Saturday, 27 November 2010

beware the Brazilian dance

Last night I went to the birthday drinks of Izabella ( yoga goddess) at Cafe Des Arts in the centre of Basel. I really like the décor in this bar. It's a little crazy and there are lovely, velvet-red chairs on which to lounge elegantly and yet seductively ( at least in my head anyway.) I was the only non-Brazilian at the party (well maybe I am a little bit Brazilian but not a full Brazilian, you understand) so I had that tricky job of making sure everybody else felt comfortable speaking in their mother tongue around me. I feel guilty when people think they should revert to English when they are on a night out with friends. Fortunately V ( Alf's mum) kept on introducing me as her English teacher which made everyone petrified to speak English anyway. I told V she should call me her friend or at least Alf's half-mum but she liked calling me her English teacher and so who am I to rain on her parade? Anyhow I did my best to follow the conversations which wasn't that hard anyway since the topics tended to be either 1. football 2. how much nicer Buenos Aires would be without the Argentinians 3. the lack of sun and surf in Basel 4. plastic surgery 5. the embarassing popularity of Brazlian 'porno-creu' dancing (V's words not mine - see this video and you decide :-)

I enjoyed the drinks though. Sometimes yoga people can be a little precious but Izabella is very real. She loves a good drink, doesn't oppose botox ( which sounds v un-yoga to me) and can bend like a straw.


When I woke up this morning it was snowing heavily in the streets. I gave my Russian student, O, a private lesson then I bought lots of pretty tights, returned home and dug out all my painting equipment. I am still struggling to write at present ( I got another rejection for a short story this week. A nice rejection again with words like witty, clever, enjoyable ...but no! ) so I thought a bit of painting might lift my mood. I find nice smelling candles help too as does a little bit of dodgy creu dancing for toy pig.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Once I was a lady from Lagos

Last night I dreamt I had been transformed into a lady from Lagos as part of a two week social experiment. Somehow I had ended up in a small American town meeting all sorts of people who may or may not have ( I really couldn't tell) belonged to the local Rotary club. Anyway then I discovered that this two week experiment coincided with the football world cup and as I was a lady from Lagos I was expected to show no interest whatsoever in any of the matches being played on television. I then started wondering if this was the social experiment - denying me the world cup. Surely this dream is the dictionary definition of a nightmare!


I'd just like to thank Miss Belle and S le Tramp for their whiskey tips. I haven't gone near the bottle again but will definitely be following their advice - am particularly looking forward to the colonic irrigation. Actually it is probably the best use I could make of the stuff as I believe my grandmother used to drink whiskey for 'medicinal purposes' which is always the beginning of a very slippery slope!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

lucky dip

Yesterday I won the top prize in the lucky dip at the Basel Anglican Church Christmas bazaar. I had actually gone along to buy myself some Heinz spaghetti hoops (mmm spaghtti hoops) but came out with an enormous bottle of Bushmill's Irish single malt whiskey. It even has a sturdy green box that I can use as a cricket bat if required. There were a few envious glances, of course. Every congregation in England loves a wee nip of whiskey after Evensong. But I tried to pull my best 'how fabulous' face even though I think I would have been more thrilled to have won a cuddle from a cranky cat.

The trouble is I know nothing about whiskey at all !

What is single malt anyway?
Do you drink it with water, or is it ice, or is it lemon?
Can you have it on icecream?
Does it heal fungal infections?

Last night I tried a glass after dinner and I have to say that it is very unlikely that I will be polishing off the bottle any time soon - well certainly not on my own anyway! So I suppose the cuddle from a cat prize still stands but it's nice to win something for a change.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Freedom fighter?!?

Yesterday I spent money I don't have on things I don't need. Yes, for one wicked hour I was the poster child of inapproriate spending - sort of a human incarnation of the Republic of Ireland at this time. In my defence it happened completely by mistake. I was walking home from my morning class when I spied this grey, lacy dress in a shop window. It looked a bit like an animal in the zoo. Desperate to get out and see a bit of the world instead of just being endlessly pointed at. So I did the humanitarian thing - right! I freed it - along with some of its fellow cagees - which was actually the only legal thing I could do. In Switzerland it is considered abuse for any 'social species' not to have contact/cohabit with another of its kind. I defy anyone to say a dress is not a 'social species'. They speak volumes about their wearer and are often great conversation starters/ procreation tools. Anyway during the liberation I actually discovered I was a different dress size to the one I thought I was (in a good way) which seemed to excite the sales assistant more than me. ( I was concentrating too hard on these poor caged creatures - wondering if I would be able to wash them correctly. I am not a friend of the washing machine or the iron for that matter.) In fact it was almost as if the sales assistant had vicariously gone down a whole dress size in my honour- she was so thrilled.
Anyway now I have three new dresses - eager to see the world and taste whatever I decide to spill on them which will be pretty much everything.


On a more boo hoo note I also got a rejection letter this week from a publisher. It's never nice to receive a rejection letter but it feels better to receive one than to hear nothing at all. It somehow feels more respectful. Rejection hurts, it always does, but there are a lot more things that hurt worse than a publisher's no thank you note, this I am sure of.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

ten beautiful things

Today I went to my health insurance company to hand in a form and found it was closed for lunch time ( which, I find, is always the most sensible time for a public-service based organisation to close!) So I decided to sit in the park near the main train station and wait for it to open again. It was actually quite a grey, miserable day and most people were dashing across the park with their heads slung low. To pass the time I decided to think of 10 beautiful things to beat all the wet and grey.

green grass 2. the wisdom of autumn trees because they know spring will come again 3. hope 4.a turtle I love 5. toy pig 6.chocolate eclairs 7. rossini cocktails8. football 9. my bed 10.A red squirrel I saw in the park as I sat.

I didn't even see the squirrel at first. He was sitting on the branch of a tree that was nothing but long, dark limbs. Perfectly still. However then I noticed that one of the tree's branches seemed to curl up like the scroll of a violin which was most uncharacteristic as all the other limbs were so straight and thin. Then I realised it was the tail of a red squirrel quietly observing the world from his tree top kingdom. I was kind of hoping he might invite me up to sit with him as surely the view of the world must be different from up there. Wisely, he did not, as I would probably have broken his kingdom so instead it was nice to watch him from below. In fact by the time I was ready to go my bottom was completely wet from sitting on a damp, cold seat. It didn't bother me though - that's why they invented warm tram seats after all!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

angels in my midst

So I have been back in Basel now for a week, Beirut seems another world away. I spent my last night in Lebanon enjoying a drink with a Belgian man who was staying at the same guest house. (Note to self: Never tell a Belgian that you drink their beer with lemonade. Ever!)
It almost feels as if I was never away except for the fact that I now have a new phone which I bought in Beirut Duty-Free at 3 in the morning. I actually had a lot of fun picking it out. I met a very nice sales clerk, clearly bored ( His dream is to work with Oracle databases) , who made it his personal mission to find me the right phone. He started by asking me a few questions and then said I was clearly a creative type who would probably not appreciate lots of technical complications. (Such insight made me fall in love with him immediately!) He then brought out lots of very different phones which he introduced to me personally and let me 'wear' around the shop. I even performed a few spontaneous telephone roleplays so he could determine if the phone and I were a true fit. Eventually we decided on a pretty pink ( but very smooth) phone. Even better I now have a new number which is great because I could never remember my last one even after I had just said it :-) It also has lots Arabic style ring tones which means I can stay true to my Lebanese sistas.


In the spirit of my lost phone ( and temporarily misplaced passport) I actually managed to lose my wallet this weekend. On the one hand it is good to know that I am capable of losing things at home not just when I am away but it is also a little worriesome. Clearly I am not at my best right now - then again tell me something I don't know. Anyway as soon as I realised it was missing I began turning my apartment upside down, which is actually quite difficult when it is already in an upside-down state. It's almost like reverse tidying. Of course I had no luck and started making a list of all the things which I would have to cancel when my door buzzer went. I looked down my intercom video and there was a man and his daughter at the front door. I didn't recognise them so I thought perhaps they had got the wrong buzzer. Then they rang again so I answered.
The man asked me if I was Joanna which a little bit exciting ( maybe I had just won the lottery or a publishing contract!) and a little bit alarming. He then told me his daughter had found my wallet and she wanted to return it. Bless bless bless.
It turns out I had dropped it earlier in the day over in Klein Basel when I was visiting a student for a private English lesson. Markus and Ella ( my personal angels) had taken the wallet home and tried to find me in the phonebook (which I am not registered in.) They had then tried Linked In which drew a blank and had finally decided to call a guesthouse in Murren that I had stayed at last July with my sister. Apparently the card to this hotel was the only one I had in my wallet other than my credit cards etc. Anyway the hotel confirmed my existence and gave him my street but not the number. So then he and his daughter had traipsed up and down my street looking on doorbells until they saw my name. Ella was so happy and proud to give it to me. The look of delight on her face made the whole experience even more wonderful than actually getting my wallet back. I told her she was my little angel and she beamed. I also gave her a reward because I truly believe that this kind of golden-hearted tenacity should be rewarded.

So now I am finishing my weekend with the reassurance that the universe is watching out for me even when I feel it isn't.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

My friend, the chocolate eclair

Today I ate the most beautiful chocolate éclair of my life. I am kind of hoping that the éclair is saying the exact same thing about me too. Not the eating part just the beautiful. Actually I sort of regretted eating him so quickly. I think we could have spent a magical day together (actually I suppose we still did and at least now that I have eaten him I know he will be mine forever.) Maybe the lady spiders are onto something – eating their mate and all. Excellent way to keep them close but not in your face.


I got home quite late last night – late for me anyway. I went to Gemmazzeh to visit one of the many bars that dot the quarter. It reminded me of London – full of sexy, young things, low-lighting, moody music…and the odd man with a machine gun patrolling through the revellers. Actually, I suppose the last bit is a bit un-London. I ended up chatting to two guys working in Dubai called Nabil and Yoop. Surely there is Pixar animation waiting to be made by the same name. They sounded like two guys on weekend prison leave – I don’t think Dubai was really the place they wanted to be We had a good laugh anyway and then I left them to stagger off into the night while I made way back through the quiet Beirut streets.

This morning I woke up early even though I felt very tired. Mercy was fluttering about the guest house – giggling as she worked. I looked at my very crumpled map of Lebanon ( I cannot fold maps correctly – never have, never will) and decided to visit the seaside town of Batroun. It is well on the way to Tripoli and it felt like it too. The minibus I caught took a very long time and I was quite grateful not to be in the BDGS today because the driver was a maniac and nearly crashed a number of times. Generally I don’t mind sitting on minibuses for long periods of time. I don’t know if this is a personality trait or the fact that I was born in Australia where everything is a long distance. Or may be I am just lazy because at least when I am on a bus there is nothing physically I can do but sit, think and occasionally brace!

Once again the minibus dropped me off by the side of the highway with some vague arm-waving in the direction of the sea. Fortunately an unlicenced 17 year old Saudi girl called Norma picked me up in a very smart, shiny black car and took me down to the old town. The fact that she was unlicenced didn't bother me as I don't think a licence really means much in these places any way. She also drove very well which I complimented her on. I told her I was visiting from Switzerland for a week to get some sun. She looked at me ( instead of the road) and said after a while: 'Yes, you are very white. You need sun. Not too much though you don't want to get too wrinkly.'

According to the guidebook Batroun is a lively, Maronite village. If comatose is a synonym for lively than perhaps this is true.

Comatose in a good way through. The streets were so quiet it was just me and the cats who were largely rotund and friendly.

I think the gentleman here ( pictures left) summed up the place perfectly. Just smoke your pipe and watch the boats.

After wandering the narrow lanes I I went down to the sea to inspect the remains of an old Phoenician sea wall which I found quite impressive.

See my rarver arty shot here of the Phoenician wall through a church window.

I even sat down beside it for a while to show it my respect.

I then visited the various churches around the town, one of which was preparing for a very glitzy wedding, before making my way back to the highway.

I am now the Queen of Beirut public transport as I managed to make it all the way home using local means instead of expensive taxis. I rock!!

Now once again I am home. I can't believe my time in Lebanon will draw to a close soon. I don't think I ever quite established my rhythm here but it is definitely a place I would like to return to. I didn't make it to see Khalil Gibran's birthplace but I think that is perhaps because this is not a journey I am supposed to make without my heart ( which as you may remember I left snuggling up to toy pig back in Basel.)

I think I will go out again now and wander the Beirut streets; perhaps eat some fattoush and drink some fine wine.

Friday, 5 November 2010

a near shopping experience

No water again today ( I write this as if it bothers me when it doesn't :-) You have to accept how things function in the place where you are. Like I know that in Switzerland if I recycle tin cans after 7 p.m. I may be deported.) This time however the the water man was late!! Mercy was unimpressed ( but beaming about the 20/20 cricket – I beamed with her, I am disloyal in that way.) We had a chat over breakfast. She was sad that I had got up too late for the good stuff and that there was only a baguette left whereas I was glad I had managed to stay in bed even if I had just lain there awake. She is going home to see her sons in Sri Lanka for Christmas but she told me it was on one condition. That she is going to return to Lebanon after one month. ‘I like it too much here,' she explained. 'I used to work to look after my sons now I work for me. What I going to do if I go back to Sri Lanka? Look after the grandkids. No thanks, I rather be here and relax.’ She said it with a cheeky smile but you could see that she was serious. I love Mercy. She is as tall as a bird and as chatty as one too.

After my lazy start I decided to spend my day enjoying the various architectural styles of Beirut while doing a little shopping. I even got stopped by a taxi at one stage while strolling the streets because he needed directions. I must be blending - chameleon that I am. I feel v proud.

I began by going down the street which runs across from my home. (See picture to the left.) I have walked down this street a few times now. It is a hot potch of ruins, renovations and lovely old style colonial buildings with lush green trees and bright, fragrant flowers. Today, though, one part of the street was lined with soldiers and policemen with shields. They were standing in combat lines outside a university building while the army patrolled either end and a few tanks sat around with various missile-shaped objects hanging out the side of them. I ended up walking through the middle of it – there were a lot of other students walking through the middle too clutching their books and their phones ( I wonder if one of them was mine :-)). This is the thing about Beirut. It changes every day and people just go with it. A street that is quiet one minute has barricades and guns the next. Of course most of the army looked about ten years old so it could have been an elaborate game of dress-up for all I know.

Now my plan had been to shop but it seems that as soon as I decide to throw caution to the wind and spend all the zeros that I have, there is nothing I see that I want to buy. Niente. Zip. Null. Actually I did see a dress ring with I love felafel written on it but I am holding out for one that says I love fattoush. I went back to the shoe shop in downtown Beirut and spent a very sparkly half an hour trying on shoes. The trouble is all of them have impossibly high heels and vertigo can be a problem for me. I also tend to wobble like an unstable lady or perhaps a bowl of jelly in heels. Very nerve-wracking for the wobblee and any innocent bystanders!! I eventually found a very rainbowy, glitzy pair that I liked and went to buy it with my visa card. Of course no one knew how to use the visa card machine so I went in search of a cash machine. Not a single one in the area would oblige me so sadly I had to walk away. I felt even sadder for the poor man who had nearly sold me the shoes. Maybe I will get back there tomorrow.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Choufing it

On the highway out to the Chouf Mountains this morning I saw the following banner:

There is no such thing as a lost opportunity,

it just means someone else seized it.

As I sat on my half-seat (the lady next to me had assumed a-seat-and-a-half or perhaps she was just taking an opportunity!) I began to imagine all these tiny opportunities floating in the air. Each one with is own little parachute coming into land – sort of like dandelion clocks, almost invisible. Popping against our skin - ping! I find it nice to think of them hovering amongst us all – did you seize one today?

I was actually going to write a gloomy blog today because I had a lousy day but instead I decided to start with the above thought which I suppose is an opportunity in itself. I had the same bad dream last night – it’s not so much a bad dream but a sad dream and it seems to haunt me each day which in turn is why I think today was not so great. Sometimes I wonder if Lebanon was such a good idea. My mind is so busy right now it really shouldn’t be holidaying in a country which requires its full attention. If you look to the left you can trip over barbed wire, if you look to the right you’ll get hit by a car. If you look the other way some man will be trying to touch you leg. Halas! But rather than write about everything that went wrong with today I am just going to pull out the good bits – how Pollyanna of me.

I decided to visit the town of Deir Al-Qamar in the Choud Mountains today for no particular reason. It sounded small and nice – I wanted an excursion but I didn’t really want a purpose e.g. palace, museum, ruin etc It took me a while to find the transport hub for minibuses going south. Lebanon is definitely more trying than Syria when it comes to locating public transport hubs. Probably to do with its instability and the fact that I think a lot more people have cars here than in Syria. Anyway after a few wrong turn I finally made it to the hub where I wandered aimlessly up and down the choking street for at least three quarters of an hour while being sent in all sorts of directions. I finally asked a very crowded bus if it was going my way and the bus driver answered (on behalf of the bus) – yes! So off I went with my fellow passengers for a lovely trip along the shore front before twisting and turning into the mountains.

The mountains were quite beautiful, full of cedar trees. Reminded me of southern Italy. Then suddenly my trip was over and I was told if I walked straight ahead I would find the town. I got off the bus and started walking up the hill. Up and up and up and up. About an hour later a young couple in their fancy little 4-wheeler pulled over and offered me a lift. They were so laid back their seats were almost horizontal and I swear I thought the driver might actually fall asleep. Fortunately his girlfriend was thoughtfully resting her fire-red fingernails on his crotch so he had a 99% chance of staying awake. I like to throw an improbable 1 % in just in case he was a latent gay. Anyway I got to the old town which was both small and lovely, ate some lunch, generally wandered about before making my way back down the hill. The rest of the day is where it got lousy so I’ll just leave it by saying I probably visited the dirtiest loo with the most beautiful view. See picture below which was taken while hovering above the throne.

Now I am home again trying to create a rainbow for my mood.

p.s. If anyone tries to call my mobile don't be surprised if you get an Arabic answer - sigh!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Today I decided to hunt out some old, hairy men who swear and whistle while they play backgammon because I fancied a challenge. No such luck on the backgammon front although I did encounter a few hairy types who would have made my friend V shudder. V says the only hairy man that should ever be allowed in a woman's life is her cat, Alf. She hates the sight of any hair at all although after further interrogation it seems that eyelashes, head hair and eyebrows (if properly controlled) are acceptable. She is one tough lady.

Anyway I started my morning with breakfast on the main balcony. I didn't sleep so well last night - a nightmare in the middle - so I was sort of glad to get up and face life instead. There were a number of Swedish gringos having breakfast too so we oohed and aahed about the delicious bread until Mercy, the very adorable Sri Lankan woman who works here, came to tell us that there was no water in the house but a man was coming now. I was most surprised to see that he actually was. Normally you expect the problem to go on for hours if not days. Mercy also told me on the quiet in her lovely sing song accent: 'I like too much the cricket you know.' I think she felt safe confessing her dirty secret to me because I am Australian and would therefore understand. Which, of course, I pretended I did.

After breakfast I walked down to the Charles Helou Bus Station which involved a few highway crossings and some chaotic footpath negotiations. (I even saw an army officer clutching at his chest as I made the daring run between the mad traffic.) Once at the station I was lucky enough to find a bus leaving in 'only 10 minutes' (ha ha) to beautiful Byblos. I decided to wait the '10 minutes' on a seat by the bus and make friends with the bus driver - Hairy #1. He was actually a very smart looking fellow ( not oily like some of them are) and wore a very crisp, ironed shirt. Of course he had relatives from all over Australia. As a result of our happy little chat I ended up in the BDGS (the Bus Driver’s Girlfriend’s Seat – a phrase that was first coined with some fellow travellers in Syria two summer ago. In a service taxi this means the seat at the front by the driver and in a bigger bus it is the seat directly behind him.) It is usually the most comfortable seat in the whole bus and means that sweets can regularly be passed to you by said driver without him taking his eyes off the road for too long. I was quite happy to be in the BDGS today because it gave me a great view out the front windows to the coastline. At Byblos he pulled over by the side of the autostrada and indicated it was my stop. (Not a full, proper boyfriend - he would take you to the door!! Of course I had no idea where to go after wards so I followed my gut which said go to the sea, Joanna, go to the sea since Byblos had once been a very important trading port and all.

Byblos today is definitely not a trading hub but is is a beautiful old town with medieval ramparts, a lovely harbour, little shops and a crusader castle to boot. It is also very small which makes it easy for the geographically challenged to find their way round. My first stop was at the Church of St John where I met toothless Michele (Hairy #2) A very old man clutching his rosary beads, who wanted his picture taken and a bit of a chat. I went through my Arabic knowledge and a bit of French which seemed to satisfy him and then he released me.

Byblos harbour really was very lovely. It was hot and sunny and the water was so clear I could see all the little fish sunning themselves between the boats. Here I met Hairy # 3 an Italian-Lebanese man called Mario who offered to take me out on his yacht for a cruise and a swim.

Oh I am sorry I don’t have my swimsuit I’m afraid.’

It matters not to me.’

I declined the offer although there was a part of me that thought if I were a man I could have probably taken such an offer and leapt in the sea a la natural. What freedom. Of course if I were a man Mario may not have wanted to take me swimming in the first place.

In the afternoon I visited the crusader castle which still has a nice bit of castle intact and an awful lots of ruins. I love a good crusader castle especially the ones in the Middle East where they let you run about with no regard for safety. I eventually found a date palm to sit under and happily gorged on all its fallen dates just like a real bush tucker woman. I then decided that as it was nearing sunset I would sip a glass of wine down by the port and say goodbye to another day. I chose the least assuming place of all – not ritzy as the others but with a lovely view and two delightful young boys ( not so hairy) from Syria.

Ooh and I also visited the souks where there were some lovely soaps which I inhaled with such gusto I began to sneeze. I met a very excitable Lebanese woman who told me how welcome I was in her country about five times before teetering up the cobbled path in her strappy golden heels. Once the sun was gone I thought I should probably think about heading back to the Beirut whereupon I realized I didn’t really know quite how to do that. I had been dropped off at the motorway but really I wan’t sure where to go to return. Eventually though I hacked my way up to another part of the autostrade where I found some sistas waiting for a service taxi to Beirut. We all hopped on and I stayed until the bitter end since I couldn’t recognise where I was. My driver Hairy #5 eventually took me to the ABC mall because obviously that should be the drop-off point for any lost ladyee in Lebanon.

Now I’m home. Not very hungry but tired which is good.

I find it interesting that when I am travelling on my own I have this faith, this unwavering faith,that I will always find my way home. There will always be a way even if I don’t know how it will come about. This, I find, is a very beautiful thing.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Retail therapy

New day, new home.

Today I moved to a lovely boutique guest house in Achrafieh one of the trendier areas of Beirut. Fortunately I have packed both socks and sandals (no room for slanket) so I should fit right in. The guesthouse is part of a beautiful old building with cute balconies and brown shuttered windows. Of course closer inspection suggests that the potential for home-related accidents is reasonably high but they have done such a lovely job of the rooms one is able to forgive the odd rogue electrical wire. I have the south room which has its own little balcony overlooking the square where I can observe my neighbours (or perhaps they can observe me.) When I look to the right there is a pretty French colonial style building; when I look to the left there is a modern apartment block; when I look to the middle there is a dilapidated old building that seems undecided as to whether it should stay up or come down.

The lady who greeted me here, it turns out, was actually born in Basel. She is not yet ready to return to Switzerland and has vowed she cannot live in Basel again. It’s not that she hates the town ( well actually she was a little bit vitriolic I thought) but it isn’t the place for her. She said if she had known I was coming from Basel she would have got me to bring her teddy bears over ( not because I look like a toy-smuggler but because she is expecting her first child.) I would have brought them too.Not all bears get to live such exotic lives.

After settling in I spent my time in downtown Beirut again discovering it a little more. There is a central area with restaurants and a very pleasing shoe shop ( everything in it dazzles and glitters and beckons my feet.) Every entrance to this area is guarded by young men in uniform. and the whole place feels quite sterile. No real heart. Beirut is not Damascus this is for sure. Damascus is medieval. Beirut is modern and yet scarred. They cannot be compared. The scars are what make this city as much as the old buildings. And it would be narrow of me not to appreciate this place just because there is ugliness. War is ugly but the city is not. It has such a rich fragrance: nargileh, spices, sea air, flowers.

In the afternoon I discovered the ABC shopping mall where all my Lebanese sistas like to hang! What a great mall it was too.Beautiful, sparkly and full of green trees. Armoured to the teeth of course but once you get over the guns it’s like shopping with your own personal body guard. As I wandered its floors I started adding up exactly how many dollars I have spare to spend. None came up a number of times but I am thinking of ignoring this calculation ( Math was never my strong point) and pretend I am married to a sheik at least for this week. Perhaps if I buy enough glitter I will glitter too. The guards at the shopping mall are very serious men who all look a little bit like Mussolini. I wonder if their seriousness is terrorist-based or credit-card spending based. They are very attentive too – they notice every single Lebanese bottom that wiggles past. Am sure they would be equally attentive of any terrorists that may wiggle past as well.

I had a lovely cappuccino in the mall before buying a bottle of Lebanese red wine to try on my balcony. I have actually spent the last hour struggling to open the bottle and found the latticed balcony very useful for resistance. Luckily it didn’t collapse under my great strength. ( It is official I have no upper body strength whatsoever.) Now I am sitting on my balcony listening to the cacophony of horns that make up the town's pulse. In the day all you hear is endless construction but at night it changes to engines and horns and Lebanese pop.

I think tomorrow I will go to Byblos. I need to get out of the town - to stop wandering and thinking. I need to see the real Lebanon. Let something touch me. I feel very disconnected right now.

Here is a picture of me on my balcony typing to you :-)

Align Centre

Monday, 1 November 2010

Akhmed ate my passport

Warning!! I seem to be having major font issues today so read at your own peril

So yesterday
I wrote that I had screwed my traveller’s head tightly on – not tightly enough it seems. First, I tried to board the wrong flight to Beirut and nearly missed my own. Then, as I sat on the plane halfway to Lebanon filling out my entry form, I rather calmly (I might add) discovered I seemed to have misplaced my passport. It wasn’t in Ahkmed (my Tunisian satchel bag), it wasn’t on the floor, it wasn’t under my neighbour’s bottom ( which was checked with permission.) It seemed to have disappeared entirely.

My neighbour, a very lovely chap from Portugal, who works for the UN in
Kosovo but was on a conference trip to Beirut to discuss sexual harassment (we got to know each other quite well during the find-the-passport dance) also started searching. He was very complimentary of my calmness although did note I seemed less enthused by my flight snack than most other people. I even forewent a mini bottle of Yakut red wine ( which I would have loved to have drunk more than anything in this world) so as to focus fully on the passport puzzle.

Anyway I still felt convinced I had been carrying my passport when I boarded the plane (which UN man and I more-or-less confirmed through a series of telepathic re-enactments) so we decided that it must have got caught up in the limbs of some of the other passengers as they had shoved past me to their seats. Of course I wanted to frisk everyone there and then (UN man even had police training so he would have been able to use appropriate handling techniques) but in the end I decided to inform the flight crew instead. UN man agreed it was a good idea but said it would probably alarm them because
a number of airlines are having problems with asylum seekers right now.(Apparently they like to dispose of their passports down the toilet during the flight - the asylum seekers that is not the airlines.)

I asked him if I looked a likely asylum seeker and he shook his head. I did ponder it for a minute though. I had heard the food was good in L
ebanon and the thought of Basel depresses me at the moment. Anyway I told a steward who tore up all the seats in my row much to the alarm of all the other passengers ( and looked as if he might like to tear me a new one too.). The fact that I was smiling in a sorry ‘only me’ kind of way hopefully allayed any fears of a bomb!

Finally the passport was indeed found.
Akhmed was the culprit. He had craftily swallowed it through a long, narrow tear in his skin so the passport had assumed the role of bag not identification document. Even UN man was impressed at how it had managed to disappear without a trace and begged me to find a leather man in the morning to glue the tear back up. In the end I arrived in Beirut safely and was deposited with my taxi driver by UN man before he left to the save the world one more Resolution at a time. Of course I lost the taxi man within a minute - not my fault - the guy just disappeared and then reappeared ten minutes later without telling me why. His name was Claude and we had an animated ride into downtown Beirut.
'So what your job?'
'I'm a teacher.'
''English teacher...hello, how are you...'
'Oh yes yes ..ABCDEF...123. I know I know.'
Eyes narrow.
'So you strap the students when they are wrong!?'
I honestly couldn't tell if he was alarmed or excited by the idea.


Today I spent most of my time walking the streets. I believe I may have walked the entire length of Lebanon. Don't ask me where I went as I am a geographical embarrassment. But I have attached a few pictures as evidence of the fact that I am not just lying in my bed much as I would love to.

The first one is of downtown Beirut which really is a work in progress. There is a lot of reconstruction work going on there but every so often you see a lovely old building or the sad remains of one.

I also walked along the Corniche where I saw some men fishing in the the natural pools. You can swim in these too although probably best to avoid the hooks.

I also visited Pigeon Rock which is a famous Beirut landmark. Not sure why it is called Pigeon rock but it's nice for pigeons to get a rock. Normally they just get abuse. I had a picture of myself taken here but I look like I have been punched in both eyes - which is kinda how I feel. It seems the camera never lies. I shall save that picture for next Halloween.

Now I am back in my hotel lying in my lovely bed. It is quite early here but I think I am done with this day. Sometimes I make a good companion for myself but today I feel as if I have had enough.