Sunday, May 28, 2006

Seeing the World with "Round" Eyes.

Lothar Matthaus, my favorite player of all times.

In November 1989 the Berlin Wall fell. East and West Germany were united again. With the withering of the physical divide, mental geographies morphed, and the fatality of the wall was reduced to a mere image…a memory.
Ideologies were changing, dogmas we being crushed, and yet another communism fails... Families were united again; friends and loved ones embraced one another after a long and painful separation that lasted 28 years.
The world was changing, History was being written, and all I was thinking about is that the German Football team (the Mannschaft) was only going to get stronger with the addition of the likes of Mathias Sammer, and Andreas Thom to the West German elite.

Ten days are left before the FIFA World Cup 2006 kicks-off. I wish I could go. Ever since it was decided that Germany will be hosting the 18th tournament, I thought this is it! I am going to be there, and become part of this amazing event…

All my life I played, and loved this game; it made me dream. It is really a pity that I now live in a country where I am not able to watch and follow my ultimate passion, as much as I used to.
If I was in Lebanon right now, a giant German flag would be dangling down my balcony. It is the season when Lebanese take on, and adopt international identities (Germany, Brazil, Italy, France...) and become fervent supporters of "their chosen countries"...

Good luck Germany! (Although I am afraid of what the artist Ronaldinho can do)

If you have some time to spare, take a break, and watch this video clip.
It amuses me to think and imagine that the situation in Lebanon shouldn't have been too different, between two roadblocks during the "events" of 1975 -1990. During the war period, four world cups passed. Warring factions supported their own chosen teams. They had to keep busy in order to withstand the atrocity and the bitterness of what was happening. I am sure many goals were scored, but who were the winners? That, I guess, will never be disclosed.

If I may, here is a recommended reading for Football fanatics like myself:
I recently read a very interesting book that I think you should check out: How Soccer Explains the World, by Franklin Foer. He is a journalist that basically traveled around the world, and interviewed people from peculiar Football milieus, and the communities that live and breathe around their Football clubs; the clubs that soon become extension to their own being.

Photo source:


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Cheese and Design...

What a wonderful Idea, I thought; they are going to reintroduce the long forgotten Beirut International Marathon... It was to be held in Downtown Beirut, where the toll of the war was most devastating. Another "plus" to this concept, was the date it was going to be held at: April 13; the same date the war "“started"”...

For once, I was thrilled! For once, no one was just trying to forget the war instead of looking the beast in the eye. For once, we were remembering again! We were going to debate! Perfect! The first step towards healing! I love my country! (yalla nchallah, nchallah!)
The marathon was held, and to me, it was a grand success, and well covered by the media.
Time passed, and then a couple of weeks back, I got this advertisement poster by email:
Another race was to going to be held in Sour (Tyre) this time!

Despite the fact that it should have, again struck me as good news, my reaction was totally different. Logically, it should have merited the same reaction, thrill and respect, the Beirut Marathon reaped from me. Instead, I was both appalled and speechless! By God, who the hell designs these posters? I just want to know, who was it that got this ingenious idea of clumsily hanging a giant, disproportionate medal, on historical ruins...

Do we lack good designers in Lebanon? Are we missing state of the art, pirated software? Hardware? Just explain to me why and who thought this poster would fly. Who thought that this poster was attractive enough?

I understand that we have a lot to say, and often we spit everything out in one outburst... I also understand that at every chance we get, we try to pass our own political subliminal messages (Just watch any Sagesse vs. Riyadi basketball game). But for the love of God, we have to start structuring our ideas! it is about time. We would have been forgiven, if it were immediately after the war, but now that a fair period of time passed, we owe it to ourselves to start filtering what we need to say, and what we want the international opinion to gather.

They hit you with a poster, all charged and crammed with hundreds of messages. No hierarchy whatsoever, and of course, it is always recommended you state your love for The South! AAAh, Ya habibi ya jnoub!

Here'’s how I see it happening in the graphic design department:
- How would you like the poster designed?
- It'’s a race, so put in a medal... We also want to remind the international community that we have a great history, and that we have Phoenician origins.
- Okay! I'’ll emboss a Phoenician ship on the medal. Is that all?
- Yeah well, make the medal bigger... Oh yes, in Sour, we have ruins... put in some ruins, and state that we got rid of the landmines.
- mmmm what else...
- The south, we need to evoke the south! Try to find some supportive words for the south... It suffered a lot and we have to acknowledge that in every thing we do, and every message we send out.
- But we already wrote that the race is in Sour.
- No no, I don'’t just mean the South as geography!
- ya habibi ya jnoub? (my beloved south)
- Yes! I guess that will do.
- There is still something missing though, I can'’t put my finger on it...
- What?
- I don'’t know!
- I think it is enough! It is already crowded.
- Wait! I found it! Fuchsia!
- mmmm Fuchisa... Like that?
- Yes, I like it... print it!

I can see Mies van der Rohe (one of the great architects) spinning in his grave... Does the saying "“less is more"” ring a bell to you Mrs/Mr. designer/patron of the marathon?

On behalf of my compatriots, I would like to apologize to you Mr. Mies! I can assure you that we have better designers; we usually can do much better than that! It'’s just that... Damn! Where are those designers when you need them?


Monday, May 22, 2006

The Mystery of The Baklawa!

How many people you know, actually like and eat this type of Baklawa*? (see picture)

Throughout my life, I think I can only name one person whom I remember mentioning they liked those pistachio stuffings, coated with those white or brown vermicelli thingies.
(I don’t really know what they are)

And yet, for some reason they still persist in every Kilo of Baklawa you buy... Some stores have ready made trays on display, because in the end, who cares really! But most of the time, you are amused by the live preparation of the vendors. You entrust them with the monumental responsibility of picking your Baklawa (3ala zaw2ak m3allim). They would then proceed filling the tray with an a priori standardized fashion, which would of eventually lead of course to acquiring at least 2 of these weird Baklawas.
I could swear though, that even if you did have the choice, and were picking your own, somehow you look... and you can't resist them.
"Alright give me two of these" (yalla 3tina tnen) you say!
Although you don't like them and you know that no one would eat them, you would be driven by a mysterious force, a weird attraction to add them to your collection of choice...

At our house, the platter of Baklawa was considered over as soon as these Baklawas were the only ones remaining.
Despite the fact that they would constitute about 10-15% of the Platter, nobody seems to mind them, nor show them the least bit of attention. They would simmer for a few days getting gooey and sticky, until you notice they are sitting clumsily on the table...

- Do we still want to keep these?
- No no, khalas throw them away!

I love Baklawa!

* Baklawa is the way we pronounce Baklava.

Photo source:

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Deconstructing Classical Arabic Music...

For as long as I can remember, music was always omnipresent in our dwelling... My parents, without having any musical education or background, were continuously listening to music. They always tried to involve my sister and myself in their pleasant, intimate, simple “social/familial” ritual (singing along, or dancing around to the tunes and melodies).

I grew up listening to Classical Arabic music, and of course, as a particularly curious boy, I constantly asked annoying questions... Questions that were really impossible for my parents to answer and explain:
- What is a "mouwwel"?

- Why do they have to sing it before the song, can't they start singing right away?
- Why does the music slow down and then goes fast again?
- Why do they repeat the same word and sentence over and over again?
- Why are the songs too long?
- Are they sad?

- What is she singing about?
- What does it mean when they say "...."?

All these were legitimate questions for a ten year old to ask. But the question I posed that baffled me most, and actually still does is:
- Why is this man singing to another man? (or at least so I thought)

The "loved one" (al Habib),
for the sole purpose of language, and in order to maintain the structure and the rhythm of the verse in a poem, is used for both male and female subjects (to the discretion of the poet). Therefore, in a dogmatic society where homosexuality is strongly frowned upon, any Man can sing to another Man the most expressive of love songs, and still the crowd exalts in ecstasy: "ALLAH!"

Hypocrisy again?

Music reconciles, and breaks all rules… it is therapy…

photo source:

Friday, May 12, 2006

chick flick...

By the end of the eighties and early nineties, there came a time when, I think, out of boredom, frustration and depression, Lebanese came up with the most ingeniously stupid idea. They decided to bring to the fore of our daily lives, a new kind of fun and entertainment... A peculiar hobby: Little yellow chicks were hitting the Lebanese scene, and hitting it hard!

Dogs and cats became obsolete and far too banal for Lebanese. Encountering them wandering our cityscapes became boring and uninteresting... Obscure nights, were in need for something to lighten them up. In some absurd logic, someone thought that selling little yellow chicks would add a bit of color to the dusty streets of our cities and provide amusement to the disconnected inhabitants, in rural areas and mountain villages....

During that period, parents were somehow forced to buy anything for their kids... Anything to keep their minds off what was happening to their outside world... Fulfilling their childrens' caprices, also bought them momentary peace of mind! I think, and in an attempt to bring some logical explanation to what they were about to buy, those parents kept thinking that someday when those chicks grow up, we will have our own little fresh egg production, and why not eventually...Chicken.
But when those poor little creatures weren't amassed on top of each other in piled up metallic cages and baskets tightened to the back of a cheap motorbike or bicycle, kids disposed of their new acquired trophies in the most sadistic ways possible and imaginable...

For some reason, and as if by destiny, every defenseless little chick had to undergo multiple endurance tests:
- How much can it hold its breath under water?
- How hard can I hit it before it expires?
- If I held it by its feet and spun it over my head... What happens?
- Can it do the splits you think?

The poor creatures never made it past the week after their adoption... Later on, chick sales were overpowered or at least joined by bunny rabbit selling. Try storing a rabbit in a cardboard box on the 6th floor of a balcony in the heart of the capital.

Much to my surprise, a few years ago, and luckily just for a brief period of time, I saw the same phenomenon repeat itself on some streets in Beirut... This time chicks were urban grungy and punk looking. But of course! Why wouldn't they? They must follow the ever-changing, always up-to-date "mode libanaise"; I guess fluorescent color, and fuschia were IN that year…

Aren't we a weird breed of people!

photo credit:

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Jane Jacobs [1916-2006]

Fellow Designers and friends,

I just found out today, that Jane Jacobs, the great theorist and critic of all things urban, passed away recently.

As most of you know, Jane Jacobs did not solely address urban issues; she also touched on economics, politics, and sociology. An illustrious writer, thinker and activist, she constantly sought to make our cities a safer, more vibrant, and healthier place to live in.

On the 25th of April 2006, North America, and especially Toronto (her city by choice), lost an important member of its urban advocates and defenders. She had to abandon this world at the age of 89,
leaving behind pivotal books and papers, and handing us urban aficionados, the torch to carry on. I guess it is up to us now to honor and continue her ultimate quest: making our lives better. I don’t think this is too much to ask... is it?

So today, in memoriam of this grand intellectual, thinker and writer, browse the net, open your books, go back to your articles, and read one of her quotes or paragraphs… then go outside, stomp your feet on the sidewalk, send your vibrations throughout metropolis, and go on a little stroll around the block. Walk, bike, or take public transportation, meander in the bustling city, and by all means... Keep your "eyes on the street"...

photo source

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

idle, action... reaction.

He spent his whole life thinking... never did anything... when he died, nobody came to his funeral... they just... thought of him.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Ode to a Polaroid!

My fascination with Polaroid technology goes years back.
I remember one year, on a sunny Palm Sunday (sunny as it should be) I was on my grandfather's shoulders (as every kid should be) carrying a giant white candle, when one of my technology buff uncles joined us for the march. It was a beautiful day, everybody was prettied-up, and parents were hailing their kids with pictures...
Everybody had a camera, but his was exceptionally more interesting than most. He always had the "top-of-the-line" toy to bring along, and tickle our greatest curiosity and amusement.

- Look here... Smile!
he said...


Soon enough, he pulled a square format sheet of film from the bottom of the camera, and there I was... just as I had been a few moments ago... on my grandfather's shoulders.

A photograph usually freezes the moment! One snap and your present becomes an immediate past, with only a mental representation; your memory... You can still revisit it and reminisce whenever you call for that particular instance in your memory, or through another rather physical representation... the picture!
Your photo repertoire (album, digital folder...) becomes an indexification of your past in your memory. You pull out a picture, and there it is... Flashback to the past!

But this photosensitive process is a little different in a Polaroid. To my mind, It even carries more meaning and depth... and is actually funny in a way! By definition and theoretically Polaroid cameras are supposed to be instant cameras, they are everything but:
Your history "appears" in front of you... it surprises you... almost like remembering glimpses of your past after amnesia... Snaps and shots... your past is fragmented, indexed on paper, and you take on past knowledge as you move through these indexes... these icons...

Polaroids are visually and sensibly connected and layered with the past. This memento, give us the chance to, instantly, see what we have seen...
We wait in the present, which actually is the immediate past, for something from the past to appear in the near future, that is soon to become present, and then past...