Venice Red Carpet: A Walk to Remember

This is a post I promised to write because we all know the thrills of walking the red carpet, but we don’t know the thrills of what comes AFTER!

The Venice Film Festival is not just any festival. It is Venice. And Venice is in Italy. So, yep, it is not a place where you can simply slip in your converse and go. You have to dress up. Particularly if you have a red carpet call. Never mind that it is at 2 pm in the afternoon, never mind that you are a young unknown celebrity-in-the-making, the show imposes itself on you. Even if your name was Niam and you really don’t fancy high heels and long dresses and red carpets altogether.

So for this festival, I got ready beforehand. I selected a long dress that will go with my hijab, and I took the high heel sandals I wore once before in my sister’s wedding to that special occasion. I am not a rookie when it comes to high heels. But these ones were special. They’re the hiiiiigh thinnnn heels you wouldn’t want to walk around with for a long time. But it was okay this time. All we had to do was walk the red carpet, and that is supposed to be easy.

By 2 pm we were ready and we had real fancy festival cars with classy drivers in suits -just like in the movies- we had them pick us up from the hotel entrance. They even opened the door of the limo and closed it for us. And the drive was neat and people looked at the car and started to peek to see who is inside and all that jazz… It felt GOOOOOD.

The driver informed us of the red carpet protocol, most important of which is, you never open the car door on your own. You wait for it to be opened for you. Could it get any better? And that was how it went… The door was opened. My high heel sandal was the first thing to step out of that car and onto the prestigious red carpet. The dream of thousands of filmmakers worldwide.

There were fans (don’t think they were mine) taking photos with their cameras and mobile phones, there were photographers, there were random people and bodyguards. We were told to wave and smile so I waved and smiled to the fans who always get thrilled when someone on the red carpet waves (that is one of the great lessons learned from the event).

We walked the red carpet. It was a bit shaky because of the long dress and the high thin heels but no big deal. We walked a bit of a longer path than I imagined then some stairs into the Sala Pasinetti where the screening was scheduled. This was a nice journey because it was one rare time where no one asked who I was or what I was doing there or where’s my ticket/accreditation. In a place other than LAU (inside joke).

Two and a half hours later, the screening was over, Michael Fassbender had announced the winner and we were all ready to go to the cocktail reception held in our honor. I had started to develop some pain in my feet but wasn’t complaining yet. I knew that Vidya was also wearing special high heels for the occasion. I kept my smile on and we went upstairs and took lots of pictures and the high heels were starting to irritate me for real, so I chose a couch and sat in a corner on the balcony outside. But as soon as I took a seat and a deep breath, somebody came to say hello and encourage me not to stay in the corner when there were lots of industry folks to network with. In fact, they were absolutely correct. And I couldn’t allow my feet-ache to stop me from networking with important people who came specially for our screening and reception, so I went around. The reception was probably between 90 and 120 minutes long but my feet felt it was an eternity. Those shoes were killing me and I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel to get rid of them.

As soon as the reception concluded, I was the first to leave (almost). The pain in my feet was unbearable that I couldn’t take a step without having to ooh and aah. Literally. However, the nicest surprise was yet to come. As soon as I left the reception venue, I discovered that there is no arrangement to take me back to the hotel. There are no drivers to open the fancy car door for me. And worst of all, there isn’t even a non-fancy car to pick me up. The job had been completed. We walked the red carpet. Now how you walk back is a totally different story.

There were no photographers or crazy waving fans or anyone. It was just me and Vidya, in our high heels, with killing foot aches. Few meters away from the venue, I had already thought a plan. As soon as we were further away, I’ll take off the shoes and walk barefoot. My dress is long enough to cover my feet, so I don’t have to worry about getting busted. The sight of my shoes in my hand won’t be very pleasant, but I really couldn’t care less at the moment. We walked away very slowly until we were far enough and I stopped next to a pole and started to bend down to take off my sandals when,

“You’re the filmmaker!!”

And I jolted back straight again, “Huh.”

“Yeah you’re the filmmaker of Super.Full. aren’t you?” There was a young lady, an actress, she later informed us, who was following us to introduce herself and say hello and congratulations. It was such a sweet gesture. And it prevented me from taking off my shoes at the designated spot because we feared there might be still more fans to whom my image may be affected (This makes me wonder if I should post this at all -NOT).

So we walked few more steps away and chose a new spot and I stopped and took off the sandals without hesitation. I couldn’t take one single step with them in my feet anymore. I was so relieved when I took them off, I can’t explain how much really. But it is one of the best feelings I’ve ever sensed in my whole life. Forget the Venice Red Carpet. The Venice ground is way better! And so, this was the beginning of the journey home from the red carpet. Our next impossible mission was to find (and stop) a cab. My selfish gesture, and the fact that we have to stop a cab, forced V to walk few more hundred meters with her killer heels. I happily wandered on the sidewalks and streets of Lido barefoot.

After a long wait for a cab, a driver finally saw us and stopped for us. We gave him our hotel address and that was the best part of the trip. That is, when we discovered we don’t have any money on us. See the red carpet attire is not one that allows for pockets and/or practical accessories. It is very much one of show off. So someone has to be doing the practical things for you while you do the red carpet. And that is why, in our excitement saga, we both forgot to put money in the small bag we had brought along. But frankly, I was laughing my butt off for the thought of an Arab and an Indian, in a cab in Italy, with no money, and we both can’t speak a word of Italian -except for Cappuccino. It was not a tough solution for that part of the problem though. As soon as we stopped by the hotel, Vidya ran up to the hotel room and brought the driver his money with a generous tip. But she didn’t forget to change her shoes before coming back down with the bills.

And that is how I returned from the red carpet. One unforgettable evening. After “a walk to remember”!

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A Morning Page in the Evening

Tonight is nothing special. I just happen to be in bed at a very early time “in artsy standards”. My sister Malak, who is a medical doctor, and I, once agreed that artists times and doctors times are completely different. Where a doctor’s morning might start at 6 a.m., an artist’s morning might start at noon or at 2 p.m. at the very best. Rambling like this is not a good sign for a writer, mind you. It is an indicator of a clouded mind. And I know there has been lots of unwritten things happening inside my head. I think of the material, I jot it down mentally, done. And I never get it out on paper or even here. No good.

The music in my ears enforces my heart’s feeling that everything is okay, life is beautiful, and tomorrow is another day. But my mind, my sick mind, wants to stay awake waiting for a phone call or an email that might not come before morning anyway. My beloved Teta, bless her soul, once wrote an article about life saying that Life is Waiting. Now whenever I wait for something I directly remember sitto. Although she and I disagreed about lots of things, sometimes had arguments, but we were really close. She and I are the ones who love Ghazzeh most. In 2006, I went up with teta & jiddo and was their spoiled guest when the war started. Last summer in 2011 when many of my friends visited from abroad, teta made lunch or dinner for them and welcomed them like she welcomes us or even better. Even though she doesn’t speak more than basic English, she made sure that everything was “gooood.” And she later told me she is welcoming all these people because they are MY friends. She said, this is all for you.

When we were young and, now I realize, possibly silly kids, teta would always sit us down and tell us stories. I was fascinated with her Tarzan stories. Sometimes when she forgot she’d just improvise and keep narrating. And then next time when she repeats things we’d recognize them and say, “No! That happened yesterday!” And whenever we memorized new songs or poems at school, she’d be the FIRST one we rush to recite the songs to. I would stand in front of her, hands behind my back like in front of a teacher, and recite in the best fashion possible. And she would give me a 250L.L. or whatever was enough for me to buy candy from the store downstairs.

And teta and I always discussed books. We both loved reading very much. We often played Arabic Scrabble in the afternoons and evenings. Teta played basketball with the little ones when we refused to let them play with us or when they had nobody to play with. She sewed the five wedding dresses for my sisters and checked every minute detail in them. Sometime soon, it will be one year since she went away and left us to the unknown where we’re all going. Hearts are a curse sometimes. What do you do when you miss someone so much and you know you’re never going to see them ever again?

Bless Me Teacher, for I have Sinned!

EURO 2012 is almost here! I still haven’t gone over the groups in depth, checked the schedule, the fixtures and the players etc… But I am planning to do that in the next 48 hours. Today, I am posting about something else, still related to soccer. It is a confession, accompanied by a hope that it will be too late for a teacher at LAU to change my grade on an Arabic Course I had to sit through in the Spring of 1998.

The world cup finals were starting in June. I was finishing my sophomore year. I was 17.5 years old (still a child by United Nations definitions). And I was a crazy soccer maniac, just like my 13-year-old brother is now. I had the full listings of everything world cup memorized in my head: the groups, the mechanism of who plays who if they win first or second in their group, etc… Up to the final match.

The Arabic class (Appreciation of Arabic Literature) started to get boring gradually as the semester progressed. The teacher being a very old lady certainly didn’t help. So every session, at 9 a.m. when we started, I used to listen to everything the teacher said and write. But I was not taking notes.

In reality, I was jotting down the whole scheme of the world cup on my copybook, examining every probability of who might play who in the final rounds. I went about it feverishly. At the same time, I was good in Arabic Literature and I loved it. So I multi tasked between the world cup on my notebook and the philosophical things the teacher used to say about Scheherazade and Rasheed Al Da’eef. Basically, among the 40 sleepy students, I was the only one taking part in the discussion and writing “notes”. But I didn’t realize that until the teacher got pissed at my classmates.

She walked to the front row and stood at my desk. And she started lecturing the class.

“I am very disappointed with you all. Nobody discusses anything. Nobody reads. And nobody takes notes. Look at your friend here. What’s your name?”

Huh? Niam.

“Look at Niam, here. She is always taking notes without me even asking her to. I wish you’d all be like her.”

I protected my copybook with my hands and feet. Her thick eyeglasses suddenly became my utmost hope in the world. Please, O’God, Please, don’t have her ask me for the copybook to SHOW the classmates how brilliant I am. That’d be the end of me.

The teacher did not ask for Niamz copybook.

Niam got an A on the Appreciation of Arabic Literature course.

The 1998 World Cup Finals were the last finals she feverishly analyzed.

France won the 1998 World Cup.

The name of the teacher of that class remains unknown.

Niam to Make Peace in Lebanon

From Japan with Love

I have been chosen. It is no joke.

There was a Japanese woman yesterday at the lower gate of LAU, who gave me a book and said I can make peace.

Details Below:

I usually don’t go to LAU on Tuesdays. But yesterday I went to help with the preparations for the Annual Theater Festival. I was almost at the lower gate when I noticed a travel suitcase outside. I thought it’d be for a student leaving to their country since the semester is over. Then I noticed this short woman carrying few books and wearing a badge around her neck.

I know these types. I always see them around Hamra Street waiting for victims to approach then they either want you to donate for a cause or answer a survey.

I am a Itani. Just saying. I saw the woman approach a student who just left LAU, but the student knew how to fend her off so she came back to the sidewalk. I noticed something strange, however. The woman seemed to be Asian from a profile view. I wondered, is it possible that Lebanese people are now using Asians for these jobs? I didn’t have time to wonder too much, though, because the woman’s next “victim” was none other than myself. She saw me and smiled. My smiley face. Grrrr. In my heart I decided that I will not surrender to this woman’s will to make me pay money if it is something I don’t want to pay for. Of course the part after the “if” was just to satisfy my ego, because I never succeed in escaping.

The woman and I had now become really close and she politely started the conversation:

– Hello, you speak English? May I speak to you for a moment?

I said yes, sure. Like a Lebanese child, I always become happy when an older foreigner knows that I can speak English. She also looked older than my mother, maybe my grandmother’s age. And she was obviously not in love with the heat.

– My name is Hayuko, I am from Universal Peace Federation.

She showed me her badge. Like an authentic Lebanese I pretended to be interested. I knew Hala would be waiting for me with a “yell” at the very least for being late, while this Missus talks to me about World Peace. Try to give Hala THAT excuse! But, anyway, it was too late to run away. She handed me one of the books from her hand.

– I am distributing this book here. I come from Japan, to make peace.

– “You came from Japan to make peace in Lebanon?” I laughed briefly but took the translated book nevertheless.

She nodded. I don’t know if the Japanese humour is not similar to Lebanese humour or if she seriously thought she was going to make peace in Lebanon. Bottom line is I couldn’t help but respect her passion for peace -she was hopeful talking to hopeless.

– And you think I’m going to read this book and make peace in Lebanon? You think I can make peace?

– “Yes, yes. This,” she took out a handmade card from her bag and handed it to me, “is from my friend Chiharu. She wanted to come to Lebanon but she can’t, so she sent you this.”

Things were getting better, but my mind was now consumed with two things: 1- I am definitely getting yelled at by Hala for being late because of World Peace. 2- Is she trying to sell me a handmade card on top of the translated book about some peace making Japanese dude?

– That’s very nice.

I noticed that the woman’s family name was “Watanabe” and I wondered if she could be Ken Watanabe’s sister. I shuffled the pages of the book and started thinking of possible excuses. The woman also had started getting restless at this stranger who wouldn’t buzz off, I guess. She took another thing from her bag.

– This is the Japanese symbol for peace.

– Oh, Origami!

– Oh! You know!

Her face lit up at my knowledge of Origami and she gave it to me happily.

– Thank you! How do you say, thank you in Japanese?

– Arigato.

– Arigato, Hayuko. Ok, so are you selling this book or is it just something that I have to read then make peace?

– No, no. I am not selling. You read.

– Ok, so then do I have an assignment afterwards? Like do I have to write to somebody?

I now know that this must’ve sounded like an idiot because I feel like an idiot and I remember that she looked at me like I was from outer space. Does this woman think that people don’t give books for free? Not in Lebanon I’ve never seen anybody give a smile for free, heavens forbid.

– No, no. You just read for peace.

– Ok, Hayuko. Arigato! Good luck!

I walked in to LAU and went directly up to the Fine Arts. Good thing Hala had given up on me arriving on time so she was out of her office!

But I was thinking, is the woman coming from Japan to ask me to make peace in Lebanon a good thing or a bad thing? And, out of all people, why me? Does she know that the thing that I want most in this world is to get out of here because of the absence of peace? Is that how messiahs are chosen? Like we write our protagonists? Identify their weaknesses. What is their darkest shadow, their biggest fear? Put them face to face with it. Make them arc.

..he pulled out a weapon and fired..

Just like that. On the main road. In Quraytem. In the afternoon. From the window of his car. I saw a gun slowly get out of the window. I knew it was going to shoot. I prayed for Allah not to make me see someone fall to the ground with a gunshot. And I hoped we won’t get killed with a stray bullet. I probably wished he didn’t fire. But he did.

I have to start this story from the beginning. Fact is, I was expressing my happiness out loud yesterday about me being outside the country on April 13th, the anniversary of the Civil War. I simply would rather not be around to witness people celebrate the end of a war that pretty much still lives inside many hearts and bodies. But things didn’t go as simply as I wanted them to.

Today, I left LAU at 3 o’clock and headed to Jiddo’s house for a family lunch. Since Teta passed away in November, these gatherings at her house became less frequent and often planned, rather than spontaneous. And they terribly lack her presence, which I know Jiddo feels. I stole a look at his face today and saw tears in his eyes. So I took a chance and asked how is he doing. He smiled. Our gathering at his/her house makes him happy. But it also makes him miss her badly. Just like we miss our lovers when we are happy and want them to be there to share it, and to enjoy it to the maximum. He misses her.

We had a good meal and then I was offered a ride by my aunt. So I gratefully took it. The ride from Raouche to Labban is no more than 5 minutes by car. You go up towards the Saudi Embassy then to Quraytem, near the Hariri Palace, and then take a left down to Labban. That’s it. But today’s ride suddenly became very long because of this guy who fired a gun from the car in front of us.

There was this Porsche Cayanne driving really slowly ahead. We were all starting to beg the driver to move it. My aunt was almost pushing his car with the front bumper of the GMC she drives. I noticed the Porsche had license plates with four numbers only. Someone with lots of money. Someone who likes to show off and let people know they have lots of money. We almost gave up. I told my aunt this man has the right to drive however he want. “He’s driving a Cayanne!” But I didn’t know he also had the right to do other things.

The Porsche drove past the Hariri Palace. It slowed down even more. And suddenly from the driver’s window, a pistol came out. It wasn’t steady first, it was shaky, as if searching for a prey. Then it steadied and BANG. What spans a couple of lines here almost ended my life in that car. I have never seen anybody shooting a pistol in real life. Not as far as I remember. I’ve seen men in our family shoot hunting guns. But those are for hunting animals, not killing people. The sight of a real pistol sticking out the window of a car in the middle of Beirut, in Qoraytem particularly (supposedly a heavily protected area), was shattering. I don’t want to see people killing each other. I hate whatever motive that makes any human being pull out a gun at any creature. I simply can’t live with it. Yet, here is a guy pulling out a weapon and firing it right in front of everybody on the street.

The gunshot was almost unheard. The target was a pigeon, that escaped. The driver is insane. I am still alive at the time of typing this. But that was really scary. And the worse part? No one did anything when that gun was out searching for a prey. Life froze.

The sweet minutes when I thought there was a florist around…

Our apartment is, as you probably know, in a Itani building. This building has a street, as you probably figured, in front of it.

The street had been closed for about 7 years when it was partially re-opened in February 2012. For on this very same street there is also an entrance to the palace of our ex-prime minister Rafic Hariri who passed away BEFORE blocking the road. On the same street also, there is the lower gate to the Lebanese American University where I teach. But this blog post is not about LAU or Rafic Hariri, nor about the palace.

This post is about the shops on this street, most of which had to shut down because of the blockade. They slowly closed, one after the other. Then the street became a haven for kids to play football in, in the midst of day – something miraculous in Ras Beirut. Some people in the neighborhood -not Itani’s- sit down and smoke sheesha on the side of the road in the mornings. Why not? It’s available and VERY secure. Truth is I have something to say about the security of people on this street, but some other time.

One of the shops on the street was a FLOWER shop. It is a sweet thing to have a flower shop close to you. In fact, this flower shop was not only on the same street. It was in the building right next to ours. How good is that? Anytime you feel like it, you can simply pick up a bouquet and go upstairs and present it to your mother, your father, your sister, yourself, or the neighbor.

And how beautiful would it be to head back from LAU last Wednesday and discover that the flower shop is open again? Cue music!  𝄞 𝄢♭𝄃 𝄑 𝄫♭𝄡 𝄢 ♮𝄞

Ok, I didn’t take a long look into the shop. I simply saw the “florist” standing outside. I recognize this guy because I see him around our street and Hamra in general. I wanted to give him a big smile (a psychological hug) but I only nodded and whispered “Salam”. I was very happy, that I now feel happy just thinking of the joy the thought of the flower shop re-opening under our apartment brought to my heart. I told myself, “I will blog about this beauty.”

And here I am, doing exactly that! I went upstairs, super excited, and broke the happy news to my Mom. She was sitting in the living room with Hasan, my brother-in-law, and my older sister May. And Hasan and Mommy directly woke me up to my senses:

– This guy is just pretending to have his shop open. The landlords filed a lawsuit to end his lease so he’s just here for show. Did you see any fresh flowers in his shop?

– Truth is I didn’t look into the shop well.

Cue sad music now 😦

I felt horrible. HORRIBLE. How can a florist, for me almost a sacred being who deals with flowers, these beautiful creatures, how can he be a liar? And it was then that I noted to myself; there is a big difference between a florist, and a guy who sells flowers.

So for whoever is doing any research related to this lawsuit, if you’re doing your homework right, you know the real story behind Lebanon Rose now. It withered a long time ago.

On Teaching Screenwriting… and Final Grades

PS: All names used in this post -if any- have been changed for confidentiality & privacy.

It is that time of year again, when professors have to roll final grades for their students. And since this is my second semester teaching at university level, I am learning new things every time I get to this stage. But, what I am mostly learning is that teachers have to be really tough on students for them to take their education seriously.

Undergraduate students in Lebanon are mostly fresh grads of High School. Most of them are 18 or 19 years old when they enroll for their Sophomore year. So by the time they get to Scriptwriting, they are usually 19, 20 or 21. It is a beautiful young age. But it is a beautiful young age. And when it comes to scriptwriting, the heart of this profession and craft is discipline. I try my best throughout the three or four months I spend with my students to help them understand that deadlines are sacred and discipline is key. Most of the time it works. But there are always a couple of students who wait till the last day of classes or till you’ve rolled the final grades to come crying to your office. And I am such a sweet soul (should I really say this?) I cannot upset any of them. But at the same time I have to be fair to the whole class, I cannot please one then upset 10!

If any student happens to read this post, I would like to appeal to them to, please, worry about their grades at the beginning of the semester, not only at the end. Worrying about the grade must be translated into actual effort to make it good. That effort has to be presented physically to your teacher. Passion is always very heartwarming, but unfortunately, it is useless if not channeled towards your writing, i.e. your homework. So please be passionate and worried from the very start, and definitely do something (tangible) that your teacher can submit to the school as evidence of your passion.

Your teachers love you, students. Getting a bad grade is not something that makes us happy or pleased. In fact, it pisses me off when I get a script that is not properly formatted or that has nothing whatsoever of the material we discuss in class. I try my best to give my students the best grades they deserve without compromising on the quality of education they receive. If I am a perfectionist and I want them to be excellent, it is not a bad thing. The most important thing that I hope students learn by the time they finish this course is two things:

1) write a good script, with good characters, good conflict, and a structure that works.

2) respect deadlines and dedicate time for writing assignments