Grasping for a way to document a 3 week stay in Lebanon, my memory is organized into sensory impressions. The trip made a profound affect on my subconscious. The intensity of a country with a small footprint but deep, historied layers has continued to surface in fanciful dreamscapes I can't seem to shake. The sobering scent of citrus, the mesmerizing trance of pigeon flight, the lingering bitterness of last season's olive harvest; I am haunted by both the ghosts and modern realities of Beirut, Tripoli, Marjaayoun, and the cedar forests of the Shouf Mountains.
Wandering the souk in Tripoli at night is a hectic activity. Dodging motor bikes and choking their fumes in tight corridors of fruit, meat, cheese, and spice vendors became commonplace as we shopped for provisions for the Sadalsuud Bakery. Peeking around corners and down dimly lit alleyways offered a glimpse into the more mundane daily lives of this conservative coastal town.
Beirut is a resilient metropolis of contrast scarred by war in both obvious defect and more subtle nuance. Sit for a while with a local and try not to make too much sense of it. The vibrancy lies in its adaptive people who relish the strength of family and the enjoyment of food. Every day is an opportunity to share and celebrate both.
Tucked between Beirut's bullet riddled pre-war modernist architecture and its towering post-war skyscrapers are the inviting historic doors of homes and businesses. Knock loud enough and someone will invite you for coffee. You'll probably stay for dinner. The hospitality of Lebanon is a warm and welcoming contrast to its militarized ambiance. Soon the soldiers nod in recognition or wink in flirtation. Those imposing tanks and razored wires soften with every meze feast you devour and each glass of arak you clink.
For the uninitiated, Fairuz is a national symbol of hope and peace. Her voice is a soothing morning ritual in many households. She helped ease our chaotic commute from Beirut to Tripoli, accompanied by roadside shots of strong coffee and kaak bread.
The dark eyes of this country are sometimes eerily covered and often lined with weariness. And in curious but not uncommon display, they can be as blue as the clear morning sky after a winter rain. They all tell a story of guarded emotion, a reflection of past and current affairs. The streets and its eyes have seen more than I can acknowledge here and could superficially portray Lebanon as harsh, polluted, and unwelcoming. Rather than accept this as the only truth, its better to initiate a chance encounter and participate in a culture not always easily described in Western parabole. Mutter your only two words in Arabic. Watch as that cigarette bobs between lips of excitement and the furrowed brow melts quickly into an infectious laugh. Blue is sometimes the warmest color.