Thursday, November 21, 2013

Excerpts from "Departure"

"Left utterly alone, there is nothing
The heart can invent to numb itself.
All around you on the hardwood floor,
Your old life darkened in cardboard boxes.


If love is an awkward, scriptless scene
To be played out between two people,
I cannot write it: I am a pattern
Of breath and sleep that city will outlive.

And if poetry is a bond between
Two hearts, it is a bond too frail:
That night words failed, I too, was lost--
To whiskey, memory, a photograph.

East of that city, the green fields
Are winding away beneath your gaze,
And here, west of that city, there is
No water deep enough to let me forget.

If I could look forward, I could see us
In Houston, in Atlanta--that South
No train will take us to, that South
We lost ourselves in so long ago.

And those cities, so far removed
In distance and time--can our small stars
Survive those bright lights? Our language
Be heard above the din of the million?

Tonight, a hundred miles away,
Our city, made of circles and squares,
Must be much the same as it was:
The bars, the buildings, the streets empty of lovers.

It is a city we can never
Return to--a dream, a green light,
An unfound door closed upon the past.
Our words echo through it and fade."
--Joe Bolton 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Bottle Caps

(To Joo)

Bottle caps all over the floor;
some of us leave something behind.
Smile, dear; sunshine is nothing
if not that twinkle in your voice.

It was a sad day when she realized she was mortal.
“A hundred years from now,” she said,
“I won’t be around.”
And I’ll be sure to miss you, dear,
from wherever I am not then.

Underneath the scaffold papered with life’s residues,
on this frigid night, with life passing us by,
hurried on its Saturday,
blowing warm breath into its cupped hands
trying to capture some fleeting warmth,
I told her, I would never inflict this life on anyone.

It’s not the misery, I said,
It’s the boredom, the anticipation of nothing.
She smiled, knowingly;
caressing, if smiles ever could.
And I wasn’t so sure anymore.

(Originally posted on February 11, 2007)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Monocle's Lebanese Affair Continues (Part 2 of 2)

I've been digging deeper into the recently released and gorgeous Monocle Guide to Better Living, and much to my delight I continued to find features on Lebanon, enough to warrant a follow-up post to my first one on it. I scanned the (first) pages of each feature, which can be viewed here:
And I thought I'd share some of the text here as well.

First, Beirut is featured as the 4th of 10 Cities to Call Home:
If Beirut were to be measured on metrics alone it wouldn't stand a chance: its infrastructure is less than adequate, political instability is chronic and inflation is a problem. But Beirut is not the kind of city that likes statistics. Aided by a cosmopolitan population all too happy to show off its city, Levantine charm still operates in the Lebanese capital. Its patina, refined over centuries of tumultuous history, has given it a unique cachet. The Romans, Arabs, Ottomans and French: all of them stopped by Beirut to admire the snow-capped Mount Sanine and partake in the dolce vita.
Add to all of this the remarkable topography, the sparkling Mediterranean sea, the glorious weather and the succulent food and you can understand why so many have fallen for Beirut.
Meanwhile, shortcomings are almost always turned into opportunities and the can-do attitude is palpable. The gap left by a weak government has led entrepreneurs to provide basic services, while artists and designers have come up with creative solutions to everyday difficulties.
There's also an unmistakable whiff of freedom in a place where no political force really dominates. This gives freer rein to the sexy pop singer recording her new video clip, the printer bypassing censorship or the young activist lobbying for gay and lesbian rights. In an increasingly conservative region, Beirut is decidedly on the tolerant side.
The city also has its everyday perks. You can keep an open tab at the grocer's, leave your car to be parked with the valet working for the restaurant nearby or call the hairdresser to come and fix your hair at home. If the Middle East was a gentler neighbourhood and Beirutis had a slightly stronger civic sense, this could be the best city to live in.
Second, Musar Wine (Ghazir, Lebanon) was 9th of 21 Companies to Learn from.

Third, is Papercup (Beirut) which was featured in the Culture section, The Newsstands, under Print Charming.

Fourth, a residence in Batroun, Lebanon is featured in the Home section under Space and Light. In the same section, a feature titled Our breakdown of the perfect home ingredients by culture has as the 2 main ingredients:

  • 9% Swiss cabin hardware and durability
  • 9% Beirut mid-century elegance and grandeur

Last but not least, Dragonfly (Beirut) is featured in the Service section, The Bars, under Where everybody knows your name.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

So, Madonna Wants to Start a Revolution...

...In case you haven't heard. It's called Art for Freedom, and she launched it with a video called SecretProjectRevolution (spaces are at a premium in the age of Twitter):

The video is interesting and well-done, but—here comes the naysayer crashing the party—I have so many problems with it, I’m not even sure where to start. For one, it fails miserably at what it tries to be: revolutionary. It’s a well-produced reel of soft-core S&M / torture-porn, replete with idealized writhing semi-naked bodies in corsets, leather, and fishnets—hardly revolutionary in this day and age. (Even the suffering is rendered gorgeously; the only ugly thing left in the entire video is her voice. But Madonna does believe in the rights of fat people!)

The main problem with the video, however, is where it’s coming from: Madonna. She says it: she wants to start a revolution but nobody’s listening. Why? Because she’s “not a black man with an Afro or an Arab with a hand grenade”. People, apparently, only want to see her ass (well, maybe some people). Madonna may have been revolutionary in the 80s, and maybe even in the 90s; but when was the last culturally-significant (not to mention revolutionary) thing she’s produced? Some generous souls would say “Ray of Light”. Regardless, Madonna has become in recent years the epitome of big business in pop music, corporate music personified. She was 2013's top-earning celebrity, according to Forbes, and was one of the most prominent people to actively campaign against Napster. So for her now to criticize big business and partner with Bit Torrent is disingenuous to say the least, if not outright hypocritical.

Is the message inspiring? Perhaps; but it’s so trite and bland it’s almost irrelevant—it might as well be “We are the World”! (And with a message this bland, quoting Godard and Sartre simply won't save it.) Can she make a difference? Sure, she’s one of the most powerful women on the planet. But this aging jaded cynic sees it simply as another ploy of even older star (she's a year older than my mom) trying to regain some cultural relevance and a bit of the spotlight she craves (by her own admission). It could be worse, I guess; she could have been swinging on a wrecking ball. But is it groundbreaking? Hardly.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Monocle's Lebanese Affair Continues (Part 1 of 2)

Fresh from my recent visit back to Lebanon, I dropped by Monocle's new store in Zurich today only to discover that the brand's love affair with the country shows no sign of waning. Monocle's second fragrance (with Comme Des Garçons), Laurel, was inspired by the country. According to their website:
We wanted our second fragrance to capture the same smell and sensation enjoyed while staying with friends in Batroun, Lebanon. While many wonderful smells drifted through their ancient garden, it was the distinctive scent of laurel that punctuated an early spring weekend in the eastern Mediterranean. It's warm, inviting and at times a little sharp - just like the country itself.

Another account, featured at the shop and on Barneys' website, tells a slightly different story:
Inspired by a trip to the Bekaa Valley, it's a fresh, clean scent that has warm laurel notes. Developed by the same team that launched our Hinoki scent, it will remind regular visitors to Lebanon of the country's hand-made laurel soaps and fragrant gardens in Byblos.
The second volume of Monocle Live, titled “From Stockholm To Rio Via Beirut,” also features Beirut via Zeid And The Wings' "General Suleiman," for which Zeid Hamdan was arrested for the defamation of Lebanon's President, General Michel Suleiman. 

Monocle also featured Beirut as one of its 25 Resort Cities, saying:
Beirut has always stood its ground as a kind of playground for Arabs and Europeans in search of oriental frisson. With a return to political stability new hotels such as the Four Seasons and Le Gray have opened their doors and high power fashion names like Hermes and Louis Vuitton are now gracing the new Souks. Beirut is back on the tourist map (though no one knows for how long). Add to the mix, legendary hospitality, a famed party scene and layers of history, and you have a city with a unique patina that visitors and locals cannot seem to get enough of.
And finally, their first book ever, The Monocle Guide to Better Living, features Beirut as one of "10 Cities To Call Home". The preface reads:
On paper it shouldn't really work. But, despite everything, the allure of the Lebanese capital remains thanks to its cosmopolitan buzz, dazzling Mediterranean setting and the irrepressibly positive spirit of the locals.

It concludes with "Why it works":
  1. Locals are well travelled and at ease in English and French.
  2. The Lebanese take pride in their service industry. Opening a bank account, printing a brochure or producing a prototype furniture piece can all be done in record time.
  3. The city offers a buzzing cultural scene with year-round music festivals, film premieres, art shows and book fairs that put other Middle Eastern cities to shame.
  4. Ski slopes and beaches are less than an hour's drive away.
  5. The airport is 15 minutes' drive from downtown Beirut, with Paris and Dubai fewer than five hours away.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Lebanon: A Counterpoint

When this country glows, it sparkles! It makes you forget all that it is, and makes you believe in all that it could be. This is a country of the night: the dark hides all its outrageous faults and lets you see the lights shimmering in the hills and breaking over the water. You forget the checkpoints, the mad traffic, and politics of the day; all you can think about is the enchanting breeze off of the sea, the music reverberating in the midnight air, and the beat that thunders in your rib cage. You think, Who are these shiny happy people? Sometimes at night I can believe the insipid lyrics of old patriotic songs, I can remember feeling homesick to this place still. I can forget how we've cursed it, and how it cursed us all back. At night, I can smile at the dust on the windshield catching the street-lamps, the stillness of the moon through electric wires, and think, "There is hope yet."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Thoughts from a Broken Country - Day 2

We went out again today. That's often all it takes for me to change my mind about this mess of a country. I used to think the traffic was bad, the congestion and density of people oppressive, especially in this godforsaken part of the city known as Dahye, the (southern) "Suburbs" (of Beirut, a.k.a. Hezbollah-land).

But that was before it all went haywire, before the car bombs, before the paranoia... It was before the "Suburbs" went from a ghetto for-all-practical-purposes to a real official one, with enforced boundaries, a true country-within-a-country. There are now "self-enforced" (i.e. Hezbollah-manned) security checkpoints at all entrances to Dahye. The nightmarish traffic at the entrances went from oppressive to unbearable. But the indignity of the checkpoints is what's most disturbing, eerily reminiscent of the "civil" war days, something I thought we've left behind.

At the turn to our place, a bearded man in civilian clothes stops our car and pulls us off to the side; apparently we look too Westernized, not Shiite enough. He asks "Where are you from?" and demands to see ID-cards (Lebanese code for "What religious sect are you?"). My idealistic brother replies, "I'm from Lebanon. I'm secular. I crossed my religious sect off of my ID." My father thinks he's asking for trouble; he's glad my brother is leaving the country next week for another masters in the UK. I side with my brother; I tell the bearded guy, "I'm from here before you were born; where are YOU from?" He replies, mockingly, "Syria." I ask him, "By what right do you ask to see our IDs then?" He says, "I'm trying to protect you; why are you so upset?" I say, "Because we're trying to get to our house right there and every time you stop us." At this point, my mother is glad, too, I'll be leaving soon again. And I... I'm not sure of anything anymore.

I feel like Don Quixote battling the windmills: just as foolish, just as delusional, just as aimless... Soon enough, I'll be back again in the cold comfort of my life in Zurich, I hope. I'll be back to railing against the Swiss, and the Americans, and the Art World, and whatever windmills I could muster--just another foolish man and his grandiose deluded ideals. And what becomes of here? What becomes of them? I'll pretend not to think; even a foolish man can take on only so many windmills....

Thursday, July 18, 2013

"Black Water" by Joe Bolton

It happens like this
   Over and over:
A light breaks on the shore
   Of a black water
Hemmed in by cliffs of red
   Stone with faces
Carved into the faces, and you
   See another face
–The face of the remembered–
   Rising from the water,
Descending from the sourceless light,
   And cannot call it out,
Because now you are the light breaking
   Over the black water,
And you are the black water, and you
   Are the face they make.

And then you wake up, and light
   A cigarette,
And you are in time again, the world
   Of time and outside
It is Tuesday, and early June,
   And 1985.
And it would be your wedding day,
   Were it three years ago;
And it would be your anniversary
   Had she not left you . . .
But it is simply a Tuesday, in June,
   In 1985,
And you have woken up alone to the life
   You live alone,
And the workmen down the block are hammering
   The last of the dream from you.

And what work will there be
   For you today,
Dreamer whose dream the world
   Of time has torn away?
—What task to occupy your hands
   That tremble?
Only this resurrection of the grief
   That sweats the drink
Out of you and makes you thirst
   For more—
Makes you dress up to go out and drink,
   Then undress to lie down.
And you will lie down, and you will be
   The light breaking
Over the black water, and you will be

   The black water.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Life on a Beautiful Day

It is eleven years today, Teta, and I do miss you more than ever on this beautiful day...

Sometimes life is so ruthlessly beautiful,
It’s unfair;
Sometimes life is so devastatingly perfect,
It makes me want to cry.

Yesterday I heard a report about a country burying its dead,
A family burying its dead,
A woman burying her dead,
And I thought
The dead are never buried:
The sunshine wakes them
And the raindrops dig their graves.

Today the sun smiled at me,
The breeze smiled at me,
And I smiled back.
Today I missed my grandma more than ever
Because she is missing this beautiful day.

Yesterday a breath of fresh air
Wrapped around my face
Like a mouth gag,
It stripped me of my pretenses,
My vacant melancholy,
It slapped me like my mother’s kiss.

Today I fell in love with you
And I couldn’t care less
About the sound my heart will make
When it’s breaking.

Yesterday I wished I was young
And then I realized
I am.
Yesterday I wished I was alive
And then it hit me
That I am.
I should have wished more wisely,
Wished better,
Wished for what I didn’t have.

Today I smiled.

(Originally posted on April 16, 2003)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Looking In

Nothing much changes when you’re back:
dishes still need to be done,
animals fed;
only there’s less room in the bed.
I won’t say it’s lonelier with you than it is without you,
but it is far less convenient.

Scenes of domesticity gone stale:
your constant complaining of dust,
the dog turning her back and looking longingly out,
and my silence.
Rescue what you can!

I am starting to weigh my 30 years,
piling others’ lives across the scale,
making sure I’m always on the losing end.
So what if it comes to this?

Forgive me if I don’t see you as the victory you might be,
but your smile doesn’t count if it’s not for me.
Besides, I’m too busy looking in.

(Originally posted on March 24, 2007)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Joe Bolton: The Last Nostalgia


How could we think that it would never end?
While each day was a little eternity,
We must have known the leaves were getting ready
To turn and fall-then loneliness again,
The chill, exquisite longings of autumn.
You woke to find it had become September;
I woke a little later to find you gone.
And suddenly what I would remember
Was wholly formed, irrecoverable:
The hundred-degree heat and the trouble
We had trying to keep cool in our shorts
Till the sun went down-me on the back porch,
Sipping Scotch and listening to Sinatra;
You in the bedroom, reading the Kama Sutra.

The Years

And yet we'd do it all over again—
The success, the excess, and how desire
Got all mixed up with money, sex, the moon,
Till our house lit up like a house on fire.
Maybe it's the intensity we miss,
Those sleek maneuverings at night, when style
Seemed an end in itself, and which it was,
As things turned out. Tonight, in the dead still
Of the night, I lift a glass of amber
To all that's left, which is less than nothing,
Which is to say all I can remember
Of that feeling, that memory of a feeling.
Strange to want back what we wanted back then.
We were as good as dead, or better than.

Two Songs of Solitude and Lament


There’s nothing to celebrate this evening.
I’ve come home tired
To a mailbox gorged with junk it can’t
Digest, to a room bereft
Of any hope of getting put into order,
To a radio gone numb
With humming the old tunes and passing along
The old gossip: a breakthrough,
A disaster, the economy’s rise or fall, a war
Going on somewhere.

No one will come by, no one will call,
No ex-friend or –lover
Materialize from my wired-out memory.
Boredom is dangerous:
It gets easier with practice. The streetlights,
As if in celebration
Of nothing, erupt the off-shade of cheap champagne,
While in the bedroom
The clock I can never think to wind
Ticks down like a bomb.


Dozing to the tugging drone of fans
These summer afternoons,
The haunt of memory surrounds and inhabits me
Like a siege on some ruined city.
Runners of sunlight manage to twist their way
Through a full-leafed maple,
And the shadow-splotched walls of this room are suddenly
The blush of blood
Across the skin above your breasts
When you came.
Or it rains, and everything the rain streams down
Remembers your hair.
We were in each other’s arms then, but now
We are in the arms of the wind.
The proud ancient warriors, in hopeless bondage,
Would kill themselves
By biting their tongues in two, so as to bleed to death.
I wake in the dark
And walk out onto the balcony to watch the stars
That won’t touch down on the rooftops.

Days of Summer Gone

It’s too late to go back to that apartment
In Bowling Green, Kentucky, where we slept together
So many nights. I wonder if whoever lives there now
And fucks in that bed ever wonders about us?

If memory’s any good gauge, the place
Must be ghosted with us even now—
Where I read aloud to you the love stories
Of other languages, and where there was no part
Of your body my tongue couldn’t locate in the dark.
Don’t try to tell me you’ve forgotten.

I can’t let them go, those days
Of summer gone, for under my eyelids you move
As you moved through the changes of light in that room.

But it’s raining tonight
In Houston, Texas, and how is your weather
In Berkley? What happened to us?
Westward is the world’s motion, and time’s,
If not memory’s.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

"August Elegy"

You write that you are tired,
That even language has failed you,
That each sentence doubts itself halfway through.
I start to type, "This rage
For order..." but run out of words,
And the letters fall to pieces on the page.

Monday arrives wordless,
Sun-struck, August wind in the chimes
As birds flit past, elusive as their names.
Last week a black guy bigger
Than me, and much to my surprise,
Pronounced me to be an "artificial nigger."

Otherwise, there's no sound
Of anyone else's voice for days
On end, save yours through the splice and fray
Long distance. I watch, I
Wait for the mail to come around,
Then stand there disappointed under the sky.

This living alone is
Endless language left unmeasured,
And the slow coming of sleep a pleasure
Sadder than being young.
I wake to speak, and the word was
Breaks sweeter than any berry on my tongue.

-Joe Bolton, from "The Last Nostalgia"

(Originally posted on December 03, 2009)

Thursday, January 03, 2013

images and images

A visual stroll through the role of women in Egypt and beyond, in Arabic & English. (I did the Arabic typesetting.)