Lebanon was one of the first loves of my life, and certainly one of the most abiding. She lives with me still after all these years and I can recall her to mind much like William Wordsworth, in quiet moments, relived his picture of the daffodils. My brother and I lived for a while in Beit Chaar, in a house with an intricately painted ceiling; in Beirut, and later in Chimlane. From the upper terrace of the old house in Chimlane (the ‘new’ section was dated 1890) we looked down on Beirut which, reduced with distance to a minute cubism of pink and grey, leaned one languid arm into the flat blue of the Mediterranean Sea. Below the house and the narrow winding streets of the village, olive orchards covered the rolling hills with a silver-green sheen.
Beirut, by contrast, was alive with noise. There was the incessant blare of hooters, the scream of soft tyres, merchants shouting from their shop fronts and music blaring from a dozen record bars. Always, the poignant voices of Fairuz or Sabah wound their way into the consciousness much as the belly dancers swirled their fine veils to add intrigue to their dance. Their songs were more than love songs. Street vendors pushed loaded barrows and hawked their wares and, as they passed by, women lowered baskets from the upper stories of their apartments to buy bread, tomatoes and cucumber.
Lebanon was for me a land of limpid seas and bloody sunsets – a land where the setting sun and the rising moon would often hang in the sky together. Was the moon really bigger in Lebanon?
But it was also a blood-soaked land with a turbulent history, even in those days before the civil war or the Israeli invasions tore it apart. It was, and no doubt still is, a land of stark contrasts, of harmonies and discords, of cultural and religious clashes, of East against West, and of East with West.
My novel, Opus Dei, is set primarily in Lebanon and in a small way is intended to pay tribute to those special people I knew and loved there. Written over a period of more than thirty years, it features the upheavals faced by a family caught in the daily trauma of civil war. After hearing a prophecy by one purported to be the Twelfth Imam, Pierre Zein, a journalist, pursues a quest of his own. He sets out to write a book on the Imam and an up-and-coming European leader who is destined to take the helm at the head of a New World Order. This is a powerful and provocative read – are you ready to take up the challenge?
Photos by Habeeb.com – with thanks.