I’m in love with Beirut!! Today was such a fantastic day! Dude. I think Friday is my lucky day. No joke. I mean, in general, it’s a brilliant day. If you work or have class, all day you can’t help smiling because you know the freedom of the weekend awaits. If you’re Muslim, it’s the first day of the weekend, so that’s freaking fantastic. Really – there is nothing bad about Fridays. They’re just all-around wonderful! And here in Beirut, they’ve all been beyond amazing.
Met Omar for coffee after class and we chatted till around 1pm, when Omar introduced me to my now beloved BarBar to grab a quick lunch. Okay, BarBar is brilliant. My love for it rivals my love for Fridays in Beirut. It’s basically a full block of different take-out places in the Hamra neighborhood, all run by the BarBar Trading Company. There’s a shwarma place, a falafel place, a manaeesh/fatayer place (manaeesh is basically thick round delicious bread, covered in zaatar & fatayer (aka – spinach pie) is bread, folded into a triangle, with spinach filling), a fresh fruit smoothie place, an ice cream place, a pizza place, a sandwich place – basically it’s heaven. And everything at BarBar is cheap – you’ll never pay more than $2 for any food item. Oh, and they deliver. On cute little motorbikes. I LOVE IT! How I did not discover this place sooner, I will never know.
After eating, we each went home to get bathing suits and met up about an hour later to head down to St. George’s – a beach club in Beirut, just off the Corniche (the boardwalk that runs along the sea), that’s been operating since the 1930s. There are two main pools at St. George’s, filled with chlorinated salt-water. Omar and I swam, tanned, talked and people-watched until closing around 6:30pm. Ah! Such a great afternoon!!
One thing that’s impossible to miss if you’re anywhere near St. George, is the gigantic banner, covering the side of the large building bordering the pool, that reads “STOP SOLIDERE”.
I’ve been trying to figure out the story behind the sign, and so far, this is what I’ve found out: First of all, Solidere stands for ‘SOciété LIbanaise pour le Développement Et la REconstruction de Beyrouth’, which translates to ‘Lebanese Society for the Development and Reconstruction of Beirut.’ Basically, it’s a group that was created in 1994 by former Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, to oversee all the planning and redevelopment of Beirut after Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990).
So on the outside, it looked like they did a lot of good. Actually, the first time I came to Lebanon in 2005, right after Hariri was assisnated, Mom bought a picture book publsihed by Solidere that showed photos of Beirut destroyed after the war, alongside photos after Solidere’s reconstruction projects. We were impressed.
But, what, to me, as a passive tourist, looked pretty on the outside, actually had a kind of corrupt and messy process behind it. According to a 2007 article in the Daily Star by Lysandra Ohrstrom, (Solidere: ‘Vigilantism under the color of law’), beginning in 1994, “…Solidere exchanged property rights from between 100,000 to 150,000 tenants and landowners in exchange for shares in Solidere itself. But after the completion of the rehabilitation the former occupants were guaranteed either the right to return to their property or the company’s profits were to be distributed as just compensation.” Problem is…most people still haven’t seen compensation, and going broke waiting, many have sold their property and are now basically fucked. Adding insult to injury, a lot of people were pissed that in it’s reconstructions, Solidere modernized the city, taking away from it’s historical and traditional character. They “…demolished 85 percent of the city’s memory considering buildings to be too badly damaged to be worth preserving, and denied property owners and tenants their right to return to where they were operating from before.” Not cool Solidere, not cool.
As for St. George’s – it’s this fantastic little beach club right by the water that was one of the first in Beirut, and it’s marina is iconic here. The building that the big sign is hanging on, is the old St. George’s hotel, which was destroyed during the civil war. The beach club itself actually just reopened within the last year, as it was completely destroyed during the 2006 war with Israel. Problem is, Solidere has blocked the owners of St. George’s from reconstructing the hotel, taken away their rights to the marina and sometimes have even blocked people from entering the beach club – all part of efforts to put pressure on St. George’s to sell to Solidere. Boo hiss. So yeah, from what I’ve heard thus far, I’m with St. George’s. Stop Solidere!
Anyway…after an amazing afternoon at the pool, Omar and I went our separate ways with plans to meet up later tonight. A shower and a quick nap and before I knew it, it was 9:30pm. I got dressed for a night out while sipping on the red wine I bought at Chateau Ksara – yum! And at 10pm, I was off!!
Met up with Ozge and Charles on Hamra and the three of us headed down to Gem for drinks and good conversation. After about an hour, we were joined by Jeff and a French girl he knows from work, who’s name I’ve completely forgotten. Another hour and Omar showed up with his friends Salam and Ziena. Lots of laughing and chatting and shots made with tabasco sauce, vodka, lemon juice and topped by olives followed.
At 3am, with a good buzz going, we said goodbye to Salam and Ziena, and the remaining 6 of us squashed ourselves into the back of a taxi in search of the perfect place to finish off the night. We ended up at this swank beach-side club called Island, that’s part of the Riviera Hotel. Jeff got us in for free so woot! happy day! Chilled with drinks at the bar next to the pool, danced and laughed until around 5:30 am.
And now it’s 6:30 and the happy buzz from tonight is just beginning to wear off and I’m feeling completely exhuasted. The sun is rising outside my window, the temperature is rising and my beloved roof rooster is crowing his heart out. I think it’s time for bed.