After several months of calm and tranquility, today was something completely different.
Originally planned as a national strike calling for an increase in the basic wage, we ended up with tyre burnings and barricades in the streets, as well as gun battles and torched cars. Most of the action focused on the border suburbs between the Sunni and Shia neighbourhoods of Beirut – which are thankfully quite removed from where we live.
Work and the schools were closed for the day and the streets were largely empty. The airport has been blocked off by protesters who’ve constructed barricades out of earth and debris. Check out this Reuters post for more info.
Who knows when things will get back to normal? For the time being we’ll definitely be keeping our heads down and spending some “quality time” at home…
Life in Beirut is rarely boring!
When the weather is as nice as it was today it is criminal to be stuck in the office or sitting around the house. So Alex took the day off work (with the boss’ approval of course) and we took Nanna for a drive up to the hilltop town of Harissa. There we explored the immaculate statue of the Lady of Lebanon, took in the spectacular views of Jounieh, and did some shopping for relics and icons in the gift shop (the best find being a 3d picture of the Last Supper. Classy.)
Harissa is a major tourist and pilgrimage destination and is packed at Christmas and Easter. Interestingly though, most visitors this morning were from an Iranian tour group. It was an unusual but reassuring sight to watch chador-clad ladies posing next to a giant Virgin Mary.
From Jounieh we drove back to downtown Beirut, parked ourselves at La Posta Italian restaurant on the terrace and had a damn fine meal overlooking the Roman ruins and the collection of Maronite, Catholic and Orthodox churches and the Mohammed El-Amine mosque (commonly referred to as the Hariri mosque).
Then we picked up Mitchie from daycare, bought ice creams on Bliss Street and sat on the Corniche slurping down our creamy confections watching the beautiful people parade past.
Finally at the end of the day Daddy barbequed up some marinated lamb cutlets for a tasty conclusion to our food extravanza.
Well, as if the uncertain political and security environment isn’t enough, today we had a 5.1 richter earthquake in Beirut. I was sitting at work talking to some colleagues and all of a sudden the whole building shook. Rang Sheridan and she was working away on the treadmill, hadn’t noticed until Fina came in and told her (Sheridan’s excuse is that she’s shaky enough as it is).
There was a little bit of damage around town, but nothing significant. This is the third tremor to hit Lebanon this week, with the first two focusing on the southern coastal city of Tyre.
Beirut and the Lebanese coast has had its fair share of tectonic activity over the years. Beirut was completely destroyed by earthquake in 1759, and previously destroyed in 551 AD and 349 AD. Tsunamis have hit the coast in 306 AD, 881, 1752 and 1952.
It’s been a while since the last big quake – I wonder if this means we’re overdue? (How’s that for a cheery thought)
February 14 is the anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. In response to the 2005 bomb attack a massive number of Lebanese people turned out in Beirut to mark the event. It has now become a significant anniversary, particularly for Hariri’s son Saad and his followers.
So what better way to spend a free day in Lebanon than to take a wander down to Martyr’s Square and hobnob with fellow ralliers? The organisers claim that more than one million people were there. In my professional opinion the number’s much closer to 100,000, but that’s still a lot of flag waving footy fans!
Oh, and I’m not sure what purpose an RPG (second photo, guy on the left) has to do with crowd control though… (RPG = rocket propelled grenade, used for destroying tanks)
After the horrible weather of last week, this weekend has been lovely – sunny, no wind, and crisp cool air. And what better way to enjoy such weather than a nice walk on the Corniche?
Beirut’s corniche has recently been renovated. Before our extended return to Australia the pavement was horribly pot-holed, covered in litter and bits of discarded gutted fish, and generally an unpleasant place to walk. (Though in true Beirut fashion it didn’t matter what condition it was in, people would still walk along it all weekend because there’s nowhere else in Beirut that you can walk without being run over!)
Now it’s got new pavers, new light poles (without lightglobes – a minor problem), new palm trees and new railing. Of course it’s a mystery who paid for all this, as the government’s been paralysed and bankrupt for some time. A typical Lebanese mystery!