If I had known what I know now, I would have turned this trip around.  First Becharre and the Cedars, then Tripoli.  But I did not know, so I left early this morning, heading out to the farthest Northern town of Lebanon:  Tripoli.

I arrived around 9:30 AM to a sunny and cold day.  The city was a lot bigger than I had hoped, my maps were mediocre, the locals were clueless, no tourist information in sight either.  When I spotted an interesting looking minaret, I was trying to locate the mosque that belonged to it in order to orient myself on the map. But instead, I went into one tiny alley after another only to get lost in the tangle of archways.  I was close to frustration.

Turning yet another corner brought me to three guys chatting.  I did not even have to ask:  The welcomed me in three languages:  French, German, English, waiting for my reaction.  I responded in English.  Mohammed, Omar, and Whalid.  We chatted a bit and they were delighted to find out that I was German.  One had a brother in Germany, the other loved the German Autobahn, the third just smiled.  And within three minutes Whalid offered himself as a guide.  Did he have the time, I asked?  Oh yes, no problem, lots of time!

I have joked about… what’s the guy’s face… on TV… who gives these self-help talks which I despise thoroughly…  I caught that show once accidentally since I hardly ever watch TV.  That in itself is strange.  But ever since I saw that show, I started to believe in and practice one of his principles: the one he called “manifesting”.   If you need something really bad you need to manifest it.

Maria will remember the day when I ended up with a heat stroke in Rome.  At the point, where I almost could not bear it anymore at the Forum in Rome – I had forgotten to bring my hat and the sun was beating down on us – there was a hat dangling in the tree right next to the spot where I took a photograph!    I have a couple of other silly examples like finding an unused bandage when I had just cut myself, etc.  Today, I was in desperate need of a guide and voila, one presents himself.  Go figure!

For three hours, Whalid Hamze dragged me through his town turning one corner after another going from one historic monument to the next – I would have taken twice as long and found only half of the sights without him; that’s for sure.  Not only that, he was a former teacher,  and had lots of valuable and verifiable information!   Most interesting for me was to talk to him about his views of life in Lebanon.  He was full of opinions, political analyses, and interesting insights.  Quite striking to see the differences between the Shia South I experienced in Tyre only from a distance, and the Sunni North I encountered through his eyes today.

Taking a picture at a cemetery?  No problem.  You may remember that I was followed and scolded for taking a picture of a cemetery in Tyre…  Hating Israel?  Why?  He claims, Sunnis in Lebanon would love to get along not only with Christians, but Jews, too.  Who wants war with Israel?  He cares about living in peace and being left alone.  He blames Hezbollah for creating trouble for all of Lebanon.  He cared about not being in the middle of proxy-wars (Stellvertreterkriege).  When I asked him what he thought the root cause of all the problems was – Israel is the typical answer – his suggestion was Iran!  He would love for the US to start a war with Iran and getting rid of it – as he put it!  Wow, I did not support him on that – not another war, please!!!  He hates the frequent power outages, the corruption, insecurity, and the constant threat of yet another military event.  He also dislikes the Palestinians.   A huge massacre happened outside of Tripoli at a Palestinian Refugee Camp just 2 years ago!  He called them a demographic problem.  He wants them gone.   He wants to move to Europe.  Interesting and quite challenging character.

I had lunch with him – see update under Fest for Mouth and Eye post on day 4 – paid him a handsome guide fee, and took off for the mountains.  I left Tripoli around 1 PM, really too late for what I had in mind.  As I said, had I known, I would have turned around the order of sites, but then I would have never met Whalid and so, perhaps, it was all the way it was supposed to be.  But the price I paid:   I could not see the Cedars!  Darn.

If Maria had not mentioned Khalid Gibran in one of her early comments –I may not have made the trip to Becharre at all, but may have headed just for the Cedars.  The Cedars is an area of over 1000 year old protected cedar trees; some even 3000!  These trees are a national treasure, source of pride and joy for the Lebanese.  But trees this old have become extremely rare.  They are known to the world through Old Testament reports of King Salomon who imported these trees by the thousands to build the temple of Jerusalem.  I would have loved to photograph one of those for my students.  But, I am sure I can google one…

Instead, I realized that I was coming through Becharre, the birth town of Khalil Gibran.  I have to confess that I have not read anything by him.  I know the name and once heard one of his famous lines:

“Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so that the other half may reach you”.

Just now, I googled one of his famous poems to get a feel for what he did:  Pity the Nation.  Definitely worth a look:


Gibran lived from 1883 to 1931.  Born in Lebanon (Becharre), he grew up in Boston, but came back to Lebanon many times and for extended periods.  He is the most famous of the Lebanese philosophers, poets, artists; a true national treasure.  How could I pass him up?

Here is what you get when you write blogs every night instead of preparing properly for the next day:  After 30 minutes in the bus I realized that there was snow outside.  And not just a little!  I had dressed for a sunny day in the 60’s, not for snow in the 30’s!  I did not even have my coat with me.  Yes, I was wearing four layers today (of the 7 I brought with me), but the most important, warming, outer layers were missing.  Gee!  Now what?  I got out of the bus in Becharre and was freezing.  But how could I turn around now being so close?   I could not give up and so I started walking.  I needed something to keep me warm and there it was:  The Gibran museum was located on a hill and I had to climb it.  By the time I reached the museum I was practically sweating.  Manifesting!  That’s how it works.  🙂

The Gibran museum is a lovely place.  A former monastery which a long-term friend of his and his sister purchased to house many of his drawings, paintings, books, personal belongings and archives.  It’s a succession of cave-like rooms, grottoes really,  which have all these things on display.

Photography was forbidden.  Each room was equipped with an observation camera, more high tech than the National Museum in Beirut!  So, I had some trouble to get the pictures which I will post when I can:  I had to take them from the hip, my camera dangling around my shoulders pointing backwards.  I had to locate the observation camera, position myself strategically, open the guide book for cover for my hand with which I would push the trigger, shooting backwards.  Given the circumstances, I got some pretty good images.

I had no idea that Gibran was also a painter.  I think he is deservedly more remembered as a poet.  His images are a bit redundant, if I may say that.  Almost always nude figures either descending or ascending, crouching, twisted, or embracing against a washed out indistinct background.   I am sorry, if this does not sound too excited.  Once in a while an image stood out:  The Thinker, for example.  I found that one very accomplished and a welcome change from the others.  One of his sets of watercolors, despite the familiar themes, also worked very well.

The setting of the museum was wonderful.  Up in the mountains, in this former monastic retreat and surrounded by distinct and looming rock formations.  I loved to see the room with some of his furniture and the display case with one of his very personal letters.  Most impressive at the very end was the recreation of his bedroom which had his coffin encased in a wall cavity obscured by a cedar root.  Very touching!

Now it was 4 PM with one hour of day light left and I was up in this monastery.  The Cedars were 7 km away.  I decided to splurge.  The museum guard called me a taxi and I was going to spend the big bucks to have him drive me to the Cedars, wait for me to do my 30 minute walk and drive me right back to the bus station. The taxi came and off we went.  Thank goodness, I asked him when the last bus was leaving for either Tripoli or Beirut…  The last one to Tripoli was canceled because of the snow and the last one to Beirut was leaving in 20 minutes.  There went the Cedars.  I could not quite picture myself getting stranded here over night without a tooth brush or a coat.

The drive back through the mountains was spectacular.  The sun was setting and throwing its last light onto the snow capped mountains.  Not for nothing did the UNESCO declare this entire valley a natural world heritage site.  A geographer would have had a field day:  Picture a horseshoe shaped huge mountain with steep, steep cliffs.  On top of the rim there are villages.  A serpentine road goes up/down on one side of the horseshoe; the other is way too steep.  The rocks are clearly stratified but at every corner something happens.  The layers of the rock are not uniformly horizontal, but create dramatic twirls and curves – one can only imagine the enormous geophysical forces that must have been at work here millions of years ago.

This was a long, long day, so I won’t even tackle the picture issue tonight.  It also was a really long blog.  Am I talking too much?  I am sorry.

Good night.