Final rite of passage

We’ve completed the final rite of Lebanese passage: we’ve left Lebanon. It is, after all, a country of goodbyes, of ping pong expats, of exiles longing to return and of people trying to leave. You could even say we’ve now joined the majority of Lebanese people in that we no longer live in Lebanon.

So we squeezed our life into a couple of suitcases and said goodbye to what didn’t fit. So long, pink shoes which would still have been trendy next year. So long, good friends we will remember a lifetime.

But where to go? Moving nearer family is one thing, but they are spread across Europe anyway so there are still a few different options. Britain, where I grew up, seems pretty foreign after nearly 12 years away. France, where I studied and worked and married would be a more obvious choice. I’m much more used to the euro than the pound, the sécu than the NHS. I kind of know how things work there, which is more than I can say about my “home country”.

But Paris, our “home” before Beirut, isn’t a great option for a growing family, with its tiny flats and creaky parquet. So we’ve been scouting out a pleasant corner of southern Spain before heading back to France for the birth. It’s not Beirut, but the avenues are lined with the gentle purple blossoms of the jacaranda trees I grew to love in Lebanon, and the parks are full of the giant leaves fallen from rubber trees that my Beirut baby grew up playing ba’oussé behind. Somehow these touches make it feel more like home.

Spin me a yarn, but make it good

Mercedes taxi beirut

Mercedes taxi

Yesterday I had the pleasure of recording a new piece for the BBC programme From Our Own Correspondent. It was already just after 12pm and the sun was directly overhead. It was going to be a sticky 25-minute walk and I didn’t feel like turning up panting so I took a taxi to the BBC studios near the Serail. The driver clearly decided I was fair game for a story or two. “I want to welcome you to this country and ask you to pray for me,” he began. I sighed. I’d thought using my few words of Arabic would spare me being taken for a witless foreigner. “My wife has just given birth,” he went on undeterred. So far nothing new. “She’s had quadruplets!” I must look more stupid than I thought. “Mabrook,” I told him, “Lucky you.” We had arrived. I paid making sure to get my full change before tipping him. It reminded me of a funny piece by BBC correspondent Owen Bennett-Jones for FOOC, Taken for a ride in a Cairo taxi, except his yarn-spinner was a good deal shrewder than mine. I wish I could find the audio version as I remember it being particularly lively, but it makes a great read too.

Free ebook by 40 Lonely Planet bloggers

Lonely Planet Bloggers' ebook

It’s finally here: the very first project produced by an amazing group of travel bloggers, all featured by Lonely Planet. The eminent travel guide publisher has, over the past few years, been selecting certain bloggers to be featured on its web site. In 2010, I was invited to join this fortunate band, dubbed the BlogSherpas, and since then each of my posts appears on the relevant Lonely Planet page (usually the Beirut one). That’s how some of you readers found your way here in the first place.

Over the past months, the BlogSherpas have been collaborating on an online photography book, Around the World with 40 Lonely Planet Bloggers, introducing their perspective on travel. As one of the 40 contributors to the ebook I am happy to be able to offer my readers a free copy.

The contributors include other serial expats, round-the-world travellers, experts in family travel, budget travel, food writing and more. In this free ebook, they share their experiences along with stunning shots from nearly 70 countries.

If you are looking for inspiration for summer travel, impetus to quit your office job and make that long-awaited move abroad, or maybe just a great armchair travelling experience, all you have to do is click here or on the banners top and bottom. No extra effort is required from you!

You can read what Lonely Planet has to say about it here. It has been a great experiment and I hope you enjoy browsing the ebook.

Behind the scenes

cedar sapling in the snow (Arz er Rabb)

cedar sapling in the snow (Arz er Rabb)

Things have been quiet at Ginger Beirut this week but I thought I’d let you in on one of the projects going on behind the scenes linked to my travel writing which is due to surface here shortly.

As a travel blogger featured by Lonely Planet in their BlogSherpa programme, I am collaborating with a diverse network of travellers across the world on an exciting project. 40 of these BlogSherpas will soon launch an ebook of photos taken from around the globe, introducing a selection of writers and photographers and their take on the world. You’ll be able to download the ebook via Ginger Beirut and via Lonely Planet shortly.

What’s new in Zawarib Beirut

driving in Beirut

it's a cultural thing

In this tiny country, forever caught in a cycle of construction, destruction and reconstruction, the landscape changes fast, and Zawarib Beirut is determined to keep up. Only five years old, the first edition of this road map of Greater Beirut had already been left behind by developments in the infrastructure. This brave venture by Bahi Ghubril, who undertook the gargantuan task of mapping out the city as a personal project, has now been propelled to the next stage.

You may have noticed that, in general, the Lebanese don’t do maps any more than they do addresses. This is a country where your takeaway receipt comes with a paragraph-long description of where you live for the delivery boy. Even City Mall did without a store plan until last summer. One can only hope that an architect’s plan existed prior to construction.

But what makes Zawarib a chef d’oeuvre is  Read the rest of this entry »