Flavors of Lebanon

Head of Production 
Buzz TV

52´ HD Documentary


My first visit to Lebanon was in September 1998. I had been living in London for the previous two years and this trip represented the first time I travelled outside the British Isles in what seemed a very long time.

When I recall the evening I landed in Beirut I still feel the sensation I had when I stepped out from Beirut´s Rafiq Hariri International Airport: the warm and humid Mediterranean air invading my thoughts and my skin. I still feel it today. It was a long time since I had felt the Mediterranean on my face.

Feelings and sensations you can never forget and that become real pictures with time, like clear and sharp photographs. Photographs with aromas, temperatures, colour; lots of colour and lots of humidity. It felt like home. It smelt like Spain. From the very first day Lebanon was always a kind of swing: One step East…one step West.

When driving through the Beccá Valley it occurred to me that the landscape before my eyes was without doubt the landscape described in the Old and New Testaments. The land of the Bible they made us read in school to the point of boredom. Now all those words and drawings were coming alive. I could see the little bearded men, the women with colourful outfits, the donkeys and camels, moving and marching through the valley.

Visiting Tripoli was a real gift and a proof of love from the man who was then my travel companion. Despite the fact that the civil war had ended eight years before, the members of the different sects and faiths were not yet easily venturing themselves into the others´ bastions. Back at George´s home in Beirut nobody understood what he and I went to do in Tripoli. They probably hadn’t tried yet a knefeh from Abdul Rahmann Hallab & Sons, the sweetest of sweets. What better reason to get lost in the unknown than a delicious sweet?

“…Us here thinking that our daughter is in London and it turns out that she is in Lebanon …” Taking into consideration the fact that our generation grew up with the Lebanese civil war as a backdrop to every family meal, my father´s observation and concern were not inappropriate. I think deep inside he was proud. One step East...one step West.

My second visit to Lebanon was again towards the end of the summer, but twelve years later. Many things had happened in the country during all these years, many. But its essence and beauty was always the same, untouched. One step East…one step West.

This time I was able to discover the south of the country, which I could not visit in 1998 when the region was still under Israeli control. Unforgettable Tyre and Sidon. So many things to see, to eat, to smell, to listen to, to observe, to explore. An inexplicable fortress floating and diving into the blue waters of the Mediterranean; so many secrets, so many mysteries. Abou Rami the King of Falafel and Marwa, the King of the Sea. I never thought I would meet the reincarnation of biblical Noah in Tyre.

Visiting the emblematic Beaufort Castle and surroundings, just two days before the visit of the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was more than a visit to recent history. There was electricity in the air from the excitement and joy of all the villages and people we passed by; something inexplicable and almost solid was running through its transparent veins. That day, after fourteen hours travelling around the south of the country in the company of a Shiite guide and a Sunni driver, I understood and misunderstood lots of things. The next day my driver abandoned me with a text message. I never knew if the reason was taking him to Beaufort, or if his girlfriend threatened him with a breakup. Most probably a combination of both. One step East…one step West.

I went back to Tripoli and I looked at it with different eyes: How much it has grown in twelve years…but it was still sweet, very sweet. Pepe was no longer at the Byblos Fishing Club; and I had the impression Byblos was not in Byblos any longer. Beirut, same and different. Dazzling. And in Beirut I met again with George, Rita and Ghada. Nothing and everything had changed.

There is only one way to survive certain life events, like being abandoned by four drivers in fifteen days; burning your legs with boiling water from the shower at your hotel, slipping and falling on the floor wrapped in the bathroom curtain; to an unforeseen and painful stomach infection; and to a pair of destroyed Jimmy Choo´s after hours wandering through a flooded Beirut, victim this time of a furious end-of-summer storm. There is only one: Hello, Kifak, Ça va? One step East…one step West.

This album recollects images, feelings, and memories that I would have never visualised, that I would not have now with me, if I had not had the opportunity to swing from East to West in Lebanon. Upon my return this time, there was no observation awaiting me.