Façades of Lebanon

Winner of the 2021 Calibre Essay Prize
by
July 2021, no. 433

Façades of Lebanon

Winner of the 2021 Calibre Essay Prize
by
July 2021, no. 433
Site of an explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, that occurred on 4 August 2020 (photograph by Anna Om/Alamy)
Site of an explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, that occurred on 4 August 2020 (photograph by Anna Om/Alamy)

Listen to this essay as read by the author.

 

As the March and April evenings grew hotter, the streets of East Beirut were as empty as our calendars. The grumble of traffic had disappeared. Without the usual smokescreen, the nearby mountains and coastline were visible for weeks. Parks are scarce in Beirut and gardens are private, but this spring, vines and bougainvillea were clambering over the high walls and no one was trimming them. It was possible to take solitary walks and hear birdsong.

The only reminder of the city’s previous energy were the leaves shifting in a sea breeze from the port, which East Beirut surrounds like raked seating in a theatre. All that moved in the lanes of Achrafieh, Gemmayzeh, Mar Mikhaël, and Monot was sunlight and shadows. For the first time, every neighbourhood knew what it felt like to be left alone. That was how the ruin began.

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Comments (2)

  • Having lived and worked in Lebanon from 1973 to 1976, I was enormously moved by the images of the country evoked by Theodore Ell. Although his picture is of a contemporary Lebanon that is much changed, our time there during the tumultuous 1970s leaves us with memories of a beautiful country, war ravaged but hospitable and politically unfathomable. And now in ruins. Such an excellent essay!
    Posted by Norma Pilling
    09 August 2021
  • Terrific interview by Geraldine Doogue ABC RN just now with you. Thank you. Looking forward to reading your work and continued essays. Congrats on your essay and stepping through that image that will stay with and weigh me - your 15 long seconds in your long gallery home. Wow. I’m humbly humanised by your storytelling.
    Posted by Jen Quealy
    07 August 2021

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