A Heartfelt Letter from Brain

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Dear Heart,

I would’ve staged an intervention but you wouldn’t have endured it. Like so many times before, I have resorted to putting my thoughts into words since, it seems, only through a romantic written letter will you be open to thoughts that are an honest patch of free association writing.

First, let me address something that you are, no doubt, peeved about. I know you are not the heart, that cardiac thumping ball of blood and striated muscle fiber. I know you are the figurative heart and are so insulted by being represented by the organ, a pagan symbol or any song “written” by prepubescent teenagers whose blood could be used to jumpstart a menopausal woman in the midst of a hot flash. But for simplicity’s sake combined with my impatience to find the correct scientific label for your complicated and debated existence, I am just going to call you Heart. At least I capitalized it.

You are the abstract entity that is blamed for the avoidable pain in my life; the force that makes me stash an old 3 of hearts playing card in my wallet, the overwhelming compulsion to ignore all harmful repercussions, and the sneaky bastard that allows smells to creep up and open my Pandora’s box of buried memories. The power that, sometimes, gives me some form of immediate satisfaction at the expense of my mental sanity.

You are what I give away selflessly. And I give you away repeatedly and completely hoping that, one day, you will tell me you are safe forever. That you will not come back to me and set my insides on fire. That you won’t be angry with me for abandoning you in the care of another who let you go. And I should learn – but I give away all of you all over again. I say sincerely to the recipient , “I give you my whole Heart” and it’s not a lie because that’s the whole we have left. I lost parts of you along the way. You trust me even after you return, missing a piece. I know this sounds like I should be apologizing to you but not quite. I am just acknowledging that I have not been good to you, either. This is why I do not blame you for your form of payback, for making me feel like I swallowed a supernova while the rest of me yearns to be sucked into a black hole. What I’m saying is, maybe I deserve it.

I think you will be unharmed because I cannot imagine strapping a relative of yours to a fender and dragging your bloody carcass through the town square. I assume that no one will do that to you. That no one can do that to you. Because I can’t do it to them. Somehow, I feel you won’t be a sacrifice. It always seems like a fair trade. You shouldn’t have to be retaped together and then placed in line with a lawn mower. I should protect you.

The problem, though, is this: you tell me it is okay. You practically volunteer. I hear about the symptoms of devastation and internal spontaneous combustion that can result from mishandling a Heart. I know about the withdrawal that comes in fits after the addiction owns your veins. And I think you know, too. But you get so captivated, so certain that the vulnerability will make you stronger. You get so courageous that even my fears are squashed by an Acme anvil. 
Heart, I need you to be careful. I know there is beauty in what you seek. I know that you are not naive and reckless. You are laying yourself on the line in exchange for tackle hugs, silent dances, and tangible tenderness that time will stand still for because it gives you a constant to depend on. 
You are taking a leap of faith. Just be easy on me when I’m the only one there to catch you if you fall.
Love,
Brain

Dahieh’s Sweet Side

The dahieh, meaning “neighborhood” in Arabic, is the word used to describe the southern suburbs of Beirut city. It’s the same area that was rearranged like a chessboard during the July 2006 war. Usually associated with Hezbollah and cheap car maintenance, dahieh is rarely thought of when it comes to dessert. Unless you’ve heard of Cremino.

Cake Slices

Across from the Shiite Consulate is Cremino Patisserie, a bakery established in 1993. On big dessert holidays such as Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day, the only cakes sold are vanilla or chocolate black forest (foret noir) with the exception of pre-ordered cakes. On any regular day, by 11am, most of the croissants are sold out. The patisserie is so popular that they have recently relocated to comfortably accommodate all their different stations: cakes & assorted desserts, chocolate & gift items, bread, and ice cream.

Ice Cream Section

Cake Fridges

They’ve moved to the adjacent building and purchased the entire ground floor and parking lot. It is accessible directly from the old Airport Road on the right side (when driving away from the Intl. Airport). The baking factory part of the business occurs underground in the basement level. Their old location will be bought by Siblini, a trusted neighboring butcher who also has expansion plans and who shares most of the same customers.

New Location

The readymade cakes come in 3 different sizes: full cakes, slices, or mini slices. The full cakes run from 25,000-50,000 L.L., slices for about 2,250 L.L./each and the mini’s come on a platter for 24,000 L.L. The mini’s are an assortment of bitesized versions of the larger slices and are a good choice if you’re bringing dessert to a house dinner.

Recommendation for full cake: The Concerto.

Recommendation for slice:

Being that dahieh is a religious area, the cakes have no alcohol flavoring in them yet they have rich flavor – maybe it’s their awesomesauce extract. There’s something magical because everyone seems hooked and the only time that it seems to be empty is lunchtime during the month of Ramadan.

Bambi’s Boxes, Part II.

Dresses at sea

The second installment from Bambi’s Boxes features the Piaff vitrines designed by conceptual artist, Najla El Zein. First off, Piaff, a clothing store, is located near Gefinor on Clemenceau, after CMC on your righthand side – if you reach Downtown, you’ve gone too far.

From inside Piaff
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 This season’s displays are based on the structure of coral reefs. However, the constructed corals are made out of mini cocktail umbrellas. The multicolored umbrellas were shipped in to Lebanon but while constructing the display, they ran short. Instead of trashing the whole idea, voids were incorporated into the umbrella corals. It’s all very under-the-sea-where’s-my-margarita.

Umbrellas!

Gaps
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Najla El Zein had given a small talk once this spring about her work and conceptual designs which is mainly installations or abstract sculpture work. An “installation” is an artwork that has to be set-up or installed in 3D space. Her works include fluffy clouds, a giant head of hair and a big ball of welded spoons. The spoons, rightly titled “6302 Spoons”, has 6302 spoons melted into a teardrop womb-shaped ball that doubles as a wall lamp. It looks a bit like a metal version of the dripping goo that is Princess Daisy’s father in Super Mario Bros, the movie. You can check out more of El Zein’s work on her website.

El Zein has done work for Piaff before. She was also the designer behind their last window displays which were pinwheels that spun thanks to fans inside the store. This display was more interesting to see at night when the store was closed – the pinwheels spun and the dresses billowed in a vacated showroom/area. It was spooky and mesmerizing.

Pinwheels
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Dresses
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5 Random Acts of Kindness Done by Lebanese Strangers

Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol – Byblos, Lebanon ’12

1. The Tfadal Invite

The phrase “tfadal/leh” is one that Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol probably experienced when visiting Byblos this summer. During his concert, he told a story about how, when souvenir shopping in the Byblos souk, a dining shopkeeper asked him to join for dinner. It was a sweet story and the audience took pride in the we-are-so-hospitable-and-awesome moment. Upon reflection, this man probably said “tfadal” to Gary and it was translated as “join me.” This is not an untrue translation; however, foreigners don’t realize that this has become more of a common courtesy and less of a genuinely kind gesture. What the Lebanese don’t realize is that even this simple common courtesy is rare in other countries.

2. The Parallel Parking Assistant
This refers to strangers taking a good 10 minutes out of their day to help you parallel park in a tight spot. In Lebanon, a tight spot is any space that can fit your vehicle: legally, illegally, paved, unpaved, or unblocked by a broomstick in a cement block. Given that this RAK may happen frequently if you’re a female – meaning you’re in need of assistance because members of your gender are not to be trusted behind the wheel OR you’re in need of a knight in shining armor to help, gawking at you while insisting “you’re almost there, just a little bit more” – it is still nice to have an extra set of eyes to see the sidewalk that decided to relocate under your car when you weren’t looking. It was dark and it moved, I swear.

3. The M2addam Offer

When given a compliment, a common response is “Merci, m2addam” meaning “thanks, I present it to thee.” If taken literally, this means the person is saying you can HAVE whatever it is you just complimented. Now, I have never actually seen anyone take something that was m2addam but I would love to just to watch the reaction. “Hello America”, an Adel Imam movie from ’98, pokes fun at this: Imam’s character interacts with Americans who take him up on his offer leaving him stunned at their no-shame-I-just-scored-a-Rolex attitude.

4. The Wedding Motorcade Extra

Weddings in Lebanon are a grand affair. When the bride and groom drive off, a motorcade forms with a string of relative-packed cars honking their horns as the hazard lights blink indicating to all others in the ongoing traffic that the two people in the flower adorned rental just got hitched. Sometimes, a poor soul will get caught in between the motorcade. When this happens, people do one of two things:
1) make way and just wait for them to drive by like an ambulance parade
OR go with the fun option
2) join in, start honking like a maniac and just let everyone assume that they’re the annoying cousin that was invited because he helped get the discount at the reception venue.

5. The Habibi Turettes

“Habibi” is the Arabic equivalent to corazon, mi amore, cherie, my love, etc. The difference is that this endearment is applied to everyone. The guy making your shawarma sandwich will call you the same thing that your girlfriend/boyfriend calls you and it’s completely normal because this is Lebanon and we love you.

My Conscience Replies…

Upon request by some readers, the reply to My Letter to My Conscience:



Dear Me,

I’m going to answer this rationally and logically. I’m not your friend. Or I am, just not in the conventional way. I’m not going to help you bury a body, make pinky promises or cheer you on when you chug another flaming Lamborghini shot. I’m going to watch your back, encourage you to always tell the truth and believe in Santa Claus.

You’re all “live in the moment”, thinking you’re a reincarnated John Lennon with your “let it be” mantra. You are not John Lennon. Last time I checked, we were not born in the 40s, we are not the most famous member of the most famous band in music history and we do not take nude photos with Yoko Ono. I’m sorry for the imagery. 

Me, you are ungrateful. You seem to have forgotten the things that I have done for you. Remember when you wore whistle earrings and your colleague was all I-am-Flo-Rida and asked “Can I blow your whistle?” ? Remember how I stopped you from replying “No, it doesn’t work without balls.” ? Good choice in retrospect, if you ask me. Which you did. Or how about that time the McDonald’s delivery bag was left outside your building’s elevator because McDeliveryman didn’t want to carry the load up the stairs when the electricity cut. The smell of those fries enticed you and you thought “he’d never notice a missing happy meal.” He wouldn’t – but little Hassouna would and McDeliveryman would be out of a McJob because you couldn’t control your gastrointestinal urges. And your pepper spray will not save you if you decide to verbally destroy the Ed Hardy-clad inverted-collared casanova at the bar by telling him that he’s not Pinocchio: the wood isn’t going to grow, no matter how much he lies about the length. And let’s not forget the countless times I have to keep you from breaking out into a southern dabkeh whenever Chris Brown’s I Can Transform Ya comes on. Even you know that ain’t right.

I’m the one that needs to function the day after you make mistakes. While others are putting their life together, you’re still trying to find your matching yellow sock that goes with your banana T-shirt. I may have a lack of consistency but you have a lack of discipline. You can’t drink 4 Bonjus pineapple triangle juiceboxes and think you won’t need a bathroom in 20 minutes. You were spot-on when you said you are a child and I feel that JD’s theory about his relationship with Turk can be applied to ours if it were to go the way you wished: like a blooming onion, delicious but unhealthy. 

With all that said, it pains me to admit something: you are right. Perhaps I think too much. Maybe I need to loosen the reigns and just be your cheerleader. (Focus. If you start imagining kinky costumes, we are going to need so much therapy that even foster dad/husband Woody Allen would be telling you “that shit cray.”) I do want happiness. I want you to be thrilled with the life that you lead and, sometimes, I want you to take risks because playing it safe doesn’t always balance out. Sure, in the long run, it may be the more reasonable decision but reasonable security never outweighs unreasonable security. Some of the most beautiful things in life don’t make any sense: Salvador Dali paintings, love, and Matt Bomer’s sexual orientation. What a loss. 

It seems in some cases, sense is overrated and you just have to go with your gut. But please stay away from the chicken nuggets. 

Always here for you,
Conscience

Do You Know Rocky Horror?

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Unlike others of my generation, I spent my preteen years watching VH1 and too many episodes of “Where Are They Now?”. Along with these marathons came weekends dedicated to old films that would spiral into cross-country events and festivals full of costumed fans – what has been called a “cult following.”

One of these was “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” When the movie was being promoted back when I first watched it (around the time when I was 11; I had a colorful childhood), I was not very interested but my own mother said “this is a movie you need to watch; you will not understand it but you won’t be able to NOT watch it.” One of those what-the-hell-am-I-watching-why-can’t-I-look-away creations, much like the Green Porno series. It was created in 1975 as a parody of B-movie, sci-fi horror films.

The festivals that go along with this movie are like the LOTR/Star Wars geekfests only everyone’s dressed up like they’re going to RuPaul’s bachelorette scrambled with a feather boa nightmare. Did I mention that the sweet transvestite is Tim Curry? Aka Nigel Thornberry? Aka the creepy rich dude in Charlie’s Angels? (not to be mistaken with creepy thin man with a hair fetish)

And the best part of this leather-clad sexual-innuendo ridden mess? It’s a musical.

Bcharre, the home of Gibran

Sculpture of Gibran at Museum entrance

The mountains of Bcharre are known for being the land of red-roofed houses and Samir Geagea. It is also the birthplace of one of Lebanon’s greatest writers, Khalil Gibran. Bcharre, located near Ehden right below the Cedars, is a small town about a 2 hour drive north of Beirut.

If you continue on the main road of the town, you will come across an incline to the Gibran Museum. It’s a quaint little museum that seems to be built within the actual mountain. The elevation and enclosed space makes it a bit hard to breathe inside but the size ensures that you will get out before you faint. A collection of Gibran’s paintings, sketches and setups of his rooms/books are displayed in connected rooms that go in a circle. It’s a fun adventure that costs 5,000 L.L. (a bit more than $3) and it concludes with the tomb of the writer. Oddly enough, his bedroom is set up right outside his coffin.
The epitaph is inscribed on a slab of cedar wood:

“I am alive like you
And I now stand beside you
Close your eyes and look
Around you will see me
In front of you”

To which my little sister whispered: “but where? I don’t see him.”

View from Gibran Museum, Bcharre

The view from the museum is beautiful, overlooking the town of Bcharre and the Qadisha Valley. There is a woman who sells cedar souvenirs outside the museum – and, as usual, you can “carve” (burn) your name or whatever you like on whatever you like. There is a cafeteria with Flintstone-like architecture and a small giftshop at the end of the museum featuring small prints, cards and books of Gibran’s work. Whatever you buy is stamped much like Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris, France.

Shakespeare & Company – Paris, France
Gibran Museum stamp
Shakespeare & Company stamp

Gibran’s love letters to May Ziadeh are the Lebanese equivalent to Lord Beethoven’s. May Ziadeh was a writer of Arabic Literature who later became the owner and editor-in-chief of her father’s Egyptian newspaper, Al Mahrousah. An excerpt from Gibran’s letter to May on June 11th, 1919:

“I ignored all the other letters awaiting my return to my desk, in order to spend my day listening to your utterances, which alternate between sweetness and reprimand – I say reprimand because I found in your second letter some observations which, had I allowed them to, would have saddened my happy self. But how could I let myself dwell on a seeming cloud in an otherwise clear and starry sky? And how could I turn my eyes away from a blossoming tree to the merest shadow from one of her branches? And how could I object to a gentle stab from a perfumed hand full of precious stones?”

Bambi Spotted! (Gibran Museum)