domingo, 5 de septiembre de 2010

Where the streets have no name

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.

Through landmarks.

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?

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