Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? by English artist Richard Hamilton, 1956
22-11-2011 – Beirut
It’s been half a dozen times or so that I’ve set foot in Beirut since my first visit in 2006.
It has always been Hamra, the university soul of the Western part of the capital, with the faux-Bohemian street dwellers in their rebellious garb lounging the sidewalks.
Oh, Beirut, the rebel. This city is rebellious in every sense. It’s rebellious in its politics, it’s rebellious in its peace. It’s rebellious in its openness, it’s rebellious in its fundamentalism. Nothing seems to matter. Everything seems to matter.
I walk into my four-star hotel, and request a smoking room, like I usually do. The receptionist, a Palestinian with a Lebanese watheeqa called Mohammad — as I discovered from a 15 minute conversations with him about the advantages of online recruitment — laughed at me. “Smokers are welcome anywhere here in Beirut! The rooms are all yours!” he said.
I smiled. I’m not used to being welcomed much as a smoker these days, especially since I recently came back from the non-smoking capital of the Arab world, Dubai.
Mohammad is both entertaining and friendly as he checks me into the charming Mayflower Hotel. The hotel is an old one, having first opened its rooms to travelers in 1957. It has the beautiful charm of a vintage picture book; the wooden detailing, the warm marble floors, the outdated furniture that reminds me of the love I feel when I walk into my grandmother’s house.
Behind Mohammad on the large wall of the reception area is a giant tapestry of keys on over sized keychains that resemble mills from a distance. As he checks me in, I get excited abot the prospect of using a room with a key (I only had that experience once in Damascus as a teenager), but my excitement is shut down when Mohammad hands me a plastic card. Obviously, the keys are there for display, a remnant from a past when all doors had to be opened with a metal instrument that was used to manually operate a lock.
It matters not, though, because the ancient lifts more than make up for the plastic. There’s an old copper ashtray on a stand in the corner, and I feel like I’ve taken a time machine to the days when elevators had to opened like a room, and when smoking in a confined space of 1 by 2 meters was a perfectly normal thing to do. The typography on the control panel is brilliant, and I stare at the round buttons with the floor numbers with amusement.
Ah, the charm of the old!
My room itself is as gorgeous as the experience so far. The OCD in me immediately starts inspecting sheets, furniture, and towels for stains, but I found none. The rooms had been rennovated recently, as you could tell from the wall closet and television, but the wicker furniture is really old. The faded tungsten lights cloak everything with sepia undertones. There’s a huge balcony with two white plastic chairs propped in the corner, where I’m currently sitting and scribbling my thoughts while sipping from an Almaza can and smoking a cigarette.
I’m so in love with the hotel room that I get caught in the emotion of it all.
Beirut. Even the world is melodic, I think to myself, although I am not hopelessly in love with this city. Like a true Ammani, I am tempted by its crazy charm, but I can’t handle the craziness at large doses.
I smile to myself in joyous euphoria as I sit outside at 11:00 o’clock on a balcony overlooking Hamra. I love this city, with all its craziness.
There’s something fresh about the air. It’s warm, in comparison to hilly Amman. The noise pollution is welcomed, as I know that I don’t have to deal with it every day. I’m scribbling furiously on cheaply printed stationary with gold embossing and a Bic pen.
I could sit here for hours.
Life is sometimes about these little timeouts. There little moments where you really have nothing but ink — look, ma, no wi-fi! A few times a year, even a digital junkie like myself needs to spend the night sitting alone on a cheap, white, plastic chair, drinking Almaza and breathing the sea-scented air of Beirut to truly grasp the joy of living.
– End –