Memory Erased – Bye Bye Beirut

The name of my project was called ‘Crossing Borders – From Beirut to Bethlehem’ – conceived to highlight the difficulties and changes travelling from Beirut to Damascus, then from Amman to the West Bank across the ‘bridge’. There were no real sponsors apart from myself which allowed me to change the style of the blog from chronicling historical facts for the purposes of journalism to scribbling down events that led me across the Levant in a ‘rolling stone’ manner. The beauty of the trip was that there was no definite plan. This provided the freedom to help out the refugees in Sabra and Chatila one day and then get paid to take photos in some swanky Atelier in Beirut where the champagne flowed and the canapés of finger food passed between Christian-Laboutin-heeled-mademoiselles. I took up the assignment of taking a few snaps of this exclusive New Years’ Party while drinking red wine at Café de Prague in Hamra, Beirut, this was because the red wine was cheaper than coffee. Try explaining that to your boss at 8am on a Monday morning. I was still recovering from my recent abduction in Tripoli (see above). I remembered being hammered away with the same questions until my head cracked. I clearly remember, the chill down my spine and the fatigue in my legs as I was passed from one flat-footed soldier to another, or a hoodie, or a man that resembled an old school teacher I once had. There was no way a Tarablous jail could render me obsolete for the challenge of Crossing Borders. Borders could mean between countries, areas within a town etcetera or one’s own physical borders. On New Year’s, I was guilty of the latter, but I was the infringee not the infringer – or so I thought. I was commissioned to take a few pictures of some upper-crust faces of Beirut and serve a few shots of liquor – my role transformed into providing tray loads of it, while the crowd of party shifted into more decadent behaviour such as cross-dressing and burlesque dancing on a pole which appeared in the middle of our neon and candle-lit dining room. One of the attendees asked me where ‘I could buy cigarettes’ – I suggested the shop opposite and was promptly given a $100 bill before I had the chance to give directions.

I was now running errands like a haaris or security guard in a block of flats and being tipped generously. I came back to the party to see the fruits of my liquor lubricate the loins of my guests. The middle-aged couples had left and muscular gay men were parading around drinking nothing but Virgin Screw Drivers – this is not what I imagined. I hoped I could spend the grande finale of my Two Thousand and Thirteen in the company of a few friends. ‘Fuck it’ I thought, I’m getting paid $300 to stand around with a camera. One of the ladies old enough to be my mother acquiesced to further replenishment of her champagne flute. I told her I would ‘look after her’ – what was I thinking? How could I look after such an inebriated woman. Moments later she launched a snog at me in front of all the guests. I’m not a big kisser, and I’m not into all this hanky-panky when greeting friends but she already tipped me generously for buying her cigarettes and I thought this was merely a token of appreciation as I turned my face to the side in anticipation for triple-cheek-bashing frenzy in line with Lebanese tradition. God that was embarrassing! Okay carry on serving shots. Guests were slumped on the side too wasted to party and I had to extinguish their thirst with copious amounts of water in case I got done-in for Involuntary Manslaughter as a result of alcohol poisoning. I already sent alarm bells ringing when one lady inquired what the shots contained. I did not have a clue because I did not mix the concoction of nauseatingly sweet mandarin-tasting booze – I told her it ‘contained LSD’ and we all laughed it off. I’m glad it didn’t. I was promptly escorted into one of the studios filled with brand new Macs and a snake. Yes – there was a ‘poisonous snake in the coffee table’, the French man warned me. He was about my age but he had the advantage of dating a rich woman.

“Errr, ‘ow much?”, the French man asked me.

“That’s three-hundred dollars as agreed”.

“Voila monsieur, but one moment, while we upload and erase your memory card”, he added while his workers carefully sifted through pictures of Byzantine ruins with a few snap-shots of daily Lebanese life.

This was done to protect the identities of my subjects, potentially high-profile maybe. I didn’t care anymore, I was being ejected from the party. I sat there socially marginalized with my old leather jacket on – a friendless purveyor of booze and cigarettes. The same old lady that tried to snog me asked where I was going;

“Off to the next party”, I replied.

“So early, you said you would look after me!”, she said.

The weight of responsibility fell heavy on my shoulders for a moment. I took my partially deleted memory card. It was if they had tried to manipulate my own memory. I was a humble servant on the way back to Hamra – back to where I left off – only with a pocket full of cash and completely exhausted. I slumped onto a bar stool and tried to be social with a longtime friend, but I was barely intelligible. What was so special about New Years I thought, apart from getting paid at a premium? Forget pitching work in the first few days of January, just admire your new Ottoman Castle, do the things you want to do because everyone else is on holiday, let’s face it. I spent my first night in my new Maronite residence in Mar Mikhail. Welcome to Kat’aib territory, Christmas trees and my new client – an English-learning student, family man and director of a shipping and clearing company.

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