This is all it takes to get to Disneyland Paris by public transportation, from the center of Paris. Five euros.
The price of five baguettes, the local bread around here, enough to shelter a family from hunger for another day or two.
The price of 3 liters of gas at the current market price, or that of a regional train ticket, enough to go check on your grandpa. Enough to rush a neighbor to emergency on a dark winter night.
That’s a fair enough amount you could donate to charity, and get back 3.3 euros in tax credit if you happen to live in France.
A rose to your better half will set you back five euros, a well spent amount in my humble opinion, for it is through the small gestures and signs of love that relationships last.
Dear friend, on your way to Disneyland, remember that happiness is easy to spread, and that happy people are contagious. So do enjoy your day as much as you can. It will refuel you enough to make the world a little happier, and this is worth at least the five euros you would have spent to get there.
And still, beyond that, make sure to keep five euros worth of warmth on you. Five euros of compassion. Who knows, they might come in handy.
They may save someone’s life. They may make someone’s day.
So I wake up on lottery day, with a weird idea wandering in my sleepy mind, as if speaking to me.
“Say you win the lottery today, would you give it all up, all the 154,000,000.00 euros, for no reason whatsoever?”
“OK, how about giving it up for a cause? What would it be?”
Children. Without a doubt.
Children are the most precious resource in this universe. They are the only hope this world has, and yet, they are so vulnerable and need so much attention and love, both of which are scarce, both of which are fading away.
So many children are suffering out there, so many children dying alone, hungry, miserable, out in the cold. Children do not have what it takes to fight back. They have their parents of course, but parents can only do so much when they have not eaten in days, when they have lost their job, their roof, their dignity. All they can do is love their children even more, hug them closer in the cold street they now call home, until the reaper comes for one or the other, and that’s about it.
Children are resilient, much more than you’d think. But resilience only comes in handy if the sole enemy they were facing was adversity. Children face more aggressive foes than adversity. They face preying scum who care little about them as poor little human beings, and more about the buck they can make on their backs. They will enslave them, sell them as cheap labor, or body parts, or both, or simply use them as shoot’em up material. It hurts reading this I guess. It sure hurt me writing it.
“So, back to our lottery. Would you give up your winnings for the sake of children?”
Yes! Most of it at least.
“Most of it?”
Yeah, you know, I might keep a little for the mortgage, and a little for retirement, and I would use a portion to set up a foundation to cater for the children in need. And then…
And then it dawned on me. I will never run out of good reasons to keep a stack of money aside, and the children can always have what is left. Which is nothing. And then I understood that this idea wandering in my mind was actually a call. A wake-up call.
The wake-up call
What it says is that easy money rots you inside out. That you will not have enough wisdom and detachment to keep your head cool and your ethics intact. That every penny you keep to yourself would end up burning your soul, because as long as there are people looking for solace out there, as long as there are children sleeping in the streets, every penny you keep from the lottery winning would be a curse to you and your loved ones.
So no, I will not have it in me to give it away, but I am grateful I have enough brains to realize this much about myself.
I know this idea might sound outright crazy to many if not most, and I sure know there is nothing wrong or unethical in winning lottery and enjoying it. It was a very personal wake-up call, tailor-made to that little brain of mine, and it made me take a very personal decision, which, of course, might or might not be right for everyone, but it sure feels right to me.
Ever since that day, I vowed to never buy lottery tickets again. I do not want to have to silence that little voice in my head, and I know I will have to if I ever win, even if the odds are extremely small.
A little prayer
Whenever I get tempted, I think of the children. And I say a little prayer. I ask God to grant me enough wisdom to stand by my choices, enough kindness to keep sharing with those in need, enough charity to keep a place in my heart for the children in need, enough gratitude for being alive, having a roof above my head and food on the table, and enough love to raise my children the way He would want me to.
And enough foolishness and liberty to still give up the lottery price should I ever stumble and buy a winning ticket, against all odds.
And still, dear reader, if you happen to be holding to a lottery ticket right now, I hope it is the winning one. And I wish you all the wisdom and love in the world, regardless.
In the end only memories will remain. Oh, not even the greatest or the most vivid ones.
The most brilliant victories? The blatant failures? Frozen in a past watered down by a failing memory, they shall not remain. They will fly away like particles of dust, carried away by the breeze of oblivion, for time, you see, always ends up leveling the victories by their fair measure of failures and failures by their fair number of victories.
Will remain only the memories worth reliving, the sweetest, the most beautiful ones.
The warmth of the fire which, from its hearth, lit up the winter nights of your childhood in the Levant. The breeze of a summer afternoon by the sea. The sun of the village where you grew up, its fields, its meadows, its stones on which you scratched your knees. The bitterness of departure, yes, because even bitterness is softened through memories, and the joy of fleeting reunions, as well as the bitter-sweet nostalgia of a poor country lost forever…
Will also remain the golden and copper leaves of Parisian autumns, the delicious bitterness of an orange peel in a coffee on a terrace in Montmartre, and books of course. Do not underestimate their power, they will have left you with impressions as lasting as the most beautiful memories.
But first and foremost, the softness of a hand, the warmth of a lip, the reassuring routine of a day like any other, but still somewhat different through the little pleasures you share daily, hugs, sorrows, sun, showers, melodies that enchant the days and lull the nights.
And the warmth of love, the love of your life, the one which will remain when everything else will have disappeared in the meanders of oblivion, the love which even death cannot take away.
To Rita, for these 9 years that will have passed like a dream, and to all those years just waiting to be lived.
Il ne restera en fin de compte que les souvenirs. Oh, même pas tous, sans doute pas les plus grandioses ni les plus marquants.
Tes victoires les plus éclatantes? Tes échecs les plus cuisants? Figés dans un passé édulcoré par une mémoire trop imparfaite, ils ne resteront finalement pas. Ils s’envoleront, poussières portées par les brises de l’oubli car, vois-tu, le temps finit toujours par les niveler, victoires à l’aune des échecs, échecs à la mesure des victoires.
Des souvenirs, il ne restera finalement que les plus beaux, les plus doux, ceux qui valent la peine d’être revécus.
La chaleur du feu qui, de son âtre, éclairait les nuits d’hiver de ton enfance au Levant. La brise d’un après-midi d’été au bord de la mer. Le soleil du village où tu as grandi, ses champs, ses près, ses pierres sur lesquelles tu t’es écorché les genoux. L’amertume du départ, oui, car même l’amertume s’adoucit à travers les souvenirs, et la joie des retrouvailles éphémères, ainsi que la douce nostalgie d’un pauvre pays perdu à jamais…
Resteront aussi les feuilles d’or et de cuivre des automnes parisiens, la délicieuse amertume d’une écorce d’orange dans un café bien serré sur une terrasse de Montmartre, et les livres bien sûr. Ne sous-estime pas leur puissance, ils t’auront laissé des impressions aussi durables que les souvenirs les plus beaux.
Mais surtout, la douceur d’une main, la chaleur d’une lèvre, la routine rassurante d’une journée comme les autres, mais quand-même différente par les mille petits bonheurs partagés au quotidien, câlins, chagrins, soleils, averses, mélodies qui enchantent les journées et bercent les nuits.
Et la douceur d’un amour, de l’amour de ta vie, celui qui restera quand tout le reste aura disparu dans les méandres de l’oubli, celui que même la mort ne te prendra.
A Rita, pour ces 9 ans qui seront passés comme un rêve, et à toutes ces années qui n’attendent que d’être vécues.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
This story takes place somewhere in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, in an area delimited north by the Place d’Italie, and south by the Poterne des Peupliers.
An area less walked by tourists and typical Paris enthusiasts but not less interesting in my opinion. Nothing can illustrate it more than a walk down the typical Rue du Moulin des Prés to the Abbé Georges Hénocque Square and the lovely tiny little house-and-gardens leading to and surrounding it, then west through the Rue de la Colonie and the intersection with the Rue Tolbiac right at the Saint Anne church, and north through Rue Bobillot passing the municipal pool which waters are heated by the data center severs computing below it, up to the Butte aux Cailles and its many small restaurants and alternative bars, where you can finally take a stab at the escalope montagnarde, an institution in its own right courtesy of a cosy and casual dining room from Southwest France,right at the end of the walk. Worth a thousand words.
You will not be walking by famous iron towers or triumphal archs, and even less by paintings of mysterious half-smiling ladies from the Italian renaissance, but the area has a distinctive atmosphere which you can only feel by walking its streets.
Somewhere on this pathway lies a musical instruments shop, held by old school blues musicians, which meant there was no bling there, no fancy useless gimmicks, no lame talking. The guys used to cater for Hugue Aufrey’s guitars. That says it all. I was a regular customer of theirs.
This is where I met her, on a Saturday morning 13 years ago.
She was not thin, at least not in the traditional sense, and she had these shapes and curves which drove me crazy. A dark red belly-shaped maple top on a solid mahogany body, silver hardware, and no compromise on her beauty, even at the expense of ergonomics, especially at the expense of ergonomics actually. And the roar… a creamy roar sending shivers down the spine of whoever would pretend to tame her. She was a hard player, smooth to the touch, harsh on the back, not only because of the weight of the legendary names behind her kind like Jimmy Page, Les Paul or Neil Young, but also because of the 10 pounds of unchambered mahogany straining your shoulders, heavier than any of the other roaring hot rods out there.
I had been fantasizing about her since my early teens.
She was a 1994 Gibson Les Paul Standard in Red Wine finish. A guitar of legends, a roaring beauty. A Rock and Roll icon. The F50 of guitars, like an iconic car which few could tame at the speeds it was supposed to reach on track.
She would follow me to Paris, London, Abu Dhabi, Beirut, any place in which I lived or spent a significant amount of time and for years would be pretty much the only constant in a hectic life spent on roller coasters.
Until I met a girl with a sweet smile and a gentle creamy roar, somewhere in Paris, but that’s another story. Maybe for a later post?
Je t’écris ces lignes sans trop savoir où elles nous mèneront, sans trop savoir pourquoi je prends la plume. Il est une heure treize du matin. Je n’ai ni la clarté des idées ni l’assurance du verbe qui légitimeraient un titre à cette missive, en introduction aux lignes qui devraient ou auraient dû en découler. Nous coucherons donc ces lignes ensembles, à la faveur d’une inspiration que le silence de la nuit, un verre de cognac et quelques souvenirs douloureux sans doute, joyeux peut-être, marquants sûrement, se chargeront de favoriser, pour donner corps à une diatribe, qui, j’espère, ne s’éparpillera pas trop. Mais il me semble que je m’éparpille déjà…
Il fut un temps, pas si lointain, où je n’étais pour toi qu’un inconnu de plus qui, débarquant à Roissy en ce 20 septembre, venait quémander une place au soleil. Le voyage ne fut pas des plus reposants: un aller simple, un retard de huit heures à Athènes et une arrivée mouvementée à la Maison des Elèves de Telecom Paris, Maisel pour les initiés.
Il m’aura fallu trois mois pour t’apprivoiser, Ô rouleau compresseur exquis. Que de jours n’ai-je savouré ta beauté sublime tout en subissant l’écrasante tyrannie de ton rythme. Que de fois, du haut de mon balcon au huitième ne me suis-je retrouvé la nuit à murmurer ces quelques mots de Baudelaire, cette incantation au Vieux Capitaine, cette injonction à lever l’ancre. Non pas pour fuir l’ennui mais pour mieux succomber à l’appel du vieux pays, à la tentation de plier bagage pour revenir à ma zone de confort, suicide symbolique de l’immigré raté, risée des siens pensais-je à l’époque, mais suicide Ô combien réel aujourd’hui, à l’aune des évènements de ces deux dernières années que rien ne laissait présager à l’époque.
Au bout de ces trois mois donc, point de vieux capitaine, encore moins d’ancre. Ce fut le coup de foudre réciproque, l’amour qui dure encore. Des hauts et des bas, nous en aurons pourtant eu, mais les départs fracassants auront toujours été suivis de retours, jamais de regrets. Je t’en aurai préféré d’autres, j’en aurai même courtisé quelques-unes, orientales, saxonnes, tu m’auras fait subir les rigueurs de ton tempérament, le feu de ta rébellion.
Car tu es rebelle chère amie. Tu as un caractère bien trempé dirai-je, si je voulais faire dans la dentelle ou l’euphémisme. Un caractère de chien si je prenais un ton plus familier pour cet article. Et pourquoi pas au fait? Je le dis donc, haut et fort: à bas la dentelle. Je concède pour autant que tu auras dû bien des fois composer avec mes humeurs massacrantes. Et mon Spleen …, tu auras dû te faire violence pour le souffrir.
Un couple comme un autre. L’un suit, l’autre se laisse suivre, les rôles s’inversent, et puis c’est le coup de foudre, l’état de grâce, jusqu’au rappel des troupes, cette réalité où l’on fait véritablement la connaissance de l’autre, et suite à laquelle tout passe ou tout casse. Tout est finalement passé.
Tu as fini par avoir raison de mon Spleen, j’ai fini par apprivoiser ton caractère. Je t’aime encore, non plus d’un amour éclatant et fougueux qui veut dominer, façonner à sa guise, mais d’une amitié douce qui réchauffe le cœur. Je t’ai tout donné, tu m’as tout donné: je ne suis plus un inconnu de plus pour toi, tu m’as adopté comme l’un des tiens et pour cela, je te suis à jamais reconnaissant.
Mais au bout de toutes ces années, une petite flamme vacillante brille toujours dans mon cœur. Celle d’une mère patrie vieillissante que j’ai laissée derrière pour suivre mon destin. Une mère patrie qui perd la santé, qui perd la raison, mais dont le cœur bat toujours, dont le cœur à défaut de la tête, se rappelle encore et toujours ce fils parti il y’a des années mais qui revient de temps en temps prendre des nouvelles.
Chère amie, souviens-toi, tu fus sa marraine à une époque pas si lointaine, elle fut rebelle aussi, à sa façon, il y eut des hauts et des bas… Aujourd’hui plus que jamais, ta filleule a besoin d’amis. De vrais amis. Elle a besoin d’espoir, elle a besoin d’un phare, d’une lumière dans les ténèbres. Pour l’amour de Dieu, ne te renie pas, ne la renie pas, sois cette lumière, ce phare, reste ce flambeau de civilisation qui éclaire le monde, garde le cap pour elle quand d’aucuns qui se prétendent de ses amis l’auront d’ores et déjà perdu, quand d’autres ne l’auront jamais eu.
Reste Libre, Egale, Fraternelle, et garde dans ton cœur la nostalgie d’un Liban meilleur et le Liban vivra…
So why does love fall apart sometimes… Many times…
If you’re a regular visitor, you might have read one of my previous posts which deals with closure, that very final stop on the side of a love and hate bumpy road, a “face à face” hopefully leading to some peace of mind and to the solo highway you probably wish you never left.
Well that’s a couple of steps forward actually. You first need to realize what hit you, accept it after having denied it, and then move on.
So here’s what could have been a bumpy road ultimately leading to closure after love fell apart.
You left me here with childish dreams and teenage memories To sink in the oblivion of a timeless remedy I took the weight of the years on my shoulders and your sorrows in my eyes But you left me here to cry all the tears you would not cry Anymore
You turned your back on our sunny days, embraced the lonely nights You laughed your way out of those years, gave in without a fight You say it’s better to be safe and cold than burning and alive Living someone else’s dreams, your fantasies won’t haunt you Anymore
Days and weeks and months and years, are slowly passing by Time one day will cast its spell and bring the morning light And if we meet again, I may show you all the stars you left inside Then turn away, walk towards the sun, and you won’t see me Anymore
Mais les vrais voyageurs sont ceux-là seuls qui partent Pour partir, coeurs légers, semblables aux ballons, De leur fatalité jamais ils ne s’écartent, Et, sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours : Allons ! Charles Baudelaire
People sometimes ask me if I’m ever coming back. Like for good. Most if not all of them are Lebanese and the question is usually rhetoric. Something you ask to keep the conversation going. To break the ice. And to that I usually have two or three interchangeable answers like “For sure!” or “Nah, don’t think so” or “Dunno man, it’s complicated” depending on the person asking and how much appetite I have for more rhetoric chitchat. But sometimes, the question begs for real answers. Reassuring answers actually. Your grandmother needs to hear that she will not remain heartbroken forever. Or your friends contemplating the road you took want to hear that leaving and coming back are two sides of the same coin, or maybe that they are not. And to that I usually come up with a diplomatic one-size-fits-all answer, because there is no point in making people sad or keeping them hanging, especially grandmothers, for the true answer is not a simple yes or no. You see, if you have lived in another country for months, a couple of years, or maybe a bit more, you might still be talking about coming back. But once you’ve been there long enough, “coming back” starts to sound like “leaving” to your ears and boy has it already been hard the first time. Think of it in terms of investment: the time and effort you put into learning a language, calibrating yourself to new social norms, building a career, a network, making friends, getting yourself a home, feeling at home, securing an education for your children. The time you spent learning to like a country and its countrymen, even love them. As the list goes on, you are less eager to let go and besides, you had already done it once when you left what was your home country a long time ago. Think of it in terms of commitment. Whether out of love or reason, this new country is now yours and you his, for better or worse, till death do you part as they say. And you do not get off a marriage unscathed. That is my point. There is no leaving and coming back, there is leaving and then leaving once more. But then again, when you think of it in terms of heartache if such a thing is even possible, you realize how great a deal of your life you left behind when you moved overseas, including parents, friends, memories and even food, and how your heart aches for it, how you crave it more than anything. “Breakfasts outside with thyme mana’ich, labne and thick Lebanese coffee, evenings with friends playing cards, dining or relaxing with a beer watching the world cup from a terrace on the heights of Beirut, while the sun sets on the Mediterranean and the fishermen’s boats start lighting like fireflies in the sea, …” as I put it in a previous post. The true answer? Few people would understand that you can love a country with all your heart and care for it even if you left it long ago in the pursuit of some kind of fulfillment, even if you would not come back for good, especially if you do not come back for good. And that this love is heartbreaking. That if you do come back to the country of your ancestors, eager and joyful as you are, you are still leaving a part of you behind, in another country you learned to cherish, and that it can be devastating. That leaving is seldom a reversible process and that there is no such thing as coming back to the way it was before, that this 16 year long stint is not just a bracket in your life you can close at will and that there is no right or wrong answer to the problem. – So do you ever think of coming back for good? – I do. More than you think.- And will you? Well, can I take the wound of another separation? One is not enough already? But for Lebanon, maybe… So I always end up saying “God knows Grandma, God knows…” as I walk the thin thread between the love of my life and my life’s true love, my heart silently longing for both.