This text is adapted from one of the very first blogposts I wrote when I became interested in writing about cities. It was first published on my personal blog in 2011, and reflected my experience taking part in an artist-led workshop called RePLACE Beirut. Its original title was "Dinosaurs Roaming The Earth".

Over the course of two weekends, we indulged in discussions about what it means to navigate Beirut, and these sessions generated many ideas that eventually developed into a variety of projects displayed on the walls of the 98weeks project space on the April 16, 2011. For photos from that open studio, click here.

I wrote another, more comprehensive article about the whole experience for a "citizen journalism" platform, but that website has long been defunct. Here's the original link, appropriately dead for the purposes of this walk down memory lane. Click here for photos from a literal walk we took at the very start of the workshop.

Flies are buzzing around my head

Vultures circling the dead

Picking up every last crumb

The big fish eat the little ones

Lara and I started our collaborative project by walking along the blue route, below, a shape that most workshop participants agreed looked a little bit like a dinosaur. We already knew that we wanted to make a map of memories, so as we walked, we took note of the cafes and bookshops that were no longer there.

Some of these we had actually known, while others closed down long before our time. Some of these 'disappeared places' have become so ingrained in Beiruti consciousness that they remain below the surface of whatever branded outlet that ended up taking their place, making them very easy to locate. Other places only persisted as whispers; one in particular, we later found out, we had misidentified completely! We were basing our 'excavation' on the memories of others, after all. And as luck would have it, we didn't even have a copy of the "dino-route" with us, making our whole endeavor an exercise in approximation.

To our list of places-long-gone, which we called Public (Ex-)Landmarks, we added memorials of our own, labeled Personal Memories. We appropriated the visual language used by informal advertising (for things like wireless internet or apartments for rent) and marked the spots where our memories lived-and-died.

Some of our posters were torn down very quickly; others were covered over; a few survived for a while. We summarized the project in a brief statement...

In Memoriam: Beirut is constantly recycling itself through time; every few years, we are made to be nostalgic again for another thing lost. This recycling creates layers of memories that persist for as long as they are spoken of. Our project aims at mapping places that have 'died' and memories that only live within us, indulging in the mourning process and romanticizing the mundane in the Hamra area.

...and presented it at the RePLACE Beirut Open Studio on the 16th of April, with these instructions:

The places and memories mapped on this wall are based around a route submitted anonymously to the RePLACE Beirut database. This blue line is a trace inscribed onto the Hamra area through almost daily repetition, and marks the territory of someone we do not know, but probably cross paths with.

The points we have mapped represent moments and spaces that are gone forever. Help us litter this territory with memorials and landmarks so that they may persist, somehow, as traces within a trace.

* Red dots are for places that no longer exist, green dots are for your personal memories.

* Read the descriptions written in the notebook and try to orient yourself using the points already mapped.

* Take a number and memorialize your place or memory on the wall. Don't worry about being accurate - that's not how memories work.

* Write a description of your place (in red) or memory (in green) in the notebook to help others orient themselves better.

Interestingly, none of the visitors to the space contributed their memories... Lara is planning a Facebook group to gather more contributions, since she hopes to expand on this part of the project as part of her university work. But even if we don't manage to collect any, I wouldn't be too disheartened. This part of the project was always the more selfish gesture, to my mind: we were memorializing trivial happenings to emphasize the state of ongoing mourning and nostalgia in the city where dinosaurs roam. And making public what is private is a gesture that only goes so far.

The next phase of our project, which was already planned during the workshop, involves intervening in the locations of our Public (Ex-)Landmarks with posters appropriating the language of Arab bereavement posters, in a gesture a little more directly engaged with the dynamics we're entangling ourselves in. In our morbid typology, some of the places we're documenting are now completely "Dead," gone without a trace, while other places are "Undead," their walls still standing but devoid of life. Our planned posters in Phase 2 will be designed subtly, using to our 'advantage' the fact that very few good-quality photographs of these places are available to us, highlighting our (imposed) inability to even remember them properly.

At the same time, we will be documenting a special case of a martyr in the making: [the original] t-marbouta will close down in a week, after the building it is located in was bought up by an eager "developer". We've known about this for a few weeks and are just now beginning to accept the idea of losing a meeting place our generation felt was replacing what had been lost in the area. Even the employees are resigned to their fate and were actually trying to help us get over the shock when we first approached them to confirm the news. We're planning to document the last days of this space "obsessively," in a move that amplifies our helplessness and inability to do otherwise: if we can't stop the dinosaurs from tearing up our favorite 'haunts', then we will at least defend our right to remember.

(That's the artistic gesture, in any case.)

When we discussed our plans with Bilal, the owner of t-marbouta, we expressed how we conceived of this use of memory-as-resistance as being just a statement about our sad inability to change what is coming; an ultimately futile gesture about the futility of gestures. But funnily enough, while I was writing this post, I became aware of this protest in Mar Mikhael (the same area we had been meeting during the workshop, incidentally). The demolition they are protesting has already started, but theirs is a gesture that definitely brings us closer to real political engagement with the dynamics tearing up our city; from gestures of despair to interventions that may, with sustained effort and coordination, actually interfere in the course of events.

Maybe the time of mourning is nearing its end...


Most of the planned projects detailed above never happened. We did end up obsessively documenting the old t-marbouta, but a newer, much better location emerged some years later. Click here to read a follow-up post from the protest mentioned in the last paragraph.

If you try the best you can

If you try the best you can

The best you can is good enough

If you try the best you can

If you try the best you can

Dinosaurs roaming the earth

Dinosaurs roaming the earth

Dinosaurs roaming the earth