Being a partial account of my 15-day stay in Lebanon, with my family. Some names have been changed. Note that most major historical sightseeing, including the ruins of the Alexander Gate and Hippodrome in Tyre, the Sea Castle in Sidon, the Beirut Historical Museum and the ruins of Heliopolis in Baalbek, was accomplished on prior trips. This was more about...well, read on.
Number of buses you must take to change planes from Air France to Middle East Airlines at Charles de Gaulle airport: Two
Who on earth designs an airport that requires buses to get anywhere: The designers of Charles de Gaulle airport
Time delay due to lateness of bus, whose passengers included a visibly ticked-off head flight attendant: Two and a half hours
Best airport I have ever been in: Rafik Hariri International, in Beirut
Distance to Southern port town of Tyre, in Lebanon, from the Beirut airport: About 70 kilometers
Time elapsed en route: Two hours
Number of cups of Nescafe consumed by me over 15-day stay in Lebanon: About 48
Number of cups of Turkish coffee consumed: About 16
Availability of American-style coffee in Lebanon: Low
Reason I didn’t consume more Turkish coffee in Lebanon: More than one cup and I’m suddenly Ray Liotta in the helicopter scene in Goodfellas.
Response of Aunt Raja, upon hearing me wonder out loud whether I should cover up more to blend in with that afternoon’s coffee guests: “Eh. You are young and pretty. Why bother?”
My favorite in-law: Aunt Raja
Bottles of sunscreen brought to Lebanon: Nine
Number consumed: Five
Sunburns sustained by family: Zero (I am proud of this.)
Attitude of native Lebanese to sunscreen: Detached amusement
How to spot UNIFIL personnel at a beach resort: They are paler than me, and they glisten with sunscreen
Days at beach or pool: Seven
Diet staples consumed by my children in Lebanon, in descending order of preference: Kibbeh, lahme bajine, kafta, cucumbers, watermelon, pita bread, rice pilaf, chicken soup.
Diet staples consumed by me in Lebanon, in descending order of importance: Fattoush, tabbouleh, labneh, kussa, fish, pita.
Pounds gained by me on vacation: Zero
Number of treehouses in the locally famous garden of Aunt Hana and Uncle Zein, in Tyre: One
Number of ornaments made from Roman pieces salvaged from destruction at construction sites: About four
Likelihood of hitting Roman ruins no matter where you try to put a building in Lebanon: High
Number of ornaments made from spent and salvaged ordnance in Uncle Zein’s garden: Three, including a cluster bomb.
What my Uncle Zein made during the Israeli invasion of 1982, when he couldn’t work in the garden: A carefully polished coffee table from a salvaged olive tree stump
Dimensions of table: About four feet by two feet.
What my son and I found in the garden upon returning from an outing: A bride and groom posing for wedding pictures
What the maid of honor was wearing: A skin-tight black satin spaghetti-strap dress, over a nude-colored, tight, neck-high, full-sleeved shirt, and a hijab headdress over what was obviously an elaborate hair-updo
What the bride was wearing: A halter dress with a full tulle skirt and a tight, silver-embroidered bodice, over a tight, white, neck-high, full-sleeved shirt, and a hijab headdress like a white version of the maid of honor’s, only with a veil attached to the back.
My son’s reaction to the bride: “There’s a princess in Aunt Hana’s garden!”
Aunt Hana’s reaction: “Oh, it’s July. They’re here almost every weekend. Sometimes they call, sometimes they just show up.”
Amount Aunt Hana charges for use of the garden in photo shoots: Zero.
Number of car wrecks sustained while I was a passenger in Lebanon: One
Accident caused by: A man turning directly, and without any signal, into the path of Aunt Hana’s car
Reaction of culprit: Handed Aunt Hana her crumpled license plate and a piece of her fender
Damages requested by an entirely serene and polite Aunt Hana: An apology
Damages paid up: Yes (grudgingly)
Driving advice proffered by Aunt Hana to my husband: “Just remember that everyone else on the road is completely crazy.”
Number of cars in Lebanon spotted with people riding on the luggage rack: Three
Number spotted with open sides and children riding inside unsecured: Two
Number of motorcycle helmets spotted, in a country full of mopeds and scooters: Two, in Beirut
Number of cars with infant in lap of front seat passenger: Five
Number of cars with infant in lap of driver: Two
Number of car seats spotted: Zero
Number of car seats we hauled to Lebanon: Three
Distance from Tyre to Tripoli, in the north: 195 kilometers
Worst traffic in Lebanon, by common consent: Outside the resort town of Jounieh, north of Beirut
Possible cause of bad traffic in Jounieh, aside from number of cars: Drivers’ desire to cram three lanes of traffic onto each two-lane side of the highway
Best view on the road from Tyre to Tripoli: The sweeping vista of Jounieh and its bay, as you’re leaving
Number of black canvas bags left on sidewalk in downtown Tripoli while I struggled to strap three not terribly cooperative children into three car seats: One
Contents of black canvas bag including, but not limited to: A laptop
Hours elapsed in villa of our good friend Mansur’s uncle before bag was missed: Two and a half
Calls made by Mansur’s cousin Sami to ask someone to look for the bag: One
Transcript of Sami’s conversation with the doorman of apartment building in downtown Tripoli:
Sami: [Arabic] (to me) What was in the bag, besides the laptop?
Me: Um...sunscreen. A toy car. Baby wipes.
Sami: [Arabic] baay-bee wipes [Arabic]. (To me, slowly and significantly, both eyebrows raised and mouth twitching) What kind of baby wipes?
Me: (an embarrassed squeak) Pampers. (afterthought) Sensitive.
Sami: [Arabic] Pampers [Arabic].
Time elapsed after Sami’s phone call: About 15 minutes.
Number of black canvas bags containing a Lightning McQueen toy, sunscreen, Pampers Sensitive baby wipes and a laptop retrieved from a Tripoli sidewalk by an apartment doorman: One
Sami’s laughing reaction to profuse expressions of thanks: “I own this town.”
Sami’s occupation: Journalist
Sami’s employer: Al Jazeera
Location of the villa of Mansur’s uncle: About three kilometers from the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp.
Ressponse of Sami and other relatives to Mansur’s proposed visit in 2007: “Not a good idea this summer. The crossfire keeps setting the orchard on fire.”
Parting gift of Sami to the Nehme adults: One bottle homemade arak.
Biggest attraction in Tripoli: St. Gilles Castle
Second biggest: Tripoli souk
Third biggest: Al Hallab pastry shop
Purchased at Tripoli souk: Locally made soap and one pair of traditional silver earrings
Haggling: None. Price was already low.
Best ice cream at Tripoli souk: Scoops, a good place to get a massive dish of multi-colored ice cream while you wait for a friend (in this case Mansur) to bring your car down.
Mansur’s problem with bringing our car: It wouldn’t start.
What happened when our car wouldn’t start: A man appeared and told Mansur to pop the hood.
Number of times Mansur had seen this person before: Zero
What Mansur did: He popped the hood.
What the man did: Fiddled around with the engine for a minute and yelled, “Don’t you have a rag back there or something?”
What Mansur handed him: My son’s swimming trunks.
Man’s reaction: “What is this? Are you kidding me? Oh all right, never mind.”
What happened when the man closed the hood: The car started.
How long it took to haggle payment for the impromptu auto-tune-up: About two minutes
What happened next: An altercation with a merchant who didn’t want Mansur parking in front of his shop
Mansur’s mood upon arrival at Scoops ice cream in the Tripoli souk: Stressed
Did car continue to work after ministrations by total stranger outside St Gilles Castle?: Yes.
Number of times we got lost in downtown Beirut: Two.
Outcome the first time: Got good directions from a man hanging out in front of the Armenian cultural center in Bourj Hammoud.
Outcome second time: Said “what the hell,” stopped for lunch at a cafe overlooking Pigeon Rock, then followed the sea back to the highway.
Number of buildings seen with visible gun and mortar damage in Beirut: Two, including the still-abandoned Holiday Inn.
Number of buildings spotted with mortar damage on first visit to Beirut, in 2000: About twenty.
Location of Beirut apartment of my husband’s close childhood friend Maher: In Hamra, not far from the Corniche, and close enough to where Rafik Hariri was assassinated to have the windows blown out by the explosion.
What Maher likes about his neighborhood: “It has always been very mixed. Before the war, nobody even asked what religion you are. You found out at Christmas or Ramadan or if someone got married.”
Maher’s occupation: Head chef at a restaurant in Hamra.
Highlight of lunch with Maher and his adorable mother Isnat: Maher’s tale of a five-month stint as a chef in a remote part of Nigeria.
What the Nigeria job included: Slaughtering his own goats every morning and doing the marketing armed with a semi-automatic weapon. (Let’s see them try that on next season’s Top Chef.)
Maher’s comment on why he left: “It occurred to me that it would not really be all that funny to survive the civil war in Beirut and die in Nigeria trying to buy groceries.”
Number of international phone calls made by me in Lebanon: Zero.
Number of emails sent: Zero.
Number of blog posts, comments, Facebook updates or Tweets posted: Zero.
Number of movies seen: Four. In descending order of preference, Win-Win, Morning Glory, True Crime, The Kite Runner.
Return trip to Brooklyn: Uneventful.
How jet-lagged am I?: I am typing this at six a.m. EDT.