In Beirut we lived in a neighborhood called Ashrafieh. According to Wikitravel it is an “old and charming district.” I remember it as a perfectly ordinary place. I walked to school at The Lycee Francais which was close by. School hours were 8-12 and 2-4 which meant that I also walked home for lunch, the big meal of day, eaten punctually at 1 o’clock.
The hours between 12 and 2 were “sacred” just like in Europe, and no one in their right mind would dream of disturbing you during those hours, mostly because everyone else was also occupied in eating or resting. My parents often took a siesta after lunch.
Our street was called Abdel Wahab al Englizi. It means Abdel Wahab the Englishman. Who he was and why he merited having a street named after him remains a mystery to me. The street is also described as one of the most beautiful in Beirut. Again I only saw it as a plain cul-de-sac at the end of which stood our three-story apartment building.
The apartment had a big “salon” adjoined by a roomy dining room and surrounded by 3 bedrooms. The bathroom had a bathtub and water heater and the toilet was in a separate little room. The kitchen was spacious and communicated with the dining room through a little window where dishes could be passed through.
There was no central heating and the winter months were quite cold, so we used small electric heaters in the rooms. Sometimes at night we ironed our sheets before jumping into bed.
When I came home from school I often found a note tacked to the front door saying: “The key is at the Mussor’s family.” There was no such family. Mussor means refuse in Russian, so the message was: “The key is under the garbage can.”
My father had a green Ford which he used for work and for family outings on Sundays. The beach was at some distance from the city so during the week I went to the “Etablissements de Bain” (Bathing Facilities) where you could rent a cabin and bathe in a perfectly calm sea. It was there that I taught myself to swim using a rope which stretched from shallow to deep water toward a raft where you could rest and sun yourself. (Getting a tan was quite the rage in those days).
On weekends we sometimes drove to the beach outside town and I cannot help getting teary-eyed just remembering the incredibly limpid water where you could see each grain of sand under your feet and feel your whole body relaxing. I do not even want to think about what it must look like now.
The heat and humidity in summer in Beirut were quite intolerable and everybody who could leave town retreated to the nearby resort villages. An hour’s drive through ascending winding roads transported you to places where the air was dry and smelled of pine trees and where you could still see the city at your feet. Sometimes we stayed at a hotel but more often we rented a house for the summer. Because of his work my father joined us on Saturday afternoons and drove back early Monday morning.
Next time, more on resort towns in the mountains.
Editor’s note: We’ve had a few technical glitches with the blog recently so if you notice anything that isn’t right, know that we are working on all of this.