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Drive to Southern Lebanon

Wednesday, February 24th, - SOUTH LEBANON, EVA’S MOUNTAIN HOME

Highway sign along our drive south

Bless your hands: Salim Ee Daik
Lunch in: Sidon (Saida)
Dinner in: Jezzine

Wadad woke me at around 7:00 a.m. Again, she served me coffee (in Wadad's home, there is no possibility that I should perform this task!!) We were picked up by Eva’s driver, Charbel (pronounced with a soft "C"), in an SUV, very luxurious. He drove us to Eva’s city home in a tree-lined, stylish part of Beirut. Her husband's name is Eli. They have a large and elegantly appointed home in the city. They also have a sumptuous one in the mountains! In Beirut, two young Bangladeshi maids were present. They served us coffee. Eli sat with us for a while and went back to his computer afterwards. Wadad tells me he is a very high in the Lebanese army, comparable to our National Guard.

After a half-hour of coffee and conversation, we women left, with Charbel driving us, on our trip south to Eva’s home in the mountains for an overnight stay. Eva and Charbel smoked cigarettes. They both smoked the brand, “Brilliant”; Eva “slims” and Charbel “regulars”. Somehow, the smoke from them was not bad. Not overwhelming.

We drove through the tumultuous, incomprehensible traffic of Beirut. It flows like a slow log-filled river. Somehow the cars, like floating logs, just move past and around each other, both cross-traffic or with traffic. At the last second, someone allows another to go first. Charbel drove expertly, as I observed in awe!

Beach near Saida in Southern Lebanon

The city is a mixture of the old and modern; buildings going up and buildings being demolished; modern malls and bullet-riddled, bomb-shattered structures. Lots of poverty, I believe. That is how it appears from the street. Perhaps things are not as they appear inside the buildings.

Wadad described an area we drove through as we were leaving Beirut. She said it was the place where refugees went instead of living in the high-rises that were provided by the authorities. This is a bustling, crowded neighborhood of single-story buildings, tiny shops everywhere, selling everything. There appears to be no order to this Western mind of mine. Shops, traffic, parking, pedestrians were all chaotic to me.

It doesn't get any fresher than this!

We stopped at a small glass-fronted shop with raw beef quarters hanging in the window, tables and chairs inside and a large brick oven behind a counter. Eva knew the owner. Eva knows everyone as far as I could see! The proprietor cut a chunk off the meat hanging in the window and gave it to the handsome young man behind the counter.

More pizzas than we could eat, with a refreshing yogurt drink and lime wedges

The four of us sat at a table and soon were served a platter piled high with tiny pizzas covered with cooked and seasoned ground beef. The beef contained cumin, tomatoes and other spices. It was delicious. More than we could eat, too!

Eva, Charbel, Wadad and Saralee having lunch

I was intrigued with the practicality and beauty of the water jugs that were placed on tables. One lifts the jug and allows the water to flow into his mouth, without ever touching the glass spout. This reminds me of the wine skins of desert people, but with glass as the receptacle.

Beautiful method for serving water

After this stop, we continued south. The highway became wide and smooth with three lanes in each direction. We passed a control point in the south, close to Palestine, beyond which the United Nations were in charge of peace-keeping. One sees billboards, flags and posters all along the way, proclaiming the virtues of the various parties to their conflict. There were political billboards seemingly everywhere, blocking the view.

Political posters proclaim their candidate's virtues all along the way

We drove to the shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon. The shrine is a colossal statue of the Virgin and Child, commemorating the wait of Jesus’ mother for His return to Lebanon from Palestine. It overlooks what seems to be the entire south of Lebanon, from the mountains to the sea. Their shore is the eastern-most shore of the Mediterranean Sea.

Notre Dame du Mantara

The views from this shrine and church are magnificent, both to the sea,

View towards the Mediterranean Sea

and to the mountains.

View towards the Mountains, towards Eva's home

What a beautiful country! How sad that it has been war-torn!

Friends at the mountain-top shrine of Our Lady of Mantara

Afterwards, Charbel drove us up and up narrow roads, into the mountains where Hezbollah live in peace alongside the ordinary Christian villages to Jezzine. There we visited a relative of Eva’s. It was in her home that we had coffee, in a room carpeted with Persian carpets, surrounded with plush sofas, with a television going, and in the middle was a large oil-burning stove with a stovepipe to the ceiling, keeping us warm in the cool mountain air. There we had coffee, cigarettes and conversation for a half-hour.

Dinner in the mountins at Jezzine

After this pleasant stop, we continued on to small town of Jezzine where we stopped for dinner. Jezzine is in the mountains with a view of the piney forests all around, and the granite cliffs across a green valley. There were two long, cascading waterfalls visible on the granite cliffside.

Meal of Lebanese dishes, including steak tartar

The restaurant was stately and spacious, with only one other party at the corner (best view) table. The view below was magnificent. We were served a Lebanese dinner, with course after course. I am amazed at the delicious French-fries we have here everywhere. But then, I should not be surprised, it was for many years a French colony. The meal was accompanied by the drink, “Arack”. It is an alcoholic drink made from grapes and seasoned with anise. It is clear liquid, but when mixed in a pitcher with water and poured into small classes full of ice cubes, it becomes milky. It was refreshing and delicious and was the perfect accompaniment to the meal we were served.

Eva and Charbel enjoying their cigarettes!

After dinner we drove further up into the mountains to Eva’s summer home. We arrived after dark, but I could tell it was more of a palace than a mere home. She guided us inside with a lantern for light.

Eva and Wadad, climbing the stairs to our bedrooms

We climbed marble stairs to our bedroom on the third floor. We slept quickly. Eva served us a glass of Grand Marnier in one of the formal living rooms when we arrived here, and by the time I got into bed I was ready to "crash"!

Ready to "crash" into our comfortable beds

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