I am still trying to figure out the difference between the sound of fireworks going off and celebratory gunfire. Both ring through the air with regularity here. If I’m out and it’s the latter though, I need to take cover under something concrete, should a bullet make its way back down to the street. I was walking home from spin class the other night (where, by the way, I’m by far the palest person in the room), enjoying the jasmine in the dusk air and watching the bats dart across the yellow-pink sky, and pops echoed through the streets. What to do? The group of old men who are nightly sitting in plastic chairs outside the smallest liquor store you’ve ever seen, didn’t flinch. Other pedestrians also seemed unperturbed, so I continued on, fingers crossed that somewhere there were big bursts of color making star-like patterns in the sky.
While this might all sound quite dramatic, I’m shocked by some sight or sound probably once a day here in Beirut. And, there’s been something about our things arriving and putting it all away, that makes this city more my home suddenly. While we waited for 103 days for our stuff to appear it felt a little bit like we were on a prolonged, uncomfortable, unhappy holiday. Now I have moments walking down the streets in the blazing hot sun when I see a man with a huge feather duster dusting his fancy car that I think to myself, “Do I really live here?”
Nothing though, ever seems to phase the Lebanese, who walk around, or drive around like maniacs, looking coolly detached at all times….and never, ever sweating! There was even a woman sitting next to me on a spin bike a couple of weeks ago who wore her chic black eyeglasses through the whole hour long class and at some point wrapped her pale pink pashmina around her neck to keep the ceiling fan from giving her a chill.
But, I digress. What about the food, you ask? While I was back in the US for my mother’s funeral it was so revealing to speak to my many (well-educated, open-minded, well-traveled) relatives and learn they knew so very little about Lebanon. So while the focus will stay firmly in food, I will digress from time to time to share little windows into my weird and wonderful life in Beirut. There are so many misconceptions about this part of the world. Beirut, so much more than Amman, defies most of what you’ll assume to know about it.
Meanwhile, my lovely husband has been away for two weeks now. It’s been a test of how the next few years will be for me as I learn to navigate regular power cuts and the cable TV going out and a nasty bout of gastro-something or another. It strikes me that my support system here is pretty thin, but I am creating a routine for myself. My pilates studio is just 6 minutes walk from our apartment, and while the ladies who run the place and most of the clients feel like something out of Mean Girls, (literally, they’re some of the most ethereally beautiful ladies I’ve ever seen), they’re very nice to my dramatically less polished, less pressed, less plumped face.
In between pilates and spin classes (I’m desperately trying to make up for the lack of exercise I did in Amman), a new sourdough culture is in the works on my kitchen counter and I bottled my first batch of kombucha yesterday – yes, the SCOBY seems to have survived the move! The fermenting continues with a batch of kimchi already in the fridge and I made a bunch of buckwheat groaties by soaking them overnight and then dehydrating them in the oven for a whole day to create a nutty, healthy snack.
While it took us only about 3 days to unpack and get most everything squared away in our place (we’re both professional movers/homemakers), it’s these little details, little jars or goodness sitting on my counters, that make me feel I’m finally home. People often ask me where home is and it’s a complicated question for me because although technically it’s Decatur, Illinois, it’s not really. Home is where I make it with my darling husband and kitties by my side. Now, finally, Beirut is home.