Hello all! I am currently blogging from Lebanon. Or, to be more precise, from my hotel balcony where I have a gorgeous view on the Mediterranean sea. I have been since late July, as some of you have noticed from the photos and updates on Instagram. I am overjoyed to be here on vacation and surrounded with loved ones, vibrant activity, epic nightlife, paradisiac beaches, and, almost wherever you are, a guaranteed view of the endless sea.
I said a while ago that I wanted this blog to take a new direction, and the piece below is a first step, and the first part of a weekly column-style post that touches deeper, more personal subjects.
For real-time updates (and, currently, SPOILER ALERT, photos of gorgeous beaches, delicious food, and places with historical importance, and snippets of how life is lived here), please follow me on Instagram.
Paris CDG Airport, July 25th, 8:18 AM
My flight takes off at 9. I must be completely out of my mind doing this and going back to this country.
Café Hamra, Beyrouth, August 1st, 4:43 PM
The scene is an eclectic mix, words I could use to define the very essence of this country. Women in hijab sit side-by-side to others in sundresses, mini-skirts and tube tops. The sweet and spicy smell of narguilé smoke mixes with that of the various cuisines, from Mediterranean to American, that this establishment serves. One hears tidbits of conversations in French, English, Arabic, sometimes all in one single sentence, on top of the noise of clanking dishes, pop music on the radio, and, from the street, incessant car horns.
A long absence, which I thought would last indefinitely, transformed my way of thinking, my values and my perception of things. Things that I took for granted in that distant, almost surreal past, now fill me with constant wonder. Waking up and having coffee on the balcony, with a priceless view on the Mediterranean Sea. The fruits and vegetables bursting with actual taste, to the point that you ask your waiter three times if the orange juice he served you contains nothing but freshly pressed oranges (which it does). Getting a perfect blow-dry and French manicure at a hair salon for five times less than it would cost in the States. Finding, in a tiny shop on a street corner, a pure cotton hand-embroidered abaya that looks like it has been taken right from the Jean-Paul Gauthier runway. Seeing Bryn Terfel in concert on the ruins of a Roman amphitheater where, with a dash of imagination, you can still hear men in shining armour fight valiantly against roaring beasts.
Forgotten places and logos flood my mind as I watch from the car window, marveled. The Forum de Beyrouth, a beloved atrocity of modern architecture where, as a child, I was always taken to for shows, games, and fun exhibits for little ones. The CIT, a battered tower the logo of which always fascinated me as a kid because it looked like a birthday cake with one candle on it. Bachir, glaces libanaises. The striped red and white towers of the electricity factory. Hawa Chicken's tetrasomething-shaped sign*, now covered in dust no longer revolving around itself. The Electricité du Liban building. Majida Roumi's equivalent of a break-up song, which I had forgotten about but I realize could, last year, have helped as much as all the wine, Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Almond spread, and Xanax that got me through the end of a disastrous relationship.
The "Keep Calm And..." trend has invaded the country along with edamame and the iPhone-Samsung Wars. Predictable and unexpected at the same time. Apple logos appear on signs at small electronic shops. Random flags of countries bring back to mind that the Word Cup was a mere few weeks ago, and I laughingly remember how the Lebanese partisanship becomes very much like patriotism. And, in spite of not caring for football (as I much prefer the opera), I wonder if one day Lebanon will qualify to play at the World Cup.
At a time where death and devastation have taken over neighboring regions, Lebanon parties. Lebanon entertains. Lebanon celebrates. Lebanon lives as if each day was the last. And thinking of it, I realize that in the last eight years, in spite of cutting all links I had with this culture, of swearing to myself I would never return here, of denying my relation to this country, I realize that even though I am essentially a foreign visitor (who was born here twenty-two years ago), with my whole life, professional and personal in DC, and the country where my heart is is France, the part of me that is Lebanese is my reckless approach to savouring every moment of life to the fullest because there is no way to know if it is the last.
*Note: I do not condone the assassination of cats (or any other living creatures) for entertainment purposes.
**In spite of a recent spike in my ever-low affinity for math thanks to a certain person in my life who makes them very - ahem - appealing (hihihi) , I do not know what exactly the geographical shape of that sign is. Guess I may need some tutoring!