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Archive for the ‘Socio-cultural’ Category

Truth be told, if it wasn’t for Samantha’s outrageously racy and funny attitude, Sex and the City 2 would be just a condescending and bigoted plot. I have enjoyed the fashion and the shoes…Oh the shoes…But that’s it!

Here’s my full review on Common Ground New Service.

I am a fan of the series, as shallow as it may be at times, but I have enjoyed watching it over and over again, especially before moving to New York City. The stories in the series are very realistic and relatable for anyone who has experienced ‘relationships roller-coasters’ in the Green Apple.

The sequel however, ventured in making other cultures the subject for derision. Abu Dhabi’s ascension is not trouble-free, especially with the reports of Human Rights Watch about abuse of migrant workers, rape and violence towards women, and sentencing foreigners to prison and deportation for public display of affection, among other social issues. Yet the film does not address such social problems in a meaningful way, and instead unleashes stereotypes, and disregards cultural differences and social customs. Besides why are Hollywood moviemakers even going there? What is the point of showing no acceptance of other societies’ traditions? And how about not lumping all countries in the Middle East together and generalizing at every possible occasion?

As far as I am concerned, watching the sequel was a frail attempt to brush off the disappointment I had from the first movie, which I found racist against different ethnic groups, especially Mexicans. The sequel had an imperialistic perspective on Arabs, and Emiratis in particular that disregarded cultural characteristics and relied on bigoted representations of others. While many of the occurrences that the movie portrayed are very realistic, such as women wearing the niqab having to lift their veil slightly to eat. The reaction of the supposedly liberal American women to that is rather close-minded and intolerant. Abu Dhabi is NOT New York, and women there have different social dresses and customs.

My other problem with the sequel , which really took it further away from the relatable episodes of the series , is the fairy-tale ending. I wonder in which reality does a women who cheated on her husband by kissing another man, gets a black diamond. I am not expecting Big to divorce Carrie for a minor mishap, but the sequences in that movie are so utopian and frustrating at times.

Bottom line, Sex and the City should just stick to Sex IN the City…and the shoes.

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Fast and Furious

After a sensational Max Raabe and the Palast orchester concert at the Beiteddine festival a few days ago, I was on a cloud…I spent a great evening, enjoying captivating tunes from the 1920s and 1930s.

But upon my return, I lost the way home. It was about 11h30pm. The roads were not lit, naturally, there were absolutely no signs that indicated the direction of Beirut.

OK, I am not exactly an expert on Lebanese roads ( I still get lost in the city). I left Lebanon before having my own car and now I am learning by doing and getting lost.

So I ended up taking the wrong turn and drove for over 30 minutes in the opposite direction. My cousin rode with me, he is French and only visited Lebanon few times. So he was not really able to help me with directions.

I kept driving until I reached a very dark road with no houses, or signs of life around.

At the sight of what was ahead, stress started building up regardless of the tunes of Manu Chao playing…I finally found a car parked on the side of the road. When I asked for directions to Beirut, the guy said “Oh my, you are completely in the wrong direction…” He thought it would be better for me to go back exactly as I came until I get closer the location of the Beiteddine festival. So I did…But upon my return, I bumped into a jeep for the civil defense with five policemen inside. I told the driver that I am lost. He kindly offered to show me the way.

And there I was, storming through dark streets and alleys in the Chouf Mountain, racing after the Civil Defense Jeep, which was signaling the bumps and pits…Mind you Lebanese roads are not the smoothest.

After riding for over 30 minutes, the Jeep lead me safely to the Saida highway, and I was able to get back home from there…

Bottom line, this incident made me think of a similar occurence in Mexico City, last year around the same time. I was with a friend riding back home one night and we lost the way, but my friend would not even dare stopping to ask the police for directions, saying that it was too risky, because the police is corrupt.

Whereas in Lebanon, corrupt could be the right world to describe pretty much everything, yet those policemen in particular went out of their way to put me on the right track, instead of checking me out, like they usually do.

Inspite of all the drama and the mock car chase of that evening, it felt good to be able to trust “the system” for once. Yes, what happened was minor and caused by my lack of attention and the ill-equipped roads in Lebanon. Still, when chaos and corruption are set by default, one good deed reminds you that Lebanon is a country where expectations should be kept very low.

To brush off this dose of cynicism, and inspired by a lovely evening, here is some of the Grand Max Raabe.

Here are the lyrics below…If that’s not outright romance, I don’t know what is.

“You’re the cream in my coffee, you’re the salt in my stew, you will always be my necessity, i’d be lost without you

You’re the starch in my collar, you’re the lace in my shoe, you will always be my necessity, i’d be lost without you

Most men tell love tales and each phrase dovetails:

You’ve heard each known way. This is my own way. You’re the sail of my loveboat, you’re the captain and crew

You will always be my necessity, i’d be lost without you”

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At this moment, in San Francisco, the Bay Area more precisely, a couple of my friends, Maria Royo and Anton Calderon, young Spanish filmmakers, are preparing the logistics for their road trip through Latin America, to film a documentary about lullabies, Nanas: LULLABIES AND BROKEN DREAMS ON THE PAN-AMERICAN HIGHWAY.

Maria and Anton are two vagabonds who would not flinch at any prospect of living an unconventional adventure.

After Rediscovering Pape, their first documentary, which brought tears to my eyes the first time I saw it, now they are off to yet another spirited escapade.

The Lullavan is how they dubbed their vehicle, a 41-year-old Volkswagen Type II Bus from 1969.

Their journey will be recorded on their website, click here and check it out, it’s really cool.

Here’s a photo of Maria and Anton with the Lullavan, the vessel that will carry them on their odyssey all the way down to Argentina. Maria pasted my green-box photo I had from a photo shoot, to sort of, include me in their journey. Of course, the van doesn’t have my picture on it…Still, I am, without a doubt, a Lullavan aficionada all the way.

"Viva la vie Boheme!"(Photo Credit: Maria Royo)

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A friend of mine told me this joke: A girl lying down next to her boyfriend.”Babe, I love listening to your heart beats,” she says. “That’s ur internal biological clock ticking, Babe,” answers the boyfriend.

We still don’t know if he was the one who invented it. He said he was inspired by a sweeping mania, that he called the “I wanna-get-married syndrome.”

This syndrom is not particular to Lebanon, but to most women around the world who are setting their priorities according to their biological clocks.But the obsession with marriage is going a little bit overboard.

Let’s take Lebanon for example. Most girls want marriage. They want it quick , they want it fast and they want it now!

I did not really start thinking about marriage until I came back to Beirut. Everybody is asking about it, or about the prospects of it. You hear phrases such as, “it’s time!” , “Yalla” (“come on” in Arabic), “we hope to see you a bride soon,” etc…

Everyone is concerned with that issue: Parents, relatives, friends, even potential employers. This IS the talk of the town.

Such concerns about my relationship status, I find endearing. But when it becomes a daily refrain, it takes on another tenor.

Wary of preserving my inner peace, I spend so much energy filtering out people’s comments about the necessity and the time to get married, it gets tiring.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in marriage against all odds, I believe in a bond, more than anything else really.

I wish some people take some time in their choice of partner and when they in fact, choose to get married, they would do it for the right reasons. Reasons of love, mutual understanding and common visions for life, which have become rare currencies in the current social sphere.

In the pursuit of the “happily ever after,” a checklist that resulted from too much conformity to fake social standards and the loss of the true essence of relationships, is the only map.

On that checklist, profiles of men with trust funds and of women with certain looks are in high demand.

People with capacity to love and to offer mutual enrichment to one another is rarely heard of. On top of it, romance has lost its place in that equation.

I just want to share my favorite quote on Marriage by Rainer Maria Rilke.

The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a wholeand before an immense sky.

That is the standard folks, that is my standard at least. Until then, I am happily single and ready to mingle.

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Take it outside

I previously wrote a post  about smoking, but since it seems to be the sujet du jour in Beirut, I thought I would give it another round.

The link below is for a video from CNN posted in November 2009.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/11/16/lebanon.smoking.ban/index.html

Or Watch it on Youtube

First, I applaud CNN for delving into our society’s problems away from the glamour and glitter culture that they marketed throughout the summer.

When I lived in Istanbul, I found similarities between my host culture and mine.

Hands down, Lebanese and Turks can pride themselves for being serial smokers, or “chimneys” (can I say that?).

Yet Turks have somehow managed to abide by the smoking ban in public places initiated in July 2009. Most happening nightclubs witness a crowd of smokers blocking the sidewalk just to take their smoke outside.

In Lebanon, such public smoking bans are met by resistance from smokers and of course tobacco companies which have docked in nicotine paradise where tobacco control legislation have yet to see the light of day (Check this article about the role of tobacco companies in delaying any smoking regulations in Lebanon).

So far so good…in the sense that, for those who have lived in Lebanon long enough, can understand that this resistance is legitimate and expected.

Our government is apathetic by default towards most issues, let alone smoking issues, which with all due respect to all anti-smoking activists, is not really a pressing cause in the midst of such havoc.

But for a young adult on CNN (at 2 minutes 15 seconds of the video) to boast that Lebanon is a freedom culture and to be so proud of not respecting any laws is more than my humble mind can process. FREEDOM CULTURE?… SERIOUSLY?

I think some are confused about the true meaning of freedom.

I cannot fathom the following either. Even the most anarchist Lebanese can abide by the simplest laws and protocols of any country they live in: Standing in line for instance, only applies outside of Lebanese borders. But we  forget these civil habits as soon as we set foot at Beirut International Airport (actually even before the plane lands…we are in such a hurry that we unfasten the seatbelt and rush to the overhead bins). And we are so proud!

Now back to our smoking hot topic…Enough with empty arguments already. It is about time we practiced some civility in our country, just like we do elsewhere. At least, those who can’t stand the smell of cigarette smoke, don’t have to endure it everywhere they go. Just, kindly take your choking outside.

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After a six-month hiatus, I am finally getting back in the game.

To all my faithful readers and supporters, I am sure you would understand the reasons that kept me off my keyboard, but not off the screen. I was almost everywhere, except on my blog.

Now I need to blow the dust off, and just retrieve my favorite platform, my redemption.

I will take it easy for my resurgence post, so please bear with me.

"The simple bare necessities of life!" (Image from http://www.reelingreviews.com/ thejunglebook2.htm)

Following my last blog post, and as I was getting ready to re-adapt in Lebanon after being away for over five years, providence had decided otherwise.

I found myself packing my bags again and ready to go off to another adventure entitled: Istanbul.

The nature of my job in Turkey allowed me to fully immerse myself culturally. I even learned some Turkish words. Go figure! I was able to order from restaurants, negotiate  prices at markets and …well, greet people. I will write about this life-changing adventure in length. I won’t do it now, not yet.

Briefly, I presented a program about Turkish cuisine for a new TV channel that will broadcast for the Arab world.

One word that would perfectly capture this experience: it was a roller-coaster. I had absolutely no time to write on my blog then.

I am in Beirut now and I just want to savor the past and focus on my re-integration. I don’t want to be ranting, but I haven’t really had a smooth ride. Few days after my anticipated return, I fell while skiing and had a bad neck distortion that spun me into an existential crisis…of the ugly kind. Add to that some hallucination and long hours of sleep because of heavy medication. I could not read, write, cook, think.

For the first time in a very very long time, I was absolutely doing nothing. While this may seem delicious to some, everything looked so dark and miserable to me.

I was dealing with a serious injury and with transitioning into my life in Lebanon. I was not the same person. Everything about my life before leaving was very different. Now, I feel like a stranger to almost everything that was once familiar. Most of my friends are now married and/ or expecting. While I find this truly adorable, I definitely feel a social emptiness. I don’t have anything in common with most of the people around me. A harsh realization…but today I have chosen to embrace this divergence and celebrate it.

I have recovered from my neck injury, I am overdosing on Vitamin C however, to recover from a flue. A flue of the kind that blinds you when you sneeze. I almost had a car accident a couple of days ago because of a sneeze that filled my eyes with tears and made me lose control of the steering wheel. That was a really close call. So I decided to lock my self at home until I recover.

It will take time for me to feel that harmony in my life in Beirut especially with the many stomach-churning and frustrating things that happen on a daily basis.I will definitely have a say about those …

But for now, I feel positive and in love with life wherever that might be. I want to celebrate it.

And most importantly, I am just so happy to be writing again.

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In Lebanon, plastic surgery has become an intrinsic part of daily life. Some banks are introducing loans for plastic surgery, a clever move that has attracted many customers. Ads are now playing on the obsession with plastic surgery to boost the sales of whisky! Although there is no direct relation between physical appearance and consumption of spirits, marketers can simply use magic words that people connect with, or more likely words that characterize Lebanese customers: beauty, fabulousness and plastic surgery.

"Plastic Surgery made me fabulous...Live your way"...An ad on Achrafieh highway in Beirut (Photo by Carla Haibi)

In the above ad, plastic surgery as the only way to fabulousness is linked to living your life as you want it and whisky. Whatever the connection may be, it seems to be working…

All was calm and normal in the land where plastic surgery is used as a service in some travel packages…Until www.ANADiva.com, was launched. ANADiva, litterally means, I am a diva. A diva in this context is a woman with character, wit and a well defined identity. Through this online forum, Gwen Abou Jaoude, the founding diva and a friend wanted to tackle the issue of standardization of beauty in Lebanon. The website also aims at celebrating the beauty of the Lebanese woman and her identity.

As part of her awareness campaign she organized an event called “Be yourself or everyone else” this Sunday 20th of September 2009 at Gemmayze, the bar area in Beirut. Through this event, Abou Jaoude aimed at raising a red flag and at getting the debate started about an issue that has become a major social problem.

Using quirky installations, she booked one of the prominent bars in Gemmayze called Gem and a section of Saint Nicholas stairs that lead to it. The unusual set attracted a crowd of passers-by and media people despite the heavy rains that night.

I had the opportunity to write the concept of this campaign on flyers and the messages on the installations just because I really believe in pushing the envelope and providing an opportunity for a dialogue about the rapidly changing appearances of our society.

Finally, someone has dared to step in and make a statement not aimed at fighting plastic surgery per se, but rather aimed at questioning the obsession with it and its consequences on the identity of its heavy users. With most Lebanese women now looking alike thanks to the wonders of the knife and scalpel, the individuality of these women as well as their traits are lost and confused by increasingly high and unrealistic standards. Those standards are inspired by images promoted by media, images of plastic silhouettes and the glamour culture void of any emphasis on inner well-being or self-esteem.

Poster of the event (Photo by Carla Haibi)

As part of this special set, Abou jaoude installed a booth, she called the confidence booth where she invited people to go inside and have their pictures taken and enjoy a moment of fame where their self-confidence rather their concern with their appearance took over.

Black faceless models scattered on the stairs displaying messages of the negative consequences of an increasingly plastic culture (Photo by Carla Haibi)


Sewing machines set inside Gem Bar symbolized the mass-production of beauty in Lebanon where plastic surgery is increasingly sowing similar faces and bodies and crippling the society.

the confidence booth with the slogan “You are your own star… shine!” (Photo by Louma el Khoury)

Antique sewing machines on display at Gem (Photo by Carla Haibi)

Although this event was the first step towards a debate, Abou Jaoude has vowed that this will only be the start of a series of initiatives, the online forum ANADiva.com included, in order to promote critical thinking and preserve the true markers of the Lebanese beauty. Log on to the website to learn more and be part of the conversation.

A model trapped in a web in the ceiling symbolizing a crippled society by the loss of identity due to uniformity of beauty standards (Photo by Carla Haibi)

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