Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Beirut’s fight against misery: hunger is heresy

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NAfter the lockdown, the city has changed. So empty. Even at times of the day when she was always congested with so many cars that it took your breath away from exhaust fumes. Rush hour traffic has dissolved because there are fewer and fewer jobs. Even on Sunday evenings, when the residents usually flocked down from the mountains to Beirut, the stifling heat of which they happily escaped on weekends, there is hardly anyone on the road. Outlying areas have become expensive. Which is not only to blame for the lockdown, because before that Lebanon saw itself threatened by the worst economic crisis in decades, some even say since the great famine during the First World War.

Mismanagement, corruption and clientelism have kept the country weak, now it has nothing to counter the economic consequences of the pandemic. Inflation has risen so rapidly within months that simple foods have become unaffordable for many. Social media posts from people trying to exchange what they don’t necessarily need: furniture, glasses and shoes for diapers, oil and milk powder. Almost everywhere in the country there is only a few hours of electricity a day. Some traffic lights in Beirut have already been switched off. Some stores have not opened again. The galleries, theaters and museums that are accessible again have to be feared that they will soon also close their doors in this last oriental city, where there is still something of a grown cultural scene.

A good hour of music

The Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra has now given a concert in the middle of this all-encompassing sadness. The first in months, maybe the last for a long time, you don’t know. In the temple of Baalbeck, where the “Baalbeck International Festival” usually takes place at this time of year, whose future is as uncertain as anything else, the Philharmonic Orchestra performed with the singers from three choirs to present the “Sound of Resilience” to the country .

A good hour of music, put together by the conductor of the orchestra, the conductor Harout Fazlian, who was given the honor of leading a concert in the middle of the Bacchus temple, where usually nothing is performed, that they will talk about for a long time in little Lebanon. There were no spectators on site. But the event was broadcast live on the Internet and on almost all television channels. Only “Al-Manar”, the Hezbullah broadcaster, showed a different program.

The evening began with a call to fate, the “O Fortuna” from Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana”, which was highly symbolic and very pathetic under these circumstances. It was followed by orchestrations and adaptations of pieces that are deeply anchored in the Lebanese cultural memory and, as expected, led to social media overflowing with news that talked a lot about “goose bumps” and “tears”.

An actor proclaimed a poem by Gibran Khalil Gibran accompanied by music. A tribute to the Rahbani brothers made the country think of the man who had just shot himself in the middle of Beirut in front of a Dunkin Donut branch a few days ago. He hadn’t been the only suicide that day, but he was the one whose death was the most talked about because the man had left a message. A copy of his squeaky-clean police record and a piece of paper was attached to his chest and said, “I’m not a heretic. But hunger is heresy. ”A line from a song by Ziad Rahbani.

In between you could see old photos of performances by famous musicians at the “Baalbeck International Festival”. Herbert von Karajan in front of the iconic column row of the Jupiter temple in the 1960s. The pop band Mashrou ‘Leila, known far beyond the country. You could see Fairuz, Umm Kalzoum and Jessye Norman, and you could easily forget from the black and white pictures that the past was far less glorious than it might seem in the face of the present. Some people remembered all the hungry and unemployed who could not see the concert at all because there was no electricity for them and the internet was not working.

Others pragmatically enjoyed the musicians and technicians on television who had a job for at least one evening for which they might even be paid. And still others were just happy to be able to follow a concert of the “Baalbeck International Festival”. An event that was always reserved for those who could pay for the expensive tickets, and which opened at the moment when almost no one can do it.

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