Arabic is a wonderfully expressive, visual language. Many terms used throughout the Arab world would not make much sense out of context, or if translated into another language. Oftentimes, colloquialisms or even idioms are the hardest part of a language for a foreigner to understand, as they are so deeply rooted in the culture.
There is art housed and closed, somehow it stagnates in museums under cold lock and key. And then there is art right here, open and fresh and free. The art of the city embraces us. It tells us its narrative and the power of its youth. If these walls could speak, they’d tell you all about art and life in Beirut; whispered from spray cans.
The many charms of Lebanese food is its varied desserts, rich, sweet, and full of flavors. Sometimes a name can elevate and carry a certain resonance to something so simple. This amazingly aromatic dessert that is quite refreshing with a rich complex taste stemming from subtle hints of Mastic (Arabic Gum), orange blossom water and rose water carries a poetic name that speaks volumes about our culture.
Lebanon’s second largest city is famous for its medieval Mamluk architecture, including a bustling and labyrinthine souk that is considered the best in the country. Home to the largest fortress in Lebanon, the Citadel of Raymond Saint-Gilles, it’s the second largest city (behind Cairo) in Mamluk architectural heritage. In ancient times, it was the center of a Phoenician confederation, which included Tyre, Sidon and Arados, hence the name Tripolis, meaning triple city in Greek, which the Arabs changed to Trablous.
When you walk into any Lebanese home built between the early 1880s and the 1940s, those intricately designed and colorful terrazzo handmade tiles underneath your feet are the first thing to catch your eye and heart. In a time before carpets were fashionable, these cement tiles were the chic way to give a home a unique identity and some color.
The wise man, the cynical man, and the man in love share this in common; they all see the world in terms of infinite possibility. To survive in this new world, one must be witty and sarcastic. In a country where the political and judicial system would play a main role for any absurdist play, where politicians who once were sworn enemies, in a day’s coup become partners, the Lebanese confused can’t even agree to disagree when it comes to their own political standing. In this deafening cacophony of resonance of this political satire we live in, there is one person the Lebanese unanimously love, quote, and recite entire dialogues and songs of; Lebanon’s cynical genius, Ziad Rahbani.
If you look into the sky above Gemmayze amongst its old buildings, you might be able to catch time fly by. The sands of the hourglass slowly decay away. The future longed for hangs in the air murmuring through its little alleys of a golden age that once was.
While Aladdin had to go through a booby-trapped magic cave to get his oil lamp that would grant him his wishes, in Lebanon a simple phone call would have done. I really mean it, name it and you’ve got it. Everything in Lebanon, absolutely everything is only a phone call away. There is no need to sweet talk a genie, a simple “allo, please biddeh itlob delivery” (please I would like to order a delivery) would do.
Days before a woman is about to give birth, the whiff of cinnamon and caraway start filling the house with their comforting aromas full of warm spicy notes. No Lebanese baby can be welcomed into this world, without the proper and best Meghlé. This dessert is a rice pudding made from rice flour, sugar and cinnamon with ornaments of desiccated coconut flakes, pistachios, walnuts, almonds and pine nuts making it one fancy dessert reserved for such delightful occasions. It is infused with the warming flavors of cinnamon, caraway and anise. This exotic dessert is a taste of our culture, and insight into our spice-filled way of life.
Sometimes it is with great dignity and love that one faces life’s hardship. Some people’s willpower can be surprising at times with an optimism that overshadows one’s manmade cruel fate. Below is the story of such a human being.