Tag Archives: Culture

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

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!

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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.

Fairouz

Fairuz

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.

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 ;).

Beirut, how I love thee. Let me count the ways…

Cagil!

Cagil!

About a week ago, my flatmate Cagil (pronounced ‘Chill’) and I were sitting out on her balcony, drinking wine, smoking cigarettes and listening to Fairuz belt out ‘Le Beirut.’ Complete bliss. As we sat there in our white plastic chairs, our feet propped up on the rusty steel railing, red wine dribbling down our chins (well, my chin – Cagil doesn’t have the same problems I do with spills and messes) we tried to figure out what it is that makes this disorganized city, so full of contradictions, so special – why do we love it so much? And although we couldn’t quite pinpoint one specific thing, we did manage to cover a whole spew of things that are uniquely and wonderfully ‘Beirut.’

  • Constant power outages that leave you peeing in the dark, locked in café with electric doors, sweltering without air conditioning, and cursing your dead computer battery
  • Completely veiled women with bright purple platform heels peeking out beneath their burquas.
  • Cold (aka luke warm) showers on a sticky summer afternoon
  • Grilled ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches from Dany’s
  • Meeting at least one new person every day
  • Joking about my former unibrow and mustache with people who can honestly relate (we Lebanese are a rather hairy people)

    My natural eyebrows

    My natural eyebrows

  • Amazing people from all over Lebanon and the world who are willing to open up completely; who become your best friend, your soul mate in only a few days time
  • Stores that appear and disappear in a month’s time

    M'juddera

    M'juddera

  • Popping olives like candy while we dance around the kitchen, Louis Armstrong playing from my laptop, cooking m’juddera (lentils and rice – by the way – LOVE that its called mmmmm judera cause it really is muah-ha mmmmm boy delicious) with friends
  • The world’s S   L   O   W   E   S   T and most expensive internet connection
  • Walking south, while taxis driving north honk at you and offer you a ride
  • Six people jammed in the back of a Service (shared taxi)
  • Eating three meals a day at BarBar
  • The hilarious but inevitable realization that after eating three meals a day at BarBar, even your sweat has begun to smell like garlic
  • Seemingly sweat-free Lebanese women with perfect nails, hair, skin and clothes, strutting down Hamra
  • Spending long afternoons at Ants, browsing jewelry and dresses or just chilling and drinking tea with Fahan, Sebouh, Karen, Raghda and Noor
  • Countless marriage proposals from taxi drivers
  • Iced coffee at Café Younes with a constantly growing group of friends
  • Singing along while friends play guitar and drink cocktails on your roof

    May and Leila enjoying fruit cocktails for breakfast

    May and Leila enjoying fruit cocktails for breakfast

  • Fruit cocktails (an assortment of sliced fresh fruit topped with a sugary syrup, sweet white cheese, pistachio nuts, almonds and a slice of avocado – AH! Too good!)
  • Friday night concerts by ‘Chahadine Ya Baladna’ at Walimat
  • Techno dance parties in the back of taxi cabs…complete with flashing lights…at 3pm
  • Silent old movies screened with subtitles on the walls of De Prague
  • An unhealthy obsession with Knafe

    Knafe!!

    Knafe!!

  • Old men, sitting outside cafes in white plastic chairs playing backgammon or smoking
  • Communal water bottles on mini buses
  • Sitting on my orange sheets with friends in my room, drinking wine, eating chocolate, talking and cracking each other up until the wee hours of the morning

    Me, wrapped in my orange sheets, and so happy!

    Me, wrapped in my orange sheets, and so happy!

  • That newfound, deep and unconditional love we have all developed for air conditioners
  • That renewed, deep and unconditional hatred we have all developed for mosquitoes
  • The first fresh figs at the end of August
  • My infamous fig binges have earned me the nickname 'Teeny,' which in Arabic means 'My fig'

    My infamous fig binges have earned me the nickname 'Teeny,' which in Arabic means 'My fig'

  • Eating figs until your stomach starts to gurgle and you come to the terrifying realization that you can fart on cue
  • Long, intimate evenings with Señor Hamam (Hamam = Toilet in Arabic) after binging on figs
  • Realizing that you’ve never before talked about your bowel movements on such a regular basis
  • Dancing with Omar at Oceana

    Dancing with Omar at Oceana

  • Sipping an ice-cold Almaza with friends at Barometre and snacking on an assortment of Lebanese dishes (mezze)
  • Dancing all day in the pool at one of Beirut’s beach clubs
  • Being offered tissues by random strangers, blown away by how completely drenched in sweat you’ve allowed yourself to become
  • Ordering an obscene amount of food from Kabab-ji…and devouring every last bite
  • Lazy days in the pool with friends that you’ve known for a few days, but feel like you’ve known for years

    Farah, Rianne, me and Leila floating in the pool at Sporting

    Farah, Rianne, me and Leila floating in the pool at Sporting

  • Sitting on the balcony with Cagil, drinking wine, discussing what makes us happy in Beirut

Broccoli and Beers

Today, it was 31 degrees Celsius, 86 Fahrenheit – HOT and HUMID.  But whatever, I’m in a good mood! It’s Friday! My internship with ‘Time Out Beirut’ is going really well and I may have found a new apartment (they’re tearing down our beautiful building to build a parking lot – sucks.).

Beirut I Love YouRight now, I’m reading this book called ‘Beirut, I Love You,’ by the Lebanese writer Zeina el Khalil. It’s a memoir, written about her time in Beirut – friends, family, war, cultural trends, food, sex, love, etc. It’s a very quick read, but it’s well written and doubly entertaining given that I’m actually living in the city that she’s describing.  It’s like reading ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ in Prague, or ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ in Mexico – it somehow makes a brilliant book even better.  Anyway, I brought the book up because as I melted on my walk over to Café Younes today, I laughed to myself as I thought about a line from the book – “Arabian afternoons are like chocolate ice cream stains on the corner of your mouth. They are sweet and sticky.” So true! Although, I have to admit, chocolate ice cream smells a lot better than BO…

I spent a relaxed afternoon at Younes today writing and researching for Time Out, and just when I was beginning to crave good company and conversation Rianne showed up, followed soon after by Farah.  Michael joined us a bit later, Tara stopped by to say hello. I know that Hamra is a small neighborhood, and I know that after some time my opinion of it may change, but for now the small size doesn’t feel claustrophobic at all – just cozy, familiar and homey.  I love that everywhere I go now I run into people I know. Plus, I’m constantly meeting new people – the friend you ran into randomly at Younes introduces you to an acquaintance of theirs, who you randomly bump into at Ta Marbuta, where he or she introduces you to someone else new. Everyone here is just so friendly and open, and I love them for that.

Working with Rianne and Michael at Younes

Working with Rianne and Michael at Younes

Around 6pm, hungry and ready for a change of scenery, Farah and I headed back to the apartment to cook ourselves some dinner. I always know it’s time to go grocery shopping when the only thing I have left in the house is broccoli….yeah, it’s time to go grocery shopping. So while Farah got dressed to meet her dad, who flew in tonight, I boiled up some broccoli and heated up some Maklouta, a kind of mixed bean stew.

Farah and I!

Farah and I!

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Albert Broccoli

Albert Broccoli

As I stood over the steamy stove top, waiting for my watch pot to boil and wishing for a fan, I started laughing to myself. About a year ago I had a random conversation with a friend about Albert Broccoli, the producer of the original James Bond films. At the 1981 Oscars, Roger Moore presented Broccoli with the Irving G. Thalberg award (given to creative producers), and commented that Broccoli’s Italian grandfather had introduced the vegetable to America when he immigrated to the States in the early 1800s. I don’t know if it’s true, but the conversation was a crack up and now every time I boil broccoli I can’t help but smile 🙂 Nerdy, and admittedly a little weird, but if it makes you happy, it can’t be all that bad.

Fausto and Rianne

Fausto and Rianne

After dinner, I chatted with Cagil, read for a bit and then made plans to meet up with Rianne and some of her friends at Dany’s for some beers. Rianne and her friend Fausto had just been to an Arab Tango show at a theater on Rue Hamra. It sounded fantastic – I’ll have to see if I can get tickets for next weekend…
IMG_0584

In case you hadn't noticed that the wall moved...

In case you hadn't noticed that the wall moved...

I really love Dany’s. My friend Ali is a DJ there and he introduced me to the bar a few weeks ago. It’s cozy and small – actually used to be a lot smaller – about a month ago they broke down one of the walls and added an extra room to the bar. Dany’s is a meeting place for the young, liberal, intellectual crowd in Beirut, and it has a devoted group of regulars. The walls are covered with writing and doodles, there are rotating DJs, so the music is constantly changing, tasty food, cheap beers and plenty of good company. A really chill place and always a good time.

Fausto, Rianne, me and Leila at Dany's

Fausto, Rianne, me and Leila at Dany's

Chatting with Leila

Chatting with Leila

Later in the evening we were joined by my flatmates Michael and Nadim, Rianne’s friend Leila, Nadim’s friend Jenny, Ali stopped in for a bit – it was a great mix of people and a fantastic night, complete with a grilled ham, cheese and tomato sandwich (yes, they have food at Dany’s – I need nothing more from a bar ;)). I love what an international bunch we are too – I’m Lebanese/Irish American, Rianne is Dutch, Fausto is Indian/Italian, Leila is Iranian American, Michael is Lebanese/Palestinian Dutch, Nadim is Lebanese but grew up in the UAE. Everyone speaks a mix of languages and has traveled to so many interesting places. Ah! So amazing!! We all chatted, laughed, danced, snacked on chick peas and olives, and sipped Almazas till 3:30am when I finally had to turn in for the night. Life is gooooood!

And one last photo from tonight, just to make you smile:

Jenny and her amazing shirt!

Jenny and her amazing shirt! I instantly loved this girl!

I’m baaaack!

Ha! I’m alive again my friends! Yesterday was my first Friday night out in 3 weeks! I have beaten the flu, finally eradicated all signs of food poisoning from my system and slept off the insane post-sickness fatigue inspired by both. Now to make up for lost time!

Charles!

Charles!

20081113_napoletana-logoYesterday, I began the night by having a pizza dinner with Charles at Napoletana, an Italian chain restaurant here in Beirut. Granted, by Lebanese standards, it’s a little overpriced  – for a pizza and a beer you’ll end up dropping about $16 – but the atmosphere is nice and the vegetarian pizza is pretty damn good. No, I’m not a vegetarian, have no fear. I just like kteer khudra (lots o’ veggies) on my pizza. Plus, the branch we went to is on Hamra street – the main street running though the neighborhood of Hamra (university district here in Beirut) – so there’s always plenty of quality people-watching to be enjoyed. Around 10pm, happy and full for the first time in weeks and with plans to meet up with Charles again in a few hours time, I walked home with my two leftover slices of pizza sliding around in an oversized take-away box.

Charles called at midnight just as I was being pulled into the death grip of that hazy, sleepy state of mind that sucks you into your bed, preventing you from enjoying all the night has to offer.  But somehow I rallied, chugged a red bull (shukrun Charles!) and met Charles at Walimat Wardeh, a fantastic restaurant/bar in Hamra that I have come to know and love.

Walimat Wardeh! (Written in Arabic, in case you hadn't already guessed)

Walimat Wardeh! (Written in Arabic, in case you hadn't already guessed)

Walimat Wardeh, also known simply as ‘Walimat’ or ‘Wardeh,’ has been around for 14 years now, which is really saying something in Beirut where stores, bars and restaurants seem to appear and disappear on a regular basis. It was opened by a man named Wardeh Hawaz in 1995, on the ground floor of a charming house on Makdissi Street.

The amazing thing about this place is that it really feels like someone’s home. Someone’s beautiful home. There are stained glass windows and eye-catching tile floors that change patterns as you go from room to room.  During the day, it’s a cozy place to go for a hot meal and free internet, and at night it explodes with character and energy as intellectuals mix with a trendy young crowd, drinking and listening to a fun mix of music.

Charles, trying to decipher the Arabic menu during lunch at Walimat, on a different day

Charles, trying to decipher the Arabic menu during lunch at Walimat, on a different day

The restaurant serves delicious, home-cooked, traditional Lebanese meals that awaken memories of your grandmother’s cooking. Well, if you’re lucky enough to have a Lebanese Tita (grandmother) 😉 YUM! I love you, Tita! The menu is handwritten on blackboards in English and Arabic, changes regularly and is reasonably priced.  For 10,000 Lira (about $6.50) you can get a main course meal that will fill you right up and leave you beaming.

Charles and I came at night though, when the music was pumping and overflow guests were pouring out onto the sidewalk.  We managed to squeeze our way through the crowds, bought some drinks and found standing room near the band that was performing that night.  The band was called Ziad Sahab & Chahadin ya baladna‘ and their music was fantastic. They actually play at Walimat every Friday.  I should become a groupie! I only wish I’d known about them before I came – I would have bought a CD and memorized all the lyrics. As I was, I was kind of out of place given that everyone else in the place seemed to know all their songs by heart. They play fantastic Arabic music and everyone in Walimat was bouncing, dancing and singing along. Ah! It was such a great night!

Chahadin ya Baladna - L-R: Ahmad Khateeb, Bashar Farran, Ziyad and Ghassan Sahhab

Chahadin ya Baladna - L-R: Ahmad Khateeb, Bashar Farran, Ziyad and Ghassan Sahhab

Once the concert finished, Charles and I headed over to Dany’s for some more drinks and quality conversation. Ali was DJ-ing, which is always a treat because he has fantastic taste in music. So Charles and I chilled, listened to the Doors and the Clash and talked about everything from Beirut, to politics, to movies and music, to friends and the good times we had in Cyprus.

May and Michael

May and Michael

Around 2am, craving a change of pace, we headed over to the apartment of May and Alexa, two other ex-pats interning this summer at the Daily Star, Lebanon’s main English newspaper. My flat-mate Michael was there as well and the four of us chatted, listened to music and drank wine straight from the bottle until 4:30am when we really couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer.  The morning call to prayer from a nearby mosque kept me company on my walk home and as I crawled into bed (after wolfing down my left-over pizza – yesssss!) I was grinning from ear to ear. Hey, Beirut! I’m baaaack!