Peace graffiti & beach clubs

Two small episodes from Life in Beirut under the current circumstances:

Scene 1:

Circulating between the three or four bars still operating in Gemmayzeh on saturday night (both Hamra and Monnot being out of the circulation for obvious reasons). Contrary to the previous few days, the lone open bars are packed to the brim with people tentatively celebrating the lull in the fighting (in Beirut at least) and the slightly promising understanding between HA and the government that had just been announced. At some point, I team up with some young kids going out onto the street to spray graffiti representing, or meant to represent, a peace message. It consists of the slogan ‘Power of the Underground’, positioned above three stylized men with bandanas on their faces, each holding up a peace sign in a circle in one hand stretched above their head. Only, when not sprayed very carefully, they can easily be mistaken for three bearded man throwing bombs… Everybody is tipsy and the whole operation is carried out without much care for discretion, so predictably, after three or four spraying sessions, two of the police that are always stationed on Gemmayzeh arrive and want to know what the fuzz is all about. The girl who’s doing the actual spraying puts on her sweetest smile and explains it is an action for peace in Lebanon. ‘Peace in Lebanon? What the f*** are you talking about, are you nuts? Can’t you see what’s going on?’ ‘Yeah, we know, but what can we do? Stay in our homes, watching sectarian scare-mongering channels on TV and be brainwashed and afraid, like everybody else? At least we go out and try to do something constructive, you know, it’s not like we’re shooting RPG’s at each other…’ By this time the cops are broadly smiling, touched by the innocent naiveté and presumably happy there is still some left in the country, and it ends up with them posing for a picture in front of the police van, in uniform carrying their guns, on either side of the girl who is holding the spraycan, while the cops are holding up the template in front of her… Well, they couldn’t very well arrest some kids for spraying graffiti while standing by idly while militiamen kill each other, destroy houses and take over entire town quarters, I suppose…

Scene 2:
It is sunday afternoon and like many people, still in the optimistic mood of the previous night and hoping the clashes were dying down, a friend and I decide to hit the beach to relax and forget the stress and tensions of the previous days. We are trying to get to Sour (Tyr), where I have a friend I haven’t seen in a long time. After about an hour trying to get out of Beirut from the south end, we realize that the only way is to drive up the mountains to Alay and south from there, as all other roads are either blocked by earth mounds and big chunks of concrete or closed off by the army. We finally decide not to bother and instead to go north to Batroun, where there is a beach popular with the Torino crowd. Half an hour later, after an entirely problem-free ride (well, not counting the habitual maniacal driving habits prevalent in this country), we are lying in the hot sun at what is essentially a small beach club, sipping an ice-cold Almaza beer, enjoying a swim in the cool waters of the Mediterranean and listening to Manu Chao and Pink Martini – it’s basically a Gemmayzeh bar, relocated regulars and all to a beach. After about an hour I start getting text messages on my phone from the emergency alert service I am subscribed to (along with many others on the beach), telling us about heavy fighting around Aley and Choueyfat, smack on the road we were supposed to have taken to go south. Welcome back to reality…

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