A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘photography’ Category

the Australian bridge of Tripoli

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 27, 2009

The weather turned unexpectedly hot here in New York this past weekend: yesterday the high was around 90F.

The summer weather reminded me of Lebanon – not Beirut’s soggy heat, but the dry heat further north towards Tripoli. And that in turn reminded me of a day-trip that H and I had taken last June, to see the Rachid Karame International Exhibition Center. We took the highway up, but the older sea roads home – partly for the ambience, and partly for the chance to see the tank graveyard and a mystery bridge.

The bridge itself is not a mystery: its a small, stone bridge that can fit the usual one-and-one-half cars. The mystery came from the marker carved midway across. Here it is on the fly:


And here it is in close-up:


The left-hand side says “1942” in Arabic; the right-hand side in Roman script. And the words on the banner say: “Australian Commonwealth Military Forces”.

I did know, vaguely, that British-led Allied forces were the ones that took Syria and Lebanon back from the Axis sometime in 1942. (And I do know that it was British pressure that forced the French to grant Syria and Lebanon de jure independence in 1943, and to make that de facto in 1946.) But I had no idea what else the troops had been up to while stationed here – and nor did H. Hence the mystery.

I’ve found one book that discusses the building of the Australian bridge: an out-of-print book written by a man named Lawrence FitzGerald, Lebanon to Labuan: A story of mapping by the Australian Survey Corps, World War II (1939 to 1945). As you know, collecting out-of-date books on Lebanon is a hobby of mine – and I was tempted to buy a copy of FitzGerald’s book. But at $40, its too rich for my cheap tastes :).

The Australians must have put their time in Lebanon to very good use, because when I tried to search for information about this bridge, another bridge appeared. A site for the “Australian War Memorial” maintains an online collection of period photos, showing Australian efforts in various locales. One shows the construction of another Australian bridge: a bridge for the Lebanese railroad, crossing Nahr Ibrahim somewhere between Jounieh and Jbeil.

The site describes the bridge as in “Tripoli, Syria” – which will alternately amuse, irritate, or horrify you, depending on your socio-political views. Here’s what it says:


Initially, I thought that this must be the same bridge – but if you look at the photo on the AWM site and compare it to “my” Australian bridge, they don’t seem to be the same. “My” bridge was inland, and nestled in amongst the foliage, while this one appears very exposed. And – while I’m no bridge expert – my understanding is that railroad bridges and car bridges are somewhat different in width and overall appearance.

But perhaps the Aussies built “my” bridge while working in the area on the broader railroad project – since both took place in 1942.

Here’s a bit more information on the railroad, taken from a book titled Middle East Railways and written by the Boutros Boutros-Ghali’an Hugh Hughes, and posted on Al Mashriq:

The most interesting event in this area however was the decision to construct a standard gauge link between Haifa and the railways of Syria. This meant that stores and equipment could be moved quickly, without transhipment problems due to change of gauge, from depots in Egypt and Palestine right up to the Turkish border – and beyond if necessary. Moreover it would also provide a through connection with Iraq. In the event Turkey maintained its neutrality and refused permission for British military stores to pass indiscriminately over its section of the Aleppo-Mosul railway. Nevertheless locomotives were transferred to and from Iraq by this route, and the line from Haifa was also used to move ex-Middle East engines to Turkey after purchase by that country. The first proposal was for a line from Haifa to Rayak but a 1941 reconnaissance revealed construction difficulties that would have taken far too long to overcome. So instead it was decided to blast a route along the coast connecting Haifa with Beirut and Tripoli; this involved some very difficult work negotiating the steep cliffs where the various headlands met the sea. From Haifa to Beirut the construction was carried out by South African engineers and it is interesting to note that a temporary 1.05m gauge line was in use in April 1942 on the 14 miles between Damour Bridge and Beirut so that narrow gauge facilities at the latter place could be used for supplying materials. In June the South Africans were transferred elsewhere and the finishing touches were added by two New Zealand RE companies. Regular military traffic started on 24th August 1942, including three passenger services per week.

From Beirut to Tripoli construction was by Australian Royal Engineers, except for the difficult Chekka tunnel which was built by a tunnelling company recruited from South African miners for this special job. By July 1942 the 14 miles from Chekka Cement Works to Tripoli were already in use but the whole line from Beirut was not completed until 18th December; two days later General Alexander presided at the official opening ceremony for the Azzib-Tripoli railway (the PR were operating the Haifa-Azzib section). Some idea of the character of this line can be gleaned from the fact that when on one occasion some trucks became derailed near Sidon thus holding up 15 following trains with important supplies, the action taken was to bring along a travelling crane and tip all the offending stock over the edge into the sea.

Kheireddine and my other history buff readers, do you know anything more about this bridge?


Posted in Arab world, Australia, Lebanon, photography, research, time | 6 Comments »

a second look at hope

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 24, 2009

A few weeks ago H and I got into a super-charged lunchtime discussion about the relationship between Amal and Hizbullah – a no-doubt thrilling experience for those at adjacent tables. (As those of you who have spent time in New York know, an “adjacent table” is usually three-to-six inches away. So they definitely got to listen in, interested or no.)

H has been doing some background research on the way that Hizbullah began positioning itself from the mid-1980s, if I remember correctly, by using Amal as a foil. So H decided to use me as a test case: what does the average self-appointed foreign expert think of Amal?

What do you think of when you think of Amal? H asked as I doused my lunch in carrot tahini.

I think of Amal as being more secular and also more corrupt, I said, playing right into H’s hands.

Ah, H said, nodding sagely. That’s exactly what you are supposed to think. From what H has read, these stereotypes about Amal were cultivated partly by Hizbullah as a way of distinguishing the two groups from one another. If Amal was secular and corrupt, Hizbullah could be religious and honest. And when Amal’s members do exhibit their religious faith – as on Ashoura – Hizbullah’s followers distinguish themselves further by commemorating the event without (or at least with less visible) bloodshed.

I’ve had an unpleasant run-in with one of Nabih Berri’s children, not to mention the goobers who “guarded” my neighborhood last May, so I suspect that my antipathy towards Amal is largely the product of an extended fit of pique. But still: H’s research made me feel like a dupe.

(I should note here that both parties have evolved considerably over the past twenty years, which seems to be when this “if you’re defined as this, we’ll be defined as that” approach seems to have been employed. But I do think that these stereotypes continue to frame how outside observers, at least, understand the relationship between Amal and Hizbullah.)

It also made me rethink a photograph I snapped last June, of recent graffiti on the back wall of a particularly decrepit parking lot in Hamra:


I took this photo without much of a purpose: I noticed the new graffiti, thought “hunh – Amal graffiti that mentions Ali, how interesting”, took the photo, and left it to languish on my computer for the next ten months.

Now I look at it and wonder: what else have I missed :)?

Posted in advertising, Arabic, Beirut, photography, politics | 2 Comments »

citizenship scenes from Seattle

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 22, 2009

While on our way to meet H and M for a Saturday lunch downtown last weekend, my parents and I came across a sizable pro-peace, pro-Gazan demonstration in Seattle’s Westlake Plaza:


The protesters included a broad mixture of people – many young adults, but also children and older folk. Most looked like normal Seattle-ites (sensible, quasi-hiking shoes; water-resistant parkas; warm hats) rather than ‘professional protesters’, which made me happy. Peace and justice should not be causes that only society’s fringe members take up.

A close-up of some of the signs, with the caveat that although this photo makes the protest appear largely male, it was actually quite mixed:


I didn’t take a photograph of the policemen and women assigned to this protest, but there were approximately ten of them. They were behind me, on the Westlake Mall side of the plaza, relaxed and chatting with one another as they stood near their bicycles. (Yes: Seattle police get around on city-friendly mountain bicycles.)

All in all, it was a mellow, peaceful protest; one clearly welcomed by many passersby and very much in keeping with the city’s pro-justice vibe.

Posted in Americans, Palestine, photography, politics, Seattle | Leave a Comment »

Seattle sparkles

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 19, 2009

Seattle was beautiful today – utterly beautiful. I have more to post from this weekend, including shots of a very nice pro-Gaza protest we ran across yesterday – but for now, a shot of the harbor water catching the sunlight this morning:


Taken on the waterfront walkway across from the lower level of the Sculpture Park, which we wandered through this morning as the sun was just beginning to dry off the nighttime damp.

Posted in family, photography, sea, Seattle, weather | Leave a Comment »

a bicycle built to view

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 20, 2008

This morning when I checked the Lebanese news I learned that a “spy bicycle” – one equipped with a camera – had been found “between Jumblatt’s residence and Future TV“. Hunh? I used to live in the next neighborhood over, and I can tell you that no bicycle – not even a bicycle built for giant – would be large enough to monitor the two buildings at the same time. They’re in the same neighborhood, but they are still at least half a mile apart from one another.

But that wasn’t all. Apparently this super-bicycle was also monitoring the headquarters of BankMed, the Hariri-owned bank, which is located on Clemenceau and the road leading up from the Phoenicia. Again: one bike, able to do all this spying?

Now Lebanon posted a photograph of the bicycle in question on its website – and when I saw it, I burst out laughing:


What espionage professionals would use a bright purple, women’s bicycle as a spy vehicle? How many people have you seen biking around within the city of Beirut? How many of them have been women? And how many of them have been riding technicolor bikes?

I wonder how long it took the ISF to notice the bicycle, and to “confiscate” it.

And I wonder whether the disclosure that the bike belongs to David-Munir Nabti, the recent face of the Democrats Abroad – Lebanon group, will have any impact on President-elect Obama’s popularity in Lebanon.

Posted in Beirut, espionage, humor, Lebanon, photography, research, women | 6 Comments »

bread from beirut, coffee from brooklyn

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 20, 2008

A year ago I wrote a post about something I saw every morning on my walk to the gym that to me epitomized the grassroots sweetness of ordinary life in Hamra, one of the city’s more mixed neighborhoods. What enchanted me was the bakeries’ practice of leaving bags of bread outside their clients’ shops and restaurants, with little worry that anyone would come by and steal the bread.

I called that post bread from beirut, in honor of a now-defunct Midtown cafe.

What I love about our current neighborhood is that it also has the same sweetness. I couldn’t find any bags of bread this morning, although I often do see them on my walk home from the gym. But I did find these bags of coffee:

To me these bags – like the bags of bread in Beirut – are a very special testament to a certain kind of community living, which I called a circle of trust in my original post. For me, the Hamra circle of trust was corroded by the gun battles in May – but it re-knit itself fairly quickly, despite the irritating SSNP-ification of the Sidani gas station.

I like living in a community where bakeries entrust their bread and coffee roasters their coffee to the civic spirit of the neighborhood.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Beirut, Brooklyn, citizenship, economics, food, friends, home, Lebanon, neighbors, photography | 1 Comment »

stadium seating for no one

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 12, 2008

Tripoli has been on my mind frequently in the past seven weeks – the weeks since I left Lebanon. As I have mentioned before, I am good at living in foreign cities as a resident (I can locate a neighborhood dry cleaners, a local locksmith and a good grocery store in record time) but I am a terrible tourist. Consequently, my first visit to Tripoli was the day before I left the country.

H’s family is from Tripoli, although none of them live there now. So part of the draw (and his incentive in taking me there) was to get a sense of the mysterious forces that make him tick his roots.

The other reason I wanted to visit Tripoli was to see the Rashid Karame International Exhibition Center, a World’s Fair-like complex designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in the early 1960s. (Yes, Niemeyer was Jewish – he was a native-born Brazilian but his parents were immigrants from … Eastern Europe? Russia? I forget. Lebanon has a number of modernist structures designed by Jewish architects, including the Gefinor Center in Beirut. I’m not sure how receptive the population today would be to a Jewish architect, but I’d like to think that he or she would be welcome. Some people in Lebanon do seem to conflate “Israeli” and “Jewish”, but many are able to differentiate the two categories.)

Construction on the Rashid Karami complex was begun and the major physical structures were completed, but none was finished. I don’t think that work stopped precisely in 1975 – my understanding is that it had slowed before then and petered out over a longer period, but I’m not really sure of the precise time line.

What I am sure of is that the complex is an utterly fascinating place. We loved wandering around its several buildings and spent over an hour there, despite the 95+ degree weather.

Fascinating, but also a bit eerie. What struck us most were the theater seats set up for outdoor performances. Apparently there have been some performances here – including one as recent as 2005, I believe – but in general, the seats look a bit forlorn. As does Tripoli in general.

(You can read a bit more about the complex here, at the World Monuments Fund’s website, or by googling Niemeyer and Tripoli.)

Posted in Arab world, Lebanon, photography, time, tourism, travel, Tripoli, weather | 3 Comments »

Beirut moments

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 26, 2008

This morning I went on a walking tour of our new neighborhood, sponsored by a local architectural preservation society. (H claimed work as an excuse, but I suspect that the 90-degree weather also played a factor in his decision. Its also cleaning time again in our apartment, so perhaps he was penning an ode to Lebanon’s housekeepers.)

The tour was definitely focused on Brooklyn, but for the alert tour-goer it did offer a few Beirut moments.

One, a similar “more is more” approach to electricity wires:

near the Gowanus ... or Gemmayzeh
near the Gowanus … or Gemmayzeh

And two, a shared “batten down the hatches” view of strangers:

"The enemy is everywhere"
“The enemy is everywhere”

I bet the guy who created that sign thinks I’m secretly a CIA agent, too 😛 .

Posted in Americans, Beirut, Brooklyn, home, laundry, Lebanon, photography, tourism, weather, words | Leave a Comment »

“I love a parade”

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 5, 2008

If you’re in the United States for July 4, the East Coast is the best place to be. Iowa has great, community spirit-filled parades on Independence Day, but its too “young” a state to be able to reach back very far into American history.

Massachusetts, on the other hand, was part of the Revolution from the beginning. The parade we saw yesterday had all kinds of references to this history:

Revolutionary patriots (probably dressed a bit better than they were in real life):

Tories, or Loyalists, who fought on the side of Britain:

In American lore, the Tories are the “bad guys” – so at first there was a rather awkward silence when these men walked past. But then everyone remembered that these were local citizens dressed as Tories and not actual “lobsterbacks”, as they were known during the Revolutionary War. So we all started clapping, just as we did for all the other parade participants.

Soldiers of the Civil War were also represented, by these men carrying flags of the state’s volunteer infantry:

And when the parade itself got a bit slow (some groups were tightly bunched together, and some were a block or two apart), we had a good time watching the audience, like this man, who kept his festive headband on for the entire 90 minutes:

And we knew when the parade was over thanks to this car and its creative use of Ben Franklin’s image:

On second thought: Ben Franklin was from Philadelphia, so perhaps this man is a generic Massachusetts Bay Colony pilgrim, and not the man from the $100 bill.

More on the parade tomorrow – for now I’m off to start celebrating my father’s 60th birthday. The party starts at 5:00: a traditional New England clambake. Happily, its scheduled to be held indoors – today we’re enjoying another traditional New England day of drizzling rain.

Posted in Americans, holidays, photography | 2 Comments »

hidden gems of Beirut

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 18, 2008

Once again, I’m posting photos in hopes that Kheireddine can help :).

This building is next to the Khalidy house, which I’ve posted about before. Every time I pass the Khalidy house, I only grow more curious about its neighbor, because I can’t see it!

Here’s what I see as I approach the Khalidy house:

Beautiful, lush landscaping spilling out from both properties. Doesn’t it want to make you see more 🙂 ?

Here’s what I see as I get closer:

Its even lusher – and so three-dimensional, with flowers and greenery spilling over the fence.

But this is all I can see when I peer through the greenery:

Its not much of a view, is it? If I shift around a bit, I can see a little more:

Its terribly tantalizing, especially with the wooden slat “extension to the original fence. Kheireddine (or anyone else!), do you know the story of this house and its owners – and its wonderful gardener?

Posted in Beirut, home, Lebanon, neighbors, photography, time, tourism | 4 Comments »