I was sitting under the billboard of the assassinated Rafic Hariri in front of Mouawad’s Mana’ish stand — corner of Abdul Azziz and Makdesi Streets in Beirut, eating one of the cheesy man’ousheh he serves up with an angry face while glaring at the passersby. It comes back now. Traffic was gridlocked, so white- robed Saudis and girls in halter-tops were jay-walking together through the throbbing cars. But I was thinking about Madrid, 20 years ago, when that man came running downhill with the sledge hammer so fast the police had no chance to stop him. He jumped up on the hood of the parked car (it was his) and bashed in the windshield, then pivoted and bashed in the grill. A circle of spectators gathered, but the police stood aside, because they were still going to tow his car, with its banderilla of tickets, when he finished – this is Madrid 20 years ago!
What’s the connection ? No Beiruti would ever beat up his car: this is the capital of patched-up, repainted, duck-taped and tenderly used Mercedes-Benzes. But there is that sub-surface violence, and spectatorship. One event is editing my perception of the other, an experience I have here more and more. But before I can figure out why, a girl crosses toward me wearing gold shoes, pink tights and a Madonna bustier. On her arm is her mother in a black burka. All us guys sitting on the wall eating pizza stare. Mouawad stops sliding pizzas in and out of the oven. It’s okay to stare like a village hick. Half of these guys are virgins, but they won’t admit it. They have their arms over each others’ shoulders — habib, you have a problem with that? Read more