15 October 2006

Take your cue from "Emperor Michel." He longs for old Golden Beirut, Rosy Alexandria of Laurence Durell's quartet, Istanbul's Constantinople days, Athens of the Olive branch, Yugoslavia's Belgrade -- to mention a few -- cities of fantasy, sunshine, love and music.

Actually, he is Michel Elefteriades, a Lebanese of Greek descent, whose family fled Constantinople in the 1920s. He grew up everywhere -- with a joyous mix of people more keen on life than destruction. "being from nowhere made me at home everywhere," Kyriou Elefteriades explains to Beirut Daily Star. Now that he manages a thriving business, the Emperor has 250 employees who address him as "Altesse" (your Highness); he reviews his troops regularly exchanging some sort of special military salute. He wields a designer's cane, clips his hair in a pony tail, and wears baggy black silk pants.

No, he is not a megalomaniac, nor eccentric. He was a militant during war years and toted a gun to fight in the streets of Beirut. Now, he is for cultural joy. The more intercultural the better. He married a Russian gymnastic champion and performs with groups of Greek, Turk, Bulgarian, Yugoslav, Indian, Cuban, Spanish and Gypsy artists, not to be confused with Bohemians. He had approached the U.N. Secretary General's Special Representative in Lebanon to explore how he could initiate membership of his state of "Nowherestan." Mr. Pedersen, he reported, was very forthcoming, but did not promise anything. He was encouraged, however, because one of those present took notes. Now he plans to issue passports.