Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Pantone creates "period" red for Intimina

Well, I almost never share a press release but I could never put it in better words:
Presenting “Period”, a new red shade created to break the stigma around menstruation and promote period positivity. Swedish healthcare brand Intimina came to Pantone Color Institute to develop this custom color in support of their global campaign to make menstruation more visible and normalize this most normal of bodily functions.
Pantone Color Institute collaborated with Intimina on the Seen + Heard campaign to create a red shade that is inspired by a steady menstrual flow. Pantone and Intimina worked alongside a gynecologist and consulted research published in Medical News Today to develop the shade, but by no means is this supposed to be an accurate depiction. Instead, a visual identifier of a red shade was created that would help Intimina leverage the power of color to share their story.
“An active and adventurous red hue, courageous Period emboldens people who menstruate to feel proud of who they are. To own their period with self-assurance; to stand up and passionately celebrate the exciting and powerful life force they are born with; to urge everyone regardless of gender to feel comfortable to talk spontaneously and openly about this pure and natural bodily function."

Bio Oil goes cancer awareness with a sincere story

Bio Oil strikes gold with a sincere, low key breast cancer awareness advertising. Watch here. The idea of the ad is simple, a woman experiences rebirth after she is inflicted with a body scar due to breast cancer. Which is why Helene, the woman in the ad, is five years old (and so is her wound/scar). Speaking from first hand experience, Helene talks about how she is ready for life because "life is beautiful". I honestly think that the copy was not scripted because Helene says it with the conviction of someone who truly believes in it without appearing fake or contrived. 

Gandour Foods excels in tags

Gandour Foods aces when it comes to hashtags. Now am not a believer in the power of tags, still, at least this one is interesting copy wise. It all started with Gandour foods deciding to team up with coach Adam Khoury to entice its clients to take better care of their health. Health in Arabic means "so7a". And well, when one eats, instead of saying bon appetit, we say "so7tein" (two healths - Arabic, like Slovenian and a small part of the Serbian language has singular, dual, and plural). Which gave rise to the Gandour tag #الصحة_صارت_صحتين - health becomes two healthy. Again, not sure how effective but at least well done. See video here.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Oil & Gas 1 - United

Hmmm difficult brief. How do you associate oil with cancer awareness? No matter how you turn it, does not work. United cane up with: "take care of your body same way you do with your car" - a pink refill hose in the shape of the cancer awareness completes the idea. Seriously, when one gas such a complicated brief, no winder the result is surrealistic to the limit. 

Oil & Gas 3 - IPT

Smart ad. "Quality is the most cist-effective choice"... In Lebanon there is a proverb that goes "el ghali rkhis" (what is expensive is cheap - meaning you could get more for your buck by using the product longer). IPT plays on the same theme, in a very convincing way.

Oil & Gas 2 - Coral Oil

Please read here and here first. I will again be accused of stereotype, but seriously people, this is real life. No, Lebanese people do not populate gas stations. Live with it. The rest of the ad is about the car being sterilized after washing for free. PS: hats off for Lia Nurpetlian.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

A year ago... Seriously?

"A year ago" artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Oh spare me! I know everyone and their mother is writing about "a year ago".... You know the thawra and all that. Good for them. Me? Me I go back to Robert Frost's eternal words. 

“You’re searching, Joe,
For things that don’t exist; I mean beginnings.
Ends and beginnings—there are no such things.
There are only middles.”

We all like to commemorate things. But honestly last year was but one of a full decade, decade, of problems. Problems that beget problems, and were started by other problems, and came wrapped in problems. "Am still standing" as Elton John eloquently put it. But honestly take your "a year ago" and shove it where appropriate.

Sincerely,

The management.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Lollar, Bira, and Lebanon's cashless economy

Bira logo design by Patrick Chemali
Concept coined by Dan Azzi

First was the Lollar. Now the Bira. If it seems am talking gibberish, then welcome to Lebanon.

Both terms coined by Dan Azzi, both logos by Patrick Chemali (disclosure: Both Dan and Patrick are friends).

Ever since, a year ago, Lebanese banks closed for two weeks when the political tumult started (known as thawra), and saw people's trust in them nosedive, Lebanon went steadily into a cash economy as people mostly tried to avoid having their money in banks and exchanged everything with cold hard cash. Throughout this year, I only used my bank card (which is in USD) only once. Pay on delivery stores proliferated everywhere. Once I was at a fancy store and picked a steeply discounted jacket, when I tried to pay for it, the system repeatedly declined my card. I told the assistant something was wrong as the card had a lot of money in it. She shrugged and said "I know, it is our bank machine going insane!". Another design store had a sign that said, "please pay cash or in Lebanese cards, our machine is declining Dollar cards".

Sweden is on its way to becoming a cashless economy, and yesterday, the Banque du Liban thought Elias the grocer and Ali the barber and Fatima who sells Islamically compliant scarves and Carole who sells fake perfumes are all equipped with credit/debit card machines. Basically, and understandably, BDL was unable to get the fuel, medicine and bread un-subsidized, so trying to stretch its meager reserves as much as it can, it capped the Lebanese cash withdrawal from banks and suggested using cards would be just as fine, thank you very much. Elias, Ali, Fatima and Carole beg to differ.

Well, I might be stretching my logic, but it still stands. People have zero faith in banks at this stage, they want to avoid putting their money there. So the idea of cash under the pillow was truly comforting for them. "I Like My Money Right Where I Can See It. Hanging In My Closet," said Carrie Bradshaw in Sex And The City. Many Lebanese would agree. Though the money is not hanging, but rather hidden in the green jacket's upper pocket or in the second shoe box to the left.



Friday, October 9, 2020

Picon does a one size fits all post explosion ad


Picon just pulled its post Beirut explosion ad, emphasizing to how many NGOs and associations it gave its products to. Mind you, being a spread cheese which you can easily roll in a sandwich or an Arabic bread, it makes sense for it to distributed. The ad though, is filled with predictable visuals, which is fine. But honestly, the faux sentimental copy which accompanies it (with truly silly references to "teta" and "jeddo") is beyond irritating (for comparison for a staggeringly beautiful copy please refer to One Act). Honestly, the copy is so one size fits all it could have been any brand, not just Picon, since the majority seem to be adopting this pinch-me-till-I-cry tone. See the ad here.

Launching Archewallogy 8 by Tarek Chemaly

Cover artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Today marks the release of the 8th and last volume of Archewallogy, the study of cities through their walls, as opposed to digging beneath the ground as in archaeology. The first images date back to 2005 and the last ones right before the August 4 explosion. Archewallogy 8 can be viewed free of charge here.

Those if you wishing to view older volumes please see here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

In Lebanon, brand loyalty is out the window

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Do the Lebanese like to brag? Do they like to show off? Do they like to live above their means? Oh, is the pope Catholic? If I ask these questions if is because there is a palpable shift somewhere in the Lebanese consumption pattern in Lebanon (see here). Maybe one of the first signs that Lebanese use to mark how they went to an upper socio-economic class is the "signé" attitude (or the branded - naturally, it could be a knock off or a counterfeit, and only logoed garments are used - hence no discrete Hermes but more like a stamped Louis Vuitton all over, in the end, if it is not visible, why bother get it?). "Ana ma bechtere ella min 3and..." - I only buy from (under brand name, fancy store), used to be a catchphrase so overused and abused. But again, the parameters are shifting. 

When I asked students to give me a luxury brand in class (back when I used to teach), several thought Zara was one. When estimating the price of a Louis Vuitton bag, a girl thought that 100 Dollars was a good guess. Paul, the French brasserie one finds in metro stations in Paris is marketed here as a high end brunching destination, same applies to Gap (which shuttered its store in late 2019) and Benetton.

But again, the financial squeeze hit Lebanon incredibly hard. I said it before, brand loyalty is now out the window"Did you know that between 1968 to 1990 Coca-Cola was boycotted in the Arab world by order of the League of Arab Nations since it provided "financial help for Israel" in the 1967 six day war?" Well, we were a household that exclusively bought Pepsi. Sometime in 2001 I went back home with a bottle of Coca-Cola, my mother looked at it with amazement and asked what it was, and if it was available everywhere?

As long as I can remember since the mid 90s we have used Persil washing detergent (why we made the switch from Ariel is beyond me!). Then a few months back, the washing machine got clogged. The repairman said the washing powder was stuck in the tube, so we switched to Persil gel. Last time I went to the supermarket though, I went back with a Lebanese made Sanita washing gel, which was so much cheaper, and it had 30% free. Oh and I also bought a large size frying oil gallon from a brand I had never heard of, which was (again) substantially cheaper than the one we were accustomed to. Our house-help said that both, the Sanita and the frying oil, washed and fried just as well as the ones we usually bought.

It is said that the pandemic has taught us that we have already enough as it is in our closets. How correct and true this is for the average Lebanese is still a debate. Though shops are closing like crazy in nearby areas, there were still very few people who shopped. How this is representative of the population is not something I can answer (due to COVID-19 self-imposed restrictions I have not been to many malls as of late and even that (malls) might not be indicative to the general population movements).

But am still sticking to my guns. I still believe people are now buying more budget friendly than the brands they used to know or believe in (because brand loyalty is about allegiance above all). The other interesting aspect is that, it is known that in time of crisis, brands are encouraged to advertise, so as to remain top-of-mind in the consumer's mind. This, however, is not something am seeing in the local market. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Facebook #lovelocal


Facebook is inviting us to "Love Local"... The campaign is a brilliant product of today's world. Shot a la va vite most likely with phones (or professionally but made look like amateur), it highlights institutions (Hachem in Jordan, Chez Maguy in Lebanon,...) in the MENA region. See film here. I honestly love the visuals, and it seems Facebook is placing webinars to help these institutions or companies benefit by being online. Now let us face it though, would people of a certain demographic want to get back to square zero and relearn how to put their name out there? Remember the recent "Stop hate for profit" Facebook boycott campaign? Major multinationals were on board, but that made only a small dent since Facebook makes its money from small companies and individuals, not international heavy weight accounts. Now if it works or not, #lovelocal is still a campaign of lovely imagery.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Malak Al Tawouk hilariously opens in Paris

"Bonjour, Bonsoir, tres bon, oh lala, magnifique! Frensewe top! Fikoun tkhabro 2raybinkoun l honik la belle khabriye!" - Can you top this announcement? Franco-Arabic gibberish that any respectable Lebanese polyglot can understand, though French people might want to abstain from understanding it having it translated. Oh and Malak Al Tawouk is now gloriously now in France (though I doubt it can name its products the same way it did in Lebanon). And if this was not enough, their headline has a whiff on the famous "his dad's fez is hanging on the Eiffel tower".... Self-depreciating and funny? Am all for....


Sunday, October 4, 2020

The assassination of Bachir Gemayel (and parallels with Donald Trump's health)

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

When, on September 14 1982, an explosion rocked the Phalangist party headquarters in Achrafieh where president elect Bachir Gemayel was holding a meeting, news - which was not like today, a 24 hours wall to wall coverage - started to trickle that Gemayel survived the blast and dusted himself, rising from under the rubble and started to direct the cleaning and evacuation efforts. As the day progressed, the story was slightly modified that he was hurt but doing well. Then, once more, his injuries got more serious. Gemayel's disfigured body was later to be identified by his octagonal wedding band and an emotional (late) Arafat Hjazi announced his death on the evening news.

If am relating this story, it I because today one does not know who or what to believe about President Trump's health. Several variations are coming from different sources. Past indicators (sample: “If elected, Mr Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency”) do not set a good example as to what to believe. He tested positive for the virus, and he is at the Walter Reed hospital. But... Everything else keeps changing and morphing and getting corrected from one individual to another (some on, some off the record).

Born in 1974, am old enough to remember the tumult that resulted regarding Gemayel's death with the story being twisted and turned to be made more palatable. Already the credibility of the white house is at steak regarding too many details about the president's sickness and his current health. Some people are already launching their paranoid views claiming the president was never sick, and the list goes on.

The more I read about president's Trump heath, and its contradicting news, the more I see Gemayel rising from the rubble and dusting himself....



Tuesday, September 29, 2020

A trick on how to survive 2020

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Am going to start this post with an admission: I have had it with my European friends and their first world problems. Only yesterday a friend in Vienna was complaining that he had to show his ID at the border and answer questions as to why he was travelling. I wanted to tell him about how last time, after grueling bureaucracy I got my work visa to Europe only to be put in a glass chamber in front of all the airport for no reason at all for 45 minutes. But honestly, what is the point? 

Europeans have no clue how bad 2020 is for Lebanese people. It is exponentially bad. I have called it before, the "perfect storm" (whereas I was talking about the advertising sector, same can apply to the country at large). 

Capital controls? Check. Political meltdown? Check. Devastating explosion? Covid-19? Unemployment? Poverty? Check, check, check. The list is astronomically long. And all elements in it feed on one another. I spoke to someone the other day, and he asked me if the Dollar was going to go back to 1500 Liras. I tried to make him understand that we are currently paying that peg with the current crisis. His brother was certain that we were going to get money - as in huge quantities of money - from Europeans, particularly France. I did not have the heart to poke his dream. And again, the more you talk to people the more fallacies you hear, and the more the scenarios are outrageous.

Yet one thing I learned about 2020, is that, by hook or by crook, one needs to survive it. Like everyone else, my money is stuck at the bank (unlike everyone else, I believe long term thinking will solve it). Like everyone else COVID-19 has changed my daily routine (unlike everyone else, due to diabetes and common sense, am taking it very seriously. Or as I mentioned earlier, it was not the original hysteria which broke out that got me worried, but rather what would happen later.) Like everyone else I was about to die (twice) on the day of the Beirut explosion (unlike many, I escaped unharmed). Like everyone, I have made it to October pseudo intact (unlike everyone else, I know how taxing this is on mental health, admit to it, and have tried to to amend to it as much as humanly possible).

Well, so what is my magic trick to survive 2020? From the get go, I stopped comparing it to previous years. Everything: The Dollar exchange rate, the bank withdrawals or lack of it, the new normal (or rather abnormal), the price of things, etc... I keep reading all these people ranting on Instagram - two specific people come to mind - who have zero economic vision, no financial knowledge, and yet who act as moral arbitrators and assign the blame on anyone who is anyone, not understanding their ranting - though popular on Instagram - is actually hollow.

But once you stop comparing, once you go on living as you used to (within one's means), once you do not see today's pricing in the view of last year's economy, once you accept that this is a tricky phase where one must "make do and mend" (literally, I found, not one, but two great tailors in a city nearby), once you understand that subsidizing the fuel must end because it is eating away what is left if the central bank's Dollars... Only then will 2020 make sense to you.

But again, once you stop comparing. Once you readjust your expectations to reality, you will end up surviving 2020. With three months to go, that is no mean feat.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Annahar subverts women's stereotypes


 Annahar is subverting stereotypes about women. Boldly and smartly.

"Girls should not stay out late", "Women talk too much", "Women should know their place" - the respective images tell the other story. The long copy, which trust me is exceptionally hard to do, tells the fuller story. The ads are really good. The problem? What is their target audience? To whom are they addressed? Are they done for the awards season or do they have a real target in mind. If I ask, it is because Nayla Tueni (CEO of Annahar) went to Cyprus to have a civil marriage instead of fighting for civil marriages here in Lebanon (when she was a member of the parliament no less!), which prompted me to write the piece that made it to her Wikipedia entry "what's so civil about this marriage?" - so Mrs Tueni Maktabi cannot have it both ways. My verdict? These are ads made for awards, no more, no less.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Optique et Vision nails the post Beirut explosion

Optique et Vision nails the post Beirut explosion ad. One of the hardest things to do for any brand is to insert is product in any event. Worse, when the event is as catastrophic as the August 4th Beirut explosion, the treatment needs to be delicate and very subtle, as otherwise it means the brand is profiting from other people's suffering. Optique et Vision rose to the occasion brilliantly with their "hand in hand we will r-eyes again". Simple, dignified, winks to their area of expertise all while being uplifting and upbeat. Seriously, what more can one ask for from an ad?
 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Help ArabAd rebuild Beirut's ad industry

This from Epica Awards:

The explosion that ripped through Beirut on August 4 hit many businesses at the heart of the city, including more than 50 advertising and design agencies, which were badly damaged or utterly destroyed.

Now local trade magazine ArabAd is stepping in to help. It’s calling on regional and international agencies to buy a page in its October issue for an ad pledging their support, with revenue going into a pool for struggling local agencies.

Managing editor Ghada Azzi comments: “During these tough times, it’s important for us to come together as a community and support each other, especially those who were badly or directly hit by the blast.”

The operation is a partnership with the local Advertising Association – the Advertising Syndicate of Lebanon – which says a special fund will be allocated to local businesses severely affected by the blast, to help them with their reconstruction and working capital needs.

The ads can be corporate, but preferably with a message of hope, optimism and support for the advertising sector in Lebanon, or for the Lebanese people in general. The deadline is October 7.

Even before the explosion, the ad industry had been affected by a tough economic climate and the civil protests known as the October Revolution, followed by the pandemic and lockdown.

Ghada says: “We truly believe that during incredibly tough moments, humanity can shine its brightest, showing solidarity, helping each other and using our creativity to solve urgent problems and soothe heartaches.”

To book an ad or for more information contact the magazine’s ad sales rep Tree Ad: arabad@treead.com

Or phone +9611611115

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Kaslik, now a shadow of its former self.

Zara, Bershka, and Buffalo Wings and Rings are the three latest casualties to close shop on Kaslik street (Patchi, Zmilelee, Petit Cafe, Lord of the Wings and Massimo Dutti had started the macabre series earlier). Brands For Less is operating with minimal stock, while Glowbal - also an outlet store but more upscale - was one of the first stores to close early 2019. Legend, Straight, Viril/Virale, Stile, Studio X, and Masculin are still operating though all of them only have the Kaslik branch. H&M, Springfield and Sport Loisirs are also there, but till when is a different question.

Many will treat this with a casual what-else-is-new shrug. But Kaslik was at one point the most exuberant and priciest shopping streets in Lebanon. Sometime in the mid-90s celebrated Egyptian actress Sherihan dropped around 300,000 Dollars on one shopping spree there. But even as far back as the early aughts, there was a whiff of dwindling sales as Beirut, especially downtown Beirut, was gaining momentum.

Remember Via Spiga? Then Lebanon's most upscale store? Even in 2003, their sales manager said: “We used to sell products while they were still in the boxes, but now we have excess stock.” When discount store Akil Bros opened a store in Kaslik again in the mid-90s (akin to Tati opening in Place Vendome - Paris), the joke was that people would park their cars in front of upscale stores but shop at Akil instead. No wonder Akil is thriving today still, as the other stores close done by one.

However, it is fair to say that by now, Kaslik had lost its raison d'etre due to different geographical, political and socio-economic reasons. When Beirut got torn in half during the war and the souks obliterated due to shelling; the Eastern regions needed their own upscale area to compensate for Souk el Tawile which used to harbor: Al Ahram, Dix Mille Articles, Chaussures Elie and Venise Verte all selling shoes and bags for women, Hashem Shoes for men, Zahar and Semrani for children's clothing in addition to Alpha and Vita, respectively clothing for Men and women - all upscale and pricey stores of which some brands survive till today in various degrees of health and prosperity. 

Note that Kaslik is also often compared to Hamra which is only partially correct. Whereas Hamra housed Camomille, Red Shoe, Charles Jacob and Mylady; it also had a street Bazar as well. I was also told that Kaslik was playground for people with means from Tripoli. Back when Byblos and Batroun were still lackluster, and Beirut still half an hour of driving further, and still destroyed by the war.

With its proximity to the luxurious ATCL, to very high-end new buildings, to beach resorts (Portemilio, Samaya, and Solemar come to mind) where people loaded with money would stay or live, Kaslik was a perfect sample of where moneyed people would hang, shop and spend money. With Espace 2000 center  only a stone throw away with its famed night club, while the center was replete with a branch of The Chase restaurant, and Juicy Burger right opposite of it, just as Papagayo, Downtown, and La Creperie restaurants close by (bordering the street at both ends), and Options night club reigned Supreme on night life, Kaslik was the perfect microcosm of money-spending while enjoying the usual Lebanese exhibitionism for everyone to see where you shopped, ate or dropped your money.

The caricature of such people would end up at S.L.Chi the classic early 90s satire program on MTV (the local Murr TV) under the "Kas" people saying they bought their wares at "Francisco Puta" (ahem) as they smoked long cigars. I personally overheard a conversation long ago (in the late 80s) between two teenage girls, one describing a new swimsuit she acquired, only for the other to say "wait, I got the same one! I bought it for a beach party at our compound in Kaslik. But I managed to get it before the sales" (linguistic emphasis not mine).

But as L.P. Hartley said: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” And indeed, the past of Kaslik matters little to its present, its closed shops, or the dwindling footfall on those that remain open. The days of Via Spiga with Sherihan shopping with an open wallet are now gone. And for good.

A mood of Sunset Boulevard covers the street. A has been who still thinks it can pass off as star. To quote Ernest Heminway:

"How did you go bankrupt?" Bill asked. "Two ways," Mike said. "Gradually and then suddenly."
Same applies to Kaslik and Lebanon as a whole.




Sunday, September 20, 2020

One Act, normal humans at their best

Why is it some things work, others not? Take One Act - they define themselves as:

"Let's take the time to thank the unsung heroes of Lebanon whose #OneAct has made a huge difference during these challenging times. Let's make sure that their kindness doesn't go unnoticed. Whether it is supporting people during the economic crisis, helping through COVID-19 or providing relief after the explosion, the ordinary people of Lebanon are taking action every day to help the country back on its feet." Apparently they are an offshoot of Search For Common Ground (An NGO working to end the violent conflict in Lebanon through conflict transformation. It’s our purpose — our call to action.)

The One Act ad left me gasping for breath (see here), just normal people talking about other normal people who stepped up to the plate and rose up to their human values. Humans helping humans in their time of need specifically after the August 4 Beirut explosion, without fanfare, without overdoing things. Or to go back to the Atlanta Games Nike Air zoom launch ad: "tell us what us, tell uh s what it does, and don't play the national anthem while you do it" - except what these people did, was heart-wrenching.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Those Unica ads must mean something, right?


Well, in a shining example of what advertising is in 2020 in Lebanon, please meet Unica. The two ads are not a campaign mind you despite sharing a common visual style (one went online in July, one yesterday). OK I could, with difficulty swallow the one about friendship. The newer one about the passage of time is totally unpalatable.

But again, in Lebanon, in 2020, this is what advertising is. Throw it and see if it sticks. Concepts, strategy, and anything else than a visual element (even that is not always there!) are disposed of. Of course the ads could be brilliant and am the one not seeing it. Who knows, even as a juror in two international festivals, perhaps advertising has grown too smart for me (Insert man shrugging emoji here).





Monday, September 14, 2020

Second hand: Is there a paradigm shift in Lebanese shopping?

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
Are the Lebanese finally changing their consumption habits? Signs are exposing cracks in that picture perfect way the Lebanese liked to portray themselves. A middle class that just spent four days in Turkey, got clothes there on the cheap, and eats at McDonald's while eyeing the new Zara collection as they drive in a Nissan they pay on monthly installments.

For several years, I used to dress exclusively from Souk El Ahad, or the low-income Sunday market (which actually was held on Saturday and Sunday hence the misnomer) - and where I would get second hand clothes. I usually went with a French friend, his girlfriend and his brother. It was really wonderful to get things at such discounted prices. Sometimes we would strike gold, like that Dries Van Noten shirt, and other times it was the thrill of discovery. When I moved from Beirut in September 2010, almost all the clothes in question were donated.

But to many, the idea of buying second hand was a total taboo. Which is why my praise for Depot Vente is still enormous, as Nawal showed everyone that second hand meant rarities, one of a kind, and things that fast fashion stores could not compete with (read here). Whereas not second hand, if you aim for deadstock material (which is not new either), you might want to check Vntg Smtng for their pristine stock of sporty goods (their Iril polos are to die for). But now, with Zara increasing its prices to match the black market price of the Dollar, with many such stores changing prices almost daily (read here), and others quitting the game entirely (Adidas is exiting the market at the end of the year), something has shifted deeply in the remnants of the Lebanese middle class.

The explosion of August 4 only made things worse in the sense that suddenly everyone, from all socio-economic classes were affected (read here). Garage Souk which dubs itself a community financial empowerment tool to buy/sell/earn/learn/swap/thrift has been gaining momentum. It is supposed to empower women and students and get them extra income. But not only this, thrift stores (more like pêle-mêle vide greniers) have been mushrooming all over Instagram with mostly girls and women selling barely worn items from their closets - mostly fast fashion clothing and accessories - at discounted prices. But even higher end online stores exist - some with physical footprints not just virtual accounts (Preporter Luxury, Chic Beirut, or Garage Luxe).

The idea of second hand, with current prices soaring and imports estimated to have declined 90%, previously owned items (barely worn, back when people would buy, show off, and discard) suddenly seem a viable option. Am not saying people will go to Souk El Ahad yet, but many taboos seem to have fallen.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Roadster too cliché to be called cliché....

Roadster Diner has a new ad.
Done throwing up?
Wow. Really. Not even cliche. All the pinch-me-to-cry-because-am-patriotic images are there.
The woman playing piano in her bombed apartment, the man cleaning up debris on his wheelchair, the flag, the blond and the veiled woman, and so on. Do note, Picasso used them with dignity and gracefulness engulfing them in a serene and proud ambiance. Here they appear cheap, silly and certainly out of context. Why is it some people do not learn when to stop? Especially when using other people's suffering for exhibitionist-voyeuristic purposes. The ad ends with #sharethelove because you know, the concept of the ad is "we share everything". 
Seriously, somewhere in the museum of cliché ads someone is laughing hysterically!

 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

History, Karl Marx, Thawra, Sulta, and Abou Saada

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly


History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce - Karl Marx
I wonder at what stage Lebanon is. The tragedy or the farce.
Zealots are on all sides, all sides. What everyone seems to want is a black and white no gray zones in a world where everything is full of nuance. Strange how lately several people called me optimist or full of hope when pessimism and day to day rationalism seem to guide me (side note: I still believe, one way or another the money in the bank - the Lollar - will be given back in the long run, this is not optimism, this is the long view of things).
What is sexily called "sulta" (authority - regime) is clinging on to what is has always worked (and I must stress that not just politicians and warlords made it work, it is the average Joe as well) - a post-feudal, clientage-based (wasta) system, and lately argued that no one found its interest in changing the current equation (read here) no matter what Thawra (revolution) doe-eyed youngsters playing revolutionary games seem to think.
Naturally, the August 4 explosion only added to the impasse. But also to the division. The narrative that people are breaking free from their political affiliation shackles is a fallacy (again, read here), no matter what you read on Instagram. A certain person I know, who holds a Ph.D. no less, read in his far left view, that the people who went out manifesting after the explosion had already burried the old regime, in a scene right out of the Communist manifestations with "power to the people" and what not.
Perhaps one of the most pertinent analysis I have read about the situation was detailed in Charles Al-Hayek brilliant Heritage and Roots Instagram account (here):
In the turbulent mid-nineteenth century years, Halil Pasha, an Ottoman admiral, was sent to inspect the turbulence in Mount Lebanon following the end of the emirate system in 1841.
Before setting sail from Istanbul, he paid a visit to the exiled emir of Mount Lebanon, Bashir Shihab, who ruled from 1788 until his fall and exile in 1840.
After the usual compliments, he turned to the emir and asked how he had managed to rule Mount Lebanon for so long and what could he tell him about the nature of the region’s inhabitant.
He replied: “It is true that I ruled for that long, but every three or four years the inhabitants would rebel, although they never succeeded. I would kill, hang, imprison and beat without opposition to make them submit”. As for their nature, he said “there is a bird in Mount Lebanon called Abu Far, which hunts mice. He is bigger than a falcon and perches on a high tree. When the sun rises, he looks to his shadow and sees it larger than it actually is and so he tells himself, today, I must hunt a camel. But as the sun rises higher, his shadow grows proportionally smaller until the sun looms over his head; then Abu Far looks to his shadow and sees it smaller than it actually is, and so he settles on hunting mice.”
The emir who has two male descendants, was known as "Abou Saada" ("Father of "- the customary nickname for married men, and instead of the name of his eldest male descendant (Amin) he was called after his eldest daughter) was wise indeed. Russian writer Alexander Heren did say "the departing world leaves behind it not an heir, but a pregnant widow"... If there is any transition, it will be painful, and long.
Abou Saada for president!
Case failing, Abou Fouad!

Monday, September 7, 2020

PepsiCo Arabia, low/no budget "relief" ad

Well, Pepsi justifiably increased the price of its products. Apparently it offered a certain relief, but am not sure what kind it was or how much it is worth and to whom it went. Neither the ad (see here), nor its caption mention anything other than solidarity. Now, the ad is a low/no budget  affair. With people supposedly working at Pepsico (Worldwide?) recording incredibly badly pronounced messages in disastrous audio, with - home? - backgrounds. To be clear all my work is done without budget, so the lack of money is not my gripe. My problem is that the whole thing ended a shambles of talking heads with disastrous audio.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

C'est pas parce qu'on n'a rien a dire (Qu'il faut fermer sa gueule)

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

On January 31st, 2007 I wrote a blog post with the same name which is actually the name of a French movie (actually it was my 6th blog post ever, whereas this is my 4605th post). The blog was about three weeks old. Back then, the world was so utterly different. Really, different. Yet here we are, by hook or by crook the blog still functions - is still miraculously successful, and lo and behold it did not become some cheap clickbait nor did I morph into some attention-seeking creature.

Lately a classmate who knew me from school reconnected with me on Linkedin and asked about my whereabouts so I recommended using Google. About 15 minutes later he comes back "wow, you're everywhere. No, your work is everywhere but you are almost nowhere!"

All right, there is a point to what saying. For the last few days I had to backtrack through all the posts written in 2020 due to "technical reasons". And whereas this year was incredibly stingy in ads (look here), it is fascinating to see how much I could still find topics to cover.

I mean seriously, in 2007 my post was about how to find a unique take on things. And oddly, that take continues. How I find it is beyond me. And no, for all its success the blog remains the best kept secret. Brands can't buy it, beyond classifiable to many, and still accessible for anyone who wants to put an effort.

Yet what going back through the 2020 posts taught me, was that despite the rather dismal number of ads, I still managed to create engaging content centered around communication. Something which the unwavering number of readers attests to.

But 2020 has been an exhausting year, exponentially so if you were Lebanese. So as we all push to go forward worried about our health, belongings, finances, and what not... And again all this took from our strength, and sapped the remainder of our energy.

Yesterday a certain Thawra (Lebanese revolution) Instagram account tagged someone I respect and care about deeply because she voiced a political opinion. When I messaged them explaining how much of a wonderful human being she is, how generous and kind. I got a barrage of insults and my words were twisted so as to appear as a death threat when I simply mentioned the historical fact that Robespierre who himself was a leading revolutionary died under the guillotine. The discussion sadly reminded me why I unfollowed certain people, the lack of nuance and "if you're not with us, you're against us" attitude was too glaring.

Still, onward and forwards, and like any (in)decent politician: C'est pas parce qu'on n'a rien a dire (Qu'il faut fermer sa gueule)."

Friday, September 4, 2020

Lebanon Opportunities goes all Gloria Gaynor

Lebanon opportunities tries to revamp its brand. When business oriented magazines such as Forbes and The Economist went all out to embrace younger audiences with topics that might be of interest to them without losing their core audience, others - Lebanon Opportunities included - stuck to their Guns. Ask any Young person involved in business what they read, if they read anything at all, and Lebanon Opportunities would not be on their list. All this makes the I will Survive Gloria Gaynor approach only too puzzling. I do like the broken glass effect though behind....

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Pampers celebrates miracle baby George Khnaisser

Pampers Arabia celebrates the birth of George Khnaisser, the boy whose mother went into labor literally seconds before the August 4 explosion. He ended up being born at 7:18 P.M. that night. Watch the full ad here. Well, this being a paid ad how about some CSR on the side? Because Pampers insists it gave away a million diapers for free to the children of Beirut.

Now the ad has a nice copy, except for the 'heroes in blue" bit, uses the real footage of the hospital explosion, which adds a nice touch. Georges and his parents are all photogenic and easy on the cam too. OK the whole narrative centers around children being a beacon of hope in dark times, and it actually works.


Monday, August 31, 2020

Picasso and the heroes of the Beirut blast

Pikasso does it again... In a campaign that spans six visuals, from the man sweeping debris on his wheelchair, to nurse Pamela Zeinoun holding three premature babies and running 5 kilometres to get them to safety, to the woman who would not leave her house after the blast, to the one praying, or the Red Cross, or the man standing in defiance in the rubble. Moving, proud images that encapsulate silver linings within that enormous destruction that occurred.

I know finding positive things is farfetched, but this seems to be a Lebanese specialty.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Free Patriotic Movement incomprehensible campaign


To be a Aounist is a pride nit an accusation. So says the hashtag of this incomprehensible, unfocused campaign that lacks a concept, a clear target audience and a backbone. Honestly, it is bewildering. The three visuals follow the same structure, one asks a question only to be given a redemptive answer. And the silly tag beneath.

"What if he did something to you?" "No he is a Aounist he has morals"

"What if he cheated you?" "No he is a Aounist I trust him"

"What if he judged you in your sect?" "No he is a Aounist he has no sectarianism"

Aounist means follower of (now president) Michel Aoun. Or sympathizer/member of the Free Patriotic Movement. If the campaign is redemptive, why does it come off so negative? If it is targeted to the sympathizers why does it miss the mark? 

Honestly, too baffling to explain!

Saturday, August 29, 2020

In Lebanon, the squeaky wheel gets all the media attention.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

International media are gloating. The time has come. People in Lebanon are turning their backs on their leaders, and want change, real change. The magnitude of the August 4 explosion that happened was such that people have changed their lifelong allegiances, and want out. Hezbollah has a very weakening base it seems, an ex member who sells arms certifies it.

Lovely narrative, if only it was true. 

You know the expression, "the squeaky wheel gets all the grease" and the people protesting really do seem sexy....

Here's a burning question: Do all Lebanese people want change?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: No, they don't.

Lebanon is governed by the 6w6 mkarrar equation. Six and six multiplied, which means government positions are split evenly between Christians and Moslems. When the rule was instated, there was indeed such an even distribution between the sects and religions. Let us see what the demographic numbers said in 2019: "The latest official census conducted in 1932 indicated that the Lebanese population totaled 875,252 people, while Muslims made up 40% of the community and Christians 58.7%. The recent report shows that Christians make up 30.6% of the community, while Muslims make up 69.4%." (Source)

So, with the Lebanese Christians now proportionately, half of the number they were, they are being given a favor in terms of the equal splitting of the official positions because currently, they are getting 50% when they currently make up 30%. Would you, as a Christian, want to change such a system?

Shiites make up 30,6% and Sunnites 30.3% - That is almost even but again, currently double the Christian side.

The Shiites long dubbed "el mahroumin" (the deprived) - and rightfully so - now find themselves kingmakers in the current system. It would be idiotic to let go of such a power honestly. This is an unpopular opinion, but it is based on facts. When there were no schools, hospitals or dispensaries in the Shiite areas, Hezbollah came (yes, with an agenda) and built such places. Then, the government woke up with the house on fire, and for a long time, there was a talk about the state "exerting its power in all Lebanese land" (nice propaganda). Too little, to late. Someone else was there before you. And the people's allegiance is to them. Or to use an expression dear to the Americans "won their hearts and minds".

Now as a liberal and progressive with little or no paranoia, as someone who befriended people from other religions long before it was "cool" and (instagram) photogenic to do so, I have zero threat about who rules me (how is sexier for me). Naturally, this is not the case for many. Lebanon is a country not just à deux vitesses (on two speeds) but on a hundred different speeds all at once.

I have been hearing so much about anticipated parliamentary elections. Great, but.... Without educating people about new possibilities, the same lot already elected will come back, with a vengeance. Now, famous singers Elissa and Zein el Omr disavowed respectively, the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement after being staunch supporters of each. But these are the exceptions rather than the rule. Normal people, seeing their visual and emotional references vanish in the explosion gravitated closer to what they previously knew: Their political alliances and likes.

At the end of the Ottoman empire, a consultant was brought by the French to assess the case of Lebanon. At the end of his long report he ends with, "Ca marche, n'y touchons pas" - it works, let's not touch it.

My fear is that it still works (with all its defects and issues), and we are touching it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

IKEA between mistake and masterstroke

IKEA just wrote under its English ad "same thing but in Arabic" for their mattresses and bedding.... And it went viral. Some say it is a marketing ploy, others an honest mistake. Jury is out in this one. Because the next day they scratched the Arabic headline saying, "this is what happens when you do not get a good sleep. Get the perfect sleep".

To those wondering it is possible for a full agency not to notice such a mistake? The answer is a resounding yes. How do I know? Let's say the large phone number in bold on an ad we published was the art director, originally placed there as a dummy until the client gave us the correct number....

In Lebanon, what back to school?

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

In certain countries, the back to school spending is one of the biggest non-holiday spending times. In Lebanon a little less so, but still, between books (often imported), clothes (often dictated and issued by school), stationary, and the ever increasing tuition, the money spent is gob-smacking. Am thinking mostly of non-governmental schools. For those attending government schools, the task is a little easier, but not by much. Usually these schools are frequented by a lower socio-economic class to whom the symbolic tuition and books make - proportionately - almost the same percentage of spending as those in the non-governmental ones. Do note, this is by no means stereotyping, because a good student is a good one, and a student wanting to learn will find a way to learn.

But between spiking Coronavirus rates, between the schools that vanished in the Beirut explosion (am hearing 130 schools), between the local currency that lost 80% of its value, between parents who either completely lost their job or are working for a meager pay or one which now means peanuts, I wonder what back to school season do we talk about? To go on, continue, and still be productive, is a colossal challenge in Lebanon. And sometimes, no, we do not have that energy.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Pilcrow Architects offer a Beirut memorial design.

 Pilcrow Architects just came up with a concept for a memorial to the Beirut dead of the August 4 explosion with a design based on the now damaged silos which used to be a visible landmark of the port. The batons are opaque during the day and light up at night. The names of the victims are supposedly to be inscribed on the sides as well. A laudable effort for sure. Most likely not to be built or executed to be honest. Still, the thought is interesting. Even if we tend to sweep things under the rug.

Friday, August 21, 2020

ABC Mall and that wonderful post-explosion ad

 


ABC mall has taken a gigantic building facade overlooking the sea to put an ad that says "min kalbi Salam li Beirut" (from my heart a greeting to Beirut after the Fairouz song - words put to Concerto Aranjuez music), but with everyone using the same ploy the ad came a tad used. But may I remind you if the great ad the mall issued in 2007 right after a bomb exploded in their parking lot? "It was a black night but we are open" which doubles as "it was a black night but we are on the lighter end if the spectrum" - how genius was that.... 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Lebanon, the international tribunal and rogue elements

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Never a dull day in Lebanon. Severe uptick in Coronavirus cases? Check. Explosion listed as third powerful in humanity's history? Check. Unofficial banking controls? Check. Social unrest? Check. Crumbling structure and infrastructure? Check. Do I go on? Oh yes, international tribunal that cost and arm and a leg (800 Million Dollars to be specific) pinned on a member of the Hizbollah but not on the party itself with the incriminating evidence being the use of multicolored phones? Check. During the war, when a ceasefire would be declared yet sporadic skirmishes continued here and there, the blame would be put on "rogue elements" or in Arabic the more poetic "3anaser ghayr mondabita". In essence that is what the whole international tribunal was about: One specific individual who happens to be a member of a party a la 9 to 5 but has outside hobbies on his own, to which, like luxury company Hermes, he is allowed to use the company logistics and hardware so long he does not sell a competing product. Never a dull day as I said.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Al Wadi Al Akhdar in the post-explosion scene

 

Al Wadi Al Akhdar is right in the post-explosion scene.
As such, they are giving their support by collaborating with NGOs Beit El Baraka and Smile In A Box through which they will be donating more than 20,000 Al Wadi products to the families in need.They are also partnering with the talented Grace El Gebeily AKA Chef At Heart who has been offering home-cooked meals using Al Wadi products, having -so far - fed more than 100 families in the regions of Beirut and other parts of Lebanon.
Interestingly, their ads were dipped in a creative sauce which says "from our heart" a wink to their often used line "min alb El wadi" (From the heart of the valley). At least they are creatively consistent.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

French government offers poisoned gift as consolation prize to the Lebanese

 

Let me begin by saying that Israelis do not need Schengen visas. And that to enter the Schengen space one needs to apply the same papers to all concerned embassies. The papers include: a letter from employer, bank statement, copies of previous visas and passports (with current passport having two additional blank pages and three months valid beyond return date), family civil extract, plane ticket (with return ticket) and hotel booking, the usual travel insurance, 2 photos, means of subsistence (65 Euros per day minimum),  a completed application of several pages, and honestly all this needs to be translated. 
Last time I went in a business trip to the Netherlands that was already 60 papers.
The communique above from the French government offers visas, ability to fly and return and what not... Brilliant one might say. But the devil is in the details. The detail in question? 
"Sans autre restriction que les conditions habituelles d'admission de sejour".
"With no other restriction but the usual conditions of admission for entry".
The conditions I just listed above. Oh and with unemployment rampant and money stuck in the bank, what employer letter and what bank statement do we talk about?
A poisoned gift as consolation prize, don't you think?

Is fatigue starting to set on news from Lebanon?

Do you remember the Lebanon war in 2006? I do.
I got stuck in the United States and instead of spending two weeks divided in half - one half workshop one half vacation, I ended up spending two full months there.
CNN was covering the war non stop wall to wall. Interestingly one of their footage featured a burning building with civil defense people trying to end the fire with their scroller indicating the scene happened in Israel. As one member of the civil defense showed his back, turns out it was written in Arabic, so basically that was Lebanon - but I digress. Then, as war still raged, and after days and days of coverage, suddenly the war was relegated to simple occasional news flashes. News had broken that the killer of beauty queen JonBenet Ramsay had been caught.
Lebanon was suddenly on the backburner - pardon the pun.
Oh and the man who supposedly killed the Young Ramsay turned out to be an attention seeker, but - again, I digress.
If I am telling this story it is because, despite the enormous destruction, and even considering the scale of what happened, little by little fatigue us creeping in about the news from Beirut. How many times can you see or rewatch the explosion and still be amazed/shocked/petrified? With disturbing images being relayed on all possible media, little by little interest starts to wane before it disappears.
Famous British singer Morrissey (ex-lead singer of the Smiths) once said about Sir Bob Geldof (some months after the release of "Do they know it's Christmas"): "One can have great concern for the people of Ethiopia, but it's another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of England." And sadly, by replaying the videos of the explosion, the same sinister images - even if the intentions were well 
meaning - the end result is slowly backfiring.
It does not take a Ph.D. to know that since 2006 attention spans are growing shorter and shorter. And that people are getting more fidgety about new information they can go to now that Beirut is starting to be depassée.
The image above says "don't stop talking about Lebanon" yet am afraid "it's another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of" the world.
Many people, despite what happened in Lebanon, are already moving, or are ready to move, to the next story. You know, something like the real killer of JonBenet Ramsey getting caught. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Happy Supermarket - now sad

Post Beirut explosion, few brands advertised anything from the usual "we will rise" or "like a Phenix..." etc... Interestingly the legend of the Phenix has nothing to do with Beirut, or Lebanon. Which makes the Happy Supermarket a rarity - but a welcome one. The ad says "it's ad, but there's still hope" but the smartness is to simply flip the logo which used to say "happy" and now indicates sadness. Minimal, smart, and effective.

Beirut explosion: The great socio-economic equalizer

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

The area in the port is divided socio-economically. First there are the low income neighborhoods, the old renters, the middle class or what remains of it, but also - and this much more recently - the uber wealthy living in gentrified neighborhoods. Gentrification of neighborhoods - Armenia Street, Mar Mikhael, the outskirts of Badawi has been going strong. Next to two or three-storied houses, dilapidated, old, crumbling recent luxury building and skyscrapers have been mushrooming. A celebrated Lebanese actress spoke how she went down, bloodied and barefoot, from her 22nd floor apartment (and had to hail a car to go to the hospital) while another comedian-actor is seen on the remains of his balcony overlooking the port.

Downtown Beirut, mostly a ghost town anyhow on any given day (splattered with empty, unsold buildings), had some of its very luxurious apartments inhabited by politicians, stars and extremely well to do people, is now literally a shell. Few people know that the currently upscale area of downtown Beirut which was rebuilt in faux rustic mood used to be an incredibly popular area and that women would avoid going there alone for fear of inappropriate touching.

Many stars posted videos of their downtown Beirut destroyed homes. Actually, even the tall buildings overlooking the sea on the corniche, also lost their glass facades and apartments there suffered significant damages. These buildings also cohabitate with smaller houses around them, remnants of a different social order.  

I have written extensively in the past about how income inequality was one of the triggers of war, most recently here. But the Beirut explosion has - excuse the bad choice of words as it might be read as a silly pun- leveled the field. Oh you might say, the rich do not care, they have other properties, the poor only have their destroyed homes. Not true, when you look at the images of these people's houses from what they put on Instagram or elsewhere, you realize that these places are also primary residences, better yet, their "homes". And by hitting these areas the explosion managed to touch everyone, from all socio-economic classes, the dead and wounded include people from all such classes.

As someone who escaped death that day - twice - please note am not gloating. News broke that cronies are already visiting people with destroyed houses convincing them to sell so that a new glitzy apartment buildings would replace them built by copy/paste developers. More gentrification am sure.

Yet again for all the images of Roche Bobois, Frau Poltrona, Fendi Casa furniture I saw in the Instagram stories - the result is the same. The explosion has Hurt people of all classes, and in weird, sarcastic, strange way, it became the great equalizer.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

In Lebanon, not all deaths are equal (UPDATE)

Source

 Look at the photo above. Moving and very pertinent. Full of names of people who died in the horrific explosion if the Beirut port.

Thankfully, it does include some foreigners. Not sure which nationalities though. But in Lebanon not all deaths are equal. 43 Syrian workers died in the explosion, no one even knows their names. The port area is a hub for migrant workers. So the fact that many people of foreign nationalities died is a normal statistical fact. I do not know if these people are being included in the official death tally. But this would not be new.

In 2014, when the Sawt Al Mahaba happened in Jounieh, late Patriarch Nasrallah visited the place since the radio station was owned by the Maronite patriarchy and thanked God there were  no deaths. The problem? A woman had died. The bigger problem? She was Sri Lankese. The much bigger problem? The words came from a leading religious figure who could not fathom that all lives are equal. That a woman - a human bring being - died, no matter her nationality. 

Oh an isolated incident you say? Try this for size. In 2010 when the Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed, leading television station LBC was interviewing a Lebanese parent of someone who was on the plane. In the background, an Ethiopian woman was crying over a friend or relative who was in the same plane. Suddenly, a hand pulls the woman so violently, she disappears from the frame (she was not trying to be in anyhow) and her crying is heard no more. 

Do I go on?

Oh and did I tell you 43 nameless Syrian workers died?

UPDATE:

The list of the names of Syrian workers has been issued. Am in awe someone had the decency to do it!

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Lebanese banker Marwan Kheireddine, who bought Jennifer Lawrence penthouse gets backlash in NY.

 

Lebanese banker Marwan Kheireddine, who bought Jennifer Lawrence penthouse gets backlash in NY. The penthouse, at 9,9 Million Dollars comes at a time when Lebanese people are unable to retrieve their money from the bank. Already local faith in banks is at its lowest with people moving to cash rather than savings. Kheireddine's house is but another example as to why. "With the blood, sweat and tears of the Lebanese people" as the pinned flyer attests.

Picasso, Nadia Tueni and the rebirth of Beirut

 "Beirut: dead a thousand time, to be reborn one thousand more..." Nadia Tueni"

And this is how Pikasso the billboard OOH company celebrated Beirut, a city which has been documented to have been erased seven times in history already (excluding the 1989 anti-Syrian war led by General Aoun currently our president, and the inter-Christian war between the Aoun fragment of the army and the Lebanese Forces in 1990 - which both wrecked havoc in it), but which following the massive explosion on the 4th of August is truly beyond devastation. The initiative by Pikasso is admirable certainly, whether this is what the population needs is another matter.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

And what if it is not ONLY the government's fault?

Photo credit unknown

Dan Azzi (a friend, full disclosure) put it best: "Unpopular Opinion: Blaming our problems entirely on the political leadership ignores the issue of a cultural flaw when it comes to civic responsibility & ability to look at collective rather personal interests. It’s not just Killon yi3ni killon. It’s also Ni7na yi3ni Ni7na."
Yes, I am as tired, exhausted, frustrated as the next man. But the difference is, easy and simplistic answers do not do it for me.
Here is my question, with the tag #علقوا_المشانف (hang the nooses) trending (side note: am against capital punishment) - and the government gets toppled, then what? Hiba Yazbeck also nailed it in twitter: "What’s worse is that every time we face a tragic event, polarization increases among Lebanese, rather than solidarity. Perhaps we don’t deserve to have a country..." In times of crisis we tend to gravitate towards those who resemble us, those who share our beliefs, those who are "like us" rather than "like them" - sure, I am in awe in front of the volunteers who took brooms and went on cleaning streets, or those youngsters I saw yesterday who were gathering food and water and supplies, or the many initiatives that people are doing on a small scale. But let me go back to this theory I was discussing with my teacher at AUB in 1996, about why is it that people are clean in their own homes in Lebanon but are dirty in the street. Turns out the answer was that going back to the colonial mentality, because someone will pick up after you.
Picture this scene, I was at a seaside cafe in Tripoli. A young family was near me on the next table. Their daughter, about two years old, started throwing the content if the ashtray into the sea,then at one point seeing her mother giggling, she was encouraged to throw more objects. Until she tried to throw the ashtray itself, her mother sternly told her: "La2 3ayde 3ayzina" (no, this we need).
The image of that man sweeping glass debris on the street while wheelchair-bound is moving beyond words, yet I feel him to be the exception rather than the rule. But hey, there could be a silver lining, my friend Rachid Aschkar, says (in reference to the above-mentioned colonial theory) "maybe this time, the perimeter of "home" has changed to include whole country".

InStyle recreates Ormond Gigli masterpiece for its September issue

I spoke about this before.... Yet always a pleasure to see this image recreated. The famous Ormond Gigli photo "Girls in the windows" was redone at a building in Brooklyn where only artists live for the September issue of InStyle as a tribute to the enduring energy of New York City in quarantine. Actually, this might not be the first time the Gigli image was celebrated, my theory is that the whole Jean-Paul Goude ad for Egoiste was based on the photo. Apart from the clear "women in the windows" there is a Roll Royce cars identical to the one in the Gigli photo that pass by at the end of the ad as a "wink". Too many coincidences if you ask me. The proof is in the photo below.