July 9, 2010

Beirut, lighthouse of the Orient

In the middle of football fever, I would like to raise a different flag: that of our fading collective memory...
What a nation chooses to remember - or not - shapes its identity: the legacy to the coming generations.
We all have personal memories stored in places where they can be retrieved - or not - and then there are public memories that we studied in history class and mostly forgot by the time we graduated. But unlike 'dead' historical facts that we find in books, our collective memory is organic and dynamic. It is the sum of shared and meaningful remembrances that live and evolve through time, and that are entrusted from generation to generation to be nurtured, safeguarded and bequeathed.

Let me tell you where all this started. I had a work day away, and driving through the congested arteries of the City to the meeting venue, I came across the posted sign which reads "Beirut, lighthouse of the Orient". A message that opened many sweet spots in my mind as only Beirut can... and suddenly stroke me harder than the sun. Are we living up to this claim? Are we as a people sustaining the collective memory of Beirut City for its lighthouse to glimmer for generations to come? I was saddened not to find in me a forceful YES as an answer.
What is the collective memory of our nation? What represents it? What monuments do we choose to build, restore, or safeguard to commemorate our legacy... other than malls and rooftop bars. Do not get me wrong. I am a big fan of shopping and rooftop bars, and clubbing in general as underground as it may go. I am an adamant believer that they contribute in meaningful ways to the identity of our City. But I also firmly believe that they are not to be our only legacy. We ought to leave behind what else we stand for.
The Beirut Souks are the latest indicator of the ill-being of our collective memory. There is absolutely nothing wrong in displaying a modern and luxurious facade, especially when we are very good at it. We have the talent, the taste, and the cut for luxury and glam - we were drawn that way - but there is absolutely everything wrong in losing sight of the authentic Beirut - Souks are missing Beirut's authentic soul.
Another alarming indicator of this ill-being is the UNESCO considering the delisting of the Qadisha valley from the international heritage. Besides the historical, religious, and touristic dimensions of the site, it is an authentic location which symbolizes the cultural richness of the region. It is a living national heritage: there lies its infinite value.
The sad truth is that beloved Beirut has been going through a collective memory crisis for much too long. Will the posted sign outlive the meaning of its message? We need a collective memory project.
That being said, I go back to football fever and raise the Spaniard's banner against all odds: La Roja deserves to go down in sports history tomorrow.

July 1, 2010


When I took this picture of belts on display during a walk down the ciTy streets, I did not understand what had attracted me to it back then. With retrospective, I realize the similarities with the spirit of our ciTy and its people: crowded, colorful, diverse, overlapping. And like those belts, we're all hanging in there.