As the weather turns toward the worst, and gray days become a common thread, I cannot help but linger on the past, warm and fresh. In the 1940s, France withdrew from Lebanon. To this day, it is in a somersault between old and new world reinventing and revamping its character. Walking down the streets, signs still read in French and Arabic (or Arabic and English). Fruit stands on every corner press fresh juice to order, and pistachio pastries laced with honey waft towards the nose. Out of the city, vineyards can be found on hillsides that neighbor crosses mounted high on a village church. It is a country that still understands hospitality, where no meeting between friends is able to last under two hours, and where you will always be offered a bottomless cup of fresh Arabic coffee, laden with cardamom.
Between 1975-1991, civil war tore through Beirut and its surrounds. From above, the city's white stone buildings are iridescent in the sun and the mountains roll away reflecting the cerulean Mediterranean. Salt is ripe in the air and mingles with trees as lizards dash through legs of a traveler to the safety of a forgotten bullet hole in a nearby structure. Roam the streets and notice wires crisscross overhead in a forgotten and haphazard desperation of gaining electricity during the war - still in-use. Or suddenly come upon a blocked-off road, where the ground is yet to be re-stabilized. Inside bombed-out-building-carcasses, families create wall-less homes on top floors that overlook city lights. The new hottest club is constructed beneath sacred ground, and luxury high-rise buildings blossom around Roman and Phoenician ruins; barely visible and utter surprises to stumble upon amongst the ever –present cleansing and rebuilding. This is the crazy struggle between tradition and modernity.
The Muslim call for prayer rings out. It is a subtle undulation that flows off the salt air notifying the beach bums to rotate their tanning. Women walk the streets fully veiled or deeply bronzed in mini-skirts flaunting the latest fashions. Saudi oil heirs on vacation take to the corniche with their wives to find groups of men smoking nargeela, (Lebanese sheesha or flavored tobacco) lounging in home-brought plastic chairs while others fish in the sea where boys swim. Along this walk, the smell of cardamom is thick with Arabic coffee vendors hocking their product amidst others that grill and sell corn.