If someone had told me a year and a half ago that I would be living in Damascus for 4 months and studying intermediate Arabic, I am not sure whether I would have believed them but here I am, typing in the heat of the day, hoping that I can upload this without too many problems!
One month of my course is now finished and I am moving up in the world to level 5 at the University of Damascus– scary stuff. I have just come back from a much needed getaway to Beirut, Lebanon. Only 3 and a half hours away from Damascus yet poles apart in other ways. Noisy and humid, this glass urban jungle is a hybrid of New York meets Paris meets Dubai yet it has managed to retain its integrity and brought many of the positive aspects of these destinations into reality. Modern skyscrapers juxtapose old shuttered townhouses, local bistros and coffee houses attract the same diverse clientele as the street vendors and 5* restaurants, mosques stand harmoniously with churches, lots of pedestrian areas who promote the cafe atmosphere, roman ruins acting as gardens for government buildings...I heart Beirut.
Some of the highlights include walking around the campus of American University Beirut that stretched down to the Mediterranean, singing away a few hours at a legendary jazz club and bumped into someone who gave us a lecture last year on the Middle East, criss-crossing Beirut’s food and shopping districts and sampling most of what was on offer, eating in the seaside restaurant of a sleepy harbour town who counted Bridget Bardot as a regular in the 60’s, watching Algeria take on England in the World Cup with the Imam from the Mosque chanting the night time call to prayer, and Souq al-Tayeb.
I had not realised that the amount of falafels I can eat is finite – I am in falafel overkill – but Beirut was a foodie dream. Without doubt the best food I have eaten since arriving here this summer – dandelion leaves with almonds and onions, runner beans with tomatoes and garlic, halloumi and apricots.....yum yum yum. Last summer J and I went to the Union Square Farmer’s Market in NYC – local, seasonal and wholesome is what we like! I found a little slice of goodness whilst in Beirut and I will definitely be back for more...
Souq al-Tayeb is a local organic market set up by farmers, cooperatives and small producers who wanted to celebrate Lebanese produce. Every Saturday between 9-2pm, the Saifi district car park hosts this unique venture in the Middle East and transforms itself into a haven of little stalls selling the good and the great. Juice stalls, vegetables, cold soups and bread, cheeses, fruit and wraps, honey and jam and baking. 100% Local Lebanese. Don’t you think you can smell goodness? The tomatoes tasted like what I imagine Italian tomatoes do – sunshine, earth and sweet juicy redness. I want to do my shopping there every week! We treated ourselves to some sugar free jam made from strawberries, grape molasses and a drop of agave. I had no idea that I would stumble across so many like-minded people in Beirut. There is a small but beautiful food revolution coming to the Middle East and I really hope they jump on the bandwagon with as much enthusiasm as we have.
Hooray for getting back to blogging!
Hooray for food!
And the biggest HOORAY for friends!
Salaam, Charlotte xx
P.S....I have spent 2 hours trying to upload some photos but the system keeps shutting down....Sorry! Xx