Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tour de Falafel Part 1:The Thriving Beirut Night Life As Imagined From My Bathroom Floor

The minute of our big trip had finally arrived. And then it passed. And 65 ones like it. It became a race of which would happen first, Pat being ready to leave, or the taxi cab we ordered for 7 pm coming. At 7:45 we had to let a cab go because Pat wasn’t with us yet. When he did join us 15 minutes later, he opened with, “OK, so who is the asshole we’re waiting for?” It was such an open-ended I didn’t know how to answer it so we all just laughed. Pat redeemed himself by getting us a ride in someone else’s taxi and we were off to Beirut!

It was 1 am when we got there, and we were so amped up we just walked around the city. You would think we would have felt more cautious, but the Lebanese army was out in force and we didn’t stray into western Beirut. My two connotations of Lebanon coming in were that Lebanese women are among the most beautiful in the world and that the country will occasionally have a civil war. Walking around so early in the morning, there was little evidence of the former but great evidence of the latter. From what I gather there was a four way civil war (new twist to the game?) starting in the 70’s that lasted until 1990. Kanye was right that the prettiest people do the ugliest things; almost every building in some neighborhoods had bullet holes in them, including our hotel. Looming over the city is the former Holiday Inn, a specter of the days when 250,000 civilians were killed and many more were forced into exile. We were just taking it all in at a small sheesha café when we met Michael. Michael was a pistol-toting intellectual who discussed with us his political party which campaigns to join Syria. I was dubious at first, hardly seems good politics to campaign for the end of political sovereignty of the nation you are in. But then he bought us coffee and I saw his point.

Beirut is a very western city, due in large part to the French colonization and a huge Christian population. This westernization was very apparent on the walk back to the hotel. First of all, the very fact they were selling pizza makes it western, and the other fact that a guy tried to trade a piece of pizza for a night of romance with Pat is another indicator. Language was a bit of a barrier, but it was pretty apparent the pizza was coming with strings attached. According to Ryan this wasn’t unusual because the majority of the gay population in the Middle East lives in Beirut. I still think it was unusual.

The next day we pretty much just bummed around the city. We walked along the Corniche, which is like a boardwalk of sorts. The Lebanese were all fishing and swimming in the Mediterranean and we were taking pictures of everything, but we eventually made it all the way down to see the Pigeon Rocks. Then we went to check out the souk, which we thought was going to be a authentic market place like the Khan in Cairo but turned out to look like Georgetown in DC. Each US dollar is 1,500 Lebanese pounds, so just imagine a Gucci handbag cost multiplied by 1,500 and you’ll have an idea of the sticker shock we experienced.

But then it was time for the famous Beirut night life! The New York Times, despite being run by the Zionists, still said Beirut was the best place to go in 2009. It being 2010 at the time of writing, it can’t have fallen far down the list. So we got ready to go clubbing and headed to a cool bar to start the night off. After my first beer I vomited in the bathroom. I thought it was odd, as normally I don’t get smashed until after my third beer, but I chalked it up to being too full from an epic falafel eaten just hours before. After my second beer I was begging the taxi driver not to aim for the speed bumps as we sped back to our hotel, where I spent the rest of the night.

Due to the ferociousness and brevity of The Sickness I have concluded it was food poisoning. The thing is that everything I ate in Beirut Pat and Ryan also ate, so I have to conclude that it was the pound of dates I ate before getting on the plane to Lebanon. Not an irrational conclusion! But yeah, I had Maddie, my date dealer, pick me up a batch for Wednesday’s Blackburn game. Unfortunately she couldn’t get them Wednesday so got them for me Thursday instead. I knew there wasn’t much wisdom in eating an entire batch of street fruit before a big trip, but I have an eating problem. But no more! As Kate Moss would say, nothing tastes as good as not sleeping on a bathroom floor feels. That night I gather Pat and Ryan barhopped before making it a club our hotel manager had recommended, which apparently sucked as much as our hotel manager. But they saved the night by going back to the sheesha café and getting some more pizza, hopefully by paying for it.

The next day we took a tour of Beirut. Our tour guide Ronnie was pretty funny and pretty knowledgeable. In fact, the tour turned into more of a lecture on the complex zoning and squatting rules of the city. Turns out it is really hard to tear down an abandoned building in Lebanon; much easier to wait til the next civil war and hope it becomes part of the collateral damage. My favorite part of the tour was when Ronnie asked what the national tree of India was, and an Indian guy celebrated getting the right answer by cheering, “Yeah, Indian guy!” Is it racist to say that Indians have become funnier as a people sinse Aziz Ansari made it big? Well, anyways I hope my facebook friendships with Divya, Meera, Gayan and Cassie(?) prove that I’m not. By the way the ? denotes my skepticism of Cassie’s ancestry, not my facebook friendship with her. But other things we saw on the tour include Roman baths, the President’s house, and Martyrs’ Square, where all the cool kids go to protest/incite unrest. Also on the tour I learned the Lebanese constitution mandates certain positions be held by certain religions. So like the President has to be Christian. Imagine having to formalize something like that. Are the Lebanese on to something here? Can we expect a new constitutional amendment in America, given how Barack’s assumed Muslimness nearly disqualified him from our highest office?

After the tour I went back to regain my strength, seeing as the previous night I had lost every liquid in my body. Ryan and Pat went out again though to make more of an effort to get every bit of liquid in their bodies as they could, and they dropped a good amount of money doing so. The highlights, from what I gather, were Pat falling asleep at the bar, Ryan falling in love with the bar tender, and hanging out with Michael again while he was carrying two pistols in his belt. They came back pretty out of it.

Two hours after they returned to the hotel room we were at the Beirut Airport, and seeing as we made good time we had about an hour before the flight took off. So we parked ourselves ten feet in front of the gate. Understandably Ryan and Pat fell asleep, but luckily I had a good night’s sleep so I kept watch. Unluckily I tried to read my romantic literature, so the next thing I know I was woken up by the airport worker who was screaming LAST CALL FOR AMMAN! That would have been bad. But we made it. Next stop, Jordan!

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