I was reading this morning an article featuring Beirut in the British newspaper The Telegraph. You can check out the article here.
Ian Henderson, the article’s author, apparently visited Beirut recently with two very polarizing views in mind: one of people who thought Beirut is the next big thing and another which couldn’t shake the idea of a war zone out of their heads. And naturally, Ian Henderson fell head over heels with our capital: the diversity (church next to mosque next to synagogue), the food (obviously), the nightlife and how close it is from many other areas around it.
I personally love reading articles like this even though they’re getting quite repetitive. The qualities about the Lebanese capital they keep mentioning are never original and are becoming more on the redundant side: same old, same old. Every foreign journalist that comes to Lebanon limits their stay in Beirut and visits some major site outside of the city. In this case, Henderson visited the ruins of Baalbak and was also fascinated by them. But I digress.
The point I’m making through this post is for these foreign journalists, who come to Lebanon and rave about Beirut, to know that there are many more fascinating areas awaiting them outside Beirut. Highlighting our capital is important because, at the end of the day, it is the first thing any tourist will see of our country (after we blindfold them on the way to downtown, obviously). But Beirut is not Lebanon as these journalists make it out to be. To be precise, Beirut is only 1% of Lebanon’s total area.
What’s sadder is that many Lebanese, born and raised in Lebanon, seem to forget that simple fact as well. I remember a story an American friend of mine, who happens to be very enthusiastic about Lebanon, once told me. He had Lebanese friends who stayed in Beirut all the time and thought the whole country was the big concrete mess that is Beirut. And they didn’t like it. They didn’t like the traffic, the noise, the commotion. But party they did. Go out in fancy cars they did. Living Beirut as a Lebanese beyond their means, they did. It took him a while to convince them to take their very fancy car and drive to the North or the Chouf area where forests, waterfalls, snow and gorgeous scenery can be found – for them to see that there’s more to Lebanon that its barren capital. And they loved it.
I’ve also personally experienced this firsthand when many of my friends hadn’t even heard of the Kadisha Valley in the North or of Belou’ Bal’a in Tannourine. These two sites, which happen to be a thirty minute drive away of each other through a beautiful mountainous road, are a breathtaking work of nature. The Kadisha/Annoubin valley is also called the valley of the saints for harboring Maronites during the times of their persecution around the 13th century. Instead, many Lebanese have their weekend planned around jumping around between Gemmayze and Hamra, from one pub to the next.
I’m not saying hitting pubs on a Saturday night is a bad thing. But to have a whole weekend happening only to serve that purpose is really sad. Few are those who go on impromptu road trips to places they’ve never visited or rarely visited before. Few are those who really venture out in their own country. Instead, we nag about how little green spaces we have in Beirut (and many of us extrapolate this to an even bigger scale and include the whole of Lebanon as well). We nag about how gorgeous our vacation abroad was without knowing that we have sceneries as beautiful, if not more, to the ones we say abroad.
I’ve written a post back in July about how Lebanese people nag and nag. This is not about that. This is about how we are helping build the image of equating our country with our capital. That image is beautiful. I love to wander around Achrafieh, Gemmayze (and sometimes Hamra), even though these neighborhoods are losing their culture by having their heritage torn down to make place for new high-rises. I love looking at downtown and compare it with pictures from the early 90s and see the extent of rebuilding.
But you know what makes my heart fill up with joy? It’s to drive around my hometown and stop, a few meters away from my house, and look at the Cedar Mountains through a view like this:
Or when I go to the Cedar Mountains and stand dumbfounded as to how absolutely brilliant the scenery is:
Beirut is awesome. Beirut is lively. Beirut has been through much. Beirut is rising again. But Beirut is not all of Lebanon and perhaps those who visit Beirut and don’t like it (such as this blogger who described it as battered) need to visit other areas which remain pure and Lebanese.
The image of Lebanon equals Beirut is beautiful. But there are many more beautiful pictures out there to equate Lebanon with – and to spread to the world.