Michael Totten

Life on the Edge

When I interviewed Benjamin Kerstein and Jonathan Spyer here recently, both mentioned how life in the Levant—the Eastern Mediterranean—is lived more intensely than it is in the West. Benjamin was talking about Israel, while Jonathan was referring to Lebanon, but the feeling is similar in each country, and it’s even stronger in Lebanon than it is in Israel.

The feeling is hard to describe. It’s like a low-level drug that you can really only understand if you experience it for yourself. A big part of it, I think, is that everything good and worth living for feels all the more precious because it could be lost and destroyed in a violent catastrophe.

Beirutis developed an admirable joie de vivre during the civil war in defiance of all the death and destruction around them. The Lebanese like to brag that they partied and danced throughout the war. I don’t know how true that really is, but they say it’s true, and it’s at least half-believable. When Anthony Bourdain found himself stranded in Lebanon during the 2006 war while filming an episode of his food show No Reservations, his camera crew captured a lively scene at a South Beach-style club while Israeli air strikes pulverized Hezbollah neighborhoods just a few miles away.

The following ad for a Beirut night club captures all this superbly. An ad spot like this for a night club in a peaceful city like New York or Los Angeles would hardly make any sense, but for a hip place in Beirut, it’s perfect. Watch to the end. It’s only one minute long.