Following is the second excerpt from my book Coffee with Hezbollah, due for release February 1, 2010 by New World Digital, Inc. The book is the product of the hitchhiking journey through Lebanon that photographer Amelia Opalinska and I conducted in the aftermath of the July 2006 war waged by Israel.
The first excerpt can be viewed here.
More excerpts to come.
For additional information about Coffee with Hezbollah or to PRE-ORDER the book, please visit: http://belenfernandez-writings.blogspot.com/.
Belén Fernández (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Location: Beirut and Cuba.
Context: Amelia and I are initially hosted in Lebanon by a Syrian acquaintance, an employee of Subway Sandwiches near the American University of Beirut (AUB) who has acquired the nickname “the Islamic Revolution.”
We were transferred from Borj Hammoud to the house of another Syrian named Basel II, in Basel II’s BMW. The Islamic Revolution encouraged Amelia and me to huddle on the floor of the vehicle during transfer, either because:
- he did not want us to register our coordinates (thus according us far keener spatial sensibilities than was necessary), or
- he did not want us to see the speedometer.
Basel II was an interior decorator. After being manhandled through the door of his house by the Islamic Revolution, we found that his own interior decorations consisted of nine brown couches wedged into the living area and coated in a layer of dust, and a single light bulb to be unscrewed and moved from room to room as needed. When the Islamic Revolution took the light bulb to the bathroom, Basel II explained that we were in the Chiyah neighborhood in Dahiyeh, south Beirut.
Israel had launched two missiles into an apartment building in Chiyah that summer after an invisible enemy nearby had fired at an Israeli unmanned aerial vehicle. The apartment building had not been unmanned, resulting in the loss of 63 civilians; it was thus worrisome when gunshots began to ring out down the street from Basel II’s house:
BASEL II: Is just Hassan Nasrallah Divine Victory rally, ya’ni.
Amelia and I peered out the window, expecting to find Israeli leaflets falling from the sky with warnings of an impending reversal of divine victory. In the end we found a curtain thrust in front of our faces by the Islamic Revolution, who had returned from the bathroom. He decreed something in Arabic to Basel II and disappeared out the door, citing Subway sandwich deliveries; half an hour later we found ourselves being deposited at a small hotel near AUB by Basel II.
Amelia and I had also been removed from the neighborhood of victory during a visit to Playa las Coloradas in southeast Cuba in May. Playa las Coloradas was the location of the landing spot of the Granma, the yacht Fidel Castro and Che Guevara sailed from Mexico in 1956 during the Cuban Revolution. Joining us in pursuit of the landing spot was our Italian friend Gianluca, who had followed us to the island.
From the house of my father´s relatives we set out for Playa las Coloradas, traveling by means of a bus, a Cuban ambulance, and a horse and cart. Left on the side of the road to await other modes of transportation when the horse refused to continue, Amelia and I divided our time between:
- playing baseball with rocks and the long staff I carried at all times now that Amelia had been mugged at a baseball game in Havana, and
- becoming irritated with Gianluca for looking so foreign.
When Gianluca had finally flattened his pseudo-Mohawk, an automobile materialized with a Cuban named Omar in the driver’s seat. Omar had floated in the early 1990s on a tractor tire to Miami, where he had dismounted and proceeded to New York; his subsistence farming family in eastern Cuba thus now boasted a portable digital photo printer, although whether they had a digital camera to go with it was never determined. As for the source of private property:
GIANLUCA: I am from Italy.
OMAR: My boss was Sicilian.
Omar’s fashion accessories included a large gold Jesus hanging from his neck and a tattoo of a dollar sign on his lower calf. He promised to take us to the landing spot of the Granma the following morning and hosted us that night at his family’s subsistence farm, where we admired the digital photo printer and Fidel made a speech on TV in which he attempted to read his notes upside-down.