Thursday, March 27, 2014

Garden on the Road: Flowers in Beirut

            When we tell people we are going on a vacation, they ask where. When we them Lebanon, some people say, "I like Lebanese food."
            But most people say something like --
            "That's scary."
            I had a version of this conversation the other day. I mention vacation. Interlocutor asks where. I reply Lebanon.
            "Is that safe?"
            Actually, Beirut, where out daughter Sonya lives, is a very safe city. Virtually no street crime. No youth gangs. No drug dealing. Women are safe walking alone.
            "... But street fighting?"
            That was back from 1975 to 1990, during a terrible civil war that left a permanent scar's on the country's reputation. It has certainly left an indelible impression in the American mind.
            "Are you Lebanese?"
            No. I give a one sentence summary of our relationship with Lebanon. Our daughter has lived there for a dozen years working for organizations such as the UN and currently is a partner in a small consultancy.
            "The reason I said that is I'm Lebanese." 
            Really? I press for details about my interlocutor's Lebanese background. It comes from her grandparents' generation. The older generation still has relatives living there.
            "Well, in that case you should go there..." I begin my 'joys and delights of the country' spiel. Mountains and beaches. Wonderful produce; greens, fruits, wine. Flowers in spring (and winter, for that matter; see photos at left.) Many good and inexpensive restaurants; French bakeries. Six varieties of oranges.
            My partner in conversation interrupts: "It's scary."
            I know when I'm not getting anywhere. I change the subject.

            I've had other, more positive responses. People I contacted for work tell me they got back to me right because I was going on vacation.
            Some people bring up Syria. A serious concern in all ways. And it's certainly true that some parts of the country we might have visited -- and have visited in the past -- we will avoid this time because of tensions spilling over from the border. The presence of an estimated one million refugees in a county of 4 million people obviously strains resources.
            Another friend says he and his wife have just come back from a vacation in "Naples... Naples, Florida."
            Florida must be great this time of year, I say.
            "But it's not some place risky," he adds in a somewhat apologetic tone.
            In a bank, however, of all places, the young man assisting us with a transaction says, "Wow. Lebanon? That's great."
            Ah, hopeful youth. Now that's what I want to hear. 

(Photos taken by Sonya of flowers on her lemon tree budding, and then opening. She writes: "The whole balcony smelled of lemon blossoms."