When you think of Lebanon, what comes to mind? Civil War, Hezbollah, refugee camps, bombings? Lebanon is on the USA’s No-Go’s list for obvious, historical reasons. Recently, the government of the Prime Minister Saad Hariri (whose father, Rafic, then Prime Minister, was assassinated in 2005) collapsed, leaving the parliament without leadership. A veritable state of war exists with Israel to the south and for a northern neighbor, it has Syria, whose dictatorial regime is currently waging war on peaceful protestors seeking basic political, civil and economic rights.
All of this is real and worrisome, yet it all seems a million miles away from Beirut, Lebanon’s beautiful, bustling capitol, a vibrant cosmopolitan city that, like New York, never sleeps. The best clubs in the world are here– and the best service, the best food and some of most attractive, sophisticated people you’ll ever see! In Lebanon you can ski superb mountains in the morning and float in azure Mediterranean seas in the afternoon; then, you can eat and drink, dance and party till dawn.
Join Bilal and me for meals and conversation in three very different settings: our first dinner, in Beirut, was given by a group of wise, established, older residents, who were thoughtful in reply and reserved in their “on-camera” remarks. Our second dinner, with younger Lebanese citizens, yielded provocative ideas and strong opinions about Israel, Palestine, the US and Europe. You can see the generational divide in style, substance and expectations.
Lastly, we “did” lunch in a Palestinian Refugee Camp, an experience for which years of journalistic reports and footage could not prepare me. In each of these settings, from genteel and calm to desperate and chaotic, the conversation moved effortlessly among Arabic, French and English, with the occasional comment in Spanish for my sake. Monte-Carlo should be so polyglot!
Despite the intellectual, linguistic and conversational freedom, a sense of unease flavors each meal. An army tank sits at every corner; well-armed militants are ubiquitous. This episode of the “No-Go’s” showcases an extraordinarily diverse, fascinating and troubled country.