A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘skiing’ Category

skiing while Phoenician

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 28, 2008

After “graduating” from Faraya’s baby slope (I’m requesting a diploma), H and I slowly made our way through Faraya’s more challenging offerings, arriving after long last at Mzaar, the mountain’s peak.

The way down began with a gentle slope – a deceptively gentle slope, as I realized only when I found myself at the edge of a nearly vertical drop.

Well, it wasn’t really vertical, but by the time I realized that it was merely a very blue blue, I had spooked myself back into chasse-neige (snow-plow) land.

I trundled my slow, deeply inelegant see-saw way down, grateful not to have fallen and irked with myself for being such a … well … flat-land Midwestern weenie. So when H proposed another trip to the peak, I agreed.

But when we arrived at the top the second time, we decided to stop for a little touristing.

In the charmingly Age of Discovery (if sectarianism is your thing) way that Lebanon’s Maronites have of claiming land for Christ, Mzaar is emphatically Christian. Its peak carries not one, not two, but three crosses – each one bigger than the next. (Imagine the Three Bears with a black-robed priest in lieu of Goldilocks, and you will get the idea.) So perhaps it was no surprise that Mzaar also has its own chapel.

[I’m skipping the part where I 1) could not figure out how to get out of my skis 2) had to enlist help 3) fell and 4) nearly toppled over again because I am so clumsy in ski boots.]

The chapel was quite beautiful: small and spare, but well-lit and contemplative.

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The pews were covered in sheepskin to keep the chill from soaking into visitors’ bones.

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On the way out, I noticed this plaque – and it made me curious to know more.

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The inscription states that the chapel was established in 2005 under the patronage of a parliament member, and that it sits on the ruin (? I’m missing something here, and dictionary-less until tomorrow, hint hint Arabic speakers) of the Phoenician shrine. “Mzaar” means tour, but it also means site of a visit, and more specifically, the site of a religious visit – i.e., a shrine.

I understand that there is an old Phoenician temple near Faraya – in Faqra. But I didn’t realize that there was one on Mzaar, although with a name like Mzaar I suppose I should have been less surprised. Does anyone know the full story?
As for me, I was so overwhelmed by both the chapel itself and its Phoenician connection that I ended our little tourist jaunt by collapsing in a stick-over-pole catastrophe. Not while going down the slope, of course, but from the effort of getting my skis back on.

Posted in Americans, church, Lebanon, research, skiing | Leave a Comment »

The dangers of sunscreen

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 27, 2008

After spending Monday skiing, H and I stopped for an apres-ski lunch at the Inter-Continental Mzaar. The avant-ski peanut butter panini I had scarfed down at the charmingly named Ski Widow cafe was a distant memory by then, and in any case I am almost always ready to eat.

But when we pulled up to the hotel, H’s car failed the security check. Apparently, we were carrying explosives – or something equally dangerous. I began fretting, but the security guard didn’t look alarmed. He just looked bored. Who knows – maybe bomb-bearing skiers are an ordinary sight in today’s Lebanon.

Every hotel, mall, office building and even some private parking lots/garages has its own security staff, who screen incoming cars for explosives. Usually, they work in two-men teams.

One man takes a mirror on a pole – basically, a human-sized version of the instrument your dentist uses to inspect your teeth for plaque – and uses it to check the under-side of the car.

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(Photo courtesy of SDMS Security Products. Just in case you are in the market for a vehicular “plaque” detector, a similar product can be ordered from American Security for $865.)

And yes, it does bear a strange resemblance to the old crumb-scooper vacuums that Wendy’s used to use.

The second man on the security team has the more glamorous job: he shuffles his feet carefully to produce an electric charge and walks past the car, from engine to trunk, carrying what looks like the mutant child of a car antenna and a corrugated metal box.

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(Photo courtesy of ATSC UK. The photograph shows the mini, hand-held version.)

The antenna responds to the ionic charges that explosives give off (I’m getting this from my uncle, not any deep scientific knowledge of my own, so please direct any hard-hitting technical questions to him c/o IntlXpatr.) by swinging around in the direction of the car. If the car has no explosives, the antenna remains pointing directly ahead.

In other words, it works just like a dowsing rod, but without the New Age music and dream-catchers.

Lebanese security firm ProSec uses the ADE-651, and describes it as follows:
This equipment detects traces of both particulates and vapors, allowing for non-invasive searches of luggage, personnel, mail and containers without the use of radioactive source or external carrier gas. The working principle is based on electrochemical (Thermo-Redox) detection. The range of detection is around 50 meters with obstacles and up to 650 meters in outdoor parking lots, the unit can also detect explosives submerged in water or buried underground. Detection from a hovering helicopter is also possible.

Oh yes, because Lebanon has so many helicopters to spare.

Does the antenna box work? Not everyone thinks so. There’s a blog dedicated to questioning whether these explosives detectors do anything more than part governments and security firms with taxpayers’ and clients’ money: Sniffex Questions. Another critique can be found at Schneier On Security.

What I can tell you is that these detectors also detect the presence of other items.

Are you carrying perfume? the security guard asked H. Cream?

Both the guard and H turned to look at me, a sad case of female stereotyping … especially since it was true. No, I wasn’t carrying a bottle of perfume (“this is a ski trip, not a fashion show!” I can hear my father saying), but I did have a travel bag filled with two types of sunscreen, one anti-wrinkle cream, and some ordinary hand lotion – all in FAA-unfriendly size tubes.

I handed over my unguent collection, blushing, and the guard tested us again. Bomb-free, we continued on our merry lunch-ward way, one of us sporting freshly lotioned hands.

If you want to test the ADE-650/1 yourself, you can purchase one here. No word on how much it will cost you, but I hear that they go for quite a bit more than the traditional divining rod.

Posted in Beirut, economics, explosion, food, friends, humor, Lebanon, science, skiing, travel, vanity, words | 4 Comments »

the month of doing new things: corniche, hip hop, … skiing :)

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 27, 2008

January has been my month of doing new things in Lebanon: everything from walking on the corniche (I know, I know: two years in Lebanon and never a walk on the Beirut corniche? Shame, shame!) to attending a hip-hop concert, which featured a mixture of Lebanese and Arab-American artists.

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Trying to find Black & White was the inspiration for my post on whether one can say “in Monot“. What I failed to mention then was the fact that by attending this concert, I and a good chunk of friends and fellow hoppers made it decidedly less cool. We were (are) all too old, and definitely too un-hip.

My group strategically invited a number of younger friends along for the evening, but even so, I think our average age was in the upper 20s – a bit high for hip hop. The next morning, I imagined the event promoter and the club owner getting together and shaking their heads, asking: who were all those old people, and what can we do to keep them from coming back?

So that was one new thing. But perhaps the biggest new thing, in terms of risk to life and limb, was going skiing last Monday. I had the day off; H has a flexible schedule and the self-punishing desire to spend the day with someone who hadn’t been on skis since 1998.

Early Monday morning I began to panic. What was I thinking, agreeing to get back on skis? What if I fell? What if – worse! – I looked bad? I used to be a graceful skiier, and I dreaded the fall back to grinding turns and awkward pole’ing.

H sms’ed to say that he would be a bit late arriving, and I started to google, looking frantically for skiing tips. Thank goodness for the internet: I found a wonderful, reassuring page with lots of good advice. It didn’t save me from the indignity of H insisting that I start my day with a run down Faraya’s “baby” slope, but it did help me when we moved on to more challenging (i.e., not flat) runs.

When I returned home that evening, glowing with delight and happily in one piece, I decided to do a bit more research on Lebanon’s ski history. And naturally, I started with my favorite all-issues-archived-online magazine.

A January/February 1966 ARAMCO World article called “Ski Lebanon!” had this to say about how the Lebanese ski tradition developed (and no, M, the author of this article, William Tracy, does not seem to have been a spy):

It was a Lebanese engineer returning from studies in Switzerland who introduced skiing to Lebanon in 1913. But it was not until the 1930’s that a group of dedicated French and Lebanese young people began to ski in earnest. “We used to spend three hours climbing a slope,” recalls Dr. George Zabouni, president of the Club des Chalets, Lebanon’s biggest ski club. “Then we’d make one descent and it would be over. Now we make 30 runs a day.”

Dr. Emile Riache, president of the Lebanese Ski Federation, makes the same point. “For 20 years we had no mechanical tows. How could we really improve our technique with one run a day?” He mentioned, as an example, the effort involved in climbing 10,000-foot Mt. Hermon of Biblical fame. For one admittedly breathtaking, 20-minute descent, it took five hours of climbing …

Yes. 300 minutes climbing, 20 minutes skiing. I would have found some other hobby.

When Tracy wrote his article, Faraya was new:

For Beirut, the newest and the most convenient ski area is Faraya-Mzaar. Only 39 miles away on good if hair-raising roads (and even closer next spring when a new highway will be finished), Faraya is actually within sight of Beirut. On clear days, skiers, moving up the mountainside on the silent chair lift, can look down nearly 8,000 feet and see the outline of the buildings in the city. They can also look down on a snowy plateau at the foot of the ski lift and see a 70-room hotel that would rank with the best in New England or Sun Valley, a youth hostel, a restaurant, a snack bar, a ski shop, a swimming pool with cabanas and 27 furnished chalets. Faraya is primarily the creation of Shaikh Selim al-Khazen, board chairman of the company that developed it and the man who saw the possibilities of skiing many years ago and kept the idea of development alive by sponsoring an annual skiing banquet in the village of Faraya. Skiers who wished to attend had only to climb the nearby summit and ski down once.

Notice “the” chair lift? Apparently the resort had only one lift (and several T-bar tows) until quite recently. It is silent, or silent-ish, although takeoff and landing produced some “oof!” and “ouch!” ing on my part.

Having recently done a bit of research on Lebanon’s economy in the 1950s and 1960s, I was interested to learn that by the mid-1960s skiing was being seen as part of the wave of Lebanon’s economic future. The Aramco World article puts a good spin on it, but the reality is that the country turned to tourism because its reliance on the trade, banking & services aspects of its strong tertiary sector was already proving dangerous. Here’s the positive version:

Charles Helou, President of Lebanon and a former director of the National Council of Tourism, has placed the tourist industry high on the list of priorities for his country’s progress. He has formed a high-level committee made up of representatives from the ministries of public works, interior, and education; from the army and from the ski federation. Michel Khoury, Helou’s successor as director of the tourist council, is committee chairman. The government, according to Joseph Kairouz, president of the Banque du Credit Populaire and promoter of a new project at The Cedars, “has realized that tourism can be our number one industry, a key source of national revenue. And it has suddenly dawned on our businessmen that the jet age has brought us within reach of the middle class European vacationer.”

I usually think of Charles Helou as the name of a grotty garage on the edge of Saifi, but before he gave his name to the site of cheap trans-Lebanon transport, he was indeed the country’s president, and apparently one of the few in government then to push for diversifying the national economy.

My 1965 copy of Travel Lebanon had similarly complimentary things to say about skiing in general and Faraya in particular. Notice the price of a room at the Inter-Con? Don’t you wish you could pay those prices today :)?

In the past year, Faraya has greatly improved its facilities and now sports an ultra-modern hotel. Price: single w/ full board 35 LL.

And what may be the funniest description of Faraya comes from the 2001 Lonely Planet, which says:

Faraya Mzaar is the Achrafiye of the slopes and half the people hanging about in the cafes, restaurants and clubs are too busy partying to actually strap on skis.

Well, H did warn me that Faraya is Frenchie-land, but those who came on Monday came to ski – and some of them were darn good. I’m looking forward to my next jour de ski, and dreaming of the time when I too will schuss down the slopes au parallèle.

Posted in Americans, Beirut, friends, holidays, Lebanon, music, nightlife, skiing, time, tourism, travel, vanity | 3 Comments »

Sunday in the mountains with Lebanon’s snow bunnies (iii)

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 7, 2007

As a foreigner, I find myself frequently encountering the phrase “typical Lebanese”, as a positive adjectival term used by my Lebanese friends to describe certain foods, behaviors, architectural styles, and so on:

“you will like this restaurant very much – it serves typical Lebanese grilled fish, fresh from the ocean”

“the houses on this hillside [sunny creams and yellow stucco facades or stone, with red tiled roods] are the typical Lebanese style, found nowhere else in the world” [well, except Italy and, more recently, Israeli settlements]

The friend who took me on Sunday’s outing has a terrific sense of humor about all things – including his native land. When we were going down from Kfardebian, he asked:

“are you sure you don’t want me to stop the car so you can get out and feel this typical Lebanese snow?”

I was sure that I didn’t, but I did enjoy taking photos. Here are the last ones:

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This one shows the glare from the car window but I love the blue of the sky and snow.

 

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The road down was crowded with cars filled with skiiers and those who had just come to play in the snow.

 

 

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These people on the other hand were enjoying a daytime dance party sponsored by the ubiquitous MixFM; it looks like the party drew quite a crowd.

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This photograph I took because I thought the building was a lovely, simple church. It is not. It is a lovely, simple apartment building with a metal antenna on its roof.

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I took this photo because the trees looked so graceful, reaching up to the sky. The file size is larger, though, so I am including it here as a thumbnail.

Posted in Americans, Beirut, holidays, Lebanon, mountains, photography, skiing, tourism, traffic, travel, weather | 1 Comment »