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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Beirut's City Center

An ear infection acquired while swimming in the Mediterranean has proven a small but painful hiccup. I visited AUB's hospital, got checked out quickly and cheaply, and received painkillers and an antibiotic, both free of charge since the doctor had samples on hand. Ear infections hurt and I can see why they usually make babies scream a lot. Luckily, it's nothing serious.

I turned 37 on Friday and celebrated with an afternoon nap (which seemed like a good way to fight the infection). Insert joke here about how I'm aging and need naps. Nicole and I went out for a birthday dinner at Walimat Wardeh, a place I really like that serves really healthy, mostly traditional Lebanese foods. I had white fish served on a bed of rice with yogurt on the side, and some sauteed greens (hindbee, which is kind of like endive). Along with Aunti Selwa and La Tabkha, Wardeh's one of the restaurants in Hamra that seems to preserve traditional foods amidst the busy bustle of the neighborhood. And with all the olive oil and fresh veggies, all three offer healthy alternatives to the area's "sandwich culture." And speaking of food, Nicole got me some great books for my birthday including my favorite, "The Rural Taste of Lebanon: A Food Heritage Trail," which combines narrative, cookbook, travelogue, and reference book. I love it.

A friend of ours got sick and had to pull out of plans to spend Saturday downtown, but Nicole and I went anyway and had a nice time. The "City Center" is about a 45-minute walk but once you arrive downtown a lot of the historical sites are very close to one another. Downtown's right along the old "green line" which divided Beirut in two during the Civil War and you can still see destruction that the fifteen-year war caused. The Monument to the Lebanese Martyrs, which commemorates the fall of the Ottoman empire, ironically is pock-marked with bullet holes, and so serves as a reminder not only of the Ottoman era (when it was built) but also of the fighting during the 70s and 80s (when it was damaged by bullets). The war also unearthed some previously hidden Roman ruins and not far from Beirut's high fashion shops and boutiques are the remains of a Roman bath house, the empire's only law school (Nicole was happy to see this site), and numerous columns.

As you walk along the cobblestone-lined Roman "cardio maximus," you pass numerous cafes, that mostly serve Italian food, which I guess is appropriate. You also pass parliament, the offices of the prime minister, and the awesome clock tower (the time piece is a humongous Rolex) that's basically the center of downtown. Mostly, though, the area boasts beautiful churches and mosques, all of which are pretty welcoming. I loved both St. George cathedrals--one is Maronite and one is Greek Orthodox. Unfortunately, you can't take pictures inside, but we found postcards that do a pretty good job of capturing the gilt walls and the numerous icons that cover them. I went back this morning and attended Mass (in Arabic of course) at the Maronite cathedral. Next weekend, maybe I'll get up earlier and make it downtown in time for the Orthodox mass.

After much sightseeing yesterday, we were tired and sought sustenance at a grocery store in the downtown souks that has a salad bar with really fresh stuff, including palm, artichokes, and beets. And on the way back to Hamra, we got a free ride home. A taxi driver was honking at us, which is the normal experience when one chooses to walk around Beirut. Since that's normally the way that drivers solicit riders (instead of vice versa), we thought nothing of it, until we realized that the driver was one of Nicole's students (from her ESL class) who insisted we accept a ride home. Why not?


--Here is a link to some photos of St. George's Maronite Cathedral that somebody posted on facebook. You have to be signed into facebook to follow the link.

--Here are photos that Nicole and I took this past weekend, mostly of the City Center.

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