Leaving London for a moment, Today’s Financial Times has done something remarkable: actually published an accurate, pros-and-cons article that perfectly captures the frustrating yet addictive nature of Beirut. Most major papers do nothing but extol its party/beach/restaurant/chic cafe scene. Abigail Fielding-Smith’s article is all about the chaos, frustration, and anarchy of life in Beirut, but equal due paid to the entrancing small charms of living there:
“It is fashionable among Middle East aficionados to decry Beirut’s shallowness. But away from the manic hedonism of the nightspots, the pleasure Beirutis take in the small things in life is infectious. In the evenings, old ladies take fold-up chairs on to the seafront to gossip and smoke water-pipes, while young men slip in and out of the water beneath the railings. Beirut is, despite its problems, a great place to live. I hope it stays that way.”
Definitely worth a read, and something to keep in mind when you think everything around you is madness.
from “WTF Only in Lebanon” https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2389568345404&set=oa.10150291212630857&type=1
I’ve said Beirut is laid back, it’s a good place to relax, and more. As one Lebanese rapper put it, “the national sport of Lebanon is called chilling.” I’ll also nominate mentalist driving, but let’s go with chilling for now, because it’s hard to imagine anyone ENJOYS driving here, although I’m sure some people take perverse pleasure in pretending it’s the Monaco Grand Prix on the crowded streets (“Shou, Monte Carlo is a party town on ze Med, we are too!”)…but I digress. More than partying, more than their fabled ski-and-swim in the same day, more than anything else, the Lebanese love to sit back, relax, and enjoy life. Usually that involves a café, with coffee, tea, beer, snacks, and often an argile (hookah). The king of all such places in Beirut is Al Falamanki.
Now that I’ve introduced you all to Lebanon, its complexities, frustrations, beauty, and dichotomies, here’s some practical information. To review from last post, my rules for Lebanon are 1) keep an open mind; 2) take things as they come; 3) avoid the coastal highway at rush hour (this is a BS rule, but good advice); 4) expect the unexpected. I’m convinced that if you keep all that inmind, you’ll have a much more enjoyable visit. Here are some other tips.
So I’m back, wish I were still there, but c’est la vie, habibi. Lebanon and Beirut have got a lot of press in the last couple years, as parodied brilliantly on the Now Lebanon! blog:
First, I will romanticize Lebanon into a chic, post-war brand so you can buy into this cliché article about why “Beirut is back.” I will tell you that there was a 15-year civil war in the country from 1975-1990, and then contrast several buzzwords and phrases like “battered” “bruised” and “once-divided” with notions of “rebirth” “glamorous” and “united.”
As sharp as Ms Nassar is, this series shall be nothing of the sort. Rather, it shall highlight the realities of Lebanon and how to get the most out of it. Rule 1: develop a strong sense of patience…
Beirut is one of my two homes away from home, so expect lots of of posts on Lebanon. I have too much to share to only make a few overview posts, but since I’m headed there at the end of this month, I thought I’d share some pictures to show what a spectacular place it is, and why it’s so dear to my heart.