When Walls Speak: Memoirs of a house
This text is dedicated to Maha, who gently held my hand and walked me thru the narrow streets and the old houses of 3ein Mreisseh, when we first met.
I remember the first time I saw the sea in 1926. I didn’t understand the dynamic nature of what appeared in front of me since I was a young static and eclectic figure. I could not sleep the first night; the waves embracing the rocks were too loud. But, with time, I got used to the discontinuity of the sound as it helped me sleep along with night birds and wild flowers.
I was getting used to the silence around me with minor interruptions. Then one day, a young newly-wed couple moved in. Younes, with a tall & skinny figure, was in his last year at the University studying Civil Engineering. Salwa, whose eyes were as blue as the façade view, has never been to the city before. I remember their first week of encounters; the tension, frustration, and lack of experience that flowed. But I could sense Love floating within the rooms, and I could feel it in the walls, as they seemed to know each other from before.
As the days passed, the knot in the relation began to untie, and we all lived beautiful days & nights. And what started as two people became seven souls, a few years later.
I wish I could go back to the early days: Younes & Salwa walking or dancing, other figures like me being shed around. Sound was what came from nature. Then suddenly, a weird four-wheel machine with an engine and tires started to make way on my street. It was horrible. Many of them started to show up, and soon the streets were getting wider. Again, another day, Younes brought a big rectangular box that he plugged in the wall. Instantly, music came out of it, and it was magic. The first time, I heard Abdel Wahab singing an old Sayyed Darwish mawwal, the walls shivered.
After a while, I had to adapt to the new noises: the cars, the children growing up, the radio, the telephone… Technology is loud.
That day I became officially Lebanese. I felt encircled & captive. I never understood frontiers beyond what nature had provided. There was a lot of movement around me that day. But the feeling was mixed between supporters of
One day Younes & Salwa moved all their sons & daughters into their bedroom and quickly rearranged the other 3 bedrooms along with a complete redecoration of the living space. I heard them say thru the kitchen walls that family friends from
Then, the few weeks became few months, and the family decided to rent a small house in the city awaiting their return. I haven’t seen them since, and I don’t know if they have ever returned back to
Salwa suddenly became ill. The doctors could not help her at home, so they moved her to a hospital for a more accurate diagnosis. Few weeks later, Salwa passed away. She was 56 years old leaving five children and two grandchildren. She was a quiet woman. She lived most of her life within her head and inside her thoughts & dreams. She repressed all her feelings, since she never knew how to channel them. She devoted her life to her family and home. She was my true companion. Younes’ tears still mark the bedroom tiles.
Few weeks later, I found myself alone again, but filled with memories, children’s writings, posters, and the remains of musical waves on my walls.
No more lies: Destruction Everywhere
How can one forget the war years? Aren’t bullet holes on the façade and in the back enough souvenirs? Or the looting of old candlesticks, iron ornaments, Maurice chairs, and floor tiles? I tried to force the militia men out when they hijacked the house. War felt like rape of all structures.
Everything was different during those years; the street noise, the smell in the air, the breathing of humans, and the relations to space. The beautiful windows and balconies became open scary sources of death; they had to be closed. The little bathroom air opening became a favorite sniper spot. The sun didn’t make it in, and the sea became far away.
A new day!!!
They said a new day will arrive and wash away all the stains of the past days & nights, but I am still waiting for that day of the messiah. For now, I am a cracked façade with broken arches, and rotten wooden doors that lead to an empty envelope. Inside, I can only hear the reverberation of sad sounds of bad-blood-days and bomb-illuminated nights.
My last week: Demolition Everywhere
The grandsons of Younes know nothing about this house. They see a plot for market speculation, and millions of dollars for their security in a country that provides no security to its passport holders.
They think I am short; I am ugly, and out-dated. They say that the sea façade in Beirut no longer belongs to locals. They lost the sense of taste. I don’t blame them. They can barely taste food, how should they develop a taste for culture? I don’t blame them. They never lived here. The war broke the thread of attachment to this place that was never sealed back.
Today, as I listen through the vineyard, I am no longer an old house that materializes history and links the past with the present; but an entertainer for foreign investors and expatriates. I am a “charmante artiste” like the ones I used to hear going into the clubs of Zeytouneh long time ago. I am a heavy extra-addition on a land worth gold.
The grandsons of Younes told me that if I wear a green dress, many rich guys will get aroused and they would pay a lot of money for me. They forced me to wear this overall ghost-net green dress. They are telling me that it will be a rebirth in something more interesting and more profitable. But, for me, I don’t see new beginnings, it feels like death. And I don’t want to die. I have roots in the ground just like green trees.
The day before last, one of the inheritors came for one last look. He whispered inside: “I am not to blame for the go-down; I am a victim just like you are. I barely can provide for my family. Heritage & culture cannot be an individual choice that ultimately becomes a burden. It is a collective responsibility that I cannot carry alone. A piece of me is getting destroyed as well my dear.”
The concrete pulverizers & drills went into action quickly. At the first instance, I felt a huge pain, and then quickly I fell into complete silence and darkness.