03 August 2010 - Beirut, Lebanon
I walked along the Corniche at sunrise this morning and was groggily contemplating the color of the sky when [bxA] I was reminded of the zillion cats in pursuit of scraps all over this city.
I made my way down past the St. Georges Yacht Club…
…and discovered a massive ad campaign on a long wall of billboards erected to conceal construction of a new marina. Giant photos of the sophisticated “Paris of the Middle East” version of Beirut back in the day are splattered between huge slogans like “Beirut is back on the map” and “revival of a landmark.”
Back on the Corniche I stopped to gaze up at the skyscrapers, many still under construction. An older man saw my wonderment and said something to me in French. I told him I speak English and he said, “Oh oh, English. Are you American?”
Down the Corniche a bit, Samer bought two bags of fruit from three men who’d set up crates on a stone bench. He held one of the bags open toward me. “Do you have these in America?”
“I’m not sure,” I took one of the little brownish balls that reminded me of a nameless fruit I’d eaten for the first time in Phuket a few days ago.
“They’re figs.” He divided one open and showed it to me.
“Oh, figs,” I wondered why I don’t know what a fig looks like. I bit into one. “They’re delicious.”
“They’re very good for you,” he tore into another one.
I grabbed another from the bag and started to open it, but he gave me a puzzled look.
“I opened this one for you,” he explained.
“Oh,” I put mine back and accepted his.
“Yes, you see this one has softer skin. It will be sweeter.”
We walked and talked and ate figs together. He told me his daughter teaches in the literature department at AUB (American University of Beirut) and his son works in Abu Dhabi. When I wondered which street would get me back to Hamra, he offered, “My car is just around the corner. If you like I can take you there.” I said I preferred to walk. We hoped to see each other again then went our separate ways.
This is how it goes in Beirut. The sky is blue, the fruit is sweet, the people are warm and generous. They offer food, rides, conversation – anything to ensure you enjoy their country. And then they are off. Even if you exchange phone numbers and make tentative plans, there is a good chance you’ll never see them again.
I love it here.