Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Lebanon - Part III

Trying hard to finish writing about Lebanon before the year ends!  This post is about our last days in that crazy country we once called home.  With probably too many photos.  Sorry!


We couldn't leave Beirut without visiting the National Museum.   I like it because of two things: it's not too big, so you can actually see everything and not go numb; and it gives you a fantastic overview of the history of the country from it's beginnings until the civil war (well, this last part gets just one glass case).  What I enjoy most is seeing how "fashions" changed in this very connected part of the world - they were doing their own Phoenician thing (the famous figurines, anatomically correct even), then they took on Egyptian styles, on Greek ones, Roman...  you get fantastic syncretisms like what looks like a sarcophagus in function but has all the aesthetics of a Greek sculpture!  How many places can whisk you through a few thousands year of history and not have you begging for mercy by the end of it?

And then, of course, there's the more contemporary artistic expression of the Lebanese, too.  We went back to the Berberi Steps on our way to another night of too delicious food and interesting conversation at what used to be the stables of an ancient house and which had been turned into a fantastic and airy living space.  Anyhow, at those steps was not only the interesting Islamic style of the artist behind Feyrouz's graffiti, but also definitely more contemporary graffiti in the style of Banksy.

And since we're talking graffiti, there was also the dense, colourful crazy graffiti off Hamra's bar alleys, as well as the more political ones I had mentioned in another post, like the one in the middle, which you need to read with the understanding of the size and importance of the Armenian diaspora in the Middle East, or like the third one, that reads "Lebanese Civil War 1975 -        ", where the end date is left unwritten.


Tyre (صور) lies some 80km south of Beirut, by the sea, and it's a Phoenician town established in 2750 BC.  Impressive, eh?  My husband had been dreaming of travelling down there to do Butoh by an ancient sarcophagus with a Medusa head... So, we went to Tyre, of course.  There's two sets of ruins, and the first one is by the sea and consists mainly of palestrae and a fantastic Roman colonnaded road that goes on until it reaches the sea (and continues underwater).  If you ever want great millennium old Roman ruins all for yourself, head for Tyre (by the way, this part of the ruins is called Al Mina).

(By the way, as for the video, I screwed up.  It was so sunny I couldn't see the screen of the camera, and my hands were so sweaty that the camera didn't react when I pressed "record", and we didn't realize until we were back in Beirut... Major screw up.  Like, major.  [GUILT FACE])

Luckily for me, I thought the colonnade was a great place for doing Butoh, so (still unaware of my previous mistake) I convinced my huz actually to do another performance, and a very long one at that, and that sort of (just sort of) soothes the pain of that never-taken Butoh performance by the Medusa head...

Afterwards, we had one of the nicest lunches of our trip.  We wandered around, and we simply stumbled upon this place, where the food was good (was it ever bad during the whole trip! no!), but the views were way better!  It was the restaurant of an old lighthouse, and it was just so inviting and beautiful!  I felt so much like just staying there and spending the night there!

Refreshed by lunch, we headed for the second set of ruins, which consist of a Roman necropolis, a triumphal arc with a causeway, and the biggest hippodrome in existence.  And this enormous, ancient, unique site had even less visitors than the other!  Besides our car in the parking lot, there were TWO others.  TWO.  

This part of the ruins is called El Bass.  It's really impressive.  It really is.  But it was hot.  So hot.  We were walking halfway through what at that moment seemed an excruciatingly big hippodrome under the relentless sun and I was feeling, quite frankly, miserable.   But as miserable as I felt under the oppressive heat, there was  no way not to appreciate these ruins.  Glad my huz had the perseverance to get us around the whole site!


Back to the rings story (remember my first post on Lebanon and the story of my husband losing his ring?).  My plan was to get back from Tyre, somehow get rid of the huzzben for a few minutes, and pick up our rings (they were going to be ready that day).  As it turned out, we spent longer in Tyre than I had planned, and by the time we got to Beirut we would have to head to meet friends to go for dinner.  I was NOT going to make it.  And then, I struck gold.  I couldn't figure how to get to the place we were supposed to meet at, so I texted our friends.  And they decided to send a car to guide us.  And they asked us to wait at a corner JUST A BLOCK FROM THE JEWELLER!  It was too perfect! I parked, and I told my huz with my best acting skills "Hey, isn't that jewelry shop where we had our rings made ages ago somewhere around here? You know what, stay in the car in case they come for us, and I'll dash off very quickly and see if it really is around here and, who knows, maybe they can make one for you before we leave?".  And I ran off, darted into the shop, paid for the rings, hid them, and nonchalantly walked back to the car and said - "Yeah, it was there, but it was closed... oh well, it was a crazy idea anyhow...".   And then our friends' driver showed up.  Amazing timing!

I chose to mention our visit to our friend's office because, quite frankly, it is a work of love.  Love of beauty, of shape, of colour... It's the nicest office I've ever seen.  Our time in Lebanon was so full of activities that we could have easily missed seeing this.  And that would have been a real shame.

And then, after the office, we went to our friends' place.  A place we hadn't been to in so many years, an apartment in a building overlooking the city, in our old neighbourhood of Achrafiyeh.  I looked onwards, to the city, at sunset.  So many feelings, so many memories.


Yes, by now you're tired of my saying we had great food, we met interesting people, blah blah blah.  But we did!  What can I do!  And this last part of the trip still brought numerous culinary surprises, like fresh raw pistachios and almonds (have you ever had them? they're not only delicious, they're beautiful!), meghli (rice pudding with caraway, anise and cinnamon - heavenly!), and too many Armenian dishes whose names I can't neither remember nor pronounce.  It was refreshing to remember Lebanon's Armenian community, probably one of the more vibrant in the Middle East.       


It was not only my stomach that had it's fill of deliciousness.  It just so happened that a photographer agreed to a photo shoot of my husband and our friend, the artist behind the exhibition I+I=US, at the exhibition itself!  It was totally delightful seeing everybody having an amazing time trying out things, moving around, letting creativity run wild.  With a whole exhibition you could play with, props, the trusting and loving relationship between the photographees, and the photographer's keen eye, this was one unique session.

Ah! But wait! I almost forgot!  Just before the photo shoot, I snuck, put our rings on a little aluminum boat that was part of the exhibition, I took my husband's hand, I led him to the little boat, and asked him to look carefully.  Surprise!   And surprised he was!  How could he have expected that!   That (and many other things, of course), made my day: having us both wear matching rings again after so many years, getting them fixed/made at the same place as the first time, and managing to keep this a secret to surprise him!  I'm not usually romantic, but when I am, I rock, if I may say so (forgive the hubris, but that was a really nice moment!).

And besides the beauty of photography being made, there was the beauty of numerous religious paintings and icons which we saw in downtown Beirut, specifically at the City's Museum, which is underground and from which you can see, through a glass ceiling and from quite an interesting angle, the Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral.  And also not far from there a tiny, simple chapel, the Nouriyeh Shrine, with gorgeous medieval icons of the virgin Mary and numerous saints.


Our last day in Beirut was a true smorgasbord of experiences.  It was beautiful.  It was rich.  It was a proper farewell. 

We said farewell to Lebanon's dense and rich history at the superb Archaeological Museum of the American University of Beirut (the third oldest in the Near East, after Cairo's and Istanbul's).  And we said farewell to the almost eternal summer weather, sitting on a bench, under the trees, with the Mediterranean in the distance.

We said farewell to delicious, fresh, simple food, by having lunch with a good friend at Dar.

We said farewell to our beloved Corniche, the long promenade by the sea where people go for walks, to exercise, for a swim, to socialize...  We walked all the way to a lighthouse, at sunset.  The sea was stunning, the weather perfect.  It was one calm, quiet, loving way to reflect on our strange relationship with this country, and to say goodbye.

I had to say farewell with food, of course, and that meant having a bite at a place we used to go after partying until very late (in those times of yore):  Zaatar W Zeit.  And I enjoyed the best mankoushe I've ever had, with juicy tomato, delicious olives, and fresh zaatar! It was absolutely out of this world, I can still taste it!

And finally, we said farewell to the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque (I can't get used to that name, I still want to call it the Hariri Mosque).  There was a full moon.  The night was clear.  And we simply had to go downtown for a quick walk and a quick photo shoot of this splendid view.  

And with that, with all due farewells to friends and to Lebnen (Lebanon in Lebanese Arabic) done, we left, again, like we did almost a decade ago.

Merci ktir, ya 7elou Lebnen.  Merci ktir, ya chers asdi2ana.

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