Every time a foreign publication publishes a travel account or recommendation about Lebanon, my timeline is flooded with people sharing the article, possibly in awe that a non-Lebanese came here and had a good enough time to write about it.
Well, I’m sick of it. I didn’t even read Vogue’s account, which is currently making the rounds on social media, until Ahmad sent me the link with the following comment:
I have never been more baffled in my life. I know NOTHING from this list. She could be explaining Prague for all I care.
That’s coming from my husband who is very well-versed in Beirut’s streets and locations. So naturally, that peaked my interest and I read it as I was making my way home.
My first reaction was exactly that of Ahmad’s “What are these places? And how exactly do they define Beirut?”
Because the last time I checked, Beirut is so much more than Mar Mikhayal and its surrounding streets. Sure, the area is currently the center of a thriving food and cultural scene, but it is far from the only thing that Beirut has to offer- and it surely doesn’t take four days to get around five or six streets.
The author of the article spent four days in my city, yet she barely ventured outside the tiny area. It’s such a shame because Beirut is not a big city and can be easily explored on foot in 4 days. And her attempt to uncover “the perfect storm of shopping, wining, dining, dancing,” missed the mark by quite a huge margin that she came across as yet another one of those tourists who believes all the cliches while trying to be a hipster at the same time.
Because Beirut is so much more than B018, Souk El Tayeb, yoga lounges, over-rated and over-priced specialty stores, and restaurants you need to set aside a good chunk of your salary to eat at.
You want the true Beirut experience?
Well, you have to venture out of the safe zone and join us normal people as we go about our daily lives.
Why does this list exclude Hamra, for example?
I think it is the perfect representation of what the author was seeking as it has long been important in the lives of Beirut’s inhabitants. Good food? Check. Shopping ? Check. (For example, I recommend L’Artisan du Liban in Clemenceau over Orient 499) Old versus new? Check. A melting pot? Yes you’ll find that there.
And Hamra is home to two unmissable parts of the Beirut experience: the infamous Barbar and the American University of Beirut (which has been declared a botanical garden by the way).
The author went to Saifi, but failed to mention that on most days, it seems abandoned- its houses deserted and unoccupied. She could’ve walked a few steps in the direction of Downtown Beirut where ruins from Roman times mix with ruins from the Civil War. Sure, the area is losing its character to over-development and closing off Nijmeh Square doesn’t help the cause, but looking hard enough could do the trick.
And from there, she could’ve easily continued along the seaside , grabbed a coffee from Uncle Deek, and contemplated how this country still manages to keep going, how the people push ahead as a new day full of uncertainty is ahead. She could have noted that despite how little public spaces we have, the people will make use of everything they’re given.
Speaking of public spaces, she could have also explored the newly re-opened Horsh Beirut. But I guess that area is too dangerous for her to venture to.
She also described going to the beach, but she chose Lazy B, instead of Ramlet el Bayda. Weren’t we all up in arms just a month ago about how we were losing the last public beach in Beirut to yet another big-name developer? But I guess no one goes there anyway so it doesn’t matter.
And while I’m not suggesting she take on Tariq El Jdeedeh and Mazraa head-first (it takes some preparation, even for me, a native), but she did miss out on some hidden gems tucked on the alleyways.
Yes, she came to Beirut, but she didn’t see the traditional stores, dekkenes, taking in Beirut as it is, the kinds of places we are slowly losing to big name brands and “concepts.” She didn’t even try traditional Lebanese sweets at Safsouf, which I think is infinitely better than anything that Tawlet has to offer.
The point is, you want to come to Beirut? Ahla w sahla! We are known for our hospitality and going out of our way to make our guests comfortable and enjoy their time. But don’t claim you’ve figured out what it’s all about when you barely scratched the surface on what it has to offer. Do your research and be ready to set your pre-conceived notions aside. You’re not going to need those here.
Oh and don’t call it Bey. We sure as hell don’t!
Update: The husband got stuck in traffic for 2 hours today making his way from Hamra to our home (what should be a 15 minute drive on average). Now that’s a true Beirut experience that the author of the Vogue article should’ve had too.