the things that foreigners do
Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 10, 2008
As I have mentioned before, I love walking. One of the characteristics that distinguishes the great cities of the world from those that are merely good, as far as I am concerned, is their walkability.
Paris, London, New York, Rome, Tokyo: Storied cities. Cities with uncommon vibrancy. Cities whose residents walk, and which as a result have a dynamic vivacity at street level.
Beirut should be one of the world’s great cities. It should be a city peopled with pedestrians. It should pulse with the colorful humanity of its inhabitants.
Instead, it pulses with me. To be fair, Hamra gathers a fairly sizable group of promenaders on weekend afternoons, and on weekend nights clumps of revelers … well .. clump on the sidewalks in front of the more popular bars.
But when I walk – going from one place to another, with the purpose of running an errand, going to work, meeting friends, and so on – I frequently find myself with almost zero competition for sidewalk space.
This was the case last Friday evening, when I decided to walk to the Monroe Hotel, where I was meeting a few friends for a “final, really final” showing of Haki Niswen, the Lebanese Arabic-language adaptation of The Vagina Monologues.
(More on that in a future post. If I stood out on the street while walking to the hotel, it was nothing compared to the degree to which I stood out – the only, and very obviously, non-Lebanese – at the theater.)
I chose to walk because it was a beautiful evening and because it would be short – ten minutes, fifteen minutes at the most. And it was a lovely walk: the air was fresh and the night sky was breathtaking.
But logistically speaking, the walk was a total pain. I’m not talking about the checkpoints, the armored personnel carriers or the Internal Security Forces stationed here and there. Yes, they were interested in me – but as a curiosity, not a security threat.
The challenge was much more literal: the sidewalks leading down to the hotel were cordoned off with cement barricades connected by chain linked metal “ropes”. So each time I came to the end (or the start) of a block, I had to hop over the metal “rope” in order to continue on my way.
I’m not much of a damsel in distress, even in three-inch heels. So delicately picking my way through the barricades was really no trouble.
But in terms of adding force to my campaign to make Beirut a great city – in terms of demonstrating the joys (and the virtues) of walking to the Beirutis passing by in cars and taxis … well … I suspect that it was at best a wash.
Instead, I imagine that most of the people who drove past me shook their heads, smiled, and said to one another:
Look – there goes another foreigner, doing those funny things that foreigners do.