I’m under a ‘Dragonmart’ ban. Not outright damnation, but I’m not allowed to bring home unnecessary ‘weirdshit’ from the Beijing Outpost 30 minutes out of Dubai – inflatable wrestlers, replicas of wooden ship masts, 3 metre-wide painted fans, Kites… and Mannequin heads. 2-foot bald mannequin heads with a listless, snooty look.
Dragonmart’s where I met Drusilla. Patient, calm, never interrupts, a brilliant listener (although earless). She’s not bothered about who-said-what, never lets the language barrier make anyone feel awkward, (Cantonese is her native tongue), doesn’t take Selfies, instagram her breakfast, pull ‘Ghetto Fingers’ in photos, or send me Fruitloop text messages.
Her hazel eyes are permanently aloof; all-knowing albeit bored, and she’s not ashamed of her alopecia or diminutive height. Wherever she goes, she maintains poise and immaculate repose. Sure, she still smells of the plastic factory she grew up in, and when she goes for a swim, brings half the pool home, and her eyelashes need re-gluing, but she’s loyal, constant. Unperturbed.
I can’t tell you what she means. A statement about the overly hygienic aesthetic of marketing Dubai, a plea for attention, a bald, plastic embodiment of showboating ‘eccentricity’ to others, or a toy I like taking pictures of, but she’s a muse of sorts. It’s fun to see people’s eyes widen when she comes out of the bag at a barbeque. Or the people who try to determine the point, and their friends’ willingness and outright intent to suck her face, have a photo with her and parade her around the dancefloor.
Yes, it’s silly, makes no sense, has no purpose. Particularly in Dubai. But it’s Armless fun. Meet Drusilla. She does Dubai.http://instagram.com/drusilladoesdubai
Stats that won’t end up in your PowerPoint presentation. They may, or may not be true. I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Beirut. Capital of Lebanon. A fuzzy, laughing, pock-marked electric oasis, ensconced in the Arabian wedge of the Meditteranean. Garlic, booze, concrete, olives, amorous eyes, hormones on steroids and cigarettes in every hand, cornered between angry nations pointing rockets and fingers at each other.
Seven Brits – alcoholism, nihilism, Borat & Partridge quotes, mutual piss-taking, self deprecation, limited understanding of exchange rates, cheerful and willing abandon at regular intervals.
Three Aussies – construction, management & mining consultants with a vent for hedonism, females and the pursuit of happiness.
Two Filipinas, immaculately turned out, all-seeing, all observing, not about to take any shit. Off anybody.
One Palestinian/Lebanese – the only member to actually understand often less-than-favourable comments from locals. Tolerant, thoughtful counterbalance to everyone else. Loveable.
One South African – Ladykiller, ladles of charm and no problem being the butt of jokes because he always gets the girl (although he doesn’t know what Savoury means or who Bill Murray is).
One Scottish-Indian, bright-eyed, loved up, up for everything, owner of the most inimitable accent I will ever hear.
The ensemble headed to Beirut last weekend for a 30th bash. Memory loss. Fearlessness. Intermittent Aspergers. Regular premature Alzheimers. Puke. Bidets. Abused curtains. Lots of laughing.
Flydubai took us to the city where the Arabs go to party, where Roman ruins dance between the ghosts of old wars and potentially imminent ones on streets peppered with smiles, stares, shwarmas, cigarettes, hugs, handshakes and a smoky warmth wherever you end up.
Biblical stone broods beside bullet-addled bricks, and 70s highrises cuddle up to Maronite churches, while Byzantine columns sleep between cacaphonic pylons. Decent Graffiti frames Hesbollah posters. 60s Mercs cut up brand new Porches. And men, men everywhere – soldiers on corners, old men on chairs, flatcaps and leather jackets, on steps, in doorways, outside shops, fifteen for every lady, with unabashed stares at unchaperoned women, hands forever scratching itchy bollocks (apparently it’s because it’s common to shave your pubes in Lebanon, but the ladies didn’t seem to have the same problem).
One street is old Berlin in summer, the next is Havana in Winter. The manic roads and crumbling history are Athens, with streetfaces of downtown Memphis or Barcelona. Plenty feels like downtown Marseille or Lille in the mid 80s, or like the 80s in general, only everyone’s off their faces, wants to be your friend, to show you the very best of their country and drives like a complete mental. Rear view mirrors are for ornamental purposes, as are lanes, pavements, traffic lights and zebra crossings.
Ha. Not really. Started with good intentions, but there were no illusions that the plot was going to be devised or found on this trip.
At 5am, 1.5 hours before the flight, I met my roomie for the first time, a stunner a long way from the home counties with a clever media job, in a pile of drunken bags and stuffs on the roadside. We’d both separately decided that as it wasn’t a school night, it was fine to travel to Lebanon on NO sleep and extended inebriation. On the plane, one of the Aussies thoughtfully warned a Lebanese man that we might be doing “terrible things to your country”. He was wrong. As much as Brits and Aussies are a royal pain in the arse on a global scale, anything we thought was unacceptable or just plain silly was fine with Lebanon. The locals’ primary concern was that we love the place, and we did.
We hired a coach and saw some sites. A million years of stalactites, (or an incredible, drippy Jim Henson/Terry Gilliam set at Jeitta’s Grotto), the serenely chilled RomanChristian Byblos, with fishermen chilling in the sunset on a 4000 year old port, giant angry marshmallows or rocky fingers swearing out of the bay at the Corniche, electric bars and happy drunks staggering across Jemayze. But mostly we ate, drank, ran, danced, wobbled, sang, questioned scam artists, lather-rinse-repeat as needed.
We met Hamdan, the checker player with the most incredible moustache any of us will ever see, the scamster arsewipes at BO18 who took a chunk of our money for a table guarded by overweight overzealous bouncers in bad suits & attitudes, then charged the entire bill again to the Aussie Birthday Boy’s card once we’d left. The larger than life ponytailed soulsinger Alex Nashef in Bar Louis. The kind taxi driver who didn’t get offended when we observed the thickness of Rafik Hariri’s eyebrows. Reem, the barmaid who kept pouring us ‘surprise’ shots and cocktails. Local ladies with lashings of eyeliner, piles of cleavage and plenty of soul. The Finnish girls who scammed us into paying their Bar tab. Wolf whistling soldiers. Bemused hotel staff. Amused pizza boys who could see a chunky profit a mile off. Everyone you looked at was looking back.
The Script. (Names *****ed)
“I knew it was time to go when I asked that man to drag me around the floor by my feet”
“Reception said they’ve run out of beer – they didn’t sound very apologetic about it”
“I think I’ve got chocolate cake in my ear”
“Promise you won’t make me leave this room or do anything today or I’ll have a panic attack”
“What’s the conversion for dollars into Lebo thingies again?”
5pm on BBM “Is anyone up yet?”
“A good midget porn title? ‘It’s alright, they’re not children'”
“He is genuine ********* face” (Borat quote in response to very Borat-sounding coach driver)
“If nothing else my kids’ll have good manners.” – “J****’s kids’ll probably have ***** ********”
“Who’s that dude staggering across the street down there? Oh, it’s D***. D***! We’re here!”