A Very Special Post: An Interview With Hala Feghaly

UPDATE: 18:15, UK time: Hello, Lebanon! What a mob scene! I think I have gotten more visitors from your country just today than, well, in total over the whole life of my modest novelist blog! I hope you enjoy what you read below. I’m sure you will. And thank you for stopping by. :-)

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It’s Monday, so let’s start the week with something unique. I thought you all might like to meet someone you may not know yet. However, you may well someday see her on the likes of the BBC or CNN.

I have mentioned her before, and she requires a much more complete introduction. Hala Feghaly is a journalist from Beirut, Lebanon.

Hala Feghaly on About.me. Used with her permission.
Hala Feghaly on About.me. Used with her permission.

New to blogging, Hala’s WordPress site is “Hala Feghaly.” She is on Twitter at @halafeghaly. She is also on Instagram at @halafeghaly. Apologies, but as I’m not on Instagram I will not even pretend here to know more about it than just saying that. ;-)

Hala’s now found on Facebook too at “Hala Feghaly,” so be sure to visit and to like her page!

For ease of reading, my questions to her are in the italics. Let’s begin….

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Hello Hala. Thank you for speaking to me today.

Hello Robert, it’s always a pleasure.

You have recently appeared a couple of times on a television discussion current affairs program in Lebanon. Could you tell us a bit about that experience? The name of the channel and program? The host/ presenter? And so on?

I’ve been working for the past three years as a news editor and reporter in local newspapers such as L’Orient le Jour, Assafir, Annahar and Addiyar. I had many internships in radio as well but the 21st of January was a turning point because I had the chance to be in front of the camera for the first time. Frankly, I was nervous at first but it went pretty well. Although, my appearance was so unexpected. Future TV crew needed someone to discuss “Charlie Hebdo” incident with the French Ambassador to Lebanon, Patrice Paoli. So Paula Yacoubian (the presenter of “Inter-views” – a political talkshow) called me a couple of hours before the show started and I said let’s do it!

Hala Feghaly on Inter-Views. From Instagram. Used with her permission.
Hala Feghaly on Inter-Views. From Instagram. Used with her permission.

You’ve studied at which university? What was your subject area?

I have a B.A in Journalism and Radio-TV from the Lebanese University Faculty of Information and I’m currently studying Law at the same University Faculty of Law and Political Science in Beirut.

Given the choice, do you prefer print journalism, radio, or television, or a combination of them, and why?

Personally, I’d rather work in a well-known TV station. First of all, because it’s fun! Besides, it’s because you will get more paid and you’ll have the chance to write, publish and appear on TV. For example, news anchors write the news and read it, reporters write the report’s script, they shoot it and broadcast it (they just appear while doing the “stand up” part – which I prefer the most because it is very exciting… reporters have to be always ready for adventures in order to look for interesting stories.)

Which languages do you read/ speak? How did you learn them? Which is your “first” language?

I write and speak fluently Arabic, French and English (I’ve learned these languages at school – Sagesse Brasilia Baabda) and I’m currently trying to learn Spanish all by myself. It’s not that hard because it’s Latin. I’m not practicing because the lack of time!

Do you have a religion? If so, do you consider yourself religious?

I’m Christian (Catholic). I am religious but I don’t practice for personal reasons.

Have you traveled abroad? If so, to which country/countries? If you could live in one country that is not Lebanon, which country would that be and why?

I’ve been to Syria many times before 2011. It is a beautiful country just like Lebanon. They have a lot in common, almost the same weather and nature. But it has always been my dream to study and live in Bordeaux (France) but who knows, maybe I’ll move soon for my PHD!

Do you have any hobbies? How do you enjoy spending any free time?

I’m a ballerina. I enjoy spending my time dancing, reading and doing outdoor activities: hiking, biking, camping, swimming, skiing, jogging, walking at the beach and so on. We can do everything here!

Many of my blog visitors are avid readers. Do you read any fiction? If so, what sort do you prefer? And do you have any favorite books? However, before you answer please understand that on my blog Fifty Shades of Grey does not count as a “real novel.” :-)

I read history books, analysis, philosophy, novels and biographies. I just love biographies! My favorite book so far in English is 1984, George Orwell.

And for you Robert, I highly recommend Marquis de Sade. lol

Hala Feghaly. From Instagram. Used with her permission.
Hala Feghaly. From Instagram. Used with her permission.

Where are you in your family birth order? Are you an only or oldest child? Youngest? Or in the middle somewhere? Do you have both brothers and sisters?

I have a sister and two brothers. I’m the third. My older brother Fouad is a mechanical engineer, my sister Layal is a radiologist and my little brother Rawad is still at school.

About Lebanon: Do you feel there is any single most commonly mistaken view of the country foreigners hold, and if so, what is it? Your home city Beirut sadly conjures up many negative images in the minds of many foreigners. If you could share what you consider a couple of its positives, what would they be?

People in general intend to consider Beirut as a place full of terrorism and awfulness. But that’s not true! It is a cosmopolitan country, where you can meet plenty of different people with different nationalities, convictions, religions and ideologies. There is more than 17 different religions. Do you believe that? But there are many people and countries that are willing to do anything to destroy this solidarity and conviviality.

In short, we’re not terrorists nor a bunch of ignorants nor Arabs (Lebanon isn’t an Arab Country).

To a very serious issue. It is no secret there’s a horrible war going on next door in Syria that has at times spilled over into Lebanon. There is great confusion outside as to what can be done to help end the war. If there is one thing you believe that outside governments should do to help, what do you think that should be?

What’s happening in Syria is an ongoing armed conflict. The unrest began in the early spring of 2011 within the context of Arab Spring protests, with nationwide protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s government, whose forces responded with violent crackdowns. The conflict gradually morphed from prominent protests to an armed rebellion after months of military sieges. Mainly Lebanon is facing 3 major problems: Lebanon is currently overloaded with 2 million refugees in its valleys. Hezbollah’s (Lebanese Political Party) political and military interference in Syria. In 2013, Hezbollah entered the war in support of the Syrian army. In the east, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a jihadist militant group originating from Iraq, made rapid military gains in both Syria and Iraq, eventually conflicting with the other rebels.

Do you notice extra challenges in being a woman journalist in Lebanon? If so, what do you feel they are?

All the journalists in the Middle East are in constant living and working fear and danger because of the socio-professional-religious status and because of the insecurity and chaotic situation. Especially with the uprising of ISIS and the “freedom of speech” that is controlled by the governments and political parties.

Lastly, where do you hope to be in five years in your career? And what is your ultimate career goal? To present the national evening TV news perhaps? :-)

I would like to work as an investigative reporter. But before, I will have to do many workshops and trainings in the US or in Europe because we don’t have this specialty here. And later on, maybe when I finish my law degree I might work as a lawyer as well! I just remembered this French proverb that says “petit a petit l’oiseau fait son nid” it means “step by step the bird builds its nest”.

Hala Feghaly. From Facebook. Used with her permission.
Hala Feghaly. From Facebook. Used with her permission.

Hala, thank you very much for talking with me.

A huge thanks to you, Robert. I wish everyone Good Luck.

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And now we’re back to me. I hope you enjoyed that and maybe even picked up some new insights. If you are on Facebook, go check out and like Hala’s page. And be sure to follow her here on WordPress.

Have a good Monday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

We’ve All Had “Our First Post”

I’m still “in the zone.” Yesterday was the best example in this recent “burst” of creativity. I got through an entire chapter, start to finish, and added several other pages here and there.

With that, I’ve got almost 25,000 words now. Parts (of this in-progress third novel) are starting to read much more like a coherent manuscript and not nearly so much as a disjointed series of episodes in and among the outline.

As my uncle wrote me the other day, “Just keep going.” Indeed, I intend to do so. And I love days of accomplishment like that.

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And Something About Llamas?

While I was working yesterday, I did what I normally do: I had Twitter open to the side on my iPad. I check it occasionally. Usually I do so when I stop for a writing break, but sometimes I just glance over at it.

That latter is a bad habit.

What a strange “social media” day yesterday was (to me, anyway).

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Our Fearless U.S. Media

A poster at the conservative National Review’s “The Corner” observed yesterday:

Before long the only art France will practice is the art of surrender

French journalist Anne-Elisabeth Moutet tweeted aptly in reply:

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Indeed. It appears some brave souls in our U.S. media would love to find a way to re-dredge up the “surrender” nonsense. I had been wondering when we’d start to see it again.

I think this in my archives is worth a relink here today:

I_Drew_My_Pistol

Have a good Friday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

But Don’t Mix Cold Medication With Wine

I’ve come down with a massive cold. Have felt terrible all day. Dosed up heavily. Slept lots.

Finally got around to watching some TV news and reading some news sites – and much out there is (as usual) awful stuff.

I hadn’t done some iPad updates for a few days either. I noticed this one in the queue as I okayed a bunch of them. I also don’t think this was meant to read quite as it does:

IMG_1618

So that’s that. It’s now official. NPR (National Public Radio) *will* cure insomnia.

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All kidding aside, this is actually unsettling. I happened to see this yesterday. It’s from October, courtesy of Pew Research (if you click over, you’ll see there are a few more below Bloomberg I’ve cropped off below):

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Only 53% of Americans have even heard of NPR? True, much of its listenership is rural. Still, I would’ve thought even if one didn’t listen to it, at least it registered somewhere on the media horizon for most of the population.

Yet 64% have heard of “the Daily Show?” If you’re one of the roughly one-third who’d not until now, it’s a half-hour satire nightly TV program. It’s hosted by the guy we all went to high school with who sits in the back of every class and pulls funny faces at the teacher over whatever he deems worth making fun of.

Sounds depressing, but on closer inspection the upside is while so many have heard of “the Daily Show,” only 16% reportedly trust it as a “news source.” Thus we have proof most people are smart enough to discern the difference between actual news and throwing paper airplanes. Perhaps there is hope for the world?

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Looking at the list, note one of the omissions:

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Wait. What? Where’s France 24?

If you don’t get it on cable or satellite, it streams on the internet. It is perhaps the most genteel 24 hour news channel on television. For example, in its “debate” programs, no one yells at each other. And, afterwards, everyone has a glass of wine. ;-)

Sorta a different approach compared to Fox and MSNBC. :-)

Hope you’re having a good Tuesday….

An Incredibly Dangerous Job

Ernie Pyle was embedded with U.S. forces on Iejima, Okinawa, in 1945, where he would be killed by Japanese machine-gun fire.

Photographer Robert Capa landed on Omaha Beach with U.S. troops in the second wave on D-Day. A decade later, traveling with French forces, he would die in Indochina after stepping on a mine.

ABC’s Bill Stewart, in Nicaragua covering the Sandinista rebellion in 1979, was shot at a government roadblock in cold blood despite having on his person, and having presented, press credentials issued by the Nicaraguan president’s office.

History is full of so many other examples of how war reporting is incredibly dangerous even when a journalist is accredited to one side and a “frontline” is relatively clear. But attempting to report from a “fluid field” is even more problematic: reporters may end up largely on their own in “no man’s land.” Being a journalist does not provide automatic “neutrality.”

Errol Flynn’s son, photojournalist Sean, was captured by communist Vietnamese forces and (presumed) killed in Cambodia in 1971 by the Khmer Rouge.

More recently, back in May, French photojournalist Camille Lepage, covering the horrific and confusing civil war in the Central African Republic, was discovered by French peacekeepers in a truck, having been murdered.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a newspaper and magazine.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a newspaper and magazine.

Now James Foley has been added to the terrible list. He will not be the last, of course. We should always remember those who bravely choose to place themselves in potentially fatal harm’s way to try to give us back at home some insights as to what the hell is going on. :-(

“A biography of….”

Blending historical events and “real time” into and around the lives of my fictional characters is one of the enjoyable aspects of writing these novels. Naturally I hope readers become immersed in that melding too. I also love working in stealthy references to prominent people of those mid-1990s and before:

….While James walked ahead of her into the kitchen, Isabelle dawdled behind. She noted some of his possessions up close. He had lots of books and she lingered with them the longest.

His shelves were full of history. She saw that biographies of Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt were especially numerous. There were also works on Alaska, ancient history and old textbooks. There were more World War Two books than she could count. She noticed he even had a book on France’s Algerian war.

She was surprised to find a biography of Charles de Gaulle. It was not decorating a shelf, but sat poised atop a pile of textbooks on a table next to the couch. Picking up the book, she saw a back cover blurb by a reviewer describing it as perhaps the best biography ever done on de Gaulle. As she read it, she called out to the kitchen, asking what she might do to help with dinner.

He replied that he planned to do a pasta dish. “It’s my grandmother’s recipe so it should be good. Would you cut some of the vegetables? That’ll speed things.”

“No problem.” She startled him also as she walked into the kitchen waving the book at him good-naturedly. “You say you don’t know much about France? I think you know more than you say. What are you reading, eh? I’m sure most Americans don’t know of this book,” she laughed….

The book she’s referring to? If you know something about World War II American journalism (and read on in the story), you may be able to figure out which book it is. If you aren’t all that familiar with it, don’t worry, I’ll let you know here: The Three Lives of Charles de Gaulle.

A WWII photo portrait of General Charles de Gaulle of the Free French Forces and first president of the Fifth Republic serving from 1959 to 1969. [Wikipedia.]
A WWII photo portrait of General Charles de Gaulle of the Free French Forces and first president of the Fifth Republic serving from 1959 to 1969. [Wikipedia.]

Its author, David Schoenbrun, was a remarkable journalist and author from the 1940s until his death in 1988. Although it is tough to get a copy of it today, his Three Lives (written while de Gaulle was French president, so it does not cover his resignation and death) remains superb reading.

I’d seen Mr. Schoenbrun at a student event a couple of years before his death. He made a such an impression on me I’ve never forgotten it. I thought I’d sneak in a small salute to him here.

“Characteristically Gallic”

The U.K. Telegraph reports:

A French hospital is to open a wine bar for terminally ill patients in an unprecedented but characteristically Gallic way to improve their quality of life.

“Characteristically Gallic.” Yes, this is one of those France-sourced stories “Anglo-Saxon” media love: alcohol and the French. About the only thing that tops that is probably sex and the French – and particularly, we might recall, when a president of the republic is discovered rendezvousing at night with a much younger woman actor who is not his “official partner.”

To digress briefly, of course French media have certainly not been ignoring that “presidential” story either – and not even now, over six months since it first appeared. Unsurprisingly, the publication that broke it in the first place is really still on it. Take, uh, a “closer” look at the bottom right corner of this screen grab of Closer’s “Anglo-Saxon” page, July 31, and notice which “non-Anglo-Saxons” get space:

Screengrab. Closer "Anglo-Saxon" web page, 31 July 2014.
Screengrab. “Anglo-Saxon” page, Closer, 31 July 2014.

To many French, “Anglo-Saxon” has long been synonymous essentially with “native English speaker.” Hence Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie pictured above. In the 20th and 21st centuries, it’s got zero to do with Edward the Confessor. ;-)

Free Stock Photo: Glasses of red and white wine isolated on a white background.
Free Stock Photo: Glasses of red and white wine isolated on a white background.

Okay, back to wine, hospitals, and the French. Let’s not picture everyone falling over Don Draper-like drunk. We’re told everything will be kept under careful, medical control:

Patients at the Clermont-Ferrand University Hospital in central France will be able to take part in “medically supervised wine-tasting” sessions.

They will be allowed to invite friends or family over for a drink.

Dr Virginie Guastella came up with the idea because she believes that patients “are entitled to enjoy” their last days.

Patients enthusiastically supported the plan, which has been approved by the authorities. The bar will open in September in the hospital’s Palliative Care Centre….

Forget it’s France. It sounds like a genuinely comforting idea. So, why not?

Have a good Friday, wherever you are. :-)

The Independent Extols The Catskills, But….

….in its “quest” for “Catskills style,” the U.K. newspaper in my humble opinion omits some very “stylish” places:

Searching for style in the Catskills

I understand it seems to be a narrowly focused piece that showcases certain businesses. Still, it gives an unbalanced impression of the region. There is lots of “style” out there beyond hugging Route 28 towards Roxbury.

Places that Indy article plugs, such as Woodstock and Phoenicia, are definitely worth visiting. Head north as well. Windham and adjoining towns – Hunter, Jewett, Ashland and Prattsville* – should not be missed.

Windham has the prettiest Main Street in the Catskills. It also boasts a large ski resort. (There’s also another in Hunter.) It has the wonderful Bistro Brie & Bordeaux. (One wouldn’t have thought the Independent could’ve possibly overlooked something like, uh, that.) There’s also the well-regarded Windham Vineyards and Winery. And you haven’t eaten in a diner until you’ve tried (cash only) Michael’s. (My English brother-in-law – who visited last summer – still talks about how much he enjoyed it.) I could go on….

Next door Ashland – one of the smallest towns in New York state – even has a replica Partridge Family bus. (It’s on private property.) Does anything get more “stylish” than that?

The area has state forests and fantastic hiking trails. It’s also somewhere you can drive for tens of miles before bumping into a traffic light. (The hamlet of Tannersville – there’s “style” there too – in the town of Hunter, has the STOP light.) The vistas and serenity are second to none for the Catskills.

Rainbow over the Catskills. [Photo by me, 2012.]
Rainbow over the Catskills, looking toward Hunter Mountain. (Notice the deer accidentally in frame.) [Photo by me, 2012.]

Yes, I’m biased. Our house is outside of Windham. However, if you drive up from New York City and confine yourself only to what’s along Route 28 and don’t continue up from Phoenicia to Route 23, you haven’t really seen the Catskills.

Anyway, time to get back to work. Writing, writing, writing. Woodstock isn’t the only place in the Catskills with authors. ;-)

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this….
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NOTE: *For me, one of the few “lighthearted” moments of Tropical Storm Irene and the lousy late summer of 2011 was hearing CNN’s Anderson Cooper repeatedly say “Prattsville” to an audience of global viewers. The town and area have rebounded from the flooding. Prattsville still has a few ruined private dwellings marked for demolition, but most business locations have recovered, rebuilt, and, indeed, often been refurbished.

Upstate New York’s Guillotine

July 14 is “Bastille Day.” Saturday, the Rockland County village of Piermont commemorated it. A photo gallery from LoHud newspaper captures some of the event, including its display of the French Revolution’s most enduring and infamous symbol:

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In stumbling on that photo while clicking through, I found it jarring and somewhat off-putting to see even a fake guillotine on a street amidst a party atmosphere. I suppose sticking your head into one is now considered a lot like allowing yourself to be locked into “the stocks” or “the pillory.” The real guillotine, though, was assuredly a heckuva lot more final than those.

The article led me to recall this I’d written back in March:

….when it comes to the Revolution, non-French are best advised to be cautious before shooting off their non-French mouth about it among French new acquaintances. Probe a little first, and make sure of where everyone stands, before you take to proclaiming how the Revolution was “fantastic” and that Robespierre is sadly misunderstood.

Years ago, a French inspiration for one of my characters told me, point blank, that she was never pleased when Bastille Day rolled around. To be clearer: she despised it. And why did she feel that way?

“They cut off my ancestors’ heads,” she seethed.

In 1789, the Revolution had begun seeming to be much like the American Revolution, causing Americans there at that time, such as Thomas Jefferson, to applaud it. However, he departed for home within a year, and other Americans in France looked on in horror as the Revolution descended into a chaotic, bloodthirsty mess. It did not produce many “heroes.”

Indeed, another French character inspiration pulled me up squarely on this suggestion of one perhaps vaguely arguable “hero”:

“Napoleon was a butcher, like Hitler,” she decreed.

Okay, I’ll be quiet now. And there were absolutely no George Washingtons. So while it has become France’s “national day,” underneath it all a disquiet remains: “Bastille Day” is not quite the “unifying” holiday in France that the “4th of July” is in the U.S.

After U.S. independence was recognized by Britain in 1783, those Americans who had opposed it often emigrated to Canada or other British territories, or even to Britain itself. (For example, one of Wellington’s officers killed at Waterloo in 1815 was a New York-born DeLancey, whose prominent family had opposed U.S. independence.) Or they simply stayed in the new U.S. and reconciled themselves to it – and they were allowed to do so. There were not thousands of executions of American “counterrevolutionary” loyalists who had supported remaining part of the British Empire.

The guillotine strikes me as similar to the electric chair. Or maybe I’m just too sensitive? I suppose 220 years since the Terror is deemed enough time to have passed for the guillotine to be confined safely to the realm of Renaissance fair-style history.