Sketches from Beirut

“I am a mere question mark on the map of this city,” A. #1 says in the hotel bar. R. tells me to turn around, and when I do, I see that the sun has risen over the sea. We have managed to drink and stay up all night.
Two women in niqab covering everything but their eyes point at me in my tight red dress and laugh. They think I am the funny-looking one, the fat one in the fishnets. They laugh on the outside, hiding under their tents. I laugh on the inside, at the irony of the moment.
In the van to the sea-side bar, we talk and joke animatedly. An hour passes. Silence falls. We are all deflated. Suddenly, A.#2 looks over at me and tells me that L., an American, had stopped with him in the street earlier and apologized, on behalf of America, for the invasion of Iraq. She cried. I asked him if he felt strange. He said he felt very moved. He said he wished he could answer her but there was a language barrier. I ask him what he would have said, expecting him to say; I am not Iraq and you are not America. We are just two, separate, people. But he says, I would have told her that I see these deaths as the price one pays for democracy. Silence in the van again.
A.#3 stands up and gives an acceptance speech to the volunteers and organizers on the writers’ behalf. Except he is better-prepared and more charming than I will ever be. I am hungover.

I am telling a story. I say, “They kicked me out when they found out I was pregnant.” The entire table at lunch goes quiet. I give details.

We find the British Councilwoman’s house- but only after a half hour’s worth of botched directions. There are three soldiers outside. One of them hits on H. There is an open bar inside.

At Barometre in Hamra, we dance. I tell A.#4 about the time I saw the Nile and it looked like tin.

8. On night #3, a revolution. All the writers and all the volunteers are drunk in the hotel lobby dancing. Screw the panels and discussions. We want to live.

We don’t go to Abu Elie’s communist bar, but we see a young man pasting blank fliers then standing in the dark alleyway to fill them in with pen. He is Abu-Elie’s son.

Our moderator, the TV anchor, wants to know where the audience is, even though it’s our event, not hers. She’s used to her audience. The event was billed a “women’s conversation.” Almost no one shows. The other two writers and I have a blast putting a pin against the balloon of the TV anchor’s rigid ideas of femininity- and in her stupid botoxed cheeks.

A woman walks down the street with a big white bandage over her nose. She displays her alteration proudly. And we, who are not yet altered, are making our way to yet another open bar to fix that.

I. is the official crush of the festival. Every man there wants to sleep with her. I suspect someone won.

In my hotel room I laugh a lot. I hope I am not loud. I am told by M., my fellow writer, that I am indeed loud.

I have a minute at the mike. I remember L. from Lebanon who died last year. I speak in her memory. I cry a little. Then I laugh.

We all joke that we want to highjack a plane for literature. A.#3 says, “We will make you listen to our bad poetry!” On the real plane back, as the rude flight attendant tells me I am too fat for the exit row, I yearn for prose.

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