Thursday, June 21, 2012

Jordan Challenge 37: Up All Night in Beirut

Lots of people know New York City as the City that Never Sleeps, and I had a great time testing out the title with Chris a couple years ago. So naturally it seemed like a good idea to try out the same strategy in a new place, with Mike and Cooper totally on board. I am proud to say that Mike, Cooper and I proved that Beirut is a very easy place to have an all-night adventure.  Should anyone at home wish to try it, you can start with this handy step-by-step guide.

Step One: Begin the Day as Usual
For Mike, Cooper and me this meant breakfast, some further exploration on foot of the city, and some quality time reading at a cafe on Rue Gouraud.

It began like most other days in Beirut -- putting in some time with some caffeinated beverages and reading materials at a lovely cafe.
Step Two: Go to a Soccer Game
Funny the things you take for granted.  Beirut is the first city any of the three of us had ever been to where political tensions could be measured by whether spectators are allowed to view the national team play its soccer matches. Luckily for us, according to Mike's journalist friend Steven, things were pretty calm the week we there, which meant that Lebanon could actually play its match against Uzbekistan in front of fans rather than an empty stadium.

Nothing says carefree like a solid wall of riot police ringing the field for the entire game.  This is also the only professional sports event I've ever been to where my entry was seriously delayed because every single fan was subjected to airport-style security searches as the stadium gate.

My favorite fan was sitting about 4 rows down. She had the Lebanese flag painted on her face and also covering her hair.  It was probably due to her attentive support that Lebanon was able to score the single goal that ended the game in a tie.
Step Three: Fuel Up at (Where Else?) Le Chef
Le Chef is something of a local legend.  It doesn't look fancy from the outside, but the food is awesome and you can't miss the distinctive tall, thin waiter who is always there waving people inside with a gravelly-voiced "Welcome, welcome".  Once inside he gives you a menu, which is a bit superfluous because he has already decided what you will order, and resistance is futile. Le Chef had its 15 minutes of fame in 2006 when, under Israeli bombing, internationally-famous foodie Anthony Bourdain, insisted on pressing on with his show at the restaurant before cancelling the rest of the Lebanon series.

If you don't go to Le Chef while you're in Beirut, you may as well stay home. It was, of course, the perfect dinner for our Up All Night experience.
Step Four: Take Up Residence at One of Gemmayze's Charming Bars for a Long Night of Drinks and Conversation
After taking care of the all-important dinner requirement, it was time to move a few doors down the street to one of the many small and friendly bars on the block for drinks and Intelligent Discussion of Important Things. For our political science-heavy contingent (Cooper actually got his degree in economics but if pressed he could play a political scientist on TV remarkably well), that can only mean one thing.  Not celebrity gossip or whether this season of Mad Men was good as the others, but whether the nation-state is inherently a social construct that encourages immoral behavior.  You know, the usual 2 am chit-chat in a bar. We managed to keep the debate alive till about 3:30 am, when we didn't run out of ideas, but the bartender ran out of patience with us and a few other stragglers and suggested we take our witty and urbane ideas elsewhere.
Our good-natured waitress snapped this picture about 2 minutes before she broke the news to us that we would have to move our weighty political discussion to another venue -- perhaps the UN?

Step Five: After Closing Down the Bar, Explore the City
Once our bar had closed it was time for some general city exploration in search of others that might still welcome us with open arms.  Our thought was that the high-end hotels with their rooftop bars along the waterfront might be just the trick.  But alas, we discovered that the high rollers there apparently turn it in by 4 am, too.  However, the security staff did seem concerned about us, and I think noting our less-than-glamorous clothes, decided we might be in desperate need of wet wash cloths for some on-the-spot freshening up, and bottles of water for rehydrating.  We accepted their charitable contributions to our cause and made our way onward to the Corniche.

Around 4 am, and the guys were getting punchy and I was getting bossy.  Hence, the order for them to pose among the statues.

Step Six: Head to the Corniche for the Sunrise
So, obviously, when all else fails (and especially when you're starting to get sleepy) the thing to do is to head to the waterfront.  We were not alone in this conclusion and we spent a pleasant hour or so waiting for the sun to come up by trying to sort out the late-nighters from the early-morning types who inhabited the space with us. 
Mike and Cooper, hiding their sleepiness fairly well.

Mike also took the opportunity to play around with the settings of his camera.  Here is his Artistic Black and White Shot.

Step Seven: Declare Victory and Head Back to the Hostel for Some Well-Deserved Rest
Around 5 am the sun came up, and we watched it make its appearance and then did some more people-watching as well.  Then we gathered ourselves for one last long walk back to our hostel and some serious sleep. Victory!

We did it!  Pulling together one last burst of energy for the long walk home.

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