Postcard from Beirut – VIII

Running here is, on balance, unwise. The problems are manifold. First, there is the sticky question of when to run. I try not to sit in the sun, let alone exercise, so I wait until the day is waning. Wait too long, though, and dusk sets in. Beirut’s sidewalks are ephemeral things and cars are parked tight and everywhere, so charting a course along a street often means running on the sidewalk, in the street, on the other side of the street, through a parking lot, in traffic, in a gutter, around a barricade, and between sign posts. Navigating all this in the dark is a fine way to collect bruises. Another conundrum: The places most likely to have navigable, clear sidewalks are the freeways, but along these routes there is a visible dip in the air quality. And this, really, is the reason running in the city is probably not good for you. Beirut is backed against the vertiginous and beautiful Lebanon range—the clouds over the city hardly move during the day and columns of cumulous taller than any I’ve ever seen pile up against the mountains. Lovely for clouds, less so for the wicked discharge from all those cars and trucks, all that construction, all those generators, all that aging infrastructure. Especially toward the end of the week, it all quite literally darkens the horizon, a low, brown haze obscuring the hills. Still, if you’re a creature of habit or a stubborn jackass, there are a few charming advantages to running here. The steep streets and staircases give all the opportunities for hill work you could want. The jumbled, winding neighborhoods present a kind of charming obstacle course, an urban trail run, good for your agility training. Yes, the traffic is unceasing and anarchic but, almost without exception, drivers are patient and accepting. They will accommodate you when you have to take to the street. Running becomes more like a team sport, the drivers your teammates, the collective goal to not run you over. And if it ever becomes impossible to go on, you’ll be grateful for all the taxis that try—with surprising frequency—to pick up every runner they see.