Christopher Hitchens has penned a riveting account of his drubbing in Hamra forVanity Fair. Previous articles sponsored by the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation were either rife with errors or somewhat off-message, so Hitch’s piece comes right in the nick of time and proves that you really do get what you pay for. Here’s his opener:
“As Arab thoroughfares go, Hamra Street in the center of Beirut is probably the most chic of them all. International in flavor, cosmopolitan in character, it boasts the sort of smart little café where a Lebanese sophisticate can pause between water-skiing in the Mediterranean in the morning and snow-skiing in the mountains just above the city in the afternoon. “The Paris of the Middle East” used to be the cliché about Beirut: by that exacting standard, I suppose, Hamra Street would be the Boulevard Saint-Germain.”
A lesser journalist may have been able to work the old chestnuts about waterskiing and the “Paris of the Middle East” somewhere into the word count, but Hitch thrillingly pulls it off in the first paragraph! Can there be any doubt that we are witnessing a master at the height of his powers?
Here’s his description of the March 14th (2009) rally:
“Almost nobody displayed any religious emblem, and even the few who did were usually careful to put it next to the ubiquitous cedar-symbol flag of Lebanon itself. Women with head covering were few; women with face covering were nowhere to be seen. Designer jeans were the predominant fashion theme. Eclectic musical choices came over the loudspeakers. The average age was low. Nobody had been bused in, at least not by the state. Nobody had been told to leave work and demonstrate his or her loyalty. You get my drift.”
Indeed. It was Lebanonapalooza. My only critique of this paragraph is a stylistic one: I would have liked to see Hitchens make a stronger connection between his sartorial observations and the overall message of the demonstration. For example, he might have said: “Just as the luscious bosoms of Lebanon’s spritely maidens did spill out of their clingy tanktops — unconstrained by any cronish medieval garb — thus did the true spirit of Lebanon break free of its bonds and expose itself to me in all its naked glory, etc….” Something subtle like that.
By the way, has anyone else noticed that the name of the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation does not translate so felicitously in Arabic? I can imagine that the choice of the word “Renaissance” was probably meant to channel the “rising-from-the-ashes” trope, “Phoenix/Phoenician”, etc. but at the end of the day, the Arabic translation would have to be Mu’assasat al-Ba`th al-Lubnani (i.e. the Lebanese Baath Foundation). Whoops.