Going Off-track: Rayak Train Station

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After a day at the AUB farm (AREC DAY), a few friends and I took a detour to the Rayak Train Station, located in the Bekaa Valley past the Rayak Air Base. Rayak (pronounced Riya’) is home to one of the many abandoned train stations (and a factory) of Lebanon. The line, that used to run from Beirut to Damascus, was the 1st railway built in Lebanon back in 1891. This was before the country was “independent” and was still under Ottoman rule. The dilapidated remains of the station are frozen in time. It’s a lot like how you would imagine a war zone after a ceasefire; everything is where it was before the war, only it’s aged, rusted, and beautifully decayed.

The caretaker on site there told us that a permission slip from Mar Mikhael in Beirut was needed to access the grounds but we pleaded and he allowed us to roam around a bit while advising us not to enter any of the buildings because it was dangerous due to the rain. When we asked him why the supposed project for a Rayak Train Station Museum seemed to be put on hold, he seemed quite discouraged. The way he put it was, the project, though ambitious and worthy, needs financing and the people in charge of our country aren’t willing to fork it over for something that isn’t seen as a priority. It seems that if this project were to ever see the light of day, it would need some wealthy private investors. It is sad that our country does not seem concerned with the preservation of such sites – remnants of our rich history and grounds related to our past. If there are no plans of renovation or innovation when it comes to public transportation, we should at least cherish the graveyards of days when we did have such machinery running along our coast.

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Railroad Switch (click to enlarge)

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Old lockers

There has been talk of a museum, a documentary, and even getting the trains back on track. Unfortunately, talk’s all that seems to have happened since such things were written in a TimeOut Beirut article almost 3 years ago. Elias Boutros Maalouf from Ecuador (familial roots from Rayak) put together a study called “The Rayak Train Museum Proposal” in 2009. The document, in French, English, and Arabic, describes a plan for a museum for all the Lebanese railways. You can check out the whole thing here. Some tidbits from the proposal:

  • “By 1912, it was a vital cog in an intercontinental rail system that spread throughout Europe and Asia and, by the 1940s, linked Europe and Africa.”
  • “In the beginning of August 1895, the first train took off from the port of Beirut to Rayak railway station.”
  • “Rayak was famous for having one of the biggest train factories in the world at that time. It was later well known for designing and reassembling old steam engines that worked on charcoal to work on fuel.”
  • “In 1976, the railway was shut due to the civil war, ending more than 85 years of success and achievements.”
  • “In World War II, this factory was used as a military base in which military weapons were fixed. At that time a group of engineers from both the train factory and Rayak’s Military Airbase were assigned to build airplanes for the French military. Some of the airplane parts were manufactured and designed in Rayak’s train factory. They were then taken to Rayak airport to be assembled to their new chassis, and, Rayak’s first airplanes conquered the sky.”

I contacted Mr. Maalouf to ask what has come of this project since there was no recent news of it. Apparently, he has completed the Lebanese Railways documentary but he’s still waiting for the opportune moment to release it. Three weeks ago, Train/Train, the NGO he co-founded, met with Gaby Layoun, the Minister of Culture, to discuss the project – however, they have yet to hear back from the Ministry since. Officials from the Ministry of Transport, on the other hand, visited Rayak last week with a freight truck company to see to plans of a truck hub at the station – an effort that Train/Train would like to thwart. Train/Train Lebanon are “working on preserving the past and building the future of the Lebanese Railways.” You can follow them on Twitter and check them out on Facebook.

Another site to check out is CEL – Chemin de Fer de l’Etat Libanais; it has information on the railways including timetables, postcards, and photographs all collected by Børre Ludvigsen.

5 Conspiracy Theories You Never Think About

1. Movie Star Foreign Accents

You’re a celebrity who’s spent their life reading English scripts, you’ve been in an English speaking country for over 20 years of your life, and you still speak with a thick accent or improper grammar. Look, if my dad can talk like he grew up in Brooklyn when he’s actually from the Jnoob (South Lebanon) while only making rare mispronunciations with certain words due to his French high school education, then Salma Hayek and Jackie Chan can cut the bullshit. I’m so sure they speak with perfect accents but Salma knows it makes her sound sexy and Jackie – well, I can’t explain that one because it’s just annoying. The only person who should be allowed to get away with this is the Governator because it makes him the Governator.

2. The Hipster Loop

If everything’s too mainstream for you, you’re a hipster. So when hipster becomes mainstream, are you a hipster hipster? Or does it cancel out and you go back into the mainstream category? And if all hipsters don’t like anything mainstream doesn’t that effectively become a mainstream ideology? Therefore, there is no real hipster culture, just people in Converse, plaid pants, and black frames talking about quinoa tabbouli. Just eat the borghol.

3. Space Station Life

There has been talk about people living on space stations since…the 1980s? Let’s just say the 1980’s thanks to Kubrick to sound sophisticated. In reality, ever since you saw Zenon on Disney, you thought you could wear horrible neon styrofoam lined clothing and put tin foil in your hair. You could live in a floating watergun in space. By 2049, you’ll be dreaming about Earth’s simpler times, tracking down vintage Chuck Taylors, growing synthetic tomatoes in test tubes and humming Protozoa’s classic hit. It’s all lies. You’ll be doing exactly what you’re doing now and absolutely nothing would’ve changed except that everything is owned by Apple and Oprah.

4. Unfinished BIC Pens

Where do they go? In your academic and professional life, how many of these have you purchased? And out of that number how many have you actually finished and thrown away? Less than 2% – because you lose them. Or they’re borrowed and never returned (i.e. lent to friends and annoying peoplewho ask you for a pen  before an exam as you unzip your pencilcase so you can’t say no). Or MAYBE there are BIC elves stealing them to extract the ink so they can make robotic jellyfish more realistic in espionage missions. Totally not far-fetched.

5. Google & Facebook Employees

…know your deepest darkest secrets. They have access to your entire life. They read your message threads, your gchat transcripts, and they know how many times (and how much time) you spend on each person’s profile. Since they’ve become such big corporations, there is at least one person from your graduating class that is or will be working for them and will, as a result, have the ability to own you for life. Even with confidentiality contracts that bind them and keep them silent, you will never know what they’re really asking when they ask “so how’ve you been?” “Oh, I’ve been fine.” “Yeah, I know.”

…Uhm, what?

Bambi’s Boxes, Part VI

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New box found!

Location: Stradivarius, Le Mall Dbayeh

Concept: Air Mail framing of window with travel theme, suitcases held up by balloons with a vintage world map backdrop. It’s all very dreamy and whimsical – perfect for the upcoming summer season when everyone wants to pack their bags and get away.

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Le Mall Dbayeh is my new favorite mall because it has all the stores for good twenty-something shopping and some great restaurants too. The fact that the ceiling is all glass plates makes it well-lit on good days so you don’t miss out on the beautiful weather while still being indoors. Another plus: vertical gardens on the entrance to the parking lot:

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Lebanon’s Turn: Global Street Art with MOCAtv

As said in last week’s post, a series about street art in the region is being produced and Lebanon’s was released a few days ago. I haven’t even seen some of the pieces featured in the clip but I’m sure many will recognize the artists in there from their tags. Sadly, I think there is so much great work that didn’t get its proper dues but this is probably due to time constraints.

Ma Tishrab w Tsouk by Ashekman

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The Ashekman twins have painted the walls of Beirut once again – this time with a great message: “ma tishrab w tsouk” or “don’t drink and drive.” The very large piece of street art is located near Monot and Sodeco, along the same street as Falamanki and right after La Piazza. If you had noticed before, there were existing pieces of graffiti on this strip, some focusing on the same issue, before the Ashekman twins took it over with their striking orange/turquoise on black combo. As is their style, it’s a lovely example of Arabic typography (which is also used in the tshirt & sweatshirt designs sold at their store in Hamra).

Although already notorious for their work throughout the city, I feel this one is quite special because of it’s message. There is nothing original in what it is saying but it is vibrant enough that it will hit you when you see it – as it should because drunk driving is a preventable problem. This tag in specific was done for Kunhadi, an NGO focused on youth awareness for road safety. Too many people, many of them too young, have been victims of reckless driving. Based on the The Lebanon I Dream Of documentary from 2009, car accidents increase 13% annually leading to 700 deaths/year. Based on Blogbaladi via YASA (Youth Association for Safety Awareness), a 20% increase in accidents is expected for 2013. Drunk driving is one of the “accidents” we can avoid.

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Click Me!

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Bambi’s Boxes, Part V

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There’s always something to see in Hamra

I haven’t done one of these in a while because 1) there wasn’t anything that particularly caught my eye and 2) they don’t seem to be very popular with readers. Plus, it seems that there is always a tie between the two big display-design experts: Aizone’s Sagmeister/Walsh & the great Louis Vuitton windows and I wanted to feature something else for the next one. So here we go:

This Box was found today while wandering in Hamra. It features a little member of society: Librairie Antoine. Very similar to the Louis Vuitton flying papers of this season (I’m sorry but I can’t help but praise them – even in Singapore, I’d stop and admire each display even though they were all identical). Back to the point. Librairie Antoine has a small bicycle featuring a crazy cascade of book pages flying all over the span of the vitrine. You should stop by just to take a look and read some of the pages.

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Sorry, not the best shot with all that reflection (all the more reason to go see it!)

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Louis Vuitton, Singapore

 

Besides this, there’s a new selection of notebooks available: the OGAMI Collection. As said on the label:

“OGAMI uses Repap in all the products lines. Repap is made up of 80% calcium carbonate (CaC03) and a small percentage, 20%, from non-toxic resins (high-density polyethylene). The calcium carbonate present in Repap comes from the limestone recovered from caves and used in creating Repap, a resistant and durable, as well as a waterproof paper. A paper that is also soft, smooth, bright white.”

Their tagline is “Paper made from Stone.” Best part is they’re not that expensive. A small mini notebook for your purse costs 9,000 L.L. ($6) and an A5-sized one is 13,500 L.L. ($9). A5 is half the size of your regular printer paper. As a friend said, “writing on this paper is magical, everything looks better.” Yes, she is a designer too. Check out their website here.

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My mini OGAMI notebook & Keel’s Simple Diary