Thursday, June 26, 2003

one month before our second anniversary

Well, this has been one interesting ride. Barely four months ago we moved from Mexico City to Beirut. We've already visited Byblos, Tripoli and Sidon, in Lebanon, and Damascus, in Syria. And we found an apartment! That apartment search was tough, but our real estate agent did an amazing job and, in the end, found us what they here call a "roof" (the last floor of a building). It's in the Christian area of Achrafiyeh (الأشرفية‎‎), one of the oldest of the city. It's a very curious area, with lots of tiny, winding streets; many Christian churches of diverse denominations, and Christian symbols visible and plentiful; and many small commerces like cafés, flower shops and bakeries where the preferred language, besides Lebanese Arabic, is French, not English! Oh, and we're within shooting distance from Monot, the party street! And from Centre Ville (the now gorgeously – mostly – restored historic centre) and numerous historic sites! We really lucked out!

As for the "roof"? It's got a pretty old lift, like really old and tiny. But it seems to work, LOL. Also, the door to our apartment is one of those old, big, wooden doors with smoked glass panels. And we have a balcony that goes all around! You can see the Mediterranean from one side! I mean, it's partially hidden by buildings, but you can still see a sliver of azure blue in the distance! No AC, though, so for the first time since I lived in Beijing in 1997-1999, I find myself sweating just by sitting down in the living room. Oh well...

Then again, the place is huge. Huge! And since we have basically zero belongings, well, it looks even bigger! Fortunately we found a nice and very peculiar furniture shop nearby, called Maus Haus, and owned by a very friendly and unique woman from Spain. Lots of metal, simple stuff, the sort we like. So right now we have a small table, a couple of chairs, a duvet (sleeping on the floor until we find a bed we like – we want to buy stuff to last us for a long, long time), some candles, a vase for flowers, a couple of tree trunks that serve as candle holders, some books, our computers, and trinkets. Enough to begin a new life together. 

BTW, we've got a car too! We had been renting, but with work in a different town (Naccache) and us insisting on living in the centre of it all (Beirut), we can't rent indefinitely without going bankrupt terrifyingly soon. So, now we're the proud owners of a 1980 (or eighty something) Peugeot! It's such an old car, but it was a bargain. And it's led me to develop amazing driving skills – our parking space at the building is such a tight spot, surrounded by other cars, walls, and whatnot. I would have never thought myself capable of driving a car into and out of that sort of space!  

So, here we are, a month before our second anniversary, living together for the first time in a fascinating land surrounded by equally fascinating places, with a couple of new friends already, and looking forward to what adventures life in the Paris of the Middle East will bring!

Cheers! Our should I say, keskon! (Lebanese for "cheers to you-plural")    

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

a day trip to Tripoli (the Lebanese one!)

Lying just some 80km north of Beirut,  we decided to go for a quick day trip to Tripoli (طرابلس), Lebanon's second most important city. As so many places here, Tripoli is ridiculously old, with people settling here some 3500 years ago and the city being a Phoenician outpost around the 9th century BCE. The city has been under countless rules: Persians, Hellenes, Romans, Umayyads, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans, French...

But in our quick day trip, we got to see just a couple of things. First, the Citadel of Raymond de Saint-Gilles (also called Qala'at Sanjil and Qala'at Tarablus in Arabic). Though it's an early 14th century crusader citadel, apparently it was extensively modified during Ottoman rule and little of the crusader building remains. Anyways, a castle is a castle is a castle. right? It sits atop a hill in the middle of the city, and offered a fantastic opportunity for exploration – we had the place almost exclusively to ourselves! not a soul in sight! – and views of the city and the mountains in the distance. Fun!

Like I mentioned, the citadel is in the middle of the city, and coming down from it to where we had parked our car meant traversing a number of winding streets and alleys...

Finally, following directions from a friend in Beirut, we found the one and only hammam still working in the city: Al Abed, a 500 year old Ottoman bath  (which is what hammam means in Arabic). We arrived via the narrow alley you see below. Interesting place, though not particularly beautiful or special beyond its condition as the only one working. How come we're in the Middle East, a place that was under Ottoman rule, and Turkish style hammams are such a rarity? Hmmm...

Anyhow, this corner of the world is proving a very curious and interesting one. Must keep exploring!