I just got back to a one week visit to Lebanon.  This was my first trip to the middle east,  so exciting in that way.  I planned a fairly long trip, which happened to work out a little cheaper, but the flight was still quite expensive.  I didn’t know when I would be back, so I thought I might as well not just make it a weekend trip.  However,  I also had no tourist agenda.  I was planning to look at a guidebook before I left, but didn’t have time (or interest, really).  So upon arriving my plans included wandering around Beirut a bit,  maybe going to the beach,  drinking at a gay bar (which I take to be an authentic Lebanese experience) and to finish reading my novel.  The fact that it was 95 degrees and humid only added to my well established turtle-being.

I ended up doing a lot more than I thought I would.  What I liked most were my trips into the countryside.  I was taken once to the mountains of Faraya (not too far from Beirut, though in that country nothing is), and also took a but tour to Baalbek.  After two months in London, it was nice to be among arid hills that stood over the coast; it was a bit reminiscent of California actually.  The mountains were also cooler.  I can see why people spend their entire summers there.

Also, it turns out, Lebanon has a lot of history!  Who knew.  I saw ruins of a Umayyad Caliphate fort/town at Anjar and Roman ruins at Baalbek.  They were nice, I suppose, but I still wasn’t too interested in ruins on this trip.  Ruins are funny, because if you look at them one way, you can imagine spaces and people from different times, and they can give you a sense of historical scale.  Looked at another way, they are a pile of rocks.  It was especially funny in Anjar, because everything one meter high or above was reconstructed – but only partially reconstructed to give a ‘sense’ of what it was like.  I wonder how they made those decisions.  They also messed up when they reconstructed the main palace.

Baalbek actually has the largest and most intact roman ruins in the world.  Seeing them was also funny, the same kind of humor I get from certain large sculpture or public art.  This boils down to: ‘look, there’s something big over there.’  Some of it was pretty, like the mostly intact temple of Baachus.  Still, the romans built temples here to establish via architecture and religion the force of their imperial power,  the ‘shock and awe’ of the day.  Christians later tore down parts of the pagan structures to make a church, and muslims later tore this down to build a wall around the whole complex, replete with murder holes.  Not a very inspiring progression for those wanting to laud human civilization, especially given that there is a Palestinian camp down the street.

I don’t really know what to say about Beirut itself.  I didn’t dislike it, but neither did I really like it as much as I thought I would.  First of all, I have to say that I was in an extremely bad mood for most of this trip, so my perception of everything is probably tinted by that.  Anyway, I spent some time walking around the city during day and night, taking pictures, covering a greater distance than I intended usually, because I wasn’t aware of the size of the city.  Beirut is quite small, about 6km by 4km.  I was mostly bouncing between the neighborhoods of Hamra and Gemmayzeh, an area which is about 3km by 1.5 km.  When I mapped this onto London I was very surprised.  I feel like I walk this much everyday just in the course of things.  So I felt its smallness.  There were a lot of US chains in Hamra (caribou coffee, dunkin doughnuts, etc), and being inside one of those, surrounded by Americans, you really might as well be in a US suburb.  There are also a lot of hip bars in both Hamra and Gemmayzeh.  I can see how this would be fun if you lived here.

Anyway, on to one of the main reasons for visiting in the first place, the food!  My favorites:

Labneh: strained yogurt, usually with olive oil.  I can’t believe I’ve never had this before

Za’atar: Sumac, Seasame, and Thyme.  Served inside bread for breakfast, called Manaish.

Kanafeh: dessert, with cheese and sweet pastry.

Arak: anise flavored liquor made with grapes, diluted with water and ice usually.  Served with lunch but makes a good digestivo (ie. you just keep drinking more of it through and after the meal).




One Response to Lebanon

  1. Rachel M says:

    why such a bad mood?

    come back to cali already.


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