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 :-)