The United States is, without question, the most religious country in the so-called developed world. If the pollsters are to…
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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.