Leaving Beirut

Album: Leaving Beirut (CD Single) (2004)
  • So we left Beirut Willa and I
    He headed East to Baghdad and the rest of it
    I set out North
    I walked the five or six miles to the last of the street lamps
    And hunkered in the curb side dusk
    Holding out my thumb
    In no great hope at the ramshackle procession of home bound traffic
    An ancient Mercedes 'dolmus '
    The ubiquitous, Arab, shared taxi drew up
    I turned out my pockets and shrugged at the driver
    " J'ai pas de l'argent "
    " Venez! " A soft voice from the back seat
    The driver lent wearily across and pushed open the back door
    I stooped to look inside at the two men there
    One besuited, bespectacled, moustached, irritated, distant, late
    The other, the one who had spoken,
    Frail, fifty five-ish, bald, sallow, in a short sleeved pale blue cotton shirt
    With one biro in the breast pocket
    A clerk maybe, slightly sunken in the seat
    "Venez!" He said again, and smiled
    "Mais j'ai pas de l'argent"
    "Oui, Oui, d'accord, Venez!"

    Are these the people that we should bomb
    Are we so sure they mean us harm
    Is this our pleasure, punishment or crime
    Is this a mountain that we really want to climb
    The road is hard, hard and long
    Put down that two by four
    This man would never turn you from his door
    Oh George! Oh George!
    That Texas education must have fucked you up when you were very small

    He beckoned with a small arthritic motion of his hand
    Fingers together like a child waving goodbye
    The driver put my old Hofner guitar in the boot with my rucksack
    And off we went
    " Vous etes Francais, monsieur? "
    " Non, Anglais "
    " Ah! Anglais "
    " Est-ce que vous parlais Anglais, Monsieur? "
    "Non, je regrette"
    And so on
    In small talk between strangers, his French alien but correct
    Mine halting but eager to please
    A lift, after all, is a lift
    Late moustache left us brusquely
    And some miles later the dolmus slowed at a crossroads lit by a single lightbulb
    Swung through a you-turn and stopped in a cloud of dust
    I opened the door and got out
    But my benefactor made no move to follow
    The driver dumped my guitar and rucksack at my feet
    And waving away my thanks returned to the boot
    Only to reappear with a pair of alloy crutches
    Which he leaned against the rear wing of the Mercedes.
    He reached into the car and lifted my companion out
    Only one leg, the second trouser leg neatly pinned beneath a vacant hip
    " Monsieur, si vous voulez, ca sera un honneur pour nous
    Si vous venez avec moi a la maison pour manger avec ma femme "

    When I was 17 my mother, bless her heart, fulfilled my summer dream
    She handed me the keys to the car
    We motored down to Paris, fuelled with Dexedrine and booze
    Got bust in Antibes by the cops
    And fleeced in Naples by the wops
    But everyone was kind to us, we were the English dudes
    Our dads had helped them win the war
    When we all knew what we were fighting for
    But now an Englishman abroad is just a US stooge
    The bulldog is a poodle snapping round the scoundrel's last refuge

    "Ma femme", thank God! Monopod but not queer
    The taxi drove off leaving us in the dim light of the swinging bulb
    No building in sight
    What the hell
    "Merci monsieur"
    "Bon, Venez!"
    His faced creased in pleasure, he set off in front of me
    Swinging his leg between the crutches with agonising care
    Up the dusty side road into the darkness
    After half an hour we'd gone maybe half a mile
    When on the right I made out the low profile of a building
    He called out in Arabic to announce our arrival
    And after some scuffling inside a lamp was lit
    And the changing angle of light in the wide crack under the door
    Signalled the approach of someone within
    The door creaked open and there, holding a biblical looking oil lamp
    Stood a squat, moustached woman, stooped smiling up at us
    She stood aside to let us in and as she turned
    I saw the reason for her stoop
    She carried on her back a shocking hump
    I nodded and smiled back at her in greeting, fighting for control
    The gentleness between the one-legged man and his monstrous wife
    Almost too much for me

    Is gentleness too much for us
    Should gentleness be filed along with empathy
    We feel for someone else's child
    Every time a smart bomb does its sums and gets it wrong
    Someone else's child dies and equities in defence rise
    America, America, please hear us when we call
    You got hip-hop, be-bop, hustle and bustle
    You got Atticus Finch
    You got Jane Russell
    You got freedom of speech
    You got great beaches, wildernesses and malls
    Don't let the might, the Christian right, fuck it all up
    For you and the rest of the world

    They talked excitedly
    She went to take his crutches in routine of care
    He chiding, gestured
    We have a guest
    She embarrassed by her faux pas
    Took my things and laid them gently in the corner
    "do the?"
    We sat on meagre cushions in one corner of the single room
    The floor was earth packed hard and by one wall a raised platform
    Some six foot by four covered by a simple sheet, the bed
    The hunchback busied herself with small copper pots over an open hearth
    And brought us tea, hot and sweet
    And so to dinner
    Flat, unleavened bread, + thin
    Cooked in an iron skillet over the open hearth
    Then folded and dipped into the soft insides of female sea urchins
    My hostess did not eat, I ate her dinner
    She would hear of nothing else, I was their guest
    And then she retired behind a curtain
    And left the men to sit drinking thimbles full of Arak
    Carefully poured from a small bottle with a faded label
    Soon she reappeared, radiant
    Carrying in her arms their pride and joy, their child.
    I'd never seen a squint like that
    So severe that as one eye looked out the other disappeared behind its nose

    Not in my name, Tony, you great war leader you
    Terror is still terror, whosoever gets to frame the rules
    History's not written by the vanquished or the damned
    Now we are Genghis Khan, Lucretia Borghia, Son of Sam
    In 1961 they took this child into their home
    I wonder what became of them
    In the cauldron that was Lebanon
    If I could find them now, could I make amends?
    How does the story end?

    And so to bed, me that is, not them
    Of course they slept on the floor behind a curtain
    Whilst I lay awake all night on their earthen bed
    Then came the dawn and then their quiet stirrings
    Careful not to wake the guest
    I yawned in great pretence
    And took the proffered bowl of water heated up and washed
    And sipped my coffee in its tiny cup
    And then with much "merci-ing" and bowing and shaking of hands
    We left the woman to her chores
    And we men made our way back to the crossroads
    The painful slowness of our progress accentuated by the brilliant morning light
    The dolmus duly reappeared
    My host gave me one crutch and leaning on the other
    Shook my hand and smiled
    "Merci, monsieur," I said
    " De rien "
    " And merci a votre femme, elle est tres gentille "
    Giving up his other crutch
    He allowed himself to be folded into the back seat again
    "Bon voyage, monsieur," he said
    And half bowed as the taxi headed south towards the city
    I turned North, my guitar over my shoulder
    And the first hot gust of wind
    Quickly dried the salt tears from my young cheeks.

    Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind

Comments: 2

  • Ricardo Abdahllah from Paris, Francehe used a comic-like karaoke background in most of his 2007 performers so public may sing with him.
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaI remember this song from when I saw Roger Waters live at the Hollywood Bowl. He gave some insight to his Lebanese adventures. A comic was displayed on a big screen showing what it was like for him. I don't know if he wrote it, but that would be cool.
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