here, there, everywhere

A Few Days in Beirut

In Lebanon, Middle East on March 22, 2007 at 3:54 pm

Paris or Beirut? Beirut, Lebanon

Last week I had a break from school after exams so I finally headed back to Beirut after 4 years.  It looks so much like Vancouver that it felt like being at home at times.  It sits right between the ocean and the mountains and the sea breeze was soooo good to feel and smell again.   While I appreciated the cleanliness and a few familiar looking restaurants this is the number one reason why I prefer Syria – it’s not westernized and feels like I’m in a land far far away.  Syria is very much like Arabian Nights and that is what I wanted.  Plus I like the people there better, they are less fractured and complicated.  When you come visit Beirut you’ll see what I mean – nothing is simple in terms of relationships and everyone picks at the other.

Hezbollah supporters are trying to get more profile for their party and so there is a huge tent city outside parliament where everyone has been living for a few months now.  It was just down the road from our hotel so I took a stroll through it – it was very quiet.

It was the second anniversary of Hariri’s assassination on Wednesday and so I think the military were trying to keep things low-key.

Last time I was here the only military visible were there because of a Franco-nation summit which Chretien was attending.  Lots of high-profile political leaders were in attendance so of course security was high, but there weren’t any tanks anywhere and people were out and about.  This time the city was dead, no people anywhere, tanks and soldiers everywhere, a very different feeling.  I asked shopkeepers what was going on and they all said ‘it’s tense right now, hopefully it will be done by the end of the week’ but I got nothing more elaborate than that.  They also say they hope the ‘situation’ is fixed by summer, meaning the Syrians are gone and there’s a new map of the Middle East.  I saw this supposed map which is very different and more complex, I think, than the current one.  I tried to take a picture of it but the guy who showed it to me hid it under the table and said no one else should see it.  Secrecy and intrigue makes Beirut.  I also asked one of the guards who checked my purse one day how he knew for sure there weren’t any bombs in my bag as he only looked at the top.  He told me that he trusted me – how’s that for a very stupid question and benign answer?

I ended up walking everywhere since Lebanon is quite a bit more expensive than Syria and I didn’t want to waste my money on taxis and get marriage proposals from taxi drivers.  My feet were killing me by the time I left but I had seen a lot of the city.  Nowhere near all of it, it’s definitely a place I want to get back to and explore a lot more as it is utterly fascinating.  The American University of Beirut is stunning and the walk along the ocean is beautiful.  There were lots of bookstores with English literature so I was able to find a copy of People magazine and catch up on Britney Spear’s sad life.  I’m so glad to not have to see that stuff every day.   I also found a Cinnzeo and stuffed my face with a chocolate cinnamon bun, not as good as mom’s of course.  You don’t see the military after awhile and they leave you alone anyway. The shopping is very upscale and some of the restaurant neighbourhoods rival Yorkville in Toronto or Yaletown in Vancouver.  I saw at least 2 Lamborghinis and there are Armani, BCBG, and other high-end stores everywhere.  You forget you’re in the Middle East and think you might be somewhere in France.

The last day we were there it started raining the way it does in Vancouver and my shoes got soaked through.  I was, therefore, uncomfortable and decided to head back to Damascus a few hours earlier than planned.  It turned from spring to winter and as we passed through the Lebanese mountains on the way back to Syria it started snowing heavily. Absolutely beautiful but too cold for my little leather jacket.  I fell asleep after we passed the Syrian border and woke up in Damascus with the feeling that it was good to be home.  I knew I liked it here but I had to leave for a little bit to confirm that it is actually becoming home.

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  1. Whoooo…Ali, your story sounds like a blast! I remember the day we walked around Beirut, met up with ppl you knew… And enjoyed the drive along the coast! Good to hear you feel at home in Damscus! Enjoy your time!Greetings from Holland.Arnout

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