All my life, Lebanon has just been an idea, a place out of reach, birthplace of my grandfather, and source of the truly amazing food, at once exotic and familiar, that my grandmother cooked.
I’ve tried to get here several times, but war shut the country down. You can see the scars on the buildings. This wasn’t the air war that left the damage of bombs on the city of London. This was street war. Our hotel, the beautiful, gracious Phoenecia with soaring ceilings and heart-tripping views of the Mediterranean was a battleground in the Civil War of ‘75-‘76. Fewer than 15 years old, it was left a burned out shell.
I wanted to stay here because I read a novel by Mary Stewart when I was a kid called the Gabriel Hounds. It was mostly about hashish dealers in the hills beyond the city, but the heroine (whose name was Christy!) stayed in the Phoenecia when it must have been brand new. I read the book a dozen times. The hotel is all mixed up in my mind with the yearning to see Lebanon.
The hotel’s renaissance has been amazing.
The city itself appears to be lively and thriving, although signs of poverty mix with luxury high rises on the ride from the airport.
And that ride! A friend warned me the drivers in Beirut were crazy. Don’t drive, he said. We wouldn’t dare.
So we are here. And Lebanon is no longer just an idea to me. It is a real live, pulsing place. And I couldn’t be more thrilled to be here.
I haven’t even had a thing to eat yet and I am totally content.