On a warm summer evening, making our way up a narrow street, we left behind the fishermen's harbor of the ancient city of Byblos, Lebanon. I had been in the country for about two months, since early April 2004, doing research on what I initially conceived as a study of the overlaps between popular culture and politics in the Arab world, guided as much by a long-standing conceptual interest in the issue as by my mounting frustration with the obsession with al-Jazeera as a stand-in for Arab media. We were in Byblos to see my brother giving a piano concert in the old Saint Jean Marc church up the street. Suddenly, my two-year-old son leapt onto the street.
“Bruno!” I called, panicked by the sight of my toddler jumping onto a street that had a fair amount of car traffic. As I hauled my son back to safety, we were quickly surrounded by a group of teenagers, mostly girls, some smiling, others giggling, and several excitedly repeating “Esmo Bruno? Esmo Bruno!” (His name is Bruno? His name is Bruno!) Among them were several school girls wearing the veil, on a school trip from the Northern city of Tripoli to visit Byblos's ancient ruins; some teenage tourists in jeans, t-shirts, and tank tops; and a few local boys and girls stepping out from the souvenir stores and eateries dotting the area. The name Bruno is uncommon though not unheard of in Lebanon.