The authentic heart of a country (especially an unknown one) is uncovered only through the stories of its people. Some of these stories are significant and inspirational, bathed in floodlight. Others – my favorite ones – are simple, humble, and humane, often inconsequential. With the careless lightness of dandelion seeds wafting in the air, they land here and there leaving only subtle marks. Each one of them may be blurry or incomplete on its own, however, in their totality, they weave a social fabric that not only embodies the identity of the country, it also unites us all on a plane that is both higher and deeper than the fragmented reality in which we often isolate ourselves. And, even though such stories do not come with valuable insights, they emanate peace and tranquility, reminding us that reaching out, listening, and connecting is the most gratifying part of any journey. [Read more…]
In the Chouf valley of Lebanon, in between Deir Al Qamar and Beiteddin Palace, there stands the Moussa Castle – a construction of a quite imposing magnitude. Unlike most of the typical tourist attractions in the country, this one does not represent any major civilization, nor does it commemorate a landmark of historical significance. Still, every year numerous visitors stoop to pass under its low entrance door, captivated – like bees to honey – by the story of love, ego, and betrayal out of which the building emerged.
The castle was single-handedly built by Moussa Al Maamari, a Lebanese man, now in his mid-80s. Today, Moussa does not frequent the dimly-lit rooms regularly; yet, his presence is palpable not only in the construction itself but in the overall ambiance, like a spirit destined never to let go. After all, he spent 60 years of his life (that is, 21,900 days or 394,200 hours) carving each stone separately, or crafting the numerous clay animated figures that populate every room and corner! It is not easy to get detached. Not for Moussa, anyway. [Read more…]
By the time we had reached the upper plateau of the Citadel’s stronghold, it was already mid-day. The city of Tripoli in Northern Lebanon unfolded through a composition of multiple canvases, each framed by the square shape of crenellations and windows. On one side, the Nahr Abu Ali river – one of the most important, culturally and historically, rivers of Lebanon – licked the foothills of the fort, and, were we to bend a bit outside the apertures, we would see the humble white dome of Takiyya Mawlawiya, the 17th c. Sufi hospice. At our backs, the old walls revealed ten centuries of history, from the Crusaders to the Mamluks and the Ottomans, all intertwined as tightly as the fortification structure itself. And on the other side, there spread a panoramic view of the old city. The elegant minaret of the Al Mansouri Great Mosque protruded above a densely-knotted cluster of shabby buildings, the lot much smaller than the multistoried atrocities that surrounded them in similar compactness. Decaying colors, curtain-like tents hanging from the balconies, endless strings of tattered-looking clothes, and worn posters of politicians everywhere. I secretly admitted to myself that the scenery below was not very inspiring, and the praises for the city sung for centuries by numerous travelers might be a memory of bygone times. But Lebanon is not a country to be experienced only through the senses; rather, it is a land to be felt with the heart. [Read more…]
The serpentine road of the Qadisha valley receded into the shadows of the mountains, confidently coiling around the slopes with the contentment of having fulfilled a holy mission – a well-deserved sentiment, since our journey’s end, the reserve of Lebanon’s Cedars of God, finally lay in front of our eyes. Filmy stripes of snow covered some of the ochre-tinted peaks at the horizon, reminiscent of the winter days that had only recently been swept away by April’s joyful hand. Ahead, the forest extended in scaling foliage plateaus, emitting woody fragrances and an enchanted ambiance of comfort and belonging.
We rambled through the paths, and the ancient trees yawned and stretched at our passage, as if coming out of a lethargic afternoon nap, gently massaging their fluids back into vividness. Hollow eyes, carved by age on 5000-year-old woods, followed us drowsily with the intimacy of an old friend, bearing a wisdom so primeval that my consciousness could not grasp. Fairies dashed among the branches, and naked female bodies, intertwined like the figures of Nature and Divinity in Khalil Gibran’s unsung paintings, emerged from the wrinkles of the barks. There was an absence of noise but not silence, for the whispering of eternal storytelling was audible, and the lapping of time on the shores of the present reverberated like a heartbeat. [Read more…]