After the closure of Café Modga on Hamra Street, which I never had the pleasure of frequenting, a new establishment has opened to cater to the same crowd (roughly, local activists and the young intellegentsia.)
"Teh Marbouta" in Hamra offers free wireless Internet, inexpensive drinks and food, and a library/ reading room. It is quite cozy, and you can spend all day working there.
Since the end of the war, new establishments are popping up all over the place. Apparently there's even a lesbian bar called Coup D'etat. No men allowed. Except for the bouncer, who spends his time inside rather than outside the establishment, salavating profusely at the girl-on-girl action.
With the onslaught of NGOs setting up shop in postwar Beirut, many of my friends are now duly employed with decent salaries. Relief work is very lucrative for everyone but those on the receiving end.
That’s all for the good news.
A giant banner spans the width of Place Sassine in the heart of Achrafiyeh (Christian Beirut). It portrays Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces, standing next to Bachir Gemayel. Now I know that photoshopping the living and the dead together is a popular propaganda motif here, but it does seem a bit odd to see the balding and pale Samir Geagea leaning in towards the young Bachir Gemayel. Even though Geagea was probably born bald with a pasty complexion, Gemayel has been dead for 24 years now. His corpse probably still looks healthier than Geagea.
While many Christians support the legacy of "Sheikh Bashir", Geagea can't claim the same today. He is trying to salvage the fringe support he enjoys by associating himself with the bygone "glorious" days of the late Phalangist leader. Those days when Geagea, under Gemayel's command, went around slaughtering innocents with his bare hands.
The statue at Martyrs Square has a FPM flag (Michel Aoun's party) stuck in one of the bulletholes in it's side, which testifies to the fact that March 14th teenagers no longer frequent their base. When are they going to take down that tent?
That square really is the antithesis of public space.
Aren't the failures of the movement apparent enough without all these silly tents? Not that March 14th really qualifies as a movement; its more of a blanket term for a handful of sectarian leaders who have something to hide. Not including Nabih Berri who has plenty to hide, but now deserves the title of political pimp. He's the go-to guy for everyone.
Late last night, a Maronite cab driver informed me, in the midst of polite conversation about food and the weather, that he wants to "fuck Livni". I was trying hard to place the name. Livni, Livni... oh right, the Israeli foreign minister.
For a while the conversation turned to Israeli chicks, Lebanese ladies who "have nice jeans (or genes?), nice car, nice makeup", and finally French women, who "don't shower and are all boys under their arms". Presumably he meant that they don't shave their armpits.
Finally he showed me wounds he endured from an RPG fired by the Lebanese Forces during the inter-Christian fighting in the late '80s. He was missing a few fingers and had thick scars across his wrists. He is a die-hard Aoun supporter and even likes Hezbollah, because they are "good people" and don't "cut off the head of the foreigners, like you".
But he was quick to lay in to "the Muslims" who all strap themselves with explosives over silly caricatures. He removed his seatbelt to simulate a man with a turban strapping a dynamite belt around his torso. "What did Papa do? What did Papa do? Papa is good", he kept repeating. I didn't make sense of this until he remarked that "Papa is German", and I made the connection between the Italian "Papa" and the "Pope". "I don't care if Bangladeshis draw caricatures of Jesus," he insisted.
Jamal makes fun of me for taking the opinions of taxi drivers as an indicator of popular opinion. Well I do. And I conclude that many Christians support Aoun's strategic alliance with Hezbollah, while still holding the same old sectarian prejudices.
The entrance to Hamra and pretty much every major road in the city is now patrolled by the army. Traffic into Hamra is routed into a single lane, and people are being stopped and asked to present their IDs. The Qantari mosque has a massive military build up in front of it (in a mixed Sunni-Shia neighborhood). This is all part of the increased security regimen to prevent further attacks and the outbreak of Shia-Sunni hostility.
I suspect that this is photoshopped, but it does testify to the divisions in this country. The Lebanese who spent the war partying in the mountains on a voyeuristic visit to Beirut's southern suburbs: