Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Apartment photos

Here are photos of the new apartment.

First, Tom in the living/dining room, balcony behind him.

Then sunset from the balcony. That's the Sea beyond the high rise with the crane on top.

Besides the sunset, our view to the left includes an Ottoman era house with red tiled roof. To the front there is an open area with a good sized garden and big tree in the foreground, then a couple of high rise buildings, and then the Sea. To the far right, the hulk of the bullet-marked Holiday Inn.

Here is a shot of the towering pile of cardboard, plastic and styrofoam on the landing, a result of the all the new appliances and furniture. MAJOR GUILT.

And here is Tom outside, on the steps leading down to the building from the street above

And the kitchen--before appliances

Balcony life!
Feel the breeze off the Mediterranean??

Monday, June 8, 2009


A peaceful election day, with many surprised by the victory of the ruling parties. They won 68 seats to 57 for the opposition, with 3 independents. Here is some interesting feedback from a Lebanese political blog (

"The blogosphere is already buzzing with interpretations of M14’s electoral victory. Abu Muqawama (Andrew Exum) attributes it to a combination of Christian animosity towards Hizbullah for its takeover of West Beirut last year; Saudi money; and a few well-placed words by the Maronite patriarch a couple of days before the election. Robert Satloff, writing at MESH, says that Joe Biden was the real hero, sweeping into Beirut to remind voters of the consequences for Lebanon’s alliance with the U.S. if Hizbullah and its allies won, with the result that Christian voters “cast their ballots in droves for candidates opposed to the Hezbollah-backed alliance.”
Foreign Policy’s Blake Hounshell disagrees, saying:

'I hate to burst the bubble, but there’s simply no evidence yet that Obama had any impact on the outcome. As Paul Salem explained Friday for FP, there were plenty of indications – such as the fact that it only ran 11 candidates — that Hezbollah didn’t really want to win and give up its cozy seat in the opposition. And further, it was Hezbollah’s coalition partner, the mostly Christian Free Patriotic Movement, that seems to have underperformed expectations.'

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Election Sunday

It is Sunday. We hear church bells and the call to prayer. I like the call to prayer from the Shiite mosque near our new apartment. it is more melodic, softer somehow, and reminds me of Gregorian chant.

We were advised not to travel today and there is no hike. Instead we walk (40 minutes!) to St. Joseph Catholic Church, where K has heard there is a service tailored to migrant domestic workers. Indeed, we arrive to find 100 - 200 mostly Filipino women waiting for the priest to begin the service. He is at the back of the church, counseling individuals one by one. He does much for this community, Father McDermott. The mass has a lot of standing, sitting, kneeling (Tom irreverently whispers "stand up, sit down, fight fight fight"), incense waving, the occasional bell, blessing of the pope and invoking innumerable saints, and lots of crossing onesself. It is all in English. the priest is a white haired American, and another priest (?) arrives in time to help officiate the communion--he looks to be nearly 80. The offering plates fill with 1,000 lira notes--the smallest available, worth 67 cents. These are hard working women who earn maybe $300 a month and have to pay back their travel and work permit fees.

On the way to the church we happened to pass by one of the polling places--a school. The army is deployed at every polling place in the country. So far (5 pm) there have only been a few "minor scuffles". Not far from the polling place we pass is a group of yellow T-shirt clad Hezbollah supporters near a group of blue T-shirt wearing Hariri (government) supporters in front of the Hariri-owned Future TV station.

There are 2,500 journalists here covering the election!
One very important point that is not well known outside the country is that Hezbollah only has 11 seats out of the 128 , and won't have any more whatever the election result. While often referred to as "the Hezbollah-led coalition" they "lead" it by virtue of their military might. Their army, which rivals--is stronger than, actually--the national Lebanese Army.

Must share a sign on an establishment we passed on the way home from the church: "Drink and Sing, Karaoke Pub"

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Our pre-election move

We moved this week, to a brand new building. The refrigerator, stove, washer and dryer were still in boxes in the kitchen. A mountain of cardboard and styroam subsequently began to grow on every landing of the 10 floor building; on ours, the seventh, with two apartments, the pile reached 8 feet high and nearly as wide. So very, very sad to think it is all destined for the landfill on the southern coast. We have heard that huge chunks sometimes fall off and into the sea.

The brand new building has a generator, but it isn't working because apparently the exhaust blasts into the building close behind ours. One wonders if the fact that our building completely obliterates the other's Mediterranean view has any bearing on the outrage voiced by its occupants. And I'm curious how they will correct the problem...and how long it will take. The power in Beirut is generally only out for three hours a day, on a usually predictable schedule (three hours earlier each day). But with elections coming, there are more frequent outages, and at unpredictable times. This is to save electricity so that it can be run all day on election day Sunday. Go figure.

About the election: I read that 19,000 overseas Lebanese had arrived in a 48 hour period. We hear incoming planes every few minutes. They have to be here to vote--in fact they have to go to their home village to vote, so there will be a lot of coming and going. Jimmy Carter arrived this week, along with 44 members of the US-based National Democracy Institute and a delegation of 35 Arab election monitors representing 17 countries. Local monitors have found 4,000 - 10,000 forged identity cards. All businesses are closed Saturday - Monday, and schools closed Monday. We have been advised to stay in. Sigh.

This would be a good time to be well-informed, and I am frustrated that we have no TV or internet at our new place. No telephone line either, but thankfully we have a cell.

In between sweeping up tiny balls of styrofoam and unpacking boxes, I read the refrigerator manual while taking a rest. No such luck with the front-loading washing machine manual, which is all in Arabic. I tried to run a load and got shocked when I touched the wet laundry (which hadn't spun dry for some reason). It's an adventure, and there are multiple frustrations until things get worked out, but it is a lovely apartment, with a nice Mediterranean view and a welcome breeze in this humid climate.
Things look better the next day. I have found not only my underwear but the BBC! I do like to think of being one of maybe milllions huddled around a scratchy radio to catch BBC World Service news (blip blip blip blip BLLLIIIIIIIIIIIIP, on the hour). I found it on the AM dial of the Chinese built radio I bought last year.