Sunday, November 21, 2010

a beirut evening

Beirut is a fascinating and fun city. I'm not going to purport to know nearly as much about it as I should considering I just dedicated five days roving around in it. But I can share a few observations.

Decades of civil war left the city holed and ruined, and parts, such as downtown, were completely rebuilt to look like they did before the war. All neighborhoods are full of barricades, tanks, and soldiers. Despite the grim past and its present reminders, the city feels vibrant and spirited, and its inhabitants party hard and late in a variety of bars, clubs and cafes that make it easy to understand why its known as the Paris of the Middle East. It feels even Frenchier because French is just as much the second western language in this area as English, and there are a lot of linguistic bits of French in Lebanese Arabic.

Yesterday, Eman and I stepped out in the afternoon and (after a couple apparel store detours) enjoyed a late lunch in a Hamra Cafe near American University of Beirut whose vibe was reminiscent of the Hungarian Pastry Shoppe, down to the fact that Cafe Younes' staff leaves patrons to suss out the chosen ordering method for themselves. After a long stroll around Hamra in search of a gift for Eman's fiance (she found one, but no spoilers here!), we settled into another cafe, Buttermint, which was playing Feist and had an outdoor patio garden that made the crazy streets, just yards away, feel distant.

Finally, we decided to return to the bar in the Gemayze neighborhood, Godot, where we'd had a blast the prior night; cue overkill of 'going to find Godot' punnery. We set out on the 20 minute walk and hadn't gone far when Eman tripped on a bit of metal popping from the sidewalk and got a nasty cut on her toe that was basically a more intense twin of the toe wound I got in the Dead Sea. Now with twin bandages, we drank mojitos at the bar--the Middle East uses fresh mint better than anywhere else--and sang along to the bar's American soundtrack.

Leaving at a barely respectable 11:30, mostly because I couldn't stand the cigarette smoke that floats thick in the air of Lebanese nightlife, we hopped into the nearest cab and found ourself being driven by a drunken cabbie. Half thinking we wouldn't survive the ride and half enjoying his seat dancing, poem reciting, radio station surfing spirit, we endured what turned out to be the most bizarrely entertaining moments of the evening, which ended with a gallant kiss on Eman's hand and a hug for me, because 'anything from the land of Obama is OK with me.'

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