Take me to Down Town, I said to one of the cabdrivers hawking for tourists to rip off outside of the airport. I looked into his eyes in a way that left no doubt about my sincerity as I flicked my cigarette into the warm air of a September afternoon. It bounced a couple of times on the tarmac before it hit a pool of blood, or water, or whatever the fuck it was that put it out. Take me to Down Town, I repeated as I took off my sunglasses, regretting that I didn’t have a pair of those black leather gloves with no fingers. I was ready to conquer Beirut.
I knew nothing when I arrived here though, but I’d read all these books and I thought I knew a whole great deal. I’d often risen as an expert in heated conversations back home, explaining fragments of the complicated political picture of the Middle East. I had acquired great knowledge you see, from two years at a refined institution that claims to hold the monopoly of Truth.
I had pictured Down Town to be a dark part of the city. The Real Beirut, as it often is in other cities. But Beirut’s Down Town was the epicenter of the civil war and got pretty much destroyed. The remains were torn down by a company owned by the prime minister, and turned into a soul less Dubai looking plastic town packed with Gucci and Ferrari shops. It was definitely not a place for an adventurer like me that are allergic to things associated with the image of success. I was going for disaster.
Let’s Get Out Of HereIn London I was a social butterfly going from parties to parties. I was studying Fine Art at the same time as I was taking pictures for fashion magazines. Getting to hang out with all these hot models didn’t seem like a bad idea at the time. I had shit loads of fun being happily ignorant. But as I was growing older the models seemed to be getting younger, and the life of a fashion photographer felt ridiculously empty. So I left London after five years.
Back in Oslo I didn’t want to work so I did what all Norwegian kids do in my situation: I went to university – again. (Where I’m from that kind of stuff is free.)
I chose all the subjects about the Middle East that I could find. It made me feel like an idiot, because I realized that I really really didn’t have a fucking clue. I did that for a couple of years, at the same time my art was going pretty well. Then, boom, world financial crisis hit, and I was bought off by my oil fueled government. As a preventive act, the amount of grants given to emerging artists got increased – If someone might need a job in the future, at least there won’t be an artistic talent filling that room, was the theory.
So I sold all my shit, moved out of my boat and hit the world. (Boat story coming later).
On The Streets
I’d found myself a dirty little shop in a dark alley right next to the port of Beirut. On the opposite side of the narrow street was a Gay Nightclub and a hotel packed to the rim with Syrian workers. Five in each room. Outside of the shop was six plastic chairs. That’s where I liked to sit into the night drinking beer with the local guys. Every once in a while an old prostitute, or a worn out transvestite, would pass by. This was a Beirut far from the glossy image that this country is so famous for. I had found something real, I thought.
Do you want to come to our gathering? She was smoking hot. So was her friend. We’re having a psychedelic trance party up in the mountains this weekend, she continued. I had no idea how or why these two girls had found their way to my dark corner, but I liked it. I’d never been to a psychedelic trance party before since I thought I was allergic to people with dreadlocks. That was about to change. We got drunk on the street together that (and many other) night(s), and they ended up taking me to one party after the other.
Having met these two girls was a great introduction to this city for me, and when I got kicked out of my hostel I ended up sharing apartment with one of them. This gave me instant access to the life of a teenage Lebanese girl. There was no way in hell that I was going to leave this place now. I was in love.
When I met Matias around that time I was not particularly interested in befriending him. As a Stage One expat living it in Beirut I felt no desire to hang out with a (North) Norwegian dude. Then someone told me that he was kind of famous for having hitch hiked the world from North to South and East to West – with no money, and I kind of got a bit curious.
Then we walked across the country before we decided to become famous.
No Strangers Here
Beirut insanely welcomes (white) foreigners. It doesn’t take long before you meet some random person in a cab that invites you to his village in the south, or someone that wants you to come to their super awesome pool party. It was quite overwhelming for a Norwegian man like me in the beginning. Where I’m from you are considered a weirdo if you talk to strangers. In Beirut we’re all friends – no strangers here. I fucking love it!
But it was also a bit confusing in the beginning, as all these social relations were a new game to me. It took me some time to get used to it, and to appreciate the real friends that I made.
It’s been three years since I put my foot on Lebanese soil. I have never been this entertained in my life. I don’t quite know what it is that makes it, but I am never bored here. That’s the magic of Beirut. It’s always surprising, and never boring. And it’s a damn sexy city.
This blog post is a respond to Adrian’s brilliant contributions to 2famous.TV
First she hit the bulls eye with “The Beiruti Expat: A Process of Evolution“, a great little article that I most definitely could identify with. Then she wrote “Well If You Want to Know, This is Why I First Came to Lebanon” and I thought that I should tell you a little bit about my meeting with Lebanon, or my Stage One according to Adrian’s sophisticated ranking system.