I wasn’t born here, dear Lebanon. I’ve never lived here. But I certainly do have Lebanese blood running through my veins. I also have an infinite love for your cuisine, landscapes and, surprisingly, I even enjoy the happy mess that you are.
There are only about a million reasons why you got me complaining about you, starting with the plane ride that takes me here every year.
That when I decide to fly with your national airline. And since I’m Lebanese and proud, I basically always do.
The hostesses give more attention to their nail polish that they do about whether I’d like an other glass of water, but the joy of soon be landing back “home” is big enough to leave me with a dry mouth and an itchy throat.
Then there’s the arrival in Beirut, your electric capital, that is both entertaining and a bit ridiculous. I may have not clapped in my hands for a pilot’s ability to land his plane in 20 years – or understandably never have- but I always get ready to do so on Middle East Airlines. Truly, it would be quite rude if I didn’t.
People have turned on their phones and unfastened their seat belt since we were flying above Cyprus- but well – they need to make sure they will be the first ones getting off, rushing to baggage claim and find their family members who’ve been waiting for a while – all year- in the arrivals hall- that is packed like a Hermes sample sale at its opening.
Now you, Beirut. You’re beautiful. I love you despite your unbearable summer humidty and interesting-disturbing smell. You and I always have fun together. Whether it is for a drink at a trendy bar in Mar Mikhael, a lunch buffet at Tawlet, a walk by the sea at Zeytouna Bay, a tour of your recently renovated Sursock museum or a shopping spree at ABC.
I don’t even know you this well. I spend the clearest of my time up North in my tiny village surrounded by the mountains where a haircut costs an unbeatable 6 dollars.
But Beirut you’re glamorous, attractive. I visit you every now and then. More, lately. More since you’ve been developing and spreading your wings towards a new chapter of your history. Today you’re more modern and dynamic that you’ve been in a long time. Maybe not more fabulous that you’ve ever been- I heard you were quite a thing before I was even born. Before you had to carry the shadow of a war that would never really end.
But you never gave up. You kept rising back from your ashes. You’re not easily destroyable. Better yet, you never cease to grow and improve. I used to be surprised if a table of foreigners were sitting next to me in one of your cafes. If I’d have to be surprised now, I’d probably get tired of it. English, American, Italian, French…I’ve seen them all walking in the streets of your buzzing neighborhood of Gemmayzé, some even with backpacks on their shoulders, probably on the hunt for new adventures. Something that they have never experienced before.
We don’t go around your streets with a bus or a metro. Nor by feet. We hop on a cab or brave our fears and rent a car. We’re not only stuffing ourselves with hummous and chawarma – well we have to – but there are only so many international options that are available for our taste buds to enjoy. Also we’re not going to keep our brushing intact when we party on your rooftops. Humidity does us wrong. But the party is the one of a lifetime.
What I came to discover this year is an other paradoxical aspect of yours. Your fashion scene. From an Elie Saab fully-glitters-covered pink dress, you are now capable of an avant-garde straw fringe and linen jacket. What happened to you? Well I took a guess. From the best schools of New-York, London, Florence, Milan or Paris, you have welcomed back an impressive crowd of daring, fearless new designers who take a lot of pride in breaking out to the world as Made in Lebanon.
Lara Khoury, Sandra Mansour, Sara Melki, Urban Sense by Cynthia Chabat, Poise by Emma Boutros, Mira Hayek, Krikor Jabotian, Rami Kadi, Dina Khalifé and more. I met with a few of them, truly captivated by their stories – which you can read about in the first issue of JDEED next Spring-. They made me happy and they make the young and less young people of Lebanon happy. The pioneers that are –yet again- Elie Saab and Rabih Kayrouz are both caring about the future of fashion in Lebanon. Through initiatives such as the opening of a fashion design program at the Lebanese American University in collaboration with London College of Fashion or the Starch Foundation that supports the establishment of new Lebanese Fashion labels, the future holds great promises.
We have had enough of the clichés. Enough of being summed up with three reductive words – Food, War and Cedar. You are more than this, Us Lebanese are more than this. Through JDEED I hope to open people’s eyes. Through JDEED I hope to make them want to come and love you.
Words & Photography by Cynthia Jreige