsin: None
Song of Wyoming John Denver

The ones I had to google: Delaware, Idaho, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Illinois.
Of course New York, Washington and the two rivers are actually cheating (with "The Wide Missourie" cheating doubly). Even so, it's a lot of states covered.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

And there shone a bright new star

For a while now my favourite rant has been about private diary writers who’ve gone public on the Internet and so believe that their every thought and opinion counts. Including myself.

Having misspent the entire afternoon looking up blogs and blogging, I’ve been disarmed. There are as many blogs as there are stars in the sky. You might as well be writing privately in a book on your desk in your room with the door closed.

And the afternoon wasn’t entirely misspent either. It was a great exercise in re-sizing my picture of myself, as is reading the Economist Style Guide or New York Times columnists. An intimidating number of the bloggers are erudite, incredibly well-informed and update daily (almost hourly, in some cases). At least half of them must have regular, unrelated jobs – where do they get the time? What sort of jobs are these? And how does one get one of those?

It’s also a bad idea to invite friends and relatives to your blog – they know that if you have the time to update, you bloody well have the time to reply to their emails. In my defence, I say to them, I’ve done a lot worse to you. And anyway it’s in the mail.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Post New Year Syndromes…

Time Zone Fatigue: Email is wonderful. Friends and relatives can be anywhere in the world but you can all still meet and talk. So conversations begin when I’m asleep, end when I’m in a meeting and there’s just the sound of even breathing when I’m bright-eyed and ready to talk over lunch. (It reminds me of the time lag that long-distance phone calls used to have. Anything you said was greeted with unnerving silence. When the reply came, it was just a little too late for the exercise to become a dialogue. It would have felt less awkward to say “over” after each sentence.)

Different Weekend Fatigue: A corollary condition of TZF that comes of living in the Middle East. When I return to my computer on Sunday, I often find that subjects under discussion have progressed greatly without my contribution and that new ones have been added. It’s like having to join an animated group at a party – always a scary prospect.

Brand Plan Fatigue: It starts in the third quarter of every year. They start talking of next year’s plans and target numbers, which then rapidly develops into an all-consuming obsession for the rest of the year. By December you’re not sure if you’re in 2006, 2007 or 2008, and are left with the suspicion that whatever happened in the last three months of the year doesn’t count, or indeed, exist. Which is a problem when your birthday is in December.

Transit Lounge Trauma: When you live in Dubai, you have to get used to saying goodbye too often and too soon. People leave just as you get to know them. Parties end just as they become fun. Colleagues change just as you come to terms with them.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

We'll take a cup of kindness yet

I’ve just finished reading The Other Boleyn Girl, an account of the court of Henry VIII. It turned out to be a curiously appropriate time to be reading it. Labyrinthine politics, imperialist intrigue and summary executions, the players taking turn and turnabout on one merry-go-round as winners and losers in ruinous games of their own devising. We haven’t come very far in five hundred years. A killing is still required to be righted by another. You can still be sent to the scaffold for your crimes and it can still be ordered to be done in haste. And it’s still a public execution in front of an avid, jeering crowd.

There are colourless things living at the bottom of ponds that learn quicker.

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