Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dressing up

Inspired by the fashions seen at the village wedding, I popped into a few stores today to see if there were any dresses that tickled my fancy for bride-to-be cousin's wedding. Besides exhausting me, all the dress trying made me feel slightly ridiculous - and the ones I tried one would actually be too plain for a Lebanese wedding.
I think I'll be sticking to my original plan and wearing the dress I brought along.

Fly away with me

Star Trek

Seasonal confusion

Just plain gross

Gathering courage

The sequel to Shine

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sex and the Village

Forget about the bride! Walking home from the kermesse I struck it lucky and walked onto the set of Sex and the Village, the glammed-up village version of this year's hit city film. Well, actually it was the church-exiting moment of a village wedding, but I did have to blink twice to snap back from my movie reverie. Even if Carrie Bradshaw had been the bride (again), these Lebanese ladies would have outshone her. Carrie may have worn a bird thingy in her hair for her wedding day, but one of these guests managed to get a bird-like statement onto her entire dress! Snapping away like a paparazzi freak, I managed to capture some fashionable red-carpet moments.
Suddenly, the dress I intend to wear to bride-to-be cousin's wedding in just over two weeks seems very, very plain...

Move over Carrie Bradshaw, this bird needs space to fly!

Fun in the village

I was up in the village this weekend, preparing for the arrival of two very special parents. There happened to be a kermesse (carnival) going on, so I followed the noise and checked it out. I love these pics for the village they show beyond the activities taking place. Don't you just love the old houses on the mountainside?

Friday, July 23, 2010

My virtual middle finger

Irish flatmate came home in a state last night, venting about the way her supposed service driver charged her full taxi fares (10 000) for her short trip home, and not the expected 2 000 service fare. She was huffing and puffing in fury, which sparked on my huff and puff too.
We've had it with these bloody taxis. Enough of taking advantage of us foreigners. Just because I speak Lebanese with the accent of an 'ajnabieh' (foreigner) doesn't mean you need to treat me like a fool who doesn't know better. You might think I'm rolling in it, but trust me, if I were, I'd be purchasing a car and giving you the finger as I drive by, screaming profanities with my non-Lebanese tongue.
Yesterday, the guy bringing me back from the pool demanded 10 000 before I got into his taxi. I worked him down to 5 000 (although I had originally asked for a double service price of 4 000). A guy (Lebanese with a very Lebanese accent) got in 100m down the road, and got out at exactly the same place as me, and only paid 2 000. I asked the driver why he made me pay more - was it because I'm ajnabieh? No, he said, it's because he only took this route for me, and then the other guy happened to want to go in the same direction. Slamming-door session number one.
Last night the taxi driver said he'd take us to the art gallery in Quarantina for a full taxi fare (10 000). Fair enough, it's a little out of the way. Once we got there, he insisted on an extra 5 000 because we made him go in circles, he said. Slamming-door session number two.
Just now I asked for a 8 000 ride to a meeting in Hazmieh. The driver agreed, I got in, I gave him very thorough directions as given to me by the person I was meeting. He took the longest route possible, then went in the opposite direction and had to be rerouted by another person who jumped in, and then demanded another 5 000 for the complicated ride (which, I discovered on the way back, with a driver organised by the company I'd visited, was actually a simple 10-minute ride from home!). I gave him 10 000 and slammed the third taxi door in two days.
Bride-to-be cousin is picking me up tonight and I'm heading to the village, leaving taxis and door-slamming very far behind me.
Take that (here's where I show my virtual middle finger)!

A lot goes a little way

Somehow I managed to spend a lot of money yesterday - on nothing. This country has an incredible way of making you put your hand into your wallet every half hour without even noticing!
What would have cost me nothing back home - a day at the beach and an art gallery exhibition opening at night - set me back around R380! Now imagine if I'd actually decided to do something that should cost money! Thank goodness for another job in the pipelines...

(All prices are in Lebanese Lira, where 2 000LL equals about R10.)

2 000 service to St George Yacht Club and Marina
25 000 entry to the St George Yacht Club and Marina
17 000 burger and 1-litre water for lunch
5 000 taxi back home
15 000 taxi to art gallery (he charged 5 000 more than a normal taxi because he said it was complicated and out of the way)
5 000 waiting fee for taxi, who we ended up sending home anyway
2 000 service back home

Because I can

While other people in Lebanon's workforce live for the weekends where they can get away from the office and hit the sun and water, I realised this week that I'm not one of those people. I'm a freelancer. I am my office. So if I choose to set up office alongside one of Beirut's most notorious swimming pools, then so be it!
Thanks to my refreshing revelation, I spent the whole day yesterday at the St George Yacht Club and Marina, surrounded by the great Lebanese contrasts: the calm Mediterranean before me, filled with some of the biggest yachts I've seen in real life (and I've been to Monaco!), a big construction project in progress - built into a reclaimed part of the sea, with a planned hotel and sea-front restaurants coming up - and then the towering new Four Seasons Hotel and iconic Marina Apartments to the right of my view. Directly behind me was the Phoenicia Hotel, frequented by celebrities, kings and queens in the 60s and early 70s before the war. It now overlooks the spot where Rafiq Hariri was assassinated in a car bomb in 2005. To the left of me was another reminder of the devastation that has ripped through Beirut - the St George Hotel, built in 1932 but destroyed during the civil war and then destroyed once again during the car bomb assassination when it was being fixed up again...
In between taking many dips in one of the four pools and enjoying a walk along the marina, I did actually do some reading research - so, yes, my office proved constructive. And rather cool!

The yacht club.

The Marina Apartments.

The St George Hotel.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Different shades of white

My first visitor might be living in the bling that is Dubai, but it's the light of Lebanon that charmed him more - the light reflecting off two very white Lebanese must-sees. One in the form of a rooftop lounge known as White (no guesses as to the interior - well, exterior - decor colour scheme) and the other a luxury beach resort in Jiyeh called Orchid (also all decked in the neutral colour).
The thing with White is that it's the kind of place you have to reserve a table at in order to find a seat - and these tables are reserved a month in advance. Plus, they prefer to give them to Lebanese people (the ones without a South African accent). I still don't quite get why there's this big thing about sitting around tables at nightclubs in Lebanon, but it was explained to me that even though people arrive at 11pm after dinner and have no intention of sitting down to a meal at White, they have become so used to the practice of reserving a table (since the good old Lebanese heydays) that they've now come to expect to have a seat to sit at and a table to leave all their bags on. This means that the space for dancing is limited, and everyone dances around their table, so there isn't the kind of dancing and mingling I'm used to, and when I did try to do the mingling thing (let's just say there was a very good-looking Lebanese man two tables down), it was not well-received for me to be bashing past the stiff-dancing Lebanese dollies trying to keep their make-up from smudging down their perspiring summer-night faces onto their Botox lips. After my edging past, they immediately gave a shove of their cleavage, readjusting it in their designer dresses while they did little tap-taps on their red-soled Louboutins.
I must add here that when Swiss-Dubai visitor sent his girlfriend a message that we were heading out on the town, she sent him one back asking whether we were going to White. It seems it was recently written about in a Swiss newspaper as the place to see and be seen in Beirut. And somehow, it is. Which makes it even more surprising that Swiss-Dubai visitor and I managed to get in without a reservation. A month ago three of us gals tried entering - we'd gotten dressed up especially - and were turned away by the burly bouncers without so much as a 'sorry we made you put on such high heels'. So this time we got there early - early in Lebanon means 9pm. This clever tactic scored us two seats at the white Perspex bar.
This luck is what ricocheted us into a weekend of all-white decadence, thanks to a wild Lebanese girl who was seated next to me at the long bar. She insisted I tell the guy at the end of the bar to move up and make everyone else do the same so that I could fit my chair in, as it had been edged out as soon as we were shown our place, by the guy who sat down before us. This meant that I was sitting right on top of Swiss-Dubai visitor and wild child, forcing us to become big chommies. While Swiss-Dubai visitor treated me to a colourful (and very expensive) bar dinner and cocktails of every description (we may have tested the entire menu!), two of wild child's friends were chased off their bar seats to make way for two higher-paying gents. Of course this didn't go down well with wild child, who put up a big fuss with all the White managers, but unfortunately this didn't help and they ended up sitting at a table behind us until the people who had reserved that table arrived - and then they just hovered nearby.
Wild child was livid. She's been a White regular since last year, when she used to go every weekend, even getting a turn at the DJ booth now and then. Everyone who works there knows her by name, she isn't afraid to spend on booze and tips well (she didn't tell me this, I witnessed it myself!), so it was a real slap in the face.
At the end of our night, when it was just wild child, Swiss-Dubai visitor and I left, and we'd decided it was time to depart, a bottle of Moet & Chandon arrived in front of us at the bar (the tiny space we were still confined to, where we were dancing like wild-child converts). Attached to it were fireworks, spitting sparkles. We were each poured a glass and offered it by the barman - this was White management's way of apologising to wild child for the incident. And so we drank some more. That's where things went downhill...
There was an incident with a dropped glass that landed on my knee and foot, causing three blood-oozing gashes. But there was no pain (thank goodness for alcohol), so the dancing continued when my favourite Lebanese party song played (I wanna flyyyyyy with you babyyyy... or something like that). Then there was the attempt at chatting to an engaged guy (bat!), and then the drops of blood on a hotel lobby floor when showing Swiss-Dubai a cool artwork upon leaving White. That's where you say thank goodness for the taxi...
Understandably, waking up with a sore knee and an even more damaged head and very dry mouth leaves you wanting to veg out completely and drink lots of water. There's no better place to do this that at Orchid beach resort. Heck, there were even waves beyond the all-white decadence, that I kinda felt like I was 'hanging' back home. The Ferraris, Porsches and other slick wheels parked outside were an immediate indication of what we would find inside. Model-like bikini babes and, well, Lebanese men (I'm still not convinced of the hotness of these men). Private plunge pools and cordoned-off sections are found a little way from the circular common pool - which is anything but common - and white loungers are dotted all around the white, wooden decks, where waiters and other towel-carrying 'slaves' cater to your every whim.
I remember looking up from White, into the night sky, and asking my companions when the angels were going to appear. It seemed fitting. But then I guess all the angels were busy preparing to appear at Orchid the next day. That's what too much whiteness does to you...

(Please excuse the photo quality - they were all taken on my camera.)

We arrived at White just as the candle-ligting 'ceremony' was taking place.

With Swiss-Dubai visitor. Note the empty tables behind us. Three hours later one couldn't move an inch through that space.

One of the barmen.

An open rooftop bar in the middle of Beirut.

Louboutins are mandatory.

Outside Orchid.

Inside Orchid.

The Mediterranean on one side and the mountain on the other.

One of the private pools that can be rented out for the day.

The common pool for everyone who pays $20 for the day at Orchid.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Another table

Now that my 'getting paid to eat out' mission is complete, I sadly have to pay for the food I consume - except when juggling cousin comes to visit from Germany and tall uncle takes us out for lunch! Yes, it's another food-obsessed blog post!
Tall Uncle had recently heard about the restaurant spin-off to Souk el Tayeb (the organic market I still have to visit) called Tawlet Souk el Tayeb in Mar Mikhael, and proposed we try it out today. 'It's Lebanese food, though,' he said, asking whether we'd prefer a burger joint. Perhaps he hasn't yet noticed my love of Lebanese food over any other culinary masterpiece you could lay on my plate - even if it happened to be a Mochachos burger!
The thing I find disapponting at most traditional Lebanese restaurants is that they always have the same thing on the menu - start off with mezzas (hot and cold), move onto meat scewers, and end off with fruit. You never see the things that Mom makes at home. That's why I loved today's lunch. The idea behind Tawlet(meaning tables) is that everyday there's a different cook from a different part of Lebanon preparing the lunch - traditional dishes from their part of the country. You can either choose to enjoy the buffet for $25 or have the dish of the day for $10. Today, this happened to be one of my favourite Lebanese dishes, shish barak, prepared by a lady called Josephine from the north. The $10 also gets you water and a green salad. We took the shish barak, something like meat dumplings (sombreros) cooked in laban flavoured with mint and garlic. It was so obviously healthy that I immediately felt a surge of energy! Even the rice was of the body-benefiting variety.
What added to this experience was the setting. It's a vibey place in a cul de sac, and is filled with a lot of Achrafieh tantes and many foreigners, and the long table in the middle of one of the two interleading rooms means that all of these strangers could actually eat together (but they didn't today!).
They give cooking courses too, so guess what I'm looking into!

The other finale

Sassine Square changed its look on Sunday and went from this this

Viva Espana! I hope you could hear your Lebanese supporters who kept me up all night after the 1-0 win.

The finale

Saturday saw me complete my 'get paid to eat out' mission with a trip up the Shouf Mountains to Mir Amin (near Beiteddine) - a renovated palace that used to be the residence of the last emirs of Lebanon. In terms of luxurious experience, it didn't match up to the previous four, seeing as we were not really greeted and had to wait for 10 minutes before anyone registered what I was there to do, and then got relegated to the Lebanese restaurant below the Oriental Terrace we were supposed to dine on. But nevertheless, good food, good company, and a lovely palace to wander around afterwards.

We may not have been treated like VIPs this time, but we sure ate like a king and queen worthy of a palace!

The traditional oud (long, long before the guitar) and something that sounded to me like me'bej when I asked him what the instrument was called. I tried it out, and it's rather heavy. You tap into the hollow with the stick for a deep sound and then tap against the top inside edge to get the metal clinking noise.

The main terrace courtyard where we should have dined.

Inside one of the suites (Mir Amin is now a five-star hotel) with its antique mosaic work.

Friday, July 9, 2010

How 'art' thou?

Having Oliewenhuis so close to home while growing up must have paid off, because my first art review has just been published in the July issue of Time Out Beirut - my debut issue as art editor.

So that's one issue down, some more to go, starting with the August/ September bumper issue. Which took me to an interview with Rita Aad, the most upbeat artist I've ever met. She blasts her music (she gave me an awesome CD to take home) and 'explodes' on the canvas. The result is this:


Michael, her son

Then it was on to Beirut's hotels in search of decent art for a feature I'm doing. What I found was Rudy Rahme's 'Season of Life' in the recently opened Four Seasons Hotel, made with his patented charcoal and colour extracted from rocks:

Rudy is the famous Lebanese artist who carved this impressive image of Christ at the ancient cedars of Lebanon. I got to interview him in his gallery yesterday.

My next find was Le Gray (well it wasn't actually a find, as I'd already been there and know it's Lebanon's foremost art hotel - or only art hotel really!). I love this contemporary setting - it's filled with fabulous and fun art pieces, including these:

This one by Frenchman Fred Bred hangs alongside the Poolside cafe.

These floral arrangements at the restaurant entrance were so beautiful that I'd call them art too!

Then there's the cutest little ellie in the lobby - so talked about, that the pastry team has started making cookies shaped like him and topping them with Smarties for the kids that stay at the hotel. And it happens to be an artwork by Mom's cousin, Nadim Karam. Nadim is famous for his Archaic Procession, a family of sculptural creatures created from his wild imagination, who have travelled the world - from Melbourne to Tokyo. This is one of them:

Nadim told me this week that his architecture, planning and design studio, Atelier Hapsitus, aims to 'make cities dream'. And that's why he loves exhibiting outside of art galleries. I love that idea.

Next was my visit to the brand new Beirut Exhibition Center for the retrospective exhibition of Lebanese-born Nabil Nahas, who's been living in New York ever since doing his Master's in Fine Art at Yale in 1973.

The Beirut Exhibition Center changes colour according to the time of day. It reminded me of the concept of the Green Point Stadium.

Nahas started his career with very geometric lines in the 1970s.

In the 90s he started collecting dead starfish and pasting them onto his canvases and painting over them with acrylics.

His latest work refers to his homeland, with images of cedars, pine trees and olive branches.

And then during the week, I also came across some graffiti art:

And political propaganda 'art':

They wanted people to boycott Tiesto because he was refusing not to go to Israel before coming to Lebanon, and a lot of people here feel that there should be sanctions against Israel, including sanctioning which performers they receive.

Last night I got to see original Botero drawings and Dali sculptures at a worldwide exhibition that happened to be on at La Posta where we dined.

I saw a mini version of this. Someone here bought it for $48 000!

Botero is known for his images of fat ladies. I like the guy!

But the most fun art moment this week was definitely the predominantly pink exhibition by Zena el Khalil at Espace Kettaneh Kunigk, inspired by pink Israeli propaganda posters that were dropped on Beirut from airplanes during the 2006 war.

'Peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars'
May this be your mantra too in the coming week. Go out and find the art around you!