There was once a Lebanese rapper who went by the name of Clotaire K: I am no fan generally of that genre but liked a couple of his tracks I heard John Peel playing in the early 2000s. French is an ideal language for rap, lending the fundamental daftness of the form a profundity by its unfamiliar distance: it may sound less impressive if you actually are French, of course. Clotaire K combined rap and the French tongue with a variety of (literally) Arabesque touches which added up to something quite beguiling. ‘Beyrouth Ecouerée’, one of the tracks was called, ‘Beirut made sick’, but literally ‘de-hearted’: a reminder of the days when that once-grand city and its long, gradual disintegration was at the centre of the world’s concerns, a time which seems a long way away now. It was a startling image.
As buses trundled out of East Aleppo evacuating those who wanted to leave I thought of ‘Beyrouth Ecouerée’ on my way down the hill to church, just before Christmas. The buildings of this parish are so familiar to me. It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to imagine mortar shells and bombs falling here, blowing them to bits, eviscerating a community and the familiar signs and marks by which it understands itself: there goes the butcher’s, the old cottage opposite the cul-de-sac, the railway station, the church. Or the children at the centre of it, not just general, abstract children but real ones, the ones I know from the Infants School and elsewhere, maimed and damaged by mines and bullets and rushed to the Royal Surrey Hospital, a hospital made chaotic and dangerous as bombs fall around it, too. The children here are not that much different from the ones there. Swanvale Halt with its heart cut out. Or anywhere, it could be.
Of course Beirut, once as much a byword for horror and destruction as Aleppo is now, is doing OK these days, a place where people flee to rather than away from. A heart refound. Happy New Year.