Monday, March 31, 2014
, in the airplane, one o'clock in the morning.
When I got pressed against the seat during take off I thought, 'This is my life,'
and I was happy although I continued thinking, 'even if I shit in my pants.'
We are still climbing into the air and I can look down on the brightly lit Istanbul. In one hour I will arrive in Beirut and in two I should be at the Palace, my residence this year.
I am drinking green tea - Kusmi Tea, Paris - in the guest apartment of the Palace. Although I brewed it too long, it still tastes fine. In the background they are drilling, like at almost every corner in Achrafieh, the central Christian neighborhood, through which I was walking for a coffee this morning - construction work everywhere. On the St. Nicolas stairs, which lead down to Gemmayzeh, another Christian neighborhood, the workers were greeting me in a very friendly way. And they must have been very friendly people, I think, because in their midst they had a birdcage with a budgie in it. 'They use the bird as their radio,' I thought.
The Palace is a real palace. It was constructed around 1870. Parts of the garden still date from that time. The guest apartment, in which Magda Mayas
and Tony Buck
are going to move in tomorrow, is the former apartment of Sharif Sehnaoui
, together with Mazen Kerbaj
, is the founder of the Irtijal Festival
and both play, together with Raed Yassin
, in the first improv band of Lebanon, the A-Trio
[Sehnaoui, guitar; Kerbaj, trumpet; Yassin, bass]. Sharif seems to me like the godfather of Lebanese experimental music. Everything that happens in this field, concerts, festivals, tours, labels, &c. - he knows about, he's part of it, as a musician or as an organizer, or just financially. He is the one who is dealing with the artists and the media. Sharif is the firm and reliable center of the Irtijal Festival. I am going to meet him during the day. We will give each other a hug and say, 'Beautiful, it's that time again,' and, 'Nice, that you came again to Beirut,' and 'Great, that so many friends are coming this year!' I got to know Sharif six or seven years ago. We talked for a long time in the already cleaned up kitchen of Jazzgalerie Nickelsdorf
during the 2007 festival, mostly about Paris and its music scene, because at that time he was still living there and still had long hair. Now he has short hair and a beard. I think, right now he's in the Irtijal office just across the street and is giving an interview for some newspaper or TV station about the festival. Nevertheless, it is very difficult to move people to engage with this music. Commercial stuff is much more popular. Like everywhere.
Mar Mikhael, Rue d'Armenie, Internazionale.
The bar looks like a renovated bar from the fifties. In fact, until two or three years ago, it was an abandoned garage. The owner of the bar had the furniture built exclusively for this place and added some vintage lamps and barstools. 'He could take his time with this place,'
told me Tony Elieh
, because he, I think, is earning enough money with his other bar on the same street down (or up?) in Gemmayzeh, the Torino Express. He is half German, half Lebanese and has a skull like a Greek statue. Last year I saw him once at the Torino and people were whispering into my ear, 'That's the boss.'
The Torino was some years ago the first bar in Gemmayzeh - small, dense and always full. Tiled floor in black and white, arcades above the brilliantly lit spirits, old wood, red lights, shiny glasses, loud music, napkins under the drinks - and served as a model for many other bars that were opened since then.
On my way back from Bourj Hammoud I met Charbel Haber
and Tony Elieh
standing in front of Internazionale, smoking. So I stayed. I had a good coffee and then another one and then some al-maza beers with Tony. Now they left and I am thinking about having another drink to accompany my writing. You always drink here. 'One glass of white wine,'
Tony and Charbel are two of the four members of the rock band Scrambled Eggs
(Malek Rizkallah, Fadi Tabbal) and, during the festival, they are working for the festival. He cannot live from his music, said Tony, his main occupation is being a photographer: 'food, fashion, architecture - that's good money and I'm free to go on tour.'
We ordered another round. He told me about Kdoudd Halabiya
, a Syrian musical tradition from Aleppo, and one of its main interpreters, Sabah Fakhry
, who can sing 16 hours through. Tony said that he finds it very sad, that he never visited Aleppo or Damascus before the war, 'I blame myself for this,' he said, 'because now it's too late.' And the war can spread to Lebanon any time. At the moment it is quiet because Assad is controlling the border and his enemies cannot cross it into Lebanon to attack Hisbollah or Iranian facilities. But the tensions are there. 'I hope, there won't be another civil war.'
His most dreadful memories date back to the years 1987 to '90, towards the end of the war, when he was between nine and eleven. 'You don't want to experience that.'
I noticed a nervousness sweeping through him; he cracked his fingers, sat up straight but didn't change the subject and went through it with concentration.
In the Internazionale they're playing jazzy funky cool bar music. Meanwhile night fell, the cars are rolling slowly through the street, and the gas-smoke is spiraling in front of the headlights, like cigarette smoke under a reading lamp. The counter and the bottles are mirrored in the large fifties-window. Most people left. Maybe they come back after diner. I'm going to leave as well.