Beirut

A Sunday afternoon indoors at Dar due to the threat of a storm, and associated humidity, and the momentary “Oh, it’s different, the ashtrays are gone.“ Feel free to laugh a bit, but after you’re done, also reflect on the disturbing statistics about smoking in Lebanon. What the lack of ashtrays on Dar’s indoor tables (you’ll still find them outside) denotes is Lebanon’s September ban on smoking in restaurants, pubs, bars, and other indoor spaces.  For the past two years I have gladly sat outside cafes simply to avoid thick smoke. Now, at least in some venues, indoor space can be enjoyed smoke free. Some businesses are quite pointed in expressing their stance that this ban is ridiculous and so, yes, for those who enjoying lighting up, it’s still possible to smoke indoors to your heart’s {dis}content. But for those who would prefer the opposite, options now exist.

For more info, take a look at this BBC article and this Daily Star piece.

Papercup and Explorations

Papercup and Explorations

As I was relocating to Beirut in 2010, the New York Times ran this article about the up and coming neighborhood of Mar Mikel. I was intrigued and chalked it up as an area to explore. Sometimes things take time… Yesterday, Madeleine and I ventured to Papercup* and then over the bridge to Bourj Al Hammoud, then back and through more of Mar Mikel and Gemmayze. A few favorite shots from the afternoon. A few of my favorite areas of Beirut.

(*I.love.this.space. Perfectly apportioned, great coffee, a gorgeous array of literature, and well crafted cards and journals.) 

29 Before 28 Review

Another year older… And another “Before” list to reflect on.  I won’t be taking on the “Before” project in full this coming year. Instead, I’m thinking a few well placed goals will be better suited for the year ahead and all its dynamic movement. If you haven’t pursued a project like this, I would suggest it.  There is something about setting goals and hopes, large and small, that I have so enjoyed over the past two years.  And as I consider the rave reviews from other friends who have taken on this sort of venture, I don’t think I’m the only one who has found the full experience formative and fun. So stay tuned, chances are a “31 Before 30” will find its way into existence after a while…

Goals Met…
#1: Take a cooking class at Tawlet
#4: Add to my tattoo
#6: Kayak with Monica
#7: Visit the Portland Art Museum
#10: Knock off at least two “bucket list” items (Traveling with Jamie and Landon to Istanbul in November sorted one, while my adventure in Alaska over the summer satisfied the other.)
#11: Donate my hair to Lock of Love…
#12: …and chop is all off.
#13: Moonlight Hike
#15: Take at least one Arabic class at Saifi (extra credit for taking two?)
#17: Read The Great Gatsby (Much enjoyed, and based on the bias of my imagination, am of the opinion that the casting for the latest film rendition is spot on.)
#22: Go to Baalbek.
#24: Officially become a client of Monica Lauritsen Photography.
#29: Voodoo doughnuts.

…and those that wouldn’t be.
#2: Visit the AUB Archeological Museum (…though this small cache of Lebanese/regional history will be explored pre-departure.)
#3: Surf Santa Cruz with Reina (We had the best of intentions but chilly weather made exploring the city and catching up much more enticing.)
#5: Learn to make pie crusts like my mum (I think in reality, subconsciously, my logic is that if I don’t learn this all important skill then she and my lovely brother will continue to spoil me when I’m home with delicious treats!)
#8: Complete the “Poverty” piece (More to come; this idea isn’t on the shelf yet.)
#9: Piano Lessons (I’ll keep working on this one, though likely not in a particularly formal manner.)
#14: Volunteer in Lebanon
#16: Travel to Greece (Someday…)
#18: Hike the South Sister (Sometimes time is the greatest hinderance…)
#19: Take on and complete at least two photography projects (A few good ideas, simply a lack of follow through.)
#20: Blue Note for a jazz show (Again, another pre-departure endeavor.)
#21: Explore Byblos (And another.)
#23: Read 100 books (But I’m feeling pretty good about the 50 I completed.)
#25: Attend at least one BSP Photo workshop.
#26: Snowboard with Travis during Winter Hols (One would need snow to make this possible…)
#27: Hike Mt. Hermon (I would still love to do this but I’m not certain that current political dynamics will allow it.)
#28: Portland Chello Project concernt (So sad to have missed their shows over the summer! But this will happen at some point.)

13 for 29: not the best completion rate but sometimes it’s more about the process then the end result…

On Community

I think there is something to expat living, life lived at a distance from home, family, the familiar, that intensifies many of life’s day-to-days, elicits a greater appreciation for what can be so easily taken for granted. The particular food that is relished with renewed appreciation because it’s only to be had a few times a year. Family traditions which hold deeper meaning because so many seasons are spent apart, and passing by because you “happened to be in the neighborhood” is no longer an option. At the risk of sounding cliche, colors might just be a bit brighter, laughter of a loved one a little more appreciated, certain subtleties noticed and savored with a bit more regard, moments not taken quite as for granted….

There are the points of deep appreciation when I’m state-side (Sweet Life desserts, adherence to lines, {generally} sane approaches to parking, Pambiche, high mountain lakes, and road trips to name a few) but also in Beirut. A consistent supply of Crasins, and the blessed moments when TSC imports Tazo Chai and Santa Cruz juice. A crisp quality in the air or change of a leaf’s color causing more excitement then most would feel necessary. That moment when grocery shopping became relaxing again. Or when a restaurant (Tawlet) or shop (Metal and Wood) has the feel of home. But really it has been with regard to community and friendships that I have felt myself shifting the most, being less willing to take those I can share life with for granted, less willing to be passive or let other demands take precedence.

I’d like to think I’ve always valued the communities I’ve been a part of. But truth be told, before living in the ever changing social landscape of expat life, I’m guilty of taking for granted the many rich connections I’ve been blessed with. And I don’t think I’m alone in that. Call it human nature or the pseudo-relationality our very social-media driven societies can foster or something altogether different but it does seem fair to say that for many of us, people can all too often take a back seat to work, obligations, hobbies, service, or any number of pulls on our time and energy.  And it can be quite easy to put off building a friendship in the first place because tomorrow always seems to be a ready option. I have learned quite clearly over that past few years that it’s not.

In many expat circles, transition is the name of the game and people are coming and going at an amazing frequency. I’ve been fortunate to share rich seasons with a variety of people while in Beirut, and even more fortunate to have formed close friendships in the midst of the transitory norm. And I’ve been reminded that such friendships don’t form by osmosis or wishful thinking. It takes time, intentionality, acting on an impulse to learn about someone’s story and process, following curiosity, saying “yes”, pushing past what is comfortable, and taking each opportunity that comes to be with, whether an intentional time for coffee and a chat, or a conversation in passing, or, and I’d dare to say more so, when other tasks beckon.

My community has expanded in unexpected ways over the past few years; my mind now spins on how to fit in time in locations far flung because I have said “goodbye for now” to many fantastic people. And I’m grateful for the present community I get to share life with and all the lovely ways we’ll create to do so, be it a friend’s birthday celebrated with Punch ‘n’ Pie, a Saturday morning at the Farmers’ Market, a weekend hike, or a late night on the terrace sorting politics over dessert and wine.

31 km of Tannourine

An overnight venture this past weekend near Tannourine.

Saturday: 13km, beginning at 1610m and ending near 2151m after 5.5 hours of hiking.

Sunday: 18km, beginning at 2152m and ending near 1550m after 6.5 hours of hiking.

A grand, somewhat demanding, hike spent in the company of friends and the stark landscape of Lebanon’s mountains. Natural springs, tent camping (and the reminder to invest in a good camping mat), campfire and marshmallows, whiskey, stars, ridge lines, apple orchards, roast potatoes, politics, full moon, life shared.

#1 | Tawlet Cooking Class

I fell in love to Tawlet’s menu, space, and ethos during my first visit last year and when I found out they offer cooking classes, was all in.  This has been perhaps one of my more anticipated 29 Before 28 list items this year, and last night it was so lovely to share the experience with Ted, Bethany, and Lindsay.

We had Tawlet, in all its bright, airy amazingness to ourselves for a private cooking class, Lebanese 101, with the objective being to learn how to make Kebbeh Batata, Mutabal, Kebbeh (meat variety), and Tabbouleh. Our teacher was a chef from the North who teased us, seemed particulary enamored with Ted, and patiently accommodated our shutter bug tendencies.  Bethany took copious notes which we all agreed was a God send as we’d try to remember but weren’t being as good of students as she was. We mixed, cut, sorted, and laughed, a lot, with the final product being an absolutely fabulous meal, one I think I could reproduce (with the help of Bethany’s notes of course).

Mutabal: roasting the eggplant, the wash, mix well.

Pre-oven goat kebbe.

Kebbe batata in process.

The fruits of our labor, and laughter.

"Oh... I live in Lebanon..."

This has been a week of “Oh… I live in Lebanon.” To be clear, that’s not often a negative. Often I’ll be running errands or walking to work in the morning with views of the sea, pines, jacaranda, and palms, and that reality will hit me in the most profound and exciting way. It’s one of those places that seems to get under folks’ skin and have an almost addictive quality. This week though has been the darker side of that reality.

Last Sunday night two Sunni clerics were shot in the north, near Akkar, by military (the accounts are all conflicting but it would seem the clerics’ car ran a check point in some manner and was fired upon; whether the guards knew who was in the car or not is a point of contention). Dynamics have been tense. While many sectarian leaders seem to be calling for restraint and non-violence, there have still been multiple cases of road closures, fighting in neighborhoods to the south of Beirut as well as in the north closer to where the incident occurred, and at least one incident of a building a few neighborhoods over from me being occupied by several men for the sake of shooting at a military post below it; fire fight through the night but resolved relatively quickly.

We called school at noon on Monday but otherwise have been open.  It hasn’t felt unsafe for me and my “barometers” (older, local colleagues who have lived here through the various wars and who I have, almost unconsciously, relied on as a gauge of how worried to get about various incidents) have been steady, calm, but it’s re-emphasized the potential instability of this place.

{And dear readers, it’s important to remember that I offer no concrete truths in this blog. I know that this is a simplistic account of a more layered incident and larger reality. I don’t pretend to understand the nuances nor will I try to give an accurate account of these or other politically-related events as I honestly don’t know that such accuracy is entirely attainable.}

How to Shop for Sunglasses

I had some time to kill and needed new sunglasses, my former pair having given out over Spring Hols. There is a shop in Hamra, Scoop Optic, that specializes in vintage sunglasses and eyewear which several friends had recounted good experiences with.  I passed by, spent an amusing half hour, and walked out with new shades (much needed in the Beiruti spring/summer brightness).

This sounds simple but often shopping for jeans and sunglasses proves frustrating.  First off I’m terribly picky, and I second guess and hem and haw to the point of absurdity.  This whole process is worse if a shop attendant persists in “hovering” which seems to be a Beiruti sales associate’s specialty; the polite “I’m fine” code for “Leave me alone” that generally suffices in the States is useless here.  And I seem to always have a specific color, style, or some other minutia in mind that further complicates the purchase.  Needless to say I was dubious about whether or not my venture at Scoop would be successful.

I was the only customer in the shop which can be problematic but in this case meant I could try on different ideas with only the shop keeper’s comments to deal with (doubly nice due to the shop’s diminutive size - maybe 6’ by 6’, maybe…). Said comments were, actually, both amusing and helpful.  There is something about a proprietor passionate about his wares and Mr. Hamdan, the owner of Scoop, sets a clear objective to help you find the right pair of sunglasses. We discussed how the ideal pair of sunglasses should allow for fifty percent of one’s face to show above and below the rims, which colors and frame styles communicate simplicity versus power, and  the importance of sometimes pushing past a usual style or mindset.  He tested each lens to show me that it met proper standards for UV protection. I tried on everything from Jackie O inspired cat-eyes to standard Ray Bans to 50’s house wife bug-eyes.  And his sales man’s intuition knew when to leave me be to try on the final three pairs over and over (and over) again to make up my mind. I spent a little more then I normally would and walked out with Aviator style Carreras, perfect for my impending outdoor ventures this summer, and slightly decreased anxiety about future sunglasses purchases.

Photo Credit: Sarah Shmaitilly, in Beirut Syndrome, February 2016

South of Sour

This past weekend found me south bound with Megan, Wade, and Jane (such a doll, and patient car companion!), and Jimmy and Madeleine.  Our destination was a small guesthouse just south of Sour (Tyre), but south enough that we would be near the Israeli border and so needed a special permit to be allowed through the check points.

After dealing with the bureaucracy at Saida and obtaining our permit - literally the date and another number scribbled on a post-it - we ventured in land a bit to Cana (where it is claimed Jesus turned water into wine), to a crusader castle which we sort of stormed, only to find out the front gate was unlocked, and down to Bint Jebeil before turning toward the coast, following the border, and arriving at what is now one of my favorite corners of Lebanon (this is, I might add, a small and very exclusive list).  (Wade does a much better job of describing the history and importance of different sites; if that’s you’re thing, check out his post about the road-trip here.)

A lush lawn surrounding a lavender, camilla, and bougainvillea-encompassed gazebo and dotted with lounge chairs begging to be curled up in with a cup of coffee and book separated the guesthouse - two well apportioned rooms and a kitchen space - from the main house. Arbor vida, shrubs, and several mature trees ringed the lawn, orchards to be spied through the branches and stretching to the foothills.  A small irrigation stream and bird song provided the soundtrack while jasmine floated on the breeze.  The sea, with a pristine, undeveloped beach - rare in Lebanon’s lack-of-environmental-care norm - was a short walk away, through banana orchards.  An additional layer of magic at dusk when the frogs began their concert and calls to prayer echoed up and down the coast.

Much: reading, conversation, Jimmy and Madeleine identifying birds for the aves neophytes of the group (read: everyone else), beach combing, Scrabble, good food, wine, coffee, s’mores, an early morning attempt to find the Tyre nature reserve (bit of a fail), and “when we come again” plannings. Indeed, looking forward to a return trip.

Tmarbouta: Worth the hype

For about a month now friends have been raving about Tmarbouta, a new cafe in Hamra.  New cafes and pubs presently are about a dime a dozen in Hamra so to be honest I more or less chalked this up as an “okay, I’ll pass by someday” but wasn’t going to aggressively pursue a visit - if it happened it happened.  This morning was spent proctoring SAT Subject Tests, akin to standing in a corner for hours on end- monotonous, especially on a sun washed Saturday.  And post-proctoring the last thing I wanted to do was go home to the mound of dishes and other chores so instead took the excuse to draw my own conclusions about Tmarbouta. In short: ♥. (To digress into PNW speak for a minute… If Yahala and the Pearl had a love child, it would be Tmarbouta; delicious Lebanese food in a tranquil, modern-ish setting.)

Tucked back in a shopping complex, the first glimpse is of a full book case and quiet inside seating area that flows into an open bar and floor to ceiling windows looking on to the back patio, a tranquil space despite the center-of-Hamra noise factor (Dar definitely has the corner market on quiet perfection). The food was good and reasonably priced and despite slightly shoddy service (when there are four tables all looking expectantly towards the wait stand in hopes of getting the bill or placing an order it’s not the time to be on your phone) the overall experience was lovely, and yes, I’ll go back, especially during the winter months (while Bread Republic and Dar, other favorites, are fabulous when the sun is out, they lack Tmarbouta’s airy interior space).

My simple meal was grape leaves, kibbe, and lemonade with a slice of Lone Star carrot cake as an extra treat.  Hands down the best kibbe I’ve had, the grape leaves were incredibly tasty and would have been ideal for sharing, and Lauren’s cakes are always splendid (Beiruti readers take note- she does all the baking for Tmarbouta, even more of a reason to pass by!). Lovely.

Gatsby, ink, and Roman ruins (29B28 Update)

A 29 item list, I’m finding out, can be a bit daunting.  I’m looking forward to what I’ve penned as goals for this year, but progress is incremental.  An update…

Done and done.

13/ Moonlight Hike

15/ Take at least one Arabic class at Saifi (I completed two)

22/ Visit Baalbek

24/ Officially become a client of Monica Lauritsen Photography.  {I’m lucky to have such a talented friend! even luckier to now own a few of her pieces! Check out her work at: monicalauritsen.com}

In process:

4/ Add to my tattoo: in keeping with ink wisdom, several ideas are now posted the the ‘fridge. If I still love ‘em in a few months time, I’ll be adding ink over the summer.

10/ Traveling with Jamie and Landon last fall got me half way on this one (Bucket List: to travel internationally with each of my siblings is a must). Now to sort the other half…

17/ I suppose at least having a copy of The Great Gatsby has me a little closer to this goal.

19/ The photo projects are sorted! Stay tuned for more details and initial shots.

And those that wouldn’t be…

So far only one goal slots into this category… Oregon had no snow when I was home at Christmas so #26 (to snowboard with Travis, which I haven’t done in far too long) has gone the way of the bin, …unless Hood has a good glacier pack this summer, which might mean resuscitation could be in order…

"You've lost weight"

Context: in a tailor’s shop in Hamra Saturday afternoon with the purpose of having alterations made to several pairs of slacks which have become ridiculously loose in a my year-plus-walking-everywhere stint in Lebanon.  As well, I had tossed in a dress which, in my defense (sort of) I had bought a size too large as it was an emergency online purchase for a wedding and I figured better to deal with a bit of space then not be able to wear it.  The speaker was a women about my age who also happened to be in the shop.  No introduction prior, no real emotion in her voice, just the matter of fact “You’ve lost weight.”

This constant comment on total strangers’ appearances is a very typical aspect of Lebanese culture, or so I have experienced and been told by other non-Lebanese who have more experience here than me.  I have had colleagues (who I do not know that well!) comment on everything from how I dress to said weight fluctuations to possible alterations to my hair color as well as sales associates size me up with a less then generous appraisals while shopping.  Working in a somewhat international environment, I’ve probably experienced a lot less than most but all the same it’s been an interesting cultural sub-layer to navigate.

Coming from the US, the quickest way to show yourself as an utter ass is to comment on someone’s appearance, to her face.  Yes, we all, save for the few blessed saints, do so in quiet voices or with subtle reactions but no one who is at all socially savvy is going to walk up to a random person and proceed to pointedly assess her looks.  Granted its one thing if my grandmother comments on how I’m not eating enough or eating too much, or if a well meaning auntie proclaims “You are so pretty, and then you put on those glasses…” but a perfect stranger? This is a new one for me.

Most cultures have their norms for beauty and if current trends in plastic surgery are accurate, more and more women are opting to have various features enhanced or reduced to come closer to whatever is most “ideal” for her heritage, be it an aquiline nose or a voluptuous figure.  In Beirut, it’s not uncommon to see girls as young as 15 or 16 bearing the tell tale bandage indicative of a weekend rhinoplasty; its worn with a certain pride, and in some family systems is a veritable right of passage. Plastics in general are big business in Lebanon with a growing tendency for the international set to make special trips just to have work done.

Chances are more posts will speak to this particular phenomenon once I observe a bit more, and endure a few more unsolicited remarks.  In the meantime, appreciative of a decent poker face, and good tailors…

Catching Up

Realizing this morning that it’s been a month since any substantial posting has occurred…. How time flies…  And the past month has been brilliantly full; not “busy” in a frantic, I-can’t-breath sense but sufficiently full of life, and, more importantly, life shared.  More details to come, but for now a quick re-cap:

1/ Jamie and Landon visited for two weeks.  You can read more about their thoughts on the trip at: My Front Porch Views

2/ Part of the visit was a weekend trip to Istanbul. ♥. Plain and simple. Sadly, Eid meant the markets were closed, however, the entry visa is good for six months…

3/ Then on to Lisbon, Portugal, for a work conference.  Fantastic and energizing professional collaboration, with time to thoroughly enjoy the cobblestones, fall leaves, and meanders through the Centro de Arte Moderno and the Museo Coleccao Berardo. And the sharks and rays at Oceanario really are as cool as the guidebooks say. Disappointed that I missed out on MUDE (darn no-museum Mondays)- maybe another time…

4/ Half way through my first Saifi Arabic class: loving what I’m learning, the 45 minute walk from work to class three times a week, and the excuse to get to know Gemmayze a bit more. A little nervous for Wednesday’s mid-term…

5/ The Banff Film Festival was fantastic: was especially keen on Life Cycles

6/ And the BSP put on a great one year anniversary gig at Tawlet last Tuesday.

And a few things I’m loving right now:
1/ Drinkify: if you ever wondered which drink pairs best with your favorite band, look no further.
2/ Design Crush: I could spend a lot of time browsing the design updates and ideas… oh wait… I do.
3/ I’ll definitely be ordering more Market Spice Spiced Cider Mix
4/ Fall/winter cooking: raisin-nut bread, lentil soup, vegetable roasts, breakfast for dinner, risotto paired with a warm red or cider.
5/ Richard Louv’s The Nature Principle
6/ Elephantine (Gemmayze), If (Hamra), and the funky antique shop tucked into the corner of a neon/concrete monstrosity on Rue Gouraud: inflated price tags but great design and/or appreciation for the past none the less.