Memoirs set in Calabria (the dolce vita calabrese)
Talking Location With author Pierre Jarawan – Beirut
20th April 2019
#TalkingLocationWith…..Pierre Jarawan, author of “The Storyteller“
“Bright lights, throbbing sounds. Beirut by night, a sparkling beauty, a twinkling tiara, a breathless trail of flickering lights.” That’s how my novel The Storyteller begins. Many pages (and years) later, Samir, who sets foot in Lebanon for the first time in his life, as he searches for his missing father, says: “Beirut is pure joy and pure sorrow all at once. Beirut is forgiveness. Beirut is limping, confused, and scarred, but still dancing. Beirut is like me.”
In lines like these, Samir’s perception of Beirut comes very close to mine. It’s a city full of wonder, full of beauty and fascinating contrasts. But it can also be irritating at times, seeing the walls of the houses filled with bullet-holes, reminders of the Civil War, that ended in 1990.
My father is Lebanese. So I knew Lebanon very well from when I was an infant and I visited it many times. In 2015 I went there in order to finish my novel and to inhale the city’s atmosphere again, trying to see it with an open mind, as if I saw it for the first time – as you, the reader, will most likely see Beirut for the first time when you read the book. The room I booked was in Hamra, West-Beirut. Hamra is a lively, pulsating district; it’s where the young people go out and it’s full of small shops, coffee shops and restaurants. But the best restaurant is called Abu Naim which is the name of the owner, who will also be the one serving your table. It’s in Abdel Aziz Street, facing the Piccadilly Theatre and the restaurant is famous for its Kibbeh, a traditional Lebanese food.
Not far from Hamra there is the Corniche Beirut, a seaside promenade lined with palm trees. Take a walk there and enjoy the views of the Mediterranean and the white summits of Mount Lebanon at the same time.
One of the most iconic things to visit along the corniche, are the Pigeon’s Rocks, a natural landmark. You can take a boat or jet ski there and get a breathtaking view of not only the rocks but also Beirut’s coast and skyline in general.
Not far from there you’ll find Beirut Luna Park. This is a place you should visit when it’s dark. There is an air of nostalgia to it. The Luna Park opened in 1966 – and has never closed its doors since, not even during the years of the Civil War. During ceasefires, kids left the safety of their homes with their parents to ride the attractions, trying to forget the violence for a few hours. Riding the ferris wheel will definitely give you a magnificent view of Beirut and the sea and it costs only about one Dollar.
When Samir is in Beirut, looking for his father who has disappeared twenty years ago, he notices the differences between east and west Beirut. There are more Mosques in the west, while there are more churches in the east. [see picture 5] Only a few people know that – like Berlin – Beirut was a divided city during a large part of the Civil War that lasted for 15 years. But it wasn’t a wall that divided the east from the west, it was a large street, the Road to Damascus, which became infamous for the deadly snipers that hid in the houses along the street.
Today you can pass from the west to the east, without any problems of course. Like Samir you will probably notice the many cranes along the street, as Beirut’s reconstruction is still in progress, and that part of the city was heavily destroyed. Take a walk in the eastern part of Beirut, where many districts today are known for their street art, art galleries and – of course – restaurants. In Aschrafiyya district you will find a place that is known for selling one of the best ice creams in the world: Hanna Mitri. You don’t need an address for this place. Just ask someone – everybody in Beirut knows Hanna Mitri. The shop has remained unchanged since 1949 and so have the recipes. Today the ice cream is made by the son of Hanna Mitri who first opened the shop. Only natural ingredients are used – and even the oven is original. You can see it standing in the corner – with some holes inside, resulting from grenades that where fired in the district during the Civil War.
Lebanon’s history dates back more than 6000 years. You can find impressive archaeological sites all over the country. The closer Samir comes to solving the mystery of his father’s disappearance, the deeper he dives into the country’s history that is closely connected to the history of his family. Luckily, you don’t have to solve any mysteries. You can simply visit the National Museum of Beirut, which is located directly at the former Green Line that divided the City. There, you can find an impressive collection of more than 1300 archaeological pieces that date back to the Bronze Age. Without doubt, the National Museum of Beirut is one of the most fascinating museums in the Middle East.
The Storyteller by Pierre Jarawan is published by World Editions £11.99 in paperback on 4 April 2019. You can buy your copy through the TripFiction database from your preferred bookseller
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