Monday, October 31, 2005

Tell me why

The weekend's over and winter has finally arrived. I can't say I did much this Sunday as on Saturday afternoon I came into possession of a rather large large-screen TV. I went in the morning to get some coffee and fresh bread for breakfast and from the time I got home until late in the evening, I barely moved from the couch. This thing is unbelievable - it has all the bells and whistles and a wireless surround speaker system that has you looking over your shoulder every time it kicks in (but I'm sure I'll get used to that!). I watched every football game I could find, cranking up the volume and almost feeling as if I was there, I threw on DVD's indiscriminately, finding new plot twists and characters in movies I have seen tens of times, it's that clear. I even realised what bad skin the actress who plays Grace in "Will & Grace" has. Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now-Redux is even more menacing than ever and as for Robert's true, Charlie don't surf....
I got online to see what was happening on the news and found myself going back to my TV for confirmation, because hey, if it ain't on my TV, it probably ain't happening. There might be more to life than this, but at the moment I'm not interested.

Syria has agreed to open its own investigation into the Hariri assassination. I know, I laughed as well.
And since we're doing jokes, here's a revival of one of my favourites:
A guy goes backstage at a club in Vegas before a Frank Sinatra show and gets in to see the man.
He says, "Mr. Sinatra, my name is John & I'm at table 7 outside with my girlfriend who is your biggest fan. The thing is that I want to ask her to marry me tonight and if you could possibly swing by my table and act as if you know me, she would surely say yes immediately"
Ol' Blue Eyes, being the supreme gentleman, agrees.
After the show, Frank wanders through the tables nodding and smiling at people until he gets to table 7. He beams, smiles at the fiancee, puts his hands on the man's shoulders and says, "John, buddy, long time no see! How've you been?"
John looks up and says, "Fuck off, Frank, I'm busy."

I don't like Mondays.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Wipe on..... wipe off.

Wow! A head of state calling for the "wiping off the map" of another state. Recently sworn in Iranian President Ahmadinejad made this statement yesterday about Israel which is pretty good going for a country that is trying to be inconspicuous during these times, what with the Syria thing going on. Although the Iranians are masters of rhetoric, this really seems to be crossing the line. They seem to have dug themselves so deep with that statement that they aren't even bothering to backtrack, saying that it has been Iran's official policy for years. What's worrying is that a country that probably has nuclear weapons (or are close to having them) can use such crass, blunt and threatening language towards another nation that is not known for its reticence, that does have nuclear weapons AND is within range.
I tell you, if this thing kicks off I'll be taking a seat at the back of the stands to watch. Way back. About 3,000 miles way back.

The UN is leaking from all over. The investigation into the UN's oil-for-food program shows that it was used and abused like the prettiest sheep in Australia (that's as offensive as I can get at the moment). Russia & France were shown "preferential treatment" from Saddam's Iraq in the form of oil allocations and commissions, and although the French are investigating many of its ministers, current & former, I don't think we'll hear much from Russia. The gem in all of this is that Tariq Aziz, Iraq's then deputy prime minister AND in charge of foreign relations with France, told investigators that "beneficiaries received oil barrel allocations based on their level of opposition to sanctions". So all the French and Russian squawking in opposition was nothing more than white noise to cover the sound of money clinking in their coffers and I assume it got louder or softer depending on budgetary needs.
Either way, the French would have anyway preferred not to go to war.

The Simpsons is being adapted for the Middle East. I wonder how Omar Al-Shamshoom will say this.

I went to Cancun a couple of years ago with a friend of mine - well, about an hour's drive south of Cancun to a place called Tulum. Fantastic little place, beautiful beaches, tropical forests, etc. We got a plain old cabana on the beach for $10 a night and slung our hammocks out on the patio and slept there. There was no electricity, but a generator gave you light until 10pm so it was cold freshwater showers every day. Fresh fish cooked on a beach fire every day, fresh juice and fresh coconuts that drop onto the sand during the night.
Not to belittle the plight of so many people around Cancun after Hurricane Wilma, but a report in the IHT today says that many tourists are still "stranded" there in the conditions I described above. Stranded, my arse. It's 30°C and sunny there.... That's extending a holiday. Next time I go away, I'm going to try that: "I'm sorry, I won't be able to be back at work as see, I'm stranded in Barbados...."

I'm in a bit of a bind for MacDara's Saturday Halloween party. I've contemplated going as myself and saying that I am in fact the G-Man dressed as Desmond, but that will involve making sure the G-Man doesn't turn up. No easy feat if you have ever met the G-Man. I also looked into the possibility of going as the Invisible Man, but that's a little obvious. I'm not one for costumes really, so I may have to brave the barrage of insults and hisses and go as I am just to get to my stool. Maybe I'll sneak some Midleton's with me to calm the seething masses. Maybe.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Norwegian Blue

I think the world is slowly going mad. In England this week they are trying to get a bill through the House of Lords called the Racial & Religious Hatred Bill. While the idea of it is commendable and worthy, the actual practice of it is madness because anyone found guilty of being "insulting or abusive" could be facing a prison term of up to 7 years.

I've called my friends things that are insulting AND abusive based on their race or religion and I still do, while they return the favour tenfold. It doesn't mean that I don't like them or that they don't like me. Now the argument against me could be that I am perpetuating stereotypes and reinforcing negative attitudes and yak, yak, yak but the point is where does it lead?

For example, if I call my friend Tony Soprano a silly Manxman (well, he does support Everton & I'm still being polite) and he's had a bad day at work, could he have me arrested? If I spot a praying mantis in my garden should I keep my mouth shut in case someone takes offence?
In the US, I've seen stickers on plastic bottles of soda warning sugar-crazed morons that "contents are under pressure - open away from face". I've seen Bic lighters bearing the same message but obviously for eyebrow-less morons. I know it's all to prevent the lazy, litigious section of society having their way with corporations and I know it has nothing to do with race or religion but just look how weird that is getting. You spill hot coffee in your lap from a cup that is emblazoned with "CAUTION - CONTENTS HOT" yet you still sue because it didn't specify that the contents were really, really hot. Get a job.

Now, I've been called some harsh things and laughed at some, laughed less at others and returned a few good 'uns but I have never thought about getting the law involved. That's something you save for when you get beaten up in the pub. What a namby-pamby place Britain is starting to be. Besides, if you want to hear some really cruel and harmful stuff, spend a while as a fly on the wall in a schoolyard. That'll put some perspective on it.

While I'm still on the subject, I guess Monty Python's Dead Parrot Sketch must be driving the PC crowd insane with its newfound relevance. Ahem.

What did you call me?

I can hear sirens.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Viva Las Vegas

My folks are safely ensconced in the hedonist's paradise in Nevada with Lindsay, Skye & the Dude and are quite happy with the 10-hour time difference between us. It's weird getting a phone call at 11am here only to hear a really happy voice at the other end just going to bed at 1am there.....apparently they are overlooking the Eiffel Tower.......and Venice..........and Big Ben.........

Things here haven't changed much. The Mehlis report came out and fingered the people and entities responsible so thanks to the judge, he did a good job. On the heels of the report came Syria, Hezbollah and Amal denouncing it as an American & Israeli blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.....same crap, different day.
There was even a huge demonstration in Damascus denouncing the report AND some Lebanese politicians. Irony obviously not being the regime's forte, there was a photo in the paper today of a sign in the Damascus demonstration depicting Marwan Hamadeh (minister who survived a car bomb attack on his convoy, allegedly by Syria), Walid Jumblatt (minister whose father was killed by a Syrian car bomb), Saad Hariri (whose father Rafic was murdered by a Syrian car bomb and whose death the Mehlis report investigated) and Gebran Tueni dressed as, wait for it........rabbis! Yes! I keep going back to that photo and having a good giggle at the sheer idiocy of it.
Of course, it was a spontaneous gathering and everyone was given the day off work there, presumably by the same people who helped Gen. Ghazi Kenaan "retire".....
A few politicians made their way back home after their self-imposed 2-week exile. Not that they were scared or anything but maybe they knew something we didn't. Anyway, their arrival was made the same way as their departure, without notice or announcement. Some had even tried disinformation and announced their return for the end of the week. Priceless.

It seems that MacDara's Midletons poacher has also got my bottle - he must be bloody good because there was no one at home.....except me.....and a whiskey glass. Now I'll have to get another bottle to see if I can trap him this time.

On a lighter note, a Beirut landmark has reopened. The Beirut Cellar is apparently functioning under new management after being closed for quite a while. It's been revamped, redecorated and a new menu added. I'm just assuming that all this newness means you won't be insulted by the UNBELIEVABLY rude staff while being poisoned by the kitchen, all the while drinking Beirut's most expensive bottle of Almaza. And don't send me angry emails with your rose-tinted memories of the place because as far as I remember, it only managed to stay open when it was the only place in the area.
Having said that, heartfelt good luck to the new owners.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Time to tango

So here we are at the weekend again. Syria has been unmasked, fingers have been pointed and it seems that Dubya is on the warpath again. I think that everyone here knew what was going to be in the report because after 30 years of living under Syrian tutelage, we've become accustomed to the clues. Every murder more brutal than the next and with frankly very little attempt to cover their tracks except the acquiescence of their stooges here to deny everything. They got so lulled by the comfort of their total power that they didn't move with the times - they thought they could keep on using their brutal ways and no one would ever say anything.
Finally, they got caught in their own about poetic justice. It should be fun over the next few days watching the various levels of the regime scream & squawk their innocence and try to belittle the report by calling it an "American trick" or "an Israeli endgame".
I intend to watch a lot of football over the weekend, with the occasional news report for good balance, and drink an awful lot. Where's MacDara?
It's time for Syria to face the music.
Bring on the band.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Head for the hills?

In the run up to the release of the Mehlis report, people are understandably feeling a little nervous and apprehensive. I realize that in Lebanon anything is possible at any time whether good or bad and in the course of the past 20 years or so we have witnessed it all, first hand. My parents, especially my dad, were here through it all apart from the occasional short stay in London when it really got too much to bear. I was away at school during much of that time and only came back here for the holidays but then was here more permanently when I went to the AUB and now work in the family business. My point is that since '81 or '82, my folks have been stalwarts and have never fled the country - they always travel, sure, especially now that one of my sisters and her husband and baby are living in the USA. So it worries me that after all they stayed here through, they have chosen this weekend to start a month-long holiday a long way from here. It worries me because my dad's been quite vocal about taking extra care when out & about during this time, lots of tsk-ing & sucking of teeth when I go to the pub to watch my lovely Chelsea play, and now he's going for a month - the first half very far away and the second half, half as far away...
"The two are not related", he assures me, making sure their travel arrangements are all in place for the day after the report's release, "everything will be fine, we've had this planned for a long time...."

And to be fair, it has been planned for a while.....ever since the report's release date was announced. So I guess that's ok. Not to worry.

Monday, October 17, 2005

My favourite season

Autumn made its first appearance yesterday. Actually, as every year, autumn just popped in to introduce winter. I know this because it pissed with rain, the roads flooded, my electricity went off, the Gemmayze "ishtirak" generator took an hour to get started, my landline went dead, I lost my satellite connection (both internet and TV) and a huge Cadillac SUV spectacularly wrapped itself around a lamppost outside Spinney's supermarket in Achrafieh. Not that the SUV thing is the seasonal equivalent of sparrows and summer but it seems that as soon as it rains for the first time in 7 months, nobody thinks that the going may be a little slick. Tailgating becomes Death Race 2000. Surely it's a no-brainer to be extra careful?
Today is sunny and 25ÂșC.

Returning to Gen. Ghazi Kanaan's death, I just finished reading a biography on Rommel, who was probably Hitler's finest tactician, the Desert Fox and all that. He was part of a group of top generals that tried to assassinate Hitler but failed. He was given the option of facing a military tribunal, execution and the "disappearance" of his family or....... killing himself and getting full military honours and a hero's burial. He took the poison they gave him. Before the angry emails, the only parallels I'm drawing are between their deaths. How life imitates, well, life really.

On another kind of blue, Chelsea once again walked all over the competition but only after getting a deserved dressing down from Mad Mourinho. Nice to see them hitting their stride.

Right, I'm off to work.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


As if we didn't have enough to worry about, this weekend brings the news that the deadly strain of bird flu, H5N1 has entered the European continent. Lovely. That's an awful lot closer than Thailand. One of the unproven theories is that it travels with migrating birds, in whose path Lebanon lies. The Lebanese government's solution is to ban people from shooting at flocks of migrating birds. Again.

We used to have fantastic flying-V formation migrations directly over Beirut and instead of gawping in awe at nature's genius, we Lebanese would go for our guns. Ah yes, nothing like the smell of cordite to accompany such a display. Families would bring out their entire armoury and let all the family have a crack - from BB guns to bazookas. ("Here, ya ibnee, put it on full automatic").
The flying-V would become a flying-\ /, a flying- and finally a flying-" ".

Who cares what kind of bird it was, it was a fair target, guv.

On a lighter note, I've discovered the joys of Midleton's Irish whiskey, the jewel in the crown of the Jameson's distillery, (thanks to Aideen & MacDara), and Romeo & Juliet Cedros deluxe No.1 (thanks to my dad).
This weekend, I shall mostly be very happy.

Enjoy yours.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Sorry, officer?

I've been here way too long to be getting angry at the way things are done here but the useless inflating of the national debt through the purchase of road signs is just too much to stomach.

I mean, what's the point of strategically placing no entry signs and one-way signs on one-way streets? No parking signs on busy roads? No U-turn signs at traffic lights? Come to think of it, why bother with traffic lights anyway? The only times they ever work is when they have a white-gloved policeman underneath them using some inscrutable logic to misdirect everyone, and even then only when he's finished talking on his cellphone or chatted to his friends in cars coming from the opposite direction - and of course, never ever before he's finished his smoke.....

This morning on my way to work, a policeman working the crossroads at the Sofil centre stopped traffic in all 4 very busy directions just to help the friend he had spent a while talking to in the middle of the road make a U-turn right under the fairly prominent no U-turn sign. I hate to nag and harp about these petty things (says he, nagging & harping...), but to stretch anyone's patience the cretin then ended up making a 60-point turn and then HE gets upset when 3000 drivers lean on their horns. Only a driver experienced at navigating these roads could pull a U-ie and give a high finger to all 4 compass points in turn, while simultaneously giving the wrist-swivelling "shou bek?" gesture. If I wasn't so utterly pissed off I'd have been impressed. Oh wait, in retrospect I am.
And your policeman? Smoking a fag on the side of the road, giving a 1000-yard stare to something in the opposite direction. Now that's impressive.

Welcome to my country.

The civic sense? I see stupid people.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

If I were a rich man....

Just wanted to put up a link to this brilliant article, Syria after Lebanon. Good, hard, corrolated facts.... hmmm, it all makes sense now....

Dot, dot, dash, dash, dot....

News of General Ghazi Kanaan's death was met with a somewhat muted response amongst my acquaintances yesterday here in Beirut. I wasn't expecting street parties but I imagined this thought-provoking news would have led to some discussion. After all, this is the man who was basically in charge of Lebanon for 20 years, responsible for those wonderful times. He had called a radio station in Beirut with his final statement claiming innocence or ignorance of any Syrian oppression or crime in Lebanon. Did he know they were coming for him or was the Lebanon situation really "weighing on his mind"? Pfft. I hope this isn't the start of yet another new violent trend.

Went to the pub yesterday to watch England finally put on a footballing display that reflected their £206 million combined worth. Eriksson may have at last found a decent midfield without totems Beckham or Gerrard. Also, next year will be the 40th anniversary of our winning the cup.....could this truly spooky coincidence mean it's going to happen again?? We'll probably beat Brazil and then get bumped out by Togo in true England style...Nice to be back with the usual reprobates after our Cyprus jaunt......
In order, .... the G-Man (our resident international superhero), Tony Soprano (our muscle, and the man who gets things done "that way"), MacDara (inimitable, elusive soothsayer), Kenny Rogers (comic relief and all round good bloke, son)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Here's a tip...

I don't know how half the people put up with the utter rudeness which seems to be endemic in our fair land (I say half, because the other half seem to be unaware of it or simply unfazed).
Just came back from Cyprus after watching the Ireland-Cyprus World Cup qualifier with MacDara, Tony Soprano, Kenny Rogers and the G-Man.......arriving back here at the airport, I went to get myself a luggage trolley and was kindly rolled one from the huge line of them by an airport worker in overalls. I beamed a smile at him, nodded my head in thanks and was subsequently shocked to hear him mutter to his friend the arabic equivalent of "stingy knob".....about me.
Now, I don't consider myself a stingy person by any stretch of the imagination, but does rolling a trolley 3 feet really constitute a tippable job well done?? Of course, his real mistake was thinking I wasn't Lebanese and the attitude does come over me sometimes like David Naughton's pelt on a full moon. Cue torrent of abuse plus a few pointers on customer service. Consider that a job well done.
Oi!!! Where's my bloody tip?