Posted by: audreydk | July 25, 2010

The Cedars

Behold the regal Lebanese cedar- these trees are quite breathtaking up close! This variety of cedar is found only in Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Cyprus and Morocco. These are pictures taken at one of the handful of reserves in Lebanon and we visited one in the North. Due to massive deforestation, these trees are endangered and there are few old trees- ones whose birthdays are over 1,000 years old.  However, there are movements throughout Lebanon to revive the cedar through maintaing reserves for natural regeneration as opposed to active planting.

In the center of the reserve, a few trees have been smoothed down and carved as a monument to the renowned Lebanese poet, Khalil Gibran whose hometown was just south of the forest. His literature and art are a source of national pride (thank you wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khalil_Gibran).

That's me sitting in the forest!

The morning after visiting the cedar reserves, we took a short bus ride to tallest peak in Lebanon, Qurnat as Sawda, or the Black Peak. The summit is 3,088 meters or 10,131 feet tall and yes, that is snow you see above in the middle of July. Like the hike I took, the environment is dry and vegetation is very sparse due to the altitude. Although the view as hard to capture, it was disparate and lovely.

Posted by: audreydk | July 20, 2010

Tripoli

Warning: in this blog I had to cite wikipedia because there was too much information to absorb from the tour guide!

Thanks again Wikipedia!

Settlement of what is now known as Tripoli dates as far back as 1400B.C. and was ruled by Phoenicians, Persians, Romans, Crusaders, Malmuks, Ottomans and many more. This is the Citadel of Raymond de Saint-Gilles or the Qala’at Sanjil in Arabic, which dates back to around 1109! Above is a picture of the outside from the web that I did not have time to snap. What is surprising about this castle, and many ruins and relics in Lebanon, is that they are often smack dab in the middle of cities or on the side of this highway. This castle is off the main drag in Tripoli, next to high-rise apartments and restaurants.

This gate is an example of Ottoman architecture

The castle was named for Raymond IV of Toulouse, who helped lead the first Crusade and called for this fortress to be built on what he called Mont Pelerin or Mount Pilgrim after the failed Crusade of 1101 (Incidentally this same Crusade was largely organized in Clermont-Ferrand, France-where I studied abroad in 2003). Raymond was killed in 1105 when Tripoli was taken by the Malmuks, but possession of Tripoli would change many times throughout the Crusades.

Here is a view from the castle of the Mansouri Great Mosque–it was built between 1294 to 1314 , during the Malmuk period. The Mansouri Mosque was named after the Egyptian Mamluk sultan Qalawun, who conquered Tripoli from the Crusaders (of which Crusade I do not know) and burnt down the original Raymond Saint Gilles Citadel in 1289. It has been rebuilt and renovated numerous times since then, and is in fact constantly under work for its preservation.

And here I am doing the “tourist thing”…

Posted by: audreydk | July 16, 2010

More Shoes…I just can’t help it!

Behold these jewels!  Each time I think I’ve found the most unbelievable pair to stare at, they’re outdone by a store just down the street! I haven’t yet ventured to try a pair on, but if I do, I’ll let you know.

I live in the Hamra, which is basically the university district and even though it is very small, it’s packed with stores full of shoes like this.  What I thought were impressive at the mall do not compare to these scarbini (women’s shoes)!  Even taller and flashier than the ones in my previous post, these shoes surpass the others in their unparalled ability to distract–they are so damn sparkly!

Christine has made me promise to assure all of you that not all Lebanese women wear shoes that are so…well, gaudy. I’ve been told that these utterly bedazzled heels are more popular in the summers when the Khaliji (people who are from the Gulf Coast) come to summer in Beirut. Apparently Gulf tastes are “richer”, but from what I see, many Lebanese women adorn their feet in a similar and often outrageous fashion!

I am fascinated by these shoes mainly because they’re…ahem…tacky. Yet, they are undeniably amazing! They are works of art and carefully crafted with god knows how many Swarovski crystals and rhinestones, created floral designs, butterflies, dragonflies and more.  If anyone back home wants a pair, let me know!

Posted by: audreydk | July 16, 2010

Football Fever

Here is the official World Cup song, “Wavin’ Flag.” It was originally written and sung by a Somali-Canadian artist who goes by K’naan.  The original was written for the Haiti disaster, but the song was chosen as the official FIFA 2010 anthem.  I hear it everywhere!  In this video, K’naan is accompanied by Nancy Ajram-a famous Lebanese chanteuse, but here she is singing in Egyptian:

No, I am not talking about the Oklahoma Sooners. Or the Dallas Cowboys. I am talking about the world’s most-watched sport: soccer to us, and football to the rest of the world.  It is a phenomenon here in Lebanon, and flags adorn cards and houses, declaring who supports which team.  It’s been World Cup time again (or the mondial as they call it here), and I know it’s over now, but yalla Esbania (go Spain)!

You all know that I am NOT a sports fan–I went to one Sooners football game when I lived in Norman. I am forever thinking the NY Mets are football.  However, even I’ve been extra enthusiastic–I’ve watched almost every match, I stand up to cheer for teams I have no connection to (Ghanna?), I slam my drink on the table in frustration when my teams’ players get yellow cards…I have the fever.  I was with Germany before the final, but when Spain scored that winning goal in the last game, Christine and I screamed, started to sing and dance with such fervor that two people actually asked me if I was Spanish!

Display at Local Mall

At places as mundane as the supermarket people asked me: “Who are you with?”. They don’t say “in the world cup” but that is what they mean, what else is as important right now?  Even now that it is over, they ask “who were you with?”. “Allamania” (Germany), I say, and they reply with a smile, “Ya haram!” (you poor thing!).

Miriam was with the Netherlands...ya haram!

Here is more World Cup music- the “unofficial” FIFA song by Shakira. It really is a shame an African team didn’t make it to the finals this time. So next time, Inshallah!

Posted by: audreydk | July 2, 2010

Pigeon Rock

Here is Pigeon Rock, located in a neighborhood called Raouché, just west of where I study at LAU (Lebanese American University).  It is right off the Corniche, a long boardwalk that stretches around several neighborhoods and offers a lovely view of the Mediterranean Sea.  Most afternoons and night, the Corniche is full of both locals and tourists who want to take a leisurely stroll or take a jog (like me). The daytime pic was from the internet, but the evening picture was taken by yours truly.

Posted by: audreydk | July 1, 2010

A Hike

As you can see, the conditions were very cloudy atop this mountain in Kannise, sometimes there was so little visibility I couldn’t see someone 15 feet away from me.  Not only that, it was very windy and cold–in the fifties–on the peaks. I didn’t know it could get so cold here in the summer! The terrain was rough and rocky, and the clouds were ominous, and therefore its desolateness was beautiful.

These are fossils that are thousands of years old.  Try to look at the close-up on the computer.  It’s assumed that these mountains were once underwater because of the frequency that shell and fish fossils are found in Lebanon.  They are often sold as souvenirs and unfortunately, there are no regulations about moving them or taking them in unprotected zones where conservation is less common. Also, on this hike we found ruins of Roman temples and even the remains of a small church from the era of Constantine.

View from the top!  At the end here, we are about 6,000 feet up, so it is no wonder that I got altitude sickness shortly after the hike! Next time, I’ll be better prepared or just go slower. From this view you can usually see (when the visibility is better) between the two mountain ranges that run parallel through Lebanon North to South, into a valley full of farmland. In fact, the lebneh that I buy is from a farm below.

Posted by: audreydk | July 1, 2010

Food: The Basics

Ok, so these foods are part of my daily diet here and I know how to say some of them in Lebanese Arabic. These and variations of them are part of basic Lebanese cuisine, both at home and in restaurants.  Clockwise rom the top left, we start with fruit.  Lucky for me, apricots (mish moosh), peaches, plums, and cherries are in season, and might I add that produce generally is cheap! Banana farms are all over as well.

Next is hummus, which refers to both the dip and the beans themselves (hommos).  The hummus here was made by Christine’s mom from freshly-cooked chickpeas and tahini (taheneh)–very good!  Next is the coffee and tea kettle (rekway).  The coffee here (ahHehway) is most served with cardamon (delicious) and is served in espresso-sized tazze.

Next is the bread! This is traditional bread (khbiz), eaten with most meals. It is like pita in that it is empty in the middle and often stuffed, but it’s flatter and chewier than pita. Most families buy it fresh everyday. The small dish to the left is a soft yogurt cheese (lebneh). (Yogurt is laban and yogurt sauces for meat abound!).  I rarely eat bread without lebneh. It is delicious and tastes much like Greek yogurt, but is thicker, more salty and more sour. On top of it is an herbal mixture called zataar made from thyme and sesame seeds.  It is also often eaten with lebneh and khbiz- yum!

Next are vegetables. I am delighted that vegetables are eaten with most meals! The most common are tomatoes (benadoora), cucumbers (kheear), and olives (zaytoun).  Lemons are mixed with olive oil (zeit), which is just above to dress most salads…and it can pretty much go on anything!

Cheese (jebneh)! Most traditional cheese here are soft white cheeses, like halloumi (halloom), for instance.  They are often very salty and soaked in water to make them more mild. A cheese sandwich with zataar and veggies is a very common quick lunch or light dinner…or sometimes breakfast :).

Last is a traditional dessert called halayweyh.  It is sugar (sikkar) mixed with tahini and pistachios (fistuk), and a ground root called halawa. It is delicious and rich, and I find myself eating too much of it most days! It is often wrapped in khbiz to eat. I sometimes eat it with a spoon…

…Sahatein (to your health)!

Posted by: audreydk | June 30, 2010

Shoes!

Visit to a local mall...

These cost about as much as my tuition at LAU for the summer, not including the handbag! As you can see, the higher the heel, the better for many Lebanese women.  Crazy colors, rhinestones, metallics, bows and sky-high platforms are in vogue and even I couldn’t walk in them–which is saying a lot I think…:). Not only do Lebanese women have stylish (and perhaps dangerous) footwear, most of them are coiffed with their nails well manicured, perfect make-up and a matching ensemble; it is very impressive.

These are more my style!

Yowza!!!

After taking a picture of this shop, I was told no picture taking was allowed. Apparently, they were afraid I might steal the design.

Posted by: audreydk | June 21, 2010

Afternoon in Faraya

The restaurant, Al Arzel

Farayah is a village 45 minutes north of Christine’s house. Here we ate at a restaurant called “tree house” because looks over a valley and has covered porches with trellises covered in grapevines, it was lovely.

We ate traditional Lebanese fare, which I regret not taking pictures of. We feasted on labneh (a soft yogurt cheese), hummus (the best I have ever had), flat bread stuffed with cheese and zaatar (a mixture of thyme, sesame seeds and other herbs), mashaawi (shish kebab), potatoes with garlic, and fresh olives, tomatoes, and cucumbers! Of course, we finished with sweetened black tea.

Posted by: audreydk | June 21, 2010

On the Beach

View from the beach

Gorgeous, no? You can barely make out Beirut from here–it is the farthest tip in the ocean. I have seen the Mediterranean Sea before, but this was the first time that I swam in it. I was light blue green, clear and the perfect temperature. I was almost certainly the palest person on the beach!

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