Open season

It seems we are settling in. Instead of running around all the time saying ‘wow’ and feeling like travellers on a long trip, we have entered the DIY home-building phase. At the moment we are in the middle of building a bed, without a screw or nail. This asks for precision carpentry, naturally not something that comes easy neither to Ale nor me. In fact, several bits cut off in error had to be glued back on, not always a pretty sight. Oh well, as long as it’s functional. The nice thing is we can use the wood that’s left over from building the house and we have a friend who’s friend is a carpenter with big machines for cutting and planing fat, rough boards into nice and smooth ones. We even have a lot left over for building shelves.

Today we visited the World Bank in Beirut. Very friendly people, no answers for our probing questions, tho. They flatly denied, or at least feigned ignorance, of a project to do with power sector restructuring. But I had done my homework and read up, which caused some embarassement for the girls who are in charge of PR.

In the afernoon we had some time so I found this big green spot on the map that said ‘pine forest’. I was wondering how there could be a forest in Beirut, a city that is otherwise solid concrete. We found it, no mean feat in a city without roadsigns. A large park, apparently for government officials only, at least that’s what the guard said. But, he said, since we are French he will make an exception for us and we can have a look around for an hour. Which we did, oui monsieur, merci monsieur. So we had this whole park to ourselves, not much of a forest but still some tall trees, a lot of small ones and some grassy hills with a lawn so tough, it would survive direct shelling. Only the hardest of weeds can get through this summer. I also thought it’s very symbolic, there is one large green spot in the whole city and it’s locked up.

I have also nearly mastered an essential social skill: eating pumpkin seeds. The trick is to crack open the edge of the skin with your teeth and then pull out the seed with your tongue. Trouble is the little fuckers always crumble when my inexperienced cutting teeth try to force them open. That means I end up eating the whole seed including the skin which is a bit like chewing wood.

The other significant development is that the UN investigator into Hariri’s murder has accused four security officials with close ties to Syria. They were also the last allies president Lahoud had and calls for his resignation are getting louder. But he is clinging on to power. The thing is no one will cry even one tear over Assad’s puppet. Ironically he is the only one opposing the sell-off of Lebanon’s public utilities, all the rest of the government is hell-bent on privatising whatever public sector there is in order to reduce the country’s substantial debt.

People are worried, though, that naming those responsible for killing Hariri could trigger a new conflict. I for my part think the truth will out, at least to some extent in this case. Of course those on top of the chain of command rarely are subject to the law but by now they caught some pretty big fish already. But even if the Syrians were to be blamed I think there would be so much international attention on them that they would have to stay quiet.

One more thing, hunting season has started and it turns out the Lebanese are natural born hunters. Teenagers carrying hunting rifles are a common sight around the neighbourhood. Everybody’s favourite hobby is to take pot shots at the flocks of large birds – not quite an eagle, bigger than a falcon – that cricle in the winds rising on the side of the mountain. Meanwhile the little pellets fall right onto our house when coming back down. More annoying, though, is that they start shooting at 6 in the morning. I’ve never been up this early. When I confronted one of the heroes why he is shooting so close to the house, he just cradled his 12-hundred dollar Italian made rifle and said it’s a harmless hobby. I guess I ought to be grateful that they are not hunting with their AK-47s and Kalashnikovs.

Ale and Ayman want to get a really powerful loudspeaker so they can scream back at them. Not sure if that’s gonna work. I thought of putting out a rumour that we mined the woods around the house. As seen in the USA, gun culture and social solidarity are diametically opposed. Hence I think appealing to our hunters’ empathic understanding as responsible citizens is a lost cause. Stronger deterrents are needed. I guess I should try and buy a used SUV, a Hummer or a big pick-up or something like that and then I mount an ant-aircraft gun on the back. That should get me some respect in the neighbourhood.

Hasta la vista, baby, as we Austrians say.

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