A few weeks earlier, for this first issue of the L’HOTE LIBANAIS Magazine, we had decided to take you on a ramble through the streets of Tripoli, to meet some of the faces of the town. Irony of ironies, the Al Sa’eh Library (literally the name means “The Wanderer”), nestled under ageless arcades and containing about 80,000 volumes, was one of the stops we had planned. For over half a century, under the tender guidance of Father Ibrahim Sarrouj, it has been watching over generations of Tripolitans, fueling their curiosity for the world and quenching their thirst for knowledge.
Since that night of January 4, numerous articles have been published about Tripoli. Few among them, however, seemed to talk about the city I knew. For some, “Muslims had burned down a bookstore”. For others, “since the fire, the city has shown its best face”. In reality, Tripoli hadn’t been waiting for a tragedy to occur in order to show its best face. It’s just that, up until now, no one had been looking.
The name Al Sa’eh is no stranger to Lebanese history. On the 8th of November, 1920, it was in the Al Sa’eh review that Gibran Khalil Gibran wrote “you have your Lebanon and its dilemma; I have my Lebanon and its beauty.” With this plea of rare poignancy, his pen seemed to assign a mission to every Lebanese person. A duty, almost, for each to reveal his own Lebanon. This duty now falls on us: to let you see our Lebanon.
Our Lebanon, is the Lebanon unveiled to you by Zeina. It’s the smile of a priest making his own wine in the convent housing the first printing press in the Arab World, who responds, when asked how come his vintage is so good, “Have you ever been in love?” It’s the enthusiasm of Ziad and Hussein who recycle thousands of empty glass bottles to revitalize the ancient tradition of glass blowing, inherited from the Phoenicians.
Our Lebanon, is the unparalleled light that Sietske plunges into on her many hikes. It’s the shepherds and villagers who invite her for a cup of tea when she stumbles upon them by pure chance.
Our Lebanon, is in the images taken by Natheer who, camera slung across his shoulder, holds the door open for you to enter Tripoli’s mosque, the city’s fish market, and its oldest soap factory. It is also in the orange blossom and jasmine perfumes that float about Rim while she wanders through the cobbled alleys of Al Mina.
Our Lebanon, is the discovery made by Brett - an open table in the heart of Beirut, upon which, farmers from all corners of the country spread out the flavors of their villages and the products of their lands.
Our Lebanon is in the wrinkles of old men who play cards under the shade of trees in the Sanayeh Garden, about the rehabilitation of which Rami writes. Our Lebanon is the endless energy of Beirut, the passion generated by Sara and her peers in operating the Dawawine space, and the incredible vitality of Lebanese cinema, as described by Elyssa.
Our Lebanon does not abound in shortcuts to quick conclusions… And so much the better: Our Lebanon is the stroll that merits the detour.