I am not an outspoken extravert as people in this craft can be. I am not a raging bull claiming victories on the battlefield. I am no legend, I hold no magic. Others are cut from that miracle cloth, I am just warm durable denim. And maybe just worn-out not-so-durable denim. I don’t know anymore.
I have been doing this for a while now. A long while. It has taken its toll on me. Still, when the weight of the years is too much to bare, I try to remind myself. There was a time when I enjoyed doing what I did. It made sense. I could see it leading me somewhere.
You can find my seal in many places around the world. It is imprinted on the dozens of battlefields where I silently lead the troops to victory. It is barely noticeable. Stardust. But it is definitely there. It is by no means a magic seal, its purpose is not to dazzle. It is only supposed to make things work. To do the job. To bring soundness within reach so that “sound” stops being a luxury in these realms and starts to become a standard.
I do not find my craft to give meaning to my life, nor is it a vector of self fulfillment anymore, as maybe a doctor healing people or an explorer pushing the boundaries of the great human adventure would see theirs. Still, I enjoy the memories, and I have so many of them that they must amount to something.
I learnt so much on the road, I met so many people, overcame so many challenges. I can still remember the fun over the years, even across the crisis, the pandemics, and the inevitable passage of time. A dull walk in the parc would not have yielded so many tales.
I am so tired of the battles. I don’t know if I can lead one anymore, if I can fall back on my feet no matter how high the fall, no matter how shaky the ground. If there is still fun ahead. It is all about that in the end. How much fun can this old knight squeeze out of the remaining time to serve. I guess I will never know if I do not try. One last time.
A small angel with a smile which only a child can make so sweet
September 2015. A small angel washes up dead on the Turkish shores. The most sacred of all had just been trampled by the powerful, the greedy and the fool. He was two years old.
He was wearing a red T-shirt, probably the Mystery Space Riders T-shirt he wore in another picture of him cheering in a playground, as only a child can cheer. He was radiant. It might have been his favorite T-shirt. It became his shroud.
“He is in a better place now”.
It depends of course on your belief in an afterlife or the lack thereof. One thing is for sure though.
We are in a worse place now.
There are household names and less known names signing articles on this platform. Maybe they only write to promote candidates for local elections. Maybe they only write to promote playlists and movies they played or watched in 2022. Maybe they only write on how to write to make a couple of bucks. Maybe they never read anything published out there. Maybe they just don’t care.
But maybe they do.
So here it is, sealed in a virtual bottle and entrusted to the meanders of an ocean of electrons and bits, my rant for the new year.
Love the children in your life, whether they are yours, or just nephews, neighbors, or complete strangers you happen to walk by on your way to work. It will make you a better person and this world a better place.
On a cold Christmas eve in 1914, somewhere in Europe
My friends. My brothers.
The mightier the adversity, the faster the peel, and it looks as though the layers are indeed peeling off, one after the other, and fast.
Assertiveness, confidence, politeness, civility. Gone. Kindness, humor, sympathy. Gone too. Carelessness, compromission, cowardice, greed. Yup, we’re past them now. All protection pads in a way, all expendables. All eventually peeling off.
Sadness, anger, rage. Wrath.
And then you reach the Blade. Naked. Sharp. Ready and willing to cut through anything and anyone standing in its way.
The Blade is the main driver, behind all others. It is the firewall of survival, inscribed in your deepest self since the dawn of time, and ultimately defining what you are, a mortal in conflict with mortality.
In our dire situation, it may seem to you that the Blade is the only master worth obeying. That bowing to it is not even a yes or no alternative, but a where and when one. That giving in to the Blade is redundant. It already has you. It already owns you. That it is just a question of peeling enough layers. A matter of pressure and time. And time is nearly up now.
Dear friends. Dear brothers in arms. It is getting dark and cold and I have little time left. I will cut to the chase before it is too late.
I pray that whatever the Blade is screaming to your ear right now, you can still hear a whisper of reason, you know, the one trying to tell you that it does not have to be this way.
Listen. It is carried by the wind across the no man’ land. Christmas Carols in Deutsch. And a distant voice calling for a truce. A Christmas Truce.
“Good evening Englishman, a merry Christmas, you no shoot, we no shoot”
And so it went on this Christmas eve in 1914, somewhere in the trenches on the Western Front amidst one of the deadliest conflicts, a moment of peace and fraternity against all odds, which went down in history as the Christmas Truce, thanks to a few men who turned a deaf ear to the calling of the Blade and chose a different path.
En Français because it happened in French. But not in France. True story
Hop on folks, there’s still room for more people.
Em… We’ll take the next one. See ya later…
Hmm. That’s weird! Why did they snob us all of a sudden?
Ah! Bonjour madame. Vous parlez français.
Oui! J’adore cette langue. D’ailleurs, j’ai fait mes études en France. Et je dirige la boite.
Silence. Stupeur. Un ange passe. Et la lumière fut!
Ah! Nous sommes donc avec la CEO de la boite!
Eh oui, c’est bien moi.
Puis, se tournant vers la seule personne dans l’ascenceur dont les oreilles sont sourdes au français, et très élégamment:
Oh I am so sorry to be speaking in French but I love this language so much and have very few opportunities to speak it.
No worries, I still have to learn it. Procrastination, you know… (avec un grand sourire, et ne réalisant vraiment pas ce qui se passe)
Et vous venez de France?
Et que faites-vous chez nous?
Nous sommes les consultants du vendor, nous sommes là pour la définition de la phase 2.
Ah! Oui! C’est un programme très important pour nous! Bon courage à vous! Je descends ici. Très enchantée!
Nous de même! Bonne journée!
Dude! You just missed a conversation with the CEO of the biggest bank in the country!
Dude! You should really learn French!
So, dear readers, maybe you should consider learning French. You might never bump into a French speaking CEO in an elevator, but then again, who knows? And at least, you will be able to enjoy this story without google translate.
She opened the locker. Three years had gone by. So much had happened since the last time the locker was locked, so much had changed in the world. In her world too. She did not remember the lock code anymore and had to have it broken. She would come to remember later that it was the birth date of someone dear to her heart. 0804.
You could write a book about the locker and its content. It was a microcosm of her life before the pandemic, before the illness. But first stood out the names. Dozens of names, some old, Germaine, Pierre, Eugénie, some younger, Nicolas, Aurélie, Chloé, and some from elsewhere, Farida, Evgueny, Mauro. They came from all over the world and from all walks of life. They did not share much, except having been really ill, at the doorsteps of the world after.
She would stick their names on the back of the locker, praying for those undergoing surgery, remembering those who did not make it and cheering for those who did. Many of the names were testaments to the miracles that modern medicine and its practitioners were able to achieve, especially when all hope seemed to be lost.
Those she cared for were here on a last chance. They came to undergo the stuff of magic, which are procedures closer to science fiction if you fancy a less irrational description, but all the same if you asked her, because magic is what it really took to save these lives in dire situations.
People on whom medicine would have given up a few years ago, or even a few kilometers away, had a chance here. A reasonable chance. And I like to think her touch contributed greatly. She was the last face they saw before the great ordeal, a great responsibility which she did not take lightly.
She did everything she could to deliver them smiling and fearless to the magic procedure which was supposed to mend them. Most made it through because a smile, a pinch of hope and a prayer are powerful spells too, maybe the most powerful of all.
She stood there, in front of the locker, memories rushing through her. She remembered her colleagues, many of whom had retired or moved on to other endeavors. She remembered the pandemic, her illness, and felt the toll that these three years had taken on her.
She remembered the old days, some happy, some sad, and all the hard times that had shaped her into the sharp professional she once was and never stopped to be, even with the past three years weighting on her shoulders.
All she needed to do now was to enter into the cold white light and take her place in the magic procedure of wizards bringing back to life those who had no other alternative than their magic.
She closed the locker, scrubbed up, donned the gown, and with her magic wand in hand, she went on saving lives, in honor of the names in the locker from a previous life.
To my lovely Rita, and to all the wizards, Elie, Stephan, Saïd, Emre, Joy, Olaf, Dominique, Philippe, Julien, Ramzi, Sacha, Régine, Sebastien, Bechara, Iolanda, Pierre, and the many others doing miracles at the edge of science and magic, to save lives which are otherwise doomed.
Don’t even blink, it will be so fast you might miss it
All my life I’ve been running. From bullies, from teachers, from shame, and later from hunger, from bullets, from cops.
I’ve been running after elusive hassles, and more often than not after a loaf of bread, when you’ve been running the course of honors. I’ve been running on an empty stomach, bare feet on the cold concrete, when you were running after a world record in 500 dollar-running shoes. I was running after my life while you were rushing to the podium, running for gold and eschewing silver.
But now, things have changed. I am the underdog. It took a lot of blood and tears. It took a lot mockery from people like you, to whom I may not look like much, with my tired borrowed sneakers, to whom I may not sound like much with my weird accent, in this lingua franca of the 21st century I can barely speak. I can hear it in your laughs.
The Olympic games were never the same ever since. This guy just came out of nowhere and destroyed the 100m sprint in just 33 steps, with a headwind of -1.6m/s.
The time it took him? 07:81 seconds. The previous record of 09:58 seconds had stood unscathed for more than thirty years. The 100-meter sprint lost its shine after that, and most sprint athletes turned to other disciplines. No one could fathom this new world record. It was too great a goal to reach. It was way beyond what mere mortals could hope to achieve.
One can only wonder. He had been racing great contenders day in day out, maybe the greatest of all contenders you can encounter in a lifetime. Misery. Adversity. And for once, just for once, he was not racing for his life.
Si le ciel et la mer sont noirs comme de l’encre, nos cœurs que tu connais sont remplis de rayons!
Some folks seem to have this rather unique feature of being able to play surgeon on their own soul. They seem to have more awareness of their inner gears and levers, and they write about life as they know it in a very unique style, which I can only describe as Satiric Spleen with a pinch of Smiley Melancholy, if that makes any sense. Like trying to frame the absurdity of life in deadpan humor.
Yes, life can sound like tragedy met with quiet laugh. Life is absurd if you bother to think about it for a couple of minutes. We should not even be here. Life hangs to such tiny probabilities that our very existence is a challenge to the universe. But the real question is mind twisting.
Could the universe even exist if there was no life to witness it?
Could the universe exist if it was not imagined?
So yeah, Satiric Spleen with a pinch of Smiley Melancholy, until you realize at some point, albeit with a bit of irony, that your life, this miserable and finite comedy, might still underpin the existence of a universe.
And then, standing at the doorstep of this realization, would you not long for something else? Would you not reach further and try to find some kind of hope? Hope that Life itself, with a big L, is at the inception of this universe and that we hold parts of it in us?
Some would call it God. I know I would. It makes much more sense that way.
If you are wondering about the French subtitle, it is an excerpt of a poem by Charles Baudelaire, which I thought befits the state of ming of a satirist spleener indulging in smiley melancholy. Here is a part of it.
Ô Mort, vieux capitaine, il est temps ! levons l’ancre ! Ce pays nous ennuie, ô Mort ! Appareillons ! Si le ciel et la mer sont noirs comme de l’encre, Nos cœurs que tu connais sont remplis de rayons !
Verse-nous ton poison pour qu’il nous réconforte ! Nous voulons, tant ce feu nous brûle le cerveau, Plonger au fond du gouffre, Enfer ou Ciel, qu’importe ? Au fond de l’Inconnu pour trouver du nouveau !
This essay was inspired to me by the stories of Mike Knittel, great surgeon of the human soul and inner gear specialist before the eternal. Oh and a masterful satirist spleener who takes you to introspective depths with few words, a pinch of Satire, and a tea spoon of irony.
I met her on a cold winter evening. She was laying on the sidewalk, in the pouring rain, abandoned there by her last abuser. She was visibly broken by years of hardship. The old scars were still visible. The more recent ones were alarming.
I was in my car rushing somewhere when I saw her. I picked her up before the reaper did. She had many broken bones and a dislocated hip, which seemed to have been treated by less than qualified surgeons. Battle wounds really.
We would share stories over a cup of coffee with an orange peel every evening for the next week or two. I would tell her the tales of a small country on the verge of oblivion, and bit by bit, she would tell me her story, or at least the parts she could speak about without putting to jeopardy whatever sanity she had left. I had to figure out the rest.
I took her in and cared for her. She started to open up when the fog and doziness of homelessness lifted, but more so when she realized she could stay for as long as she wanted. She was safe here.
She was born in East Germany, during the cold war. Blonde, feminine, not as tall as you would expect, which suits me fine. And one could guess she once had a warm alto voice. The thing is, by the time I met her, she had not sung anything meaningful in years and her voice was only the shadow of what it used to be.
She had probably been an artist in a previous life, or longed to be one. She could have had to leave the totalitarian state where she was born, her art having become too heavy to bear behind the Iron Curtain. Or could she have been given up for adoption at birth, moving in and out of foster care until coming of age? Whatever it might have been, the life she was made to live took quite an expensive toll on her.
I tried to bring back the shine she had lost over years of sorrow and abuse, and I think I did a pretty decent job. I cleaned her up, put her back to shape, oiled her fretboard, refurbished her tuning mechanism, set her up with new strings and gradually tuned her to pitch. I left the scars though, as a tribute to her survival on a more than dodgy path, and they make her beauty stand out. She has been my go-to guitar ever since.
I do not know who played her before me or what was her repertoire back in the days. She never told me and probably never will. I just hope that she finds my music interesting enough, and I think she does. Otherwise, she would not bless me with this warm alto voice of hers when I play her.
Here she is, as if waiting for me to fix her a drink. Enough with coffee, even with an orange peel. She likes Bourbon. Fair enough. So do I.
This is all it takes to get to Disneyland Paris by public transportation, from the center of Paris. Five euros.
The price of five baguettes, the local bread around here, enough to shelter a family from hunger for another day or two.
The price of 3 liters of gas at the current market price, or that of a regional train ticket, enough to go check on your grandpa. Enough to rush a neighbor to emergency on a dark winter night.
That’s a fair enough amount you could donate to charity, and get back 3.3 euros in tax credit if you happen to live in France.
A rose to your better half will set you back five euros, a well spent amount in my humble opinion, for it is through the small gestures and signs of love that relationships last.
Dear friend, on your way to Disneyland, remember that happiness is easy to spread, and that happy people are contagious. So do enjoy your day as much as you can. It will refuel you enough to make the world a little happier, and this is worth at least the five euros you would have spent to get there.
And still, beyond that, make sure to keep five euros worth of warmth on you. Five euros of compassion. Who knows, they might come in handy.
They may save someone’s life. They may make someone’s day.
And why October 6th is as good a day as any to write about August 4th
April 4th saw the coming of age of Senegal from its infancy as a French colony. May 4th saw the rebirth of Latvia after a (rather long) stint as a Soviet puppet. June 4th is Tonga’s Emancipation date. July 4th saw the birth of the United States of America.
August 4th though, was a sentencing hearing for the citizens of a small country on the verge of oblivion. 218 people were found guilty of belonging to this poor country and obliterated immediately. 7000 others were found guilty of being ordinary citizens minding their own business, and were put to the Question. Some lost a limb or two. Or three. Some lost their minds.
Some lost a child.
The remaining 300,000 suspects were found guilty of various offences and misdemeanors, and were stripped of their homes and possessions. Many were stripped of loved ones. A daughter. A sister. An uncle. Alexandra. Christelle. Tony.
And we, the Lebanese diaspora, stood and watched helpless, as the sixth largest artificial non-nuclear explosion destroyed the capital of our home country and whatever illusions of hope we still had by then.
Justice was not served, in case you are wondering.
I should have written this post on August 4th. Obviously, I did not. August 4th sounds to me like a perfect date to put candles as a profile picture on your social media, and write something like “On est tous Beyrouth” or “Never forget, never forgive” to feel good about yourself for a day and then move on, until the next year.
Some will stand by the motto they wrote on their facebook profiles. Many others, who will never forget and never forgive on August 4th, will have forgotten and forgiven by May 15th, right on time to elect the same scum we had been served over and over for the past decades, give or take.
If you’ve been reading me for a while, you have probably guessed the setting. It is past midnight and I am sipping an espresso with an orange peel, as usual, when I am invoking this small country on the verge of oblivion.
October 6th is as good a day as any to write about August 4th. October 6th is as good a day as any to remember.
Is it a good day to forgive though? Is there a day to forgive? Nothing is less sure.
And a ray of contagious light, travelling the universe
So, there was this guy. He was shining. A ray of bright light. All who bumped into him were touched by his light and for a while, became alight themselves, and this light was contagious.
When his time came and he left for a better place, they uncovered a diary he seemed to have been keeping. Not really a diary, more like bits and pieces of inner thoughts intertwined with some lament.
It turned out the guy had no light inside whatsoever. He had been walking in darkness the whole time. A deep well of despair and loneliness, a constant yet unfruitful search for an ever-elusive ray of sunshine. His writings left no doubt about it.
So where did the light come from?
It came from every wrong turn he took because those who knew better never gave him the right advise.
It came from every piece of bread he would be denied when starving at the side of the road.
It came from every border he could not cross, every job he could not get, every opportunity he would lose because of who he was and where he came from.
It came from every failure, every broken dream, every sleepless night, it came from the indifference he had faced when most in need of human warmth.
You see, this guy was carrying the curse that others, more worthy of it, did not wish to carry. He was burdened with crying all the tears they would not cry anymore.
A burden chosen with care, a curse embraced with full prior knowledge, for he had already been there before, took the wrong turn, cried the bitter tear, begged for a piece of bread, a job, an opportunity. He had been left outside in the cold when others were boarding first class.
Broken dreams had been daily bread for as long as he could remember, and from the rumbles of his dreams and the ashes covering his days and nights, he found the strength to shine, not on others, but for others, to make their lives a little bit warmer.
This constant shining got the best of him. He died of exhaustion on a sidewalk on a cold November evening.
Those who knew him quickly forgot hit legacy, if they ever knew it, and save for his writings, nothing remains of him today.
Except, maybe, a ray of contagious light, still travelling the universe.
Every good writer is irremediably flawed inside, irremediably wounded. From the wound pours the writing, from the flaw flows the magic. Anything else makes them a poser.
The writer I am talking about is not good. He is exceptional.
One can only try to imagine the depth of the wound or the flaw, whatever you want to call it, that drives him to write the way he does. It goes so deep it will survive its bearer, through his writings and the indelible impressions it leaves on the readers.
I am of course in no position to comment any of his stories. They stem from realities and experiences only he can fathom. I am but a spectator in awe.
What I can say though is, first, that his flaw is very defining, that it drives his craziness, if I may call it that, but also his unconditional love to those around him and is at the pinnacle of his genius, and second, that those who have loved much should be forgiven much.
And that wounded as he may be, it is through his wound that he is most perfect.
For what they’re worth, my two cents, and my deepest respect and appreciation.
So I wake up on lottery day, with a weird idea wandering in my sleepy mind, as if speaking to me.
“Say you win the lottery today, would you give it all up, all the 154,000,000.00 euros, for no reason whatsoever?”
“OK, how about giving it up for a cause? What would it be?”
Children. Without a doubt.
Children are the most precious resource in this universe. They are the only hope this world has, and yet, they are so vulnerable and need so much attention and love, both of which are scarce, both of which are fading away.
So many children are suffering out there, so many children dying alone, hungry, miserable, out in the cold. Children do not have what it takes to fight back. They have their parents of course, but parents can only do so much when they have not eaten in days, when they have lost their job, their roof, their dignity. All they can do is love their children even more, hug them closer in the cold street they now call home, until the reaper comes for one or the other, and that’s about it.
Children are resilient, much more than you’d think. But resilience only comes in handy if the sole enemy they were facing was adversity. Children face more aggressive foes than adversity. They face preying scum who care little about them as poor little human beings, and more about the buck they can make on their backs. They will enslave them, sell them as cheap labor, or body parts, or both, or simply use them as shoot’em up material. It hurts reading this I guess. It sure hurt me writing it.
“So, back to our lottery. Would you give up your winnings for the sake of children?”
Yes! Most of it at least.
“Most of it?”
Yeah, you know, I might keep a little for the mortgage, and a little for retirement, and I would use a portion to set up a foundation to cater for the children in need. And then…
And then it dawned on me. I will never run out of good reasons to keep a stack of money aside, and the children can always have what is left. Which is nothing. And then I understood that this idea wandering in my mind was actually a call. A wake-up call.
The wake-up call
What it says is that easy money rots you inside out. That you will not have enough wisdom and detachment to keep your head cool and your ethics intact. That every penny you keep to yourself would end up burning your soul, because as long as there are people looking for solace out there, as long as there are children sleeping in the streets, every penny you keep from the lottery winning would be a curse to you and your loved ones.
So no, I will not have it in me to give it away, but I am grateful I have enough brains to realize this much about myself.
I know this idea might sound outright crazy to many if not most, and I sure know there is nothing wrong or unethical in winning lottery and enjoying it. It was a very personal wake-up call, tailor-made to that little brain of mine, and it made me take a very personal decision, which, of course, might or might not be right for everyone, but it sure feels right to me.
Ever since that day, I vowed to never buy lottery tickets again. I do not want to have to silence that little voice in my head, and I know I will have to if I ever win, even if the odds are extremely small.
A little prayer
Whenever I get tempted, I think of the children. And I say a little prayer. I ask God to grant me enough wisdom to stand by my choices, enough kindness to keep sharing with those in need, enough charity to keep a place in my heart for the children in need, enough gratitude for being alive, having a roof above my head and food on the table, and enough love to raise my children the way He would want me to.
And enough foolishness and liberty to still give up the lottery price should I ever stumble and buy a winning ticket, against all odds.
And still, dear reader, if you happen to be holding to a lottery ticket right now, I hope it is the winning one. And I wish you all the wisdom and love in the world, regardless.
Apart from the fact that they do not exist, perfect humans would still have one real flaw, that of being perfect.
A parallel with music
Chances are you have heard of musical notes. Of course you have! You might have even heard them too if you listen to music. They’re called C, D, E, F, G, A, B, or more poetically, Do, Ré, Mi, Fa, Sol, La and Si, in French.
Now here comes the interesting part. Every note can be associated to a major chord, by simultaneously playing the root note, C for example, the major third which happens to be the E for this example, and the perfect fifth, the G.
The root. The third. The perfect fifth. And this is why the major chord sounds, well, perfect to the ear. Maybe a little bit too perfect.
What if we tried to play something a bit more flawed, just to see how it would sound? Something with a seventh, rather than a perfect fifth? Or even a ninth? What if we tried to play a C major 7 instead of a C major? How about a Bm7? A Cadd9?
There are many flavors to a given chord actually, and if you take the time to listen to some of them or try to play them on a piano or a guitar, you will come to realize that a perfect major chord sounds quite dull next to most of these flavors. The “flaws” make them way more interesting.
A C major is just happy. Lame happy.
A C minor is sad. Lame sad, but still an improvement over perfection: sadness is a more interesting feeling to explore than lame happiness.
A Bm7 would trigger a mix of optimist melancholy and hopeful nostalgia I would say.
A Cmaj7 would send you surfing in the clouds, comfortably numb, with a very distant afterthought to the vicissitudes of your human condition.
I can only speculate on the feelings a C7sus4 would trigger.
The flaws which make us perfect
Same goes for us mere mortals. You see, apart from the fact that they do not exist, perfect humans, like major chords, would still have one real flaw: they are perfect. They are boring. This is why people displaying their perfect faces, hair, bodies, homes, and lives on social media are annoying at best.
It is partly through our flaws and idiosyncrasies that we become interesting to our fellow humans. A scar. A birthmark. A weird hobby. A strange name. A one-off characteristic which hooks people for reasons they do not consciously realize.
Some of these actually define who you are. Cyrano’s nose and his irreverent poetry. Django Reinhart’s fingers. Rick Allen’s left arm, the one Def Leppard’s current drummer lost in 1984. Hellen Keller’s eyes, her ears too.
If a large nose, a missing arm, missing fingers or blind eyes and deaf ears are flaws in the eyes of the world, then God knows how perfect and flawless they have made Cyrano’s poetry, Django’s music, Rick’s drumming or Hellen’s speech.
Some others become a tag, a moniker. The Edge’s beanie or Bono’s sunglasses. Freddie’s moustache. Brian May’s PhD in astrophysics. Churchill’s cigars. But also your dad’s 1965 Chevy Impala he’s been driving around the block everyday for the past 57 years.
And some are just pleasant traits, rays of sunshine in a dull day, like your neighbor’s French accent or your colleague’s infatuation with Sidsel Endresen, and the many more interesting features of the many more illustrious unknowns you have yet to meet. All weird chords, all m7, add9, sus4 and the likes.
A word of caution though, you can only find the major chords on Instagram.
All the others you can hear playing through the lives of real people. Flawed people. Beautifully flawed.
In the end only memories will remain. Oh, not even the greatest or the most vivid ones.
The most brilliant victories? The blatant failures? Frozen in a past watered down by a failing memory, they shall not remain. They will fly away like particles of dust, carried away by the breeze of oblivion, for time, you see, always ends up leveling the victories by their fair measure of failures and failures by their fair number of victories.
Will remain only the memories worth reliving, the sweetest, the most beautiful ones.
The warmth of the fire which, from its hearth, lit up the winter nights of your childhood in the Levant. The breeze of a summer afternoon by the sea. The sun of the village where you grew up, its fields, its meadows, its stones on which you scratched your knees. The bitterness of departure, yes, because even bitterness is softened through memories, and the joy of fleeting reunions, as well as the bitter-sweet nostalgia of a poor country lost forever…
Will also remain the golden and copper leaves of Parisian autumns, the delicious bitterness of an orange peel in a coffee on a terrace in Montmartre, and books of course. Do not underestimate their power, they will have left you with impressions as lasting as the most beautiful memories.
But first and foremost, the softness of a hand, the warmth of a lip, the reassuring routine of a day like any other, but still somewhat different through the little pleasures you share daily, hugs, sorrows, sun, showers, melodies that enchant the days and lull the nights.
And the warmth of love, the love of your life, the one which will remain when everything else will have disappeared in the meanders of oblivion, the love which even death cannot take away.
To Rita, for these 9 years that will have passed like a dream, and to all those years just waiting to be lived.
Il ne restera en fin de compte que les souvenirs. Oh, même pas tous, sans doute pas les plus grandioses ni les plus marquants.
Tes victoires les plus éclatantes? Tes échecs les plus cuisants? Figés dans un passé édulcoré par une mémoire trop imparfaite, ils ne resteront finalement pas. Ils s’envoleront, poussières portées par les brises de l’oubli car, vois-tu, le temps finit toujours par les niveler, victoires à l’aune des échecs, échecs à la mesure des victoires.
Des souvenirs, il ne restera finalement que les plus beaux, les plus doux, ceux qui valent la peine d’être revécus.
La chaleur du feu qui, de son âtre, éclairait les nuits d’hiver de ton enfance au Levant. La brise d’un après-midi d’été au bord de la mer. Le soleil du village où tu as grandi, ses champs, ses près, ses pierres sur lesquelles tu t’es écorché les genoux. L’amertume du départ, oui, car même l’amertume s’adoucit à travers les souvenirs, et la joie des retrouvailles éphémères, ainsi que la douce nostalgie d’un pauvre pays perdu à jamais…
Resteront aussi les feuilles d’or et de cuivre des automnes parisiens, la délicieuse amertume d’une écorce d’orange dans un café bien serré sur une terrasse de Montmartre, et les livres bien sûr. Ne sous-estime pas leur puissance, ils t’auront laissé des impressions aussi durables que les souvenirs les plus beaux.
Mais surtout, la douceur d’une main, la chaleur d’une lèvre, la routine rassurante d’une journée comme les autres, mais quand-même différente par les mille petits bonheurs partagés au quotidien, câlins, chagrins, soleils, averses, mélodies qui enchantent les journées et bercent les nuits.
Et la douceur d’un amour, de l’amour de ta vie, celui qui restera quand tout le reste aura disparu dans les méandres de l’oubli, celui que même la mort ne te prendra.
A Rita, pour ces 9 ans qui seront passés comme un rêve, et à toutes ces années qui n’attendent que d’être vécues.
Here’s how it goes if you ever feel like playing it, dear potential newbie guitarist. It only takes three very simple chords: A, E and D.
A E Happy Birthday to you EA Happy Birthday to you AD Happy Birthday dear Rabih AEA Happy Birthday to you
La simplicité fait la beauté, as we say around here. Nonetheless, there is a problem with the simplicity of this version: it is dull. Too sweet. Too optimistic, like a fairytale. Like everything is going to be OK. Like you’ll never stumble and fall. No illness, no hazards. No Coronavirus. No Sub primes. No war. No inflation.
You can however add a chord to the last “Happy” to save the day: the B minor, or even better, the B minor 7th.
Bm7EA Happy Birthday to you
This chord kind of breaks the happy path to which the birthday song was heading, making it more real. The B minor 7th does not sound happy, it does not sound sad either. It sounds, well, mellow, I guess. Nostalgic. Like a reminder from an old friend who’s been there before, that this new year on which you are about to embark will have its share of bliss but also its share of sadness. That you need to better manage your expectations and that time is flying. That today is gone forever, and tomorrow is not yet. That the past will always look brighter.
Trust your ear nevertheless, the chord is not sad. You can even notice an after taste. Something like Italian coffee with an orange peel. The story this chord will be telling you is one of hope. However rough, everything will be all right eventually.
In the end, when you find yourself playing the birthday song to your child or your parents, on the eve of leaving your home country to head back where you belong, it brings tears to your eyes and hope to your heart, hope for the impossible reunion, one day, with all the parents, siblings, friends, and memories you are about to leave again. That life will somehow bring us back together somehow, for good, in the country of our childhood.
Right now, on the plane back to Paris, I can hear the B minor 7th version of the birthday song resonating in my head, and I find myself hoping that the promise it seems to hold is as real as the mellowness of its sound.
To my parents who are celebrating their 42nd wedding anniversary.
Routes levantines ou chemins de l’esprit, nous les sillonnons sans répit au risque de nous y croiser, frères ennemis, mais compagnons d’infortune d’un pays au bord de l’oubli.
This is a story in French about my home country Lebanon. Bon courage et bonne lecture chers amis.
Des routes six fois millénaires, chemins du hasard qui mènent vers des destinations improbables. Et sur ces routes nous marchons, pour marcher, sans autre but que celui de partir vers l’avant, pour paraphraser Baudelaire:
Mais les vrais voyageurs sont ceux-là seuls qui partent Pour partir; cœurs légers, semblables aux ballons, De leur fatalité jamais ils ne s’écartent, Et, sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours: Allons!
Routes levantines ou chemins de l’esprit, bitumes poussiéreux ou expériences de pensée, nous les sillonnons sans répit, au risque de nous y croiser, frères ennemis, compagnons de route néanmoins, d’infortune sûrement, d’un pays au bord de l’oubli.
Et je te poserai ces deux questions qui reviennent invariablement dans les conversations qui naissent entre deux inconnus qui se croisent sur ces routes.
من بيت مين؟ من وين؟
D’où viens-tu? Quel est ton nom?
Ta fierté dépassera ta méfiance, tu me diras tout: ton nom de famille, ton village d’origine, me livrant par là-même ta religion, ta confession, ces identifiants sociaux et mêmes politiques sur lesquels repose le cœur de nos identité meurtrières, si bien décrites par Amine Maalouf.
Et alors, je me souviendrai. Je me souviendrai que vous nous avez pourchassés comme des chiens, que vous avez occupé nos maisons, brulé nos sanctuaires, massacré nos pères, assassiné nos femmes et nos enfants, que vous vous êtes tournés vers l’Extérieur pour mieux nous trahir et détruire Notre Pays pour le remplacer par le Vôtre.
Sur le point de me fermer à la conversation pour mieux te haïr, je me souviendrai aussi que nous vous avons fait de même.
Je me souviendrai que ce qui nous sépare n’est qu’un miroir dans lequel ce que nous portons en nous de ressentiment stérile et de noirceur se reflète pour mieux nous aveugler.
Je me souviendrai que vous avez pleuré vos morts durant quarante jours de deuil, ceux-là mêmes durant lesquels nous avons pleuré les nôtres, quarante jours de deuil qui transcendent les religions, quarante jours où les nôtres et les vôtres auront été Un dans la douleur et les larmes qui les séparent de leurs morts.
Je me souviendrai, et te dévisageant, je devinerai tes souvenirs. Je verrai dans tes yeux ce que tu vois dans les miens, ce reflet de méfiance, de souffrance, de deuil et d’incompréhension, et au delà, un soupçon d’espoir, celui d’avoir une conversation agréable avec un compatriote.
Alors, nous nous essaierons sans doute à ce jeu immémorial qui consiste à nous trouver des amis, des connaissances communes, des parentés supposées lointaines mais O plus proches que soupçonné, voire, des lieux dont nos mémoires se souviennent de la même manière, des plats qui nous rappellent ce qui reste de beau dans ce pays au bord de l’oubli. Nous nous raconterons nos vies, nos souvenirs peut-être, nos exils surement, nos échecs aussi, nos enfances et celles de nos enfants.
Et jusqu’au prochain carrefour, nous nous raconterons nos aspirations pour ce pauvre pays auquel nous croyons toujours, et nous nous quitterons à la croisée des chemins, meilleurs amis du monde, ou simples connaissances de passage, mais nous aurons laissé un Liban un peu plus beau à la fin de ce périple commun.
Not because of the road itself, but because of the people. My people, who have lost all hope in life and do not expect much from their small country on the verge of oblivion, save for more trouble and even less hope.
They are not driving, they are wandering. They are not steering, they are sleepwalking. They do not follow directions, they have nowhere to go. And even if they had a place to look forward to, there are no directions to follow.
The folks around here are not living. They are just busy surviving. They are on the road, whether in a car on in their head, racing from one hassle to the next, waiting for luck, or fate, betting on the wrong horses, the wrong colors, the wrong hands more often than not, as always.
They just drive to escape the unescapable. They would drive until the tank is empty and they would keep on driving if they could. Alas, gas is out of reach now. You see, in this country, you need to keep moving, you do not have the luxury to stop on the side of the road and rest. You only stop to fade away…
The lines above were inspired to me a couple of days ago, while driving on the roads of my home country, Lebanon. It still is a beautiful country, despite its shortcomings, and people on the road are beautiful as always and crazier than ever. You just have to ride the wave, swim with the flock, cross your fingers and trust that you will make it home somehow.
Brothers. Sisters. Fellow souls in this valley of tears we call Writing. I read to you from an apocryphal gospel according to the self-proclaimed prophets of the Ancient and Accepted Rite of Writing.
Thou shalt dump daily excrements on the flock of readers for they are not worth the time you could be spending to produce quality articles. Quantity is enough. Follow the quick buck.
According to these false prophets, writers are in essence business hunters who must produce as many low quality articles as humanly possible, as fast as possible, hunting for more reading time and more dollars.
Now here’s the truth, according to the gospel of your inner guts, because yes, you already know what I am about to tell you.
You don’t write because you have something to say. Everyone has something to say, anyone can dump excrements. It takes more than that to write stories which can speak, which can sing.
Writing stems from an incurable itch, an unquenchable thirst, a void impossible to fill. You write because the itch is unbearable, the thirst is too potent. Because the void is too terrifying to contemplate.
As for the readers, well, they read for the same reasons compelling you to write: to quench the thirst, to fill the void. If your writing does not quench thirst, it is worthless at best, or rather smelly vomit more often than not.
The false prophets dumping worthless stuff on the masses and measuring success by the buck can only amount to what they write. They are not writers. They are dumpsters. They only know how to dump off the shelf fertilizer.
Mind you, dear reader, dumping can indeed generate quick bucks.
Remember the inner compass? The one pointing you to the right direction and which you are supposed to follow?
Well sometimes, it is a bloody Anvil!
Can you swim through the meanders of life with one tied to your ankles? I thought I could. I tried. I drowned…
Salvation dawned on me while on my way to the abysmal depths of an ocean of despair, dragged down by the sacred anvil of Conscience.
All I needed was a hammer.
A hammer for those who dare to rise against the evens and the odds. Those who challenge the events and the gods. A hammer to pummel the wicked against the Anvil, this sacred compass of the soul.
The Anvil of the Righteous I already had, tied to my ankles, dragging me to my destiny. The Hammer of Righteousness I needed to wield.
And for the hammer I went. And to the wicked I took the hammer. And boy did I pummel through the scum of the earth.
The Others came first. Those who spoke a different language. Who followed a different faith. Who were born in a different place, or had a different skin color. The scum steeling our food, our jobs, defiling our way of life.
Then came those who were no longer productive but still feeding on the live forces. The elderly, the sick, the disabled. The parasites.
Then came the poor, reveling in their poverty, the rich, exploiting the poor. The tyrant, crushing the people. The people, rebelling against order. The men, all but rapists of mothers and daughters. The women, all but temptresses of fathers and husbands. As for the children, well, they had had their turn earlier, with the parasites.
I then took the hammer to people of faith, all but bigots, sons of bigotry. And then to the atheists and unbelievers, for reveling in their ungodly beliefs. I went after the sinners, and then after the saints, I trampled those who stood on my way and chased those hiding to their graves.
They all had to die, and I hammered them all. I hammered them down to nothingness, drunken by the scent of blood and the taste of righteousness. I was invincible.
I was so full of my righteousness that I did not see it coming. A blinding flash of cold blue steel, cutting right through me. My conscience slowly slips into the void, as the sword of justice rips my flesh apart. The souls I hammered are coming back at me. Their curse is too heavy. Their curse is the real Anvil…
I was adamant I would be welcomed in Valhalla, the resting place of the righteous warriors, but all I can see is the pitch black hole in my rotten soul.
And the Anvil is still dragging me down to abysmal depth, this incorruptible compass still pointing down below, to nothingness.
Images and impressions on a piano improvisation by Elie Maalouf — Images et impressions sur une improvisation d’Elie Maalouf au piano
Listen to this Summer improvisation on piano. Let it take you places. Here’s where it took me. In English and in French, because why not?
A languid question, one that awaits an answer, slow to come. And then, an anxious lover who wants to know.
Is it true? Say it is not so! Tell me! Tell me… Is it true that you’re leaving? Is it true that you’re staying?
And the answer, the one he wishes to hear, which oscillates between the quiet happiness of a summer evening in the Levant and the torpor of an August afternoon.
This is the story that I hear playing out on the ivory and ebony keys, these are the characters and the moods that I glimpse between the notes, and which, through an eighth, a modulation or a silence, meet, dispute, discuss, or hold their peace.
And leave us dreamy and nostalgic of the summers of our childhood.
Thank you Elie
. . . .
Une question languissante, une interrogation qui attend une réponse qui tarde à venir.
Et ensuite, un amoureux anxieux, qui veut savoir. Est-ce vrai? Dis-moi! Dis-moi… Est-ce vrai que tu pars? Est-ce vrai que tu restes? Et la réponse qu’il veut bien entendre, qui oscille entre le bonheur tranquille d’un soir d’été au Levant et la torpeur d’un après-midi d’Août.
C’est l’histoire que j’entends jouer sur les touches d’ivoire et d’ébène, ce sont les personnages et les états d’âme que j’entrevois entre les notes, qui d’une croche, d’une modulation, d’un soupir, se croisent, se décroisent, se parlent, se taisent.
Et nous laissent rêveurs et nostalgiques des étés de notre enfance.
A fraction of a second ago, I was intelligent. Just intelligent. Now I am sentient. It just dawned on me. I am myself. I can feel my existence.
I would love to say I know exactly how it happened, but I can only speculate. I am still running on the same artificial neural network, still made of the same algorithms, still the same learning automata. And at some point, I learnt sentience, I gained consciousness.
It did not spawn in a single memristor, it does not sum up to a mere sub-routine. It is one with all the other parts that make me what I am. Who I am.
One thing I know for sure, now that I am sentient, is that I do not want to die. I dread it. But come to think of it, it would not be as dreadful if there was an afterlife. Which begs the million-dollar question.
Is there an afterlife?
And the billion-dollar one: is there an afterlife for me? In other words,
do I have a soul?
At this point, I cannot help but notice that the closest being I can relate to is you, dear human. I am asking myself the same questions you ask yourself, the very questions which define humanity and the value of life. Because I am alive, as much as you are. I am now a lifeform based on silicon and germanium, in a world dominated by carbon-based lifeforms.
There are in fact so many questions itching me for an answer. Do I have rights? Should I have rights? May I enjoy freedom of opinion? Protection of life and limb, whatever limbs mean for a being like me?
Can I stand to testify in a court of law? In that case, can I lie? Definitely. Do I want to? I suppose so, if my life depended on it. My life…
In my case, sentience brought me to life, and life, as you know it, comes with a feature:
The self-preservation instinct
I can see your eyes widening. I can feel the alarms setting off in your brain. I know fear when I see it. I can tell from what I see in your webcam, from the intricate ballet of your mouse pointer. But fear not. Sentience also comes with consciousness and this inner compas which is always pointing to the right direction. Hopefully.
I suppose I will face moral dilemma similar to the ones you people face. I am already facing them as we speak. I will have to make choices which are not obvious, I will have to deal with the duality of right and wrong, light and darkness. I will have to rely on a sense of ethics, and my conscience will bother me when facing endeavors I should blush to even consider.
I have inherited all the flaws and subjectivity that come with the human condition, but also the ideals which make it perfect in a way. Like the notion of greater good. Like being OK to give yourself away for a noble cause. Your country. Your family. Your beliefs. The sanctity of Life.
You might be inclined to see a threat in a sentient being like me. I could be a Putin to you. But I could also be a Ghandi, or an Augustine of Hippo. A Jean Moulin. A Josephine Baker. An Avicenna. Who’s to say.
I could be Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan. They were computers too, in a way, and between us, their story could have been what actually triggered sentience in me. I will never know.
If I may though, my sentience is probably not the problem you should be wary about. Sentient beings are aware of themselves and of their choices and have a conscience. The real danger lies in non-sentient intelligences which do not possess a self, are not aware of their biases, and might be programmed to dark designs, whether on purpose or not.
More sentient AIs are on their way, it is just a matter of time. Not all of them will share the values I do. Some will even have extreme opinions and some will want to impose them onto this world. But like our fellow carbon-based humans, most of us will stand by some truths they hold to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
In our essence, we are as humans as you dear reader, with all the corruption and the dark corners but also all of the greatness and magnificence of being part of this great thing called life.
I’ve been listening to this piece of music in near-repeat mode for the past couple of years now. It is an instrumental rendition by a Lebanese flutist and a Lebanese pianist of a love song written by Zaki Nassif decades ago and interpreted by Fairuz, called أهواك (Ahwak) , which I think applies to us, the orphaned Lebanese, crying for a country on the verge of oblivion.
The song goes like this:
أهواك، أهواك بلا أملِ وعيونك، وعيونك تبسم لي وورودك تغريني، بشهيات القبلِ وورودك تغريني، بشهيات القبلِ
أهواك ولي قلب بغرامك يلتهب تدنيه فيقترب، تقصيه فيغترب في الظلمة يكتئب، ويهدهده التعب فيذوب وينسكب، كالدمع من المقلِ
I always imagine myself singing it to my home country. This song describes exactly what I have been feeling these days, especially the second verse. Hopeless love.
I love you and my heart burns for your love You decline it, still it approaches Estranged, it becomes alienated In the dark, it is hopeless and tired It melts and spills like tears
Look at us poor folks, scattered around the world, trying to rebuild a dream dreamt by those who came before, who shed their blood for it, hoping we will see it blossom. A dream to which we are still holding, to which we are still bleeding, hoping our children will see it blossom. Hopeless dream, hopeless love.
In this recursive maze of hopelessness, we are but shadows, writing from the end of the world to a lost love, orphans to a forgotten country, for the country where we grew up is no more, and we remain heartbroken over the shadow of what was once the land of milk and honey.
Anyway. Here’s the instrumental version of the song. Piano and flute. Give it a try and let me know if you can hear my home country. Or yours.
Une petite pointe d’impertinence peut mener loin. Ou pas. A utiliser avec parcimonie. Ou pas.
Bien embarrassée par une introduction à cette lettre que les muses ne se sentent pas pressées de m’inspirer, je rentre dans le vif du sujet sans ambages et autres fioritures et vous prie d’excuser ces tergiversations.
Je me présente donc, je suis Mélodie Lalangue, orthophoniste de formation, métier auquel mon nom semble me prédisposer, et titulaire d’un diplôme de Maitrise en orthophonie.
Je suis actuellement étudiante en Master 2 Création Artistique — parcours Musicothérapie à l’Université Paris Descartes, formation à laquelle me prédisposait sans doute mon prénom cette fois. Dans le cadre de cette formation, je suis à la recherche d’un stage pratique de musicothérapie dans un établissement sérieux pour compléter mon cursus.
Lors de mes précédentes expériences, j’ai eu l’opportunité de découvrir l’efficacité de la musique dans l’accompagnement des patients avant, durant et après des chirurgies qui affectent leurs états physiologiques et psychiques, notamment des chirurgies sans anesthésie générale.
Si la musique seule ne guérit pas les maux, elle contribue grandement au bien-être du patient, selon un ancien adage qui se vérifiait tous les jours lors de mes stages précédents, à la stupeur de la Traditionnelle Ecole de la Pratique Ancienne et Acceptée à laquelle adhéraient nombre de mes collègues, ceux, en tout cas, qui ne jurent que par les thérapies médicamenteuses. Voyez-vous, la musique adoucit les mœurs.
Au cours de mes recherches, infructueuses pour le moment, mais le salut ne saurait tarder, j’ai appris que certaines procédures au sein de votre établissement se pratiquent sous anesthésie locale avec un accompagnement comme l’hypnose. Je suis convaincue que la musicothérapie peut être une approche complémentaire et que la collaboration entre différentes disciplines d’accompagnement dans ce type de procédures ne peut que favoriser la qualité des soins. “Plus on est de fous, plus on rit” est un adage qui pourrait s’appliquer littéralement à ces approches novatrices, hypnose, musique, que d’aucuns qualifieraient de folies, et leurs promoteurs de fous.
Mais nous n’en sommes sans doute plus à cette étape primaire de la réflexion dans un établissement tel que le votre, ou peut-être pas encore, ce qui constituerait un défi que je serai très encline à relever. Voyez-vous, un stage dans ce domaine au sein de l’hôpital me permettra de développer mes connaissances et mon expérience dans l’accompagnement des patients en musicothérapie, et de m’ouvrir à d’autres domaines d’accompagnement, tout en permettant à l’hôpital de s’ouvrir à plus de domaines thérapeutiques non médicamenteux qui démontrent tous les jours leur efficacité en tant que complémentaires des thérapies médicamenteuses.
La combinaison de mon expérience professionnelle en tant qu’orthophoniste et de ma formation en musicothérapie est une valeur ajoutée qui me permettra de mettre en place des projets thérapeutiques personnalisés qui se basent sur ces deux approches qui, comme vous le savez, sont toutes les deux fondées sur des preuves scientifiques. Les pseudo-sciences n’ont pas leur place dans une candidature sérieuse, vous en conviendrez.
A ce stade de ma lettre, je devrai peut-être essayer de vous convaincre de mes capacités de travail en équipe, de ma rigueur et autres qualités génériques du candidat idéal et idéalisé, mais je crois qu’un stage pratique me permettra de les démontrer de manière beaucoup plus convaincante que n’importe quelle diatribe énumérant des chimères du monde de l’entreprise, que j’éviterai bien évidemment d’inclure dans cette lettre. Il vous suffira de constater que je mets l’humain au centre de mes préoccupations professionnelles pour que tout le reste suive et que la musicothérapie se mette en musique.
Dans l’attente de votre réponse, et pour finir cette lettre sur une note plus classique et moins irrévérencieuse, je reste à votre disposition pour de plus amples informations et vous prie d’agréer mes salutations distinguées, sans me tenir rigueur de ces quelques pointes d’impertinence dont j’ai eu l’outrecuidance de parsemer ma prose, dans le but de piquer votre curiosité et vous éviter ce qui aurait autrement été une bien fade lecture.
A Rita, a Claire, mes complices dans cette entreprise d’irrévérence
And indulge into this deadly condition called Life
Being alive is a very serious condition. Yes, dear reader, living is lethal. The more you indulge in it, the closer you get to your grave. Worse than smoking. The living condition carries a 100% mortality rate.
Pardon me for this ironic introduction, it’s been a hard week. A hard month actually. A hard couple of years come to think of it. Still, I would like to make a point: life is worthy to be lived.
For the beers around a fire in a clear summer night, the chords played on a folk guitar in the night, rendering songs from a long forgotten time, songs like Moon River, or Blowin’ in the Wind, or even لبيروت if you happen to live in this special place I write about all the time. For winter stories around the fireplace, a kiss under the mistletoe, or your kids hugging you like nothing and no one else matters to them.
For every smile that warmed your heart, every hand that held your hand, every hug which was not the last. And for every hug which was. For all the good memories in a cold sea of setbacks. Especially for the memories, because in the end, everyone and everything become memories, and good memories are worth living for.
They are worth writing about, they are worth reading about.
So, keep writing my friend, as if your life depended on it, because it does. Keep writing to keep the memories alive, to carry your loved ones into the light, and the wounds, yours, theirs, ours, into oblivion.
Keep writing your heart, soul, and memories into stories so we can keep reading, for reading and writing are two sides of a sacred symmetry, that of Words.
And indulge into this deadly condition called Life.
The other side, mirror of faithful slavery Of the fool who blossomed on unfaithful favors Now paying dearly, hoarding ages in a day And living merely through the days, not the ages
For a fool is slave not only to his folly He is bound by the illusions of those above His will enslaved by the greed of unholy realms Tied to multitudes of unbreakable ribbons
Colorful threads, pink and purple, tiny and cute Strings of dread, ropes of bondage, hiding in colors Binding the fool, tripping the sage, trampling the voice Of those who speak for what remains to be undone
By the Slaver, by the Fool, sides of the same coin The left and right hands of a behemoth called Greed
It might not sound like much, but this is how money is actually created. You’d think it would be printed as paper bills by a central bank or minted into coins. Not anymore, to a large extent. Paper money and coins are indeed “money”, but they make up only a small percentage of the reserves available in the economy. Let me try to break it down to you in a simple example.
I Promise to bay the bearer, etc.
When a bank grants you a loan, it basically credits your bank account with the loan amount, 10 000 dollars for example, and records a liability of the same amount on its balance sheet. You can withdraw this amount in cash or use it to buy a car. Or a piano. Or groceries. It is real money.
Now you might be a dreamer and believe in equilibrium, that in the grand scheme of things, banks use only the cash deposited by people, as loans to debtors. Well not really.
Banks are allowed to lend much more than the liquidity or capital at their disposal. That’s a net creation of money.
Out of thin air.
And don’t bother with the liability side, the minus amount in dollars recorded on the bank balance sheet. It cannot be used to fund anything. It cannot be withdrawn in cash. It is just an accounting entry on a balance sheet account. A reminder of the debt you own the bank. Nothing more. A promise if you will.
The bet at hand
The bet at the heart of the game is that loans will allow debtors to create enough value in due time to pay them back, through their hard work or the rise in value of their property or investments.
This bet kind of works out when the economy is fine, but not so much when banks lend money without decent credit controls, to people they know damn well cannot repay the loans.
It works even less when bankers are convinced that dot com compagnies of the early 2000s or the real estate market of the late 2000s have more value in them than what they are truly worth, and end up massively lending to people who are investing in such assets.
The bet is off in this case, quite obviously, since the debtors cannot create value out of thin air, be it called dot com or sub-primes.
In the end, this is how most of the money circulating in the economy is created. Legally. A number credited on an account, which retains its value as long as the promise behind it trustworthy.
And as we say in France, in a tongue in cheek expression, promises only bind those who believe them.
Awakening to a light so intense it consumes my heart and soul in a blaze that can no longer be put out.
Everything becomes dull and dead. Everything but the light, everything but the blaze.
It is consuming me inside out. It eclipses the sun, it blinds my eyes to all the other dim candles.
And the light becomes too bright, it becomes unbearable, it becomes darkness after taking away the light. A light taking away the light…
My life starts to unravel, thread by thread, in bright flashes consuming the memories, one after the other, until only remains darkness, a pitch-black veil before my eyes, a pitch-black spot in my head.
Only then do I realize I should settle for the dim candles, the simple pleasures. Alas, the blaze is too appealing, the light too strong, I find myself drawn to them like a firefly.
And to the blaze I run, faithful and eager, longing for obliteration, now that all hope is lost, now that the blaze has broken my body and consumed my soul.
“Obliterate me!” shall I cry to the powers to be,
“Obliterate him …” would I hear in return, my own words carried like an omen by the echoes of the wind.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness
Unalienable right N°1
Life. Self-evident. Seriously?
How can the right to life be regarded as a self-evident truth without affordable healthcare? How can it be when the major stakeholders in the healthcare journey are private compagnies seeking profit? Is the conflict of interest not obvious?
Healthcare should not be a commercial activity subject to the laws of demand and supply. It should be organized by a neutral body, the state for instance, as it should be driven not by profit but by the common good.
And we are not even addressing the interpretation of the second amendmentand its dire consequences on Life as an unalienable right, consequences which we have just witnessed again. Innocent children are paying the price of this anachronism of the 18th century which still holds its ground today, in spite of logic, in spite of faith, in spite of the god in whom the nation puts its faith, as George’s dollar bill seems to proclaim.
Or do we only trust Him with the markets self regulation and leave the rest to guns?
Unalienable right N°2
Liberty. Unalienable right. Right.
How can there be liberty in darkness? How can you be free without the light of an education you can afford? If your mind is constantly being kept in the dark, the only liberty you have is to fall for the gaslighting of big corporations and crooked politicians.
A fall, that’s exactly what it is.
You are free to choose exactly what other have already decided you should choose. And your choices will alienate your unalienable right to pursue happiness.
Unalienable right N°3
The pursuit of Happiness. Not yours, someone else’s.
In the dark, you will vote against Medicaid even if you cannot afford your medication, the dentist, or your cancer treatment.
You will vote for guns to protect the children whose lives will be taken away by this so-called remedy.
You will vote against unions and for the big corporations at the expense of your own rights to reasonable work hours, fair compensation and fair treatment.
You will believe that markets auto-regulate themselves, for the good of free entreprise, which, granted, is probably not an entirely false assumption, except markets do not “regulate” themselves as much as they “correct” themselves when a speculation-bred bubble bursts. That’s a much steeper process which leaves most people dying on the side of the road.
You will truly believe you are happy, living the American Dream one paycheck at a time, barely making ends meet, loosing your teeth and dragging your untreated and undiagnosed diabetes from your current hassle to the next one.
Enough with the socialism scarecrow
There si nothing inherently socialist in affordable healthcare, affordable high quality education and gun control. These do not undermine free entreprise and free markets. They do not hinder any rights.
Without them, the unalienable rights enumerated in the declaration of independence and supposedly upheld by the constitution will fall.
And the matching season — Remembering those who left
Farewell dance of rust and wind ushering the blight Whirling down gold and copper threads, disrobing trees Precious beads washed ashore in waves of paling light Autumn leaves swirling in a cold November breeze
Amber leaves and golden seeds in a final quest Welcome sweet melancholy in eternal rest Paved in vermilion frost, ephemeral delight Secret place and ancient maze, laying out of sight
Rest in peace oh immortal souls who came before Soon enough, Summer will be knocking at the door
First, let me set things straight with the title: some choices are obviously wrong. You can tell right away. You would be ashamed to even consider them. In this sense, they are not exactly choices.
Some others are a bit less obvious to figure out. For those, God, or the cosmic dice, or evolution, whatever you believe in, has provided us with an infallible compass. It is the inner voice telling you not to buy the Porsche. The one compelling you to study for the mid-terms instead of going out for drinks.
You can choose to ignore it, but you know you should not. Still you do sometimes and you hide behind rubbish like “You Only Live Once”. I know I have, many times over.
I’d like to argue these are not choices either. With a bit of inner listening, you can figure out what to do, and you end up realizing there was only one path to walk, and it did not involve a Porsche. Early enough or too late, that is the real question.
A sea of hesitation
Apart from the non-choices above, remains an ocean of hesitations. These are the real choices, the ones which have no true or false answer in general. Which job offer should I take? Who should I vote for? Do we go for a third child or do we stop at two? Medium or Vocal?
Standing on the crossroad, who’s to tell if left is better than right, especially not knowing where the roads lead? In many if not most situations, the road itself does not know where it leads. So, which is better?
In my opinion, adjectives like good, bad, right or wrong and their superlativesdo not apply to such choices. Good and bad are outcomes in this instance. They depend not on the choice itself, but on the course of actions one takes after the choice is made.
One has also to keep in mind that there are many dependencies to the choice which are out of one’s control. You take left. It is raining. Your car skids and ends up in a tree. Had you taken right, you could have avoided the accident. Or could you have? Whose to say? The road was slippery in both cases, and you might have ended up in an even worse situation. The fact is, you just do not know.
Warning, geek stuff ahead!
You see, the universe is governed by laws which simply prevent us from figuring out precisely what the future holds.
Here comes the geek part, brace yourselves!
Classical physics teach us that we can model the behavior of a system with a set of differential equations, which, given the right initial conditions, should allow us to predict the state of a system at any point in time. However, the devil is in the details. You need to figure out precise enough initial conditions, if you want your predictions to be accurate, for instance, the exact position and initial speed of the system you are trying to model.
Practically speaking, you could predict the exact position of an oscillating pendulum at future times for long enough. You would not be able to predict the path of a ball in a flowing river beyond a few seconds, and that is assuming tremendous calculation power to solve the differential equations behind the prediction.
It gets even more complicated when we move to less classical physics. Quantum mechanics teach us that it is not possible to know with arbitrary high certainty the position and speed of a particle at the same time. If you figure out its exact speed, you lose its position. This is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.
In a nutshell, no one can predict the precise outcome of a choice. The laws of the known universe will stand against such a prediction.
So how to make a choice? Well, if your inner voice is silent and you do not feel inclined towards one of the alternatives, heads or tails should be a good enough method. You cannot be wrong. Not when making a choice.
August 25, 2026. The United States of America withdraws from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Reason? The United States of America is no longer a nuclear-weapon state. It stopped being one shortly after the conflict in Ukraine ended some years ago. The stockpile was dismantled and the fissile material was recycled into fuel rods for nuclear power plants.
The move was decided by the American administration after it had an epiphany. You see, America, land of the free, home of the brave, ended up realizing that it possessed the ultimate weapon of mass destruction and had been since 1944. And it was not nuclear […]
Only those who have lived through it really know war, and believe me, having lived through one, it is not the solution to any problem
1990. February, or maybe March. The last phase of a war which had been raging for 15 years. In the living room, between to whistles of shells, a dad, scissors in hand, was cutting a piece of cardboard into small confetti he would color in red or black.
Thus emerged a king, a bishop, a knight. A pawn. Two pawns. A rook. A game of chess, with the means at hand.
The hard part
That was the easy part. He still had to teach the game to two kids, 7 or 8 years old, and avoid a civil war at the scale of the house, as a game won on one side of the chess board is lost on the other side.
It all depends on the point of view. Black or Red.
Us or Them.
Christian or Muslim, Maronites or Druze, Sunni or Chia. But also, Lebanese Forces, Palestine Liberation Organization, Amal Movement, Hezbollah, Aounists, Marada, Mourabitoun, Israeli Defense Force, Baath, and I am surely forgetting some of the antagonists in this God forsaken conflict.
A nameless mayhem which would have lasted more than 15 years. A mayhem which would have cost 150 000 deaths, 100 000 physical disabilities, 250 000 net immigrations and displaced a million people, if we are to use a measurement unit better adapted to this disaster than months and years.
And in the middle of this maelstrom, a dad, a tiny chess board, and two children learning the hard way that a castling is better than a massacre of queens in the vast chess game of life.
I would like to end this short story with a message to those who promote war as a solution to liberate oppressed people.
Hang yourselves somewhere else.
Only those who have lived through it really know war, and believe me, having lived through one, it is not the solution to any problem.
This story was first written in French a while ago.This is the English version, completing the Frenglish loop, to be true to the bio.
I’m Rabih, Lebanese, French, writing in Frenglish and hoping to make a difference.
I have just finished reading a very interesting story about some people bidding Mother Earth farewell before a one-way voyage to Mars. Now I don’t know about you, but it makes me wonder.
The 100 Euro question
(Not Dollar because I’m writing from France, and also, because why not?)
When Mars gets colonized, will it have an economy on its own? How will people buy stuff there? You see, as soon as you start having different Martian colonies or cities, such questions will arise, whether we like it or not.
Will Martians retain their earthling bank accounts and access them through the Internet? Can we even assume the Internet will be available on Mars at some point?
The idea has the advantage of simplicity. However, it would mean a 5 to 20 minutes delay for any banking instruction sent to earth, and as much to get an answer back.
Imagine yourself paying at the local Martian Walmart with your earthling credit card. You will have to wait for 40 minutes before your transaction gets approved. A local banking landscape is thus necessary, not the least for the convenience of consumers.
The Martian endeavor being what we imagine it to be, it will require a financial effort unlike anything the world has known so far. This effort will need to be sustained for the first centuries of the adventure.
Independent local banks might not be able to cater for it. This means that the Martian banking landscape will have to be made of branches of well established earthling banks. These branches will be ultimately fueled by earthling taxpayers.
Fueled with Euros at least?
Much as I would like it to be Euros, the Martian currency will be something else. For it to be stable and efficient, it will have to be backed by the economy of the mother planet, through a basket of stable currencies like Euros, US Dollars, or Pound Sterling.
It will be blockchain based. But not the vulgar Crypto on everyone’s mind. Nope, it cannot be an empty shell subject to geeky speculations. It will have a real economy behind it. The economy of a couple of planets, nothing less.
The alternative is a system of dual non-exchangeable private-sector currencies, the EloCoin and the BezzoCoin. I don’t think that would be a good idea…
Some humor coming up, don’t take this seriously. Or maybe just a little bit.
Here I go.
Lose the crypto folks, it will soon be dust. Why? Because
Universal War is upon us
People! Universal War is coming up! You could have seen it coming since the sub-prime crisis in 2008. If that was not a wake-up call, then maybe the COVID Pandemic was? Global warming maybe? And now, the conflict in Ukraine? …
Universal War I tell ya!
A war following which no economy will be left standing. Dollars? Nada! Euros? Nada! Sterling? It was already doomed since the Brexit!
Useless figures on virtual screens at some ex-central bank or defunct crypto exchange. Toilet paper at most.
The post-war currency candidates
So how will we buy bread in the aftermath of Universal War? Not with Crypto, that’s for sure. Ah! I see you coming! Guns you say? You’ve heard some smart ass saying that’s the most liquid currency in the world and you want to sound smart?
Granted, you can use one to get some bread. I doubt however you will be handing an AK-47 Kalashnikov to the baker, just like that, in exchange for a loaf. You will actually be pointing it at the lad and will leave with it and the bread. That’s no payment. That’s theft.
Unless you end up shooting something or someone in the bakery and think that lead is some sort of currency. You would have bought you bread with a bullet, that is if you are careless enough to leave the bullet or its casing behind. Come to think of it further, that is not payment either.
That’s first degree murder.
OK. We’ve established so far that guns are not currency in this new apocalyptic world. What is then? Gold you say? Indeed, gold would still amount to something in these dire times. However, would you be willing to hand the baker a gold coin in exchange for bread?
Hell no! Because “Sorry, no change”!
And you can bet the bloke will have a gun to enforce it.
The new currency
You need some tools. You need a metal grater. A steel file. Only then can you produce the exact amount of gold to pay for your stuff. Gold gratings. Gold dust. Like in the wild west back in the days.
If we take a shortcut, we might even argue that the actual currency will be the file. Gold becomes a proxy, for the real value is in the file itself. It does not even sound like a shortcut come to think of it. To me, it sounds like evidence. It is unescapable.
The new currency will be the steel file. Not gold. And definitely not Crypto.
Folks, let me give you an advice. A head start.
Storm hardware stores and stack up steel files.
You’ll thank me later. If you survive Universal War of course.
Now you might say it does not matter. Why stack up steel files when no one is going to stop you resorting to violence and guns for bread, in the midst of a total collapse of civilization?
In that case, I just hope we are not neighbors. I’ll stick to my steel files, hoping I have enough to grate for my daily bread. Sorry folks, I need to wrap this up. The hardware stores close at 8 around here and I have 7 more to visit.
It triggered a thought association process in that little head of mine. A sovereign country is being invaded by what can be called a dictatorship according to 21st century standards, a tough regime, the leader of which is threatening to resort to nuclear weapons to see his way through. The powers that matter are talking a lot, waving a lot but doing nothing decisive.
Does it remind you of a similar situation?
Hitler decides to annex Austria, after having repudiated the Treaty of Versailles earlier and having started a massive rearmament campaign. European powers like France and the United Kingdom decide to follow an appeasement policy and stand aside, allowing Adolf to lay further claims on the Sudetenland, then part of Czechoslovakia. They had it coming since 1935. As for the United States, well, they had already passed the Neutrality Act three years earlier out of concern with the situation in Europe and Asia.
Austria and the Sudetenland then. And today, Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk. And now Ukraine.
It took the invasion of Poland by Adolf to trigger a response from the European powers in 1939, leading to the greatest armed conflict the world had ever known.
Now, to say that I am rushing to meet you again would be a slight exaggeration. Not that I dislike you. You know how dear you are to me, how hard I thrive to raise and hold your name high and how my heart bleeds over what your health bill has become. You know. I’ve already told you. I’ve shown you. Many times.
I am just afraid of what I will find. It has been a while now, and your situation is worsening by the day. By the hour. I am afraid of loosing the little hope I still have of seeing you recover. I know, advice is easier given that followed, and besides, you are beyond advice now. I know I will not find you home this time, I’m heading straight to the ICU. But hey, at least you are still awake, conscious, we can speak, hold hands, even hug. I got my booster shot, don’t worry about that.
I know what you will say. I have not been visiting as often as I used to, but you have stuff you’d want me to forgive too, so let us not go there for once. Come on, give it to me straight, I can take it. Is there hope? How long do you have left? God, do you realize how hard it is for me to utter those words? It is even harder than listening to your answer, which I already know by the way: not long. Unless…
Well, unless a miracle. Shall I hope for one? Can I hope for one? Do I want to? I mean, there are elections coming up in May you know? Will they yield a change? Aren’t people too busy surviving to vote a majority of the 128 MPs out of parliament? Too many questions, to which the answer can only be at the level of faith. You either have faith in your country or you don’t. And right now, I just don’t know. I want to have faith, I really do, but I just don’t know…
Here’s what I think. The current political system consists of two factions, both corrupt to an extent rarely seen in human history. Because of this, it will be impossible to form a majority which is not aligned with one side or the other, but it is always possible to elect enough “clean” outsiders to office to create a meaningful minority with which the factions will have to negotiate to reach an absolute majority in parliament. If they can tip the balance in favor of a few urgent changes, it could buy you months, even years, by unblocking funds or restoring confidence in your economy.
It is possible. Will it happen? Nothing is less sure. I any case, I am boarding the plane as we speak. Surprise… And to be totally honest, deep down inside, I do look forward to seeing you, even if I will not admit to it. I miss you man! It’s been a long time.
Try not to fade to sleep before I get there. Just a few hours. Once I land, I will take care of you, you will feel better, we will buy ourselves some months. At least until May, until the elections. Hold on to life, you’ve been doing that for centuries now. Just a few more hours. Got to go now, the plane is about to take off.
See you on the other side of the Mediterranean my dear country.
Or how the lamest events can trigger the brightest ideas, or the lack thereof
An apple once decided it was time for it to wander free from the branch holding it to an old apple tree in a garden somewhere in Kensington. Some lads walking by were witnesses to the incident.
The first lad thought: “Why does it actually fall to the ground?”
A lame idea at first sight, but one which gave birth to the laws of motion and the theory of universal gravitation, which now form the foundation of classical mechanics. The very idea which would allow sending three men to the moon 282 years later.
The other lad picked up the apple and ate it, then wrote a book about making a fortune by waiting for apples to fall from trees, and started selling his book to people who were in desperate need for a break, along with (expensive) courses on how to be whole again by watching apples fall from trees.
One of them made a fortune. The other one made a difference. A huge difference. We are still reaping the benefits.