Beirut's most beautiful feature has got to be the sea (the AUB campus is a close second and I'll post pictures soon to prove it). The city sits alongside the Mediterranean and Lebanese people of all ages spend loads of time on the "Corniche," a long, paved boardwalk-of-sorts. Stroll along the Corniche and you'll spot teens smoking nargileh (hookah), families who have brought plastic chairs and bags of nuts and seeds to snack on, and older men playing backgammon or cards on upside-down cardboard boxes. And in the background, the bluest water imaginable. Nicole and I had a late dinner on our first night here at a little cafe where we sat maybe ten feet from the water and ate foul (the Arabic fava bean dish) and other treats. The sound of waves. The smell of cherry-flavored nargileh.
Yesterday, after a very long walk, I ended up at a public beach and dipped my feet in the sea for the first time. Felt great, especially on such a hot and humid day. A group of guys were playing a very competitive beach soccer game. No shoes and a real soccer ball. Ouch. How competitive was the game? Sand was kicked in people's faces. The concession stand sold nargileh of course. Oh, and lest my description of the beautiful water become too idealized, I should point out that littering is largely acceptable. I saw someone pull his car over, gather KFC and Pizza Hut (both chains seem to be very popular in Beirut) wrappers from his car, fill a plastic bag, and toss the whole thing over the railing into the sea.
Amazing how fast one gets accustomed to the military presence. We learned that the soldiers in green camo are usually Lebanese Army and the more ubiquitous (at least around AUB) gray-uniformed soliders are the paramilitary ISFs. All carry very large machine guns. After a few days, they become part of the backdrop of everyday life.
I can't post without talking about food. Street food is amazing in Beirut. 'Faysal Snack' up the block from our apartment offers amazing mankoushe (fresh bread with various toppings--although why look any farther than the simple cheese version?), zaatar, etc., right out of a hot brick oven. It's almost cheaper than eating at home too. I mentioned on facebook that I'll "pass" by Faysal each day on my way to campus, if by "pass" you mean "stop for breakfast." We ate at Kabobji for dinner tonight. Kabobji, like the sea, really highlights how social Lebanese culture can be, and how happy Lebanese people usually are when they're out and about in the city. It's a "typical" restaurant in that you see 20-somethings on cell phones, teens in big clusters, older folks (especially men) talking earnestly with one another. Nice place. Tonight, a Saudi man and his Lebanese friend joined us at our table because they thought we looked friendly. The Saudi guy especially was full of life, bubbly almost, and eventually mentioned that he had a daughter whose hand I might be interested in. Yes, Nicole was sitting right next to me. Four days overseas...not too bad. Am I right?
I start work tomorrow and will post soon about my research, faculty orientation, my classes at AUB, and other topics that have less to do with delicious snacks and more to do with, you know, work. I did spend this morning preparing lectures for the first two weeks of my graduate course, so it's not all marriage offers and hummus, I promise. Keep checking the "Photo" link on the right for more pictures too. And rumor has it, Nicole has posted her first blog entry.