Revisiting Beirut Souks

There’s something about Beirut Souks that makes you come back to it over and over again.

It is true that the reconstruction of the old souks did not even get close to what my parents remember. It is also true that it if you’re searching for authenticity or stumps of memory lost somewhere in the alleys, you’re obviously in the wrong place.

Despite all this, my –unchanged- opinion on Solidere and its vision of Beirut, and despite the load of romantic collective memory inherited and its projection on what I would have wanted to see in “my” Beirut, I would have to confess that Beirut Souks are after all… not so bad.

In the sense that though not old nor reminiscent of a lost past, somehow the souks have succeeded in defying the dubai-ish architecture and become a space of confluence for many people.

The Souks have also become the place to be for street photographers, allowing rich and funny encounters.

Old men, skating (YES skating!) or biking…

 

Kids appropriating the space and making of it their own playground…

 

Lovers hiding between the lines of the pavements…

 

People having coffee, shopping, waiting for someone, dreaming…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And pets yawning or simply enjoying the sun after long (very long) rainy days.

There’s one thing missing, and I can’t wait for it to open: The Library! Maybe then we would see more people with books 🙂

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In the presence of absence

Mahmoud Darwish might have talked about the missing, but this is not about him.

It’s not a post about old buildings in Lebanon either; even if I will be talking about the issue.

This post is just an observation, with no further analysis required.

Despite civil society’s efforts to preserve and protect old buildings, the impact on the ground is still very minimal. Beirut is- or was filled with old buildings and houses dating from the Ottoman period. In a ruthless battle of money vs. heritage, money has obviously won. Perfectly well shaped old buildings are being destroyed and towers are rising instead.

With the disastrous collapse of Geitawi’s building earlier this year, a new argument is being used by land owners to justify the destruction of their old houses: this building is no longer habitable; it should go down, for your safety.

I will stop here.

While walking in the streets of Beirut with a bunch of street photographer friends, we passed by several old houses; some of them were clearly occupied, judging by the laundry hanging on the balconies. Others were falling apart, completely abandoned, waiting for the final “coup de grace”. One was particularly charming. The front door was almost nonexistent, elegantly unveiling the most dramatic scene: green wooden window shutters lazily leaning against the walls; heavy beams and glass spread on the floor like flowers on empty graves. The wind was freely dancing throughout the house caressing the remaining memories.

A friend of mine and I instantly decided to go in: we pushed the squeaky rusty iron gate, carefully and silently crossed what seemed to be a garden and religiously stepped into the house.

Here are some photos taken inside the abandoned house.

 

But the best shot is no doubt the one I had the chance to take as soon as I stepped out of this house, while passing next to the neghboring building. Life is hope.