Last night I went on a walking tour of Beirut––the only walking tour of Beirut. We started at the American University and 15 or 16 stops later ended up on the other side of Centerville. Along the way our guide, who was really cool, told us about interesting and ironic things, like the Holiday Inn that was occupied dozens of times by almost every army in the region (and I don't have a photo to post of it, because it is still being occupied by the Lebanese Army, and they don't like people taking pictures) houses where the rent is only 250 Lira (a few cents) a month, but have been unoccupied for decades, and a Synagogue in a part of the city where there are no Jews that was destroyed by the Israelis and is now being rebuilt by the Lebanese government. Below is one of our last stops: "Sniper Alley." Apparently there are no snipers there today... just a few old residents who occasionally throw tomatoes at passing tour groups.
Just before that we passed Hariri Mosque, and the "Egg," the dark concrete structure in the foreground. It was apparently the city's first modern structure. Its real claim to fame, however, is that after it was blown in half during the civil war, it became popular with ravers. That's right, ravers. People came from all over the world to dress up like zombies, trip on acid, and dance to techno music in a bombed out structure in the middle of the ruins of post civil war Beirut.
Just before the Egg, we stopped at Martyr's Square and our guide gave one of the best (or at least most concise) explanations I've heard of the political situation in Lebanon, highlighting the role of protest––specifically protest where we were sitting, in Martyr's Square. He also remarked on Lebanon's current state, one that it may have never been in before: the most stable country in the Middle East. He did end with some rather foreboding words, that he felt in the next few months, as the UN releases the findings of its investigation into the killing of the late Rafik Hariri (for whom the above mosque is named) that Lebanon will be plunged into turmoil again. "You will be glad that you came now," he said. I of course wondered if by "now" he was referring to a period as long as seven weeks... if he meant a shorter period of time, I suppose that I may not be glad that I came "now." Or just maybe I will be, but who knows.
At any rate, it was a great walking tour, even better than the one I went on in Dublin a couple years ago (has it really been that long?!). Rather than joining our guide for a happy hour at one of the local establishments near where the tour ended, we hiked back down to the Souks and went to a traditional Lebanese restaurant where I enjoyed my first Mezza, replete with hommos, olives, skewered beef and chicken, tabbouleh, and two kinds of fried cheese that I can't remember the names of.
We walked back to the car and just as we were getting in fireworks started shooting up from just a few hundred meters behind us and continued for ten or fifteen minutes (Beirutis are all about fireworks, apparently). It seemed like a fitting end to the evening.