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I have known Panos for more than 10 years—we were night comrades. We would go dancing at Behind the Green Door, a famous nightclub in front of the Electricité Du Liban building, during the early ages of the Mar Mikhael neighborhood as a so-called creative hub, before developers had barely set foot there and its streets were still filled with small trades, craftspeople, and car parts businesses. Panos and I decided to meet in Mar Mikhael at Tota, a café-bar on the corner of Khalil Badawi Street named after a family who—according to local legend—bought the neighboring lands in 1914 for three bags of coffee beans.

In July 2021, eleven months after tons of stock-piled ammonium nitrate detonated in the Beirut Port, leaving half the city ravaged, more than 200 people dead, and thousands wounded, taking with it glass, doors, and ceilings, I stumbled on an article by the research and design studio Public Works. It detailed the history of the affected neighborhoods and how some of them—including Mar Mikhael, as well as Bourj Hammoud and Badaoui—became home to Armenian refugees fleeing the massacres in Cilicia in the early 1920s. Public Works highlights how the 1958 crisis in Lebanon ignited a feud between the Tashnag and Hunchak Armenian political parties, forcing supporters of the former to move to Bourj Hammoud—a few hundred meters down the road from here, where Panos will take me next. He grew up there, like many Lebanese citizens of Armenian descent still living in the country—more than 156,000 in 2014 according to Minority Right Groups International. And I can’t wait for him to take me to lunch.

We set off in my car for the Charles Helou, under the Karantina bridge, the station where buses and taxis for Damascus used to depart from. He points out details in the graffiti and rubble that he first noticed while filming here a few weeks ago for his latest video, Odorless Blue Flowers Awake Prematurely, that was recently released on Aflamuna, a non-profit streaming platform founded by Beirut DC during the first Covid-19 lockdown in spring 2020. We are close to the port, and I can see the entrance to the customs area across the street, and beyond it, devastated silos, and piles and piles of metal. A soldier tells us that the buses are now stationed next to the Blue Mosque (the Rafic Hariri or Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque) in Central District—Beirut’s Solidere-planned downtown.

We stop along the banks of the Beirut River, in the Karantina neighborhood. It is the first time that I have set foot here. We pass the concrete walls that border the remaining stream of water that runs amongst the wild vegetation. This place is home to stray dogs, birds, and other non-human wildlife. A crocodile was spotted here in July 2013, leading to a yearlong frenzy. A couple of years later, TandemWorks, a non-profit arts initiative, chose to focus on the neighborhoods of Bourj Hammoud and Badawi on the other side of the river for their inaugural project. I open their publication on the last page and an image of the river from the 1920s reminds us of just how drastically this ecosystem has changed. The river once spread out through the landscape, barely contained, and was crossed by a majestic stone bridge.

We cruise through Bourj Hammoud. I want to pass by an alleyway where there is a little shop that sells pirated DVDs. It is one of the few places in Beirut where you can buy independent films. After each international festival, their selection is updated with the latest releases. The shop also has films by Lebanese filmmakers such as Ghassan Salhab, Maroun Baghdadi, and Borhane Alaouié. This is how Panos and I got acquainted with our own cinema, with actors speaking our language, with familiar landscapes, with the telling of our stories, and the piecing together of fragments of our history.

We pass by Panos’ childhood home, a three-storey building from the 1940s or 50s in a charming, narrow alley. Just on the outskirts of Beirut municipality, Bourj Hammoud is a sprawling neighborhood that is home to a multiplicity of stories, ethnicities, communities, craft shops, and eateries. The contrast with the more chaotic streets under the Yerevan Bridge is striking. Begun in 1997, after the Civil War and during the first Rafic Hariri administration, the 2km-long bridge cut right through the heart of the neighborhood, skimming balconies and creating many dead spaces. The pillars supporting the bridge were recently painted by the United States Agency for International Development in an effort to embellish the street.

We park the car to take a closer look at a nearby monument to the Armenian Genocide. Right on a small roundabout, a column-shaped sculpture incorporates tortured bodies of humans and horses in its ascendant spiral, and is topped by a majestic eagle spreading its wings. Our gazes magnetically wander towards a vast parking lot and two parallel rows of concrete structures across the street. We decide to venture inside, peeking through the windows of the building in the back. Panos tells me that it is an old factory that used to produce concrete pipes. We climb the metallic stairs and stumble on a workshop full of old machines and lighting equipment. It is only then that we encounter a human presence—a middle-age former manager who reminisces about the history of the Araman factory. Later, I had a hard time finding information online about the factory. It is only a footnote on a scholarly article that confirms what he told us. The factory’s founder, Néjib J. Araman, was apparently “the principal actor in the manufacturing of concrete pipes and the establishment of Beirut’s drinking water and sewage networks during the French Mandate.”

It is early afternoon and we finally decide to break for food at Mosses, one of the addresses that only residents of the neighborhood would know. I let Panos choose from the menu while I contemplate the kitsch posters on the wall. The place is small and lit with neons. I wait on the stool bar, reminiscing of a time when our nights were endless and we would end up in places just like this during the in-between hours before dawn, eating sandwiches and laughing before going home.

The Dora Port is another surprise to me. Intimate and isolated, it almost feels like a stage set for a film or telenovela. A few old ships are lying around, their inert hulls covered with reddish biofouling—rusting and incapacitated, they’re homes for micro-organisms and algae.

We end our day in the parking lot of a building in Antelias where Panos spent a good part of his childhood. The adjacent basketball court provides another occasion to reminisce about our teenage years, about girlfriends, boyfriends, and our family histories.

When I first talked about this itinerary with Panos, I mentioned how we could visit the locations of his last film, This Haunting Memory that is Not my Own (2021), in order to structure the day as an extended studio visit, to talk about the different industries and infrastructures that have shaped Lebanon, and the exploitation of labor that has sustained it, especially the work of its immigrant communities.

But all we could talk about was mushrooms at the end of the world: what manages to live in the ruins we have made? I say that I am living with ghosts—of people, places, memories, stories. He answers that Beirut is disintegrating in front of our very eyes. I reply that the music of Scrambled Eggs would be the perfect soundtrack to what we are living through—the band should have emerged now rather than fifteen years ago. Panos confesses that during this period he was into breakbeat and would go to raves in the mountains organized by Kaotik System.

On our way back to Mar Mikhael, we get stuck in traffic on the highway, mainly due to the endless queues of cars waiting in front of gas stations to fill their tanks. The week before, the Lebanese Pound had lost even more of its value but I am happy because my bank has granted me easier access to my Lollars. We all know it is downhill from here. I am trying hard to unread “Lebanon”, an article on the website Synaps, and its predictions of slow-burn crisis in which we will learn to live with ever greater scarcity in a system controlled by the same politico-financial criminal elites, and an international aid community hiding behind an ethos of humanitarian neutrality.

Hannah Arendt’s words from her 1969 On Violence come to mind: “Predictions of the future are never anything but projections of present automatic processes and procedures, that is, of occurrences that are likely to come to pass if men do not act and if nothing unexpected happens.”

The words of a woman in Panos’ Odorless Blue Flowers Awake Prematurely still haunts me: “They asked me to make a film about the end of the world, a dystopian sci-fi of sorts, so I made a documentary. They wanted it short but it’s actually short because I don’t have much to say about the end of the world. There isn’t much left to say. There isn’t much left in general.”


CHARLES HELOU Charles Helou, named after the President of Lebanon from 1964 to 1970, is a semi-abandoned transit station partly functioning as a terminus for buses and taxis. Its brutalist structure rests almost hidden in the middle of the city, a testament to a past when the future was still something to look forward to and when large-scale public projects were part of a national plan. The Charles Helou Bus Station was meant to combine a central hub for public transport in Beirut with parking spaces for cars in a city which is constantly suffocated by traffic.

YEREVAN BRIDGE The dreaded Yerevan Bridge pierces through Bourj Hammoud’s densely populated urbanscape, creating a fissure in the city that segregates those above who use the bridge from those who dwell beneath it.

BEIRUT RIVER The Beirut River, at least in its current state, is a testament to infrastructural failure in Beirut. The river where my grandfather used to swim is now a stream of urban and industrial waste walled by raw concrete, taking the city’s toxicity out into the sea. A blast wave caused by the Beirut port explosion in August 2020 returned a lot of pollution back upstream.

STATUE OF THE ARMENIAN MARTYRS The Statue of the Armenian Martyrs in Bourj Hammoud, on the outskirts of Beirut, is a memorial dedicated to the victims of the Armenian genocide. It takes the form of a deformed obelisk, a cluster of tortured bodies, human and animal alike, with an eagle standing with its wings spread wide at its top. Across from it lies the skeletal remains of the Araman Factory, a carcass of what was once a construction materials giant that helped set up Beirut’s sewage system during the colonial era.

MOSSES DELI The Mosses Deli is a small getaway from the city’s chaos and the district’s densely populated streets. I have been ordering their roast beef sandwich for as long as I can remember. Inside, the walls are plastered with cartoons, anecdotes, and jokes straight out of a boomer humor magazine.

DORA PORT The Dora Port is the younger, DIY sister of the Beirut Port. As opposed to the latter’s function as an industrial hub for global cargo shipments, the former is dedicated to the small-time fishermen who are always struggling to fish further away from a shore that has become too toxic. However, as any fisherman could tell you, most fish live close to the shore where the food is.

SIMITIAN COMPLEX, ANTELIAS The Simitian complex is a housing project by, and named after, the Lebanese-Armenian real estate mogul Haroutioun Simitian. Its architecture lies somewhere between a private fantasy and Modernist social housing with elements of communal living. It is naturally largely inhabited by Lebanese-Armenians as a middle class counterpart to the housing projects of Bourj Hammoud.