Last night I had a very delightful dinner with K and three of K’s friends (including Michelle Woodward of Photo Beirut) at Spaghetteria, the old-school Ayn El Mreisseh restaurant next door to the posh (and paying-for-the-atmosphere pricey) Casablanca.
The food was good, and the service sweetly attentive – and the view over the Corniche was unbeatable (even by Casablanca, where the scene on the Corniche interests patrons nowhere near as much as the scene inside the restaurant!).
But as the logo (which looks nothing like the restaurant’s sign or menus) suggests, Spaghetteri’s heart lies with the spaghetti joints of the 1950s. The entrance features a set of slightly sagging blue vinyl banquette seats, and to enter the main dining room you pass the manager/cashier (seated at a little desk) and a very vintage revolving dessert display case, which last night was taking three lonely creme brulees on an endless carousel ride.
I think my great-uncle comes here, I whispered to K as we walked in.
Your great-uncle comes HERE? K asked, no doubt wondering why I had never before mentioned having local relatives.
Well not here here, I said. But if he did live in Beirut, he would definitely come here. Spaghetteria has that kind of feel to it – memories of swinging nights of cocktails, “macaroni” and bouffant hair-dos.
Our bouffant-free table stayed there for nearly three hours, talking and laughing and enjoying the promise of a Friday off. G called twice – once just past the two hour mark, and once just before we left. You’re still there? he asked the first time. You’re still there? he asked the second.
After we left, we wound our way back up towards Hamra via two sets of “secret” staircases that K knew (I guess they’re not secret to people who live here, K said while pulling out a flashlight so the stair-challenged among us – i.e., me – could make our – i.e., my – way without falling.).
Michelle has taken a number of photographs of Beirut’s graffiti and has made an effort to get in touch with local graffiti artists, so when we came across a wall rich in images, we stopped to take a look.
Some were familiar, like the head-in-the-sand ostrich that is all over the part of Hamra just south of AUB. We spent some time pondering what double-entendre “2arnabeet” could be, since it was graffiti’ed in the same block print font as the less ambiguous “fist me” and since the artist hadn’t stenciled any other vegetable names on the wall.
Finally, we came upon one with two lines of text, repeated at intervals on both sides of the street.
What do you think this means? M asked. We all stepped back in hopes of making the blurred dots and letters clearer.
The bottom line says: Ain El Mreisseh – behind the mosque, I said, but I can’t figure out the top. We puzzled over it for a few more minutes, coming up with translations for each of the top line’s three words, but unable to make sense of them as an ensemble.
Mmmmm, K said sagely. How about: steps of identity for rent?
It fit, kind of – we had just come up a staircase, and presumably there was a mosque somewhere nearby.
This morning, woken by the 7:00 Eid prayers, I looked the words up in my favorite dictionary. Not quite as rich in symbolic meaning as K’s suggestion, but perhaps more useful for people in need of cheap wheels:
means: Antenna Motorcycle Leasing.