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Fine dining, without the silver spoon - [more]
By: Elise Knutsen
Date: Friday, April 18, 2014

JDITA, Lebanon: Rustic and raw, Chateau Nakad is a far cry from the more corporate wineries in the neighborhood. In keeping with the homespun atmosphere, the winery has started holding bespoke picnics.

Formal dining isn’t the order of the day, however.

“We aren’t planning on serving people with silver spoons,” explained Jalal Nakad, the grandson of the Chateau Nakad’s founder who now runs the winery with his father and two siblings.

But the overwhelming hospitality, verdant setting and delectable cuisine make the Chateau Nakad picnic an absolute must.

Nestled in a residential corner of Jdita, the property seems an unlikely space for a winery. But a brief pre-picnic tour of the premises reveals an impressive operation steeped in both family and regional history.

The original caves were constructed by Jalal’s grandfather in the early 20th century from earth and hay, and still stand today. A black, painted fish can be made out on the cave wall.

“It was back when the Ottoman’s were still here, and Christians were afraid to use the cross,” said Jalal.

A triangle stamped on a nearby wine storage area hails from the mandate era, when French soldiers would lay claim to Chateau Nakad’s best batches. A picture of French soldiers smoking cigarettes at the winery’s entrance is on proud display in the living room.

While antiquated French equipment scattered across the premises gives insight into the technical evolution of the winery over the past 90 years, an excavation of the area surrounding the house revealed that the ancients had also used the property for oenological production.

As the family was renovating the house in the 1950s, a number of Roman-era wine-making instruments were found, including a stone press that the ancients used when crushing the grapes with their feet.

Heritage, tinged with nostalgia, seems to define Chateau Nakad, where bottles of wine are still transported in tin Almaza crates from the 1960s, some still pockmarked with bullet holes from the Civil War.

After the tour, guests are led down a crude path to a small forested area below the main house, where wooden pallets serve as a picnic table, and stuffed potato sacks as cushions.

Groups can request their own menu and theme, based on their budget, and the Nakads will do their best to accommodate, either preparing the food themselves or ordering from a local caterer.

“I would like people to feel comfortable, to enjoy the beauty of nature and the serenity of the place,” explained Lara Mariam Nakad, who quit a marketing job in Dubai to return to the family winery last year.

“But at the same time I would like people to feel like they are being served,” she said.

The Daily Star enjoyed an embarrassment of meze and home-cooked chicken on plastic plates while soaking in the pastoral scene. Both the call to prayer from a local mosque and church bells could be heard over the chirping birds and nearby stream.

Naturally, the meal was paired with two bottles of Chateau Nakad’s wine, a citrusy white and full-bodied red.

The curated picnics have drawn interest from neighbors in the small town, adding to warm, familial atmosphere, said Mariam.

“There was this couple having a picnic, and the neighbors came by,”she recalled. “They wanted to see what was happening. I went to go check on our guests, and I saw the neighbors sitting there, and they were all singing together!”

After the meal, guests are invited for a small hike – or “promenade,” as Mariam calls it – through the forested area. The casual ramble is the perfect distraction for nature-starved Beirutis.

Back at the main house, Jalal and Mariam offer sweet cakes alongside their latest product, Afandello, a local variation on Limoncello, made from sweet tangerines.

A picnic at the Nakads is ideal for anyone seeking a unique, bucolic afternoon without corporate frills.

Civil War vanished immortalized in art - [more]
By: India Stoughton
Date: Thursday, April 17, 2014

BEIRUT: A total of 17,000 people are estimated to have disappeared over the course of Lebanon’s 15-year Civil War. Close to 25 years after the conflict was declared at an end, relatives of Lebanon’s missing are still waiting for answers, many of them reluctant to follow the state’s advice and declare their loved ones legally dead. In 1992, with the war winding its slow way to a close and the families of those who vanished during the conflict hoping desperately for news, multimedia artist Salah Saouli decided to tackle what had already become a taboo issue in a three-part installation entitled “Time Out.”

The artist, who works between Beirut and Berlin, where he has lived for roughly 30 years, contacted the relatives of missing individuals, listened to their stories and gathered photographs of some of the thousands of young men whose fate remains unknown.

“I worked on this project for two years and produced three main big works, three different installations,” the artist recalls. “When I first did it, I worked for a long time and then after six months I gave up. It was so difficult, especially because in ’92 it was still very [current]. The relatives of the people were thinking they’re still alive.

“I stopped for two months and then I thought: ‘No. I mustn’t give up. I have to find a solution.’ I began to think: ‘How can I make artworks that are visually very light and very attractive and calm, and then later you begin to think about the work?’”

For one of the trio of installations, Saouli gathered 23 portraits of missing young men, all of whom were staring directly into the camera. He printed two copies of each photograph, layering them atop one another with a millimeter of displacement, so that when viewed head on they appear still, but from an angle they seem to be moving, shifting in and out of focus.

He mounted the portraits in light boxes and hung them in a small room, which viewers entered through a single door. “You have them all around,” he says, “and when you go inside, you are converted to the object, because they’re all looking at you.”

This work, which carries a huge emotional impact for Lebanese audiences, was staged in Berlin in the early 1990s. Two decades later, a fraction of the work is on show in Lebanon for the first time. Three of the 23 portraits in “Time Out” form part of the semi-retrospective of Saouli’s work currently on show at Hamra’s Agial Art Gallery.

The show is comprised of installations on loan from the private collection of the Y. Hayek Foundation, which is organizing a series of solo exhibitions around the world to showcase the work of the contemporary Arab artists in their collection, placing it in a wider art historical context.

Saouli’s solo show consists of fragments and photographs of 13 installation works completed over the past 25 years, 10 of which form part of the Y. Hayek collection. The artist chose to exhibit three additional works, which he says help to round out the show and provide a comprehensive overview of his output.

Like “Time Out,” many of the works in Saouli’s show are closely tied to Lebanon’s history, to war, collective trauma and to memory. Others are showcased alongside the famous works from the Western art historical canon from which they take their inspiration, and focus on more universal struggles.

“I don’t see the difference because I work on a lot of things,” says Saouli, looking from a reduced version of his installation “The Days of the Blue Bat,” exploring memories of the 1958 crisis in Lebanon and subsequent U.S. military intervention, to photographs of “Composition for Mondrian,” an abstract outdoor installation dwelling on the threat posed to nature by urbanization and modernization.

“We’re suffering because of the [lack of] awareness about the environment. This is also a war but in a different way. The other pieces have a more direct story and this is a little but less direct but it’s all the things that disturb me, the things that I think about all the time.”

Many of the works on show have never been exhibited in Lebanon. Saouli wanted to exhibit “Time Out” at a gallery in Verdun in 1996, he recalls, but the venue refused to show the work, claiming people wanted to forget the war. While several of the works reproduced in part or captured in photographs in this exhibition were originally site-specific, many have a resonance in Lebanon that may have been lacking elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the diminutive size of the Hamra gallery has necessitated that Saouli present severely constrained portions of the original works on show, but – with the help of two false walls – the artist has succeeded in balancing the work in the limited space available.

Beside “Time Out,” the oldest work on show, are three books from the “Interrogation” series, part of a trio of installations entitled “Best Seller,” which Saouli staged in Beirut in 2000 as part of Ashkal Alwan’s “Hamra Project.” The flimsy pages of medical books, packed with dense text, have been pierced from within by jagged fragments of glass that jut menacing toward the viewer.

Echoes of this juxtaposition of delicacy and violence run throughout the show. In the 1996 “Soundbarrier,” fragile Plexiglass sheets hang from lengths of fishing line. Each thin sheet, on which a fighter jet has been printed, sways gently in the wafts of air caused by the movements of passing visitors. Below them, a circular pile of glass rectangles, many smashes into glittering, lethal fragments, ties the ethereal work to the weight of the destruction below.

The men’s blazers hung above Agial’s staircase, next to Rene Magritte’s “Golconda,” the famous 1953 work capturing men in overcoats and bowler hats falling from the sky, form part of “Con-fusion,” an installation originally staged in a ruined Gothic church in Berlin. Agial’s staircase doesn’t provide quite the same soaring effect, but it does at least offer viewers the chance to crane their necks upwards from a precarious perch halfway up the stairs, should they so wish.

“I was very careful to put things in a very reduced form but still with flair,” Saouli says, “and with the presentation well done ... The relationship to the space is very important.”

While some viewers may experience a sense of frustrated yearning to see the works as originally conceived, the exhibition provides a valuable opportunity for locals to get a feel for Saouli’s work. As with most installation pieces, however, the physical interaction between viewer and artwork forms a crucial facet to many of Saouli’s works, which is missing from the cramped show.

“I try to put the observer in a special position so that they can think about the works in a semi-interactive way,” Saouli says. “You perform a physical action without thinking and then later you begin to think ... When it works it’s really very effective. Turn on the TV today and you see a lot of horrible images, so you shut it down. It's sometimes very important to find a special [perspective], to find something new, [which] let’s people go further and then think about it.”

“The Collection of Y. Hayek: Series 1, works by Salah Saouli” is up at Agial Art Gallery in Hamra until April 22. For more information please call 01-345-213.

Jounieh Festival shows to go on despite political tensions - [more]
By: Chirine Lahoud
Date: Wednesday, April 16, 2014

BEIRUT: Another season of long-anticipated concerts will kick off this summer, despite the political tension.

Neemat Frem, founder of Phellipolis, which sponsors the Jounieh International Festival, expressed the event organizers’ determination to hold the annual festival despite the fact that the security situation in the country remains uneasy.

The program for this year’s festival was announced at a press conference Tuesday and the line-up promises a few surprises.

“Every year it gets more difficult,” said Joe Beano, head of the festival’s marketing committee. “We have to take risks every time.”

Beano added that it had been more difficult to generate the required funding this year in comparison to previous editions of the festival, but said the support of several local banks and insurance companies had made it possible for the event to go ahead.

As in previous years, the festival will kick off with a fireworks display in Jounieh bay on June 27.

“It will be ... synchronized with musical effects,” Beano revealed, adding that it would be “broadcast on several television channels.”

Unlike some other editions of the festival, this year’s line-up includes concerts and events catered to a wide range of musical tastes.

Elias Rahbani will conduct his orchestra on July 2, performing famous hits including “Diala,” “Endless Love” and “Love Words,” among others. A member of the legendary Rahbani family, he has written many songs for diva Fairuz and has also composed music for plays and television programs.

Aficionados of French music will be pleased to know that young French singer Zaz will come to Jounieh on July 3 to regale audiences with her greatest hits. Her talent was recently recognized with an award, presented by French musician Jean-Michel Jarre at the Grand Prix SACEM last November. Born Isabelle Geffroy, Zaz’s rich voice will immerse the audience in her joyful mood through songs including “Je Veux” and “On Ira.”

The concert that seems likely to be the biggest hit with local fans will be Imagine Dragons’ performance on July 7. The Grammy and AMA-winning American alternative rock band rose to fame with tunes such as “Radioactive” and “Demons.” They will be performing for one night only in Lebanon, amid their European tour.

On July 10, the stage of the Fouad Chehab Stadium will be invaded by the singing team behind the French version of “The Voice.”

The finalists of the show will interpret the tunes that made them famous in their third consecutive performance in Lebanon.

As in previous years, the organizers of the festival have also programmed many diverse activities into their festival schedule. Roads will be car-free and parades, carnivals and other events for children are scheduled to take place.

The Jounieh Festival aims to show that, unlike many of Lebanon’s summer festivals, the event is not only about concerts and performances, but also about making audiences discover or re-discover their city through social events.

The Jounieh International Festival runs from June 27 until July 10. For tickets, please call 01-999-666.

The delicious street food of Mina - [more]
By: Samya Kullab
Date: Saturday, April 12, 2014

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: The demographically diverse Mina, the harbor town just five kilometers from downtown Tripoli, is distinguished by its nautical charms, guileless diversions and simple indulgences.

Some defining features of the area include the verdant islands off the coast – four of which have been declared natural reserves where fish are bred in their natural habitat – the town’s old lighthouse and its breezy four kilometer seashore, which is almost always teeming with people who’ve come from far and wide to take advantage of the fresh air.

Rambunctious children play along the corniche on weekends as their parents stroll vigilantly by, youths whizz past on bicycles and elderly men sit impassively on plastic chairs. Food stands are a permanent fixture along the corniche and Mina’s winding alleyways, where tantalizing aromas mingle with the salty sea air. In many ways, Mina’s street food is like the marina city itself, ostensibly simple to prepare, impervious to culinary trends and laden with a rich history.

RAW SCALLOPS In the early morning hours, Jamal Khaja and his son Mohammad can be seen unloading piles and piles of freshly fished scallop shells, which they hammer open and clean immediately so they can be ready for the morning rush of customers along the corniche.

Fishermen dive several meters to pluck the shells, which can be mistaken for rocks, along the sea floor. By 10 a.m., Jamal and Mohammad have a giant bowl overflowing with raw scallops ready to be sold. They decorate the stand with halved lemons and empty fan-shaped shells, their fluted patterns glistening under the sun.

“We have to sell out all the scallops from the morning the same day,” Jamal says, “because they’re only appetizing for one day.”

For customers, the scallops are doused with lemon juice, cumin and salt with chopped carrots on the side and sold for LL3,000 a plate. Mohammad, however, prefers to eat them straight out of the shell after he cracks them open by the sidewalk.

Scallops have become a popular street food in Mina after the demise of “tutiya,” another type of mollusk with a spiky outer shell. Due to over-fishing, they are no longer available in abundance Local vendors fear the same fate awaits scallops as well.

“Gradually it will disappear,” says Abu Wassif, another vendor. “Best to enjoy them while we still can.”

STUFFED TRIPE In Mina’s fish market is Ibrahim Bandour’s famed fast food eatery, serving an assortment of stuffed beef tripe and intestines. Founded by his father Abdul-Nasser nearly 40 years ago, the restaurant is one of few that still sells the delicacy.

Bandour says most restaurant owners are discouraged by the arduous preparation steps necessaryto make the dish. But the Bandours have forged strong relations with local butchers over the years, some of whom have pledged to cater tripe to them exclusively. The questionable-looking parts are displayed in a glass case outside their shop.

To prepare stuffed tripe, the stomach of the cow has to be cleaned and the fat trimmed off. It is then boiled and bleached, which gives tripe its characteristic white color. Beef tripe is made from the first three chambers of the stomach; the Bandours prefer the rumen, which is the first chamber and has a flat and smooth texture.

The broth in which the stomach and intestines are cooked is set aside to accompany the main dish. Once softened, the tripe is stuffed with rice, minced meat, onions and almonds and cooked thoroughly. It is then cut open and arranged with an assortment of dried mint, cumin, paprika and salt. Customers can eat the rice with fresh bread or dipped in broth.

The Bandours also have stuffed beef intestine, tongue and brain on the menu, each requiring its own specialized preparation method and costing between LL5,000 and LL8,000 per plate.

“Our business is open during the winter months,” Bandour says. “It’s too heavy to consume in the summer.”

KAAK FROM 80 YEARS Not far from the Bandours’ restaurant is Abu Nazih’s kaak bakery, which has been making the specialty bread for 83 years. One of Mina’s charms is that its vendors are capable of relaying how the preparation of near-staple items, such as kaak, has changed over the years.

“Everything has changed, it’s not the same as it used to be,” the elderly Abu Nazih says of how kaak used to be made. “Yeast was natural back then, we used water soaked with chickpeas as a base. Now there are artificial yeasts.”

The difference is in the taste, he says: “It’s changed a great deal, it used to be fresher.”

But Abu Nazih has stayed true to the older methods. His oven, for instance, is still fired by wood, which he collects and piles next to it. Street vendors come by in the morning to buy his kaak, which they spread with cream cheese for customers along the corniche, who stop to take a breather from the day.

'Eco-Lebanon' offers must-read on local tourism - [more]
By: Beckie Strum
Date: Friday, April 11, 2014

BEIRUT: Local anthropologist and tour operator Nour Farra Haddad has released what is arguably the most comprehensive guidebook ever on ecotourism in Lebanon.

Broken down into five color-coded sections spanning 400 pages, “Eco-Lebanon Nature and Rural Tourism: A Guide to Unveil Lebanon” is a joint project between Haddad and the Tourism Ministry, with the help of Hospitality Services. The book, a guided directory written in English, aims to promote internal tourism among Lebanese as foreign visitors have dwindled alongside security.

“The idea of the book, now especially, is to develop domestic tourism because we all know nowadays that we don’t have international tourists coming from abroad,” Haddad told The Daily Star. “Their first impression to the book is ‘Do we have all that in Lebanon?’”

The idea for the book came from Haddad’s experience as a tourism consultant, receiving constant calls from Lebanese asking where they can do certain activities.

“I thought it would be a good thing to put this data together,” she said.

Poor security and rising sectarianism has pushed Lebanese to retreat into their respective communities. That fact has caused a fear of exploring and a major challenge in the development of domestic tourism, Haddad said.

Take south Lebanon, for example, where the stigma of war and the region’s association with Hezbollah has discouraged tourism despite its wealth of natural reserves, hiking and water activities and Christian religious sites. “Unfortunately, the south is still associated with war and violence,” Haddad said. “It’s the Lebanese reality. I know we are all dreaming of moving around without these sorts of associations.”

Most, if not all, of the travel guides covering Lebanon – such as Lonely Planet or locally produced guides – target an international audience and offer a glance at the more famous and well-operated touristic sites, places such as the ruins in Baalbek or the Jeita Grotto. In contrast, “Eco-Lebanon” offers detailed contact information about activities so far off the beaten path they even surprised the writer, she said.

“When I submitted the project to the Ministry of Tourism, it was just 200 pages, but as I was working on it, I found so many things,” she said.

For example, Shebaa, an area of south Lebanon, is rarely mentioned outside the context of sporadic border skirmishes with Israel. But Haddad discovered there’s a lot more to the area than the tense Blue Line.

For example, she found the Museum of Water Mills, a historic and touristic site in one of the least-visited areas of the country. There are also hiking trails to Mount Hermon that start in Shebaa, where along the way hikers will find traces of ancient Roman religious sites such as a stone enclosure in Qasr Antar.

At the peak of the mountain is a site for Austrian U.N. peacekeepers. The book also explains that this is one of the last habitats in the Middle East with wild bears.

It’s these obscure facts that make “Eco-Lebanon” an unprecedented guide to the country. Even sections on well-documented attractions, such as the booming wine industry, include lesser-known or uncommercialized options in addition to well-known sites. For example, the book lists 53 different vintners, including monasteries and more obscure producers with private vineyards.

“Did you know that Phoenician ships are still being built in Tyre?” former Tourism Minister Fady Abboud asked in the introduction. “Did you know that wonderful hiking trips were rehabilitated by the municipalities of Daroun and Aintoura. ... Did you know you can find more than 125 alternative lodgings in Lebanon as social centers, monasteries and [camp sites].”

The help of the Tourism Ministry in funding the project made it possible for Haddad to avoid advertising in the book, which as a result takes an unbiased approach to suggesting things to do. Each activity section includes options from south to north and highlights particular projects and places based on their novelty or merit only.

Lebanon’s official touristic sites are few in comparison to the many privately operated or informal activities. Agri-tourism is the largest section in Haddad’s book, for example, but its activities are some of the most underdeveloped attractions in the country.

A popular fall activity in the United States, apple picking is one of the only pick-your-own activities that are officially offered in the country, though fruit and vegetable harvesting is a year-round occupation here. The olive and olive oil season also has established pick-your-own outings, as well as press and production tours.

A sign of the book’s Lebanese audience, Haddad suggests the reader ask around to friends and family to find a generous farmer willing to give a tour of their land. If the reader’s social network is confined to city dwellers, then Haddad has listed two dozen farms, growing and raising all kinds of produce and animals, that informally welcome visitors.

The guide is best used after a careful read through. Buried in the small font and hundreds of pages are activities some may never know to look up. Without an index at the back, skimming the book and becoming acquainted with its subsections is a must if you don’t want to miss out on some of the best tips in the book’s expanse.

Readers can also hunt for obscure details by looking for a recurring caricature of an old man, who offers help information throughout the book.

Haddad was quick to point out that “Eco-Lebanon” does not include everything, and that for some subsections, her suggestions are just a selection of the options to, for instance, dine next to Lebanon’s idyllic rivers. She also said she designated the book’s offerings as ecotourism, but that she could not ensure everything was 100 percent environmentally safe or sustainable. That’s the nature of an underdeveloped industry, she said.

"We want to believe that there is still hope for tourism in Lebanon," she said.

"The Lebanese can make a difference if you give them the tools."

بقاعكفرا قرية تعبق بالقداسة تعانق بارتفاعها وجه السماء - [more]
By: انطوانيت شليطا
Date: Friday, April 11, 2014

وطنية - بقاعكفرا القرية الرابضة في الجرد العالي، تغفو على أعلى تلة في لبنان والشرق الاوسط، حيث تلامس خدودها وجه السماء. قرية متواضعة تسمع على دروبها ترددات التراتيل والصلاة وتشم عبق بخور وادي قنوبين... تمطر بنعم قديسها شربل مخلوف شفاءات واعاجيب تجعل منها بحق أعجوبة القرن والقرية النموذجية في العالم.

تتربع على كتف تلة عالية ترفض حياة المدينة، لان جوها الصافي يشعرك بالأمان والهدوء والطمأنينة، وتشكل الزيارة اليها فرصة للتمتع بأجمل ما صنعت يد الخالق، فالجمال الطبيعي فيها يحمل سحرا رهيبا، لان أيادي التشويه والاساءة لم تجرؤ على لمسها. ويحس الزائز ان لمسات الخالق ما زالت مطبوعة فيها. كما يخيل اليه، انه معلق بين السماء والارض، حيث ترتفع حوله جبال شامخة وتلامس خدوده نسمات شمالية باردة معطرة بانفاس قاديشا وبخور الوادي المقدس.

أبناؤها، وعلى الرغم من تطورهم وتقدمهم علميا ومهنيا وثقافيا، إلا انهم ما زالوا أبناء الجرد الذي ما زال متمسكا بأصالته اللبنانية، مع الاشارة إلى أن نسبة كبيرة من ابنائها رجال اعمال، بالاضافة الى تخصص جيل الشباب في مجالات عدة اهمها الطب والصيدلة، والقضاء، والهندسة الزراعية وغيرها. كما اشتهر ابناؤها بمطاعمهم المعروفة والمنتشرة في اكثر المناطق اللبنانية والتي تعدى وجودها لبنان الى رومانيا.

يتميز سكانها بأنهم يعيشون وعدهم مع المسيح من خلال ممارستهم شعائرهم الدينية اليومية، يشتهرون بالضيافة والكرم وحسن الاستقبال، ويتمتعون بالصلابة والشجاعة هذه الصفات التي تمتد جذورها في الارض والتاريخ. يعرفون بطيبة قلبهم وصدقهم وعفويتهم وايمانهم العميق. اما لهجتهم فهي شمالية بامتياز، يعود اصلها الى اللغة السريانية التي كانت سائدة قديما في هذه المنطقة المارونية.

قرية، يشعر زائرها أنه ابن الطبيعة، تحبه ويحبها، ويشعر انه بحاجة للعيش ببساطة دون تكلف، فهو يشرب من جرن مياه العين المنتشرة على طرقها، ويتزود من خيراتها باصنافها المتنوعة والجيدة نسبة الى تربتها الغنية وكأنه يحتفظ ببركة من هذه القرية الابقة بالقداسة.

واللافت فيها أنها ما زالت تحافظ على تراثها واصالتها، فالبيوت فيها قديمة يحرص ابناؤها على قدمها وتواضعها تماما مثلما كانت أيام القديس، ليستشفوا من خلالها الروحانية التي عاش فيها مدة 23 عاما قبل مغادرتها ودخوله الدير.

كما أنها لا تزال تحافظ على عاداتها وتقاليدها الاصيلة والفولكور يزين سهراتها واعيادها ومناسباتها، فتقيم خلال اسبوع عيد مار شربل معرضا للمونة البلدية من انتاج سيداتها، وسط الشارع القديم المؤدي الى منزل القديس، تعرض خلاله كل الادوات والاواني التي كانت تستعمل قديما والتي تعيد بنا الذاكرة الى ايام الماضي، وتقيم العرس القروي حسب الاصول التي كانت متبعة في القرن التاسع عشر.

الأرض الخصبة
بكلمة، قرية نائية ولكن مأهولة بسكان يعتبرون أنفسهم أنسباء قديس ذاع صيته في أرجاء المعمورة... يبلغ ارتفاعها 1800 متر عن سطح البحر، ارتفاع أعلى قمة في لبنان وهي القرنة السوداء. ويعيد المؤرخ فؤاد فرام البستاني تاريخها إلى القرن العاشر، وحسب دراسة تاريخية اقامتها "ذاكرة البيوت الاثرية الاوروبية في العالم" أن تاريخها يعود الى ألفي عام. إنها إحدى قرى قضاء بشري، جارة ارز الرب المذكور مرارا في الكتاب المقدس. تشرف من موقعها على بلدة المقدمين بشري، وتطل على وادي قنوبين الذي احتضن طوال اجيال 24 بطريركا مارونيا من 1440 حتى 1823، بالاضافة الى الحبساء والرهبان والزهاد والقديسين.

تسميتها سريانية مركبة من "بقاع" أي الارض، و"كفرا" أي الخصبة، بالتالي إنها "الارض الخصبة".

تصل اليها عبر طرق عدة: بيروت - شكا - اميون - حدث الجبة - بقاعكفرا. طرابلس - الكورة - حدث الجبة - بقاعكفرا. اهدن - بشري - بقاعكفرا. دير الاحمر - عيناتا - الارز - بشري - بقاعكفرا.

عدد سكانها تجاوز ال 30 الف نسمة ثلثهم في لبنان، والثلثان في ديار الاغتراب، خصوصا في اميركا، اوستراليا، والمكسيك حيث هناك شارع يعرف باسم بقاعكفرا.

عائلاتها: مخلوف، شليطا، لحود، نكد، ايليا، فخر، مارون، عيسى، مبارك، سركيس، موسى، ليشع، داود، الخوري، بركات، بشاره، نعمة، كرم، قزحيا، زعرور، يمين، بولس، طنوس، طراد، بطحاني، والياس.

يتميز مناخها بقساوته شتاء حيث تغمرها الثلوج معظم فصول السنة، اما مناخها صيفا فهو ناشف وصحي، يقصدها اهلها والزوار لقضاء فصل الصيف او خلال عطلة الاسبوع للتزود بالراحة والهدوء وخصوصا المرضى والعجزة منهم ليستعيدوا عافيتهم من جوها الهادىء والنقي.

وهي تتمتع ببيئة طبيعية نادرة لعذوبة مياهها الصحية، وتنوعها النباتي وغناها البيئي في مرتفعاتها ومغاورها الطبيعية القائمة حولها. تعمل البلدية على حفظ هذه الخصائص من خلال حمايتها وإبقائها على طبيعتها، وتعزيز الثروة النباتية والحرجية بزيادة مساحات الزرع والتشجير.

وتعد البلدية دراسات علمية متخصصة تقضي بتوفير مختلف شروط الافادة من هذه الخصائص، وتحويل مجمل هذه الامكنة مواقع سياحية بكامل مقتضياتها، بالاضافة الى تطوير انتاج بقاعكفرا الزراعي المتميز بجودته الفريدة.

تنتج أراضي بقاعكفرا كل أنواع الفاكهة والخضار، وأهم موسم فيها هو التفاح الذي يعتبر بنوعيه الاحمر والاصفر الاجود في لبنان، وتتهافت عليه الدول العربية لشراء محصوله نظرا لجودته وطعمه اللذيذ، ويأتي بعده موسم الاجاص. كما كانت تعرف بقاعكفرا قديما بزراعة البطاطا التي تراجعت لأسباب عدة.

قرية نموذجية

قرية أثرية، تشتهر بطبيعتها الخلابة وبيوتها التاريخية التي يعود بناؤها إلى القرن الثامن عشر وتحمل غنى كبيرا من تراث الماضي ونقائه المهدد بالضياع، ولكن هذا التراث، ولكي يبقى منارة وينبوعا روحيا، كان لا بد من منقذ لترميم الآثار واعادة طابعها القديم والحفاظ عليه.

عادت الحياة إليها من جديد، بعد أن كانت شبه مهملة محليا إلا أنها حظيت باهتمام متوسطي وأوروبي أعاد اليها الحياة. وهكذا بدأت قرية القديس تنفض عنها غبار الأعوام الفائتة وتخرج عن صمتها لتقول للعالم إنها ستكون محط انظار الملايين.

فنظرا لما تتميز به من خصائص طبيعية وتراثية فريدة، أبرزها طابع البيوت الحجرية القديمة، تم تصنيفها من قبل السوق الاوروبية المشتركة كرابع بلدة نموذجية عالمية عام 1992، فأصبحت بيوتها في ذاكرة البيوت الاثرية في العالم، بناء على تقرير ممثلي اللجنة الاوروبية لمنظمة "ذاكرة البيوت الاثرية" MAISONS des MEMOIRE وذلك بعد اليسندريا في ايطاليا، وبالمجادو مابوركا في اسبانيا، وقفصة في تونس.

وقد تقرر ترميم حوالى مئة منزل فيها يعود بناؤها الى بداية القرن الحادي عشر، واعادة ترميم الآثار الموجودة، واعادة طابعها القديم والحفاظ عليه. لقد اصبح لبقاعكفرا خرائط مساحة وطوبوغراف كاملة ومدمغة، وقد جرى مسح شامل لكل البيوت التي هي بحاجة الى ترميم، والهدف من هذا المشروع تحويل القرية متحفا عالميا، والدراسات اعدت لابراز طابعها التراثي في بيوتها وطرقها الداخلية ومداخلها.

وتتابع بلدية بقاعكفرا بشخص رئيسها ايلي مخلوف العمل على انجاز هذا المشروع الذي يشكل مثلا نموذجيا للسياحتيين البيئية والدينية. يذكر ان خبراء المؤسسة الاوروبية المذكورة قد اكتشفوا فيها آثارا صليبية ورومانية مغمورة. كما اكتشفت في بحيرة القرية الزراعية بقايا اخشاب ارز مفحمة تعود الى حوالى 2500 عام.

معالمها السياحية

تشكل السياحة الدينية فيها الركيزة الاساسية في مجمل الحركة السياحية من هنا الاشارة اولا الى المواقع الدينية:

- كنيسة عماد مار شربل التي تقع تحت كنيسة السيدة الحالية على عتبة بابها صليب يعود شكله الى ما بين القرنين السابع والثالث عشر، يربطها ببيوت القرية دهليز او نفق تحت الارض فيها جرن عماد مار شربل وايقونة قديمة للعذراء مريم.

- كنيسة السيدة الرعائية التي بنيت عام 1925 داخلها مزخرف يوجد فيها التحف التالية: تمثال المصلوب، تمثال السيدة العذراء، وصورة زيتية للسيدة ايضا، اضافة الى وثيقة الزمن الطقسي السرياني طبعة روما 1666 والشحيمة عام 1652.

- دير مار حوشب الذي شيد على اسم القديس اوسابيوس الشهيد الذي عاش في منتصف القرن الرابع. اقيمت الى جانبه مدرسة تعلم فيها القديس شربل علومه الابتدائية على يد الخوري يوسف مخلوف القديم. لا يوجد للقديس المذكور في كل لبنان دير الا في بقاعكفرا ومزار في بلدة لحفد - قضاء جبيل.

- بيت القديس شربل وهو من اوائل بيوت بقاعكفرا العائدة الى القرن العاشر. ولم تكن البلدة في ذلك التاريخ تضم سواه بالاضافة إلى عدد قليل من البيوت الحجرية القديمة. ولد فيه القديس في الثامن من ايار سنة 1828 . منذ العام 1950 اصبح المنزل في عهدة الرهبانية اللبنانية المارونية التي انتسب اليها مار شربل.

في البيت القديم صورة لسيرة حياة القديس، ومنحوتات تمثل جميع افراد عائلته. كما يضم الدير الجدير الملاصق لبيت القديس الاثري معرضا للايقونات واللوازم الدينية.

وفي البيت القديم والدير الجديد كنيستان للصلاة والتأمل والاحتفالات الدينية. كما توجد فيهما اغراض كثيرة ولوازم طبية مثل العكازات والنظارات وغيرها عائدة للمرضى الذين تماثلوا للشفاء بشفاعته.

وامام منزل القديس وفي ساحة الدير يرتفع تمثال كبير لشربل مصنوع من الحجر الصخري الابيض نحته الفنان جورج عون.

- مغارة القديس وقد امضى فيها عددا كبيرا من ايامه مصليا ومتأملا وساعيا الى وجه الله. تقع المغارة في محلة عين الحور في الجانب الشمالي من بقاعكفرا، اعتنى بها المونسنيور انطوان مخلوف حتى عام 1950. ثم تولت ادارتها والاهتمام بها جمعية الراهبات اللبنانيات، فيها معرض ديني ونبع ماء تفجر بفعل عجائب القديس يشرب منه المؤمنون ويأخذوا منه بركة سعيا للشفاء. وقد تحولت هذه المغارة مزارا مقصودا من المؤمنين.

وتنتج فيها الراهبات اللبنانيات انواعا عدة من الاشغال الحرفية ذات الطابع الديني. وقد حددت في المغارة المواقع التي كان يجلس فيها القديس شربل، وابرزت الاغراض واللوازم الطبية التي تركها المرضى بعد شفائهم .


تحولت اعياد بقاعكفرا محطات سنوية تستقطب اعدادا كثيفة من المؤمنين اللبنانيين والاجانب بمشاركة السلطات الروحية والزمنية، ولا تقتصر مناسبات الاعياد على ايامها المحددة رسميا فقط بل تسبقها بايام وتتجاوزها بايام.

وتشهد تلك الايام امسيات صلوات وتأمل وندوات وشهادات حياة يشارك فيها المؤمنون بكثافة. وتتحول القرية منارة للثقافة الدينية وللنشاط الروحي، الذي يتعطش اليه انسان العصر وابرز الاعياد المحطات هي:

- عيد ولادة القديس شربل يحتفل به في الثامن من ايار من كل سنة، وقد اقيمت له لجنة عالمية تحمل اسم اللجنة العالمية لاحتفالات القديس شربل، وتضم نخبة من المؤمنين اللبنانيين والاجانب.

- عيد سيامة القديس أي سنة 1965 حيث اقرت الكنيسة المارونية ذكرى سيامته كاهنا عيدا يحتفل به في الاحد الثالث من تموز من كل عام.

- ومن المناسبات الدينية البارزة ايضا عيد انتقال السيدة العذراء في 15 آب من كل عام واحتفال عيد مار حوشب في 5 تشرين الاول، وعيد مار سابا في 5 كانون الاول. هذه المناسبات يحتفل بها ابناء البلدة واصدقاؤهم اينما وجدوا في لبنان وفي بلاد الاغتراب.

ونظرا للموقع المهم للبلدة فقد عمد رئيس البلدية ايلي مخلوف الذي انتخب لثلاثة دورات متتالية، وقد استحوذ على احترام وتقدير اهالي بلدته لتضحياته في سبيل الشأن العام، انتخبته بلديات قضاء بشري رئيسا للاتحاد تكريما لجهوده وتضحياته في سبيل الشأن العام في المنطقة ككل. وكانت من اولوياته في بلدته الام الاهتمام بجيل الشباب حيث يعول عليهم في المستقبل، فقد عمد الى تأمين فرص عمل لهم ليثبتوا حضورهم في بلدتهم التي تعتبر مزارا عالميا.

واهتم بموضوع تصريف انتاج المزارعين الذي يؤمن لقمة العيش للذين يقطنون صيفا شتاء في البلدة. وشكل فريق عمل من شبان وشابات مهمتهم ملاقاة الزائر ومرافقته الى اماكن العبادة. وقد اصدر سنة 2001 دليلا سياحيا بعنوان :"بقاعكفرا بلدة التراث والقداسة" بثلاث لغات، العربية والفرنسية والانكليزية، يوزع مجانا على الزائرين.

وعمل على تحسين منظر البلدة من الناحية الجغرافية، فأعاد ترميم الحيطان على الطرقات العامة، وزينها بالحجر الصخري القديم، ورصف طرقاتها ايضا بالبلاط الصخري الجميل.

واهتم بالبنى التحتية والاضاءة والاشارات التي تدل السائح الى اماكن العبادة، وشق على نفقته الخاصة شارعا عريضا يربط بقاعكفرا من كل جوانبها، تسهيلا لحركة المرور امام الزوار خصوصا في فترات الاعياد ونهاية الاسبوع. وساهم بالتعاون مع نائبي المنطقة ستريدا جعجع وايلي كيروز في تدشين بركة مياه في جرد بقاعكفرا لتسهيل ري المزروعات بالتعاون مع الصندوق الكويتي.

بقاعكفرا والهجرة
ولا بد، قبل أن نختم، من الاشارة الى موضوع هجرة أبناء بقاعكفرا والتي بدأت منذ القدم، وأول مغترب من المنطقة الى فنزويلا هو دافيد مخلوف الذي اشتهر بتجارته وحسن معاملته للبنانيين هناك.

وتمكن احد ابناء بقاعكفرا المغترب غبريالو شليطا الى الترشيح الى الانتخابات النيابية في سان باولو في البرازيل، وقد زار لبنان منذ حوالى 4 اعوام، وتعرف الى مسقط رأسه، وكان برفقة وفد اغترابي من اصل لبناني برئاسة ريكاردو عازار، حيث وقعوا اتفاقيات تعاون واستثمار مع المسؤولين اللبنانيين.

وتولى احد ابناء البلدة ويدعى البيرتو كرم منصب قنصل لبنان في كوستاريكا الذي يحرص اضافة الى مهامه الرسمية الى تعليم اللغة العربية الى ابناء الجالية، ويقيم محاضرات عن لبنان لتعريف العالم الى بلده الام - وطن الارز.

أيضا وأيضا...توصلت ماري جوزف طراد الى مركز دبلوماسي مرقوق وهو قنصل لبنان في المكسيك، هي التي ولدت في هذا البلد واحتفظت بلغتها وترجمة محبتها لقريتها ولبنان عبر العمل الدبلوماسي.

اما اوستراليا فتضم اكبر جالية لبنانية من بقاعكفرا، حيث عدد الموجودين فيها يفوق عدد المقيمين في لبنان وخصوصا في العاصمة سيدني، وهم يحملون عاداتهم وتقاليدهم اللبنانية ويعرفون عن لبنان اينما حلوا.

الكلام عن بقاعكفرا لا ينتهي والغوص فيها يضيع، لذلك حاولنا القاء الضوء على مساحة مهمة وكبيرة وعزيزة على قلوبنا، وتبقى زيارتها الشاهد الوحيد على ما تحمله من كنوز. فقصتها قصة الذين ينظرون الى فوق...
Batroun native goes from boardroom to brewery - [more]
By: Venetia Rainey
Date: Thursday, April 10, 2014

BATROUN, Lebanon: “We are beer lovers here,” says Jamil al-Haddad, his hands playing with a mock-up bottle for the lager he is creating.

“In Batroun, if you go and visit someone in his home, he will not invite you to drink coffee, he will offer you a beer. We have the highest consumption of beer here in all of Lebanon.”It’s an unverifiable and dubious fact, but the passion with which Haddad says it makes all of that irrelevant. For him, Batroun is about to become the epicenter of an invigorated beer culture and the birthplace of the country’s soon-to-be newest brew: Colonel.

“So this is part of why I started to think, I’m from Batroun and I need to brew beer. Khallas, this is how it started,” he says.

Slightly sunburnt and full of raw energy and barely contained excitement about the months to come, the 30-year-old is the man behind not one, but four thoroughly ambitious projects: a microbrewery, a restaurant, a bar and a bed and breakfast.

Pinning it all together is Colonel beer (pronounced the French way, co-lo-nel). Coming to a supermarket near you this summer, Colonel is the product of more than a decade of brewing experience, countless trips to Europe, a handful of courses at foreign microbreweries and a portable home-brewing kit brought back from London.

“I was 17 when I started to make liqueur at home, Irish cream, banana, strawberry. I started in order to make a bit more money so I could buy myself windsurf boards,” he says, gesturing to three large boards stacked up on shelves in his tiny office. “I began while I was in the boy scouts, and then I made it at home.”

Despite taking a hiatus after he moved to Beirut and started working, his love for making his own grog never faded. At 24, he traveled to London and had his first close-up look at how beer is made during a tour of the award-winning Meantime Brewery in Greenwich. It was the spark of an obsession that has gripped him until this day.

He threw himself into his passion, taking courses and landing work stints at breweries across Europe.

“Eventually, I came back to Lebanon from London at the age of 27 with my own home brewery kit that I bought in the U.K.” Haddad explains. “I started brewing at home in Beirut and inviting my friends round to have barbecues and beer tastings. I brewed bitter, lager, red ale, everything.

“It took me six months to make good beer, before that, I threw out everything I made. When I finally got it right it was on New Year’s Eve three years ago, I stayed at home and made English bitter. It tasted incredible.”

But trying to make beer and hold down a travel-intensive marketing role at shoe brand Adidas proved too much, and last June he decided to quit his job, pack up, leave Beirut and move back in with his parents in Batroun, a laid-back coastal town that boasts the closest thing to a hippie vibe in Lebanon. The plan was to brew a bit of beer in his garage and have more time to windsurf, but it quickly turned into something bigger.

Stepping out of his office, he points to a spidery, metallic structure being constructed on the centrally located plot of land he bought just between a main road in Batroun and the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a long way off from the digitally created pictures he has of a stylish microbrewery, restaurant and bar all housed under one roof, and for the moment, visitors must imagine the vertical walls of plants, glass panels and stylish light installations.

“We started building at the beginning of February, and we are planning to have it finished in a few weeks,” he says.

He rubs his beard thoughtfully before adding, “There is a lot of work to do.”

He picks up a chewed-up looking strip of multicolored plastic and smiles. “This is what we are using along with recycled palettes for the building. It’s called Eco-Board, and it will allow us to recycle over 1 million plastic bags.”

Designed by Ziad Abichaker, the environmental and industrial engineer behind waste processing company Cedar Environmental, the durable material is totally eco-friendly, a core aim of the Colonel project.

Walking around, he points at various empty spaces and conjures up an image of their eventual purpose.

“This will be an outdoor area for barbecues, beer festivals and other cool summer events, and this,” he points to an area nearest the sea, “will be for three two-person bungalows.”

His vision is a place where visitors can relax, and further, be inspired to start up their own projects, somewhere “they can feel that people can still make a difference to the country.”

People will be able to tour the brewery – which will be visible from the restaurant and bar – learn about how the beer is made and then enjoy local Batroun food such as kibbeh samak and octopus along with a freshly poured glass of the brown stuff.

“In the bar, we will do black Irish beer, red ale, lager beer and light beer – less calories and less alcohol. The lager is for commercial sale, and everything else will only be available on site.”

The obvious similarity is with 961, Lebanon’s flagship craft beer that does several different flavors and is still the only local alternative to Almaza.

But far from being daunted by taking on the popular brand, Haddad is grateful.

“I think that 961 did me a big favor, because they were second [after Almaza]. They proved to the people here that we can have another beer,” he smiles broadly and looks down at the Colonel bottle in his hands. “There is also competition, but this makes for better beer. And that’s something I’m all for.” ...
Green Tara House: an Eastern oasis in Ashrafieh - [more]
By: Kate Maddox
Date: Tuesday, April 08, 2014

BEIRUT: Situated in the heart of Furn al-Hayek in Ashrafieh, Green Tara House is big and airy, with colorful rugs and textiles filling most rooms.

The vibe is distinctly Eastern in the French Mandate-era house, however, which goes well with the slew of new yoga classes and alternative therapies being offered on the second floor of the old building. For the next two days, the space will host a series of conferences and private sessions with tarot master Patrick Spennato, who specializes in the late 18th century practice of reading the cards as a form of alternative self-development.

Green Tara Gallery, opened by Karima Hawwa in December 2012, sells imported fabrics, art, furniture, rugs and clothing from a whole slew of Eastern countries, some near and some far, including Tibet, Nepal, India and Syria. Most of the goods are handmade, and all are hand-picked by Hawwa, who curates the space as well.

The recently opened second floor takes its decor cues from the shop downstairs, with colorful rugs and pillows scattered across the floors. But the lack of furniture gives a hint of what the central area is now used for: Group classes in yoga and meditation are held there most days of the week.

The rooms off the central hall, presumably once bedrooms, will be used for private massage and therapy sessions such as aromatherapy, Thai massage and the alternative-medicine practice of Reiki, Hawwa told The Daily Star, to give customers an “extra boost of energy.”

“People get drained by life, it’s very challenging all over the world but especially in Lebanon,” she said.

Hawwa added that while the private sessions were important, it was the group classes in yoga and mediation, as well as the conferences she has planned, that would allow for more self-development. She first envisioned expanding her shop to include an area for courses after a memorable singing-bowl therapy session in Nepal, which inspired her to create a space for such practices in Beirut.

“They will enable you to direct your own energy, to work on yourself,” she said of the courses.

One such conference is currently being held in the space until Wednesday with Spennato, who has traveled from Switzerland to lead introductory sessions and give private readings.

Having practiced for seven years, he uses the cards as a form of self-discovery and not, as he emphatically insisted, for “divination.”

Tarot, Spennato says, can be used to unlock unconscious energies that we may be unaware of in order to reveal to “a new outlook on what is around us and the world in general.”

Spennato said the tarot deck’s 22 major arcana cards, all with significant meanings that, when dealt and laid out a certain way, can be used “as tool to look inside oneself.”

Much like the practice of tarot that is used for fortune telling, the self-discovery approach first entails asking a question of the cards. Then, Spennato said, “a person can take a look at their cards and see the energies” at play.

When the cards are laid out, each position represents a different aspect of life, from past to future and the various relationships in between. If a card is set in place the right way, facing the asker, then this energy is “recognized.” If a card, however, is facing the wrong way, then it means the energy is not recognized and therefore “transformation is needed to bring that energy to light, to reveal it from the unconscious.”

The private sessions, Spennato said, should allow enough time for two readings while the conferences, being held from 10 a.m. to noon and from noon to 2 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, will offer an introduction to tarot as a personal guide. At the group gatherings, Spennato will explain the evolution of life from the Big Bang till now through the cards to show the order he says is present in the universe.

If you aren’t ready to consult the cards just yet, visit the shop for the calm vibes and beautiful textiles or check out a yoga class to get your inner peace on.

For more information, please call 03-928-595 or visit facebook.com/greentarahousegallery.

Souk el Tayeb chills out in the evening - [more]
By: Beckie Strum
Date: Monday, April 07, 2014

BEIRUT: In Saturday’s fading daylight, several scruffy-faced musicians and a dozen children had transformed a nondescript parking lot in Saifi Village with the acoustic melodies of childhood summer camp.

A popcorn maker sat just beyond the benches of warbling kids, as did card tables covered in freshly painted crafts. All that was needed was a fire in the evening darkness to complete the illusion of being in the middle of the woods instead of Beirut’s urban center.

Souk el Tayeb, Beirut’s landmark farmers market held at Beirut Souks, has expanded its presence to Saifi Village. For its first season at this new venue, the market is being held in the evening to celebrate the warm weather with a weekly block party vibe: music, snacks and an emphasis on family activities.

“The evening souk is more about ready-to-eat food, nibbles and live music. ... This is the fun souk,” Pamela Chemali, souk manager, told The Daily Star.

Every Saturday, Souk el Tayeb’s morning market, which opens from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m., offers the country’s small producers a chance to sell in the city’s bustling Downtown shopping center. In contrast to the luxury clothing brands and upscale eateries facing Souk el Tayeb, its booths feature traditional pantry staples: balls of labneh in oil, zaatar, vegetables, dried fruit and nuts, concentrated fruit syrups and fresh juices.

Whereas the morning souk has an up and at ’em vibe – with some stands selling out to early birds eager to stock up on mouneh and quality raw ingredients for the coming week – the evening souk is about hanging out.

Several producers, such as Oum Ali from Majdelzoun, set up shop at both souks and thus spend more than 12 hours peddling their homemade foods. After sunset, Oum Ali was still flopping pockets of fatayer, dough stuffed with marinated spinach, onto her saj grill to serve fresh.

One of the highlights of the evening souk is the abundance of free children’s activities with an educational bent. Organizers Saturday hosted a maamoul cooking workshop for children with Little Helps, a group of women raising money for needy people living in Lebanon. A gathering of young girls helped press the traditional Easter cookies into molds and bake them on site.

“They left with a little box of maamoul they cooked themselves,” Chemali said of the young bakers, who squealed with satisfaction as they showed off the fruits of their labor.

There was a painting station where children decorated ceramic masks and paper fans. In the coming weeks, the organizers plan to host more live cooking workshops for children and other family-oriented events.

The souk has also set aside an open space where musicians can jam together in hopes of bringing a little busking culture to Beirut, which lacks the random street music often found in other capitals, Chemali explained. A box for tips offered a little incentive, though the musicians didn’t appear to need any as they led children through rounds of Sheb Khaled’s “Aicha” and Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

To complete the summertime atmosphere, managers at Souk el Tayeb originally wanted to open their evening festivities in one the city’s scarce green areas. But to the ire of many, Beirut’s parks are mostly closed to the public. A parking lot located in one of Downtown’s swanky developments was the next best thing, Chemali said.

“We don’t have public gardens, we have public parking lots,” Chemali said. “At least it’s in the center of the city.” Souk el Tayeb at Saifi Village opens every Saturday from 4-8 p.m. For more information about upcoming activities, please visit www.facebook.com/Soukeltayeb.

In with the new at Lebanon's wineries - [more]
By: Beckie Strum
Date: Sunday, April 06, 2014

BEIRUT: “You want something new? Come,” commanded Habib Karam, the owner of Karam Winery. Rather than answer the question with his own vintage, Karam hauled me through an exhibition of Lebanese wineries to his competitor Chateau Nakad.

Nakad and Karam were two of around a dozen Lebanese winemakers participating in the HORECA hospitality trade show at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure center since Tuesday. For the biggest gathering of the country’s food and beverage industries, local wineries enticed show-goers with their latest innovations, such as fresh, not-yet-bottled vintages and more adventurous spirits than the quintessential arak.

One such example was Chateau Nakad’s meska liqueur. “Now, this is new,” Karam said, gleaming as if he’d made it himself.

Meska, also known in English as mastic or gum arabic, is an ingredient derived from tree sap and used locally in ice creams and sweets. It’s also often used to thicken jams.

The Greeks use meska to flavor two indigenous spirits under the umbrella name mastichato, which inspired Jalal Nakad – the oenologist and heir of the 90-year-old vineyard – to invent his own meska-infused spirit several weeks ago.

Meska liqueur looks like arak and is served in the same way, with a few ice cubes. But unlike arak, which belies its confectionary appearance with the dry bite of aniseed, Nakad’s meska was as sweet and creamy as it looked, with the deep aroma of the wood from which it was sourced. The spirit is about 25 percent alcohol, from a combination of grain and grape.

“Some like to drink it very slowly as an aperitif,” Nakad said. That seemed the most suitable way to savor the very palatable spirit. He also suggested using it in a mojito-style cocktail, made with ice, mint, sparking water and citrus.

Meska liqueur was the second such dabbling by Nakad. A year ago, the winery launched a citron spirit infused with orange and clementine peel.

Back at Chateau Karam, Habib Karam disclosed his own pet project: a Cognac-style brandy that he has titled Jezzineyac. “We can’t call it Cognac, but if we call it brandy it sounds cheap,” he said. He stole the “yac” from France, as he put it, and added “Jezzine,” the town where Chateau Karam is located.

Karam’s Jezzineyac is triple-distilled, barrel-aged in French oak for two years and then rested in glass bottles for 14 years. To imbue the fortified wine with the terroir of south Lebanon, Karam uses indigenous grape varieties like miksasi, merwahi, hifawi and zawtarani, grown at altitudes as high as 1,400 meters, he said.

Other Lebanese vintners may have tried to distill and age brandy before him, Karam said, “but I’ll say this is the first commercially viable one.”

The Phoenicia Hotel hosted several blind Cognac taste tests, where – up against known French cognacs – Karam’s creation took second place. A classic winter drink, Jezzineyac is best served after dinner, with chestnuts beside a fireplace, Karam said.

After waiting more than a decade and a half, Karam is finally breaking into the vintage – about 3,000 bottles of it – which will go on sale for $105 per bottle in the next two or three weeks.

How to buy it?

“For this you’ll have to call us,” he said.

Some wineries have also turned to indigenous grape varieties, in a break from Lebanon’s French-centric industry.

Chateau St. Thomas’ team at HORECA were showing off their Obeidy wine, a white made entirely from indigenous obeideh grapes. The wine came about as part of an international project to promote the diverse range of wine that is produced in Mediterranean countries, an initiative called the Wine Mosaic Préserver.

Micheline Touma Nassif of Chateau St. Thomas said the Wine Mosaic “are working to save the local wine grapes. The obeideh grapes were taken from different areas of Lebanon.”

Made with 100 percent obeideh grapes, the white has a low alcohol content of 12 percent. Chateau St. Thomas’ newest product, it caught the eye of a wine writer for Harper’s Bazaar U.K. just this week. He described it as an “attractive light-bodied aperitif.”

“It’s also great wine for summer,” Nassif added.

Speaking of summer wines, Adyar launched its light and fruity rose, L’Aube, this weekend. Adyar is a collective of seven wine-producing monasteries that specialize in double-certified organic wine.

Made from mourvedre and syrah grapes, the rose is launching just in time for its summer target, said sales manager Wassim Abi Raad. Adyar’s vinos suggest Thai food or a basket of fresh strawberries as perfect pairings with L’Aube.

If there was one new wine that crowned the four-day show, it was Chateau Qanafar’s yet-to-be-bottled Qanafar 2011, said visiting sommelier Paul Op ten Berg. Op ten Berg, from the Netherlands Gild of Sommeliers, was part of HORECA’s foreign delegation of wine writers.

He said it was the most interesting thing he’d tried on his trip – and that’s after tasting every Lebanese wine on display at HORECA and many more that weren’t.

Qanafar’s founder George Naim explained the Qanafar 2011 was an equal blend of three red grapes: cabernet, merlot and syrah. The result is a spicy, fruity red with notes of red currant, prune and red berries. “It’s the most noble wine we have,”Naim said.

“The complexity is immense.”

Ninety minutes of tarab with Shaar - [more]
By: Zalfa Halabi
Date: Friday, April 04, 2014

BEIRUT: From behind the red velvet curtains of Metro al-Madina, four musicians emerge to take the stage, resplendent in matching black suits and red bow ties. Stage right sits Ziad Ahmadieh with his oud. Mohammad Nahas positions himself beside him, behind his qanoun. Alongside, violinist Ziad Jaafar prepares his instrument. Rik (tambourine) in hand, Bahaa Daou takes a seat stage left. Finally, veteran vocalist Abdel Karim al-Shaar takes his place at the center, says a warm welcome to his audience and sits down, just centimeters from the front row of tables.

The music begins.

This evening’s program features one single song, “Hayarti Albi Maak” (You Confused my Heart), a much-loved standard from the songbook of Umm Kulthum – the woman dubbed Star of the East back in the 1960s.

The tune of this rapturous 40-minute torch song was composed by Riad al-Santabli to accompany Ahmad Rami’s lyrics. The version performed by Shaar and his ensemble is 50 minutes longer than any extant recording of Umm Kulthum’s original but just as potent.

Like Umm Kulthum, Shaar studied the art of “Tajwid” (Quranic recitation) as a young man. The Tripoli-born vocalist is distinguished among his peers for his mastery of the vocal tradition that features both the tuneful articulation and ornamentation of Arabic phrasing as well as the mental and physical stamina needed for long hours of performance.

After decades of exposure to the 2.5-minute pop song model, it may be difficult to conceive of sitting through the concert performance of a single long-form piece. Yet, at Shaar’s March 20 performance of “Hayarti Albi Maak,” the audience at Metro al-Madina was transported through a wide array of emotions, emerging at the other end exhausted yet elated.

Shaar and his ensemble are faithful to Umm Kulthum’s version of the song, though they do repeat a few refrains more frequently, and the rhythm of the music is slowed to allow for this.

Shaar also introduces some of his own vocal improvisations – “layali” (from “layl,” night), an unmetered modal departure from the set lyrics. An hour or so into “Hayarti Albi Maak,” the audience’s classic music aficionados recognized the words of another Egyptian tune “Leh ya Binafseg,” (Why are You Alone) composed by Riad al-Santabli and made famous by vocalist Saleh Abdel-Hay.

Having referenced a line from “Leh ya Binafseg,” Shaar moves into a “layali” then back to “Hayart albi Maak,” holding his audience rapt. Later on, he weaves in the chorus of “Ghanili Shway Shway” (Sing to Me Little by Little) – an Oum Kulthum tune from the soundtrack of the 1945 film “Salama.”

Throughout Shaar’s performance, many audience members confidently sang along. As is often the case with well-performed tarab music, the sounds emitted by the performers were punctuated by eruptions of “Ouf!” and “Allah!” from the spectators.

The applause at the end was enthusiastic, and Shaar returned for a brief encore – some 30 minutes in length.

Abdel Karim al-Shaar will restage “Hayarti Albi Maak” at Metro al-Madina Saturday evening. Doors Open at 9:30 p.m. For more information, please see www.metromadina.com or call 01-753-021.

Vintage aesthetic is the star of the party - [more]
By: Beckie Strum
Date: Wednesday, April 02, 2014

BEIRUT: At Beirut’s annual wedding expo in February, the clustering of brides-to-be and their families made clear which parts of the feting enticed them the most: expensive, glittering jewelry displays, travel agencies selling romantic getaways and the dresses, of course.

With so much competition, displays for one of the most essential party elements slipped into the background without flashy presentations or luxury price tags: the invitation.

With a mind to change that, Lea Heshme, a graphic designer turned event planner, has taken the invitation and placed it at the center of party planning. Whether a piece of delicately printed tracing paper or block letters on substantial cardstock, the invitation sets the mood and the guests’ first impressions, she said.

“A wedding starts the moment they receive the invitations,” said Heshme, who recently launched her event-designing and paper services company “A Whole Lotta Love.” (Yes, like the 1979 Led Zeppelin song, she assured.)

As a graphic designer, Heshme is inherently detail-focused, and her concept seeks to unify a wedding experience through subtle paper products and signage that carry visual continuity in graphics, typography and colors. Her recommendations include basics like invitations and decorations down to minute details like buffet labeling and tags for party favors.

The idea for AWLL started with Heshme’s own wedding. “I used to design for fun for friends and for me. I used to do paper gift decorations. Last year I got married, and I decided to do the whole thing myself,” she told The Daily Star.

Her do-it-yourself aesthetic comprised pastel signs stuck in cupcakes, chains of paper decorations over the dance floor and handmade party favors with colorful confetti. This is the kind of design-oriented simplicity Hashme wants to infuse into other weddings.

“A lot of decorations are handmade,” she said. “I can adapt to any bride, but she has to be into details.”

AWLL’s concept comes at an opportune moment in the cycle of wedding trends. The lighthearted weddings that Heshme envisions and which focus on graphics and handmade or upcycled decorations are part of an all-encompassing wedding trend planners loosely categorize as vintage.

As part of an international trend, brides are leaning toward vintage themes that incorporate campy elements such as thrift store furniture, natural elements like bales of hay and raw-looking metals like copper or bronze, wedding planner Nataly Chreif told The Daily Star in an interview about her company, Desire.

Mira Mabsout, business manager at the wedding dress boutique L’Atelier Blanc, agreed that the AWLL concept falls in line with popular wedding themes. Heshme launched AWLL in March at L’Atelier Blanc, which also aims at a youthful but sophisticated clientele.

At L’Atelier Blanc, brides have likewise been interested in understated gowns harkening back to themes from the 1950s and 1920s – periods that complement the kind of aesthetic simplicity Heshme is offering, Mabsout said.

“Vintage is very popular,” Mabsout said. “I don’t know how it’s revived, but maybe because of [period] movies like the Great Gastby.”

Heshme’s isn’t targeting nuptials only, she said. Her corporate clientele includes Kitchen Central, a boutique cooking academy in Gemmayzeh. When she designed a party invitation for the company, she took direction from its logo, using the same sans-serif typeface and white-on-black color combo to create a coherent graphic aesthetic.

“The details are what I work on,” Heshme said.

Irtijal: Free improv to revolutionary maqam - [more]
By: Jim Quilty
Date: Wednesday, April 02, 2014

BEIRUT: “Revolutionary maqam” seems like a contradiction in terms. The classical music of the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Muslim Central Asia, maqam signifies stability.

You might imagine that “revolutionary maqam” refers to those oud-accompanied dirges to political struggle often heard sung in Palestine, Syria, Egypt or anyplace else where the word maqam has meaning. In the case of the music of Nicolas Artuso-Royer, the struggle is less political than artistic.

“Nicolas really is a revolutionary character,” guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui says. “He studied maqam in Syria and in Turkey and emerged from it with the theory that, historically, the performance of maqam was much freer than it is today, that most contemporary musicians aren’t performing maqam the way it was originally intended.

“So he went back to the history of maqam before it was institutionalized and emerged with a sound that’s more authentic while sounding much more modern.”

Artuso-Royer’s opinions echo those of musicologists as well as a handful of local artists. Vocalist Rima Khcheich, for example, has devoted her career to liberating Arabic classical music from the shackles of convention while remaining true to maqam’s essential principles.

Artuso-Royer will front the opening concert of Irtijal 14, the 14th edition of the International Festival for Experimental Music in Lebanon, being staged Wednesday at the Beirut Art Center.

The Canadian-born oud and violin virtuoso will head an ensemble of local musicians – Omar Dewachi and Jad Saliba (ouds), Paed Conca (clarinet) and Béchir Saadé (nai).

This isn’t just a pickup band of freelance musicians. “Nicolas has been here looking for players. These musicians were chosen because of their knowledge of the music and open-mindedness,” Sehnaoui says. “Most often he finds [accompanists] in contemporary circles rather than on the traditional side.”

Co-founded by Sehnaoui and trumpet player and visual artist Mazen Kerbaj, Irtijal has been an intriguing phenomenon on the Lebanese art scene. In a country whose festival programs – particularly the summer’s international music events – are routinely disrupted by security concerns, Irtijal has persevered through 14 consecutive seasons without a hiccup.

“We got lucky over the years,” Sehnaoui recalls. “In 2005, we were staged in July [Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in February 2005]. But we got tired of being grouped with the summer music festivals, so in 2006, we shifted to the first week in April.”

In July 2006, Israel launched a 34-day war on Lebanon.

“April is a good place for us – just after Ecrans du Reel, just before BiPod – other events know this time is ‘ours,’ in a way. Even Meeting Points postponed their opening by a day so that we wouldn’t clash. Some events don’t care, of course, but many of us are talking to each other ... getting into the spirit of cooperation.”

Irtijal has matured. The inaugural edition in 2000 was a one-day affair, but since 2003, the event has blossomed to run over 4-6 days. The natural habitat for Beirut’s sound artists and experimental musicians migrating from various musical fringes (from indie rock to jazz), the event regularly hosts up to 30 international performers a year.

The 2014 festival will host performers from La Voix est Libre (The Throat is Clear) festival. Since it was founded in 2005, the Paris event has represented itself as “a haven for [international] dancers, acrobats, actors, poets and musicians who meet here to sublimate the art of encounter and to transgress the limits of language.”

Curated by Blaise Merlin, La Voix’s Beirut shows are part of a regional tour that includes dates in Cairo and Alexandria. The festival will combine its own program – a workshop at Ashkal Alwan, for instance – and an Irtijal set with several other artist collaborations.

“They proposed a program,” Sehnaoui recalls, “and I made a counterproposal. I’m pretty happy with the lineup. Merlin’s bringing in artists from his Paris festival who are new to Beirut.”

One of the inter-festival collaborations in the program is “Wormholes & Hoye,” featuring two electric guitarists – Sehnaoui and Jean-François Pauvros – and two live painters – Kerbaj and Vincent Fortemps.

Live painting is a performance technique that draws on various media. In the most recent phase of his sound work, Kerbaj has put aside his trumpet to create elaborate liquid art, mixing fluids of varying colors and densities while an overhead camera observes and projects the mutable images on screen. The form was most-recently seen in Beirut during Maqamat Dance Company’s January performances of “Watadour” (It turns).

“This set is actually my special request,” Sehnaoui smiles. “In fact, Mazen was inspired to do ‘Wormholes’ after watching Vincent Fortemps perform in Belgium. Later on, Jean-François watched ‘Wormholes’ and suggested we should perform ‘Hoy’ and ‘Wormholes’ together. For us this is a bit of a dream come true.”

Irtijal’s programs are always varied – boasting a range of genres that includes free improvisation, free jazz, contemporary classical, post-rock, experimental electronic music and sound art. Sehnaoui feels that the 2014 program is particularly varied, with the sounds in virtually every concert different from one another.

The artists mingle local and returning international artists with Beirut premieres.

Tripoli guitar hero Osman Arabi will feature in a solo gig. The free-improv version of post-punk rockers Scrambled Eggs will perform with Pauvros, from Hoye. The duet PRAED will reassemble for a set.

Debuts include Algeria’s Mehdi Haddab, dubbed “the Jimi Hendrix of the oud,” Egyptian post-rock trio Telepoetic and Austrian-Italian free jazz ensemble M.A.D. Ending this year’s edition will be DJ Shackleton, one of three figures credited with founding dubstep.

“Actually Shakleton doesn’t really do dubstep anymore,” Sehnaoui notes. “He’s moved on to a sort of intelligent electronic music that’s unclassifiable, at least to me.

“Yaani, it’s sound art-based dance music that’s really trance-inducing. His set is going to move in all these electronic music directions he’s been exploring.

“His show caps the big closing night slam,” Sehnaoui says. “It’ll be a long night, a fun night.”

Irtijal 14 opens Wednesday at Beirut Art Center and continues until April 5 at various venues around the city. For more information, see www.irtijal.org

Catering expo features burgers, baristas and bloggers - [more]
By: The Daily Star
Date: Tuesday, April 01, 2014

BEIRUT: HORECA, Lebanon’s biggest food and beverage trade show, opens Tuesday afternoon to offer a new menu of events covering trends in the international and local food industries.

“The first function is to bring what’s new for the industry players, to discover new ideas to find new products. This is the major role of HORECA,” said Joumana Salame, managing director of Hospitality Services, the trade show’s main organizer.

Burgers, bloggers and baristas are three new additions to this week’s program, which is open Tuesday to Friday, from 3-9 p.m. at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure center

Lebanon’s culinary heritage remains one of the country’s greatest unifiers and attractions. This year’s expo has attracted between 30-35 special guests from abroad, Salame said, a major feat considering the security situation.

One of the major players in the local industry, Hospitality Services has picked up on some of the big food movements, such as the growth of gourmet burger outlets. HORECA will host a three-hour battle for the best burger Friday.

“Burgers are also a trend that are picking up. ... You have so many new burger places more in the bistro-style that are coming to the market and it’s interesting to discover new tastes.”

With no consensus among the city’s food writers about where to get the best burger and with new joints popping up every couple of months, the lighthearted competition should settle – at least for a moment – the long-running search for the best bite.

Complementing HORECA’s annual bartending and cocktail shows, baristas serving up fancy coffee drinks will show off their tricks in a competition this week.

Local food bloggers will also come together in a new panel discussion aiming to highlight their growing voice in the local food and beverage scene.

Wine experts and diplomats are among the new guests this year. Organizers have invited a panel of international sommeliers and wine writers to taste and critique Lebanese wines. Delegations from the Dutch and French embassies have also joined the rows of stands to highlight their own national culinary heritage.

The show has expanded its presentations by local chefs to highlight local culinary talent, including cooks from the Lebanese Army, who will go head-to-head in HORECA’s competition kitchens.

In response to a global movement for locally sourced ingredients, the trade show has grown its corner dedicated to local producers, Salame said. “There’s a clear trend from trade associations to promote and support local farmers,” she said. “This is an international movement, and it is coming to Lebanon.”

Over the past year, Hospitality Services has worked with similar organizations in the region to launch editions of HORECA around the Middle East, including in Saudi Arabia and Jordon.

“It’s something very special ... to reward innovation and reward creativity,” Salame said. “We promote Beirut as a capital of taste in the region.”

Billy Karam on memories and model cars - [more]
By: Rayane Abou Jaoude
Date: Friday, March 28, 2014

ZOUK MOSBEH, Lebanon: Deep inside the Karam family’s lumberyard lies Nabil Karam’s treasure trove: a two-floor museum replete with model cars, airplanes, boats and dioramas of Karam’s rally team as well as re-enactments of the Lebanese civil war. The collection even extends to figurines of Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft, Power Rangers and Superman. In 2011, Karam, a professional race car driver better known by his nickname “Billy,” broke three Guinness World Records with 27,777 model cars and 333 dioramas. Three years on, it’s no surprise cars are still the center of Karam’s life, but at this moment it’s safety rather than speed that preoccupies the rally racer.

Sitting down for an interview with The Daily Star, Karam tells the story of his love of automobiles, model building and the message he wants to send to young Lebanese.

Q: Did you have a love for model cars and dioramas as a child?

A: My father, God rest his soul, used to be wood tradesman. He used to bring me some wood, and I would build boats with the wood. When I was very young, I used to build big, beautiful boats, and I would collect cars, and together with my brothers and cousins we formed a small club and put together all the cars we collected.

Then our house was robbed during the [Lebanese Civil] War and I was kidnapped, and I developed a sort of complex [because] everything I built as a child was stolen. I later found a big boat in the garbage that I had built myself. I saved it, and I made it into a diorama. With time, I started collecting again, and I collected the cars I raced in from abroad. I go around the whole world to look for the cars that I want.

The hobby comes from my older brother, who now collects classic cars. He began racing, and I caught his virus by accident.

Q: You’ve built dioramas of scenes from the Lebanese war. Why include these scenes in your museum?

A: We don’t discuss these things. Lebanon has gone through years of war, so I built war dioramas to show the stages of the wars that Lebanon went through.

We are showing what happened in Lebanon, without taking sides, to show the new generation what happened, but without commenting. ... We are not proud of these wars, but is there a Lebanese who was not affected?

Q: Following your world record achievements, what are your future plans for the museum, and do you aim to break more records?

A: The museum is a hobby, not a purpose. I am having fun. I don’t have a lot of free time unfortunately, or else this whole warehouse would have been a museum. I’m very involved in organizations. ... My family and children are abroad, so I travel a lot, and I do a lot of rally racing abroad, since I don’t race in Lebanon anymore. The free time I have here I spend at the museum.

These records have not been broken by anyone yet. I now have approximately 400 dioramas, and I exceeded 30,000 model cars. I haven’t counted them honestly.

Q: What is your favorite car?

A: Of course the car I drove and won with, which is the Porsche. I am the founder of the first Porsche Club in the Middle East, and I have over 7,000 Porsche model cars.

Q: Why did you stop car racing in Lebanon?

A: I have been the Lebanese champion eight times; I have nothing left to prove. ... The cars are now very expensive, and I need to have a lot of free time in Lebanon. There is now a new generation, all of whom are very brave and are of course much stronger than we are.

The new generation likes to take more risks, but I no longer take part in races that are very dangerous. I no longer have the interest to take risks.

Q: Does the museum have a message for its visitors?

A: I have a clear message from the museum to the new generation: Put on the seat belt. Don’t drive fast out of idiocy. And don’t drink and drive. If we can help save one life with this message, we would have made a difference.

We all learned from the accidents we made, and this is the message that I am trying to show, a message of safety through this museum.

When we drive fast during races, there are over 300 volunteers following us: the Army, the Internal Security Forces, the Red Cross, volunteers from the ATCL [Automobile and Touring Club of Lebanon] and they close regular roads. There is help close by to prevent something from happening. There is a big difference.

Q: I’ve heard it said that you never want to grow up, is it true?

A: [Motions to his collection] This is all because I don’t want to grow up. Because of Lebanon’s worries, one day here is like one year abroad. So you need to be distracted.

Abou Adel: No-frills grilled meat for 60 years - [more]
By: Beckie Strum
Date: Thursday, March 27, 2014

BEIRUT: From underneath the counter top, Mohammad Khawam pulls out and plates handfuls of pink cabbage from a heavy barrel filled to the brim with pickling brine dyed with beetroot.

It’s the final step in the daily routine to ready his closet-sized sandwich shop in Al-Khandaq al-Ghamiq. Khawam is the third generation to lead Abou Adel, which has been a fixture of the now-decrepit neighborhood in central Beirut for almost 60 years. Khawam’s grandfather opened the shop in 1955, when counters specializing in Lebanese street food littered Downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods before the area became the epicenter of the country’s 15-year Civil War.

“It’s been in the same place since my grandfather opened it,” says Khawam, a man of few words, just like his father, who prepares garlic spread in the back of the shop. Abou Adel’s no-frills menu is all there in the display cooler: beef, chicken, lamb’s testicles, brain and kafta.

The cooler is missing only kibbeh nayyeh, raw minced meat, which Khawam serves every day but Monday. Beirut’s slaughterhouses take Mondays off, and you can’t serve day-old raw meat, Khawam explains. A menu hangs above the counter – an unnecessary fitting considering everything is the same price: LL5,000.

Khawam’s grandfather, the first Abou Adel, came to Beirut from Syria and settled in Al-Khandaq al-Ghamiq, opening the shop first as a breakfast joint selling hummus and foul, a fava bean dish. He then expanded to fish and fries in the afternoons. These days, Abou Adel comprises two hole-in-the-wall shops, one for breakfast hummus and foul and the other for grilled meat. The grill shop is usually open for the afternoon and early evening, closing whenever Khawam sells out.

By the ’50s and ’60s Al-Khandaq al-Ghamiq was filled with migrants coming to Beirut from rural parts of the country, particularly the south. Khawam’s grandfather and father married women from the southern region of Nabatieh.

The family history is important if only for the effect it has had on the lunch menu. Preparing grilled meat requires no special talent, Khawam says, but his shop also sells frakeh sandwiches and kibbeh nayyeh with a spicy southern twist. Both meat preparations include a spice blend called camouneh, which is unique to southern cooking and consists of bulgur wheat mixed with cumin, hot pepper and a variety of garden herbs. The shop grows its camouneh blend – mint, green onion and marjoram – in a large flowerpot on the street.

Abou Adel sits one street over from the Green Line that bisected warring east and west Beirut in the ’70s and ’80s, and the neighboring buildings are mostly skeletal remains being torn down for development projects. The roofless St. George Church down the street is as dilapidated as some of the county’s Roman ruins and with the same nostalgic grandeur as weeds grow around ornately carved stone columns.

The shop endured the Civil War, but not without tragedy. Proximity to the front line put employees in grave danger, and Khawam’s grandfather Abou Adel was shot and killed by sniper fire.

“The war was very hard because my father and uncles were in the Army, so my grandmother had to take over the shop when my grandfather died,” Khawam said.

Decades later, the view of Downtown from outside the shop has changed as high rises and designer brands have taken over since war razed the cinema and souks that made up the bustling city center. Catering to heavy foot traffic, street food vendors of the Abou Adel variety were once commonplace, but they’ve since been replaced with pricey shisha joints and foreign franchises serving ice cream, coffee and international cuisine.

That’s been a blessing for the restaurant, Khawam explains. Employees Downtown comprise most of its delivery business as it’s one of the closest and cheapest eateries selling basic Lebanese fare.

By noon, the shop is buzzing with a mixture of family and neighbors eating and chatting loudly at a makeshift table inside. The owners’ children sit at a plastic table outside, nibbling on grilled pita stuffed with kafta. With a laugh, a customer pointed at the young boys: “And there’s the littlest Adel.”

Basking in the afterglow of Beirut's fireflies - [more]
By: Olivia Snaije
Date: Monday, March 24, 2014

BREST, France: It was Friday night at 10:30 p.m. and a battering rain assaulted the crowds queued outside the Petit Théâtre du Quartz auditorium.

The Brestois (Brest natives) defied the elements for the European debut of “These shoes are made for walking,” by Lebanese dancer and choreographer Nancy Naous. The disjointed movement of dancers Dalia Naous (the choreographer’s sister) and Nadim Bahsoun – accompanied by Wael Kodeih (aka Rayess Bek) – is a gasping, suffocating, ripping and discomfiting thing, meant to distill the present situation in the Arab world.

The audience was captivated.

At the end of the show, people cheered and whistled, then crossed the street to the legendary Vauban concert space to hear DJ Maurice Louca, who strides at the forefront of Egypt’s experimental music scene.

Naous’ and Louca’s shows were part of “Beyrouth – Les Lucioles,” (Beirut – the Fireflies), a multidisciplinary program that has been the guest of honor at Dansfabrik, the contemporary dance festival hosted by the Quartz cultural center.

The Quartz’s young director Matthieu Banvillet developed a passion for Lebanon after 2009, when he invited dancer, curator and activist Yalda Younes to dance in Brest. Traveling to Beirut in 2013, he asked Younes to curate a program for the festival’s 2014 edition, deliberately choosing to showcase artists working at the margins of the limelight.

“It was important to me that [Younes] was politically engaged,” Banvillet told The Daily Star. “We have a privileged space here and can allow ourselves to make statements. Yalda was coherent in her choice of artists, and audiences can follow a clear and rich line of thought.”

Banvillet said his colleagues were immediately receptive to the idea. “Although very few have traveled to Lebanon,” he said, “there is a strong imaginary about the country as well as empathy and a great curiosity.”

“We are not only Lebanese,” Younes stressed at a packed Q-and-A session, noting that several of her program’s artists were from elsewhere in the Middle East. “I do not want to limit us to our nationalities. I do not want to represent Lebanon. The government does that.”

The point went over well with this public, which has a very strong regional identity.

The audience was curious, asking a wide range of questions, but were most interested in learning how artists work in Lebanon. They were surprised to hear that there is no state funding for the arts in Lebanon and that in fact there is a pervasive contempt for those who choose an artistic career.

“How do your parents react to what you are doing?” asked a Belgian high school senior, among a group of 18 computer technology students who spent a weeklong school trip attending Dansfabrik performances.

The question provoked the most laughs, yet a degree of sadness underlay some of the artists’ responses.

Among the program’s several successful events was the Baladi Dance workshop led by dancer and activist Alexandre Paulikevitch, which drew twice as many people as the space allowed.

Three of the Belgian students – Nicolas Denié, Sebastien Loncin and Luis Lopez – all agreed that their participation in Paulikevitch’s workshop was their favorite part of the week.

“He made us feel at ease and brought out the best in us. ... We learned that one’s pelvis should move down rather than up. ... We let our feminine side out. ... He taught us to get to know our own bodies,” they chimed. “Dance is hard work!”

Paulikevitch will feature in a video the students will complete about their week at the festival.

The music and dance performances took the students by surprise as they assumed anything coming out of an Arab country would be traditional. “They have a revolutionary side to them,” Lopez observed. “They are passionate and creative, maybe because no one helps them. They are amazing. They are warriors.”

Christine Tamburro, a former dancer who heads the Escabelle Association, which introduces school children to dance, said it was inspiring to discover artists from the Middle East.

“We are very happy when people from far away come to us in Brest since we are a little off the beaten track,” he said. “It’s very interesting to see the political side of the performances and also to learn about the difficult work conditions there.”

Dansfabrik ended on a high note with Paulikevitch’s riveting Saturday evening performance of “Tajwal” (Wanderings). He followed the show with an improvised Q-and-A session with his enraptured audience, keen to know more about the messages in his choreography.

“I had a certain responsibility, because in way we were going to be telling the audience a story,” Banvillet recalled. “We wanted to give people an idea of what is being created in Lebanon.

“Even if on the scene we are sometimes confronted by violence – because the performances are rooted in politics – at the same time there is gentleness, an impermeability to this environment, which is not stopping these artists from moving forward. They have a luminous presence.”

For more information about Dansfabrik and “Beyrouth – Les Lucioles,” see www.dansfabrik.com.

Gallery heralds an Art Deco revival in Beirut - [more]
By: The Daily Star
Date: Thursday, March 20, 2014

BEIRUT: If you’re walking on Trabaud Street in Ashrafieh, you may stumble across a sizable new space dedicated to modern art and designer furniture. ARDECO Gallery – which opened last month – is a venue focusing on modern European art and design, such as tables, decorative objects and sculptures. The Art Deco movement emerged in France after World War I. It combined traditional craft motifs with industrial materials and was characterized by lavish ornamentation, bold colors and geometric shapes. Art Deco objects were said to represent the glamour and beauty of society, along with societal progresses.

Facing the new venue is a smaller one, which opened in 1998, manager Elsie Sikias explained to The Daily Star. The space is dedicated to bringing 1930s to 1960s vintage French furniture to Beirut. They also import items from the renowned Hugues Chevalier and Steiner collections. Most of these pieces are sourced at French auctions.

The newly opened ARDECO Gallery has a different focus. The paintings on show “are mainly [by] artists who lived in the 20th century and who don’t exhibit their works anymore,” Sikias said. “It is the same thing for our furniture, so we don’t compete [with] the other galleries.”

Paintings by European artists adorn the walls with a broad range of genres and techniques. Bas-reliefs, mixed-media works and fauvist paintings come together to create a panorama of 19th-century European cultural production. Many of the artists are relatively unknown, but the gallery provides an opportunity to discover new names and talents.

“We bring a sample of each [artistic] genre that was popular at that time,” Sikias explained, “to see what attracts people.”

The furniture ranges from traditional to modern, with many pieces employing noble materials such as silver and golden leaf. The gallery’s collection changes every three to six months.

ARDECO Gallery is located on Trabaud Street, Ashrafieh. For more information, please call 01-338-785.

Tracing Lebanon's history through its hairstyles - [more]
By: India Stoughton
Date: Friday, March 14, 2014

BEIRUT: Hairstyles might not be the most obvious lens through which to trace Lebanon’s postindependence history. In her biography of celebrity coiffure Naïm, however, Carole Corm manages to place his work in a socio-historical context that renders the book of interest to those more concerned with history than hairdressing. Through her account of Naïm’s life, from his birth in Lebanon in 1941 to his emergence as Lebanon’s undisputed master of haute coiffure and his subsequent travels around the world, Corm provides a measure of insight into Lebanon’s turbulent history, from prewar glamour and lingering French influence to the Civil War’s destruction.

“Naïm: A Brush with History,” the latest release from Darya Press, is a large coffee table book with as much emphasis on visuals as text. Divided into 17 chapters – each of which is preceded by a timeline placing events in Naïm’s life in a broader historical context – the book is packed with old photographs capturing the hairdresser and his entourage; models sporting his inventive styles; and old newspaper clippings recording his escapades.

It also includes a selection of drawings by Naïm himself, simple sketches capturing a vast range of hairstyles executed through the decades.

In her foreword to the book, Corm writes that, as well as drawing attention to Naïm’s colorful life story, she hoped to “take another look at the historical events that have rocked the Middle East and Europe over the last 50 years, whether it be the Lebanese War or the fall of the Iron Curtain and to show you this through the eyes of Naïm, who has often witnessed them firsthand from an unusual and overlooked standpoint.”

In this regard, the book is a mixed success. The opening chapters, during which Naïm establishes himself in Lebanon and – having become hairdresser to the stars – achieves a sort of stardom in his own right, paint a fascinating portrait of prewar Lebanon.

Naïm’s is a quintessential rags-to-riches story. Born to a wealthy Catholic family two years before Lebanon’s independence, he had a troubled childhood. He twice attempted suicide, the first time at only 8 years of age, after being sexually assaulted by a “notorious womanizer,” whose full name is not given but a photograph of whom appears in the book.

Determined to achieve independence from his gambling-addict father and absentee mother, Naïm left school at the age of 15, and his uncle found him work at a salon in Bab Idriss.

From this small salon, the talented hairdresser soon rose to a position to of prominence at the fashionable Bristol Hotel. Next came a stint at the St. Georges Hotel, prewar home of the international jet-set crowd, followed by a prestigious job under the famous French hairdresser Alexandre Paris at his Beirut salon, the Faubourg Saint-Honoré.

Naïm would eventually take over the salon at the age of 27 after his services became more sought after than those of his Parisian superior. Later he launched his own salon, The Beauty Shop, in 1970.

As Naïm’s life story unfolds, Corm provides a glimpse into the world of Lebanon’s privileged elite in the famously glamorous prewar years. Details of which hairstyles were in vogue at various times betray shifting influences dominating Beirut’s elite, whether drawing inspiration from the blonde locks of Hollywood heartthrobs like Marilyn Monroe or the chic chignons favored by fashionable Parisians.

During the 1950s, Beirut’s in crowd enjoyed ice skating and hula hooping at the Bristol Hotel, Corm writes, and feasted on “Russian Salads,” a light-hearted reminder of the ongoing Cold War.

In the 1960s, the Miss Europe beauty pageant took place at the newly opened Casino du Liban, while the Phoenicia held the lavish “Bal des Tetes,” dedicated to outlandish headgear. At an event highlighting artificial hair, held at Beit Mery’s Al-Bustan Hotel, Naïm made waves with a model wearing nothing but a white swimsuit, a bridal veil and a floor-length plait. Another model appeared in a dress made entirely of hair.

“No one cared about things like religion,” Naïm is quoted as saying during a passage foreshadowing the looming Civil War. “We had too many parties to think about.”

The hairdresser had by this time achieved celebrity status almost on a par with his famous customers and was frequently featured in the local press. He rented a penthouse in Badaro, Corm writes, bought a black Jaguar and began collecting Oriental antiques.

The extent of Naïm’s fame and fortune reveals the values of high society in 1960s Beirut. In 1964, Corm notes, local hairdressers became so enraged by the popularity of French and other international coiffures – many of whom were setting up salons in Beirut – that “over 1,000 angry hairdressers demonstrated in front of the Faubourg.”

The list of celebrities who frequented Naïm’s salon is extensive. As well as a global tour with Sabah, who claimed Naïm as her personal coiffeur, he was patronized by Arab and international stars including Johnny Hallyday, Anita Ekberg, Jayne Mansfield, Shirley Bassey, Linda Christian, Jean Seberg, Umm Kulthum, Faten Hamama, Hind Ruston, Algerian singer Warda, Rene Mouawad and Lebanon’s beloved Fairuz. He also styled the locks of various members of the Jordanian, Saudi and British royal families.

Unfortunately, these encounters remain little more than names in Corm’s biography, which includes minimal anecdotes or reminiscences relating to these figures.

What quotes are included from the man himself suggest Naïm was utterly consumed by his profession. He likens hairdressers to deities, jokes that seemingly emphasize the frivolity of his profession yet suggest a measure of egotism.

“Jesus Christ himself didn’t manage to please everyone,” the haute coiffure once said, “so don’t ask too much from your hairdresser.”

“Even though some act like divas,” he cautioned, “don’t think hairdressers are gods.”

Hairdressing-related aphorisms such as these form the bulk of direct quotes from the book’s subject. Just as stories about the clients he worked with are notably absent, reflections on history and personal relationships are also few and far between.

“Ultimately, I think I was too obsessed with their hair to think about women romantically,” Naïm is quoted as saying during a passage detailing his short-lived but widely publicized relationship with Egyptian actress Zubaida Tharwat.

Originally conceived as a means to record the styles created for members of the Saudi royal family, who could not be photographed, Naïm’s drawings emphasize his obsession. The women he captures in his simple, colorful sketches are often missing features. Noses, eyes and mouths are frequently omitted, but jewelry and hair are carefully rendered in minute detail.

It was only once the Civil War broke out in 1975 that Naïm’s obsessive worldview appears to have shifted. “I realized then that life wasn’t only about scissors and hairpins,” the hairdresser recalls.

Ironically, it is from this point on that the book loses much of its historical interest. Corm details Naïm’s flight to Kuwait, followed by stints in Cairo, Paris, Poland and finally London, where he continues to live and work today. Lebanon becomes little more than a footnote in these chapters, which focus on the hairdresser’s business ventures, punctuated with fleeting references to the devastation in his homeland.

“Naïm: A Brush with History” is beautifully produced, displaying more attention to detail than the average coffee table book. Although the book is most likely to appeal to those with an interest in retro fashion, Corm has managed to put together an entertaining narrative that may also interest those seeking insight into the vagaries and values of Lebanon’s prewar elite.

“Naïm: A Brush with History” by Carole Corm is published by Darya Press and is available from selected local bookstores

Zuhair Murad design on yet another Barbie - [more]
By: The Daily Star
Date: Tuesday, March 11, 2014

BEIRUT: An iconic plastic doll has been one of Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad’s most high-profile clients over the past year. Murad has dressed another Barbie, the classic blonde doll, from the brands’ 2014 Gold Label collection. In November, Murad made news when Barbie released a doll that paid homage to American singer Jennifer Lopez that featured two miniature versions of red carpet couture designed by Murad.

For the past several decades, Barbie has paired with luxury and iconic fashion designers to make special edition dolls. More recent collaborators include shoe designer Christian Louboutin, who created a line of pushpin-sized heels for the doll in 2010, and wedding dress designer Vera Wang, who sporadically makes tiny versions of her luxury bridalwear. Zuhair is the first designer from Lebanon to work with the American toy company.

The new Barbie, announced just before the toy celebrated its 55th birthday Thursday, wears a nude silk and tulle gown with black beading from Murad’s spring-summer 2012 couture collection. Barbie paired the dress with a simple updo and drop diamond earrings. Targeted for adult collectors, the doll costs $75 – two zeros shy of lower-end Lebanese couture.

But she’s not the only blonde bombshell to step out in this glittering frock. American actress “Gossip Girl” star Blake Lively wore the dress to the premier of her 2013 film “Savages.” Fashion entertainment news gushed about the strapless gown.

“Murad recreates one of his most-celebrated silhouettes exclusively for Barbie doll,” said a press release from the firm, a brand owned by American toy giants Mattel. Barbie doesn’t go so far as to acknowledge the star who made the dress famous.

“The Zuhair Murad Barbie doll wears an exquisite recreation of a Zuhair Murad design seen at a Hollywood premiere.”

A perfect pairing: Massaya's Fireplace serves up Lebanon - [more]
By: Elise Knutsen
Date: Friday, March 07, 2014

FAQRA, Lebanon: Oenophiles and gourmands will soon have a new a new hearth to gather around: Fireplace Restaurant in Faqra, the brainchild of brothers Sami and Ramzi Ghosn, who own and manage the Massaya winery. Refined yet inviting, the venue is sure to be a hit for those seeking worthy wine and honest cuisine.

Fireplace has a warm, convivial atmosphere befitting its name. At a preopening lunch, families enjoy a hearty lunch while young, cosmopolitan types clink glasses of 2011 Massaya Rouge.

At a fireside buffet, patrons help themselves to a variety of filling, comfort dishes including roasted lamb, sweet potatoes, moghrabieh and grilled eggplant. A strange mélange of '90s R&B and early 2000s pop plays over the speakers.

Staying true to the Massaya legacy, however, wine is the keystone of the experience. A variety of Massaya wines are on hand, expressly paired with the dishes.

"Sometimes people are not very comfortable in a wine environment," Ramzi said. "We noticed that people are more easily approachable through food than through wine."

While many of the restaurant's dishes are not traditionally Lebanese, most have a decided Mediterranean flair: Pomegranates garnish an endive salad while grilled quail is served with freekeh.

All the plates were designed with Lebanese wine in mind.

"The vision is to elaborate on wines from Lebanon," Ramzi said.

"Lebanon, luckily, has a tradition of winemaking. Way before Europe.

"Where is the temple of Bacchus, the god of spirits and wine? It's not in Bordeaux, it's here. It's in Lebanon, not Italy."

The food is based on a traditional Lebanese "winter diet," Ramzi continued. "During the summer, our ancestors used to drink arak, but in the winter they would drink wine."

"We tried to implement Lebanese cuisine that is wine friendly."

While the recipes may derive inspiration from disparate points on the globe, the restaurant, and indeed the entire Massaya operation, is something of an homage to ancient Lebanon.

By featuring dishes designed to bring out the unique flavors of Lebanese wine, Fireplace salutes what Ramzi calls the "huge contribution that the Phoenicians made to the wine culture on the Mediterranean. ... We are here to imitate the Phoenicians, our ancestors."

Even the building, painstakingly built from stones excavated on-site, harkens back to traditional Lebanese dwellings.

Fireplace Restaurant is part of a massive project the brothers have been constructing on a Faqra hillside since 2007.

While Massaya's main vineyards and caves are located in the Bekaa Valley, the Faqra site will soon house a fully operational winery and event space. Chardonnay vines have already been planted outside.

"You'll have here the winery to produce the white wine of Massaya. There will be a professional tasting room, a bakery and [Fireplace], the winter restaurant," Ramzi explained.

Racks of bottles are already aging in newly constructed caves at the Faqra site.

"We're still feeling out the space, and seeing how people flow through it," he said.

There is a decided continuity of message between the new venue and the Massaya ethos as articulated by Sami and Ramzi.

"The idea of Massaya is to spread the image of Lebanon as a food and wine culture," Sami said. "Our vision is to convey an image of a welcoming, tolerating, open-minded, cosmopolitan country."

Inside the restaurant, guests relax around long, tavern-style tables and casual couches in a nearby lounge as they enjoy the fare, chatting with European accents. Green light escapes from a wine-bottle chandelier dangling overhead.

Fireplace Restaurant is still ironing out the wrinkles in its service and presentation ahead of the winery's planned launch on July 5, but it's sure to be a crowd favorite in the future.

Houda Kassatly and the aesthetics of the Lebanese cargo truck - [more]
By: Chirine Lahoud
Date: Friday, February 28, 2014

BEIRUT: It can be a hateful thing, driving behind a cargo truck. These huge vehicles are so accomplished at blocking the view of the drivers behind them that they always manage to increase the stress levels of motorists around them. In Lebanon as much as anyplace else, trucks can also be a source of great surprise.

Many older models of truck can make you wonder about their road worthiness, yet in Lebanon such vintage vehicles are also often adorned with paintings – whether figurative drawings, calligraphy or other symbols – enlivening the irritating, monstrous utility of cargo beds, bumpers and indiscernible metallic bits.

This is the perspective Lebanese photographer Houda Kassatly has brought to bear for her latest series, now on show at Alice Mogabgab Gallery. “Voyage des Mots au gre des Camions” (The Travel of Words through Lebanon’s Trucks) exhibits Kassatly’s take on the unique cultural role these trucks play.

Taken between 2006 and 2011, these 50-odd photos depict the colorful and symbolic representations of Lebanon found on the skins of its laboring vehicles.

Not content to show the photos alone, Kassatly accompanies her work with the truck ornamentations’ different readings.

Kassatly may be best known for her photos of abandoned architecture and the profound absence that resides in Lebanon’s obsolescent houses. Her lens brings these ruined places into sharp definition, highlighting the integral place they occupy in the county’s cultural heritage. Although consigned to the past, the beauty of these structures is resuscitated in her photography.

The same aesthetic can be ascribed to Kassatly’s trucks series. The scribbles and drawings should be accorded more significance than mere doodles on a metallic surface. For owner-operators, the designs adorning their vehicles are a way to appropriate the machines and to give them an identity.

Red, yellow and blue make up the vehicles’ principal color palette. It seems most of the mobile calligraphy embellishing them is created by artists working in the south of Lebanon and in the Bekaa Valley.

These ornaments can be classified into several types. The first identifies the driver by writing his name, or a sentence referring to him. The objective is to demonstrate that the operator’s vehicle is an extension of his self – indeed men are renowned for their attachment to their vehicles.

Many cargo trucks are embellished with such symbols as the hand of Fatima, horseshoes or representations of human eyes – all thought to be effective in warding off bad luck. Eye drawings specifically are assumed to prevent accidents and defuse negative vibes generally. Such prophylactics find expression in the cultural production of the country generally, not merely in that of those who labor in its infrastructure.

Kassatly’s photos also convey the importance of the deity in conferring protection. Many trucks bear odes seeking divine mercy, or else offering advice to the motorists behind them, suggesting the driver be grateful, for instance, in order to secure continuing divine protection and love.

Many of the trucks depicted in Kassatly’s photographs also attest to their operators’ Lebanese patriotism. At the bottom of some vehicles, miniature drawings depict the country, its cedars and residents.

Representations of fountains, bright blue skies and wildlife demonstrate that these utilitarian vehicles also operate as mobile media conveying pop cultural ideal types of the home country.

Distinctive as local designs are in their specifics, this approach to the decoration of working class vehicles is hardly restricted to Lebanon.

Syrian and Iraqi cargo trucks, which once plied Lebanon’s roadways more frequently than today, are adorned with similar design motifs. Indeed, when scratching the covers of periodicals devoted to the culture of the global south, a reader will find this type of pop cultural expression as far afield as Morocco and Pakistan.

As gallerist Alice Mogabgab suggested, Kassatly’s photographs bring new meaning to the working vehicles that other motorists often try to avoid. The photographer’s trucks series expresses the same sociologically informed perspective as studies of Beirut’s abandoned architectural heritage. Traditions, her oeuvre suggests, persist.

Houda Kassatly’s “Voyage des Mots au gre des Camions” is on show at Alice Mogabgab Gallery until March 28. For more information, please call 03-210-424.

Lebanese writers, publishers gear up for sixth Emirates literature festival - [more]
Date: Saturday, February 22, 2014

BEIRUT: This region has its fair share of book fairs. Beirut itself hosts at least three of them – for Francophone, art and international publications – supplemented by those in Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, along with older Arab cultural centers such as Cairo and Baghdad. Literary festivals, however, are more rare. Focused less on sales than lectures, workshops and discussions, events such as the annual Emirates Airline Festival of Literature provide an opportunity for publishers and the authors they represent to mingle with one another and their readers.

The sixth edition of EAFL, which runs March 4-8 in Dubai, aims to assemble some 100 international authors and close to 60 U.A.E-based writers for talks, workshops, panels, readings and discussions centered on the theme of metamorphosis. Each event is accompanied by simultaneous translation, allowing speakers of Arabic, English and French to access the full program.

The international authors scheduled to attend include such renowned figures as Ahdaf Soueif, Amit Chaudhary, Jeremy Paxman, Joanna Harris, Nicolas Evans and children’s book author Eoin Colfer. Eight Lebanese writers are also scheduled to make appearances.

Authors are invited based on several criteria, Yvette Judge, the festival’s acting director, explained. Some are selected because their work fits with the festival’s theme, others because of publishers’ recommendations, many because they have a significant local following. The topics of their talks vary widely.

“We definitely want them to interpret the theme in the way they want to,” Judge told The Daily Star by telephone. “Sometimes the theme just doesn’t work for them, and that’s also perfectly fine. Usually an author will want to talk about their latest book. Sometimes they’ll have a burning topic that they want to air, so quite a lot of them focus on current events and issues. ... In this part of the world, those sessions are always really popular.”

This year’s Lebanese contingent includes psychologist Anita Papas, author of self-help books on positive thinking; TV chef and cookbook author Arlette Boutros, journalist and founder of the Samir Kassir Foundation Gisele Khoury; Dubai-based authors Hani Soubra and Rewa Zeinati; and three children’s authors, Sahar Naja Mahfouz, Samar Mahfouz Barraj and Nadine Touma.

None of the Lebanese authors invited this year write straight fiction, something Judge said occurred by coincidence rather than design.

“Sometimes it’s just the way it works,” she said. “Issues and current events are popular and they seem to really pull the crowds in. ... A lot of them were ... recommended to us. Dubai has a very large Lebanese community, and we have a number of Lebanese staff here too, so we listened to their advice. It’s [also a question of] what’s going to be popular, so we’ve got journalists [and] we’ve got children’s writers.”

The Lebanese authors scheduled to take part all agreed that EAFL was a good place to make connections and raise their public profiles.

“I’ve been following the advance of the festival for the last two years,” said Barraj, who is participating for the first time this year. “And I think it’s a very good opportunity to meet other authors, to exchange experiences, to see how other authors think or work or maybe discuss issues about books or publishing or reading. It’s good exposure.”

“We are facing a problem in the Arab world,” Barraj said. “Not many people read.”

“We are doing our best to encourage children to read, and there’s no doubt that the Emirati market is important, because they do a lot of reading-related activities. They have book fairs in Sharjah [and] Abu Dhabi so it’s a good place to market books, and I know that they are interested in promoting reading, which helps a lot.”

Touma, whose Beirut-based publishing house Dar Onboz produces beautifully illustrated books for children and young adults, says she enjoys the interactive element of literature festivals. She took part three years ago, she explained, and was happy to be invited back this year.

“What I love about literary festivals,” she said, “which is very different from book fairs, is that you really get to meet your readers. You really get to share what you do. I wear two hats. I wear the hat of the publisher, as Dar Onboz, and I wear the hat of the writer and I love wearing the hat of the writer. I love giving workshops, I love doing storytelling sessions. I’ve requested a session with mothers this year, so I’m going to be doing [that] and sessions in schools and reading during the festival.”

Publishing exclusively in Arabic, Touma stressed the importance of festivals in engaging Arab audiences.

“This festival is really very special, frankly,” she said. “I’ve been to other festivals and ... you always see that the English speakers or readers come by the hundreds, and most Arab speakers or readers come in such few numbers. I hope to see that improving year after year. I think with such festivals and fairs – and it’s also about the activities – hopefully the numbers will increase with time.”

“When you go to Dubai, you don’t [only] get an Emirati audience,” she adds. “Last time, I had Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinians. [It’s] a very cosmopolitan place ... even if you go to the schools.”

For authors like Papas who write in English, the Gulf market can dictate whether or not the book merits an Arabic translation.

“My books have been in the Gulf ever since they were first released,” she explained, “so we already know that in the English version it was being sold in large amounts. In the Gulf, both languages are okay, but the demand was so huge that we felt like we needed to go with the Arabic too.”

She said the best thing about EAFL was the chance to reach those unfamiliar with her work: “I love [giving] public talks because I feel like I can reach a wider audience and I can get my message across. Dubai is giving me that opportunity.” – I.S.

The Emirates Literature Festival runs from March 4 to 8 at the InterContinental Hotel in Dubai Festival City. For more information, please visit emirateslitfest.com.

Lebanon's bicycle culture blossoms - [more]
By: Brooke Anderson
Date: Friday, February 21, 2014

BATROUN/BEIRUT: It’s 9 a.m. on a Sunday, and a procession of 35 bicyclists begins its regular 100-km route from the Dbayyeh marina to Batroun and back.

Crazed might be the best word to describe cyclists in Lebanon as they navigate between the country’s hazardous roads and reckless drivers. Today, the safest way for bikers to face the country’s terrifying road conditions is by going out in conspicuous, pushy hordes. But as they grow in numbers and support – with more bike shops, guided tours and events – the daredevils who are planting the seeds of a cycling culture in Lebanon may just be onto something.

Aside from churchgoers, very few people are awake this early on a weekend, except for some fish merchants who proudly display their daily catches on wooden stands along the narrow coastal highway. As we make our way further north, the small-town landscape becomes more rural, with herds of goats grazing on the steep cliffs just south of Batroun.

Karim Sokhn is the founder of Cycling Circle and has been bicycling for years – usually alone or on his vacations to Europe.

Three years ago, he announced an event via Facebook consisting of a daytrip by bike. To his surprise, he received around 100 responses. With each subsequent event, the turnout grew. Last year, his organization spawned Deghri Messengers, the first bicycle courier service in the Arab world, and now Sokhn is dreaming much bigger: designated car-free streets, bike festivals, a bicycle cafe and daytrip fundraisers.

He envisions a future in which Lebanon is a bicycle-friendly country, a far cry from the way the nation is today.

“It’s the revolution. It’s going, going, going,” Sokhn says, alluding to the motion of a bicycle spoke.

From Batroun, Sokhn leads the group into the green mountains of Tannourine, where local residents greet cyclers along the way with a respect likely unknown to daytrippers in cars.

After stopping several times to take pictures of the sea and the defunct railroad bridges over deep ravines, I lose the rest of the group. In a rare moment, I feel overwhelmed by my surroundings and forget the rush to our destination. I stop at a shop near a farm for a snack. A woman behind the counter greets me while chopping tomatoes with a precise concentration that can mean only one thing: tabbouleh.

“Stop by on your way back for the tabbouleh,” she says. It is an invitation I surely wouldn’t have received had I arrived by car.

Indeed, a major appeal of bicycling is the chance to get close to nature. From the saddle of the bike, the fresh sea and mountain air can be tasted, and views of all the intricate details of towns and countryside somehow appear larger than life. Biking also offers the exciting and exhilarating feeling of vulnerability against nature – peddling against the wind, dodging rocks and potholes on the way and fighting to finish the ride before sunset.

Our journey ended with lots of high fives and pats on the back, followed by complaints of muscle pain, hunger and chatter about plans for the next daytrip. They may go swimming if the weather next week is pleasant, an activity that is sure to attract another big turnout.

Over the past couple of years, Lebanon’s bicycling community has grown in number, bike club organizers said. Most of the biking activity is centered around the capital’s cycle clubs Cycling Circle and Beirut by Bike. But that’s starting to change.

Tripoli, an embattled city not usually associated with grass-roots environmental movements, recently saw the creation its own bike club.

Last April, avid cyclist and racing champion Mohammad Alali opened “The Bike Shop” in Lebanon’s northern city, where the activity is far less developed than in Beirut. In fact, he says that one of his motivations in opening the shop was to promote bicycling in northern Lebanon.

“People think of bicycles as being just for poor people,” he says, specifically pointing to Tripoli, where street vendors and couriers in the Old City carry out their work on two wheels. When he first opened shop, he organized a daytrip via Facebook; only three people showed up. He is happy to report that his latest outing – he guides cyclists around Tripoli four times a week – saw a turnout of around 50 people.

Cycling fanatics are even trying to push the green transportation’s business potential. Deghri Messengers, the first bicycle messenger service launched in the region, is now braving the streets of Beirut and growing rapidly. Deghri has doubled its deliveries since it first started.

And to the delight of many long-time cyclists who have spent years riding alone, it is becoming increasingly common – albeit still rare – to see people bicycling for transportation, to work for example, rather than just for sport.

Deghri Messengers founder Matt Saunders says he likes to think that his company is playing a part in getting people out of their cars and onto bikes, and as the country gets ever-more congested, he predicts that bikes will become a more practical option.

Marc Geara, who founded the NGO Green Wheels in 2010 to promote bicycling and the development of bike lanes in Lebanon, was virtually a lone rider on the streets of Beirut until recently.

Now he’s pleased to see a nascent but growing community, with many of the new cyclists – including budding professional racers – on the road relatively young, mostly in their 20s.

“I used to only bicycle in the summer. Now I bicycle all year long,” Geara says on a winter afternoon after making his daily commute through Beirut. “We’re getting more serious and motivated. There’s now a group dynamic. Things are progressing.”

Indeed, the once-lonely cyclist thinks this might be the year when things change. He says that plans are underway to create bike lanes in Beirut this summer, the study of which is being funded by the Ile de France regional government.

The plans include the rehabilitation of streets for pedestrians and cyclists, planting trees and installing lighting from the pine forest of Horsh Beirut all the way to the corniche. It might sound like a far-fetched fantasy to some, but for Geara, it is a natural progression that has been years in the making.

“ Lebanon is actually a good place for cycling. It’s not what people think,” he says. “There are areas with some gorgeous views.”

Three to four times a year, Geara brings a group on a 100-kilometer mega-ride through a scenic part of the country, such as the Cedars or the south.

With all of this newfound momentum, he sees the next step as being the training of more cyclists who could represent the country at international races.

Lebanon already has some competitive cyclists such as Hassan al-Hajj, who won the national road cycling championship and participated in the Francophone Games last year in Nice; Zaher al-Hage, who won the last year’s Mountain Bike championship; and Zaher’s wife Lina al-Hage, who placed 10th in the Asian Championship, one of the best performances ever for a Lebanese cyclist. Geara doesn’t see why there shouldn’t be a qualified Lebanese team in the Olympics or the Tour de France.

Getting to that point will require a major shift in Lebanese habits. But that might be just a matter of time.

Beirut by Bike founder Jawad Sbeity, who started the bicycle rental company in 2001, says that over the course of 13 years, he has seen a new generation grow up cycling – going from enclosed spaces to the open street – and the evolution of a small community of mavericks into a large network of civic-minded cyclists who routinely go on rides to raise money for charity. He also notes a growing awareness among drivers of the two-wheelers among them.

“People start with us and they grow up,” Sbeity says, referring to the closed-off, small network of biking lanes his company has at the waterfront where cyclists can build confidence before venturing into Beirut’s notorious traffic.

Times certainly have changed. Nearly 15 years ago, he was renting out some 60 mountain bikes because Lebanon’s war-torn streets weren’t ready for road bikes. Today he has around 2,000 bikes of all varieties available – including a few he wasn’t expecting.

For years, he resisted requests to rent out adult tricycles for fear that this would stop people from exploring two-wheeled options. But after finally succumbing to the demands last year, he acknowledges that he is now pleased to see elderly women coming for leisurely rides on three wheels. Sitting on a bench in front of rows of bicycles, he points to men and women of all ages who are passing by on their afternoon rides, a sign of the activity’s broadening demographic – and an indication his longtime community engagement is having results.

Similarly, Antoine Baraka co-owner of Bike Generation, a sporting goods shop in Furn al-Shubbak, says he consistently works to “bring people to cycling – not only bring customers to our shops.”

He spends as much time out in the field as he does in the store – working with NGOs and schools and to promote bicycling at all ages and levels. Baraka has already seen one school offer bicycling as a competitive sport – just like swimming or basketball.

He is also working to encourage people to use their bikes as a regular mode of transportation.

While Lebanon’s cycling advocates are eager to bring people to their preferred mode of transportation, they are also quick to emphasize safety, well aware that they are still living in a land of loosely enforced driving rules and poorly maintained roads. Their visits to schools always include a lesson on wearing helmets, and support vehicles accompany weekend excursions.

It is with these challenges always in the back of their minds that Lebanon’s new generation of cyclists brave the often-broken streets on two wheels, showing others it is indeed possible in Lebanon.

“This is a worldwide trend and it has reached Lebanon,” says Geara, no longer the only cyclist on the streets as he was before. “Things are changing.”



Batroun Bsharre Ehden Tripoli Zgharta


Jezzine Tyre


Baalbeck Zahle
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