Monday, April 30, 2012

And I'm Off

Tomorrow I'm on a flight back to New Orleans. I looked at my ticket and realized I made quite the novice traveling mistake. My flight from Beirut lands at 8pm Monday and my next flight out to Canada doesn't leave until 10am Tuesday morning. Without credit cards and only a couple dollar's I've stolen from friend's couch cushions and powder room cash, I will be spending 14 uncomfortable hours in the Franfurt airport. Just like the good ol' Thailand backpacking days. Where I would book the cheapest ticket I could find usually spending the night in the Newark airport trying desperately to keep warm enough to nap for a couple hours on a bench. The trauma of which is still the reason I carry a sweatshirt, an overly large scarf that can double as a blanket, and snacks while flying, even on a trip that lasts only an hour or two. 

It's been a slow few final days. Hussein is in school so Monday, Wednesday and Fridays I spend many hours at a cafe reading and writing while he is in class. I spent all of Friday writing and rewriting a terrible Op-Ed for GP. I can pen a couple sentences on my travels but writing an Op-Ed for a large newspaper is not where my skills lay. Hussein is very stressed about his final project which will determine whether he finally graduates from university and which he has barely started. His family invited us to a dinner yesterday but instead of heading back south where large posters of Syrian President Assad are plastered everywhere, we spent the day touring the National Museum and looking for Sami's car. Sam is the Editor for Lebanon Executive magazine. I read one of his columns yesterday and it was scathing against the government.

The National Museum looked like the lobby of New York's Museum of Art. Its perfectly square two levels of all grey marble. Or maybe its the Chicago Museum of Art it reminds me of. I'm not sure, maybe it's just the same boring old museum feel I'm thinking of. Within the walls are artifacts found around Lebanon, including vases and jewelry from 5th century BC. Sami made the obvious comment, "In the US, you see shit that is 200 years old in museums and they are in aw. This vase is from 500 years before the birth of christ!", but nonetheless all that stuff really is from the beginning of civilization.

What we all found funny or infuritating often at once, was that most artifacts held only a minimum of description. Vase. Beirut. I'll post some photos of the title cards later, but the truth is that when someone wants to build a parking lot they end up pulling up some ancient building and no one in the country knows what is it.  The crumbs of the progress of civilization lays before every footstep without much notice in this city. Sami was so angry about the lack of not only Lebanese people at the museum but also any understanding by the Museum's curators of what they are displaying. I thought the most interesting was the planning drafts of greek style theaters and temples made of stone. I guess when you are an architect before the invention of architecture drafting paper, stone is the obvious choice.

After the Museum we drove around Hamra, the hipster neighbhorhood we've spent most of our time. (No there are actual hipsters here, thank fucking god) But in actuality that is what Hamra is, great small hip bars with good bartenders and lots of interesting food choices. The music spills out into the streets at all hours of the evening and the same folk visit the same bars everyday. They are just missing pairs of Toms, big black empty eyeglasses, and minimualists bikes locked to every street sign. On Friday we (Hussein, Sami, Maurice, Steve, and Olli) met in Hamra for a couple drinks. Hussein and I left early. At the end of the night Sami and Maurice decided for once to night drive home drunk out of their minds, but had forgotten to remember where they had parked the car. Hussein, Sami, and I drove around and around and around yesterday looking for it. We found it blocked into a handicap spot two blocks from the bar.

The traffic: I keep trying to wrap my head around the traffic. At first I didn't think much of it. Not busier than Manhattan, less chaotic than Bangkok, but something was off here. I just haven't figured out what it is. Why aren't there more car crashes? Where are the lines on the streets to distinguish lanes? And why do cars suddenly park on the highway? I guess the better question is why do cars double park suddenly on the highway when a line of cars behind them must squeeze past to continue down the road? During the war there were many car bombs and so the police and people became afraid when cars did such a thing. Though it never stopped a non-terrorist driver from parking at the edge of a busy intersection when no other parking spot could be found.

The trend became that you left a business card or a slip of paper on the dashboard so the police or owners of any other car you were blocking could reach you. What didn't happen during these car bombs was the end of parking illegal in the middle of the street and intersections. I've tried to take photos of these impromptu parking spots, but I'm afraid they don't truly show off the situation.

Speaking of traffic. I finally drove in the city! This is my first time driving in another country and especially a crazy screaming match of traffic jam. Fortunately, it was 2am and there were barely a car around. Hussein and I began comparing traffic jams personifying them to characters we develop. During the day Hamra is a grumpy old man pissed off that his favorite futbal team had lost while at night it is a loverly dressed lady headed to dinner. One day earlier this week we were stopped behind a van with many screaming children. The driver door kept opening and foot would appear to be pushing the van. Hussein screamed in Arabic lifting his fist and closing the points of his fingers together like he was grabbing a pinch of salt for dinner. He said here you drive i'll push the fucking van. But as soon as I was going to jump out the car a motorbike appeared to our left raced directly in front of us and pushed the van with his foot. The driver closed door and gunned the engine as the motorbike pushed the van up a small hill. Eventually whatever had stopped working began again in the van and the traffic was back up to speed. This traffic jam: A frustrated father just trying to get his kids home from school so he can get some rest.

Alright I'm off. 4pm and finally headed out. Ghallia's children spent the night last night and we had a great brunch together. A house full of teenagers!! Though the line to the bathroom was hours long, there was lots of good conversation. When they left the oldest asked, are you on twitter? I'll follow you. let's keep in touch.

ReneƩ Claire

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