Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What an astonishing place!

What an astonishing city is Beirut.

Not so very long ago it was beyond FUBAR or even TARFU and now it is emerging as new city. It is one of the most astonishing things I have ever seen – it must be one of the biggest construction sites in the world. But juxtaposed with hundreds of ruined and abandoned houses, apartment blocks, office blocks and hotels.

Bomber Harris would have been proud of what the 'civil' war did to Beirut.

There is almost nothing of old Beirut remaining but the centre of city has been rebuilt and restored and is quite wonderful.

We have had some terrific Lebanese food and some quite drinkable coffee. Getting the coffee delivered to a table is an art form we have yet to master - but we will take a correspondence course.

French is widely spoken here and as our Australian accents appear to be incomprehensible to almost everyone - I have resorted to French (punctuated with German) on many occasions.

All Lebanese men are taught from a very early age that a motor car is a horn attached to motor. The purpose of the motor is to enable the horn to be moved from place to place so that it can be honked loud and long.

This early training is successful. Lebanese drivers believe that if they are in a traffic jam (which is their normal state) the traffic in front of them can be removed through the prolonged and vigorous application of the horn.

This can be supplemented with the voice (given by god to drivers so that they can shout at each other) and fingers. These are useful in explaining in sign language to other drivers the finer points of road use.

It is occasionally necessary (as I saw today) when there is a lack of misunderstanding of your needs as a driver - to exit your vehicle and chase another driver down the road using both voice and finger explanations.

I should say that none of these methods of road clearance is effective and it is possible to walk from the Place d’Etoile to our hotel (about 3 kilometres) across the roofs of stationary cars – all containing tooting, shouting, gesticulating drivers.

Tomorrow I will explain the Lebanese social security system that provides almost full employment for young men as waiters in cafes so that they can spend their days smoking and discussing girls and football - free from the necessity of providing any kind of service to clients.

A glorious, dynamic, vibrant place. I love it!

I am leaving tomorrow on a flight that leaves at 3:45 AM on Gestapo Airlines. I have much more to tell you.

I have many previous comments to which I shall respond soon.


  1. Wow, what an experience! Kansas seems so indadequate now (now?). Thanks for the Lebanese flag.

  2. Wait, did Jim Jarmusch film "Coffee and Cigarettes" in Beirut? ;-)

  3. Maalie - it was truly amazing.

    Wanderlust: Come the uprising Topeka and large parts of Kansas will indeed look like Beirut in the bad days.

    Merisi: Hmmm....don't know - how do we find out? I guess from the film credits.

  4. Badger,
    I tried to find out, but gave up.
    I only watched the first half hour or so before I fast-forwarded most scenes. Somehow I didn't get what was so great about all that smoking (and talking about it, gems like "The beauty of quitting is, now that I've quit, I can have one, 'cause I've quit" - oh well, maybe that one was funny?).