Michael Totten

On the Corniche

I’m happy to be out of Cyprus and back in Lebanon, even though this place sometimes gets to me. The rude traffic, the honking drivers, the leg-busting holes in the sidewalks, the extortionist telephone and Internet system, the corrupt and often deranged politics, war-shattered buildings, machine guns and even tanks in the streets, the whiff of war from across both of Lebanon’s borders with Israel and Syria — sometimes it’s all a bit much. Sometimes I yearn for the boring tranquility of my home in the Pacific Northwest.
But tonight I walked along Beirut’s Corniche at sunset. The Mediterranean surged against the sea wall, still roiling from a rain storm the day before. Teenagers rode skateboards and bicycles. Old men sat on folding chairs and drank coffee and tea. Children lit fireworks in celebration of Eid, the end of Ramadan, Islam’s most holy of holidays. Middle aged men dropped fishing lines into the water. Couples stood intimately close together along the railing. Mothers pushed babies in strollers while husbands doted on their big-eyed young ones.
A crescent moon with a planet right next to it rose along the outline of a mosque’s minaret — how perfect for the Middle East. City lights along the foothills of Mount Lebanon stretched as far as I could see, halfway to the Syrian coast in the north. I saw palm tree silhouettes against the dazzling lights of the Hard Rock Café, and the Vendome and Phoenicia Intercontinental hotels. The temperature was pleasantly moderate — it was coat-optional weather, the best there is in the world. I could smell sea foam and salt blowing in off the water. Hipsters played popular techno music from the West on their car speakers. Somehow it added just the right touch.
The only thing missing was my wife who is at home in the United States. If she had been there with me, I suspect I would have felt I could stay here a long time and be perfectly happy with that.