“This living room used to be wider; this balcony used to be more spacious. Of course your love, ya habibi, was as big as the whole wide world.” – Fairuz, “It Wasn’t Like This.”
In one of many songs written and composed by her son Ziad, Fairuz laments how different things around her once were. The living room, the lemons, the olives…even the soap was different! ‘Different’ undoubtedly implying ‘better’, and applying to everything from inanimate objects to the love of a dear one. Apparently, that someone’s love ended up as sour as the lemons…
There has never been anything exceptional about the occasional dose of nostalgia. In the face of change, we long for times of stability and familiarity. During difficult times, we may opt for denial at first, but later hold on tight to memories of simpler times to maintain a degree of sanity to keep us going. In the midst of loss and tragedy, there’s always a moment of philosophical contemplation on the true meaning (or lack thereof) of existence, while conscious that grief cannot last forever and better days are usually ahead.
Nostalgia for better days hasn’t only been something to fall back on in times of hardship and distress. Reminiscing on the “good old days” – أيام الزمن الجميل – has cemented itself high among our Lebanese national habits, a constant regardless of the circumstances. People regularly hail the good old days of everything from music and culture to public transport, food and even technology and telecommunication services, among a myriad of other examples. With Lebanon’s inherent geographical, confessional and socio-economic-political disparities, it isn’t surprising that the nature of the nostalgia isn’t the same for everyone. Whether romanticized souvenirs from our own imagination and/or collective memory or not, the common thread among this constant national exercise of sorrowful longing remains unchanged: that our present never did nor will ever be able to compete with our past.
“The events depicted in this play take place in October 1980 or October 1979 or October 1978, given that the overall political situation has generally remained unchanged.” – Ziad Rahbani, “Long American Movie.”
Back to Ziad, in one of his best and most renown plays, Film Ameriki Tawil, the prelude is a damning reminder – from the moment it was written over 40 years ago to this day – that much in Lebanon’s contemporary socio-economic and political history has been stuck on repeat. From wars and the reasons behind them, the toxic sectarianism, corruption, inter-communal prejudices to injustice, misogyny, engrained patriarchy and everything in between. Saying that we are destined to have generation after generation of Lebanese witness history repeat itself is an understatement. It’s a curse in itself. And if anything useful should come out of it, it would be to pave the way for a re-assessment of philosophies of history, or that of human development (or lack thereof) …or maybe just a re-assessment of us (if it’s of any worth), a schizophrenic historical anomaly of a so-called nation, made up of people who are capable of anything they set their minds to, but whose development, progress and sense of morality is arrested when brought together as one in their own land.
But perhaps the greatest anomaly – and irony – of them all is that everything is seemingly bound to repeat itself in this country, except those good old days everyone so desperately wishes would come back.