Streets of Beirut XXII

I love the simplicity of this breakfast on the balcony…

Beirut balcony breakfast

breakfast on the balcony

A man’ouche while watching the neighbours kick-start their day – why not?

Can’t see the wood for the walls?

Horsh Beirut Pine Forest

no entry

Any Beiruti can tell you where Horsh Beirut is, a huge park slap in the southern centre of the city. But ask them if they’ve been there and they invariably say no. It’s a bit like skiing in the morning and swimming in the afternoon, but more complicated.

Horsh Beirut (or the Pine Forest) is one of those mysterious places nobody has ever been and if they have they cannot tell you quite how to get in. It has a trompe l’oeil entrance to the west, with a car park and large open gates. This leads to a seemingly promising walkway with rows of trees and stone benches and college couples in the corners. But this pleasant strolling area ends dramatically in a mass of barbed wire. Beyond the spiky barrier, steps lead temptingly to a much larger grounds, where neat paths disappear around lush green curves. This is Beirut’s secret garden.

Horsh Beirut Pine Forest

near the park

We circled the vast area, looking for an access point. On the two other sides of the triangle there were more impenetrable high walls and barbed wire with the occasional padlocked gate. We ventured in and out of passages but remained on the wrong side of the wall. We asked a gardener in a property on the same block. He looked pessimistic and told us we needed a pass to enter. Eventually we came across a large gate next to a small gatekeeper’s building on the north-east face near Tayouneh roundabout. The park looked empty. Then a gardener came to greet us. Without much hope, we asked if we could enter the park. He looked us over and in answer swung the gate open. We were free to roam.

Horsh Beirut Pine Forest

city centre

The place was a rare refuge from the jagged aspect and noise of construction as well as the traffic and pollution. Our delight at having the chance to discover the beautifully kept grounds was coupled with bemusement over their case by case entry system. It is, to all intents and purposes, closed to the general public. We crossed paths with just two joggers and a couple of French tourists in the whole of the park. Inside a plaque proudly proclaims to an invisible public that it was inaugurated by the President of the French region Ile-de-France.

If there is anything that Beirut needs it’s green spaces for the city dwellers to draw breath away from the fumes, noise and visual assault of the poor urban planning. It is the biggest green space in the whole of Beirut yet few local people have ever been able to visit it. Local authorities seem afraid it will become a hideout of sorts. The large pine forests are much smaller than in years past but Beirut’s biggest park is definitely worth a visit so see the tips below.

Horsh Beirut Pine Forest

cumulus pines

Tips for getting in to Horsh Beirut:

  • go well-dressed
  • go with tourists
  • go well before dark
  • leave your AK47 at home

For more information on Horsh Beirut and locals who want the park opened to the public, as well as a number of maps, check out Fadi Shayya’s book At the Edge of the City.

But how do YOU say it?

Le dialecte libanais et l'arabe littéral

One of the few colloquial vs classical comparitive resources (Published by Haddad/Fadel in French or English)

One of the challenges of learning Arabic is its diglossic nature. The fact that two languages or different varieties of a language coexist – with one form used for writing and another, quite different, for conversation – can make life hard for would-be students.

For those wanting to learn the spoken dialects, it is difficult to find written resources and they must rely largely on speakers of the language, which you just can’t buy and take home. For those wanting to learn the written language, it is hard to get the oral practice one is used to in other languages. Standard Arabic may be heard in radio or television monologues but it is often mixed with some colloquial terms and is never “pure” in dialogue.

Defining diglossia appears simple enough. However, the perspective of a native speaker on these two varieties is by no means as clearcut. A strange hierarchical nature exists between the two which can affect a speaker’s perception of what and how s/he speaks.

I have often noticed that when I ask an Arabic speaker how they say a certain word in colloquial Lebanese, they tell me the (often very different) Standard Arabic word. It sometimes takes some prodding to get them to tell me the word they use on a day to day basis, the one you would expect to trip off their tongue first. I was fascinated to discover recently that this tendency is actually documented.

The linguist Charles Ferguson writes:

In all the defining languages the speakers regard H [the "high," or superposed variety] as superior to L [the "low," or colloquial variety] in a number of respects. Sometimes the feeling is so strong that H alone is regarded as real and L is reported “not to exist.” Speakers of Arabic, for example, may say (in L) that so-and-so doesn’t know Arabic. This normally means he doesn’t know H, although he may be a fluent, effective speaker of L. If a non-speaker of Arabic asks an educated Arab for help in learning to speak Arabic the Arab will normally try to teach him H forms, insisting that these are the only ones to use. Very often, educated Arabs will maintain that they never use L at all, in spite of the fact that direct observation shows that they use it constantly in all ordinary conversation. Similarly, educated speakers of Haitian Creole frequently deny its existence, insisting that they always speak French.

Even where the feeling of the reality and superiority of H is not so strong, there is usually a belief that H is somehow more beautiful, more logical, better able to express important thoughts, and the like. And this belief is held also by speakers whose command of H is quite limited. To those Americans who would like to evaluate speech in terms of effectiveness of communication it comes as a shock to discover that many speakers of language involved in diglossia characteristically prefer to hear a political speech or an expository lecture or a recitation of poetry in H even though it may be less intelligible to them than it would be in L.


He gives the examples not only of Arabic and its dialects and Haitian Creole but also of modern Greek and Swiss German.

Lebanese dialect and Classical Arabic

French/English with Standard Arabic, Lebanese in script and transliterated Lebanese (click to enlarge)

The essay which quotes Ferguson makes a number of other valid points and is worth reading in full. The latter half highlights that both pure colloquial and pure standard Arabic rarely exist in spoken situations, existing as a continuum where one fades imperceptibly into the other and even the opposing poles are tainted.

It also discusses the effect of diglossia on native speakers’ perception and appreciation of literature. In addition, it points to the advantages of diglossia noting that when Latin effectively died Europe lost many cultural resources as well as the possibility of cross-border communication with communities in a much more extensive geographical area.

Which put me in mind of a what Amin Maalouf has to say on language and globalisation:

Qu’un Français et un Coréen puissent, en se retrouvant, s’exprimer l’un et l’autre en anglais [...] c’est sans doute un progrès par rapport au passé; mais qu’un Français et un Italien ne puissent plus se parler qu’en anglais est indiscutablement une régression, et un appauvrissement de leur relation.

All of which is an interesting way to pass time when I should be learning my Lebanese vocab…