Below is a selection of articles I wrote during my time reporting for Beirut's The Daily Star, then part of the International Herald Tribune's network of global English langauge newspapers, from 2001-2006, where I worked as a reporter on daily news and politics, deputy business editor and ultimately became Features Editor covering arts and culture, news and wider feature stories, while also writing some comment pieces. For more search my name online at The Daily Star website.
It was Feodor Dostoevsky who wrote that when you are surrounded by endless possibilities, one of the hardest things you can do is pass them up. The novelist was referring in particular to gambling. Patrick Byrne is a man who can relate to that. Now in his early forties, Byrne has lived his life for years knowing that he may not have any future possibilities. As a three-time survivor of a terminal cancer, one of just a couple in the world, who has been in remission for the last 10 years or so, he always faces the chance that the cancer may return. Which is why he never fails to pass up a possibility.
Doing a spot of background research on Lilli Gruber on the Web is revealing in every sense of the word. The main results for her name when Googled read: Lilli Gruber sexy gallery and Lilli Gruber topless nude photos. It takes a while to realize I am searching for information on a serious journalist and not a movie star.
Perhaps the most informative and daring piece of work in Transit Beirut, a new collection of literature, photography and journalism published by Saqi Books, involves a car ride on the Corniche. More than a car ride in fact. It is about poverty and male prostitution. And, ultimately, it is about the experience of life in the city.
Gilberto Gil took just two songs Saturday night at Baalbek to get the crowd dancing in the aisles. Perhaps it was the repressed energy of an audience starved for Latin-reggae rhythms who had waited an extra hour for the show to begin. Perhaps it was the calm charisma and pure enjoyment of the 60-year old Brazilian maestro, who told his audience that this “was a once-in-a-lifetime performance.”
During the London Blitz in 1940, Winston Churchill was criticized in Parliament for approving a grant to the Old Vic Theater supporting the performance of Shakespeare’s plays. Opposition MPs were aghast that he would rather spend the money on art than on the war effort. In response Churchill said simply: “If we cannot hear Shakespeare, then for what are we fighting?”
Coffee is a huge deal in Lebanon. Most of us drink it like water. In its most popular form, the traditional cup of ahweh (Lebanese coffee) is consumed throughout the day at home, in public cafes and in the workplace. Drinking a small cup at my local corner shop in Achrafieh has become a morning ritual, and in the afternoon popping out of work to a little bar called Torino Express in Gemmayzeh to have a similar pick-me-up in the form of one of the best espressos in town has become a de facto part of the day.
With newspaper readership in decline and television increasingly the most powerful cultural force in humanity, one wonders any more if news or serious journalism matters.
Fewer and fewer people are interested in topics or events over which they have no control. They are far more interested in diversion or leisure subjects like celebrity gossip whether Haifa Wehbe is going to Hollywood than whether voting for one local mayoral candidate over another is actually going to make a difference in their lives.
Friendly greetings, affable smiles, hot towels to wipe sweaty brows, newspapers or magazines to help pass the time, a cigarette (if no one minds) and some Muhammad Abdel Wahab singing tarab coming from the cassette player in the corner.
At night, some people turn on the light to keep from seeing. Sometimes the reality many people live is so brutal that they like to hide from it however and wherever they can through drugs, through denial, through apathy, through consumerism. For those who choose not to switch off from the world, there exist sources of information with which to understand it.
In the industry they call it “the Get” the process of finding out where a celebrity is, getting hold of them, and then getting them to talk to you. Often, it is one of the most difficult jobs in journalism. It involves calling up all your contacts, squeezing every bit of information out of them, and if you go in for the infamous paparazzi method hanging around hotels hyped up on caffeine and cigarettes until you get the picture or story your editor wants.
Those of us who watch closely the ever-changing chimera that is the Beirut nightclub scene are calling it the Crystal Effect or Crystaliyeie in Arabic. In the seven months since the now legendary Monnot Street club opened and made it cool to buy champagne again huge, expensive bottles of it every fashionable Arabic-music nightclub has followed its lead.