Beirut - The Dance, the Drama, the Fun!

I had loved Beirut so much on my trip in May 2004 that I had to go back again in October of the same year. 
This time I made contact in advance with Sahar, an American dancer who lived and worked there and I was curious to learn more about how things actually are going for a dancer on and behind the scenes. She was very nice and even offered me to stay with her, but since I would be joined by my friend Katharina after a few days, I thought a hotel would be better.

However I thought I'd save some money and booked a cheaper hotel than last time. Hm. Maybe the moment your taxi driver at the airport asks you: "Do you REALLY want to go there?" should tell you something about your choice of accommodation...

It turned out to be a hostel with a shared bath, but hey, at least I had my own bedroom,. Even though the bed looked a bit filthy and I was glad to have followed the advice from the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy": A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. In this case, I used it to cover the bed.

Well anyway, it was really late at night and I just wanted to sleep.  

The next morning was a Monday. I looked out of the window and saw what was quite a standard Beirut view - loads of cars on the streets and a mix of new and war damaged buildings.

Unfortunately I also found that some of the other guests at the hostel were not very clean. One had peed on the toilet seat without whiping it off and other things like that. I started to think that a change of scene might actually be a good thing. I've never been a hostel person anyway.

But first I went for a walk in the Solidère area where a lot of construction is going on.
The entire hotel area had been badly damaged during the civil war. And even though the war had ended 12 years ago, rebuilding the city was not that easy because of Lebanon's unstable political situation.

In the evening I met up with Sahar and we were invited to eat with her Lebanese boyfriend's family.

The Lebanese people love to have a table full of different foods. And they eat some things that Europeans would not consider, like sheep brain etc....

In that black frying pan we discovered tiny little birds - entire birds!
I asked what exactly they were but I only got an answer in broken English: "Ten days in the egg". You interpretation of this is as good as mine... While the locals just ate them whole, with or without bread, I preferred to concentrate on other dishes...

Later we drove around a bit. Sahar and her boyfriend Hajj wanted to show me a great restaurant called "Janna" where they both had worked. Unfortunately it was closed, but you can see the beautiful exterior.

Back to the hostel, I looked around me... Looked at my Dior high heel shoes... And decided that I was definitely in the wrong place! I just couldn't bring myself to spend another night there, it was just too yucky.

I asked Sahar if her offer to let me stay with her was still standing and she and Hajj agreed. They packed my suitcase into his car and took me with them up to Beit Meri.
What a relief! It was much better to sleep on their couch than in that hostel!

Lebanon is a mountain country - as long as you don't drive along the sea you are up the hill very soon. So here's the view from their apartment's window on Tuesday morning.
Somewhere down there is the coast...

During the day I drove around a bit with Sahar and she told me about her life in Lebanon. How you need to have a licence to work as a dancer there and you pretty much have to be in make-up 24/7 to be taken seriously. And no matter how much you plaster on for your show, there is always going to be a woman in the audience who has even more make-up on than the performer! 

In the evening they took me to the restaurant Zad el Kher to watch some dancers. But first we ate, of course!
And we danced ourselves!
Me and my Dior shoes, in more fitting surroundings...

There was an engagement party going on, here's the lucky groom.
And the young bride

In the morning I took a bus from Beit Meri downhill to go to my dance lesson with Helena Cremona. I had learned so much from her on my last trip and wanted to dig deeper into the Lebanese style of Oriental dance.

Here's my bus in the mirror - as you can see, it's pretty high up in the mountain - but still only about a half hour's drive down to the shore.
View down to Beirut

So here's the thing about public transport in Lebanon. It's basically only for the very poor who can't afford a car - not even one of the many used cars imported from Europe that you see here so often. So the buses are not exactly the latest models...
 How the Lebanese live up hill 
  They sure have a great view!
Back downhill
View from the bus driver's perspective
After my lesson with Helena (more about her later) I went to one of my refuges in Beirut - the big Virgin Megastore. They have a restaurant and Internet computers. All I need!
You can see that this used to be an opera house, the stage would have been in the front.
 Of course I also bought some CDs there.

Well, and that's where I got a message from Sahar. She and Hajj had a really terrible fight and she practically had to run out the appartment for safety. Which meant that all my luggage was there and I had no way of getting it back for the moment...

So there I was, stranded with only what I was wearing on my body and my dance equipment!

But again "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" came in handy. First rule: DON'T PANIC!

I called Helena for help and she knew about a hotel a bit further down her street that had affordable prices. I quite liked it and Chose it as my accommodation for the rest of my vacation. 
It was also a good choice because my friend Katharina was going to join me soon and I needed a place to stay for the both of us.