Taking the scenic route
not crossing into the air space of Israel or Syria;
a metropolis appears
hugging the Mediterranean coast
as far as the eye can see.
Beirut, Beyrouth, بيروت
Greetings and many kisses
on the cheeks,
hugs with “ya habibi”,
smiles and face pinching.
Right into the mix of it all,
traffic that beats to the sound
of its own drum.
Lines are a suggestion,
parking spots can be anywhere,
high speeds: standard,
cell phones with no hands on the wheel,
putting on make-up,
as we wind up the hills
and sharp corners.
Beautiful lemon trees,
fresh fava beans, plums,
unripe almonds with
a sour jelly centre.
Fresh mana’ish from the baker
jibneh, za’atar, labneh,
Olive oil on everything,
fresh mint, cucumbers, tomatoes,
we enjoy under an old olive tree.
Hospitality is a given
with people stopping by throughout the day,
always strong coffee
and some sort of food will be offered.
And the day passes.
Some differences in the way people use water,
electricity and the bathrooms;
I grin and adapt as I always do.
stands still in the setting sun
as we sip and munch,
appreciating all the architecture
new and old,
from after the war and before.
I keep hearing “The Paris of the Middle East”;
an older generation reminisces.
A concoction of cultures,
almost every historic civilization
has left some influence in this country,
Lebanon, Liban, الجمهورية اللبنانية
Parts of the city are Christian,
some more Muslim,
some are mostly Armenian,
or makeshift settlements
and all the domestic workers
and street children.
The air is singing
with Arabic, English and French,
Call to Prayer from the Mosques.
and drinking Almaza
bronzing all over.
Fresh grilled fish
grilled meats with garlic sauce, tum,
creamy hummus, smoky baba ghanouj,
acerbic fattoush, tabbouleh,
acid is appreciated,
liver with allspice
or pomegranate molasses.
Wild thyme freshly picked,
baby okra stewed with tomatoes,
and khobz, pita bread.
means many speciality desserts
like maamoul, semolina cookies
stuffed with nuts, dates
and flower waters.
moghrabieh: couscous with shallots,
chicken and cinnamon,
various iterations of kibbeh,
with warak enab: lemony stuffed grape leaves.
Znoud el sit: fried pastries filled with fresh cheese,
soaked in syrup and candied rose petals.
Ice creams fortified with mastic,
and karabij with natef, a soapwort marshmallow of sorts,
ghazl el banet, pulled cotton candy with pistachios.
I sit there in many living rooms while people catch up,
gossip, talk politics, improvise with musical instruments,
and tell jokes.
I put pieces together with the few Arabic words I learned,
my fragmented French
and the occasional English word.
I am constantly being fed
hands coming from every direction
holding a pita cone filled with some dip
or tasty morsel
and I feel so happy
that this culture, this family,
has embraced me.
What a beautiful experience
in a place with so much history
and so many worlds colliding.
This city feels very alive
and the more you look
I listen to the cats outside
and watch the little tortoise in the yard
munch on a tomato;
Ghandoura eats her banadoura.