I drafted this post in a Beirut cafe when our friends had left, Duncan was at work, the internet didn’t really work, and I just wanted to get down something about what it was like to be in Beirut. A few days later, the night before we flew out, the show’s shuttle buses took different routes home from the venue to avoid a neighbourhood where violence had flared. Borrowed time indeed. Edited for at least some of the typos only:
Beirut, May 17, 2012
I was jacked when we first got here, for the climate among other reasons – beautiful, coastal, sunny, but not nearly as stifling as the humidity in Thailand and Cambodia. Plus more opportunities to eat fresh vegetables. Maximum hummus. Not to mention friends visiting from home!
And it has been great, if completely bizarre and unlike anywhere I’ve been before – I make some attempts at comparisons below, but none are quite right. The longer I stay here, the more bamboozled I feel. I’ve tried to read up on the history – ancient, early 20th century, and more recent. It sort of helps. I still don’t feel as though I have the faintest clue as to how this place works.
We’re staying at a hotel right by Zaitunay Bay, which is kind of like a miniature version of Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands development – all new and shiny and fabulous… and sort of like public space. Under heavy guard, of course. But the Bay is not as weird as the heavily-under-construction centre of the city, which is being rebuilt by one of the companies involved in the Bay. Large areas are deserted except for army guys and lots of private security who let you wander through, provided you don’t take pictures. When one guy tried to on our (amazing, cannot recommend enough) walking tour, the guide apologized profusely to an incensed guard. Good thing we’d forgotten our cameras the day before.
Amidst all this fabulosity and new construction, ancient mercedes whiz by, usually honking and/or with drivers yelling “TAXI? SERVIS?” out the window. Who can blame them, though? You’re the idiot trying to navigate the hectic, steep, crooked streets, which have three names or no name at all – and the sidewalks that do exist are basically impassable.
The power cuts out at least once a day – but never for long, or at least not in the centre of town, where generators seems to kick in. Besides, there’s an app for that so you can plan! You can’t drink the water, but you can go to Starbucks where you might (if you’re a naïve chump like me) pay way too much for internet that doesn’t really work. You can smoke anywhere and everyone seems to, whether it’s cigarettes, narghile or cigars (you can’t enforce anti-smoking rules here, apparently). But from what little I’ve learned, I can totally understand that things like internet or anti-smoking regulations fall a little low on the government priorities right now.
Anyway, no matter. You can shop in glamourous malls, and get a new nose, lips, boobs… but good luck finding public green space. Unless you’re a foreigner and look old enough, in which case the army guarding it might open the gate to the Horsh Beirut for you. Although, it’s pretty dusty, run down, and decidedly unshady.
You can party all night in any number of clubs – it’s true what I heard about the nightlife here. You can swim and fish off the Corniche (if you’re a guy) or lounge by a pool at a private beach club. Ladies can wear what they want, at least where we’ve been – just expect some leers and a few extra “welcome to Lebanon”s if you show a lot of white lady leg. People are amazingly trilingual and a great many of them seem very kind. But I wouldn’t want to live on the margins here.
I’ve stopped noticing the bullet holes in buildings. Sort of. I’ve started to get accustomed to the glassy condo towers that have been built right next to “old rent” hold outs. Even the Beirut Holiday Inn, visible from our hotel room window, has almost blended in to my daily “routine”. So much has happened right here. So much is happening all around – two hours up the road in pretty much every direction.
It’s completely bizarre. I’m so glad I had the chance to come here, and incredibly grateful to W&A for joining us, helping ensure I cruised around the city and took it in more than I might have if I were on my own. I will, however, be almost as glad to head out.
After a raucous party at a friggin’ “ranch” (read: fabulous cliffside club an hour out of town) last night and another day fighting with the internet today, I’ll spend my last few days at Duncan’s work helping out with some laundry and such wardrobe like tasks. I’m kind of glad. This isn’t a cheap place. I’ve partied it up, seen more of the country than I could have hoped and now I’m starting to get itchy feet. And there’s part of me that feels kind of like we’re here on borrowed time.