Thursday, October 21, 2021

Caffecrema, ads that hint to competitors?

Caffecrema is here. Well, the campaign has a line "your coffee is now called...." and then (for the creamer) "your coffee partner is now called..." (notice about me being indulgent not translating it as "your coffeemate" for obvious reasons!). Well, this at least will tell you that these two products come to you from the same company. 

Here's however my headache. Caffecrema (and I am not even discussing how lame the name is), has a 3 in 1 "classic" sachet flavor (that would coffee + cream + sugar), but also a 2 in 1 sugar free option (ergo coffee + cream). Which brings us to - where would one use the creamer alone? With a competitor brand? Think about the ad for a while and you'll understand my gripe. Nowhere does it say I can buy Caffecrema sans crema... Which makes the creamer ad an implicit ad for - dare I say Nescafe or Maxwell House (which is these days more frequently found than the almost always absent Nescafe). Anyhow, with ads being as rare as they in Lebanon, I had to comment on that one!

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Lebanon: No country for young men

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

If the William Butler Yeats poem said "that is no country for old men", Lebanon, today is no country for young men (or women, or non-binary if they identify as such!)... But I digress. I read a recent statistic that 70% of Lebanese dual nationals have already left Lebanon. Good for them truth be told. What the other 30% are doing is beyond me to be honest. It seems 2500 doctors and nurses have already left Lebanon - not sure how this translates but I also read that 40% of doctors and 30% of nurses have left already. Half of the 72,000 engineers registered in Lebanon already work outside.

In the creative industry - anything from advertising to audiovisual talents - the situation is no better. A friend trying to finish his film tells me that editing, sound design or coloring are taking enormous time since there are very few talents left in Lebanon and they are all overwhelmed with work. 

But again, why stay? Truly, why stay? And please the "patriotic" answer is not a good one - come up with a better answer. Honestly, I cannot even imagine what it is to be a young man/woman in Lebanon today... I am sure they are all dying to go out, to have a normal life, to escape power failures (or any other kind of failures at large!). My generation cheated death too many times (see here), theirs was supposed to be the one to have the ripe fruit of peace. 

We were supposed to have endured all this so that they can carry on with a calm, organized, civilized life. How wrong we were. 

Truly, what are these youngsters thinking? I know, I know. Dubai, Qatar, Canada, US. When most of them only know Turkey where they went on those pre-packaged tours. Actually, if they are thinking logically or not is beyond me (a lawyer I know said her brother in Belgium could secure her a Schengen visa in one week, and then she'd go and override her allotted maximum 90 days. Fact check: Schengen visas take 20 days to be issued, breaking the visa limits, can lead to very serious consequences mind you). Plus, Lebanese underestimate what it is to live in a different society (another fact check: wearing a seatbelt is not optional as it is in Lebanon despite the law somewhere that makes it mandatory).

And still, I cannot blame anyone wanted to go out, especially young educated people. Brain drain and all that, fine. But truthfully, to anyone staying here, let me offer exhibit 1:


Friday, October 15, 2021

Media in Lebanon: "There's no truth in Beirut, only versions" Bill Farrell

Published originally on October 22, 2008 - this post still stands on its feet. Names have changed, some of these TV stations no longer exist, but the idea stands. One event, different interpretations, different versions, no truth.... What happened yesterday was interpreted in already several antagonistic ways.

In an recent email I have received, I got different interpretations of the Lebanese media about the same event. The original news is "A Lebanese citizen was killed by the flow of cars on the Beirut - Damascus road"... Now here's the different versions: For Al Manar (Either backed or totally owned by the Hezbollah depending on the different sources) "The martyrdom of a Lebanese in a Mossad attack on the Beirut - Damascus road," Future Television owned by the Hariri Family and holding a major grudge on Syria headlines "The remnants of the security apparatus kills a citizen known for his opposition to the Syrian occupation" (Syrians remained for 15 years in Lebanon after the end of the war, practically having a political "carte blanche" from major superpowers), for the LBC - itself anti-Syrian - it becomes "The death of a citizen supporting the majority under the wheels of a bus with a Syrian license plate" (The majority in this case refers to the current anti-Syrian parliamentary block) for NBN - totally pro-Syrian - the news is best avoided and the news is "The fall of the Berlin wall" then New TV which is heavily flavored with communist ideas "The colonial capitalist American powers kills a Lebanese citizen" and finally for Tele Liban, known to do nothing all day but rerun (its otherwise brilliant) archive... there are no headlines, only the archive.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Today, Beirut was a "repeat of a story told"

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

"It's a repeat/Of a story told/It's a repeat/And it's getting old"
These lyrics come Red Hot Chilli Pepper's "Throw Away Your Television", and it is a very at epitaph for today's events in Beirut. We've seen them before. We experienced them. To my generation they are a stark reminder of what already has been. And to all the idiots who for one reason or another say "rizkallah 3ala eyam al 7arb" (oh may the day of the war come back), I can safely tell them to get lost.
Get lost and never find their way back.
Because just when you think the trauma has subsided a little, it shows its head once more.
Like it never left.
And make no mistake, whether dressed in bell bottoms as they were in the 70s or in fake Yeezys as they are today, it is the same people - their children maybe - but the same people. I am sure there is a "cause" somewhere, what it really is, not sure anyone knows. Especially not the people holding the guns and shooting. Indiscriminately shooting.
But there they were, proving their masculinity. Protecting their lords. Acting like faithful serfs.
Not even sure what they will get out of it.
To me it was scary, perhaps I have seen in the events things which I have already seen before.
In 2013 I did an exhibition called Fargo (which is the brand of the bus that exploded the Lebanese war to no return), and for it I built a labyrinth, the interesting thing was the entry of the labyrinth was the same as its exit. That was the war, we went in, and went out, and in the middle did not know what hit us.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

IKEA goes kitsch for Saudi Arabia and Bahrain

IKEA has gone fully kitsch in a campaign done for Saudi Arabia and Bahrain announcing the 70% sale - as someone who is very much into that aesthetic, I have no problem swallowing it. Apparently the whole campaign has been done for IKEA Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and involves specifically homes from that region done and redone to the max. Now, here's the problem.

Who is the campaign talking to? Obviously to locals. The line? "Don't let furniture wear you".

OK, as someone heavily versed into copyrighting, I can tell you this line is not transposable into Arabic. Which makes me wonder how the locals will react to such a campaign when the punchline is not even in their own language. 

To be clear, and this is not some sort of cultural judgement, Saudi Arabian learn basically Arabic and nothing else at school. I was in Saudi and a man asked me for help - he was unable to retrieve money from the ATM. Why? I was unable to punch the numbers of his card or the correct command options.

So the campaign leaves me a bit confused as to the target audience. As if there was a disconnect somewhere.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Brands and the hypocrisy of values

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

In David Foster Wallace's book "Infinite Jest" (a writer's writer book if there was any) years are referred by the name of their corporate sponsors called "revenue enhancing subsidized time" (and yes, trademarked). Recently, a piece ran in The Guardian newspaper entitled "why corporate social responsibility is BS" by Robert Reich (who was a former US Secretary of Labor no less) and today in the much-hyped sneaker/streetwear bible Highsnobiety a frontpage article entitled "Should brands even be speaking about values".

Look, by enhancing their bottom line (selling one extra shirt or pair of trainers or a butter packet) brands are insuring their sustainability, and whereas - mind you this does not apply yet in markets such as the Arab world - young consumers support companies that share their values (in 2019 there was a report by Deloite worth reading, here) so when  Nike went into the Colin Kaepernick debacle (read here) they knew who was buttering their bread - and no, it was not those aging conservative older demographic who would buy one pair of trainers a year. However, in real life, Nike got caught flat-footed with the pregnant women ad (see here). In short here's Nike's position: They support women who are pregnant, as long as the pregnant women are not on their roaster of athletes such as Alysia Montano and Kara Gouche.

Classic example. Values only apply where and when it makes financial sense to be "on the right side of history" and let's face it "on the right side of the finances". Sure, some companies do mean it - I think of Patagonia for example - which no longer accepts adding corporate logos to its much-popular fleece vests allowing the clothes in question to be passed on to other people, or reworn outside business hours, or resold more easily at thrift stores. 

Remember, I am part of the Epica awards, and every year I see tons of ads about "good causes" brought to us by brands that expose their cases in very detailed presentations (mostly soundtracked by silly sad pianos) and how these acts changed the whole society they were part of (no kidding, a Lebanese agency claimed that it increased women's representation in the parliament because they changed a word in the national anthem making it a bit more feminist). But let's be honest, just as I said changing a law does not imply changing a mentality (see here), a silly short-termed Corporate Social Responsibility act is not going to change the life of a whole society, what it will do - it will bring consumers to thinking that their favorite brand is aligned with their values.

Welcome to the year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Car companies new logos: rebranding away from 3D

Well, when everyone does it, it is no longer a novelty. But it seems everyone is doing it out of necessity. After the bigtime fad of the 3D quasi-airbrushed logos for car brands, in the last few months, no less than 10 different brands have announced new logos (Volvo, Nissan, BMW, Mini, Dacia, Renault, Kia, Peugeot, VolksWagen, and Fiat have all went this route).

Actually, I also read somewhere that Audi has filed papers for a new logo very much in line with the ones presented in the image above. What is interesting is that in all cases, suddenly a new 2D logo has appeared. Truth be told, there are many elements of similarity with these brands' old logos from the 60s/70s. However, nostalgia is certainly not the driving element to be sure. Rather, it is the new social media. 

Let me give you this design secret, long time ago (that would be till 2010 or so), to make sure a logo worked, we used to put it on the smallest surface on which it will be printed - namely the business card, if the logo was still visible then it was acceptable. Today, the smallest surface on which the logo will be displayed is no longer the business card but your Instagram handle. And the less complicated the logo, the more streamlined, simple, 2-Dimentional, the more you have the possibility of being immediately seen by your audience as everyone is competing for eyeballs. 

However, in defense of the car brands, each one tried to keep its own identity separate as opposed to clothing brands who went almost anonymous with their new logos (for some odd reason major luxury houses have decided to go the let-us-all-look-the-same route). If you do not believe me look at the image below.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Loto Libanais or is that Lo-to?

So the Loto Libanais has a new campaign... Not as lovely as "iza mich el tanayn el khamis" (if not Monday then Thursday), but efficient in the short term. The idea was to breakdown the name "lo-to" (Lo pronounced law in Arabic means "if", and "to" added at the end of the word means "it/him").

So the campaign goes "IF I was able to buy it, I would not have rented IT", "IF I was able to pay for the garage, I would have fixed IT", "IF my salary is enough I would have helped HIM", "IF I had the cash I would not have paid on installments for IT"... 

The ad follows the current trend of using animation in ads (as it brings down the production costs), but at least it makes it up with a clever lo-to gimmick. See the full ad here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Lebanon: a legacy of anger and resentment

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Do you remember the Egyptian TV program "mirath al ghadab"? (which could be translated as "a legacy of anger/resentment). I don't think you do.

Ok let me start with the drawbacks: In the program Mahmoud Yassin marries his highschool student Chahira (husband and wife in real life) something which might not fly today.

The upside: An incredible story about a father, two brothers, an inheritance, cousins bickering, and a dreadful climax. It all starts with the ominous theme song.

The reason I am mentioning it is because recently, a friend told me that Lebanon was cursed in the bible. There is a passage in the old testament which could allude to that, I will let you judge about it yourself. But, bible-cursing or not, one thing is for sure: We are, somehow, cursed.

I don't think there are voodoo dolls that could represent a whole nation, but what do I know?

Still, whereas I am a "little" young (though not very) when the mid-80s financial crash happened in the middle of war (I was born 6 months before the onset of the Lebanese war), I could actually really remember it well. War - the great 1975-1990 war - is still a trauma Lebanese did not recover from. Add to it decades of instability (think 2006 war for example) and all the events which engendered the 2019 crash, and there you have it. Severe, successive crashes in give-and-take literally one generation (there are 3 generations in one century).

That's too much.

Honestly, too much.

I spoke before about how unlucky we were with out set of politicians in Lebanon. But also how the average Joe is also complicit in the situation. Of course, none of this is "fair" (what fairness has to do with it, is a little stretching it I guess), but perhaps it is a recalibration of Lebanese living within their means (see here),

All of this is truly emotionally difficult to live on day to day basis. Yet, apart from going on - cursed country or not, little can be done.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Lebanon: Dewey, Truman and skewed research

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

The other day I came across this poll on Linkedin, the question was: Are you leaving Lebanon?
First chance I get... 44%
Already left! 34%
No, I am staying for now... 22%
Never! 0%
59 votes •
Poll closed

Interesting result. Now whereas I did not vote, my vote would have been "Never!"... Ah good patriot Tarek and his lofty country ideals. No, not really. Actually, not at all. Wait, what?
Precisely, if my answer is "Never!" it is because, born in 1974 I am past the age of moving to another country at this stage, I have my elderly mother to consider, I have a multitude of financial factors binding me to Lebanon and the list continues. Patriotism is not one of them.
But this precisely what infuriates me about research on social media. Not long ago I came across a "research" on instagram, the results were something like "72% wanted leadership change" while "81% would vote for NGO candidates in the next parliamentary elections". Now this baffled me. Why? Who is your sample audience, how were the questions asked, was there interviewer/interviewee bias, how were the answers constructed, was it open or closed ended question, and so on and so forth. When I tried to ask these questions to the person who posted the results, the only answer I got "these were my friends online". 
Friends online? Meaning Kale-salad eating, upper-middle class (before the financial crash), once-a-week mani/pedi (truth be told I had to research the meaning of that when I read it), ladies-who-brunch kind of friends? Ah so yes, that research is very reliable you know. It does express what the normal average Joe and average Jane think.
When obviously, it does not. And yet, here it was, the result was posted proudly online. 
I suppose you know the story of Dewey defeats Truman, if you do not I urge you to read it. It all started with the wrong sample. This reminds me of the debacle of the Beirut Madinati in the Beirut municipal elections in 2016 (please check here). Please do note, I think this might be global rather than Lebanon-specific, as a phenomenon but the fact that these researches are trying to portray Lebanese people and failing at it truly infuriates me.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Nahwal Watan - a parliamentary election avant-gout

And here we are - let the money-spending begin.

What saved the ad industry in 2018 in Lebanon was that - suddenly, money starting coming in due to all the advertising campaigns of political parties (you might wish to see the best and worst ads of the time here). And so here we are after the disastrous 2019, 2020, and 2021 for advertising agencies, money will soon come back again.

Actually, as I stated at the beginning of the post, it already has. The billboards are flooded with the ads of Nahwal Watan - if you like to meet them, go their website here. Please do note, this post is not an assessment of who they or what they stand for, but simply involved in the media/advertising angle. Well, what Nahwal Watan did is gain on the element of being early. While everyone else is still dormant they took over the scene with their presence, though I do wonder if they did it too early to be honest.

The other thing is that they went for generic run of the mill messages. Nothing groundbreaking - their tone is that of optimism (we shall not surrender, this time we will decide, people have decided change has started) but it is all dipped in mostly dark visuals. 

Well, whether or not Lebanon is living in a fate-changing moment politically remains to be seen though. I said it before (here) and will say it again: " 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"."

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Lebanon: Not a normal autumn in Beirut this year.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly (Autumn in Beirut)

There is a proverb that goes: Autumn in Beirut and spring in Damascus.

Both cities are renowned to be blessed by temperate, lovely weather in those two seasons. Sure, some years Beirut goes directly from hot-summerish to cold and very winter-damp (with humidity that either sticks to the skin or pierces to the bone). But in the years when autumn hits, it's precisely that wonderful passage between the seasons. I have moved from Beirut in 2010, and where I am there is that temperate lovely transition whereas technically we are still not in autumn.

By now, we tend to cover up at night, the August congestion has left the weather. People tend to wear an additional layer at night. Veranda sitting is brought-down to a minimum. And of course, any student would be now in pseudo-panic mode because yes, it is back to school mood. Actually, you feel the kids really - really - milking the end of summer by playing more intensely to make up for the days that will come especially that this year schools in Lebanon are gearing up to welcoming the students in situ.

Sure, this autumn seems more melancholic than normal. What's with all the issues compounded on top of one another and all the rationing in addition to all the economic downfall that has laid its great shadow on the Lebanese population. And this too can be felt in the air. Almost palpably. Yes, yes, new government has been formed yada yada. But people are now more realistic. At least more of them are. They know how difficult the situation is and that the times of miracles are long past. 

So there, a new season is upon us.... and yes, "the autumn leaves" will soon be drifting "by the window". Tomorrow we will make a big cleaning in the upper floor as we prepare to lock the house upstairs for winter.... Still too early to do so downstairs. But there is nothing usual or normal about these times. Just one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Lebanon: 9/11 twenty years later

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly (Manhattan Mon Amour)

I have no idea where the French embassy is in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. In 2003, the company driver knew. He took my passport along with two photographs the art director in the cubicle next to me took on the white wall of the office. My visa was picked up later, thank you very much. 

If I am relating this incident it is because, thanks (or rather no thanks) to Ziad Jarrah, one of the 26 terrorists who executed the attacks, for a Lebanese, getting a visa went from difficult to nearly impossible (interestingly, considering the majority of them were Saudi nationals, these visa nightmares did not apply to them). Sure it did not help that the Lebanese, through time and their own silly machinations, built a very bad rap for themselves worldwide (please, don't be silly all denominations included - because I know people will inject in this sentence their own political views. Hint: Maronites in Australia are labelled "wogs" - a very unflattering term if there was ever one. So anyone trying to twist my words, chill). 

Still, if you are a Lebanese in the Gulf, obtaining a visa did not even necessitate you going to the embassy. If you were a Lebanese, in Lebanon, the hurdles to get the said visa were immense. And the difficulties increase by the day. I can spend several posts detailing my embassy/airport misadventures. I have spoken to Saudi nationals, and no, they did not get the same treatment.

All this is a reminder that the consequences of the 9/11 attacks were unevenly spread. In the Western media the talk is about the 2,448 US servicemen who died in Afghanistan. Small reminder, there were also 46,000 Afghan civilian casualties. People, who literally had zero terrorist nationals among the 26 who executed the attack.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Lebanon: Hoping for a very, very mild winter

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

As an agriculture engineer I understand the need for water during winter, that constant drizzle of water that is coming - neither too slowly nor too fast - for the soil to be able to absorb it. I also understand the need for snow, which, when melting feeds the rivers that in turn feeds the irrigation of crops.

As a Lebanese citizen who yesterday endured a power outage from 4 A.M. till 7:13 P.M., who has nightmares about filling the diesel tank (large diesel tank!) to feed the central heater for the house (large house!), and who is worried sick that the price of diesel is skyrocketing, and who is even more worried that there would be no power to be able to generate heat to begin with, I am currently hoping for a mild winter.

A very, very mild winter.

Sure, economically I understand the need to eliminate the subsidy on prices - which is of course, paradoxical. As an economist (yes, am an economist too) I get it. I also understand the subsidized prices were choking us. But as a human being with an elderly mother - who is already cold in the heat of the summer - I am in that conundrum of perplexed and perplexing thoughts pulling me both ways. Ergo, the hope for a mild winter.

A very, very mild winter.

Honestly, yesterday's power outage freaked me out so bad - not because it happened. I managed to read a full book yesterday since internet was down anyway, and since I inherited about a thousand books, so might as well read them. It freaked me out because I was thinking if this was a winter day, with no electricity all day long, with little to no lights coming from outside, with steep cold (I am almost athermic in terms of body, I rarely feel heat or cold) that would really annoy my mother, this would have been a total nightmare, even if there was diesel in the tank (which would be useless as it needs power to be turned on). Did I mention I was hoping for a mild winter?

A very, very mild winter.

In Lebanon, there is a proverb that goes: "bayn tishrin w tishrin sayf tene" (between October - in Arabic called tishrin el awal - and November - in Arabic called - tishrin el tene, there's another summer). I was hoping this would extend to December (in Arabic called kanoun el awal) and January (in Arabic called kanoun el tene) so that the proverb becomes "bayn kanoun w kanoun sayf tene". In English that would translate into - a mild winter.

A very, very mild winter.

Monday, September 6, 2021

And finally, is online

Oh you know how it is these days, everyone speaking of circularity, of buying vintage, deadstock, second-hand and how all this better for the environment. Well, if you did not follow vntgsmthg on Insta yet, here's your chance for a better browsing, the website is finally online!! With their incredibly well-preserved deadstock merchandise from the 60s to the 90s (can you believe the 90s are already two decades back?), and fabulous retro items waiting for you to browse and pick (sorry I am biased, a small look at my closet will reveal that all my polos are bought from them!).

Well, now that ABBA is back, how about dressing like Bjorn or Frida and go full swing as it genuinely was back in the day? According to Rania Haber - the ever genial person who revived her late father's store - "I truly wanted to keep the same feel as the Instagram and the Facebook for the website. A lot of people see browsing online as some sort of dry experience, but using the same photographic feel of the social media, made the whole image of Vntg Smthg quite unified and in many ways, solidified".

Indeed, the website is welcoming and fresh. And no I will not guide you to favorite pieces, am adding them to my own collection! So, happy hunting down memory lane!

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Lock, stock images, and two smoking barrels

Image credit: Mahmoud Ghazayel

Ah stock images. Again!

I sometimes wonder when, all of us armed with cell phones with incredibly efficient cameras, all agencies STILL do the same blunder. The image above is courtesy of Mahmoud Ghazayel. Cyberia and Almaza, both using the same stock imagery.

Let me tell you this story, I was once supervising a group of graduate students on their final year. Their brief was to do a campaign for Bank of Beirut. About 3 sessions later they all came to me with the same issue, they could not find good images online of the bank to use in their projects. Now, if you have not seen me going berserk you have truly missed something. And indeed, they were treated to a one sided shouting match. Why? Right opposite the gate of the university we had a beautiful Bank Of Beirut branch. All they had to do was go down there, politely ask to photograph and then come back and chose whatever images they wanted to use.

Did any student think about that? No. Why? Stock images of course. If there was no stock images or readily downloadable images from the net, they'd immediately panic. That all of them were armed with sophisticated cell phones would never occur to them. But at least the Cyberia/Almaza blunder is not as horrible as the Byblos Bank/Condomi mishap whereby the same image was used by both brands, in the same magazine, a few pages apart.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

At Epica Awards, no bias means no bias.

So here it is, this year's Epica Awards campaign (here is a small refresher of the 2019 campaign).

Before we go on here is a story I heard straight from a creative director who was part of a jury at a different festival: "We gave (agency X) that category, because we really wanted them to give us the innovation category - the client really wanted the award".  There, I suppose this sums it up. Because, as you may know, jury in award shows are full of people working inside the industry - with a lot of dog in the fight. Bartering is not really off the table. Other ticks as well.

I have been a jury at the Epica since 2016. And trust me, if you are not obsessed with advertising, better not try it. Sure, do I agree with all the awards we gave off since? No. But this is an intrinsic part of the game. Because Epica is the distilled taste of tens upon tens of people who are part of the journalistic effort surrounding the communication industry (you might want to see who they are here). Which makes this year's Epica campaign quite on point: There really is no bias there.

Well, last year the Burger King campaign swept the board completely on all main categories. In an inside conversation with Nicolas Huve Kousmichoff (Operations Director at Epica), who was telling me "but it is a great campaign!" - "Well, my main fear was that the Lacoste ad would end up winning." Long story short? Would I have picked the Burger King moldy campaign across categories? Probably not. But thankfully the Lacoste ad was not picked up for the big award. So it was a win-win, or rather a win-lose. But everyone felt happy with it.

Here's another story. A company I know had an interesting ad, knowing that I was part of the Epica Jury their CEO mails me: "I heard you were part of it. Make sure I get the award otherwise I am not wasting any money applying my ad ." I literally replied "Buddy, this is the Epica Awards, go fish elsewhere."

The other day, I saw a beautiful ad from Romance for Intermarche, if they apply with it to the Epica - they already got my vote. Ah well, if only ALL other jury members concur with me. But hey, "no bias" means "no bias"!

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Between Lebanon and Aghanistan, Kobi says hello to Chris

1981 United States poster
On May 25th, 2000, the last soldier of Israel’s occupation army, Major Kobi Dostaka of the elite 7th Armored Brigade, jumped down from his Merkava tank and padlocked Gate No. 93 on the border fence after the last tank crossed back into Israel.
On August 30st, 2020, at precisely 11:59 P.M. Kabul time, Maj Gen Chris Donahue commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, steps on board a C-17 transport plane as the last US service member to leave Hamid Karzai international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Apparently, Maj Gen Donahue told his troops he was "job well done, I'm proud of you all". 
Now, silly as I am I thought it was "Mission Accomplished" already since 2003.
Now all this being said, where does that leave us?
Nowhere to be honest. 
But at least now it is out in the open. By that I mean, anyone with any degree of intelligence would know that all of this was futile. Perhaps I should tell you what happened in 2008 when I was in Sweden following a course on "Journalism and democracy in the Middle East". Back then, we were sharing the premises with a group of Eastern European journalists and they had a Swedish minister visiting them so we were brought along. The woman was really happy that they helped Afghan women vote etc, etc... and this is where I literally blew my top off.
When she finished and it was time for questions I really went for the jugular, my argument that before voting how about... living! And I advocated the case of how women were still forced to marry young, still suffered acid attacks, still were victims of honor killings.
And you know who fought me back later? The women journalists in our own group telling me I cast a bad image about women. In my defense, our moderator (the wonderful Sam Kapadia) came to my side explaining that we were supposed to be 19 journalists not 18, but that our Palestinian colleague was forbidden to travel by her brother.
Where am I leading? I think the whole "hearts and minds" and "women and voting" are too early of victories to be called so. Perhaps everyone caught the snake by the tail. 
And just because there are no rattlesnakes in Afghanistan, this does not mean there are no venomous ones.
Apparently, the Taliban had a saying "you have the watches, we have the time".
And somewhere, someone confused rattlesnakes, watches, and a dash of suffragettes.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Anime as a distilled version of Japanese culture

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
In case you missed it yesterday in Communicate Online, here it is on my blog:

The fact that anime [animated work originating from Japan] is apparently seeing a huge resurgence in the Arab region, has been attributed to many factors – nostalgia, a longing for simpler times, etc. Yet, one of the driving elements behind this resurgence is the generational aspect of anime, which means different things to different people in the Arab region.

It goes without saying that one of the most important mainstays of anime is Grendizer (or Goldorak in Europe) [created by manga artist Go Nagai and produced by Toei Doga and Dynamic Planning in 1975]. Dismissing it as “something for children” only lessens what it meant for a full generation of Arab people – it was, simultaneously, a representative of the Palestinian cause, a savior for children in need of refuge (especially in war-torn countries such as Lebanon), a Deus ex Machina whereby things would be set to right at the 11th hour.

And, of course, the deeper lesson is that each of its four protagonists (Daisky, Koji, Hikaru, and Maria, as they were called in Arabic) could never beat [archvillain] Vega and its moon colony on their own and had to team up – which instilled the notion of teamwork in the impressible minds of young Arab children. Do note that the Arab culture favors competition rather than collaboration; so, here was a major new value system for Arab audiences, at odds with what society at large was trying to pin on them.

Yes, the Arabic version was re-edited to suit local audiences. However, honestly, how can a child understand that Daisky’s former fiancée was Vega’s own daughter who died, got resuscitated, brainwashed, then sent in one of those Vega monsters (the classic “wa7ch” in Arabic) to fight Grendizer? Actually, in the same episode in the original version, Hikaru who was madly in love with Daisky, saw the latter kiss his former fiancée on the mouth (seriously, a total taboo in Arab societies!), and was so jealous she contemplated joining the Vega forces to fight Grendizer. So yes, explaining this to a child might be a tad too much. But still, despite all the editing and story reshuffling, Grendizer managed to inhabit the imagination of a full generation of Arab children.

This is why, when Astroganga (commonly known in Arabic as Jonger) came to the screens barely half a decade after Grendizer, it targeted a completely different generation – which is one of the main characteristics of anime in the Arab work: its generational aspects.

Indeed, by the time Sasuki came to the screens, or indeed much later Yu-Gi-Yoh, the generational gap was too outstanding to be lumped into one definition or one meaning. Interestingly, “censorship” to what is fitting for children to see also took a different course. While a kiss on the mouth in Grendizer was a complete no-go, one episode of Yu-Gi-Yoh had a full explanation of sadomasochism and the philosophy of leather-bondage.

Taking anime away from the socio-political environment would be diminishing its value. And simply putting it under the guise of “childhood nostalgia” is, sadly, stripping it from the many values it upheld. For example, Spirited Away, by Studio Ghibli, could easily be one of the most pointed critiques of consumerism, but this brings us to the realm of anime as films and not just TV episodes, which, to many Arab audiences, is not covered by the definition of anime.

Anime is, actually, the distillation of the Japanese value system and not simply trying to look at life through rose spectacles. And the sooner we admit that, the sooner we can understand the very complex world it tries to build within its images and storytelling.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Cyberia has a new ADSL offer.

Lately I have been asked why I am featuring ads which - at best - are ho-hum. Because, to quote George Hillary when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, "because it's there!". What does that mean? The amount of ads in Lebanon has reached such a critical low, that any ad done - no matter its quality - is worth mentioning. A campaign can linger on billboards for months on end, or it can be exhibited on a dismal number and still be visible (just as a comparison stick, in 2005 if you wanted your campaign to be "seen" - meaning simply to appear among the fray - they required number of billboards to be booked was no less than 500). 

Of course, you might say - yes that's because there's the advent of digital Tarek, wake up and smell the Facebook. Really? How  many ads have you seen as of late? And by that I mean something other than a corny (mostly stolen or uncredited) image with a logo on top? Little. Incredibly little.

On all accounts, this brings us to Cyberia and its efforts on Instagram in a neatly done, very minimal ad, which involves a nice opening shot with a proverb that goes "he who changes his habits, has his happiness diminished" only to be followed by a second frame which says "only not so with Cyberia" (creatively, to be honest, I would have went with the other proverb that went "any change brings relief" (el na2le fiha el faraj)).  The ad goes on to then detail what Cyberia (an internet provider) is giving as an ADSL offer and its numerous perks.

See the full ad here.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Dollar: All is (un)quiet on the Lebanon front

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Apparently, the MP Kanaan is suggesting the Dollar parity in the banks has been increased to 10,000 Liras (up from the current 3,900), but the original parity (still used for flour and medicines if I am not mistaken) is still 1507 Liras, now the subsidy on petroleum and diesel products has been lifted and now they are imported at 8,000 Liras to the Dollar, all while the black market now clocks around 20,000 Liras. If you are still not yet confused, let us add the Central Bank's circular 158 which basically marks the Dollar at 12,000 while the "Sayrafa" platform check is at 16,000.

In consumer psychology, when you give the consumer the choice between 4 different types of Jam on the supermarket shelf, the possibility of buying is 50%. When the number of different jams is increased to 16, the buying possibility drops to 25%. I am not saying Lebanese politicians are versed enough in consumer psychology, but they are shrewd enough to know the dictum "divide and conquer" - hey, let's pit the people against the banks (once more) while making people really (really) confused about how much their Dollar is worth and in the process increase the volume of Lebanese Liras to make inflation even worse. This should occupy people for a while and get them off our backs. Neat trick if you ask me.

Still, to misquote Khaled El Haber's song:

نحن في لبنان يخير طمنونا عنكم

We are fine in Lebanon, how have you been?

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Emirates NBD "Women's Talk" - a superb concept let down by cliche

Well, sometimes you want to root for an ad only to discover it falls below expectations. On paper everything works: Superb concept (which turns the derogative "women's talk" into a positive spin), incredible production, lovely execution. But when you put everything together, you end up with a repetitive images of things already seen everywhere else. Which is a pity. Because this could have been material for a great poster/print campaign, perhaps making it into a film is what makes it redundant and - bah - deja vu.

Still, all is not lost. As I said, for Emirates NBD to transform a negative cliché into something good and empowering is something truly worthwhile and commendable. If only they strayed a little from the beaten path in the execution. See the ad here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Tarek Chemaly x Donna Maria Feghali x Beirut Pride - the gift that keeps on giving

In 2018 I teamed up with Beirut Pride and convinced Hadi (the incredible guy behind Beirut Pride) to do a Valentine campaign under the tag #loveislove (please see the cumulative campaign here) based on the 14 stages of love in the Arabic language. The campaign - with had literally zero budget - was an unmitigated success is still being reshared to this day (fun fact: a friend tells me that a friend of his who is totally conservative shared the campaign with him not even knowing where it originated from!). Still, the campaign went to appear on the Disney Magical Pride in London via Hadi, and eventually made its way to designer Donna Maria Feghali who works under the code name Retrieving Beirut and who  transformed them into tote bags (funnily, she contacted me wanting the RGB version of the works until I explained they were done on paintbrush!). The bags which were already being sold by Retrieving Beirut are now present at The Sage Parlour - Donna-Maria is giving all profits to charity. So it is truly a worthy cause and (hair-flip!) a lovely design to begin with!

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Dubai: A romance to forget?

Dubai has a new touristic movie starring Jessica Alba and Zac Efron (directed by Craig Gillespie). The idea is about two people who have the same identical bags that get switched (a ploy worked and reworked previously, not the least of which in the ultra-popular Winston ad from the late 80s). Well, the film is really well produced, Gillespie works his best (though there are strong hints of Wes Ansderson) while the two actors go on their I-wish-I-wash-not-here-but-already-cashed-my-fee as they attempt to meet while following each other's itineraries (found in the respective bags). As I said, the film is lovely to look at - but honestly the scenario is too clownish, and everyone is trying their best to look jolly. But I think there is this element where (and this is something very present in the Lebanese promotional material from the 60s and - pre-war - 70s) the locals are just props within a frame, rather than proud inhabitants of their own country. See the full ad here.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Lebanon: Defeats should not define us.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly based on a Hussein Hajj quote
Yesterday on Linkedin Tahaab Rais posted about a man who was writing his own headlines instead of reading the depressing ones in the press. Things like "husband loves wife today". You can read the post here. Now this has been a strange weekend for me. Not my usual deep-thinking mode. More like thoughts passing through my head as I was reading. And I added a reply to Tahaab's post. Here it is verbatim: "being in Lebanon is not exactly an easy thing these days. I thought: OK, I lost an enormous amount of money at the bank, electricity comes in batches of 2 hours a day, I have not had any serious work since (I am afraid to think since when!). Meat, water, power all of them rationed. And still - I am able to care for my elderly mother (at 86 is it not a picnic), a friend just gifted me 5 boxes of impossible-to-find meds of hers, I am still able to pay the bills (again, no mean feat!), I live in a beautiful house (I actually almost single-handedly restored in 2003), and I inherited around 1000 books from a British journalist who had to be medically evacuated from Lebanon (which I read when the power is down and summer light still up!). All this to say, OK, the world is bleak right now (specifically in a place like Lebanon), but am pulling through (certainly not easily). That old man is correct - 2020 should not define us, Defeats should not define us as well. The world goes on, so do we."
And so here we are - who would have thought I would be putting a positive spin on what happened? But - again - I can lament as much as I can about what happened, my generosity included. But this will not change things. Or the outcomes. Without any doubt, this was a case of trial by fire - not just for me - but for the whole Lebanese population. Still, it was a perfect storm as I called it earlier, with each element just feeding the others. But again, onwards and upwards.
Defeats should not define us. But that one hell of a defeat.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

NFT comes to Lebanon courtesy of the newly launched Phat2 website

And here we are! is online. Who? Well, unless you have been sleeping under a rock Phat2 has been tagging the city and applying super graffiti all over town - changing and morphing and refining its style (when other crews focused on marketing themselves at the expense of their abilities - no names but I do have specific people in mind). And indeed, I have covered Phat2 prior - and am even linked in their press section. But as always, am rooting for people who do things with authenticity and heart. And George Khoury the man behind Phat2 does all this with gusto!

Which bring us to the NFT bit - the Non-Fungible Tokens - which Phat2 developed. All NFT are actually sold on the website with their original counterparts. As always the art is indeed gutsy, colorful and expressive (see it here). It seems the website also accepts Crypto currency, which certainly comes in handy to some people. "NFTs have been gaining ground and anyone who is anyone has put their hat in the game, from luxury companies like Gucci to stars and sports celebrities! So it was time to plunge into it" said Khoury in a private talk. And to know that, in the middle of the current breakdown in Lebanon, someone (namely Khoury) has launched into this with furor only makes one respect what he is doing more. But again, as I said, NFTs seem to be the future and so it is truly a pleasure to see someone in Lebanon - where electricity is rationed severely - still being able to ride the wave and go with the flow. 

Of course, I might be biased considering I was responsible for bringing graffiti to the academic circles (with my archeWALLogy series of books - see here) but still, in all objectivity, it seems George Khoury is leading us - by hook or by crook - towards the future and electricity rationing be damned!

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Lebanon: Water, electricity, money and now meat rationed


So voila, we are rationing meat severely now in Lebanon. Well, in the Chemaly household, we have switched to poultry which is used sporadically among dishes. Sometimes ground, and if ever cooked then it should last about 3 days or so. As to the why? First the exorbitant price - especially the red meat which is truly obnoxious. The other reason? The storage. Where are you going to store it when the electricity is dispatched so far and in between and not enough to sustain freezing anything. So not just the whole thing is expensive, it spoils easily as well.

Well, the good news is that I was never a fan of red meat though my mother is so despite expressing several times me not liking it, my opinion did not count until my mother conferred with our neighbor who actually gets the meat from a special butcher. Suddenly I was summoned outside as they sipped coffee on the balcony: The neighbour (that's three households one on top of the other) would no longer be bringing meat because of the electricity situation.

Well, thankfully the Mediterranean diet is full of  vegetarian dishes. And so there you go - electricity, water, money and now meat are severely rationed now in Lebanon.

Well, I know what you will be saying, "it's OK Tarek many people are vegetarian, so get over it" - mind you, it's fine by me. Actually, it seems Hitler was vegetarian too! The good news is that you won't be seeing me invading Poland anytime soon!

Monday, August 16, 2021

Lebanon: Forget washing machines, laundry is done by hand

Image: Marcel Marlier (Martine en Voyage - Castermann)

Am writing this post as fast as I can as I know not if the electricity (generator not state electricity) will last or not. But here goes - last time I said it took 3 days for the laundry to be done (but that was when electricity was sporadic) - this time with the electricity being dispatched by stacks of 10 or 30 minutes I was not going to take my chances so the house help and myself did the laundry by hand and hung it to dry (sun is free you know!). I mean last time I did laundry by hand was ages ago but the other day I wore a lovely shirt from Depot Vente Beirut for the Assumption mass and when I got home I washed it by hand immediately. So when the time came to do the proper laundry, mother, the house help and myself had a mini summit and decided we were not going to do the washing machine route. So here it is, laundry was done by hand all the way - you wash it, stack it in a differ bowl, clean the original washing bowl, rinse them again, and flatten then to dry under the sun. Thankfully, ever since I moved to black undies, black t-shirts, or black house polos several years back, the whole thing takes much faster than the white things (smart move Tarek!). OK, so over and out.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for the racist undertones in the image above. It is simply an illustration from a book I read as a child. And it seemed fitting.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Mozart Chahine - making comparisons stand

Well, a lot of singers started their careers under the shower! That is a fact. So Mozart Chahine in an ad which I presume is by now old because it must have originated during a lockdown (which lockdown I know not), is taking the home-profession to the next level visual. The copy goes (on the broom) "bored at home?" only to answer (on the electric guitar) "delivered at home" (although I am a copy guy I dislike when copywriting goes above and beyond the concept - which by the way is the copywriter's job actually). So here we are a good ad which went under the radar for so long.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Emirates Airlines - on "top of the world" (or on top of Burj Khalifa)

OK, so let us start in reverse, the woman you see in this ad is not part of the Emirates team - not for the lack of courageous contestants applying - but rather professional skydiver and stuntwoman Nicole Smith-Ludvik. Well, where is she? On top of freaking Burj Khalifa in Dubai. I mean - right on the top of the top! What is she doing? Advertising the Emirates Airlines. Seriously, when it comes to stretching it "over the top" this one blows all the cards. I mean, let us be honest, to dare do it - even with a professional stuntwoman is daring indeed. But hey, there you go - it got all the tongues wagging and all the inks spilled. Which is actually the point. See the full ad here.

Lebanese Forces annual mass - the ads that constantly work for their audience.

A disclosure: I have previously done an ad for the annual mass of the Lebanese Forces via an agency I was working for. The ad became a classic. If I am saying so it is because the Lebanese Forces have the habit of acing their annual mass ads.

Here is 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 for samples. Oh, you don't like the ads? That is because you are not the target audience. The ads are done with a very specific target in mind: The Lebanese Forces own supporters, and with that - they actually work brilliantly at hitting the correct tone of voice, the right words, the tailor-made message which is flawless and which actually works.

This year's iteration is no exception. Their tagline riffs on poking the Hizbollah because the Lebanese Forces were the first to claim the word "resistance" and the "continuous resitance" seems to go back to this brilliant ad they did at the time for their mouthpiece Al Massira (see here for details).

Anyhow, as I said if the ad resonates with you or not is beyond the point - it is done specifically for a certain kind of people, and for such people, the ad words wonderfully.

Monday, August 9, 2021

So, in Lebanon, what do you do on the days you can no longer continue?

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

A couple of days back I went to the airport. No, no, not to travel - I did not even bother to renew my passport when it expired. So why did I go to the airport, you ask? To meet someone who was bringing me medicine boxes my brother had sent from out of Lebanon (most of them for mother, and some for me). The time was 12:30 A.M. - earlier that same day I went to another meeting place to meet a friend who secured me a box of a well sought-after medicine  for mother which - in July - took me 11 days to reach and when I managed to get one such box on July 13, its expiry date was... July 2021 (that would be the same month I got the medicine in, thank you for calculating). 

As I was going - on foot - for the meeting place the outstanding heat we were having in Lebanon only accelerated my metabolism and I had a hypoglycemia attack right in the middle of the road. Going back home was a drudgery, going to the meeting place was another, collapsing there and then was a third.

Oh sure, someone from abroad then texted me asking me how "my summer was going". Honestly, I did not even sure how to reply to that one. Where do I start? "Let me count the ways" as poet Elizabeth Barret Browning said. 

The bank? Well, everyone is still in limbo about that 158 thingy. Naturally at this point that's it, the money is gone along with it the future security that it was supposed to bring. Actually, the mother of the friend I was meeting for medicine box told me "I worked like a mule for 12 years after the death of my husband, even the interest rate I was not withdrawing. I told the bank to add it to the original sum. That was my son and grandchildren can spend them. Well, there you go, two million Dollars now gone!"

Electricity? The other day it took three days to do the laundry. You see, the generator cannot handle to turn the washing machine - on the first day we had the laundry in the machine we had total cumulative 10 minutes of government electricity that way. Then the next day it was patches here and there. Also not sufficient. So I had to stay awake till 12:10 A.M. on the third day, when the electricity finally came to see for the said laundry and remain awake lest it went off again (to unplug the washing machine!) so that took me safely to 1:40 A.M.. Funny, as I write this post, I had a power cut right this instant. OK, come to think about it, not funny at all since the generator guy himself is rationing the output and therefore too many times when the electricity breaks generator fails to take the baton.

The diabetes tests? I paid my insurance in full as I do yearly. And yet when I went to the lab the difference between what the insurance covers and what the lab asked for was - substantial. Why? Because insurance companies are still dealing at the Dollar having a 1507 Liras parity, when ithe laboratory people are dealing with it at the banks' parity (i.e. 3900 Liras). Because, you know, there are about half a dozen Dollar parities now in Lebanon. Which of course brings us back to the beginning - banks, and parity rates.

So how is my summer going? Honestly there are days when seriously I can no longer mentally go on. And take it from someone who is tough as a rock. Still, there are those days where I am sinking, literally. Like some juggler with 19 plates at a time and who cannot stop because if they did, all plates would come crashing down. But hey, it's been a while we have been using Melamine plates rather than the fancier glass ones - they're easier to wash you know.

And these days, anything that gives you a bit of respite is welcome.

So, in Lebanon, what do you do on the days you can no longer continue? There's only one thing to do.

Just go on. Just go on, like a Bunny on a Duracell battery. there's no other way.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

On "the gesture" by Nadim Karam

First, a disclosure: I know Nadim Karam personally, I probably was the first person to interview him when he did his magnificent exhibition at the Sursock Museum T-Races BSC4791 in 1994, and I was actually invited to the opening of his in Daroun (because he lives 5 minutes way from my house).
The reason I am disclosing this is because of "the gesture" (entitled in Arabic "al mared" or the giant) the statue that has been erected from steel and metal debris from companies who donated them to the Karam atelier to build the structure. Everyone is up in arms about it. Really, from all angles - it is ugly, it is political, it was unveiled on August 4th the one-year date of the tragic event, it was erected when there is still no one accountable for the loss of so many lives and so many people injured without even factoring the people who lost their homes and livelihoods.
Karam was very clear that no official or governmental sponsorship was involved in making "the gesture", it was his donation to a wounded city. And honestly, esthetics is a very variable and personal thing. When Karam brought his iron wrought sculptures for his first exhibition, no one was there for the esthetics of it - but I still have to find anyone capable of using space like he did. One sculpture was actually on the top of the building next to the museum (beat that if you can). 
Take the for example. Even Karam himself said it was a space with no definite function - if you find one, please do tell me what it is. And yes, for all its intricacies exudes emotions. With its stairs, pseudo-labyrinths, its openings onto landscaped surfaces, inconvenient passages and inner spaces for Zen gardens. That space moves you.
But if I go back to "the gesture", I think - esthetics or lack of it, grandiose or not, recycled materials or new ones - perhaps it is the timing that sort of bothers me. It reminds me of late PM Rafic Hariri when he allowed the families of people who were kidnapped or disappeared during the war to declare them dead in order for them to be able to tackle the inheritance related to these people, not understanding that the families of such people wanted "closure" above all - not tackling said inheritance.
Remember, the port is still a crime scene, no one was declared guilty over what happened, actually we still do not understand exactly what happened. And for this, the wound is still open.
Maybe in a few years, we would appreciate "the gesture" - but right now we are still bleeding.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Dubai Science Park: Stuck (a superb awareness on paralysis)

How would it feel to be paralyzed?

Dubai Science Park has launched one such ad. At first I thought it was my connection that was broken or "stuck" as is the usual case in Lebanon. Until I realized - this WAS the brilliant film. A frame frozen unable to move (and a repetitive soundtrack that goes on and on on the same beat only emphasizing what you are looking at). The film spearheaded by Tahaab Rais (whose other credentials include Al Mosafer Ramadan Spirit beautiful ad and the criminally under-awarded Stories from Mecca) who was inspired by a personal event whereby his father had a health scare which could have left him paralyzed, Rais extrapolated to what it would be to actually be so. The casting is simply beyond - after seeing 1000 potential actors, the girl who landed the role (Anika) was a perfect fit. Truth be told, there is something childish in her but - I know I must not say so - something haunting as well.

There is a Kafka-esque element to it all - the hospital is chilling, cold, not very welcoming and prohibitive. Exactly, what the ad should convey. Please see the full film here.

LAU Medical Center-Rizk Hospital August 4th video: Where less is more.

So as I said previously, anyone who is anyone wanted to commemorated August 4th... There were too many videos to count - most of them corny, repetitive, lowest-common-denominator creative and so on. I spoke about the super video of the Sagesse Achrafieh and stand by every syllable of my writing (here). My issue is that everyone wanted to get "emotional", "creative", "different" while falling into the same trap of the repetitive expressions, imagery and - heaven help us - "hope". Which is why the LAU Medical Center-RIzk Hospital video, like the Sagesse, stands out. It has that efficiency one links to hospitals. Worse the efficiency one links to hospitals Emergency Rooms when a disaster has struck. It says what it wants to stay swiftly, smartly, with an economy of words, with images of people who have no time to look at cameras and who most likely recorded the scenes on the go that fatidic night of the 4th when medical staff was just working, doing its best, hoping for the best but also expecting the worst. I really love how everything is orderly, emotional but not too much, and honestly it works! See the LAU Medical Center-Rizk Hospital here.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

College de la Sagesse Achrafieh - and this is how we do it!

Except for one year when we were in a different locale, I have spent all my school years at Sagesse - Achrafieh. Which is why the video for the rehabilitation of the locale following the Beirut blast is doubly moving. Sadly I was unable to locate the agency that did it. What I loved the most, apart from the archival material, is how understated but very punchy it all is. In case you do not know the building itself which houses the classes and administration has an iconic architecture (so much that when they did the club for the graduates across the road, they tried to replicate that same architecture). On all accounts, too many names passed by that place, and as our Arabic teacher used to say "the walls whisper to you what to do". The copy of the video is flawless and the delivery is perfect (turns out it was my friend Patrick Chemali - no relation - who was behind the voice off delivery!), the images moving but with a very dignified visual tone. You can see the full video here.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Meet Cosette from the Yes ad

Well, that was a voice drilled into generations of Lebanese! The woman whose in  laws "invited themselves to dinner" and who had a dirty table cloth, a soiled floor and a mountain of unwashed dishes. Enter the iconic Robert Helou better known as Abou Fouad who solves the issue with his Yes (3 in 1) recommendation. So here she is via Dalal Mawad on Instagram - a total blast from the past - and much appreciated one at that. Mr. Helou sadly passed away in 2018 so it is wonderful to have Cosette who is now 85 with us!

Friday, July 30, 2021

This August 4th, many emotions will be for sale.

Beirut Port 1955 - Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

The August 4th one year commemoration is upon us very soon. And I am dreading it.

All right, facts first: No it was not a picnic for me on that day as I almost died twice (look here). And following the explosion I had a period where details would slip my mind - did I pay the pharmacist? (yes and she gave me change), what was the name of - yes, the brunette one who took my course, no no the other one? (Sarah). 

And so on. Now, the symptoms in question disappeared not long after. Well, I was born in 1974, 6 months prior to start of the war. In other words, I escaped death too many times to count (like every other Lebanese), and I witnessed explosions which were (almost) just as mighty as the August 4 (the Dora fuel tanks explosion in 1989 comes to mind), witnessed severe shelling, and the list continues.

Let me tell you about this incident. Right after the "big" (1975-1990) war ended, while asleep in our bedroom suddenly there were repeated flashes of light - first reflex, the shelling has started! But there was no sound this time around. My mind raced to find an answer and my brother visibly shaken asked me "what is that?". "It's the flashlight of the camera in the wedding in the Mattar building, let's go back to sleep". 

Now, on August 4, I was in Beirut with my friend Michel. It was his first major explosion (he is considerably younger than me). He really stopped functioning. As soon as the explosion happened and we escaped unharmed, I told him "hold my hand and follow me". We followed the ABC Verdun mall evacuation line which was incredibly efficient, and when we got to the car I said "now drive". Several hours later, when we got to Jdeideh (mind you leaving Achrafieh itself took about 5 and a half hours due to all the glass on the streets and torn windows and doors scattered all over), he started to become functional again. Though he refused to go back to the mall afterwards - by that I mean 3 months later.

Now, what does all of this has to do with me dreading the August 4th commemoration? 

Because anyone who is anyone is going to start reminiscing on traumas real and imagined, will start pouring out words on social media which contribute nothing to those whose lives were lost or irretrievably damaged (I think of Mohamed Da'douey who lost his vision in one eye, has a partial vision in the other, had his leg amputated, and an arm with no sensation whatsoever). But again, I brace for the flood of people who will tell stories which are half real and half invented, who will force their misery (again real or fake) on the rest of us, the professional mourners and those lowest-common-denominator word peddlers on social media (no name but they sicken me).

My late father used to repeat a saying that went:

يللي رقصو باهدن هن ذاتن يللي بكيو بزغرتا

Those who danced in Ehden are the same ones who shed tears in Zgharta. 

Mind you, Ehden and Zgharta are the same town, and my father was implying that emotions can easily be sold and bought.

This August 4th many emotions will be on sale.