Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Time changes everything

'You look the same,' he said, referring to when we met five years ago onboard a plane to Cyprus. No, I don't look the same tonight as I did then, with my hair up in a gypsy scarf and my legs covered in hippie, wraparound pants. I don't either look like the drunken girl he saw the following night in the streets of Ayia Napa, wearing a top with the lowest-plunging neckline I've ever dared wear. Tonight I look classy. I'm dressed in a feminine dress, my hair has been beautifully set, and I took time to do my make-up and paint my nails. And I'm wearing heels. I do not look the same.
That was the first no-no on the 'date night' I was so looking forward to. The second one came when I realised how much he doesn't look the same as I remember him. Gone are the sexy curls and playful attitude. They've made way for the dilated pupils of someone who clearly smoked a joint before arriving on his Harley. With that comes the lack of dress sense and the ability to ignore the fact that my message said 'fancy' restaurant. He sauntered down the stairs carrying his helmet, wearing an old t-shirt.
Out came the rollies - before we'd even had time to order a drink. And he didn't drink. But that didn't stop him from being loud. 'So this is all for free? And we can eat anything we want?!' he shouted, making it clear to all the tables around us that we were there because I was doing a review on the restaurant.
The way he ate didn't do much to save his case, plunging his fork into the fattoushe as if he hadn't eaten all day - but he had, I asked him (Chinese stir-fry that his mother made). And then in the middle of my attempt at conversation (because we have nothing in common!) he proceeded to make a phonecall and send some SMSes.
I was all too happy when he said he goes to bed at midnight. It meant I could send him off at 11pm, insisting that he needed to get his rest (or another joint), while I sat and savoured the last bit of my pistachio ice cream, finding comfort in the sound of the sea lapping up against the wall behind me.
Talk about five years of change!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dancing like a sabaaya

'Yalla ya sabaaya,' says Rita encouragingly. She's our belly-dancing teacher - oriental dancing, to be exact. A year younger than me, she comes dressed in the cutest outfits. One day it's a pixie-pointy skirt, the next day it's a tank top decorated with a lipsticked face; today it was those ballooning pants that become tight just under the knee. And it's always a top that can easily be lifted up to reveal her pierced belly that moves majestically to a fast-paced rhythm as she shakes without shaking.
It's a brisk 15-minute walk for me to In Shape (which means that it's for people in any shape), where I spend the best hour of my Tuesdays and Thursdays trying to get half as much movement out of my ever-increasing belly (thanks Lebanese food!). I'm always on time, 19:30 on the dot. The other women (all Lebanese) come strolling in one at a time, as if they're arriving at a friend's tea party, all excited to see each other, greeting one another with the mandatory three kisses (I was initiated into the kissers today, after a month of classes).
Before any shaking can begin, it's essential to swap beach stories from the weekend (on a Tuesday) or beauty tips, diet tips and general tips on how to do things better. What I have learned so far from this introductory chit-chat is that I need to do crunches to make my bum bigger ('It's too small,' said Zoezoe), my eyebrows are out of proportion and I need to regrow the inner sides (advice also kindly dispensed by Zoezoe, the mother of two who once studied beauty therapy but is now a housewife), and the trend of the season is to paint all your nails the same colour, except for your ring finger, which should be in another contrasting bright colour. Oh, then there's the 'you've lost weight' comment that gets given to a different person every week.
If I were looking for the ideal location for learning about Lebanese women, I've found the spot!
Rita turns on the Arabian beat and the clicking begins. Everyone is in the mood - until the phones start ringing and beeping. It's not unusual for Michu to answer her call, walk out of the class during mid session, and not return until we're doing our cool-down stretches.
Today we had a new girl with no rhythm whatsoever joining with her aunt who didn't seem to realise she was in a class and just continued doing her own movements. It's all so brilliant. No one cares, and no one has to care. It's all for the fun of it - the point being to give us some moves to use when we're at a party or dinner and the Arabic music begins. My short-term aim is to have some of these moves committed to memory by the time the big wedding arrives in August, while the long-term goal is to dance half as well as the gorgeous Rita by the time I leave Lebanon next year.
'Bravo ya sabaaya!'

Reporting from the inside

It seems quite fitting that on the same day that I was given an unexpected tour of An-Nahar newspaper, Lebanon's largest Arabic daily, I end up reporting on a seminar all presented in pure, written-form Arabic (not the Lebanese dialect that I understand!). There's a reason I don't work for An-Nahar! I don't read or write Arabic, and I definitely don't understand when people speak this written, formal form of the language. But after seeing the newspaper's offices yesterday, it's clear that I'm missing out.
An-Nahar was started by Gebran Tueni in 1933. His son and grandson (also Gebran) were subsequent editors and publishers until Gebran Jnr was assassinated in a car bomb in December 2005 after being elected to parliament. He was a critic of Syria and its involvement in Lebanese affairs and had just returned from Paris, where he'd been living because of a fear of being assassinated!
This is the newspaper for which Samir Kassir worked until he too was assassinated in a car bomb in 2005. (Hmmm, maybe it's better that I stick to my English writing!) Samir Kassir is a popular name around the country, and a music and cultural festival was recently held in his honour. He was a well-known journalist and political activist. Born to a Palestinian father and Syrian mother, he fought for freedom for Palestinians, as well as for democracy in Lebanon and Syria, and was also strongly opposed to the Syrian presence in Lebanon.
(Syria occupied Lebanon from 1976, at the beginning of the civil war, to 2005, 15 years after the civil war ended. Its withdrawal came as a result of the Cedar Revolution on 26 April 2005 that was a reaction to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri earlier that year. Over a million people took part in this peaceful demonstration in Lebanon - that's a quarter of the country's population! I'd also leave if I were the Syrian army!)
Samir Kassir was also a professor of history, with a PhD in Modern History from the Sorbonne University in Paris. His murder has not been resolved.

Three floors of the An-Nahar building are dedicated to the daily Arabic newspaper of the same name. The views are spectacular - looking out to sea and down to old Roman ruins that are being excavated and re-established (well, they've been 'busy' with this for eight years now).

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Local foodie

I've always enjoyed grocery shopping, from the days when I used to push Mom's trolley, to the delight I used to find in Stellenbosch's SuperSpar as a newly independent shopper, to the hours I spent trawling the aisles in Rondebosch's massive Pick 'n Pay on the day of my nephew's birth earlier this year (funny how you remember dates!).
Now I've found Spinneys. I'll admit, it's not as exciting as Pick 'n Pay, and doesn't have some of the things I'm looking for, but it's big enough to keep me entertained, and has managed to introduce me to some yummy local products. Today, I got a little carried away and, after walking there (it's just a 10-minute walk down two roads really), I had to catch a taxi back home with all my purchases.
Here are some of the local goods I emptied into my fridge and cupboards just now:

From left to right
Taanayel wild fruit yoghurt from Mount Lebanon.
Candia laban (plain yoghurt) from the Bekaa region.
Al-Rabih Lentisk, an oriental sweet kind of like Turkish Delight.
White eggs from Jbeil.
Chateau Ksara Le Prieure 2007 wine from the Bekaa Valley, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Mourvedre and Cinsault.
Mixed nuts.
Gandour TofiLuk, a biscuit-and-caramel chocolate
Chtaura tahina, a sesame paste used to make hummus.

High in the sky

Ever had a place you've always heard of, whose name pops up in your mind as a visual of sparkling glitter lights whenever you hear it pronounced? Something you've heard so many extraordinary tales about, that you feel your life will not be complete until you set foot on its soil? For some people this will involve gawking at the Guggenheim; others may hope to photograph the Taj Mahal; some want to blow bubbles in the Great Barrier Reef.
My do-before-you-die mission has been to dance at a place called SkyBar. Being Lebanese, it would only make sense. No self-respecting Lebanese person who wants to see and be seen can say that SkyBar doesn't form part of their social fabric.
People have flocked from all corners of the globe to party under its open rooftop skies, so it was essential that I did the same if i wanted to call myself a true Beiruti.
The idea to make my do-or-die dream a reality came as a text message yesterday afternoon from La Blonde, a French friend who's lived here for a year and a half and visited the restaurant-cum-bar-cum-nighclub five times last summer.
This required a makeover. Curly hair is a very rare sight at SkyBar (even though all the girls were born with it!), so if I wanted to be Beiruti, I had to do Beiruti. One ghd session later, make-up application, new black dress, super-smooth legs, painted nails and I was ready to be zipped up to the top of the city. Due to previous nights' circumstances, I had to forego the biggest essential to being Beiruti, i.e. sky-high heels, and donned oriental-looking, wraparound flats instead.

Here's how the SkyBar process works: If you have a lot of money or a very good contact, you can call ahead of time (up to months in advance!) and book a table. My naivety had me picking up the phone yesterday after La Blonde's text message to try to make a booking. I was laughed off and told to get there early (8:30 for 9pm) if we wanted any hope of sitting around the bar. 'Fully booked' means that around 2 500 people are expected for the night.
What the tables (and their huge fee - talk last night was of a minimum of $500) get you, is booze all night long, placed on your table in the form of bottles of whiskey and vodka that you pour for yourselves. If you're feeling very rich (well, you will be if you can afford such a table), you can order food too. We arrived too late, at 10pm, and had to resort to standing and moving across from one bar to the next.
But now I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's return to our arrival. We were met in the parking (another friend drove us there) by lots of valet parking employees (according to the website, they have 100 valet parkers and 170 other staff!), one of which took the car and parked it while we were greeted at the steps by one of the many security guards in red shirts. He radioed to his colleagues up at the venue and asked if there was place for three people at the bar. Yes! We were escorted into the elevators and whisked up to the top floor, where three beautiful young women greeted us from behind a reception counter - all wearing the same dress (the most complementary uniform I've ever seen - a navy, ethereal dress that turns out to be from Zara). Walking through a passageway with creeper-lined walls surrounding little white, built-in-seating nooks, we came to the first level.
I had walked into SkyBar, voted best bar in the world in 2008 according to many websites (but I cannot find the real source of the award). It lives up to gotta-see-it expectations. Set on three levels that all look onto each other - none of them are covered - it's a dazzling spectacle of sight, sound and lots and lots of partying, with a view over the Mediterranean and on towards the city lights of towns across the way. We made our way to the top bar to order our cocktails; then to the one on the opposite end for another one, where the barman was hotter and friendlier. In the meantime, we had to dodge the waiters carrying five-litre bottles of vodka to some of the higher-paying tables, and avoid staring uncontrollably at the shorter-than-short t-shirt dresses making their way past us on red-soled Louboutin stilettos.
Later, we found a way to make our fashion observations less obvious by taking a seat on one of the luxurious white-leather sofas circling the bathroom courtyard. Here, we were able to watch as girls sauntered into the bathrooms and paraded out of them oozing the kind of dead-hot confidence that only a Lebanese woman can.
After about half and hour of front-row SkyBar Fashion Week commentary, we returned to the middle level, just in time for the real party to kick in. Up until then (say 12:30am) the music had gone from mellow, jazzy tunes while we sipped cocktails, to recogniseable dance tunes before we hit the catwalk. But now the beat had been upped, the lights were on display, throwing illuminated lines into the full-moon sky, and the fire was blown. Yip, fire - all along the overhead crossbeams, programmed to ignite Olympic torch-like flames in time with the most intense part of certain get-you-going songs.
I was taken. It might not have been the way I had always imagined heaven to be, and I'm certainly not ready to die, but SkyBar can light my fire any night.
PS. It's only open during the summer months, so come quickly!

Party folk.

Cocktail-drinking party folk.

Front-row seats at SkyBar Fashion Week.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Deutschland über alles

We're living very far from Germany. Very, very far. No one in this country speaks German (my German-school cousins and friends excluded) and no one seems to know who the German president is. Yet, when Germany won the game against Ghana tonight and advanced to the second round, this country went mad.
It's half past midnight and I've just arrived home after bypassing Sassine Square where German supporters of all ages blocked traffic and caused chaos in between lighting fireworks in the middle of the street and blowing mini vuvuzelas louder than their usually uber-loud car hooters. The atmosphere was electrifying, with German flags filling the sidewalks, blowing out of car windows and being run with across the road. Add a few steins and one would swear we were in the middle of Munich!

Note to the reader: Germany and Brazil are the two teams with the most support in Lebanon. God help my sleep pattern if they continue winning games. The recent late-night celebratory noise in the streets has been anything but a lullaby...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Proudly green and gold

While all the (French!) expatriates around me were shouting 'allez les bleus!', I was calling out names that sounded equally foreign to them. 'Yalla Tshabalala! Come on Mokoena! Take it Modise! Go Bafana Bafana!' Slowly but surely, the worse the French played and the more dashing Bafana looked on the field, the more cheering I heard in support of my green-and-gold team from the opposition sitting alongside me. The boys (and their 2-1 victory) did me so proud today, adding to the Proudly South African day I'd already experienced before the game kicked off, what with the random 'braai' definition I saw on a building's glass wall and the Mandela quote on the window of a chicken outlet called Deek Duke.

Night of musique

A normally crazy-busy, car-filled street was pedestrianised last night in the middle of Downtown for the annual night of live music: Fete de la Musique. It's an initiative started in France that has now become World Music Day in many other countries, including Lebanon. Always held on 21 June, Fete de la Musique was started in 1982 as a celebration of the beginning of summer, coinciding with the summer solstice. At the same time, the night of great voices and fabulous instruments aims to promote both amateur and professional musicians in a free-for-all environment.
Lebanon's version played itself out between 6pm (starting with a chamber orchestra performing in a church) and 5am this morning (ending with a psychedelic DJ playing in the Dome, a bombed and neglected former cinema space).
In between the angelic harmonies and trance-inducing beats, I spent two hours touring the different venues. This is what I saw (and heard)...

Shaba (folk) at the Samir Kassir garden.
Then I wandered to the Beirut Souks where I had to escape from the maddening sound of Ashekman (rap). The H&M sale proved a safer haven.

Youmna Saba (Lebanese folk) at the ancient, excavated Roman baths.

Homemade (rock) at Martyrs Square with Virgin Megastore as one backdrop...

... and the Martyr Square monument and Rafiq Hariri mosque as another backdrop.

I finished off back at Samir Kassir garden to listen to Sandmoon (folk lounge/ rock).

Until next year... here's to a great summer 2010!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dodging the village

On the note of the previous entry about being in the village, I feel it appropriate to explain the eccentricities of village living. Where, back home in Muizenberg, I had neighbours who kept to themselves even after we got to know each other, here in the village it doesn't matter whether you've known each other for years, a day or a second - a neighbour is a neighbour. What that means is that you're taken in as part of their family. I realised this last year while staying alone in the family home for five days. I'd open the red window shutters and start counting. On the count of 20 I'd hear the sound of neighbourliness. That is, the sound of saintly neighbour's slip-slopping sandals hitting the concrete at a racy pace, rushing to offer me my morning treat. Once, this was a decadent, homemade half-and-half chocolate and creme-caramel cake. At 7am! And she sat down to watch me eat it all! It was my mother's favourite cake when she visited the previous month, said saintly neighbour, so she wanted me to taste it too because she knows we don't have such things in Africa.
This time, saintly neighbour was less obtrusive. Or so I thought. I opened the shutters yesterday morning and counted. Nothing. I opened another shutter just in case, this time making a bit of a racket for her to notice. The only food in the house was a packet of biscuits that had expired and I needed some saintliness with my morning coffee. Still nothing. Grumpily I began to make the coffee (and that's where the idea to walk up and buy a manoushe was born) when I heard my name being called from the front door. Yes! Breakfast cake, here I come. But instead, there she was, all saintly and stuff, but holding something far less indulgent. 'I'd left these on the shelf outside the kitchen,' she said, 'but you never opened the kitchen door, so here you go.' She handed over the three little cucumbers and I hid my disappointment with a great appreciation for receiving something picked out of the garden. Manoushe it was then.
'Come have Nescafe with me,' she invited. I made up an excuse about having to work and waited for her to shut her front door before I snuck out on my manoushe mission. She didn't give me time to walk down the garden path before her kitchen door looking out onto the street opened. 'Yalla, you're coming to drink juice with me? Nice, homemade passion-fruit juice.' No thanks, I replied, feeling kind of sheepish. I just suddenly felt like having a manoushe so I'm heading up to get one. 'Okay, then you'll come have juice with me after.' No thanks, I really need to get back to work, and off I went.
As I passed by our big gate, I heard voices coming from the top floor of the building, the floor Dad rents to a family as their weekend and summer-time getaway. I couldn't sneak past - heib! - so I called out a hello, but felt their greeting eyes dragging me up their steps and the next thing I knew I was having a big chat about my stay and trying hard to refuse their invitations to lunch and trying even harder to convince the old man that I don't need a ride up to town - that if I want to eat mne'eesh, I need the exercise to work it off. Okay, he said, he'll drive me up and I can walk down. He didn't get it. No one gets it. A 'no' here is like their favourite toy. They take the word and turn their sentences around and play with you until all your nos become one confused mess of excuses.
Making a half-jogging escape - still refusing the lift while he was halfway down the stairs - I hit the road. The same road that passes Dad's busy-body cousin (who, if she sees me, will never leave me alone - the same cousin who, last year, after me telling her I wasn't interested in going to some show, still told me to think about it; I told her again the next day that I wasn't interested; she said she'd ask me the next day; still no change in my mind but she was convinced that I was going and was this close to purchasing tickets). I let my hair loose and made sure it covered my profile while my sunglasses covered the rest of my face. Incognito. I successfully managed to dodge another family compound where two other of Dad's cousins live and have their shops, with windows in every direction and curious neighbours ready to go running to them to tell them their South African family has arrived; and another cousin who sits in a gloomy shop across the road looking for something to gossip about (this one I'll call my uncle's cousin, as he 'loves' her for the way she harasses him to get married - as if she thinks he's suddenly going to listen to her at the age of 64; I suspect her nagging is the reason he never set foot in the country for 30 years!).
Mission Manoushe complete, and another set of dodging practices accomplished during the return trip, I smile and breathe a sigh of relief when I'm almost in reach of the house's gate - and then I burst out laughing. Saintly neighbour is standing in the road with a ready glass of juice!

Mission Manoushe continued...

You must be getting rather tired (or just hungry) listening to me going on about my manoushe mission, but ask anyone who's been to Lebanon about these unforgettable breads and you'll realise that the goal to find the tastiest one in town is worth all these words.
Finding myself in the family village of Daraoun this weekend, I took the advice of last year's village visitors, sista sista and decalicious, and ambled up to the village centre to Um Walid to sample what these two considered to be delicious mne'eesh. Yes, they were good, but I'm still searching for better.

Look: Not bad at all. Not too much oil on the paper that was wrapped around it, and it had a decently baked colour.
Smell: Average.
Zaatar: Excellent consistency but not generous enough with the amount spread over.
Dough: Slightly sweet tasting, which is an excellent contrast to the sour sumac in the zaatar mixture; thin and relatively crispy.
Plus: The baker was wearing a Chemaly Bakery t-shirt, so I immediately felt one with my manoushe.
Minus: Oooh, there are a few:
1) It's a 15-minute walk to Um Walid, so by the time I returned, the manoushe was getting cold - and a microwave isn't a manoushe's best friend, as it dries it out.
2) I had to dodge four of my father's cousins' houses or shops to get to Um Walid without being invited in for coffee.
3) When the owner heard that I was my mother's daughter, she game me a kitchen-sweaty kiss.
Price: 1 500LL
Rating: 7/10

Friday, June 18, 2010

Journeying home

As the new art editor of Time Out Beirut, I have to be on the ball when it comes to local artists and exhibitions. It's a task made very easy by the diversity of exciting work being produced here - and if not here, then elsewhere by artists of Lebanese origin. Such as Helen Zughaib.
Walking into Agial Art Gallery between the American University of Beirut (AUB) and Hamra Street this week, I was instantly wowed by Helen's very colourful and funky works. It was the patterns and colours that struck me first, but the subject matter became just as fascinating upon closer inspection. Helen (like many other Lebanese) left Lebanon for the States at the age of 16, in 1975 when the civil war began. This exhibition marked her first return to her homeland since then, and speaks of the bittersweet journey in between. The exhibition is called Journey Home and Back Again.
If you ignore the hijabs, the pictures remind me of my mom - a very spirited Lebanese woman no longer living in the country that made her so colourful, but who might not have been as colourful had she not moved away.

Women against the night.

Meshwar (journey).

Coming to America.

Baalbeck Dabki (Baalbeck is an area and the dabki is a traditional Lebanese dance).

Abaya 2.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mission Manoushe continued...

Mne'eesh are the typical food of taxi drivers. They're super cheap and super filling, so they're normally bought in pairs and a whole meal is made of them. For me, a manoushe is all about the memories. Those summer mornings when Jeddo (my grandfather) used to bring us all a packet full of these yummy delights, spread them out on the table-tennis table and watch as all us kids grabbed our favourite. But Jeddo is no longer with us, and the place he used to purchase them from is very far from me, so I make do with what I can get in the streets surrounding me. Today I went to those I thought would be in the know: taxi drivers. Two of them were sitting outside the petrol station down my road. When I asked them where to find the best manoushe in the area, they both immediately volunteered a loud 'Michel'. Behind the petrol station and down to the left at the first intersection, I smelled the smell of something delicious. It must have been the breakfast of one of the apartment dwellers above, because it sure wasn't Michel's manoushe!

Look: Check out the pic:

Nuf said! I mean, what are those bubbles?!
Smell: Smell? What smell?
Zaatar: Tasteless and not nearly enough sumac.
Dough: Perfectly floured and browned underneath, but so dry when bitten into.
Plus: Nothing really.
Minus: The guy asked whether I was Australian!
Price: LL1 250
Rating: 1/10

Note to self: keep to asking taxi drivers for directions and not for recommendations on food outlets.

If you still don't know what a manoushe is, check out my 10 June entry.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On sale now!

The June/ July issue of Aishti magazine is out and I am so proud to have four articles in this designer-looking issue. I interviewed Silvia Venturini Fendi of Fendi-bag fame, Maher Abillama who's introduced the concept of car wrapping to Lebanon's streets, Ammar Al Beik the Syrian artist with whom I conducted my very first Arabic interview, and then I did a generic feature on three luxury game lodges in South Africa: The Homestead at Phinda, Royal Malewane and the two treehouses at Lion Sands. What's more, I'm featured in the contributors' section! And to top it all off, I received my first fat cheque for all this fun work.

Break time

The thing about freelancing is that on days when you work from home, an entire day could go by without you having set foot outside. Just to make sure I don't get into that kind of rhythm, I like to venture into my neighbourhood and check out different routes. This is what I came across today:

Very fake flowers standing on a street-side windowsill.

Friendly grocer.

Mix-and-match chairs on a construction site.

Covering up from the beating sun.

Arabic graffiti.

Washing lines and electricity lines.

Don't be surprised if this construction site remains like this forever.

Happy home is a shop below ground level selling home goodies like feather dusters.

Retouching a Persian carpet with fabric dye.

If only the army were that good looking...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mobile bling

If driving an Audi TT isn't flashy enough... add crystal bling to the rings and Ts and the circumference of the number plate and, just in case all that goes unnoticed, set your wheels in crystalline motion too!

PS. This shiny piece of work was spotted on a university campus yesterday.

Loony Park

On Saturday night we headed out to Luna Park on the Corniche, a funfair where they were holding the launch party for Shankabook, an interactive web-based TV series filmed in and around Beirut ( It's the world's first web-based Arab drama series and is produced in association with the BBC World Service Trust. It has an awesome musical score, and some of the artists that feature on the soundtrack were there to perform on the night, under the crazy psychedelic colours of the ferris wheel. Even Teta, the old granny from the series (she really is a granny), made an appearance to tell everyone where the bar was.

We had yummy candyfloss on a stick under the ferris wheel.

Teta points out the bar.

Packing it in

I can't actually believe the amount of things I packed into my Friday, that I actually have to show it to you in pictures to prove it! I started off with interviewing a Cuban cigar importer in Downtown. I got lost. But, just as the dear old Table Mountain guided my routes in Cape Town, so the big Hariri mosque shows me the way in town.

From there I walked halfway and then caught a bus to Starbucks on Sassine Square, where I had the best frappe since Cyprus while interviewing two student gals who are fashion designers for their own label Royal Threads in between completing psychology degrees. Check out their cute wedges:

Then it was another bus and a walk to Beirut's Verdun suburb, where I passed this billboard. If your name appears on it, it means I was thinking of you when I took this pic.

In Verdun, I interviewed one of the nicest girls I've met in Lebanon. Her name's Roula Ghalayini and she's the creative force behind her handbag brand Poupee Couture ( She's my age and has made the greatest success out of something that started out with making a bag for herself out of looking for something that could easily be transformed from a day bag to something for the evening. The interview could have gone on forever because it felt like chatting to a friend rather than a 'job'.

This bag is something she created to resemble a Tetris game. It has a chain, but she recommends people only connect it to one side of the bag so that it hangs diagonally and looks like a bag in motion. Don't you love the mix of satin and metal?! This designer lady has even had a supermodel wear one of her bags to LA Fashion Week!

This one is a quirky Arab take on the popular Little Miss brand. It reads 'Little Miss Sahira' (party animal). So in love with it!

Feeling all inspired by these young entrepreneurs in the fashion world (and a lot less homesick than when the day started off with World Cup soccer fever splashed all over Facebook), I headed home to shed a proud tear while watching the opening ceremony, nicely spoilt by the sound of - nope, not vuvuzelas - Arabic and French commentating the whole way through! But before I sat down to watch, I put on my gear...

... and checked up on my flag.

And then I headed to a rooftop restaurant to watch the opening game between South Africa and Mexico, which kept on cutting out because of the Arabic transmission. And they couldn't change to the French channel because all public spaces are forced to show the games on the Arabic channel, Al Jazeera Sport, during the World Cup. Thankfully I got to see Tshabalala score his goal. What a moment!

From there, I headed to Beirut Art Center for a talk by world-acclaimed Palestinian British artist Mona Hatoum relating to her first solo exhibition in Lebanon at the Center after a five-week residency there. I liked her cannon-ball-sized worry beads the most, although I must say that the pieces made out of her own hair (collected under her bed in shoe boxes for six years!) were rather intriguing too!

The night ended with a drink and late-night manoushe at an outdoor arguile joint while unexpectedly catching the second half of the France Uruguay game.

Did anyone ever say you can only do three things in a day? They didn't? Oh well. I proved no one wrong.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mission Manoushe

What was I thinking going on a brownie mission? The brownie mission is not something I should be putting my heart and soul into. My heart and soul deserve something truly Lebanese. Something authentic from the streets of this country. Something even more health defying than a cream-covered chocolate brownie. Something doused in oil and laden with dough. Something called a manoushe. Mmmmm, that's more Lebanesy!
In my quest to find the yummiest manoushe in my neighbourhood, I asked the lady in the tailor shop in my street what she recommends. She's never tried it before, but has heard that Pate Boulanger down the road makes good mne'eesh (plural form).
Here's a pic of the guy making my breakfast today:

Look: Over-browned dough and average amount of oil residue on paper
Smell: Not tempting
Zaatar: Good amount of sumac to give the bitter taste, but thyme was ground too fine and kept falling off
Dough: Too thick, dried out before I finished the meal, and rather tasteless
Plus: Baker asked whether I'd like extra zaatar
Minus: Made in open oven, but I prefer it on the saj
Price: LL1 250
Rating: 5/10

What is a manoushe?
It can best be described as a Lebanese pizza. The dough is usually rolled out very thinly by hand and then spread with zaatar, a mixture of dry thyme, sumac and roasted sesame seeds - all mixed together in a lot of olive oil. There's also a cheese version, but for the purposes of my authentic mission, I shall stick to zaatar mne'eesh.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Job perks

Just when I thought that my days of attending fashionable horse races, sipping wine on some of the larniest Cape estates and travelling to the most luxurious hotels were over (my previous job was rather great for that!), I get asked to write a story about Placebo's visit to Beirut for Gossip magazine (under my pseudonym Veronique Loger - the French version of Veronica Lodge!). I took a chance and asked if that meant I'd get free tickets to the show and, low-and-behold, two wonderful seated tickets appear in my hands, allowing secretive cousin and I great views of the awesome band. I must admit I was not too in tune with Placebo before - besides knowing the songs we all do ('For What it's Worth' and 'Every You Every Me') but they are so well-rated on my bands list now. Brilliant performance and super acoustics in the Beirut Forum. Thanks job perks!

The magazine with perks.

Count your cherries

Yesterday I came across this organic food store, Al Marej. It's not something you see everyday here, and the owner (who happens to be both a farmer and agriculturist) says his is one of a very few such stores in the country. Delighted to see cherries in the fridge, I took them to the till - only to be handed a 10 000LL bill for them! Too embarrassed to discard the R50 pack of yummy fruit, I handed over the yellow-coloured monetary note and fled, afraid of being tempted to buy the organic honey from the owner's farm in Laklouq too! He did promise to add me to his media trip to the organic farm soon. So I'll take that as 10 000 bucks well spent.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Flying high

There's a flag flying from my balcony. It's got the colours of a nation named after the rainbow. A country that has crawled out of black and white holes and is currently jumping around in colourful jubilation, blowing vuvuzelas and doing the diski dance in recognition of a wonderful achievement. South Africa has made it onto the world stage once again. And this time it's not filling newspaper headlines with tragic tales of rape and racism. This week's cover lines shout out about celebration and achievement. The FIFA World Cup is on its way.
Everyone here (well those who actually realise that the tournament they're all interested in is taking place in the same country I come from) asks me why I'm here when all the action is happening back home. My answer is that there's just as much football madness going on here that it might just feel like I'm there next week.
When I left South Africa two months ago, there were no flags being waved yet. But upon landing in Lebanon, I was greeted by cars sporting the emblems of Brazil and Germany. Now more fans have joined in and nearly every country is being represented on the streets. For a nation that doesn't even have a team participating in the tournament, the Lebanese sure know how to play a winning game of support. Pity no one else is backing Bafana Bafana.

Flags are being sold on every street.

And there are hats, towels and other memorabilia too.

Even restaurants are getting in on the spirit.

And so are clothing-store window displays.

Nearly every building has at least one flag flying from its balconies.

And bus drivers are in on the action too!

This is the scooter of one of the pizza joints' delivery guys.

Argentina gets some support.

As does Spain.

Italians go overboard...

...and then Brazilians try to outdo them!

But I think my new purchase outshines them all! Go Bafana!!!