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Bombs and Botox in Beirut

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I didn't want to post this article in the news section, since it's not news about Mika, although his Beirut gig is mentioned.


It's about Beirut, about the contrast between the party atmosphere and the political struggles and thread of war. I found it to be quite the interesting read.


Original article here:






Bombs and Botox in Beirut


Here in Beirut, they love plastic surgery. They don't just love being beautiful and glamorous - though the city does have a shop that sells only gold shoes - they love the whole process of spending money to change your appearance. Beiruti hoydens go out in the evening with bandages still on their noses, to show the full-time people-watchers of Lebanon the status symbol that is having the money and leisure to make themselves even more beautiful. Older women, I am told, like to go away for a special holiday and come back all healed up. Banks here offer loans specifically for Botox or plastic surgery, which is getting cheaper. You could bounce a squash ball off the breasts at the private beaches. Surgery is a national obsession.


Now, there is something of a backlash. An exhibition of paintings has just opened, depicting women with their bandages still on, lips painted scarlet and a look on their faces that might be anything from haunted despair to indigestion. It has been received as an indictment of the shallowness of this national quest for physical perfection and the status of beauty.


Scratch a little deeper and it is not just that it is shallow for the Lebanese to be obsessed with their appearance. There is bewilderment at the morality of the rich and sociable being interested in beauty when there is so much horrific stuff happening around them. Can these people, the thinking goes, literally not see beyond the end of their noses? How can they expend so much time and effort on something so vain when, as earlier this week, there was a bus bomb in Tripoli? In May, civilians were dying in sectarian gunfights in Beirut. The violence was in Hamra, a louche and lovely party area. Within one day of the May violence dying down, the bars were open and the girls once again putting on the glitz. The mother and child who died in the violence seemingly forgotten.


The glamour pusses of downtown Beirut are the rich and lucky minority. But it is a Lebanese tendency to push aside troubles and focus on fun. Some see this as a national psychological defence mechanism. These people have endured decades of internal and external strife and they live in a country where sectarian rifts are getting deeper and, very likely, storing up trouble for the future. If they focused on what had happened and what was likely to happen, they couldn't cope. So, in Beirut at least, they go to the rooftop nightclubs or the road of bars in the beautiful, battered area of Gemmayze and make the most of the clubs that stay open no matter what the security situation.


Some are less charitable in their assessment of the mindset. “It's sick,” said a Lebanese friend bluntly. “They don't think about civilians dying, they just party, party, party.” The World Press Photo picture of the year prize in 2006 was given to an image of young beautiful Lebanese women, driving through a bombsite as if on a sightseeing tour, wrinkling their (perfect) noses. Other Lebanese friends said that in 2006, they heard people moan that the war had “ruined their summer”.


Sure, the young are vain and reprehensible, but I have sympathy with their desire to distract themselves from reality. Because, like everyone else who has come to Beirut in the summer, I am suffering from a dizzying crush on the place. And the hedonism of the gilded youth here is an indivisible part of its charm. Without the gold-shod girls and champagne-buying guys, the mixture of chaos and charm would not be nearly as intoxicating. No foreigner propping up a bar and enjoying the beautiful melting pot that is Beirut has any right to complain that the rich kids ignore the suffering and corruption.


And I am not the only foreigner sinking Lebanese rosé here this summer. The country is crawling with tourists, and all over the world you meet people whose eyes go all filmy if you mention sunrise on the Corniche. Beirut is a crazy, jewelled mosaic of the brand new and the bombed-out, of dust in the evenings and silhouetted palm trees in the morning. And the economy of this country needs tourism. While it is not a philanthropic urge that motivates Beirut's parties, the city's reputation for fun and the Lebanese reputation for charm and hospitality do attract visitors who support the many employees of hotels, shops and beaches.


So, if it is denial that fosters this charm, then it is hard to condemn it. A society that prizes artificial beauty seems superficial but it is a symptom of a coping mechanism that creates one of the most adorable cities in the world. In July, crowds gathered outside the memorial to Rafik Hariri, the prime minister assassinated three years ago. But they weren't commemorating him. They gathered in Martyrs' Square to listen to Mika, and the Anglo-Lebanese popster's slick melodies played to a euphoric crowd enjoying the zenith of one of the best Lebanese summers for years.


Because, really, what else can they do? Read up on Lebanon. This country has torn itself apart for ever; the differences are implacable. If everyone in the crowd watching Mika stopped, and sat, and started talking about their beliefs and about how to solve problems, they would probably come to blows. Everyone here has deeply held affiliations, inherited and totally incompatible with the views of their friends. Who can blame them for skirting around the issue and thinking instead about society, style and about how great they're going to look after their surgeon is finished with them?

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