Streets of Beirut VI

stacking chairs

This Friday’s photo shows a team of men collecting hired chairs after an outdoor event near Martyrs Square. If you look closely you can see a chair in motion being tossed onto the truck. Not only do the Lebanese subscribe to the outdoor living called for in a Mediterranean climate, they also manage to spend an impressive amount of time on top of vehicles, using them as ladders or shop stalls or catching an open-air ride in the back.

Crossing the Litani

grandstand preparations

Last week, Beirut pulled out the stops to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Rafiq Hariri’s death and huge spectator stands were erected for the parades and performances downtown. We decided to escape the crowds and roadblocks, and head south for the weekend. We followed the coast until Sidon, Hariri’s home town, and then turned inland past Nabatiye and across the Litani River. Here I brandish proof of my newborn nationality before a sign announcing that foreign nationals need to obtain permission to cross from the Ministry of the Interior.

We stop in a village within sight of Israel. Chickens peck on the grassy verges and sheep graze on the rocky hillsides. Mount Hermon looms white in the dusk. As we wander down the main street, lined with cream stone buildings and various small stores, we realise this is a special kind of village.   Read the rest of this entry »

Underneath the bridge

militia camping out in downtown Beirut

In May 2008, Hizbollah militia occupied the west of central Beirut, demanding that the airport head of security – dismissed for alleged links to the resistance party – be restored to his post.  They had been camping out around Place des Martyrs and, when matters escalated, they blocked the route to the airport. In addition to the usual daily three-hour power cuts, the tap water slowed to a trickle and stopped. For my mother-in-law, who fled Lebanon in 1976, a second civil war has already begun. She distributes our ration of two bottles of water for washing and teeth-brushing from her emergency stock in the laundry room. Forgetting that for once the power is working fine, I carefully wash my hands in the dark with the precious water. For several days, gun battles raged in downtown Beirut, Aley and Tripoli, until Hizbollah’s demands were met and they magnanimously handed control back to the Lebanese Army. Meanwhile   Read the rest of this entry »