Tuesday, June 22, 2010

LSE normal

I arranged to meet with a friend to hear a lecture in the LSE titled "Beirut Normal" by architect and scholar Hashim Sarkis. Approaching the LSE I was surprised by the large number of well-dressed people in front of the doors, chattering happily in Arabic. Are they all Arab architects and town planners, the Zaha Hadid aspirationals?

As I was locking my bike, to my surprise I saw the well-dressed men starting to hit each other, as the doors of the building shut closed with huge metal barriers, as if out of the sesame cave. The skirmish appeared to be between people with placards and people with no placards. Then I realised that the no-placard-camp were chasing after the placard camp, kicking them and shouting "Traitors!". I noticed that I've never seen people with such expensive suits beating up each other. As one guy was running after a photographer and threatening to break his camera, I could even smell the eau-de-cologne.

What's happening? I asked a non-suit person that was watching the scene. "Kaddafi's son is speaking here today". That made more sense. So we were among a crowd of lackeys defending the great Arab revolution in Armani. I realized that in that case we should be grateful they didn't start shooting at the protestors.

As I circled the building I found that although had shut all the gates, the Student Union shop remained opened. As I guessed, the shop had a passage to the building. I went in, and noticed a little army of security people facing the main doors, with their backs to me, and they didn't notice me at all as I jumped the barriers. Now, inside the building, I thought I just have to locate myself strategically on the cafe balcony and prepare to throw my detonating device.... Alas assassinations are not my expertise.

The Sarkis talk ended up being very smooth, but quite disconcerting; "money is not a problem in Beirut", and courtesy references to social exclusion through a picture of a cleaner in a hotel. My sense was that he probably plans buildings the same men in Armani suits that were beating the demonstrators outside.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Categories of being

Yesterday in the Somerford grove clinic, a woman was trying to get an apointment for her baby. The clinic secretary was going through the registration procedure with her. She asked the woman for her race. The mother was surprised: European, I am European (she looked Mediterranean, dark, I thought she was Turkish).

"There's no European, there's "white british" "white irish" and "white other". Which one is it?"

The mother was perplexed. "We are from Spain". - So circle the "white other" suggested the NHS staff. And your husband?" "he is also European" insisted the woman. "But his race?" the mother looked across the hall, as if to examine her husband's skin colour "white...? white other?" she said with incredulity.

"And the baby?"

"the baby... but he is born here. So he is "white British"?

Yes, said the NHS.