Beirut Bloopers

SOAPY MADRAS

Hi there! I know, I know, it’s been ages, don’t look at me like that, no I haven’t lost weight, I’ve just got a healthy glow and an empowering new hair cut. The truth is, a lot has been happening really. I left my last job (it was pretty much a case of, ‘Don’t let the door hit you on the way out’ and sure enough I practically ran through it) and I’ve started a job where people don’t regard me as if I’ve got tentacles sprouting out of my face; I’ve been to Jordan and back; and my mum and her vast collection of sun-hats have been to visit.

In fact, so much has been happening to interrupt the flow of our irksomely Mediterranean lifestyle that I’ve actually been incredibly anxious of late. This is going to make me sound like a total square, but I’ve got to admit that I don’t deal with stress very well, and changes in routine tend to play havoc with my sleeping patterns—I’ve dealt with insomnia on-off for eight years or so, and anyone who similarly suffers from it will know what a pain in the arse it is having to regularly turn up to work feeling so tired the skin on your face feels like a papier-maché mask. It makes me wonder how I ever dealt with (or will deal with in the future) a city like London, which is so hectic it’s like you’re living in one those time-lapse movies like in the Spice Girls’ ’2 Become 1′ video, you know, when the fawn pops up unexpectedly at the end.

However, as its residents well-know, and occasionally react upon in a fashion that makes the headlines, Beirut itself can be a rage-making, stress-exacerbating city. Last year, for example, I had cooked dinner for everyone one Friday, a spicy, pungent curry, and inexplicably given solely myself food poisoning. I spent the following night lying naked on the bathroom floor being sick and shitting lava repeatedly, and then had to get up the next morning to go on a weekend-long hiking trip. Anyway I returned the following Monday, ready to clean the house and be a Real Person again. The power cut that ensued as I walked through the door was badly timed in a manner that you’d attribute to simple hard luck, and was infuriating enough, but I’m a grafter, so I lit a couple of candles and began to wash up. Then suddenly the drain gurgled raucously and began spewing curry water up, completely flooding the kitchen. It was there, stood in the dark, ankle-deep in a soapy Madras that a sigh turned to a shriek and I rang my landlord and shouted furiously in English even though he couldn’t understand any of it. That’s what we call having a ‘Beirut moment’.

A lot of my rage this year, though, seems to have been to do with traffic, being sat in endless traffic jams, the unholy, daily chorus of car horns which serves as my morning alarm rather than my actual alarm. Basically, the Lebanese fucking love their cars. Whenever I used to go to yoga at my local studio and you got to that cosy bit of the end when they switch the lights and the music off it would always sound like there was a car pile-up going on outside. I’ve tried googling whether traffic anxiety is a thing, and it is apparently, only generally for actual motorists and I don’t have a driving licence. Aside from that, I’ve been trying to identify what else it is that’s been making me edgy. And do you know, I’m not even safe in bed, which was built by an amateur carpenter. Instead of slats it’s got these massive sheets of MDF under which you strategically place these kind of wooden crosses, which then see-saws about underneath the mattress in a dramatic, seismic manner whenever you move.

I consider one of my worst character traits as my impatience; something I thought the inefficiency of a slowcoach city like Beirut, where even walking in a straight line is difficult, would quell by putting things in perspective. Instead, as time has gone on, I feel I’ve become less tolerant and am permanently in a state of being about to snap, in the traffic on the way to work, when my bed is being miserable, or when I’m sat in the dark waiting for the power to come back on using these weird glowy objet thing my aunt gave me for Christmas to navigate myself around the apartment. So I’ve tried to address the things I believed were stressing me out, and performed a feng shui attack on my room and bought a bicycle so I wouldn’t have to sit in traffic any more. But funnily enough the thing that made me feel better in the end was going out and getting shitfaced drunk, so now I’m a firm believer in the idea that drinking is basically yoga for hedonists. Onwards and upwards with in a gin in hand, I reckon.

@jphov

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY

People keep sending me similar blogs to Annoying Travel Bird but as tempting as it is to continue hurling super-sized portions of scorn in that direction, I’m a bit concerned about becoming a sort of Mary Whitehouse for the blogosphere, so I thought it best to steer clear. But I haven’t blogged in ages because I’m trying this new thing where I’m not massively indiscreet about everything in my life and as a result haven’t been able to think of anything interesting to write. I could talk about the ‘situation’ in the ‘region’ which seems to be ramping up quite a lot with bombs going off at an alarming frequency. But I’ve got an incredibly hazy picture of what’s happening politically in Lebanon, a sort of blurry watercolour, let’s say, and since it doesn’t affect my day-to-day life much, if at all, it would be both disingenuous and pointless of me to try to provide any sort of commentary. Still though, it was totally weird and bleak driving past one of the bombsites the other day. I’ve started to dream of bombs. Last year I had a dream about chemical weapons but it also featured the Sugababes which I think is probably a reasonable indication of how my brain is wired.

My ex-boss and friend Stefan did send me the link to this beautifully written article called ‘What Happens When You Live Abroad’, though, and given that in four days I’ll have been away for one whole year, I’d like to consider it, in a non-sweary-outburst way. The article is an honest appraisal of the life of an expat, and while I haven’t been away long enough to feel split down the middle like that writer does, it does capture what it’s like to be rootless. Unlike the baffling pseudo-positivity of the Girl Who Travels, parts of it are palpably wistful, and though it might strike anyone sat back in London cursing my irritatingly sun-spilled Instagram feed as surprising, they’re the bits that resonated with me most. It’s the “life has gone on without you” bit. When you boil it down it’s basically talking about FOMO; in fact it’s coming to terms with the fact that it’s worse than FOMO, you’re actually MO. The MO I’m referring to falls into two distinct categories: your friends and family, and your career. With my last couple of posts I became the momentary crusader for people with regular, 9-to-5 desk jobs back home but the irony, which eluded the shitheads in the comments section crowing that I was ‘jealous’ and ‘bitter’, is that I’m so far off any sense of stability myself. I’ve been doing a whole lot of enviable stuff, I guess, but I can’t get rid of the deeply ingrained feeling that I’m falling behind in terms of ‘normal’ expectations. People back home are in serious relationships, moving in together, talking mortgages, making serious headway with their careers. Jesus, a guy I used to be best mates with just won a bloody Brit award. I’m getting greedy. I want it all, at once. The Brit award too.

Another thing I found interesting in the article was this: ‘While it’s enormously refreshing and exhilarating to feel like you can be anyone you want to be and come without the baggage of your past, you realize just how much of “you” was based more on geographic location than anything else.’ It’s taken the cataclysmic social fail of my last job to make me realise what I’ve got to offer in both social and professional situations that I’ve had to separate from the “me” that feels very much tied up in London; the necessity to find, and if not to find, then invent, common ground with people who exist in a Venn galactically far away from my own. Somebody told me before I moved out here that I would learn a lot about myself, and while I scoffed at that due to an instinctive inclination to resist anything that might be construed as naff (we always give Stephanie grief when she says anything that we perceive to be ‘earnest’, which according to our bogside read ‘Watching the English’ is typically, well, English) I’ll admit that it’s turned out to be true in that my capacity for self-reliance was news to me. And this is totally naff, but ultimately, moving away has given me a much stronger sense of self. Plus I know like 30 words in Arabic now.

Anyway, #introspectivemoment over now, and the blog should return to its normal, misanthropic form. After all, it hasn’t rained all winter, so we’re about to condemned to hell for the duration of the summer. Ask me again about my sense of self come August.

@jphov

A SKIP FULL OF TOILETS

It might not have been translated into 20 different languages, but my previous post ended up going viral—so I’m a bit annoyed I wrote it so quickly and wasn’t more systematic about decimating the original blog, but the trackpad on my Mac was being a nightmare and so I was unable to edit properly and was drinking a glass of wine and shouting, ‘Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!’ at the computer, and simultaneously trying to help my flatmate move a king-sized bed into our apartment. But it’s out there now, and seems to have resonated with a large number of people who understood that the big problem with it, of course, was that for something that purported to be about open-mindedness, it was actually embarrassingly narrow-minded. It’s a narcissism that’s endemic amongst travellers, particularly those ‘travellers’ whose horizons pretty much only extend as far as the glorious white stretches of sand in South and South East Asia. Don’t get me wrong, Sri Lanka was the tits. Goa was a riot. But let’s not forget that when it comes to choosing the destination for one’s character-building, life-affirming experience that she was being so worthy about, it’s pretty telling that having a nice time at the beach seems to be the top of most people’s lists. If you’re so eager to let everyone know that your eyes are open, chances are, they’re probably not.

The irony of all this, of course, is that this is actually a travel blog. I just moan so much it’s become a kind of anti-travel blog, describing incidents such as on the weekend, when we took a 200-meter-long cable car ride over over a litter-strewn brook and a skip full of toilets. But seriously, as somebody who’s seeing a bit of the world myself right now, and is having a fantastic time doing so, I found the concept of somebody doing the same and actively seeking to make others feel bad about NOT doing it, really extraordinary. I could tell you that I also went to go see some incredible caves at the weekend (grand, atmospheric, Lord-of-the-Rings-y); that Lebanon’s stunningly beautiful in places, that I’ve had a totally mega year, or that a month in Sri Lanka blew my socks off. That’s all true, and feed me a mountain of gak and I might start chewing your ear off about it. But really, I’m an abrasive, cynical bastard, and I don’t think people need that naff stuff rammed down their throats. So to conclude, this whole affair, I do think that to be able to see the world is an incredible thing. But if you do, don’t then be a dick about it afterwards.

(One more thing, though: the stats on WordPress let you see who’s viewing what and where, and amongst a huge variety of countries, I saw it got read by a few people in Peru. I was really enjoying imagining some wanker in a hostel wearing a Navajo print knitted poncho reading it and getting all rowdy.)

@jphov

GIRLS WHO TRAVEL CAN FUCK RIGHT OFF

I usually write my blog posts during the day when I’m at work pretending to work but I’ve got home after shopping in the supermarket feeling REALLY riled about this post that’s inexplicably gone viral so it’s either blog in my free unpaid time or repeatedly stab myself in the face with one of the blunt serrated knives in the kitchen. It’s called ‘Don’t date a girl who travels‘. and it’s already spawned a whole host of identikit blogs, presumably by the same people that have pictures of flowers overlaid with an inspirational quote as their cover photo on Facebook.

The long and short of it is that the ‘Don’t’ is meant to be massively ironic because it’s basically saying that this girl is such a beautiful free spirit that of course any man is going to want to put it in her. Example: ‘Don’t date a girl who travels. She is hard to please. The usual dinner-movie date at the mall will suck the life out of her. Her soul craves for new experiences and adventures. She will be unimpressed with your new car and your expensive watch. She would rather climb a rock or jump out of an airplane than hear you brag about it.’ So you see the format, negative is secretly a positive, ISN’T IT CLEVER. But it isn’t the same as reverse psychology. She ACTUALLY doesn’t want you to date her. Why? Because you’re boring and she isn’t. You can tell because she’s got unkempt hair and awful skin and giving a shit about your appearance is SO WESTERN and not the sort of thing that worldly people care about.

Throughout, it’s trumpeting this incredibly hackneyed, rudimentary, idiotic, immature, judgemental, sanctimonious presupposition of what people who travel are like and what people who don’t travel are like. It goes on: ‘Chances are, she can’t hold a steady job. Or she’s probably daydreaming about quitting. She doesn’t want to keep working her ass off for someone else’s dream. She has her own and is working towards it. She is a freelancer. She makes money from designing, writing, photography or something that requires creativity and imagination. Don’t waste her time complaining about your boring job.’ OH FUCK OFF. JUST FUCK RIGHT OFF. I’m a creative, and it’s all I’ve ever craved to do professionally. But funnily enough, I’ve been doing the travelling thing and holding down a desk job for a year now. Career and travel are not mutually exclusive lifestyles. And anyway, people are different. It’s kind of what makes the world great. My friends who are bankers, lawyers, weird suit jobs I’ll never understand, I both love and embrace you. I’d love to make the sort of money you do, I’m just not brainy or hard-working enough to do it.

It reaches the zenith of smugness with ‘Don’t date a girl who travels. She might have wasted her college degree and switched careers entirely. She is now a dive instructor or a yoga teacher.’ HOW AMAZING AND INTERESTING OF HER TO WASTE HER RICH PARENTS’ MONEY. CONGRATULATIONS FOR CHOOSING THESE UNCLICHÉD AND ALTRUISTIC LIFE PATHS. After this it reaches an unexpected anticlimax with ‘But she has learned that the most important thing in life isn’t surfing,’ which I think is meant to be a pathetic attempt at giving the rest of it gravitas but of course it just acts as another klaxon to what a moron this chick really is.

The lack of self-awareness in the blog post would have shocked me if I hadn’t encountered some of these people in real life. Everyone knows that travellers are some of the most deluded sorts out there. When I went to Goa a couple of years ago we went up to a Banyan tree one day. As we approached there was a white girl with dreadlocks playing a whittled flute who probably went to Downe House or something and we shot her a dirty look. Anyway we sat at the tree and talked loudly about Facebook and Hollyoaks. My sister once met somebody in India who refused to tell her where he was from, only that he was from ‘the now’. Jesus. He needs to get it together, big-style.

I wonder if the ghastly, over-privileged hag responsible for this pollutant is aware that most people in the world don’t enjoy the luxury of travel because unfortunately for them, they can’t afford to. Or because of their shitty passports. The Lebanese are one example. Boys, she’s telling you not to date her, and tell you what, I would listen to her. Let’s face it, she’s selfish, she’ll max out your credit card buying flights (I actually read something in Grazia about financial emotional abuse in relationships the other day) and she’ll bore everyone to tears talking about foggy-sounding ‘global issues’, probably when she’s not telling everybody that Shantaram is the seminal book of the 20th century. She should have just written, ‘Don’t date a girl who travels because she’s an insufferable cunt who needs to sort her terrible skin out.’ Free spirits can kiss my arse.

@jphov

EDIT: I’m going to stop approving comments from people who haven’t bothered to check out my ‘About Me‘ page. Gosh, you might even take a moment to ponder the title of the blog.

APARTMENT HUNTING IN BEIRUT

Just before Christmas we moved into a new apartment. Basically it’s fucking great and we’re obsessed with it. Before arriving in Beirut, I spent most of my time feeling anxious about not finding work but as it happens, two jobs pretty much fell into my lap one after the other out here—it was the flat-hunting that was the hard part, and I’m currently on my fourth apartment. Back in London I  would envision myself drinking mint tea on an expansive balcony surveying a glorious view of the city, but what with the influx of Syrians (who now make up a quarter of the population) that hasn’t been easy to come by. And generally, wherever you live, or at least everywhere I’ve lived, there’s always something weird about it. This one, for instance, despite being a palace of dreams, has a window-less kitchen with a really low ceiling like that floor-between-floors in Being John Malkovich, and balcony so narrow that we have to sit in a line on it canoe-style, one behind the other.

Pip and Oliver put me up for two weeks when I first arrived, and I slept on a camp bed behind a plastic curtain in their kitchen. My habit of hanging my clothes on the curtain rope earned it the dubious nickname ‘The Favela’. I kept clothes in the food cupboard and lined up my toiletries on the windowsill. I’m pretty certain Lenny the dog used to sleep in my bed during the day and she would sexually harass me when I was naked after a shower. When it was flagged to some of the ‘expat community’ that there was a new boy in town in need of lodging, somebody joked that there was a cat lady who lived with her rasta son next door. Somehow, I actually ended up in there for a month. The cat lady was called Sonia: she was really old but had perfect English, and I’m a bit sad that I never really got to find out her story and why she ended up wearing nothing but velour pyjamas all day long with a cigarette permanently dangling from her greying lips. The house itself was really ghastly and squat-like—I suspect the kitchen hadn’t been cleaned in years, so I ate out for a month, before finding another apartment the day before next month’s rent was due. I disappeared overnight without ever saying goodbye to poor old Sonia, or even Zalfa the cat, a jolly creature who used to furiously leap around the furniture without touching the floor.

The next was in a large, airy apartment without any furniture in in Mar Mikhael, where I briefly became immersed in the thriving Lebanese lesbian (Lebsian?) community in Beirut thanks to befriending my gay American-Palestinian flatmate. I managed to flood the whole thing on my first night there by leaving the water running into the manual ‘Campomatic’ washing machine. I woke up at 5am with my mattress surrounded by water and spent the next four hours sweeping it out onto the balcony. Dan moved into it when he arrived and his room an actual hole in the wall. Before Christmas there was an unexpected power cut (I say unexpected without sarcasm as normally they are timed) and we sat in the dark around a candle on a crate all wearing lots of layers and it felt a bit like we were vagrants. After three months I moved out of that place as I quit my job and the rent was quite expensive, and the next place, well, if you’ve been following this blog you’ll know the woeful story. Freaky drawings on the wall. Love letters and diaries. No water for weeks. Shudder. I feel a paralysing draught of fear every time I walk past it.

When I made the decision to move away I had started to get very comfortable in London, spending my money on grown-up items like arty linen and furnishings. By moving out here it’s like I’ve slammed the brakes down and reversed in the other direction. That’s the thing with living out here—it’s almost like camping sometimes. You don’t want to spend money on making your house cosy as you know you’re only here temporarily. Since I’m such a rampant materialist this has been quite difficult for me; it’s as if I’m having to suppress an innate, primordial part of myself. My main weekend activity in London was shopping, especially junk shops and car boot sales. Here there’s a weekend market called Souk el Ahad which I still haven’t been to, although I think it’s less murano glass and Singer sewing machines and more packets of gross Chiclets gum and abused monkeys imprisoned in tiny cages. Sadface. So to get to the point, it’s a real relief to be living somewhere comfortable at long last. After last year’s hot water debacle the universe has thrown us a bone and we’ve got solar panel heaters which means we could quite literally be swimming in the stuff by the summer. God, water’s the best, isn’t it?

TOTAL DISASTER WEEKEND

I stopped blogging in the second half of December because I started to find everything going on with the apartment genuinely pretty unbearable, the comedy value ceased to be, and Christmas at home provided some much-needed escapism. Aside from that, I was a little concerned that the blog was becoming nothing but a litany of complaints, but a travel blog about good stuff happening is something nobody wants to read: sunsets, spiritual experiences, magical old men with white beards imparting crinkly wisdom. Blah blah blah. I’m completely on board with schadenfreude. At any rate I’ve decided that thematically I’m channelling the crankiness of an 18th century satirist. If bad/weird things didn’t happen then Jonathan Swift wouldn’t have much to write about. It’s just as well, then, that I had a Total Disaster Weekend. Like a movie with an avant-garde chronological structure, I’ll start at the end of the story. It’s 7am, and I’m desperately hammering on Oliver and Pip (Oliver’s girlfriend, who gets her first mention on the blog because she’s been off in India being a yogic slag for three months)’s buzzer. I haven’t been to sleep yet, and I’ve lost EVERYTHING. Wallet, iPhone, shitty nugget Nokia phone, house keys, irreplaceable Alexander McQueen jacket.

Let’s do the flashback to where it all started. I’d gone to the local terrible gay club, the hilariously monikered ‘Posh’ with my friend Philip. You pay twenty bucks for an open bar, and the alcohol is poisonous. As a result it’s a Bacchic frenzy accompanied by piss-poor house music, and like most gay clubs, it’s cosmically grim. (On a side note, I do find it extraordinary that from one country to another, gay clubs are totally interchangeable. If it’s a gay man’s genes to be gay, it’s demonstrably in a gay man’s genes to dance to fucking awful music. You wonder what gay people who live in the world’s most remote tribes do. Maybe on Fridays they have a jungle gathering and somebody drums a trashy-sounding beat and they bosh a load of funky jungle berries and give each other handjobs. #Otherness)

I vaguely remember the world starting to dissolve around me and so I wisely took myself off home, unwisely getting into a cab with three strangers who probably were aghast at the state of me. Upon arriving back in my home neighbourhood of Geitawi, I realised I’d walked out without my jacket, and consequently the only thing I had on me was a box of Marlboro Lights and a packet of miniature pretzels. The only thing to do was turn around and head straight back to the club. The next TWO HOURS were spent driving around in the middle of nowhere trying to locate this club where we’d just been, because the taxi driver couldn’t remember and neither could I. The combination of being blind drunk, not knowing where I was, not being able to communicate with the driver, and the prospect of having lost all my essential stuff sent me over somewhat of an emotional precipice and I totally lost my shit in the back of the cab. I’ve never heard my own voice sound so shrill. It was daylight by the time we gave up and I turned up at Pip and Oliver’s door, incoherently babbling before passing out spooning Lenny the dog.

Everyone loses stuff; I went through a period in London where I lost four debit cards in the space of about six months and by the end I knew all the staff in the Covent Garden Natwest by name. Last August I spent a month in Sri Lanka travelling alone and at points I became acutely aware that I had only myself to rely on. It can be frightening, sometimes, especially when like me, you make some bad decisions.  Pip and Oliver have observed that I have a ‘daily drama,’ and I’m loathe to admit that they’re right but I fear they probably are. Philip later described me as ‘beautifully chaotic’ which is all very nice and everything because it makes me feel sexy, like I’m a rock star or an opium-addled Romantic poet or Marissa Cooper in The OC but let’s not euphemise it; I’m a right old state and I need to sort it out. I don’t want to be Disaster Friend John. Listen up, Beirut: you can take away my running water and electricity but you’ll never get inside my head.

WATCHING THE ENGLISH

Let’s talk about queuing, an activity frequently and mirthfully dubbed a kind of English societal backbone. ‘The English love to queue,’ somebody is bound to say during a conversation on the subject of Englishness as evidence of our quaintness. We don’t ‘love’ to queue, you wanker, we’re not masochists. We’ve just got manners, and manners are sexy.

Last week I went to General Security and it’s where you go to have a shit time. It’s also where you extend your tourist visa, and I was there on Monday for three hours, queuing alongside lots of Syrians, and Lebanese with their doomed maids being led around looking dead behind the eyes. Anyway as a British person here queuing, you’re going to get done over if you don’t play dirty, because the Lebanese take no prisoners. It’s like they somehow all develop tunnel vision at exactly the same time. I was throwing serious shade at an ancient lady in a gold turban who creaked in at the front, presumably on account of her being tiny and frail thinking everyone was fine with it. Sing me a new one some time, sweetheart. Get to the back. Worse—UNBELIEVABLY—a nun, an actual fucking NUN pushed in front of me. I hope she burns in hell. That nun is at the root of all of Lebanon’s problems if you ask me. Afterwards I got into work and had a rant about it, but then was told off by my colleagues because the Lebanese passport was recently ranked in the top ten worst in the world so I didn’t have much cause for complaint. Fair do’s, probably.

There’s quite a perceptive account of queuing in this book called ‘Watching the English’ that we keep in our toilet that explains all the rules. Other than that, though, I despise everything else that’s in that book. The writer, a social anthropologist called Kate Fox, posits that the English have a ‘social disease’, and astutely observes that we like DIY at the weekends and talking about the weather and that we are ‘the most repressed and inhibited people on earth.’ She also says that the English are terrible dressers and that eccentricity is a form of conformity, with the only genuine eccentric to exist being the Queen because she dresses in block colour suits. Basically she spends a lot of the book trying to be erudite and charming but ends up coming off like an annoying cunt instead.  Yuck. When we run out of loo roll we tear out pages and wipe our arses with it.

DAY TWELVE WITHOUT WATER

Never in my life have I wanted it to rain so much. The irony of having moved from England, where the sky shits it down beyond the telling of it, to sunnier climes, cruelly smarts. I try to vary the subject matter of each blog but the water shortage is the nightmare that keeps on giving, so think of this as a sequel to my previous post. Stephanie and I have moved past misery to a kind of insanity. If and when the water comes back we’ll probably discover that we won’t be able to deal with having it, a bit like those people that spend so long in prison that they can’t function in the outside world.

Although in truth, we do actually have bits of cold water here and there. This morning there was even some in the shower. I managed to lather up one armpit before it ran out and the soap suds congealed on my torso. Today there is dry skin crusting in my moustache. I brushed my teeth in the bathroom of my Arabic school last week, and we’ve basically been eating out or ordering in the whole time so there’s no washing up to do. It’s almost like we’re Carrie Bradshaw, if Carrie had to brush her teeth in the Vogue toilets. Frankly, I am desperate to get back to London for Christmas, so I can luxuriate for two weeks and treat my parents’ house like a bloody hotel. I probably won’t even hug them upon arrival, I’ll rush past them and wrap my arms around their water tank instead. I’m going to leave the taps running wherever I go, just because I can. I’m also going to shower so much people will think that I’ve become obsessive compulsive. Three square showers a day. And baths for dessert. I’m going to spend the whole of Christmas Day in the shower. Boxing Day in the bath. Bath. Shower. Taps. Water. Water. Drip drop. Water.

Big up to my friends who are becoming accustomed to us turning up on their doorsteps with towels over our shoulders, wordlessly gesturing us towards the bathroom. I got chatting to a taxi driver the other day, and I told him about our situation, and he spent the ten minutes that followed trying to persuade me to come shower at his house which was quite weird, but maybe he’s an option I should be considering. He gave me his phone number.

THIS IS A BIG BLOODY MOAN

We haven’t had water for a week. I’m at work, and I haven’t showered or brushed my teeth. It’s like being a dirty stop-out in my own home. Even the deodorant (which Dan refers to as ‘shower in a can’) that I have is shit—it’s from Nivea Men Middle East and I belligerently shamed them on their Facebook page, telling them that it made me smell like river sewage. Our washing machine has been broken for two months and our landlord, the bodybuilding Bernard, is ignoring all of our calls. In short, beauty and hygiene standards have hit a crushing low in Ovansworld. This morning Stephanie and I were stood stony-faced on the freeway, cursing everything about Lebanon, which isn’t particularly unusual but there was the mutual sense that we really meant it this time. I slept miserably last night and today I’m totally ready to trade in my Character-Building Life Experience. My character’s been built, it’s architecturally primed, let’s not OVERbuild it, who knows what might happen?

The most common question an expat gets asked by a Lebanese young person out here is the incredulous, ‘Why did you come to this country?’ While we’re mostly having a fabulous time, I certainly find myself ruminating on it when I’m lugging my laundry back and forth from Oliver’s apartment or pouring bottled water over my head to trick my body into thinking it’s had a shower. You know, though, I can blame Lebanon until I’m blue in the face but the fact remains that amidst such utilities-centric bedlam, I can barely keep it together. I’ve lost my phone twice. I haven’t had my hair cut since July and it’s starting to look like a straw-coloured scouring pad. I don’t have a bank account and I keep my money in a cardboard star above my bed. I’m the air-head problem student in my Arabic class, and I’m rubbish at my job. And we could actually pay somebody to come round and fill up our tank, we’re just not doing it because we’re not sure how and we’re not bothering to find out. There are moments where you feel totally out of control, just sort of careering in a consequence-free existence, in the knowledge that it’s not going to last forever, so you kind of may as well do it until it gets old.

On the plus side, my work is steadily improving, even though everyone still talks in Arabic the whole time. While much of my day still resembles one of those silent meditation retreats in India, my crippling awkwardness has mostly subsided and now I just get really bored and am slowly becoming devoid of all personality. When I return home people will think I’ve been lobotomised.

HORSE RACES, GAK, AND GAY BARS

On Sunday it was Latest Beirut Recruit Roman’s birthday, and we spent it at the races in an area called Mataf. A man with a moustache, tinted glasses and a hairy ear benignly allowed us into first class, which peculiarly looked exactly like second class except a bit worse, but it was a nice sentiment at any rate. I put a bet on a horse called ‘Who Is This?’ and won 15 thousand Lebanese pounds (about seven quid). The clientele solely consisted of old men in totally boss outfits; these ’70s-style suits accessorised with large sunhats and aviators, like nicotine-stained versions of Gilbert and George. I can’t wait to be an old man so I can go out wearing a bright green suit with weird shoes or a weird hat just because I feel like it. Incidentally, since we’re talking fashion, a friend of mine has come up with a good game which is called, ‘Syrian Day Labourer…. Or Hipster?’ except it’s not really a game because they’re always Syrian day labourers.

The night before we had been to Bardo, Beirut’s premiere gay bar, in Hamra. I had dragged everybody along in a limp effort to become more involved in the gay scene. I’ve never been very good with other gay people; I used to superciliously reason to myself that it was because I too much of an ‘individual’ but then realised it’s actually because I feel threatened, like some sort of solitary creature who cannot exist in the company of its own species, such as a jaguar, giant anteater, or Japanese hare. Having said that, I know more gay people than I ever did in London here, although inevitably in a country in which homosexuality is illegal, on paper at least, dating’s different. I’ve actually ‘dated’ very few guys since arriving. One was right at the beginning; I had been here for about three weeks and he was pretty fit apart from a couple of really dodgy Renaissance art tattoos. He actually wanted to date rather than just fuck (an anomaly, in retrospect) but because I’d just arrived I wanted to be a free bird and slag it up for a bit. So I did what anyone would do and ignored all of his messages until he went away. After that I had plenty of meaningless sex with guys who didn’t even stay the night afterwards because they’d all go home to their parents (no, they’re not children, lots of the Lebanese tend to live with their parents until they get married). They’re not even one-night stands, they’re half-night stands. Three-hour stands. Jesus. Renaissance tattoo guy, touché, the joke’s on me. I don’t imagine I’m going to end up in a relationship out here, but I’ve certainly had some insightful experiences which I’m not going to share, because I don’t really want my mum to read them. Hi Mum!

The night at Bardo culminated in me shouting, ‘HAS ANYONE GOT ANY GAK?’ at anybody who’d listen while Dan and Stephanie both danced to the Macarena for the full three-and-a-half minutes, watched by an audience of gawping Lebanese gay men. Bardo is alright, I guess, but I suppose the best thing about it is that it’s able to exist at all, you know, ‘in the region’. I think it’s meant to be upmarket, but I tend to prefer places with some degenerate charm. In London, of course, you’re ostensibly spoiled for choice for that sort of thing. You’ve got pubs like The George and Dragon, which has an animatronic horse head mounted on the wall, miserable, petrol station-style toilets, and fucking great, obscure pop music. Falling out of a Vietnamese restaurant on Kingsland Road and into that place used to be one of my favourite things to do on a Friday night; you can drink Guinness and dance to Annie or Chaka Khan. My favourite club ever, though, was the sadly defunct Ghetto off Tottenham Court Road. We used to go every Wednesday during university holidays. We’d take pills and end up wearing face paint and talking to weirdos in Soho Square at 4am. Once a homeless guy offered us crack. Halcyon days, I reckon.

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