© Sara Sukhun
The search for Guv feels far from over; Harout has passed me the phone numbers of all sorts of interesting people – the Curator at the Sursock Palace Museum in Beirut, which should have Guv’s works in their collection; other Professors at ALBA who worked alongside Guv himself; friends and neighbours who lived near him, who hang his paintings on their walls.
At a party in Lemontree House one night I relate to a stranger a little of this story, and reflect on how simply it started: with a name in a book from 1974. This project, which had an unambitious premise – to take the flat as a catalyst for thinking about Beirut – grew into something beyond the space, into correspondence, friendships, glimpses of history, of art history.
Guv had married a woman named Marie-Jeanne, while his brother Jacques married her sister Victoria. Arlette, my now-treasured correspondant, is therefore cousined to Jacques and Victoria’s son Robert twice over. It was Robert’s family, Arlette finally confirms from photos, who once lived in Lemontree House.
Reflecting once more upon the space, I became aware of my own contribution to its latest layer of life. In its current iteration, Lemontree House is representative of one kind of existence in Beirut – a home for twenty-something internationals renting for a few years at a time, in Lebanon for work or study. Just as previous occupants deserted their yearbooks and crockery, we will leave our marks upon the space in turn, in the form of boxes of pirated DVDs in their perennial plastic packets; in the three hundred-strong army of empty beer bottles on the back balcony, (a permanent installation, increasingly rain-spackled); in the irons and hair dryers and insect repellent devices – the electrical ephemera abandoned when airline baggage allowances strain resources.
Previous housemates have left their presence in strange but artful collages on the living room ceiling, in the peeling notes on the fridge and the football stickers pasted to the oven. No-one can remember quite how the large-scale cut-outs of Captain Haddock and Snowy the Dog made their way into the apartment, or whatever happened to Tintin. These things too constitute a layer of archaeological history, a generation of objects, that may – in thirty years – be curiosities themselves.
I sit on our ugly sofa, my feet on the low table in the centre of our living room, made from a wooden pallet. It is marked with paint, pen and burns from cigarettes, and sprawled with books, half-drunk coffee cups and discarded football cards – my flatmate Tom is collecting them for the World Cup. Motes of dust float in the half-light, which shimmers off a square ashtray, of translucent orange glass, tilted on the window sill.
In a corner of the living room, behind the television, sits a small faux-Christmas tree, flaunting its dulled lights all year long, tarted up around December. The paintings on the walls wear boas of yellow and black, whose feathers which float in the hot summer breeze of our industrial-size fan. The mild smell of burning incense issues from ubiquitous coils of green Vape, which smoulder slowly overnight to repel mosquitoes. Each day starts with emptying neat curls of ash into the bin.
Summer takes its toll on resources in Lebanon, and at the moment Beirut is subject to serious water shortages, as well as daily unscheduled power cuts. Sara has stuck long candles in old Almaza beers, which allow us to cook and get to bed when the lights are dead. Their flames flicker against the bottles’ thick green glass.
This stuff will constitute, as much as the Guverdjinians’, our left-behind, our untaken, and operate as a record of time. Such material feels uniquely articulate, in that it carries little immediate value beyond the nostalgic. Nothing is really worth anything – the richness of such an archive is located somewhere beyond the objects themselves. They constitute fragments of history, threads escaping from a frayed hem, fallen free from the densely woven mass of past, waiting to be tugged at.
Such things record time like soft layers of tissue paper occupy space. In thin sheets – translucent and frail – that waft over one another; overlapping, but never opaque.