Streets of Beirut XVII

Yerevan flyover Beirut

Beneath the flyover

These guys are a cut above the plastic chair masses – upholstery, vinyl, a clic-clac… Who would have thought to find such a lovely sight under the dull grey concrete of the flyover that crosses Nahr Beirut?

Open house

Ghabi Beirut Streetlife

at home in the street

Have you noticed how when you call a plumber, an electrician or some other repair service, the chap always tells you he’ll come by, takes directions, and then hangs up? There’s me with my pencil poised and diary open, scanning my limited availabilities, and he just says he’ll come by and that’s it.

As if I have nothing else to do but wait in for him, I think, annoyed. Still, had he given me a time slot he would have felt it his duty to miss it by a mile anyway. This way he can’t be wrong but he’ll not turn up for a week and then when I call back he’ll put the blame on me being out. Preposterous.

But in his defence, we don’t have the same view of home. Home for the Lebanese is not just a bed and a roof, somewhere to store a change of clothes and park the car until both are re-employed and off out again. It’s a centre of life not just a rushed recharge point. You pop in and out, never straying too far or too long, and  Read the rest of this entry »

Streets of Beirut XVI

nuts streets of beirut

heaps of nuts like untopped balusters

This scene highlights two qualities always shown in food here: the profusion and the visual display. The minimalism of western restaurants hasn’t caught on here, fortunately. Frequently at the vegetable shop the beefy grocer behind his old-style scales raises his eyebrows at my huge bush-like bunch of coriander and says “Only one?” My few limes he throws in for a song – they hardly register against his large weights. Then he gets back to making pretty colour-coded piles of peppers and lining the cucumbers up in geometric formation. For the purists, this shot is from Baouchriye, not Beirut.

Gold or glitter?

luxury cars Beirut rich poor divide

out on show

After visiting Beirut, a reader wrote to me remarking on the incongruity of price tags and of the predominant luxury vehicles in town. Given that the evidence of a recent conflict lingers on in a whiff of tension, a whir of helicopters, bullet holes and third world utilities, the lavish lifestyle on display does indeed seem out of place.

A number of factors contribute to the striking proximity of prosperity and privation in Lebanon. I will cover the main points – feel free to add those I may have missed out.

First and foremost, Lebanon receives a considerable inflow of money from the huge diaspora (several times larger than the current population) either via  Read the rest of this entry »

Streets of Beirut XV

man selling strawberries

man on a mission

It doesn’t matter if the Lebanese are driving a Hummer with extra lights and tinted windows or if they’re pushing a cart of strawberries, they have an innate sense of their own right of passage. They exist therefore they have right of way. The cart would not be intimidated by the Hummer, either. The road belongs to all of us, not to everybody else, which is a good angle to view things from.