In Progress

Last year in April I blogged about a mosque going up near Cola, a major intersection in Beirut. It's still a work in progress, but most of the exterior work appears to be complete, and there's far less green gauze hung all around.

We were in the car, and as we passed I took another picture. I love the geometry of these patterns.

It's nice to get a full wall of the angles and repetitions of the interlacing lines.


Every week at the farmer's market you'll see this pair of ladies making sandwiches. The one in the foreground kneads the bread, flattening it into a thin disk. Under her left arm you can see a large round pillow, or maybe I should call it a bean bag because it had some weight to it.  The flattened dough goes onto this substantial pillow and she flips it over onto the baking surface in the foreground. It isn't like flipping a pancake--the pillow sort of squashes the dough onto the iron.

The bread is finished baking in only a minute or two and then it's ready for fillings--olives, goat cheese, thyme, tomato, olive oil, etc. It's yummy. You can see bags of spice in the background on the right.

In the background on the left are a few other merchants eying me and my camera. I wonder what they thought of me, and what they thought I thought of them.


One Such Raft

You can tell the beach is nearby. Little shops that otherwise would stock little more than drinks and chips miraculously spill forth beach accessories, mostly the kind that are bright and inflatable. A day at the beach isn't the same without a boat and we could not resist.

The boat more or less secured the happiness of a half dozen children for at least as many hours.

It seems we've purchased one such raft each year for about the past five years. It's become part of how we do summer around here.


Start Seeing

The world is a big, complicated, chaotic place where a million things happen, change, or simply exist all at once. You can't possibly notice everything, all the details. That's why sometimes it feels like things that have been there all along begin to exist when you first think to notice them.

That's what has happened for me as I've gone around looking for tiled buildings in Beirut.

Looking for them, as a process, has pulled them from the negative space of my life.  They jump out at me now and demand my consideration, my acknowledgment of them as a genre in the context of all that is Beirut.


It's Not What You Think

Like most buildings that fascinate me, I can only guess at the history of this building.

And chances are, it isn't what I think.


Once Swanky

I must have passed this building a dozen or more times before I really looked at it today.  I feel like I saw it for the first time.  For the first time I noticed that black and white tile and the angle of the decadent entryway.  This is a place with a sense of itself.  You can tell when you look at it, you just simply know that once long ago it was swanky.

It's abandoned now, lonely too maybe. 


New Road

In Beirut the weather is clear, bright, and sunny. There's likely to be little variation on that for the next five months.

I was out in that weather around mid-day, and happened upon this road resurfacing project.

How they ever moved all the rundown, inoperable cars from the road I'll never know.


Got Satellite

They don't have glass in the windows . . . but they do have a satellite dish.

Hmmm. That's an interesting trade-off.


All Along

On the left is a "before" shot taken a few months back. That's what I was used to seeing. But then it changed one day and you can see how it looks now in the photo on the right. I wish I'd taken both from the same angle, but alas. . . .

The sign was gone, and in its place, windows--awesome old shuttered windows. My gut reaction was, "Oh, how cool. They've installed a decorative upper floor in the traditional style and harmonized it with the pervading style of the neighborhood." I was thinking about how great their work was, and how well they had matched the stucco and that the distressed paint looked really accurate.

Yeah. Then I realized that nothing had been installed. Nothing. They'd just taken the sign down. You can see the scaffolding is still in place in the after shot. These aren't restoration windows. They've always been there, and it's funny to think that they were there all along staring blindly at the back of the sign until just the other day.


Grit, Grime

I'm still thinking about tiles--not the classical, traditional, artisanal tiles. No. I'm thinking about these tiles, ornamenting the exteriors of buildings of a certain age around town. Beirut would be a different city without them.

I like the simplicity of this design. Think of how different these tiles would look if they were clean, immaculate. Sometimes, it's hard to imagine something without the ever present layer of grit and grime, but I think it's a useful exercise. In my imagination, I can see the perfectly cleaned up, dust free tiles, and I think they look amazing.


So Far Nothing.

Did you hear? The world is ending again.

I read that it's supposed to happen at 6 pm in each time zone.
That was two hours ago for us in Beirut, and so far . . . . nothing.

I took this picture a year ago in Achrafieh. I liked that peeling paint, the pattern of the iron bars, and the poster curling behind it. The walls aren't bad either. 


Tiled Balconies

There's something about these orangy-brown tiled balconies that I really like. The color combination is unusual, but pleasing (I think). And it's kind of cool how the blocks of color are layered, as though the architecht simply spread some color swatches out and thought, "yes, that will work!"

They're different, unlike any other balcony in the city probably. Maybe it's as simple as that. Maybe that's why I like them.


No Take-Backs

At pick-up time yesterday all the kids were excited. School was canceled for Thursday and it was as if Christmas had come early. Thursday, today, was to be an enormous protest day; a burn tires and close schools and shut down the city kind of protest day.

And then, in the late evening yesterday, it was all called off. Except that school had already been canceled and there's a no take-backs clause on that one.

From my corner of town, the city seems quieter than usual today. Maybe that's why this picture from my archives felt right today. It was about a year ago that I stopped at the edge of the highway that leads northward out of town and took this photo.  It's just a street, but the quietness about it contrasted with the roaring highway where I stood and the contrast was a bit mesmerizing and I couldn't help taking a picture. 


The Colors

Tiles seem to have become the latest genre that I've attempted to exhaust. So far, I've really loved the tiled facades that I've shown--they've been kind of retro, a little bit awesome.  Of course, I love a good pattern, especially if it's infinitely repeatable.

But that brings me to today, and today I have to admit that my affection for tiled facades has its limits.

Can't say I'm very fond of this one, for example. Maybe it's the colors?


Costco in Beirut?

Not long ago I started hearing rumors about Costco. I was told that there was one here in Beirut, that it stocked the same kinds of things as Costco in the US and that they even had the Walmart off-brand merchandise.

It's true.

It's not as huge or warehouse-like as it's American counterpart.  In my case that's a good thing since I have mini anxiety attacks in huge stores.  This is where Costco is, just south of Beirut:

The shop is between the Golf Club and TSC Jnah. If you're coming from Beirut, you'll want to get off the airport highway near TSC so you don't overshoot your target.

They're open from 9 AM to 8 PM Monday-Saturday, and they're open Sunday too, 10 AM to . . . I've forgotten. But then, their phone number is on the sign and if you really need to know you could always call and ask.



Lately, I've been combing through my archives which include this previously unpublished image. I took it from the apartment where I was living last year. I love the yellow hardhats.

Trucks are a little bit amazing. Consider that one cinder block is a fairly heavy thing and that 12 of them in a regular car would make a noticeable impact on the vehicle's handling. But this truck has just delivered pallets and pallets of cinder blocks to their new home in a luxury high-rise. This truck probably does that every day of the week. It's amazing.



I think these tiles are quite cute. I like the dotted look, and it makes me wonder if living in a building with a blue, dotty exterior would change a person. If they're happy living there, would it make them grow fonder of blue?

Would it do that to me, to you?


My Good Fortune

I love this little spot. It's my good fortune to walk past it nearly every day.

It's become a piece of home.


15 x 15 Tile

This building is directly across from one of the Hariri residences. With my back turned to the famous estate across the way, I focused my gaze on this house, and pulled out my camera to take a picture. Still, the security folks were not at all happy about my camera, not happy about its proximity to their domain. No photographs! one of them called out. I called back, pointing at this building with its amazing, unexpected, crazy tile designs. Please, I said. This is what I want a picture of. I promised I wouldn't take any pictures of the other side of the street.

He let me carry on and I kept my promise.

From a distance all those tiny little squares blend into lines and blocks of color.

I decided to post this enlarged section to better show the tiny tiles that also compose the blue facing on the intersecting face. I would have liked to get a clearer picture, but it's been cloudy and rainy and sometimes this is as good as it gets.


Pacific Hotel

Here's another tiled exterior. For as long as I've been in Beirut, the Pacific Hotel has been in ruins. This particular kind of ruination look like war damage.

It sits on prime real estate, so anything could be in store for the place. It's fate isn't known (to me, anyway) and I sometimes wonder if it will be revitalized (which would be awesome) or if it will be cleared out for something new (which might be awesome, you never know).

Whatever happens next, I hope they keep the blue tile and refurbish the yellow lettering. I like the color combination and the composition, the marquee Vegas-like feel of it.


Facade Deco

Not long ago I mentioned that there are loads of amazing tiled buildings scattered around Beirut. This one is the first I'll share here.

In a city that is increasingly marked by stone faced, boring monoliths, the pure ornamentation seen here makes me smile.  It strikes me as retro and also kind of awesome.


The last one in Saifi

I've been in and out of Saifi Village a lot in the past few days, and these excursions have taken me past what I expect is the last derelict plot in the neighborhood.

Saifi is a different animal, unlike other neighborhoods in the city. There, the buildings are uniformly charming, recently renovated, newly painted, all roughly the same height, vaguely frenchy. I any other part of the city a roofless, abandoned old house wouldn't draw the eye. But, as I said, this isn't like other neighborhoods. Clearly, this house is ripe for whatever magic wand will wave it into conforming with the rest of the neighborhood.

It's strange. Normally I'd wonder endlessly at its age and history, at scars inflicted upon it during some unknown, tormented past. I'd imagine the life it's already had, the life that has worn it out . . . but not this time. Here, I find myself wondering, much as I would over a newborn baby, what's in store for it. I wonder what it will be when it grows up.



I pass this building several times every day, but I'd never take a picture of it until now. It's so very unremarkable, normal, and a little ugly.

Life is short and the circumstances of our lives are fragile, transient despite feeling (right now at this moment) that they are quite stable and permanent. But they're not. Change, chance, and fate never hold still. In deference, then, to the truth that someday I will no longer pass this building over and over and over again, to acknowledge that someday I might forget all about it, I've taken a photo in case I ever think to miss it.

And now, I'm ready.


Poetry Cafe

Recently there was a poetry reading at my kid's school. A lot of kids (grades 1-5?) participated, reading their own original poems. There were even some adults; teachers, administrators, parents who wrote poems just for this event. It was great.

Here the crowd listens attentively.

If memory serves, this kid's poem was about chocolate. I was impressed by the quality and variety of the poetry. The kids wrote about their fears, the foods they love, the way the wind feels on their skin, how much they love their closest friends or family, and how much they hate homework. Some were funny and some were touching, some were long and some were short, but all of them made me love poetry on a satisfyingly simple level.



This morning at Souk el Tayeb, I saw this booth, proclaiming "The Root to Recovery". The sign in the photo begins with the text, "In 1965, 35% of Lebanon was covered by forests and greenery, but in 2007 those numbers dropped to an alarming 13%." Depleted green space is one on a long list of significant changes in Lebanon over the past few decades. 

At the market, they were selling a variety of potted plants. All profits from the sale go to planting trees, to recover some of the lost green space.



When it comes to food, I feel pretty lucky here in Beirut. Fresh local produce year round (thank you temperate climate!), a culture that favors a vegetable-heavy cuisine, and very reasonable prices at the market are all fantastic aspects of life in Beirut.

And, if you're into organic produce, you're in luck.

There are the farmers markets that take place on various days around town and if you can't make it to one of those, you can find certified organics in the big grocery stores.

And, there's Healthy Basket, a shop in Ras Beirut that will deliver a weekly basket of organic "stuff" to your door--I say "stuff" because in addition to the produce that fills most of the basket, you might also find eggs, grains, etc. thrown in there too. Here's a link to their contact info if you want to sign up for a weekly basket of your own.


If I Had a Purple Wall

If you had a purple wall, what would you do with it?.

Maybe you'd lean a ladder up against it. Or, maybe you'd have an antenna towering over it. Or maybe, you'd sit a huge ruby-red generator out in front of it. I'm just throwing out ideas here. The possibilities are endless.


One of Those Days

Sometimes, what I like best is a clean, simple image with strong lines.  An utterly unambiguous image.

I guess this is one of those days.


Taekwondo Tournament

Both of my kids have Taekwondo lessons. They love it.

Recently they were invited to participate in a tournament that involved several Taekwondo schools from around Beirut.

I was excited about it. Competitions are fun, they're a vital part of learning a sport, and it's just a good experience. But the kids didn't see it this way. They had reservations--deep, sever, serious reservations. There was nothing we could say or do to persuade them that the tournament would be fun, a good experience, something they'd like. They insisted, tearfully even, that they wanted no part of this.

So, instead of forcing them to participate, we attended as spectators. We noted the table covered in medals, and the safety helmets and gloves. Watched as little kids put on their gloves and fought it out on the mat, noting that falling over or getting pushed off the mat resulted in a serious loss of points.

It was pretty cool. There's another tournament in September. Maybe by then the kids will have come around.  Maybe next time, we'll be cheering for one of our own.


The Mail

Some of our family and friends mistakenly believe that there is no mail service in Beirut. They're not entirely correct. See this drop box? It belongs to the Lebanese postal service. And, in theory, if you put an appropriately stamped letter in the box, it will be delivered to its destination.

That's the theory anyway. Over the years, we've had some remarkable experiences with the Lebanese mail. I'll share a few stories:

1. There is no standard residential postal delivery. But, in 2006, a friend who lived in Hamra posted a letter to me in Ain Mreisseh. She used the street name and the name of my building, and listed the floor where I lived. A postman delivered the letter to me within the week. We were both astonished.

2. During the first week of July, 2006, I mailed a baby blanket to my sister for her anticipated newborn. Then, a week later, the airport was bombed and the war started and I forgot about it completely. Months later, October, I think it was, the package arrived at my sister's house. Neither of us could believe it.

3. Last year we mailed children's books about Lebanon and stickers to family and friends. About half of these packages never reached their destinations. This is the same experience we've had with holiday greetings that we've sent by mail. This past season, we opted for an e-card, and that's likely to continue.

Today, bloggers all over the world are posting photos of mailboxes in their city. Click here to view thumbnails for all participants