2010
01.23

LEBANON – PICTURE CATCH-UP DAY

I wish the weather forecast would not be quite as accurate as it is, but today it promised rain and we got it.  I went to the National Museum – report on that later – and then to an internet cafe in town where I finally have a fast enough connection to upload images.  So, instead of talking as much as I have in the past few entries, I will let the images speak for themselves.  You should be able to click on each to enlarge them.  I have titled them carefully so they should be self-explanatory.   I have also added more images to previous posts in case you want to check that out.  Good night.

2010
01.23

ANOTHER EXCURSION SOUTH:  SAIDA/SIDAN
.
The weather promised to be mixed, so I chose a less ambitious destination than I would have otherwise:  Sidan/Saida is about 45 km South of Beirut on the way to Tyre.  I passed it yesterday and saw that this would be worth a trip by itself.  More commonly a visit to Tyre and Sidan are combined in a day trip but that means rushing both of them.
.
I did my routine morning trip, now most efficiently:  Minibus to Cola, minibus to Saida:  Zoom! Right off the highway an impressive Crusader castle is visible next to the old port.  I spent a few hours in the morning there, climbing rocks, overlooking the harbor and the town, playing with my camera, trying to remember what I had learned in Photo 111:  To freeze the moment…  High shutter speed!  I think I caught the waves splashing in mid movement.  🙂
.
The history of struggle between the Crusaders, the natives, one Islamic dynasty after another, and the Ottomans is complex and bloody.  Back and forth went the power struggle always on the backs of the people who probably could not have cared less about who was in charge as long as they could live their lives.  Saida was no exception; in fact, since it was prosperous it was always a favorite target.
.
Saida was known in antiquity for the production of purple dye.  One gram of purple was made of thousands of Murex muscles – how, I don’t know.  But the dye was more expensive than gold!  And if it had not started to rain heavily again, I would have hiked to a hill that reportedly still has a lot of those shells of the Murex muscles lying around; but… it rained again and I stayed at the museum café instead drinking tea.  🙂
.
And another invention is credited at least in part to Saida:  The discovery and production of soap.  There is a soap museum there!  Who would have thought? I actually learned a lot:  Soap is a product of 20:3 pure olive oil and an alkine (?) substance.  By churning these two products long enough, the chemical structure of olive oil dissolves into its components and forms a pasty, spreadable mush which is put down on a flat floor to dry.  When it hardens – you can actually walk on it without indenting it – stamps are put on indicating different soap brands and colored lines are put on top marking areas to be cut.  Like a plough, a cutting device with several blades is then run through the soap cutting it into bars.  The final step is to shave off the rough edges and package the soap.  If you want, you can get fancy and put dies into the original liquid.  And if you want to get labor intensive, you can shape the soap into anything while it is mallable:  animals, balls, flowers – there is no limit to the imagination.
.
And finally, glass blowing was the heart of industry in the olden days, but no longer… Not a single glass object to be found anywhere in the suq.  But the suq was the highlight of the excursion.  A tangle of alleys, partially covered with arched roofs and lined with narrow stalls makes up a network of streets forming the old bazaar; and the modern shopping district as well.
.
David, I tried hard!  You were asking about local products.  There are all the locally produced fruits right from the area around Saida:  Oranges, Lemons, Bananas and all kinds of vegetables.  But for the most part – and I am talking nearly 100% – the bazaar is full of stuff no tourist would ever be interested in or anything that could be called “local”.  No handicrafts.  No local specialties.  But clothing, clothing, clothing stores, Religious artifacts, gaudy plastic toys and household articles, shoes, cheap bags, gold jewelry, synthetic carpets and on and on.
.
Overall, quite disappointing from a tourist’s perspective.  But after all, this market is not for the tourists.  It is for the needs of the locals and they seem to be met.  There is an abundance of everything.  In between the merchandise you have small stalls with groceries.  Only a handful with herbs and spices that were pretty to look at.  Most groceries and cosmetic articles however, are brand names well known the world over.  A cosmopolitan market economy at the expense of local flavor.  Sad, but unavoidable, I guess.
.
But I enjoyed the ambiance and the architecture.  A true delight. I went home at a reasonable hour and have been spending my time catching up with my blog.  Off to the pictures now.  Cross your fingers.  That has been a disaster for the last few days.  But today is weekend and overall the internet seems to respond a tiny bit better than usual…
.
Good night for now.