Saturday, July 4, 2020

Concord - on staying home and patriotic slogans

Concord, the Lebanese white good manufacturer, has an ad that combines staying at home and patriotic slogans. "Stay home and shop online" has obvious meanings and roots. Now the patriotic bit I have blogged about before but may need repeating.
بتحب لبنان؟ حب صناعتو
You love Lebanon? Love its industry

The slogan which was coined when slain Minister Pierre Gemayel was Minister of Industry, has firm roots in an old poster by the Phalangists (which were created by his own grandfather - Pierre Gemayel after whom he was called), the poster in question (circa 1976) is below:
Photo taken from Maria Chakhtoura's book La Guerre des Graffiti
You love it... Work for it.
The analogy between the two slogans is uncanny once you think about it.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Lebanon made in China: Barbarians at the gate

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly based on a Chinese cultural Revolution porcelain statue
Never a dull day. Right after news broke that talks between Lebanon and the IMF broke down, it transpired that China is interested in our electricity company and railway system - or what's left of both. Before anyone goes about the Chinese human right abuses, those enamored with Saudi Arabia, Iran or the United States (the three most popular allegiances excluding Germany-Brasil in football) should do some basic checks. 
A Lebanese saying goes "min ma akhad emme sar 3amme" - whomever marries my mother becomes my stepfather. And well, seems the Chinese will become Mao stepfather. It is really a deus ex Machina situation saving the situation in extremis. But hey, the Chinese are certainly not doing it for the meager money that will come out of our electricity taxes or our now defunct trains. 
As I said, never a dull moment in Lebanon. Am sure the IMF is baffled.
黎巴嫩中国制造 - that's "Lebanon made in China" for you.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Thinking long term will get us through in Lebanon

Scars mean you survived - Hussein Hajj
(Artwork by Tarek Chemaly)

I shall begin with the old adage: "This too shall pass". Well, I did survive the Lebanese war, several family financial crises as my late father was a government employee which meant at times his salary became peanuts when devaluation occurred in 1988, or when we were three kids at university concurrently or when this or when that. My own life was not a straight arrow either. I jumped ship from a very stable government employee career and a flourishing consulting gig to work in advertising and communication. The practical definition of insanity. I took too many gambles, some paid off and some did not. 
I know telling someone who does not have enough food on the table or money to go to the end of the month to think long term is hypocrite and basically careless. But, believe it or not, this is the only way to get through. Taking the long aim is the only way. And to do that - paradoxically - is to try to make it one day at a time. 
Considering the blog is focused on communication, brands should think the same. It is often said that brands that invest in advertising in downturn will reap the rewards later. But to survive this, perhaps brands should continue to think day to day, cultivating their links to consumers online through social media. Yes, the times are very bleak. Inflation, devaluation, riots, COVID, capital control, haircuts, you name it, it is there in a gigantic perfect storm. Are we paying the price of living above our means as Lebanese? Of course we are. But - step by step, day by day, keeping the idea that we will pull through is the only way to go.
One day we will talk about this in the past tense.
"Scars mean you survived" as Hussein Hajj said. We will survive this. Scarred. But, hopefully, wiser.

Monday, June 29, 2020

On the joys of being a juror at an ad festival

The PHNX festival just closed its jury grading window. I must have graded more than 2500 ads.
The PHNX was a bit of an anomaly though: Being free to enter some people plugged their portfolios to the cringing reaction of the jurors, there was an incredible mismatch in the categories which also sent the jurors over the edge, and many entries were not eligible due to their broadcast date being earlier than was stipulated.
To be a juror means either you are a masochist or you have enormous dedication. Remember, you need to finish the category you started because either your vote will not be counted or you will skew the average if you do not fulfill the whole category. With around 250 entries per category on average this becomes a drudgery.
Yet, again, in my case not only passion but dedication is there. For the PHNX, I was given a full day head start in judging because I am incredibly fast at doing so (when I used to teach at university level I immediately knew if I liked the creative idea the student was presenting or not), and because I was able to pinpoint technical errors and immediately report them.
Just to clear though, the PHNX which was a one time only festival and the Epica Awards where I have been judging since 2016 are no walk in the park. Both online and as a physical juror. When you sit about 16 hours in the same room putting grade after grade, or when you do that at home doing the same amounts to pseudo-insanity. The problem? An ad which is a total disaster in the film category actually has a great use of sound, one with a horrible activation strategy is excellent in its branding, hence the need to be alert as to what category you are judging and to combat mental fatigue.
Another issue? Peer pressure.
Many ads fellow jurors fell in love with left me incredibly cold. At times I would throw another glance at the ad in question only to say - "nope it still leaves me cold". It really takes a lot to make me change my mind. But again, you need to really hang on to your opinion and not say "Oh so-and-so-head-of-agency-liked-it-so-must-I". You have your opinion and head-of--agency has theirs.
Of course, one also needs to be fair. Normally as a juror you are denied voting on work from your own country. But work for the Lebanese market is often presented from Dubai so I end up judging it - often poorly - without playing favoritism.
With all its folly, the excitement of finding the next great ad overcomes all the insanity and frustration. And this alone is a tremendous joy!

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Al Hurra goes against stereotype in New ad

Al Hurra TV goes against stereotype in a new ad. Part of this new wave of short-destined-destined-for-internet ads, the Hurra output crams a lot in a short while: A man dancing professionally? A woman riding on a motorcycle? Throughout the copy makes it easy to understand. "I am free in my expression" on the dancer and "I am free in my orientations/destinations" on the woman. Then the words "I am the free one" (Hurra means Free in the female form). The effort is part of a larger campaign by the chain to (re)position itself with its potential audience. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

We are the hope - saving Lebanon with sports

For a long while this was the only new campaign running practically everywhere in town. The idea is simple, Lebanese (rather well-known, or award-winning) sports people were photographed each in his/her discipline. With the minimal layout (almost absent actually) there is the line "we are the hope" (which also doubles as the campaign name). From what I understand there was a song written by sports activist Michel Bou Abdo (the mastermind behind the campaign) and composed by Ziad Boutros - and that 64 athletes participated in the campaign. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Malak Al Tawouk - the franji generation

Malak Al Tawouk has certainly been branching out and revamping its menu away from the "tawouk" (chicken skewer) which made its name (literally). It did burgers and variants of them, even their decoration became funky, it went digital for a different audience, had a phone line for ordering, and now has a new line of sandwiches away from the traditional Arabic bread or what is called "Franji" (literally "western" or "non-local") and the ad truly goes for the jugular: "jil el franji" (the franji generation). Well, image wise Malak Al Tawouk is certainly under a strict efficient strategy away from middle-aged workers gulping sandwiches on their lunch break and family lunches where one could get a lot of food for a buck (which is where/how it started).

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

SKeyes explores censorship with "freedom is not a number"

SKeyes (SK stands for slain journalist Samur Kassir) gets director Roy  Dib to speak of censorship in Lebanon. Dib whose work was exhibited worldwide, and whose thematic I really like, is indeed candid.
Who can censor? The army
What can you talk about? Not much (everything is seen as devaluing women or inciting on debauchery or homosexuality)
And the list continues. With all his frankness Dib only scratches the surface of the iceberg.
I was once at the opening of a movie festival in 2010 and 5 mins before the movie starts the organizer shows up and says "we still do not have an answer from censorship, sometimes no answer is an answer" (the movie in question was "Chou Sar" by Charles de Gaulle Eid). At times the reasons given are too vague or obscure but irrevocable and irrefutable.
Watch the SK Eyes Roy Dib here... Worth it. Freedom is not a number indeed.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

NMHP - mental health and the Coronavirus

National Mental Health Program (NMHP) in Lebanon has a beautifully shot, well done film related to the Coronavirus. The film plays on paranoia, then on people helping one another the Lebanese way (a woman pulls her filled grocery bucket with a rope, etc....) - it does fall a bit into cliche, but when cliche is reality it is forgiven to do so. Still, a bit schmaltzy but the film works. Did the lockdown and the disease take a toll on mental health? Yes without any doubt. 
Now - if you have not watched the film The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock maybe this fragment is relevant. The townsfolk accused the newcomer (played by Tippi Hedren) as being the cause of the bird attacks. "I think you're the cause of all of this. I think you're evil. EVIL!"
Well the Lebanese are no different. Any scapegoat will do - the newer the scapegoat the better.
Watch the NMHP film here

Home Centre - an emotional father's day ad with a major plot twist

How can I tell you how great the Home Centre father's day ad is without revealing the plot twist. The very moving plot twist. Suffice to say the ad starts linear - well shot, a bit emotional, slightly predictable.
Then boum!
Really, the scenario becomes so unpredictable. It moves you and really surprises you making the earlier scenes exponentially more emotional. I am trying to convey the beauty of it without spoilers.
Please admire the film here.
PS: handkerchiefs advised.

Floward - hands down a perfect father's day ad.

The Floward father's day ad starts as an ode to mothers - who gave the baby the milk bottle? Who gave him his lunch to school? Who chose the items at the supermarket? Who attended his graduation? So far a perfect replica of the Nido ad. Then comes the father: Who prepared the milk bottle? Who drove the kid to school? Who pushed the caddie and paid at the supermarket? Who missed his son's graduation because he had to find a parking spot? - Floward comes as the cute revealer In the end!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Carrefour - pledges that the consumers need

When times are a tough as they are today in Lebanon - economically, socially, politically - any small bit helps. The other day when shopping at the supermarket, the woman in the same isle as I am was checking something on her phone - I thought it was some shopping list. Her daughter brought  an item and the woman said "no that's too much" - the item was promptly returned. It turns out the woman was calculating on her phone how much her bill would be at the counter and did not want to exceed her budget. 
This practice is something the head marketing of a major supermarket told me was happening, people wanted to benefit from supermarket offers but also wanted not to exceed their pre-allocated budgets especially that now a lot of people pay cash because card payment ceilings are incredibly limited.
Which is why the Carrefour pledges above truly matter to the end consumer. 
"If you find an item outside at a lower price, take it for free"
"If you find the price on our shelf lower than the cash register, take the item for free" 
With consumers from all socio-economic classes trying to save a penny - and I mean from all socio-economic classes - such pledges are what distinguishes one place from another. And could truly create a new loyalty when the consumer is chasing the lowest paying denominator.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Ksara plays the optimism card.

Ksara just played the optimism card with an ad that goes "keep your glass raised" (khalli kesak marfou3) a riff on the typical Lebanese resilience, pride, and upbeat thinking no matter how bad the situation - and this situation is indeed incredibly bad. Whereas I am not questioning the timing of the campaign which is an essential morale boost, it did remind me of a campaign in the 90s for Almaza beer whose teaser was "rfa3 rasak"- keep your head high - and the reveal was "Almaza bterfa3 el ras" (Almaza keeps the head high (because duh you need to raise your head to drink beer) - or figuratively, "Almaza makes you proud"). 
I know, I know, this is not the same slogan but at some point the figurative analogy came back to my mind. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Common sense would be popular in Lebanon - if it was imported

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly from the series "History of Lebanon"

Next to our house in Beirut (Achrafieh) in the 80s there was something called "Al Ma'amal" (the factory), which as the name indicated would manufacture and sell clothing. That place was not unique, I also remember Anitex and Jonitex and other such labels.
I reveal no secret that Lebanon is importing much more than it is exporting, making the economy dangerously lopsided. Here's a story: My nephews came today and said that a bag of chickpeas costs 4500 Liras today, when it was 3000 when the Dollar was back at 1500 liras (the current value of the Dollar is all over the place but let us estimate it at 4000 Liras), so they said that the hummus was now cheaper than it was even if it was more expensive. I probed them as to why? They constructed the answer and discovered that it was because it was "made in Lebanon" ergo, not imported.
Lebanese have always been cosmopolitan. Story goes that major corporations would give their products to ambulant merchants on pushcarts in Beirut in the 50s and 60s and if the product did not sell they would not bother export it to the region because the Beirutis were the barometers of taste. But not only Lebanese had taste, they also love brands - or if they cannot get the original then made a good local copy.
Long before we had any McDonalds or Burger King, we had our own Winners and Juicy Burger. No points for guessing where the Winners logo got its red and yellow colors. But we also had our own Adams Chicklets factory, our own Gada shaving cream (which was infinitely more popular than Gilette), our own Amatoury (I am one of those who still use their shower gel religiously and still think their original perfume smells incredibly nice - though when I revealed that to someone who complimented my smell, he retorted: "What? You never heard the joke, "you still wear Amatoury?" as imply someone is too retro in their taste" and I replied "well, you just said I smelled nice.").
Lest I be called a hypocrite, I too wear imported branded items - but there is nothing wrong with consuming Cortas jam, Al Wadi Al Akhdar hummus or chickpea dip, Sanita products, and the list goes on. But there is a national complex that "franji branji" (foreign items) are nicer, sleeker, better-made, more socially-boosting and status-elevating than their local counterparts.
Actually, common sense would be popular in Lebanon - if it was imported.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

On kindness in advertising, rule(r)s, exceptions and Ali Rez

#NotABlugSplat - Reprieve
A well-known, multi-multi-awarded creative director at a Lebanese agency would go inside the junior art directors' cubicle where about six of them are packed like sardines, would look at them with disdain, sigh audibly, shrug and turn his back and leave - not once guiding them or correcting their creative output. I met him once, he looked at me, and - with a tone between sarcasm, indifference, merged with haughtiness - he uttered: "Oh, you're the one with the blog". Mind you, believe it or not, he was trying to give me a compliment. But as far as compliments this sounded more like "for someone this obese you don't sweat much", which is backhanded at best.
Another one, adopts Calvin's theory (to quote Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes comic strip), "if you can't win by reason, win by volume" - that man finds everything infuriating and a cause for screaming. And I mean everything! When he wanted a junior to go fetch a file from her desk, and the elevator did not show up like immediately, he screamed so hard at the girl she quit the next day - and that agency was actually a revolving door of talent due to that reason.
Oh, and trust me on this: The higher you go in the echelon the less creative directors are ready to share credit. I was consulting once on a project with an advertising agency on a project and the brainstorm was eerily, eerily quiet. During the lunch break I said so to the creative staff, and someone quipped "why bother say anything, the creative director will steal it anyhow and claim it was his idea."
If you think these are some isolated incidents, do think again. Advertising is rampant with such cases and yes, I experienced many myself - the difference was I stood up to myself because by the time I moved to advertising I had transitioned from a successful career in engineering and consulting. Ergo, I had many years behind me in my career and honestly did not need that to put up with such behavior.
Naturally, not everyone was as lucky. I saw many juniors being laughed at or being paraded in front of others for their lack of creativity (though oddly their "uncreative" ideas would be appropriated later by the higher ups with no credit). I apologize I am inserting this quote when race issues are burning in the United States but I once read a quote that said, "what a slave needs more than freedom, is a slave of his own" - which is why those who remain in the industry end up bitter and release this bitterness on younger, less experienced people once they go up the chain. And with this, they repeat the pattern of abuse and risibility they were subjected to on a newer, fresher generation of advertising people.
Oddly, all this post was inspired by the exception rather than the rule. Yesterday, I read it twice in one day, how Ali Rez - who is currently at BBDO Dubai (serving as Regional Executive Creative Director, Middle East & Pakistan) is - not just nice - but "one of the nicest people" one could meet (to read that twice in one day is truly surprising!). 
So Ali, please go on being the nicest. You are an exception that proves the rule. And sadly advertising is not only a land of rules, but rather a land of rulers.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

There are much fewer corny ads in town.

Artwork by the talented Jad Chidiac
For a blog whose main material is talking about ads, the fact that there are no ads to talk about should be devastating. Prior to Coronavirus, the estimated per capita ad spend was 25 Dollars per Lebanese citizen for 2020 or the (dismal) sum of 100 Million Dollars - the virus (and I stand being corrected) has certainly pushed this figure lower.
Mother's Day, Easter, Ramadan, Eid el Fitr all came and went without a whimper in adland. Normally these occasions would send the market into a frenzy of pseudo-idiotic output. Everyone who thinks is creative would emerge with a silly thing to paste online. Which is why the absence of such superfluous ads is more a blessing than a curse.
Make no mistake, yes, jobs are being lost and unemployment among the youth is said to be at 35% (when the national average is 27% - though to be honest, I think the real figures are much higher). And considering people who work in communication or agencies are rather young (this is no age discrimination, just a fact), then younger people are more hit than other age categories. Actually, a year ago I was in a jury at a reputable university grading final projects and one girl did not show up. I told her friend to call her to check up on her lest she be sick or had an accident. Her friend came back saying "she says she did not bother show up, not that she is going to find a job anyhow."
At one point though, there was too much advertising. Worse, there was too much bad advertising that came and went and was utterly forgettable and those who think they can create a ruckus around their brands by doing "controversial" ads, do think again please. A furniture store and a jewelry store (both handled by the same agency) closed down when - only a year back - both were banking on ads that supposedly stirred the pot.
That the Lebanese consumer is trying to decrease spending is now a given. That brand loyalty is out the window is also a fact. I met a couple I know, him an engineer and her a teacher, while shopping at the supermarket, she sent him down the oil isle with specific instructions: "bring anything medium size and avoid brands X and Y - with the price difference I will buy cans of hummus." And that is supposed to be the middle class. Or what is left of it.
I know it seems I am gloating at the social repercussions of this. I am not, and no, I am not being hypocrite. Whereas I am glad there is much less corny advertising that masquerades as creativity, the downside is that this falls as a domino. The only silver lining? The only youth that hanged on to their jobs (be it copywriters, art directors, planners, or client servicing people) are the really talented ones. I am in contact with many of them as ex students and take pride in having taught them (and who knows, maybe unlocked some of that creativity by pushing them to the edge of the cliff, knowing they will fly rather than fall).
"Wasta" (or the clientage system where unqualified people could take certain positions due to who they know) can only get you this far. When a company's survival fate is in the balance, they hang on to talent.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

I have more pressing problems than George Floyd.

It has emerged that worldwide, there are murals celebrating George Floyd. Including one in Idlib, Syria.
I mean I applaud the effort, truly. A war torn country where the economy is almost non-existent, is standing up to racism. That's truly commendable.
Naturally, problems related to human dignity should be on top of our list. Or should they?
Hmmm, two days ago my bank chose to break our agreement we had together and whose maturity ends in one year (2021). My financial consultant did all the necessary contacts and it turned out that yes, legally, the bank can break the arrangement at the end of every year. No, I did not know it could do so.
My consultant swiftly advised me about a new strategy and now I am waiting for the bank to answer the email I sent them to fine tune the strategy in question.
Meanwhile, prices of goods are soaring, the IMF is knocking on our doors (plural, as there are too many doors behind which lie contrasting numbers), the social unrest is rampant (again, the figures are scary but the reality one could palpably see is too striking), the post-feudal political order is still going strong, oh and there's the Coronavirus leaving the country in a lockdown limbo (not sure if we are in lockdown or not, it is all too confusing).
Now about that racism problem, here's what someone posted yesterday on Facebook:
"If anyone has an Ethiopian worker he does not want anymore, I will take her. Please DM privately."
I am trying to translate verbatim. When I was working as a consultant at a very reputable university in the mid aughts, a professor was walking by the main door. Then a woman of dark skin followed him. The security stopped her, to which the professor turned and told them "hayde ele" (she's mine/she's my property) not "hayde ma3e" (she accompanies me).
Up until a few years ago, one could still purchase a product called "ras el abed" (abed means slave - and ras el abed means head of a slave). The product was rebranded into "tarboosh" (fez) but guess what people still call it? And at the supermarket, one could still purchase a product called "sif el abed" whose name in English is "Negro" (they are cleaning utility pads if you want to know).
I do understand saying that I have more pressing problems than George Floyd might seem being racist or xenophobic - but try living in Lebanon today. The daily pressure is unbearable before we get to the problem that the Ethiopian embassy closed its doors in the face of girls wanting to be repatriated and not affording it (as they need to shell 770 Dollars to pay for their two-week quarantine as soon as they land in Ethiopia as they need to be stationed in hotels because the government owned spaces are now at full capacity).
As I cheer on Aziz Asmr and Anis Hamdoun, the two Syrian artists behind the Idlib mural, I wish either one of them could answer the email I sent to the bank (because the bank still did not yet!) - yes, racism is a major problem in Lebanon, but there are more pressing daily problems that need to be tackled.
The George Floyd issue needs to wait in line.

Friday, June 5, 2020

And what if Pepsi is the answer? Pop culture as a bridge to peace

And what if Pepsi is the answer?
It seems someone tried to imitate the now infamous Kendal Jenner Pepsi ad  by actually offering the soda drink to the police (or law enforcement officers) to diffuse the tense situation. Now on the face of  it, the original ad was a total misread of the situation so much that Pepsi pulled it, and what this person did seems a little too tacky to be believed.
But think about it - when you think of the US, one of the first things that come to your mind are McDonald's, Coke, Cadillac, Levi's, Madonna, Beyonce. Basically pop culture elements!
Actually this is what my project "The history of Lebanon: Simulacra and simulation." is all about.
Read the creative rationale below:
"Based on the philosophical treatise by Jean Baudrillard. This art project is an attempt to retrace the history of Lebanon through signs and signifiers.
Simulacra are defined as copies that depict things that either had no original, or that no longer have an original, whereas simulation is the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time.
Lebanon has not had a common official history book since before the war, students still study in archaic books that end somewhere around 1972. The reason for that is simple, since history is not the real version of the events but simply the narrative dictated by the winner, and since there was no clear winner of the Lebanese war at the abrupt end of it, then the saying by Bill Farrell - the late New York Times reporter in Lebanon - "there's no truth in Beirut, only versions" still holds.
To make things worse, the same political families which ruled Lebanon during the war, are still there and refusing to look at their past and be able to understand what they did wrong or assess their legacies in the bloody events. Still, all is not lost, for - no matter in which shelter one was in the Lebanese war - we were all listening to the same ads, jingles, watching the same soap operas, using the same products, going to (different) cinemas which were showing the same movies, enjoying the same heartthrobs - be they in roman photo (translated Italian photoromanze) or singing sensations, and the list goes on.
Only the signs and signals of pop culture of Lebanon will be able to join us when "politics" divides us. Politics stems from the two Greek words, "polis" and "ethos" - polis or the "heart of the fortress" and ethos which means ethics. So the original meaning of the word meant "the ethics of living in a community" and if that had to go through advertising jingles, then so be it.
The project aims to use pop culture, in terms of symbols, names, catchphrases as a way to unify the Lebanese around the same concepts and ideas, and using the said elements as emotional triggers to help preserve memories both personal and collective.
Baudrillard has said about the iconoclasts: "One can live with the idea of distorted truth. But their metaphysical despair came from the idea that the image didn't conceal anything at all". Should this be true then the images of this project do not conceal anything either.
The project is composed of "episodes" each being a video art 13,5 seconds long, with each video containing 9 high resolution related images (thematically, geographically or time wise) with a total time of 90 minutes. Along with a two-hour long soundtrack which explores the Lebanese collective memory in terms of audio rarities and songs (specifically related to the war era)."

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Tania Saleh: between blackface and good intentions

The incredibly talented Tania Saleh found herself in hot water. 
Here is how she captioned her image:
كل عمري كنت احلم كون سوداء
I wish I was black, today more than ever... Sending my love and full support to the people who demand equality and justice for all races anywhere in the world.
#nojusticenopeace #georgefloyd #blacklivesmatter #usa #policestate #whitesupremacy #amrika #justice #peace #love #color #race #black #strangefruit (Photo montage from an original picture found on Pinterest)
Now, it is obvious that Saleh (whose work is otherwise admirable) did what is commonly known as blackface. I assume the original Pinterest image she did a photo montage of had the afro already (which does not exonerate Saleh but might alleviate the cultural appropriation found in the final photo).
Truth be told, Saleh is neither the first nor the last creative to be accused of blackface, actually comedian Jimmy Kimmel just apologized profusely for an image of him which shows he had blackened his skin. In 2018, fashion house Prada removed figurines which closely resembled black caricature, and in 2019 Gucci withdrew a sweater which resembled a blackface, and in 2016 Marc Jacobs received backlash for his models' afro hairdo.
In other words Saleh is in good company. Still, it might have been a faux pas. But as the French saying goes "hell is paved with good intentions".
In the meantime, check her incredible "wehde".... 

Monday, June 1, 2020

On being myself because everyone else was taken

Image credit: Cult couturier Ziad Ghanem
"Be yourself everyone else is taken" - so said the incredibly talented Oscar Wilde, OK, you can also get it from cult couturier Ziad Ghanem in the image above "no one will be the new anyone ever". Thankfully, I decided that long ago - my career was literally filled with that:
"In ten years you will be the next me" - when I was offered the job at one of the most prestigious research offices in Lebanon.
"Stick with the magazine, you'll be my number 2" - when the owner offered me the editor in chief job.
"Who am I leaving the agency for?" - when I told the creative director I was leaving his shop.
The above is but a small sample of how many times this was said to me in my life.
The good news is that I never wanted to be an obese chain-smoking research office owner, or be anyone's number 2, or inherit a faltering ad shop from anyone.  I admit it before anyone, taking the uncharted territory was not the easy route (I left a secure government job in 2001 - a dream position to any Lebanese !).
Now, whereas I did make quite a bit of money in communication, it was rare to find a client I really wanted to work with. Most dumbed down the creative ideas to the point of flatness. Which is why teaching (which I sadly stopped in late 2019) was the perfect antidote. I was that mad, wild client and pushed the students to deliver.
Do I regret leaving my research career? I never left it to be honest. There was always this research element in everything I did communication-wise. I distinctly remember when we were pitching for a large automotive account, the designers came up with these funky layouts. Then while looking at ads already done internationally for the brand, I discovered there was a rigid grid that the brand was adhering to. I got everyone back to the drawing board. The client was super impressed when he realized it.
And that editor in chief job? Well, I am the editor in chief of the blog - or as they say "head chef and bottle washer" because I do the marketing, branding, image, promotion and what not at the same time. And I do all this on my terms without compromise to get ad space or what not.
The agency I left? Well, it does not exist anymore.
Today, like many in Lebanon, my career is in limbo. Oddly, I have zero regrets. I have used my background to the fullest extent before the financial crisis struck, took as many precautions as possible and now seeing where this will lead me. Throughout it all, all "friends" or relations which brought nothing to my life - or worse took from it - have been disposed of. "Better be alone than badly accompanied" the saying goes.
It was Dwight Eisenhower who said "plans are useless but planning is indispensable" - as someone who has lived the Lebanese war (1975-1990) I can attest to that. As someone living in Lebanon today I can certify it.
I took my bets, now I shall see if they will come to fruition.
At least I took those bets as myself not as a surrogate or as a version of anyone else. 
Apparently everyone else was indeed, taken.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Nike and Adidas: Ugly stepsisters dressed as Cinderella


OK - Nike went on the offensive with "for once don't do it" in the light of George Floyd's death/murder, and Adidas (pardon the pun) took the ball rolling and retweeted them. 
This is what Nike said: "For once, don’t do it, don’t pretend there’s no problem in America. Don’t turn your back on racism. Do not accept that innocent lives are taken from us. Don’t use any other excuses. Don’t think this isn’t about you. Don’t sit silent. We are all part of the change."
Just to put things into context, both Nike and Adidas have young, racially diversified customer bases who demand their brands take a stand (a stand which compatible with their values - even if their values tend to go towards passive slacktivism - note: Uber saw no decrease of its young users following its ethical scandals).
Well, bravo for Nike and Adidas for hijacking the conversation, but let's be honest here: That was opportunism at its best. Well, they know their audience, they know their audience is watching their reaction, they know what is expected of them - and hey let's dip this in our legendary "just do it" slogan. And Adidas? That was a stroke of genius to relay their eternal arch-nemesis and make it look like "let's put our differences behind us as brands and competitors because together is the way forward. Together is the way to change” - ah oops "together is the way forward. Together is the way to change" are the exact words used by Adidas in their retweet.
This sent both - the Nike and the Adidas fans into a frenzy.
These fans are young and racially diverse as I told you, and they tend to be customers to brands that mirror their values. See how evil the Nike-Adidas genius is? The two evil stepsisters dressed up as Cinderella waiting for the prince and his sneaker!

Suburbutopia: George Floyd, the Pet Shop Boys and sanitized pop culture.

Bill Reed: 
Arraignment of 18 of 21 men implicated in the murder of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner
"President Bush announced tonight that he believes in democracy and that democracy can exist in Iraq. They can have a strong economy, they can have a good health care plan, and they can have a free and fair voting. Iraq? We can't even get this in Florida." -Jay Leno
I remember this old Jay Leno joke - back when LBC used to run his show. Pirated, I believe.
I am of the generation that grew up in the 80s, surrounded by - mostly American pop cultural items and social status elements. Think A Team, Dallas, Dynasty, Michael Jackson, Jeans, Sebago docksides and the list continues. The United States was aspirational.
Truth be told, the whole western world was - because added to the American pop culture, many "European" items/brands could easily be added: Duran Duran, Kim Wilde, Vanessa Paradis, Swatch, Benetton, Naf Naf, etc...
But naturally, that was an over-simplification.
I distinctly remember when the Pet Shop Boys came up with the Suburbia TV clip, we - by that I mean my peers and myself - "there's nothing wrong about living in such a place". We wanted to be there.
Little did we know that the partial inspiration of the song's video were the 1984 Los Angeles riots (the song came out in 1986). 
As the death/murder of George Floyd has set the United States ablaze with protests, TMZ (the site that specializes in what Kim Kardashian had for breakfast and ergo the most trusted gauge of the average American opinion) ran a survey - below are some of the answers:

Is America as racist as it was 50 years ago? 
57% Just As Racist As 50 Years Ago, 43% We've Gotten A Lot Better (74,451 total votes)

Do people trust the police?
43%Yes 57% No (74,078 total votes)

Is the country is heading toward a civil war?
55% Yes and 45% No (73,462 total votes).

To go back to the lyrics of Mr. Neil Tennant himself:
"Break the window by the town hall
Listen! A siren screams
there in the distance like a roll call
Of all the suburban dreams."

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Consumers are irrational: I went shopping

Remember the other day how I ranted about people queuing at Zara and the Lebanese being a populace that "btedayyan ta tetzayyan"? Well, call me hypocrite - I went shopping (OK, I did not borrow money, but still). Well, the original purpose of the trip was to deliver things to my sister in law. I told our house help who fears Coronavirus irrationally and who has been fantasizing about buying clothes for a long time that she could accompany me to save her taxi money anyway.
Now, truth be told, I did need a pair of pants. The other day I went to town and came back with red patches on my thighs following me wearing my skinny jeans in the scorching heat. And with me losing so much weight due to diabetes finding pants my size are more a miss than a hit. Well, it turned out Calvin Klein produced too many children pants, and an outlet store was selling them a less than 2 Dollars.
Oh and rest assured our house help bought several items too, got all dressed up at home and I took photos of her in the new attire and the result was sent to her friends and family.
So where is the irrational part? The irrational part is the quarter zip jacket from the Puma x Han Kjobenhavn collaboration (my size no less!), deeply discounted, and sitting there waiting for me (or for any other irrational sucker)! Now, did I "need" such a piece in my wardrobe? It all depends what "need" means, because I certainly was not leaving that piece for any other person (not at that price, and not with my size being available).
Long story short, I am eyeing another pair of pants. But the rational me - which took over again - is saying "wait until you straighten your financial affairs with the bank in two weeks".
I - even with hearing aids on - ended up listening to the rational me.
Now, the question that begs itself: Do I "need" those deeply discounted Church's shoes?
I told you, consumers are irrational.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

This blog does not compete with other publications

Interesting, yesterday it was pointed out to me that my blog - design, format and presentation wise - needs to be reconfigured to compete with the likes of AdAge or other prestigious publications. Took me a split of a second to decide against it.
To begin with, the current design is the fruit of very deep consideration, I chose the most minimal design, the neutral background, the totally laid back header, no navbar, the unobtrusive favicon, and absent cross columns or footers. Basically, a totally calm, no nonsense body which contains an image (at times done by myself) and the most unbiased analysis there is.
The furore of blogging has subsided in Lebanon long ago, but even then communication centered blogs were incredibly rare. There was the incredibly interesting Brofessional Review (one of its members, Imad Gebrayel has gone to more conceptual and thought provoking things). There are also the witty and smart Beirut Drive By Shooting, from which I would source images (with credit!) when it became challenging for me logistically to shoot my own images at a certain point.
I apologize if there was someone I forgot but communication wise there was only these two, apart from my own blog, who were the most consistent. And I am now the only one holding the fort.
Now, the question is, why don't ArabAd or Communicate or any other publication consider me as a competitor? (I was about to ask "why don't I consider ArabAd or Communicate or any other publication as competitors" before realizing how arrogant phrasing the question like that is).
To begin with, it's almost - almost - as if we do not speak to the same audience. Naturally, we all revolve in the same circles, talk about the same topics (albeit from different angles - with Communicate losing its Lebanese leg (no pun) it became more GCC/Dubai focused), and we all know the same people (again, in different capacities). But if you look at the material presented by either ArabAd or Communicate, you will realize how different their scope is from mine.
And, you'd be surprised how all of us are chummy - whereas recently it is incredibly rare for me to collaborate with other publications, we (by that I mean other publications and myself) exchange thoughts by email or DMs interposed (more often than not), and as the saying goes in Arabic "ma 7ada byekol min sa7n 7ada" (no one eats from anyone else's plate). An exclusive to one is respected as such, or at other times there's a "have you heard that" info which we slide to one another and so on and so forth.
It is not out of arrogance, but a blog that started since January 2007 has earned its place at the table. The many who dismissed me as "bokra byezha2" (he'll end up getting bored), or those who bombarded me with hate mail (record is 23 public hate mail in one day in 2011 by a Lebanese agency), or those who denigrated me have either stopped, given up or just plain disappeared from the radar.
I am now a juror at the Epica Awards, and the newly established PHNX festival, I lectured in advertising (and other assorted topics) between 2005 and 2019 in Lebanese universities. If I say so, again not out of arrogance but rather a testament how interested in advertising I still am. But hey, someone did call me once "washed up blogger turned advertiser" (sorry I still giggle about that one!) so who knows where the truth lies.
But again, do not bet on me redesigning or re configuring the blog. It fulfills its function as such.

Skoda does lockdown films, via Halal Amsterdam.

Lockdown brings makeshift and homemade (literally) creativity. It does so for Skoda. Halal Amsterdam made sure it did (see here!) - to those born not long ago, prior to the million Dollar costing productions, these low key ingenious ads were the norm and not just in advertising but in cinema too (I am old enough to remember that but my ad experience borders on the last hurrah in terms of small scale production!). Still Halal proves, via Skoda that one can still make films with personal cachets with little or nothing at all...
Skoda, no really, Skoda.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Al Mosafer: stories of Mecca

Today, as we know marks the beginning of Eid; a celebration that’s observed by 1.8 billion Muslims around the world. And as we know, It’s tradition among Muslims to visit Mecca during Ramadan and Eid - for prayers to observe the two religious celebrations as well as for Umrah (the year-round pilgrimage).
But this year, due to the situation and the health crisis owing to COVID-19, Mecca is under absolute lockdown, even during Ramadan and Eid. Even people living in Saudi Arabia cannot travel to Mecca. This has never happened in our lifetime. With these lockdowns and travel restrictions prevalent in Saudi Arabia, Ramadan 2020 and Eid 2020 are uniquely challenging, on a spiritual and emotional level, for those who follow the faith.
So, on the occasion of Eid, Al Mosafer (yes, the same one that brought us the incredibly moving Ramadan ad last year), a travel platform from Saudi Arabia, decided that if people can't travel to Mecca, their stories of Mecca can. Memories of Mecca are brought to people, in a film made by people themselves, titled ‘Stories of Mecca’.
Given that the film couldn’t be shot due to lockdowns in Mecca, a campaign on social media launched during Ramadan invited people everywhere to share their memories of Mecca. People from 52 countries contributed. Over 10 hours of stories were sifted through and then, the selected shots were stitched together in a film that’s told through the format of social media stories about Mecca. Because even though Mecca may be locked down, its stories will go on.
What I truly love about the film is how genuinely moving it is. The images are not professionally shot but in the amateurism one can be truly awed by the experience. With this, best wishes for the Eid to anyone celebrating it, and I know the circumstances in Lebanon are not ideal but we forge through!

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Lebanon: Jusqu'ici tout va bien.

Today, I read this statement by Mathieu Kassovitz, the man who graced cinema with La Haine (whose subtitle was "jusqu'ici tout va bien" or "until now, all is well"): “You don’t change society in 25 years, [y]ou need society to go all the way and collapse, and then you change it. You can’t change a machine that is perfect: capitalism. It’s not good, but it’s perfect. It’s working.”
And I keep asking - has Lebanon collapsed?
Judging by the line in front of Zara, which my taxi driver today compared to "the line in front of bakeries during the war to get bread", I am really not sure. Has our currency lost around 60% of its value? Have people been working on half-salaries? Where are people getting their spending money from? In the words of the same taxi driver Lebanon is a place where people "btedayyan ta tetzayyan" (it borrows money to appear nice).
Theoretically - make that practically - Lebanon is a free fall. Yet, there was a pseudo traffic jam today. Politicians are still taking their time, banks still have not declared bankruptcy though there is insolvency, people - oddly - keep existing and continue shopping at Zara.
Oh, on the background there are still Syrian refugees, I am not going to talk about the Palestinians, there is still the COVID-19 (which has been spiking in the last few days with people not taking precautions), unemployment is soaring (I read the number of 65% which could be correct), people rummage in dumpsters in broad daylight (lately a video of an elderly man and a pregnant woman looking for food emerged).
At times I think this is it, the bottom, the place of no return, but then it turns out we could sink deeper and lower and discover new bottoms (or dig for them). I can quote any economic and financial indicator and they all spell doom, in a parallel universe, the Lebanese keep thinking the fuse is not lit on the ticking bomb, not realizing they are the fuse themselves because...
... Lebanon: Jusqu'ici tout va bien.

Friday, May 22, 2020

In praise of the eternal Beirut5Ampere.

Images copyrighted to
Today, because I am asked about these images frequently, I am republishing this post which dates back to August 9, 2012:
Just in case you were busy with the Baalbeck, Byblos, and Beiteddine, you might have missed this series of awesome concerts offered by the guys from - namely "Jimmy Almouhandrix" (the engineer in case you didn't get it), Led Zepplin singing "Mar2ad anze" LP tour (too difficult to explain) including the hit single "Sellom bel 3ard" (holding the latter vertically - but also a word play on "Stairway to heaven"). Oum Koulsoum will grace Madison Square Garden in an effort to ease up Michele Bachmann anti-Islamic witch hunt, and Pink Floyd (yes, the old line up) will be doing the audio-visual bonanza of "Dark side of Bhamdoun" including the hits "See Oum Elie play" (as a reference to "See Emily play" - one of the very rare songs along Billy Idol's "Dancing with myself" which tackle the topic of... playing with one's self!) - do note the difference in pricing for Lebanese and Gulf tourists however. These are indeed concerts for the moteur generation.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Lebora - Lebanese housekeepers, racism and stereotypes.

Recently, I have seen photos of Ethiopian house helps being repatriated - by the hundreds upon hundreds. The reason is simple, few households can now afford either to hire someone by the hour (the rate was 5 Dollars) or full in-house on 24/7 basis (the average cost is 450 USD).
Actually, Lebanese being mostly racist in their demeanor, the whole category of house helps was labelled "sirilankiye" (Sri Lankese - due to the nationality of the first wave of women who would help at home). So much that one of my students (the son of an MP no less) told me once in class "Monsieur, Sirilankiyetna jeye min Ethiopia" (Sir, our Sri Lankese comes from Ethiopia). Actually, prior to be called collectively "sirilankiye " such women were called "baalbakiye" (the woman who comes from Baalbeck in what is sociologically called "rationalizing of the position").
Which brings us to Lebora (an incredible name truth be told which mixes Lebanon-Labor-Ora (by the hour) in a lovely mix) which promises to procure Lebanese house helps either per hour, part time or full time live in.
Now, Lebanese are not only racist but they are also snobbish and "menial work" is looked down on, and yes, many people do not abide by the "desperate times call for desperate measures" although in my dictionary I see nothing desperate about honest work - been there, done that. So many women feel degraded to be working as "san3a"  (maid) as men do with regards to filling jobs on fuel stations (the IPT campaign comes to mind).
Well, perhaps the current crisis will make the Lebanese reconsider. Here's hoping.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Audi - you're only ever racing yourself

On June 1, 1997 Mary Schmich published in the Chicago Tribune her famous column: "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young" which would be later known as "wear sunscreen"... One of the (many) outstanding lines goes "Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself." This beautiful line, and I made it a point to read the whole article when I used to teach on the last session of any course, is indeed incredibly freeing.
We are competitive by nature, but then life comes in the way. The person who graduated top of the class when I was at university (which was such an outstanding class that anyone in the top 10 could have been top of the class any other year) is now divorced with one child living back in her room and sleeping on her teenage bed with little or no career whatsoever.
Schmich's line is echoed in that brilliant new Audi campaign "you're only ever racing yourself" - something I was thinking about this morning. I was incredibly unlucky in my ad career. I remember this incident. The client - an automotive company - wanted to do an ad about the "pride of the owner". I gave out my concept and the big boss said it was off brief. Two art directors tried to intervene defending the idea as they got excited about it. Two days later the boss comes rushing telling us to come see this "brilliant ad about the pride of the owner" by Peugeot. The ad turned out to be my exact idea - almost frame per frame.
If I give this example it is because, I was also incredibly lucky in my career. Clients paid for me to go to breathtaking places, I got to be in the same room on first name basis with individuals people just glimpse from afar, I was part of remarkable events and the list continues. I made more errors than most due to my generosity but it is that same bonhomie that I display which attracted all these fanciful things that I ended up being part of.
To go back to Mrs Schmish, "Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's." Lady luck manifested herself so incredibly oddly in my life. "Life is not about what happens  to you but how you react to it when it happens", I kept saying that to students. And one day a student retorted "you always say that, and you also say that you have been through incredible setbacks, I did not notice anything different in how you behaved". To which I smiled and said "managing to finish your day is sometimes the best reaction to what happens to you".
Yesterday was an incredibly tough day, but - as Audi said - I was "ever racing (my)self".
I won.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Spinney's, cancer, and CCCL

Well "By buying Spinneys products you'll be donation (sic) to Children's Cancer Center of Lebanon (CCCL)" which is in dire need for funding. Actually, yes, the initiative is laudable. Now "cancel cancer" has been done million times prior and now a cliche. Add a "can" to it and it all sounds like a broken record. Well, at least the cause is worth it - maybe if they added an L in the end they could have ended up with C(an) C(ancel) C(ancer) L which is the acronym of the Children's Cancer Center of Lebanon. Whatever it is, the add is a little too odd to make sense. 

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Let's get digital!

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
So, to misquote Olivia Newton John - let's get digital. I keep reading antagonistic data - book reading is on the up, but Amazon teamed up with American Vogue to sell designer clothes because traditional stores that would carry these designers are now closed. Apparently, the way we shop will forever change, then on the first day of lockdown easing in Paris there was a long queue in front of Zara. And so on and so forth. But, to me, going digital is something engrained in me (even if I am a bit of a Luddite who does not shop online and has no credit card).
But let us go back to the beginning.
I recently joined the PHNX tribute festival as a juror. Actually, the whole festival is digital and entry is free to replace all the shows that got cancelled this year. I am also, a part of a major international collective which was supposed to do events spanning from Montreal to Vienna to Amsterdam and Beirut. Realizing opportunities for travel are now quasi-non-existent, we now switched to discussing how to transport all the events to a digital realm. And the list continues.
I am sure we are not alone in this. As people now stand apart and minimize interaction, working from home has become a viable option when previously it was not. My own lockdwon started way before anyone else's in a bid to save money, but I am still incredibly productive, and still reach out to my limited number of friends via digital tools (something other people are learning to do now!).
Do I miss people? Rarely to be honest. I am not by the way, trying to extrapolate my modus operandi and apply it to everyone: I am totally aware that what works for me (introverted, driven, with a touch of OCD) does not work for more extroverted individuals with a more leisurely pace of work.
Still - with schools, universities and companies closed - either because of the Coronavirus, or due to the dire economic situation in Lebanon (or worldwide for that matter), perhaps the time has come to redefine how we work and live and spend our time and connect to one another as individuals.
Want it or not, it seems the digital realm is going to grow. And even Luddite credit cardless people like me need to take note.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Zarri3et Albi - the snobbish green thumb

Before you say I do not know what am talking about: I am an agriculture engineer. I know what I am talking about. And - I know top down snobbish behavior when I see it. Heck, to the eyes of some am guilty of it - instead of using one of those useless masks, I wear an Hermes bandana! Which brings us back to the new Nadine Labaki initiative: Zarri3et Albi (زريعة_قلبي). Look, when I was active in engineering, my specialty was economics and development. You cannot lecture people from afar - you need to go, mingle, talk to them (in my case I was picked up by the Land Rover of a militia for interviewing women one on one - mind you, the women did not mind, on the contrary they were extroverted and communicative, but the militia did!). You cannot just do a song, a video and pretend you already got the message across. Yeah, yeah, cool initiative and it so happens that Dior is dropping its collection with straw hats and cute overalls influenced by Monsieur Christian's sister who was obsessed with horticulture - what a stylish coincidence! Long story short: This is a real-life Kapernahum (pun intended).

BOB finance compares itself to itself!

BOB finance has an intriguing ad: "there is the bank and there is us". Technically, no issue. But BOB means Bank of Beirut! Let me understand - a company that is an offshoot of a bank says there is the bank and there is them. It is like comparing apples to.... Apples. Basically - no comparison!

Friday, May 15, 2020

Adforum PHNX tribute - a phoenix rises from the ashes!

Tarek Chemaly is now a PHNX juror!
AdForum launches a unique, free-to-enter online competition.
Over the past 20 years AdForum has existed to celebrate advertising creativity. One of its founding pillars is its partnership with agencies and awards shows around the world. It acts as both as a promoter of talent and an archive for creative excellence.
Despite the current crisis, AdForum believes that our industry still needs to celebrate creativity, and that as a symbol of resilience and respect for our community, the best work of the last 12 months deserves to be seen and recognized.That’s why we’re launching the AdForum PHNX Tribute (no points for guessing how it is pronounced): a one-off, entirely free-to-enter online competition. Entries will be open on May 18 and the jury will vote from June 12 to 26. Winners of Gold, Silver and Bronze phoenix feathers will be announced and honored on July 9 during an online event.The idea is to celebrate individual creatives and teams: the people behind the great work.We will ask agencies, freelancers, brands and production companies to enter their best work into a carefully distilled selection of 25 categories. 
A top-notch jury of creative leaders will vote on the entries in a spirit of unity and generosity. Philippe Paget, CEO of AdForum’s parent company Maydream, said: “Despite everything we felt that people would still enjoy celebrating great work this summer, so we decided to create a one-off platform for them to do that. I’d especially like to thank the design agency ADDIKT in Amsterdam, who created the PHNX identity in record time, as well as the content consultancy Fish Do It, based in India.”
The online celebration will be preceded by a series of free webinars devoted to creativity.The AdForum PHNX Tribute is designed to lift the spirits of the industry and put creativity back in the spotlight–where it belongs.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Bledina bedtime story competition

Bledina has come up with a genius idea. A competition to tell bedtime stories!
Think about it - news about about grandparents telling their grandchildren stories on video call, or celebrities reading books online, so it was only natural for a mother to tell stories and win prizes too. The conditions are not difficult - just read your child's favorite story and send it to their email. OK good articulation and nothing above 3 minutes (plus no background noise - ergo better do it after children get asleep) but still, very exciting I must say - and, with children being home, a good trick to decompress a little for overwhelmed parents.

Monday, May 11, 2020

The story of the Tokyo restaurant, Beirut (by way of De Freige palace)

Yesterday I was contacted by Mrs Christine Simm inquiring about my photos about the Tokyo Restaurant. By way of explanation Mrs Simm said, "that flat had previously been our home for 13 years and, what I presume became the restaurant had been my parents' bedroom, the only semi circular bedroom I have ever come across."
Here is the photo Mrs. Simm wanted to see:
Photo credit: Tarek Chemaly
The Simm family moved there in 1954 and her father sent her grandparents this particular image (by way of explanation, Mrs Simm's father "was the Middle East Agent for a British Engineering Company. We started off in Egypt but then moved to Beirut as a better place for the family to live while he was travelling."):
Photo credit: Christine Simm
Interestingly whereas there is speculation about the date of the building with architect Karim Andary presuming it dates back to the 1930s, Mr Simm provided an image of the pristine building when they moved in which means it was not built way prior to then.
Photo credit: Christine Simm
"They then put up the Lord's Hotel which blocked the view. My bedroom was right at the back behind the curved balcony."
Just to imagine the scene, please look below:
Or this one:
Photo credit: Karim Andary
Mrs Simm goes on: "We did not use the house as it was designed. What should have been the living room was my parents' bedroom, the main 'entrance hall' was my father's office and we always used what would have been built as the back door for coming and going. Then there were the living and dining rooms and 3 bedrooms. We children used the large balcony at the side, with the arches, as our playroom. At the back there was the kitchen and another balcony which was the maid's domain.
There was a widow, Madame Saab, who lived below us. Her flat was only half the size of ours because of the hill. In the flat next to us, for the whole time we were there, were the Kekhia's, with their two sons. We were often bothered with stray cats which used to jump in the back windows as they were on ground level."
Mrs Simm goes on reminiscing about Beirut, saying the family lived there in the 1950s and 60s "and my brothers and I attended the British Community School. To start off with it was in Rue Abdel Aziz and then it eventually moved to the Airport Road. But in between these 2 it was in temporary accommodation in the Marquis De Freige Palace."
In case you wish to see the palace in question here it is:
"I clearly remember my classroom, which was the biggest room in the building even though there were only 8 of us in the class. Our teacher was the headmistress and we had to be there so she could be near the telephone. It was a lovely room with stained glass windows, such a pleasure to look at when you were trying to learn french verbs or do arithmetic. I can remember we were strictly not allowed to the upper floor, even though rumor had it there was a room with rat poison in it!"
Sadly here is what the palace has been substituted with today.
Mrs Simm now lives in Scotland and has never been back. "I don't think I would like the changes as the Lebanon was such a wonderful place to grow up in at the time."
"Wonderful childhood!" she concludes. Meanwhile last time I was there which was in November 2019 only the K and O still held strong from the letters which once indicated a restaurant and prior, the Simm family residence.