Journal Entry: Upon landing in Beirut and driving from Rafic Hariri International Airport to my father’s house in Dikwaneh in the hilly outskirts of Beirut, it became abundantly clear to me that Beirut has spent the last twenty years in a prolific state of rebuilding. Had it really been that long since my last visit to my parents’ homeland? My strongest memory from my 1999 trip to Lebanon was that nearly every building I saw was dotted with bullet holes. I was delighted with the transformation of the capitol city during my 2017 visit to Lebanon. I witnessed an eclectic and interesting citiscape in Beirut with both old and new structures, and new buildings were erected in both traditional and modern architectural styles.
Throughout the heart of the city, in neighborhoods like Ashrafiyeh, Gemmayze, Mar Mikhael, and Hamra, many uninhabited buildings (partially destroyed from the fifteen year civil war) still remain. However, numerous residential buildings have been restored beautifully or erected new. And amidst the conglomeration of the destroyed, restored, and new buildings, modern towers have also been erected. Beirut invokes the feel of a great city on par with Milan, Paris, and even New York City. And it’s geographic setting overlooking the Mediterranean while surrounded by mountains reminded me of Los Angeles but with taller mountains. My husband, a born and bred American Midwesterner and New York City transplant and frequent traveler to Los Angeles, was enthralled.
The geometry and shapes (characteristic of Islamic art) are represented in graffiti, walls, balconies, signs, furniture, and statues.
We stayed in a beautifully maintained traditional home in Gemmayze, the bohemian art district in east Beirut.
I know why Beirut was named The Best International City for Food by Travel + Leisure in 2017. Lebanese culture and society are rooted in food. Food is requisite to any visit to the home of family or friends. The host will be insulted if you don’t eat, even if you are full. And the guest will be insulted if the host doesn’t offer food, even if you are full! I sampled food from diverse sources: high end restaurants, foodcarts alongside a highway, farmers markets, bakeries, small restaurants, full service supermarkets, small vegetable stands. Food is both plentiful and inexpensive. And I am not overlooking the fact that Lebanese dishes are tasty. It’s a given that they are delicious. But please don’t take my word for it. You really must experience it for yourself.
Another area in which the Lebanese excel is personal appearance. When my daughter wanted to dye her hair a navy blue ombre, I found Fadi Daouk Hair Stylist through Where to Dye Your Hair Crazy Colors in Beirut. And pretty soon, I was seeing him for more traditional hair dying services. The Lebanese love to pamper themselves, dress well, and then go out on the town. There is an emphasis on arts and culture. Concerts are often organized in remote regions of Lebanon. Transportation by bus is often included in the cost of a concert ticket and concerts are a way promote both the musician and the region from which he or she originates.
The beauty of Lebanon extends well beyond Beirut to towns like Harissa, Byblos, and, also, Bhamdoun where my father grew up. I visited the buriel ground of the Greek Orthodox church in Bhamdoun and where each family (including mine) maintains it’s own mausoleum.
Contributor: Josefa Abdelnour
Dates of Travel: August 2017
Beirut Neighborhoods: Ashrafiyeh, Dahieh, Dikwaneh, Gemmayze, Hamra, Mar Mikhael