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The world's best city is ...
By: Frances Cha
Date: Friday, October 18, 2013
(CNN) -- How many have you been to? And do you agree with the rankings?
Condé Nast Traveler announced the winners of its 26th annual Readers' Choice Awards yesterday.
As they do every year, this year's results introduce new categories, new hotels and re-ordered lists of the world's best destinations.
The magazine said this year's list was the most comprehensive ever, with 1.3 million votes cast for a whopping 16,000 properties around the world.
Read: 12 VIP experiences actually worth the money
World's best cities
The "Top 25 Cities in the World" list had refreshingly surprising additions and rankings -- Paris came in at a lowly 22 while Bruges and Cape Town tied for 11th place.
Budapest and Florence tied for second, while the very top spot was seized by the colonial city of San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico, which took the crown from last year's favorite of Charleston, South Carolina (which was tied for fifth this year).
Italy snapped up five of the top 25 cities, while Spain managed to take three.
Despite its slide in the global rankings, Charleston was still voted the top city in the United States for the third year in a row, for its "sand, sun, history, good food and friendly people."
Read: The best of USA travel
In the "Top 100 Hotels and Resorts in the World" category, La Residence in South Africa and Lodge at Kauri Cliffs in Matauri Bay, New Zealand tied for first place, while Virgin America was named the No. 1 airline in the United States. Singapore Airlines came in first for international airlines.
Here's a small selection of the rankings.
Top cities in the world
1. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
2.= Budapest, Hungary
2.= Florence, Italy
4. Salzburg, Austria
5.= Charleston, South Carolina, United States
5.= San Sebastián, Spain
7. Vienna, Austria
9. Siena, Italy
10. Québec City
11.= Cape Town, South Africa
11.= Bruges, Belgium
13. Vancouver, Canada
14. Kyoto, Japan
15.= Prague, Czech Republic
15.= Kraków, Poland
17.= Victoria, Canada
17.= Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States
20.= Seville, Spain
20.= Beirut, Lebanon
22.= Melbourne, Australia
24.= Venice, Italy
24.= Barcelona, Spain
Top cities in the United States
1. Charleston, South Carolina
2. Sante Fe, New Mexico
3. San Francisco
Top hotels and resorts in the world
1.= Lodge at Kauri Cliffs in Maturi Bay, New Zealand
1.= La Residence, Franschhoek, South Africa
3.= Singita Sabi Sand, South Africa
3.= Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve, South Africa
5. Grand Hotel Timeo, Sicily
Top U.S. airlines
1. Virgin America
2. Jetblue Airways
3. Hawaiian Airlines
4. Southwest Air Lines
5. Alaska Airlines
Top international airlines
1. Singapore Airlines ...
3. Virgin Atlantic
4. Etihad Airways
5. Air New Zealand
Hidden in Mar Mikhael, a taste of Europe
By: Samya Kullab
Date: Wednesday, October 16, 2013
BEIRUT: Tucked away behind a flight of steps parallel to one of the capital’s trendiest areas lies an inlet of three restaurants cozily clustered behind the main street, an area customers say feels like being in Europe without leaving Lebanon.
A passer-by could easily miss the stairs that lead up to it.
“It feels like a small village,” says restaurant manager Dany Mansour of Studio 43, one of three restaurants in the alcove located behind the Tartine Bakery on Mar Mikhael’s main street.
The view from Studio 43 faces a French-style home with sky-blue shutters and a red-tiled roof, while the interior of the restaurant is full of another scarce resource in the capital: plants. “It’s meant to be relaxing, like you’re sitting inside Beirut, but away from the traffic and congestion,” Mansour says.
Chawki Yazbeck, the owner of another restaurant in the cluster, family-owned Sud, recounts how his son first discovered the area when it was just a pile of rubble.
“Michel discovered it and worked on it for two years to bring back the old architecture of Mar Mikhael as it was,” Yazbeck says.
The Yazbecks cleaned the area, and then, working with a local architect, re-established and renovated the old edifices that were once there.
“It was an old Lebanese home built with sandstone,” Yazbeck says of the building, which dates back to the 1840s, that now houses the restaurant.
Studio 43 is distinguished by its open mezze concept and 24-item casual Lebanese menu.
“We have traditional items, that is our strong point,” Mansour says, adding that these are items Lebanese like to eat but, with hectic city life, can never muster the time to prepare themselves.
For Rima, enjoying a summer salad outside the neighboring Bar Tartine, the area is a godsend: “I had no idea it existed until a few weeks ago. I come here with friends and I come here alone sometimes to take my lunch.”
The typical afternoon crowd at Bar Tartine is varied, including businessmen, fashionable ladies and some teenagers, all coming to savor the mixed French and American menu.
Similar to the Paul’s bakery-cafe concept, Bar Tartine is distinguished by its funky interiors and open-air dining area. The back wall inside the cafe also has an especially endearing cartoon layout, with a message that reads: “Bread and salt are symbols of conviviality”
Indeed, Bar Tartine is known for its wide array of French breads, freshly baked twice a day for lunch and dinner, by a specially trained French chef. The cafe also has a bakery out front, so customers can nab an artisan baguette or croissant to go.
Sud is right across from Tartine, and offers a Mediterranean menu paired with interiors that are somehow both eccentric and decorous. Geometric shapes line its chairs, and solid dark hues are placating and simple.
Perched on top of the restaurant is a rooftop cocktail bar – perfect for people-watching.
Taking off from the notion that Lebanon is a Mediterranean country, Sud’s menu includes dishes inspired by southern Spain and Italy, as well as local favorites.
Yet it’s the details that imbue this corner of Mar Mikhael with a unique, European-inspired charm: the fixed street lamps; the paved, earthen-colored floor; the smell of fresh bread; the old character of the surrounding buildings; and the hushed chatter of several conversations at once. ...
Enfeh's 900-year-old church gets face-lift with hefty restoration
By: Antoine Amrieh
Date: Friday, October 11, 2013
ENFEH, Lebanon: For more than 900 years, Our Lady of the Guard, a Greek Orthodox monastery, has been a part of the religious history of the northern coastal village of Enfeh.
This week, members of Lebanon’s Orthodox clergy rededicated Our Lady of the Guard after years of restoration to revive the interior paintings.
Our Lady of the Guard is located in the marshy region of Enfeh, overlooking the water where the seabed holds rich marine life that attracts the area’s fisherman. It’s also surrounded by idyllic fields of myrtle, a plant nearly extinct along the shores of Lebanon.
Crusaders built the monastery and church atop Byzantine ruins in the 11th century and decorated the interior nave with elaborate paintings throughout the 12th century.
The complex, along with several other prominent sacred sites in Enfeh, has attracted Lebanese, Syrian and other religious tourists from the region and Europe, especially in late summer for Eid al-Saydeh, a mid-August holiday celebrating the Virgin Mary.
For decades, Sister Catherine al-Jamal has managed the monastery and led a number of fundraising and restoration projects. In 1999, she supervised restorations of the site’s frescoes with the help of Father Amberoise.
“The nun who gave her life and devoted herself and her efforts and her compassion to Virgin Mary and everyone,” said Tripoli Archbishop Efram Keriakos, who led the rededication ceremony. “The value of this work is not in the stones but in the humans, and this humble woman deserves the credit in renovating this monastery.”
These days, with the cooperation of the National Cement Company and several architects, the whole monastery has undergone a comprehensive restoration process where the waterfront and the reception room were fully refurbished, with the addition of a new hall that was built to reflect the original architectural style.
The rededication was a celebration of efforts both within the church and by local patrons to beautify the convent. Noticeably absent was the usual lineup of national politicians, something Keriakos said was an intentional move to protect the religious atmosphere of the celebration.
“This monastery ... is a sacred land,” Keriakos said. “We also celebrate Virgin Mary who is the lady of this monastery and we honor all those who honored the Virgin in this region and around the world.”
Father Ambroise, who led the artistic revival, painted new frescoes inside the church and restored several others that had become faded and damaged.
He arrived at the church in 1997 to review the frescoes and study the history of the convent. He said that he was grateful to Sister Catherine for giving him the chance to be a part of the restoration project.
Walking through the church, Father Ambroise explained a number of the motifs, Old and New Testament scenes painted in the Byzantine style to mimic the original frescos.
After the consecration, Sister Catherine thanked those who contributed to the restoration of the monastery, such as the chairman of the National Cement Company, Pierre Doumit, and its manager Roger Haddad, both of whom were responsible for organizing the rededication.
“Our Lady of the Guard monastery and Sister Catherine have taken care of the people in this region for many years and for that they have a special place in our hearts,” Haddad said at the rededication. “Since we have now a chance to pay them back, we want to be one of the biggest contributors in preserving this monastery.” ...
Cafe Diem: Sodeco artisan kitchen offers evolving experience
By: Elise Knutsen
Date: Thursday, October 10, 2013
BEIRUT: Though it opened just last month, Cafe Diem has the feeling of a longtime neighborhood haunt. At lunchtime, businessmen huddle at a back table discussing a forthcoming deal. A man tenderly holds his wife’s hand from across the table. A bevy of ladies who lunch sip diet cola and snap photos with their iPhones. Everyone seems at ease.
The small cafe-cum-brasserie has cultivated a fan base in the few short weeks it has been open. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the restaurant has a character and clientele that evolve throughout the day, owner Donald Batal explained.
“We offer multiple kinds of experiences,” he said.
The early-morning patron who reads the newspaper over a cup of coffee is vastly different from the epicurean customer who enjoys multiple courses and a bottle of fine wine in the evening.
Batal says this flexible, fluid atmosphere has proved a success.
“So far it’s doing very well, people are liking it as you can see,” he said, nodding his head at the table of customers enjoying their dishes.
Cafe Diem has eschewed any advertising blitz for its opening.
“We’re counting on organic growth. We’re not planning to do mass-media campaigns,” he said.
Like their communications strategy, Cafe Diem’s culinary formula is a simple one, he explained.
“We tried to put items on the menu that are familiar to everyone. We didn’t create anything. Just the recipe has been revisited.”
The menu features many classic cafe items, from chef’s salad to club sandwich. Asian-inspired items such as shrimp dumplings and steamed edamame add a cosmopolitan twist while a salad bar provides an Americana flourish.
Cafe Diem sets itself apart, however, in the quality of the ingredients and the presentation, Batal explained. The restaurant does not have a single supplier. Rather the elements are individually sourced.
“Were trying to find the best supplier of each ingredient,” he said.
The food is served on stone slabs, which, according to Batal, is “a new trend all over the world.”
Batal and his team have clearly made a careful study of restaurant aesthetics. Waiters wearing suspenders recall Parisian servers, while the glossy, white tabletops and counters evoke an urban New York mood.
“If you notice most of the foreigners that live around, they feel at home if passing by the front of the shop,” Batal said.
The cafe’s small size – it sits just 24 people – adds a sense of intimacy.
Batal is perhaps better known for his previous, larger ventures, including Classic Burger.
Despite the early signs of success at his newest spot, Batal says that there are currently no plans to open additional locations.
“We don’t have big plans for it. It’s just a destination shop that we will enjoy personally with our clients.” ...
BRGR Co. looks beyond Beirut, burgers for growth
By: Beckie Strum
Date: Wednesday, October 09, 2013
BEIRUT: Beirut’s gourmet burger restaurant BRGR Co. was ready to talk expansion Monday night at a small event showing off its redecorated Ashrafieh branch. BRGR Co. also has another Beirut location, in the Downtown shopping district, as well as one in London’s Soho neighborhood. Chef Hussein Hadid confirmed plans for new branches in London and potentially a first in the United States. Hadid has also been busy putting together a menu for a new Beirut franchise called PIZZA Co., a pizza-centered version of the BRGR Co. concept.
Thin-crust, Italian-style pizza, baked in a wood-burning brick oven, would likely be the basics of the new restaurant, Hadid said.
The style of pizza is similar to competitors Margherita and Olio. But he’s interested in adding the company’s typical gourmet flair, Hadid said.
For example, the feature Monday night was a truffle burger that had shavings of the rare fungus atop melted cheese. The restaurant has also splashed truffle oil into its parmesan-covered fries and mac and cheese.
BRGR Co. was also a pioneer in trying to perfect the optimal patty temperature. Each size comes with a recommended doneness that marketing manager Amy Madi said their cooks were reluctant to defy.
“It will be a trendsetter, not the typical pizza we have. I’m bored of that,” Hadid said about the future restaurant. There will be classic Margherita, different specialty pizzas and pastas. He imagined whimsical specialties like a Lebanese mankousheh-inspired pizza.
Hadid, who made a midcareer move from finance to food, was hesitant to put specific dates on any of BRGR Co.’s new projects, though Madi was optimistic the ventures would be well underway by the end of the year.
In the British capital, it has faced a lot more competition than in Beirut, with more outlets grilling up specialty burgers, Hadid said.
“It’s going well in London. It’s a very competitive market. We’re hoping to expand if everything goes to plan, if there are no hitches,” he said. “London has lots of potential, but we have to be careful.”
If two-dozen gourmet burger joints in London seemed competitive, BRGR Co. will have its work cut out in Manhattan, where management has its eye set next. It sounds strange for Lebanon– for all its culinary delights – to be exporting burgers back to the food culture from whence they came. But Hadid – who used to live in New York– was already pondering outlets in other states.
BRGR Co. puts a lot of emphasis on its beef. In Lebanon, the branches import Angus steaks from Australia. In London, BRGR Co. relies on beef from Scotland, and Hadid expected it would use American beef in New York.
Management prefers importing meat in Lebanon because of issues of hygiene and consistency in the local meat industry.
Madi said that when authorities found warehouses full of expired and rotten food, BRGR Co. benefitted from a customer base weary of eating where local meat was served.
“It actually helped business for us.” ...
Twenty meters under the sea: the legacy of free diving in Lebanon
By: Samya Kullab
Date: Saturday, October 05, 2013
BEIRUT: Samir Akil took one deep breath and dove 20 meters underwater, knowing fully well that half of that depth alone could spell the end for a novice diver.
Lebanon is home to a flourishing, but small, community of apnea – or free – divers, some of whom rely on sponge fishing, an age-old form of hunting native to the region, to hone their underwater skills. Unlike scuba diving, where the diver is supported with a oxygen tank, free diving is an ancient activity.
The oldest archeological evidence of free-dive fishing in the region dates back to 4,500 and 3,200 B.C. Along the Mediterranean coast free diving was a regular practice. Today, the tradition is carried on by some fishermen and aspiring athletes.
Akil has been training since 2010 and practices yoga and meditates as part of his regiment. He maintains the two are essential because free diving is “95 percent a mental sport.”
“Before I take the dive I have to relax, I have to tell myself this will be my last breath,” he said.
Apnea is a state in which one stops breathing. When a free diver is submerged, physiologically, his or her respiratory system is still hard at work, causing an intense urge to breathe. As a result of physical activity and raised underwater pressure, pulmonary respiration accelerates, shortening the apnea. The length of apnea depends on an individual’s lung capacity, however. Expanding breathing potential is the aim of the free diver’s training.
A lover of extreme sports, Akil says he is addicted to the adrenaline of free diving and in the last three years he’s managed to hold his breath for two extra minutes longer under water. “Static, I can do 6 minutes, 35 seconds, when I started I was at 4 minutes,” he says.
Static refers to the amount of time a diver can remain submerged underwater, whereas dynamic time refers to the amount of time an individual can hold their breath while diving. Akil’s dynamic personal record is about two minutes.
“A lot of factors get in the way when its dynamic, when you are actually diving,” he explained the difference, “You start to think too much sometimes.”
To practice, Akil says he and his team have taken up traditional apnea fishing as a hobby.
“It’s very good for training,” he said, “because you dive down and focus on the fish, and mentally this takes your attention away from the breath.”
He hopes that next year there will be a national Lebanese free-diving team, a hope that Annette al-Khoury, the co-director of this year’s Lebanon Water Festival, is working to realize.
Gathered in three vessels off the shore of Enfeh, Lebanese divers held their first national competition. Divers, decked out in full-body gear and fins, float peacefully on the water’s surface before taking a rapid plunge, some as much as 40 meters deep.
The location selected was called the Blue Hole, a crevice about 96 meters deep off the coast but relatively close to the shore. The aim was twofold as Khoury sees it; the divers get a chance to compete with one another and a chance to test international competition standards.
“This is the first time in their life that they’ve had to literally sit under international rules,” she said.
Describing free diving as one of the most developed sports in Lebanon, she says, “What we are trying to do is get them into a situation where we can help them learn about safety measures so we can get them into the international level and promote them outside the country.”
Khoury believes free diving is endemic to Lebanon because as a practice, it dates back for centuries.
“Lebanese have always done apnea, they say in the Phoenician days we used to do apnea and go looking for sea sponges.”
“These guys,” she points to the group of divers, resting from the morning’s competition, “all go out looking for sea bass, if they were scuba divers they couldn’t do it, because the bottle doesn’t allow you to go up and down as much, but with free diving there’s more flexibility.”
“And that’s a bit of a hobby they’ve developed,” Khoury says. “They don’t go out looking for sponges anymore, but they do go out looking for fish – that’s how they practice for the big leagues.” ...
Rahbani makes theater comeback
By: Jana El Hassan
Date: Monday, September 23, 2013
BEIRUT: Lebanon's multitalented artist Ziad Rahbani is making a comeback to the stage next month, after nearly two decades of absence, in a black comedy addressing the effect of oppressive regimes on individuals.
The musical "Madman Talking," by playwright-director Lina Khoury, is an adaptation of an international play – she is reluctant to reveal which one – rewritten to apply to Arab societies and shed light on the unending battle for freedom of opinion.
"The play was first staged by my students in LAU," Khoury told The Daily Star. "I felt like it reflects the status quo in Lebanon and the Arab world and decided it must be staged at a wider scope.
"I had to seek professional artists and I thought of Ziad. To my surprise he said 'yes' without hesitating," she said. "I think he surprised himself as well."
The play's main character, Nahida Noun– played by actress Nada Bou Farhat– writes a publicly disseminated article in which she expresses her opinion about the regime's repression of freedoms.
She is then imprisoned by the government, tortured, transported to a sanitarium and placed in a room with an actual crazy man (Gabriel Yammine), who thinks he runs an orchestra.
Inside the sanitarium, her therapist (Rahbani) tries to convince her that she really is crazy and attempts to strike a bargain with her – her liberty in exchange for admitting that she has wronged the regime.
Alongside the three actors are Andree Nakouzi, Aline Salloum and Elie Kamal. The music, written by Ousama al-Khatib, will be performed live by an orchestra of 16 musicians.
Yammine said he was very excited about the play, which depicts "real social situations that people encounter in [one] way or another."
"It is about the madness of our society ... the sanitarium is way more than a mental hospital – it is a prison."
Rehearsals for the one-hour show, scheduled to open Oct. 4 at Beirut's Masrah Al-Madina, started almost two months ago.
The team is thrilled by Rahbani's participation in the play and, as Khoury puts it, feels "privileged."
"It was a dream for me to work with Ziad," Khoury said.
"He is simply a genius."
"We cannot believe he is working with us," added Yammine. "It is a really important step and we are benefitting from his experience on stage."
Rahbani, the son of famous Lebanese composer Assi Rahbani and renowned Lebanese singer Fairuz, is a composer, pianist, performer, playwright, and political commentator.
He is known for his outspoken political criticism, often expressed through his plays.
Rahbani appeared for the first time on stage in "Al-Mahatta" (The Station) in 1973, playing the role of a detective. His last stage appearance was in 1996, in "Al-Fasl al-Akhar" (The Other Season).
Khoury, a prominent artist, is known for several plays, among them "How I Learned to Drive" and "It is Time to Talk." She is perhaps most famous for "Women's Talk," a daring play about a group of women who engage in open discussions about their sexuality and sexual problems that ran for two years.
She said that her new play was a cry in the face of social repression.
"We live in a society that judges, tortures or puts down anyone who thinks, questions or states his opinion over politics, traditions, religion or any other topic," said Khoury. "We are not allowed to think.
"We are addressing repression in a sarcastic way," she continued. "The play is painful and funny at the same time ... [The audience] would laugh out loud at many scenes but at others would feel deeply troubled."
As for the connection between the theme of the play and the so-called Arab Spring, Khoury said that the play was indirectly linked to the revolutions that swept the region, which she did not seem optimistic about.
"We seem to be heading to an even worse situation," she said. "There will always be repression."
'Madman Talking' will take place at Masrah al-Madina from Oct. 4 until Nov. 17, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8:30 p.m. For more information, please call 01-753-010. ...
Art and design collide at the Beirut Art Fair
By: India Stoughton
Date: Saturday, September 21, 2013
BEIRUT: When the organizers of the Beirut Art Fair decided to introduce design into the mix last year it was a controversial choice.
The fair’s art director Pascal Odille emphasized in an interview with the Daily Star that in his opinion design was art, with a function. Others disagreed, opining that the inclusion of design would dilute the fair’s quality and impede its ability to compete on a regional and global scale.
In spite of the naysayers, this year design has once again made the cut. Out of a total of 46 galleries participating in the BAF, which opened Thursday at BIEL, half a dozen are dedicated to design.
This year marks the fair’s fourth edition and notable improvements have been made in the layout and arrangement. The addition of design is unlikely to prove as bothersome to those who feel it belongs elsewhere this year, due to the deployment of the booths, which groups the seven spaces dedicated to design together in the back left corner of the hall, creating a subsection of the fair where design is, if not king, then at least lord of the manor.
Bokja Design, whose sumptuous, bohemian furniture was exhibited last year as part of SMO Gallery’s display, has its own booth this year, in the absence of its partner gallery. The duo behind Bokja, Hoda Baroudi and Maria Hibri, count several A-list celebrities among their clients, including Julia Roberts, Ethan Hawke and Salma Hayek.
Their homey pieces, created using antique furniture, are often upholstered in a patchwork of colorful, patterned swatches of fabric. For the BAF the duo have created an inviting country-kitchen display, exhibiting gorgeous wall hangings and sofas upholstered in subtle shades of cream, beige and sandy yellow.
One of these comes complete with a built-in drawer below the seat. Woven out of wicker and closed with two hefty leather straps, it resembles a picnic basket and gives the piece an endearingly old-fashioned feel.
The overriding theme this year appears to be birds, which appear throughout, whether stenciled, embroidered or sewn on in patchwork. A bundle of hay forms a makeshift table in the center of the display. Its springy surface is littered with plates and fruit, conjuring up a picnic in a barn and eschewing glamour in favor of rustic charm.
In the next booth, Karen Chekerdjian Studio’s display is a striking contrast, a sea of polished wood, angular planes and streamlined curves. Chekerdjian’s warm, wood-lined booth is filled with her asymmetrical, geometric designs, including her distinctive, blocky “platform” tables, which resembles three-dimensional tetris pieces.
A stunning vanity mirror in three layers, made of brushed copper, mirror and wood, set into a slab of marble, is influenced by Japanese flower arrangement. Next to it stands “Object 03 – X, Y, Z” a set of three angular vases in beaten copper.
The largest design space, a raised platform open on three sides, is the BLC Design Platform sponsored by BLC Bank, which showcases the work of 10 up-and-coming young local designers. Deema Kotob is exhibiting a range of playful side tables, their simple curved metal legs topped with colorful mock floppy disks made of hand-painted wood and Plexiglas. These retro, pop-art pieces constitute a fresh, irreverent approach toward furniture design.
A series of quilts by Finnish-Lebanese designer Anastasia Nysten, meanwhile, conjure up the comfort of a beloved parent or grandparent’s home, filled with much-loved furniture handed down through the generations. Inspired by traditional quilting techniques, the heavy fabrics come in a range of warm jewel tones – deep green and scarlet, terra-cotta and mustard – each made up of two contrasting colors.
Behind the BLC platform, Baalcreations is showcasing some wonderfully inventive pieces that blur the lines between art and design.
“B for Beirut,” by Claudia Elissar Chahine and Gilbert Debs, is one of this year’s design highlights.
Eight small tables serve as pieces in a giant jigsaw puzzle. When assembled correctly, they come together to create an enormous bronze table, on which a map of the city is embossed, streets picked out in raised lines on the textured surface. The tabletop is supported by a mass of spindly legs, which resemble knobbly tree branches, but on closer inspection reveal themselves to be human figures, arms raised aloft to support the weight of their city.
Local designers Nada Debs, Diana Tabbara and Rima Khatib have also taken booths this year. While the number of design galleries is down from last edition, the quality of the displays seems higher.
Indeed, the BAF as a whole seems to have gone upmarket, in keeping with its glitzy location. The cafe selling cheap cups of Nescafe and prepackaged chocolate brownies has vanished, to be replaced by a streamlined bar serving caviar.
The VIP Lounge, last year run by Art Lounge owner Nino Azzi and filled with colorful artwork from his private collection, had been replaced by a bar run by upscale restaurant Momo at the Souks, housed inside an inflatable installation by Spanish team Penique Productions.
Created from a single sheet of plastic wrapped around with rope, Penique Productions’ sculptures are site-specific, each tailored to the location. An enormous cube, extending most of the way up to BIEL’s lofty ceilings, their installation for the BAF is definitely out-there, though the minimalist interior, empty save for the bar and two old-fashioned wrought iron cafe tables with matching chairs, lacks the cozy, laid-back appeal of last year’s lounge.
The Beirut Art Fair continues until Sunday Sept. 22 and opens from 3:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. For more information please call 03-337-336. ...
Lettuce for hangovers, onions for health
By: Meris Lutz, Elise Knutsen
Date: Friday, September 20, 2013
BAADARAN, Lebanon: An onion a day keeps the doctor away, according to herbalist Nazih Baz, who learned to treat ailments using traditional means from his own grandfather, a healer from the Chouf village of Baadaran who lived to be 106 years old. So highly revered are onions for their medicinal properties that the Prophet Mohammad is said to have declared: “If you enter a country stricken by plague and fear contagion, eat of its onions.”
Lebanon is witnessing a revived interest in traditional herbal medicines, a trend Baz and others like him hope will save a dying tradition and raise awareness about the importance of protecting native species of plants.
Baz sees no contradiction between modern and traditional medicine, pointing out that the study of plants – now deemed “alternative” – gave birth to modern pharmaceuticals.
“Every person should be treated with the plants of his land,” Baz said. “God made plants to treat the diseases found in humans.”
“Some people call me a doctor, but I absolutely reject this term. I consider us [herbalists] a bridge” between traditional and modern medicine, the herbalist said.
Baz sees himself as the carrier of an ancient Mediterranean tradition passed down from Hippocrates and Galen to Abu Bakr al-Razi, from generation to generation till the present day.
Baz emphasized that while many people take a flippant approach to herbal remedies, some plants, if taken in the wrong dosage or prepared incorrectly, can harm or even kill, and should be treated as seriously as any other medicine.
But with flu season approaching, Baz agreed to share a few simple recipes anyone can try at home:GingerBaz says the changing of the seasons leaves our immune systems particularly vulnerable to infection. As such, he recommends making an infusion of dried – not fresh – ginger, to which anise can also be added, and drinking it once a day for a week at the start of fall and winter. Simply boil water and add the ginger and anise and brew as one would tea.
RosemaryRosemary, called ikleel al-jabal or ramoran, is also a good herb to take for a week at the beginning of each season for “internal rejuvenation ” Take a small piece between 5 and 7 centimeters and drop into boiling water and turn off the heat immediately for the best results.
Lebanese sageQasayeen or mariamia, known as Lebanese or eastern sage, is commonly used to treat colds, coughs and the flu. Add four to five leaves of fresh sage to boiling water, then turn off the heat immediately. With a few exceptions, Baz recommends always using fresh or dried herbs rather than extracts when possible.
WoodruffAlso known locally as arbanast or otr, woodruff has antibiotic properties and acts as an expectorant and mild sedative. Simply boil a few leaves in water. Woodruff, Baz warns, is one of Lebanon’s native herbs that is becoming increasingly rare.
ChamomileIn addition to its well-known calming properties, chamomile, or babunaj in Arabic, can also be used as a beautifying treatment by putting one’s face over a steaming bowl of tea and allowing the vapor to open pores and draw out impurities.
LettuceBaz recommends lettuce for treating hangovers, adding: “the greener the better.” Drinking a shot of olive oil before the night begins can help prevent them, he adds.
A quarter teaspoon of dried ground cinnamon taken orally can help relieve menstrual cramps.
OnionBaz’s No. 1 natural remedy for staying healthy, especially in polluted urban environments, is onion. He suggests grilling the onion whole but says red or white, onions eaten any way will keep the immune system strong.
Rabiha Sfeir, a researcher specializing the Lebanon’s native flora, has studied the scientific basis for many of Lebanon’s traditional medicines. Most notably, she conducted a study showing that essential oil from Lebanese sage was as effective for treating fungal infections as harsh chemical treatments.
“For thousands of years Lebanese have been using these plants in herbal teas and folk medicine,” Sfeir says. “Now there is a whole pharmaceutical industry and no one is interested in this type of thing.”
Although Sfeir does not recommend anyone eschew modern medicine entirely for herbs, she says natural remedies can be used to treat minor aches and ailments.
“We can’t say ‘go treat your cancer with a sage,” she says. “You have to leave that to the doctors.”
Although she does not generally prescribe remedies, Sfeir offered a few recommendations of her own using plants native to Lebanon:
ValerianBoiled in water, valerian or nadarine induces sleep for restless minds.
FerulaBetter known as shirsh al-zallouh, ferula is native to the eastern Mediterranean and has traditionally been used as an aphrodisiac. According to Sfeir, it has a strong reputation as a general stimulant, nervous activator against neurasthenia, general weakness, stress and fatigue.
Sfeir, who won the Green Mind Award in 2012 in the category of “Green Individual,” is currently preparing to launch an initiative along with Yola Noujaim called La Tisanerie. La Tisanerie aims to teach women living in rural areas how to grow and harvest indigenous plants, which will be made into extracts and teas to be sold on the market, providing an additional source of income for the women and their families.
If the Lebanese wish to continue living off the land as their ancestors did, they must learn to respect the indigenous biodiversity, Sfeir says, lamenting the preference in Lebanon for non-native flowers like European roses.
“This is not Europe. For them to survive we need to pulverize them with pesticides,” she complains. “Why not grow native plants instead?” ...
'Classy' Uruguay Street energizes Downtown
By: Elise Knutsen
Date: Thursday, September 19, 2013
BEIRUT: Flighty as ever, Beirut’s social butterflies have migrated yet again. This time it’s to Uruguay Street, Downtown’s new nightlife corridor, which has recently experienced a meteoric rise in popularity.
Just a few months ago, Uruguay was just another ill-frequented corner in Downtown – lavish, but languishing.
“Uruguay Street wasn’t interesting before. It wasn’t interesting like six months ago,” says Rony Abu Saab, CEO of nightlife management company Concepts in Motion.
With the recent openings of several new bars, however, Uruguay Street has gone from a relative backwater to a bustling, bacchanalian block, beloved by Beirut’s see-and-be-seensters.
Virtually car-free (with the exception of a valet car park), the small area is a pedestrian haven where conversation is never interrupted by revving engines or passing motorcycles.
Parallel strings of gastropubs and mixology bars serve upmarket libations from beneath idyllic arcades.
Everything, from the street’s uniform stone arches to the soft (but not too soft) street lighting, has been carefully calculated by the discerning developers at Solidere.
Uruguay Street opened in 2011 and is part of the Solidere’s Downtown reconstruction project which also includes the Beirut Souks, a stretch along the waterfront and Zaitunay Bay.
Birds of a certain feather, many of whom frequented Mar Mikhael and Hamra but a few months ago, now prefer the glossy confines of Uruguay Street. “I think it’s less ... crowded,” said a regular after pausing to think for a moment.
“It’s classier,” her friend chipped in.
“In Hamra it’s a bit like, khallas, high school,” Sarah al-Shaalan said.
The Uruguay Street crowd, she added, is generally “more mature.”
American University of Beirut student Riad al-Soufi agreed.
“It’s basically the new Alleyway. People are bored of the Alleyway here in Hamra,” he drawled. “It’s a whole new scene.”
“It’s more classy,” added a nearby female friend.
Abu Saab explained outright what the young revelers seemed too shy to admit: “It’s more expensive, and you see a different quality of people.”
“In Hamra,” he said, “you can’t stop people from crossing the road from here to there, and they’re from whatever class, because it’s a pedestrian street.”
By contrast, Uruguay Street provides patrons with an exclusive and debonair atmosphere, free from the rabble and ruckus of the more popular areas.
That said, insiders say the clientele of Uruguay Street has changed subtly over the past two years.
Alain Harb, a partner at Uruguay’s Bronx Bar, says his business used to cater to the largely foreign-based jet set, “like the creme de la creme, the highest social class,” he explained.
But political unrest has largely driven this group out of Lebanon. “Now we’re focusing on locals,” Harb said.
While the solid-gold clique may have abandoned Lebanon for the moment, Uruguay still draws a gilded crowd.
On any given night, hundreds of well-heeled Beirutis descend upon Uruguay Street. Young men in polo shirts survey the scene as girls rummage through Louis Vuitton bags, their stilettos clicking across the polished cobblestones.
Any pretense of urban grit or bohemianism has been jettisoned as groups install themselves on meticulously arranged terraces outside buildings where the smell of newly installed drywall is still discernable above the scents of top-shelf spirits.
International-themed bars give the young professional crowd the sense they’re enjoying a minibreak rather than another humdrum pub night.
At Gatsby, an American prohibition-themed establishment, the most commonly ordered drink is the Moscow Mule, a bartender said.
The formula has clearly proven successful, with new ventures continuing to open on the street despite the country’s uncertain economic outlook.
Abu Saab and his company Concepts in Motion are launching a German-themed venue called Checkpoint Charlies on Uruguay.
While keeping mum on the project details, Abu Saab said he drew inspiration from a recent trip to Berlin.
Meanwhile, Mokbel holdings, which manages Uruguay’s massively popular Bronx bar, will be opening a Japanese restaurant on the street.
“People are coming because you can find many concepts, many identities,” Harb explained.
The unlikely mosaic of cultures, however, is not a draw for everyone.
“I used to come to Iris, but now I come here,” said Mohammad, a young reveler enjoying bottle service at Bronx bar on a Saturday night.
“It’s class,” he added, repeating the refrain while bobbing his head to the latest Avicii hit. It’s the music, he says, that draws him back to Uruguay Street every weekend.
Attracted by the foreign-sounding drinks, the fine gastropub fare, the crowd-pleasing soundtrack and above all the “class,” the throngs show little sign of abating on Uruguay Street.
So much so, that Harb triumphantly declared: "Gemmayzeh is over, Monot is over." ...
A little splash of Damascene hospitality at the end of Hamra
By: Beckie Strum
Date: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
BEIRUT: By the time we paid the bill and rose to leave Bandakji, a nargileh lounge at the end of Hamra street, the vast open-air seating area had begun to bustle with all sorts. Young people in tank tops and backpacks; a table of conservatively dressed women smoking shisha; a crowd of lipsticked and well-coiffed young professionals; a young Syrian family having a late dinner.
“It’s always full of foreigners here, Iraqis, Syrians, even many Europeans, different Lebanese,” said Ahmad Awamleh, a manager at Bandakji.
It opened in July, mid-Ramadan, and turned a garbage-strewn parking lot on the corner of Sadat and Hamra streets into an open-air restaurant nearly overnight.
The resto-nargileh spot plays on 1930s Damascene nostalgia. Patrons enter through a massive, ornamented wooden doorway that leads into the roofless dining space set for more than 200. A large stone fountain bubbles at its center, one of the many details plucked from the traditional Damascene homes of the early 20th century.
Petit Group, which operates several eateries, including Petit Cafe in Raouche and Amore Italian restaurant in Verdun, borrowed much of Bandakji’s ambiance from the beloved Syrian soap opera “Bab al-Hara,” which translates as Gate of the Neighborhood.
The grand portal is a near-perfect replica of the door to the fictional neighborhood. The hallway of air-conditioned indoor seating is filled with mother of pearl-inlaid coffee tables and deep Oriental sofas. The building has an artificial stone facade dotted with lantern-style glass windows.
But the picture is completed not by the period uniforms – sherwal and tarboush designed by the very same costume designer from “Bab al-Hara” – but by the staff themselves, 90 percent of whom are from Syria.
Bandakji’s menu of traditional Shami food is basic but expertly executed by a team of Syrian chefs that used to cook for top hotels there, Awamleh said.
For example, shawarma is marinated with a hint of cardamom; a plate of stuffed grape leaves is accompanied by a mixture of stuffed carrots and zucchini; bread is baked fresh and puffed; the fattoush is sour with just a hint of sweet pomegranate molasses; and the batata harra is very lemony.
The food is exactly what you would expect. No frills but delicious. The specialty is traditional fatteh and of course nargileh, as well as a whole station devoted to fresh juices.
Bandakji’s management has taken an open approach to the restaurant concept by making decisions in response to customer feedback.
For now, Bandakji is not selling alcohol, and is open 24 hours a day. Awamleh said the open dining room would be covered with a temporary tent structure come winter.
“For now, we’re focusing on raising the standards.” ...
Street art in the Garten: The Secret Walls comes to Beirut
By: Elise Knutsen
Date: Monday, September 16, 2013
BEIRUT: The shadows of four urban artists loomed long against a huge blank canvas Saturday night at the Garten. A host of young creative types and general revelers filed into the venue as the artists anxiously paced the Astroturf carpet waiting for the Secret Walls art battle to begin.
Billed as a Fight Club for urban arts, Secret Walls brings together top graphic artists and graffiti virtuosos in cities around the world for live art battles. Armed with just black permanent pens and black acrylic paint, teams of street-savvy artists have 90 minutes to turn a blank canvas into a piece of provocative street art.
Born in a humble London pub six years ago, the event has since been held in cities all over the world, from New York to Berlin, Tokyo to Amsterdam.
Saturday, however, was the event’s first foray into the Lebanese scene.
As guests poured in, drinks and conversation began to flow freely. One of the performing artists, Lina Semaan aka Sugar Wheel flipped through a sketchbook for inspiration. “Usually I draw digitally,” she said.
A graphic designer by training, Semaan said today’s artists draw by hand less and less. “With something that is made with your hands, you can’t really use it unless you have it digitally rendered,” she said.
In an increasingly digitalized industry, Secret Walls offered her the chance to get back to her sketching roots. It was to be her first live art production, however, a tight-lipped, half-smile betrayed her anxiety.
Meanwhile Chad Abousleiman, alias Chad the Mad, was in his element. “A big inspiration is the graffiti in New York,” he said, adding that spray cans tend to be his preferred medium.
Growing up between New Jersey in the U.S and Beirut, Abousleiman’s style draws heavily on his diverse upbringing. “It’s mixed multicultural art. I’m doing a lot of pattern work and a lot of psychedelic stuff.”
With the sun fully set and the amber flames of cigarettes flickering across the audience, the competition began.
Abousleiman and Semaan worked the right side of the canvas, while an opposing team comprised of professional illustrator Tania Khazzaka and digital designer Mohammad Moneimne i.e. Müd Monéi working on the left.
Within a few minutes, broad strokes became coherent shapes: an alien with dripping fangs; a smiling octopus; a gremlin brandishing his middle finger; and a mushroom.
Guests looked on in awe.
“Yaani, look at the details!” one attendee marveled.
Within half an hour the white canvas had been transformed into a strange menagerie of sketched creatures, from a tentacled caricature of an army captain grasping a foreign bill to a grisly Pac-Man inspired creature flicking a monstrous tongue.
The designs were impish and dark, characteristic of street style. The lack of color gave the scene a sketchbook look, while the quality of the disparate motifs reflected the artists’ professional training.
After 90 minutes, the DJ called time. Energized and enthused by the feat of creativity they had just watched, the crowd voted for their preferred team with a “cheer-o-meter” iPhone app. Abousleiman and Semaan were declared the winners.
Moneimne, however, was not disappointed. He praised his partner, Tania. “We’re good together. We knew where to contrast.” Despite the 90-minute marathon effort, Moneimne said he was far from tired. “Actually digital work exhausts more because you have to sit. This is exciting!” he said cheerfully.
Aside from drawing attention to the street art scene in Beirut, the Secret Walls event highlighted a new generation of professional urban designers who are a far cry from their highly political, often anonymous, guerilla art predecessors.
With graphic design skills and coding abilities, these young artists are crossing the once intractable boundary between office work and urban art. Today, street artists have officially trademarked street aliases, “My name is registered,” boasted Semaan, and LinkedIn profiles, bringing the formerly shadowed street art industry into the mainstream.
Still, traces of street art’s anti-establishment roots were visible in the final Secret Walls Beirut product. In the right-hand corner, Semaan had written in standout block letters “Punish Society.”
“I didn’t prepare the idea,” Semaan said . “It came from my subconscious.” ...
Curtain call for Hard Rock Cafe, symbol of postwar reconstruction
Date: Thursday, September 12, 2013
BEIRUT: The opening of Hard Rock Cafe inside the Bay View Hotel in Beirut’s seaside Ain al-Mreisseh neighborhood was hailed, back in 1996, as a symbol of Beirut’s reconstruction.
It quickly became a landmark of Downtown Beirut, most of which had yet to be resurrected. Even the iconic Phoenicia Hotel would not reopen its doors until 2000.
Sunday night saw an end to that legacy as Hard Rock Cafe Beirut cashed out its guitar-shaped bar for the last time. Three years of rapidly declining tourism to the country – due in large part to the war in Syria which has led to a string of explosions and kidnappings here – had deprived the international rock’n’roll chain of much of its client base.
“Since opening its doors in 1996, Hard Rock has enjoyed a rich history and has appreciated the opportunity to serve guests in Beirut,” read a message posted on Hard Rock Cafe’s Facebook page over the weekend. By Thursday, that page was deleted from Facebook and Hard Rock’s international site no longer listed its Beirut’s location.
Hard Rock Beirut’s employees were put under strict orders from the chain’s headquarters in Orlando, Florida, not to speak to media about the restaurant or the terms of its closing, staff members told The Daily Star. Some information was collected on background.
Hard Rock Beirut’s statement offered a glimmer of hope that a new branch would open in the future. But Wednesday afternoon, the assistant general manager posted a call for anyone interested in buying used restaurant equipment.
With everything up for sale, a new branch won’t be opening anytime soon.
Over the weekend, the announcement triggered an enormous response from Hard Rock guests here and abroad and locals gobbled up the rest of Hard Rock Beirut merchandise – now limited edition.
In a solemn ode to Hard Rock Beirut, Radio One called for rock music requests from its listeners Sunday to mourn its closing.
The restaurant had a long list of notable clientele, many of them were from the country’s foreign embassies or members of UNIFIL. A former staff member recalled how their security details and bodyguards used to hang out around the bar while they ate.
The end of Hard Rock also means the end of beer and wings Monday – which drew enough local guests to pack the dining room even in its final weeks. Nachos, the “Legendary Burger,” and the Jumbo Combo, greasy classic American favorites, were the restaurant’s most popular items.
Among those devastated by the closing were Hard Rock Beirut’s own employees, past and present, many of whom saw their colleagues as a family, one which spanned beyond Lebanon’s borders.
Staff nicknames were also a part of the Hard Rock Beirut culture. “Alex” was one of those so-nicknamed employees. Alex hasn’t worked at the restaurant for several years, but he said the name has stayed with him.
Part of the fun of working at Hard Rock was its international clientele, he added. A Russian family that traveled to Beirut each December always remembered to drop off a collectable Hard Rock pin from Hard Rock Cafe Moscow and other branches.
“You name it, guest were from all over. There wasn’t one place in the Middle East that didn’t come: Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco. All over the States, big business guys, pilots and architects,” Alex said. “I’m still in love with Hard Rock.”
Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Culture/Lifestyle/2013/Sep-12/230912-curtain-call-for-hard-rock-cafe-symbol-of-postwar-reconstruction.ashx#ixzz2eeXCVDd3
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb) ...
Water festival finally gets underway despite canceled Tyre events
Date: Monday, September 09, 2013
BEIRUT: Lebanon Water Festival finally kicked off over the weekend in Jiyyeh after security concerns postponed several events planned for earlier in the month in Tyre. The monthlong festival celebrating water sports in the country began Friday with a three-day surfing competition. Organizers had planned to start water activities Tuesday in the southern city of Tyre, starting with a day of scuba diving training, an international underwater photography competition and a water ski show.
Over the weekend, spectators set up umbrellas and slathered on the suntan lotion along Jiyyeh’s public beach, while more than 25 participants from Lebanon and abroad competed in both surfing competitions and a stand-up paddle race.
This week, the water festival is offering discounted lessons in both stand-up paddle and surfing. The Stand-up Paddle Association will be hosting lessons at Jiyyeh’s public beach in preparation for another round of races later in the month. There will be water ski lessons at the Lagoon in Kaslik Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.
Security concerns have been the root of many festival and event cancellations this summer, the most recent being the massive Creamfields Beirut festival meant to take place at Beirut’s waterfront Saturday into Sunday morning.
Tyre municipality told the Arabic daily As-Safir that the events were canceled due to security concerns.
Last year in Tyre, Lebanon Water Festival attracted 12,000 people to the public beach and surrounding neighborhood to watch foreign and local water ski teams perform for free. Officials canceled the show out of worry that the major gathering could become a target of violence. Tyre’s beachside tents and restaurants also closed for the season Sunday.
Lebanon’s coastline houses a range of unique sites for underwater exploration, Annette Khoury, co-creator of Lebanon Water Festival, told The Daily Star several weeks ago. The canceled underwater photography competition was supposed to draw photographers from as far away as Argentina, as Tyre houses the world’s only underwater Phoenician city.
“When we talk about the beauties under the sea, we have shipwrecks, shark caves, tabletop coral, pink and yellow fish,” Khoury said.
Throughout September, the festival aims to promote water sports in the country and the importance of preserving Lebanon’s coastline. Discounted classes in various aquatic activities will carry on throughout the month, as will a sprinkling of competitions and free shows by professional water skiers.
For those who had planned to attend the International Ski Show in Tyre, the festival will host a nighttime show Saturday and daytime show Sunday next to La Marina Dbayyeh. – The Daily Star. For more information about the schedule of classes and events, please visit lebanonwaterfestival.com. ...
A room of her own - with space to share
By: Nadia Massih
Date: Wednesday, September 04, 2013
BATROUN, Lebanon: Kloe is an excitable, if undeniably overeager host. She rushes to greet guests, running wildly in laps around the car, tongue askew, until they get out. Upon arrival, visitors find themselves amid great arching lime trees and bushes holding ripe plums and swelling pomegranates. Behind the scene stands a formidable stone house.
This is Beit al Batroun, a stunning boutique bed-and-breakfast just three minutes from the Mediterranean coast where the loudest sound to puncture the calm is the irregular, grunting breathing of my French bulldog host.
Arrivals are quickly ushered inside the home of Colette Kahil– a woman who has spent 15 years hunting down items to recreate a traditional Lebanese house, squirreling pieces away in friends' cupboards until she found precisely the right space to bring everything together.
"This is my private world," she explains as she walks through a living room framed by wide Mandaloun windows looking out over the sea.
For although Beit al-Batroun has three guest bedrooms and is booked every weekend throughout the summer, this house is primarily Kahil and Kloe's home.
"Initially I was anxious about opening my home to the public, and what strangers would think of my space. But my daughter bought me a book on how to start a B&B and on the first page it said: 'If you don't love people don't bother turning the page,'" Khalil recalls. "I thought about it for a while, then I turned over."
Despite hoarding items for 15 years for her imagined home, construction began in earnest just five years ago. "I felt like Santa Claus, opening up all these boxes I had buried for so long and somehow, without much planning, everything fitted."
The design of the house – centered around an open plan living-dining room that extends through a magnificent domed arch onto a terrace – is entirely Khalil's.
The building, meanwhile, is apparently the fruit of just one man: the tireless and "brilliant" Muaellem Alfred, a tiler by trade, who still pops round most days for a cup of coffee and to vaguely plan extensions to the house.
Although some of the furniture and smaller ornaments in Kahil's home hail from London and Paris, the aesthetic of the property is wholly Lebanese.
"I wanted everything to be as authentic as possible so I got to know the men working in demolition in Beirut. I would call them up and see what is being knocked down that day and rush to have a look," she explains.
"So these windows are from an old house in Ashrafieh, these tiles are from another," she says, gesturing to intricate caramel swirls that cover the house's ground floor.
Perhaps stemming from her time working at London's famous antiques market on Portobello Road, Khalil has an eye for a bargain as well as how much a lick of paint can do to items the rest of us would happily chuck.
"I'm always on a mission to find things in unusual places, plenty of the furniture I found simply lying abandoned on the street," she says. "Sometimes, I will drive around just to see what I can find."
A huge traditional wooden sofa was found, extraordinarily, in a dumpster.
"I like to buy cheap," she admits, and yet Beit al-Batroun looks anything but, with its glass chandeliers, mosaic-adorned coffee tables, and a swimming pool overlooking the sea.
Its aesthetic appeal goes someway to explaining the bed-and-breakfast's cost, which may put off some Beirut dwellers looking for a more modestly priced weekend retreat: A double room with an en suite bathroom is $160, including breakfast.
Kahil says she used to get up at 6 a.m. to frantically whip up a spread for her guests, but in the month since Beit al-Batroun opened she has decided to take it down a pace.
Breakfast is now served more languidly up until 11 a.m. It consists of traditional Lebanese mountain fare, including labneh baladi, baked eggs with sumac, and homemade white fig and watermelon jams.
Other meals are not regularly served during the day – "because I want to relax too," says Kahil. Guests are instead encouraged to take a trip down to Batroun's beautiful coastline or visit one of Lebanon's lesser known wineries, Coteaux de Botrys, which is a 15-minute drive away and run by Kahil's friend Neila al-Bitar.
Kahil's first venture into the hospitality sector comes at a time when many experts are all but writing off Lebanon's tourism sector on account of the country's political instability – but business is booming.
The B&B was packed out every weekend in August and Kahil says September looks promising.
Although she admits she would like to attract more foreign clientele, when it comes to Lebanon's fragile security she says she has always been an optimist. "And besides, this house is made of stone; it's not going anywhere."
For reservations email email@example.com or cal 03-270-049.
Jbeil's new Commercial Souks just a facelift for old shops
Date: Wednesday, September 04, 2013
JBEIL, Lebanon: The first thing to note, and the first thing every shopkeeper in the area will tell you, is that Jbeil’s new Commercial Souks are not in fact new – the shopping area is old, all that’s contemporary is the facade.
Until recently the stores in question, located along the street running down the western side of the old city, greeted visitors with a scaffold visage and were perhaps easily bypassed en route to the pretty, cobbled pedestrian zone between them and the sea.
Today, the scaffolding has been lowered, unveiling a collaborative restoration project undertaken by the Jbeil Municipality and Byblos Bank, at a cost, Jbeil Mayor Ziad Hawat has told the media, of $3 million fronted by the latter.
Inaugurated just last week, the revamped sector stretches along the street from its financial benefactor’s premises on one side for about 100 meters and reaches almost double that distance on the other side, with an interruption for a still not functioning water feature.
But unlike Beirut’s made-over Downtown area, a string of European and American chains has not descended on Jbeil’s renovated street. Instead, behind the redone stonework and beneath a new wooden awning that grants delicious respite from the summer sun, most of the stores are just as they were before the initiative – independent women’s clothing outfits, a convenience store and a sweet shop on the corner.
“It’s not new; it’s old,” the proprietor of a butcher shop who introduces himself as Fawzi tells The Daily Star when questioned if this is indeed the “new Commercial Souks.”
Others, perched behind counters in old-fashioned jeweler, clothing and fabric shops reiterate this remark; They’ve been trading from this street for years.
Asked on a quiet Monday if they like the street’s new look, all shrug with a certain indifference.
But while the change may only be skin deep, it does extend the quaint old-world feel of the ancient city just a little further back from the sea, enhancing its already considerable charm still further. ...
Festivals highlight Lebanese resilience
By: Stephen Kalin, Oliver Holmes
Date: Monday, September 02, 2013
BEIRUT: Hours after bombs ripped through the Lebanese city of Tripoli this month, concertgoers gathered for the opening performance of the Baalbeck festival. But it wasn’t in Baalbek, and the planned star didn’t come. Instead, Brazilian jazz vocalist Eliane Elias serenaded the crowd of 1,000 in an open-air theater on the northern outskirts of the capital Beirut, far from the internationally renowned music festival’s historic venue among Roman ruins in the Bekaa Valley.
It was neither the planned location for the festival nor its scheduled opening act. Rocket attacks, kidnappings and threats of further violence in the Bekaa Valley area had forced relocation to a refurbished 19th century silk factory in the Beirut suburbs, and prompted star U.S. soprano Renee Fleming to cancel her trip.
But the Baalbeck festival and scores of others across the country have insisted on maintaining their programs this summer despite the Syrian civil war next door and growing violence in Lebanon itself.
“As long as we’re here ... and doing the concert, there’s hope. Life still goes on,” said Marcel Khalife, the Lebanese musician renowned for his mastery of the lute-like oud.
“When culture ceases to exist, the nation ceases to exist.”
At least 42 people were killed in the Aug. 23 bombings outside Sunni mosques in Tripoli. A week earlier, 24 had died in a bombing in Shiite Hezbollah’s stronghold in a southern suburb of Beirut.
Khalife began his performance on the second night of the festival with a moment of silence for the victims.
The war in Syria, in which more than 100,000 people have been killed, has reignited old sectarian tensions in Lebanon. Hezbollah has sent men to fight alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces, while Sunni Lebanese have joined the rebels fighting to overthrow him.
“War has no meaning. We have lived war. Nobody knows that better than us,” Khalife told Reuters.
“Through the voice and the oud, we’re saying ‘no,’” he said. “We’re saying that love and beauty exist. We’re saying ‘no’ to war. Enough war.”
The Baalbeck International Festival, founded in 1956 by then-President Camille Chamoun, was halted during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war.
It was also suspended during a war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006, when the modern part of Baalbek was heavily bombed. Baalbek, 70 km east of Beirut and 10 km from the border with Syria, is a Hezbollah stronghold.
This year, the relocated festival had a reduced program of three performances from the scheduled six, while attendance dropped from about 20,000 to just a few thousand.
Nayla de Freij, chairwoman of the Baalbek International Festival Committee, said it was “essential” the festival go on this year.
“Baalbek festival is a symbol of culture, of life for Lebanon,” she said.
The audience at Khalife’s concert echoed that sentiment.
“We would have loved to be in Baalbek. It would have sent a stronger message,” said Wael Mansour, an employee at the World Bank.
“But the good thing about this concert is that we sent a message that Lebanon, even with explosions and everything, we still love to go out and enjoy sophisticated music.”
The Beiteddine Art Festival, launched in the pine forest of the Chouf Mountains in 1987 amid the Civil War, has been closed in the past for security reasons. Despite a 20-25 percent drop in attendance this year, the festival avoided any significant delays or postponements.
“We were born during the war, so we’ve made it against the odds,” said Nora Jumblatt, founder and president of the festival. “It’s a cultural resistance that we’re all trying to do.”
She said much of the festival’s roughly $3 million budget was spent locally in the Chouf region, southeast of Beirut, on transport, construction and technical services.
Guests and performers also put cash into the local economy.
According to caretaker Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud, the small Mediterranean country hosts about 300 international and local festivals each year.
“You can go nearly every day to a festival somewhere in Lebanon [during the summer],” Abboud said.
“That is part of our heritage, our culture and we are trying to show the world, really, that life is going on.”
Tourism makes up around 16 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The sector was down by about 6.5 percent for the first half of 2013 compared to 2012, and by 27 percent in July.
Reflecting that decline, audiences at this year’s festivals are 90 percent Lebanese, Abboud said. ...
Keeping the alley out of the gutter
By: Venetia Rainey
Date: Friday, August 30, 2013
HAZMIEH, Lebanon: Eight days before Christmas in 1984, in the midst of the Civil War, the underground bowling alley in Hazmieh finally opened its doors to the public.
Strikes wasn’t the first bowling alley in Lebanon– there were two in west Beirut before the war started – but it was the first fully automatic one.
Instead of pin boys lurking at the end of each lane ready to load the toppled pins into a contraption and lower them down again by hand, Strikes had a machine to do all of that, albeit one given to occasional glitches.
Even better, Strikes was built with Lebanon’s tumult in mind, in the underbelly of a super-sturdy concrete apartment block with a private parking garage below.
“At that time [the mid-1980s] it was full,” the alley’s manager, Georges Bresse, explains with an emphasis that betrays how unlikely such a situation has become now. “People coming here would have to wait half an hour, an hour, just to get their turn, even during the shelling.”
“Once you get here it’s safe.” He gestures to the meter-wide gray beams that crisscross the ceiling.
“It was built to withstand the shelling, it’s all heavy concrete.”
Bresse has been the manager for nearly the entire time it has been open. The man who built the building owned the alley, and initially drafted in Bresse – already a well-known bowling champion – simply to help organize tournaments. Soon, however, Bresse had been hired to run the place full time, or rather, in all his remaining time.
Having taught himself how to bowl while working abroad in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, (“There was not much to do, so we bowled a lot. ... I won 40 trophies”) what had started out as a hobby quickly turned into an all-consuming passion. He chose not to give up his day job, and instead spent his nights moonlighting as the alley’s manager, a bowling instructor and a champion player in his own right.
Regular practice, Bresse says, is the key to getting strikes, something he took to heart so much his “thumb used to be deformed from playing.”
“Some people used to come four or five times a week,” he explains. “They were regulars. Every group would make a team and get sponsors – it was really enthusiastic at that time.”
Like everything in Lebanon, however, things have changed.
Luckily, although the irony of the name “Strikes” has lost some of its potency since the end of the war, the bowling alley has lost none of its charm.
Tucked away near the highway that speeds into the Bekaa Valley, the uninitiated need only look for the large bowling ball sign with the word “Strikes” emblazoned across it and follow the road descending into a parking garage beneath.
Inside, brightly colored balls are neatly lined up, inviting players to find their perfect weight, while bowling etiquette tips on the wall tell visitors: “Bowling is a sport, be one.” Rounds of beer are accompanied by, inexplicably, the latest chart hits.
But this is not a bowling alley for those used to the flashy, cosseted world of trendy modern places. Players keep track of their own points with a pencil and a score sheet and there are no guide railings to be put up. A gutter ball is a gutter ball, and will keep being one until you learn how to bowl better, or ask Bresse for some advice.
For some, this old-fashioned vibe is a welcome one. Unfortunately, the decline of bowling as a competitive sport has been matched by a decline in visitors, at least some of whom presumably prefer the more modern experience offered by other alleys.
“Bowling used to be more of a sport than now,” laments Bresse. “They [players] used to buy their own shoes and balls. There were proper competitions, and there would be leagues with teams with sponsors.”
Now, Bresse said, “We have lockers and people have balls in there that they never come to use.”
Strikes is open 4 p.m.-11 p.m. First game costs LL10,000, and LL5,000 for every game after. For more information, call 05-955-099. ...
Popcorn and ocean air: outdoor summer movies at The Garten
By: Ilija Trojanovic
Date: Monday, August 26, 2013
BEIRUT: Uberhaus’ summer project, The Garten, has attracted international attention and thousands of partygoers because of its laid-back, outdoor style. But it has also introduced something new to Beirut: the outdoor movie theater. In association with Metropolis Cinema, The Garten planned four ?lms for the four months they are open this season.
The liaison between the two, Omar al-Kadi, serving as ambassador and cinema coordinator at The Garten, told The Daily Star that the project – which has two months left – has been nothing short of a complete success.
“The ?rst two ?lms we showed were a full house. Everyone seems to have really loved it,” he said.
Nour Saliba, sister of The Garten managing partner Nemer Saliba, agreed that an outdoor cinema seemed to be filling a need. “I always dreamt of going to an outdoor cinema,” she said. “Seeing how successful the turnout was made me really happy. We didn’t only attract people ready to club afterward, but avid cinema lovers.”
The movies also carry a special outdoor theme. The July and August screenings were “Easy Rider” and “Thelma and Louise,” respectively. Both ?lms see their lead roles embark on journeys set on the open road.
“I chose road movies because I felt that it really suits the outdoor venue and because the soundtracks are quite beautiful,” said Kadi, who came up with the idea.
Upholding the outdoor trend, next month’s ?lm will be “Wild at Heart,” and October’s ?lm will be “The Motorcycle Diaries.”
The Garten’s open-air cinema isn’t the only distinctive feature of Beirut’s newest nightclub.
When the movie is over, and you’re not in the mood for dancing just yet, there are beanbags and a hammock where one can relax and chat with friends. If you’re keen on partying, then The Garten was made for post-movie parties: The dance ?oor – a steel luminescent dome – sits only 15 meters away.
The Garten also boasts things like a restaurant, arcades and live art shows while the night goes on. Kadi explained the diversity of the nightclub, saying “at The Garten, we knew from the beginning we wanted to be different, to have the place tied to the arts.”
In creating such a mishmash venue, The Garten attracts a large variety of visitors, and the open-air movie screenings have played a large role in The Garten’s instant summer success story.
“It was really good. People were enjoying the movie, the popcorn, and whatever they were drinking. It’s a nice way to start a long Saturday night out in a cozy and comfortable venue. All I’ve been hearing is good feedback,” said bar supervisor Pascale Nachef.
Besides the great party atmosphere which usually lasts till sunrise, the retro vestige of the open-air cinema has added to The Garten’s counterculture persona, and Rolling Stone must have taken that into account when voting the summer club as the region’s ?nest. ...
Beirut Art Fair gears up for business
Date: Monday, August 26, 2013
BEIRUT: With the fourth edition of the Beirut Art Fair due to open at BIEL on Sept. 19, organizers have announced the launch of Beirut Art Week. In collaboration with Solidere, the BAF plans to make art more widely accessible to the public by displaying monumental artwork in the streets and shops of Downtown Beirut from Sept. 18 to 24.
Organizers say the art week aims to emphasize Beirut’s historic legacy as a center of culture and crossroad of civilizations, exhibiting in new territories in the hope of attracting a wider public.
Twenty works of art by regional and international artists are scheduled to be exhibited Downtown. Among them pieces by Mona Hatoum, Xavier Veilhan, Matthew Monahan and Philippe Pasqua– on loan from the private collection of Aishti-owner Tony Salame. Regional artists on show include Iraqi sculptor Ahmed al-Bahrani and Egypt’s Ahmed Askalany, while works will also be on show by Syrian artists Mustafa Ali and Houmam Al Sayed.
Naturally work by Lebanese artists will also be exhibited, among them Hussein Madi, Naim Doumit, Aya Haidar, Kameel Hawa, and Nayla Romanos Iliya.
Alongside this selection will be some pieces by South African photographer Vivian Van Blerk, while Momo (a restaurant in the Beirut Souks) will host “Blow Up.” Unfortunately titled, given recent events, this inflatable sculpture was created by Spanish artists’ group Penique Productions.
The international flavor of the Art Week program reflects the wider scope of this year’s Beirut Art Fair, which is set to include Lebanon’s first Asian pavilion, curated by Malaysian gallerist Richard Koh. “Collective Perspectives” will feature the works of 21 artists from nine galleries based in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, working in a range of media including video, photography, painting and sculpture.
Closer to home, Dubai-based Lebanese painter Katya Traboulsi will curate a group exhibition entitled “Generation War,” which is being staged under the optimistic slogan “Life goes on despite the circumstances.”
The exhibition – which is presided over by French journalist Marine Jacquemin, cast in the role of “Godmother” – will feature a series of photographs taken in the 1980s, during Lebanon’s Civil War, by George Azar, Patrick Baz, Jack Dabaghian, Aline Manoukian, Samer Mohdad and Roger Moukarzel, all of whom were in their 20s at the time the photos were taken.
Following on from last year’s program, the main hall will feature stands from around 40 local, regional and international galleries from 15 countries, among them a number of local design galleries. The fair will also reprise its series of talks and round tables, this year focused on photography and South Asian art.
Lebanese artist Jean-Marc Nahas will be revisiting the practice of live drawing, enacted at his solo show at the Beirut Exhibition Center earlier this year. This time he’ll be drawing in collaboration with French artist Fabien Verschaere. The two artists, whose work is united by its comic-strap quality, will work in tandem to cover a seven-meter wall with their complex drawings.
Lebanese painter and sculptor Charbel Samuel Aoun is scheduled to exhibit an installation entitled “Garbagescape,” consisting of a selection of rubbish collected from the Lebanese countryside and displayed in glass boxes, to highlight the country’s 21st century identity. – The Daily Star
The Beirut Art Fair will take place in BIEL from Sept. 19-22 and works will be exhibited in Downtown as part of Beirut Art Week from Sept. 18-24. For more information see www.menasart-fair.com ...
Beit El Kroum : a diamond in the rough
By: Lysandra Ohrstrom
Date: Saturday, August 24, 2013
ZAHLE, Lebanon: Near the end of a summer tourism season marred by periodic bomb blasts, kidnappings and outbreaks of violence, a visit to the new boutique hotel Beit El Kroum in the Bekaa Valley confounds expectations.
I made the one-hour trip from Beirut to Zahle last Saturday, expecting to have the 8-month-old hotel more or less to myself. At the very least, I planned to wrangle a free room upgrade.
I was greeted by a group of perfectly tanned, bikini clad 20-somethings lounging around a mountaintop infinity pool overlooking the red roofs of Zahle. Though it was the peak of the afternoon heat, refreshing gusts of dry wind kept the sunbathers and the grassy backyard cool as the temperature reached levels that would be positively oppressive in Beirut.
Shockingly, when I asked to be moved from a $130 room to one with a view at the same rate, I was informed that all nine of Beit El Kroum’s rooms were occupied – a phrase I doubt many other hoteliers in Lebanon, particularly in the Bekaa Valley, have had the chance to utter this summer.
I understood why within an hour, as I rocked on a hammock-shaped chaise lounge, sipping fresh lemonade, after eating a delicious plate of Kafta and vegetables whipped up from scratch at the hotel’s restaurant, Abricot Cerise.
Visiting Beit El Kroum feels more like staying at a friend’s beautiful, well-equipped country house than a hotel, which is exactly what owner Irene Alouf had in mind in March 2012, when she decided to develop the family property her relatives and friends had enjoyed for years.
“It had a small home with a garden and a great view and picnics and nature,” Alouf said of Beit El Kroum’s previous incarnation.
“It was an open house where friends and family who were coming from Beirut would stay and the kids and their friends would come, so we decided to dream about what we wanted it to become.”
Alouf commissioned a feasibility study for a hotel project on the site, secured bank financing, and began transforming the original small house into a three-story guesthouse in March 2012.
Beit El Kroum opened for business in February, just as the security situation in the Bekaa Valley began to deteriorate. Though business was sparse in the first few months, it picked up this summer and has stayed relatively full of Lebanese guests visiting family in Zahle, U.N. workers and a smattering of foreign tourists in August.
“The concept was to build a hotel that was more like a small house,” Alouf explained. “The most important part is that it is not commercial and that it really feels like a home.”
It does – so much so that I happily ignored the shortcomings of my room, which lacked a fan or air conditioner and comfortable pillows, and focused instead on the personal touches that displayed obvious effort on the part of the hotel’s management.
Each room is named for a different flower that is pictured on paintings which hang on every door and has a private balcony. I slept in the violet room, which had bathroom towels, handmade curtains, an area rug and a throw blanket of the same color.
You don’t want to spend too much time in your room at Beit El Kroum anyway. It’s really about relaxing on the swinging love seat in the backyard or by the pool and taking in the truly breathtaking views. Though the lawn and pool area are by no means large, even when all the lounge chairs and outdoor seating were occupied by couples and sunbathers, it somehow never felt crowded.
If you want to escape the heat or surf the free Internet the hotel offers, Beit El Kroum has multiple different cozy seating areas scattered around the ground floor and in common areas around the rooms.
Around 5 p.m. Saturday, guests began congregating for sunset cocktails mixed and served by Alouf’s son and a rotating group of his friends and cousins that took turns manning the poolside bar.
Platters of complimentary homemade chocolate cake and organic fruit grown onsite appeared in the dining room for guests to munch on.
I never once saw anyone pay for anything in cash at Beit El Kroum, and I didn’t notice anyone keeping tabs on drink orders, which bolsters the feeling of being a guest in someone’s home rather than a hotel.
With just a few full-time employees and a skeletal wait staff, Beit El Kroum is truly a family-run establishment, which Alouf was not anticipating when she started the project.
“I was expecting to have young people from Zahle working here to serve,” Alouf said. “In Beirut, young people work during the summer, but here the concept hasn’t caught on I guess. I would like to have more young people from the area on staff.”
Instead, Alouf’s son and relatives helped serve dinner, desert and nargileh to guests and visitors at the hotel restaurant Saturday night, and at breakfast the next morning she passed around a platter of zaatar manakeesh straight from the oven.
Touches like this make up for what might otherwise be too high a price tag for the relatively Spartan rooms. If you are more daunted by the crowds at one of Lebanon’s upscale beach clubs than alarming travel advisories or are just in need of a short staycation to cap off the summer, Beit El Kroum is well worth a trip. ...
Protecting Lebanon's other tree: the juniper
By: Kareem Shaheen
Date: Saturday, August 24, 2013
ZGHORTA, Lebanon: In the cliffs high above the north Lebanon region of Dinnieh is a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean coast, from the bustling port of Tripoli all the way north to Tartous in Syria.
The limestone-studded cliffs are dotted with the nation’s iconic cedars, nestled alongside hundreds of its hardiest trees, the majestic junipers.
The soft curves of the juniper’s dark green leaf clusters accentuate their powerful, thick trunks. Some are centuries old, seemingly growing out of solid rock, and add an aura of quiet grit and determination to the solitude of the mountain.
But the junipers are in danger from encroaching agricultural activity, woodcutting and grazing.
“Human beings everywhere pose a danger to the environment if they don’t have awareness,” said Mohammad Taleb, a lawyer who has been working on turning one of the largest bastions of the junipers in Lebanon into a reserve.
Taleb, who visits the area regularly to escape the bustle of the city, said growing up in the countryside created an affinity for the greenery of the forest.
Local municipal authorities stand ready to turn the area into a protected reserve, but the decision still has to be approved by the Cabinet, which remains in a dysfunctional state.
But far away from Beirut’s politics, the entrance to the reserve high above Dinnieh is a marker of Lebanon’s history. The jagged road, if you could call it that, is known locally as the English Way, named after a massacre of the cedar and juniper trees that lined the area, cut down in the 1940s to build a railway between Lebanon and Syria.
Area residents cut down the junipers to use their wood to construct houses or as firewood, and to plant more functional fruit trees. Shepherds use the area as a grazing ground, contributing to the reduction of the juniper seedlings’ survival.
In a series of three scientific papers, Bouchra Douaihy, a lecturer at St. Joseph University, examined the status of the juniper population and its genetic diversity, characteristics and ecology.
Douaihy, who is from Ehden, the site of another nature reserve, said she carried out the study because no surveys of Lebanon’s junipers had been done, and because she admired the ability of the trees to live in such high altitudes.
“People admire this tree when they see it growing at such heights,” she said.
Junipers can often grow at heights of more than 2 kilometers above sea level, though they are more common between 1,400 and 1,800 meters.
Juniperus excelsa, known locally as Lezzeb, the species which grows in Lebanon, is found along the eastern Mediterranean basin in countries such as Greece, Turkey, Syria and Cyprus.
The tree’s hardiness is evident throughout its history. During late Tertiary and early Quaternary periods, as ice sheets smothered northern Europe, an ancestor of the modern juniper began a long migration south into warmer climates. Juniperus excelsa settled in the eastern Mediterranean, while its cousins established colonies in areas as diverse as Morocco, Spain, southern France, the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa.
Douaihy sampled populations throughout north Lebanon, including in Hermel, Akkar, Dinnieh, Barqa, Arsal and Afqa, marking out plots of land where the junipers grow and studying their genetic diversity and regeneration rates.
She also looked for signs of human disturbance – trees that were cut down, sites of grazing or agricultural activity.
To find out if the trees were reproducing enough, Douaihy scanned seeds produced by the trees, to try and discover the number of fertile ones produced by the adult junipers.
Conifers, which is the name given to the tree group that includes both junipers and cedars, have both male and female cones that carry the tree equivalent of spermatozoids and ovules.
Wind will carry the pollen from a male cone to a female one, sometimes on the same tree, where it grows and produces a seed deep inside the cone.
Though it is easier for male cone to fertilize a female one on the same tree, it is also the equivalent of human inbreeding, and can reduce genetic diversity, making the trees more vulnerable to threats and resulting in a higher number of empty seeds that cannot grow into new trees.
The Lebanese junipers appear not to be making enough babies.
On average, just 40 percent of the Lebanese trees have full seeds that can become adults, and at higher altitudes, the number is as low as 4 percent. The regeneration rate during the yearlong survey carried out by Douaihy was less than one – not enough to replace dying trees.
“Up there the trees are very big and very old and are in very hard environmental conditions,” Douaihy said. “And they are very scattered.”
Still, most junipers live to be hundreds of years old, and have time to reproduce. They continue to produce seeds until they die.
“If you preserve it, even if the regeneration rate is very low, the population can survive, because the juniper survives in really hard environmental conditions,” she said. “We can find it in the highest altitudes in Lebanon, where no other trees can survive.”
But if current trends continue without controlling agricultural activity around the junipers, they could become endangered.
“This makes the future of the juniper woodland in Lebanon largely uncertain,” according to a paper published by Douaihy and her colleagues in July.
The arguments for creating a reserve and protecting the junipers are numerous. The trees preserve the soil from erosion, and enrich it so other plants, animals and birds can survive in the unforgiving wilderness.
Their demise would also leave the high peaks of the north barren.
“If we lose it, no other tree can survive there,” Douaihy said.
But the exceptionalism of the determined junipers aside, their survival is a sign of the health of Lebanon’s wilderness, for the birth of a new tree is an intricate dance of nature.
Once a cone is fertilized and ready to germinate, it falls off the tree and could simply grow near the mother tree.
But thrushes eat the fleshy cones and digest them. The seeds pass intact through their digestive system, and may actually benefit from the acids in their stomachs. The birds then excrete the seeds elsewhere, where they grow into full trees.
But even the birds are endangered, their migration patterns disturbed by climate change and their numbers among Lebanon’s mountains thinned by hunters.
“They are all related in one ecosystem,” Douaihy said. “Any threat to one can affect the others.” ...
Fusing Lebanese and Mexican to mixed results
By: India Stoughton
Date: Friday, August 23, 2013
BEIRUT: The menu at Frida – a Mexican-Lebanese fusion restaurant located in a beautiful old house in Ashrafieh – perfectly reflects the eatery’s ethos. Covered with a riot of colorful flowers, it ostensibly takes its inspiration from artist Frida Kahlo’s Mexican heritage, but the outcome is decidedly Lebanese. On the back of the folding concertina is two-tone reproduction of one of Kahlo’s famous self-portraits, with a local twist – in line with the national obsession with perfect grooming, the artist’s distinctive monobrow has been judiciously plucked.
Arriving one humid August evening, my companions and I elect to forgo the interior’s plush red lampshades, comfortable if unattractive banquette seating and hand-painted murals of Mexican peasants wrapped in shawls and clutching woven baskets, and instead sit outside on the terrace.
Lit by old-fashioned street lamps and adorned with attractive wrought-iron and glass furniture, it provides a pleasant, laid-back atmosphere and affords a view of the beautiful building in which the restaurant is housed, with its distinctive circular balconies and rustic red shutters.
We are pleasantly surprised to find that the terrace is soon full, surprising on a Monday night, and the gentle buzz of conversation soothes us as we discuss how to tackle the extensive menu. Eventually we agree to order a selection of hot and cold mezze, selecting from the items with “Frida” in the title, in the hope that they will best reflect the restaurant’s approach to Mexican-Lebanese fusion.
Things start off well. A bread basket featuring a selection of crispy, fried fragments and flat bread, flavored with an inventive blend of fennel seeds and juicy sultanas, is accompanied by a bowl of sliced green olives and paprika-sprinkled cheddar cheese. We enjoy the simple-yet-pleasing appetizer as we wait for the mezze to arrive.
We consider sampling one of the house cocktails, rumored to be spectacular, but are slightly put off by the equally spectacular prices (LL16,500 for a margarita) and in the end decide to keep our wits about us and make do with a glass of beer or arak apiece.
Perhaps this is a mistake. When the main dishes arrive things go downhill. The dish of three Frida Mini Fajitas (LL13,500) is flavorful and balanced, if slightly underseasoned, the marinated beef nicely offset by the delicate mushrooms, capsicum and cheddar cheese. The thin Lebanese bread used to wrap the filling, samosa-style, is crispy and light, constituting a Lebanese take on a Mexican staple. The Frida Potatoes (LL9,500), however, are an enormous disappointment.
Five thick slabs of potato, which appear to have been first boiled until soft and then grilled until inedible, are garnished with “melted cheddar” (to liberate these words from the quotation marks would be an insult to British cheese) that has a mayonnaise-like consistency and an unpleasant flavor. Topped with sliced mint and served with a side of sour cream and a slice of lemon, the dish is at once bland and sickly.
A couple of small mouthfuls are enough to convince me that I would not voluntarily consume any more of the cheese sauce if it was slathered over Clive Owen’s manly chest. After some discussion, my companions and I decide that it resembles the pumped cheese served with nachos at the cinema, but without the flavor. We do not finish it.
The Frida Markouk (LL14,500) is better. Five beautifully presented miniwraps – containing chicken strips, potato wedges, guacamole, salsa and the ubiquitous melted cheddar cheese – are served with a side of refreshing pico de gallo, its citrusy tang the perfect complement to the markouk, which has a lovely texture but is extremely rich.
The cumulative effect of the first three dishes is slightly nauseating, but happily the richness is alleviated slightly by our fourth choice, the controversial Frida Cucumbers (LL8,500), four small cucumbers hollowed out and stuffed with labneh flavored with sumac and zaatar, the ends coated with a flavorful blend of the dried herbs.
“A dumb dish,” announces my outspoken Dutch companion, “if food can qualify as dumb. It’s nice if you’re a hungry farmer or enormous truck driver, but it doesn’t belong in a nice fusion restaurant.”
I disagree, finding that the crispy cucumber, with its filling of sour, slightly spicy yoghurt, provides a palette-cleansing respite from the cream-laden guacamole and abundance of cheese. I do concede, however, that the awkwardly shaped vegetables, although nicely presented, are difficult to consume while maintaining any semblance of dignity and decorum.
Feeling somewhat weighted down we decide to forego dessert, and ask our efficient if impersonal waiter for the bill. At just under $50 for three, the prices are reasonable, but we leave feeling that the setting, rather than the cheddar-centric food, is Frida’s strong suit. Even if the murals are a little, well, cheesy.
Frida is located in the Al Hayek sector of Ashrafieh. For more information call 01-333-226. ...
Tourism seeps into untouched Wadi Hujair
By: Samya Kullab
Date: Thursday, August 22, 2013
BEIRUT: From an overlooking precipice, the sprawling Wadi Hujair seems to tumble on, hill after hill, for as far as the eye can see, its verdant ascents dotted with rock and dry brush, and a clear river running in between. Little is known about this seemingly untouched area of Lebanon’s deep south. Its arresting sights, however, prompted the Union of Mount Amel Municipalities, which includes 16 municipalities, in April to declare it a nature reserve. This came after the organization Generations of Peace worked for months to clear it of land mines accumulated during the July 2006 war with Israel.
In a matter of months the area was emptied of cluster bombs, artillery, grenades and mines, as bright yellow signs erected by the clearing authorities along the river banks proudly attest.
“After liberating the south in May of 2000, tourists began to flow into the region,” explained Ali Zein, the head of the union of municipalities that sponsored the area to become a reserve. “Wadi Hujair is a very green and forested area with oak trees over 500 years old. So we had to do our best to protect the area from hazards caused by negligence, and that’s why we thought of making it into an official nature reserve.”
A committee formed by Zein was tasked with looking after the reserve and protecting its resources. In line with these duties, Civil Defense teams are on call at all times around the area in the event of emergencies, especially forest fires.
“Working in a team, with the union of municipalities, and not in an individual capacity has helped us a lot in achieving our aims and carrying out a comprehensive development strategy, which includes a plan to combat fires, spreading awareness and planting more trees in public areas,” he said.
A team of 40 young men and from the villages surrounding the reserve were trained to watch the area to protect it in the event of a fire. A joint operation committee was also established by the villages to coordinate such efforts.
Despite the obstacles, Zein said, the reserve has come a long way in a very short time: “When we first started the project here in Wadi Hujair, there was nothing. Now we have acacias and other plant species growing.”
Nevertheless, there is still more work to be done, as Zein explained the concept of what a nature reserve means would take time to grasp for those native to the area:
“We need some more time for people to really understand what we mean by a nature reserve. There are large private properties within the reserve and we are preparing a plan in order to incorporate these properties, so that they play a part in the reserve.”
The union is still working with the Agriculture Ministry to plant more trees on the public properties of the valley, with about 12,000 planted so far. The union is aiming to convince the Agriculture Ministry to allocate about LL65 million a year in conservation efforts.
“We are doing our best to advertise and attract more visitors,” said Zein.
The valley is named after the pure water Hujair Spring, which can be heard rippling along the main road and the dusty tracks around the hillsides. Another current, the Slouqi Spring, flows around the periphery of the valley. Families can be seen gathering by the banks of the river during the hot summer months, including mothers, still modestly dressed in their abayas, wading through the shallow waters with their rambunctious children splashing about.
Nearly 18 kilometers square and cutting across 21 villages distributed in the districts of Marjayoun, Nabatieh and Jbeil, the area hosts a diversity of tree species, such as oak, bay laurels, hawthorns and carob trees.
It is not uncommon for passers-by to pick the edible legumes, relatives of the pea family, of the carob tree to savor its odd combination of dry and sweet flavors.
Those who have lived near the area, however, often speak of its historical significance. Wadi Hujair was known as the meeting place of Shiite scholars. Prominent among them was Sayyed Abdul-Hussein Sharafeddine, who in April 1920 convened an important gathering to launch a resistance campaign against the French Mandate. Amid the majestic landscapes of Wadi Hujair, Sharafeddine called for national unity and stressed the importance of respecting individual sects, a call that political figures leading Lebanon still proclaim to this day.
Despite its considerable distance from the capital, about a two hour drive north of the area, Wadi Hujair draws families from across Lebanon, as far as Tripoli, to relax in the recent spate of restaurants in the area. With its whimsical conical roofs, cobbled facades and oak-lined interiors, the design of the restaurants in the area appear to be a unique cross between a traditional Nabatieh village home and the fantastical world of a Grimm fairytale.
Ali Mustapha opened his restaurant and resort, Throne of Kings, just three months ago because he found the tranquil area of Wadi Hujair relaxing.
“Many people come here because it’s a nice place to relax,” he said, as children played in the resort pool while other families lunched on the patio.
About 500 to 600 people flock to his restaurant on the weekends, he added, with the numbers increasing after Mustapha ran a promotional commercial on television.
Youssef Fahs, another restaurant owner in Wadi Hujair said his family had already owned the land where his restaurant is, and the idea to open Al-Arzal, occurred to him last year.
While he said he received a lot of customers, he acknowledged there were some in Beirut who might think the area was too dangerous:
“Some might think it is too dangerous, given the political environment. And there are people who are too afraid to come because they just don’t know what it’s like. But the people who are from around here but who live in Beirut, they often come here to breathe.” ...