I was reading an old copy of Vanity Fair the other day, which asked deeply cool people to name their most treasured belongings. Answers varied - watches, cameras, cars, even a sofa.
I thought about what I would have said were I deeply cool enough to be asked. I decided that it would have to be something that is both functional and well-designed. I wanted to choose something quirky (as deeply cool people do), such as my one-size-fits-all Nike swimming goggles (which I really do like), but eventually I plumped for the prosaic. It would have to be my Robin 3.5 KVA petrol-run generator, which I use to power my house in the mountains when the state's electricity supply is cut. As a deeply cool person might say: "I would be lost without it".
It was the first major investment I made on my "return" to Lebanon after the civil war. I was told in no uncertain terms by well-meaning cousins that I was throwing my money away. "You should have bought it 10 years ago," they said. "The war is over and we'll be back to full power within a year."
The generator shop owner and another cousin, who took me to the shop, were, understandably, of a different school.
"Don't listen to anyone," they said with earnestness and manic stares. "It will be another 10 years before they sort out the electricity. Prices of these will go up, too. Best to buy now."
History tells us that both camps were wrong. Nineteen years later, Lebanon still cannot deliver electricity 24 hours a day, and the Robin, while not purring as it used to, still delivers when the state cannot. All I have had to do is change the oil once a year and the spark plugs every five years. At the time, I paid US$350 (Dh1,285), half a month's salary back then, but I think I have got my money's worth.
By current estimates, I will need it for another three to four years. That is the time frame predicted by Gebran Bassil, the current energy minister, who has come up with the latest in a long line of attempts to fix what must surely rank as Lebanon's most shameful economic legacy of the war. The mood on the street is hardly one of optimism. A lot can happen in three years in a country that tends to live for the moment.
Mr Bassil's plan, as far as I can make out, is to build at least one, possibly two, power stations to increase Lebanon's annual capacity to 2,100 megawatts from the current 1,500. Experts say that with demand growing at about 6 per cent a year, we will still be 300 megawatts short if we want to deliver power at peak periods such as the middle of summer. One only has to look at the immense buildings going up around Beirut to realise the government may find itself playing catch-up. But even when the new plants are in place, there will be no guarantee that the level of maintenance will be up to the required standard. Electricité du Liban is stuffed full of political appointees and ageing employees who can't be fired. So that's also a problem.
Still, one would have thought that Mr Bassil's plan would be a welcome one, but his request for the $1.2 billion he says he needs to pay for his new vision was met with protests that nearly caused the Aounist bloc, of which he is a member, to resign from the government.
Apparently no one in the March 14 opposition trusted him with such a large purse, and there are rumours that even Najib Mikati, the prime minister, who opposed Mr Bassil's appointment all along, was reluctant to see the money go to the ministry's leaky coffers. In the end, like a parent telling his child not to spend it all at once, they agreed to give it to him in instalments.
In the meantime, my mountain village of Zabbougha receives at the most 12 hours of electricity a day with one night on and one night off, literally. It is a shocking indictment on a country that is sold as a modern holiday playground with gleaming steel towers and the hippest bars and restaurants, while those living outside the capital, which gets 21 hours of power a day, have to pay the neighbourhood electricity provider to make up the shortfall if they don't want to live by candlelight.
Mr Bassil's father-in-law is Michel Aoun, a former army commander and the head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). I am not a fan of the FPM, a party that likes to sell itself as made up of technocrats and reformers, while at the same time allying itself to Hizbollah, a militant theocracy predicated on conflict. Even if he sticks to his word, I will be 50 by the time I can throw out the Robin. If it dies on me before then, I might have to go back to the shop for another. What would the salesman say today?
Michael Karam is a communication and publishing consultant based in Beirut