Lights, Camera, Action!

People are always making movies in Beirut.

See? Just the other day, I walked past this film crew setting up a ton of lights all around Salon Safar on Bliss street. It's a humble little place. Like most other little barber shops in Beirut it seems it hasn't changed a bit in the past four or five decades. Don't know how it's possible, but these little nooks seem to have resisted the tide of change better than anywhere else.

I can't help taking pictures of trucks lately, so I also caught a shot of the truck they use to drag all the camera equipment and lights around.

Final Cut Equipped. Call them if you ever need to make a movie on the streets of Beirut.



There's a tiny little sweets shop in Hamra called Ramona. That's their broken-down sign hanging up to the left.

I walked past this shop in my comings and goings for months before I finally went in, at Christmastime, to buy a festive lump of sugary goodness. The shop looked even smaller from the inside, but was enthralling and I shyly asked if I might take a few pictures before I left. The shopkeeper was happy to oblige, but my camera's batteries were dead. DEAD. And it took me until now to walk that street again.


Just Like Normal

As I write this, Cairo churns and it seems Beirut has settled into something like normal.


Any Kind of Garden

Recently a friend explained to me that ages ago building regulations stipulated that residential buildings have a garden, and in that garden there had to be at least one olive tree, one citrus tree, and some kind of fragrant, flowering thing. I couldn't help thinking of that bygone era when I saw this:

. . . a garden attached to a lovely old residential property. It's amazing to consider what the city would look like if a garden was still required. There's be irresistible gardens everywhere.

Here's a context shot, showing a newer, neighboring building, built up on every possible inch.  Building this way has become typical, but when you see it next to an older home you can clearly see what's missing.


A Mystery, A Riddle

We have a new Prime Minister here in Lebanon, a Sunni billionaire hand picked by Hezbollah. Since my crystal ball is in the shop this week, I have no idea what this means for anyone in Lebanon. And nobody else does either. If there's one thing I've learned since arriving here in 2004, it's this: people will talk as though they've got it all figured out, as if they know when the sky will fall and who will be responsible, but these kinds of claims are always wrong.

It's well intended, I know it is. They're just trying to make sense of what happens around them, to sort out the mixed up stuff and eek out a modicum of predictability. I don't blame them for doing it. But the future, as they say, is a mystery. The end.

And so in the spirit of mystery, of the riddle that life can be, I give you this, a photo of automobile decals that I found not long ago.

Here's a context shot:

So, going back to the decals on the side-view mirror . . . despite my cynicism about those who project sense onto the senseless, I can't help attempting to decode this odd sort of cartouche, this unexpected and unintended rebus.

Here in Lebanon, these are completely normal things to see as truck decorations. Culturally, the eye is protective, right? But in an English rebus it would mean "I", the self, or could represent seeing, looking, beholding, watching. And the Lebanese flag has all kinds of symbols within it, beyond merely representing the country.  The horse has Arab connotations that are new to me and plenty of western ones that aren't.

So, what do you think?  Go ahead, create a little order from the chaos.  Give some meaning to the meaningless.  Solve the unintentional riddle of the auto decals, and let us all know what you came up with.


Wait and See

Sometimes there's nothing for it but to wait and see.

We woke up today to a downpour, but by the time I left the house it was sunny. When I look at a picture like this one, I can't help thinking over how many times the sun has come up and gone down on the old houses of Beirut. And no matter what, I know that tomorrow it still will.


Only Just

I've often posted photos of various construction sites, workers, and debris. They pull at me in ways I can't explain. And of course, a great many trucks are needed to haul things too and from sites all over town--well, all over Lebanon, actually.

Here's one such truck, barely able to make its way between parked cars.


Walking In

I really couldn't help it. The day was progressing happily, and I was feeling so content, and then the light was just right and the gate was open. I found myself walking through it.

Sometimes, life is just like that.


What I Saw

I was on my way to meet a friend for coffee. I knew how long the walk would take and left home 15 minutes early so that I'd have time to wander a bit, to take pictures if I felt like it. I turned a corner, and this is what I saw.

A facade pockmarked and peeling in fading, mottled colors. Wires and down spouts at several odd angles. A cluster of overgrown, thriving green.

I'm glad I found it.


At Gou

It's my husband's birthday, and this is how we celebrated. It was warm enough to sit outside and enjoy three tiers of delicious delights.

We went to Gou for lunch and ordered tea for two. This tower of sweet and savory morsels came along with two pots of tea. We rounded out our meal with a bowl of soup and a sandwich.  It was absolutely delicious and fun too. We really felt pampered sampling so many tasty treats.

Gou serves brunch, lunch, and dinner and they have a separate menu entirely devoted to tea.  Their scones are fantastic, and I highly recommend the pumpkin soup and spinach quiche.



It's January, but the weather is unbelievably nice.

Honestly, I wish it was raining.


A Little Serenity

Here is one very overgrown balcony.

This house sits on one of the busiest streets in West Beirut. Which explains a lot of things--including how I can admire the architecture of the house without envying its residents. I'm sure the noise generated by passing traffic intrudes all too often. And it is likely far more enjoyable to look at these windows from the street than to contemplate the street from within.

If I were to live in such a house I too would raise up an wall of green as a small act of defiance within the surrounding sea of gray.


Be Brave

All too often, I shy away from unfamiliar places, or places that I think might be unsafe. Abandoned buildings are a good example---I'm deeply curious about what I'd find inside, and I'm sure that I'd love posting the pictures I might take . . . if only I could be sure I'd get out of there alive.

I'm torn between being contentedly danger-averse and wishing I could simply throw caution to the wind and just do it anyway.

The other day I walked past this place, this wonderful conglomerate of colors, shadows, and angles. These buildings were situated on an unfamiliar street, off course, the wrong direction. But I'd been thinking about being braver, thinking about going off into the unknown and dismissing the voice whispering to turn back.

I didn't find any miracle images down that road, but I also didn't find anything to make me regret walking that way. And now, I feel a little more willing to do it again.


Sunny Afternoon

Such a lovely, sunny afternoon.

Some of the schools have sent children home early today because of the "situation", though I'm not entirely sure what that is, or if sending kids home early was necessary.


Doomed Scooters

I took this photo just a day or two ago. In it, police officers are standing near a flatbed truck loaded with confiscated scooters.

In the fall of 2009, the Lebanese government began confiscating and destroying scooters. They imposed a 6pm curfew and began enforcing existing requirements for license, registration, helmets, etc. Anyway, it had been a long time since we'd seen a truck like this one. If you want to read an article about the scooter regulations, here you go.


Never Say Never

In Beirut there's lots of stuff that women don't do. Women aren't police officers. They don't serve in the army, they don't drive taxis, they don't shine shoes. Women don't seem to work in the kitchens of the little joints that sell street food. You'll rarely see a woman selling produce, and I've never seen one sell kaak or coffee. Women don't bag groceries in the hypermarkets, don't sweep the street or collect garbage. 

And until recently, I thought that you'd never see a woman fishing.

But there she is.  I was astonished and delighted to see her because she's obviously on her own.  She was there in the late afternoon and stayed around long enough that I bet she caught her own supper.


Another Life

One thing that I love and hate about living outside the country of my birth, youth, and upbringing is that I'm constantly aware of it.

I love this because it is illuminating. It gives me an awareness of my ideas, assumptions, my expectations and allows me space to examine them in a context in which they do not fit.

I hate it because so often, my ideas, assumptions, and expectation don't fit. I'm a misfit.

Take this:

It's a goldmine, right? Brilliant! Hardwood doors, looks like craftsman era, not in the best shape but definitely a DIY dream come true! I even have a car that's good for hauling stuff like this, and I could so totally drive right over and load it up and take it back to my place and do something amazing with it!

What would I do with these fabulous doors?

Do you really have to ask? Why, just about anything, actually.   The possibilities are endless.

But that's me thinking like an American.  Even as it was happening I knew it. And so I left that garbage right where it was. Because that was the Lebanese thing to do.


Our Daily Bread

It's early.

Outside shops that aren't open and won't be for another few hours, bread is waiting. Bags and bags of flat and fluffy yeast bread too are delivered early to this little sandwich shop.  By closing time the bread in the bags will have fed most of the street. The construction workers, the guys in the pharmacy as well as the barber shop, the ones in the little hardware shop, the produce sellers and the guys next door who have all kinds of cheese.



Once there was a sculpture (I suppose?) out at sea.

And then one day there wasn't. I don't know when it happened. Maybe it broke during the mid-December storm that did so much damage.   I don't know if they're going to fix it.  Does anyone else know?


Open to the Sky

There's something so wonderful and magical about looking up through such lovely windows to see the unobstructed sky.

Wouldn't it be amazing if people could live like this, with constant access to the sky?


Paint it Red

It was a few weeks ago that I saw this remarkable building along the Dora Highway. I was headed northward out of town. The time that has passed since hasn't worn away the shock of that red.

A few days ago I noted that purple isn't a common color for exteriors here. Neither is red. That's why I noticed this place because it wasn't red before, but now it shockingly is.

I'm kind of indifferent about purple but I love the red especially with crisp white trim. It makes me wish that everyone with a historic home would grab a can of paint and make our world brighter.

I say this knowing my own deep affection for the sandy color of Lebanon's native stone, for the color of age and paint long faded. I wish I could have it both ways. So scratch that wish, I guess.   I'll settle for half.  Half of you out there with historic homes do nothing, and the others, paint it on bold.


Tabbara Mosque

Looking north along the western edge of Sanayeh park.


Nets, Baskets

Down by the sea in a small harbor, I saw this pile of nets in the most amazing used-up tire baskets.

At first, I'd only seen them from a distance, but I like them. I wondered how they were made, and I found out.  Rivets. 

I think I could put one to good use at my house. I don't have any fishing nets, but I have wet rain boots and umbrellas. They'd do just fine in a waterproof black basket like that.  Sturdy, convenient carrying handles, "up-cycled".  What's not to like?


Before They Were Purple

Purple is not a common color in Beirut.

Still, I might not have noticed these shutters had I not taken their picture only a week earlier, back before they were purple.

I liked the color progression. And now that it's purple, I like that too.



I wonder what the door thinks of that tin wall.  The door was there first.  Then the wall was brought in.  It's contemporary, prefab, flimsy, industrial, and its placement here doubtless oriented more to function than form.  Not so the door.  It has history, craftsmanship certainly and artistry arguably.  It's stone construction has permanence and stability that the tin wall can't ever even dream of obtaining.  Its existence here is intentional, a functional thing of beauty.

So, again, I wonder how the door feels about its nearest neighbor.  Does it feel encroached upon, is the tin wall an affront?  Does it feel crowded?  Maybe it does.  Or perhaps it feels cozy, connected, close.  Is it so inconceivable that the proximity has grown on them, they might actually like being neighbors?

I prefer to believe that they do.


Faux Designation

In Beirut, there are signs that designate buildings, sections of town, monuments, etc. that have special cultural or historic significance. They're brown rectangles with a white border and white lettering. They're part of the visual vocabulary of the city.

Consider this post from nearly half a year ago, featuring an artist's clever twist on the brown culture signs.

And here's another that I like just as much. The other day in Hamra, I noticed this creative take on the culture signs:

This faux sign designates the wall as a street art mural. Here's a context photo.


The Western Edge

This post concludes the segment on the house in Kaslik. Owen suggested that it was more palace than house--perhaps he's right. Dina asked if it was at one time a church. I feel confident that it wasn't. The structure of the building is consistent with residential designs. There's a cross over the chained up gate from my first post about this place, not at all uncommon for Kaslik, a very Christian area.

At the western edge of the property there's this broken down gate. I had already entered the property when I took this photo--I was more intrepid than I would have been otherwise because I was with a friend. We continued toward the back of the house where I took this photo.

Had I continued past that orange tree, the chained up gate from the first photo would have come into view on the left hand side.


New Year

For several days I've been posting pictures of a single remarkable house in Kaslik. Today we've turned another corner, looking back at the building's west-facing wall.

Looks quite rustic, almost rural.

But it isn't. Here's another view that shows its surroundings better.

It's a new month, a new year, and that means there's a theme day going on at City Daily Photo. Everyone is posting their best photo from 2010. I don't think I have a "best photo", but you can still check out the ones from everyone else. Click here to view thumbnails for all participants