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Fairouz’s Locked Door

Pascale Sawma
Lebanese Journalist
September 2, 2020
In great awe, we watched their leaked pictures after the meeting, which took place on the quiet away from the media. It was as if we just found out that Fairouz was real, that she has a house, a laugh and that her door was open… but not for us.

We might have expected more from Fairouz; we were waiting for our love and inquisitiveness to be reciprocated with something, for her to be present with us in our crises and distresses and to leave her house for once, for us, letting us know: “I am here with you!” We wanted her in every crisis or every morning to show up, in the flesh with her genuine unrecorded voice, to save us from our misery. We wanted it to be like it used to be, when we would resort to her songs to feel like our painful path was shorter than it was, that her love for us would never burn, that our country was very beautiful; her voice would remind us that we love this country.

We wanted the Fairouz we were acquainted with through her songs; like Fairouz in Petra, Lulu Al- Suwaiatia, Bint Al Haris, Zayoun and Safar Barlik. We always asked Fairouz, the artist and ambassador to the stars, for what Fairouz in person could not do.

Perhaps it had occurred to us, some of us at least, while wandering around Beirut’s devastated streets after the explosion at the port that Fairouz had to do something. Why isn’t she present with us, singing “for Beirut”, one more time, in an unrecorded voice? We always wanted her to get off the records, cassettes and black and white screens, and to give us the pleasure of seeing her in person, outside the realm of fantasies and imaginations, as if she were a woman from another world, whom we could never touch.

For years, we became accustomed to the idea of “Fairouz: The legend”. Whether we liked it or not, we all wondered, how does she wake up in the morning? What kind of music does she listen to? Does she eat and drink like we do? Does she like afternoon tea? Does she comb her hair? Does she like the modern poetry we write? Does she know that we would pay a fortune for just a glimpse of her? Who convinced her that she should stay in that house in Al Rabieh, hidden away, not in contact with us? Was she happy? Was it her decision? Or was it the decision of her daughter, Rima? Has she ever worn jeans?

All of us, journalists and citizens, would have at least liked to ring her doorbell, whether she opened it or not, only so we would be able to snoop into her home, to know what color her curtains were, to get a whiff of her scent, or to simply see her ironing a shirt, reading a book, or just laughing; perhaps we would witness one of her rare and timid laughs. Fairouz’s laughs can barely be counted on the fingers these past few years. Whoever could find a video of her laughing, would usually share it hurriedly on social media, as if it were exceptional news: “Fairouz is laughing!”

Fairouz adhered to her isolation until the arrival of French President Emmanuel Macron, for whom she opened the door that had always been locked in our faces. It was as simple as that, Macron said he would visit her, the bell rang, the door opened, the blonde man entered, and the door closed again. Why does Fayrouz frown upon all of us and smile at Macron?

In great awe, we watched their leaked pictures after the meeting, which took place on the quiet away from the media. It was as if we just found out that Fairouz was real, that she has a house, a laugh and that her door was open… but not for us.

Fairouz is neither our salvation nor our partner during these bitter diaries. She wanted to remain in her time, the time of Mays al-Reem and Kahlon (‘Oh my grandmother’s distant village’). She announced a quiet withdrawal from our present with all its problems, to lay in her house where the curtains and paintings resemble her, or resemble an image our minds created about her.

We should have lowered our expectations from Fairouz as a person, as we memorize her songs and plays by heart. Mrs. Nihad, who became a legend in our heads, only wanted solitude and calm. She gave us many songs and plays, and then turned and walked away. We had to understand long ago that Fairouz is neither our salvation nor our partner during these bitter diaries. She wanted to remain in her time, the time of Mays al-Reem and Kahlon (‘Oh my grandmother’s distant village’). She announced a quiet withdrawal from our present with all its problems, to lay in her house where the curtains and paintings resemble her, or resemble an image our minds created about her.

Everyone, even haters of Fairouz before her fans, really wished from the bottom of their hearts that she would perform one more concert, that she would descend from her throne of holiness and divinity that her large audience labelled for her, and give them a “recital” or a live song, nothing more, or even a small interview on TV Lebanon, or to go to the street and nod towards them once or twice and then leave. However, she never did, simply because she didn’t want to, and we had to understand.

Fairouz welcomed Macron, who did not yet know exactly what he wanted from us, while journalists, photographers and people outside tried to make use of the available area and adjust the angle for just a glance. In any case, she was free to decide whom she wanted to receive and whom she would close the door in front of.

Everything going on on social media didn’t concern her, or perhaps did not matter to her enough.

Our problem with this woman is that we attached our hopes and dreams onto her, when she sang “I love you, Lebanon, my homeland … love your north and south”. We linked her to our existence and the existence of our homeland. We imagined that she was the one who liberated the South when she said, “The bride’s bracelet is made of gold, and you, O dust of the South, are made of hearts.” We saw Al-Quds celebrating with joy because Fairouz’s voice saluted it singing, “Oh, the flower of the cities.”

We never got used to the idea of her retirement (perhaps because of the scarcity of retired artists) … But Fairouz retired, and we refused her retirement on a daily basis, demanding her return.

She wanted isolation, and this is her right, even if it was not our desire. She opened the door for Macron, and exchanged smiles and laughter, but then Macron left, and Fairouz closed the door once more.

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