Day 13: Beirut, Lebanon to Paris, France
I got less than 5 hours of sleep and I'm pretty beat. There was no hot water this morning so I didn't shower and instead took a sink bath in my room. I schedule an Uber (you can schedule the cheaper, pool version of Uber here! In the states that option only comes with the pricey Uber Black ugh) and have less than an hour and a half at this point to get everything packed and my ass out the door, down the steep stairs and to the pickup location I set. The hostel is "officially" located on a single lane, one-way street so any car that comes down it has to back out to get to go anywhere else. FYI cab drivers don't like this. Anyway the ride will cost about $11 and it's worth it plus there is no public transportation here so...
At the airport there are crazy layers of security and military interaction - even more than in Jordan. I've seen military all over the city but living in NYC and seeing soldiers with assault rifles at most landmarks it doesn't phase me much. Here I'm immediately faced with bag scan and then pulled aside behind a curtain to be frisked by a female soldier. Again I'm there before the check-in counter opens so I go the bathroom and when trying to find a vacancy a woman inside one of the stalls yells something in Arabic and then a few minutes later "Girl? Or boy?" - I say girl while I'm pissing and wonder where this is going. It turns out it's the ladies room attendant who asked me and she apologizes and I indicate that I understand because of my lack of hair. She very seriously asks me "Why you do this?" several times along with inquiries as to how my family feels about it and shares that her own hair is very long. Honestly it is refreshing to be openly confronted about it rather than just being looked at with disdain and we chat about hair for a few a bit. By this time the counter is open and my airport adventure continues.
Once past another round of security checks and about three passport reviews I find myself in the land of duty-free and surrounded by Lebanese baked goods and sweets. Of course I buy cookies. I also buy a version of za'atar I haven't seen before and make it to the gate. I don't buy lunch because I was served a meal on my one hour flight from Jordan to Lebanon and figure on 4.5 hour flight to France I must surely be fed. About an hour before departure everyone is herded out of the waiting area to be screened again. We are swabbed for bombs, our bags checked and passports reviewed again. More waiting, finally we board but not before getting passports checked by a flight attendant and then 20 feet later by another soldier. Finally I'm on the plane and going through the seat pocket I see a menu of food items for sale and realize there will be no meal provided and I fucked up not getting lunch. I decide to save my Euros for real French food and go to sleep to ignore the hunger. Halfway through the flight I get the bigger of the two boxes of cookies I bought and eat the entire sampler package. I don't regret my decision they were fucking delicious - mini baklava, pistachio shortbread, sesame cookies and date-stuffed shortbreads rolled in seeds and herbs.
In Paris it is raining; finally I get to use the raincoat and umbrella I've been hauling around. I get to the hostel in a taxi which has a flat-rate price to the Right Bank. It's 6:30 and there's a recovery meeting an hour and 20 minutes away walking at 8:30. I am sharing a room with 5 other women and I wonder to myself what the fuck I was thinking doing that - there isn't enough storage space and most of the floor area is covered with suitcases. I get in my top bunk and charge my phone while downloading an offline map so I can walk around and find my way back without signal. It's almost quarter after 7 when I leave and I wind up late. It is a loooong walk and it's raining and I am hungry (despite all those cookies), dehydrated and all of a sudden really sad. Walking the streets, seeing people with laptops in brasseries and so many smokers and untold stories behind walls and windows and doors - I'm suddenly struck by an overwhelming desire to sell my apartment and move to another country - maybe here - maybe somewhere I haven't been yet - doesn't matter I want to do something. I get a little teary - am I just trying to run from feelings or am I being called? I need a meeting and will think about this more later.
After the meeting I get dinner with a Russian girl and an American guy who both live here and we talk about working and living abroad and visas and how everyone in Paris forges papers to get proper apartments and even still the spaces are ridiculously small. When I tell them my story and that I'm also working on a long piece/non-fiction book about insomnia and living at night, they tell me that I might be very unhappy here because everything closes early! From the details I'm getting I realize that though I may be getting called by the universe to live elsewhere, that placer isn't here and I fantasize about Beirut. Or Prague. Or ? We finally pay and leave and it's 11:30 and I've got that giant walk ahead of me but at least it's stopped raining. **Dinner was underwhelming by the way - I'll save my words for the good stuff**
Walking back I keep running into sidewalk and street closures because of some transit strike and maybe something else? I've been hearing sirens all day and passed a huge group of police in full-on riot gear with the plastic shields and everything but they didn't look panicked so I didn't get panicked. When shit is going down you can feel it and see it on people's faces and this was not one of those times so I continue on without fear. My dinner companions were totally right - the streets are empty and 95% of what I pass is closed with the exception of spots clearly for tourists. My knee hurts, my feet are sore but even getting on the metro wouldn't help because I'm like three transfers away and would have to go in a totally different direction just to get the right train back to the hostel so I suck it up. When I get back it's nearly 1am and I get some water and rest my weary body on a couch - there are half a dozen guys of various ages awake and lounging about and I strike up a conversation with one on the next couch over. He is from London and was here for the marathon (apparently that just happened). We talk about the hostel and Paris, the marathon, traveling and Jordan. I'm anxious about going back to the room because it's so late and all my stuff is either padlocked in a locker or buried deep within my backpack and I ask my new friend all of my logistical, sharing-a-room-in-a-hostel questions. I say goodnight and do my best to quietly do what I need to do to retire and pass out in my bunk.