Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cops, fireworks & summer savings

Hezbollah's TV station, Al-Manar, has been running ads for a restaurant called K-33 on the Airport Road. For 33 days, between July 12th and August 14th, customers can dine and smoke narghileh for 33% off, to commemorate the anniversary of the July War.

This is perhaps the least volatile period I’ve witnessed in Lebanon; to deal with the unbearable calm, people everywhere set off fireworks all day long. Even the Armenian Patriarchy next to my house sporadically fires volleys of deafening fireworks from the top of their majestic compound. “What is it now?” I wrack my head for possible holidays and commemorations that might justify breaching the peace after midnight on Sunday. “Oh it’s this Saint’s day,” or, “Oh, its Mika—that half-Lebanese pop sensation. He’s playing in downtown. He has an eight-octave voice.” Occasionally, fireworks mix with gunfire; this usually signals a wedding or – to justify a whole day of nerve-wracking explosions—the publishing of the baccalaureate results.

But the wounds have not yet healed from the last 18-months of internecine strife. I spotted a few cars in Hamra with photos of the “Two Ziads” plastered on their rearview windows—the 12-year old boy and 25-year old man who were kidnapped and murdered last year in a vendetta killing, both “active members of pro-government parties” according to the pro-government propaganda outlet, Now Lebanon. In Caracas, a poster spanning the full-width of the street, displays a photo of a teenager who was kidnapped during the May events. In the picture, he is wearing a T-shirt with “Still Virgin” emblazoned across it in big block letters. I have seen this T-shirt slogan before—but I couldn’t figure out if the slogan was later photo-shopped across his chest or if the family decided this was a most fitting image to remember their son.

In the meantime, most people are buckling down to enjoy the summer at beach resorts along Lebanon’s polluted coast. An Italian scientist I met alleges that many hospitals dump their waste, untreated and un-incinerated, in urban areas. That perhaps explains the sheer volume of hypodermic syringes strewn across the sand at Beirut’s Ramlet el Baida beach, which is sandwiched between two sewage pipes. “If Beirut was on fire, I wouldn’t jump into that water,” F. says. And while forest fires are a regular occurrence during the hot summer months, Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s own Saudi billionaire, can be counted on to pitch in and rent fire-extinguishing helicopters from Cyprus.

In the meantime, the Internal Security Forces have new toys, courtesy of the American embassy and MTV's Pimp My Ride.


It’s only a matter of time before someone starts sniping at their lights—which they have on at all times. “This isn’t an American cop show,” I yelled at one patrol vehicle, which was creeping along at a snail’s pace down Gemmayze street, blinding lights and wailing sirens in full regalia.

Not that the security forces have anything better to do these days. L.S. was reminiscing the other day about an old policeman who used to regulate traffic at the Bechara al Khoury-Sodeco intersection. The man was illiterate and therefore couldn't write up traffic tickets. Instead-- when faced with an infringing motorist-- he would damage the car, punching or kicking it, suitable to the amount the violating party would have had to pay in official fines. He passed away a few year ago. They don't make 'em like that anymore.

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