On a bookshop where time stood still

There was a bookshop on the corner of Rue Saint Jacques and Rue Soufflot in the 5th arrondissement of the capital. That’s somewhere between the Panthéon and the Jardin du Luxembourg for those who have yet to visit the city of light.

It was one of those places where time seemed to have stopped. Or more like a place where time would sit back and share a glass of Porto with the owner. Yes, Porto, because that’s what the owner would be having. The man was somewhat old, but time had a tendency to relax itself in the bookshop, so I could never really tell. He seemed to be of Levantine origins, but again, I could not say for sure. His bookshop was open seven days a week. He had all the time in the world.

We would pay a visit from time to time, usually on Sundays, spending some time looking for books, or records more often than not, before hitting the Soufflot street down to the Luxembourg garden. Part of the tradition, informally agreed but strongly enforced, was to share a glass of Porto with the owner as time stood still. The ritual came to be when he realized we were Levantines too, although the subject was never brought up and our country of origin never had any place in the conversation. Very few words were ever spoken actually. Out of concern for Time taking a nap in the background maybe, who knows…

And one day, a Sunday as usual, we found the bookshop closed. It would never open again. We did not see it coming…

As it happens to be, I come from a country which, like the bookshop, seemed to have struck a deal with Time. Living there was kind of easy despite all the problems rooted in the after-war Lebanese way of being. Kind of, because we knew deep down inside that we were living on borrowed time but still, it seemed as if the passage of time would never bring forward the mayhem one would normally expect for a country eaten by corruption to an extent you could only try to imagine. Talking of a deal…

And so, things kept on rolling just fine in this sunny Levantine country and every day came with its glass of Porto to enjoy. We ended up believing that judgment day would never come. And indeed, we did not see it coming.

Hell broke loose on a Tuesday evening.

Time was up.

Let the board sound


On guns

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The second amendment of the United States constitution is traditionally and widely understood to protect the right for individuals to possess firearms. It was ratified on December 15, 1791 but it was only in 2008 that the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed for the first time that “the second amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home“.

People in the United States did not wait for this clarification to start owning firearms obviously. It is estimated by the Small Arms Survey that there were 120 firearms for every 100 civilians in the United States in 2017, for a population of 326 millions. Top of the list. 
Boy would you think homes are safe with such a ratio.

But you see, a gun can be as lethal to you when you are on the wrong side of its barrel as when you are on the right side of it, for a gun is effective as a life taking device, but not really as a threat. Indeed, when facing an imminent threat to your life, say an armed burglary, waving a gun and just threatening to use it will probably get you killed, as it gives the threat in front of you an extremely strong incentive to shoot first.  And the threat will not miss. You probably will. You are not that proficient at shooting, let’s face it. OK, you have a couple of guns you keep in a safe box, still, I bet you cannot even remember the last time you were at a shooting range.
But guess what, the imminent threat in front of you was there yesterday, and the day before, and will be there tomorrow. But not you if he sees his plans through, especially if you wave a gun at him. Or her. A gun does not have a sex.
It does not have a soul either. So be prepared to either take a soul with it or give one up. No compromise, no in-between.  

Finally, before you take the path to the dark side, think of this: less guns on the street means less chances of running into one and less likelihood to find yourself on the wrong side of a gun barrel. Or on the right side of it, but I guess it is all the same because neither will do you any good.

Let the board sound
and drop the gun

On revolution

Dear Revolutionary

Wherever you are, you would be glad to know that Revolution today is a word on everyone’s lips in a small country on the verge of oblivion in the middle east.

Photo by Joe Kassis

According to your fellow Lebanese revolutionaries, revolution is the only way forward, the last chance for their homeland. I can hear that. For many of those, “religion and religious affiliation are the mothers of all disasters happening to this country”. Not a very surprising point of view for a country where 18 sects representing a little north of 4 million people are trying to cohabit for better or worse, without too much bloodshed.

For many others, “we need to burn everything at the stake and rebuild the country from scratch”. 

So what’s the plan? How will you pull it off? With what would you rebuild it? With revolutionary ideals or whatever that is you had been daydreaming about in your long and boring calculus classes back when a US dollar was still worth 1507 Lebanese liras, and which you think you can put to action now that the country is ready for them? 

No my friend, you need resources to rebuild a country. Dollars that is.  And fresh. Don’t go burning these…

You also need people on your side and guess what, most people in Lebanon still define themselves by the religion or sect to which they are affiliated, and this reality cannot just be canceled by slogans like “religion is evil”. Besides, regardless of your own opinion, dismissing religious affiliation in the political arena and the people who hold on to it is a complete disregard to a majority of Lebanese who, like you and me, want the best for their kids, their families, their communities and yes, their country, believe it or not. They just have not read Marx yet, or whoever got you and me on the revolution track in the first place, and probably never will. Irreconcilable differences you could say, except divorce is not an option if you want to rebuild the country. 

I guess what I am trying to say is that building a country on the premise of religious affiliation is probably not a good idea but disposing of a country because it is built on such premises sounds a bit over the edge. Yes, some things must go, but some things are good enough to stay. And some just cannot go, because people are not ready to let them go, or because it would be too high a price to pay.

So how about finding common ground, a common project for the Lebanese and their country which transcends religion affiliation? I am sure that if we brainstorm for 15 minutes, we can come up with a couple of ideas worth starting with. They can be around Lebanese international influence through the expatriates network. Imagine what could lie behind such an idea with regards to the current sclerotic citizenship law, the expatriates voting rights and the Lebanese diplomacy in general. They can be around the environment and becoming an energy independent country. We have sun, we have water, we have brains. They can be around becoming an education and research regional hub once again. Or about becoming a health regional hub again. More than a regional hub actually, and why not. Any or all of these. Ideas which have nothing to do with pointing fingers and finding scapegoats. Stuff around which people can gather.

We need new blood to uphold these ideas of course, not the old guard currently in place and in this sense, I cannot agree more to a revolution. However,

Dear Revolutionary

One last thing, before the board sounds. I can hear frustration in you. I can hear it in me. I might even hear hate. And there is but a tiny step between frustration and hating your country and many of your fellow Lebanese which you hold responsible for the great collapse. It is easy to blame those you deem to be bigots or extremists or immoral vicious scum or whatever you want to call them when the real enemy is lurking behind. You know it, you’ve known it all your life. It transcends race, sex and religion, bigots, extremists and scum. 

Dear Revolutionary

Corruption is the opium of the people. Corruption is the enemy.

Fight corruption. 

Heal people.

Let the board sound


On a cup of coffee

Or what closure might feel like

Photo by Anna Urlapova

We meet after all these years over a cup of coffee

No more sorrows, no more tears, bitter-sweet memories

Time has gone by, years have flown, rain has fallen, winds have blown

I’ve been waiting for so long, now you’re here let’s sing along

All those things I want to say, all those words you need to hear

Do not worry do not fear, no hard feelings, sky is clear

 After all ‘s been said and done, after all that we’ve become

After all the wasted time, broken dreams, shattered lives

We meet after all these tears over a cup of coffee

No more anger, no more grief, just a lonely melody

Life has gone by, friends are gone, we’ve grown older, we’ve grown cold

I’ve been waiting for so long, I’m too numb to carry on

We meet after all these years over a cup of coffee

I wish you all the best, I want you to be happy

Let the board sound