October 26, 2013

About Beirut Syndrome and Hermel Trout

Hermel, a town in the northern part of the Beqaa Valley, some 135 kilometers away from Beirut
An old friend is in town. He used to live and work here for 23 years, but after an absence of more than ten years, he is back in town, searching for something that he hasn’t figured out yet.
Lebanon can leave you with an experience that cannot be equaled by most places, especially the more organized ones.
Somehow after Lebanon, life always remains a little diluted, it seems. This may be because living here requires you to use all your senses and resources, thus giving you the feeling of being truly alive. I have written about the fact once, that “the pace of living and the average stimuli are well beyond the ordinary and although you may not realize it, it does mark you.

First you catch the trout (or have someone do it for you)

Life after Lebanon always seems a little dull. Many may search for this dullness and quiet, but having lived here for a substantial amount of time, especially during the war, it leaves a mark that cannot be erased.
My friend is in this predicament.  He currently lives in a town in France, on a boat on the seaside; Something most people would wish for. But it is not giving him what he had in Beirut. He’s searching, but not quite sure what it is he is searching for. It could be spiritual unsettledness, a desire to leave oneself behind in order to find another.

You choose your fish. Pink trout has a 'pinkish' stripe aong its belly

Another friend, who also spent a considerable amount of time living in this country, is also back. Just for a short visit, connecting with friends, and she is no longer searching for something; she’s figured out what it is about Beirut.
The energy of the town heightens and amplifies all emotions. This is an excellent thing when you’re feeling good, because this town will make you feel even better. A constant high is a good thing. And since she had a job here, and it always seemed summer, times were good. But as she can vouch for, ‘lows’ are also amplified. And although she agrees that you somehow leave something of yourself here, and  that after Beirut, you will never fully feel as if you belong in your own country anymore, other places can still give you that satisfaction that will help you forget Beirut. Although, ‘forgetting Beirut’ completely is not possible.
The fis gets weighed with odd-looking weights. The contraption that looks like something that came out of an engine is the one that counter-balances the weight of the bucket on the other side of the scale.

I, on the other hand, had the dilemma of fish. I do not like fish. Difficult when you are married to a man who – no longer though, due to my lack of enthusiasm – fishes as a hobby. He used to go spear fishing, and come home with all kinds of exotic Mediterranean fish, which I then had to clean and cook, both with little gusto, and to top it all off, eat as well. There is no pleasure for me in eating fish. The fish bones, the milky white flesh;  not my cup of tea.

He'll clean the fish as well
However, some time ago, I was served in a fish Hermel that tasted like salmon. It was delicious. And so we bought that fish (locally raised trout in the Orontes river, or Nahr el-Assi), took it home, and cooked it.
Unfortunately, the same scenario ensued; fish bones and milky white flesh, not at all what I had eaten. It was obviously a ‘case of the incapable cook’ (me). I don’t know how to cook a fish. And so this weekend I had a mission; how do you cook the Hermel trout? We went to Hermel to find a cook who can cook the famous trout.
This one came with eggs; 'kaviar, as he called it.

The first thing I found out is that there seem to be two kinds of trout: the white trout and the pink trout, The white one is called the rainbow trout, the other one is called the Steelhead Trout, a variety of the rainbow trout . And although I had eaten the pink one, I had bought the white one.
It seems a little impossible, because steelhead trout are ocean versions of the rainbow trout, which is clearly impossible in Lebanon. Some say the pink one isn’t really a different trout, but just one that has been fed on a diet that is mixed with a synthetic carotenoid pigment, but I do not agree with it. It’s definitely a different meat structure, and the taste is different as well.
Ready for the grill
The second thing I learned is that it is all about the mixture of spices, a jealously guarded secret by most chefs. However, the chef in the restaurant of that excellent fish, while pretending to throw away garbage, quickly passed by my car on the parking lot, just as I was getting in, and shoved me a bag of the magical substance in my hand. “Don’t tell anyone I have given you this,” he whispered.

 And so while my friends ponder about the finer mysteries of this Beirut Syndrome, I’ve figured out how to cook a Hermel trout. Suum cuique.
This is (the hole in front of you. You see the tp of some trees), by the way, the place where the Orontos River (Nahr el-Assi) begins; in the middle of a desert, the water comes gushing out of this rocky hill (on which I am standing here). The wonders of geology.


Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane said...

I learned to like fish as an adult, but not to clean it. I like fillets, and am not fond of messing with a whole fish on my plate that I then have to debone.

Finding a place to live where you feel alive and at home is not easy if you've spent years living in all sort of places. I know how it feels.

Anonymous said...

That is something the three of us had in common. Neither B nor I like fish.


Sietske said...

Miss Footloose: you are the perfect example of 'never being able to go back home again'. Well, you may be able to go back home, but home is not longer there.

Yes H, but this fish is something else!!

Tanya Dernaika said...

Fascinating how you maintain interest in two very interesting topics, one existential and the other practical. Enjoyed this!

Anonymous said...

Suum cuique? wazzad?

Anonymous said...

Oh Sietski, how much I enjoy your posts. Even though I live in Australia, whenever I come to Lebanon, I come alive and feel alive.

Fadi said...

Always very interesting to read your posts! Thanks for sharing your experiences.