Side By Side
When I visited Beirut the civil war was done and the center of the city rebuilt. It was clean and shiny new. It was pedestrian friendly. I walked about and took in the sights. Mosque and Church could be seen side by side. Outwardly there is no war. Sunny days prevail. Beneath the surface lingers all the old animosities. The government is dysfunctional. Religion, politics, and ethnicity all lurk as intractable barriers. You can’t see it in the pictures. Some days I wish there really was a reset button.
It’s too dangerous to go there now? The road to the airport was blown up shortly after Farid (orthopedics) traveled on it. And the window in Rida’s (ophthalmology) place were blown out by a bomb nearby. Farid goes there all the time. His family spends their summers there.
Back in 2013 my good friend Farid invited me to Lebanon. There was a wedding. I had not been invited to the wedding. It seems that invitation was optional. One of our Jeddah OR nurses was getting married. It seems there was a sort of open invitation. Farid was just there on scheduled vacation. He invited me to go. Okay? Why not? The wedding is a couple posts later. Meanwhile I stayed in a couple places.
The downtown apartment house of his mother’s had seen war. Yup. Bullet holes. Those are in the wall next to the bathroom. I showered there. It’s not every day you have bullet holes with your shower. We ate at a local fish place. I’m not a big fish eater. But the dessert was fruit – strawberries, grapes, watermelon….and Arabic coffee. The server saw me with my camera. He posed and we got a picture. Thanks. That was a happy ending…
Here’s where I had a little scare. I was at lunch with Farid’s family, his cousin was seated to my left. I took a picture of the coffee guy. He mumbled something that even his cousin missed. She thought he was mad as he came around the table toward me. He wasn’t mad, he was being very accommodating to a tourist. The next thing you know, Farid is snapping a shot for me. By the way the watermelon is delicious and refreshing. I haven’t had a slice since leaving NY last summer.
Beat Your Rugs
I watched this unfold. Three floors but were they different apartments? A woman on the second floor came out to scold another on the third to stop getting dust on her blue striped whatever. I didn’t think anyone took out their rugs to beat them anymore. And why suddenly all together on the same day?
The family spoke about this outing for a few days before we went. I had been advised from Jeddah to be sure to pass by this club. You need a reservation many weeks in advance. What you cannot appreciate is the decibel level. I found my hearing impaired for hours after we left. Really!!! I couldn’t hear that it sounded like there was cotton in my ears. There’s entertainment, singing and dancing… that’s Farid and he’s not dancing with his wife… but in my story I leave out the part that she’s his cousin. The whole evening he had four alcoholic mixed drinks. I had two and was ‘feeling no pain.’ Then he tells me that he had the bar water down his drinks to pretty much fruit juice with a whiff of alcohol. That’s the last time we go ‘drinking.’
Our Lady of Lebanon
As it is in many places around the world, there is a statue high on the hills overlooking Beirut. Under construction is a very modern church. It has some complex curves so the scaffolding has been constructed without a straight line in sight. We came one afternoon to pray for Silva’s father who is very ill.
It’s the neighborhood where Farid’s parents live. I have to ask, but it looks like there are bullet holes in the walls. For sure those are bullet holes in the bathroom window at his mom’s apartment. The warring sides regularly shot back and forth with heavy weapons and bullets. No one has ever shot at me. It’s very sobering to see bullet holes right out the window where you are staying.
This statue sits next to the bombed and rebuilt section of the old city. And if you look closely there are bullet holes where the statues were shot. The martyrs were from another time, not this recent war. The violence is always just at the edge. There was a time, while Farid was in medical school here when another student was shot by a sniper. Farid stopped and took him directly to the hospital. I have been indeed lucky not to have been exposed to such violence and chaos.
Water pipe…it’s not good for you. The amount of nicotine is the equivalent of many more cigarettes than are safe (not that any are). Well, this is novel to me. You smoke through a wine and fruit mixture to add pleasure to your experience.
It’s modern, clean, and chic. Twelve years ago there was major carnage here. Every building was shot up and blown up. It’s all been rebuilt and you’d never know it until, I saw the pictures of the devastation side by side with the new buildings. Considering the earlier destruction, it was a tremendous job to rebuild in such a short time. Without the ‘before’ images, you wouldn’t believe how much has changed.
The guy on the right is police and the one on the left is an irate citizen protesting my photograph of the postal scooter. I didn’t know any of this. I shot the scooter thinking that it was a novel sun umbrella with which to keep shade riding around a hot city. Farid pointed out the irate citizen. Just a fraction of a second or a foot to the right or left and it would have been clearer. I was also probably about to offend the police as well. But we were moving too fast, and I had only intended to shoot the scooter. Who knew? It’s why Farid thinks that my time on earth may be limited with my camera in hand.
Fava bean season is in the spring. At least that is what I believe. Those are the long pods piled upon one another. People come and buy a shopping bag full. The bean pods are tossed upon the table and the family gathers around to shell the pods and eat the tender new beans. It’s also sugar snap pea time. And, we had something that were called young almonds. Family, food, conversation, it’s a wonderful thing.
It’s a pretty good bet that this is not Saudi Arabia… no rain (to speak of) in nine months and counting. My first morning in Beirut and it’s rainy and chilly. I almost welcome the change… just a bit too chilly. Here’s one instance in which the car window can help set the mood. I recall a photo by Grandma’s close friend Maggie Sherwood taken from a cab in a pouring rainstorm. Here’s to you ‘Mickie’ wherever you are.
It’s the side of the road in the hills of Beirut. I’m shooting through the moving car window in the passenger seat. It seems that I never really get the ideal shooting situation. But if I did, perhaps we’d never get to where we’re headed. It really was not countryside but city. So to me this is a novelty… unexpected as much as cows would be unexpected on a New York City street.
Farid is pretty certain that I am due to be shot. He keeps telling me it’s not a good idea to point and shoot my Canon. Hey it’s silent and no one ever really pays attention to a point and shoot camera. And if you don’t look at the LCD while you pull the trigger… it’s called ‘street photography.’ Julia hates me for it also.
This gal was in the front row, groom’s side during the wedding ceremony. I presume family, perhaps sister? She got up during the ceremony and walked up the crowed isle. So I got to notice the dress for a long while. It was different and certainly noticeable. With all the black lace it was hard to see where the dress and the woman were separated. I realize that a grab shot does not do the dress justice, but it was Farid who was pulling my arm as I tried to line up the shot. Happily I shot, but did not get shot. I never did find out if she was Sherbel’s sister.
There is a certain order to things at a wedding. At the altar there was a best man and maid of honor. There was no room for anyone else after the photographers and videographers staked out their turf. At least that’s my presumption. You have to figure this young woman is part of the wedding party. The dress is a bit too fancy not to be part of the bridal party. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. No one was around to explain things to me.
Farid didn’t want to attend the reception. It was kind of funny. He has a very large extended family in Beirut. On the other hand this is my first trip to Beirut. I am not familiar with the wedding practice here. I just took my cues from him. Because the church was so crowded he stepped out to avoid blocking the view of the guest sitting behind us. I figured that I’m from America [many thousands of miles] and from Jeddah [another thousand] and from Saudi Arabia. Unless someone pushed me aside, I was going to get a view of this wedding. What a rewarding shot! Just as the ceremony was complete they peeked around. Got it! And even better, they knew we were there. As I said, I was a bit uncertain that it would have been impolite to skip the reception. It was only a few minutes later that Farid and I congratulated the parents and the wedding couple before we beat our retreat. I almost [not quite] made him stand in that golden sunset light for a picture.
Don’t Ask, I’m Not the Photographer
They have to be accustomed to the way things work. I already commented on the light level in the chapel. I mean you can see the hot spots in the last post. It was bright! It’s the custom, so they tell me. The priests are pretty good about it all. Well, just as the reading starts, all the power in church goes out. The video lights were drawing so much power, everything gave out. The place isn’t wired for a modern wedding. The light to the right is coming in from a single door open at the back of the [warm, stuffy] chapel. This particular door opens onto a hillside overlooking the Mediterranean Sea facing west. And it’s about twenty minutes to sunset. And though it had been raining and misty the day before, this day was going to develop into a grand sunset evening.
I don’t think the lights were out for three seconds before someone had lit a candle and brought it to the altar so the reading could continue. It took a minute of so to restore full lights again. When the ceremony was complete, the bride and groom did not exit but stayed at the altar to take some family group shots. And, of course, the power failed one more time. But now it was sunset. Everyone [photographers and videographers] were facing the altar and the wedding party. That glorious sunset golden warm light was streaming in the door just begging for someone to use it and take some memorable wedding shots. No! They kept at it with harsh flash in that crazy shadowed altar. I could hear my family admonishing me not to interfere. After all who am I? Sometimes, you just don’t know what to do.
Family at the Wedding
I have already been informed that if I try this trick at my daughter’s wedding, I be killed instantly. And I have no doubt that is what will happen. So, there’s a million people all around the bride at the altar. The wedding party was probably kept small to accommodate videography and photography. Really, don’t they know it messes up your background to have those tacky photovests with your company name in just about every photo. One of the videographers kept exhorting the bride’s maid to smile for the video. I expected him to start interviewing her right there at the altar.
About halfway through the ceremony the guy in the white shirt just ambles up to the left of the altar and starts firing away. He pushed the paid photographers out of the way. Another [presumably family] man had already been clicking away from that side. Just come on up, everyone’s welcome.
It was interesting in that the video light was bright enough to shoot without flash. But the photographers were happily flashing everyone in sight. And the priests [two, count ’em, two] were conducting a ceremony completely nonplussed.
And did I happen to mention the ‘dress?’ It was so large. We arrived late, so I missed the entrance of the wedding party. The dress was draped over the back of chair so the bride could sit at the appropriate times during the ceremony. As large as it was, I was fooled into thinking it was a table or an animal next to the party at the altar. Or maybe [just for a moment] the groom was marrying two women. No, that would never happen. That’s a lot of lace for one use and one wear.
I backed into a wedding in Beirut recently. It’s a long story. But to be brief, I attended because a general surgeon had been invited and he never showed. And instead [uninvited] I had ended up with a warm invite to a small chapel to attend a [typical Lebanese??] wedding ceremony. I say chapel because the venue was terribly small. Quaint, but there just wasn’t enough room for everyone to get inside.
You expect a church to be dark and poorly lit. Inside it was a bright as midday. The video lights were blaringly bright. But I digress. With three photographers with flash, and two videographers crowding the dais, it was hard to tell the wedding party from the film crew. With everyone in their place, photographers and wedding party, how does anyone get a shot that is different. Well here you are. From where I stood [unfortunately I stood in front of sitting guests behind me], the flower girl and her young male counterpart, were seated to the side. Yup, they had that bewildered bored look wondering when this long interminable ceremony would wrap up. So that’s my shot and I’m taking it.
As to standing in front of other guests sitting behind me, I was not alone [standing with several others beside me], they didn’t object, and I figured that everyone knew that I was from far away and they would forgive my ignorance. It worked.
I can reasonably sure, I’m the only photographer to get this shot in this wedding. Hey that’s what makes things special. But keep in mind that I’m not doing this for money or hire, so there’s no pressure to come away with anything.