Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tom's cedar reserve hike

Last Sunday Tom went on a hike to one of the cedar reserves.

Here is a shot with some cedar cones--they stick straight up from the branches.

And a 2,000 year old tree!!! (Tom says Jesus carved his initials in)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Massaya trip, and local lovely things

Last Sunday friends had organized another trip to
the lovely Massaya Vineyard in the Bekaa Valley, so of course we had to go. They serve a fabulous meal, with lots of wine. Here is K with Adele, a fellow Boggle champ. And T with colleague Paul, getting ready to play poker. T won!

With a major election coming up, billboards and signs for varous blocs and candidates have sprung up. One of the more striking billboards is a beautiful woman (thankfully just the face) saying "soit belle, vote" = Be beautiful, vote". On the way back from the Bekaa we spotted it--sorry it may be too small for you to see in the photo. And then there is the same lady, in orange lipstick, saying"Je Vote Orange" (the opposition). I remember a visiting British teacher at Brumanna School telling me of her dismay last Easter when a 6 year old student refused to pick up an orange colored agg during an egg hunt, because "I don't take orange ones." Sigh.
And later in the week I had a coffee with my two good friends here, one a Kenyan American and the other Palestinian American. K is very sad that Sandra is leaving in a few weeks.
Fava beans are everywhere. 50 cents a kilo. They're huge.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Akkar wildflower hike

One of the best hikes yet; outstanding for the remoteness and nonstop lovely scenery, lush and green, packed with blooming wildflowers. We hiked (slowly) for 5 hours and didn't see a house or cultivated field or even a flock of sheep or goats.
We were just one hill from the Syrian border, in the far north of Lebanon and quite a ways inland. A far drive from Beirut at almost three hours (counting the obligatory stop for made-to-order baked snacks). The hike was billed as a wildflower hike, and we had with us the authors of the Wildflower Guide of Lebanon, a very nice married couple of professors who had been cataloguing flowers for several years. Their two kids were very patient hikers. Here is the lady, Nisrine Machaka Houri, at left, using a GPS to catalog a find, and her husband, Dr. Ahmad Houri, below, taking a photo of a plant.
Below, you can see them on the flower-filled trail.
They told us that there are something like 2600 species of flowers in Lebanon. Their two guidebooks (we bought one and they signed it for us) list something like 400 of them. She is doing her doctorate on orchids and was delighted to find a new one on this hike.
More pix of flowers, T with the only livestock we saw on the way (some guys were cutting up a dead tree in the forest), and K with teacher Sharon and trip leader Sabina.

Leaving the area, which was around 1300 m (4000 feet), we decended along hairpin turns (I think I have seen a guardrail in Lebanon, once) toward the coast, we pass fields of rich brown earth, and pass through simple, poor-looking towns, the sea gleaming in the distance. At the coast we turn south. Down the highway nearing Beirut we pass the Casino du Liban, which we recently read wused to be The hot spot in world entertainment--acts would open here to great fanfare, play a few weeks, and then head to Vegas!

Monday, May 11, 2009

High society

So in Tacoma K makes the newspaper for rabid letters to the editor. In Beirut, it is for going to the ball....

It was the St. George's Ball, a charity event organized by a friend. They really should have taken T's photo instead. He doesn't have fat arms and he was dapper in a black shirt and thin white tie with rhinestones. [We did our best to look 80s , especially as we don't own black tie apparel, but honestly the 80s just kind of went by and we had no real clue.]

We had a fine time dancing the night away, and then it was raffle time and--WOWEE--we won the grand prize--two round trip tickets to London. I felt guilty--a room full of lots of Brits and we win London. Ah, well. We will fit it into our happily full travel schedule (summer in USA and Palestine, Christmas maybe in Philippines with the boys), probably next year's Spring Break.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

This week in Beirut

  • Standing at the main gate of AUB (American University of Beirut) on a Sunday morning, waiting for a (rare) ride up to Meeting. A soldier in fatigues hails a shared taxi, it stops and he climbs in, holding a cigarette in one hand and his automatic rifle in the other. He says “Good morning” to the occupants.

  • A visiting Quaker teacher from the UK, currently working at a Lebanese school that has Quaker roots, had ordered some posters that say in large letters: Shalom (in Hebrew), Peace (in Arabic), and Peace (English). In small letters at the bottom is Quaker Action or something like that. The Clerk of the Meeting sees the posters and is shocked--“How did you get those into the country?” he asks. “They came through the mail.” “It is not a good idea to post them at the school,” he says. Our turn to be shocked. “If you cut off the “shalom’, maybe”. Serious shock. Isn’t the promotion of peace something we can all support? I have a bright idea: let’s take them down to Beirut and post them on a street corner. “Then you have to cut off the ‘Quaker’ at the bottom”. Triple shock. Peacemaker communication stifled from an unexpected direction.

  • I learned at the tailor that “Tric-trac” is French for Velcro. Fun when words sounds like what they mean.

  • Street realities:
    Thick metal posts set in concrete in the sidewalk, so people won’t walk (or drive??) on them;
    On a main street, along the curb, electric (?) wire drooping down to chin height from above. Would you see it in the dark??;
    Just as you round a corner, a board with nails sticking up blocking the sidewalk, outside a temporary work site

  • A sign: “We sell all kinds of pure dogs”

Susan visits

The first brave friend to make the trek to the Middle East. We toured the south, Saida (Sidon in English), its souk, soap museum, and famed falafel stand, and went on to Sur (Tyre), its Roman hippodrome and Byzantine ruins, and the beach. Great mezze meal--her first, complete with nargileh. A hair raising minibus ride back to Beirut tested our mettle.

Photos: Susan and the Mediterranean and at a ruins sites, both in Sur. And with the argileh.

And here are three murals we saw outside a school in Sur. One shows a Lebanese soldier stepping on an Israeli who is trying to set fire to Lebanon. Curiously, the Israeli has light colored hair. Another is a Lebanese (or Palestinian?) on the wrong side of a barbed wire fence, looking in at an Israeli cultivating a rich field, presumably planted by man #1. The third has a man with some kind of beast pulling a plow. The animal is about to step on a land mine.

And a sign on a vehicle used by mine clearance workers.

Back in Beirut in one grateful piece (each, that is), we walk to the rebuilt downtown area via more Roman ruins, and enjoy mezze number two.

Saturday morning we picked up a rental car and headed over the mountains to the Bekaa Valley and the astounding ruins at Baalbek. The pass we crossed still had a lot of snow and was down to one lane at the top)! T did a great job of driving.

Driving into the town of Baalbek I finally get a photo of the Israeli tank caputred by Hezbollah, which now sports a huge cutout of a political candidate.

Baalbek! Our 5th or 6th trip, and the first time we have seen any tourists. A good sign for Lebanon.

To the left are Susan, Tom and Cleopatra... She (Cleo) used to be on the ceiling outside the Bacchus temple (above) but fell down one century or tother.

We spent the night in Zahle, a Christian town about half an hour from Baalbek, on the Birdawni River. Mezze number three (see photo).

Next day, we head back over the mountains via a cedar reserve. Not a lot of cedars (but some that are 2000 years old) the forests having been cut by Phoenicians to build boats and send the lumber to Egypt(cedar oil was used in mummification) and beyond, the Romans and the Ottomans, who dramatically reduced their numbers. Now they are confined to a handful of reserves. Photos show an area planted in baby cedars, S and K under a cedar, and another old tree. It is sad how few are left; we had to go quite a ways into the reserve to find any cedars.

Susan says Beirut traffic is like a dance. Yes--a modern dance of weaving and blending wordlessly (well, usually), first appearing to be chaos but then an underlying form, somehow in sync (ditto) and with the occasional dramatic interruption.