Redgrave & friends: A World I Loved - loved it!
A set of readings, interleaved with music from the Divan Orchestra, told the tale of Lebanon through the memoir of Wadad Makdisi Corta, a woman schoolteacher and activist. No props, gimmicks or exaggeration, just the simple story of one of the most turbulent countries in the world through the eyes of a calm, reasonable woman.
Lebanon has been invaded, trampled upon, shelled from land, shelled from sea and had its borders defined by invaders for thousands of years; Egyptians, Hittites, Crusaders, Mongols, Turks, Germans, Italians, British, Americans, Syrians, Israelis….. Internally it is riven with factions and even today the Syrians, Maronite Christians, Druze and Hizbullah play out their tribal roles. As recently as 2005 the Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was blown up by a Syrian car bomb. Curiously its historical misfortune is also its strength. It has been a haven for liberal values for much of the 20th century, with a population that has to accept difference in everyday life, as it is part of being Lebanese.
What struck me most about the family photographs was how western everyone seemed. The images from the 50s and 60s could have been British men and women. This was, of course, the result of colonialism but colonialism also brought liberal values, which the Lebanese have hung on to. I drank a bottle of Lebanese wine only last week in the The Gilbert Scott in London. The downside is that Lebanon suffered, and still suffers, from the fallout of European wars. Corta’s life spanned the two World Wars and the establishment of the Jewish state. This, above all, has been a catastrophe for Lebanon. The displaced Palestinians had nowhere else to go and the Israelis have repeatedly invaded Lebanon to punish the people who they displaced in the first place. If you’re wondering why there’s been no Arab Spring in Lebanon, that’s because they had their Cedar revolution in 2005, when a million took to the streets and the Syrian troops were forced to leave the country. They were ahead of the curve.
Vanessa Redgrave is no ordinary actress. She has fought the Palestinian case for decades and read these memoirs with feeling and poise. Of course, Corta’s daughter (Edward Said’s widow) and grand daughter, added familial realism to the affair. It was a dignified evening and when we spilled out of the theatre, the street was full of buskers and crammed with young people. I suspect they will be blessed with not having to fight the wars that Costa clearly saw as the madness of men.