Like many people in Lebanon, I had Thursday off, thanks to Prime Minister Siniora’s declaration that February 14 would be a national holiday in honor of Rafik Hariri.
I didn’t mind – it would have been difficult to get much done on Thursday anyway, with half the country staying home for fear of roadblocks and political tension, and the other half turning out in force either to the March 14 rally downtown or to Imad Mughniyeh’s funeral in Dahiyeh.
With two dueling politicized commemorations scheduled, not to mention Valentine’s Day, Thursday was the perfect day for a holiday – and a luncheon.
M & M live in Saifi, just below Gemmayze and a few blocks from Martyrs’ Square, where the March 14 rally was being held. None of us is ardently March 14, especially on a rainy winter day – but we all do like to eat, and we all love to keep up with current events. So when M invited H & I for lunch, we happily accepted.
Outside the downtown area, the city was largely deserted. I took this photograph of Hamra at 9:30, when the street is usually packed with honking cars & trucks:
We left for the M’s early, before noon, assuming that it might take us ages to reach their neighborhood. But we had almost free rein over the roads – at least, over roads like Basta, which were far from the scene of either side’s gathering, and heavily policed by army patrols.
In fact, the only trouble we encountered was the usual kind: parking trouble in Saifi/Gemmayze. Pasteur Street was blocked to non-neighborhood cars, and most street parking was taken by Ouwwet and Kataeb supporters who had come for the rally. Luckily, I had worn “walking” heels, and H had brought an umbrella – so we were well-prepared, by New York standards at least, for the long walk to M’s.
What amazed us were the number of people leaving – it was 12:30, and the rally was only half over, but the cold and rain were clearly sending some people off in search of warmth and dry clothing.
People leaving the rally on the near side of the divided road; people going to the rally on the far side:
For us, the afternoon was all about warmth and dry clothing – not to mention good food. M had made a thick vegetable soup, followed by mjaddara with raita for me, and beef lasagne with salad for the normal (i.e., meat-eating) guests.
As we ate, we listened to the speeches and tried to discern who was speaking and what was being said. Since we heard both the rally’s loudspeakers and the Kataeb headquarter’s rebroadcasting, it was mostly a wash.
I think he just said “Hariri”, J said at one point. J’s Arabic is limited to “hello”, “thank you” and “all of it”, for when he goes to the barbershop for a head shave – but given the day and the occasion, “Hariri” was a good guess. (And when we needed confirmation, H would check with the television in the living room, where all the news channels were broadcasting the rally.)
Looking towards the northern edge of Martyrs’ Square from M’s mezzanine terrace:
Looking towards the upper center of Martyrs’ Square (the white tent covers Hariri’s grave):
Looking down at Pasteur Street and the lower end of the Kataeb building:
Looking across the way to the next building, whose rooftop had been rented by France 24, according to H:
The square emptied quickly once the rally ended – by the time we left the M’s, the neighborhood was as empty as Hamra had been that morning. But as we spooned up the chocolate mousse-cum-praline that M had made, round after round of machine gun fire reminded us that quiet is a relative term.
Does someone in Gemmayze love Nasrallah, who was just finishing his eulogy/call to war? We couldn’t figure it out. And what I can’t figure out is how five utterly sane people can hear sustained machine-gun fire and consider it so normal 😐 .