2010
01.17

SYNOPSIS:  WALKING BEIRUT – THE DIFFERENT QUARTERS.

Like a displaced cat, putting one paw before the other carefully, ready to retreat at any given moment, suspecting dangers around every corner, I left my apartment yesterday.   I ventured down one single street until I found groceries.   I quickly returned down the same path and…  got daring:  I took a bus, just to see.   What could go wrong? This was a straight line.  But it was a long hike and it had gotten dark.  So the bus seemed sensible.  But the bus turned and turned and turned once more.  I got out when I could and … made my way home.   Instinct, counting corners, remembering landmarks and getting lucky.
Whew!

Today I walked Beirut for eight hours straight.  I live in the Armenian quarter called Medawar.  I criss-crossed the city all the way over to the American University and the Corniche, a famous beach promenade.  And I stayed out after dark.  Beirut is by far safer then most American towns.

What struck me most was the juxtaposition of bullet-riddled, bombed-out ruins; testimony to the civil war that raged through this city between 1975 and 1991 – and glitz and bling bars, buildings, and boutiques.

I had a flash-back:  The first time I heard about Beirut was in the 1970s in a documentary (or news report, or even a movie?).  All I remember is the story of a 10 year old boy who tried to maneuver between the fighting factions of Muslims on one side and Christians on the other.  Every night he was delivering messages or food or both.  The pictures were of a most horrific war-torn country.  Not the kind of war I was used to hearing about:  World War I or II with enemies attacking and bombs dropped.  No, this was neighbor against neighbor in fierce street battles day after day, year after year.  The bullets number in the hundreds in just one building.  To imagine how they got there is mind-boggling!

Today, I crossed from the Armenian to the Muslim quarter hardly noticing.  Well, there was the switch from women not being covered to almost all women being covered.  But I could walk there without a scarf, without being bothered . And with me were still about 10% of women not covered.  Crossing back into the Armenian section the ratio switched from almost all again to almost no head cover.   Churches and mosques exist side by side.  The two churches I attended this morning were full to the breaking point.  Standing room only.

And most pleasant to see was that the only surviving Jewish synagogue in Beirut, remnant of a once lively Jewish congregation, was under restoration.  In almost no time it should be back to its former glory to bear witness to the fact that until the early 20th Century over 14,000 Jews lived in Lebanon worshiping in 16 synagogues,  tracing their roots as far back as the year 1000.   The soldier who I asked for directions right around the corner though, laughed at me when I asked about a synagogue.  He had never heard of one and his reaction made it clear that he did not believe that there was such a place.   Despite that, I think Lebanon is one step ahead of many other places and proves that Muslims and Christians can get along.  Why not Jews?

Here are three things from my notebook to round out the picture of Beirut:

  • A taxi half across town cost less than a cup of peppermint tea
  • You can count on a bathroom at McDonald’s; but in Lebanon McDonald’s is smoky!
  • One $ is 1,500 Lebanese Lire.  For once in my life I feel like a millionaire. 🙂

After 8 hours of walking I was so pooped, I took a taxi.  But I still climbed the 6 flights to my apartment even though there is an elevator…  So, Corey, if I lose weight it’s not because of my clothes but because of the walking and because I don’t have a beer at night.  I could, of course – after all this is Beirut, but I won’t.

P.S.  I have internet, but the connection is so low, that uploading images is a challenge.  I will have to make due with very low resolution and few images.  I apologize.