As the stillness and splendor of the sea glints, I casually walk down the open skies facing it. The warm morning sun, wind bearing taste of waves, calming sapphire waters, creases upon the shore, bringing mild currents, crashing onto the rocks, carrying with it the crisp salty Mediterranean sea breeze that hum a tune that is forever Ras Beirut.
Stretching from the Ramlet al Bayda area to the Saint George marina, the 10-kilometer long al-Manara Corniche, named after the lighthouse, is the most renowned seaside promenade in Beirut. Coated with palm trees, it offers a great view of the Mediterranean Sea, as well as some of the country’s best assets, namely the infamous Pigeon Rock, and the summits of Mount Lebanon on the eastern side. To the north of Pigeon Rock, you can spot the old Ferris wheel, a landmark and a perennial favorite amongst locals, and the sparkling, squealing attractions of the Luna park.
Built during the time of the French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon, the Corniche has its origins in the Avenue des Français, also known as Avenue de Paris, and was constructed along the Beirut waterfront. This small stretch carries the flavor of the characteristic of the Ras Beiruties’ way of life. It never renders itself to sleep, and find solace and quietude only after the stars have nested in the dark skies. Depending on the hour of the day, different people of all walks of life play a part in this small theatre of life. Early in the morning old men and women who have grown accustomed to waking up before the sun rises, walk there and enjoy the early orange hues of the flying sunrays. After that the Corniche is for runners, who run in rhythmic pace and follow the beats of their own pulse. Just around school drop off, moms claim it as their own physical and sometimes mental break. Old and young fishermen are often seen along the rails, especially near the steps that lead down to the front of the Corniche wall, their fishing poles in one hand, their baskets on the side, sometimes alone, but most times gathered in groups talking amongst themselves. Additionally, families, couples, and groups of youngsters dressed up in their best attire can most always be seen sauntering alongside the length of the Corniche. On summer days, sunbathing and swimming boys and men claim the rocks below.
In the late afternoon and evening, it is a social spot where playing children; cyclists and joggers are gratefully using the wide pavement. Small vendors are selling coffee, tea and snacks such as nuts, corn and ‘ka-ik’ (a typical Lebanese round-shaped bread). The Corniche lends itself to watching the sunset while enjoying the sound of the sea and the stir of the city life.
A great cross-section of Beiruti life relishes it, from backgammon-playing old men to teenagers dressed to impress, particularly on a Saturday night, when people bring their own plastic chairs and set up temporary camp to watch the world go by. The clinking of coffee cups from wandering coffee vendors, add to the tune of the city, amongst its nargileh culture, which entails parking the car near a bench on the Corniche, cranking the music up and lighting up their own hookah pipe to share among their closest friends.
This sea creeps up to meet. The shore crashing on grey rocks as the lined palm trees still carrying bullet holes as scares of the civil war on their trunks, sway to the rhythm of the wind. The white foam, whispers secrets and the waves that stretched to the horizon beckons the Mount Lebanon Mountains closer in a gigantic far-reaching invitation. Those sentinels that stand there watching the sea, carry on their tips whatever beauty the season has speckled on them. In winter their white tips glisten to the call of the sunrays and in spring and summer time, the green of the trees casts a magical blanket on them.
This corniche, in a country where the skies seem privatized and one has to act according to rules and regulations that are absurd, is our democratic stretch of land, where we practice our god given right of sun, sea, and sky.
I can’t help but feel a certain connection to it all. The dreamy sea washing ashore brings little bubbles of life to its end. These were the days we remember. These are the days we forget. These are the days to be treasured. These are the memories all children should have, to drift with the waves and let the motions of them soothe our aching soul and take our bodies with the weightlessness and taste of the sea salt. Staring at the sea and the waves that crash and foam, I realize in their motion the sensation of being home.
This is my home…