Sunday, February 3, 2008

From Tripoli to Tyre

I now live at It started as a blog about my new life in Kuwait but has now morphed and diverged in a random way.

Anyway, back to Lebanon.

I stayed on in the historical area of Baalbek til dusk. I ran into Joshua, who I’d first met on the road to Ephesus and then later in Pammakale. He sat opposite me creatively drawing while I wrote. Perching serenely over his notepad, he looked up enquringly and said 'isn’t that the sound of gunfire?' Joshua is lithe and chilled, benignly reptilian in his calm charisma. I always felt we had some unspoken connection, even though we had little to say to each other. Certainly, our habit of bumping into each other was uncanny. We’d meet again in three weeks time in Jerusalem, which surprised neither of us.

Ian and I separated in Baalbek, supposedly for 24 hours. According to our plans, I’d travel over the hills to Tripoli where he’d join me from Beirut, to which he'd now returned, not fancying Baalbek’s Ramamdan tranquility.

No taxis or buses could take me to Tripoli so I had to go via Beirut. Since Lebanon is tiny, this didn’t matter. From Beirut you can go anywhere easily on day trips. Tripoli is a crowded Sunni city, 2km in land from the coast beneath a crusader castle set above a river.

Ian never turned up. He’d decided to take off for Jordan. But I decided to stay the night in Al Mina, a nearby modern town on the coast. There’s a curious sculpture on the coast built out of computers.

Pictures of Hariri are everywhere. I had an interesting chat with a man who invited me for a coffee on the street outside his café. When I showed him my Syrian coins he threw them back at me in unambiguous disgust. This deflated my instinct to talk politics.

Back in Beirut I saw the hard drinking Sean, an Irishman I’d met him earlier over breakfast in the little cafe in Gemayzih. He spoke very fast in a high pitched squeal I couldn’t always follow. He used to study politics in Beirut and was dropping by on holiday. He told me Irish unity was in the post, a question of demographics, Catholics in the north outbreeding the Protestants. He wore a conspiratorial aura which led me to imagine he might enjoy the darker side of political intrigue. He told me he’d met Nasrallah, that he was 'a great guy' and that whoever killed Hariri. it was not the Syrians.

In Sidon I met a Palestinian, someone lucky enough not to live in a refugee camp. Most of them have to, alas.

Later in a café the waiter asked me what I felt the difference was between Lebanon and Syria. I said there’s less social cohesion in Lebanon, that it’s more political, more westernized and less friendly.

In Tyre, Jezebel’s home, I went swimming for the first time since Hasankeyf, though for this I needed to borrow a bar attendant’s (clean) swimming trunks. Across the sea I could see Israel, the unmentionable land. Smoke rose from fires across the sea. I wondered what would happen, had I been a better swimmer, if I decided to swim to the Israeli coast. Who would intercept me? Would a soggy passport do me any favours?

The ruins in Tyre are unspoilt and, so it appeared, entirely unvisited. To get to the main section I was kindly escorted by some Palestinians through their house and out through their back garden past Yassar Arafat posters and Maps of Palestine with pre-1948 village names.