Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Those are bulletholes in the wall
The White Witch and I landed in Lebanon with a bit of a thud - literally. We'd booked flights only a few days ago, booked accommodation the day before we left, and we really had no idea what to expect. It was a bit of the seat-of-our-pants journey, decided on a whim because ... well, basically because neither of us had been before and just about every other flight out of Bahrain was full except this one.

Sometimes this is the best kind of holiday, and I can easily say that Beirut lived up to that. Because we had no idea what to expect, we weren't disappointed on any front.

What we learnt is that Beirut is a city of Bs. Bombed out buildings, bullet holes in the bricks, broken down houses, boarded up shutters - the remnants of the civil war are still there, and while they're not as fresh as they were originally, somehow the devastation seems even more profound when it's viewed in context with the apartment buildings nearby that sell for $5 million each. To expats.

 So there are these pointed reminders of the conflict that still, apparently, simmers just below the surface of Lebanon.

On the face of it though, Beirut is actually a very modern city, and to me it seemed quite European rather than Middle Eastern at all. It's green and gardened, there are sections that look like Paris - buildings with little French doors and juliet balconies, painted with yellow distemper , lacy curtains blowing in the breeze - and there are as many global brand names in the malls as you'd expect in your home town.

Not only that, but Beiruti women are astonishing. Beirut is the city of Bs, and they fit into that like a key in a lock - they are bejewelled, bedangled, bedazzling, busty, brazen and bootylicious. Everything in Beirut revolves around your appearance. There is no subtlety involved. Loans for cosmetic surgery and boob jobs are as common as car loans in Beirut (and if the two-hour traffic jam coming back from Byblos was anything to go by, EVERYONE in Beirut has a car).

A nice juxtapostion of cordoned off street, heavily armed military policeman, and Hello Kitty balloon. Aw.
As two white girls wearing beaten-up travelling clothes, we felt quite out of place. Me at least, I'm brunette, so I didn't attract a great deal of attention. The White Witch, however, is fair-skinned, blue-eyed, tall, slim and blonde (I hate her), and she was like a walking neon sign. People stared at her constantly - even more than they do in Bahrain, because in Beirut, beauty is olive-skinned, dark-eyed and dark-haired. Blondeness was quite the novelty, we discovered.

But we had a wonderful time. We checked into our gorgeous little room at the Hayete; a tiny four-room guesthouse in Achrafiye, one of the central suburbs of Beirut. We went straight to Leila's in the ABC Mall to spend the $50 we'd planned to shell out on our visas -  visas that turned out to be free - on a feast instead, where we practically died and went to heaven on the flavours of their hommos, fattoush, baba ghanoush and minted lemonade. We had an incredible dessert which consisted of two scoops of musk icecream wrapped in pashmak (persian fairy floss) and sprinkled with pistachios, mmmm.

I don't normally photograph my food, but this dessert was so good I'd have dipped it in bronze if I could
 Then we reverted to type and went shopping at H&M, where I found a beautiful white cotton voile scarf for $9, and the White Witch bought a snuggly grey wool cardigan for quite a bit more than that.

The destroyed cinema on the Green Line, and mosque behind
We wandered off to the Downtown area, which was the centre of conflict through the war in the 70s and 80s, and we stood on the Green Line that was the demarcation between the warring sides. We saw the bombed out Holiday Inn which still stands with its tattered curtains flapping in the breeze, and the destroyed cinema (that they're about to demolish and make into yet another shopping mall).

Holiday Inn, with ironic sign
 We walked through the Place d'Etoile, which has been completely rebuilt and is virtually soulless as a consequence, though it is heavily guarded by military police with large automatic rifles and machine guns.

We accidentally found, and visited the memorial to Rafiq Hariri, the ex-Prime Minister, and his bodyguards, who were killed by a car bomb near the Grand Mosque in 2005.

Then we wandered home via a film at the mall, and fell into our enormous king-size bed, exhausted. We couldn't get a twin room anywhere in the city you see, because we were so late with the booking, and the White Witch had warned me that she kicks during the night, so I was a little concerned ....

.....but it turns out she doesn't.

1 comment:

Isabella Golightly said...

More, more! I want more! Also, if you coat that dessert in Bronze, you can't eat it. So don't. Fabric pictures? Come on, don't make me beg... also, parcel in the post for you today!!!!!