La Neige Était Sale -The beginning-


To read Simenon in his native language; to grasp his world, to indulge in every word he carefully selects, to capture his elusive characters is, without a doubt, to be privileged.

This book, “La Neige Etait Sale” (In English, Dirty Snow) is supposedly his best. Perhaps.

I’m only at the 22nd page and already feel the need to write something about them.

The story, I don’t care much about it to be honest, starts with Frank losing his virginity. Nothing sexual; it’s the first time he kills, not commits murder. Simenon differentiates between the two. (In Maigret et le Tueur, he highlights this distinction). The opening sentence reads: “Sans un événement fortuit, le geste de Frank Friedmaier, cette nuit-là, n’aurait eu qu’une importance relative.” Knowing Simenon beforehand, one assumes that this act could only mean killing; and it sounds alarming; taking another human’s life does not represent much of a significance to Frank. But Simenon is rarely harsh on his protagonists, possibly because he lives with them this short time span writing the novel.

We can only guess why Frank does what he does or thinks the way he thinks; Simenon generously distributes question marks when defining his characters: “Est-ce parce qu’il était à l’affût que cela a fait figure d’occasion?” […] “Alors pourquoi toussa-t-il juste au moment ou l’homme allait atteindre l’impasse?” […] “Est-ce à cause de Sissy, la fille de Holst?”

But I daresay that it’s because of these questions, because of so many “cela etait sans aucune importance” that one enjoys his books… Because this protagonist is not a murderer, he is not a calculating psychopath, his psychological portrait is open to interpretation; Simenon’s characters do not fit a pre-defined classification; after all they are people whom he sees in cafés, strolling down sidewalks, strangers he briefly encounters. These everyday beings, he transports them into his world, and proceeds with his social and psychological experimentation. (As much as writing allows experimentation)

Moving a couple of pages along, Frank starts making some sense to us, not because of a psychological elaboration; rather we begin by sensing this relation that develops between an individual and a surrounding society. This relationship is paradoxical; it feels as if Frank is dependent on it, yet at the same time he wants to detach himself, he wants to demonstrate his indifference towards it; this is perfectly reasonable in Simenoian world: being part of this society was not Frank’s choice. It was imposed on him, not in the negative sense, no; simply, as a matter-of-fact.

For the moment, I content myself with this short introduction, transcribing below, what I consider to be, Simenon at his best.

“Il les obligeait presque à manger. Il mangeait avec elles. Il les pelotaient devant tout le monde. Il regardait ses doigts mouillés et il riait. Puis, régulièrement, un moment venait où il débouclait son ceinturon et le posait sur la table.

À ce ceinturon, il y avait un étui contenant un revolver à répétition.

En soi, tout cela était sans importance.”

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Deleted, against my wish…


This post was originally published here, on my WordPress blog

I never thought I would have to do this, but I took it out… After I initially promoted it on twitter and facebook, I had to delete the corresponding tweets and posts, but objected to the removal of the post altogether. Eventually, I had to take it off; living among friends and family, and not expecting much from the local readers aside bigotry, ignorance and violence, I succumbed and changed its visibility to private. 

I re-post the Tumblr link below, as a possibility for me to link WordPress to it, without the corresponding political tags, without the possibility of promoting it on other social media; Tumblr apparently is not as popular as WordPress is in Lebanon, and so, quite inconspicuously, I attempt to face-up to the bigot system one more time.

Here goes… (I took out the names, for obvious reasons)

What does a Lebanese think?

Habemus Papam


Habemus Papam, latin for “We have a Pope” is Nanni Moretti’s last work and my first encounter with his.
It opens on an atmosphere of expectation appropriately registered in the grandeur of wide-angles. With this kind of movies the frame of discussion is delicate, not because the subject matter is inaccessible, but because of the context it carries, and all the symbolism it is laden with, tinting each person’s perspective in significantly varying manners.
Having said that, the scene that follows the procession of the marching cardinals admonishing, to a succession of saints’ names, to “pray for us”is quite funny and disturbing to me. I hope the comical part is universally shared, though it is the apparent futility of such recitals, that presages the succeeding events.
This extended scene of the cardinals in procession to the Conclave to elect the Pope is splendidly cinematographic; it is one of those techniques that perfectly befits movies. To assist to this “Saint X, pray for us”for one minute,  and then as an alternating echo fading in and out over a journalist’s commentary for around 4 minutes, is captivating and I hope would not elicit a “fhemna” or “uff” from my fellow compadres. I love such long, focused, sequences (wish I knew the technical term); though they do appear extended, in fact they feel compact, for they carry a lot; those static images compel us to think and ask questions in a matter of minutes, that, in a novel for instance, would require hundreds of pages and digressions, and so, I hope to see more of them in current films.
As anyone who was brought up in the Christian faith or in a Christian environment, at one point, we have certainly asked ourselves the purpose of such repetitions. For the annoyingly inquisitive, I am almost certain, such questions induce some skepticism. There are quite a few esoteric numbers in the Christian faith: 3, for obvious reasons, 5 (on average) the number of times one must repeat “Our Father” and “Ave Maria”after repenting, 7, the number of Churches one must visit on the Thursday of the Holy Week, 9, the Neuvaine, and, last, 10 times reciting “Ave Maria” for one part of the Rosary (imagine that a full one will require 50 “Ave Maria”!).
What adds humor to this scene, though it could pass unnoticed, is when the orator recites: “All the saints and the prophets”and the procession to echo in unison: “pray for us”and then the saints’ names are recited again! This is typical in a Catholic or a Catholic-affiliated mass or ceremony.
This persistence in prayer bothers me; it is a material ritualization of an abstraction. It solidifies a parasitic relation between an earthly institution and its mortal members; and I insist on this term, mortal, for the Church, in turning the faithfuls to parroting machinists, cares only about their mortal facet.
Why would a faithful incessantly, monotonously, and meaninglessly recite to a Creator whom the Church teaches is all ears and love for His creation? Why would a faithful invoke so many mediators, when the faithful has an open line with the Creator?
Should a Christian, or more precisely, a Catholic, go back to the Source, the Scriptures, one need only pray “Our Father”and that is it. It is clearly stated.
This interminable repetitiveness from a mass of people to the cries of an orator confirms a cultural colonialism Christendom is responsible of; it clearly reflects the pagan infiltrations to the Christian prayers, turned rituals, that helped spread the new religion, increase its base, establish a hierarchy, thereby metamorphosing what should have been a metaphysical religion into an earthly institution.  As such, it is not without intent that the opening scenes of the film unfold to a succession of wide-angle shots of the Vatican and the Conclave.
To conclude, I go back to the movie, to which I’m grateful for this digression in thought, without it being restricted to the initiated, “Habemus Papam” has its own twists,  is rich in symbolism (I think of the elected Pope in the train), does not take the cheap turn of parody or irony, and delivers a powerful message, accentuated, in my opinion, before the end credits.

Beirut Hotel and Language


It’s intensive work to start a new post, but I suppose it won’t be my only one, so I will start with a local movie that generated quite the buzz online, Beyrouth Hotel directed by Danielle Arbid.

The movie was banned in this country, for political reasons or moral ones, no one is quite certain, and this ban overexcited people who saved the screening date, when it was announced that the French-Dutch channel ARTE will be showing it.

Seconds after the movie was over, it got heavily bashed online from intellectuals, to pseudo-directors, to plain ordinary people (myself included), so much apparently, that the director herself had to clarify that the polarization created by the ban, was the reason people felt disappointed with this movie. I can relate to the reasons behind much of the criticism; maybe people felt 2 hours of their time were lost, others by the free promotion a mediocre movie received, and still others discussed the plot, the portrayal of the main female character (Zoha), or the political insinuations.

All this is fine, but what surprised me were the comments I read which made fun of the Zoha’s dialect and language. Since she expresses herself in French with her lover, and given that she is a singer at hotel bar and comes from an average Beiruti background, realistically it makes sense that, most definitely, she has an accent, cannot instinctively enunciate, and fails with basic grammar rules. Instead of taking this part of her character as a well-spotted attention from the director, the online Lebanese community, grabs it as another opportunity to bash.

In my opinion, this focus on language, has nothing to do with the movie, but it says a lot about our mentality. It feels as if, with so much self-criticism that we daily produce, with this constant questioning that we have of our value as Lebanese, of our contribution to progress, the frequent comparison we draw against other countries (always skewed to the negative on our side), what remains is our solid “education”; an education whose strength lies with the three languages that we are taught, and which we “fluently” (at least that’s how every Lebanese CV shows it) express. Most probably a remnant of pre-war Lebanon, our command of a foreign language (namely French) represented an additional border separating people in this country; in other words, it conferred them superiority over non-speakers.

The sad sight one is confronted with is of those francophone Lebanese who, faced by a growing usage of English, virtually everywhere, commit the most ridiculous and tragically comic language blunders… One has to sign-in to Facebook to indulge in the most unintelligible writing. Yet, quite strangely, I find that wherever I find myself, someone is emailing me pictures of spelling mistakes of funny signs in Syria, or Saudi Arabia or Egypt; I, incessantly, listen to people making fun of a foreign worker mispronouncing some brand’s name, when a minute later that same person, in this ridiculous jumbling of tongues that we so proudly “manage”, utters something absolutely unintelligible that I am forced to ask, what do you mean? In a popular satirical social show on TV, Ma fi Metlo, one skit is called Mr. Loughat, and people find it quite funny! I do hope they are sharp enough to realize this show makes fun of each and everyone of them (myself included).

I do not intend my first post to be patronizing, God knows this post, and this blog, will be riddled with English mistakes, but I do hope that we humble ourselves and accept our shortcomings. Even if this last, seemingly fortified, bastion where we are holding ground is struck, I do hope that we consider it no more than a warning bell.

Perhaps my angle on Hotel Beirut has nothing to do with the movie itself, or maybe it does; it certainly is quite a narrow angle, and one that is most probably better developed in other movies, but at least it provided me with something to think about.

Why the movie was banned