Poor old downtown Beirut never gets a break from strife!
I found this photoblog about Beirut’s synagogue and the remains of the Jewish quarter (link here) really interesting. It’s quite a pretty building and a nice locale, although much of the area was destroyed during the civil war. It’s not far from my office and I often walk past the synagogue remains on the way to the dentist. It looks a bit different now though, as the building is finally being rehabilitated.
An earlier post looked at some typical examples of Lebanese driving habits. This afternoon I saw a different form of road rage – two traffic police having a fight over which stream of traffic had right of way.
I was sitting at the lights at the intersection above, waiting for my turn to go. This intersection is one of the major arterial crossroads in the city, connecting north and south traffic and the road from the port. On a Friday afternoon when everyone’s heading for the coast or the mountains it’s usually chock a block. Although there are traffic lights here, these tend to be optional in Lebanon so there’s also some traffic cops on duty to ensure the mass of cars keeps flowing.
I watched with great delight as the two cops on duty had a screaming row over which approach road had right of way. There was lots of frantic arm waving, pointing of fingers, and some moves which were more akin to popping. This was lots of fun, but the upshot was that none of us were going anywhere…
I came across a great Lebanese artist’s blog the other day and she’s drawn some beautifully simple frames highlighting Lebanese driving and parking practices.
These might look like parodies, but they actually present a pretty accurate depiction of daily driving here. Great fun.
This next one looks just like the street corner below our apartment.
Got to meet Joe Biden, the US VP today. Well, kind of. His 35-car motorcade ripped past me as I was walking home from the office, so I threw him a quick welcoming wave in as unthreatening a way as possible given that there were several helicopter gunships hovering above. No sudden moves, and sir, please refrain from pointing your RPG at the motorcade.
Honestly, I’ve never seen so many shiny black SUVs in my life.
I recently posted about the lifting of the 18 month sit-in protest in downtown Beirut. The security put in place to guard the government against these nefarious and underhanded protesters made it really difficult to get into downtown, and most of the shops there had closed down for a lack of business.
Well downtown Beirut has rebounded with a vengeance. Heaps of cafes and restaurants have already re-opened, and Beirutis have been flocking in. At night the area – which is closed off to traffic – has been packed with people. We were down there the other night and Prime Minister Siniora came wandering through to check it all out.
I still find it quite surreal that we can now walk unfettered through areas which only a week ago were rendered offlimits by Hizballah supporters. Now that the razor wire and armed goons are gone, it’s actually a really nice area!
The best bit for me is I can just mosey on down the hill from the office and grab a primo frescati ice coffee from Costa if I need a refreshingly cool beverage to break up the day.
Of course the walk back up the hill is a bit of a bugger and now that it’s getting over 30 degrees I tend to be a slick ball of greasy man-sweat when I get back in the office.
A small price to pay for freedom.
In case you’ve seen reporting about the fighting in Beirut over the past few days (eg this reuters report), just wanted to reassure you that we’re all fine.
Fighting has been concentrated in the Sunni suburbs of west Beirut, several kilometres away from where we live, and has mostly died down now. So far it all seems pretty exclusively Sunni vs Shia, explaining why our neighbourhood, which is Christian, has been spared.
In fact it is quite surreal being in Achrafieh through all this. I ducked out to get a few supplies yesterday and the shops were open, people were going about their business, walking dogs etc. Yet there was the constant staccato chatter of machine gun fire and thundering booms of RPG detonations echoing across the city. Madness!