One thing I’ve learned from Beirut this past week is that trying to summarize all a visitor’s feelings, reactions and thoughts in one post would be dumb, so here I go.
I have never been in a place that felt so foreign and so familiar at the same time. Middle Eastern but so European, Arab but strongly French, Christian and Muslim in equal parts. Everything confuses me but also seems explainable with a little digging.
The amazing things… the food (outstanding, not a bad meal anywhere), the coffee (amazing 3rd wave high end), the art, the softness of the people, the endless style, the nightlife (best ever anywhere)… the maintaining of eye contact (man or woman) and the desire to be playful with the result of that sustained eye contact.
Seeing the way men pay attention to a woman, to Samira, very hard to explain but so natural, easy, appreciative (there is a flip-side to this as well, an occasionally startling difference in how Samira is treated versus how I am treated, in a bar, restaurant, coffee shop…. if a male employee is talking to an attractive female customer there is no point in even waiting around if you are a male customer, you do not exist)
The frustrations… the traffic (because of corruption), the lack of pubic transit (because of corruption), the painfully slow and spotty internet (because of corruption), the rolling power blackouts (because of corruption)… in ALL of these cases there is the means and the money to easily fix the issues but keeping them mostly broken is more profitable for those in power and there seems to be almost no interest in the public good.
Of the frustrations that are easily experienced by a tourist the only one that really impacts a visit is the traffic, the rest is easy enough to ignore, deal with, or find charming, locals definately seem to find a certain charm in the city’s deficiencies, a power cut in a hoping bar at night will invariably be met with cheers and laughs or varying levels of silliness and cynicism.