My plan this week was to take a photo of the iconic LOVE sculpture in Manhattan. Maybe in my mission to do so I would have stumbled upon other signs of love in the city in time for Valentine’s Day. But I never made it and thus there are no clichés this year. Except for the home made play dough which by happen turned out to be pink there was no red, no hearts and no roses. A friend of mine who has lived many years in New York told me that Valentine’s Day is really special here, but if it was, I didn’t feel it.
Instead my thoughts keep going back to a most memorable Valentine’s Day four years ago, in Damascus. It was the last day of our trip, one that I have actually written more about here. That night we ate a rather late dinner at the famous Naranj restaurant because it was the only time we could get a table. The magic happened afterwards as we were walking back to our hostel. The roads were all congested with cars decorated with red bears, hearts, lights and flowers. The traffic was so bad that they were almost standing still and every car we passed greeted us Happy Valentine!
Never had I seen Valentine’s Day celebrated with such fervor, out in the streets and embracing everyone. Four years later, Naranj has closed and moved to Iraq. Syria lies in ruins. I wonder if the Damascene youths are still driving their cars out, honking and celebrating the day of love.
I really wish they still do.
I’m writing this on Valentine’s Day, sitting in Starbucks at the Souks, looking at a giant 3D sign saying ‘I heart Beirut’.
I wonder if all the people who see it would declare their love as boldly and brightly as it does. All the shoppers and selfie snappers passing by; all the children clambering through it and the maids leaning lazily against it. I wonder if the sign speaks for them. Does it speak for me?
Today it does. Today, with my hand on my heart I can say I love Beirut.
I love the market, especially the guy with a beard and a sister called Clara who brings his freshly baked bread by bicycle every Saturday, even though he’s an engineer in real life and our favourite stall holder, a long-haired pirate look-alike who speaks a mixture of Arabic, French and Italian to us as he makes up the prices and peels a banana for the ‘baby’
I love the taxi drivers, especially the one we meet often, who keeps inviting us to his son’s wedding as guests of honour, and then the one we’ve met only once the other day, who offered my daughter a packet of biscuits, somehow reading her mind, as all rainy afternoon she had been asking for exactly that.
I love the streets, in their fullness and emptiness, how sometimes everything happens outside, like the women leaning out over their balcony ledges to lower their woven baskets, swinging slowly down to be filled with groceries,’window shopping’ in full view; and then on another day, the city empties itself and you are the only one daring to walk in the downpour, wearing a green coat and purple wellies, the rain so crazy your knees get wet under your umbrella, making you laugh for no reason.