March 08, 2013

Something About Beirut

Water pipes (argileh) waiting for customers in the kitchen of the Rawda Cafe in Beirut
This is a post with no information. So I can save you the trouble of reading it. On the other hand, it is about Beirut. And there is something about Beirut . . .
I ended up in Rawda Café in Beirut with some friends yesterday. They wondered if the venue was okay with me since “you are a drinker.” Rawda is an extremely old coffee shop on the seaside, catering to the old & traditional Beirut crowd, and as such does not serve alcohol. They serve a pretty mean lemonade, though, and so we ended up in one of Beirut’s most historic landmarks still standing & operating the way it used to.
The water pipe man
The place pops up in every Google search if you’re looking for some authentic Beirut, meaning the pre-war city. And that probably is its charm; the idea that you are sitting somewhere that was like this 40, 50 years ago. And if you look well, it is exactly the way it used to be, catering to the normal Beirut crowd, a crowd that you may see walking on the Corniche at 6:30 AM, but that is otherwise strangely absent in most public venues in Beirut.  
Regulars (My favorite; the plastic covering with the leastic band to keep the table cloth clean)
Shabby, run-down and rusted. A grand dame who is no longer the beauty queen, but still thrives on her fame and conveniently ignores that those days are more than long gone. Every day the wrinkles are a little deeper, and the skin hangs looser, but add an extra layer of make-up, draw the lines around the eyes a little thicker, tighten the clothes a little more and there you go; as good as new. That’s Rawda Café for you. Here’s a description done by Time Out Beirut:
In the technicolour shadow of Manara’s kitschy Luna Park lies a genuine slice of old Ras Beirut – perhaps most consistently of the several cafés perched at the edge of the sea on Beirut’s headland, Café Rawda draws Beirutis of all stripes to its leafy terraces and sea-sprayed tables. The grounds are large and unpretentious, open to the elements – come here to spend hours puffing Narguileh and watching the waves, playing cards and backgammon or, these days, hooked up to the good free WiFi. . (TimeOutBeirut )

These metal windows are from the 60's. It is all ugly sliding aluminium windows right now

And we talked about all kinds of things. We let the week at work pass the venue and reminisced on how we learned how to count to a 100. We wondered what the future will bring, since one of us has land and family in Syria. That definitely ‘the-end-of-an-era’ story, as the Syrians will be fighting for the next 50 years and it’s the end of a civilization for probably longer than that. One of us has links to Iraq, and life over there was discussed. A mutual friend is from Iran, and we somehow ended up discussing inheritance laws and family issues. Switzerland was brought up as being the best place to be born in according to a recent poll, but how none of us would trade Switzerland for Beirut, and then mused over what is was that brought all these different nationalities to Beirut.
The Cafe's courtyard, with the '1 million $ and plus' apartment buildings in the back
And moreover, what makes them stay? What is it that draws people to Beirut? A Dutchie, an American, and Iraqi, a Syrian and an Iranian.
 Beirut is a little like the Rawda Café. There is nothing really special to it. It’s shabby, run-down. Up front it looks all nice, but if you look behind the new store front, you’ll see it is just a new layer of paint over an old wall.  Shabby even. Yet people grew up here, and keep coming back to it. There’s an odd pull that this town exerts on people. We wondered if it was its ‘real-feel’ factor, even though ‘fake appearances’ are more flagrant here than we have experienced them anywhere else. Maybe it’s its humanity, but hen again, the appalling differences in wealth, and the condition in which most people live could hardly be called humane. Yet there is something about Beirut . .
Beirut, 5:27 PM


Scirocc0 said...

wonderful, better than tons of information reading such a post
thank you

Mich said...

Lovely to see Rawda, all the way in Dubai. I have been going there since 1975. During the 15-year war, it was a place we could go and escape even when there was shelling and shooting. Rawda and Sporting are what kept a lot of us going. And yes, Beirut does have something special. Among other things, it a sense of belonging, that you know every street and every person on that street. And it is the people added to the beauty of the place, bullet holes and all... :-)