Beirut is a city to be loved and hated a thousand times a day

Date: 23 November 2018.

Location: Sodeco, Beirut, in a 24-hour cafe.

Thursday 7am: I walk out the front door, wheeling my little green suitcase, internally singing to myself: ‘I have noooo ideaaa what I’ve packeddd!’

It’s happened so often it’s almost a ritual now. I do try to be organised about packing for a trip. I love packing for trips! In the days beforehand I lay out all the things I may want to pack, thinking that, when it comes the actual packing bit, all I’ll need to do will be to cull some superfluous jumpers, toss it into a suitcase and I’m done right. Right?

Two or three small issues here.

First, I’m a total magpie. I’ll happily throw in three bedazzled party dresses and two pairs of sparkly gold hoop earrings but forget a pair of jeans. Somethings as practically dull as an adaptor or a toothbrush? Even odds of being left in the cupboard.

Second, life seems to like to flare up just when I really need to get home at a decent hour. I can have a whole week of cruisy in-house lawyer 6pm finishes and smugly plan for yet one more, watching some The Good Place and leisurely packing — and then find myself still in the office at 11pm. Or, worse yet, finding that that one boring glass of wine at that boring work thing turns into a bottle of wine and Bed bar until 3am. Both of these have happened — more than once — in the past six months alone.

And so it happened yesterday: home from work around 11pm, needing to be out the door and back to work in 8 hours’ time with a packed suitcase. When I run out the door at 7am in my head it’s small wonder I’m singing ‘I have no ideaaaaa what I’ve packeddddd’.

That already feels like a lifetime ago.

Now, we’re in Beirut. It’s 5am — 3am London time — and it’s dark. I’ve slept for 45 minutes on the red-eye over. What on earth do we do for the eight hours between now and check in to our Airbnb?

Thank God, Allah and whoever (in the spirit of this incredibly multicultural city) for this 24 hour cafe that does a full Lebanese breakfast and strong espresso all day and all night. It’s difficult to explain the warm relief I feel when I see from the cab window it glow against the dark street.

It’s like that feeling when you really need to pee and then, tad-a, a public, queue-less bathroom appears.

In our bleary-eyed stupor we order everything — yogurt, haloumi, espressos, flatbread, juice, water — and collapse.

Around us, Beirut starts to wake up.



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