Toys, Tailors, and the Sloping Steps

My route to and from work is relatively the same each day. Yafet or Jean D’Arc give way to the taxi jammed Bliss before I make my way through the still quiet of AUB and the International College, then out the gate, dodging errant kindergarten students who stare unabashedly at anyone over five foot crossing their domain (if you ever watched “Recess”, think the kindergarten mass minus the bones and war paint), across the street, a quick “Sabah khalil” to the guards and up the stairs to my storage space of an office.

Today my thoughts turned to how this route has not, in some ways, varied since my arrival in August.  The three by three, minute pavers denoting sidewalk space are constant, though in varying hues of newness.  Mr. Sultan offers a polite “Bonjour” if he is at his post, gazing up and down the street from the portal to the Esquire Bookstore.  There is an ever present trickle of water from the florist shop at Yafet and Sidani each morning, remnants of the shop’s cleaning and preparation for the day.  A few cursory stares, quickly chortled “Taxi?”s, and bursts of car horns are the norm.  The avocado green, mint condition Plymouth Falcon receives its morning dusting (yes, with an actual feather duster) before the taxi sign is affixed above the driver’s side door.  And the sloping steps and uneven pavement, some from aging structure, some from shoddily done work, requires careful footing, especially when wearing heels, or thinking too deeply about the day I am walking to or away from.  I pass three tailors, all vying for business side by side, several purveyors of manouche and other waistline killers, a mandolin, electric and acoustic encrusted guitar shop, guards armed with semi-automatics, ancient foliage, and, because it’s Lebanon, likely a Roman ruin or two, all within the first half of my route; the bookends to my work days, and also the blinders if I am not mindful.

In fact, morphing, both subtle and overt, has occurred.  A vacant space, devoid of life or light, now houses dozens of flourescent-bathed workstations, bringing more competition to the university sector’s existing internet cafes.  A shop front has been made unique by the careful cutting, application and shellacking of thousands of colored comic strips- a new toy store edging out the neighboring competition, at least in aesthetics.  An old villa is being deconstructed or refurbished; I hope the latter.  Parking meters and designated spaces installed, and their use enforced, more or less.  The poinsettias, submerged in to the red clay for holiday cheer, have wilted, leaving behind their green support trellises and a few sad leaves.  The Bliss sentinels begin to take on more shape, promising another set of high rise jet setters a place to call home.  The language swirl that felt indecipherable now has a semblance of flow, and greetings and stock phrases jump to my ear as known expressions.  Perhaps the shift that brings the most calm is that now, I can hear the birds.