From a Lebanese sitting room

for waiting, watching and sleeping

The concept of Mediterranean living brings to mind many images – olive groves, orange blossom, a certain style of shutters. For me it is also now embodied in the white plastic chair. This inherently second-rate and usually battered looking article is ubiquitous in Lebanon. Too cheap to bother about it being pilfered, it sits on uneven pavements, on balconies, outside tiny stores, on building sites.

It speaks volumes about a climate for outside living, where people sit on the balcony and watch their neighbours instead of TV soap operas. It comes into its own during the periods of intense inertia prescribed by the heat of a summer afternoon.

The plastic chair plays a key role in the esteemed Lebanese activity of waiting. Shopkeepers waiting outside to tell you not to park on the two metre stretch of road outside their shop (they’re saving it for customers); traffic police, bored of signalling, waiting for their colleagues to relieve them; guards watching over building sites, idly playing cards, waiting for the high-rise to be completed to then move their young family on into the ground floor of another skeleton tower; soldiers languidly draped at checkpoints and on street corners waiting for something – anything – to happen, waiting for a war.   Read the rest of this entry »

Streets of Beirut I

There are many beautiful sights in Lebanon, from the rugged Qadisha valley, with reclusive monasteries nestled in its steep sides, to the glistening cascades of mineral deposits in Jeita Caves. But the sights which best capture the essence of Lebanon are those found walking in the street.

shisha boy on coffee break

Every Friday, inspired by the daily hit of façades and architectural detail provided by Beirut Pursuit and the Window on Wednesday sequence by Sietske in Beiroet, a new street view will go on online featuring life at street-level. My regular posts will usually appear on Mondays.

Rubber Stamp

For many, dealing with authorities in another country, in another language, with a whole new set of rules is more than a little daunting. While the third world may seem to have far fewer rules and regulations, jumping through hoops of red tape can be that much more difficult when the red tape in question is decidedly blurry around the edges, as I found while extracting nationality papers from a personally reticent local mukhtar and when I had a run-in with a cop on the make.

photo: aladyinlondon

This is the fourth Blogsherpa blog carnival in which Lonely Planet’s favourite bloggers relate their rubber stamp tales from around the world. This selection of stories shows how wanderlust triumphs over not only red tape but also beadledom, border disputes and mobs.

What happens when you get stuck in the middle of a Venn diagram where the ellipses are not allowed to overlap? A Lady in London writes about travelling from Jordan to Syria and keeping tabs on her cab driver to preclude an unexpected stop-off in Iraq.   Read the rest of this entry »

The wrong arm of the law

mostly delightful jordanian police

Leaving Petra for Aqaba, we eased onto the almost empty main road south, after the King’s Highway and the Desert Highway merge, and were immediately pulled over by two Jordanian policemen. We reached for our passports and prepared ourselves for another of the frequent, polite checks and chit chat we had been experiencing all around the Dead Sea area and near the Israeli-Palestinian border.

Approaching the passenger window, one of the cops in mirrored sunglasses asked for our car papers. We were handing them over when the second cop began to bang insistently on the driver’s window. We lowered it hastily. “Driving licence”, he spat out. We obliged and he took it into custody. “You could have caused a disaster,” he declared. We were taken aback to say the least. “You didn’t stop before turning. Could have had disaster accident.”

Given the snail’s pace at which we  Read the rest of this entry »

How Lebanon wins the world cup

local resident appropriates public square to support Germany

So 32 nations are preparing for a blast, but what do you do when your team won’t be playing? Lebanon didn’t qualify to enter the World Cup this year. In fact, it never has. But since April, an exuberant fervour has been surging steadily towards a crescendo. This scrap of a country is not going to be done out of a chance to jump on a bandwagon, wave flags, chant in the street and act like its all a matter of life and death – when, for once in Lebanon, it isn’t.

Of course, if your own colours aren’t out there then you have to go for second best. I still remember the 1998 final when Brixton, London, watched fairly unmoved as France beat Brazil in its only win to date. The house of the Malagasy family next-door nearly left the ground and the next day their little shop was closed, and on the window was scrawled the simple explanation, “We won”.

So Madagascar, which has also never qualified, will be routing for France again as a former colony, and you might think Lebanon would have similar sympathies with its former protectorate power. But in reality you see relatively little support for France, when you consider that the national flag used to be the tricolore plus a cedar.  Read the rest of this entry »