Friday, June 24, 2011

Beirut Blues (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly).

Apologies for the lack of photo illustration. As it is, I had to navigate the site in Arabic, and adding a picture is more than I can handle at the moment. (Confession: by "navigate", I mean click on random highlighted phrases. I'm not great at reading Arabic, much less so when it is 2 pt. type.)

Now that I have internet, and am able to calm my frazzled nerves with the knowledge that Lindsay Lohan will never, ever change her ways (I will still root for her though! I'm not giving up!), I can turn my eye to more important matters, such as placating my minions. Ah, dear readers. Do not chafe at being called minions! It is a temporary hallucination brought on by the same winds that bring on the delusions of grandeur that feul the despots of the Middle East! That being said, the biggest tyranny in Lebanon at the moment is probably the crushing desire to have lots and lots of money, instead of just pretending to. But I digress. You are not minions, you are friends! So, friends, on we go!

Because more Lebanese live outside the country than in it, summers are a great time to try to come to terms with the dichotomy of Lebanon. The returning diaspora throws Lebanon's uniqueness into sharp relief. It is neither East nor West, neither rich nor poor, and, depending on the day, political ambitions of the elite have either fractured its generous heart or, well, people just want to get to the beach.

I won't go on and on in my first post from abroad. Instead, I give you a top five list to peruse: Five Things About My Trip Thus Far.

1. Yesterday, we went to Jbeil, also known in some circles as Byblos. Popular as the eponym for Lebanese restaurants around the world (along with The Cedars and The Oasis), its real claim to fame is that it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. My girls were NOT excited to be going at first, saying they didn't like "old stuff". (This from kids who know what ruse Penelope used to ascertain that haggard old guy that showed up like an abandoned dog on her doorstep was really, in fact, her beloved hubby Odysseus.)They changed their minds quickly when confronted with the ruins. Something about seeing history made real never ceases to inspire and arouse curiosity. Nothing like checking out the Crusaders' old stomping grounds! (And the Egyptians. And the Phonecians. And the Romans...and....)

2. When I was but a wee lass, I despised Lebanese food. I thought hummus was pasty, stuffed grape leaves were for goats, and cringed at the way tabbouleh seemed to lodge itself so permenantly in between my teeth, the flecks of salad were capable of being excavated weeks later (or so it seemed.) It was boring; we ate it all the time. I just wanted a piece of pizza. Now that I have grown into a wise(r) old(er) woman, I see this outstanding global cuisine for what it truly is: DELICIOUS!!! Although I prepare and eat Lebanese food frequently enough at home, I tend to avoid the production of foodstuffs that take a village to prepare (i.e., most Lebanese food). Back in ye olden times, friends, neighbors, and relatives would gather round, creating sumptous feasts for armies of eaters. Now that so many people have jobs outside the home (read: women), people are picking up takeaway. (Some of it Lebanese, or in Beirut, you can opt for McDonald's delivery. Yes. That McDonald's. Like it's any good fresh! Try your Filet o' Fish after it's been scootered around a polluted motorway!)We had a wonderful meal yesterday by the sea at a place called Chez Sami. A beautiful grilled red snapper, with an assortment of mezze (Think Lebanese tapas.) Beats that smoked filet any day.

3. Speaking of dichotomies (or maybe tri-chotomies), one thing that never gets old is what cunning linguists the Lebanese are. (Groan! Go ahead!) A standard greeting is, "Hi! Keefak? Ça va?" ("Hi! How are you? Everything good?") People greet you in French, Arabic, or English - or sometimes a mixture of all three. It's fun. And confusing. And also has a not-so-fun, deeper political subtext which I will not go into now. Just think of it as being very metropolitan.

4. I miss American washing machines. These tiny European ones don't do a very good job. Although I give many thanks that I don't have to hang my laundry on the line. (It's hard to do that in a bustling city - besides the issue of smog and construction dust, there is the glaring fact that your neighbors can see all And I didn't bring cute undergarments!)

5. Terrible traffic. Tempers that flare so passionately, you can see how wars break out in an instant here. Families of five riding one tiny scooter (without helmets!) Exorbitant cell phone rates. There are plenty of things to complain about in Lebanon. Some of it makes me miss home so badly: the organization, the clean, uncluttered streets. But then I remember that THIS is me, too - a big part - and probably goes a long, long way toward explaining my complicated and chaotic self.


  1. I have always wanted to lay eyes on a piece or architecture that is at least 1,000 years old. One of my goals in life.

  2. Hello Maggie:
    What a melting pot of a place. We are eager to learn more!

  3. It sounds fascinating. I hope to see ruins one day. I wouldn't like the traffic or the washing machines, but it's a trip worth taking. :)

  4. I think a young version of myself has been known to say that I don't like "old stuff" before, too! If I could have told her about me now, a lover of all things antique and ruined! She probably would say I've got the wrong girl! It's a good thing I'm going at this age, when I can fully appreciate it. But, as your girls have proved, appreciation can always be learned on-site :)