Not that it’d be difficult.
Last night, I went drinking around some of the more notorious expatriate watering holes of Beirut’s Hamra district. You’ll recall perhaps, that this is the area of Beirut which seems permanently caught in a freeze frame time capsule of the early-mid 70s.
I had gone to Hamra to meet a journalist named Glen Johnson, a fellow New Zealander, or ‘Kiwi’ if you must – or even if you mustn’t. “Johnson turned out to be an affable young fellow whose thoughtful manner belied nerves of steel and gritty determination. Just occasionally, he seemed haunted by what he had seen.”
At least that’s how I’d describe him in the great, probably never-to-be-finished Graham Greene type novel about Beirut; which I find myself making mental notes for on most nights, before the honking horns and the roar of the highway outside finally lull me to sleep.
The real life Glen Johnson has spent six months living around the occupied territories of West Bank, has got into trouble asking Syrian officials about Iraqi refugees, and is currently working on a story about an Islamic Jihadist group.
And me? I get jumpy when I hear those car engines backfire – which is like, all the time in Beirut. Glen came here by his volition, all the way from Nu Zillund, was definitely not sent out here by any news agency, yet is now making a living by the stories he sells, supplemented by the odd bit of teaching English. He is his own fixer, translator and photographer. A braver man than I indeed.
Nevertheless, Glen accompanied this comparatively lily-livered scribe to two of the bars where – apparently – not only real journalists drink, but real pretend journalists. I’d not had a beer with a fellow Antipodean in five weeks, and the very idea – all of a sudden – seemed tremendously exotic. First up there was Dany’s Pub, a diminutive boozer, with a studenty vibe, a place where Arabic was scarcely spoken. A guy walked in, with a brace of cameras slung over his shoulder, looking like the John Malkovich character in Empire of the Sun. ‘A real pretend photojournalist’, I thought to myself. Next stop was The Duke of Wellington. It’s on the ground floor of the Mayflower Hotel, as you may recall, and has an interior reminiscent of a theatre stage set for a British pub, circa 1974 naturally. Beer came in big, German stein handle glasses, which as close as you’ll get to an Imperial measure in this town. Needless to say, I loved it. But still Robert Fisk was nowhere to be seen! We seek him there, we seek him there…
Glen incidentally thought some commentators were terribly unfair about the great man, deriding Fisk on such flimsy grounds as the fact that he writes in the first person, and so on. It was a case of one young real journalist paying his respects to an éminence grise of real journalists, and this real pretend journalist did not beg to differ.