For first-time visitors to the Middle East, the experience bellows ‘exotic’, even from forty thousand feet overhead. From the window of a Beirut-bound MEA twinjet, wreathes of mystery smoke creep from fires in Turkish Capadocia, the bronze needle of Cypress shines like a bronze needle in the Mediterranean and the green fields of Bekaa sprawl toward Syria.
These are magical lands that most Westerners have marveled over in adventure stories and history primers, but never really hoped to visit.
That changed for the Visionalist crew in September, when the long-anticipated journey to the Middle East began. The modern Rafiq Hariri airport—named after the Prime Minister who was assassinated in 2005 and damaged in the 2006 Israeli invasion—is back in full swing. Along with Lebanese native Dr. Marwan Abouljoud, director of the Henry Ford Transplant Institute and one of the world’s most highly-regarded transplant surgeons, day one of the trip began with an introduction to one of the Middle East’s most dynamic capitals, whose survival in the face of years of conflicts have left it both cosmopolitan and streetwise.
Without the patient assistance of Salem Beydoun (board member, National Council for Tourism in Lebanon), a guide who we were referred to by Arab Chamber of Commerce Leader Nasser Beydoun, the experience would have been hectic to the maximum. Salem knows Beirut as well as anyone, and arranged virtually all our subsequent excursions. Despite the relative insecurities of filming in a city still reeling from the recent car-bombing of parliament member Antoine Ghanem and personal Ramadan obligations with his family, Salem made himself available for every whim of a crew with admittedly many whims, from filming inside crowded markets in a nearly locked-down city to traveling to the Syrian border to record the wine country of Bekaa Valley. Through it all, it was obvious how well-respected Salem was in Beirut.
A quick meal at the Bay Rock Café, which overlooked Beirut’s signature landmark, the Pigeon Rocks, was followed by jet-lag quenching sleep at the Safir Heliopolitan Hotel; then, camera gear in hand, the adventure began.