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”.
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