The “NO PHOTO” day

Last night we attended the wedding of the year – with the most gorgeous bride and groom, held in the swankiest hotel in town, with the most yummy and copious amounts of food I’ve eaten in years, and lots, and lots of dancing.

This morning Tom and I set off to discover Beirut, starting with a walk to the weekly farmers’ market held at the Beirut Souks. Walking past an unnamed building, with a pretty wall painted in the Lebanese flag, I stopped to take a picture.  Queue the first soldier with a machine gun running at me shouting “no photo!”.  I said sorry, stowed by camera and carried on walking.  En route, the heavens decided to open and we spent most of the 20 minute walk strolling through the rain, being hooted at by taxi drivers coasting beside us trying to convince us to get in.

Eventually we made it to the Souks, in time for the monsoon-esque downpour.  We huddled under the outdoor marquees with the sellers, being treated to free tasters of all their wares (ranging from handmade chocolates, to little Lebanese pies, to Syrian wine) – us being the only mad tourists visiting the market in the rain.  We came away with many little pies (double the amount we paid for), a pot of tea leaves, and a weird-looking fruit called a “Tourmella”.  The seller promised us a cross between a pineapple and a mango, with the green peel to fall off on its own when the fruit is ready to eat.  Well, we’ll see I guess.  Interestingly, every single seller decided to speak to Tom in English, and me in Arabic, bewildered by my apologies and insistence that I don’t understand.

Onwards we went, visiting the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St George, and arriving outside the Lebanese Parliament.  “Can I go inside?” I asked the armed guard, doubtfully.  “YES OF COOOOURSE!” he grinned.  Looking at the barbed wire fence, dubiously, I said, “Are you sure?”.  “Yes no problem.” OK, I thought, so I tried in French.  Looking alarmed, he said “No No No No”, laughing, and waved us on our way.  Didn’t think so.

At the beautiful turqouise-roofed Al Amin Mosque I was handed a full black burqa to put on over my hot pink raincoat, with the attendant good-humouredly grinning “We don’t allow colours”.  The inside was incredible, with a very ornately decorated ceiling.

On leaving, I tried to take a picture of the city panorama.  This time a very angry man with machine gun shouted at me to stop taking pictures… (WHY???).  We also visited the Martyr’s Statue, sadly lost in the middle of a busy square full of parked cars and building works.

With the skies opening again, we headed back towards to the Souks, trying to take pictures of the Government Palace and some nice architecture on the way.  Naturally, “no photos” (even of derelict buildings).  We also were met with guffaws of laughter when we asked if we could go inside the Palace. We stopped off for a beer at the Souks to plan our next move, in a quirky roof-top bar, decorated as a garden with plants growing from the walls.  The friendly attendant pulled up a heater to next to my chair, telling me “You look colder than everyone else”.

Setting off home, we decided to visit the old Jewish quarter of town, boasting the city’s biggest and oldest Synagogue.  On the corner of the street, barricaded with barbed wire, an annoyed looking soldier stomped out: “What?” “We want to visit the Jewish quarter”, we said.  “It’c closed”, he said.  “Can we visit the Synagogue?”, we asked.  “What’s that?” “The Jewish temple”, we answered.  Looking confused, the soldier sent us back in the opposite direction, concluding that all roads in the area are closed.

Trying to be tricky, we decided to try the other end of the street.  This time, as I rounded the corner, a soldier came running.  I smiled, asking: “Can I take some pictures?” The good-natured man replied, “I don’t mind, but you’ll be in trouble with the police if you do.”  Oh well.  After a brief chat with the soldier about England, the weather, us assuring him we definitely do love Lebanon, and listening to his recommendations of where to visit, we walked off back home.

The conclusive lesson for today? No photos.  Not even if you’re a tourist girl in a pink raincoat.

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