I have always been very interested in going to the holy land. Regrettably, the political situation in the world does not make it very easy for an American to be in that part of the world with a whole lot of comfort.
In particular, two fine Sydneysiders have made me think of it again.
A few years back when I was taking French at Texas I went to a welcoming committe gathering for foreign students coming to the US. I remembered what it was like to be a foreigner in Holland at a school and was very thankful that so many great Dutch people went out of their way to help me feel welcome. I figured I should return the favour.
While there I met many interesting people but one was a young man from Lebanon. A girl in my Finance class was talking to him and I was enjoying their conversation quite a lot (she was half Lebanese). As they talked it dawned on me that Lebanon was not this hellhole that I had always seen on the news growing up (bombs, rocks throwing, intifadeh, Hezbollah). The gentleman said something I’ll never forget. In a factual and yet wistful tone he said:
“Beirut, it was the Paris of the Middle East.
Having just been to Paris for the first time but a few short months previous to that discussion I was stunned. The math and architects lined up, the French imperial influence in northern Africa matched up…could it have been?
At the crossroads between Africa, the Holy Land, and the Mediterranean lies the fragrant cedar finger of Lebanon, stroking the western cheek of the Mediterranean, that sea that carried a thousand ships, bore a thousand civilizations, and quickened my own culture.
[ I suggest that if you have a laptop you keep a copy of the CIA World Fact Book on your HD, you will always learn something if stuck in an airport, ditto some Shakespeare, a greek epic or two ]
But it has been a great long while since I thought about this mysterious place - until I made the acquaintance of one of the excellent servers in the hotel. He is an absolute gentleman and, I daresay, his gift in this capacity is what makes it such a pleasure to be a patron within his cafe. He is polite, tactful, generous, and a very good conversationalist. I have been asking him to tell me about Lebanon and he has entertained my requests good-naturedly.
Today, I want over to the hair salon in the David Jones and I had the pleasure of meeting another Lebanese gentleman who, in addition to giving me a good haircut, was proud to tell me about his growing up in Beirut.
I related to him my dreams of visiting some day and he said that should things ever settle in Palestine between Israel and the Palestinians Beirut will stand to benefit as it is poised for a social rebound.
I should like to see Baghdad before I grow too old - I hope to see Beirut before then.