As I drove past the St. George hotel this afternoon, I noticed that there was a lot of security down there; police had cordoned off the side walk with yellow tape, and police officers were stationed every 15 meters along the road. An important dignitary in town? I wondered. And then it dawned on me. It is Valentine’s Day; The ‘other’ Valentine’s Day.
Whereas most of the world (well, the part that pays attention to this day) sees it as a day where you suddenly have to buy flowers or a red bear for your partner, here it is the day they blew up a prime-minister. Ex-prime-minister. And with such a massive force that it was quite memorable. A bit like the Kennedy assassination; everyone knows where they were.
|I found a heart shaped stone on the beach this afternoon. Very appropriate, considering it's St. Valentines|
I was on the roof of a building some 800 meters away, supervising a number of children. The blast was so substantial that the people on the floor below me thought that the roof had come down.
I remember the blast.
We (the kids and I) didn’t see anything, and for 5 seconds there was this eerie silence, and then, all around us, we heard the glass tumbling down from shattered window panes in the neighborhood.
Some 20 seconds later, a smoke cloud rose above the buildings. At first it was white smoke, a bit like the mushroom cloud from an atomic bomb, and then – as the cars caught fire – the smoke turned black.
|I've collected quite a few over the years. This one and the ones below are from earlier beach trips|
At first we thought that the yellow balloon, the one that was anchored in downtown and that would take you up and down to take a view over the town, had exploded. My son was quite distraught because his judo teacher was the one working on the balloon project, and he assumed that if the balloon had blown up, then so did his judo teacher.
For about 5 minutes, there was confusion. Then the rumor mill started. That this was no a simple gas explosion was clear. The mobile phone network had died by that time, so it was impossible to call around, but the first adult came in to pick up her kids, and she had it on the radio. Some 20 minutes later it was clear. The ex-prime-minister Hariri, on his way back from the parliament, had been blown up with his convoy as it passed the St. George Hotel.
That was ten years ago.
It did not really dawn on us (not on me at least) what an impact this event would have.
A lot has happened since that day. I went to the funeral for my newspaper. And in the evening I went to Martyr’s Square, (and many evenings after that), because people believed that there was a change in the air. My blogging days started then. The Syrians left Lebanon. Many assassinations followed. And a war with Israel.
Little did we know, but it was a turning point for Lebanon, both politically and economically; we started sliding down, and although every time we think that now we’ve hit rock bottom, it seems the end is not in sight yet. The Syrians have joined us in our misery. The Jordanians and Saudis are walking a very tight line, who knows, their time may come very soon as well.
10 years of going downhill. I do not know of anyone in my circle of Lebanese friends who is doing very well. We’re all surviving, some a little better than others. This city is heavy with history. We all got CNN tattooed on our foreheads. I wonder what the next ten years will bring.