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Our chat with Walid, leader of the Druse, and visit to the Chouf

In Danica's Posts, Uncategorized on June 18, 2009 at 10:08 am

Kathy and David at Jumblatt's compound
Our group with Walid.
I seem to be late every morning which drives our  tour organizer ( my husband) mad.  It’s extremely important that I’m not late on this day as we are meeting with Walid Jumblatt (p://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walid_Jumblatt) tribal chief of the Druse at his home.  The streets of all these leaders are closed off with a guard post, but we are waved immediately in. We don’t even have to show our passports. Walid is awaiting us along with a bounding Sharpei and invites us to sit in his courtyard.  He’s a fashionable looking man, thin with wild longish hair, jeans and a preppy shirt.  Turns out he’s a Harley fan, so Finn, our “Harley Davidson rep,” presents him with a significant Harley chotchke, a blanket emblazoned with the motorcycle logo.  Once formal introductions are made, Walid offers insights over the most recent election.  He describes the election as the “Sunnis, Christians and Druse against the Christians and Shiites.” Outside Walid’s compound, we hear over and over again just how much was spent on the effort to get Hariri elected — with bought votes and foreigners flown in for voting day. Evidently, airports were jammed with foreigners flying back in to cast their votes.  Jumblatt explained, “Our country is not a nation, our country is a group of tribes.”  We are able to sit and have an open ended conversation with Jumblatt about everything from Hezbollah, which he described as a “bi-product of the Iranian revolution.”  Throughout our chat, his prized pooch Oscar, wraps himself around Kathy’s legs and tries to jump into her lap until finally Walid gets up, lifts the pup by his front legs and hauls him off to his waiting servant.  Walid speaks openly of his father Kamal’s assasination in 1977.  He was driving near his country home in the Chouf and taken out by gunpoint at a hairpin turn by the Syrians.  Two weeks later, Walid flew to Syria to continue discussions and negotiations, explaining, “Sometimes you have to put aside your emotions and address your political priorities.”  Indeed, those opposed to Jumblatt call him a waffler – one who baits and switches for his own political gain. The gain is all ours today for when Walid hears we are headed to the Chouf he offers up a private tour of his weekend residence.

But first lunch. We drive outside Beirut into the hills of the Chouf. Beautiful country. For those who think Lebanon is a war-torn place, think again. Imagine the South of France or a mountainous Greek island.   We see nothing but charming villages devoid of bullet holes. We stop in the best restaurant in the Chouf, the Mir Amin Palace (www.miraminpalace.com) where Kathy gets her favorite ALMAZA BEER and I order a half-bottle of Lebanese white wine.  It’s a perfect place to dine because Kathy and I are busy planning Rahwan, our translator’s, wedding. She’s getting married next year and we think the Mir Amin Palace is a perfect spot.  For once, we’ve mastered the art of ordering and forego the 17 appetizers and get delicious skewered chicken dishes and grilled meat platters with our favorite salad fattouch. Fattouch is a mixed salad featuring lettuce, fried pita, cucumbers and lots of fresh ground spices mixed in a light vinaigrette.

We exchange one palace for another as we head to Walid’s weekend compound.  Walid’s summer compound is no shack. Built 345 years ago, it’s a sizeable chateau. Again, here we’re greeted by many guards and once inside, more sharpeis, this one’s name is Caesar.  We’re’ given a private tour of room after room featuring amazing art, elaborate chandeliers, stunning carpets, intricately carved furniture pieces and roman vases.  “N,” the queen of the one-line glances over at a display of Roman vases and quips, “Oh I can pick those up at pottery barn.”  We’re trying to behave, because our appointed tour guide and now two sharpeis are watching us, but Kathy and I dissolve into reams of laughter.  For the second time this day, we’re served Lebanese coffee in neat little porceline cups with intricate designs.
Danica holding one of Walid's prize Sharpeis

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Paris Airport

In Uncategorized on June 13, 2009 at 5:43 am

Why is it when I’m surrounded by the smell of croissants and the fashionable French that all my French vocabulary comes flooding back?  Just yesterday, I could not conjure up the word for napkin (serviette) or jam (confiture) but when sandwiched between a cute little hermes bag (trop cher) and a cafe au lait, I suddenly become fluent again.  Yet I never seem to remember that the French are serious rule followers.  “Il ne faut pas” should be beginner French for all.  That’s how I almost got arrested.  That Hermes bag was oh so chic et chouette that I had to snap a picture.  Well, they practically called the gendarmes and I scurried out of the store to find a happier moment among the Kinder boy.  Don’t you love the Kinder boy? We should all be so pure, so happy and well, maybe not so German!

By the way, some people have all the fun but don’t know how to enjoy it. There was Kathy in first class, while the rest of us (Miranda, Tuborg, Finn and myself) were sandwiched like sardines in coach.  I could almost hear the first class cabin attendants encouraging the divine Miss Kathy to indulge in one more glass of Veuve Cliquot. I would have been slathering my crackers with scottish salmon, but Kath was snoring away like a baby with soft Air France slippers and a quilted blanket!  Truth perhaps that some people are indeed as happy, as pure and maybe even as German as the Kinder boy!

David’s landed in Beirut

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2009 at 9:09 pm

I’m sitting in my pal, Gaby’s, living room making use of his wireless network and eating toast with homemade jam from the figs, apricots and strawberries in his garden.  The Mediterranean is out the window and the day is gonna be gorgeous.  Last night we ate at the Boat Club in Jounieh with a bunch of friends.  Local grilled shrimp was the main course.  They sure know how to live in this town!

Things are calm after the election. Grumbling about the blatant corruption, yes…  Disbelief that the western press is writing the way they are about the election, yes…  But zero sign of violence.   Nick Noe – my local organizer – has a good analysis piece in yesterday’s Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jun/09/lebanon-us-cedar-revolution

People are excited we are coming and the real trick is going to be finding time to actually sleep.  The trip is going to be superb.

I will have my mobile later today and the number will be 011-961-70-098-495. I’m 7 hours ahead of Atlanta, 10 ahead of San Fran.

See y’all very soon!

David

How’d I get into this….

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2009 at 4:16 pm

It was my husband’s idea….