Beirut, Part VI

On my penultimate night in Lebanon I engaged in a very Beiruti activity: bar hopping. My companions were a local couple – both artists, worldly, super-smart, so culturally nuanced and well-informed. We drank gin martinis in a bar that would not have been out of place in mid-century Manhattan. We moved on to another emporium that had high tech designer flourishes. We found ourselves hooking up with a motor mouth artist who brought us to his loft-like apartment, with walls filled with skeleton images of himself and various automatic weapons pointed at his head.

“Just a little disturbing” one of my friends noted afterwards.

We then headed off to a lounge bar on top of an apartment building, decorated in a style that was a Lebanese reinterpretation of a London gentleman’s club, circa 1970. It was four in the morning and the joint was still open. So we drank beer and stared out as night woke up over a sea still enveloped in crepuscular greyness. Even though, since the Syrian crisis, the foreign crowds partaking in the hard-driving Beiruti nightlife have somewhat diminished, the city still remains the quasi-secular, quasi-libertine playground where the Middle East steps away from theocracy and outward social restraints, and engages in a degree of open hedonism.

“Feel like doing something mad?” I was asked. Ninety minutes later, on no sleep and with the sun now at full wattage, I found myself eighty kilometers along the south coast, in a wondrous fishing village called Sour. The coast here was rocky, angular. Here too were archeological remnants of the Roman Empire. As well as fishermen with single poles silhouetted on rocks, the immense blue sweep of civilization’s cradle stretched out before them

It was like looking at a new-minted ancient world: mythic, epic in its grandeur, free from all the internecine mess and brutalist modernism lurking nearby.

An hour later we were heading back north, passing by a shanty town facing the coast.

“That’s another of the Palestinian refugee camps” one of my friends said. “The Israeli border is just fifteen or so kilometers south of here.”

To which I could only think: welcome back to terra firma.


  • Dana K Haffar

    Dear Mr Kennedy,

    I happened upon your blog while visiting your website, having read and thoroughly enjoyed your novels. I was born and raised in Beirut,
    lived through the ‘Civil War’, and belong to a generation that is fast
    dwindling. It was during the war that I became aware of the intractable resilience of the Lebanese. It’s not a singular trait, of course: history abounds with examples of mankind’s unfaltering courage and will to survive in the face of adversity.
    The war ostensibly over, the Lebanese were beset with a series of destabilising events which confirmed to them that the unfortunate
    premise of ‘each man to himself’ prevailed and that they still lived on
    borrowed time. They’re determined to do so as best they can, in their own way, some admittedly faring better than others. Their saving grace has always been the network of family and friends.
    The ills of the country run deep and are far from being resolved. The cosmetic changes aside, what has kept the country afloat are the intellectual, financial and humanitarian contributions of individuals and private institutions.

    As you quite rightly point out, Lebanon is a country of contradictions and staggering contrasts surviving in the shadow of a war that tore it apart. Robert Fisk once described it as a ‘Rolls Royce without wheels’, which I believe sums it up. Having said all that, I am delighted and encouraged by the fact that you were undeterred by recent events and made the trip.

    Dana K. Haffar