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....