Ahlan was ahlan from Beirut!
Lebanon is AMAZING!! I love that I went to the place that Laila is from to the place where Fadi is from. And I’ve gotten to meet Fadi’s friends, which is so much fun. They are all very happy to know about Laila and really want to meet her.
Rosie picked us up at the airport with her cousin and her friend and we’re staying with her at her friend’s house in downtown Beirut. He lives in a fabulous penthouse flat that has a beautiful view of the sea and 3 terraces (his flat is 3 floors!) and it has wonderful marble floors throughout the entire flat. It’s only $100 more than my tiny cottage and it’s 100 times nicer. I loved flying in to Beirut from the Mediterranean Sea at sunset because the sun cast a beautiful deep orange light on the buildings which hover above the sea as they are peppered all through the tall mountains. As I flew in I couldn’t help but think about the angle we viewed the city from; I imagine that this was precisely the way that the Israelis saw the city as they shelled the s*&^ out of it. And, in fact, there was an issue yesterday with Israel; something went down and to retaliate they flew over Lebanese airspace and broke the sound barrier. People here felt humiliated by it and I don’t blame them one bit.
Once we left the airport we headed for downtown to eat at a lovely restaurant. There is sort of a promenade, kind of like the one in Santa Monica, which is filled with cafes, art galleries, and shops and we ate there. The food was fantastic–lots of pommegrante used in sauces here, which I did not expect. I had fattoush the way it’s supposed to be made, which is entirely different from all of the fattoush I’ve eaten in the states; there it is usually more like a type of tabouli and here it is a salad with pita bread mixed in. Lots of Rosie’s friends met us for dinner–all of them beautiful and interesting both. One woman just received a special education degree; one teaches social studies at a French high school and has interesting things to say about the history curriculum here; her cousin is a graduate student in cultural anthropology in London; one is getting a PhD in chemical engineering in Manchester; and her friend whose home we’re staying in works in sports marketing for a company that covers all of Asia. He gets to travel all over the region, though now he’s completing his military service duties.
After dinner we drove to a place called Social Club, which is a bar on a tiny, narrow street with older looking buildings. The most fascinating thing here, by the way, is the way in which this city has been reconstructed so quickly since the Civil War. There are lots of new and also renovated buildings. But when the buildings are remodeled, they leave the shell marks so that no one will forget what this city has gone through. Downtown there is also a place in the middle of the street where many Palestinians are burried. On top was a statue memorializing this site, but it was shelled so people removed it so that it could be restored; they are leaving bullet marks in that too, but it won’t be put up for a few more days so I don’t believe I’ll get to see it. It makes me think about Mahmoud Darwish’s Memory for Forgetfulness, one of my all time favorite books. I’m also reading a fascinating novel about the Lebanese Civil War right now called The Stone of Laughter by Hoda Barakat, which structures the narrative around a gay Lebanese man. Anyway, we all went to this bar; there is no sign on the door–just a large sliding door with amazing squares of different colored stained glass on it. Inside there was interesting art on the walls–sort of abstract Georgia O’Keefe style sensual photo screens. All of the new next to the damaged makes me wonder about cities greatly affected by the U.S. Civil War and what it must have been like for people to visit places like Atlanta or Charleston shortly thereafter. But it seems to me that reminders of that past were not embedded into the architecture like it is here.
I had forgotten that in shifting locations I was also moving from a Sunni country to a Shia country. I was reminded of this today when we drove a few hours west toward the Syrian border to see some Roman ruins. The ruins are located in a town, Baalbek, that used to be a Hizbollah training camp and it is still a village where many Hizbollah folks live. Each street light carries their yellow flag and there are photos every few yards of people like Khomeini, and there is a fascinating memorial museum with photographs of the torture inflicted on Palestinians at the hands of Israelis. It was very interesting to visit.
After this trip, we drove for another hour to an even smaller villae called Yamouneh. There is a little restaurant that is in a valley, with snow still on the mountains above, that rests on a little stream, with runoff water from the mountains, and a park area. We were the only group there, except for a group of a bout a dozen who were celebrating a very cute one year old’s birthday. (They gave us some of the cake!). This is not really a restaurant per se, but it is a little joint that a Lebanese man opened almost accidentally after he returned here from France to care for his dying mother. After that people just started coming and so it opened. They don’t have a menu; they just serve what they have that day. Usually it is fish, and they catch it for you in the pond right there. They also had fantastic baba ganouj and salad. We spent several hours relaxing by the lake and enjoying the really intense winds. It was so nice to cool down from the hot city weather.
9/11 may not be in Cairo yet, but it is here so Echo and I are going to see it tonight while Rosie does some work. I am so happy to see this movie with a Lebanese audience and not an American one.