We knew we’d come to a war zone. Brutal people had made a land grab, in the name of religion-they were the Crusaders. William and I (he having just left school) had come to look at their castles in Lebanon. We had Byblos to ourselves. Events in Syria have kept the tourists away and this gave an out-of-season air to a place whose natural character is to be buzzing. The Levant is cosmopolitan and always has been. The Phoenicians, sailing and trading, grafted ideas picked up overseas onto native cults.
Fast-forward to the fish restaurant where we lunched, overlooking the 7,000-year-old harbour: it immortalised Pépé Abed, a 1960s jeweller, diver, amateur archaeologist and international party animal. In Beirut, the nightlife hasn’t stopped.
The sound of dance music, played at full volume from rooftop bars, mingles with the call to prayer. I wish we’d stayed for longer. In London, I’d been advised against visiting Baalbek, near the Syrian border. If only I’d had more courage-we could have experienced that mighty temple complex in solitude, which would have been worth the risk of being kidnapped. Upset has been Lebanon’s default position for millennia. Civilisation somehow manages to survive.
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