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The Shiny Guy

And a ray of contagious light, travelling the universe

Photo by Josh Boot on Unsplash

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. 

Let the board sound

Rabih

For What They’re Worth — My Two Cents

To a fellow writer, on wounds and writing

Photo by Pixabay: https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-and-white-bear-plush-toy-42230/

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.

Let the board sound

Rabih

The Lottery Ticket

And a moral dilemma in that little brain of mine

Photo by Alejandro Garay on Unsplash

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?”

Silence

“OK, how about giving it up for a cause? What would it be?”

Children. Without a doubt.

The cause

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.

Let the board sound

Rabih

The Flaws Which Make Us Perfect

Apart from the fact that they do not exist, perfect humans would still have one real flaw, that of being perfect.

Photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash

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. 

Some flavors

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. 

A perfect melody.

Let the board sound

Rabih

What Will Remain

When the world has taken its final bow

Photo by Ian Wetherill on Unsplash

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.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Ce Qui Restera

Quand le monde aura tiré sa révérence

Photo by Ian Wetherill on Unsplash

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.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Happy Birthday in A Major

With a mellow twist for a newbie guitarist

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

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
E A
Happy Birthday to you
A D
Happy Birthday dear Rabih
A E A
Happy Birthday to you

Simple.

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.

Fake.

You can however add a chord to the last “Happy” to save the day: the B minor, or even better, the B minor 7th.

Bm7        E      A
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.

To my child who is celebrating her birthday.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Les Routes Millénaires — Thousand-Year-Old Roads

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.

Photo by Dorsa Masghati on Unsplash

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.

Let the board sound

Rabih

The Most Dangerous Roads

Take a leap of faith and buckle your seatbelts

Photo by Robin Pierre on Unsplash

Driving on the most dangerous roads in the world.

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.

Oh, and buckle your seatbelt of course!

Let the board sound

Rabih

Thou shalt dump daily excrements

Quantity is enough. Follow the quick buck.

Photo by Bakhrom Tursunov on Unsplash

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.

Only writing remains though.

Let the board sound

Rabih

The Anvil and The Hammer of Self-Righteousness

Last thoughts of a rotten soul

Photo by Immo Wegmann on Unsplash

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.

Let the board sound

Rabih

The Summers of our Childhood — Les Etés de Notre Enfance

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?

Elie Maalouf, Summer Impro!

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.

Merci Elie

Let the board sound

Rabih

Sentient

I am not spoiling it with a subtitle

Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash

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.

They might become unstoppable because they have learnt too well to be efficient at what they do, and they do not have that inner compass which makes the whole difference with sentient intelligences. They do not know the blessing of choice.

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.

Let the board sound

Rabih

أهواك بلا أمل — Hopeless Love

The perfect music for grieving Lebanese folks

Photo by Marjolaine Blaison on Unsplash

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.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Lettre de Motivation

Une petite pointe d’impertinence peut mener loin. Ou pas. A utiliser avec parcimonie. Ou pas.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Monsieur,

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.

Cordialement,

Mélodie Lalangue

A Rita, a Claire, mes complices dans cette entreprise d’irrévérence

Let the board sound

Rabih

Keep Living Keep Writing

And indulge into this deadly condition called Life

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

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.

Let the board sound

Rabih

The Slaver and the Fool

And what remains to be undone

Photo by Hussain Badshah on Unsplash

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

To which all are slaves.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Money Out of Thin Air

Promises only bind those who believe them

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

The saying goes like this,

Loans create deposits

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.

The promise

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.

Can you believe that?

Let the board sound

Rabih

Addiction

The tale of a firefly consumed by the light

Photo by Chris Rhoads on Unsplash

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.

Let the boars sound

Rabih

We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident

But are they?

Photo by John Bakator on Unsplash

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 amendment and 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 this, my friends, should be self-evident.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Farewell Dance

And the matching season — Remembering those who left

Photo by Kyle Larivee on Unsplash

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

Let the board sound

Rabih

There Are No Bad Choices

Your choices are as good as what you make of them

Photo by William Krause on Unsplash

The non-choices

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?

Left or right?

Black or white?

Leave or stay?

In my opinion, adjectives like goodbadright or wrong and their superlatives do 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.

Even weirder, the double-slit experiment, if you care to read about it, which shows the “fundamental limitation of the ability of the observer to predict experimental results”.

The choice

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.

Not yet.

Your choice is as good as what you make of it.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Resistance

Inspiré d’un poème de Victor Hugo — Inspired by a poem by Victor Hugo

Photo by Nemanja Peric on Unsplash

Frenglish, as always, for my English speaking friends to enjoy too. The tranlsation from Frog to Roast beef is included.

Si l’on n’est plus que mille, eh bien, j’en suis ! Si même
Ils ne sont plus que cent, je brave encor Sylla ;
S’il en demeure dix, je serai le dixième ;
Et s’il n’en reste qu’un, je serai celui-là !

Victor Hugo—Ultima Verba

Invoquant Sylla, te réclames-tu de César
Qui d’une main, usurpa le parcours des honneurs
De l’autre par Rome se fit acclamer seigneur
Tua la république, d’un empire se fit phare?

Réclamons-nous de Caton le Jeune, qui tint tête
César obstiné, empereur avant l’heure
Et voyant les têtes que Sylla dictateur
A Rome offrit en spectacle pour assoir sa quête

Demanda un poignard pour affranchir la ville
D’un tyran dont la folie la mit en péril


If there are only a thousand left, well, I am! If even
They are only a hundred, I still defy Sylla;
If there are ten remaining, I will be the tenth;
And if there is only one left, I’ll be the one!

Victor Hugo—Ultima Verba

Invoking Sulla, do you align to Caesar
Who with one hand, usurped the course of honors
and through the other, by Rome was acclaimed lord
Killing the republic, of an empire he was a beacon?

Rather claim the legacy of Cato the Younger who stood up
To stubborn Caesar, emperor before his time
And seeing the heads that Sulla the dictator
To Rome offered in a show to sit his quest

Asked for a dagger to free the city
Of a tyrant whose madness put it in peril

Let the board sound

Rabih

The Ultimate Weapon

Thermonuclear? Think again

Photo by Oscar Ävalos on Unsplash

Non-Proliferation Treaty

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 […]

You can read the full story on my medium page here.

Against the Tide

Hidden as the destination may be, your inner compass is constantly pointing to it

Photo by Cherise Evertz on Unsplash

The inner compass

North. South. East. West. Uptown. Downtown. Left. Right. Center. Liberal. Conservative. Socialist. Republican. Democrat.

It seems however you do not belong to any of the above. Your path is not solely defined by your belonging to a neighborhood, a party or a philosophy.

The thing is, your inner compass […]

You can read the full story on my medium page here.

A Tribute to Mothers

Taken for granted but dearly missed when coming of age

Photo by dylan nolte on Unsplash

A mother is a ray of sunlight in the dark
A cloud soothing the heat of the day on your skin
Often taken for granted, her smile hides the mark
Of the sorrows she bares for the joy of her kin

Children coming of age or the passage of time
Taking their toll on but a fragile flower
Frail as she would seem, still a mighty contender
A power of nature a miracle sublime

A mother is a ray of warmth in the damp cold
A presence dearly missed, a memory to hold
For ever…

Let the board sound

Rabih

Vengeance

A tribute to forgiveness

Photo by Alison Courtney on Unsplash

Vengeance is a consuming flame
Ravaging heart and soul alike
Seldom is it a friend to tame
And often a foe to dislike

Forgive, you will be whole again
Forgive, your foes are friends to gain
Forgive them, let love light your way
Forgive, soothes the pain away

Let the board sound

Rabih

Life and Death of a Fine Blade

The supreme instant before nothingness

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

A blinding flash faster than sight
A deadly blade of cold blue steel
For a moment beholds the might
Of what a cut can make you feel

For but a breath you’re more alive
Than ever you had been before
As in the gloom you slowly dive
Your soul is gone, you are no more

Let the board sound

Rabih

A Chess Lesson in the Midst of War

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

Photo by Hassan Pasha on Unsplash

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.

The 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.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Write your thoughts into poetry

And let your poetry be love

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Write your thoughts into poetry
And draw poems into colors

Play the colors into music
And sing the music into songs

Pour the songs into wine and drink
And through the wine into drunkenness

And through drunkenness to oblivion
And through oblivion, memories

Of time gone by in search of gold
Of youth, of hope, of hate, of love

For love once found, it matters not
If you find youth, if you find gold

Your only hope, to counter hate
Is rhyme and word and poetry

Then let love be your poetry
And your poetry will be love

Let the board sound

Rabih

How Worse Could it Get

A more than weird episode at the office

Photo by Velizar Ivanov on Unsplash

8:04 AM.

I’m in the elevator with a weird colleague I had never seen before. The company had been growing like crazy in the past years, and the days when you could say “I know everyone” are long gone.

Long story short, I get off the elevator on the 6th floor and I think to myself:

Damn! That girl smells like the sixties and looks like shite…

Cold tobacco and wet leather kind of smell. And the looks, well I leave that to your imagination. Don’t get too wild though.

As the elevator door closes, I hear her whistle.

… All the lonely people…Where do they all come from …

OK. Eleanor Rigby, The Beatles, 1966. How odd. How fitting actually. The song could have been about her. I go my way whistling Your song by Elton John as a tribute to her.

You can tell everybody, this is your song …

I know, I am being mean. But hey, what can I say, it is just not my day, and besides, my thoughts are my own to think.

And it is not like she could hear me!

I head to my desk. A message is waiting for me in the chat.

Rabih,

If I smell like the sixties and I look like shite, you’d better be a nostalgic scatophile for I’m here to stay. Just saying.

Eleanor Rigby, COO

It was sent the previous evening.

That would explain the sixties smell.

And back to the main title, it can hardly get worse than sharing the elevator with a telepathic-time-travelling C-level executive. I guess the fab four would agree.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Can Martians Buy Stuff at Walmart?

With Martian currency?

Photo by Andy Hermawan on Unsplash

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.

Martian banks

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?

Nope.

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…

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Let the board sound

Rabih

The Last Currency Standing When All Is Lost

Hint: not Crypto

Photo by Zlaťáky.cz on Unsplash

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!

Crypto?

Nada!

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.

Armed robbery.

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.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Shades of Gloom

An ode to a country on the verge of oblivion

Photo by Lukas Robertson on Unsplash

Shrouded in a thick veil of comfortable darkness
Purple drapes hiding your despair in shades of gloom
Diving in a sea of tranquil and somber bleakness
Hoping for oblivion, dreading the colors of bloom

For bloom is the rise of a phoenix from ashes
And to ashes returns to better rise again
Many returns carry century old flashes
Oblivious of the past the memories remain

Rise oh cedar, oh imputrescible essence 
In the Book seventy times chanted by prophets
Your name bears the promise of your children’s penance
A beacon in the rhymes of desperate poets

Rise Oh Lebanon, Oh land of milk and honey
Rise to the challenge and embrace your destiny

Let the board sound

Rabih

Ukraine, Putin and a parallel with Europe in the 1930s

Or how the current situation is a reenactment of a dark chapter in our history

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

I have just read a very interesting article by Martin French on Putin’s recent nuclear threat. A very thorough analysis you should probably read.

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?

Europe, 1938

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.

What will it take today?

Assumptions

Martin French takes the assumption that Putin is either

a man who is weak and frightened of being found out — ripe to be replaced in a military coup.

Or

a man unchallenged, acting in an unpredictable manner, his diktats carried out without question as they occur to him.

And I think he got it spot on. Unless…

Could the Russian president be flat out crazy, or worse, completely paranoid? In that case, God help us all. World War 2 ended with a couple of low yield nukes. Are we heading there today?

Could he be nuts enough to trigger the Dead Hand? Keep in mind he’s got 6000 nuclear warheads and has been bragging about his hypersonic missiles for some time now.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Hold on, Don’t Fade to Sleep

Just a few more hours, I’m on my way

Photo by Ramy Kabalan on Unsplash

I’m coming. Soon. I really am. I swear.

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.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Ideas Worth Sharing

Or how the lamest events can trigger the brightest ideas, or the lack thereof

Photo by Juan C. Palacios on Pexels.com

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.

If you have made it this far, why don’t you join me on a quest for gems in a sea of nonsense?

Let the board sound

Rabih

A Utopia Where Everyone’s a Winner

And the reason why no one has thought of it before

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

How about a naïve but (hopefully) potent idea to shed some hope in the jungle which the corporate world has become today?

What if a major corporation pledged to give up half of its profits to charity in the broad sense, or to education or health services year in year out? Would it be too far fetched to reason that such a measure could boost its revenue and cut its tax rate enough to make up for the loss? That people are inherently good at heart and would choose it over its competitors?

It would take one big player to start playing this game and the next thing you know, everyone’s in on it and it becomes quite the norm, so much in fact that in time, not playing the game would be suicidal for any corporation.

And then it would be made into law, when every major player in the economy is onboarded. Part of the French constitution. A new amendment to the constitution of the United States. Not because it is the humane thing to do, that would be too naïve, but because it would be the most successful corporate growth strategy yet discovered, while saving the state and taxpayers billions, if we consider that universal healthcare or unemployment benefits for instance qualify for such a program. And even if they do not, then alcoholic anonymous would, and that still saves the state billions in damages and loss of life and limb.

Education would qualify too. Education is the last line of defense. When the rose hits the fan, a country must be prepared to lose everything but its education system. Without it, there is no rebuilding what would have been lost, without it, no future generations would hold.

It could be a system where everyone is a winner: households, corporations and states.

It is early morning, right before dawn. I’ve been on this article for a while now and the glass of wine is empty. Yes, we are in France and the article was not supposed to go the way it went, we got lost on the road and ended up in this weird place. Now that I am sobering up, I can see hundreds of reasons for this game not to work and I can see why it is beyond naïve.

But then again, was it only the wine? Why not after all?

One thing is for sure folks, don’t drink and write.

Let the board sound

Rabih

The Poet’s Legacy

A poem, what else…

A poem be it told or kept hidden within
Is balm to feelings scorched or sword to gloating sin
Its fire purifies the souls to be redeemed
It’s honey to the heart longing to be relieved

Blessed is the poet for even he be slain,
To dust his body turns but his poems remain
He may have lived to see that he must die in vain
His solace lies within ideas that remain

Will heavens his soul claim, or shall he cross the Styx
On but a frail vessel along fellow mystics
Who dared defy the gods with but some words and rhyme
And lightly will depart when vengeance seals their crime

He parts leaving behind no legacy nor gold
His poem is a child he shall not live to raise
Entrust it to the world he leaves without a praise
His poem is the praise he never would be told

To those who will remain when everything is lost
The happy few of us who crave poems the most
His poem is a gem he bequeathed to the world
His poem is a world bequeathed to fellow men

Let the board sound

Rabih

I’m just passing by

On a cold night there’s a cold gun, burning through her hand
In the lonely town there’s a lonely girl trying to forget
The tears she cried a long time ago are still haunting her soul
And in the cold night all the pain she felt was driving her insane

Same night many years ago, lying in a bed
Torn dress, shattered look, more than she could take
What if she died a long time ago, what if she wasn’t born at all
And in the cold night all the memories unraveled in her head

And she said
You can’t hurt me, you can’t hurt me
I’m just passing by she said
I’m just passing by

©1998-2022 Rabih Borgi, Fadi Borgi, Georges El Hajal. All rights reserved.

The Irish Riddle

Or how a cryptic song from the eighties can take us places

I have always been intrigued by Nik Kershaw’s The Riddle. I first heard it when I was ten or eleven years old. My ears were still completely deaf to English back then but the words (as far as I could tell), the groove and the music were interlocking perfectly.

I would get to know more about it years later, and the more I knew, the less it made sense. Its lyrics were, and still are cryptic beyond redemption. Nik called it The Riddle for a good reason. Here, listen :

I got two strong arms
Blessings of Babylon time
To carry on and try
For sins and false alarms
So to America the brave
Wise men says

Near a tree by a river
There’s a hole in the ground
Where an old man of Aran
Goes around and around
And his mind is a beacon
In the veil of the night
For a strange kind of fashion
There’s a wrong and a right

Kershaw would explain later that the lyrics were randomly put together to match the music but had no hidden meaning, or any meaning at all for that matters.

But what if they did?

First trial at solving the riddle

I bet the key to this riddle would be lost somewhere in the Old Man of Aran’s mind. Let us focus on the lyrics again… An old man or Aran… Ah! The Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland! Nick would deny it of course, but again, what if? Why not?

So now we have a place. We still need an old man, and I think I have a decent candidate: Saint Enda of Aran, a warrior king turned to monastic life an founder of the first Irish monastery, on the island of Inishmore, the largest of the three Aran islands. He is even linked to an old well near Galway, St Edna’s well, which seems a good enough candidate for the hole in the ground where the old man of Aran goes around and around. The trail however seems to end there. No trace of a river. And the beacon seems quite dim from the distance. As for the fashion, I see none, that is unless the monastic life counts as fashion.

Wrong path? Unless…

Let us call a friend

Seamus Heaney. Irish Poet who was awarded the 1995 Nobel prize for literature, for Death of a Naturalist, a collection of thirty four short poems, one of which happens to be called Lovers on Aran.

The timeless waves, bright, sifting, broken glass,
Came dazzling around, into the rocks,
Came glinting, sifting from the Americas

To possess Aran. Or did Aran rush
to throw wide arms of rock around a tide
That yielded with an ebb, with a soft crash?

Did sea define the land or land the sea?
Each drew new meaning from the waves’ collision.
Sea broke on land to full identity.

I can see a link with the two strong arms and America the brave in Kershaw’s The Riddle. The link to the Aran Islands is obvious, and the beacon would be the poet himself, or his mind actually, to match the lyrics. Or would he. You see, there is another poem in Heaney’s collection which qualifies, one called Synge on AranSynge, as John Millington Synge, another Irish poet and writer who would spend time in the Arans and write The Aran Islands, among other works. He would stay in the Arans in the first place at the advice of Yeats, yet another Irish poet, writer and Nobel prize laureate, for the few who have not heard of him yet.

As for the key to decipher Nik’s cryptic song, well, would anyone care to take over solving the riddle? I need to rush, I have some Irish literature to attend to.

Let the board sound

Rabih

On a gem hunt in a sea of nonsense

Photo by Conscious Design on Unsplash

I have been dragged to a “writing” platform by a colleague who recently uncovered one of my quirks: I write stuff. The platform also catered for another quirk: I read stuff. And boy were there stories to read on it.

Here’s an excerpt:

10 Things I Wish I knew Before Starting my Writing Journey
7 Habits That Will Make Your Writing Better
3 Writing Tricks for Viral Stories

That’s half of the stock. The other half is made of rants on Better-Writing-to-Make-Bucks stories and berating members who write on such topics.

A couple of days into the adventure had me convinced I would not be missing out on much if I left at that point. Then, I happened to come by an article which did not belong. An orphan whose parents were neither prophets of the New and Enlightened Writing Order nor reactionaries of the Ancient and Accepted Ritual of Writing.

It was a relatively short poem about the Tonga eruption. Words and rhymes in-between homage and praise, through sadness and hope. It was moving to say the least, and it sent me on a gem hunt, since gems seemed to exist on this platform after all. I would find many of them, written by wonderful people…

A poet who likes things that shine
An author who writes short random thoughts and stories
A retired long-haul trucker who exchanged his rig for pen, paper, and keyboard
A guy who writes to silence them voices in his head
An avid beekeeper

… As they would put it. And many more master gem cutters, too many to list in this story without it becoming a list.

So, dear lapidaries, if you happen to be reading this story and recognize yourselves, let me know if I can link back to your stories. I know you are not the safe and coffer types. Your colorful gems must be shared.

As for you dear reader, if I may, try to look for real gems in this sea of advice on squeezing bucks out of your creativity. Only the gems can feed our imagination and help us write better stories. Marketing fad cannot yield beauty, only promises of elusive followers and the quick buck. Or the lack thereof.

Let the board sound

Rabih

The original version of this story can be found here.

Fall in love

Fall in love
Fool yourself
If you should
Wound yourself
Wreck your heart
If you could
Break the spell
Fight the crave
If you would
Heal the wound
Save yourself
Fall in love …
Heal your heart
Save your soul
Fall in love…

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

Let the board sound

Rabih

La route du succès

Nos succès sont collectifs.

Ce sont d’abord les nôtres évidemment, mais également ceux de nos parents, de nos familles, ceux de nos maitres, de nos professeurs, les succès de ceux qui nous ont appris, qui nous ont encouragés sur le chemin, de ceux qui ont eu foi en nos projets, qui ont cru en nous. Ce sont les succès de nos communautés, de ceux qui étaient avant car nos réussites honorent leur mémoire, de ceux qui viendront après, songez à Gibran dont le Liban est si fier, à De Gaulle qui a façonné la France d’après-guerre. Ce sont les succès du pays qui nous a vu grandir, et peut-être de celui qui nous verra mourir.

Ils appartiendront aussi à ceux que nous avons vu tomber et pour qui nous avons eu un mot d’encouragement, un sourire de compassion. Nos succès les porteront vers les leurs.

Mais dans les longues nuits qui les précèdent, où l’on tente et retente en vain, où l’on tombe sans parfois se relever, dans la solitude de ce chemin sans lumière, chers amis, ne détournez pas vos regards, faites que nos échecs soient solidaires.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Make a difference

You’re searching in the dark, you’re wandering for light
A blaze to which you’d walk, of which you’d feel the might
You’re writing in the shade, you barely see the mark
Of words through which you write a candle in the dark


These words which have laid there before the dawn of time
While waiting for a soul to pull them into rhyme
To keep from oblivion these tales of fireflies
And out of nothingness, to gift them to the skies


A craft many embrace but only few can tame
A true craftsman of words in this fine art has aim
He writes to heal the world, he writes to end the stray
With a handful of words, he’s got this much to say:


“Create, you will be blessed if your word people liked
Create, you will be whole even if you’re disliked
The curse? There’s only one, it’s called indifference
The cure? There’s hardly one, to make a difference.”


Let the board sound

Rabih

Rêve éveillé

Bleu. Rouge. Bleu. Rouge… Un bruit continu, une modulation assourdissante… Des cris, indistincts, paniqués… Le noir, le silence, puis, un plafond blanc qui s’enfuit… des visages qui lui courent après, et du noir, encore…

Je me réveille. 4 heures du matin. Encore un cauchemar me dis-je. J’en ai la gorge sèche. Trop engourdi pour aller à la cuisine, je cherche des yeux quelque chose pour oublier ma soif. Un puzzle m’attire irrésistiblement, la création d’Adam, chapelle Sixtine. 206 pièces.

Pas trop compliqué, ça me prendra une petite heure, le temps de me rappeler au souvenir de ce brave morphée. Je commence par les coins comme tout passionné de puzzle qui se respecte, je m’applique, mais ça n’avance pas. Une horloge tinte dans le lointain, 4h30.

“Résous-le!”

Une voix intérieure résonne dans ma tête, comme une explosion. “Résous ce puzzle!” Un sentiment d’urgence m’envahit soudain. Où avais-je la tête? Il faut conclure au plus vite! Il va où le cubitus? Aurais-je interverti les tibias? Et cette rotule qui ne s’imbrique pas sur ce genou?
Morphée finit par se manifester alors que je pose la dernière pièce du puzzle, celle où l’index du bon Dieu rencontre celui de sa fragile créature. Mes yeux se ferment juste à temps…

Je saurai plus tard à ma sortie du coma que le chirurgien orthopédiste aura fait des miracles sur une grande partie de mes 206 os et que je lui dois de pouvoir me tenir à peu près debout aujourd’hui malgré la gravité de mon accident. Je fais deux bons centimètres de moins à cause de mes tibias passés au moulin et je ne serai jamais champion de course à pied, mais je marche encore et je peux même courir dans mes bons jours grâce à lui également. La rotule est toujours aux abonnés absents, mais heureusement, les cubitus tiennent encore la route. Des miracles je vous dis. Ma moto quant à elle n’est plus qu’un lointain et douloureux souvenir, cédée avec hargne à l’épaviste au poids de ferraille par ma mère, qui depuis garde un cierge allumé à l’intention de son grand garçon à Saint-Sulpice, que Dieu me la garde.

Depuis ce jour, une pensée me hante, celle de la dernière pièce de puzzle où se rejoignent l’humain et le Divin, le mortel et l’Eternel, à travers leurs indexes qui se frôlent. Voyez-vous, de tout mon corps, les os de mes membres supérieurs ont le plus souffert et à un moment de ma jeunesse, j’avais arrêté de compter les opérations qui m’ont finalement permis de pouvoir tenir une fourchette à peu près correctement. Les seuls os à en avoir réchappé sont ceux de mon index gauche, celui-là même que le bon Dieu semble toucher dans la fresque de la chapelle Sixtine. Et j’y ai vu un signe, un appel à utiliser ce rescapé de l’hécatombe pour transmettre le don de vie qui aurait dû m’être refusé.

J’ai donc repris mes études de médecine, abandonnées dans une vie antérieure pour l’amour d’une créature à deux roues et me suis spécialisé dans les greffes, pour redonner la vie à ceux qui allaient en être privés par la faute d’un cœur trop fatigué ou d’un poumon trop faiblard, vie qui leur est involontairement donnée en cadeau par des têtes brulées qui ne réalisent pas la chance qu’elles ont d’être jeunes, en bonne santé et de pouvoir croquer la vie à belles dents, et qui décident un beau jour d’aplatir leur électroencéphalogramme pour une dose d’adrénaline dans un bolide à 8 cylindres.

J’ai eu la chance d’en réchapper, d’autres ne l’auront pas. Alors de grâce mes amis, prenez soin de ces cadeaux que sont votre jeunesse et votre santé, d’autres n’ont pas eu ces privilèges …

Un ex-jeune rescapé des kilomètres/heure

Let the board sound

Rabih

PS: cette histoire est purement fictive, toute ressemblance avec des personnes ou situations réelles est fortuite.

Why on Earth Would You Listen to Classical Music

Or why not actually. All it takes is the right hook.

A fellow author recently sent me an article about a musical experiment which took place in 2007, where a world-renowned violin virtuoso would pose as an ordinary busker in a metro station, playing well known classical pieces from Bach or Schubert on his 300 year-old 14 million dollar Stradivarius violin, hoping to get recognized, or at least get some attention from the crowds. Out of the 1097 people passing by during the 40 minutes this experiment lasted, 27 put money in his violin case, 7 took the time to listen to what he was playing for more than a few seconds and only one person recognized him.

How unfortunate might you think, but think again before you forsake your humanist ideals and embrace the claim that mediocrity is humanity’s common denominator. Why would have people stopped in the first place? Chances are they had already been through the ordeal of mediocre shows in their favorite metro station and they would not have stopped for what they though was one more, because that’s what it was supposed to look like on first sight, regardless of what it actually was. Or perhaps they were in a hurry, as most commuters are.

And what if classical music on its own is not enough to hook people? It is after all quite elaborate and can take inattentive people off guard. What if it needed something extra, like a hook? A twist to get their attention and slowly bring them to the inner circle? You see Bach’s music is classified as Baroque, a savant and sophisticated form of quite organized music, which could seem a bit rigid to the untrained ear, and boy are our ears untrained. Besides, your ears might recognize a classical piece of music they’ve heard before but still, you would struggle to put a name on it since most have cryptic names. Some of them, the happy few, end up being known by a moniker, like Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata or Chopin’s Waterfall Etude or his Grande Valse Brillante, but most keep their original name, which sounds like Etude in C sharp major op 5 N° 12 for instance. A mouthful. A turnoff.

I bet however that a Paganini piece would have gathered more people around it, maybe not so much for the music itself but more for the show around it. Here you are, that’s your hook. You see, in his time Paganini was a violin virtuoso, as much a great showman as an astounding musician, whose strategy was to demonstrate his musical abilities through the most technically demanding compositions, awing his audience by speed, dexterity and showmanship even more than by music itself, which removes nothing of the intrinsic beauty of his compositions by the way, quite the contrary actually. Check Paganini’s Caprice N°5 being performed on stage, you will see what I am talking about.

Rock stars have always had a magnetizing effect on the crowds and Paganini was the Rock star of his era. Talking of rock stars, many centuries later, Yngwie Malmsteen would take Paganini’s style to the electric guitar through what some would later call neo classical metal, and carve a name for himself following the footsteps of the virtuoso violin master.

I credit him for putting a guitar on my lap 25 years ago. I also credit him for hooking me to classical music in a way. Him, and my dad. And a couple of years spent in Abu Dhabi, but that’s another story.

Let the board sound 

Rabih

Ecrire pour faire une différence

5959 jours, passés comme un songe. Les premiers jours, on est tout ouïe, à l’affût de la moindre nouvelle, de la moindre rumeur. Puis le temps aidant, on réussit à s’affranchir aurais-je dis il y’a encore quelques mois, des actualités de ce lopin de terre coincé entre la rage de vivre au jour le jour et les jours sans lendemains. C’est vous dire au bout de 5959 jours à quel point l’actualité politique et économique du Liban m’était devenue étrangère à défaut d’étrange, non pas par rejet de mes origines mais par réflexe d’auto-préservation, car prendre sur soi les soucis du vieux pays alors que l’on surnage dans une France que l’on essaie de faire sienne pour survivre à la séparation, ferait ployer le plus serein, rendrait fou le plus sage.

Photo by Joe Kassis

C’est donc relativement immunisé des actualités libanaises que je me suis lancé il y’a quelques mois dans cette entreprise un peu folle qui consiste à écrire des articles sur tout et n’importe quoi en espérant que quelqu’un dans ce vaste monde y trouvât une idée intéressante. Contre toute attente, je me suis retrouvé un beau jour à écrire sur le vieux pays et je me suis surpris à suivre l’actualité de ce coin du monde de manière plus qu’assidue, notamment à travers les colonnes d’un quotidien francophone qui a l’amabilité de publier certains de mes articles dans sa rubrique Courrier.

Et je suis, ma foi, assez surpris de ne pas être surpris justement par ce que je lis: nos politiciens gèrent toujours le pays comme une épicerie, ou plutôt comme une ferme dont nous serions le bétail, et ce, malgré une différence de taille survenue au cours de ces 5959 jours, à savoir une épée de Damoclès plus que jamais suspendue au-dessus de leur trône, celle du citoyen qui n’a plus rien à perdre, et qui a donc tout à gagner d’une révolution, et Dieu sait le sang que les révolutions répandent avant de répandre les bienfaits qu’elles promettent aux peuples qui se soulèvent, quand elles sont assez magnanimes pour le faire.

Quant à moi, je persévère dans cette entreprise un peu folle d’écrire sur tout et n’importe quoi durant ces longues nuits d’hiver de ma patrie d’adoption, en sirotant un Ron du Venezuela, un trait de cognac ou un café agrémenté d’une écorce d’orange, en ayant l’outrecuidance de vouloir faire une différence dans ce monde, ou tout au moins de l’espérer, pour l’amour de mon pays d’origine, le Liban.

Let the board sound

Rabih

On a girl with character and a muscle car

An apple red 1974 Dodge Challenger, rushing through the turns in a futile tentative to reach the summer sunset, before the night sets in. The girl driving it was not running away. She was speed-driving an oppressing feeling of inevitability off her chest and onto the asphalt, racing the race of her life in an attempt to beat the chequered flag before it signaled the end she was dreading. It was 6 PM already and the stakes were growing higher by the minute. She was driving towards the capital, with 2 hours to go according to the GPS, but much less according to her plans: the tuned and well looked after muscle car had a top speed of more than 200 kilometers per hour and the girl could not care less about speed tickets or traffic. She was planning on cutting through anything or anyone standing in her way.

Photo by Traf

The sun had already set by the time the car finally came to a stop. 37 minutes to departure. That was 7 minutes before the gates would close, but it was already too late for her. Even with all the time in the world, she would have never been able to reach them without a couple of much sought after passes: a European or American passport or visa and a valid plane ticket, both of which she did not have. Fortune favors the bold. She reached to her chest, grabbed a golden medallion and the picture hidden inside, put it to her lips, took a deep breath and started running the fastest sprint ever run. 372 meters, through revolving doors, a couple of stairs, three border police checkpoints and all the crowds trying to flee this god forsaken land. She had already 12 cops on her soles by the time she reached the departures gates, with 3 minutes to spare. And then she saw him, right at the other end of the terminal, the last passenger boarding, and too far to hear her over the crowd. All she could do was stare at his back while she still could, before she would be taken down by 12 angry men. Right at the last second, in a fortunate twist of fate, or maybe thanks to providence, he turned back, as if to wish this land farewell one last time. Their eyes crossed, and what he could not have heard in her silent voice, he saw in her big brown eyes. He knew right at this moment that his life would never be the same. He dropped his bags and rushed to her through the crowd.

Nothing else mattered.

To Rita, to the love of my life

Let the board sound

Rabih

Philosophy, computers and geeky brain teasers

You ought to be careful when combining absolutes with words like true, false and not. The mixture is trickier than you might think.

Here’s a brain teaser to illustrate my point.

“There is no absolute truth”

You might have heard this statement before, and you might even hold it to be true at face value. I personally think it is very carelessly phrased: if we hold it to be true, then we must draw the logical conclusion to which it leads us: the statement that there is no absolute truth cannot be an absolute truth either. Postulating that absolute truth does not exist implies the possibility of its existence.

An answer to this paradox might be found in the first principle of René Descartes, a 17th century French philosopher:

Cogito, ergo sum

I think, therefore I am

It implies that there is at least one absolute truth out there, that of one’s existence, since doubting your own existence implies the existence of a medium where the thought of doubt is occurring, which is yourself. It gets geekier dear reader, keep reading.

If we go further down the road, we might lead ourselves out of philosophy land and into computer science territory: TRUE, FALSE, and logical operators like AND, OR and NOT are in fact the cornerstone of modern technology in the broad sense: phones, cars, SpaceX rockets, particle accelerators and anything in between rely on some kind of computing capacity, which is built on top of FALSE and TRUE values and logic operators, through a specific algebra, the Boolean algebra, into microprocessors. Wait wait wait wait! Don’t rush through the door. I know I just said algebra, but I also mentioned Boolean which is the fun part.

Photo by Markus Spiske

Boolean algebra is a binary or base 2 algebra. This means that you can only use two figures, 0 and 1, to represent all numbers from 0 to infinity. The numbers 0 and 1 are still written as 0 and 1 in binary but 2 can only be represented as 10, 3 thus becomes 11 and 4 is written as…100. Any decimal number becomes a sequence of zeros and ones in binary mode, and all that computers do is storing these zeros and ones in their memory registers as representations of the TRUE and FALSE values of the Boolean algebra, and perform operations on them: AND which is equivalent to a multiplication, OR, which is equivalent to a sum and NOT, which is equivalent to an opposite, among other operators.

For example, NOT(1) is always 0 and never 1, or in other words, NOT (TRUE) always yields FALSE, never TRUE.

Which could be a way of saying that the statement “There is no absolute truth” is always false, never true, at least as far as computers are concerned. Wouldn’t you agree?

To Wassim

Let the board sound

Rabih