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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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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.

SWEET MEMORIES OF MADRID

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…

BRILLIANT BOSTON BUDDIES

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.

Justin!!

Justin!!

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!!!

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…
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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!

The Son of a Duck is a Floater…and other Arab proverbs

Today was Omar’s last day in Arabic class. Ya haram! Quelle domage! Yet like me, he has fallen hopelessly in love with Beirut and is planning to come back in a month’s time. But also like me, he’s a free spirit whose plans change on a daily basis. So I’m crossing my fingers that he finds his way back our beloved Beirut so I can enjoy his company a little longer. To commemorate his final class, and my final class with Nadia – Jamila and I are switching teachers next week – we took a photo of our group.

Me, Omar, Nadia (our wonderful teacher), and Jamila

Me, Omar, Nadia (our wonderful teacher), and Jamila

We posed with our favorite Arabic book “The Son of a Duck is a Floater.” Cracks me up! It’s an illustrated book of Arab proverbs translated literally and figuratively into English. ‘The son of a duck is floater,’ as you probably guessed, is the direct translation of an old proverb that’s literal meaning most closely translates to the English proverb “Like father, like son.” For those of you who have English as a second language, you might miss why we love the title of this book so dearly – a ‘floater’ in English, or at least American English, is a slang term for a dump in the toilet that floats. I’m sorry, I couldn’t really think of a nicer way of putting that. A hilarious and I’m sure unintentional use of words on the part of the authors. And yes, I do have the sense of humor of a 6-year-old. But you know you love it too 😉

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Other proverbs in the book include “From a lack of horses they saddle dogs,” which the book explains as, “There was nothing suitable, and they came up with a completely useless alternative.” Another is “He made a dome from a seed,” which is the same as the English proverb, “To make a mountain out of a molehill.” And one of my favorites, “Spilling coffee is a good omen,” meaning, “Bad luck often brings good luck in its wake.” Having spilled a fair amount of coffee on my computer, my sheets, myself and others, I love the idea that this somehow entitles me to bundles of good luck. And as I gaze down at my coffee stained shirt I think, ‘watch out world, good things are coming my way!’

I love books like this!  I find that whenever I go to a new country, one of the best ways to learn more about the local culture is to read their proverbs, fairy tales and other children’s stories – the literature and sayings that people grew up with, that influenced some of their values, ideals and morals. It’s informative, and almost always hilarious. The perfect way to spend any lazy afternoon!

Burqini Fever!

burqini-big

In my post on Sour, I included a photo of a young Muslim girl going swimming, covered and veiled – a concept completely foreign and interesting to me.  And you know how sometimes when you learn something new, it somehow seems to pop up everywhere??? So here’s what I’ve found out about Muslim swimwear, which now seems to pop up everywhere:

At the beach in Sour, as far as I could tell, these women and children were going swimming in their clothing – a naïve but understandable assumption. But, as it turns out, there’s actually a relatively large market for full-body swimsuits for Muslim women that allow them to swim without exposing themselves. And better yet, they call the swimsuits ‘burqinis.’ (burq – from ‘burqa,’ the Arabic word meaning the full Muslim veil, and ‘-ini’ is taken from ‘bikini’) I love it!

One of Ahiida's designer burqinis weighing in at a whopping 160 Australian dollars = abt. 135 American dollars, 95 Euros, or 203,000 Lebanese Lira . Design "SF20-1243 BLACK/TEAK - ARBIAN DOTS"

One of Ahiida's designer burqinis weighing in at a whopping 160 Australian dollars = abt. 135 American dollars, 95 Euros, or 203,000 Lebanese Lira

If you google ‘burqini,’ one of the first sights to pop up is Ahiida Burqini Swimwear, a company founded in 2004 and based in Australia that specializes in “dynamic swimwear and sportswear for today’s Muslim female.”  The company was actually started by a Lebanese woman named Aheda Zanetti, who moved to Australia as a child, and frustrated by her inability to participate in prevalent Australian water sports, decided to design a swimsuit specifically tailored to the modern Muslim woman.  The resultant burqini allows Muslim women to easily and flexibly swim and compete in water sports, while still remaining completely covered. Clever, huh?

While this trendy Muslim swimsuit is all the rage in Lebanon and Australia, the burqini and the Muslim burqa in general have, unfortunately, been topics of controversy in France for a few years now. Why France? They have the largest Muslim minority population in the EU, and there are those that believe that discrimination against Muslims will decrease if they become less visibly Muslim and more visibly French. Plus, there are entire lobbies of French women (well, and men for that matter) who see the veil as an infringement upon women’s rights. I’ve summed it up in an insanely brief way, but needless to say, it’s a sticky situation.

Anyway, the reason I bring all this up, is that there was actually an article today (see – burqinis everywhere!) in the Daily Star – ‘Paris Pool Bans Woman in Burqini Swimsuit’– discussing the controversy that has arisen over the use of the burqini in France:

“A Paris swimming pool has refused entry to a young Muslim woman wearing a ‘burqini,’ a swimsuit that covers most of the body, officials said Wednesday.  The pool ban came as French lawmakers conduct hearings on whether to ban the burqa after President Nicolas Sarkozy said the head-to-toe veil was ‘not welcome’ in secular France.   Officials in the Paris suburb of Emerainville said they let the woman swim in the pool in July wearing the burqini, designed for Muslim women who want to swim without revealing their bodies.  But when she returned in August they decided to apply hygiene rules and told her she could not swim if she insisted on wearing the garment, which resembles a wetsuit with a built-in hood.  France, home to Europe’s biggest Muslim minority, has set up a special panel of 32 lawmakers to consider whether a law should be enacted to bar Muslim women from wearing the full veil, known as a burqa or niqab.” – AFP

Amazing that a glorified wetsuit could stir up so much controversy. I for one have always been a proponent of the belief that respect for differences rather than forced assimilation is a better way to create a peaceful society, but I can respect that this is a complicated issue.