Saturday, December 06, 2008
Pita Log1, December 4, 2008

Our flight (Middle Eastern Airlines) made a smooth landing. The passengers thanked the pilot with a round of applause. I joined in. Heck, while in Rome oops Beyruth do as the Beyruthians do! The streets outside greeted us with a strong smell of smoke, cigarettes and the sea. The place smelled and looked familiar and reminded me strongly of the congested streets of Delhi mixed with the palm trees and smells of Mumbai. The only reminder that these streets often witnessed conflicts, grenades and civil war were the policemen at every corner carrying not the itsy bisty pistol that the Delhi police tuck away in one corner of their khaki uniform but a mammoth something that they flaunt threateningly at the passing traffic. That apart, nothing seemed too strange, at least not at first glance.

At the risk of homogenizing, let me describe you the men of Beyruth in a few words. Yaha, they are not ALL like this, but the ones that caught my eye at the airport were. Hypermasculine, sharp features, often with a mustache, well built and smoking non-stop. If I tried to find parallels from India, they would be closest to the Jats. Our dinnertime stroll through the streets of Hamra brought out many more varieties – and yeah (as a certain friend had warned me), many more rather attractive varieties. The women are easier to describe. All the ones around my age had one thing in common: they made me feel like a total and complete frump. How could my plumpness clad in comfort-fit jeans and hiking shoes compete with their high leather boots, slim figures, tight designer shirts, trendy colored hair and perfectly arched eyebrows? I’ve decided that to survive I need a complete makeover asap. One of A’s college friends (a Lebanese woman) is showing us around tonight. Maybe she can give me some fashion tips.

What is fascinating is that these designer girls pouting at their slim cigarettes and tapping away in their high heels through the streets of Hamra coexist with many other women in various degrees of hijab, full black veils, black scarves or trendy versions of some form of head covering. The same way that the familiar Starbucks, Costa Café and Nine West shoe store sits right next to unfinished apartment complexes, open trash and mosques and the Salam Alekum flows almost as easily as the Monsieur.

How can my first log be complete without my encounters with the food in Beirut? The streets of Hamra are lined with restaurants of different shapes and sizes. Our ultimate choice is often determined by the existence of at least one veggy dish in the menu. I had read up a little bit online (I don’t want A to starve or be ‘forced’ to eat kebabs again!) so we ended up at this (Sagar look alike) place called Kababji with a Kabab sandwich for me and some eggplant-chickpea dish, Tabouley, and a yum olive, pickle salad for my veggy hubby! The kababs, I would say, come second only to the ones you get on the streets outside Nizamuddin dargah.. and trust me, that means a lot!

I’ve spent most of today morning strolling on the streets of Hamra, where I’ve disguised my frumpiness by perching a pair of designer sunglasses on my head. I am trying real hard to appear “local” and occasionally mutter Wa alekum es salam at all the various men who stare at me, look me up and down and grin Salam at me. But I am not sure I am fooling anyone, yet.



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