I've never seen anything like it. Have you?

It's bluegrass in Beirut.


Still Beirut

The school year is over, at least for my kids and we're leaving town soon, very, very soon.

So, today, as I walked to pick up the kids I was thinking about the things I've seen this year walking here and there. I was thinking about how much I'll miss these sites, people and places when I'm gone.

But I'll be back again. Some things will have changed, but it will still be Beirut and it will be good to be back.


Achghalouna, Ashghalouna? Lunch Made By War Widows

A friend mentioned it in passing--that there was a lovely old house somewhere in Zarif where, once a week, war widows serve lunch. Through nearly obsessive googling, I learned that the widows are in a skills training program run by Dar al Aytam, a local charity. The program's goal is to enable war widows to achieve financial independence and support their families. I learned that the house where lunch is served is also home to a boutique filled with hand-crafted items also made by widows.

Eventually, I googled my way into the name of this place: Ashghalouna; the English spelling of the word that means "our work" in Arabic. I later learned that the organization's promotional materials use the French spelling: Achghalouna. Google turned up a one review and then another and a phone number. I was on the right track, but I still needed directions or a map showing me how to find their location. Relying on over-the-phone descriptions can range from frustrating to futile and I admit I didn't even try.

It was about that time that my friend got back to me about lunch. She organized a group of 10 of us to go together. Friday, we all went and it was wonderful. Here's some of what was included in the buffet that day:

I highly recommend it. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was serene and comfortable.  And now I know how to get there!  I've tagged this post and the photos in it with the exact location of Ashghalouna's boutique and lunch location.

Lunch was served shortly before 2pm and includes a selection of beverages and desserts. You definitely have to reserve well in advance, so be sure to call ahead. They appeared to be fully booked the day I was there and I'm sure that's typical.

Finally, a brief recap:
Name: Ashghalouna
Phone: +961 (0)1 366 758
What: Lunch (and don't forget to check out the boutique too)
When: Fridays at 1:30
Cost: $30 per person


Open Door

It's the weekend. Door's open. Yeah, you can leave your bike there. It's no problem. Come on in, stay a while.

Vacation season is coming.  It'll be here before you know it and the weekend is just a taste of it, almost a foreshadowing of what's ahead.

So, what will you be doing this summer?



They're not just for the beach anymore, folks. Not just for picnic tables or the patio furniture.

Try them out in the city. Let them cast a little shade on your favorite place to sit while you watch the world go by.

A little old-fashioned SPF will make the mid-day glare so much more bearable.


Marginal Space

On the margins; that's where I found this photo. It was off to the side, part of bigger photo I'd taken of something else. I cropped it severely, and this is what remained: only the margin, the unintentional capture. In the end, I like it far better this way. I like the lines (those formalistic as well as the literal power lines), not to mention the shadows, textures.

This is a photo that whispers to me of unknown stories, De Chirico mysteries, a little bit of mischief.

All of that was waiting in the margins.


Nice and Sunny

I like this building, the way it curves around the corner. I passed by it early today, and it was so nice to see it in the morning light.

Pictures don't do it justice.



Yesterday I posted about rebar and its role in most of the building projects that I see around Beirut. Yesterday's image showed bundles of it draped in a truck, riding into a reinforced concrete future.

Today, I have another image for you and like yesterday's, it was made possible by rebar.

I'll never forget the first time I saw a building like this, mid-demolition, sort of half there and half gone. Huge chunks of it had clearly been broken off but were not falling.  It was as though they were frozen.  Looking at it, I felt like someone had stopped time, turned on an anti-gravity machine, worked some kind of magic.

It wasn't anything like that; just some rebar that wasn't letting go.

Photos freeze everything anyway, so perhaps the magic of looking at a half tumbled-down building doesn't come across.

Or maybe it does.  Looking at the photo, I'm just as taken in by it as I was in real life. I find myself expecting the rocks to hit the ground even though I know they're not going anywhere. 



I should write an ode to rebar, since it plays such an important role in the contemporary architecture of this city.

Rebar, Wikipedia tells me, is short for "reinforcing bar", it is the length of steel that becomes the "reinforcing" part of reinforced concrete. In Australia it is called reo. I mention this because Julie asked and quite unexpectedly, Wikipedia explained that our terms differ.

Here you see it in tidy bundles, draped in the back of the dump truck like so much limp spaghetti. Hard to believe it, but yes, steel bends like that.  Rebar is delivered to construction sites as you see it here, in enormous trucks that can barely pass through the streets. When the truck reaches its destination, it literally dumps the rebar out onto the side of the road, making an amazing, enormous racket that sounds something like a cross between an amplified cat fight and a whirring table saw.

In Beirut, rebar is fabricated into size specific grids on-site.  You form it, cut, bend and weld it into a network, a lattice, a kind of open grid. And then you pour concrete all over it. Bingo. Reinforced concrete.


More Balustrades

Here's another collage of balustrades. I asked a friend about them, and yes, they're made of poured concrete. Even though I've never seen this style of balustrade on a newly constructed building, my friend told me that balustrades like this are still made in Lebanon. I'd love to see the process.

Seeing how a balustrade is made would clear up a lot of things for me. For example, how do you get set concrete out of a mold? Do they make the mold to measure, or are the balconies designed around set sizes of balustrades? How do you decide which will be reinforced with rebar and which won't? Sometimes, you just have to see it to know.



Lately, I've been very interested in Beirut's tiled facades. I like how the wires strung all around framed this view of yet another one that I recently found in Hamra.

I can't help feeling bemused and possibly amazed that tiles like this were once the hottest thing in architecture in Beirut.



Just above Bread Republic in Hamra, you'll see this:

I'm quite taken with all of this.  Tiny balconies, good for nothing except taking one single step forward into the fresh air, are never the less profoundly beautiful.  Shuttered doors leading out to that balcony make it that much better.  I love the flowers (or are they sheaves of wheat?) carved into the balcony's supports.  I've recently become interested in concrete balustrades but the strong geometry of this iron one is calling to me.  And the colors: the creamy, gray sort of beige and the steely blue combination stopped me in my tracks.  I love how the picture turned out, the light is exactly what I'd want it to be. And (this part surprised me), I'm growing fond of these typically-Beirut street lights.  I love that bold, black arc, like an open parenthesis over the whole image.


Book Bazar

I walked by this shop not long ago. Second hand stores aren't all that common, so the opportunity to "buy and sell old books" caught my eye. Also, not many places in Beirut have this much color. So I stopped and took a picture.

It was later on that I paid more attention to what they had to offer. I couldn't help noticing that Sex in the City in Arabic (below the big yellow Z in the shop's name) sits beside a book about Osama Bin Laden. I wonder if that was done deliberately.

Too bad their selection of books in English seems limited to works of philosophy and antisemitism.


One of Those

Sometimes, I have nothing to say about an image, nothing except I like it.

This is one of those times.


Late Afternoon

It's late afternoon and the setting sun shines down at just the right angle to light up a few wires strung across the street.

It only lasts a few moments and then it's gone. And it makes me smile to think that it'll be back again tomorrow.


One of the Mysteries

Contradictions, inconsistencies, paradoxes, conundrums.

That's what you call it when you've got a handle on the facts, when you really grasp what's going on, when you can identify what the pieces are and how they interrelate in a bigger story of something that doesn't make sense.

But without that, without identifying the contradictory factors, or the premises that can't logically exist together . . . without that an analysis will never step beyond the domain of mystery. 

For me (most of the time), Beirut continues to be one of the mysteries.


House of Dreams

Some people fly in their dreams, save the planet, exact revenge, show up naked.

I dream of houses. I dream them inside and out. I dream balconies and gardens, verandas and pathways. I explore, turning up secret rooms, whole other floors where marvelous things wait. There'll be swimming pools and libraries, guest bedrooms, curiosity cabinets filled with mysteries. I dream hidden passageways, secret cupboards, attic spaces and butler's pantries.

A house is a great place for dreaming.


Beautiful Old Balustrades

For your viewing pleasure today, I've collected images of some of the balustrade patterns you'll see on Lebanese homes of a certain age. I'm not sure, but my guess is that these are cement, not stone.

I'm sure there are more patterns out there, and as ever, I will continue to collect photos of any others that I find.


L' Artisan Du Liban

Summer travel is approaching. Part of preparing to go is lining up a few good hospitality gifts and souvenirs for friends and family.

There are a lot of boutiques and souvenir shops in Beirut and they're all good, but if you ask me, L' Artisan du Liban is the best of them all. They have a wide variety of giftable things, plenty of it in stock and the prices are fair.


Under Construction

Welcome to June, everyone. The summer countdown began long ago. It's nearly here.

The first of each month, I usually participate in City Daily Photo's Theme Day, and today's theme "Under Construction" could be placed as a rider on nearly every photo you see here. Sometimes it feels like all of Beirut is a work in progress.

Construction still fascinates me even though it's omnipresent.  I've taken plenty of photos of different construction projects since beginning this blog. In case you want to see, I have tagged more than thirty "construction" photos on this site, which feature (among other things) construction methods, materials, safety gear, equipment, etc.

There's so much construction going on in Beirut that you'll regularly hear concerns about urban planning, license disputes, real estate bubbles, historic preservation, etc. Such concerns arise due to OVER construction, or a sense that there can be too much of a good thing.

The opposite of over construction? Under Construction: when buildings that should have been revived or demolished long ago manage to linger for years as dilapidated, unsightly messes on prime real estate.

Beirut has some famous, monumental examples to be sure, but this one is my personal favorite. It has an unimpeachable sea view, excellent high-rise potential, and it sits on the perfect spot for commercial establishments at the street level.  It's ripe for some kind of action, and yet here it is, unchanged.

Today, bloggers around the world are posting "under construction" photos from their city. Click here to view thumbnails for all participants