Wednesday, February 28, 2018


13.Eyescrapers (27 February 2018)
Fifties-vintage (abandoned) Perla Hotel, dwarfed
by tens-vintage skyscraper (9 Feb. 2018 – Ain
Mreisse, Beirut)
            There is no single country that has a monopoly on unplanned, tasteless, meaningless growth, expansion, and “sprawl”. Before we left the Philadelphia area there was a fair amount of public protest about some church-owned property being sold to a developer, who would turn a wooded area, home to wildlife, creeks and impromptu footpaths into a housing and shopping area with a huge supermarket. I don’t know if the buyers were able to push forward with their plan since then. Popular protests notwithstanding, eventually, I suppose, money will have the last word.
            Here in Lebanon, however, money has the first word. Whether digging up open land or tearing down existing buildings, residents here feel powerless to stop the onslaught of “improvements” to their environment. The coastline is expanded by landfill after landfill, in flagrant violation of international conservation efforts. Pristine areas in the mountains formerly open to skiers become gated communities with private security standing guard and unheard-of amenities for the privileged. Stretch after stretch of shoreline is taken over by hotel and resort companies, turning public beaches into members-only areas. Open space, at such a premium in Beirut, goes unprotected and one by one those lots are excavated for yet another eyesore/skyscraper. An eyescraper. Your balcony or window view ends up being another building, much like it is for those living in Manhattan. If you can afford the top floors in the newly-built highrise, you get to see the sea. Otherwise, all you get is a concrete wall.
Rocks tossed from the bed of the old train tracks, making way for
yet another new highrise (23 Feb. 2018 – Khalil Bedawi, Beirut)
            Certainly, the same was probably said about the “old” highrises back in the fifties. But the necessary balance of green space versus buildings, well known to city planners and psychologists for the mental well-being of its residents, is so dramatically slanted towards buildings, you begin to wonder how people can so blithely trade their humanity for money. There is a wordplay in Armenian that says it well: “When you read ‘man’ (in its generic sense) backwards, i.e. ‘mart/մարդ’, man becomes ‘money’, i.e. ‘tram/դրամ’.
A newly-opened café in a renovated three-storey building…
with an electronic sign visible from low Earth orbit. (24 Feb.
2018 – Geitawi, Beirut)
            Billboards are another genre of eyescrapers. The electric kind, that is. Advertising companies seem to be in competition with each other as to which of them can disturb as many people as possible. There are billboards located a 7 km (4.5 mile) distance from us whose brightness shines inside our apartment. Some of these eyescrapers are placed on narrow streets in the capital, shining their gaudiness throughout the night into apartments only a few tens of meters away. They pop up virtually overnight, turning the usual sidewalk to street to sidewalk obstacle course into a master-level challenge worthy of a TV game show.
Armenian Evangelical CHS dance ensemble performing at the
annual Christian Endeavor banquet. (25 Feb. 2018 – Nor Marash)
            Yet, I suppose all of this pales in comparison to the hand-held eyescrapers, the data-collection devices we naively call “ours”, which we find ourselves unable to part with for any significant amount of time. They deliver anything from praise songs to pornography to anyone from child to elder; they amazingly connect people throughout the world without regard to time zones or circadian rhythms. But what they drain from us is something that we need in order to function as human beings created in God’s image: the ability to be quiet and reflect on one’s mortality; the ability to care for those dear to us in a meaningful, personal way; the ability to act with courage and conviction no matter who is watching – or “like”-ing. And that touches the reality of the whole world today, not just Lebanon.
            Sure, I’m criticizing the donkey I’m riding on, and it may just decide to kick me off its back. But jumping (or falling) off might turn my eye to attend to things I can do to make a difference in my world.
Armiss Choir at their second rehearsal at Emmanuel Church.
(25 Feb. 2018 – Nor Amanos)
            Last April I put aside my Arabic lessons because my schedule got “too busy”, or as a friend named it, I lapsed back into “workaholism”. Now I want to restart my lessons, but the school I attended doesn’t have a class at my level (fairly basic) at the beginning of the day. Why go to language class first thing in the morning? Because Maria and I have started going to a gym three times a week. What a relief, and an answer to prayer! A local hotel has a pool shallow enough for Maria to exercise in, and enough treadmills, exercise bicycles, etc., for me to sweat on. Happy times!
LebCat 12: If you tied a stick to it, wouldn't it
look like one of those ostrich feather dusters
taxi drivers keep in their trunks? (22 Mar.
2017 – Beirut)
            And the happiness continues… A couple of weeks ago I began holding rehearsals for the Armenian Evangelical “Armiss” Choir, in preparation for singing during the Armenian Missionary Association’s Centennial Worship Service in June. Over 30 singers have shown up so far, young and old, and I’m hoping that number will go up in the coming weeks. It’s a joy for the singers to be making music together, a joy for me to train them, and a joy for the Armenian community to have another choir to enrich the cultural life here. This I am doing in addition to leading the choir at the Near East School of Theology. And in addition to helping organize Haigazian University’s Music Club concert. And aside from preparing to present a lecture in March (in Armenian) about Bach’s St. John Passion. Workaholism? Not when you’re having fun doing it, right?   [LNB]