In Bourj Hammoud

We recently went to Bourj Hammoud, the Armenian section of Beirut, to do some shopping. This was our first time back to that neighborhood since we left in 2007.

I took this picture along a street that is (as far as I know) always closed to traffic, which is probably my favorite thing about it. There are dozens of shoe stores along this road, and while we were there we picked up some new shoes for our kids. They needed it.



Sunset, the road home. Just a few of my favorite things.


Corn on the Corniche at Night

To the well-known and oft belabored divisions within Lebanese society we can add the following: there are those who eat corn on the Corniche, and then there are the others who roll their eyes as they issue repeated protests. That stuff is germ-ridden, sure to make you sick, filthy, they tell you. Don't eat anything those people have touched.

The other night when we were out, the kids were terribly disappointed that I didn't have any money at all. They wanted to buy an ear of corn. They've eaten the stuff more than a few times and they love it. And no, it never has made them sick.



Here, for your viewing pleasure, is a wad of electrical cables that you can expect to see on just about any old, semi-old, or not at all posh building in Beirut. They pretty much all have an electrica hub like this one.

I love this--having the guts of the electrical system visible. When the kids ask why the lights work (or don't, as the case may be), no matter where we are I can point to one of these.


Andalos Street, Raoucheh

I recently walked by this doorway on Andalos Street in Raoucheh. I love the tiles, the awsome (though typical) font--the colors and lines--all of it.

The light was fading fast as a took this photo. A better photographer would have waited, would have come back for better light. But I'm glad I took the photo anyway. Who knows when I'll wander by again?

Oh, and happy Thanksgiving to all our friends and family in America. I hope you have a great celebration and eat a piece of pie for me, would you?


And They Come in Threes

One of the architectural features of traditional Lebanese homes is the triple arch--seen here on three levels of an older house on Bliss Street.

Although the triple arch is a typical feature, these old houses are becoming atypical in Beirut--they're evermore likely to be torn down and replaced by high-rise flats that can house 20 families instead of three.

Anyway, back to the picture--I love how each level has it's own style. And those Art Deco ones up on the third floor? Coolest arches ever.


Toward Gemmayze

Have I mentioned that I'm learning Arabic?

This is the view from my classroom, taken early, before the lesson started.



Windows are just so . . . practical.

I mean, really, why poke a hole in a wall when you've already got a hole in the wall?


Flag Waving

There are many beautiful buildings in Beirut--especially downtown. So many, in fact, that as you walk around you have to quit noticing how wonderful they are. For your own sake. So you can get on with your life. This building is one of them.

I took this picture because they had flags out in numbers, so patriotic. It was only later, at home, that I really took a good look at the facade. What great detail, variation, rhythm. I like it, flags or not.


No Joke

Just another moment of absolute serendipity.


The New Beirut

Downtown there are all of these handy information signs, with maps. Nice. I like maps. Behind the sign, another sign. It's a wall & sign in one--the wall surrounds a construction site and advertises the development company, Greenline, at work behind the wall.

Nobody who is actually from Beirut uses maps. Street addresses exist but aren't remotely helpful. I'm having a couch delivered tomorrow, and the way they'll know where to bring it is by landmarks within 10 meters of my building. When you show locals a map of the city, they'll usually stare at it in amazement for a while. Of course, they know more about the city and how to navigate it than a map could ever teach, but I never get tired of the look on their faces as their eyes race over the map's spider web.

So anyway, there's no question that the maps downtown are for people like me, people who need maps. They're a part of a new Beirut, a town where Greenline is a real estate firm and all the streets have names.


I Thought I'd Lost You

Fabric stores. There's just something about them, for me anyway, because I sew. All that variety, so many possibilities. Walking through a fabric store isn't too different from browsing stacks in a good research library. There's the allure of hidden treasure.

Farrah, on Hamra Street.

I went looking for this store right after we arrived, and my heart sank. The place was completely shuttered--no sign of any life (or business) there at all. On a lark I went back the other day, and as you can tell from the picture, they were there after all. I'm not working on any projects right now, nothing on the horizon either, but if I want to, it's good to know they're here.


In the Cathedral

On Thursday we went to a concert here in the Saint George Maronite Cathedral, Downtown Beirut.

I took the picture before it started while we were all waiting . . . and it was worth the wait. A group of musicians from Austria, Germany, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria played a fascinating arrangement of music by J.S. Bach, what Art Director Vladimir Ivanoff called an "Arabian Passion". The musicians gave a spirited, memorable performance. I'm glad we went.



Across the street from my favorite junk shop, they're digging out a basement for a new highrise.

I liked how it looked, the power shovels and their newly created void.


Dress Rehersal

Yesterday, as we were driving all over town, we were stopped to allow a military convoy to pass.

I took this picture through our very dirty windshield. Dress Rehersal, I figured. Lebanon celebrates Independence Day in a week, on the 22nd. They've already started assembling huge banks of bleachers for the crowds that will surely turn out to view the military parade.


Before This

Graffiti near the AUB campus.

For more (a free, downloadable ebook of pictures of local graffiti) follow this link.


Toward Sin-el-Fil

I took this picture looking toward Sin-el-Fil from Sioufi Garden, the public park that my kids like so much.

If you want to visit the Sioufi Garden you might find this map helpful. The park is south of Achrafieh, marked by the red oval and the red arrow shows where the entrance is. You can get to the park lots of different ways, and I've tried to indicate where the major roads in the map will take you.

The garden seems to be open from sun up to sun down, no entrance fee since it's a public park. There are a couple pools of water, ideal habitats for tadpoles and minnows and geese. Sioufi Garden also features many sculptures. Visitors to the park are free to touch and climb on these pieces of art. There are lots of benches throughout the park and a lot of play equipment (slides, swings, etc.) but it isn't all in good repair, so you've been warned.

This park isn't ideal for biking--paths are uneven. The whole park is situated on a hillside, so only really small-scale ball-play would be workable.


The City Rises

When we left Beirut in 2007, Downtown was something of a mess. For starters, progress on architectural developments basically halted with the 2005 Hariri assassination. It changed everything. Downtown developments halted or made depressingly little progress in the aftermath. Then, in December 2006, Hezbollah set up camp in the heart of downtown, threatening to overthrow the government. For obvious reasons, their presence hurt real estate investment, not to mention the few restaurants and shops that had opened in the area. The central district became a ghost town. No one wanted to be there. Downtown looked and felt like a failed experiment.

During those years, Matthew and I deliberately chose downtown restaurants for our dates. They were quiet, parking was ample, and we usually had the place to ourselves. I felt an odd mix of courage and anxiety going to the edge of enemy territory to eat, drink, and laugh. I felt like I was calling a bluff.

Hezbollah eventually left and the luxury-shopping, restaurant-going crowds returned. Perhaps they brought the builders, developers, and investors with them, or maybe it was the other way around.

These days, this is what you'll find Downtown. Cranes, construction, completed structures and bustling shops and restaurants. The city rising.


Colors of the Sea

In all the places we've lived in Beirut, we've always had a view of the sea. It constantly changes. If it's smooth like glass during breakfast it will likely be shimmering by mid-morning and tumbling and rolling by noon. It changes color with the weather or time of day, transitioning from aquamarine to a deep blue and then on to a milky grey.

Sometimes it has stripes.

Usually when I look out at the sea I feel like it couldn't possibly really be there--that massive expanse of water constantly churning and changing. I'd more easily believe that it's some kind of optical illusion or an elaborate camera trick, computer generated.


Where Buses Go To Die

There's a funny little graveyard for busses, trucks, and trains not far from the Beirut River.

There's a wonderful public park in the Sioufi neighborhood overlooking this graveyard. Our kids loved playing there, our six-year-old even remembered it from when we lived here before.


Blue Danube

When we returned to Beirut a few weeks ago I could hardly stop myself from noticing all the things that have changed. New this, completed that. Improvement here, progress there. The city is rising, and it's an impressive sight.

But then again, I've also found myself pulled toward the things in the city that haven't changed. I was delighted to find this building the other day, just as I remembered it.

I felt something both comforting and sustaining when I found it: my most favorite run down, time-worn, decrepit building, still standing. I know there's no sense hoping that it will always be here. Even if a miracle saves it from demolition someone sooner or later will renovate it, and that would be just as bad because I like it just the way it is.


Square Park

In Beirut there are a fair number of private parks. We went to one of them over the weekend where the kids played happily for at least a few hours. We got there early; the first to arrive, so we had the run of the place at first. The way it works is you pay a small fee to get in, and once you do you'll find (among other things) coin operated rides like this one:

The little huts just behind the kids were almost certainly the living quarters for the non-lebanese gardening/cleaning staff. I'm too much of a firmly-entrenched middle class American for this to not make me extremely uncomfortable, even though I can name a hundred reasons why (maybe) it shouldn't.

Update: April 2010
For those of you who want to visit Square Park, here's what you need to know.

Monday 4-6pm
Tues-Friday 10am-6pm
Weekends and Holidays 10am-7pm

6,000 per child, another fee applies if you want to bring your maid along to watch the kids for you, but since we don't have one I didn't bother remember how much they charge.

Location: Square Park is east of Beirut, one major intersection east of the Metropolitan Hotel and Le Mall. I've outlined it in red on the map. It's just south of the roundabout that you come to if you drive toward the mountains from Le Mall. Drive straight through this roundabout (toward the mountains) and take the first right, which will pull you into a kind of hairpin turn. The entrance to Square park is down this road on the left. You can park on this street. The red arrow shows the park entrance.

There is a restaurant inside the park that serves a variety of drinks, desserts and fast-food items. The food isn't fantastic, but if you're hungry it will do.

Please let me know if this information is helpful or if it needs clarification. It's current and correct as far as I know.


On Rue Clemenceau

The other day I was walking along Rue Clemenceau and noticed a doorway with a lovely little courtyard inside.

Doorways, courtyards, blue skies. Not exactly rare commodities in Beirut. I don't know why but I sure am a sucker for scenes like this one. Makes me want to settle down and stay forever.


Little Bit of Wilderness

I happened upon this little bit of urban wilderness yesterday.

It's basically a vacant lot gone very green thanks to the temperate climate. There aren't too many places like this in the city, which means it's probably a pretty crowded habitat for the critters that run wild here. I expect to find cats and lizards at least, and bugs. Matthew and I will just have to take the kids exploring in there. Don't worry. We'll wear boots.



One of the cool things about Beirut is that, throughout the city, you can find recycling receptacles. They're the green and white dome-like things next to the fellow on the bench. You can bring all your old glass, metal, plastic, paper, etc. and throw it in. Heaven only knows what they do with it all--do they process it in Lebanon or ship it abroad? Do they actually recycle it? Even in Germany there were rumors that the recycling was just thrown in a landfill with everything else, so anything's possible.

When I went out to take this picture, I originally was only interested in the recycling containers. But these ones have a uniquely wonderful location, and I had to include some of that. Behind them, a historic mosque. In front of them, the Corniche and the wide open Mediterranean Sea.



If you've seen my St. Louis blog, you know that for the past two years, our family lived in a house with a big yard, surrounded by more houses situated in their own big yards. That's what our corner of St. Louis was like for miles in every direction. Houses, yards, space, stuff spread out. Walking is completely impractical in that kind of an environment. Why would I walk my kid to preschool? I can drive there and back in 7 minutes (YES I timed it) and walking there and back would have taken half an hour.

Beirut is another story entirely. Because of traffic jams it is often much faster to go on foot and when you do you find the most lovely shortcuts.

I found this stairway the other day. Wouldn't work for cars or scooters, but perfect for me.


My Favorite Junk Shop

Before I even get started with this, there are few things you have to know. First Beirut is a city of boutiques. It's easy to find artisanal, luxury anything. Harder to find general day-to-day stuff. I'm talking about things like that springy thing that keeps the toilette paper in the holder, screws, or binder clips. They can be really hard to find unless you go to my favorite junk shop.

Junk, because none of what they sell is a really great quality. My favorite because sometimes quality is NOT necessary and this store has nearly everything. Inside there are three floors packed with mundane (and marvelous) household what not. Their things are inexpensive (prices start at 500 LL ~ $0.35 USD, and that's rounding up), so when I need something for the house I always check here first.



Remember the new sidewalk? Here's the sign marking the street where the men were working.

Bilingual streetsigns are, mercifully, all over the city. Since I don't understand, speak, or read Arabic, this is a big help--even though hardly anybody uses street addresses. License plates also feature both western numerals and the Arabic equivalent. I've come to view both as mini pop-quizes on the numbers. I find myself looking at the Arabic half, changing it over in my mind to the numbers I grew up with in the US and then checking against what they have posted in western numerals. It's a great way to learn the numbers.