Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Ramadan in Lebanon: The unatatinable milestones

Ramadan offer - the mousaharati tambourine!

Yes, I know, as adults, celebrations - from Christmas to New Year to Ramadan to Eid to birthdays to job starts - change in flavor. They decrease in intensity and lose their glow. My mother once had to remind me it was actually my birthday. If I am saying this at the beginning of Ramadan it is because in Lebanon, milestones seem unattainable. I mean Christmas was too lackluster, and New Year too negligible, and Valentine's and mother's day came without a whimper. Easter was lost in the melee, and - I read this recently - that a fatoush dish will cost 18,500 Liras to make, whereas the same dish cost 6000 in 2020, and 4500 in 2019. Actually a full Ramadan meal would cost 555,000 which is 85% of minimum wage. Try to multiply this by a full month of meals and expect your head not to explode.

Which is an additional reason for things to be on the low-down. Some people say it is best - as all religious festivities have been too commercialized and Ramadan is no exception. Apparently, people would find the real meaning in slimmed down rituals instead of the excess which marked the decades that passed. 

I have spoken enough about how Lebanon is facing a perfect storm where all elements are feeding on each other. To say we, as a population, are tired from all this is the understatement of the century. People tell me it is the same in Europe and all over the world? Really? Do people in Europe also have no access to their bank accounts and face a devaluation of their currency so acute it is even difficult to express? Anyhow, with Ramadan upon us, Ramadan Kareem for everyone celebrating it. Here's to another year - hopefully the next in better circumstances.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Charbel Nahas will hold a Zoom meeting on April 9th.

Time to make up your choice!

This from the media directorate of Mouwatinoun wa Mouwatinat fi dawla:

The collapse has accelerated in the past months in an unprecedented way, is a warning that the situation will slide into tragic paths that push this society to war or disintegration. The collapse is still seen by many, either lightly or arrogantly. The authorities are still arrogant and wasting resources, as well as waiting for an external decision and financial aid. Meanwhile, the conflicting powers, regionally and internationally, do not view Lebanon as a priority in the midst of all open conflicts in the region. As for the opposition, it still refuses to assume any kind of responsibility at this stage, waiting for its demands to be fulfilled automatically or hoping for a great victory in the so-called parliamentary elections next year.

Today, more than ever, we need to join hands with all of us to enhance the chances of our proposal by imposing a peaceful transfer of power laying different foundations from all previous decades. Today we are at a distant juncture similar to danger, as we are on days of painful remembrance, the anniversary of the start of the sectarian war on April 13th. In its fifteen years, this joint established the system that we know today, which is based on clientelism, nepotism and sectarianism. Some may think that the events that preceded April 13 are radically different from what is happening today, but we are actually passing through a similar phase, with its headings of impotence of power, dependence on outside forces, surrender and popular despair.

And because the time has come for everyone to decide which side they are on, the movement launches an electronic campaign under the slogan "A time to make up your mind," stressing that we have decided our choice by peace as an alternative to the war option, which we are sliding towards helplessness and escaping responsibility. We will provide you with the details of the campaign in an extraordinary session on Friday, April 9, at 8:30 pm. In it, Secretary-General Charbel Nahas will talk about the latest political developments and the movement’s directions and initiatives in the next phase. The Movement’s Media Directorate will also present the campaign’s details and the importance of the participation of comrades as well as supporters in the production, presence, and participation of the campaign’s activities.

In addition to your necessary presence for this session, we invite you to invite your friends who are interested in presenting the movement, especially those who have come close to making their choices at this critical and critical stage.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Sakr Real Estate plays a tune people want to hear.

"Instead of freezing them at the bank, release them in a real estate".

Sakr Real Estate is selling what everyone is buying. Namely investing in real estate as a way to smuggle one's Lollars out of the bank. The problem? Ask any analyst worth his salt and he'd tell you this is not the way to go - prices are in freefall (the cash price of the penthouse in a luxury building in Beirut was offered at 85% less than its original asking as long as it is paid in cash Dollars), actually Jihad El Hokayem has long advised that prices will go further and further at a point when one can snatch three properties for what was being paid for one (actually he predicted accurately the bust of 2019 when it comes to banks).

Still, Lebanese do think it is a good investment - and Sakr is riffing on that tune and people are finding it music to their ears. 

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Fine - promises of lovely days!

Is it dangerous to promise people the unthinkable? Not according to fine. Whose ad rests upon "lovely days will be back again". And yes, people hug in the ad and that. Nothing about retrieving their stuck money in banks, and what not. But well, Fine does believe good things are to come. We are in lockdown in Lebanon - again - nothing seems to be working at this stage though (no government, devaluation still stands very high and I dare not go on). But Fine truly wanted to strike an upbeat tone in a glum environment. Some people choose the sunny side up, good for them. Meanwhile others stay grounded to be able to pay for medicines and the bills and what not (OK, no points for guessing which team I am on!). But well, if Fine believes it - and interestingly the ad is about their brand of incontinence briefs for adults. So voila! 

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Almaza goes April Fools

Right after Volkswagen rebranding as Voltswagen (another IHOB!) - which would have been a wonderful name for their electric combi coming to the market in 2023 - Almaza is playing the April Fools prank with a pomegranate molasses beer (note, there IS already a pomegranate beer!), but still it is kind of nice seeing them in the field and trying to lighten up the lugubre mood. 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

In Beirut: Let the old dead make room for the new dead

If you have not read Milan Kundera's "Let the old dead make room for the new dead", I suggest you should. Whereas "new" is an euphemism in this case, it seemed fitting that the only  new ad in town, on just two billboards, was one for dead politician Michel Murr who died on January 21, 2021. The rest? Nothing. Just old ads now torn and losing colors, a testimony of what advertising is in Lebanon today.

I spoke at length about the state of advertising in 2020, and how the numbers dwindled and dwindled last year, till there was none (because when you subtract the costs of trying to fix the agencies after the August 4 explosion, the numbers not only disappear but become negative). There was some animations on Instagram and social media, this year none. 

Beirut is broken. Totally, completely, and utterly broken. Whole malls are padlocked, the few shops open far and in between are empty. I spoke to a shop owner and he said "if I was renting, I'd have left it closed, but I own my shop, I want keep the pretense I am still alive. Oh, and sitting at home with my wife only led to explosive arguments so might as well come here and spend the day." This alone tells you what the situation is.

I was at a famous sweets shop buying the Maamoul Easter sweets - the price per kilo tripled since last year. No less than 4 other people went in, asked about prices and went out without buying. Understandably so. But the malaise, the feeling of tiredness is there - sweeping the city. I spoke of a perfect storm and it is. The disconnect with the political class is through a schism which is ever-widening. Not sure what they are betting on but to be honest makes little or no sense to me. The only glimmer of hope comes from Michel Hayek and his predictions about the Dollar and our money in the banks (the Dollar is supposed to go down and be available, and the money in the banks has not disappeared he says).

But on the ground, today, Michel Hayek seems off the mark. Beirut seems a shell of its self. Yes, yes, I know - the pregnant widow and all that. But throughout, there is nothing magical happening.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Dear artists, galleries are a dime a dozen!

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Hmmm, why am I writing this at this time?

Because maybe there are no ads to talk about, and the reality is already bleak enough for the Lebanese to go on about more talks about daily life and banks and other morose topics. But also because, I am creating art very very seriously since last lockdown. Now that before my art was not being created seriously, but rather the whole theme came together and I am exploring it to the end of it (see here). Of course, you might ask - how do you make a living out of art? Well, the answer, as with my personal life: "It's complicated".

But then again, as with everything, I had a clear strategy. The last time I was represented by a gallery - that would be 2013 - which was a smash exhibition with the public though it did not sell (no shame in that, rarely anyone sells despite bragging of the contrary). Anyhow, my first gallerist had shoddy ethics, my second gallerist simply did not like my work, my third was young and inexperienced, and my fourth did not gel with my style (despite excellent ethics from his side). But you might say: Oh that's your personal experience Tarek, look at Gary Gagosian, he built a full gallery in Rome just to represent Cy Twombly (who happened to reside there!). Yes, but that's Gagosian and Twombly. 

Which brings us to. Ok smarty pants, what's your strategy? Since 2013, after that famed exhibition and basically my disillusion with the gallery world, I promised myself not to put any penny in the production of my art. And it worked. All the exhibitions which I have done since, were paid for by other institutions. Space? For free. Printing? For free. Cocktails? For free. Communication? By myself, ergo, for free (I took control of all the material surrounding my exhibitions since 2013). Because it case you did not know, artists produce, frame, rent, pay for the reception cocktail, are expected to mount and dismantle (with the help of the gallery staff), and on top (in Lebanon at least) are expected to give 35% of sales to galleries (50% in New York for example). Which basically means, once all costs added, makes exhibiting via a gallery a losing prospect.

Now, some artists participate in municipal exhibitions, or in gardens, or such venues, I have nothing against. this is their strategy and I respect it. But this is not the one I had set for myself. With strong emphasis on concept, on execution, on scenography, and overall presentation, it does not reflect well on my work to be immersed in such environments. Still, between Instagram as a showcase, my books, and other online presences (this blog included), I have established a solid identity as an artist and control my narrative very meticulously, something no gallery can match (actually, I went through the website of all of my previous galleries and I realized the sites no longer exist - all four galleries), which means had it not been for my own archives, there would be no traces of the exhibitions.

Now thankfully, all of my archive is neatly preserved. Now just the large amount of work, but also the "making of" section (which comes in handy when one wants to replace or redo an artwork), the exhibitions, the published books (and again the pages and images), the video art (frame per frame when hand-animated).... So there, the day will come when all of this will be asked for (by whom I know not!). But of this, am sure. And no gallery is going to take credit for that. 

They are a dime a dozen, trust me!

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Cafe Najjar, an ad for what it is a Lebanese in 2021

And so Najjar has a new ad, and a new positioning as they moved from "abl kil chi fi Najjar" (before anything else there is Najjar) to "kif ma baramet fi Najjar" (no matter what turn life takes there is a Najjar), oh and a new agency to boot! it moved to Ogilvy. A very nicely shot, very well done ad, thankfully well lit (I had had enough of darkness in ads as of late, which, dear advertisers is a big turn off and no - it is not "sexy"). The ad, for all its prouesse riffs on familiar territory, and why not? Family? Check. Friends? Check. Social distancing on balconies? Check. Zoom calls with boxers? Check. The birthdays when in different houses? Check. Actually, it is a big pot pourri of what it is to live in 2021, with the added zest of being in Lebanon. Maybe, as of late, this is also the case of being a human being in the world. Sure, the bit in the copy that goes that "a lot has changed for you, but now has to go on with little" hits home in the middle of our banking conundrum. Funnily, there is a hint of bank/insurance in the Najjar ad, one when these institutions meant something. At least coffee is eternal in our culture. See the full film here.

Would a Lebanese trust a bank again?

Lately, a Lebanese banker said that if we combine what is left in the reserves of the Central Bank (currently 16 Billion Dollars), to what the Lebanese are hoarding in their houses as cash (estimated anywhere between 5 to 10 Billion Dollars), to what is left stuck in the Lebanese banking system (commonly known as Lollar, as coined by Dan Azzi), all this can be added together to relaunch the Lebanese economy.
On paper the idea makes much sense. In the end - what are banks for? Remember the ads with house loans, car loans, personal loans, business loans, heck, even plastic surgery loans, and all other loans? Those were supposed to sustain and launch enterprises, except of course for the bit when all this created a rentier economy based on interest rates, pseudo-Ponzi schemes, and the list continues (for details just check the daily life of an average Lebanese living in the age of hyper-inflation and super devaluation).
Now the bit where the banker went wrong is that - no person in his right mind would trust a bank in Lebanon for a long, long time. Granted, people have short memories, but really. Banks, as institutions have soiled their brands, their reason of existence, have breached the trust of their clients, and all in all have been either idiotic with people's money, or demonic in terms of self-enrichment for their management and top clients.
So basically, whereas the banker means well (I think, though not sure considering the antecedents), that man is not going to touch the money I managed to take out of the bank at a loss and which I am keeping at home. Not just me, I previously talked about how all Lebanese are doing this. In the end, it is this money that constitutes some sort of an insurance against - literally - poverty as the middle class is eroding faster than me writing this post.
Long, long time ago, Byblos Bank had an ad that went with a selling line "a bank for life"... But in English the saying goes, "he cheated on me once, shame on him. He cheated on me twice, shame on me", in my lexicon, banks have cheated us once. I do not want the experience repeated.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Almaza - Mother's Day

Almaza is back for Mother's Day.

"You give me right from your heart". 

Not bad, few points for the effort.


Because when you compare to this ad to the one below, you see that they've done it much better in the past! (See here)

Chateau Ksara, a warm ad for Mother's Day

Chateau Ksara is at it again for Mother's Day which falls today. A lovely warm ad (I admit not up to the level of their incredible Army Day, but one cannot get lucky twice so soon!), still, this is not to tarnish their "unconditional love" outing - yes, look closely on the negative space in the wine and you will see what I mean. Actually, isn't this influenced by the UNICEF logo? But with the mother and child kissing? No matter, a good ad is a good ad, and Ksara has been hammering hit after hit.

Friday, March 19, 2021

The day Bkerke got mad at LBC

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

Ah those were the days!
When LBC could nick any program or film and educate us with it.
Well, education could take many forms this being said.
In 1985, LBC aired a very risque ad for Le Chat savon. A woman, naked in her bathtub, with her breasts showing, is talking to her Le Chat soap. Unbeknown to her, her boyfriend is outside bringing her a bouquet of flowers. Throughout, he thinks she is talking about him. And when she admits that she "invites him to her bathtub" (the soap!) he jumps right in in his clothing.
Above is one frame of the ad, as part of "History of Lebanon" series. For obvious reasons the breasts are covered (artistically at least!)....
Now, what did not help was that - concurrently - LBC was showing the clip of the Hong Kong Syndikat "Concrete and Clay". The problem, right smack in the middle, two nuns walk in, and enthralled by the music start doing stripper poses only to reveal very sexy pantyhose attached with a pantyhose holder.
Do not believe me? Look below for one such still from the clip.

Now, all of this pushed Bkerke, the headquarters of the Maronite patriarchy, to issue a stern statement about what televisions are letting viewers see. For the Maronite patriarchy to rebuke the then-owned by the right-wing militia Lebanese Forces TV channel, was both - unprecedented and publicly humiliating, because LBC had to air the statement in their nightly news.
For all of you with a strong heart, do watch the ad here....

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Lacoste x Polaroid, the collab we did not know we needed

Lacoste x Polaroid, the collab we did not know we needed! The campaign (you can see the film here) was shot by photographer Simon Schmitt in the French Southern city of Marseille, with plenty of natural light and in an industrial background, the campaign features teams of dancers and skaters in a dazzling stop motion jigsaw puzzle that follows their non-stop movement. Lacoste (and agency BETC) selected performers of jooking, a type of dance using jerky moves that perfectly fits the energy of the film, shot frame-by-frame (well, considering this is a collaboration with Polaroid, why not shot by shot via Polaroid camera? or better call on the queen of Polaroid, Maripol herself!).

But still, with 70s fashion raging everywhere (even flares are back in style!), Lacoste already rode the wave with a collection by Bruno Mars and his alter ego Ricky Regal (see the full retro line here), and now it is doubling down with the Polaroid collab and its logo's dreamy colors which were featured on the clothing items.

Well, I am all for retro indeed. 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Nike and that opportunistic pregnant women ad

Is the new Nike ad about pregnant athletes great?


Does it feature pregnant and lactating athletes?

It does.

Is is opportunistic?

Like hell it is.


Hear me out.

Ever heard of Olympians Alysia Montano and Kara Gouche?

Well, their contract with Nike did not include protections as to their pregnancies and new mothers role.

You might enjoy this Op-Ed in the New York Times. In short - Nike is redeeming itself because people either do not know the story, or have short memories, or like their brands on the right side of history (here's looking at you Kaepernik, LGBT, Women, etc...).

And so here we are, the ad is good. But honestly, too ethically low following the initial backlash.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

The day we immigrated to Sweden

It was summer, which month I know not. But it was summer. Even the year is a blur, though 1983 is a good estimate. My father came back from work at about 2 in the afternoon, and he had a story to tell.

His colleague was immigrating to Sweden. The government there was offering free houses it seemed, something like guaranteed income or secure jobs. The whole family was in the package. Kids in free schools. The deal was a no-brainer. It was rare for my father to be so excited about anything but he spoke and spoke about his colleague and Sweden throughout lunch.

If a child needed any incentive to dream that would be it. And dreamed I did. Sweden! I went to the Larousse 1981 edition and looked up the country. Oh Stockholm! And indeed, there was effervescence in the air, with my mother even jumping on the bandwagon of stories. Really, there was a bubbling atmosphere all over the house.

And my father went for his daily afternoon nap. By the time he woke up, I needed more Sweden ideas.

There was none.

When he woke up, it was as if the whole thing never existed. He no longer spoke of it, not longer said anything. We were still in Beirut, on the 7th floor, with our balcony overlooking the port and the sea. But there was no Sweden.

If I am telling this story, it is because basically everyone in Lebanon wants to go. To quote that poetic title of the late Pierre Bachelet album - "quelque part, toujours ailleurs". "Somewhere, always somewhere else". Not that I blame them - far from it. When I got my first visa to the US, miraculously I was offered an R B2, that was in 1999 - I could have easily worked there. My brother - who was a resident medical doctor there - asked me if I wanted to stay, but I was a very stable government employee, my consulting career was through the roof, I was dealing with international newspapers as a journalist, making money and managing it exceptionally well. Why leave all this?

By 2001 - funnily after my first very long business trip to Sweden (which had a stamp saying I cannot remain in the country after the end of the visa) - I left all this and went from one day to the next to communication and advertising - which included another very long trip to Sweden. Again, my career took off once more, I was making money and managing it well. Why leave all this?

Which brings us to 2021. I can give you all the reasons to leave all this.

Except, now it is too late. No embassy in its right mind would give you a visa. Our money is basically just paper with all the devaluation. People oscillate between rage and despair. They look to insure the basics but even that is not always a given. 

I said it prior that, somewhere and somehow we will get through this, in what shape or form I know not. 

But I will never forget the day we immigrated to Sweden.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

White Horse Whisky ad: a proof that times have changed.


Hope is the greatest gift God has bestowed on man - for without it life would be dry, cold, with little pleasure or attraction in it, and the Mutanabi was correct saying in his poem - 

How difficult is living without the space of hope

But man is known to have difficult times and challenging moments whereby he feels sad and alone and feels hopeless and how hard it is to lose hope

For such times there is nothing like a glass of

White Horse Whisky

The tasty whiskey that is good for health"

There - if anyone says Arab nations have not gone through cultural and religious shifts, the exhibit above, from a White Horse Whisky is enough to tell you they did. The ad dates back to the 40s of the last century and again, perhaps, I am overdrawing conclusions but one cannot but feel how such an ad would not be permissible today. As a matter of fact, I was seeing ads from Saudi Arabia dating back to the mid-80s and was astonished as to what was allowed then. Women without hijab on television, women being shot walking full-bodied and showing faces, objects moving on their own and aliens in a Gulf Oil ad (by aliens I do mean outer space visitors not foreign nationals).

For a comparison let me tell you this story. I will try to be vague about the details out of respect. Anyhow the automotive company was launching a sporty car which was a variant of one of their best selling models. I came up with "rou7 el horriya" as a slogan (the spirit of freedom). When the client came and we did the presentation his face turned crimson from anger which contrasted heavily with his white dress. We knew there was a huge problem. He composed himself, tried to take a breath and said: "this is an inanimate object, it does not have a spirit. And in this country, we do not include freedom in the titles of the ad".

There you go.... Times do change.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

On why I disagree with the late Ghassan Tueni

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

I know it seems pretentious to argue with someone who is considered heavy-weight intellectual such as Ghassan Tueni. But I do, vehemently so. 
OK, let me explain my main contention: 
I do not think ours in Lebanon was a war "pour les autres" (a war of others).
Say what you want about the vested nature of the "international forces", about Lebanon being at a "cross-current of politically competing nations", about this and that nation giving arms to this or that faction (or to both!), about each part having a different allegiance to diverging ideologies (the pan-Arab vs the "in3izaliye" - or the isolationists), about the flip-flopping power-hungry nations which swarmed in our orbit or us in theirs, say what you want about this.
It is, in the end, the average Lebanese who carried the gun, who was part of a militia, who went behind barricades, who stormed hotels, who ambushed regular people, who planted wire-bombed cars (the story of Samira Ibrahim going back home after planting the car with the explosive that killed 59 people and injured 135 while eating ice cream and singing as if nothing happened, still sends chills to my spine), who also got "war trophies" (a person I know tells the story of an elderly woman sitting on a chest filled with gold and jewels, when they came to make sure the house was safe, the woman was killed and the chest vanished), who berated and humiliated other religions (the old cheikh whose half-beard was shaved at a checkpoint), the closed roads and tunnels, who imposed local "taxes" (with one such man telling my own mother "either you pay or we get the money in other ways"), who implicated God in their acts (such as the now late Jocelyne Khoueiry who included the "mystical" narrative to the Lebanese Forces).
Do I go on?
Already it is incredibly difficult to recount the above (if you have not lived the war, you do not know how eternally-perpetuating and taxing it might be).
So yes, by saying it was the war "of others" ("Pour les autres"), or - as his popular theory he uttered many times states: harb el akharin 3ala ardina (Other people's war on our soil) this implies the exoneration of those who went to war, who contributed to it. An easy, moral, and ethical way out. Something in the line of "oh-it-wasn't-you-it-just-someone-else-was-responsible". Something that resonates with Adolf Eichmann's defense of "I was just following orders".
Other people's orders because it was other people's war.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

She's got Bette Davis cigarette: What to do about the past?

In case you have not heard, the company responsible for Dr. Seuss books, decided to discontinue publishing six of his due to racial stereotypes. Aunt Jemima is now rebranded as Pearl Milling Company. Pepe le Pew has been scratched from the new Space Jam movie due to his insensitivity towards the female gender (Penelope Pussycat). And the Muppets (yes, those Muppets!) are now accompanied by warnings of racial portrayals. And these are merely examples dating barely back to the beginning of the year.

I am not defending cigarettes, but the idea of Betty Davis without one seems - not just odd - inauthentic. Yet, when her stamp was issued in the US, guess what was missing between her fingers? Of course, anyone from Ronald Reagan to Bing Crosby did cigarette ads. "More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarettes" - this alone is an ad that sends you chills. "Before you scold me, ma maybe you better light up a Marlboro". Look, Tom and Jerry had a lot of racial undertones and overtones (anything from full racial stereotypes to blackface). Breakfast at Tiffany's - let us to be honest remembered mostly for Audrey Hebpurn - had the otherwise lovely Mickey Rooney portraying I.Y. Yunioshi - an Asian character.

In the Casterman published "Martine", the little girl had a "doll" called Cacao. The doll was black-skinned. That Cacao ended up carrying Martine's bag is of little surprise. That she also cannot remember her name "though it is not difficult to remember" only highlights her stupidity. Do I go on?

Lebanon tends to specialize in this racism. Long ago, there was an ad which, to highlight how good a detergent was at whitening, saw the Sri Lankan maid put in the washer. We still have "sif el abed" (sif - or steel wool and abed - slave) with the appropriate imagery to match. Up until 2010, Gandour had an immensely popular product called "ras el abed" (head of a slave). A competition was launched to rename it and we ended up with "Tarboosh". But the original name still stands.

When Star Academy was immensely popular in Lebanon, there was a nightly program about what these youngsters did. All the Arab youth wanted to emulate them for sure. Still, in one of these nightly episodes, there was a cut of all the young men agglomerated and sharing cigarettes. When my brother called the person responsible for the program and complained, she answered: "Chou 3alei, ma ana bdakhen?" (What does it matter, I smoke too!).

Of course, the point I am trying to make is: How far back do we go? How do we "rectify" the past (because, at this stage, we are assuming the past needs rectification). Am I of the generation that saw Pepe le Pew and saw their mother use "Sif el Abed"? I am. Am I racist or do I harass women? I do not. Did I see my parents smoke like a chimney growing up? I did. Do I smoke? Again, I do not (but let this not be a "rule" like the woman responsible for Star Academy made it -  if it applies to her it applies to everyone else). 

Social norms changed, case in point? In 1989, my cousins were lighting up a hubbly bubbly, when my (male) cousin offered it to her sister she said: "Ana bint bte7terem 7ala!" (I am a girl who respects herself). Lately, with hubbly bubbly became a vogue item (which are much more harmful than cigarettes) I saw the said cousin preparing her own "narguile" (or hubbly bubbly). It ceased to become a stigma to smoke it.

And before we part. Here's a last anecdote. A student of mine was preparing her thesis about "metrosexual men". Then she told me that she had dinner with her boyfriend and told him about her thesis. Metrosexual men are men who, despite not being homosexual, care a lot about their appearance (clothing, manicures, etc...). She told me, in the beginning he laughed it off. Then at the end of the dinner he asked her: "Do you think my nails need a manicure?" Suddenly, realizing there was no shame in it, it became also socially acceptable to do it.

As morals change, how much should we go back? L.P. Hartley said: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

Monday, March 8, 2021

Paco Rabanne pour homme - a mystery ad that lingers since 1987.

A very close friend of mine loves "the day before you came" by ABBA. He says it is such a mysterious song because one does not know what happens on "the day you came" (check the brilliant lyrics here)! If this is the case, then Paco Rabanne pour homme 1987 ad works in reverse. It is "the day you came" and it lets us assume the day "before".

I am not talking philosophy, simply a lovely piece of advertising that starts with a man descending a colimacon stair, then a curtain unveils and we see a view from a window where someone is checking him departing into a courtyard. The man turns, blows a kiss in the air. He is in full tuxedo, the bowtie still there (assumption: he did not get undressed, ergo, they were not intimate), and from there he goes in a happy-go-lucky walk in Paris, all chirpy, all sincere, kicking autumn leaves that had fallen, dancing with a chair of a cafe about to open, walking on the pont Louis-Philippe, and basically - not believing his luck with an unforced smile on his face (it is the assumption because he has found love, in a story just beginning). 

What is wonderful in the ad, is that it lets you reconstruct the scenario you want about the day before. He is in tuxedo, and it is dawn - were they at the opera the night prior? Were they at a black-tie event? Were they engrossed in conversation so long that he forgot to untie his bowtie? Is it love?

As I said, the beauty of the ad is that it lets assume what you wish to assume about the earlier events, and this is what makes it so memorable. The day after you came indeed.

See the brilliant ad here.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

On the transliteration of the Loulou perfume logo

 "Loulou"... "Oui, c'est moi".... 

Rarely has an advertising reply become so iconic in Lebanon - and here I am speaking about the Loulou by Cacharel perfume (see the full ad here). As I was scanning some old Saudi ads, TV ads that is, I realized that the ad was severely cut (nothing of her chest or shoulders showed, neither of her full walking body - a total no no in Saudi advertising), but what struck me that the very brief ad has an Arabized logo of the perfume (please note since the original logo was too low resolution, and that it was heavily watermarked, I had to recreate it digitally basing myself on the image - the effort above is 95% faithful to the one on the screen).

Sure, it stemmed from its Latin counter part, but it was really done to become "Arabic". Note that this was a trend among brands, applied to their advertising materials, but also to their shops - whereby logos would be rewritten in the same font in Arabic or the closest font, and for those with funky logos, recreated as best as possible in Arabic (as a matter of fact, it was a law in Saudi Arabia). The technique is not flawless, as the brasserie Paul logo translated into - pee...

Monday, March 1, 2021

Moustache and a 1969 ad.

Hot on the heels of finding what could be the first ad of Aishti (nothing determined, but the possibility is high), I have fallen on a 1969 ad for Moustache (which has gone and become a major player in fashion in Lebanon - not just for me as moustache indicates, but also women). On all accounts, the ad specifies that this is the week for ties. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Welcome to Arthur Rimbaud's "Lebanons of dream"

Artwork by Fadi Chahin, Vladimir Kurumilian and Tarek Chemaly

"C'est un peuple pour qui se sont montés ces Alleghanys et ces Libans de rêve !"

Arthur Rimbaud - Ville I, Les Illuminations.

"It is the people for whom the Alleghanys were built and those Lebanons of dream!"

And this is what I retained from the Patriarch's speech yesterday, or from the Hezbollah leader a few days past. Several definitions of one entity, or several entities in quest of one definition.

Granted, I am trying to believe they are all starting from good intentions, but - hell is paved with good intentions as the French proverb goes. And truth be told, all these are rhetoric we have heard prior - some as far back as the the early 80s (All right, I am trying to remain vague, but there is a link between the Patriarch's speeches and the speeches of a certain slain president elect in Lebanon - namely, their writer!). But again, as the French proverb goes, banish the natural state and it comes back quickly.

So, as Alan Parson's Project so pertinently asked: "Where do we go from here?" - aptly from the song entitled "Games People Play". Well, it does not need much to understand whatever is being proposed is indeed a version of "Lebanons" - plural. Perhaps under one name but certainly with different "allegiances" - which is funny because supposedly the whole issue is lack of allegiance.

And, oddly, all components of the Christian faction are now claiming the patriarch's speech is echoing their own. In some sort of a strange deja-vu where someone is reloading the matrix to make the past look like the present (Hello George Orwell! - his 1984 main protagonist had the job of changing the old newspapers to make them look as if they mirror the current political alliances).

But really, if this is supposed to be a precision-guided missile (har har!) from the patriarch, then somehow it sort of missed, because I ended up being confused. Not that the previous speech from Hassan Nasrallah was clear either. Both had their own logic, which was a little queasy on the ground. Which brings us back to intentions and how said intentions translate on the ground.

Oddly, in both speeches the idea of "Halat 7atman" seems a possibility. In case you don't know, for a large chunk of the 80s the Lebanese Forces were pushing to establish an airport at the Halat section of what was then the Christian fief (near Byblos). 

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Well, funnily not long ago the head of the Druze faction Walid Jumblat tweeted a photo of the "airport" at Baazaran. Because you know, the Chouf area deserves its own airport as well. Don't you think this is a fitting definition of a plural Lebanon, or Lebanons as Rimbaud put it? But to end all this with a positive spin, I cannot but recall the Lebanese Army poster from the war days which says "Bigger than to be swallowed, smaller than to be dismantled".


Saturday, February 27, 2021

Dear Hannah Arendt, the right to have rights means to not be a citizen in Lebanon.

Photo by Tarek Chemaly of a graffiti on a Beirut wall as part of ArcheWALLogy project

Hannah Arendt said citizenship is the "right to have rights" - when you think about it, it totally makes sense. As a citizen, you have the right to this and that - formulated differently from one country to another - but still existent. Think of public goods, which are nonrival (the quantity of breathable air should not diminish because one citizen breathes more or less) and nonexcludable (example, if the army defends a country, it cannot stop from defending you because you defaulted on a tax - you are the citizen of the land and it is your right to be defended).

But, try importing this to Lebanon and suddenly it gets very very confusing.

To begin with, the army defending the land is already very odd as a concept. Whereas Hezbollah engaging in a fight with Israel is technically something that should not involve the whole country (because, as that girl sitting in a pub in Gemmayze said during the 2006 war: "je m'en fous", when asked about what was happening in literally a few kilometers away in the Southern suburb of Beirut), believe it or not - it actually does. And truth be told, many "citizens" do not approve of it because, say should the airport be bombed (as it was in 1968, or in 2006), the airport is technically not a Shiite landmark but a "Lebanese" one.

Think of health issues. Yes, I know, even the United States does not have a universal health care (Cuba does!), in Lebanon being a government employee entitles you (and your spouse) to be a member of the "daman" (a magic word about state-sponsored insurance). Which brings us to the many "fictional" jobs that exist simply for the daman in question. "Politician XX has insured my father a job as a snow plough driver - sure, dad lives in Achrafieh and hasn't been near a snow storm in a decade but we get the daman with it" - so said a student (with rightwing leanings) about his family. If I say "with rightwing leanings" it is not as a derogatory remark, but rather to say that usually the idea of receiving a "free" healthcare is something that more in line with social-leaning countries (those pushing to the left) than the right - still, the student found no oddity between his political opinions (or rather those that he inherited without questioning from his parents) and the non-existent job of his father which insures him a salary and the famous daman.

I have said this before but it bares repeating:

"I admit, I was very idealistic as I was growing, but even then, I used to argue that what was wrong was not the governance but people themselves. For a long time, I used to consult with Dr. Paul Salem at the LCPS (Lebanese Center for Policy Studies) and a remarkable man. However, he believed that if we changed governance this goes into domino effect on the people. When he left LCPS, he went to head the Issam Fares Foundation. By pure chance we met a couple of months later, and after effusive hellos, he said "you know Tarek, you were right". Puzzled I asked what about - and he explained that yes, the original issue was with people, and that he found out they were using wastas (clientage system) to get what was theirs to begin with by simply filling a couple of papers."

So the question is - when people would rather ask a politician for a "favor" (in exchange for their ballot in the next election) rather than trust the state directly, what does it say about them being "citizens" in the said country? I have heard it directly from an advisor of a political leader who heads a large party in Lebanon that when their policy changed from "establishing laws" to "procuring services" their "followers" actually voted for a different person altogether at the election (that the different person in question actually started providing more services is of no surprise at all!).

What therefore, is it to be "Lebanese"? And the right to have rights to be Lebanese? In 2013, Abdo Medlej (disclosure: Abdo and I were at the same school) titled his book "indignez vous pour ne pas perdre votre dignite" (get indignant in order not to lose your dignity), but the whole idea of Medlej rests on the principle of "rights" - or rather as Arendt said "the right to have rights" and ergo be a citizen. But as demonstrated above, to take those rights, people rather revert to post-feudal lords as opposed to trust the whole idea of government (which is supposed to procure the same rights to all of its citizens). See how we are hovering around the same points? 

Because the right to have rights, means not to be a citizen in Lebanon, but rather to be part of a faction, or tribe, or a "follower" of a certain party/political family.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Nissan - flattening the curve in a smart ad.

Very smart and very minimal.

Says everything without saying anything all at once. Talks about its brand's usefulness yet still does it sleekly. And could perhaps be too sleek, too blink-and-you'll-miss it in a world of flashy ads. But still is a major refresher of a well-done ad looks like (even if, it could be too smart for its intended audience).

Ladies and gentlemen please meet Nissan Lebanon's own "flatten the curve" ad. It is lovely to see such ads approved, again, in the plethora of brands trying to outshine one another with very striking ads as they compete for the customers' and people's eyeballs, but personally I love that the ad was approved (and that even got created!).

Here's to more of this, perhaps Nissan would end up swaying a new breed of buyers once the pandemic ends - designers, architects, Mies van der Rohe fans....

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

On that perfect 1978 Naas ad.

All right color me jealous.

Look at this beautiful, perfect, wonderful ad for Naas bottled water from 1978 by H&C (then it later became H&C Leo Burnett). What's there not to love, the incredible copy? The authentic ad? The simple but meaningful visual?

Let me translate: 

"Sport. Pickaboo. Lunchbox. Naas.

Your son plays, runs, jumps, climbs, screams.... sweats - he is your champ!

And to keep his ever-flowing vigor, you make sure what kind of chocolate he eats, and you oversee his nutrition with tenderness. But do you know that what kind of water he drinks is no less important than what food he eats?

Naas is a pure water, easily digestible, bottled carefully, and it takes its strength from nature and gives it to your son to procure him enriching minerals such as Calcium, Magnesium, Iron and Potassium... All these are required by the body, to insure equilibrated growth and to fully renew the cells in the body.

Naas on your table, is the sparkle of energy in the eyes of your son."

Swoon, totally!

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Toblerone: The Swedes were so lucky, we as Lebanese were not.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

I have been twice to Sweden on two long travels (41 days in 2001 and 23 days in 2008 - both on courses sponsored by the Swedish International Development Agency). At the end of the second course about "Democracy and Journalism in the Middle East", I was sitting with some of our Swedish trainers and someone said "you know Tarek, we've been lucky here in Sweden, for the last 30 years we really had some very honest politicians".

And in case you thought they were joking, you should hear about the "Toblerone gate", when in 1995, Mona Sahlin (who was the first candidate in line to replace the resigning prime minister Ingvar Carlsson) was discovered to have used her governmental credit card to buy chocolate with. All right, granted, it turns out she also did other things with the card - see here for the full list - but it was buying Toblerone that got the scales tipped.

Toblerone. Really.

Which is why I believe my Swedish colleagues about what they said.

We, in Lebanon, have not been so lucky.

And to be honest, not just the politicians. The average Joe is just a culprit as anyone else. Because, and I have said this many times prior, corruption is not a one sided affair. It implicates more than one person. We have been cursed by a combination of crooked politicians but also by people who follow them, and the slogan everyone spit out on October 17 2019, "kellon ya3ne kellon" (everyone means everyone) basically meant "except the guy I follow myself". But we are now so far removed from that time - with the economy in total free fall and the Dollar in major upswing state versus the Lebanese Pound.

I heard it from several analysts that we are on the brink of something "new", than an intervention right now could sway the odds and the scales. Well-meaning people, am sure, but also - truth be told - that whole "NGO" and foreign people participating in the "thawra" uprising left a very bitter taste for many (see here).

But still, where do we go from here? We have proved incapable of governing ourselves, and any outside intervention is seen as a "breach to our independence" (what independence? The one we earned in 1943 with one person dead? - his name is Saeed Fekhreddine). It is completely disheartening to write this, but Lebanon has not exactly proved to be a "state" - and please, can you all stop with the "golden age" thing? People seem to be reminiscent about a past that never was (again, see here). To be honest, people in Lebanon seem to be reminiscent about anything called "past", the other day I saw people giving praise to the days of the 1975-1990 war on a post on Instagram. And it infuriated me beyond measure as am sure no one wants to go back to days of fighting and damp shelters and greenline between two Beiruts and being refugees in their own land or outside of it.

Actually, I have recently been digging in old newspapers, and it seemed miraculous for me the war did not start earlier. Lebanon was on the brink of war as far back as 1958! And even then this did not come out of nowhere - once more any reading of newspaper headlines tells you it was not just going to happen, but was almost happening as is - while the fallacy of the supposed golden age stresses swanky hotels, and "Switzerland of the Middle East" and water skiing by the St. George bay, and locals used as props for international consumption in leaflets and promotional films and press materials.

But all of this is to tell you that we failed. As a state, and as people who have no concept on how to be citizens. 

Great, now I want Toblerone. I swear I will pay for it myself - not that I have any government card or anything anyhow.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Waiting for the vaccine is like waiting for Godot.

The famous "lakohou atfalakom la yanfa3 el nadam" slogan as rendered by Tarek Chemaly

Well, here we are - am waiting for my vaccine turn to come. To begin with, it seems a lot of people are not taking the vaccine. And here am talking about  many people I know, educated, smart, who read daily, but who still will not take the vaccine. I heard all kinds of reasons (will not say excuses as not to appear judgmental). A lawyer says she has allergies (which are actually some of the reasons listed not to take the vaccine), a biology major is not convinced of either of the currently available vaccines, a management consultant thinks we are being tested as guinea pigs, a science teacher is convinced vaccines are not effective and people are dying because of them, and a math teacher says that the vaccine leaves the mark of the beast on the body once taken.

Now being diabetic and having lived in a snood (because I wear hearing aids there is no more space to store anything behind my ears in a conventional mask) about all of 2020 and having reduced my outings to about once a  month (usually combining supermarket and bank trips at the same time), I honestly long for the pseudo-normalcy of a life considering that the rest of the conditions are far from ideal in Lebanon (devaluation of 78%, lack of access to our bank accounts, an explosion I have survived twice and the list goes on!).

But hey, Mario Abboud (the journalist) nailed it on the head with his "bala mokh" (figuratively "lacking brains") comment in his now infamous TV journal intro. The other day, right smack in the middle of the Joyce storm, someone knocks on our door. It turned out to be a neighbor who was back from her job at a bank and who wanted to pay us a visit. I mean seriously, she must have interacted with God knows how many people, when we are hunkering at home (me diabetic and mother elderly), but she still found it a good time for a visit.

That all of this is super worrying is not even worth mentioning. Because as I said earlier COVID is but one of Lebanon's problems. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Could this be the first ad of Aishti?

Is this the first Aishti ad? Well, naturally I cannot be certain, but there is a probability it might be among the first. It was published in Annahar newspaper in 1991. You will note that back then the old logo still stood, and that the boutique had two branches only - one in Jal el Dib on the bifurcation of Juicy Burger (a defunkt Lebanese burger joint), and one in Mar Elias behind Banque Mediteranee (likelihood the same bank branch still stands but has been rebaptized as BankMed). See? We are far from the luxury behemoth which is now present now just in several places and stand alone boutiques in Lebanon, but also in many other country (Jordan, Kuwait, and the UAE).

Once more, I tried to track other ads in the same time vicinity in the same newspaper, but could not find any. I tried to see if one year earlier there was anything, and no luck. Which is why my speculation was that this could be the first ad for the brand. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Wella Form timely ad for the Lebanese parliamentary elections in 1973

And to those who thought they invented the linking of ads to specific events, let me remind you of this brilliant ad which was published in Annahar newspaper around the 1973 parliamentary elections for Wella Form. "The candidate of the youth - Wella Form - it promises and delivers - elect it and you'll gain beautiful hair".

Sure enough, the technique of linking ads to brands for specific events has been used and over-used in Lebanon - all those who follow my blog will know that success has been sporadic. But the point, knowing that such techniques were being used in Lebanon since the 70s makes all those who think they "invented" the technique all too idiotic. Here's another successful sample from the 80s for New Man.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Lebanon had a KFC in 1973 (which proves that the golden age never existed!)

So, apparently, we had a KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) branch in Beirut in 1973.

This is news to me. Not the least because when KFC was introduced to the Lebanese market sometime in the 90s (apologies, have no exact date) they forgot to say that it was a re-introduction to the market. So, I know what you are thinking: Lebanon in the "golden age" and cosmopolitan Beirut at the height of its glory, when the country was "the Switzerland of the Middle Middle East" and "Beirut, the Paris of the orient".

OK, now chill.

I found the ad in an old Annahar issue Dated December 1rst, 1973, when Lebanon was navigating its umpteenth political crisis - if it was not a strike, it was the government falling apart, if it was not the Palestinian fidais, it was an Israeli infiltration, if it was not the president threatening to step down, it was the Prime Minister stepping down, if it was not journalists being arrested, killed or kidnapped, it was the whole convoluted Arab situation where Lebanon always had a dog (but no arms) in the fight.

As a matter of fact, that particular issue of Annahar has a "manchette" that read: "International movement to stop reignition of the fight" in an allusion about the then flammable situation between Egypt and Israel.

Which brings us back to KFC. Actually, what I was doing was researching an artistic project which had a very large "political" angle. And as usual, my findings confirmed by central theory: The was not just one Lebanon, not even a country "a deux vitesses" (on two speeds), but rather on 100 different speeds.

Ads for Christmas regalia cohabitated with political crises, news about political misadventures stood side by side with new play reviews or artists inaugurating their exhibitions at hip galleries with lovely words by the late May Menassa. Confusing? Yes. But doesn't it remind you of anything?

Well, Lebanon has always been this odd, strange, cacophony of voices which happen to live in a land smaller than the Disney World parking lot. Of course it is exhausting, tiring, trying, and exasperating. But digging through so much archive (I admit, more than the original project needed), only made me too aware of the never-ending cycle of political issues of Lebanon. Even through its so-called "golden age", which I repeat - to me never existed (case in point, all those political issues and that teetering at the edge of the abyss we always experienced).

And hey since we are on lockdown they had a day and night delivery service, all you have to do is call 319810-312513. Hmmm, make mine hot please.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

I watched all the SuperBowl ads so you don't have to (and only one is worth watching)

So no one asked for Dolly Parton to rework her "9to 5" lyrics for SquareSpace (into 5 to 9), or for Leslie Grace and Meek Mill to spoil Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine's "Conga" for Baccardi (note to Baccardi, why not run of your old "Be what you wanna be" ads from the 90s?), or for Lil' Nas to - hey, I cannot ever remember what ad he was on! Or for McDoland's to continue the "let's-wreck-every-track-people-loved" saga this year with a mashup by DJ Earworm of songs including 24kGldn's "Mood," J. Balvin's "Mi Gente," Celine Dion's "All Coming Back To Me Now," (which originally is by Meatloaf) Alicia Keys' "Girl on Fire" and The Proclaimers' "500 Miles", which sort of ruined them all. Sketchers decided to include an NFL player and their budget did not got as high as Tom Brady and Gisele so they ended up with Tony Romo. 

While Amazon picked Michael B. Jordan as the "body of Alexa" - which considering how bad the other ads are made this one seem genuinely good (even if, on a decent year it would be average). Will Farrell in a silly slapstick for GM along with Awkwafina does not invite you to join the ride. Lenny Kravitz jumps in for Stella Artois in a decent effort which is half shot and half animated. The weeknd predictably stars in the - what else? - but the Pepsi commercial (he is after all this year's star of the half time!). Bud Light recreates that frog raining scene from Magnolia but with lemons (to promote their own flavored lemon-tasting drink) because "when life gives you lemons" (you know all the wrong things that happened last year). Michelob Ultra asks the daft question:"Are you happy because you win? Or do you win because you're happy?" using Serena Williams, Peyton Manning, Anthony Davis, Brooks Koepka, Jimmy Butler and Alex Morgan.

Mountain Due certified that John Cena knows how to count (to 3) (Note to Mountain Due, you really should have bought Daniel Johnston's lovely tune!), Tide played along with Jason Alexander - supposedly it was funny, not sure how though. And Uber Eats revived Wayne's World. Mind you as I am writing this I am still scrolling though "just insert a celebrity and pretend it is funny" ads. 

Now there is however a lovely ad worth watching. The superb Anheuser-Busch: "Let's Grab a Beer". Because, "It's never just about the beer. It's about being together." After 2020, would anyone dare argue?

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Dear Lebanese, believe it or not, this too shall pass.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Well, maybe it is best to begin saying I am not exactly an optimist by nature. If I say so, it is because this post implies a large dose of optimism. But in the last few days, as I was researching a new art series I was working on - OK fine, one of 72 new series am working on - I came across footage from the currency devaluation of 1986 and 1987, which funnily an economist said it was the benchmark of the Dollarization of the Lebanese economy which lead to this current catastrophe we are currently facing with banks.

Long story short to quote "Throw Away Your Television" by Red Hot Chilly Peppers "it's a repeat of a story told, it's a repeat and it's getting old". Save for some fashion changes (and the absence of large barricades courtesy of the next door Ministry of Interior), the footage told me that things have not changed that much. People manifesting, trying to break into exchange offices, beating and smashing the signs of said exchange offices with a lamppost that was snatched from the sidewalk (I can estimate it is Hamra opposite the Red Shoe near what was then the Modca Cafe). Oh and there were military people trying to secure the Central Bank while failing to reason with people (that the salary of these same army people was in itself slashed to pittance tells you about their own confusion).

Sounds familiar? (OK, fine, save for the humongous barricades)

It does, this is 2020 and its "thawra". The anger, the disbelief, the helplessness, but also the bonhomie and that idea that such acts can lead to change (they did not back then, and so far, based on 2020 I see no change either). So where's the optimism bit?

Here's it is. My late father was a government employee whose salary went to three quarters nothing, we were three children who arrived basically back to back (I was the youngest born in 1974), all of us at school, all of us growing up, all of us on hand me downs clothing, all of us with distinct personalities, but also all of us with birthdays (and homemade cakes), and loves (sometimes the same loves, and I would tell you to avoid that), and friends, and teenage years, and films (my first was Jacky Chan's "Sword of Honor" at Sagesse movie theatre).

So why am I telling you this?

Because things went on, and the crisis (crises) was (were) overcome. We managed to survive in very tight times. Sure, I am not preaching some happy-ending story to be made into a film (though it would be nice if Thimotee Chalamet played me), the point is: Even that very bleak time actually tended to end. Was it trying? Ask my parents and their ubiquitous daily Tranxene 5 mg or their chimney-smoking Marlboro (tehrib - smuggled). It would take them forever to kick both habits (OK, to save money they switched to the local Cedars cigarettes at some point though).

You still cannot see the upside of the situation, can you? I do not blame you, the situation is indeed bleak, but revisiting that footage, oddly, reminded me - not of an economy collapsing and savings squandered and day to day hardship - but rather of sunny summers, of cousins living in the upper floor, of outings to the CMC (Club Mountain Cubs) every night, of a blossoming teenage love and of songs played on Pax Radio (as music blasted heavily from the Arabic Jabal Loubnan station from the neighbors' own boombox).

Yes, after a while, what seemed like heavy burdens appropriate for your age tend to ease up, which for me back then centered around a horrible math teacher (no wonder we tend to look at the past with rose-tinted spectacles). So, in several years, the deadly pandemic coupled with an economic crash and a major fear of losing our money stuck in the bank and the wonder if I will be able to secure my mother's medicine, all this will vanish.

And this too shall pass.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

On the assassination of Lokman Slim

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Can you be in Lebanon and avoid politics?

Short answer: No.

Lokman Slim, the publisher behind the fantastic Umam has been found murdered. He was a prominent critic to the Hezbollah, which sadly means that his murder will be pinned on the Hezb. I am not an intelligence officer or anything, but honestly, I think this is the last thing the Hezb needs at this stage, which means in my opinion that the Hezb did not do it.

But people will want simple answers. Actually, in Lebanon, mostly they will get no answers at all - just go back to all the unresolved crimes that happened. So the simple answers leads to the wrong way if you ask me. But Slim really was a fierce driver for change that is for sure, and on all fronts - along with his wife Monica Borgman. 

His loss at such a time when Lebanon is trying to see where it stands when it comes to freedom of speech is indeed tricky. But to be honest as well, outside a certain tight circle of intellectuals and people involved in civil society, the name Lokman Slim was not widespread... And yet, today, everyone seemed to know who he is. Or to quote a friend who phoned me: Are you writing anything about Slim's death? I had to google him to find out who he was....

Monday, February 1, 2021

Tony Kattoura - the man who gave the population a needed smile.

All right, I admit I did not watch him live because simply I do not watch television at all. But I woke up to the phenomenon of "Captain Tony Kattoura"... His style of singing are light-hearted songs with cute lyrics about anything from love, to bemye w riz, to all other topics.

Sure it is easy to laugh him off. But we do live in a world where a tiktoker went to number 3 in the UK charts for his rendition of sea shanty Wellerman, so basically stranger things (no pun!) have happened. But the craze of Tony Kattoura who is trending on Twitter tells you how much the Lebanese populace needed a smile - a laugh, a frivoulous thing just for them to unwind a little. Now, the vocals of Mr. Kattoura could need sharpening, his a capella style (I am not sure but I did detect hints of the great Alain Merheb's houwwara tunes) is truly engulfing however. 

Since I am a big believer in pop culture as a bridging ability to cultures, I think Kattoura's presence was just what the Lebanese needed, which obviously translates into the online craze which has happened since his live on MTV's "3a gheir kawkab" (on another planet) show. Remember however, all the "el fan el habet" (the falling art) as it was used to be called in the 80s, are now its classics. People who dismissed singers are one-hit wonders, or equipped with a bad or untrained voice, eventually proved staying power. And those who did not, still managed to give out hits that are transmitted from one generation to another.

I think of certain examples. If you remember the great diva Sabah, she has some incredible songs which truly fulfilled her vocal potential (by her own admission, the song "Sa3at sa3at" was her best performance - and listen to it and you will understand why), but ask anyone about Sabah, and mostly her more "pop" songs come to mind - ya dala3, Allo Beyrouth, ra2isni heik, or the classic 3al day3a. I distinctly remember the concert by The Golden Age (the trio Sammy Clark, Abdo Mounzer, Le Petit Prince) at the Ramadaniyat festival in 2015: they started with some English and French classics to which the public was lukewarm. But it took the first notes of Clark's "Ah 3ala hal iyyam" and the whole house burned down across all generations, everyone went balistic about it.

So here we are, Kattoura just provided us with one such example. It takes little for people to get excited, especially when they are this down. Now, if he proves to be someone who will stay the course is another matter.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Rethinking Lebanon: Reshaping the Future of Lebanon through Artificial Intelligence

Well, there are those who are complaining, and then there are those who are still working and trying!
Starting February, Rethinking Lebanon will start a series of webinars that covers (AI, Robotics 3D Printing, IoT, Blockchain, AVs & UAVs, AR/VR, Biotech, Deep Learning, Neural Network…). The first webinar is entitled Reshaping the Future of Lebanon through Artificial Intelligence, it will take place on February 4, 2021. The featured speakers are partners and managing directors in BCG (Boston Consulting Group) and Microsoft, the zoom platform that will be used, has a capacity to host 1000 participants, mainly university students.
Actually Rethinking Lebanon is inviting the youth to "Reshaping the Future of Lebanon through Artifical Intelligence" Webinar on Thursday February 4, 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm (EET)
Jad Bitar, Managing Director & Partner at BCG
Juana Fernández Silva, Director at Microsoft
Akram Awad, PhD, MBA, Principal at BCG
For Registration kindly click on this link.
Rethinking Lebanon by the way has some very worthy objectives and among the topics they discussed so far:
- Redesigning Economic sectors
- Lebanese Women 2025: Role in public services
-Rethinking the design of Entrepreneurship
- Rethinking Education for creating jobs
- Medical Education in Lebanon
- Knowledge Economy and Innovation
- Real Estate Sector: Challenges & Opportunities
And truly, they put their money where their mouth is! So far too many conferences, lectures and meetings have been organized. When reaching out to their president Jihad El Hokayem, he tells me: "Well, we can't all turn our backs and immigrate. I certainly understand why some decide to go that way. But for me, investing in the Lebanese youth is the best I can do and try to get them to remain".

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Magnum #winterpleasures

Ah in a country where all these are basically no longer found in the market (heck, not only is ice cream, certain brands of chocolate are missing, but also Nescafe and even onions - all stores seem to be missing onions where I am!), it is still a winter pleasure as the ad says to indulge in a magnum. The ads - beautiful retro illustrations by Thomas Danthony in a blink and you'll miss it kind of presence (yet the shape is too iconic not be known!). Great, now I want me some ice cream... 

The COVAX platform is now online

And here it is finally.

The COVAX platform for the COVID vaccine is finally online.

I urge everyone and anyone to fill their data and coordinates to be able to take the shot (actually double shot in case of Pfeizer). All the necessary data are vital and yes, even your work etc is crucial in terms of classifying you in terms of priority. I was honest in all my replies so I urge you to do the same.

The information is very easy to fill by the way, but you need an email, a phone number (mobile phone) however to get the info across.

Please log in here.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The all new GMC: The power of (the missing) verse.

The legacy of verse for the all new GMC, a lovely title for what turned out to be a little of an underwhelming film. Don't get me wrong, the film is well done, well shot, with a very nice narrative. But honestly there's not enough "verse" to justify all the acclaim it was made to be. In the end if you are going to stress the Bedouin heritage, the campfire tales in the middle of the desert, more than a couple of words are needed. Actually what got me excited about the film is exactly what ended up disappointing me: I thought it would be word-based, and being very partial to the Arabic language, the film left me wanting. I mean it is nice objectively but certainly fails to deliver its original promise. Maybe some other tale would follow and rectify but as is.... Oh, you can watch the film here. And by the way, the majestic "bil haybati ykoud" is certainly, definitely, not the cheapo-slang-ish "leads like a pro"!

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Ikea or how the Bernie Sanders meme right

Yes, I know by now everyone has been using this meme and milking it dry. But leave it to Ikea to do it correctly. Balenciaga? Da Vinci? Banksy? GDPR privacy settings? Friends/Stranger things/Simpons sets? There is nothing Ikea cannot troll or turn to its advantage!