Beirut feels old. You can’t help but notice it. Its break from modernity gives it serious charm. The buildings haven’t had much love in the past 50 years. They are weathered and old fashioned, neglected and sad. There are millions of electrical wires going from rooftop to rooftop and the power goes out regularly. The streets are narrow, and like a lot of cities that haven’t been modernized, it is crowded and unprepared for its growing population. Lebanon has taken the brunt of the instability in the Middle East over the years. It is home to a massive number of refugees mostly coming from Palestine, Iraq, and now Syria. Beirut has been the scene of many recent wars. Everywhere you walk there are the bullet ridden walls and bombed out buildings that still live in their ruins. It is fascinating, interesting, and sobering. It is a reminder of how hard life has been for the Lebanese throughout the years. The exteriors were a real eye opener for me on how life goes on, even in intense circumstances. Not that I would know the first thing about living through wars. What was a bit shocking to me was everyday life for locals.
Beirut has been plagued with invasion for centuries. The Phoenicians, Persians, Byzantines, Muslims, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans, Maans, French, they’ve all had their taste. And with it they have left their various marks. This is one of the things that makes Lebanon so rich and interesting. There is a lot of history in these lands and many people have fought over this strategic area. In more recent times, through the 70’s and 80’s, Lebanon has felt the pain of Israeli aggression. Much of the destruction seen in Beirut still lingers from these battles. You can see the hardship pressed into the walls.
Due to a rocky history there has been little investment in Beirut. It shows. Yet somehow through this tough exterior, an extremely vibrant city is alive, brimming with street art, amazing nightlife, and aged culture. The thing is, Lebanon is beautiful. Picturesque waters, mountains and pine forest surround the city areas. The food here is beautiful as well. Lebanon gets four seasons and they have elevation. This makes the variety in their produce great. The rich history brings depth to the cuisine. The food here is unique and diverse and all of the flavors that ended up on my plate were delicious. A few highlights for me were: falafel, manakeesh, baba ganoush, and kunafeh (cheese pastry topped with pistachios and an orange sugar syrup). They also have really good wine here and some amazing vineyards.
Being a big busy city, I found the people to be slightly hard on the outside, and incredibly warm on the inside. They are a proud people and want the world to see them for who they are, lovely souls doing their best in the world. People here are aware of the image portrayed on them in Western media. They don’t get a lot of Americans visiting. When people found out where we were from they wanted to engage us and talk story. They wanted to share their country with us, respectfully and with passion. I was happy to listen. Beirut was one of the most fascinating cities I have ever been to. It has heart. It has charm. And it is was a reminder that the world is complicated, and that my life has been pretty darn good!