2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

About 3 million people visit the Taj Mahal every year. This blog was viewed about 59,000 times in 2010. If it were the Taj Mahal, it would take about 7 days for that many people to see it.


In 2010, there was 1 new post, growing the total archive of this blog to 46 posts.

The busiest day of the year was April 8th with 385 views. The most popular post that day was amelie.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were lonelyplanet.com, facebook.com, search.babylon.com, iloubnan.info, and search.conduit.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for amelie, elissa, haifa wehbe, fulla, and yann tiersen.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Lebanese Vacation Barbie July 2009


Yann Tiersen! November 2009


Pie Heaven, Here I Come!

Please forgive the incredibly long break in posting. Basically, to sum up, once I was hired by Time Out, where I was writing full time, coming home and writing even more just wasn’t quite as feasible – hence the sudden halt in blogging. And, in May 2010, I decided that it was time to leave Time Out and Beirut behind and moved on to new adventures. I have since started another blog, so check it out if you get a chance! Here’s the link: http://colettetravel.wordpress.com/

Yann Tiersen!

Bah! I love my job!! About three weeks ago, my boss called me to ask if I could conduct a phone interview in French. I said yes, to which she replied, “Wonderful! I just gave Yann Tiersen your cell phone number. He’ll be calling you at 7pm.”

Me – In my head: WHAT?!? Yann Tiersen?? The Yann Tiersen?? Who composed the music for Amelie and Goodbye Lenin?? The Yann Tiersen who’s music I used to listen to to keep my mood up when I was studying for exams in university? The Yann Tiersen who’s music I play whenever I move into a new apartment, because it fills up every corner with this warm, wonderful feeling??

Me – Out loud: Oh, wow! Great! I’ll write up some questions while I’m waiting for his call and email you a transcript of the interview tomorrow.

Me – In my head after hanging up the phone: EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

I rushed home, typed up some interview questions and sat nervously on my bed (which doubles as my desk) waiting for the phone to ring. He called at 7:22pm and I swear, those were 22 of the longest minutes…

And then, my ringtone started to play, my stomach did a somersault and I started sweating profusely.

“Allo? C’est Yann Tiersen.”

And then I said something along the lines of “Gobbedly gobbeldy goo..” feigned a bad connection and somehow got my brain working again.

In the end, it turned out that Yann Tiersen is actually a really nice, down to earth guy, and the rest of the interview ended up going really well. He was patient with me, friendly and gave thorough answers to my questions. I felt like a real journalist for the first time – such a rush!! Success!!

So here you go! The un-cut version of my first feature article in Time Out Beirut!


Yann+Tiersen“Music and life are the same…I’m always thinking about music.” Words spoken by a man who has clearly found his calling in life, French musician and composer, Yann Tiersen, who will be performing at the Forum de Beirut on November 12.  Tiersen was propelled into the international spotlight after the success of the film, Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain, for which he composed the award winning score. But as any devoted Tiersen fan will tell you, the 39-year old musician’s work extends long before and far beyond Amélie.

Born in the city of Brest and raised in the nearby city of Rennes in Brittany, France, Tiersen began to study piano and violin at the age of 12, discovering his passion for music early in life. During our interview he revealed, “I always knew I wanted to be a composer – since I was a young child. I love music.”  Tiersen would go on to receive formal music training, but as a free spirit who could not be contained by the restrictions of classical protocol, he made the sharp turn from classic to rock.  Jamming with several different rock bands in the 1980s, he began to develop a style of music all his own.

CON-20051228143402-SIn 1995, at the age of 25, he released his first album, La Valse de Monstres (The Monsters’ Waltz), a compilation of music he had composed for two French plays, Le Tambourin de Soie (The Silk Tambourine) and Freaks. The minimalist, instrumental music showcased influences of classical compositions, the old French crooners of the 1950s, and Tiersen’s beloved rock.

underwood5smallIn addition, true to the composer’s now trademark style, the album featured the beautifully bizarre combination of such varied instruments as the violin, piano, accordion, toy piano, melodica, and xylophone.  Tiersen explains, “I really love working with sound…looking for things to use and instruments that aren’t really traditional.” Obviously not one to be limited by the conventional, the ever-curious Tiersen has continuously experimented with different melodic tools, utilizing the noises produced by things as abstract as typewriters and bicycle wheels in his compositions.

goodbyeLeninDomestic fame came in 1998, with the release of his third album, Le Phare. A few years later, this eccentric, suddenly in-demand musician was graced with the international praise he had long deserved when his compositions for Amélie (2001) and the German film Goodbye Lenin! (2003) surprised and impressed the world.

amelieComposing a score for a film tends to be different than composing for an album, but not for Tiersen. Whereas many composers take their inspirational cues from the visual rhythm of the film and the style of editing, or try to synchronize their music with actions and dialogue, Tiersen takes a different approach: “I don’t work with the images. I don’t look at them while I compose.”  While this may be an unconventional modus operandi, you can’t argue with success. He was given the French national film award, the César, in 2002 for Best Music Written for a Film, for his score in Amélie.

Although he enjoys composing for films, and cannot deny the international success such work has brought him, Tiersen professed that he prefers composing independently, “There’s more freedom. When you’re working on the score for a film there are limitations and obligations.  You have to have a certain result by a certain time…it’s a bit stressful. I prefer to compose on my own time, when inspiration comes.”

When it comes to composing his music, to finding that inspiration, Tiersen likes to be alone – “I have a house on a small island west of Brittany and I have less pressure there. I can just work.” He adds laughing, “And if I don’t find any ideas there, I go into town to the bar for awhile.”  This gifted composer seems to live and breathe the music he writes, issuing the impassioned statement, “When you are a musician you can enjoy life and life can be material for your inspiration. I’m always thinking about music. It’s always with you.  When I compose, I think about life, and when I’m not working, I’m thinking about music.”

yann_tiersen_11And now, Yann Tiersen will be gracing the stage in our beloved Beirut, performing songs from his yet to be released album, Dust Lane as well as compositions from his last studio album, Les Retrouvailles (2005). Dust Lane, an album that his fans are anticipating with baited breath, is the combined effort of French indie/pop-rock musician Syd Matters, British dark-folk artist Matt Elliott, and Orka, a musical group hailing from the Faroe Islands. Tiersen is enjoying his current tour and is looking forward to his visit here, stating, “I’m happy to being going back to Beirut – it’s a beautiful city.” Well, Mr. Tiersen, ahlan wa sahlan! We’re thrilled to have you!

Sing-a-longs & Traffic Reports

wikipedia-on-ipodNormally when I take the bus to and from work every day, I bring along my iPod so I can listen to music or BBC Global News podcasts, to distract myself from the 1 hour+ journey. Or, if the mood strikes, I’ll listen to the bus radio, which normally blasts Arabic music the whole way up.



I had a driver the other day who was bouncing and dancing in his chair, singing along to Fairuz, an iconic Lebanese singer who had her hey-day in the 1960s & 1970s. I love it!  And better yet, yesterday, my driver was blasting a mix of NSync and Backstreet Boys – I felt like I was on a high school field trip – brilliant.

Today, alas and alack, I forgot my beloved iPod.  Ah well, I obviously get a kick out of Fairouz and NSync sing-a-longs, so I wasn’t too disappointed. When I switched buses in Dora, I was happy to hear that the radio was switched, at least briefly, to news and traffic updates – I was running a bit late and I wanted to know how bad the traffic was going to be – not like knowing would make me arrive any faster, but still. You know how it is. And so…

Announcer: And now, Layla with the traffic.

Layla: There is too much traffic today. God help us and God bless you all.

Announcer: Thank-you Layla. And now for some Fairouz!


Shou??? What???

I actually started laughing out loud on the bus, which drew strange stares from my fellow passengers, who all seemed to find this report completely normal. That’s it?!? That’s the entire traffic report?? No mention of which highways have traffic or where it stops or starts, which direction the traffic is going in?? Nope.

I told a Lebanese friend about it later, expecting her to laugh at how ridiculous it was, and instead she just looked at me, completely straight faced and serious, and said, “Hiyati, it’s so true. There is too much traffic in Lebanon. God help us!”

I give in – who needs traffic reports anyway? 😉

Channeling Chinatown

Okay, someone please explain this to me. Apparently, here in Beirut, nose jobs have become so popular that those who cannot afford them, or don’t even actually need them, can still opt to wear bandages across their nose…to fake a nose job. Yup. The newest trend to hit the Beirut fashion scene is the post-op nose bandage. Seriously, what the what??

Jack Nicholson in Chinatown. If only this movie had been made 35 years later and in Beirut...

Jack Nicholson in Chinatown. Ahead of his time. If only this movie had been made 35 years later and in Beirut...

Sorry, but how or why is this considered a chic look?? Okay yes, nose jobs are extremely commonplace in Lebanon – in a 1999 article in the Daily Star discussing the rising popularity of plastic surgery in Lebanon, journalist Anne Renahan wrote, “The Lebanese nose:  a facial feature that some people are starting to say is an endangered species on the verge of extinction.” And that was 10 years ago… Today plastic surgery is more popular than ever and the nose job is still leading the way as the most commonly elected procedure – but still, why wear the bandages if you don’t have to??

In that same article, Rehahan continued with several interviews with Lebanese plastic surgeons, including Dr. E.M., 65, a member of the Lebanese Society of Plastic, Reconstructive and  Aesthetic Surgery.  Apparently Dr. E.M. “…[didn’t] think that the high number of nose jobs in Lebanon [was] a fashion trend. The low cost of operations means that it cannot be considered a status symbol because to a certain extent it is available to everyone. ‘The operation is easy to do and can be done in a day. And it’s also cheaper here than other countries  the average price of a nose job in the States may be up to $6,000. In Lebanon it can cost as little as $1,000,’ he says.”

Okay, first of all, I don’t know what world you live in, but in my world, $1,000 is still a fairly large chunk of change. But if, for argument’s sake, you say that $1,000 is affordable, meaning that nose jobs are not considered a status symbol, than why bother with the bandage trend at all?? What’s the point?

To me it reeks more of Halloween than high fashion, but hey, I’m no fashionista.

NEW New Plan!

Okay, so where to begin…Almost exactly 1 year ago the economic crisis stole my life. I was living it up in Madrid with amazing friends, teaching English, tour guiding for Sandeman’s New Madrid and working as the Program’s Coordinator for Club Ivy, helping Spanish students apply to study abroad in English speaking countries. Life was good.

Me tour guiding it in Madrid!

Me tour guiding it in Madrid!

And then boom – 24% unemployment in Spain and my jobs were gone. I said farewell to all my amazing Madrid amigos and set off in search of a new adventure.


At Estadio Santiago Bernabeau for a Real Madrid football match with Sebastian, Simon, Tanguy, Davide, and Luzie

At Estadio Santiago Bernabeau for a Real Madrid football match with Sebastian, Simon, Tanguy, Davide, and Luzie

Marisa and I celebrating Spain's EuroCup victory in the Bilbao fountain!

Marisa and I celebrating Spain's EuroCup victory in the Bilbao fountain - on my 23rd Birthday!

Tiki Tiki! Oleeeeeeeeee! Ernie, Paolo and Nabil on Halloween!!

Tiki Tiki! Oleeeeeeeeee! Ernie, Paolo and Nabil on Halloween!!

Laura, Pablo, Arturo, me, Enrique, and Maria eating caramel apples for dessert after our delicious Thanksgiving feast!! yes, I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for my friends in Spain. And yes, it was awesome ;)

Laura, Pablo, Arturo, me, Enrique, and Maria eating caramel apples for dessert after our delicious Thanksgiving feast!! yes, I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for my friends in Spain. And yes, it was awesome 😉

Me and Rachel!! Dinner party at Rachel's, complete with charades, magic tricks and singing ;)

Me and Rachel!! Dinner party at Rachel's, complete with charades, magic tricks and singing

La Noche en Blanco!! Out with Nicoletta and Julian :)

La Noche en Blanco!! Out with Nicoletta and Julian

Goodbye Party with friends in Madrid

Goodbye Party with friends in Madrid

So, I decided to go to Boston for a breather, find a job back in my home country. Boston was good in a lot of ways too – I reconnected with old friends, visited family, met many wonderful new friends…


Sara,me, Megan (roomie!), and Jackie

Sara,me, Megan (roomie!), and Jackie

Lilly!! We've been BFF since birth :)

Lilly!! We've been BFF since birth 🙂

Told 'ya - friends from birth :) Lilly and I as babies. I'm the adorably fat, bald lump on the floor ;)

Told 'ya - friends from birth! Lilly and I as babies. I'm the adorably fat, bald lump on the floor...

Elizabeth!! and me :)

Elizabeth!! and me out for a night in Beantown

Drea!!! Rachel, Parker and me :) Nerds. Oh yeah.

Drea!!! (high school amiga!) Rachel, Parker and me. Nerds. Oh yeah.



Wiley! My Other Roomie :)

Wiley! My Other Roomie

University friends back in Providence! Rita, me and Camela at Viva!

University friends back in Providence! Rita, me and Camela at Viva!

Binta, Sonia, Maren and me - visiting my amazing cousins in Maine! Love you all!!

Binta, Sonia, Maren and me - visiting my amazing cousins in Maine! Love you all!!

But after about 4 months it was bye-bye Boston. I lived between Amman and Palestine for a month, working with my Uncle, a documentary filmmaker for Al Jazeera English. And after that…I had no plan. Already in the Middle East, I made the spontaneous decision to visit family in Beirut and study Arabic for about a month.

July came and went so quickly, and deliriously happy in Beirut, I was in no mood to leave.  I had enough saved up to hold me over for another month, so I found my fabulous L’Auberge Espagnole-esque apartment in Hamra, where I lived with 12 other amazing Lebanese and internationals, and continued Arabic classes.

As the end of August drew near, and I began to scrape the bottom of my piggy bank, I was forced to decide – what next? Do I stay in Beirut, find a job and make a life here? Or do I go back to the States again? And if so, where?? Do I move to a different country?? Where??? What kind of jobs am I going to be applying for? What do I want to do with my life??? Why have I not already figured this out????? AHHHHHHHH!! Head exploding!!

Finally I decided – ‘Okay, I’ll stay in Beirut. Easier that way. Besides, I’m happy here.’ A lot of my friends here were interning with the Daily Star, the main English language newspaper in the region. So that put the idea into my head to try something journalism related. I love writing so it seems like a logical choice, no? I applied for jobs at both the Daily Star and the monthly travel magazine, Time Out Beirut.  Both offered me an internship, but Time Out Beirut offered the possibility of a paying job within a month or so. Time Out Beirut it is!!

And so it began. Every morning, I would pull my tired ass out of bed, glug some coffee and then sit back with my ipod for the 2 hour bus ride to Kaslik (which incidentily is only 25 minutes from Beirut, but takes a whopping 1 hour and a half longer to get to on the bus. oooogh. But the bus only costs me $1.75 so I’m not complaining. Well I guess I am, but I acknowledge that I shouldn’t. So there.).

The job turned out to be worth it, though. And now,they’ve hired me full time!!!! So basically I get paid to enjoy and explore Beirut and the rest of Lebanon, and then write about it. Seriously, what could be better?? How is this my life???

So with a regular paycheck and a new apartment with Farah in Achrafiyeh (they tore down our old building to build a parking lot), I’m calling Beirut home for the time being.

Farah and moi

Farah et moi

Such a bizarre feeling to know where home is again! From Madrid to Boston to Amman to Ramallah and now finally here – it took me almost a year after the economic crisis robbed me of my life in Spain but BOOM BABY! I’m baaaaaaaaaaaaack!!!

French Nails…Lebanese style

“My new social environment in Beirut demanded that I be more feminine-looking. It demanded that girls look like girls and boys like boys. It demanded that I style my hair weekly at the hairdresser. Adorn my fingernails with bright polish. Speak softly and giggle often. Wear clothes that hugged my body, to show off my childbearing hips. No one knew how to deal with my tomboyish personality. My aunt would sigh every time I walked in with dirty sandals. My grandmother would shrug her shoulders when she saw me in torn-up jeans. And my cousins believed I was a hopeless case and that no one would ever marry me. How could anyone marry someone who only wore white baggy T-shirts?” – Zeina el Khalil (Beirut, I Love You)

A few weeks ago, I read this paragraph in Beirut, I Love You, and started cracking up. I had to write it down. I could relate to every single word. And here I was thinking that I was the only one thrown by the stark contrast between the ultra feminine and ultra masculine looks women and men sport here in Beirut. How arrogant and naïve of me. A whole series of conversations with my ex-pat and Lebanese friends followed as we all bonded over our recognition of this cultural trend.

Take my Arabic teacher for example. Nadia would come to class every day with her hair perfectly crimped, curled or straightened, an adorable, color-coordinated outfit, matching heels (almost always adorned with sparkling jewels or sequins). Even her eye shadow and nail polish would be colored to match her blouse. It was amazing. She looked like she’d just stepped out of a teen magazine.

And then I would enter. Panting and sweaty, 20 minutes late. Wrinkled clothes that I had worn the day before. Tangled hair, sloppily pulled back into a twisted bun, with long, curly wisps sticking out from all sides of my head, making me look a bit insane. What little makeup I’d hurridly painted on, visibly melting off. Yeah guys, I’m a catch 😉

Once, just as I was walking in the room at 9:20, Nadia, glancing at the clock on the wall, asked me playfully, “Colette, ayya seeya fiati leeom?” (Colette, what time did you wake up today?)

Me: Ummm…Seeya tmanee wah khumsah… (Ummm…9:05…)

Nadia: (looking completely perplexed) Shou??? (What???)

Me: (More assuredly) Seeya tmanee wah khumsah.

Nadia: (staring at me blankly)

Me: (whispering to Omar, my friend and classmate) Wait, did I not say that correctly??

Omar: (also whispering) No, no. Your Arabic is fine. Colette, she doesn’t understand how a girl could get dressed and to class in only 15 minutes.

Me: Oh. Can’t she tell just by looking at me?

Omar: (Laughing) Habibti, I think she’s processing that now.

Lebanese pop star Elissa, all dressed up

Lebanese pop star Elissa, on a normal day

So yeah, I don’t fit the stereotype of the typical Lebanese girl. In case I hadn’t already made that clear.

Me, all "dressed-up"

Me, all "dressed-up"

In my experience, at least in the States and even in Spain, little things like shoes that match your dress or newly manicured nails are things that girls notice, not guys. But here in Beirut, guys comment if you don’t have your hair done just so or your outfit perfectly accessorized. They’re not necessarily insulting about it, more often than not, they just want to know why. Why don’t you care about your hair? Why do you have dirt under your fingernails?? You should take better care of yourself!

And in an appearance obsessed, knife happy culture where nose jobs are the norm, I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised by the fact that letting a little thing like my hair or nails go untended, sparks curiosity. Okay okay, I’m exaggerating a bit – of course not everyone is so appearance obsessed, but there is a large trend towards this among women here. Enough so, that it’s made me a bit self-conscious to the point that I’ve become hyper-aware of other women’s style and my obvious lack of it.

So, today I decided to give in a bit and treat myself to a manicure and a pedicure. All of my friends here in Hamra frequent one particular beauty salon called Cherry. It’s right in front of the lower gate of Lebanese American University (LAU), near the intersection with Sadat Street, just in case you’re wondering.

When I sat down with my manicurist, before I’d even spoken a single word, she glanced at my hands and looked up at me and said, “Habibti, you’re not Lebanese. Where are you from?”

Me: I’m from California. But, my Mom’s Lebanese! I just moved here.

Manicurist: Ha! I knew it! You look Lebanese, but you don’t have Lebanese nails.

Wait. What? Lebanese nails?

And it continued.

Manicurist: (as she was cutting my cuticles and doing all that stuff that manicurists do) Yeeeee! Hiyati! Do you see this?? (Holding up a napkin holding all the crud she’d cut off and dug out from underneath my fingernails) When was the last time you did your nails?? And they’re kteer short! So short! Do you bite them?? Ya haram. Hiyati you shouldn’t do that!

Me: (Mixture of laughter at the absurdity of the conversation and blushing from embarrassment) I’m sorry! I don’t take care of them like I should, thank you for helping me.

Oh, and then we moved onto my feet. I had a French manicure on my fingers and I asked if she could paint my toes red.

Manicurist: (clicking her tongue on the top of her mouth and raising her chin slightly – a gesture that means ‘No’) La! Habibti, I can’t! Your nails have to match.

Me: (smiling) Oh, that’s okay, I don’t care if they match. I think red would be fun!

Manicurist: Habibti you have to care! You’re in Lebanon! I can’t paint them different colors! I can’t.

Me: Um…okay. French toes it is then!

Manicurist: Yeeeeeeeee! Look at your feet! They’re worse than your hands! So dirty! And your nails! Yeeee! Hiyati, promise me you’ll come back soon?

Oh brother….

Woman sitting next to me: Habibti, you look Lebanese. I thought you were Lebanese…but you don’t speak Arabic and you don’t have Lebanese nails…

Manicurist: (to the woman, as she (the manicurist) spent 10 minutes PER TOE, scrubbing, clipping, painting and perfecting) La (no), she’s American, but her mother is Lebanese. (Winking at me) we’ll fix the nails and she’ll learn Arabic.

Woman: Yes! You have to learn, an-  yeeee! Look at your feet! So dirty!

My beautifully manicured nails

My beautifully manicured nails

I have to admit though, that my nails do look beautiful and very clean. And for only $15, it’s not a bad deal. So maybe I’ll embrace my inner Lebanese beauty queen and get my nails done every so often. Cause come on, if I don’t speak Arabic and have Lebanese nails, no one will believe that I’m really Lebanese ;).