Day 12: More of Beirut, Lebanon
It’s Easter Sunday and most things are closed so I anticipate having a fairly chill day. Still getting up early and enjoying a leisurely breakfast while I write. The common/eating area at this hostel has windows and glass doors all around and there is a patio area with more seating in an L-shape around the building. It’s beautiful in the morning; sunlight streams in and I can see all the plants and flowers in baskets and pots hanging on the walls and stairs outside. They don’t officially open for new people until 9am so I’m often down there before the first desk person who usually puts on some music once they arrive. Just before 10 I take another cup of coffee upstairs with me and open the glass doors and wood shutters to the balcony so I can enjoy the sunlight and breeze. There is no fan or AC so doing this creates the perfect room climate. I am in need of clean clothes and the website said there was a self service laundry here but there is not - instead some of the French-speaking women who prepare the breakfast and clean do the laundry for 12,000LBP which is about $6.60. I don’t have a choice about whether or not to do it as I have only one clean shirt left so I gather everything up and find a small paper and a stapler to label a bag with my name as instructed. I go back and finish the British crime drama limited series I discovered yesterday on Netflix, Collateral by the way, but in classic British crime drama style there are only 5 episodes or so! I finish pretty quick.
My big plans for the day, aside from being lazy and chill, are to go an ATM for Lebanese pounds to pay for the laundry and also to buy foods, locate a local Lebanese bakery nearby and eat many food stuffs there, and my final hoorah for the trip and night is to walk an hour into the Armenian district for what I have been told is the best shawarma in Beirut. The desk guy with all the jokes happens to be full of delightful information and he also told me about a “sketchy public transportation-type van” close to the shawarma that I can take to leave the city. I would have done that today to go to a beach he also recommended but there’s a chance of thunderstorms and it’s only 67 degrees and cloudy. As in Madaba, the place in question does not exist according to Google or Google maps so I’m pretty confident it’s going to be delicious. Except in Beirut there are no official addresses with numbers or zip codes or anything so many places do not exist in Google maps. There’s actually a fascinating “Stuff You Should Know” podcast on how people struggle to get mail here which I can't find the direct link to but the series is awesome and you should be listening!. Anyway, my point is that all “addresses” or locations, especially as they exist in Google maps, are more like suggestions. What you search for could be where the map says or it could be on the other side of the street or on the other side of the block who knows? It sounds infuriating but it’s actually endearing. I’ve only been here about a day and a half and I am already in love.
Getting back to my big plans! I find the ATM - it isn’t where the map says but I hit another one first anyway which was not on the map. On to the bakery. I go up and down the street looking on both sides and don’t see it. I start worrying that it is closed because of Easter so I make my first left to go back towards the direction I came and go down a totally different street. Just before getting to the end of the block I notice the Arabic logo of the bakery - surprise surprise it wasn’t where it was supposed to be! Inside I say hello and point to a selection of small pastries to try and then a picture of a pizza-type thing the Lebanese eat for breakfast, a manoush, with cheese and sunny-side eggs and sit down to wait. I managed to select all savory pastries and most have some sort of meat mixture inside, one has olives and one is unknown and each one is delicious. The manoush, when it arrives, also awesome and down the hatch it goes. I think maybe I’ve eaten enough carbs to go back and enjoy a little nap. Instead I take another detour going back to this place I tried yesterday that had only opened up five days before - I think the guy hosting, serving and cashing people out is the grandson of the older woman cooking. They only make saj, which is made from a ball of dough rolled out very thin and then slapped onto a giant convex cooking service and then all sorts of stuff are spread on top and then it is removed, rolled and cut into pieces. I order a honey and cheese, and a spinach. There’s a second young guy today who is helping the woman cook but he doesn’t have much English and somehow makes two honey and cheeses and one spinach but they only make me pay for what I order and give all of it to me as it’s silly to waste. On my way up the stairs to the hostel I see an older man that was there in the same spot all day and night yesterday. He doesn’t look homeless but my feeling is that he is and I catch his eye. I pull the extra honey and cheese out of my bag and offer it it to him which he accepts it and thanks me in English.
I eat the two sajs I ordered and now I’m really stuffed and over-carbed - I should have given him more rather than be such a gluttonous pig but what’s done is done. It is Sunday here after all, and a holiday at that - the locals are all resting and taking it easy so I remind myself of this to justify drifting into a food coma while the breeze and sunshine come through the balcony doors. The afternoon is luxurious and peaceful and I am very happy with my choice.
I get up and spend several hours writing and cobbling together some sort of official marketing plan for the site. Post, post, tag, tag, invite, invite. Suddenly I’ve been working for 5 or 6 hours and it’s 9:30. My back hurts from hunching over my laptop and my legs are a little numb from the weird position I’ve been in on the twin bed that doesn’t have a good wall to lean against but I get myself together and leave for my big shawarma hunt. The route is easy and I basically stay on one street which changes names the whole way there and back. My point of reference for when to stop is a cocktail place except “cocktail” places here are juice bars. The shawarma hunt plan has been revised to include stopping at said cocktail spot to try something called jallab which is made from a grape molasses with smoked incense. It sounds crazy but how could I not try it? I read something that described it as being a tour around the Middle East in one sip and that was enough to convince me.
It’s a long walk and I walk in the road often because sidewalks only exist sometimes and if they do, they are either running through the outdoor space of a cafe, covered by a parked car or blocked by some sort of barrier, electric post or other city feature. I pass through Beirut’s version of douchebag lane where people are spilling out of bars all over the place and it is very loud; because of the sidewalk situation I can either walk through the crowds of people sitting at high tables drinking or the street and I choose the street. Fun thing! Guys don’t harass you here and it’s amazing. I certainly get stares because of my head but guys don’t cat call and they also don’t watch your ass as you walk by. Television all over the Middle East is edited to not include the racy bits but from watching movies that I’ve already seen, I know that they also edit out street harassment and leering. If only we could take a lesson! Anyway, along the way I see another bakery so of course I stop in. This time I get sweet things but also that’s the only type of stuff they have. Armed with my bakery bag I find the shawarma, I get the shawarma, I move on to the cocktail place and sit down once I’ve gotten the jallab and watch the street life while stuffing my face with goodies. THE JALLAB IS MINDBLOWING. The incense is the most unexpected, crazy thing to put in a beverage but it fucking works - and it’s not too sweet either - I read grape molasses and I was expecting it to be sickeningly sweet but it’s perfect. Also it has a sprinkling of whole pinenuts on top - I don’t know why but I take the top off the cup near the end and swallow it all down. Having eaten all the things I head back and take pictures of the crazy mess of wires over my head along the way - “infrastructure” is a generous term here, at least in the non-fancy pants areas. At some point a weird French guy follows me after trying to talk to me and I read him the riot act which he accepts and moves on just when I'm ready to get all brawler on him. I keep zig zagging off the path to the hostel to see as many little streets as I can and to witness more Lebanese in the wild but the closer I get to where I’m going, the quieter it becomes. I buy one last, giant bottle of water for 1,000LBP ($0.66).
My flight leaves at 1pm tomorrow and I’m leaving by 9:15 to make sure I absolutely have enough time and also because I am a paranoid air traveler, I think we covered this. It is now almost 1am and I should really try sleeping since I’ll be getting up in 6 hours to pack and whatnot. Even so, I work a smidge more and then put on a French zombie movie and when the connection stalls out and I take it as a sign to call it a night. It’s 2am.