2019

Charming Lebanon!

It was a cloudy, rainy, miserable kind of day when driving around to run my errands would have been stressful, so I opted to watch a Netflix movie that had been sitting around for a while. I was delighted that I did! It is an old movie (2004) titled: The Notebook, which is based on a true story. The movie is romantic, touching, sentimental, elating and tear-jerking. James Garner and Gena Rowlands are the two main characters and they did a terrific job.

The story begins in the 1940’s, and it took me back to that period when the United States was in the early stages of a financial boom as industry was flourishing and millionaires were being born; a period when the rivers and streams were still so clean you could safely drink their water; when there was no Lyme and other diseases lurking in the forests; no hackers and cyber criminals looking over our shoulders; no surveillance state monitoring our every move; no American political angst. Yes, black people then were still enslaved in many ways; homes in the South, especially, had the black “help” cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, baby-sitting and working the cotton and other crop fields; racism was rampant and Jews, Catholics, Chinese, Italians and Indigenous Americans were all discriminated against openly. Yes, too, a Second World War was brewing and America sent its young men to fight Hitler and racism abroad, while not taking any effective steps yet to fight it on the home front, thus setting the stage for our foreign entanglements and domestic anguish whence listening to the news has become something to be dreaded! What now? What else?

It seems that everywhere we look at our Planet there is something, or the other churning and driving people to the streets: France, Spain, Hong Kong, Chile, Ecuador, England, Bolivia, Venezuela, Syria, Turkey, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq and now tiny Lebanon too? What the hell is going on? The picture is very disconcerting, worrisome and ominous. Discontent is manifesting itself, and, according to the Chinese Government, it was the Hong Kong protests that inspired the upheavals? Perhaps, but clearly disgruntlement refuses to remain behind closed doors anymore. How is the political leadership going to deal with all that, I wonder? It does not look to me that they are addressing the issues seriously, coherently or wisely. To the contrary, in most places their answer seems to be: Call in the army. Hose the people off the streets! Haul them to jail! And, yet, that does not seem to be killing people’s desire for demanding Equality and Justice.

In most places where the anger, discontent and protests have oozed out into the streets there is an apprehensive and somber atmosphere. Not in Lebanon, where a Protest Party was unfolding and expressing itself joyfully – even the foreign tourists participated –  despite the anguish and anger in people’s hearts.

The situation in Lebanon has been brewing since the beginning of the conspiracy – and, yes, it was exactly that – which ignited the Civil War in 1975 and ravaged that small country; where the corruption mushroomed as never before and where one of the slogans then was: min ayna laka hatha, as in: From Where Did Your Riches Come? This time around during the protests upbeat slogans were accompanied with dancing, singing and the most humorous signs I have yet seen during any social upheavals:

“Happiest Depressed People You’ll Ever See.”

“If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep.”

“Yeah, Sex Is Great, But Have You Ever Fu–ed The System?”

And so it charmingly goes! Bakeries were making Manakeesh and Knafe and feeding the Protestors for free; volunteers were sweeping and cleaning the streets; activists were on social media advising the people not to burn tires and to refrain from violence; old women were pleading with soldiers to join them since they, too, and their families were suffering; sectarianism was thrown out of the window as the people proclaimed unity and solidarity with each other and against the corrupt and divisive ruling powers. How long will this last? Unknown as yet, since the infiltrators, evil-doers, political parties, and other nations will most probably try to interfere and meddle.

Nevertheless, and despite it all, it remains Charming Lebanon!

And, yet, Lebanon is really and truly only a microcosm of our world with its beauty and splendor on the one hand, and its wickedness and misery on the other. The protests depicted the bourgeoisie marching shoulder to shoulder with the hoi polloi, as well as men and women, who seem to have just stepped off the pages of GQ and Elle, walking  on the same streets as those dressed in bedraggled and  flimsy clothes. Here, too, are the young girls with their spaghetti-strapped tops walking arm in arm with their neighbors sporting the hijab. Native citizens mingled with the many refugees from around the region who, not being able to protest their own governments, felt somehow vindicated and hopeful. Here you can find a thriving gay community side by side with the priggish, artificial traditionalism of its Christian hoity-toity, as well as its strictly misguided and extreme Muslim conservatism. One can also find lovely restaurants serving haute fusion cuisines from around the world, as well as the delectable ethnic foods that no one else does better. On one side of this sliver of a nation you have the museums, artists, film producers, painters, actors, dancers and an exuberant cultural hub, on the other you have a world where trafficking and drugs, laundered money, spies and conspirators, prostitution and thugs exist with impunity. One views the architecturally splendid high-rises and luxurious apartments almost adjacent to run-down sectors and decrepit hovels, burning forests and a polluted Mediterranean shore reflecting humanity’s negligence of the environment and the planet we live on. Lebanon is a paradox like no other!

Lebanon’s endemic corruption has bared itself to the world in these recent weeks. However, there is similar, and often more egregious corruption going on elsewhere on our planet as crooked and inept ruling classes are ignoring their people, such as in San Francisco, which like many inner cities around the US and the world, is seeing the proliferation of streets where the destitute live in tents that are in stark contrast to the gated mansions of the billionaires across the nation who do not seem to be concerned with neither poverty, or people’s minimum basic needs. How is that even possible? In this tech world of ours Jeff Bezos wants to build a settlement on the Moon, and Elon Musk wants to establish a colony on Mars proving that these United States, too, are their own paradox!  Generally and globally, it is not a pretty picture that we are all seeing! In fact, it is quite alarming, because unless the people’s concerns are seriously and concretely addressed our world is headed for social upheavals on a much wider scale. However, with or without Twittering Trump, with or without a responsible and ethical media, Charming Lebanon and an angry world will continue to go through these convulsions that are now manifesting themselves on the streets until Equality and Justice prevail, which, at some point, they must, or we can all say: Goodnight and Goodbye to our Tormented Planet!

2019

Old: Redefined?

Person Sitting on Bench

My mother was in her late forties when she called one day: “I have some sad news. Kareem died.” “I’m sorry to hear that,” I said, “How old was he?” “He was young. Only seventy-seven,” she sighed, causing me to wonder if that was, perhaps, when she, and the world, started to Redefine: Old?

Old, in my grandfather’s village, were the women bent over (their bones have termites, people used to say before we had ever heard of osteoporosis and arthritis), shuffling around, situated on the mastabeh (front porch), chucking corn, peeling pomegranates, shelling peas, stringing beans, mending a sock, gabbing with another old friend who had dropped by, while the men, some equally stooped, walking with the help of their canes, or leaning on a child, or grandchild and going to play a round of Tawla (much like backgammon, different board) or Tarnib (a card game resembling Whist), or sipping their coffee on the street corner, or perched at another old friend’s mastabeh. They certainly looked old at sixty, what with weathering the elements in the fields for decades; very old at seventy; withered by eighty. No more – at least, generally, and amongst people of our modern world where Old has been Redefined.

My friend Randa, almost 90, dressed to the nines, made-up with her red lipstick and perfect salon hairdo – a bit forgetful about certain things, at certain times – tells me: I’m having too much fun and am too busy to die. She has definitely Redefined Old with her snazzy style and sassy attitude!

My other friend, Itaf, at 80 and equally fashionable, who was widowed three years ago tells me: Freedom is precious, and I’m savoring every bit of it! She, like myself and many women of that era, went straight from our father’s homes to our husband’s. Freedom was a Stranger to some of our generation. She, too, has Redefined Old with her vitality!

Anne, at 65 moved her Dad, almost 90, to an Assisted Living Facility and tells me that she packed his small bag of clothes, toiletries, a few books and a small collection of family pictures with which to decorate his new accommodations. Isn’t it sad, she says, that this once very active man who served in the military, worked hard and provided for his family, is now reduced to a small bag and a few memories in an unfamiliar room? And is that when one would be pigeonholed as Old, I wonder?

My daughter, on her way to a doctor’s appointment, sees an older man standing in the small hallway where the facilities are, looking distraught while saying: Please help. My wife is in there and she needs help and I can’t go in to the Women’s to assist her. My daughter goes in and hears the frail-voiced woman saying: I’m okay. I’m okay. I found the toilet paper. The poor man, was totally panicked until he realized that she was alright! Moments like these remind me that no matter how peppy I may feel at this age, Old has a way of swooping down on us in one nano-second!

My friend, Alia, is around 79 and a stylish, active woman who always has something to do and places to go. During one of our many regular chats over the phone she laughingly tells me: my parents and family on both sides lived well into their nineties, so my children tell me that I am not allowed to die any time soon. Sadly, Alia had a stroke and passed away about a month later which proves to me that we can all Redefine Old with our attitude, dress and vivacity, but that once we hit a certain threshold, it does not allow us to Redefine it anymore as it holds our Fate in its unpredictable hands.

My Mother, who was almost 90 when she passed away ten years ago, and during her last few months of life asked me to organize her closet, saying: I like things to be neat before I go. I was in denial at that point, and thought that she would recover from her “chest infection” as the doctor told me, so I responded: you’re not going anywhere yet, Mama. On other occasions and coming back from her doctor’s office, or the hospital, she would be tired and weak, but still managed to see a speck of lint on the carpet and bend down to pick it up! It was very important to her that everything looked impeccable at all times. And that’s why I, too, am a neat freak. After all, I had her for a role-model and I feel so lucky and grateful for this and for so many other things I learned from her! What I regret is not telling her my feelings while she was still alive. We, human beings, sometimes foolishly, sometimes arrogantly, believe that there will always be time for this occasion, or that apology, or all the other things we often leave unsaid, undone. The sad reality is that as we rush through our busy fast-paced life we often forget to be fully aware of, and living in the moment. And there is no Rewind Button!

Last week, I was flipping the calendar page on my kitchen board to October and it hit me how quickly this year has passed. And, it goes faster between October and end of December what with all the Holidays, get togethers, decorations, menu planning and . . . and . . . my end-of-year Swiffer ritual days have begun when I go over all my documents and files to check that everything is proper and in order; bring out my winter clothes and pack up the ones for the Goodwill store that I won’t be wearing anymore, while joyfully celebrating that I seem to need less and less as time goes by; check out all my kitchen closets, pantry, freezer etc. and rearrange and sort out; check the expiration dates on my OTC (Over The Counter) medications and . . . and . . . It is a ritual that I truly enjoy, though as I was looking at the expiration date on my passport, and found that it was 2027, I remembered that when I had last renewed it I had thought to myself: that’s probably the last time I’ll be doing this. There are more and more things that I realize must be close to the “last time that I might be doing this.” It’s a reality that generally does not perturb my pragmatism, but occasionally makes me wistful.

At 76, I still feel young enough, continue doing my walking exercises, I don’t quite look my age (it’s because of my genes, not any rejuvenating hoaxes or Botox!) and I still look good in my tights, or my short skirts. Yes, I am one of those many lucky ones of my generation who seems to have Redefined Old. Until When? I don’t know. However, having arrived to this age, I savor and enjoy every day and every moment as I read my books – so many terrific ones! –  work on my crossword puzzles, watch my favorite shows cuddled up with my blanket, enjoy cooking my meals, talking to people when I go out, visiting with my “adopteds” (I have four precious daughters, adopted over forty years ago, though not legally), getting together with my Book Club buddies, enjoying lunch out with a friend, having coffee on my patio while watching the squirrels scampering about, and loving my wonderful children and, mostly, my priceless grandchildren. But then, of course, there are those incidents when I go to the kitchen and then stand there wondering: why did I come here? Or, opening my closet and asking myself: what was it that I wanted? Ah! Those Uninvited Senior (Alzheimer’s?) Moments that saunter in not heeding our “No Trespassing” signs! They are only a part of that whole Aging Package! Nevertheless, my motto nowadays (and I so regret not adopting that much earlier on although poets, philosophers, writers and wise people have been saying it throughout history) is: Carpe Diem (Seize the Day) and Que Sera Sera . . . because, as I tell my friends, there is no such thing as Forever . . . on Anything . . . so none of us is Exempt neither from Old Age no matter how we Deny, Define, or Redefine it, or from Expiring. Such is Life, its Good Times as well as its Sad and Bad, and those Sad and Bad days in our world today are far too many, way too dramatic, beyond heartbreaking, frustrating and infuriating as we are being led by a bunch of arrogant narcissists who have learned nothing from our ignoble murderous history. Therefore, grabbing and treasuring every Good moment becomes even more imperative! Carpe Diem!