The sound of Beirut – my first days in Lebanon

by Erika Bozzato

Beirut incorporates very sharp contrasts within. I have been here for a week now, and I find it very fascinating.

Beirut is loud. So loud. It is a bustling city of 2 million people – considering the metropolitan area – constantly honking, roaring up, firework- and cracker-shooting and calling up believers of different religions. But then you enter the National Museum and you find quite and silence. Cranes are working non-stop. Modern and elegant buildings are close to seemingly abandoned old ones that still carry the marks of the civil war. Beirut´s souk resembles some high streets in Europe. But it is definitely more luxurious and classy. Walking in some areas of the city is a sort of obstacle course, being the sidewalks rather narrow and fragmented, but the seafront hosts a beautiful blue cycle lane.

The traffic is wild and resigned at the same time. The rush-hour lasts many hours a day. Many drivers don’t pay too much attention to the rules of the road, but patiently let the others do the same. Checkpoints and road blocks add the unexpected bit, and policemen appear rather hopeless when put on traffic duty. Motorcycles zigzag between cars, and taxis hunt for clients relentlessly. There´s a kind of semiotics connected to honking. Two short blasts: a taxi driver is trying to attract your attention. Usually he slows down in the middle of the road, forcing all the vehicles behind him to do the same. One short blast: a car is turning into a big road from a secondary street without stopping. A first blast attracts the attention of the nearby cars. These may answer back with a short blast as well. One longer blast: a car is driving against the flow. On a main road. Other cars honk surprised.

Celebrations here deserve big fireworks, those that in my town are reserved to very special occasions, once or twice a year. Almost every evening we can hear a wedding, a birthday party, or a who-knows-what going on in the neighbourhood. Sometimes for hours. I don´t know who produces fireworks in Beirut, but he or she must be a very rich person. Also religions participate to this merry chaos. Mosques call for the prayers, bells ring and some churches also use loudspeakers, so that services can be heard from home. Ramadan is going to finish in a few days, and of course I am really looking forward to the celebrations.

Another interesting fact is that seemingly you can have pretty much everything delivered at home, from food shopping to cigarettes. Allegedly also McDonald’s is exceptionally offering this service here. And even the concept of drive thru has got to another level. Many shops, such as cafes and small grocery stores have a member of staff outside that takes care of the orders coming from drivers that do not want to waste time parking or getting off the car.

It blows me away.