(NOTE: The following post was the result of a serendipitous encounter at the beach, which pushed a bunch of tangential thoughts into my brain. It overlaps slightly with the forthcoming “Macho-Sexualism: Understanding the Lebanese Male,” which I was writing at the time…)
The other day, at La Plage – everyone’s favorite part pool, part car show, part plastic surgery convention – I met a young Lebanese man that exhibited a level of excellence that most others could only dream about. The only analogies I can think of come from the sports world. For the baseball fans out there, the man basically hit for the cycle… in one at-bat. Football fans, that’s like scoring passing, rushing, receiving, and special teams touchdowns in a single game. Basketball fans, that’s like dropping 80, and topping it off with a game-winning four-point play, coast-to-coast dunk, and off-the-glass fadeaway sequence.
But this “Cyrille” put his energies toward appearances. In sharp contrast to my Porky Pig “Please Don’t Eat Me, I Love You” T-shirt, he effortlessly donned Tommy Hilfiger sandals, Ralph Lauren swim trunks, a Lacoste polo shirt, and Gucci sunglasses. That’s four instantly recognizable brands. At the beach!
As I awkwardly stared at this Frenchie, and listened to conversations “broadcast to the world from the other side of the pool,” I realized that I had uncovered something of greater significance: the epitome of Lebanese manhood, for better or for worse.
In addition to his brand mastery, Cyrille spoke three languages (Arabic, French, and English), held two passports (Lebanese and French), and “could only live in one city” (Beirut… never mind that he actually lived in Paris).
Repeat after me: four brands, three languages, two passports, one city; four brands, three languages, two passports, one city; four brands, three languages, two passports, one city.
Think of it as the Platonic “form,” or ideal, for manhood in our little slice of the Levant. The concept is almost powerful enough to warrant one of those brilliant, but admittedly contrived, pitches-cum-speeches from Donald Draper on Mad Men:
During the day, to boost local industry, he sets up at the St. George Marina or La Plage. After all, someone has to soak up those rays. Afterwards, you might see him at Paul or Casablanca, trying to fill his belly after a hard day at the beach—er, office. When the sun goes down, he’ll be at one of Beirut’s many rooftop lounges, trying his best to impress friends and strangers alike. Finally, with dawn nearing, he drives his new car – a gift from daddy, a purchase well beyond his means, or both – to his home overlooking the city, already pondering tomorrow’s moves.
He eats out, goes to the beach, and clubs until the sun comes up. He then wonders how “people can live in such an expensive country.” He wants money and prestige, but he can’t stomach a desk job. He wants independence, but he can’t break free of his family. He wears shorts to work, but gets suited and booted for a night out.
He speaks bluntly, quick to criticize, but is sensitive to the words of others. He smokes two packs of Kent a day, but never misses the gym. He speaks French or English, when Arabic will do. He speaks Arabic only to reassert his manhood when it is questioned. He wants a trophy wife, a virgin bride, and yet somehow expects the women of his generation to put out.
He wants to drink, play, and fuck - not eat, pray, and love.
He is you. He is me. The Lebanese Man.