Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Spring in Beirut

We went to a concert in an old church, Eglise de Saint Joseph, having been invited by the talented and lovely young lady (makes me feel old to use that term, but what else?) who leads hiking trips each weekend for an ecotourism NGO. I asked how old the church was. "Oh its not old," she said. "The French built it when they were trying to make everyone French. After the Ottomans." Old being relative.

The concert was the Lebanon National Symphony Orchestra playing a Bach double piano concerto (2 baby grands--how had they survived the various conflicts??) and two other peices. Very nice. One featured a clarinet soloist from Hungary and a Romanian bassoonist. Both were into it, swaying with the music and sharing a smile from time to time. There is a free concert here almost every Friday night! Rich donors.

Spring seemd to burst out in about one day. Suddenly the jasmine, roses, bougainvillea, hibiscus and more were in full bloom. In the countrside it was apple, almond, apricot, walnt and cherry trees. Mind you we don't see plants on every block like you might in other cities. Somehow, in the otherwise sterile, grey, walled, and prison-like UNRWA compound there are a dozen or more rose bushes, and even a flowering tree.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Two hikes and two ancient wonders

Last weekend: A hike along a river near Batroun, with a group from ACS (Tom’s school). As we approached the area the group leader said, “This part of the river there are mines.” Gold?, and salt? run through my mind.—no, dummy—land mines. “But where we are going is safer,” he says. “SafER?,” I ask. “Safe,” he says.

It was a lovely stroll along the river banks, perfect short-sleeve weather, with lots of wildflowers. The group was ready for picnic time; one young lady had carried a nargileh (water pipe) in her backpack, another a thermos of Turkish coffee. And lots of potato chips and chocolate.

We walked over a bridge that had been there "since before there was money." It was, long ago, the only link between the coast/Bekaa Valley and Syria--part of the Silk Road! Here is T at the bridge
Coming back down into Beirut, you could see the air hanging over the city, yellowish and thick. Ick!

A billboard: Lusty Laundry
A restaurant: Flobby Diner
KFC (yes, KFC) Sign: “Drive thru kids area”
A store up in the mountains: Mini market Jesus
Things you’d never see in America department: children on adult’s lap in front seat of a school minibus; also, the stairwell at the four storey UNRWA office building, smelling faintly of smoke, from something one of the cleaning staff had cooked on a hot plate in a closet, in the stairwell.

Saturday we went to Baalbek for the second time, and to Anjaar, ancient Ummayad city. Baalbek knocked us out again; it's Temple of Jupiter is the largest Roman temple in the world. And it's Bacchus Temple the best preserved. Just jaw-dropping, the whole place.

Someone remarked how different it would be if in Italy or Greece—tidy, no chunks of fallen columns or statues lying about the grounds. Certainly nothing ancient you could touch or sit on like you can here.

Anjaar—forgot the camera, sorry!—only one reconstructed wall standing, but a large, walled Umayyad City from 700 AD.

Sunday, hiking in one of the cedar preserves in the mountains. Incredible scenery—the most beautiful in the country, and some of the most breath-taking we’ve seen anywhere. But not a lot of cedars. Emperor Hadrian’s emissary in the area carved words into the rocks in several places, laying down the law about not cutting down certain species of trees. Even back then (1200 years ago!!) they could see that the forest needed protecting.

After the hike, we stopped at a 1,000 year old church (below).

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

10 – 10 – 10

10 lbs lighter, 10 years younger* and 10” shorter: Got a haircut!
I emerged poofed and blow dried, the new me. So far, rave reviews, but I’m waiting to see what happens when I wash and fail to blow dry it on my own...

The salon was a trip. Bless T’s heart for coming with me and persevering through three Self magazines while he waited. Now that is true love. The stylists wore tight headscarves that hide and mash down their hair, but seem to be masters at their art. Of course I was dying to know how their hair looked. The place was on the second floor of a building through a dingy entrance, but had come well-recommended. They presented me with a braid of my cut locks at the end.

Here it is, post wash-----

*well, at least according to the stylist
Other, assorted:

One more birthday gift! The two sweet 80-something year old ladies at Meeting conspired to make me a cake, with a candle. They even sang. So nice!

I think half the car tires in this land need air—lots of squealing around corners, even at low speeds.

Found myself in a meeting at work with 16 people, and realized only two of us had English mother tongues (the other was a Brit), yet the meeting was in English. We are so privileged (and, at least I, so ignorant).

Now the blog “dashboard’ is coming up in Italian—I love it! Lots easier to figure out than the German or the Greek before that… So even the internet doesn't know where Beirut is.