Wednesday, December 15, 2010

UK Trip

Mind the gap! WAY OUT.

We find ourselves in London, using at last the round trip tickets we won a year and a half ago in a raffle at the St. George’s Ball in Beirut. We were delayed 45 minutes leaving Beirut due to “mist” on the ground in London, then another 40 minutes circling outside London, another 15 minutes on the ground waiting to pull in, then 30 minutes in the passport line. Civilisation.

At last, navigating the Tube to the hotel, and back to the Tube, we made it to Westminster Abbey in time for Evensong: fabulous! An all male choir, sopranos about 10 years old, and in a church where services have been held for 1,000 years!

The next day, news of Kate and Wills’ engagement breaks and she visits Westminster to scope it out as a wedding venue.

We visit the Tower of London, where in its chapel lie the headless bodies of Thomas More (1535) and Lady Jane Gray (1554) among others. We see the crown jewels. And on to the British Museum. Here is T admiring some Etruscan art.

Aside from the more obvious sights, pub life is high on our list of “to-dos” during our short visit. T wants to try "pulled ale". Hand pumping produces a more fragile, less fizzy brew from a barrel that must be used within 24 hours or pitched. And then there is single malt scotch for the lady J. I had looked into visiting a distillery in Scotland to learn how it is made, but the timing didn’t work out. Ah well.

Off to Glasgow, a little colder and windier but still no rain. T eats sausages and we buy shortbread in an effort to grow a layer of protective winter fat…

On a train northward toward the family home of the McCallum clan and Tom’s great-grandfather, we whiz by the indeed bonny banks of Loch Lomond. The land starts to grow hilly.

I remark how, after Lebanon, the UK appears so orderly, efficient, clean. There is lots of signage as in the US (though not as much) but signs and warnings don’t treat one as a complete idiot, or perhaps one ready to sue.

The highlands of central Scotland are lovely. Sparsely populated, punctuated by large and small lochs (lakes) and commanding hills, a few with hints of snow on top this mid-November. From the train we spot a stag along the hillside near the track, then a doe. A stag features prominently in the McCallum crest, and T takes the sighting as a good sign.

Indeed, the next day was magical. Sunny skies, little wind. We met the Laird of the McCallum clan, who spoke to us of his journey in 1940 at age 6 by ship to the US. The boat behind his was torpedoed by the Germans, in error as it was the one carrying German POWs.

His mother was serving in British Army intelligence and his father in the Middle East as part of the Argyll Southern Highland regiment. He lived in California for the duration of the war.

The castle is striking, though not large. In a stunning setting, on a loch, around the bend from the Bay of Tears where thousands of crofters were cleared from their lands in the 18th and 19th centuries. Tom’s ancestors left during the late 1800s for Australia for a generation, then his grandfather set off to Kentucky to attend seminary.

We see another McCallum family home, large, stone, abandoned earlier this century when the roof needed major repair. Keeping up the castle is costly. The room where the laird chatted with us was warm and stuffed with antiques.

After leaving the laird we visited a church in the middle of, well, nowhere, built with “Jamaica money” (money earned from the slave trade) by some Malcolm or other . A Scottish Episcopal church, it still holds services today—you have to pass through two cattle/sheep gates to reach it.

Nearby is the village of Kilmarten Glen. The area is known for its ancient standing stone circles and cairns dating from 3000 BC. It is not known why they were carved or what they represent. As we leave the area the next day we visit Achinabreac with its 5000 year old concentric circles carved in stone on a hilltop with a sweeping view, a sea loch in the distance.

A sign: “Oncoming traffic in middle of road”. There is no shoulder at all in these parts, and in fact stone walls lie just alongside the narrow, hilly roadway. Quite challenging driving—T does well. Plus the countryside is so scenic, one does want to let the eye wander.

Next, a wonderful brief interlude at Crianlarich (I know how to pronounce these places now!). We had an hour between trains and no warm place to wait at the station, so we asked a guy in a passing truck if there is a place to get a “real ale” and he promptly offered to drive us to the nearby Crianlarich Hotel. Alas, no pulled ale, but K, after expressing enthusiasm for single malt scotch, gets talked into trying a 30 year old limited edition variety. The waiter was so enthusiastic… It actually didn’t seem all that wonderful to me, but we made the lad’s day. Crianlarich seemed a lovely little town, but we are back on the train heading to Ft. William and a one night stop there.

On the menu in Ft. William, in the fine print: “Game dishes may contain buckshot.” T orders haggis, neeps and tatties, which he enjoys. K notes that every restaurant seems to have at least one imaginative veggie dish; vegetarianism seems to be taken quite seriously here. E.g. at the Ben Nevis in Ft. William: goat’s cheese butternut squash spinach and tomato lasagna.

In a bus to Inverness next day, we pass along Loch Ness. It is not yet 2 pm but seems to be near sunset. The Loch is long and narrow. We drive along it at some speed for nearly 30 minutes. The secenery is lovely, few houses, hills on either side of the water, rocky, remains of a castle, some vacation houses, B&Bs, black faced sheep.

Inverness is our last stop. I am sad! The next morning we stand in the dark morning quiet in the village of Ardesier outside Inverness, waiting for the first bus of the day, which will take us to Inverness airport. There is a Church of Scotland across the street. The village sleeps. Bonny, bonny Scotland.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sundry tidbits

Accidentally walked in the Beirut Marathon yesterday. A wonderful, festive occasion, that drew 28,000 registered participants! Wow. First and second place in both the long race and the 10 K were taken by Ethiopians (who had travelled here for the event). Among the other ~27,998 were Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and a few cabinet ministers, as well as the ambassadors of the UK, Denmark and Belgium.

Many roads were closed in Beirut for the event. I had tried to go to Meeting up in Broumana, in the hills above Beirut, and had managed this first leg of getting a taxi part way across town to the appropriate bus stop, but after waiting an hour for the bus I gave up. I crossed the street and boarded a bus that normally woud have taken me back to our neighborhood, but yesterday could travel only about half the way. Disembarking at the end of the line I found myself right on the marathon route. In fact my route and theirs was virtually the same; I walked alongside groups of runners and walkers for 45 minutes, passing water sations manned by groups of volunteers, a Scout marching band and other live music along the way. Fun!

Heard of but not seen: a 1 km "Run with Mom" race for toddlers, athletes with disabilities, and veteran runners from many countries.

Yay Beirut--how civilized.


A corruption index recently came out ranking Lebanon at 127 out of 180 countries. Could be worse. The ranking makes it more corrupt than Egypt (98th) and Saudi (50th). Iraq comes in at 175th. The index measures the scale of bribery among offiicials.


Middle school student leaving a classroom: "Goodbye Miss", "Au revoir madame"


  • In an email from a hiking group: "Remember to retard your watches by one hour on Saturday"
  • On a T-shirt: We are Replay
  • And in the hair salon: four ladies ahead of me. I don't mind waiting but am witness to their being blow dried, teased, curled and fluffed, only to be smashed down quite violently moments later as the ladies pulled on tight, elasticized head wraps topped with colorful scarves. A fascinating ritual.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Out my window

8 am and the earth movers begin their relentless anthem for the day, pummeling and scooping dirt to prepare for the foundation of a new building. Hey, at least it wasn’t 7 am—workers on the other five buildings under construction between us and the Corniche 2 blocks away have already been at it for 45 minutes

. But those buildings are long past the scraping and digging phase, and onto concrete concrete, more concrete, and now two have reached their full height and have their scaffolding down. The scraping is the hardest for me. Obliteration of all things in the target zone, all green and growing things. Particularly: a lovely, beloved, rare tree, a palm, loaded with orange fruits, bulldozed. I see that these large and powerful machines will forever make me think of Rachel Corey, bless her brave heart, Saint Rachel, martyred, bulldozed for a cause in Occupied Palestine, and remembered by me during this local Assault on the Neighborhood, assault on the senses—thamp thamp thamp thamp, scrape scraaaaape, bringing a thin layer of dirt onto every surface of every apartment within four blocks. The palm’s carcass lays off the one side. RIP. I will miss you.

I rush to shut all the balcony doors to try to keep some of the fine dust that will come, out. I briefly lament the white blouse I have just hung out to dry in the balcony sun.

Above is a night time photo of the remaining palm in the area. I don’t dare to contemplate that it, too might be in imminent danger.


A friend spoke of the romantic view of Beirut vs. the realistic. It truly is a chaotic mess of a place, seen in a no-doubt too rosy view by those of us who finds it’s thrill appealing. I for one relish the freedom behind the chaos, the wild abandon with which one could conduct oneself, free of most formal, or at least enforced, laws of conduct. There is a delicate, understood order that holds the place together, part genuine politeness, part common sense, part plain survival. The dog poo on the sidewalk is not pretty, but the Filipino maid who allowed the animal to poop knows she can rely on the Sri Lankan sanitation worker to clean it up, eventually. You can park your car on the sidewalk unless thick metal poles have been installed to prevent it. A new skyscraper comes up, blocking the view of everyone behind it—it is all God’s will, anyway.



Something I never, EVER EVER thought I would do: be a substitute teacher. Horrors! I had recently said I was willing to sub for the ESL teacher, who works with individuals or small groups. But they called me for a regular sixth grade English class. It was laid at my feet in the most gentle way possible…. I was asked on a Friday, so had the whole weekend to ponder the idea, was given five classes over two days, two of which are repeats of the same lesson, which is largely on Powerpoint, and two are class library times where I don’t have to teach AT ALL. Clearly I am supposed to do it.


4 clocks on a wall in the bank:

New York 1:55, Beirut 9:52 (pretty close), London 6:19

A man driving a stick shift car along the Corniche. A fidgety 3 year old boy is in his lap, and holds a liter sized water bottle. Another child, around 7, is in the passenger seat. I see them at a stop light (yes, Beirut does have a few now, mostly obeyed). The man tries to put 3 year old down but there is no room; he resettles him behind the steering wheel. May Allah protect them.

Store signs:

Colonial Lounge of Barcelona

We do the parquet (wooden flooring store)

A shirt:

Farm Boy and Livestock

Friday, September 17, 2010

August/September 2010

Your blog editor has been delinquent… Too busy enjoying showing new ACS people, notably my dear friend Kristina and her daughter, around. And getting started as an ESL tutor (still in the 3 hours to plan a 1 hour lesson stage). And trip planning! UK in November and Sri Lanka in December with the boys. And worrying about how to pay for it all.

Here is Kristina’s arrival, and photos from a walking tour of downtown for new ACS staff, the ladies preparing to enter an ancient mosque, and prayer times for the day.

A lovely trip to the Shouf (mountain area about 40 minutes from Beirut, home to many of the country’s Druze) with my friends Elisabeth and Sarah, and Kristina’s daughter Rebecca. We had a mezze lunch in the shadow of a waterfall.A

And the Hamra street fair—held for the first time in 12 years—in celebration of the end of the month long Ramadan fasting. Great fun! Very kitschy and very fun. The scheduled start time was 5 but it began at 6 (the joke was that the foreigners were there at 4:30), Lebanon time. It happened in fits and starts, a huge bouquet of balloons released, then a group of mounted police (or maybe army?), all carrying huge Lebanese flags, very dashing. They walked a bit, then broke into a mad canter, down the people- lined street. Wow! Crowd control here very, very different than the US. But people are alert, and no one was trampled.

In fact throughout the parade people wandered back and forth across the street among the paraders.

There was a long pause of maybe 15 minutes before the next group: the Harley Club of Lebanon. Yup, they’re everywhere. Must have been 100 of them, drivers all decked out in leather. Even a couple of women (I cheered). They were followed by the Bug Club—VW beetles (I learned they are called ladybugs in French), 40 or 50 of various ages and levels of add-on accessories.

A couple of mimes, some guys on stilts, a few clowns. A modern fire truck (ah, there are at least TWO fire trucks in Beirut then!) and a policeman handing out plastic hats and horns.

The AUB Music Club, about 6 of them, playing some music inaudible due to the group immediately behind, another small group with music.

A large troop of goose-stepping scouts.

A small group from a bank, with some unintelligible message.

Long pause. Miss Beirut in an open vehicle.

An MEA (Middle Eastern Airlines) “plane”, atop a truck frame—had engine trouble in the intersection near us that was fairly quickly remedied.

A smiling old man driving a decorated water cart, pulled by a donkey with a lame leg.

A bunch of kids dressed up like clowns, sitting in the bed of a pickup truck. Another pause.

A group of traditional dancers, men, with accompanying music—very nice.

A semi with a see-through payload of an apparatus designed to demonstrate the effect of a motorcycle crash on a helmetless driver, with a “driver” wearing a huge donkey head, donkey being a term used to describe fools. A rare public education campaign.

Long pause, diesel fumes from the semi.

A last entry of a float, on which sat people in kimonos, two of whom were playing a large go game. Signs were all in Japanese and we had no idea who they were.

The end.

Later, great fireworks that we watched from the roof of our building. We wondered if they had been set off from the middle of Hamra St. Could well be.

The next day we set off for Sur/Tyr in the south. A nice, relaxing overnight trip with friends.


Travel agency offering “Civil Wedding Summer Offers” in one or two day packages ($1500/$1600, with visas). In other words, a quick trip to Cyprus to get married by a justice of the peace. Only religious ceremonies are performed in Lebanon.



Redskins College

Springfield 24
New York college
Born in Europe

A store sign:
Compu Bash

And a billboard for a local university, recruiting teachers:

We need your free word
(something lost in translation perhaps)

And lastly, in the OMG department, heard while shopping in the upmarket grocery store downtown: the theme from Exodus.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

out of July and into August

We took a hasty, OK—rash--decision to take advantage of a local travel agency offer of room and half board for little more than the price of airfare, and dashed off to Rhodes for three days. We had spent all of July living through CELTA, K’s intense ESL teacher training course. T was a major hero, doing all the shopping, cooking , laundry and otherwise keeping the world at bay, staying up late listening to K run through her teaching practice lessons, offering ideas , and bearing the occasional primal scream from his wife, who slept way too little the entire month. They made it through. She passed. Here is K as she set out the first day to class, unaware of the trials to come. And her fellow CELTA students and the trainers. The 17 students hailed from 8 different countries, and 14 of 17 were already teachers.

The course finished July 30. August 3 found us in Rhodes.

So, relaxing in Rhodes, we hear about the brief skirmish on the Lebanese-Israeli border that got all the world nervous for a bit. All the BBC shows of the Lebanese side is, horrors, Hezbollah’s Nasrallah, giving his usual fiery oratory, this one on the anniversary of the 2006 Israeli invasion, which coincidentally was the same day. The latest incursion was a “misunderstanding” wherein Israeli soldiers uprooted some trees with a bulldozer (curious as a weapon, no? now associated with Israeli aggression in my mind--RACHEL CORRIE!!).

Before we decided to hop a plane to Rhodes, and the border drama, I was going to write of the remarkable normalcy of life in Beirut. How much has changed since we arrived in 2007! Pleasure boats, lots of them, now populate harbors and previously hidden moorings. A big new Hilton is about to open along the Corniche downtown, the latest in a series of chains: Four Seasons, Ramada, Hyatt. Tourists on every other street corner, and populating the historic sites we used to visit all alone.

Back in Rhodes, “basilico” (basil) in pots on restaurant terraces, deep green and fragrant. "Rush hour" in a town brochure is listed at “22 – 24h”; a restaurant advertises Happy Hour from 9 – 11 pm. The rows of beach chairs are set up with their backs facing the sea—fronts to the sun. Not surprisingly, many of the gazillion tourists here have that baked ham look skin. Women parade through town in bikinis, men in trunks. Numerous pot bellies, some naked breasts sunbathing, tons of Germans, also Italians, French, Scandinavians, some US, some Lebanese. Everyone is relaaaaaaxed.

It’s a whole a whole culture, package tourism—one we’ve never experienced before. In the vast room where the masses gather to surf the 50 foot long buffet table at dinner, staff seem startled when you offer a greeting or even a smile. Guests coming in to sit at a table next to us might offer a hello, or more likely a guten tag, but otherwise there is no contact. The bus driver taking us to the airport is so shocked when T says “Good morning” that he shakes his hand and asks his name.

We spend little time at the beach ourselves, and walk about every inch of Rhodes old town, which is surrounded by a magnificent, intact wall complete with moat, now dry.

We hopped a bus one day down the east coast to Lindos, atop a gorgeous bay. Jam packed with tourists. Topped by an acropolis.

Our brief escape at an end, at Rhodes airport we pass an Easyjet apparatus for measuring you carry-on bag , board a Swissport bus and climb a Swissport stairway to the Royal Jordanian plane to Beirut.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Back in Beirut

Following the discovery of natural gas off the coast in international waters between Lebanon and Israel, the Israeli government is reportedly drafting a law that would impose Israeli control over the Lebanese offshore gas fields. "The government is dealing with the discovery of the natural gas fields in the Mediterranean as an Israeli discovery that no one else has a right over." an Israeli newspaper said."The executive committee in the government and Knesset are working on reaching a law that would not leave room for any Lebanese rights."


World Cup! Sales of country flags have been pretty big business here. And when your team wins, amid the fireworks and blasts of firecrackers you grab that flag, jump into a car, and cruise the city for an hour or two, waving the flag, perhaps as you stand out the sunroof, and screaming, car honking. It is actually a joyously fun time.


A new Dunkin Donuts has opened during the three weeks I was gone. Right on Hamra Street, with a large outdoor seating area--practically full !


Shop sign I may have posted before but made me smile anew: Nails & Roots

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Ben's grad and other wonderments

A memorable, fulfilling trip to the US it was. On the occasion of Ben’s graduation from UCLA, we flew to LA, Tom taking leave from ACS which was still in session, Cam jetting in from a great work experience in an ecovillage in Hawaii. We had only a week together, we four, plus doting Aunt Margaret from San Francisco and Ben’s terrific LA uncles who had looked after him and included him in their lives for all his four years at UCLA. Ben was the focus of the week. The extent of his remarkable achievements during his undergrad career just blew everyone away. Tom and I attended four, count 'em four, ceremonies over the week: Phi Beta Kappa, Honors, College of Letters and Sciences, and Poli Sci Department, having missed a fifth ceremony a week or two earlier for Outstanding Graduating Seniors. The boy was so heavily decorated in his cap and gown that his Uncle Mac remarked that he lacked only a bit of leopard skin to totally look the part of some African dictator… The best was the blue and gold cord on the shoulder, for the Humanitarian Award (only one of four in the whole school!). The boy graduated summa cum laude, and with highest departmental honors. Wow wow wow.

It was a jam packed time, with hours on the freeways shuttling between the uncles who graciously housed us, UCLA, and countless stores, shopping to fulfill the long list of items on our annual “USA list” as well to replace much of Cam’s clothing destroyed by months of farm work. (I think we bought 7 pairs of shoes that week, 14 pairs of socks, and 8 pairs of pants…). It was good time with family. At the end of the week T returned to Beirut and ACS, Cam went with Aunt Margaret to San Francisco for a few days before heading to Brooklyn and his new school, Ben went off to Syria to study Arabic for a month and K went to Washington to see friends (and shop some more).

K’s time in the US brought a heartening renewal of friendships: Leslie, Billie, Tanya, Laura, Kristina, Soosan, Jan, Amy, Thong, Jill, Somchith, Valerie, Kathryn, Susan, Carolyn—all dear hearts and strong women, still connected hamdillah, despite time and, especially, distance. The scenery, the quiet and the [relatively] fresh air were great treats as well. Nourishment!