A dip in the Mediterranean was an ideal wake-up, though like most spots around Beirut, permission to film was hard to come by. Famie, suffering from a bout of sun-induced skin rash, benefited greatly from the salt water.
We were able to entice Dr. Marwan’s father Mustapha, who we’d interviewed in his apartment the night before, to take a brief stroll along the Corniche, which runs along the seacoast and is currently undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation. It was both a welcomed outing for the elderly Abouljoud, who’s been pretty much housebound since suffering a recent heart attack, but it also did Dr. Marwan himself a world of good to see his father again in a vital and sun-sprinkled environment—it seemed proof that the old fellow would get through this health crisis as doggedly as he has all the others.
We had a chance to visit the apartment of our driver, and to see how working class Beirut folks live. It was what often-spoiled Americans like us refer to as a reality check. Along with four brothers, Elias lived with his parents (though he’s twenty-five, many Beirut young men continue to live in the family home until they get married, the better to contribute to the household income) in a living space less only a few hundred square feet. The neighborhood, on the Green Line that demarcates the Christian and Muslim sections of town, is ringed with artillery-damaged buildings from the civil war which ended in 1990. Accommodating and friendly to a fault, Elias’ parents made sure we were refreshed with strong cups of Turkish coffee flavored with cardamom; a traditional Lebanese gesture of hospitality. Though poverty was clearly at the root of their lifestyle, we were delighted when Elias landed a fairly prestigious job with a Canadian pharmaceutical firm on the day before we left.
We made an afternoon excursion to Byblos, which today goes by the Arabic name Jbiel. It’s notably not for only for its stellar Medieval Arab and Crusader remains or for the quaint, shop-laden old town (as in most Arab cities, it’s referred to as ‘The Souk’) but also because it wears the title of ‘oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.’ Modern Jbiel is a world of glass-fronted office buildings and crowded streets, but the ancient excavations showing striking columns and a spreading Roman amphitheatre are reminders that the history of Byblos extends back nearly seven thousand years. Alas, bureaucratic snafus prevented us from bringing the heaviest equipment inside the ruins to film; the colonnade was intended as an ideal backdrop to an interview with Dr. Marwan, but at least he was able to introduce us to his favorite seafood restaurant, where we dined in splendor on local squid and sea bass on a perch overlooking the tranquil waters of the Mediterranean.