The Corniche Collective

The Corniche is basically one of the only public places in Beirut where one can enjoy the open space. Unfortunately, there are no parks as they would most probably turn into a residential tower block or car park.

Beirut street vendor

There are a few elements that make the corniche interesting (and not necessarily in order of importance); One: The combined view of sea, mountains and cityscape.

Two: The collective of people from all walks of life; food wagons selling  kaake (bread) or beans & sweet corn, families congregating on plastic chairs smoking argile making the sidewalk into their dining room, bored youths lolling about in their diamond studded t-shirts, people strolling, exercising, tourists (who always have a stunned look on their faces), beggars and street pushers selling anything they can get their hands on.

I happen to be one of the people who exercise along this promenade. I choose so because I love the view and do not enjoy the concept of the gym – it’s a great long stretch you can run along.

However my actual experience is not what I would describe as romantic. I honestly feel that it’s a rollercoaster. Every time.

Firstly, smells are a major theme along the cornice – you never know what to expect. At first it’s the smell of earth and beach canes, then the aroma of sweet corn and beans with cumin. Mmmm the wind is being nice to me today.

Spoke too soon. It starts to get a bit sketchy now jogging past the restaurants – I smell raw meat. How has this happened? Then, wonderful coffee and ice cream….phew. All of a sudden, my nostrils are assaulted from the rank odour of rotting fish and sewage – I think I may die from the smell. Luckily, this changes to sea air and then from time to time, fuel and rubbish bins.

Secondly, I never leave the house without my headphones, if I did I would most probably never set foot there.

One of the most annoying things I have to endure are the comments thrown at me from bored, horny, insecure, close-minded dis-respectful males. There are no age limits here, from boys to middle aged men. They feel the need to comment & make fun of the fact that a female is actually…believe it or not…. EXERCISING. I think they must find it bizarre that a woman is taking part in a physical activity other than sex.

It is their entertainment you see. You feel their x-ray eyes following you and for a moment you feel naked. I hope I accidentally smeared something on my face..….nope. Sadly the stares are not for this reason.

I have toyed with the idea of running armed with a water gun filled with detergent. Or perhaps a strap-on dildo tied to my head – my message to them. But of course more attention to myself could not bring anything positive. Rise above it and keep moving!

Then of course, my personal favorites, the other fitness people you come across. As you run along you look up ahead to see a runner with a constipated face, flailing their arms and legs as though they are having a spasm – I call these guys “Jelly Limbs”. It just looks like so much unnecessary effort is going into their workout.

Next, you have the “Vainglories”…. Vainglorious men and women who are dressed in the tightest matching outfits their bodies will permit them to squeeze into. Most of the time they have sunglasses on, even if it is cloudy. Because without them, they lose their magical powers. Serious looks and calculated movements make them the poodles of the corniche.

Now for the pedal pushers and hustlers….at this point I feel it is important to mention that running is hard work for me. I am red faced, panting for breath and trying my upmost not to collapse – it’s hard enough without all these distractions.

The sellers spot me from 10 metres away and start their sales pitch. I ignore them, but of course this is futile. They make sure to stand right in my track, they don’t care that I’m trying to be a healthier person. They take their chances on making a sale because of course, when we run, the first thing we think about is purchasing a jumping toy dog with red scary eyes. It even yelps. Brilliant…quick where’s my purse…..

If I had enough breath and wasn’t concentrating so much on trying to look fairly normal whilst running I wish I could say “Listen my fatuous friend, do you see me running here?? Or do you see me sauntering along at my leisure looking for a bargain? No. I don’t want your consumables today or any other day. And no Mr. Polaroid man, I think I’ll pass on the picture of my red sweaty face. Go ask the Vainglories!”

Alas all my efforts are spent on my breathing.

Now don’t get me started on the kids. I don’t mind kids in general but I do mind them choosing the precise moment to run into me without looking.

Smack.

Mothers glare at me as though I have deliberately chased after their child. I overcome this by envisioning myself playing a computer game – dodge the kid.

As though that isn’t enough, lets talk about the journey back. There is steep hill awaiting me towards the end of my run as a special treat. I muster all my remaining strength and feel proud that I am conquering Mount Everest….just then, a local bus pulls up aside me filled with people looking on at my suffering with calm curious faces. The bus is moving at the same pace as me, they are with me the whole way watching on…. I wonder in this moment that perhaps I look like Jelly Limbs. Why oh why can’t you overtake me? Or at least cheer me on.

I convince myself the bus driver is doing this on purpose.

I hate him.

After an eternity, the bus overtakes me and sputters all its black fumes in my face just at the point where I require maximum oxygen to my lungs. I try to hide my face in my clammy t-shirt thinking it’s enough to filter the pollution – I think it helps.

So why do I continue with this ordeal? Well lets say there is never a dull day. Never.

Poodle

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Hair awakening

Having been in Beirut for some time and having been brought up in the UK, I feel it necessary to give props to the local Lebanese hair salons.

Blow me

As a foreigner, I was first introduced to this fascinating world by a friend after I was desperate for a haircut and didn’t know where to go. She told me to go to her hair dressers because she swears by her “green fingers”- Of course, this intriguing piece of information made me book an appointment right away. I later found myself standing outside an extremely modest hole in the wall wondering if this was the right place. Yup, it must be, as the name of the salon is out front – for the purpose of this blog we shall call it “Nina’s Salon”. One could not see through the glass frontage what with all the teenage pink posters plastered everywhere.

Hmmmm, will try it anyway.

As I opened the door…..

WOOOOMPFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF!!! I am engulfed by a fog of hairspray and the sound of what seems like 100 hairdryers working overtime – the place is heaving with women and hair assistant’s frantically working on volumes over of hair. Good god.

I am ushered to the “waiting area” which is an area near the back of the stairs in this tiny salon. It seems completely normal that 5 people are waiting in a 1sqm space and is a miracle that I do not fall down the stairs and break my neck whilst shuffling around to allow people past. I am in the way of everything and no amount of re-shuffling is going to fix it. A savior appears in the form of a pink polyester uniform to wash my hair (next to waiting area).

After 1st part done, I find myself back in the waiting area where I have full view of the salon. Not surprisingly, I have to wait my turn in the sea of bodies. This time allows me to observe what I can only describe as a military operation run by queen bee herself – Nina. A women who should head an army – she knows exactly what is going on, who needs what and when and how and no it shouldn’t be done like that. Much like Beirut city, it is organized chaos. Synchronized if I may say, directing orders to the assistants – from hair colouring a veteran lady to cutting a teenager’s locks to pandering over the needs and hairdo of a bride-to-be. I could write a whole post just on this hairdo but will refrain.

I am beckoned for the much-awaited hair cut. It is she and only she who cuts the hair amidst the salon fury.  – Before she begins, she blesses my hair with a reassuring mutter under her breath. I now feel that my wait was not in vain as I have never been blessed before a haircut. I like.

I feel special.

Done in a heartbeat, Nina commands two assistants to blow-dry my hair – which of course is the norm at Nina’s. No time to waste. Head pulled up, down, right, left….. Abracadabra my do is done!

Feeling like a new woman hyped up after the hair anarchy, I step through the portal onto the calmer streets of the city.

As I reflect on the vortex experience, I look at my watch and realize Green Fingers had me in and out in 30 minutes. Some feat considering the endless plethora of women and their manes.

Would I go back? Most definitely.