Tag Archives: Beirut

Tomorrow We Will See – a documentary

Tomorrow We Will See offers a window into Lebanon’s flourishing creative culture through the perspective of ten Lebanese artists. In their own artistic ways, they have overcome decades of social and political instability and the uncertainties of what tomorrow may bring.

A common trait that unites the artists is their talent of using art as a tool for transcending sectarian divisions and encouraging freedom of thought.

A rock band’s thought-provoking lyrics, a poet’s description of time shrinking, an architect’s experimental manipulation of space, a novelist’s language of the female body, and a painter’s reflections on his choice of colors, reveal the process by which the featured artists transform ideas, sketches, spaces into vibrant and dynamic works of art.”

I can’t wait till this documentary comes out.

Watching the trailer brought tears to my eyes..something about it just tugged at my heart.

I looked up the filmmaker..and was interested to find that, “Soraya Umewaka is of Japanese-Lebanese descent, born in Tokyo; a graduate of Comparative Politics from Princeton University (2006) and a Noh actress (traditional Japanese theatre) who has performed at the National Noh Theatre since the age of 3. Through a lifetime of Noh training, she has attuned her observations of the nuances, symbolism and subtleties of expression found in the arts. Her cross-cultural documentaries are intimate personal portraits that unravel tales of the quest for happiness despite the pressure of various hardships, the uncertainties of tomorrow and a wide spectrum of socially constructed borders. Soraya’s works highlight the resilience and dignity of the human spirit in the face of adversity.”

Filmmaker Soraya Umewaka

Filmmaker Soraya Umewaka

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I can’t wait to see your film Soraya.

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The foreigners’ guide to moving to Beirut, part 1

I’m amazed that even though I’ve been away for over two months now, I still receive emails from people seeking advice about moving to Beirut. (I especially love the emails from concerned parents and grandparents!) I’m truly flattered that people trust my judgement so much..and while I always try to answer their questions to the best of my knowledge, I know that I’m most probably overlooking a few things. Which is why I decided to write this post and open it up to everyone willing to contribute in the hopes of making foreigners’ lives in Beirut a liiiiitle bit easier. (Come on now, we know they need all help they can get!)

So, let’s get started, shall we?

What to pack

The first time I came to the party capital of the Middle East, I came with one mission, and one mission only: to party. And party I did. The nightlife reminded me so much of South Beach..the gorgeous people, the fashion, the sexiness..admittedly my first trip to Beirut was very one-sided and was a poor measure of what it was like to live there. But that’s obvious right? Vacationing somewhere is always different from living there. This couldn’t be MORE true in the case of Lebanon. Anyway, I digress.

Palais, Beirut

My first night at Palais (It was Crystal back then..)

Palais, Beirut

This is Beiruuuuuuut!

The second time I headed to Beirut, I packed for what was supposed to be a month long trip. Little did I know that one month would turn into a year and a half! But, let’s just say I packed mainly based on what my experience in Beirut was like the first time around..and hey, I’m from Miami,,so can you blame me? My suitcase was stuffed to the brim with wayyy too many going out outfits, high heels, and things that were very impractical (unless you are going to a bar/nightclub) by American standards. Now, as a woman, I must warn you that Lebanese women have a tendency to err on the side of fabulous – every day, all day. And while I like to play dress up, I like to reserve certain items of clothing for night time only. I can’t say the same for some Lebanese ladies out there!

At first, I felt like I could do what the Lebanese do. But when I moved to Hamra (for those of you who don’t know, think University neighborhood, lots of walking, uneven/slippery pavement, and taxis, etc etc) I quickly traded in my high heels for flats (and oftentimes sneakers..GASP! ), ..and my super fitted clothing for something a bit more free-flowing and comfortable. Hey, if you feel like you have what it takes to play Lebanese dress-up, more power to you..but if you’re anything like me..here is what I recommend you pack:

  • Lots of comfortable , breathable clothes for the summer - Comfortable does NOT mean sloppy. The Lebanese are very image conscious people. Fashion, style, and beauty are woven into the very fabric of their society. Also, there are certain parts of the city where wearing “more” clothes is advised. (At least that’s how I felt at times. Bring a bit of everything, and always make sure to have a cardigan close by..as you get to know the neighborhood you’re living in, you will be able to gauge what’s appropriate and what’s not.) You should probably keep the daisy dukes and the micro mini skirts at home. From what I saw, jeans were the order of the day, even in summer. Keep this in mind when you’re packing. Oh and please,, leave the birkenstocks and jansport backpacks at HOME!
  • Coats, jackets, sweaters, leggings, scarves, rainboots, and fashion boots for winter – It actually gets quite cold in Beirut! And really really really wet! Coming from Miami, I didn’t even pack a sweatshirt..so, needless to say, I ended up having to buy everything when I was there. Not fun..especially when you’re working on a Lebanese salary! So, bring winter clothes!! Ladies, Lebanese women LOVE LOVE LOVE their winter boots. If there is one thing I would recommend buying in Lebanon, it would be a pair of boots..they’re really stylish and uber chic. Fashion boutiques are everywhere in the city, you won’t be hardpressed to find one.
Rainboots Lebanon

pack some rainboots!

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  • Going out/partying attire – Ok,this really varies. You have every type of nightlife you could ever imagine in Beirut. Check out Beirut Nightlife for a full listing of all of the places to hit up in the city. If you’re going to a rooftop or club, you should know that bouncers are very discriminating. You have to look hot..South Beach hot..but always with class! Ladies, you know what that means..Fellas, button downs and dress shoes. always. If you’re more into the casual bar scene, you have plenty to choose from as well. If you’re going to Gemmayze, I’d say dress casual chic. In Hamra, anything goes. Hell, I’ve even gone to a bar straight from the gym. Fierce. I know. If you’re invited to a house party (or as some ppl call them, open house), or other semi-formal function I’d say (as a lady) to always wear heels. Some ppl might argue with me on this one,, but this is my experience!
Flats vs. heels

I'd say to choose the heels! It's Beirut after all!

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  • Multiple pairs of walking shoes, they will wear out with in 1-2 months – Unless you’re PAID and can afford to be chauffeured everywhere, you will be doing a whole hell of a lot of walking in Beirut. Stylish flats, fashion sneakers, workout sneakers are the way to go for everyday wear..In my opinion the shoe selection in Lebanon is pretty poor unless you can afford to buy from some of the local designers. The same goes for clothes  actually! Yes you have H&M, Vero Moda, Zara, and the like..but the price vs. quality ratio just doesn’t compute. I found that the clothes I bought in Lebanon washed, faded, or were completely destroyed after only a few washes. This probably has more to do with the quality of the water, and the fact that my washing machine was like 100 years old..but STILL! And at $30 or so dollars a shirt, you can see how this habit gets expensive. If money is not an object and you shop D&G, Versace, and Prada, disregard this last statement! You will find everything you could ever desire at Beirut Souks and/or Aishti)
Hamra Main Street

Hamra main street. I must've walked up and down this street at least a million times.

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  • Bathing suits, beachwear, sunglasses, sandals (Obviously! You’re on the Mediterranean bizznitches!) ladies, some wedge heels and nice summer dresses and rompers (altho i personally hate them) always work wonders too.. :) If you’re the poolside party type..it’s best to pack as if you were moving to Miami Beach..fabulous swimwear, coverups, and shades.) Keep in mind that there is no such thing as a free public beach in Beirut. If you want to get some sun, be prepared to spend around $25 just for entry for some version of the below (see pic). If you are really craving the beach, you will have to drive about 25-30 minutes outside of Beirut where you will find more “casual” (I guess that’s the right word) beaches..which you will stay have to pay to enter. (suxxx I know..having to pay for something that should be free.)
Riviera-Beach-Lounge-

Riviera Beach Lounge in Beirut

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  • Active wear – There is much more to Lebanon than drinking and partying..so make sure to pack some active wear as well!! There is a plethora of historical, cultural, and natural sights that you will have to visit during your time in Lebanon! Don’t go back home until you’ve seen the ancient ruins of Baalbeck, Anjaar, and Tyre as well as the Beiteddine palace, and Byblos – rumored to be the oldest inhabited city in the world (and my favorite!). You should also take a visit to Tripoli and go see the Cedars! And lastly, there are also a lot of groups that go hiking, like Vamos Todos. soo..pack accordingly!
  • Medication  – this is a tricky one. I’ve heard some horror stories about pharmacies and pharmacists giving out wrong prescriptions in Beirut, and I’ve had some pretty uncomfortable experiences myself.  For those of you used to CVS, Walgreens and the like..you’re in for a rude awakening. You will need to get accustomed to asking the pharmacist for everything. A lot of the things that you can pick up off the shelf in the States, are actually behind the counter in Leb. And while I don’t want to be responsible for turning you off pharmacies altogether, I would suggest you try and get as many refills as possible prior to your move. orrrrrr at least until you find a doctor and pharmacy you can trust. Ladies/Gents..you should know that birth control is available without a prescription for around $15. Be safe my friends!
  • Electronics – Apart from big ticket items (like laptops/ipods/ipads/digital cameras which I assume will be brought with you from home), I recommend buying everything electronic in Beirut. When charging your electronics, make sure to keep in mind that Lebanon runs on 220 voltage. I learned that the hard way when my blowdryer nearly burst into flames and my laptop screen began flickering!! For more information on voltage and plugs in Lebanon check out this site. Make sure to travel with a universal adapter just to be on the safe side. Also, keep in mind that unless you live in a building with a generator, power comes and goes every day, and sometimes, multiple times a day. As a measure of safety, I always unplugged all of my electronics before I left home. Also, if you lose your ipod or Mac charger, they are very easy to find in Beirut.
Dryer catching on fire..

you don't want to be drying your hair with this..trust me!

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  • Cellphones – Obviously, if you’re phone isn’t unlocked, you won’t be able to use it in Lebanon. Now, there are people who can unlock it for you, but I can’t guarantee that they know what they’re doing or that you’re phone will ever be the same. I came to Lebanon with an iPhone, but ended up buying a Blackberry since everyone and their mother is on bb. You can buy an unlocked Blackberry in Lebanon for around $100 if my memory serves me correctly..to me that’s the best bet. Also, for those of you who are used to fixed/postpaid lines, you will have to get accustom to buying prepaid phone cards in increments of $9 $12 or $21 from one of the two telecommunication providers in Lebanon, MTC or Alfa. (Getting a fixed line in Leb as a foreigner is very difficult, near to impossible from what I was told.) Cell phone stores are everywhere in Beirut..like every 5 steps everywhere. You can also buy phone cards from most supermarkets and corner stores..just ask the check out clerk for them. Telecommunication rates in Lebanon are among some of the highest in the world. You will be doing a lot more texting (or bbming) than talking while you’re in Beirut. #fact Ohhh, and how could I forget? You can also buy your phone number if you feel so inclined, like if you’re one of those guys who thinks having 69 in your phone number makes you sexy.. The numbers for sale will look something like this:
Cellphones Beirut

numbers for sale..

  • Toiletries/Makeup/Hair products/Household items – you can get everything you need in Beirut.

I think that just about sums it up! I know that many of these things may seem a bit obvious, but judging from some of the emails I’ve received..you’d be surprised! If I’ve overlooked something or described something inaccurately, help a sista out! Leave it in the comments below..and look out for part 2 of the foreigners’ guide to moving to Beirut!

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“Is it safe?”

..is the single most question I get asked whenever I tell someone I live in Beirut.

This question strikes me as particularly bizarre now that I’m in Trinidad..where it’s not safe to walk on the street during the day, much less the night! As beautiful as this island is, crime has been on the steady rise for the last decade. Thefts, murders, kidnappings..you name it..it happens in Trinidad. To demonstrate what I’m talking about, I took a picture of my bedroom window. Every single home in Trinidad has these metal bars on their windows to prevent people from breaking in. Lovely, isn’t it?

bars on the windows in Trinidad

The metal blocking my view..

Yet, Beirut is the one that gets the bad rep..I never understood that.

Beirut..how could people have gotten such the wrong impression of you?? You don’t deserve that. The world has it all wrong.

Seriously, I’ve never felt safer than when I was in Lebanon..as ironic as that may sound.

Beirut, don’t you worry.. I know the truth..and I’m doing my best to change the world’s perception of you.. Slowly, but surely..one person at a time.

Is Beirut safe?

Beautiful Beirut..

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It’s the simple things about Beirut..

that keep you coming back for more.. Like getting a freshly squeezed orange juice after taking a long walk on the Raouche..

Beirut, LebanonBeirut, LebanonBeirut, LebanonBeirut, Lebanon

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The History of Beirut

Am I the only idiot who didn’t know that ‘Beirut’ is another name for ‘Beer Pong’.. We all know what Beer Pong is right?  That idiotic college drinking game involving beer and balls (wait..that didn’t sound right).

Beer Pong

Beirut/Beer Pong Illustration

image credit

For those of you who don’t know, according to the semi-official Wikipedia Definition:

“Beer pong, also known as Beirut, is a drinking game in which players throw a ping pong ball across a table with the intent of landing the ball in a cup of beer/water on the other end.  The game typically consists of two two-to-four-player teams and multiple cups set up, in triangle formation, on each side.[1] There are no official rules, so rules may vary widely, though usually there are six or ten plastic cups arranged in a triangle on each side.  Each side then takes turns attempting to shoot ping pong balls into the opponent’s cups.  If a ball lands in a cup, then the contents of that cup are consumed, and the cup is either placed aside or reinserted into the triangle.  If the cup is reinserted and the other team knocks the cup over, it is removed.  If the opposing team throws the ball into an empty cup, they must consume the contents of one of their cups. The first side to eliminate all of the opponent’s cups is the winner.[2]

The order of play varies—both players on one team shoot followed by both players on the other team, or players on opposite teams can alternate back and forth.[3]

Beirut Beer Pong

Beirut set up

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Anyway, I was doing some research on this, and came across an article tilted The History of Beirut (beer pong) by Chase Kinser of Boston College.  In it he explains the origin of the game and the name ‘Beirut’,

“Everything has a history: this country, the person you hooked-up with last weekend, even your credit.  Histories like these are easily accessible, all you have to do ask your professor, or your roommate, or those singing free credit report guys, and you will have an entire past laid out before you.  Naturally, as college students and academics, we relish these opportunities to learn about the past.  Of course, we love them even more when we can learn about the history of things we do quite frequently, like play Beirut.

Beer Pong Beirut Shirt

I'm big in Beirut

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Just because the point of playing Beirut is to get swaysted and free the brain from contemplating academic material, it doesn’t mean that we can’t still explore its history.  As people who spend all their time drinking or thinking, it would appear to be our social responsibility. Ironically, though, there isn’t much scholarly material on the predominantly college game, probably because people were too busy drinking to think of it.  Even so, there is some history, and it begins with Beirut’s alternative and controversial name, Beer Pong.

Beer Pong is first thought to have started somewhere in the fraternities of Dartmouth College in the 1950’s and 1960’s as a drinking game version of ping pong.  There were only 1-3 cups on a side and it was played with paddles.  Even still, the game had some popularity as it slowly spread around the east coast until the game we all adore originated in the 1980s.

Standford Beirut

Image taken from the INTRAMURAL Beirut League at Stanford University!

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One legend states that in 1986 at a Lehigh Fraternity, Sigma Nu, the game evolved from its primitive form with whacking devices.  The story claims that during a rowdy game, the frat brothers broke all the paddles, and in their persistence to keep drinking like good students, they decided to use their hands and arms.  They also added more cups on each side, but basic logic says they’re probably not the first group of college guys to think more beer was a good idea.

Thankfully, not all of them blacked-out, so they were able to play the game again, and from then on, it started to grow even more popular as people realized there wasn’t a point to playing with paddles. Since this was the 1980s and college students were aware of world events, they dubbed the new game “Beirut” after a recent story about a Hezbollah suicide bomber that killed 241 U.S. Marines in an American camp in Beirut.  The vengeful founders of the game wanted the U.S. to retaliate by bombing that city, so they named the game based on its visual image of dropping bombs.

Beer Pong

Heroes are made one cup at a time

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My Note: The origin of the name Beirut is disputed.  According to wikipedia, “A 2004 op-ed article in the Daily Princetonian, the student newspaper at Princeton University, suggested that the name was possibly coined at Bucknell University or Lehigh University around the time of the Lebanese Civil WarBeirut being the capital of Lebanon and scene of much fighting.[15]

Other sources say that a different fraternity in Lehigh created the pastime based on observing a similar game at Bucknell University in 1983.  Although not all sources agree on the specifics, the main idea is that the final concept originated at Lehigh somewhere in the 1980s.  This would also explain why most New Englanders call today’s game Beirut rather than Beer Pong, having picked it up from their Pennsylvanian compatriots.

Ultimately, this history of Beirut tells us that once upon a time, a few students got drunk, rough, and clever enough to invent a game.  Today, because of their genius, ping pong balls and customized tables are necessities that every party must have.  See, history is great, isn’t it?”

Beirut beer pong shirt

Beirut Legend

image credit

How do you feel about the fact that a drinking game was named after Beirut because it reminded people of Israeli bombs being dropped on the city?

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More design interventions in Beirut please!

I was taking a walk along the Corniche with some of my friends (something I don’t do often enough) when I noticed these beautiful benches decorated with ceramic tiles, all along the length of the boardwalk.  I can’t believe I’ve never noticed them before!  Each unique from its neighbor, they are such a refreshing burst of color and intricacy in the otherwise grey cement surroundings..and I just love the fact that there is a chess board in the middle of each bench!..

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

And towards the end of the stretch, and right across from the Ain Mreisse McDonald’s..is this giant, life-sized chess board.  Now in desperate need of a facelift..

Beirut Benches

Anyone for a game of life-sized chess?

Heading back home, I noticed this statue, and took down the website for the “Embellishment Project of the Ain Mreisse Corniche Waterfront Avenue De Paris” project: www.beirutbenches.com

Beirut Benches

Statue announcing the "Embellishment" project

I couldn’t figure out whether or not this project was new from the website..but judging from the press articles (and from the worn out chess board), it was likely conceived around 2001, and carried out in 2003.  For those of you who don’t know about the project, or who overlooked it,,like I did.. read below to learn more about this beautiful design intervention – I lifted some text from the website to give you insight into what the project was all about.

Beirut Benches

Beirut Benches

“The Project” section of the website reads,

“Under the patronage of the Municipality of Beirut, the embellishment of the Ain Mreisse Corniche, Avenue de Paris, conceived and designed by the internationaly renowned Lebanese artist Lena Kelekian, is being realized under the theme, colors and shapes of the Mediterranean.  The existing old cement benches are being replaced with new ones covered with colorful cut ceramics with an encrusted chessboard, along with a mega chess board in the center section of the sidewalk, destined for educational entertainment.  Each sponsor’s name will appear on a bench(es), integrated artistically in the design and on the commemorative panel of the names of the contributors and supporters.  This embellishment project will certainly give color and life to the dull gray cement, thus adding a touch of cultural input by transforming a prominent public avenue into a more distinguished point of attraction in Beirut city.”

Sassine Tunnel Trees

The ceramic trees that line Sassine Tunnel were also done by "Beirut Benches" artist Lena Kelekian

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In the “Words” portion of the website, Abdul Monaem Al Aris, former mayor of Beirut, had this to say about the embellishment project,

“One might ask, why pick this spot in Beirut and not elsewhere?  Well, because the Corniche symbolizes the city of Beirut standing against and rising above the ashes of the despicable war, and because the Corniche was and still is the place where restaurants, hotels, and tourist attractions meet.  In this exact place, also, our children and elders find a place of fun and solace, for they have the right to a safe and welcoming meeting place like this to enjoy.  For this, the Municipality of the City of Beirut has decided to implement the project of embellishing the Corniche, showing to everyone that Beirut lives and thrives by the genuine and sincere efforts of its citizens and all those who love it.  Why not, when the city is highly regarded as the portal to the orient, and the center where civilizations meet.

Our thanks to all those involved, and we hope that this project is one of a series of projects that will help show Beirut’s cultural identity.”

-Abdul Monaem Al Aris

Former Mayor of Beirut

Beirut Benches

The benches stand in stark contrast to their surroundings..

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And finally, in an article by The Daily Star, titled “King of Tyre’s quest for Europa retold along Corniche,” Garine Tcholakian wrote this on the embellishment project and on the artist behind it,

“Lena Kelekian’s passionate commitment to icon and mural paintings has manifested itself in churches, permanent displays and outdoor projects around the world over the past 12 years.  Her latest endeavor, under the patronage of the Municipality of Beirut, is along the Corniche in Ain al-Mreisseh.  Kelekian speaks with contagious enthusiasm about the project as she sits by the sea on the first installment of her project – the uniquely decoratedbench on the Corniche across the Hard Rock Cafe covered in colorful cut-ceramic pieces.  It represents the legendary King Agenor of Tyre.  A year ago, Kelekian proposed – and gained approval from the Municipality of Beirut – for the Ain al-Mreisseh Corniche Waterfront-Avenue de Paris bench project.

Beirut Benches

The sample bench "King Agenor" completed by Kelekian Oct. 2001

Since then, “the project of embellishing the Corniche has become the focus of everybody’s attention,” says Beirut Mayor Abdul Monaem al-Aris.  While the 2.5 kilometer project – which extends from the Phoenicia Inter-Continental Hotel area to the Bain Militaire – is an ambitious one, it only adds to Kelekian’s accomplishments, which range from honorary degrees to La Toile d’Or in France and the Sixteen Rayed Star of Macedonia in Greece.  “What we need is color.We need to give life to this city,” she says.  “There is now only cement everywhere. “With this project, I want to put Beirut on the map the way Gaudi put Barcelona on the map,” she says, referring to the famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, whose environmental designs and use of cut ceramics inspired Kelekian’s design for the project.

Gaudi Barcelona

Casa Batllo - Gaudi's work in Barcelona, Spain. I would love to see this in Beirut! Wouldn't you?

photo credit

Gaudi Lizard Barecelona

Gaudi's famous lizard in Barcelona's Park Guel..I've been there! :D

The beautification of the Corniche will see the transformation of every one of the old cement benches – 76 in all. Collectively, they will tell the story of the legend of Cadmos and Europa.  There are different versions of the fable, Kelekian’s – approved by the Municipality of Beirut – is based on the Phoenician version.  In the legend, King Agenor of Tyre sends Cadmos to bring back his captured daughter, Europa, from Crete, where Zeus held her imprisoned by a dragon.  In the process of saving his sister, Cadmos propagates the Phoenician alphabet to the rest of the world.  “Cadmos and Europa is, after all, the legend of our land,” Kelekian asserts.  The story will be told in color, reminding visitors that Beirut is the “faithful guardian of Arab culture,” wrote Roula al-Ajouz, project coordinator and Beirut municipal council member.  “This is the only place where people can come and walk,” Kelekian says.  “I wanted an outlet that’s beautiful for all people. The underprivileged don’t have chalets … they have no place to breath but here, it is for everybody.

“I want to make Ain al- Mreisseh an attraction for people to come and get away from their monotonous life.  ” The project is both entertaining and educational.  Each bench includes didactic details, such as the incorporation of the alphabet into the designs.  The letters represent four of the languages – Phoenician, Greek, Latin and Arabic – that have passed through the area.  The benches will also include chess and backgammon boards, adding to the outdoor cafe feel.  Finally, the story of Cadmos and Europa will be narrated in its entirety in both English and Arabic along the AUB beach front wall.””

source

Putting this post together really made me smile.  :D  I sincerely hope to see more “design interventions” like this in Beirut.  This is what this city needs!

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When was the last time you sent a letter?

Warning: This post is cheesy.

Like seriously took the time to grab a pen and paper, envelope, and stamp and just write your heart out.  Well, if you’re anything like me, you haven’t done it in years!

I realized this when my Grandfather asked me to mail a postcard to him.  Apparently one of his neighbors in Austin, Texas loves to collects stamps, and doesn’t have one from this region, let alone this country..

I miss receiving letters.  I have a box at home where I keep every postcard, letter, and love letter that I ever received.  But as of a couple of years ago, the contents stopped growing as letters were replaced with emails, e-cards, facebook messages, and text messages, and it’s not like you print out e-cards now do yah.. Sighh.. At least I’ll have something to show my children, but will my children have anything to show theirs?

Anyway, I digress!!  Not that this has much significance, but I posted my first Lebanese postcard today..and licked my first Lebanese stamp (eww I know.)

Here’s to hoping it arrives!

Stamp collecting in Lebanon

When was the last time you licked a stamp?

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