Postcard from Beirut – XII

There are a few more things I meant to tell you before I left. In almost every shop in Beirut, you can buy single eggs. And bars always serve drinks with snacks: breaded nuts are common but you can’t rule out pretzels, tortilla chips, olives, carrots in lime juice, fried corn, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, popcorn, or the occasional mystery fruit that tastes like the mealy love child of an olive and an apple. Next to hospitals, and only next to hospitals, streets can switch directions, so that you’re meant to be driving, just for a block or two, on the left—nearby signs only hint at this. Stonewashed jeans are huge here. There are handbills pasted all over the city that advertise a “Massage by Professional Man”—I imagine not a trained masseuse, but an accountant or engineer, tie thrown over his shoulder, rubbing down the citizenry. The bats that come out in the evening to hunt are among the most acrobatic I have ever seen. You never have to be embarrassed looking both ways on a one-way street—there are probably mopeds coming from that direction. The assault-rifle-bearing soldiers around town are unfazed when pedestrians have to squeeze cozily past, but they do not like, not one bit, loitering or anything that looks like loitering. The difference between the temperature in the sun and the temperature in the shade is hard to believe—the pounding of a hot anvil turned, suddenly, into a breezy idyll. No one uses street names. There is a robust population of cats around the city, but they are not exactly feral—they’re fed and befriended and loved—more like Beirut’s collective pet. I never saw anyone washing a car, but I saw several people dusting their cars with outsized ostrich-feather dusters. You do not have to go too far to find songbirds for sale on the street. Also, scrap metal trucks drive through the neighborhoods all day, one man at the wheel, another standing in the back with the day’s haul, calling out rhythmically to the city, without frenzy or salesmanship, and the best can make it almost musical, an alluring chant, the lullaby of a city on the make.