Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Competition

21.The Competition (25 December 2018)

Only in Lebanon – a crèche alongside a mosque and a church, and
most of the visitors were non-Christians. (23 Dec. 2018 – Beirut)
            We finally made it back to the gym, after a two-month hiatus. And after almost getting t-boned in the first minute we were in the taxi, on our early-morning trip to the health club, our driver reassured us with a comment akin to what so many other drivers insist on: people in Lebanon, even at 6 a.m., don’t know how to drive properly. Yet every driver seems to say the same thing about every other driver. So, I’ve decided to look at the positive side: really, all of them want better behavior on the road. I can only hope that they’ll “be the solution” they’re looking for.
            Something else the driver said caught our attention. After complimenting Armenia on the amount of snow it gets (he was Arab), he expressed how happy he was for the rain here in Lebanon. Most people aren’t happy; they only complain about the inconvenience the rain brings to their daily routine, or their leaky roofs, or the country’s infrastructure. All real concerns, but not the only issues at play. When a rainstorm clears, or after days of rain, we look out our window in the hopes of seeing more snow on the mountains. Our driver, with his positive outlook on precipitation, beseeched God (because that is how you express yourself here) to send us at least 3 meters of snow, so that we would not have another dry summer without adequate water supply. Amen to that.
Let it snow! More accumulation on the mountains, and more on
the way. (21 Dec. 2018 – Beirut)
            We’ve attended a couple of concerts in recent days, which is another positive change for Maria and me. Much as we would love to have our full energy and attention devoted nearly 24/7 to our jobs (we wouldn’t actually love that, but that’s the conclusion you might draw from observing us), we have been making a little time for ourselves to enjoy some of what Beirut has to offer. We got to see an Armenian children’s choir, as well as a youth chamber ensemble. Admittedly, it’s difficult for the conductors to make music pleasing to the audience’s ear, but I am greatly appreciative of those children and youth who make the time for practicing and mastering their parts.
            Despite what people say or feel, time is not speeding up; it’s just that there is more competition for the existing amount of time. I find myself saying, “I don’t have time!” too often in the course of the day. What I should be saying is, “I can only focus on a limited amount of things, but I am lousy at saying ‘No’.” Or when I say “Yes” to so many things, I should add “and I don’t care about the quality of what I do” to be completely honest. 
            Going back to those recent concerts I attended: I can either be focused on the performance and let the designated videographers and photographers do their job, or I can sort-of listen while taking photos and videos of the concert. Which is what a lot of people do. When looking towards the stage and trying to enter into the musical moment, the view of the performers inevitably includes several glowing screens, quadrupling my viewing experience, I guess. At one concert I noticed the woman in the row in front of me reviewing a video she had just taken of the children’s choir… while the choir was still singing. To say that audiences need training in how to be an audience goes hand-in-hand with saying that people (myself included) need to be content with doing fewer things.
Choose whether you want to watch it live, or on somebody’s
screen. (22 Dec. 2018 – Beirut)
            It is incredibly quiet today – no car horns, no traffic, no people. It feels so unlike Beirut. Even the sound from a nearby minaret seemed quieter than usual. But that’s how Christmas is here. Everyone is at home, or away in their villages. Weeks ago local television stations geared up for the holiday, with their snowman- and Santa Claus-themed station IDs, including the sounds of jingling jingle-bells. A thoroughly American-style Christmas, right here in the Middle East. While this presents an incongruity with local cultural customs, or rather replaces them, it poses a different question for Armenians, who celebrate “Christmas” differently, and on a different date: Why bother being different?
Sunday School Christmas pageant, last day of Sunday School
before “Western” Christmas (23 Dec. 2018 –
Geitawi/Ashrafieh, Beirut)
            I have heard more than a few Armenians (and others) saying essentially that Armenians should “get with it” and celebrate Christmas the same date as “everyone else”; it’s said to be something “inevitable”, we just have to “face reality”. I’ve wondered about what is behind this drive to conform to the majority, and convince other Armenians to do so as well. Is it an aftershock emanating from the Genocide of a century ago, a “death wish” from a nearly-annihilated people who see no sense in continuing the struggle to exist? It is prevalent in so many areas of our individual and collective life. Here’s an example: Armenians typing messages in Armenian but using the English alphabet, and in two different dialects at that, without thought as to how this contributes to the decline (and perhaps the death) of the language. The standard used is “What’s the easiest?”, instead of “What’s the best – in the long run?” That’s without getting into the whole topic of “What does God want? Why did he help some of us survive?”
LebCat 20: Jazzcat hanging out behind the Blue Note Café
(2 Sep. 2017 – Beirut)
            In the best Armenian tradition, we don’t make Santa Claus compete with Jesus. Called “Gaghant Baba” by Western Armenians (“Father Calendar/Time”) or “Tzəmer Babi” for Eastern Armenians (“Father Winter”), the dancing, gift-bearing fellow makes his appearance to Armenian children on the last night of the year. Children (and sometimes willing adults!) recite a poem in Armenian, or sing or dance for him, and then he unloads his treasures and departs. Then, six days into the New Year, the focus is fully on Jesus, his appearance as a baby at his birth, as well as his appearance at his baptism as an adult. It’s a time for worship and proclaiming the best news the world has ever heard. Although it's not, if this were a competition based on the merits of how best to observe Christmas, the Armenian custom of January 6 wins hands-down. But if it’s just a popularity contest, well . .  .   [LNB]