My dad’s in town. It’s not his first visit. Ever since I’ve moved to Lebanon, he’s been a regular visitor. Actually, he was already visiting Lebanon well before I was even born, starting way back in 1947 or 48, he does not remember exactly what year. In those days, the KLM was still flying on Beirut. The visits continued until 1965, when he changed jobs, and started again in 1990, when I moved here.
So it is not his first visit.
It might be his last visit though.
He’ll be a 101 this September.
He’s well though. Very well even, considering his age. He roamed around Hamra street (came back with eight stitches, but was impressed with the medical care at AUH), walked the entire Corniche and wanted to go sightseeing, so I dragged him to the sea, and the mountains, the ruins and pillars, to the north, the south, and all over town. He knows most of this country, he’s accompanied me on quite a few of my trips.
And as he sat behind a cold Almaza beer at a café besides the Roman ruins in Baalbeck, he commented on the fact that - when he had sat there in that same spot, with a beer, somewhere in the fifties, at the age of 35, - he could not have imagined that he’d be sitting there again, some 65 years later, at the age of 100. With his daughter no less. He wasn’t even married back then.
I mean, you probably think you won’t make it to a 100. Not many do. Not only does he make it to a 100, he travels back to that same place, and has another beer in the sun.
But he knows that the odds are against him.
Those that have their lives ahead of them - if not all, at least long stretches of it - do not walk around with the notion that this might be the last time you see this, or visit that, or walk here.
At 100 however, this is a real thought.
My friends all ask him how he does it; Getting this old.
He doesn’t really have an explanation for that. It is not a matter of genes. Both his parents died at a relatively young age. His mom at 37, his dad at 51. But his older brother will be 102 this summer. And several of his siblings made it into their nineties. He lived a sober life, but then everyone did in those days. He drinks, smoked when he was young, and eats his eggs with bacon. He survived the Spanish flu (his mom did not), and has seen probably every country that has an airport.
He doesn’t have many pictures from those very early days here in Beirut. He had a Bolsey back then, but it had no light meter, the film had to be turned manually and frequently got stuck, and developing pictures was not a cheap affair. You’d take a picture a day, instead of 31 in an hour. Most of those pictures are in slide form, and they’re somewhere in the attic. My brother is in the process of scanning them, but it is a lengthy process.
He kept a sparse diary; I should dig through that one. I was reading this diary; gives an interesting look of Beirut as well, the way my dad probably experienced it as well.
But at the age of 100, he remembers a Lebanon that most Lebanese have never seen.