We landed in Beirut from Paris a day before our friends from the states arrived, so we began exploring on our own—discovering both the crazy traffic and the pollution it created, despite the winds from the sea. Rebuilding was still in progress after the two wars: the civil war and the war with Israel. We would get to know this constantly changing city because Lebanon was such a small country—wedged between the Mediterranean and Syria and Israel—that we'd start out staying in Beirut and seeing much of the country on day trips.
"It must have beautiful," I sighed, as we walked through the historic downtown area that, although recently devastated by war, still descended over gently folding hills to the sea.
"Must have been," Sherrill agreed.
"We're going to eat well on this trip," I told Sherrill, waving a piece of pita bread dripping with hummus over my plate.
We thought we knew what we were doing when we left the restaurant to walk back to our hotel, but became more and more confused. The street signs were in Arabic and French and we couldn't find any of the names on our map. We asked some people for help, showing them the map. They were very nice, but didn't have any idea where our hotel might be. The sidewalks and streets weren't easy to walk on, either, and traffic fumes were making us woozy. Finally, a battered taxi stopped next to us, so we got in and hoped for the best. The young driver and his pal with him in the front seat eventually managed to figure out where to take us. Maybe the route was longer than it needed to be, but at that point we would've paid anything.
"Just like Cambodia and Laos," Sherrill commented.
Sometimes, it was hard not to become discouraged about human beings.
"I told you," Sherrill reminded me, "wherever we go, we run into weddings."
"I don't think it's our fault."
Once again, the Roman city and temples had been built on top of Neolithic, Phoenician, Greek, and other ancient settlements, and was surrounded by later Byzantine and Moslem buildings, as well as a few pathetic modern structures.
"This puts us in our place," one of our friends on the trip commented. "Hardly a blip in history."
Temple of Jupiter, Baalbek.
The tallest columns in the
world and once the biggest
Roman temple in the world.
The next morning, after a night at Charles de Gaulle, as our British Air plane for London was taxiing to the runway a man across the cabin from us had a heart attack. The crew sprang into action, bringing out all kinds of equipment, but the plane returned to the gate and medics came on. They worked on the man for about an hour. Eventually, they took him and his companion off the plane—and their luggage, too. The plane left an hour and a half late. Passengers with connections were upset, but fortunately we were staying overnight in London before flying to San Francisco. Besides, this trip had given time a new perspective for us. In the great scheme of things, what did a few hours or days matter?
To be continued....
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