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Probably not many of you will be familiar with the location in the photo! This is (was) Cine Vendôme in Mar Mkhael. The long stairs that take ages to climb will lead you up to Ashrafieh. The street pictured above leads to Electricité du Liban. I still remember the specific odors that used to come out of different parts of that long street. I even used to cross the street in some places to avoid the smells. I went back last September and the smells were not the same anymore.

There is a gas station down the street where I used to live. There was a black man there. I don't know what he did there and what he was there for. I was very little, maybe 2 or 3, I still remember, sometimes my mom and I used to see him on the street while taking a stroll, and he would come over and playfully tell me, come, let me take you with me. I used to look at him horrified and he used to laugh out loud. I and my sister used to call him "the black man". He was unique. At least in that part of town. He was a loner I suppose, don't know what he did, where he was from, or what really happened to him. He used to live in the building behind the gas station, a tall building that was hit by a huge shell. He might or might not have been killed during the war. I wish I could find out who he was and what his story was. He was from Africa. Perhaps from Uganda whose poor are being swept off the streets to make way for the commonwealth yada yada. Or from some other ignored, starving country which does not seem to be blessed with Biblical references of first comings and predictions for second comings. The rich eat kaviar and the poor don't eat.

The movie theatre went out of service some 8-9 years ago. In the last few years of its existence, I and a few of my friends (all boys, by the way. The girls were busy fixing themselves up bla make-up bla skirt bla shoes bla bla bla) were its only source of income. First it was 5,000 L.L ($3.something) for a Friday afternoon movie; then the price went down to 3,000 L.L ($2). It was like reserving a private movie theatre. Just the 4 of us. We used to go there every Friday afternoon, after school. They had all the 'cool' movies so it was convenient. Those were the days indeed.

Then there was "the street girl". She was not homeless, but that was the nickname she had somehow 'deserved' according to locals. She was always roaming the streets, always hanging out with boys. People used to let go of their imaginations and come up with stories about her. It was fascinating, I tell you. Do your homework, do you want to end up like the street girl?

I hated going to the doctor to get my immunizations. One summer day, my parents told me, we are taking your sister to get the shots, why don't you come with us? I was playing with our neighbor's daughter, so I said I didn't want to go. Yes no yes no, you will continue playing when you get back, no, yes. Why do I have to come with you? No reason. Okay. Damnit, how did they manage to fool me.

There was no water in those days. We needed to fill up gallons, and we lived on the top floor of the building. The gallons were huge, and there was no elevator. A pulley was installed in the stairwell. The water-filling was a collective process. Who would've thought something as basic as water acquisition could turn into such a 'fun' activity? Two men on the destination floors, the rest downstairs. Ready? Pull!

Stepping on a banana peel and slipping does not happen only in cartoons. One day on my way home from school, passing by a grocery store, I stepped on a banana peel and whooooooooooosh, I slipped. I didn't know what hit me, or how I got up. I remember my face was burning with embarrassment. I looked around to see if anyone had seen me, then ran home. As they say, blame Canada Syria.

I was someone's 'lifesaver'. In grade 1. A boy had forgotten to bring his sports attire for the phys ed period that day and he needed a notice from his parents to be exempt from that day's phys ed class. Having an abusive jerk of a phys ed teacher, he was quite scared for his life. Someone came up with the idea that we should write a letter and pretend it was from his parents. Being famous for my excellent handwriting (yes, even in grade 1), I was chosen without having any say in whether I wanted to do it or not. After yes no yes no yes no, I thought what the hell, I will write it for the poor boy. I wrote the letter and quite happy with our achievement we folded it and gave it to the boy... Phys ed period. The teacher asks the boy, why aren't you dressed? He says, I have a letter from home. He gives the letter. A few seconds. All eyes are fixed on the teacher. He walks to the boy and asks him, did you write this letter? The boy starts crying, no no I did not, it was someone else. Who was it? He didn't say. He orders us to line up side by side. He says, if you don't tell me who it was you will run around this court 100 times. No one opens his/her mouth. Bad threat. He tries a second time, if you don't tell me who it was, I will find out and then I will send you all to the principal and you will be kicked out of school. Silence. He is walking in front of us one by one. In retrospect, I felt like I was in boot camp. What the hell. Then a boy broke down, he was standing next to me, he said, it was her, she wrote it! It was the worst feeling, a feeling of nakedness in front of the whole world. Exposed. Betrayed. He walked up to me, picked me up, carried me to some high platform and sat me on it. You thought you could fool me? I didn't reply. I was too shocked to say anything. I managed to steal a glance at the 'traitor' boy. He shot me a blank glance. The teacher was yelling at me bla bla bla I don't know what, and all of a sudden he slapped me twice. I felt like my jaw was no longer part of my body. My eyes watered, not because I was going to cry, but because of the force of the slap. I couldn't see in front of me. The 'poor boy' was spared any punishment. That was the whole point, wasn't it? All the teachers found out what had happened. One of the teachers who adored me came to me later in the day and wanted to talk but I refused to talk to anyone. I was too angry, embarrassed, and felt really stupid. He slapped me. And goddamnit, I didn't return the slap.

In the first year of kindergarten, I hated everyone and wouldn't talk to them. In the second year, I wouldn't shut up. In the third year, I wouldn't sit down. I would get up and start wandering around in class while the teacher was explaining something. Sit down. No, I want to watch the hamsters and fish. Much more interesting than learning addition and subtraction.

In the third year of kindergarten, at age 5, I learned the true difference between a 'boy' and a 'girl'. No, really. Don't laugh at me. I opened the main door of the restroom to enter the girls' room, and to my luck the door to the boys' room was open. I didn't even need to peek in, I just saw. I went home and told everyone that one of the boys had 'something'. At first I had thought it was just him. Then they told me, all the boys have it. I am surprised I did not say anything foolish in front of anyone before going home. Close call.

When we moved, our new neighbours had two sons our age. In the summers we used to play football (soccer), the three of us. They used to call me to go down and play with them. Then, one day, they were playing downstairs and didn't call me. I waited and waited, and they didn't call me. The next day I went down to play, and called them to come down and play with me, they said they couldn't. Why? Our mom said she doesn't want us to play with girls. FUCK OFF. That was the last time I talked to either of them. I used to go down and play alone, first playing football 'with the wall', then basketball. Whenever I was downstairs they used to secretly watch me from the balcony. If they had played with me they would have 'turned' gay. Their mom is a genius. Somebody hurry up and nominate her for the Nobel Prize.

In the days of the civil war, we used to go down to a 'shelter'. It was not really a shelter. One of the buildings just happened to have an underground storage place, and it was better than sitting like shooting ducks in a building that had sustained at least 10 direct hits. One day, the bombardments started. They were at first rather remote, so my mom hurriedly set the table for me and my sister to eat before running off to the 'shelter'. That day she had prepared mjaddra. With mjaddra she always used to make cucumber-tomato-onion-only salad. No lettuce etc. That day she had prepared 'regular' salad, not the usual salad that goes with mjaddra. I started whining, why haven't you made that other salad? I want that salad, not this one, I'm not gonna eat until you make the other one, etc. My mom got pissed off. She said, listen to me, either you eat right this minute or you go off to the shelter with an empty stomach for the whole day. Needless to say, I didn't eat. They say the donkey is notorious for its stubbornness. Not as notorious as I am. The cops I fought against know that. How can they forget it.

I used to wake up every morning to the music of Sawt Lbnan (Voice of Lebanon) radio station and the famous 'ding dong' sound, after which there would be a news broadcast. There even used to be 'predictions' or 'news' about whether 'they' intended to bombard any location that day. The war against civilians was systematic. Still is.

I remember, there was bread shortage for a very long time. At the time we had some ingredients at home, so we baked bread on saj. We used to moisten the bread with water, add some cheese, wrap it, and eat it.
At the gas station there used to be huge line-ups, and people fighting each other about who should fill up first. To avoid the long line-ups we used to take empty water bottles and sneak in between the cars and ask for a fill-up. A kid asking for a gas fill-up. Who could seriously refuse?

The Dawra gas tanks explosion. A day I will never forget. It was in March 1989, and we were at home as we were on vacation, and we were still asleep, me and my sister. All of a sudden my cousin ran in, woke us up, said, hurry look out the window. She opened the window and there, in the sky, there was a huge red 'thing'. All of a sudden there was a huge explosion. The whole place shook. The window glasses were shattered. Even the eggs in the fridge were cracked. Such bravery. I mean, geez, they are gas tanks, they can grow arms and legs and hold a AK-47 and fight. You didn't know that?

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posted by Angry Anarchist @ 2/22/2007 12:05:00 AM,


At February 24, 2007 at 4:13 AM, Anonymous H said...

:) and :(
you brought back so many memories.

At February 25, 2007 at 3:25 PM, Blogger Angry Anarchist said...

Hey H, care to share those memories? :)

At February 26, 2007 at 11:14 PM, Anonymous CR said...

Ah, such memories!

-I know those stairs from Vendome, up to Ashrafieh Armenian School. We thought they'd never end.

-I had my share of filling the gallons with water and carrying them up the stairs during the war.

-Was that PE teacher Mr. h----?

-I remember that news jingle of Sawt Libnan. Indeed they were the best source of information.

-When the Dawra gas tanks exploded, we, the kids of the town were playing "raquet" on the streets, when suddenly all the glasses were shattered and came down upon us. Thank God no one was hurt.

-Another thing that I remember is the first earthquake that I have experienced in my life. It was in the morning, we were awake preparing for the school party, when suddenly the building started to shake. What an experience!

At February 26, 2007 at 11:37 PM, Blogger Angry Anarchist said...

Hey CR ;)
Yes it was Mr. "H" the jerk....

I remember the 1st earthquake I experienced. It was on an evening and the power was off, we were sitting on candlelight and the place started shaking!


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