>my last day in beirut, i followed along weird paths, destroyed sidewalks, and tried to ignore the looks of the lazy military lounging on every street corner, bend, and nook. i sauntered by the absolutely heartbroken Holiday Inn. the snipers really did sabotage it. no windows, no paint, only concrete, rubble, and millions of tiny exit wounds no surgeon could suture. it stood like a dominate tower behind the Intercontinental Phoenician, but completely hollowed. i stared at it long enough to begin to feel the war zone effect.
i stood outside an orthodox church durant la messe, and silently tried to understand the drawing power of oppressive religion in an area nearly destroyed by it. the church, which couldn’t have been more than 5 years old, was constructed in the neo-gothic style with huge domes, arches, marble floors, stained glass murals, like a mini Stephansdom. after grabbing an authentic falafel sandwich (fried with sesame seed, and wrapped in warm syrian bread with pickled red beets, parsley, and mint leaves entirely too delicious for words), i stopped in front of a soaring mosque, the shoes of the men’s-only-club lining the entrance, and watched the curls of their heads bow on ornate prayer rugs. i stood there for a long time, with tahini on my lips, and my bronzed thighs flexing below the hem of my apparently offensively-short shorts. when the men stood up and turned around, there i was, almost begging for trouble.
i sat down to rehydrate at, of all places, a starbucks (i felt safe from the hissing, whistles, kissing noises, and hollers from the chaotic streets inside something familiar, albeit evil). there was an assortment of young christian students and tourists there. just like in toronto, they clicked on their laptops, yapped on their flat cellphones, did their paperwork, but their arabic tongues made that experience different. it was air conditioned and normal, and i didn’t feel afraid to walk outside again to face the eyes and honks. outside, muslim women walked completely covered in black chadors with intricate embroidery, but the hems stopped short of their ankles to reveal their sexy high helled stilettos and open toes even i cannot wear.
as night fell, i wandered back to place d’étoile, watching the men in turkish hats display their gilded narghile sets. smoke, baby.
i sat at a café slurping a mango gelato, while the cute waiters in white shirts and black waist smocks milled around my bare legs. the name of the café was Al Sa’a and their top 40 american radio tunes competed with the prayer chants of the mosque down the street.
in the square, a man with his daughter hoisted on his shoulders, kicked around a huge beach ball with his toddler son. the light colourful ball jetisoned into the night breezes. not once in toronto have i ever seen a scene like this in public areas. whoever calls these people heartless animals who love war and death and hate, don’t know shit about shit. that night, i thought about the 15 years that ravaged this city. how the streets ran red and the city crumbled. and then, when peace finally came to this town, i can only imagine the relief that these peole collectively heaved in their sighs as they swept the rubble from their ankles and let their children open their eyes. the monsters died under the bed.
i headed for the beirut international airport early. before they made me cry.
before i had even placed my bags down on a bench, i was swarmed by approximately half of the male staff. security guards, shop owners, airport personnel, all clamouring with sexual hopefullness and a desperation we would laugh at in the west. in the east, i suppose it could be easily mistaken for hospitality. but when all of them announce in broken english and not-so-broken french that i am oh-so- lovely, beautiful, and sexy (i choked when i heard that. this is the middle east, i’m not allowed to be sexy!), it was decidely something different from hospitality. mohammed, mostafa, mahmoud. i was cordially introduced to wet tongues.
within the space of an hour, they had bought me chocolates, beverages, snacks, and alcohol. when i tried to find a quiet corner of the terminal to sleep in peace before my 4am flight, i was followed. i even was approached by the same taxi driver who drove me rampantly around the city the night i arrived. his younger sidekick looked at me with fake-rmantic eyes and told me we will one day meet again. i crumpled up his phone number once i disappeared through the gate.
inside the gate, there was no relief from hungry men. i was approached by a short, stocky (stalky?), balding lebanese man reminiscent of george costanza, who tried again with me. through clenched teeth, i desperately tried to fend him off, and walk away. but i was followed even to the registration desk by him. when i was once again offered nourishment and beverages, i said to him, “non.”
“non merci. désolé, mais non.”
for fucks sake, i thought. do i really need a reason? i’ve already said no. “j’avais un petit ami. vous conmprenez? j’avais un chum.” it was a manufactured lie, but i’ve never seen a man run away so quickly. why didn’t i think of that earlier?
my flight back to budapest was painless. when i arrived at my transfer gate, i slept on the bench for 7 hours while travellers milled about, announcement blared over the speakers, conversations noisilyj echoed beside me, and babies cried on mum’s lap.
i awoke with a heavy medicine-ball head. throughout these five-and-a-half weeks , my mantra has been, “it’s about the journey, not the destination.”
but as i sat at the airport café sucking down paprika chips, it was decidedly vice versa.
i boarded my flight from budapest to toronto, gagging on the cabin air, and disappointed by my aisle seat (i requested a window). but my seat companion, 18-year-old chris from windsor who had lost his virginity in budapest and was smuggling two bottles of wine into canada, offered out of the blue to switch seats with me.
it appears my emotions are easily read. i am a horrible actress.
we yipped and giggled all night about scattered minutiae, and around 1am (our european time, not toronto time), after the two in-flight movies (miss congeniality and moulin rouge, respectively), we lifted the night-shade on our tiny window that looked down below on newfoundland and labrador to see the northern lights.
the northern lights. the northern lights. i never thought i’d see them.
the cosmic dance between magnetic fields, charged electrons and solar winds that your high school teacher bored you with in science class waltezed across the sky as, down below, the street lights of st.johns, halifax, chicoutimi, and ottawa radiated off the cone clouds like red lavaflows.
exiting the terminal 3 gate at pearson international airport, mom and sitto cried as they kissed my face.
i sit now in my apartment, back to the raging pipes that whine and squeal whenever a faucet is used. sitto made me saaf, homos, and vegetarian kibbeh which i munch on in the heat of a toronto september. cardboard boxes litter my floor, as i prepare to move into another “hole.”
but i can’t stop thinking about the cobblestone streets that i ran through like a riot.
i have left pieces of my body all over europe.