Coming up to Christmas, the Lebanese people have found ways to keep their Levantine and Christmas spirits high in times of regional duress – refugee crises redux and draconian smoking bans, notwithstanding. They’ve dug deep into their resourcefulness to defy a ban on their right to publically puff their way through their Christmas calendar . On this cause, Christians and Muslim crusaders all unite in Marlboro country.
The latest installment in the smokerama for this slim-light nation, saw a Ukrainian woman protest in the buff at Beirut’s Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport, Saturday 22 December  to make a striking statement on the contested public smoking ban - itself the latest in a global movement.
The Lebanese themselves– when not recruiting East Europeans to get naked in their cause- are a crafty folk with a mean mix of staunch survivor mentality tempered by a wicked sense of humor and cheek. The residents of the land of two mounts have faced off civil wars more ominous than any restrictive diet that cuts out the arguilleh - sheesha/ water pipe - from the main meal.
While traffic on Beirut’s characteristically jammed streets comes to a chocker-block standstill crammed with Christmas tourists - Lebanese returnees, regional revelers, and the latest spate of refugee cars (there are more porches than usual on the markedly sluggish streets with telltale Syrian carplates), restaurant and club owners are negotiating ways to let the party go on. Smoke-free it needn’t be, when there are are technicalities in the Lebanese law to be tapped by the shrewd sectarians . Open windows and odd semi-outdoor annexes to the property are just a few tricks to the trade.
This year’s Christmas tree in the yard of the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque (or Hariri) mosque stands proud and defiant in a region that could have been forgiven for giving up Christmas in the wake of fierce Islamist domination and revolution crisis. This festive green relic serves as a reminder of the harmony that keeps multi-sect Lebanon alive and kicking from one Muslim Eid to the next Christian holiday.
But what’s really amiss in this tiny turbulent tip of Mediterranean coastline is the seasonal smoke fumes lurking beneath the sprig of mistletoe and swirling around the disco-lit trees, or escaping Santa’s pipe.
The public ban came into force earlier this year to the tune of indignation expressed in protests , and a significant drop in restaurant custom, with businesses vowing to override the law. As tourism in the former Gulf-playground falls off with a GCC ban pertaining to the geo-politics from the Syrian crisis , the Lebanese need a wide berth to work around restrictions and boost their flagging spirits and empty pockets.
With a ban that leaves citizens tempted to stay home rather than spend, state and hospitality sector have colluded to get by. Suddenly establishments have annexed extra space that satisfies the criteria of outdoor exemption . Open windows count for fully-fledged al-fresco. Terraces where smoking is permitted, yet closed for winter, force the proprietor's hand: an um and ah before "supposing" that "arguilleh with food" is fine on this occasion.
But some nightclubs – traditionally the den of hardcore alcohol and smoke fumes - lend hope that the law might just have the last say for the headstrong Levantines. Those that like to breathe on a night out on the tiles needn’t stay home in front of the fire place just yet. One night club recently attended by a local source saw its merry party of bachelors on a stag-do sneak frequent breaks for smokes outdoors, where they could carry on drinking and even boogying to conserve warmth, while attending to their nicotine fixes.
Please share your opinions on the Lebanese and their smoke-fixation: Are they playing their cards smartly by applying the law in a gradual and patchy strategy rather than a fast and furious imposition that would upset the economy? Or is this shady dealing reflecting badly on a stubborn population that needs to learn to observe the law?