Rani AL Rajji

Beauty and Shame in Beirut

Imagine yourself stuck in a city without a soul where the temperature is 52 degrees Celsius and the humidity is 90% (we are talking about Dubai here) and you are just on your way home to Beirut. Then you hear that shit hit the fan and that the Rafik Hariri International airport is closed (we are talking May 2008 here). You could find yourself catching a plane to Damascus and from there fetching a taxi to the border of Lebanon. Upon arriving at the border, you would simply start walking to Beirut.

Through burning barricades, across lines of shooting and with fourteen year old kids pointing their AK47s at your head while asking you who you belong to politically. It takes you fourteen hours to cover the distance that you normally do in two hours, but eventually you will get to Beirut. You then get a shower, dress up in a tuxedo and go watch a Spanish flamenco performance at the Casino Du Liban. Amongst all the fumes of destruction, this is Lebanon. Some people just like it hot.

If you're coming to Beirut, I've already found what you're looking for. Think twice before doing it, never regret once you've done it.


Rani AL Rajji - Image provided by Rani

Depending on your taste, you might head for Talal’s Hostel in Saifi (beware of bed bugs) or crash on one of the many couch surfers couches. You will find me, Rani, in Torino Express in the Gemmayzeh district, east Beirut. Oh and by now you want to know I am also the uncrowned King of Bounyaks, serving as a safe haven for all those falling outside the seventeen available official identity groups. Together, you and I will put together an interesting trip.

As music is your thing you will be invited to a little jam session with the Scrambled Eggs, one of the most influential rock bands in Beirut. Their music has no clearly defined sound, but is characterised best by a fine mesh of guitars and noises, with a surplus of improvisation. Since you play yourself, this is your chance to plug in.

Studio Beirut is one of the latest additions to the cities cultural scene. As a place for artists, activists and architects, Studio Beirut seeks to re-script public spheres in Beirut so that they become accessible for people from all walks of life to meet and interact. Started in 2007 following the July war, they’ve now hosted numerous events, workshops and parties. Bring your own lunch! Studio Beirut is the place in 
town to get you, as an artist, architect or de–signer, engaged in a collaborative project on the city. They will definitely keep you busy all day.

Ashkal Alwan is one of the most stable stepping-stones in the rather fluid Lebanese cultural scene, and as such a perfect entry into the less shady realm of the underground. Their yearly Home Works exhibition has presented most of the internationally acclaimed artists, such as Walid Raad, Akram Zaatari, Mohamad Soueid, Rabih Mroue and Tony Chakar.

Architect Joe Mounzer could also give you a hardcore tour of Beirut. His Assassination Tour takes on the dark and violent currents that flow underneath the surface of this city. Although the all-out civil war ended in the early nineties, the city still sees occasional burps of extreme violence: assassinations. The assassinations have become an elementary force in the contemporary spatial and urban development of the city, as Joe will vividly explain.

No better way to get yourself submerged in the Beirut art scene than going for a couple of drinks. While it only involves minor movement, you will end up in tens of little watering holes in Gemmayzeh. You might meet Charbel Haber from Scrambled Eggs; an extremely talented musician that uses his talent to bum around or Alex Medawar whom we know little about but who will blow your mind anyway.
I'll recommend you to go to Café de Prague in the afternoon to play the online game ‘Construct Lebanon’ with its creator, artist Shawki Youssef. The game is based on political speeches. On your laptop screen you see pieces 0f puzzle that together form the map of Lebanon. You have to manually assemble the pieces, but your success depends on printed words of politicians. Let’s see what Lebanon you can come up with.

Interesting things

Playlist to Beirut
Scrambled Eggs
Zeid And The Wings
The New Government
Youmna Saba
The Incompetents


Project & venues
Ashkal Alwan
Zico House
Sanayeh House
98 weeks

Arty hang-outs
Torino Express Gemmayzeh
Café de Prague Hamra
Barometre Bliss

Demo Gemmayzeh
Papercup Store // Mar Mikhael

National Museum
Jeita Grotto
The Cedars

(he don'ts can become must be's if conducted properly)
Day Prices

Service taxi: € 1,00

Shawarma sandwich: € 2,00
Al Maza beer: € 3,00