A Vagabond in Beirut Time takes us all…



It is evening in Beirut; I am sitting the bar of the Radisson Blu Martinez where I have moved since finishing the Lokahi Global Exchange Program at the Le Royal Beirut yesterday.  On the television screen in the bar are recaps from the Arab Summit which completed on Sunday.

I haven’t a clue as to what is going on; it is all in Arabic, the first language of Lebanon.  The second is French; the third is English and I suspect English will soon be the second as it seems to be supplanting, from my observation, French.

The Lebanese currency is the pound or lira.  However, almost everywhere, prices are in dollars and in Lebanese pounds/lira or, frequently, just in dollars.  Billboards advertising car sales are in Arabic, with dollars as prices and sometimes the whole ad is in English.

Such are the wild contrasts which make up Lebanon.

The country was wracked by a civil war from 1975 to 1991.  Its ravages are still apparent though overshadowed by a pace of building that rivals New York.  Old buildings with good bones are being renovated.  Those without good bones are bereft, waiting, I suspect, to be torn down and replaced my something else.  On these, you can see the pockmarks of war.

On the streets are stylishly dressed women who share the thoroughfares with women who are completely covered in the most conservative Islamic tradition — and everything in between.

There are beggars but not many.  On the Corniche, a physically and mentally disabled man was selling Chicklets and I gave him money; he gave me two packets of Chicklets and waved to me as I got into my taxi to take me back to my hotel. His smile broke my heart.

It seemed to me, on a walk tonight, that the concept of a pedestrian crossing has not yet occurred to city planners.  It should; everyone including me, takes their lives into their hands to cross the street.

In Byblos, arguably the oldest place that has been continuously inhabited by man, I saw all of history meld together, from the days of the Pharaohs to the days of the Crusaders and beyond.

It is the Phoenicians who gave us the first alphabet, god love them.

In Tyre, I sat on a fallen pillar from Roman times and my friend, Nick Stuart, took my photo and I posted it to Facebook.  I realized all I am is a whisper in time, sitting in the ruins of thousands of years, which have seen men like me come and go, come and go, come and go…

Tyre became rich on its purple dye, coveted by kings.  It didn’t want territory; it wanted trade.  Rule me, it said, but let me trade.  Until Alexander the Great; it held out against him and paid the price, never again rising to the heights it had held.

We are all fools, of course.  Time will have its due with us.  All our craven dreams will be lost in the winds of time, like Tyre, like Byblos, like the ancient Egyptians, who held sway longer than any of us.

There are letters from the Princes of Byblos petitioning Amenhotep IV [Akhenaten] for help.  He was too busy creating the first monotheistic religion to help the outposts of his empire.  He left it to his ancestors to work to retrieve what he ignored.

Ultimately, the Persians came, then Alexander, then the Seleucids, and then the Romans; Phoenicia was then absorbed by Islam, became a battleground for the Crusaders, who created kingdoms here for a couple of centuries before they too retreated.

It’s all here; every age of man.  It is a land that survives.  Above all else, it survives.







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