I've been reading about Beirut -- Maronites, Sunni, Shiites, Druze. I've been reading about 15 years of Civl War, a sectarian conflict of east vs east, west vs west, southeast vs. northwest, northeast vs. southwest. I read because I've been half-obsessed with the Middle East since Dubai, and half because I just like the words Beirut and Lebanon. I like the way the words slide off like a hum, that instead of closure, 'ru' and 'non' goes on as if a hymn. I like the way the words look, harmonious in serif and strong in sans serif. I like that two words stand for nostalgia and hope - the heaviness of humanity that we are capable of the best and worst. As for Dubai, well, let's just say you find love in the most unexpected places, and in the colossal year of travel, it was not in the living fairytale of Florence, but in the bloated dream of excess, in the silver monolith rising from the desert that things began to make sense. If Florence was a picture book, Dubai was a sci-fi fantasy novel you hope David Lynch had a hand in. Gazing afar at the Burj Khalifa, there was the tower that defied heat, mankind, and imagination. Like a needle pin pointing true north, it is omnipresent in the desert city, alert and shimmering.
What made me like Dubai were the conversations of imperfections and hope for the better. In their voices I heard the rough edges that echo my own, the rules bent in funny ways there, but we found the pockets of people, places, moments that we could empathize. There lived the children of diaspora, post-colonist, post-nationalist, post-futurist.
In the end all the post post post identities end up sounding familiar, "It's not a place that you'd expect to be good with all the stories you've heard, but in time you find the parts that charm you." Joseph, our Palestinian friend who grew up in Paris said, and onwards he mentioned the few events and venues that made the city happening, much like the way we talk about the five venues to see live shows in Beijing. We were all apart of something that was in the stage of discovery, had a hand in building it as we wagered our youth for something that was inscrutable and fragile instead of comfortable.
"Turns out we’ve been trying to figure out Dubai - this strange, wonderful, occasionally traumatic place we grew up in - all along. (Jury’s still out on whether that trauma was due to Dubai, or just the turbulence of adolescence.) The thing is, we are the child of Gulf Returnees ourselves. We didn’t leave our home countries to come here; Dubai’s the only home we’ve ever known. yet most narratives of Dubai focus on its extremes - solar-sintered skyscrapers made from sun, sand, and glass or the unknown laborers who built them; unbridled admiration for its visionary transformation or vitriolic, xenophobic dismissal; searing desert heat or lush, landscaped golf courses. As residents-but-not-citizens, we’re paradoxically privileged, yet invisible; our stories remain as yet untold.” - The State
The other reason why I fell for Dubai lives in a magazine, in fact, the love lives in one thin volume of personal narratives calling to the Arab diaspora, a volume that is rigorous, thoughtful, hyper-intellectual but deeply intimate. A love for a place doesn't necessarily have to be its beautiful boulevards or quaint coffee shops, but in the minds and stories of its travelers, settlers, lovers and its estranged.
I hope one day I will meet Beirut, as I will meet Africa, India, and all the places larger than myself. Also, check out the Lebanese band Soap Kills, they are my jam right now.