December 21, 2014

Empty Amusement Park

While on those wanderings, you run into some odd things. Such as an abandoned Luna park.
I thought it quite unusual, but defunct amusements park are apparently a common occurrence, and taking pictures of them a form of art. While Googling for abandoned amusement parks, I noticed that I was not alltogether original in my 'discovery': a fellow blogger had beat me to it. Gino has obviously been wandering around this region as well.
The Merry-go-round. I edited these photos on a different computer, and now that I see them through the eyes of a Mac, I have to say they seem awfully purplish/pink to me.

The place, I found out,
was abandoned in July of 2006, which was the summer war, when Israel bombed Lebanon for 34 days. Many people spending the summer here in this village and its surroundings are Arabs from the Arabian peninsula. They have big villas here, which stand out for their rather shoddy opulence, and the amusement park was probably partially (or completely) financed by them as well.
This ride comes out of China.

As the bombing campaign started, those Arabs left overland to Damascus, Syria (which was a country still at peace then). Visitor levels dropped to zero, those funding the project left the country, and little hope that the money flow would be picking up any time soon. And that was the end of an amusement park that had been around for at least a decade.
 It was used in 2010 for a dj event, and – if I may believe the photossome of the attractions were still in working order.

When exactly the park started business I don’t know. A Dutch friend of mine remembers that this is the place where she met another Dutchie, some 15 years ago, so it must have been operating then. Who owns it, I don’t know either. But right now, all the attractions are slowly fading away.
This one probably comes out of this factory.

It does have a slight Chernobyl-like effect, the empty rides, the deserted bumper cars, and my favorite, the merry-go-round, but it's not as bad yet as towns like these or even theseIf the situation continues, however, than eventually all these villas around the luna park will be abandoned as well. Right now, they're occupied by the janitors, who continue to water the lawns, and rake the leaves. 
Sorry, couldn't help it.

December 15, 2014

Lamartine Valley and 100 Happy Days

Narrow roads winding in between parasol pine trees, and . . .
I just completed a #100happydays challenge; for 100 days I had to post a picture of something that made me happy. The thought behind the project is that ‘We live in times when super-busy schedules have become something to boast about. While the speed of life increases, there is less and less time to enjoy the moment that you are in.
You end up not appreciating the things you have, while happiness is in the tiny things. And so the philosophy is that if, for 100 days in a row, you consciously think about moments that make you feel good, you develop a habit of appreciating the small and simple things in life that make you happy. Interested? Here’s an article about the project.
. . . white picket fences and . . .  
. . .  and ivy and willows, and . . .

And though finding a happy moment for a 100 days in a row wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, I noticed that my ‘happy moment pictures’ tended to make my friends quite happy too. It did take me away from blogging quite a bit, as you may have noticed. I haven’t been that active anyway due to work related issues. It seems these days I do not get out into town much. I haven’t seen much of Beirut lately, even though I live right in the middle of it, and if I get one good walk a weekend, I consider myself lucky.
 . . . grassy country lanes in between dry stone walls . . .
... and muddy country lanes with puddles and . .
 This weekend I went up to the mountain house, because I was in need of a good wood fire. I have begged my husband for a fire place in my apartment in Beirut for years, but he’s been vetoing it for an equal number of years. His reason – it takes up an awful lot of space for only 3 months of use – makes sense. But when it gets colder (although this has been – yet again – a very mild fall so far), I go up to the mountain house to get my wood fire fix. 

. . . deep ancient wells and . . .
. . . tunnels dug into the mountains to reach water and . . .

. . . water reservoirs that are filling up and . . .

 The house is in a village that is pretty much empty around this time of year, it consists of many summer residences, and every one packed up house way back in September. But the emptiness makes it quite nice and restful. In Beirut you always have the feeling you have to ‘do’ something. If you sit an entire day on the couch, you get this feeling that you are missing out on something. Life in Beirut is fast, and so if you do not partake in it actively, you get this ‘standing-on-the-side-line-of-a-Hollywood-red-carpet-event’ syndrome. Very annoying, because there is no inner peace.

. . .  fire salamanders and . . .
. . . bits of sheep wool stuck on the barbed wire and . . .

But up in the mountains, I can stay indoors in pajamas the entire day, do nothing other than curl up in front of the fire place, and be lazy without feeling guilty or left out. The area where we have a house is sometimes called the Lamartine Valley, because the French poet Lamartine spent some time there in 1932, it seems.  He describes the area in his book ‘Voyages en Orient’. I do not know anyone who actually calls the area that way, but it sounds interesting if you mention that you ‘hiked the upper echelons of the Lamartine Valley.’ And the hiking is lovely here. Most of the time, we just walk, and sort of follow paths we haven't followed before, and end up in all these places that we then decide to buy, and we discuss where we will build the house, and how many rooms it will have, and whether we will have goats and donkeys, or just sick to a few chicken. It's lovely to dream as you walk. It’s quite green now, most leaves have gone, and with the brisk air, lovely to wander through.
. . . yellow trees in between the ever green and . . .
It has rained just a bit this fall, but the mountain is oozing out water from all sides. All over the place you find ancient wells, dug right into the bedrock, filling up, or old tunnels channeling into the mountain, and everywhere you hear running water. The reservoirs are already filling up and it hasn’t even snowed yet. This area is one of the few places in the Middle East where they have no water shortages. The limestone and sandstone mountains absorb immense amounts of water. 

. . . ingenious solutions and . . .

And even though my #100happy days are over now, and I can go back to normal life, I catch myself constantly thinking "Oh, this one would be a good one for my happy moments'! And as such, I think the project did help. It is your ability to appreciate the small things, the simple things, that cross your path every day, but that you do not fully appreciate, because you are just not tuned into it. Does it make you happier? Maybe not. But it does make you more appreciative.
. . . and woody lanes are a few of my favorite things. Things that make my happy .

And so I wholeheartedly suggest you all start a #100happy days. Maybe we could even start a #100happydaysinLebanon. Then I can start a follow-up project. :) 

December 06, 2014

Saint Nicholas in Beirut

The Dutch celebrated their annual Saint Nicholas Feast in Beirut, an event that has an obscure religious back ground (A Turkish bishop, ending up in Spain, with assistants from the North African continent, who hands out presents to children on his birthday), and that these days it shrouded in controversy as well. Even the Americans involve themselves in the debate. That’s an interesting twist, especially after the recent incidents that involved white officers and black suspects, I’d say. Dutch children traditionally do not get presents with Christmas, they got them yesterday, the night before St. Nicolas.
The Dutch Santa and his two helpers

But communities living outside their native land often stick to traditions much more diligently, and longer, than the motherland itself, and so we still celebrate it the traditional way. When my kids were younger, they greatly feared St, Nicholas, for no apparent reason, but they loved the black Petes, because these were the guys with the candy.  In the old days, we had a Jesuit priest who would play the role of Saint Nicholas, but he retired for this role somewhere in his early eighties. These days the role of St. Nicholas is often allotted to a father who does not have young children, otherwise his own kids might suddenly recognize daddy in bishop regalia. Black Pete is played by Dutch children, although it is sometimes hard to find black Petes that actually do speak Dutch.  My daughter was a Pete this year. (the one on the left). And so the circle is round.
Santa leaves goodies in your shoes, hence the line up of shoes at the entrance

November 30, 2014

The Pink House

From the balcony of the Pink House
Everybody  in town is talking about the Rose House after this post“The Rose House is opening up its doors? Have you seen it?” is the news. 

I have wondered for 20-something years about that house. I knew who lived there, but had never been inside. And who hasn't walked past that house, secretly hoping they'd have a house like that, in a neighborhood like that, with a view like that?

Now it's open to the public, because the house has recently been vacated, and a British painter, Tom Young, has taken the opportunity to paint from the house, and display his work from the Rose House, as the exhibition is called.


Actually, everybody I know always called it the ‘Pink House’. Others called it the Ardati House (after its original owner, Najib Ardati).  What’s in a name? Nothing really, but ‘rose’ is too soft. The house makes more of a statement than ‘rose’, and so for me, it will remain the ‘Pink House’.
The pink house is a prominent feature on Beirut’s Corniche. It’s an old part of Beirut, next to the house is the old Beirut lighthouse, still functioning, but no longer working since high-rise around it made it impossible, and a new lighthouse had to be build closer to shore. It’s the way Beirut must have once looked like, with villas surrounded by gardens and palm trees.
Tourists automatically take pictures of the house as they walk by, without really knowing anything about it; it's that eye-catching.  It’s been around for almost more than 200 years: The two upper floors (which you can see from the Corniche) since 1822, the bottom part (which is hidden behind the garden wall) much longer.
Photos of the Ardati family, the owners of the house, who rented it out more than 50  years ago
The house has seen an awful lot of battle (as being explained by a lady living right behind the pink house). The Palestinians, the Syrians and the Israelis all set up base right in front of it at one point in time, and since they were all shelled heavily by opposing factions, the house was under fire quite often.
Side of the house
The house, rented by the owners some fifty years agovto the Khazen family, housed a group of Syrian soldiers at one time. Not voluntarily of course, but who could say no to the Syrians? I had a friend once, who had a Syrian colonel living in the apartment under him, right on the Corniche, in 1990. Actually, the colonel had 'taken' the apartment, as they did with all the property in Beirut. An education man he was, but not someone you’d mess with. And as educated as he was, the Syrians were very poor, at least the soldiers that were stationed in Lebanon, and when he left, he took the sinks, the tub and  the toilets with him back to Syria, leaving behind a gutted place.
Beautiful tile floor (and my red boots)
The story of the house is a common one. One family owned it, rented it out for a good price before the war (it was beach front property), but (old) Lebanese law required a fixed rent in the contract, and then when the economy went down, and the dollar went from 3 pounds to a dollar to 1,500 pounds a dollar, entire families owned properties that only cost money, and didn’t make any, whereas others lived in prime real estate for under a $2,500 a year!
The house from the back; the top floor (which would be the 4th) doesn't look like it was ever inhabated
The pink house is a similar story. Mrs. Khazen lived in the house until recently (I don't know what she paid for rent, would love to know) , until the house was sold, and she had to vacate the premises.
What is to become of the house? My guess is a real-estate developer is going to destroy it and build a 20 story, one-and-a-half million $,  400 square meters,  super deluxe apartments that will be bought by Arabs living abroad, and that will be inhabited, if the situation permits it, one month a year. That’s what’s happening with pretty much of all Beirut’s heritage.
The bottom floor of the house

And my favorite thing in the house; some water sculpture fountain things, with water coming out of the ceiling. Looks like something from the early sixties, an indoor rain curtain, very advanced for its time.  I would love to see pictures of the inside of the house during the sixties and seventies.

If we’re lucky the house will be preserved. Experience tells us that we’re seldom lucky in Beirut. More on that story here.

November 29, 2014

More Things Up North

Enfeh village; a collection of home-built structures
Okay, last (long drawn out) post on some things to see up north: We’re still in Enfeh, a small (Greek orthodox) fishing village on the coast. It’s funny how villages in Lebanon are typified according to their religion, as if there’d be a difference. But we do that in Holland too, if it involves a religious community with a rather extreme character. Staphorst, for instance, a village in the north east, is always associated with the ‘Black Stocking Church’, a Calvinistic domination of a rather severe kind. I remember that you were not supposed to lawn on Sunday, but do not know if that is still this way.

Enfeh is a jumbled collection of houses all build on the shore, in a style that reminds me of Catal Huyuk, or modern day touristic Greece. To get to the peninsula, which is the oldest (and no longer inhabited) part of the village, you really need to clamber over home-made wooden bridges, through a graveyard, by some rather disheveled summer chalets, through a volleyball field, past some fishing huts and through a deep rock-cut trench, before you end up on the peninsula.
That rock-cut trench is an odd feature. Some say it was cut out during Crusader times, something like a moat, which would protect the inhabitants of the peninsula from attackers. If that is the case, then it is a bit of a fail, as the water level isn’t high enough; you can just walk across. At one point there is a standing pillar, which could be interpreted as a support for a draw bridge, but either the trench wasn’t finished, or the sea level dropped, or the floor lifted itself, or it just isn’t meant as a safety barrier. I go for the last explanation. The differences between high and low tide in the Mediterranean are neglectable.
The rock-cut trench, separating the peninsula from the main land
Then there’s the story that this was a Phoenician dry-dock, where ships were built in very close proximity of the sea. Why they would cut through the entire rock from one end to the other, is a bit of an overachiever’s feat. So I nix that theory as well. It’s got to have some purpose though to put so much manpower in a feature for a small town, that at one point in time, Enfeh must have been a thriving village.
What’s nice about the town is that it looks pretty much the same as it must have some 1,000 years ago, if not more. Very little town planning, they just built on top of the ruins of previous dwellings, like in the old days. For some reason I always end up in this town in winter time, when it is grim weather with ominous skies. I keep telling myself to spend a summer here, go fishing, start diving again, and make art projects with shells and drift wood. I seem to lose myself in working, rather than living, these days. But one day, I am going to do it.

November 23, 2014

On Goat Meat (and Butchers)

Today a ‘house, garden and kitchen’ post, as we say in Dutch (which translates itself into ‘simple’ or ‘common’). 

The road to the Beqaa valley was wet and muddy; with total precipitation so far this winter already exceeding the yearly average for this time of year,
This weekend, I bought goat meat (or mutton, as it is called), and I thought I’d show you some pictures of a typical Lebanese butcher. If you’re from Lebanon, you will find nothing unusual about this. If you’re from Holland, you probably will never have seen an entire animal hanging in a butcher shop. We (the Dutch) only see our meat pre-cut and pre-packaged, unrecognizable as having once been something furry and alive.

You wonder - after last week’s report of the Ministry of Health on the Lebanese food industry, including the state of slaughterhouse, butchers and restaurants, - why anyone would still dare eat meat? Fecal matter in food, rotten meat in the supermarkets, and slaughterhouses where the carcasses lie on the ground between their own feces and urine. We don’t eat a lot of meat in my household, it’s mainly fish and chicken, but this weekend we needed goat meat

Zahle was wet but sunny. I liked this elderly man with his hat on. Something else than the dumb little woolen hats many men wear. 

You see, every morning, as we leave the house to go to jobs or school, the old aunt who lives in our house, corners us near the elevator door with the question: “What do you want to eat tonight?” When she just moved in with us, this was a welcome question; there were tons of things we wanted to eat because now we finally had a household member who could cook Lebanese food. 

But now we are quite some years down the line, and this one question every morning is one that everyone in our house dreads. 
We just cannot think of anything anymore, after years and years of thinking of different dishes, and so we try to sneak out without her noticing. This is no mean feat, because she recognizes the whirring of the elevator being pulled up, and the metallic ‘click’ of the elevator door as it reaches our floor. 

Sometimes we quietly tiptoe to the floor below us, and take the elevator from there. Sometimes my husband leaves before me, and will yell “Isal marti,” (ask my wife) as he runs out of the house. And the dishes that I can think of, are somehow always out of season.

So when we actually think of something we’d like to eat, we have to act upon it. And on Saturday  my daughter suddenly thought of spare ribs. This comes from our summer BBQ’s in Holland, where copious amounts of spare ribs get consumed. 

You point to the piece, and he cuts it right off the carcass
Pork is very difficult to come by here in Lebanon, so it had to be goat. Goat ribs needed to be purchased, but we were up in the mountains, and due to the pouring rain, the already incredibly congested road down to Beirut would be further impassible with either water or broken down trucks. So we had to go to the other side of the mountains, where we ended up in Zahle. In the Beqaa Valley, they’ve got plenty of goats.

The advantages of mutton over beef are numerous, according to Wikipedia, but then I cannot vouch for the source of that information; it could be it was the Mutton Wholesale Dealers Association of Northern America for all I know.

So maybe I would not have my meat minced here. 

You don’t get your spare ribs from the supermarket, especially not after this report, so you go straight to the source. We have butchers here that have the life goats tied up in front of their stores in the morning, slaughters the beasts (okay, so they do it right on the street, which was also a bit of an issue according to the report)  and by the evening they've cut up and sold the entire carcass: Fresh from the animal. Of course you can’t tell whether the goat was sick or not, or fed with something wicked, and I am pretty sure that it is not that hygienic either, but in the end, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and you've got to die of something.

We found a butcher who had his goats hanging in his shop, pointed at the spareribs, and he cut them right in front of us off. It couldn't get any fresher. Tonight I am eating spare ribs. If you don’t hear from me anymore, blame it on the meat.

November 22, 2014

Salt Basins of Enfeh

Salt basins bordering the sea in Enfeh
A little under Qalamoun (yes, we’re still up North with this story: Road Trippin' Part II) you find the salt basins of Enfeh. It is winter now, the slow season; salt is typically ‘farmed’ or harvested during the summer heat, but it is still a pretty interesting place to stop and check out.
 The mining of salt through evaporation pools is a very old process; we were already doing it while still out there hunting and gathering our food, way back when. The process is simple; you fill a basin with a thin layer of sea water, let the sun evaporate the water, and you can shovel the mineral salt out. Salt, of course, brings out the flavor in food, or can help preserve it by drying it.
Salt was quite a commodity in the old days. In fact, ‘salary’ derives from the word salt.  Apparently Roman soldiers were paid in salt; salt money, which translates into ‘salarium’.  
I remember that some 20 years ago, you’d see basins all along the coast line in the north. The rising value of coastal properties, and the import of cheaper foreign salt have pretty much done in this ancient industry. The government didn’t help much either when they stopped taxing foreign salt imports. It is no longer a viable business, it seems. As a result, you do not see many salt basins that are still in working order. (Interesting article on it here).

'The Anfeh salinas alone represents half of Lebanese salt production, although its ancient methods really set it apart from the country's other salt beds, which employ more modern methods. Until 1990, Lebanon was self-sufficient in salt production, selling 45,000 tons a year locally. Because of government accords with other Arab countries, notably Egypt, Lebanon now produces only 20,000 tons annually.' (Source)
Shepherds graze their sheep on the upper part; These sheep dogs chase my car that has my sheep dog in it.
I don’t quite get this part. If you’re self-sufficient at 45,000, how come now we end up with only 20,000 a year? If I were in the government, I’d tax foreign salt imports to the point where they become as expensive as local salt. Start with blocking Egyptian salt.  Since salt isn’t all that healthy, taxing would give you a triple benefit. 1) you make money of taxing import, 2) local salt farmers will make a living, which brings money into the economy and 3) because salt become more expensive, people may use less of it, which should help in the costs of health care.
Deir Sayedet al-Natour, or 'Wife of the Janitor Monastery' (did I get the translation right here?)

Besides, it’s interesting for tourist, who - I admit – do not show up anymore, but if ever we become a peaceful nation, a day at the salt basins could be an attraction. Add some B&B’s, organize workshops on ‘Salt Harvesting’ and ‘Lebanese Kitchen with Sea Salt’ , and voila, you got yourself package deal.
Door of the monastery

Another odd thing (I think) is that the church finds little value in maintaining them as well. Many of the salt basins near Enfeh belong to the Greek Orthodox Monastery, Deir Sayedet al-Natour, but their salt basins have been pretty much abandoned. Just a few at the lower part of the hill are still functioning. They sell little bags of salt at 2,000 at the monastery entrance.
Salt for sale; 2,000 pounds a bag ($1.33)
So it doesn’t make money anymore, but I would think that it is the responsibility of a religious order to not only provide spiritual guidance, but to help their people with work. Right now they lease the basins, but there are no takers. What if they would not ask for money, but lease the basins against maintenance costs only? This way the salt basins are maintained, a local industry is kept alive and people work and make some money. There’s got to be plenty of people there who need an income. So the church doesn’t get rich from it but I don’t think that’s their job description anyway.
In the West, you find all kinds of different salts , and exotic salts, in gourmet stores these days. Black salt from the Himalayas, coarse grey salt from Bretagne, pink salt from Thailand, and they sell at ridiculously high prices. 7 euros for a jar of Himalayan pink, I remember. Of course salt tastes like salt, although some may argue, but if packed nicely, it becomes a nice gimmick. Imagine, if you can market 3 exotic salts for $39.95, you won’t be able to market real Lebanese Sea Salt for $10 a jar?

But I am not in the government. Nor do I manage a religious order. But if it were up to me, I’d turn these salt basins into a money making business.