martes, 28 de diciembre de 2010
miércoles, 22 de diciembre de 2010
I was seriously getting resigned to the fact that winter in Beirut was just going to be an extension of the Fall. I mean it was cool-ish the other day, but after Boston’s harsh winters, I was like “OK, Lebanon, is this all you’ve got?”
A Lebanese friend who lives abroad was in town last weekend and she told me about this great restaurant in the mountains where you can see the snow and eat fondue, one hour away from Beirut. We decided to check it out. But in the back of my mind, I was asking myself, “C’mon, how cold can it actually get an hour from here??” (it was like 60F/15C in Beirut that day).
How wrong I was! After an hour drive on a seriously steep road (I wonder if the Lebanese pray for their life when they drive here on the mountain roads. I most certainly do) we got to this breathtaking area near the mountaintops. Seriously, it was ridiculously beautiful. Snow everywhere (Talj in Arabic), and a gorgeous view of the ocean. Can it get any better?
The restaurant, Le Montaignou, looks like a Swiss chalet, with a cozy atmosphere, wooden tables, laid back service and delicious mountain food (i.e. French onion soup, fondue, sausages and mash potatoes…). And there are windows in all walls, so you can enjoy the view while eating your meal and relaxing. The views are perfect for corny pictures to send back to your parents, the ones that say “Look how happy I am, Ma!”
After our meal we decided to sneak-a-pick at Faraya, the famous sky resort that all trendy people go to. Again, after seeing the ski slopes in the States or France, I wasn’t expecting much. Again... wrong! These ski slopes look not bad at all and the day passes are not too expensive. The Lebanese do not shy away from showing off their snowboarding skills or their expensive gear. I guess I’ll have to ditch my good old red fleece and trade it for something a little fancier…
Anyways, it looks like some serious skiing awaits us this season after all!!
lunes, 13 de diciembre de 2010
Winter finally arrived to Lebanon this weekend. And it literally went from 26 degrees and sunny on Wednesday to 10 degrees and rainy on Sunday. The rain and thunderstorms have been crazy as well (and with the pre-Christmas shoppers out on the weekend, the traffic has been out of this world).
Fun fact: in Arabic, the word for “rain” sounds like the word “shitty”. So when it is “shitty” out, there’s “shitty” in Lebanon !
In English there’s this expression “It’s raining cats and dogs”, which makes me smile. Imagine the visual! But there is some truth to it in Beirut, since in my part of town, I can hear the street cats’ terrified meows every time lighting strikes.
The sewage system in Lebanon isn’t great to begin with, so during rainy times, it’s beautiful to see small rivers form everywhere in the Achrafieh hills, with some pretty ponds forming spontaneously at the bottom of the street. But unfortunately, you won’t see any fish in those; only a couple of floating bottles is you get lucky.
I thought the garbage hadn’t been collected by mistake (or lack of resources) and this was the cause of this hydraulic mess, but my Lebanese friend confirmed that trash was collected only after the first rain, since it will all be gathered on the sewage at the bottom of the hill anyways. Why the double effort? This is a perfect example of Man and Nature working hand in hand (isn’t that just brilliant?).
Since last weekend, the Lebanese ladies have been showing off their winter outfits, stylish as ever, with an elegance equal to any Parisian’s walking down the Champs Elyses. However it is only 10 degrees here, not -5, so the hats and gloves look a bit out of place. Mind you, in Mexico it isn’t any different. The slightest cold front is an excellent excuse to bring out the fur.
After spending 6 years in Boston, I must say that I sort of welcome this slight change of season. After all, it feels weird to do your Christmas shopping wearing a tank top. So I raise my (premature?) mug of hot cocoa to Beirut’s cool weather.
sábado, 4 de diciembre de 2010
martes, 16 de noviembre de 2010
lunes, 15 de noviembre de 2010
sábado, 30 de octubre de 2010
One of the benefits of learning a new language is that you gain the ability to view the world differenty. I was in my Arabic (Lebanese) class last week, and I learnt some interesting things about family and succession.
But some women are opposing this tradition and starting a movement in Lebanon to change it. International Organizations are supporting them. Check out these links to learn more about the issue:
domingo, 24 de octubre de 2010
Dinner in Lebanon doesn’t start till 9pm. For those of us who like to eat a bit earlier, it is common to enter a restaurant at 7:30 and find it empty.
However, do not be fooled: an empty restaurant doesn’t mean there are open seats. An empty restaurant means that some very specific people haven’t arrived yet.
Let me explain this a bit further: you come to a restaurant, no one is there. You ask for the table in the corner (I love corners) and they tell you it’s reserved. You then get a table in the middle (ugh), and after 2 hours of a lovely meal, you realize that the table in the corner is still empty.
I have 2 theories on this: a) The person who reserved the table didn’t show up or b) you can reserve a table and get to the restaurant eventually.
PS: I would be very interested in hearing a Lebanese explain this point. This affair of reserved seating remains a mystery to me to this date.
domingo, 10 de octubre de 2010
domingo, 3 de octubre de 2010
sábado, 25 de septiembre de 2010
martes, 21 de septiembre de 2010
miércoles, 15 de septiembre de 2010
I am sure I could do a historical, sociological, or psychological analysis of the whole thing, but I really don't feel like it. I have been doing way too much reading today. So I will just stick to my experience this time.
Since I got to Lebanon I have been surrounded my random acts of kindness. Here are some examples:
I am sitting outside of the building where my yoga class takes place. I am reading a book, standing by the door. The concierge approaches me and offers me to come in and seat on his chair. When I do this, he brings me a coffee. Then he leaves (this is without words, I don’t speak his language, he doesn’t speak mine).
Other examples: I am in a taxi; the driver doesn't have any change. He tells me I can leave, without paying (impossible scenario in NYC!). I am in another taxi, the driver asks me if I am comfortable, and whether I prefer window or AC (yeah right Boston cabs). I am out with friends, someone pays for my whole meal without me even knowing the person that well. When I offer to pay the person categorically refuses. I am in the street, waiting for a cab, next to a guy who is waiting for a cab too. A cab comes, he doesn’t take it but lets me go instead and helps me negotiate a price… I can go on.
The most interesting part is my reaction to the whole thing: first mistrust kicks in ("what do you want from me?"). Second, paranoia ("Am I about to get robbed?"). Third comes skepticism ('yeah, how much is THAT going to cost?"). Then comes doubt ("Naaaah, this is not right. Am I being too naive?"). Finally, vanity ("Is this guy hitting on me?")
When I think about it, I realize that I have become so accustomed to look out for myself that I find it difficult to accept with an open heart these random acts of kindness. Could it be that people are just being kind? Could it be that I could just stop "being careful" without fearing for my life?
I feel the barrier dissolve and me accepting this kindness. Then I get scared and I put it right back up. Then I relax, then it comes up...
But I can't simply ignore the fact that in Lebanon people are just incredibly welcoming and warm, regardless of what goes on in my head.
jueves, 9 de septiembre de 2010
In Lebanon, there is a high degree of tolerance for uncertainty, though. Or so it seems for someone who lived in boston for 6 years. There is a "we'll know when we get there" kind of mentality. In Mexico, this is called the "alli se va" or the "cuando lleguemos a ese puente lo cruzamos" mindset.
Recenlty, this was perfectly exemplified for me around a particular holiday. I was happily PLANNING my week on Monday, when a colleague brought to my attention that we would have a free day either Thursday or Friday. When I asked her what this depended on she answered with a perfectly serious face "it depends on the moon".
I wasn't expecting that one.
So, on Wednedsay night, around 9 pm, I get a text from my buddy from HR telling me that the free day was Friday, not Thursday. The message was appended with a "PS: pass the message along".
A gazillion questions came to mind such as how can you plan a vacation?, what happenes if you didn't get the text? If you show up and the office is closed? etc.
But now when I think about it (and as I prepare to take my long weekend!), ultimately this "uncertainty" didn't matter. No natural disaster. No tragedy. No major loss of any kind. I just couldn't plan my week. I just had to show up to work on Thursday...
On a side note: I must confess my absolute and total ignorance on the determination of muslim holidays, that do depend on moon cycles. Thanks to my knowledgeable colleague from work, I am better prepared for this next time. Here is a link if you want to find out more about this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_calendar
domingo, 5 de septiembre de 2010
I had never lived in a place where religion was so ever present. For example, I was walking in the mall the other day, and when I looked at the store directory, I noticed there was a Praying Room. In the mall. From my office you can see the blue dome of a gorgeous mosque. In Hamra, men seating in the street corners gently pass their beads through their fingers. And when I walk around Achrafieh, on the Christian side, I see churches all over, cemeteries with huge marble angels, schools and parks named after saints and all this to the sound of bells ringing…
This is the month of Ramadan. During the scorching sun and heat of August some colleagues choose not to eat and drink the whole day. To be reminded of what’s sacred for them. Stores close, people take leave from work… It creates a very special atmosphere.
I must say my absolute favorite is the Call to Prayer. Every day, 5 times a day, the beautiful voice of the muezzin (the man whose voice leads the call) reminds you to pray.
Fajr, between dawn and sunrise.
Zuhr, just after the height of the midday sun.
Asr in the afternoon.
Maghrib, just after sunset.
Isha during the evening.
In Beirut, I am reminded of where the sun is everyday, and also, I am reminded that there is something much bigger than me and my mundane activities. And I can’t help but feeling grateful for being here and being reminded. It definitely puts things in perspective.
After having lived in and visited cities around the world, I can argue that the layout of a city is a good representation of not only the personality of the place, but also the personality of the people who live in it.
And to find your way around Beirut, you just can’t use the same strategy you would use in any other city in the world. Way finding in Beirut is an art that requires observation, memory and creativity. It is spontaneous. Unpredictable.
A sign on the street corner will give you absolutely no clue as of where you are (unless you have memorized the numbers of the city sectors). And many times, the streets have no name at all. And houses sometimes have no numbers either.
“How do you find your way around Beirut?” you might ask yourself.
So naturally, streets have no name, but buildings do. In a system where you find your way through landmarks, this makes perfect sense.
“Take a right at Chilli’s, then go down, in the corner you will see a hair salon, then take a left and I am in the So and So building, next to the pharmacy” told me a friend when he invited me to his place.
“Drop me by the Starbucks in Hamra” you will tell the cab driver.
When I first got here, I was quite puzzled. “This can’t work, this is a mess!” I told myself. But then in conversation with a very wise Lebanese friend, everything became clear.
She said “ You see, in America, you are in your car, you have your map, you find your way by yourself. In Beirut, you have to ask people. So we have to talk to others, because we need each other. It forces us to talk”.
A place that forces you to talk to others. How beautiful is that?
lunes, 23 de agosto de 2010
My husband and I were shopping for mobile phones at the store the other day. When we were about to activate them, the seller asked me if I wanted a $200 number or a $25 one. When I asked what the difference was, he looked at me with an “Are you kidding me?” look and said “Well the $200 one is a good number, the other one is a bad number”.
Note: when you get a Black Berry here, you can only get a good number. When I was told this, I refused out of principle to fall into the scam and got an LG instead. I should have thought about this twice…
viernes, 20 de agosto de 2010
I would like to open this blog on a topic that most new comers have to confront from the time they step out of the airport: taxis. Cab drivers in Beirut have an acute sense for recognizing people who are not from around here (although sometimes it is so evident you are not from here that the driver doesn’t need any particular talent to know you are totally clueless).
However, there is a happy consensus that “service” will cost regularly 2,000 LL (about a $1.50). So, as a foreigner, you are stuck with $10 rides, telling yourself “Boy, this is expensive.”, till you discover “Service”. And by the way, service and taxi is exactly the same car.
On a side note, one of my favourite things is that when a taxi stops and you a) ask for service or b) are going to a place they are not going to, they will either turn their head without a word and drive off, or insult you a little bit.
But coming back to my initial point about the driver’s 6th sense on foreigners… Unfortunately, knowing the real taxi or service rates will not save you from some skillful techniques to rip you off anyways. Some of my favorite examples:
“It’s 10,000 during Ramadhan”
“Hey, Bibi, can you give me $10 for gas?”
“No, not 10,000, it’s 10 dollars”
“10 dollars, with leather seats and A/C”