Vastly exhausted after three days which included consecutive 6 a.m. wake-up calls to head into desolate rock formations of Petra and spend sun blistered hours wandering lowly mountain paths and basking in the glory of the rock city, floating like a tourist tosser on his back under bright skies on the Dead Sea, and then the typical low-cost airline departure times of 7 a.m. I was mildly pleased to see I was the only tourist on the small plane headed from Amman to Beirut. Only some loud mouthed Americans behind me who were obviously there on business (and made sure the entire aircraft knew how much money they earned per month) and a couple of Egyptians. We landed at Beirut International Airport. Fuck. A country I’d wanted to visit for decades and now finally was being realized.
I glided through security after they had gone through my entire passport seeking out Israel stamps which would cause my immediate departure, then got my bag, bought a bottle of Talisker and headed out to catch a cab to my hotel. Speeding down the highway my first impression of Lebanon was a woman swerving wildly as the bonnet on her car had flipped and she was literally driving blind. The taxi driver waved for those behind us to slow down as she managed to bring the car to a halt without much further adventure. Two minutes later we drove into a tunnel only to see a tractor that had clearly failed to read the height requirements and gotten its digger stuck in the ceiling. I’d heard rumours about the traffic. Maybe they were true.
Talal Hotel. A small, friendly guest house above a garage next to a road where Lebanese people sped past in rocket blurs while talking on their phones and checking their hair. I caught a few moments rest before asking the receptionist for a decent place to eat. Wandered the old side streets of Gemmayzeh for a few hours, ended up randomly walking into the coolest looking bar (Torino Express), had my first Lebanese brew, chatted with the owner (German/Lebanese dude who looked like he played in Blonde Redhead) and managed to secure myself a DJ slot the next Wednesday. I momentarily thought I had lost my mind whilst peering out the window I saw a car rolling by with nobody at the wheel. Moments later a valet parking attendant sprinted down the road, slowed the car down while another random passerby jumped in the front seat and slammed on the brakes. Haha… Lebanon.
Day 2 was a heady mix of eating one of the best ever falafels (recommended by Beirut’s own serial playboy), catching a shared bus to Hamra and wandering around for the best part of the day, sampling the most amazing grapefruit orange juice (delivered by a man who sent his 5 year old daughter next door for a knife which was the size of a fucking pool cue which she demurely wandered into the store holding aloft and handed to him, sharp side facing), drank a couple of Almaza’s while negotiating yet another DJ gig which never worked out due to sheer exhaustion at having spent so much time imbibing.
Headed back to Gemmeyzeh and hit up the guest house to wait for the two arrivals from Denmark. The door opened, Jan and Rubenwolle entered, each carrying a one liter bottle of some spirit procured at the airports duty free, we had a cheeky sample, headed out to Torino Express and ended up meeting the two mad Norwegians who run the notorious website 2famous.tv and had set up the DJ gig at Elektro Mechanique the following Sunday.
After wolfing down the most delicious steak sandwiches at Comme Ci Comme Saj we headed to the Norwegians fortress to sit, listen to tunes, and talk about starting a festival in the mountains in Lebanon. Stumbling home at 4am we did what any real party animal does in Beirut and headed to Crew Bar where all the bartenders gather after their clubs are closed. An electronica DJ was spinning as we headed in rather jolly from the previous inebriation attempts, but still able to order with a straight face and sit in the corner chatting with random Beirut-ites until the call for bed was too strong an urge to resist. The receptionist just laughed when we knocked on the door at 6am ready for slumber dragging our heels up the long staircase.
Day 3 was filled with a visit to Le Chef to gorge on Tabouleh, Baba Ghanoush, Hummus, Pita, Chips, Salads of various and wonderful incarnations, all washed down with Lebanese micro-brewed beers. We then headed up to the back streets of Gemmayzeh and ended up lost down narrow alleyways with bullet holes sprayed all over the place, overgrown paths, crumbling buildings, places to live or start a bar or die, just 200 meters from the most hip street in town. Absolutely wide-eyed and giddy we spent hours climbing stairs and walking down alleyways taking pictures. Sat out in the full sun and let it really dawn on us that we were in fucking BEIRUT. A place all three of us had always wanted to visit. Finally we were here, we had 2 DJ gigs to look forward to, and an attempt to squeeze in a visit to the Kadisha Valley too if time allowed.
The next three days passed by in blurs. Up late, walked around Hamra, other districts who’s names fail me, visits to Torino, regular visits to Le Chef, watching Champions League football in the basement of the hotel with Zee Mad German and Brennan the O.C. dude who was a pleasure to hang out with, always drinking from his 8 percent beers and pushing his glasses up (His constant chagrin at the “Dumb Yank” jokes spewing out of Zee German at inopportune moments only beset by his own tale of how after finally spending an hour convincing Zee German that not all Americans are stupid, they walked out of a bar only to see graffiti on the side of the wall that read: “Alaska loves Labanan”). All 5 of us watching the game, shouting profanities at how shit Chelsea were playing while in the far corner an employee snored under a huge pile of blankets.
The night of the DJ gig came after much huffing and puffing around alleys and hills, basking outside in the full sunshine, eating late night bizarre pizzas near the guest house, listening to Serial Playboy #1 play his dance choons downstairs in aforementioned football-hall-cum-sleeping-establishment. We headed out, walked down to Electro Mechanique, set up, met the other DJ, he played for an hour or so, then we took over and the crowd that had gathered shook and shimmied to the latest in 60s tunes.
After about 3 hours, with some of the crowd dissipated to head home to a new workday I started playing the Stooges purely out of curiosity at what would happen. The place went apeshit. Shirts flew off, mosh pits started, couches were hurled, lamps swinging, poor bartender girl ran upstairs in hysterics which left the bar un-girled and therefore open for everyone to go back and start helping themselves to generous pourings of liquor and beers, the crowd got drunker and drunker… the walls were sweating, the floor drenched in spilled liquids and the marks which would become future bruises. At 2 am we were told to stop, and the damage was done. We hurried out, still beaming/buzzing at the nights success and walked home steaming warm in the slightly chilled air.
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The Bitter Man
A backpacker by default since birth, have scanned almost 100 countries in the search for perfection and imperfection in equal measure.