The Bats of Ashrafieh | In Memoriam |

For Stéphanias.

It seems like nobody noticed their absence, but since I prefer them to birds, I did.

As a child, I used to walk across Ashrafieh almost every day. I would wander aimlessly in its streets, take alleys not taken, lose myself in empty paths. I would take a childish pleasure in “discovering” new byways, back streets, making myself believe I was the first one ever to know about them. When an abandoned house appeared at the end of the track, it was victory: a castle! Urban Wonderlands hiding all sorts of stories and secrets. Enclaves of the past shrouded in forbiddenness and mystery. Of course I would go in. Mostly through the window. I admired the kitschy flagstones, the old furniture, sometimes a dusty couch or an age-old secretary. And the bats sleeping.

There were so many urban meadows in the Ashrafieh of my childhood. Lying fallow, taken over by yellow-green weed. But not all.

If you guessed there were orange trees, then you know Ashrafieh. That’s why I most liked it in the winter. Enchanted gardens with useless rusted fences. Yellow, green, and orange. The earthly smell of wet grass and light mud; the woody perfume of wet shutters–yes, these old typical light-blue ones. And bats again.

Assuredly, I was a strange kid. Urban meadows and haunted mansions in the midst of the city were my playgrounds. I rejoiced in their stillness. My Ashrafieh was a quiet village with concrete walls and iron wires. Stray bullets and bomb fragments laid on the ground sometimes. I handled them like diamonds and hid them at home in a plastic safe like a pirate’s treasure.

Memories memories keep coming to my mind… 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994… 1995. At  twilight, the sky was indigo–vivid–and the Saturdays I remember, inexplicably sunny. There were bats flying around building tops every night, trying to avoid humans by flying high, but we, on the ground, inevitably caught an ultrasonic sound coming from up there. Sundays smelled like grilled red meat at lunch time and the streets silent and desert. Screams of children and voices of fathers. Mothers busy. Sundays are perhaps still like that.

I am not sure what changed. Has the fascination gone or is it I who became disenchanted since? Some magic places remain, only to those who know how to spot them. There is little room for fascination left in Ashrafieh for today’s playing children. The real-estate market has taken it all; it is more important, there is money at stake, they say. Here we are in our new city, new buildings, waning green havens, vanished playgrounds of old houses. I haven’t seen a single bat for more than a decade.

Novelty killed the bats. Humans have invested the whole city since, invested in it all. No place left for bats to dwell. All they wished for was a little bit of intimacy away from our noise. But my city has become a dreamless place for brooding adults, and so the bats realized that intimacy had become a precious luxury for us too. And it was so considerate of them to leave with unrequited discretion and respect.

Rest in peace, bats of Ashrafieh, wherever you are.

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5 Responses to The Bats of Ashrafieh | In Memoriam |

  1. Stéphanias. says:

    Birds, bats… maybe if we had wings we would have flown away too..
    but our species has (senti)mental roots.

    As they’re gone, we still wander in the streets of this uncanny Ashrafieh, looking for the fragments of a forgotten city.
    and when we find some, I like to think of them as the emerging part of an iceberg.
    I like to think that underneath the silent walls of a cold Beirut, the precious remains…
    I like to think that under each stone, there’s a monument, and a place where my birds and your bats fly around freely, mocking our melancholy.

    Stéphanias.

  2. ampbreia says:

    Where is this wonderful little village? It sounds Iranian. It’s funny how our perception of magic places changes as we grow up. I used to run wild in the suburban forest by my home when I was kid too, making forts out the huge arching root systems of ancient trees, collecting treasures I found in an old fishing chest, also found, and making friends of the wild animals that got used to me there: birds, frogs, mice, squirells, and even a porcupine once. As an adult now, the forest just isn’t the same. Half besides has been bulldozed to make room for new houses. The population has grown far too much.

    • a.s. says:

      It’s a neighborhood in Beirut called Ashrafieh. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I tried to give the impression of what Ashrafieh is to me–a village, a place I was raised in, and which I feel I belong to.

  3. Marina says:

    Coucou!!!
    Comme d’hab. je suis une fervente fan de tes écrits subtilement mêlés de vrai, d’authentique, de sarcasme, d’humour et d’une richesse-mise en abyme de toi.
    Pour ne pas éteindre à jamais la flamme de tes rêves, j’ai aperçu quelques pipistrelles du côté de Sodeco.
    bises
    Marina

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