Thursday, 11 January 2007
Alex Horne – 11th January 2007
I was confident we’d meet someone from Lebanon on Edgware Road. With the Saj Lebanese food of Café Al Tanoor at one end, countless independent Lebanese restaurants all the way up to the Marylebone Road and the ever-expanding chain of Maroush in between, it was the international quest equivalent of an enormous open goal. I thought it a touch of flair, therefore, when we managed to score our Lebanese representative in a music shop called Falcon.
Despite living about 300 paces from its doors for more than three years I’d probably never have gone into Falcon had we not been doing this project. When I travel abroad I tend to buy my brothers CDs from whichever country I’m in. I like to think it’s a charming tradition but I know it’s probably slightly irritating. I expect they’d prefer some chocolate from duty-free. Still, brothers are meant to be slightly irritating and I now know I can cut out the middle (eastern) man by nipping into No.93 Edgware Road, and spending £10 on a Nancy Arjam CD (currently Lebanon’s biggest selling pop princess).
It’s a lively shop. Music blares out, customers bustle around and there’s a tiny foreign exchange booth squeezed into the front right corner just in case you’ve turned up with the wrong currency again. Hassan, the shopkeeper, was a lot chattier than most of the assistants you find in HMV or Virgin. They may well have more actual music knowledge (‘please don’t ask me about any of the artists!’ he protested more than once) but what he lacked in this department he more than made up for in general friendliness.
He arrived fifteen years ago at the age of twenty one. ‘I was young and I wanted to travel. It was exciting.’ So exciting, in fact that he never went home, instead marrying an English lady and starting a new life in London.
By now he says he doesn’t really feel Lebanese or British; ‘I’m just me’. His kids are bilingual with a slight bias to their place of birth: he speaks to them in Arabic, they understand him then reply in English which reminded me a little of my trip to France the week before when I’d bravely/stubbornly talk to people in French, they’d mostly understand but then reply, somewhat patronisingly, in English.
The CDs along the walls of the shop are punctuated by majestic-looking musical instruments. I was just about to say, ‘they look a bit like guitars’ when Owen remarked how similar to Shakespearean lutes they looked - which was probably a better thing to say although it didn’t really to make any sort of impression on Hassan.
“I can’t play any musical instruments”, he said with a smile – clearly a man who’d accepted this particular absence of talent some time ago (I’m still very jealous of musicians and am convinced I’ll one day learn and excel at the harmonica). He did, however, tell us that they were called ‘Ouds’ which got us both extremely excited having just come from the Oud Perfume shop, just two doors down from here.
“Oud?” we chorused, “like the perfume in the shop, just two doors down from here?” “Well”, said Hassan, slowly. “I guess so. I’d never really thought about it”. Fair enough. We may well have got just a tiny bit animated about the link, wanted to sniff the instrument to explore the connection and thought that probably the word ‘oud’ was an ancient corruption of our word ‘wood’ – well, they’re both definitely made from the stuff – but this was clearly not the time or place to do any of those things.
To be honest, I’d got the feeling by the end of our interview that while Hassan was very happy working in his shop on Edgware Road, it wasn’t the CDs or Nancy Ajram or the medieval guitars that made him tick, but the ‘customers’ who, like us, seemed to come in more for a chat than a purchase.
‘Goodbye, it was great to meet you and if you need anything else please come back any time’, he said as we left. It felt much more genuine than the ‘have a nice day’ we’re now used to. ‘Anything you want, you got it!’ he shouted after us. We could have stayed longer. We were all getting on very well. But we had more people to meet and freshly squeezed orange juice to drink so we marched on up to Maroush’s Beirut Express, scribbled down our notes and decided that our next target should definitely be that gaudy bazaar across the road.