The Lost Room of the Lebanese National Museum / Sweet memories and favorite places

In the Lebanese National Museum, the history of Lebanon is pushed back to prehistoric times. It includes the Phoenicians, explores Roman times and various invading cultures. The narrative slowly builds up, and just when you expect to step into the room of modern history, you find yourself at the exit.

The room, which is supposed to deal with modern Lebanese history, is simply not there. It might have been there before, there might have been relics or objects referring to the colonial times and independence, but they are not there now. What has happened to this room and these histories? If it is not in the National Museum, where are we to find modern Lebanese history? It would appear that given there is no national consensus, there is no modern history.

Yet, if there is one thing that seems to unite all Lebanese, particularly the Beirutis, then it is their love of the capital. Although it is a contested and violent city, Beirut encapsulates many places, which are full of sweet, loving, memories and nostalgia. Indeed, it is a city saturated with favorite places.

Random citizens were interviewed and revealed their favorite place or sweetest memory of the city of Beirut. Divided into the categories 'romance', 'heroism', 'childhood', 'encounters' and 'escape' these public places were recorded, tagged in the city and put on display.



The Daily Star reporter Susan Crile wrote two articles on this project and the Public Space Workshop of Studio Beirut:
'Sweet Memories' collects and creates stories in the streets - September 5 2007 - The Daily Star
'Lebanon is a melting pot that never really melted' - September 5 2007 - The Daily Star

Photo album of the different locations, photo's by Dirk-Jan Visser
Photo album of a night of tagging sweet memories in Beirut
Photo album of the Lost Room at Studio Beirut, photo's by Dirk-Jan Visser

Two short video's covering the memory tagging operation by Olivier Stam (left) and Edwin Gardner (right)

Aatiné Bawsé (gimme a kiss) by Olivier Stam

Tagging Beiruti Memories by Edwin Gardner


Abdallah Hajj, Carla Aramouny, Charlotte van Zanten, Christian Ernsten, Christiaan Fruneaux, David de Bruijn, Dirk-Jan Visser, Edwin Gardner, Floor Boon, Frederic Karam, Inara Nevskaya, Jasper Harlaar, Jemma Chidjac, Joost Janmaat, Lorraine Mannion, Manar Moursi, Muhammad Mahdi, Osaira Muyale, Oscar Buson, Rana Hamze, Reem Saouma, Sarah van Apeldoorn, Sasa Grujic, Sven Jense, Yasmine Abboud, Zeina Saab, Olivier Stam

@ Studio Beirut
August 2007


The Lost Room project was executed in the context of the Public Space summer workshop in Beirut. The event was organized and hosted by Studio Beirut with Pearl, Partizan Publik and Archis as co-organizers.

Location photograpy by Dirk-Jan Visser
Concept and production: Christiaan Fruneaux, Joost Janmaat, Christian Ernsten
Website by Edwin Gardner using GMapEZ
GREEN


Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser


I was eight or nine years old and was coming back from school. It was a rather intense day of bombshelling and you could hear the light infantry fights which made it hard for me to concentrate on my studies. My Dad came in and told me that if I could finish my studies in an hour, he would take me to the amusement park in Dora. The Luna park still exists. And so I did. And so he kept his word. When we reached the amusement park, of course it was closed. My Dad talked to the manager who turned out to be even crazier than my Dad. And he opened the amusement park just for me. I stayed there with my own personal amusement park for a couple of hours jumping from one game to the other. The bomb shells were still dropping, but for those two hours, I couldn't hear them.

RED


Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser


In a small patisserie in the heart of Beirut works Victor. Although his wrinkles betray his age, his eyes show a childish twinkle. When asked of his sweetest memory, his face suddenly explodes with laughter, and behind the glistering eyes secrets of the past reveal some of his thoughts. Victor used to stroll the streets looking for women, preferably tourists, telling them the same sweet stories, luring them right into his apartment facing the sea. The day he met Mercedez, a German girl passing through the impressive city of Beirut, seemed like every other adventure. She wasn’t the first to be taken to Cave the Roi where a rooftop looked onto the city and the sphere of romance was artificially created, but as time passed by, she would be the last. Despite the promise Victor made to himself not to fall in love, the German stole his heart. The day she left for Germany they promised each other to spend the rest of their lives together. But in the middle of preparing his departure to the love of his life, the war broke out and his plans got hit by massive bombing. The war not only broke their physical togetherness, but their writings did not reach their destination anymore and slowly the lively memory turned into nostalgic remnants of a far away past. Although Victor married another woman and Mercedez probably did too, the memory of their time together stays alive in two minds as untouchable proof of forgotten times in Beirut.

AQUA


Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser


While taking pictures of an old train station I attracted the attention of a local. He showed me around enthusiastically, explaining the artifacts lying around. One of them was a beautiful tree house that took him one week to build. It was modelled on the old water tank for trains standing close by.
To the man it as a sanctuary in a country of which he is proud and happy to live in, since the only time he left Lebanon was before the war when he was visiting his love in Ukraine. They enjoyed the company of one another for twenty-five days, and than the time of goodbye came. And since the war started in Lebanon all he is left with now is a dream of a girl from Kiev while resting in a tree house.

YELLOW


Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser


Dawriyeh shabeb, wattooooo shabeb, watooo …. 3allooo*

Public busses were huge and overcrowded. Drivers used to fit in more people than they were allowed. A young boy working for the driver used to go around the bus and collect the money. When they used to pass policemen that were parked along the road with there motorbikes, the driver would shout “dawriyeh shabeb, wattooooo shabeb, watooo”. And all the extra guys standing up used to bend down….When the bus was no longer visible to the police, he used to scream “3alloooo”. And everyone would stand back up.

Another bus anecdote: When they were too many people wanting to get on the bus, the bus driver had to screen people getting in. He used to say “dfaddaleh madame, rouh ya kharra” - Meaning, welcome madame, get away you piece of shit… A heritage of “machism”.

*Poliiiice guys, get down guys, get doooown … Get uuuup

GREEN


Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser


Madame Nahida sits in her small copyshop. She insists on sharing her kunefe with me. Her story is one of her childhood when she used to fly kites outside of her window. She recalls many a night during the war when she was stuck at home due to the curfews, and to pass the time she and her friends would fly kites outside of their windows.
But this particular memory is bittersweet: on the one hand it hurts because it is a poignant reminder to her of a time of war, pain and devastation, yet she cannot help but miss a skyline glittering with the color of kites flying outside the windows of little children that were besieged in their homes.

YELLOW


Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser


Elie tehme decided to play a joke on his colleague Joseph. He pretended to be a secret admirer called Christine, who happened to be deeply interested. He caught the guy's attention through sexy phone calls. By the end of the week she had him right where she wanted him, pledging "I am yours, in body and soul, let's meet". The date was to take place in café Automatic, in Downtown Beirut. At 11 sharp, Joseph was dressed up waiting for the girl in red holding a blue rose in his hand. At the other edge of the street, the whole staff was observing the event, yet Joseph still has no knowledge of what really happened.

YELLOW


Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser


I interviewed my grandmother and asked her to tell me about a sweet memory she had of Beirut. She described a beautiful downtown with her favorite café, L’Automatique, which was a magnet for poets, tourists, and politicians alike. She said she would usually go shopping in downtown and visit the café, occasionally asking my grandfather to meet her there. She distinctly remembers the muhallabieh dessert, which she can still taste in her mouth.

YELLOW


Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser


I asked my friend’s mother to describe a fond memory she had of Beirut. She explained to me that there was a place in the downtown area of Bab Idriss, called al Antabli. It was a juice bar where she and her friends used to meet occasionally. One time she and her friends made a bet, but unfortunately (at that time) she lost the bet and was forced to ask a man at the juice bar to have the best jallab drink in town with her at that same place. After that, they ended up dating. This memory not only reminds her of the person, but also of how Beirut used to be.

AQUA


Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser


Annatour*

“Centre ville was a beautiful place… not like it is today. It was also a place where poor people lived. I earn 15000 LL a day. Do you think I have enough money to hang around in centre ville?
It use to be lively, the whole city was dancing – rich, poor, Muslim, Christian, “Tatareh”, everyone was laughing, eating, and living together. Now it’s all about shopping and offices. There’s nothing for the people, “el sha3eb”.
We mostly used to hang around in the Bourj, going to the cinema or going for a coffee. We used to go out with our friends, mainly boys, and look at the girls passing by.
Buyers, sellers, everyone was happy. It will never be the same again, especially with the campers today. What are they thinking? They damaged every hope we had.”

*porter

AQUA


Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser


Under the bridge downtown is the current site for political sit-ins. It is also the site of the lost memory of sweet handholding and kissing in the backseats of a cinema that used to exist there in the pre-war and pre-Solidere days.
Monsieur Karam, sitting in a plastic chair outside his tent under the bridge, reconstructed a spatial map of nostalgia for me as he pointed towards burnt, shelled or non-existent buildings. These sweet moments are lost in a city that no longer exists except in his mind, but has now been transformed to what he coins “the pornographic” space of shame.
The burnt building to the left of the bridge was where he first wooed his wife and exchanged looks behind a counter in what is now a dilapidated department store where she sold clothing. On the right were the stores that they strolled by hand in hand, and where he used to buy her small tokens of his love.

AQUA


Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser


I met a Lebanese police officer Muhammed who circulates the streets of Gemmayze and gives out fines to those who park in restricted parking areas. After asking him whether he had given me a fine, I asked him about his sweetest memory. He told me the following: When I was young I remember finished a long day at work and escaping the city to Bashoura highway, where I would meet some friends, smoke some pot, get high, to escape the misery of work and political struggles of the country, to get away from gangs, what he referred to as ‘mafias’ and to find a hiding place to take girls and make out”. After that story, he accompanied me to my car to check if he had given me afine and surprisingly enough, I had no fine. I left the street with a new friend who would make sure I wouldn’t get a fine again or what the Lebanese would call “wasta”.

GREEN


Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser


The girl on the bike

(Wadi abou jmil st) Childhood tosmi

Before the war broke out and she had to leave the country one woman’s sweetest memory is of going to and from school every day on her bike. She was known in her neighbourhood as the girl on the bike because there weren’t a lot of bikes around at the time. So she was quite a recognised woman and it made her feel very unique.

RED


Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser


Saleem used to go from Dora to Correche on foot to save some money. One day his friends hid his slippers while he was swimming. So he had to walk all the way back barefoot. And because he looked so angry, his friends were afraid to give him back his slippers. They had to give it to his girlfriend who works in a shop. Two years later they got married.

AQUA


Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser


“Abou Elie”, a small pub in Ras Beirut, used to be my Dad’s (Sami Saouma) favourite haunt. He would gather there with his “buddies” so that he could carve out his own space outside his habitual life. Getting drunk, chatting with friends and engaging in idle talk became a freedom he cherished. Now I often go to the same place myself. The owner is still there and he knows me too. I even know his son, so this memory has a certain lineage in my family.

GREEN


Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser


Best memory of Beirut

“My best memory of the city is the train that used to run through my street. The street I still live in. The train stopped operating in the sixties.”

Place: Blissstreet or Kennedystreet
A woman with one arm

YELLOW


Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser


The man from the Kodak shop used to have his own shop in Downtown. He felt personally insulted when an American tourist took pictures of old dilapidated buildings, which he believed were unrepresentative of the beautiful Beirut he loved. So he got a police officer to confiscate the film from the tourist’s camera. Inquired about his motivations, the tourist explained that he was a photojournalist; they laughed and became friends.

WHITE


Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser


The Lifeguard on the Beach
Being deaf and dumb didn’t make him less communicative. He was trying to relate something. Helped by the new Nokia technology and an explanation given to him by his colleagues he relayed a story about the 14th March. He showed me a moving bus, and himself, the hero of the story, with his strong arms pushing it over.

AQUA


Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser


The Confessional Tree
One of Reem’s fondest memories is of a ‘confessional tree’ situated in front of the medical gate of the AUB. Since there was no place to go to enjoy any privacy, she would often go there with her two best friends on a Sunday afternoon. There they would sit, icecream in hand, confessing to one another their innermost secrets. No stone was left unturned.

AQUA


Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser

Hamra Square was a space that had some kind of healing properties. It was like a panacea. After working hours we used to flee to the Starbucks coffee shop next to Hamra Square, where we used to complain about life and work. Maxime Hourani used to tell us stories about Madame FiFi too. That Square really managed to heal us, it recharged our spirits to prepare for a new working day.

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