Joe Kodeih’s Le Jocon – Review

Le Jocon Joe Kodeih

Lebanese comedian Joe Kodeih’s latest offering is Le Jocon, a play whose title is a play off the french name of DaVinci’s Mona Lisa.

Le Jocon starts with Kodeih visiting a psychatrist who immediately subjects him to hypnosis and asks him about his mother. Running for approximately 60 minutes, Le Jocon is a more or less autobiographical portrayal of some key moments in Kodeih’s life – all of which are given a comedic twist, obviously: from his moment of conception to his first days of school to growing up and going to Paris for a few days of vacation.

Those events are all done to the backdrop of a Lebanese life in Achrafieh, which makes the play very concentric. If you haven’t spent time in that part of Beirut or are not familiar with the many stereotypes associated with the people of Achrafieh, there are many jokes that you will miss.

Moreover, one of the key moments in the play which takes the biggest fraction is Kodeih’s visit to Paris which is told in three parts stretching over the three days of his visit. I personally found it hilarious because I had been to Paris but for someone who doesn’t know what Châtelet-Les Halles is (a subway station the size of Beirut’s airport) or what happens on the many different streets of Paris that he mentions, the jokes will come off flat or how difficult it is to take that infamous schengen visa picture: don’t smile, head at a 90 degrees angle, let the sadness erupt from your depth. Hilarious. Unless, of course, you were never submitted to a schengen visa picture.

My main problem with Le Jocon, however, is – and I understand this is overly analytical from my part – the stereotyping of the psychiatry experiment which Kodeih uses as a vessel to tell his story especially that it only serves to reinforce the misconceptions that many people have about the field, one which is more or less a taboo in Lebanon still. Of course there will be hypnosis. Of course the psychiatrist will ask about his mother. Of course he will turn out to have issues with his mother. I don’t feel we are at a point where that field should be an open field for comedy yet.

In general, though, Le Jocon is an entertaining short play. Tickets are for 20,000 and 30,000LL. Only two shows remain next weekend. It will make you laugh. So why not?



The Death of the Lebanese Dekkéné

Rue Aabrine Beirut Lebanon

Aabrine Street was, until recently, one of the last remaining Achrafieh streets that still contained a flair of an old Lebanese life that you wouldn’t believe still existed in Beirut, especially Achrafieh: one where a family lived in the same building which had a dekkéné that they ran. Their house harbored them for decades – all through the civil war.

Their house’s entrance is very inconspicuous. The cats roaming around the place hid in the space of those traditional windows. The family took care of them. I went to their place a few times: high ceilings, old chandeliers and armchairs… what you’d expect to find in old Lebanese houses in the village was there. Except this was the heart of Beirut.

Their house was also the witness to the Civil War story I wrote on this blog in 2011. You can read it in its three parts here.

Their home is no longer theirs as some investors took over the entire stretch of buildings on their block, all of which are old buildings. But this isn’t Amin Maalouf’s house for it to cause a ruckus.

Beirut Aabrine Street Old Bldg Beirut Aabrine Street old building 2

As I walked by the house yesterday, I was saddened to see all the dark, empty windows. What used to be lit apartments and the voices that emanated from inside is now nothing but emptiness awaiting for it to become non-existent.

The family that lived in that apartment lived off a small dekkéné at the other side of the building which stretches down the street by being connected to lesser maintained parts. This dekkéné allowed their father to send many of his children to the United States where they got naturalized shortly after the civil war ended. He ran the small place for 50 years. He played cards with my grandpa and other Aabrine men as customers came in and out – Tarnib Koubba in case you’re wondering. Backgammon tables were there as well.

Dekkane Beirut Aabrine Street Lebanon

Today, the door of Sassine’s dekkéné holds a paper which he signed to announce that he had relocated. Another small office a few meters away, in that same building, announced the same thing. This dekkéné, which by the looks of it could fit anywhere but in Achrafieh, is gone for good. It still stands. But not for long.

The building that contained the dekkéné and all the nearby buildings connected to it will soon be demolished to allow another colorless high rise in their place. The history of the place will be gone for good. The place where my grandpa played cards with his friends, where small children would run to get their mother something she urgently needed for the tabkha she was cooking will be gone and with it another chapter in the life of a city that will soon not recognize itself anymore.

This isn’t about the worth of the dekkéné or its efficiency – it’s about what the dekkéné signifies: how easily we tear down what is old to bring in what is newer but never better.

This is the other side of the building in question, less maintained than the section where the family lived:

Aabrine Street Old Building

Beirut Rue Aabrine old bldg

And this is what the dekkéné and its building will be replaced with. Beautiful.

beirut achrafieh high rise

Lebanon’s Mall Centralization

With the news that ABC is opening another mall in Beirut, set for a 2017 opening, it dawned on me: bureaucracy isn’t the only thing that’s centralized in Lebanon. Malls have their own centralization as well: I will call it Mall Centralization: Al Markaziye Al Malliyé.

Prior to ABC’s grand Verdun-related unveiling, CinemaCity had announced that they will be bringing their cinema experience to Beirut Souks, a souk-mall hybrid that we are all familiar with.
With that, let’s look at the total tally of malls and cinemas in Beirut and immediately around it:
– LeMall in Dbayyeh
– ABC Dbayyeh, less than 200 meters from LeMall
– CityMall, a few kilometers from ABC Dbayyeh
– ABC Achrafieh, a few kilometers from CityMall
– LeMall, Sin el Fil, a few kilometers from ABC Achrafieh
– Beirut Souks, a few kilometers from ABC Achrafieh
– ABC Verdun, a few kilometers from both Beirut Souks and ABC Achrafieh.

All of the above malls have (or will have) multiplex cinemas in them as well.

Which other Lebanese cities have malls other than Beirut? I can think of Saida and that’s mainly because it’s Mr. Hariri’s hometown. If you go North from Beirut, you will find no malls and no cinemas until Las Salinas in the North and City Complex in Tripoli, both cinemas only with the latter having a few stores here and there and both of which are nowhere near decent enough to show movies.

Tripoli is Lebanon’s second biggest city and hasn’t had any major construction projects that found their way to completion even during the periods when the city didn’t experience the clashes that take place today.

And let’s assume Tripoli is a big no-no for political reasons, despite that being downright despicable, what’s wrong in having similar development in Batroun or Jbeil? You know, something to serve those who don’t want to drive an hour in order to watch a movie to buy a shirt.

So while places like Beirut Souks ruin the idea of an old fashioned Souk and while places like ABC Achrafieh overcrowd neighborhoods that are already beyond crowded with cars and traffic, someone saw it fit to add another mall in an empty space in Beirut. Because the city absolutely needed one.

I won’t go into how malls affect negatively smaller retailers that create bustling streets and bring life to some aspects of urban life in Beirut. A metropolitan place like Beirut should have malls and such projects, there’s no denying that.

But the question is the following: What’s Lebanon’s Mall Centralization limit?

I say it’s until every single empty space in Beirut runs out.

Other places in the country don’t (and won’t have) have similar developmental projects hat would bring jobs and some economic life to arguably an entire region.

Flipping the coin of Lebanon’s mall centralization, and in broader terms the centralization of capital, economy and development, is rise in poverty and consequently extremism. But there’s no point in caring – Beirut is getting a new mall soon. The other twenty right next to it were not enough.

The Forgotten Victims of Lebanon’s Assassinations

Ghazi Bou Karroum. He was killed when Marwan Hamadeh was targeted.

Rima Bazzi, Yamama Daher, Abd l Hamid Ghlayini, Zahi Bou Rjeili, Ziad Lthahabi. They were all killed when Rafik Hariri was assassinated.

Nicolas Flouti and Andre Mrad. They were killed when Gebran Tueini was assassinated.

Ralph Chikhani. He died when Antoine Ghanem was assassinated.

Georgette Sarkissian. She died when Wissam Al Hassan was targeted in Friday’s Achrafieh Explosion.

Khaled Ido. The son of assassinated MP Walid Ido.

Francois el Hajj, Wissam Eid…. these are people who were assassinated but who somehow rank less on the Lebanese scale of importance when it comes to assassinations because their deaths are not as relevant to political causes.

There are much more victims than this. But these are the only names I remember. They are the victims practically one remembers whenever a top Lebanese official gets assassinated. They are the ones whose deaths cannot be turned into a political scene.

They are the ones whose only fault was being at work, trying to bring food to their family’s tables, going to reheat food for their children who are coming back from school. Their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time. In ten seconds, these people lost their lives. Their children lost a father, a mother. Their mothers and fathers lost their sons and daughters… only for their loved ones’ memory to get diluted in political rhetoric that doesn’t acknowledge their sacrifice to begin with. And if it does, it’s only mentioned sporadically, anonymously, like an irrelevant byproduct of a terrorist act.

They are the people who lost their homes with every explosion and who, when the political excitement subsides in a day or two, will still not have a shelter above their heads and no one to care about that.

These people were not important enough to be buried in Downtown’s newly founded cemetery (apparently we have one now). They were not important enough to be named separately in news report pieces. They are always reported as “and X people also died.” That’s why I couldn’t find any other names.

So we convince ourselves that we’ll mention these people in our prayers. That somehow, in our heads, they are not forgotten. But we only talk about the only person that mattered in the assassination. We don’t even know how many people died in the Achrafieh explosion. But it doesn’t matter anymore. When it wasn’t clear if the explosion was targeted against someone, everyone was talking about victims. When more details surfaced, the talk became about a victim.

It seems that our fate as Lebanese is to be slain in the assassinations of others as nothing more than props that can be disposed of at any moment.

May the forgotten victims of Lebanon’s so many assassinations and most recently Achrafieh’s blast rest in peace. And may their memory forever be present in the minds of those who care.

PS: If you want to help the victims of the Achrafieh explosion, check out this #Achrafieh4all and #SassineAid twitter feed. Also contact this phone number: 70-001319


A Car-Free Day in Achrafieh? Hell Yeah!

As part of a campaign launched by MP Nadim Gemayel called Achrafieh 2020 which aims at upping the living standards of one of Beirut’s main neighborhoods, a car-free day is taking place there today whereby no cars are permitted on the roads between 8 am and 6 pm.

Have you ever seen bicycles parked like this on any Beiruti street? No.

The 2020 aim of the campaign is to have a functional tramway running around the neighborhood, have more parks and green spaces around, reduce the need for cars and therefore congestion in the densely populated neighborhoods. The model will serve as a platform for Beirut and possibly other Lebanese cities as well.

It is not meant to be an attempt at segregation which some people are saying this looks like. It’s meant to be a way to better the lives of those who choose to call Achrafieh their home.


The streets of Achrafieh will also have bicycle paths for those who decide to use that mode of transportation. After a one month stay in France, I have seen many people who prefer their bicycles over their cars. So why not have that in Beirut as well?

Just yesterday I was having a discussion with my friends about the difference of mentalities that I’ve noticed when it comes to the mere element of “walking” in Lebanon. How many of us would rather take their car for something that would require a 15 minute walk at most? I’m sure most of us do.

We blame the lack of a decent transportation system, we blame the lack of proper pedestrian lanes, we blame everything that we could think of… except our undeniable need for vehicles. So to me, even though I won’t be able to participate seeing I’m in the other side of the country, a car free day in any part of Beirut is absolutely welcome.

Why? Because it shows many Lebanese people that you can really get somewhere without turning up your engine and driving. You only need your two legs and you’re set. Introducing the need to walk instead the need for a car in the minds of those who live in Beirut especially and Lebanon generally is an absolute necessity.

I’m glad to see Achrafieh taking pioneering steps in that regards. Good luck in their pursuits.

The above pictures were taken from the following Facebook page (click here).