Tag Archives: Mediterranean

Channeling Chinatown

Okay, someone please explain this to me. Apparently, here in Beirut, nose jobs have become so popular that those who cannot afford them, or don’t even actually need them, can still opt to wear bandages across their nose…to fake a nose job. Yup. The newest trend to hit the Beirut fashion scene is the post-op nose bandage. Seriously, what the what??

Jack Nicholson in Chinatown. If only this movie had been made 35 years later and in Beirut...

Jack Nicholson in Chinatown. Ahead of his time. If only this movie had been made 35 years later and in Beirut...

Sorry, but how or why is this considered a chic look?? Okay yes, nose jobs are extremely commonplace in Lebanon – in a 1999 article in the Daily Star discussing the rising popularity of plastic surgery in Lebanon, journalist Anne Renahan wrote, “The Lebanese nose:  a facial feature that some people are starting to say is an endangered species on the verge of extinction.” And that was 10 years ago… Today plastic surgery is more popular than ever and the nose job is still leading the way as the most commonly elected procedure – but still, why wear the bandages if you don’t have to??

In that same article, Rehahan continued with several interviews with Lebanese plastic surgeons, including Dr. E.M., 65, a member of the Lebanese Society of Plastic, Reconstructive and  Aesthetic Surgery.  Apparently Dr. E.M. “…[didn’t] think that the high number of nose jobs in Lebanon [was] a fashion trend. The low cost of operations means that it cannot be considered a status symbol because to a certain extent it is available to everyone. ‘The operation is easy to do and can be done in a day. And it’s also cheaper here than other countries  the average price of a nose job in the States may be up to $6,000. In Lebanon it can cost as little as $1,000,’ he says.”

Okay, first of all, I don’t know what world you live in, but in my world, $1,000 is still a fairly large chunk of change. But if, for argument’s sake, you say that $1,000 is affordable, meaning that nose jobs are not considered a status symbol, than why bother with the bandage trend at all?? What’s the point?

To me it reeks more of Halloween than high fashion, but hey, I’m no fashionista.

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NEW New Plan!

Okay, so where to begin…Almost exactly 1 year ago the economic crisis stole my life. I was living it up in Madrid with amazing friends, teaching English, tour guiding for Sandeman’s New Madrid and working as the Program’s Coordinator for Club Ivy, helping Spanish students apply to study abroad in English speaking countries. Life was good.

Me tour guiding it in Madrid!

Me tour guiding it in Madrid!

And then boom – 24% unemployment in Spain and my jobs were gone. I said farewell to all my amazing Madrid amigos and set off in search of a new adventure.

SWEET MEMORIES OF MADRID

At Estadio Santiago Bernabeau for a Real Madrid football match with Sebastian, Simon, Tanguy, Davide, and Luzie

At Estadio Santiago Bernabeau for a Real Madrid football match with Sebastian, Simon, Tanguy, Davide, and Luzie

Marisa and I celebrating Spain's EuroCup victory in the Bilbao fountain!

Marisa and I celebrating Spain's EuroCup victory in the Bilbao fountain - on my 23rd Birthday!

Tiki Tiki! Oleeeeeeeeee! Ernie, Paolo and Nabil on Halloween!!

Tiki Tiki! Oleeeeeeeeee! Ernie, Paolo and Nabil on Halloween!!

Laura, Pablo, Arturo, me, Enrique, and Maria eating caramel apples for dessert after our delicious Thanksgiving feast!! yes, I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for my friends in Spain. And yes, it was awesome ;)

Laura, Pablo, Arturo, me, Enrique, and Maria eating caramel apples for dessert after our delicious Thanksgiving feast!! yes, I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for my friends in Spain. And yes, it was awesome 😉

Me and Rachel!! Dinner party at Rachel's, complete with charades, magic tricks and singing ;)

Me and Rachel!! Dinner party at Rachel's, complete with charades, magic tricks and singing

La Noche en Blanco!! Out with Nicoletta and Julian :)

La Noche en Blanco!! Out with Nicoletta and Julian

Goodbye Party with friends in Madrid

Goodbye Party with friends in Madrid

So, I decided to go to Boston for a breather, find a job back in my home country. Boston was good in a lot of ways too – I reconnected with old friends, visited family, met many wonderful new friends…

BRILLIANT BOSTON BUDDIES

Sara,me, Megan (roomie!), and Jackie

Sara,me, Megan (roomie!), and Jackie

Lilly!! We've been BFF since birth :)

Lilly!! We've been BFF since birth 🙂

Told 'ya - friends from birth :) Lilly and I as babies. I'm the adorably fat, bald lump on the floor ;)

Told 'ya - friends from birth! Lilly and I as babies. I'm the adorably fat, bald lump on the floor...

Elizabeth!! and me :)

Elizabeth!! and me out for a night in Beantown

Drea!!! Rachel, Parker and me :) Nerds. Oh yeah.

Drea!!! (high school amiga!) Rachel, Parker and me. Nerds. Oh yeah.

Justin!!

Justin!!

Wiley! My Other Roomie :)

Wiley! My Other Roomie

University friends back in Providence! Rita, me and Camela at Viva!

University friends back in Providence! Rita, me and Camela at Viva!

Binta, Sonia, Maren and me - visiting my amazing cousins in Maine! Love you all!!

Binta, Sonia, Maren and me - visiting my amazing cousins in Maine! Love you all!!

But after about 4 months it was bye-bye Boston. I lived between Amman and Palestine for a month, working with my Uncle, a documentary filmmaker for Al Jazeera English. And after that…I had no plan. Already in the Middle East, I made the spontaneous decision to visit family in Beirut and study Arabic for about a month.

July came and went so quickly, and deliriously happy in Beirut, I was in no mood to leave.  I had enough saved up to hold me over for another month, so I found my fabulous L’Auberge Espagnole-esque apartment in Hamra, where I lived with 12 other amazing Lebanese and internationals, and continued Arabic classes.

As the end of August drew near, and I began to scrape the bottom of my piggy bank, I was forced to decide – what next? Do I stay in Beirut, find a job and make a life here? Or do I go back to the States again? And if so, where?? Do I move to a different country?? Where??? What kind of jobs am I going to be applying for? What do I want to do with my life??? Why have I not already figured this out????? AHHHHHHHH!! Head exploding!!

Finally I decided – ‘Okay, I’ll stay in Beirut. Easier that way. Besides, I’m happy here.’ A lot of my friends here were interning with the Daily Star, the main English language newspaper in the region. So that put the idea into my head to try something journalism related. I love writing so it seems like a logical choice, no? I applied for jobs at both the Daily Star and the monthly travel magazine, Time Out Beirut.  Both offered me an internship, but Time Out Beirut offered the possibility of a paying job within a month or so. Time Out Beirut it is!!

And so it began. Every morning, I would pull my tired ass out of bed, glug some coffee and then sit back with my ipod for the 2 hour bus ride to Kaslik (which incidentily is only 25 minutes from Beirut, but takes a whopping 1 hour and a half longer to get to on the bus. oooogh. But the bus only costs me $1.75 so I’m not complaining. Well I guess I am, but I acknowledge that I shouldn’t. So there.).

The job turned out to be worth it, though. And now,they’ve hired me full time!!!! So basically I get paid to enjoy and explore Beirut and the rest of Lebanon, and then write about it. Seriously, what could be better?? How is this my life???

So with a regular paycheck and a new apartment with Farah in Achrafiyeh (they tore down our old building to build a parking lot), I’m calling Beirut home for the time being.

Farah and moi

Farah et moi

Such a bizarre feeling to know where home is again! From Madrid to Boston to Amman to Ramallah and now finally here – it took me almost a year after the economic crisis robbed me of my life in Spain but BOOM BABY! I’m baaaaaaaaaaaaack!!!

Beirut, how I love thee. Let me count the ways…

Cagil!

Cagil!

About a week ago, my flatmate Cagil (pronounced ‘Chill’) and I were sitting out on her balcony, drinking wine, smoking cigarettes and listening to Fairuz belt out ‘Le Beirut.’ Complete bliss. As we sat there in our white plastic chairs, our feet propped up on the rusty steel railing, red wine dribbling down our chins (well, my chin – Cagil doesn’t have the same problems I do with spills and messes) we tried to figure out what it is that makes this disorganized city, so full of contradictions, so special – why do we love it so much? And although we couldn’t quite pinpoint one specific thing, we did manage to cover a whole spew of things that are uniquely and wonderfully ‘Beirut.’

  • Constant power outages that leave you peeing in the dark, locked in café with electric doors, sweltering without air conditioning, and cursing your dead computer battery
  • Completely veiled women with bright purple platform heels peeking out beneath their burquas.
  • Cold (aka luke warm) showers on a sticky summer afternoon
  • Grilled ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches from Dany’s
  • Meeting at least one new person every day
  • Joking about my former unibrow and mustache with people who can honestly relate (we Lebanese are a rather hairy people)

    My natural eyebrows

    My natural eyebrows

  • Amazing people from all over Lebanon and the world who are willing to open up completely; who become your best friend, your soul mate in only a few days time
  • Stores that appear and disappear in a month’s time

    M'juddera

    M'juddera

  • Popping olives like candy while we dance around the kitchen, Louis Armstrong playing from my laptop, cooking m’juddera (lentils and rice – by the way – LOVE that its called mmmmm judera cause it really is muah-ha mmmmm boy delicious) with friends
  • The world’s S   L   O   W   E   S   T and most expensive internet connection
  • Walking south, while taxis driving north honk at you and offer you a ride
  • Six people jammed in the back of a Service (shared taxi)
  • Eating three meals a day at BarBar
  • The hilarious but inevitable realization that after eating three meals a day at BarBar, even your sweat has begun to smell like garlic
  • Seemingly sweat-free Lebanese women with perfect nails, hair, skin and clothes, strutting down Hamra
  • Spending long afternoons at Ants, browsing jewelry and dresses or just chilling and drinking tea with Fahan, Sebouh, Karen, Raghda and Noor
  • Countless marriage proposals from taxi drivers
  • Iced coffee at Café Younes with a constantly growing group of friends
  • Singing along while friends play guitar and drink cocktails on your roof

    May and Leila enjoying fruit cocktails for breakfast

    May and Leila enjoying fruit cocktails for breakfast

  • Fruit cocktails (an assortment of sliced fresh fruit topped with a sugary syrup, sweet white cheese, pistachio nuts, almonds and a slice of avocado – AH! Too good!)
  • Friday night concerts by ‘Chahadine Ya Baladna’ at Walimat
  • Techno dance parties in the back of taxi cabs…complete with flashing lights…at 3pm
  • Silent old movies screened with subtitles on the walls of De Prague
  • An unhealthy obsession with Knafe

    Knafe!!

    Knafe!!

  • Old men, sitting outside cafes in white plastic chairs playing backgammon or smoking
  • Communal water bottles on mini buses
  • Sitting on my orange sheets with friends in my room, drinking wine, eating chocolate, talking and cracking each other up until the wee hours of the morning

    Me, wrapped in my orange sheets, and so happy!

    Me, wrapped in my orange sheets, and so happy!

  • That newfound, deep and unconditional love we have all developed for air conditioners
  • That renewed, deep and unconditional hatred we have all developed for mosquitoes
  • The first fresh figs at the end of August
  • My infamous fig binges have earned me the nickname 'Teeny,' which in Arabic means 'My fig'

    My infamous fig binges have earned me the nickname 'Teeny,' which in Arabic means 'My fig'

  • Eating figs until your stomach starts to gurgle and you come to the terrifying realization that you can fart on cue
  • Long, intimate evenings with Señor Hamam (Hamam = Toilet in Arabic) after binging on figs
  • Realizing that you’ve never before talked about your bowel movements on such a regular basis
  • Dancing with Omar at Oceana

    Dancing with Omar at Oceana

  • Sipping an ice-cold Almaza with friends at Barometre and snacking on an assortment of Lebanese dishes (mezze)
  • Dancing all day in the pool at one of Beirut’s beach clubs
  • Being offered tissues by random strangers, blown away by how completely drenched in sweat you’ve allowed yourself to become
  • Ordering an obscene amount of food from Kabab-ji…and devouring every last bite
  • Lazy days in the pool with friends that you’ve known for a few days, but feel like you’ve known for years

    Farah, Rianne, me and Leila floating in the pool at Sporting

    Farah, Rianne, me and Leila floating in the pool at Sporting

  • Sitting on the balcony with Cagil, drinking wine, discussing what makes us happy in Beirut

Broccoli and Beers

Today, it was 31 degrees Celsius, 86 Fahrenheit – HOT and HUMID.  But whatever, I’m in a good mood! It’s Friday! My internship with ‘Time Out Beirut’ is going really well and I may have found a new apartment (they’re tearing down our beautiful building to build a parking lot – sucks.).

Beirut I Love YouRight now, I’m reading this book called ‘Beirut, I Love You,’ by the Lebanese writer Zeina el Khalil. It’s a memoir, written about her time in Beirut – friends, family, war, cultural trends, food, sex, love, etc. It’s a very quick read, but it’s well written and doubly entertaining given that I’m actually living in the city that she’s describing.  It’s like reading ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ in Prague, or ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ in Mexico – it somehow makes a brilliant book even better.  Anyway, I brought the book up because as I melted on my walk over to Café Younes today, I laughed to myself as I thought about a line from the book – “Arabian afternoons are like chocolate ice cream stains on the corner of your mouth. They are sweet and sticky.” So true! Although, I have to admit, chocolate ice cream smells a lot better than BO…

I spent a relaxed afternoon at Younes today writing and researching for Time Out, and just when I was beginning to crave good company and conversation Rianne showed up, followed soon after by Farah.  Michael joined us a bit later, Tara stopped by to say hello. I know that Hamra is a small neighborhood, and I know that after some time my opinion of it may change, but for now the small size doesn’t feel claustrophobic at all – just cozy, familiar and homey.  I love that everywhere I go now I run into people I know. Plus, I’m constantly meeting new people – the friend you ran into randomly at Younes introduces you to an acquaintance of theirs, who you randomly bump into at Ta Marbuta, where he or she introduces you to someone else new. Everyone here is just so friendly and open, and I love them for that.

Working with Rianne and Michael at Younes

Working with Rianne and Michael at Younes

Around 6pm, hungry and ready for a change of scenery, Farah and I headed back to the apartment to cook ourselves some dinner. I always know it’s time to go grocery shopping when the only thing I have left in the house is broccoli….yeah, it’s time to go grocery shopping. So while Farah got dressed to meet her dad, who flew in tonight, I boiled up some broccoli and heated up some Maklouta, a kind of mixed bean stew.

Farah and I!

Farah and I!

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Albert Broccoli

Albert Broccoli

As I stood over the steamy stove top, waiting for my watch pot to boil and wishing for a fan, I started laughing to myself. About a year ago I had a random conversation with a friend about Albert Broccoli, the producer of the original James Bond films. At the 1981 Oscars, Roger Moore presented Broccoli with the Irving G. Thalberg award (given to creative producers), and commented that Broccoli’s Italian grandfather had introduced the vegetable to America when he immigrated to the States in the early 1800s. I don’t know if it’s true, but the conversation was a crack up and now every time I boil broccoli I can’t help but smile 🙂 Nerdy, and admittedly a little weird, but if it makes you happy, it can’t be all that bad.

Fausto and Rianne

Fausto and Rianne

After dinner, I chatted with Cagil, read for a bit and then made plans to meet up with Rianne and some of her friends at Dany’s for some beers. Rianne and her friend Fausto had just been to an Arab Tango show at a theater on Rue Hamra. It sounded fantastic – I’ll have to see if I can get tickets for next weekend…
IMG_0584

In case you hadn't noticed that the wall moved...

In case you hadn't noticed that the wall moved...

I really love Dany’s. My friend Ali is a DJ there and he introduced me to the bar a few weeks ago. It’s cozy and small – actually used to be a lot smaller – about a month ago they broke down one of the walls and added an extra room to the bar. Dany’s is a meeting place for the young, liberal, intellectual crowd in Beirut, and it has a devoted group of regulars. The walls are covered with writing and doodles, there are rotating DJs, so the music is constantly changing, tasty food, cheap beers and plenty of good company. A really chill place and always a good time.

Fausto, Rianne, me and Leila at Dany's

Fausto, Rianne, me and Leila at Dany's

Chatting with Leila

Chatting with Leila

Later in the evening we were joined by my flatmates Michael and Nadim, Rianne’s friend Leila, Nadim’s friend Jenny, Ali stopped in for a bit – it was a great mix of people and a fantastic night, complete with a grilled ham, cheese and tomato sandwich (yes, they have food at Dany’s – I need nothing more from a bar ;)). I love what an international bunch we are too – I’m Lebanese/Irish American, Rianne is Dutch, Fausto is Indian/Italian, Leila is Iranian American, Michael is Lebanese/Palestinian Dutch, Nadim is Lebanese but grew up in the UAE. Everyone speaks a mix of languages and has traveled to so many interesting places. Ah! So amazing!! We all chatted, laughed, danced, snacked on chick peas and olives, and sipped Almazas till 3:30am when I finally had to turn in for the night. Life is gooooood!

And one last photo from tonight, just to make you smile:

Jenny and her amazing shirt!

Jenny and her amazing shirt! I instantly loved this girl!

Burqini Fever!

burqini-big

In my post on Sour, I included a photo of a young Muslim girl going swimming, covered and veiled – a concept completely foreign and interesting to me.  And you know how sometimes when you learn something new, it somehow seems to pop up everywhere??? So here’s what I’ve found out about Muslim swimwear, which now seems to pop up everywhere:

At the beach in Sour, as far as I could tell, these women and children were going swimming in their clothing – a naïve but understandable assumption. But, as it turns out, there’s actually a relatively large market for full-body swimsuits for Muslim women that allow them to swim without exposing themselves. And better yet, they call the swimsuits ‘burqinis.’ (burq – from ‘burqa,’ the Arabic word meaning the full Muslim veil, and ‘-ini’ is taken from ‘bikini’) I love it!

One of Ahiida's designer burqinis weighing in at a whopping 160 Australian dollars = abt. 135 American dollars, 95 Euros, or 203,000 Lebanese Lira . Design "SF20-1243 BLACK/TEAK - ARBIAN DOTS"

One of Ahiida's designer burqinis weighing in at a whopping 160 Australian dollars = abt. 135 American dollars, 95 Euros, or 203,000 Lebanese Lira

If you google ‘burqini,’ one of the first sights to pop up is Ahiida Burqini Swimwear, a company founded in 2004 and based in Australia that specializes in “dynamic swimwear and sportswear for today’s Muslim female.”  The company was actually started by a Lebanese woman named Aheda Zanetti, who moved to Australia as a child, and frustrated by her inability to participate in prevalent Australian water sports, decided to design a swimsuit specifically tailored to the modern Muslim woman.  The resultant burqini allows Muslim women to easily and flexibly swim and compete in water sports, while still remaining completely covered. Clever, huh?

While this trendy Muslim swimsuit is all the rage in Lebanon and Australia, the burqini and the Muslim burqa in general have, unfortunately, been topics of controversy in France for a few years now. Why France? They have the largest Muslim minority population in the EU, and there are those that believe that discrimination against Muslims will decrease if they become less visibly Muslim and more visibly French. Plus, there are entire lobbies of French women (well, and men for that matter) who see the veil as an infringement upon women’s rights. I’ve summed it up in an insanely brief way, but needless to say, it’s a sticky situation.

Anyway, the reason I bring all this up, is that there was actually an article today (see – burqinis everywhere!) in the Daily Star – ‘Paris Pool Bans Woman in Burqini Swimsuit’– discussing the controversy that has arisen over the use of the burqini in France:

“A Paris swimming pool has refused entry to a young Muslim woman wearing a ‘burqini,’ a swimsuit that covers most of the body, officials said Wednesday.  The pool ban came as French lawmakers conduct hearings on whether to ban the burqa after President Nicolas Sarkozy said the head-to-toe veil was ‘not welcome’ in secular France.   Officials in the Paris suburb of Emerainville said they let the woman swim in the pool in July wearing the burqini, designed for Muslim women who want to swim without revealing their bodies.  But when she returned in August they decided to apply hygiene rules and told her she could not swim if she insisted on wearing the garment, which resembles a wetsuit with a built-in hood.  France, home to Europe’s biggest Muslim minority, has set up a special panel of 32 lawmakers to consider whether a law should be enacted to bar Muslim women from wearing the full veil, known as a burqa or niqab.” – AFP

Amazing that a glorified wetsuit could stir up so much controversy. I for one have always been a proponent of the belief that respect for differences rather than forced assimilation is a better way to create a peaceful society, but I can respect that this is a complicated issue.

Jbeil (aka Byblos)

Yesterday, I was sick in bed all day with the flu. I guess that’s what I get for going on and on about how Friday is my lucky day. I jinxed myself. Damn. Knew it was too good to be true…But, don’t fret! I was feeling a bit more energized today and when Ozge and Charles pitched the idea of heading to the beach, I couldn’t resist. Besides, if I’m going to be sick, I’d much rather be sick at the beach – you gotta’ admit, lying in the sun is much more entertaining than lying in bed at home.

250px-Lebanon_location_map

So, we headed north to Jbeil (pronounced Je-bale, and also known by the Greek name, Byblos), to the beautiful beach club, Eddé Sands.  Charles had been there before and knew how to sneak us in so we didn’t have to pay the ridiculously expensive entrance fee. Score! Once inside, we all slipped into our bathing suits and oooched! and ouched! our way over to empty beach chairs, burning the soles of our feet on the scorching sand. No sooner had we stretched out on our chairs, than Omar called to say he was also the beach – ah! Too good to be true! And just like that, our fabulous foursome was all together sipping beers and relaxing seaside.

Ozge, Omar and Charles, chilling at the beach

Ozge, Omar and Charles, chilling at the beach

Eddé Sands is pretty ridiculous. The place is massive – there are 6 pools alongside the beach, restaurants, fish ponds, bars, music, amazing landscaping, a view of the ruins of Jbeil. They host concerts and all-night parties. They were actually setting up for a wedding while we were there – laying down the dance floor, setting up lights and carrying in massive crates of flowers. Looked like it was going to be one extravagant bash!

Edde Sands

Eddé Sands (Beautiful photo by Ozge)

Ah! Okay, side note – weddings in Lebanon. Oh my crap. What an ordeal. At a friend’s party the other night, I met a wedding planner.  As she regaled me with tales of the MILLION DOLLAR weddings she organizes (no joke, many spend even more), I felt like a little kid enraptured at story time.  It was unreal. It baffles me that people are willing to spend SO much on one day.

My brother and I on our way to the moon in 1992 :)

My brother and I on our way to the moon in 1992 🙂

But then again, I’ve always had simpler tastes – after all, I’m the kid who would put aside her toys to play for hours with her brother, transforming a cardboard box into a spaceship and taking trips to the moon. To each their own, right? Some people take out loans to pay for their studies or to buy a house, in Lebanon they take out loans to look like Barbies and throw weddings on the scale of the Oscars.

Walking around Beirut, every now and then you’ll see a wedding procession driving by – the bride’s car smothered with bows, ribbons, flowers and fluff, all the other cars honking as they go by. And when I say honking, I mean hands slammed against the horn, never letting up. Actually gives me a headache, but here it means party party! Women in the cars and even passer-bys will cup their hands over their mouths and let out what a friend of mine fondly refers to as the high-pitched Lebanese yodel, a celebratory cry, which in Arabic is actually called ‘zalghouta.’

Check out this video of my friend Jad crying out a zalghouta:

Lebanese makeup at it's finest

Lebanese makeup at it's finest

Oh, and the outfits! It’s like an 80’s prom gone wrong – everyone dressed in the poofiest, most glitter-drenched dresses the world has ever known. Hairstyles that rival Amy Winehouse’s famous beehive for height and volume, with vibrant streaks of blond added in especially for the occasion.  Sequined covered shoes that can be seen sparkling from miles away. The bling bling these girls decorate their fingers, necks, wrists, ears and hair with would do Elizabeth Taylor proud.  And the whole ensemble is complimented by makeup that would do drag queens proud.

Everything in excess.

A Lebanese Bride

A Lebanese Bride

My friend Rianne actually went to a Lebanese wedding during her first week here in Lebanon.  Later she told me stories of the ceremony, held at a massive mansion in the hills overlooking Beirut.  There were rotating video cameras on cranes, candles everywhere, chefs ready and waiting to cook you whatever your heart desired.  There was a massive dance floor surrounded by hundreds of tables, flowers popping out of every surface imaginable. And as a grand finale – fireworks!

Fireworks in general seem to be big in the Middle East. In Amman, Ramallah and Beirut, I regularly heard the popping of fireworks or firecrackers, most relatively small, going off at night, or even mid-day.  But whenever we see a massive fireworks show going off in the skies over Beirut, my Lebanese friends joke that with each explosion the only sound the groom hears is that of the money draining from his bank account. I think I’m going to have to try to go to one of these Lebanese weddings before I leave. I have to see all this for myself…

But anyway, back to the beach.

Omar, me and Charles modeling our beautiful beach-wear at Edde Sands (Photo by Ozge)

Omar, me and Charles modeling our beautiful beach-wear at Edde Sands (Photo by Ozge)

The four of us had an amazing time – lounging, soaking up the sun, taking the occasional dip in the Mediterranean, or one of the pools. When hunger struck, we made our way over to one of the little restaurants where we ordered the cheapest thing on the menu – big salads (trust me, I’m not one of those freaky skinny girls who only eats rabbit food, but on a hot day this was just what the doctor ordered. Plus, there was chicken in it and the thing was massive. I’m just saying). Waiting for our food we sipped on jallab, chatted and laughed.

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Ozge enjoying her delicious glass of Jallab

Omar enjoying his delicious glass of Jallab

Omar enjoying his delicious glass of Jallab

Ah! Jallab! This stuff is amazing! The perfect antidote to a sticky, hot summer day. Jallab is an mmmmm boy delicious juice drink that I would love to claim as Lebanese, but it’s popular throughout the Arab world, so really, I have no idea where it first appeared. It’s made with a syrup made from date juice, molasses and rose water.  You mix the syrup with water and ice, top it off with pine nuts, fresh almonds and golden raisins, and switch between straw and spoon until the glass is empty. And Louis Armstrong croons, ‘Heaven! I’m in heaven! And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak, and I seem to find the happiness I seek…’ *Sigh*

Around 8pm, as the sun began to set, the four of us packed up our bags, said goodbye to Eddé Sands, and walked (about 20 min.) into Jbeil to explore the city and get some dinner. Jbeil was founded around 5000 BCE. Okay, coming from the States where no building is over 300 years old and especially coming from California, which didn’t even become a state until 1850, I LOVE being constantly surrounded by so much history! I mean, Jbeil is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities IN THE WORLD. What the what?! Doesn’t that blow your mind???

It’s an old Phoenician city and it’s insanely beautiful. I mean, I love Beirut, but this place just has so much character and charm oozing out of every street corner.

Charles, me and Omar walking around downtown Jbeil. (Photo by Ozge)

Charles, me and Omar walking around downtown Jbeil. (Photo by Ozge)

Just to clarify, Phonecia was this fantastic ancient civilization that was composed of a massive chunk of modern-day Lebanon + bits of Palestine, Israel and Syria. It lasted from the 1500s BCE until the 300s BCE and for a large part of that time, Jbeil was actually their capital city. Woot.

Map of Phoenicia

Map of Phoenicia

The Phoenicians were also the ones who created the alphabet that is widely believed to be the ancestor of almost all modern alphabets. So how ‘bout them apples? Yeah, these guys were awesome.  All of their big cities were located along the coast because they were all about maritime trade.  Actually the Greek name for Jbeil – Byblos – came from the Greek word for papyrus – ‘bublos’ – which was the main import the Greeks received from the Phoenicians in Jbail. Ah sooooo!

Our amazing wristbands! Here's to tacky souvenirs!

Our amazing wristbands! Here's to tacky souvenirs!

We walked past the 12th century crusader castle and through the old souk where we browsed clothes, jewelry, nargiles, postcards, handcrafts, etc. and each dropped about 50 cents on cheesy Lebanon wristbands. We popped into the famous shop – Mémoire du Temps – where you can browse and buy old fossils. The shop is nuts. It’s relatively small and every available bit of wall and shelf space is covered with ancient fish fossils – including one of a 4 meter long shark.  Apparently it was opened by the paleontologist Pierre Abi-Saad, a native of Jbeil.  Abi-Saad’s family has owned a quarry in the city for generations, in which they discovered thousands of perfectly preserved fossils of fish, most species of which are now extinct. Apparently, in the fall and spring, you can actually go on fossil digs with this guy for FREE. I’m going to have to get in on that!

The old souk in Jbeil (Another beautiful photo by Ozge)

The old souk in Jbeil (Another beautiful photo by Ozge)

By 9:30pm, the souk was beginning to close up and the cafes and bars to open up. Within a few minutes, the streets went from housing baubles and bangles to housing tons of folding tables and chairs that quickly filled with hungry locals and visitors alike. Hungry ourselves, we headed down to the harbor – the former hub of all Phoenician trade. At night the harbor is so beautiful – all the fishing boats docked for the night, the medieval walls and old Mamluk towers wrapped around its sides, and little lights from restaurants reflecting in the water. Very cute.

The view of the harbor from the restaurant Chez Pepe (Photo by Ozge)

The view of the harbor from the restaurant Chez Pepe (Photo by Ozge)

Omar, me and Charles out for dinner at Pepe's in Jbail (Photo by Ozge)

Omar, me and Charles out for dinner at Pepe

For dinner, we decided to go to Chez Pepe: Byblos Fishing Club.  The restaurant is right on the harbor and is famous all over Jbeil for its fresh fish. YES! The restaurant was founded by this guy named Pepe Abed – a Lebanese man born and raised in Mexico. He moved back to Lebanon in the 1960s and opened his now famous restaurant in 1963. Apparently Pepe really knew how to throw a good party and his restaurant attracted the glitterati of Lebanon and the world – politicians like Czech President Václav Havel, film stars like Marlon Brando and Bridget Bardot, etc. Pepe’s was the IT restaurant in Lebanon.

An old photo of Pepe Abed, showing off his photo wall of fame

An old photo of Pepe Abed, showing off his photo wall of fame

Then boom. Civil war. During the war, Chez Pepe closed its doors and Pepe flew back to Mexico where he worked saving money to reopen his restaurant when things cooled down in Lebanon. It didn’t have the same ‘star’ power it once boasted but if you go now, there are still tons of photos on the walls of Pepe and his famous guests.  Sadly, Pepe died at the ripe old age of 95, in the winter of 2006. Sounds like the guy had quite a life! His son runs the business now, and it really is a blast of a place – it’s so nice sitting outside and feasting on lip-smacking good Lebanese cuisine. You actually get to pick the fish you want from a large ice filled case. It’s fantastic! It’s served with tahini (sesame paste), lemon and pita. And that’s not including the wide selection of mezze dishes – hummos, moutabal, tabouleh, etc. Good food gives me such a happy rush and when we finally finished our meal, we were are bursting with joy…and out of our pants – luckily I was sporting baggy shorts. Oh yeah.

Dancing in the streets of Byblos (photo by Ozge)

Dancing in the streets of Byblos (photo by Ozge)

Pole dancing in the streets of Jbail ;)

Pole dancing in the streets of Jbail 😉

Happy and full, we walked back into the city center where all of the outdoor bars were now overflowing with people, drinking and dancing in the streets. We took a seat at an outdoor bar called Iguana and tried their signature drink – an icy cocktail, blended like a frozen margarita, made with fresh kiwis and vodka. So good!  We sipped our alcoholic kiwi slushies and danced in our chairs to the music playing from a nearby live band, singing songs in Arabic, English, Spanish, Italian and French. A little after midnight, we were all feeling wiped out and I was becoming more aware of the fact that I have the flu. So we danced our way through the crowds and hailed a cab back to Beirut.  You know, yani, just a typical Saturday in Lebanon…haha! What the what?! How is this my life??

Charles, Ozge, me and Omar at Iguana

Charles, Ozge, me and Omar at Iguana

WELCOME! Dinner at ‘Le Chef’

Exterior of Le Chef

Exterior of Le Chef

So with Rue Gouraud in my mind, when Ozge invited me out to dinner tonight at the popular restaurant on Gouraud, ‘Le Chef,’ I couldn’t resist. Well, that and I heard that the food was fantastic and I am NEVER one to turn down good food.

Charles joined us and as we arrived outside the restaurant, I realized that I had actually passed this place many times, always wanting to go in, but for some reason or another never quite making it. So now was my chance!! As we walked into the always packed, but charmingly petit restaurant, a booming ‘Welcome!’ from the owner was our hearty greeting – and as we soon discovered, the greeting of every visitor coming or going.

As we squeezed our way through the tables, I took a peek and a whiff of the local specialties being served (apparently the menu changes daily – Brilliant!). My stomach started rumbling immediately as irresistible cravings for moujuddra (lentils, rice, grilled onions and delicious spices – usually served with yogurt), kousa (stuffed zuchinni), kibbeh (ground lamb or beef with bulgur wheat, pine nuts, and other savory ingredients) and moutabal (also known as baba ganoj – basically eggplant hummus) consumed my thoughts.  Our waiter tossed handwritten menus atop our paper table cloth and I grabbed mine greedily wanting to waste not a single second and….shit. The menu was written in Arabic.

Interior of 'Le Chef' - so wish I could post the delicious smells!

Interior of 'Le Chef' - so wish I could post the delicious smells!

Okay, now after a month of Arabic classes, you’re probably thinking ‘Come on, Colette. What the heck? You should be able to read and write easily!’ But no. Alas and alack, I read like a 3-year-old and write like a 5-year-old – okay maybe a talented 6-year-old. But either way, you get the idea. Even after the 10 minutes it takes me to sound out a word, I hardly ever know what the word actually means. I’m useless. Luckily, they also have a menu written in French. Score! I thought I’d show off my mad French skills, but in the end I had such a hard time deciphering the scribbled French script that it might as well have been written in Arabic. Ah well – we glanced around at the food on other people’s tables and ended up ordering a mix of everything. YUM!

As we sipped our Almazas and waited for our food, I took a good look around Le Chef. The decorations inside are pretty sparse and the table settings simple, but if anything, it all just adds to the homey charm of the place.  We had a table to ourselves, but they often seat you alongside complete strangers who in true Lebanese hospitable style are more than happy to start up a conversation. It’s fantastic. Meeting new people, surrounded by fragrant and delicious Lebanese cuisine – which by the way, is reasonably cheap – who could ask for anything more?

Charles and I, after enjoying our delicious Lebanese mezze

Charles and I, after enjoying our delicious Lebanese mezze

We savored every bite of our meal and when we couldn’t eat anymore, we asked for the check and walked over to a large Moroccan market set up alongside the nearby Martyr Square.  We browsed the bags, shoes, furniture, scarves, fabrics, pillows and jewelry while listening to the evening call to prayer echoing from the Al-Amin Mosque, its blue dome visible over the tents of the market. A perfect evening in Beirut!

Moroccan Market in downtown Beirut

Moroccan Market in downtown Beirut