Friday, January 28, 2011

Love is blind...

“I just want to live in Beirut.” I heard those words from my mother Vicky so often when I was a growing up that I got to hate them. They have come back to haunt me of late as I parrot them a hundred times a week.

It may sound funny, with the current political uncertainly in Lebanon and so many people wishing to leave. But that’s the problem when you fall in love – and I have rekindled my love with Beirut!

Teta Asma
Vicky, as a diplomat’s wife, lived most of her life away from home in Beirut and constantly dreamed of going back. She was attached to her mother, Teta Asma (after whom my sister is named), my Aunt Emily, her brothers, nieces and nephews. She missed them very much. This was something difficult for me to understand as a child.

We always lived abroad, often in trouble spots. Mum used to wait for the three-month family vacation, every two years, when we would go back to Beirut and Bethlehem.

I dreaded those vacations. Being just a kid, I was often sent to some mountain resort or another. The worst was going to Brummana. I still have memories of my Uncle Adeeb spanking me in the middle of Brummana high street because I wanted to follow my sister and cousins to the international Brummana Tennis Tournament that was held every summer.

Mum carrying me, Teta Asma and Aunt Emily
The compensation was being enveloped in Teta Asma’s love, tenderness and angelic compassion. She was very old by then, but I was lucky to have known her and to have learned so much from this majestic woman of another era.

Beirut took Vicky away from home when I was 10. She left Tunis, where we were then posted, to be with ailing Teta Asma. Vicky stayed in Beirut for a year, until Teta’s death. It was very difficult to be without a mother for that long at such a critical age and, of course, I blamed Beirut!

Vicky finally realized her dream when we moved back to Beirut for good in 1973. That was it, she was home at last… or so we thought. But after years of civil war and sickness, I brought her back to London with me in 1990 and she was never to return.

Seeing mum so happy in her home and among her family and friends, I made peace with Beirut and began to love the city as much as Vicky did. But a 15-year civil war can be draining. Many reasons, chiefly the lack of work, finances and papers, forced me to leave in 1985.

It took 20 years to get over the civil war scars, the memories of dear ones I lost and a Beirut without Vicky, for me to make my way back in 2009. I fell in love with this wonderful city again! And I too started dreaming of returning.

Rawcheh by Antoine Naaman (@_Ant1_)
Why do I love you ya Beirut?

I love you because you are the closest thing I will have to home.

I love you because, as soon as I arrive at the airport, it’s as if a blanket has been thrown over my shoulders and I feel immediate warmth.

I love you because family, like cousins Lillian and Dalal, envelops me in affection and care.

Yorki and Zepure Mansour
I love you because my soul mates, Yorki and Zepure (see Soulmates for Life, November 2, 2010), are there. We have shared so much over the past 35 years.

I love you because when I walk in the street, everyone knows who I am (see Walking in Hamra, November 12, 2010).

I love you because no one asks me “where are you originally from.”

I love you because I can pick up with friends I haven’t seen for 20 years as though it was yesterday.

I love you because every servees (communal taxi) ride is an adventure and could warrant a post on its own.

I love you because you go to sit in a café to get some work done and end with a table packed with friends.

I love you because I can walk almost everywhere.

I love you because when I buy a ka3ki for lunch from the vendor next to the American University Hospital (AUH), we become friends, and the next day he refuses to be paid for it.

I love you because the mixed nuts vendor will offer me something every time I pass by, in memory of my mum.

I love you because I can go in and out of the hairdressers in 10 minutes, with the best haircut and blow-dry for $13.

I love you because of the beach I used to go to is still the same and still serves the best fish in town (see Beirut: Walking to the beachfront, November 25, 2010).

...for breakfast
I love you because a friend will take me to Sidon for breakfast (November 30, 2010 post); be back for lunch in Downtown Beirut and dinner on the ski slopes.

The Gustav Mich Cafe birthday cake
I love you because my friends will remember my birthday and celebrate it with me and offer not one cake, but two – one of them a Mich Café cake -- made by our favorite pâtisserie, Gustav (see Salsa in Beirut, November 11, 2010 and Gustav’s sweet offers, December 4, 2010).

I love you because the friendly grocer is still there, as is the butcher and the fishmonger.

I love you because you have the best food in the world that can be washed down with the best local wine, Arak or Almaza beer.

I can go on and on…

I love you Beirut in war and in difficult times as much as I do in peacetime… Isn’t that what love is all about?