White flag

no man's land

The rooftops of Beirut are not really rooftops, but simply roofs, without tops. As in much of the Mediterranean basin, the roofs are flat, and not really the top, since a great deal of items sit higher than the roofs themselves, including, often enough, the walls. An ideal spot for a beautiful garden terrace, an oasis of calm high above the hustle and bustle of the street. But in Beirut you have to go further than six floors high to find peace. Here the flat roofs form an untidy, uneven landscape, strewn with the corpses of rejected furniture, barbed wire, satellite dishes and a forest of spiky antennae. The large squat cylindrical water tanks mount a baleful guard over this no man’s land like beefy henchmen. Washing is pegged sternly to taut rows of steel wire, beleaguered socks and dish cloths pinched firmly in place at equal intervals. Save for one once-white blanket which, caught on the run, is speared on a television antenna like a makeshift white flag.

Time stands still for a second as a blaze of lightning makes a snapshot of the streets. A thunderous roll heralds the arrival of the big guns. The skyline turns to lead. Rain slugs down as the legless plastic chairs cower in their corners. Aluminium sheeting lifts and is battered down, defeated. When the storm subsides, the once-white blanket hangs heavy with water, ripped on the antenna prongs, giving in to the chaos, surrendering to the grime.

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