Friday, November 12, 2010

Beirut: Walking in Hamra

One of the first things I do when I arrive in Beirut is to go out and just walk in the streets. It is something I miss doing in Dubai, mainly due to the heat and also because of the distances. And so it was when I arrived on Tuesday (November 9) and in the past few days!

My headquarters are in Hamra (see What’s Home, October 26) and what was known during the Lebanon civil war as West Beirut.

Hamra Street is one of the main streets in Beirut and considered by some as the heart of the city. Approximately 1 km long, it runs, in one-way traffic, from the Central Bank (Banque Du Liban) all the way down to Sadat Street. There are many private banks, major newspapers and ministries, cafes, restaurants, churches, mosques and street vendors that contribute to the dynamism of the area. Two of Lebanon’s major universities are to the left and right of Hamra Street – the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the Lebanese American University (LAU).

While walking around these past two days, I have tried to capture a bit of the dynamism of Hamra. The street is always congested with cars and sounds of honking, aromas from street vendors or cafes, and I was surprised by so much creativity in the graffiti or maybe I hadn’t noticed it before.

 It's citrus fruits season
Some of the street vendors have been in the same valuable spot for years. One of the new “entrepreneurs” is Ali and his “café” van.  He said he parked just off Hamra two months ago and offers tea, herbal teas, coffee, Nescafe, hot chocolate and cigarettes. All his beverages are for LL 1000 (66 cents) that he serves in very special and colorful carton cups.

Ali and his sidewalk cafe
Another enterprising lady sells chewing gum. I bought two packs off her before asking whether I could take a photo. I later discovered that the Chiclets packs were in fact already open and missing!

Our Holy Mother in the Kabboushiyyeh garden
I couldn’t resist entering the gardens of St. Francis Roman Catholic Church, also known as Kabboushiyyeh, to have a look around and then made my way to see my friend Zeina Gabriel who was launching her 2011 calendar at Brisk Café on Hamra Street.

Getting one of Zeina Gabriel's 2011 calendars
Zeina is a photographer and blogger I met on Twitter. A couple of years ago she gave some friends a calendar for Christmas and they suggested she produce one with her own photos. Last year she printed 50 calendars for friends who each chose their favorite pictures. This year, Zeina has self-printed 2000 and by mid-afternoon on Wednesday (November 10) more than half had already been sold. The selection of 12 pictures was made from a total of 140 and the calendar, which is selling at $5, will be available in all libraries in Lebanon as of Saturday (November 13).

Graffiti all over Hamra
As I made my way home down Hamra, my legs were really starting to ache after more than five hours of walking! Join me on the walk by viewing the pictures here.