2010
01.19

SYNOPSIS: VISITING BYBLOS – AN ANCIENT PORT TOWN

Hey you guys out there – I asked for your good wishes for a couple of hours without rain today – what happened to that?!  It poured the entire day.  Twice there was a lull of about 10 minutes, but that was it.  I got soaked again, and when I say soaked it means that I could wring water out of my pants!

Speaking of soaked – yesterday, I hung up all of my clothes and filled my shoes with newspapers to dry over night.  The problem is that there is no heat around here.  It never gets much colder than 50, so, who needs it?  Setareh also does not have any heaters around…  This morning  my clothes were OK; all the newspapers were wet, but so were my shoes, still!   What to do?  I could hardly start the day with wet shoes.  That will not get me through 3.5 months.  So, I decided to iron my shoes.  Yes, iron.  They were sizzling wet.  I am glad to report they took well to it.  🙂  Off I went into another rainy day with dry shoes.

Today, I learned that it is very hard to juggle a backpack, an umbrella, a camera, and a rain poncho that is susceptible to wind, all at the same time.  Once, when I could not hold the rain poncho down because my hands were busy with the camera, it flew up over me, blind-folded me, and got tangled in a way that it took me a minute to find my way out into the open again.  Thank goodness, I had the entire Byblos necropolis to myself  at that moment.  What an embarrassing figure I must have cut…  I certainly rose the motherly instincts of a museum guard, who – when I entered the museum halls looking like a plucked chicken – rushed out to get heaters and hung up some of my clothes to dry.  Thank you guard, that was very kind of you.

I am sorry, you did not want to hear about my clothes and rain problems, but about Byblos.  But you have to understand that I am really thinking out loud here and that the rain is the foremost issue on my mind these days.  It is amazing how mundane things start to occupy you even in the sight of the most awesome historical sight:

Byblos, or Jbail, as the locals call it boasts 7000 years of documented existence.  From prehistoric remains over a Phoenician settlement to a Roman necropolis, Crusader’s castles and churches and Ottoman houses – everything is there attesting to worlds before us.  I would have roamed the town, if it had not… rained so much…  But thankfully, the only excavated area in town is compact, well labeled, attached to a museum and comprehensive.  So, I skipped the “rest”.

My favorite of all was the setting of the town.  Right next to the sea with an ancient harbor still in sight.  These people were trading with the Egyptians, the Minoans, and the rest of the Mediterranean world.  Because there was so much wind today, huge waves were crashing against the cliffs below the excavation site.  Truly magnificent.

I have become so Americanized, that I often think  in “neo”-terms.  I have to constantly remind myself here, that something that looks Roman really is Roman.  And if it looks like the Middle ages, it is from the Middle Ages.  And if it looks like it’s trash from the 20th century, then it is!  Who on earth had to build a railroad right over a Phoenician settlement, through a Roman necropolis and up the hill to the castle?  It’s a nice “ruin” now…!!!

It boggles the mind to see how ancient the idea of recycling really is.  The Crusaders found Roman columns, sawed them into thirds and used them to stabilize construction of their castle walls…  Not to speak about the numerous stones used in houses everywhere.   Autsch!

Byblos (derived from the word book/bible), a name given by the Greeks – is best known for the invention of the Phoenician alphabet which changed the written language forever.  I am glad, I stood on the grounds of this place.  It is awe inspiring.

Every day I am meeting about one other couple of people who are traveling.  I make it a point to talk to them:  On the first day, I met Jeanie and Dave from South Africa.  They are retired and travel around Lebanon for two weeks.   Then I met Diane and Jim from California, also retired it seems.  They are actually on the same route as I am!  Three months Middle East from Lebanon to Syria, to Iran.  We exchanged email addresses.  Who knows?  Our paths might cross again.  And finally I met Jean and Jean-Louis, a social worker and a meteorologist from Lyon.  We had lunch together.  They looked just about as wet and cold as I did.  They are in Lebanon for a week.  We might travel together for a day, splitting a taxi heading South.

So far, I love the travel-alone experience.  It’s fun to be free to decide on a moment’s notice what to do.  It’s also good not to drag anyone else into pouring rain.  Tomorrow, of course, there will be even more rain.  I will try to avoid as much as possible by heading to three museums in town.

And here one thing from today’s notebook:

  • Don’t bother looking for a bus station.  Just accept and do it the Lebanese way:  Go to the road and hold your thumb into the wind.  A bus will come your way.

BTW, the bus ticket today for a 37 km ride North of Beirut was $1!