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Lebanese writers, publishers gear up for sixth Emirates literature festival - [more]
Date: 22 February 2014

BEIRUT: This region has its fair share of book fairs. Beirut itself hosts at least three of them – for Francophone, art and international publications – supplemented by those in Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, along with older Arab cultural centers such as Cairo and Baghdad. Literary festivals, however, are more rare. Focused less on sales than lectures, workshops and discussions, events such as the annual Emirates Airline Festival of Literature provide an opportunity for publishers and the authors they represent to mingle with one another and their readers.

The sixth edition of EAFL, which runs March 4-8 in Dubai, aims to assemble some 100 international authors and close to 60 U.A.E-based writers for talks, workshops, panels, readings and discussions centered on the theme of metamorphosis. Each event is accompanied by simultaneous translation, allowing speakers of Arabic, English and French to access the full program.

The international authors scheduled to attend include such renowned figures as Ahdaf Soueif, Amit Chaudhary, Jeremy Paxman, Joanna Harris, Nicolas Evans and children’s book author Eoin Colfer. Eight Lebanese writers are also scheduled to make appearances.

Authors are invited based on several criteria, Yvette Judge, the festival’s acting director, explained. Some are selected because their work fits with the festival’s theme, others because of publishers’ recommendations, many because they have a significant local following. The topics of their talks vary widely.

“We definitely want them to interpret the theme in the way they want to,” Judge told The Daily Star by telephone. “Sometimes the theme just doesn’t work for them, and that’s also perfectly fine. Usually an author will want to talk about their latest book. Sometimes they’ll have a burning topic that they want to air, so quite a lot of them focus on current events and issues. ... In this part of the world, those sessions are always really popular.”

This year’s Lebanese contingent includes psychologist Anita Papas, author of self-help books on positive thinking; TV chef and cookbook author Arlette Boutros, journalist and founder of the Samir Kassir Foundation Gisele Khoury; Dubai-based authors Hani Soubra and Rewa Zeinati; and three children’s authors, Sahar Naja Mahfouz, Samar Mahfouz Barraj and Nadine Touma.

None of the Lebanese authors invited this year write straight fiction, something Judge said occurred by coincidence rather than design.

“Sometimes it’s just the way it works,” she said. “Issues and current events are popular and they seem to really pull the crowds in. ... A lot of them were ... recommended to us. Dubai has a very large Lebanese community, and we have a number of Lebanese staff here too, so we listened to their advice. It’s [also a question of] what’s going to be popular, so we’ve got journalists [and] we’ve got children’s writers.”

The Lebanese authors scheduled to take part all agreed that EAFL was a good place to make connections and raise their public profiles.

“I’ve been following the advance of the festival for the last two years,” said Barraj, who is participating for the first time this year. “And I think it’s a very good opportunity to meet other authors, to exchange experiences, to see how other authors think or work or maybe discuss issues about books or publishing or reading. It’s good exposure.”

“We are facing a problem in the Arab world,” Barraj said. “Not many people read.”

“We are doing our best to encourage children to read, and there’s no doubt that the Emirati market is important, because they do a lot of reading-related activities. They have book fairs in Sharjah [and] Abu Dhabi so it’s a good place to market books, and I know that they are interested in promoting reading, which helps a lot.”

Touma, whose Beirut-based publishing house Dar Onboz produces beautifully illustrated books for children and young adults, says she enjoys the interactive element of literature festivals. She took part three years ago, she explained, and was happy to be invited back this year.

“What I love about literary festivals,” she said, “which is very different from book fairs, is that you really get to meet your readers. You really get to share what you do. I wear two hats. I wear the hat of the publisher, as Dar Onboz, and I wear the hat of the writer and I love wearing the hat of the writer. I love giving workshops, I love doing storytelling sessions. I’ve requested a session with mothers this year, so I’m going to be doing [that] and sessions in schools and reading during the festival.”

Publishing exclusively in Arabic, Touma stressed the importance of festivals in engaging Arab audiences.

“This festival is really very special, frankly,” she said. “I’ve been to other festivals and ... you always see that the English speakers or readers come by the hundreds, and most Arab speakers or readers come in such few numbers. I hope to see that improving year after year. I think with such festivals and fairs – and it’s also about the activities – hopefully the numbers will increase with time.”

“When you go to Dubai, you don’t [only] get an Emirati audience,” she adds. “Last time, I had Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinians. [It’s] a very cosmopolitan place ... even if you go to the schools.”

For authors like Papas who write in English, the Gulf market can dictate whether or not the book merits an Arabic translation.

“My books have been in the Gulf ever since they were first released,” she explained, “so we already know that in the English version it was being sold in large amounts. In the Gulf, both languages are okay, but the demand was so huge that we felt like we needed to go with the Arabic too.”

She said the best thing about EAFL was the chance to reach those unfamiliar with her work: “I love [giving] public talks because I feel like I can reach a wider audience and I can get my message across. Dubai is giving me that opportunity.” – I.S.

The Emirates Literature Festival runs from March 4 to 8 at the InterContinental Hotel in Dubai Festival City. For more information, please visit emirateslitfest.com.

Lebanon's bicycle culture blossoms - [more]
By: Brooke Anderson
Date: 21 February 2014

BATROUN/BEIRUT: It’s 9 a.m. on a Sunday, and a procession of 35 bicyclists begins its regular 100-km route from the Dbayyeh marina to Batroun and back.

Crazed might be the best word to describe cyclists in Lebanon as they navigate between the country’s hazardous roads and reckless drivers. Today, the safest way for bikers to face the country’s terrifying road conditions is by going out in conspicuous, pushy hordes. But as they grow in numbers and support – with more bike shops, guided tours and events – the daredevils who are planting the seeds of a cycling culture in Lebanon may just be onto something.

Aside from churchgoers, very few people are awake this early on a weekend, except for some fish merchants who proudly display their daily catches on wooden stands along the narrow coastal highway. As we make our way further north, the small-town landscape becomes more rural, with herds of goats grazing on the steep cliffs just south of Batroun.

Karim Sokhn is the founder of Cycling Circle and has been bicycling for years – usually alone or on his vacations to Europe.

Three years ago, he announced an event via Facebook consisting of a daytrip by bike. To his surprise, he received around 100 responses. With each subsequent event, the turnout grew. Last year, his organization spawned Deghri Messengers, the first bicycle courier service in the Arab world, and now Sokhn is dreaming much bigger: designated car-free streets, bike festivals, a bicycle cafe and daytrip fundraisers.

He envisions a future in which Lebanon is a bicycle-friendly country, a far cry from the way the nation is today.

“It’s the revolution. It’s going, going, going,” Sokhn says, alluding to the motion of a bicycle spoke.

From Batroun, Sokhn leads the group into the green mountains of Tannourine, where local residents greet cyclers along the way with a respect likely unknown to daytrippers in cars.

After stopping several times to take pictures of the sea and the defunct railroad bridges over deep ravines, I lose the rest of the group. In a rare moment, I feel overwhelmed by my surroundings and forget the rush to our destination. I stop at a shop near a farm for a snack. A woman behind the counter greets me while chopping tomatoes with a precise concentration that can mean only one thing: tabbouleh.

“Stop by on your way back for the tabbouleh,” she says. It is an invitation I surely wouldn’t have received had I arrived by car.

Indeed, a major appeal of bicycling is the chance to get close to nature. From the saddle of the bike, the fresh sea and mountain air can be tasted, and views of all the intricate details of towns and countryside somehow appear larger than life. Biking also offers the exciting and exhilarating feeling of vulnerability against nature – peddling against the wind, dodging rocks and potholes on the way and fighting to finish the ride before sunset.

Our journey ended with lots of high fives and pats on the back, followed by complaints of muscle pain, hunger and chatter about plans for the next daytrip. They may go swimming if the weather next week is pleasant, an activity that is sure to attract another big turnout.

Over the past couple of years, Lebanon’s bicycling community has grown in number, bike club organizers said. Most of the biking activity is centered around the capital’s cycle clubs Cycling Circle and Beirut by Bike. But that’s starting to change.

Tripoli, an embattled city not usually associated with grass-roots environmental movements, recently saw the creation its own bike club.

Last April, avid cyclist and racing champion Mohammad Alali opened “The Bike Shop” in Lebanon’s northern city, where the activity is far less developed than in Beirut. In fact, he says that one of his motivations in opening the shop was to promote bicycling in northern Lebanon.

“People think of bicycles as being just for poor people,” he says, specifically pointing to Tripoli, where street vendors and couriers in the Old City carry out their work on two wheels. When he first opened shop, he organized a daytrip via Facebook; only three people showed up. He is happy to report that his latest outing – he guides cyclists around Tripoli four times a week – saw a turnout of around 50 people.

Cycling fanatics are even trying to push the green transportation’s business potential. Deghri Messengers, the first bicycle messenger service launched in the region, is now braving the streets of Beirut and growing rapidly. Deghri has doubled its deliveries since it first started.

And to the delight of many long-time cyclists who have spent years riding alone, it is becoming increasingly common – albeit still rare – to see people bicycling for transportation, to work for example, rather than just for sport.

Deghri Messengers founder Matt Saunders says he likes to think that his company is playing a part in getting people out of their cars and onto bikes, and as the country gets ever-more congested, he predicts that bikes will become a more practical option.

Marc Geara, who founded the NGO Green Wheels in 2010 to promote bicycling and the development of bike lanes in Lebanon, was virtually a lone rider on the streets of Beirut until recently.

Now he’s pleased to see a nascent but growing community, with many of the new cyclists – including budding professional racers – on the road relatively young, mostly in their 20s.

“I used to only bicycle in the summer. Now I bicycle all year long,” Geara says on a winter afternoon after making his daily commute through Beirut. “We’re getting more serious and motivated. There’s now a group dynamic. Things are progressing.”

Indeed, the once-lonely cyclist thinks this might be the year when things change. He says that plans are underway to create bike lanes in Beirut this summer, the study of which is being funded by the Ile de France regional government.

The plans include the rehabilitation of streets for pedestrians and cyclists, planting trees and installing lighting from the pine forest of Horsh Beirut all the way to the corniche. It might sound like a far-fetched fantasy to some, but for Geara, it is a natural progression that has been years in the making.

“ Lebanon is actually a good place for cycling. It’s not what people think,” he says. “There are areas with some gorgeous views.”

Three to four times a year, Geara brings a group on a 100-kilometer mega-ride through a scenic part of the country, such as the Cedars or the south.

With all of this newfound momentum, he sees the next step as being the training of more cyclists who could represent the country at international races.

Lebanon already has some competitive cyclists such as Hassan al-Hajj, who won the national road cycling championship and participated in the Francophone Games last year in Nice; Zaher al-Hage, who won the last year’s Mountain Bike championship; and Zaher’s wife Lina al-Hage, who placed 10th in the Asian Championship, one of the best performances ever for a Lebanese cyclist. Geara doesn’t see why there shouldn’t be a qualified Lebanese team in the Olympics or the Tour de France.

Getting to that point will require a major shift in Lebanese habits. But that might be just a matter of time.

Beirut by Bike founder Jawad Sbeity, who started the bicycle rental company in 2001, says that over the course of 13 years, he has seen a new generation grow up cycling – going from enclosed spaces to the open street – and the evolution of a small community of mavericks into a large network of civic-minded cyclists who routinely go on rides to raise money for charity. He also notes a growing awareness among drivers of the two-wheelers among them.

“People start with us and they grow up,” Sbeity says, referring to the closed-off, small network of biking lanes his company has at the waterfront where cyclists can build confidence before venturing into Beirut’s notorious traffic.

Times certainly have changed. Nearly 15 years ago, he was renting out some 60 mountain bikes because Lebanon’s war-torn streets weren’t ready for road bikes. Today he has around 2,000 bikes of all varieties available – including a few he wasn’t expecting.

For years, he resisted requests to rent out adult tricycles for fear that this would stop people from exploring two-wheeled options. But after finally succumbing to the demands last year, he acknowledges that he is now pleased to see elderly women coming for leisurely rides on three wheels. Sitting on a bench in front of rows of bicycles, he points to men and women of all ages who are passing by on their afternoon rides, a sign of the activity’s broadening demographic – and an indication his longtime community engagement is having results.

Similarly, Antoine Baraka co-owner of Bike Generation, a sporting goods shop in Furn al-Shubbak, says he consistently works to “bring people to cycling – not only bring customers to our shops.”

He spends as much time out in the field as he does in the store – working with NGOs and schools and to promote bicycling at all ages and levels. Baraka has already seen one school offer bicycling as a competitive sport – just like swimming or basketball.

He is also working to encourage people to use their bikes as a regular mode of transportation.

While Lebanon’s cycling advocates are eager to bring people to their preferred mode of transportation, they are also quick to emphasize safety, well aware that they are still living in a land of loosely enforced driving rules and poorly maintained roads. Their visits to schools always include a lesson on wearing helmets, and support vehicles accompany weekend excursions.

It is with these challenges always in the back of their minds that Lebanon’s new generation of cyclists brave the often-broken streets on two wheels, showing others it is indeed possible in Lebanon.

“This is a worldwide trend and it has reached Lebanon,” says Geara, no longer the only cyclist on the streets as he was before. “Things are changing.”

An unlikely advocate for Lebanon talks travel - [more]
By: Kareem Shaheen, Beckie Strum
Date: 06 February 2014

BEIRUT: Lebanon hasn't been the choice location for new beginnings recently. But Saskia Nout, a Dutch expatriate looking to start over, defied the security warnings and set out to discover the country from its famous attractions to its hidden villages.

From her personal travels and research, Nout compiled a guide to the country and published a book, "Living Lebanon," in the fall. She's now in the process of turning the hard copy into a smartphone application and dynamic website, which will go live in the next month.

Her book and soon-to-be website put the emphasis not only on what to see but exactly how to get there. Information that most of Lebanon's popular guides fail to provide.

Her efforts are evidence that Lebanon's allure can be more powerful than the fear of its deteriorating security situation. Nout spoke to The Daily Star about her projects and defiant interest in the country.

Q: How did you end up coming to live in Lebanon?

A: I traveled in Iran, Syria, Jordon, Turkey and Egypt and I figured out that I would like to live in the Middle East for a while. But then I never found a country that I could picture myself living in. I was in Lebanon for a week [in May 2010], and in November I went back. That's when I started to realize that life could be so different.

Q: How did you say goodbye to life in the Netherlands?

A: I've known a while that the Netherlands wasn't for me, but I didn't understand where I could be. I had this really good job, I bought a house and I did a complete reconstruction.

When I came back from Lebanon, I was still in the reconstruction of my house and when I finished it a friend came to me and said, "Oh Saskia, you must be so happy that you've finished your house and now you can relax." And when she said that to me, I started crying. I was like, "No I'm not, I'm not that happy." So khalas, I knew then.

Q: How did Living Lebanon come about?

A: I was hiking by myself in the mountains and it just popped in my head I'm going to write a travel guide. You experience a lot of foreigners coming here and not knowing what to do or where to go. I'd been traveling a lot by public transport and by car and getting lost like crazy, so I said this is what I'm going to do. I just started writing and traveling, writing and traveling; there was not a lot of structure.

Q: What does Living Lebanon add that other guides don't?

A: I have places that I put in that I think are not in other books. Like the Khiam Prison [in south Lebanon], for me it's very interesting the layers of history. It's a nice area and a really interesting place, though it's not very beautiful to see. The first two times I came to Lebanon I didn't go to the south, but when I finally went I thought why are people so negative?

There's also a place called Ouyoun al-Samak; it's a lake in Akkar and every time I Googled it, it popped up as some mystery place. Everybody was like it's beautiful, but there was not a description of how to get there. So I went with a friend, and it took us hours to find it.

Q: What will the website feature?

A: I'm working on the website; it will be released in a month. It will basically be comparable information but when it comes to the website, there will be updated information, new restaurants, more pictures. I think it will be much bigger than the book because it's a different kind of tool.

Q: What has made Lebanon feel like home?

A: Going out to the mountains, my friend never contacted anyone, he just bumps into people and says, "I'm going to the mountains. Come on."

Everything is spontaneous; there are no expectations. Dinners were organized and they would be like there's a dinner this afternoon, and you would not even receive a time but still you would get there and the whole table would be full.

I'm a really [outdoorsy] person. I love the weather and I love the sun. For me, if you have a mountain, you only need a hot chocolate and the view and I'm happy.

And I hate supermarkets; I want to buy my vegetables at a small vegetable store.

I don't want my tomatoes to be red and round but tasteless.

Arish: Beirut hosts a North African cousin - [more]
By: Chirine Lahoud
Date: 28 January 2014

BEIRUT: Back in 1994, the curator of Tunis’ National Museum wanted to plant a tree. A hole was dug in front of the museum building on the hill of Byrsa, Carthage, and a hollow was discovered. The workman dug further and uncovered a tomb, where the body of a young man named Arish was interred.

Residents of Phoenician Tyre founded Carthage around 1814 B.C., during the reign of Queen Elissa. With time Tyre’s colony became an economic and commercial powerhouse in its own right. It became one of several regional rivals that included republican Rome, Syracuse – a Sicilian colony of the Greek city-state of Corinth – and Numidia – a Berber-Libyan kingdom that throve between 202 and 46 B.C. in the marchlands of today’s Algeria and Tunis.

Carthage is best known for its intermittent military conflict with Rome called the Punic Wars. The second of these saw Carthaginian General Hannibal (247-183/181 B.C.) lead an army from Iberia over the Pyrenees and Alps, to occupy tracts of Italy for 15 years. The Third Punic War finally saw Carthage fall to Rome, though the city was later reconstructed as New Carthage.

First uncovered by French archaeologist Jean-Claude Morel, Arish was a young man from the sixth century B.C. He stood about 1m 70cm, and bore physical features that have come to be associated with Phoenicians – a broad forehead, high orbits and long skull.

The name “Arish” means “the beloved of Gods” and was commonly used on Punic inscriptions. Studies on his body have revealed he may have been between 19 and 24 years old when he passed away. Arish’s skeleton was found intact, suggesting he did not die abruptly.

Arish landed in Beirut a few days ago. Starting Wednesday he will be put on display at AUB Museum, in an exhibition entitled “The Young Phoenician Man of Carthage.”

“This is the first time we import an exhibition,” museum director Leila Badr told The Daily Star. “We have built a space within a space.”

Archaeologists’ examination of the young man of Byrsa has enabled them to put a face on one of the more intriguing immigrations in ancient times.

AUB’s exhibition space has been divided into two major parts. The first welcomes a reconstruction of Arish’s tomb, along with such funerary materials as amulets and jars.

“There will be texts,” Badr said, “explaining everything that was with the skeleton.”

Also to be exhibited are two Punic amphorae, a lamp, plate and ivory cabochons that were found atop the tomb and with the skeleton. Goose bone fragments were also in the tomb, along with a scarab intaglio and pyxis.

“There will stand the reconstructed man in all his glory,” Badr said, describing the second room. Next to Arish’s body, the museum will project a three-minute film that documents his discovery and reconstruction.

Elisabeth Daynes – the French sculptor who specializes in recreating the appearance of prehistoric folk, most notably the Australopithecus specimen “Lucy” – applied her special skill to reconstruct Arish’s visage.

Dermoplasty, the practice of creating molds to reconstruct faces and other body parts, enables us to have a specific representation of Arish’s former appearance. Tunisia’s International Council of Museums collaborated in the studies that made the reconstruction possible.

A tool often used in medical forensics, dermoplasty consists of two stages. The first establishes the identity of the person by studying a corpse’s skull and mandible. Muscles are then built around the skull, which recreates the head’s proportions, then that of the body as a whole.

Genetic tests will later determine more about Arish’s family heritage.

Arish “is exact at 95 percent,” Badr said, “except for the color of the eyes, skin and hair. Everything else is absolutely correct.”

“The Young Phoenician Man of Carthage” will open on Jan. 29 at the AUB Museum and will be running until Feb. 26. For more information, call 01-340-549.

Hobeika presents summer-spring couture - [more]
By: The Daily Star
Date: 22 January 2014

PARIS: As girlish as ever, Georges Hobeika’s couture collection for this summer paid a literal tribute to the flora and fauna of his imagined summertime forest and offered another season of highly wearable couture in pastels.

Hobeika, a Paris-based Lebanese designer, presented his collection as part of Haute Couture Fashion Week in the French capital Monday. The designer is known for his flattering, high-waisted dresses, his restrained but whimsical embellishments like oversized beading or ruffles and always summer – sometimes even winter – pastels. That recipe makes for ethereal summer collections and this one was no exception.

The designer created Summer-Spring ’14 from a fantasy forest theme, and that inspiration came through literally in a number of ornately embellished dresses in powder pink, lemon yellow, peach and pistachio. One pistachio-colored minidress, for example, had green and gold foliage covering the chiffon top layer in tendrils that almost read Arabesque. Another minidress was so covered in floral embroidery it looked like a painted pattern from afar.

Hobeika’s knack for eccentric embellishment took on new forms this season with loose, laser-cut pieces that fluttered down the runway.

A peaches-and-cream-colored strapless dress was made from hundreds of cut silk pieces that gave the illusion of feathers, and added an elegant bird to the designer’s imagined summertime forest. The same technique was used on the skirt of a yellow dress, and one of Hobeika’s more abstract creations was a full pink skirt covered in cut silk circles.

For the third season in a row, Hobeika included what is becoming his signature floral embellishment in the shape of a many-petaled black-eyed Susan. In winter they were discrete sequins that gave his creations a bit of sparkle, the summer before that – as in this collection – they were paired small silk circles, giving the dresses a playfulness.

This collection was also a return to Hobeika’s architectural tendencies. He contrasted a cropped, structured top with the fluidity of a ballerina skirt. And a common element in his bodices was a narrow, plunging neckline with a geometric decorative edge.

He also made use of full-length capes, sewn into the back of the dresses. Fashion shows have seen recently a rise of such designs where the cape is part and parcel of the gown. Hobeika gave his caped creation a scooped back line to reveal some skin in otherwise modest cuts.

Tony Ward makes Paris debut with origami inspiration - [more]
By: Beckie Strum
Date: 22 January 2014

PARIS: Lebanese designer Tony Ward has made a return to Paris runways after a decade of showing his glittering couture collections in Rome. “I lived here in Paris for six years,” Ward told The Daily Star Tuesday morning, a day after debuting his eponymous label in Paris. “This is where I learned. I have two sisters living here, all of my team studied here. I know the streets. I know the smell of the croissants.”

Ward, like most of Lebanon’s high-profile couturiers, did his training in Paris, where he started by dressing models and moved up to drawing gowns for fashion houses such as Dior and Lanvin. He later returned home to Beirut to open his own fashion house with the help of his father, himself a dressmaker who operated an atelier throughout the Civil War. For the past 10 years, Ward had chosen the Altamoda event in Rome to showcase his couture collections twice a year, making this the first time his fashion house has presented its couture collection in France.

Paris, however, has been an important market for Ward. He hosts an itinerant show during ready-to-wear month and chooses to present those collections in New York, Milan and Paris.

Part of the couture collection move was driven by the desire to return to his fashion roots, he said. But the city – as the world’s haute couture capital – also offers more exposure as the fashion world comes together each January and July to watch the pinnacle event in the industry. This week, members of the exclusive Chambre Syndicale – including old houses such as Chanel and Dior – present their most extravagant creations.

Ward has amassed a diverse clientele spanning from Western Europe to Russia, China and the Middle East. His move this season didn’t seem to upset the usual guest list as his most loyal followers flew to Paris for the show, he said. “A lot of people came from Italy,” he said. “We had people flying in from Ukraine and the Middle East.”

To honor the big move, Ward’s team adopted an unusually architectural theme for the house: Origami.

The Japanese art form found expression in unique and slightly futuristic embellishments. One such look was a skirt and jacket combo in a grayish taupe covered in 3-D triangles. The unique texture – which feels like little pillows – was created by cutting dozens of foam triangles that were then hand sewn into soft georgette fabric.

Other geometric elements included colorful triangle designs decorating the side of a white column dress and full-bodied skirts made from cascading, asymmetrical layers. The collar of a white gown had folded silk so accurate, it could have been plucked off and used as an origami fortune teller.

Origami is in its very nature a minimalist form of design, relying only on the folding of a single piece of material. But Ward – whose collections tend toward the more extravagant – added in the glittering beadwork and detail characteristic of his gowns, in addition to the geometric elements. His most exquisite dresses took up to 400 hours of work, he said.

The finale wedding dress, for example, included feminine embellishments like laser-cut flowers and a full-skirt, while the bodice was built from an origami-inspired rose.

That extravagance is what keeps Ward’s faithful clientele coming back. One of the more popular pieces among buyers Monday was one of his most embellished: a black dress with a sheer side panel along the leg, covered in black beading. He sold one after the show, he said.

In contrast, the media have been drawn to the more futuristic pieces, he said. He’s been approached by magazines interested in shooting looks with the 3-D embellishment found in the gray skirt-suit. If there was restraint this season, it was in the color palette, which was muted to black, white, gray, light lilac, yellow and blush hues.

Ward had little time for reflection. “Now, I have to think about my ready-to-wear collection. I have to keep moving forward.”

A sea of photography set to wash ashore in Lebanon - [more]
By: India Stoughton
Date: 17 January 2014

BEIRUT: “Lebanon is a small country in terms of size,” Philippe Heullant said Thursday, “but it is large in terms of talent.” The president of the PhotoMed Festival of Mediterranean Photography, Heullent spoke at a news conference marking the launch of the Beirut iteration of the France-based festival, the fourth edition of which is set to take place in Sanary-sur-Mer later this year.

The festival showcases the work of photographers from countries bordering the Mediterranean, Heullant explained, with the aim of highlighting the cultural ties between countries with no clear political or economic unity. Last year’s festival featured a number of young photographers from Lebanon, which was selected as the “guest of honor.”

The Beirut edition of PhotoMed, which opens Friday and continues until Feb. 16, features the work of these Lebanese photographers, as well as several prominent European guests, among them celebrated Italian photographer Nino Migliori and Greek filmmaker Costa-Gavras.

Organized to mirror the diffuse setup of the French festival, PhotoMed Beirut is comprised of 10 different exhibitions staged in venues across the capital, encouraging viewers to traverse the city as they travel among them. In line with the organizers’ vision for the festival, the photographers will attend the opening night of their shows, allowing viewers to meet and interact with them. Costa-Gavras will not attend, having been forced to cancel his trip at the last minute.

The festival officially opens with an exhibition of around 100 photographs by Miglioni at the Byblos Bank headquarters in Ashrafieh, curated by Alessandra Amuro and Simon Edwards. Miglioni, who has been working as a photographer since the 1940s, is known for his experimental approach, and the exhibition will display work in a broad range of styles tackling diverse subject matters in black-and-white and color.

Saturday will see the launch of three exhibitions at Beirut’s Jewelers’ Souk.

Costa-Gavras (short for Constantinos Gavras) is best known for his politically themed thrillers. He has always refused to show this photographic work but agreed to open up his archives for the first time last year for the French version of PhotoMed. His exhibition is comprised of portrait series, capturing many of his celebrity friends and fellow artists – among them actress Simone Signoret, actor and singer Yves Montand and academic Regis Debray.

Another selection of black-and-white portraits taken between 1981 and 1985 by well-known Lebanese photographer Tony Hage features images of such celebrities as Clint Eastwood, Juliette Binoche Jean-Luc Godard and Youssef Chahine.

These two of portrait exhibitions will be accompanied by a selection of work by Greek photographer Stratis Vogiatzis, whose photos focus on the vanishing way of life of Mediterranean fishermen. These deeply atmospheric, sometimes blurred shots of weatherworn faces and blankly staring fish, often at taken at night, evoke the movement of ships at sea and the slippery textures of a bloody catch.

Saturday also marks the opening of three exhibitions in Saifi Village.

One features work by veteran Paris-based Lebanese photographer Fouad Elkoury, known for his haunting vignettes of Lebanon’s Civil War and the postwar ruins of Downtown. A second exhibition will display work by Greek photographer Katerina Kaloudi, whose black-and-white images chart a personal journey and are inspired by fairy tales, childhood experiences, Greece’s beautiful natural landscape, loneliness and fear of death.

Curated by Tony Hage, a third exhibition, “Nascent Lebanese Photography,” showcases work by a generation of Lebanese photographers deemed young in terms of attitude, if not age. Most are active on the local scene and will be familiar to Lebanese audiences. The seven photographers chosen to participate are Tanya Traboulsi, Emile Issa, Mazen Jannoun, Ghadi Smat and Lara Zankoul, as well as Caroline Tabet and Joanna Andraos, who often work together under the heading the Engram Collective.

This “young, pessimistic and critical generation,” as Hage describes them, are united by an approach to Lebanon’s postwar society that exposes the enduring traces of the conflict on the national psyche while sowing seeds of hope for a stable future built around a cohesive national identity.

Finally, an exhibition of short video works by Marie Bovo, Mihai Grecu, Alain Kantarjian and Ali Kazma opens Saturday at Jisr al-Wati’s multipurpose venue STATION.

An exhibition of work by a pair of French photographers, featuring Jacques Filiu’s nostalgic, understated photographs of his hometown, Marseille, and historian and critic Guy Mandery’s series of black-and-white shots of Tunisia, Greece, Sicily and Lebanon, opens Monday at the French Cultural Center.

PhotoMed’s program also includes several workshops.

On Friday and Saturday, local amateur and professional photographers looking for feedback and advice are invited to present a portfolio of work to experts at Le Gray Hotel. On Jan. 24 and 25, Lebanese art and fashion photographer Roger Moukarzel will hold two photography workshops, which consist of a lecture followed by shooting practice and constructive criticism, at the French Cultural Center. Tony Hage will lead a second workshop at the same location on Jan. 30.

PhotoMed is being staged at venues across the city until Feb. 16. For more information, visit festivalphotomed.com. Those wanting to sign up for workshops should email audiovisuel.beyrouth@if-liban.com.

A fashion show for Lebanese designers at Globes - [more]
Date: 15 January 2014

BEIRUT/BEVERLY HILLS, California: The Golden Globes Sunday offered a curtain raiser of sorts for the spring-summer haute couture fashion shows to come next week in Paris, as celebrities brought out their best couture dresses and custom frocks. Each year, top Lebanese fashion designers feature big, both at the Golden Globes and shortly after at Paris’ biannual couture shows, which present the exclusive and often fantastical creations that later pop up on the red carpet. Lebanese couturiers represented Sunday night included Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad, Rani Zakhem and Georges Hobeika.

Zakhem, a rising local designer, got a big boost at this year’s awards ceremony. Zakhem dressed Kaley Cuoco, star of the hit TV series “The Big Bang Theory,” in a corseted floral ball gown from his winter couture collection.

Designers with roots in Lebanon also took center stage, as stars donning their creations won awards Sunday night. Robin Wright won best actress in a TV drama for her role in “House of Cards” wearing a champagne halter dress by New York-based designer Reem Acra.

Wright got some flack by celebrity style hawks for flashing a bit of nipple pasty on stage. Although that didn’t stop Vogue, and a number of other fashion and celebrity publications, from naming her one of the best dressed that night.

Acra also dressed Zosia Mamet, co-star of the hit HBO’s series “Girls,” in a white column dress with contrasting black floral embroidery.

Elizabeth Moss took home an award for best actress in a mini-series or TV movie for her role in “Top of the Lake.” And while Moss shot a middle finger at E! TV cameras when asked about the dress she wore to the ceremony, she celebrated her win at the after party dressed in a sexy black jumpsuit by Hobeika.

Hobeika was a mainstay at this year’s awards. He also dressed “Modern Family” star Sarah Hyland in a pink crepe and mousseline gown, featuring a sheer, Swarovski-embellished back, from his fall-winter 2014 couture collection. Lily Rabe, actress in “American Horror Story,” chose a black tulle dress from Hobeika’s spring-summer signature collection.

English actress Kate Beckinsale was among a handful of stars who made it onto nearly every best-dressed list. Beckinsale wore a strapless silver hand-beaded mermaid gown from Zuhair Murad’s fall-winter 2014 couture collection. Colombian actress Sofia Vergara, best known for her sassy comedic role on “Modern Family,” also wore a plunging silver dress by Murad to the awards’ after-party.

Individuality blossomsBold reds, shimmering metallics and vibrant floral hues blossomed on the Golden Globes red carpet Sunday, as the stars shirked trends in favor of individual statements on one of the most watched Hollywood runways.

Red hues, sometimes avoided for being too similar to the red carpet, were represented in a variety of silhouettes, such as “American Hustle” best film comedy actress nominee Amy Adams in a plunging halter Valentino that paid homage to the 1970s style of the film.

“I am kind of influenced by my character,” Adams said of the look.

Newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, nominated for best supporting actress in a film for “12 Years a Slave,” stunned fans with her fitted red Ralph Lauren gown with caped sleeves. Other stars opting for the bold hue included Berenice Bejo in a lace Giambattista Valli gown, “Nebraska” nominee June Squibb in a beaded velvet Tadashi Shoji, and Emma Watson spinning a twist on the traditional gown with a red Christian Dior tunic and pants combination.

“The dress has pants, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. I feel so comfortable,” Watson told Reuters.

Vibrant hues also came in the form of a jade green column dress on Reese Witherspoon, while pregnant Olivia Wilde donned a form-fitted sparkling emerald Gucci gown and “Scandal” actress Kerry Washington, also pregnant with her first child, opted for a mint green Balenciaga. And “Masters of Sex” actress Caitlin FitzGerald wore a turquoise blue Emilia Wickstead gown.

“I was very impressed with the diversity, by the lack of trend and the somewhat unconventional choices on the red carpet this year. No one color or shape or designer dominated,” Hal Rubenstein, InStyle’s editor-at-large, told Reuters.

UNDERSTATED GOWNS ADD CONTRASTPale golds and silvers were dotted among the vibrant tones. “New Girl” best TV comedy actress nominee Zooey Deschanel wore a pale gold beaded flowing Oscar de la Renta dress, while “Downton Abbey” best TV drama actress nominee Michelle Dockery also donned a strapless silver and gold beaded gown by the designer.

Mila Kunis rocked a sleeveless Emilio Pucci beaded silver gown, while “Breaking Bad” actress Anna Gunn wore a blush gold Donna Karan Atelier gown and actress Sally Hawkins from “Blue Jasmine” wore a vintage cream beaded Dior gown borrowed from the design house’s archives.

“If you’re going to do a shiny dress with sparkle, it has to be understated or else it’ll look garish. If you’re going to go glittery, you have to pare it down,” Rubenstein said of the looks.

Jennifer Lawrence, who picked up the first award of the night for her best supporting role in “American Hustle,” wore a white strapless Dior haute couture dress with tiers divided by black belts, while Australian actress Margot Robbie from “The Wolf of Wall Street” donned a fitted cream Gucci gown with green crystals.

In clear contrast to the vibrant hues on the red carpet, “Blue Jasmine” actress Cate Blanchett led the stars in black, in a high-neck fitted lace Armani Prive dress, while “The Good Wife” star Julianna Margulies opted for a V-neck wide-skirted black gown with gold embroidery by Andrew Gn. “Saving Mr. Banks” actress Emma Thompson also chose a gold and black combination with her vintage embroidered Lanvin number.

“August: Osage County” star Meryl Streep wore an understated satin black Vivienne Westwood dress, while her co-star, Julia Roberts, added a white-sleeved shirt to her black strapless Dolce & Gabbana look and “Girls” actress Allison Williams chose a form-fitted Alexander McQueen black and white gown.

Rubenstein listed Blanchett, Robbie, Nyong’o, Williams and FitzGerald among his picks for best dressed, but added that he felt everyone looked individual.

Cafe aims to play a different tune - [more]
By: Shannon Gormley
Date: 13 January 2014

When the seven-year old boy starts to play the violin, it’s suddenly clear why he’s in a soundproof room. His teacher winces behind him, trying not to laugh as the child drags his bow across the strings with an impassioned—if misguided—flourish.

But Joe Elias, co-founder of the music non-profit organization Onomatopoeia in Achrafieh, would happily let the miniature violinist play in the lounge; in fact, he’s done so before. Elias and his two partners, Youssef Naiim and Alain Osta, created Onomatopoeia to bring people of all ages, all political and religious backgrounds, all instrument-preferences—and all experience-levels—together to deepen their appreciation of music. Lebanon needs more music, they say, now more than ever.

“We have many different political conflicts in Lebanon,” says Naiim. “We thought we might bring people together over music.”

Onomatopoeia is housed in the bottom floor of an apartment building, and passersby could be forgiven for mistaking it for a hip coffee shop; in fact, the front section of Onomatopoeia is a hip coffee shop. Many people use the mid-century modern-looking lounge and patio just to enjoy food, drinks, or high-speed Internet. But many more people use it to talk music shop before they head to the back practice rooms. The lounge exists solely to financially and creatively support the space that’s behind it, and it’s what happens there that’s really interesting.

The three back rooms buzz (and chime, bang, and pluck) with music lovers: a soundproof band practice room that Onomatopoeia says is state-of-the-art; a large room that can accommodate group lessons; and a smaller tutorial room. At just a few months old, these rooms are already hosting daily private lessons, group lessons, and practices for people between the ages of six and fifty: bands, vocalists, pianists, guitarists, and even fledgling violinists.

Elias explains that programs are adapted depending on what someone wants to do with the music. For the organization’s founders, it’s not important that everyone who walks into Onomatopoeia leaves it a professional musician; they want to rebuild Lebanon’s culture of music, which they believe has been eroded by Lebanon’s focus on political tensions.

"In this country, everybody at the age of five can speak politics. We thought, why don't we give them something else?"

Onomatopoeia’s founders—who, in addition to coffee sales, finance the non-profit organization themselves—want to give a lot of things to Lebanon’s music culture. In the future, they plan to organize free public concerts, music lectures, programs for children in hospitals and refugee camps, and to get high discounts on instruments.

"A cheap guitar is not necessarily affordable," emphasizes Elias.

For now though, by offering inexpensive rates to students and high rates for teachers, Elias says that Onomatopoeia is already making music more accessible for everyone.

"For students, it's less money; for teachers, it's more money."

Sarab Shammoun, a Syrian refugee from Homs and certified music instructor, is one of Onomatopoeia’s most dedicated teachers. In Lebanon, music earns her an income and gives her a chance to pass on her talents and knowledge to others; in Syria, though, it kept her soul alive.

"My friends live still in Syria and they continue their music lessons in Syria. Music is in their souls,” Shammoun says. “When I was in Syria still, the war made our souls sad but we played music every day."

She loves Beirut because she loves her students and Onomatopoeia, but she says the thing she loves most about Lebanon is its creativity. She’s excited to be a part of an organization that is dedicated to shoring that creativity up, even though she never imagined her life would take this trajectory.

"When I was a child I dreamed that I would be a star on the stage," she smiles. “But I am happy here.”

Her student, Samer Baaklini, the seven-year old violinist, wants to be a star on the stage, too: he insists that he’s going to win Arabs Got Talent. That might take some practice; so far, his biggest performance took place in Onomatopoeia’s lounge after his first lesson. Elias remembers it well.

“He only knew how to produce one note, but he was so excited that he couldn't leave the violin in the box. So he was just throwing the same note around for one hour standing in the middle of the lounge, performing for everyone,” Elias says, laughing.

For anyone hesitant to attend an impromptu violin concert put on by a seven-year old, however, the lounge has already started pulsing with jam sessions. People get to talking over coffee, and pretty soon the music starts. If some of the people that play together talked politics instead, says Naiim, divisions might surface. But at Onomatopoeia, music brings them together.

Wanderlust draws Lebanese to the exotic - [more]
By: Rayane Abou Jaoude
Date: 11 January 2014

BEIRUT: Another New Year and globetrotters are compiling lists of cities to check off their bucket lists. Each year, the majority of Lebanese opt for nearby – visa-free – destinations such as Istanbul or accessible, Francophone destinations such as Paris. But this year, some Lebanese travelers are planning more unusual escapes than the French Riviera, from ancient Latin American cities to hipster hotbeds like Portland, Oregon.

For Majed Traboulsi, 29, the No. 1 destination for 2014 is, unequivocally and to the surprise of many, Cuba.

“I love the culture, it’s very rich,” he says with a tinge of enthusiasm. Seeing the Latin American country before its ailing former president, Fidel Castro, dies is important to Traboulsi.

“It’s been able to maintain its traditions. It is poor and simple, but also fun,” says Traboulsi, an IT manager. In addition to Cuba’s intriguing politics, he’s particularly excited about attending a wild party or two, which he had heard much about.

Berlin is a close second for Traboulsi, who says the German capital has a lot to offer to a young traveler, especially a techno enthusiast in search of concerts.

“I love everything about Germany, culturally speaking, and there are a lot of interesting places [to see],” he added.

Traboulsi has already traveled to Cambodia and Vietnam, and says he is not as interested in common tourist hubs like Rome or Amsterdam. “The places that are less typical are always better,” he says.

Like Traboulsi, 24-year-old graduate student Hana Dakwar is looking farther afield, saying she will be opting for the alluring and colorful Indonesian island of Bali this year.

“My brother went there on his honeymoon. I saw pictures and I thought this would be perfect for an adventure,” Dakwar says, adding that the rafting and hiking opportunities are a major draw. “I love nature and nature-related activities.”

The tropical island is often depicted as a romantic paradise – just watch “Eat Pray Love.” But for adventurers and eaters, there’s plenty to do besides basking in its lushness. Surfing and diving are on offer, as well as a smorgasbord of seafood lunches and dinners.

Dakwar’s last trip was to Marmaris, a Turkish port town brimming with pebbly beaches and a bustling nightlife. That’s not surprising, as travel agencies say Turkey, Istanbul in particular, remains one of the most sought-after travel destinations for Lebanese throughout the year.

“[Requests] for Turkey don’t stop,” Liliane Daher, agency manager at Nakhal, tells The Daily Star. “It’s close, it’s very affordable, and it has everything: sea, snow, security and events.”

Nour Homsi, manager at Barakat Travel, echoes Daher’s comments, saying the agency receives at least five requests a day to visit Istanbul.

Other than the short flight there – about an hour – Homsi says its climate is close to Lebanon’s and it’s a relatively inexpensive city. Turkey doesn’t require Lebanese to apply for a visa, a sometimes expensive and futile process for other destinations.

Journeys to the Southeast Asia, such as to Thailand and Malaysia, are also popular for honeymooners during the summer season, Homsi adds.

Pauline Bader, who works at the customer services department at Wild Discovery, says Dubai and Greece also make for popular destinations during the summer. Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh is popular year-round, Bader says, with several Lebanese opting to celebrate the New Year on the attractive coastal strip.

Other popular destinations include France and Italy, summer cruises, as well as ski destinations in winter such as the Alps.

But Istanbul and European cities don’t satiate Naim Frewat’s wanderlust, he says. Frewat, a technical adviser at GIZ, a German international development organization, says his ideal destination for 2014 is the city of Portland in the northwestern state of Oregon.

Frewat, 33, says he hopes to visit the American city during the fall season for the idyllic scenery of the changing seasons.

“It’s a beautiful city, with its nature and rivers, and the tall redwood trees,” Frewat says. “You have to go somewhere you’d love to go to, and I don’t want to run into other tourists or Lebanese, or else why would I travel? I would’ve just gone to Gemmayzeh for that.”

The call of far-off places isn’t just for the young and restless; older travelers are also interested in plunging into the unfamiliar. Imane Assaf, mother of three, has more adventurous places in mind for 2014: India, Bali, Sri Lanka and South Africa, all of which are growing in popularity, travel agencies say.

“My family and I just got back from Sweden,” Assaf says. “It was fantastic. It was like an adventure trip, it was perfect for the kids.”

While the Scandinavian country experiences excruciatingly cold temperatures during the winter, that did not hinder this daredevil family from going all out.

“My husband is not adventurous, but he has to cope,” Assaf, founder of non-profit organization Ahla Fawda, says with a hearty laugh. “So we try.”

Asma Jabbour and her family have already been to Malaysia, the Philippines and the United States. This year, she says, they will be heading to Mexico.

“My daughter wants to see the Mesoamerican pyramids,” Jabbour explains.

“We love to travel as a family,” she says, adding that they are always looking for adventure wherever they can find it, and long, tiring plane rides to faraway places are definitely worth it.

“We don’t like to just sit down somewhere, we want to walk around, explore the place.”

Al-Bustan embraces Music and Nature - [more]
By: Chirine Lahoud
Date: 09 January 2014

BEIRUT: The mountain village of Beit Mery is gearing up for its yearly festival season. Again, Al-Bustan Hotel, and several ancillary venues around the country, will swell with music from the classical repertoire.

The curtain rises on the Al-Bustan Festival Feb. 18 and will not drop definitively until March 23. Over these weeks the festival will play host to performing artists from around the world, including Armenia, Brazil, Germany, Italy and of course, Lebanon.

Since its foundation in 1994, the Al-Bustan Festival has clustered its yearly program under a theme. This year, the chosen theme is “Music and Nature,” with a special focus on compositions that find their inspiration in nature.

The palette will be broad and varied with the festival’s mainstay of classical music augmented by the baroque repertoire and opera as well as an evening of film music. The 2014 edition of Al-Bustan promises to be even more diverse than usual.

The festival will kick off Feb. 18 and 20 with bandoneon player Mario Stefano Pietrodarchi, accompanied by the Pan-European Philharmonic Festival Orchestra, under the baton of Gianluca Marciano. The playlist will include some of Dvorak’s best-loved tunes, along with numbers by Molinelli and Nino Rota.

Russian-born French violinist Alexandra Soumm will also be along to share her interpretation of Beethoven’s violin concerto, through Tchaikovsky’s “Winter Dreams.”

Classical music can be a bigheaded thing and a bit of learned chatter on the matter can whet the appetite. For those so inclined, French musicologist Alain Duault will join the festivities on Feb. 25 to lead a lecture and conversation on impressionism in music.

Another much-loved parallel event at Al-Bustan is the art exhibition. This year’s artist is Nabil Helou, whose work has been described as a “fusion between sculpture and painting.” The description is nothing if not intriguing.

Each year Al-Bustan introduces a piece of music that has hitherto not been performed in Lebanon. This year will be no exception. Russia’s Helikon Opera will perform, for the first time in Lebanon, Stravinsky’s “The Nightingale” and Mozart’s “La Finta Giardiniera,” on March 2 and 4, respectively.

For those craving novelty and innovation, “The Table” will be a must-see. Performed by Karbido – an avant-garde troupe conflating movement, music and visual art – the piece is a unique concept that promises to make audiences see furniture in a totally new light. This will be Karbido’s first performance in Lebanon, after enjoying rave reviews in Europe.

Pianist Paolo Restani will plunge listeners into the worlds of Ravel and Debussy on March 1 with a concert entitled “Whispers in the Forest.”

Fusion music will also play an important role in this year’s festival. “Late Night Oriental Jazz” will offer an ensemble of guitars and mandolins, showcasing the talents of Nabil Khemmir, Nabil Dous, Hatem Gafsia and Rafik Gharbi.

The State Ballet of Georgia will bring their interpretation of Fredryk Ashtron’s “Margueritte and Armand” on March 15-16. Featuring the solo work of respected ballerina Nina Ananiashvili, the troupe has also programmed a performance of “Dying Swan.”

As usual, musical of the classical period provides the backbone of Al-Bustan, and in this regard, Beethoven’s works will fill the air. Violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaya and pianist Fazil Say will join forces on March 9 to play a range of Beethoven’s compositions. A few days later on March 19, nine artists will join foces in a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth.

Known for his music in Nadine Labaki’s “Caramel” and “Where Do We Go Now,” Lebanon’s much-loved musician-composer Khaled Mouzannar is scheduled to perform on March 22. The event provides his fans a fine opportunity to put a face to the music.

The festival will wind down March 23 with “The Heat of Summer,” a performance gathering mezzo soprano Ruxandra Donose and the State Youth Orchestra of Armenia, under the baton of maestro Marciano.

Other much-loved works on this year’s playlist are Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” Chopin’s compositions and Rossini’s melodies.

With the tense situation in Lebanon and the wider region nowadays, it is hoped that Al-Bustan’s yearly slate of offerings can make some contribution toward raising people’s spirits.

Festival Al-Bustan will run from Feb. 18 until March 23. For more information, please visit albustanfestival.com

Navigating the post-holiday sales - [more]
By: Beckie Strum
Date: 04 January 2014

BEIRUT: It’s that time of year again when stores are eager to sell off their fall-winter stock to make room for spring collections – of course to the ire of all of us who just days ago gifted it at full price.

Assuming you didn’t break the bank to watch Haifa Wehbe on New Year’s Eve, the post-holiday sale season tempts us to gobble up cheap apparel while we can. But beware of binge buying items with little longevity. The winter will soon be gone and anything too trendy might lose its luster come next winter’s chill.

Back in July, The Closet Clause perked our attention when the blogging duo issued lists of Lebanese style cliches they were ready to see gone. A few weeks ago, Style.com/Arabia issued its own list of regional trends better left in 2013, and the two sets of gripes had a lot in common. This sale season, ditch the tired trends and invest in something original.

Isabel Murant’s heeled sneakers offered a fun contrast between luxury and sport chic with an added lift. But now that every university student, and most of their mothers, own a pair of heeled sneakers, it’s time to give it a rest. This sale season, by all means, take advantage of any deals you might nab at Murant’s high-end boutique in Downtown, but leave the Bekket sneakers on the display rack.

If you are looking for a new shoe trend, this holiday season a spattering of young women were spotted in Timberland’s classic yellow boots, which invoked the same dressed-down nonchalance as Murant’s clunky creation – albeit without the height boost.

Style.com called them form-fitting dresses; The Closet Clause identified them specifically as Herve Leger’s bandage dresses. But whatever the brand, skintight dresses have that tendency to dip right over into the realm of vulgar.

Scout out a drop-waist dress instead. The cut hangs loosely on the body and flatters most shapes because a skirt starting around your hips elongates the torso. A throwback to the ’20s and ’30s, the drop-waist had a huge presence on the spring-summer 2014 runways, so the cut certainly won’t look stale after a few months.

It’s time to take all the neon-colored items out and put them in a box labeled “RIP Creamfields 2013.” Electronic music gave neon colors a practical application, so unless you’re headed to see Deadmau5, lime green and radioactive pink should remain in the depths of your closet. If you’re a sucker for bright colors try cobalt, tangerine or chartreuse instead.

Leather’s intense renaissance on the high street has given rise to a slew of faux leather legging designs. On a recent flight from Dubai to Lebanon, I counted five women wearing them as pants that fit like a second skin. Instead of adding yet another pair black leggings to your wardrobe, this season invest in an actual pair of leather – or pleather – pants.

While on the topic of leather, this is also a great time of year to invest in a discounted leather jacket. Wool and cotton blazers are also fantastic buys during sale season. A tailored blazer will add class to any look granted you buy it a little loose.

Quality denim is also a staple best bought on sale, but there is no use in wasting money on the wrong size. Your body is one consistent entity, not a set of legs with a torso on top. If pants fit your bottom but suffocate your midsection into love handles, they do not fit.

This year, follow the store’s size chart and buy the jeans created for your measurements. Or buy a size slightly too big and take them to one of the thousands of tailors around Lebanon, who will adjust them for less than $10.

A favorite piece of advice from Ayah Ajam, a Lebanese-American stylist, is to invest in quality lingerie.

It feels good to know you look good from the base layer to the top, her rationale goes. What better time of year to do that than sale season – it’s not like lacey underwear is in danger of becoming passé.

For guys, this is a great time of year to buy a suit for the slew of weddings coming this summer. They are marked down as much at 70 percent. Menswear, fortunately for guys, has a staying power women’s fashion does not. Slim cut with a bow tie is the way to go.

Lebanon, an idyllic country for rock climbers - [more]
By: India Stoughton
Date: 27 December 2013

BEIRUT: Elie Diab grunted with exertion, the muscles in his arms standing out as he hung from both hands, straining to lift his left foot up to shoulder level in order to place his heel on a small, blue knob of plastic protruding from an otherwise sheer wall. Once in position, he levered his body upward, chest glued to the wall as he reached higher for a distant handhold, eliciting a round of applause from an audience of climbers, family and friends. Lebanon is an idyllic country for rock climbers. The plethora of mountains, sea cliffs and sinkholes offers endless potential routes for enthusiasts of all levels, the temperate climate provides ample opportunity for outdoor sports throughout most of the year, and the scenery is stunning. It wasn’t until a few years ago, however, that climbing began to attract a Lebanese following.

These days, locals are increasingly discovering the appeal of the extreme sport, which pits human against rock in a process that is as much mental as physical. A small but thriving community has solidified over the past few years, says Elie Abou Tayeh, a founding member of the Lebanese Climbing Association, who started climbing eight years ago.

“I recall when I first started climbing we were a handful of people doing this sport,” he says. “Now as I go and climb outdoors I see new faces every time, so the sport is growing. We’re working on this as an association: getting new blood into the sport, organizing competition and events to attract new people.”

The Lebanese Climbing Association was founded just over a year ago, Abou Tayeh explains. A nonprofit NGO, the association organizes regular events that gather the country’s enthusiasts together, such a climbing-themed film nights, competitions and days out. A weekend trip to Amchit organized by the association last month was attended by over 100 climbers, a first in a country where the sport is still finding its feet.

The Sunday before Christmas, the association organized an indoor competition at U Rock, a comprehensive indoor climbing gym in Jdeideh. A crowd of around 40 participants and spectators gathered to catch up, take part or simply observe as competitors of all ages scaled the color-coded walls. The relaxed atmosphere of the event, at which total beginners competed alongside veterans, emphasized the camaraderie among the growing climbing community.

Diab, whose expert ascent of the challenging overhang ensured his place as the winner of the men’s advanced competition, says he began climbing four years ago, attracted by the mental and physical challenge and the fact that it’s a sport he has learned to excel at even though he suffers from asthma.

“I want to spread the climbing culture around Lebanon,” he says, adding that although some people believe the sport is dangerous, beginners should not be put off. “It’s perfectly safe,” he promises, “and we’re always happy to give a hand and help out. It’s a nice community and everybody’s very helpful.”

Jad Bou Chebl had been climbing for several years, both outdoors and at an indoor gym in Aintoura, when the facility closed last year. Determined that climbers would not be deprived of an indoor space to improve their technique, he teamed up with Jean Kreiker to open U Rock in July 2012. The gym boasts two challenging overhangs, making it a suitable place for advanced climbers to train, as well as a number of routes suitable for beginner and intermediate climbers. Bou Chebl and Kreiker also provide climbing instruction, from teaching newcomers how to safely use the equipment to showing more advanced climbers how to rope themselves for climbing outdoors.

Since U Rock opened, Bou Chebl says, he has noticed that an increasing number of women are taking up the sport. Sunday’s competition was attended by as many women as men, he says, pointing to an increasingly diverse band of climbing converts.

Abou Tayeh and Diab agree that the best spots for outdoor climbing in Lebanon are at Amchit and Tannourine, where the abundance of routes means that there are ascents suited to all levels. Bou Chebl, meanwhile, prefers deep-water soloing, a practice in which climbers ascend without any ropes, using the sea to break their fall. There are two suitable spots in Lebanon, he says, located in Batroun and in Shekka.

Bou Chebl, who – like most of Lebanon’s climbers – is always happy to see new people taking up the sport, says that he’d love to see some of his climbing heroes visit Lebanon.

“I’d like one day to maybe host two or three of the greatest climbers in the world,” he says. “Maybe Chris Sharma, Adam Ondra [or] Sasha DiGiulian ... I would like to host them for the climbing community. It would be a motivation for them, seeing their stars in Lebanon.”

CinemaCity at the Souks makes splashy debut in Downtown - [more]
By: Beckie Strum
Date: 19 December 2013

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s largest cinema opened Wednesday evening in Beirut Souks, bringing moviegoers back to Downtown for the first time since war razed the thriving picture scene in the heart of Beirut.

“Since the old age, this is where the theaters used to be. Then they spread to Hamra and to Kaslik,” Hammad Atassi, CEO of Prime Pictures and a partner in CinemaCity at the Souks, told The Daily Star.

The three-flour, 12,000 square meter complex houses 2,200 seats across 14 auditoriums – 12 regular cinemas and two Gold Plus VIP theaters. Two auditoriums house supersize screens 18.5 meters wide.

CinemaCity at the Souks was a $25 million joint project between Solidere, Atassi and Mario Haddad, owner of Empire.

The new cinema is the region’s largest, Atassi said.

The area around Downtown’s Martyrs’ Square used to house half-a-dozen movie theaters, including iconic buildings such as the Rivoli, located in what is now a dusty parking lot, and the Opera Cinema, a historic facade that today houses Virgin Megastore. A few skeletons still remain of Downtown’s entertainment hub, like the theater near Riad al-Solh and the Egg, the bullet-ridden, dome-shaped carcass of a modernist, 1,000-seat cinema built in the 1960s.

Solidere put considerable effort into the structure of the new theater and sought to make the complex an iconic addition to the Souks. The giant copper building is lined on two sides with LED screens that will play moving images. The electronic facade will act as decor rather than advertising space, Atassi assured.

“You won’t see soft drink advertisements,” he said.

For the interior, designers put an emphasis on transparency, with open lobbies and a glass internal structure, and another 256 LED screens line the upper-floor ceiling.

French architecture firm Valode et Pistre won a competition by Solidere to design the building. The company coordinated with local architect Annabel Kassar. Nabil Dada of Dada and Associates oversaw the cinema's interior design. Valode et Pistre explained the building concept as sculptural morphology made up of metal ribbons that form copper arabesque.

During Beirut’s reconstruction in the ’90s, cinemas reopened around the capital and its suburbs that were for the most part embedded in shopping malls. Today, there are around 16 cinemas across the country, less than half of them freestanding theaters.

During the heydays of Beirut’s theaters, matinees were popular fare as the venues drew in early foot traffic from Downtown and university students playing hooky.

Atassi said he expected CinemaCity to attract similar daytime traffic. Matinees start early, with showings for big blockbusters such as “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” as early as 11:30 a.m.

To complement the daytime presence, CinemaCity has latched on to a recent trend at local movie theaters, which are offering a wider variety of food and beverage services.

A 40-meter concession and ticketing booth greets patrons on the first floor, where they can buy cinema staples such as caramel and regular popcorn, hotdogs, nachos and soft drinks. The complex also houses pizza-by-the slice, sushi and sandwich outlets, and dessert stands are selling gelato, waffles and crepes.

Atassi said the theater’s square footage could have easily accommodated 6,000 seats, but he and his partners wanted to put the emphasis on providing extra food, beverage and lounge space.

The opening was long-awaited. Plans for a Souk theater and restaurant complex began in 2004, and it has been under construction since 2010. CinemaCity advertised its opening date earlier this month, but then postponed the soft opening until Thursday – though movies played Wednesday.

“We’re trying to catch the Christmas season,” Atassi said.

The imminent holiday season pushed the owners to get the theater up and running, as the period between Dec. 25 and Jan. 1 is a boom time for cinemas, with schools closed and most people off work for the holidays.

CinemaCity is located in the North Souks and parking is along Allenby Street. VIP ticket costs LL45,000; regular ticket costs LL12,000.

Plans announced for region's first luxury outlet mall in Metn - [more]
Date: 18 December 2013

BEIRUT: Another luxury mall is slated to open in the Alissar area of Metn in spring 2016, Lebanese developer SIDCOM announced Monday.

Centerfalls shopping mall will offer 72,000 square meters of retail space and will include the region’s first designer outlets with discounted prices on luxury brands between 30 percent and 70 percent, according to a news release announcing the plans Monday.

Centerfalls may even rival the Gulf’s enormous luxury malls, as SIDCOM is boasting the largest range of restaurants and personal services “ever seen in a mall.”

“Centerfalls is the dream of four Lebanese partners who have a strong belief in their country and planned to set a new benchmark for service excellence in Lebanon,” Fouad Ghorayeb, SIDCOM’s chief operating officer, said.

“We want to create the most thrilling experience yet, bringing more style, more luxury brands, more retail and more savings, mixing quality, design and price for a sustainable and stimulating [location] that would put the customer at the heart of the project.”

Developers envisioned a concept bringing together tourism with international and local retail. The layout of the outlet mall will be divided into three main sections: restaurants, outlets and a high-end supermarket.

The restaurant and entertainment section, tagged “The Resort,” will offer a range of casual to fine dining options, as well as spa, health care and what SIDCOM loosely called entertainment – which might mean a new cinema experience.

The designer outlets section will offer luxury clothing brands, electronics and space for local brands to set up pop-up shops the way Beirut Souks has allocated storefront space to local designers. The “Gourmet Market” will include imported and high-end groceries. SIDCOM did not specify if a supermarket chain would operate the grocery section.

Bilal Yamout, SIDCOM’s head of development and leasing, said Centerfalls aimed to merge luxury retail and service needs in one location.

“Centerfalls is a development of the highest quality offering a mix of off-price luxury retail, leisure, entertainment and fine dining experiences in a unique setting,” he said.

“Centerfalls’ merchandise mix and retail concept will enable customers to enjoy an experience tailored to their specific needs.”

Centerfalls has drawn its name from a unique architectural layout that includes the world’s largest waterfall ever built in a shopping mall, which will flow down five floors and into a central fountain in the shopping center’s luxury shopping section, according to SIDCOM.

The mall was designed by Italian architect Davide Padoa from Design International, and SIDCOM aims to make the new project a landmark in Metn not only as a shopping destination but also through “distinctive architectural language,” the company said. SIDCOM described the architecture as transparent and vertically open.

Indeed, Centerfalls has already received international accolades for its architecture. The International Property Awards named it the best retail architecture in Lebanon and in the Arabia regional category. The European International Property Awards also awarded Centerfalls “Best of the Best International Retail Architecture.”

الكورة: مبادرات لإحياء التراث - [more]
By: فاديا دعبول - السفير
Date: 18 December 2013

الكورة الغنية بتراثها وتاريخها، يميزها اهتمام أهلها بإبراز أمجادها الغابرة، ومعالمها المتجذرة في الماضي، وأصالة شعبها وتراث أجدادها العريق في مختلف الحقبات. وتظهر الاكتشافات أن المنطقة كانت مسكونة منذ ما قبل التاريخ، والشواهد كثيرة في «مغارة كوّة» في فيع، و«مغارة ابو حلقة» في راسمسقا، و«مغارة الحرية» في كوسبا، و«مغارة كفتون» قرب دير السيدة وغيرها.


وتجلت فيها الحقبة الفينيقية، لا سيما في أنفه التي كانت عاصمة فينيقيا، إضافة إلى طرابلس بفضل قلعتها ومرفئها البحري ومختلف الآثار الأخرى. وما خلفته العصور البيزنطية تجسد فيها أدياراً كثيرة، أعيد ترميمها في العهود الصليبية والمملوكية والعثمانية، حيث تضم كل بلدة على أقل تقدير ثلاثة أماكن مقدسة. وحتى اليوم ما زال أبناء الكورة يكتشفون آثار كنائس كما في كفتون، ومدافن كما في بشمزين، وسراديب كما في بترومين، كلها مدفونة مع كثير من الأدوات والفخاريات والنحاسيات التي كانت تستعمل في تلك الأزمنة.

وللحفاظ على الأدوات القديمة التراثية، عملت «جامعة البلمند» على إنشاء «المتحف الاثنوغرافي» ضمن حرمها في المبنى التراثي «بيت المعزة» منذ العام 2007، وهو فريد من نوعه في الشمال، حيث يضم 250 قطعة لم تعد في التداول وهي تعود الى القرنين التاسع عشر والعشرين، وتتنوع بين أثاث المنازل القروية وأدوات الطبخ والحياكة والزراعة والصيد والصناعة الحرفية وغيرها. وهناك مساع إلى إنشاء متحف متكامل ليس لعرض الأغراض فحسب إنما لتنظيم مشاغل حيّة للحرف التي باتت على طريق الزوال، كالنول وصناعة الزجاج والصابون ومعاصر الزيتون.

كما ان «جمعية حماية البيئة والتراث في الكورة وتوابعها» بصدد إصدار كتاب يحوي جميع آثار الكورة والمكتشفات فيها والدراسات القائمة حولها. وقد أدى»مجلس إنماء الكورة» دوراً في احياء التراث الكوراني منذ العام 1993 من خلال المهرجات التي كان يحييها، وتسليطه الأضواء على شجرة الزيتون الدهرية، ودعوة طلاب المدارس إلى المشاركة في موسم القطاف، إلى أن التزمت بلدية أميون إقامة المهرجانات التراثية سنوياً منذ العام 2008 بالتعاون مع مختلف الهيئات الأهلية المحلية.

وقد انبثق عنها «اللجنة التراثية» الناشطة في المهرجان في عرضها «بيت ستي» بمفروشاته وأدواته القديمة، وتقديمها المعلومات حول وسيلة نسج الحرير، وتكريرالعرق، وصنع النبيذ، وتقديم المأكولات التقليدية الصحية المطبوخة بالدست، والخبز على الصاج، إضافة إلى عرض صور رجالات أميون، المتميزين في مختلف المجالات، منذ عهد المتصرفية حتى الاستقلال، مرفقة بمعلومات عن حياتهم وإنجازاتهم التاريخية. كما تعمل اللجنة على إظهار معالم أميون الاثرية التي تعود لأكثر من 4000 سنة.

Hass Idriss: When fashion gets dirty - [more]
By: Elise Knutsen
Date: 13 December 2013

BEIRUT: An origami crane swayed slightly from its fishing line suspension as designer Hass Idriss dragged on a cigarette in his Clemenceau showroom. “Fashion is too clean for me,” he said. Idriss, a 20-something Lebanese-Brit, has always had trouble drawing between the lines. “I was a troubled teenager. I got kicked out of four schools and at 13 I had two psychologists, one psychiatrist, one psychotherapist, one hypnotist and every dietician in the country,” he said.

Cultivating a gift for painting throughout his rabble-raising youth, he hoped to hone his talent at the elite Central Saint Martins College in London. “I wanted to be a fine artist. But then they said I was too bitchy for fine art so they threw me with the fashionistas, none of which liked me,” he said with a laugh.

With rebellious creativity, however, he blurred the lines between performance, fine art and fashion during his university years.

“My final design was a woman wearing a man’s ego,” he said. Creating a corset made from metal pipes and a bodied skirt, the gown was designed to leak gas, finally igniting and exploding when fastened.

Assigned to deconstruct two concepts for another design course, he incited a minor scandal by choosing Islam and sex at the height of the Danish cartoon crisis. “The police came and asked me to delete it off my external hard drive,” he said proudly.

After several headstrong pursuits, Idriss found himself the eager assistant of photographer David LaChapelle and later to Anna Wintour. “I was called ‘excuse me,’” he said.

After graduating, Idriss landed a formative gig with Alexander McQueen, a fellow Saint Martin’s alum.

“He was a charming cockney character with a double personality,” Idriss said of McQueen. “You know, he was an artist.”

Idriss’ own intricately macabre sensibilities and his penchant for mixing the elegant with the dark seem to reflect, at least in part, his time with McQueen.

While most of his time is spent creating bespoke eveningwear for the society set, Idriss continues to play the provocateur with a variety of side projects. An exhibition of wax sculptures, representing the occult secrets, or arcana, of Tarot cards opens this week at Le Gray.

Two wax dresses embracing, bosoms melted together, represent “The Lovers,” a powerful card in the tarot deck. A hooded and headless body perched within a metal hoop represents “The World,” which, according to esoteric lore indicates wholeness.

The arcana, Idriss explained, represent age-old human emotions and desires. As a couture designer, he is no stranger to these common yearnings. “I constantly have women who want to send a certain message or hide a certain message,” he told The Daily Star.

“I have women who really want to attract men, women who want to be elegant ... The hidden messages and the given messages are so anthropological and so biblical on so many levels, so cliche,” he said.

Tarot cards, he said, were tropes to represent these same human emotions.

Similarly, Idriss chose wax as his medium for its symbolic virtues. “It represents brewing ... keeping the fire going; it represents passion, it represents danger, it represents so many elements that we’re all so attracted to yet so repulsed by, which is exactly what I expect of the feedback. I want people to love it I want people to hate it,” he said.

The exhibition, Idriss told The Daily Star, is something of a waxen climax to his time in Lebanon. “This is the point in my career where things are really heading elsewhere. My next big projects are in London and in Paris. I want to give Lebanon a big, strong shot done with not just commercialism but done with creativity and integrity and honesty and show really what I’m about before I don’t give a damn.”

Zahle a UNESCO City of Gastronomy - [more]
By: Samya Kullab
Date: 16 November 2013

ZAHLE, Lebanon: Chilly fall weather in the Bekaa Valley town of Zahle keeps most visitors away from its myriad of restaurants and bakeries this time of year. But residents are still abuzz over its recent christening as a City of Gastronomy by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.“Now that we are on UNESCO’s global map, we can exchange information and ideas and experiences with other creative cities,” said Elise Tamer, a member of Zahle’s municipal council.

The new designation affiliates Zahle with UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network, a project launched by the agency to maintain cultural diversity by allying cities across the world to promote their local heritage, and cope with the effects of globalization.

UNESCO picks the creative cities and candidacy is based on a given city’s distinguished and singular products, something that the agency will protect and preserve. There are many fields by which these products are classified, such as literature, film, music, craft and folk art, design, media arts and, of course, gastronomy.

Everyone in Zahle will tell you that they are deserving of the title because the area was the birthplace of the essential, and now widespread, Lebanese mezze.

“We applied to UNESCO in Paris for the title,” Tamer explained. “There were many other countries who did too, including the U.S., and countries in Europe and Africa.”

Zahle is the only city in the Arab world to be designated a city of gastronomy, according to Tamer, a source of pride, but also responsibility, as a condition to maintain the title is continual creativity and activity.

Nevertheless, Tamer was full of ideas, stressing that there was a need to hold more activities in the winter, a low season for tourism:

“The problem is that there isn’t very much in Zahle for tourists, other than the restaurants of Berdawni.”

The restaurants of the Wadi al-Arayesh, such as Mhanna and Arabi, are renowned for their history and relaxing ambiance. Patrons can hear the river rippling on both sides while dining in a courtyard framed by tall trees over 100 years old. The restaurants are open during the summer, with customers tapering off sometime in October.

To capitalize on winter tourists, the municipality is toying with the idea of holding a gastronomy festival, featuring its well-known dishes, as well as those from other Lebanese cities.

“The key to reaching people is through the stomach,” Tamer joked.

Casino Arabi, one of Zahle’s most eminent restaurants, garnered its reputation through not only its menu but also by the illustrious patrons that have savored its famed mezze dishes over the course of 82 years.

The walls of its main sitting room are adorned with photographs of key statesmen and entertainers, from Rafik Hariri to Jimmy Carter to Umm Kulthum. Its history is one that Jean Arabi, the owner and manager of the restaurant, explains proudly.

“My father and uncle founded this restaurant in 1932,” he said. “They were educated, and they were always looking for the newest technologies for the kitchen and services, and they were always perfecting their recipes.”

There were a few customers at the restaurant when The Daily Star visited, enjoying mezze starters as a prelude to the main course of grilled meats, accompanied by milky glasses of arak. When the meal is over, plates of fresh seasonal fruits are offered.

Like most residents of Zahle, Arabi points out, repeatedly to hit the point home, that: “Mezze was born here, it was created here.”

According to Arabi, the birth of mezze is linked to Zahle’s love affair with arak, also produced by families for generations in the district.

“This area was heavily forested before, 100 years ago. The people here loved to drink arak, but it takes a while to drink easily and relax. So people would come and bring plates of foods from home, like labneh, hummus, batenjan and khoudra to make fattoush,” he explained.

“The accumulation of the small plates made quite a big table,” he added. Today there are over 82 mezze plates, which come hot or cold, savory, raw or cooked.

While the existence of mezze predates the founding of Zahle, it is famed for hosting the modern notion of the mezze table. As Arabi explained, in the 1920s, the region’s locals would gather along the river, bringing mezze wrapped from home. It wasn’t until the 1950s that restaurants began serving mezze meals.

Arabi hoped that the municipality would “take advantage of the UNESCO title” and that his restaurant would have more visitors as a result.

Zahle’s gastronomic strength is perhaps derived from its strong rural identity. Located in the heart of the Bekaa Valley, it has boasted a culinary tradition based on locally produced items.

Apart from foods, the city also has a reputation for intellectualism, as a it was the birthplace of many writers, poets and thinkers, such as Said Akl, Khalil Farhat, Michel Trad, Riyad Maalouf and Joseph Abitaan.

Though Zahle was founded in the early 18th century, it lies in an ancient environment that goes back five millennia. Its strategic location rendered it a prime trading area for merchants from Syria and Iraq. One of the important intersections of the ancient Silk Road, merchants would typically stop over in Zahle for a bite to eat and to feed their horses. In that way, Zahle has always been a city where travelers meet and share their stories over food.

The Berdawni River area was traditionally a site for mills that would produce huge amounts of flour and bulgur. Today bakeries represent a large percentage of the local industry, their productivity still linked to the functioning mills in the city.

Wandering in the old city of Zahle, one comes across numerous sweet shops and bakeries. The Patisserie Saliba is among the oldest of the pastry shops that prepare the city’s famed kaak bi halib.

The owner of the patisserie, Marie Saikaly recounted that her uncle had opened the business in 1955, and they run it the same as they did then, making the sweet bread, whose main ingredients include flour, sugar and orange blossom water.

A prominent fixture near the Berdawni is Charbel, the sweet vendor, who sells caramelized nuts and sweets. Among them is malban, a chewy walnut stuffed treat with a jellylike consistency made with grape molasses, thickened with starch and flavored with rose water. The sweet arrived in the city during the Ottoman times.

He also sells armouch nougat, a chewy white candy, mixed with pistachios and, Charbel’s addition, honey.

The main sweet item in Zahle, however, is semsemiye, which consists of a roll of sesame seeds made with gum mastic and honey.

The vendor insisted The Daily Star taste the latter, proclaiming:

“The best semsemiye, it is in Zahle.”

Commemorating Ashoura with traditional food - [more]
By: Mohammed Zaatari
Date: 14 November 2013

SIDON, Lebanon: Hajje Fatima Abbas, 70, stirs a giant copper vat of wheat, adding wood to the fire every now and then to keep the fire raging. Several women from her family and neighbors help her cook, each tending to their own giant-sized pots of starchy liquid. “We inherited this custom of cooking harisseh during Ashoura from our fathers and grandfathers to distribute for free to worshippers and passersby,” Abbas says.

Food traditions – as in most of Lebanon’s religious holidays – play a central role in the 10-day Ashoura commemorations held in village and city squares across the country’s Shiite-populated regions.

Ashoura commemorates a battle in which Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad, is believed to have fought in Karbala more than 1,300 years ago. Hussein and most of his family were killed in the battle against the Umayyad Caliph Yazid. Shiites around the world mourn during the first 10 days of Ashoura in nightly public gatherings to listen to the story of Hussein recounted.

The commemoration is not limited to religious rituals. The holiday in Lebanon calls for specific foods that can be prepared en masse and are freely distributed at mass gatherings. Three foods traditional to Ashoura include a chicken dish called harisseh, a sweet sandwich of biscuits and nougat, known locally as biscuit al-raha; and a cookie called kaak al-Abbas.

Harisseh is often cooked in a large group of women or jointly by many families at their homes. Those who’ve come out to worship on Ashoura can see smoke rising from the inner alleys of the villages, a signal that harisseh is being cooked there.

In addition to families, political parties and NGOs also finance large quantities of harisseh dishes. The Hezbollah and Amal parties distribute the chicken and wheat dish to houses around each villages and directly to those who attend their Ashoura commemoration rituals.

Randa Berri, Speaker Nabih Berri’s wife, oversees in person the work of dozens of men and women in making harisseh at the yards of her residence in the Zahrani village of Moseileh and distributes it to the residents of the village and its visitors.

Fatima Abbas learned to cook harisseh when she was a young girl in the southern village of Saksakieh, when she helped stir the pots alongside older women.

“We cook the harisseh for six hours with the help of the women in the village,” she says. A total of three cookers, each filled with 25 kilograms of wheat, were on the fire as she spoke.

To make harisseh, kilos and kilos of wheat are washed then added to the vats of hot water. The wheat is cooked slowly and requires constant stirring until its soft. Then meat and chicken are added to different pots to make two different kinds of harisseh, Abbas explains.

“When everything is cooked we remove the bones from the chicken and meat and add them to the wheat and keep stirring until they melt into each other,” she says.

For every kilo of wheat, Abbas adds a kilo of meat or chicken, along with onions, spices, saffron and ghee, or some type of shortening. Every 75 kg of wheat is enough for 600 worshippers, she says.

“We cook harisseh every day for 10 days of Ashoura and then we cook it again on the 40-day commemoration,” she adds.

In the village of Kfar Rommane in Nabatieh, Umm Mohammad Jaber knocks on the doors of her neighbors to hand out the harisseh.

“Ashoura is linked to harisseh for me,” she says. “I always cook it at this time of this year and distribute it as vows. We also distribute it now to the Syrian refugees and our friends and neighbors from Sunni families, as well.”

How to enjoy teatime favorite kaak al-Abbas - [more]
By: Mirella Hodeib
Date: 14 November 2013

MARWANIEH, Lebanon: Chewy yet fragrant, kaak al-Abbas is another stalwart of Ashoura’s celebrated culinary traditions. Distributed at the end of “Majlis al-Aaza” – gatherings where the story of Imam Hussein is recounted in the nine days preceding the day of Ashoura – the anise-and-turmeric-scented cookies are a delight to the tastebuds after crying one’s heart out listening to the tragedy that befell Hussein and his family.

Kaak al-Abbas was named in remembrance of Al-Abbas, Imam Hussein’s half brother, who was murdered while collecting water from the Euphrates River to quench the thirst of his niece, Sukaina bint al-Hussein, after the Hussein’s camp in Karbala was held under siege and ran out of water and food supplies.

Round-shaped with four smaller circles carved on its surface, kaak al-Abbas is sold at several bakeries across Beirut and almost every bakery in south Lebanon. The soft biscuits are not Ashoura-specific staples and can be enjoyed all year long.

If you’re planning to bake kaak al-Abbas at home, combine the dry ingredients: flour with instant yeast, baking powder and spices – anise, ginger, nutmeg and sesame. Dissolve the sugar and a generous pinch of turmeric into the milk and heat until lukewarm.

Add good quality olive oil to the dry ingredients and mix until it turns into a crumble-like texture. Pour in the milk mix and combine to obtain a moist but firm dough. Transfer into a bowl and allow to rest overnight.

The next day, divide the dough into small even-sized pieces and or roll out into large circles 10-11 cm in width.

Decorate by hand or with cookie cutters. Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees for about 15 minutes or until golden.

This Middle Eastern variant of gingerbread should be served cool with afternoon tea or, even better, for breakfast with a dollop of labneh and olive oil or else with kashkaval sheep-milk cheese.

If you’re in Beirut and craving kaak al-Abbas, Afran al-Kaboushieh on Hamra Street sells the best version Beirut has to offer, although they can seem a bit greasy.

For traditional, almost homemade kaak al-Abbas, head to Abu Ali’s bakery right at the entrance of the southern village of Marwanieh, just a few kilometers from Nabatieh.

There, owner Abu Ali and his apprentices have been baking kaak al-Abbas the traditional way for decades. Chewy, crumbly and perfumed with the perfect cocktail of spices, Abu Ali has a strong claim that he bakes the tastiest kaak al-Abbas in the country.

“The secret is how much time you leave the dough to rest before you start the baking process,” the baker confides. “The amount of love and passion you put in making every batch is equally important.”

If you do visit Abu Ali’s bakery, you should also try their legendary “mashateeh,” a typically southern Lebanese wholewheat oval-shaped bread delicious with labneh and many other Levantine cheeses.

A cinematic light shines from Tripoli - [more]
By: Jim Quilty, India Stoughton
Date: 14 November 2013

BEIRUT: “I’m astonished,” says Lebanese filmmaker Jocelyne Saab. “Tripoli [had] 20 cinemas before the [Civil] War ... Now there is only one [a multiplex with five screens], so people go less. Yet when I called the [theater manager,] he said, ‘I have 700 or 800 people coming per day.’

“We said to ourselves, ‘Why shouldn’t Tripoli radiate her lights over the whole country?”

There is no shortage of film festivals in Lebanon. Between the Cabriolet, Outbox and European Film Festivals, Docudays, the Lebanese Film Festival, Ayam Beirut Cinemaiyya, and the quixotic Beirut International Film Festival, residents in the capital are spoilt for choice.

The city’s film lovers are about to become more spoiled still, thanks to Tripoli – the seat of Lebanon’s newest international film festival.

The Tripoli International Film Festival has its hard opening Thursday evening at three separate venues – the Safadi Cultural Center and City Complex multiplex in Tripoli, and Metropolis Cinema-Sofil in Beirut. The official opening-night film is the award-winning 2012 feature “The Patience Stone,” by Afghani novelist-cum-filmmaker Atiq Rahimi.

Rahimi is among the handful of international filmmakers who will be on hand for his Beirut projection. Turkish writer-director Emin Alper is also scheduled to attend with his award-winning debut feature “Beyond the Hill,” as is Clarisse Hahn, director of the 2010 documentary “Kurdish Lover.”

The festival’s artistic director, Saab says she was approached to assume this role about nine months ago but that the Cultural Resistance Association – the festival’s six person-strong institutional base – is older.

“Since two years we were thinking of making the Cultural Resistance Association ... poets, writers, filmmakers, choreographers,” she says.

“I contacted them and said, ‘OK, shall our first action be the festival?’ We said, ‘Walla, it’s a necessity.’

We wanted things ... to awaken the spirit of something cultural, to get out of this war-time thinking, where you don’t know how to talk to each other at all levels. Suddenly we had to do everything: to find finance, to convince people, to be credible.”

It was partly for financial reasons that the CRA approached Beirut Arab University, USEK, the Lebanese University, Notre Dame University and Universite St. Joseph about providing screening venues and about 10 percent of the festival budget.

Saab says local patrons and supporters secured her the rest.

“We did this for [Tripoli],” she continues, “but we were afraid that the city would have problems and they couldn’t do it, so we said let’s [have projections] in Beirut at the same time.’”

There were pre-Civil War efforts to represent Tripoli as the northern capital of Lebanon – with a distinct cultural identity symbolized, albeit tentatively, in Oscar Niemeyer’s modernist architectural design for the Tripoli International Fairground.

More recently the city has come to be seen as impoverished and violent, deeply divided along class, religious and sectarian lines. So there appears to be something political in the decision to create this festival.

“I think that culturally Tripoli is much more authentic than Beirut,” Saab says. “It doesn’t need to prove to people [that] it has a history. Now it is going to pieces. That’s what convinced us to do [the festival], because for me Lebanon is one piece.

“I have a national and regional, even continental view of the city. Through Tripoli, I decided to put Lebanon [within] Asia. We are an Asian and Mediterranean country.”

This desire to locate Tripoli and Lebanon a little differently helps to explain the festival program’s eclectic film selection.

It includes many critically lauded and award-winning films – from Tawfiq Saleh’s “The Dupes” (1973) to Rania Atieh and Daniel Garcia’s “Tayyib Khalas Yalla,” (2010). There are also surprises, like “Il se peut que la beauté ait renforcé notre resolution,” Philippe Grandrieux’s 2011 documentary homage to Japanese political and cinematic radical Masao Adachi.

Equally unexpected are several award-winning documentary and feature films from South and Southeast Asia – a region toward which Lebanese audiences are believed to be utterly indifferent.

“We brought films from Asia and we are in Asia,” Saab says.

“We’re looking to the Other, just to think about ourselves. They’re like mirrors to us. This is how I chose the films,” she continues. “I didn’t want to make [just] one more festival. I wanted this festival to have meaning. It’s a very difficult city: I didn’t choose the easiest.

“Tripoli is suffering and it symbolizes what’s going on in the region. It’s related to Lebanon and it’s related to the region. In the past we used to say Tripoli [was part of] Bilad al-Sham. It was only the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1920 [that defined it as part of Lebanon] and now what’s happening? It’s a new drawing of frontiers, so this city says a lot.

“The city also has a lot of problems with rich and poor and I think the elite is very much responsible for the poverty. So all this made me accept to make this festival and to stay true to myself and to my way of thinking,” she says.

“There was once a time called the Nahda, [the so-called Arab Renaissance]. I think we desperately need another one.

“The youth need it ... It’s time to get back to the power of the youth.”

Another facet of the activist agenda embedded in this Tripoli film festival is its focus on women. Among the films by Arab filmmakers, Susan Youssef’s “Habibi Rassak Kharban” and Layla al-Bayaty’s “Berlin Telegram” will have their Beirut premieres, while docs like Carol Mansour’s “Not Who We Are” and Parine Jaddo’s “Broken Record” will be revived.

“Do you think that women have their rights in this country?” Saab says. “It’s an appearance. It’s even more dangerous than the countries where they’re covered from head to toe.

“Here we have appearance. They can go in bikinis to the beach, but there are lots of rights that are not respected that are very important ... I am a woman who doesn’t have all her rights in her own country, but I don’t want to talk about myself, so I work for the others and for all of us.

“Focusing on women was a way to give them their place.”

The Tripoli International Film Festival opens Thursday evening with projections at Tripoli’s Safadi Cultural Center and City Complex multiplex, and at Beirut’s Metropolis Cinema-Sofil, where filmmaker Atiq Rahimi will be on hand for the screening of his 2012 feature “The Patience Stone.” For more information see www.culturalresistance.org and www.metropoliscinema.net.

JOSEPH opens first flagship store in Downtown Beirut - [more]
By: Elise Knutsen
Date: 12 November 2013

BEIRUT: While some spent the weekend wearing thin the treads of their running shoes, well-heeled Beirutis flocked to Foch Street to visit JOSEPH. JOSEPH, a luxury ready-to-wear brand pronounced with a French accent (or affectation), opened its first Beirut shop last week. The store is located down the street from Chanel, its sheepskin clad mannequins staring at chic passersby.

Hardly a new kid in town, the brand is known to many luxury-loving Beirutis. JOSEPH has long been carried in high-end Lebanese retail shops, says Ralph Eid, the general manager. “It’s a brand that is well-known and very much appreciated by the Lebanese consumer,” he said. “There was an appetite by the market to have a JOSEPH for a very long time, and it was in effect really long overdue.”

The brand was founded by Moroccan-born hairdresser Joseph Ettedgui, who combined a fashion-forward vision with cultural panache. He created a boutique-cum-salon, where he sold high-end labels along with young designers.

“Joseph always knew who his customers were and what they liked so you would always get what you wanted,” Vivienne Westwood said of Ettedgui on 25th anniversary of his London boutique, known to the initiated as 77 Fulham.

“His shops are among the most beautiful in the world,” Miuccia Prada gushed. Joseph was, according to the brand’s website, the first London store to sell Prada clothing.

Over the past 30 years, Joseph has transitioned from primarily multibrand boutiques to monobrand shops housing the designer’s eponymous line, JOSEPH.

JOSEPH has stayed true to its roots, weaving provocative artistic allusions into the brand concept.

In the Beirut storefront, a mannequin wears a graphic Haring sweater, an unmistakable nod to ’80s artist Keith Haring.

The JOSEPH brand is more urban chic than avant-garde. Leather pants, cashmere pullovers and lambskin jackets number among this season’s looks.

“It’s easy,” Eid said. “It’s sophisticated yet simple, so that is the woman we cater to.” Prices for standard pieces, from knits to dresses, tend to fall in the $300-$600 range, with some fur and leather items priced over $1,500.

While JOSEPH has a small men’s line, the Beirut store only carries womenswear at this time.

Like other JOSEPH stores around the world, the Beirut branch will host cultural activities and events.

“We’re going to be fully representative of the brand in all its aspects, both cultural and fashionable,” Eid said. “We’re open to everything.”

Beirut Residents Revolt Against Plan to Destroy Iconic Massad Stairs - [more]
By: Tafline Laylin
Date: 12 November 2013

Beirut residents are fed up: everywhere they look there are cranes and bulldozers turning their city into a giant concrete mess and even the smallest efforts to beautify the city are destroyed. This time they are saying no to a municipal plan to demolish the iconic Massad stairs.

Also known as the Mar Mikhael stairs in the district of the same name, the 73 steps mean something to local residents.

Not only are they a popular destination for tourists and artists, including the Dihazahyners who famously painted the steps in an array of beautiful colors and geometric shapes, but the stairs are also important for circulating human traffic.

Getting around as a pedestrian is becoming increasingly impossible as every inch of space is set aside for cars and buildings, so the stairs offer some respite from the noise and pollution that has engulfed city streets.

Now rumors are circulating that former Minister Mohammed Chatah is involved with groups who plan to demolish the stairs to either make way for a road way, which a local dentist told Al-Akhbar is not necessary, or an underground parking lot that would double apartment prices in the neighborhood, and the locals are livid.

(Related post: Beirut Green Project Maps Secret Eco Spots in the City)

Completely fed up with the incessant drive to build, a group that calls themselves Achrafieh Stairs has arranged a couple of sit-ins. One has already taken place, and another is scheduled for this Thursday at 4pm local time.

With 2,552 people following their Facebook page, it seems the group has a lot of support.

Siham Takayan, who owns a grocery store at the foot of the stairs, has watched the plans progress. First he said a representative from Ogero Telecom came in to remove a phone. And then some engineers stopped by to map out their plans.

“I stood up to them all alone,” Takayan told Al-Akhbar. “I sat in the middle of the stairs and prevented them from finishing their work until the neighborhood’s residents gathered and informed the workers and the engineers that they are unwelcome here.”

Beirutis discover dreams can come true - [more]
By: India Stoughton
Date: 08 November 2013

BEIRUT: Learn tai chi, meet Fairuz, host a TV show discussing health issues, learn how to send business letters, win the Nobel Peace Prize: These are just some of the dreams and aspirations of the young Beirutis who gathered at AltCity in Hamra Wednesday night for the Dream Matcher Experience. The brainchild of 26-year-old entrepreneur Ali Chehade, this monthly networking event aims to crowdsource dreams by matching attendees together to help fulfill each others' goals.

"It started with my frustration with TV shows that ask people to share their dreams and then they get a big sponsor and they make it happen," he explains.

"I always thought 'Why do we always ask people about their dreams and we don't ask them what they can give to other people?' Instead of asking people: 'What's your dream?' I also wanted to ask: 'What dreams can you fulfill for others?'"

Chehade began working on an online platform where people could share their dreams, but struggled with financial constraints. One day, he says, he had the idea of creating a live event where people could help others achieve their goals and receive help is return.

"It was literally a light bulb moment," he recalls.

A year-and-a-half on, the Dream Matcher Experience is a regular feature at AltCity, where it takes place the first Wednesday of every month.

Guidance is given at every stage of the process, making it enjoyable even for those who usually struggle with networking and shiver at the thought of making small talk with strangers.

Attendees are given a nametag with the number of the table they've been assigned to, creating organic groups. Each person is given three colorful Post-it notes, on which to write dreams that they need help to achieve.

The dreams are then stuck to the venue's large windows and each table holds an informal discussion sharing their skills, hobbies and areas of work or study.

Once each group has got acquainted, participants peruse the dreams stuck on the window, writing down the name of anyone in their group who they think they might be able to make someone's dream come true.

Finally, everyone retrieves their own dreams and hunts down the names listed below each wish, or else is approached by those in need of help to achieve their own goals.

Wednesday's event was attended by a crowd of around 35 people, meaning that close to 100 dreams were soon decorating AltCity's windows like a cloud of hopeful confetti.

Some seemed likely to be easily achieved with the help of other participants. "Meet an event planner," said one bright pink Post-it, while a lime green square read: "Meet people who like rock bands and watching live bands."

Some skills, such as learning salsa dancing or photography, were the subject of five or six Post-it notes. Dreams of living or working abroad were also common, though these tended to receive less of a response.

Some dreams seemed unlikely to garner much response from other participants, due to a lack – or excess – of specificity. "To have a boyfriend," one note simply read, in neatly rounded letters. "Work on a film with a renowned director (preferably Lars von Trier)," another ambitious person had written.

While most of the dreams expressed by Wednesday's participants were good-spirited, others were creepier.

"I want to hack someone's Facebook and know his location and go find him," one dreamer revealed. Another note read "female who likes to go out dancing," with the words "Meet an easy" scored through but still clearly legible at the beginning.

By the close of business the venue was filled with animated voices making plans to meet up for language exchanges, setting dates to go out dancing and making arrangements to fulfill long-cherished ambitions, from driving a Ferrari to meeting Miriam Fares.

One participant, who has recently started a job editing documentaries for Al-Jazeera, was thrilled after finding someone to teach him the technicalities of color correction using video-editing software. In return he was able to help someone whose dream was to meet a Web designer.

Another participant said he was originally downcast after none of his three dreams got a response, but perked up after meeting another attendee and discovering that they shared a dream of starting a media production company. As the event wrapped up, the pair were feverishly discussing the possibility of entering into a business partnership.

Chehade says his own ambitions consist of taking the Dream Matcher experience global. He recently held an event in California, he says, where it was a big success.

"I'd been to a bunch of networking events in San Francisco and I thought that they were really boring," he says.

"I organized an event there ... and I was very happy to hear people in Silicon Valley, who go to networking events every day, say[ing] things like: 'This is the best networking event that we've been to.'

"That makes me really happy, coming from people who live there, and I think the reason is that it is result-oriented and productivity-oriented ... You leave here with actual connections, with actual goals set, ready to turn them into reality."

Chehade is hoping that the idea will take on a life of its own. Someone who had attended the Beirut event recently replicated it in Texas, he says.

"This is exactly what I want happening, is people licensing the event and doing it ... I still have my dream of having an online social network because I think that turns it into a really scalable idea that anyone, anywhere can make use of."

In the meantime, Chehade says, he is working on diversifying the prototype of the live event.

"I'm working on a variation of the Dream Matcher Experience that corporates can use as a retreat program for their employees," he reveals, "especially at medium to large businesses where there's a lot of employees and they barely know each other.

"Imagine all those people," he continues, "helping turn each others' dreams into reality. I think the next day they go to work it's going to be a whole different spirit."

The Dream Matcher Experience takes place monthly at AltCity in Hamra, and tickets are $10. A free event specifically for entrepreneurs is lined up for Nov. 20. For more information visit thedreammatcher.com.



Batroun Bsharre Ehden Tripoli Zgharta


Jezzine Tyre


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