The Run

It was a difficult start. We went to bed late after a dinner in a new, bourgeois bohemian style restaurant (Baron in bustling Mar Mikhael) and drinks at the Fabrik roof top bar, in an electric atmosphere, by a warm November night. On Sunday morning, my head was heavy after several “old fashions Japanese style”.


It was a gorgeous day. The Corniche was closed to traffic because of some race; in the absence of the rumor of cars, all other sounds were magnified… The sea was scintillating under the sun, already high in a perfect blue sky.

Whenever I visit Beirut, I look forward to my running ritual from the Phenicia hotel to the Coral beach resort. I love this place. I love the diversity of people, not that of a uniform globalized crowd, the real diversity of people: elegant women strolling, old men fishing, cheesy guys blasting music in their car, sexy girls running, veiled ladies walking and talking… Memories come back, memories of my runs over the last fifteen years; memories of walks with my wife and kids; older and vague memories of my parents in black and white 8mm videos…

A pleasant wind made my run smoother than expected. The random flow of consciousness started passing through my mind. I was thinking of our dinner, of all these people around the table drinking Bekaa wine, coming from so many different places, of Beirut as their meeting point, of the political discussion about Michel Aoun being elected president after two and a half years of power vacancy.

I remember when he was kicked out of the ghostly presidential palace in ruins, in 1990, twenty-six years ago, after two terrible years of war against Syria and another Christian militia. These were bad times. Times of darkness and crime and war. And the guy is back, at age of 80. Like a spectrum, like a returned leading the country from an undefined territory where the boundaries between past and present, life and death, reality and fiction are blurred. The political class in Lebanon reminds me of Proust’s “bal des têtes”: same people as when I was a kid, transformed by the subterranean work of time and conveying forever images of war.

During my childhood, the Lebanese bourgeoisie and golden youth spoke French. Today, in bars and restaurants, everyone speaks English with an American accent. With social media, movie franchises, Netflix TV series, the appeal of American universities, the emergence of Asia, French is really passé, the sign of belonging to an extinguishing cast. This is why I’m writing this text in English. Yet, on the Corniche, you come across elegant women from old Achrafieh that continue to speak this delightful, singing French with an inimitable mix of Parisian accent, Arabic colorfulness and outmoded, literary expressions.

After the beautiful and green AUB campus and the so-called Manara (lighthouse), cars started circulating again and I had to painfully go uphill next to the old Luna Park and popular Al Rawda Café. Once on top, this is what I saw:



I then ran along the Raouché corniche in exhaust and deep fried food odors. I observed the buildings on my left and thought again of Aquarius, the beautiful Brazilian movie I recently saw. The old Carlton hotel where people spent months to escape Aoun wars in the eastern part of the city has been destroyed and replaced by a gigantic tower; but the vintage seventies multicolored building with its shiny pastry shops and tens of AC units is still there as archeologic remains of prewar Beirut.

The end of the Raouché stretch overlooks Ramlet el Baida beach, blurred in the golden light and water dust, similar to an old photography.

After forty minutes: this is when you start appreciating the run. The rhythm becomes regular, the muscles are warm, the respiration synchronized, the hypophysis produces endorphins and a feeling of euphoria, the effects of “old fashions Japanese style” fade, while more and more images and ideas come to the clarified mind.

On the beach, a beach football field reminded me of days at high school when we played football between 12pm and 1pm. The souvenir of these games, intact in my memory, provided a feeling of happiness, associated with effort, camaraderie, sun, airiness of youth and the kind of utopia in the heart of a bruised city that the Lycée Franco-Libanais was.

After the crowed Manara and Raouché, there were fewer and fewer people on Ramlet Al Baida. Buildings were all residential, very luxurious, but somewhat worn down and uninhabited. I came across a couple contemplating the sea; a fish seller presenting his daily stinky catch in the trunk of an old seventies Mercedes in ruins. At the end of Ramlet El Baida, there is another hill to climb before going down to the Coral beach. There was no one anymore. The faded ten year old posters of a luxury chalet resort by the sea continued to promise the illusionary Eden of a construction that never started.

When I was a kid, the Coral beach and Summerland were the places to be for Lebanese jet setters. I remember lunches with my parents’ friends, young, rich and affluent. I remember the beauty of the resort. Today, the place is ran down, ghostly, at the frontier between two territories, the one of the rich I’m coming from and the one of the very poor, after the resort, that I won’t go to. I’m always saddened by how sad is the Coral beach today but I realize that the sheer fact that it continues to exist is a sign of resilience.

I ran back to the Phenicia. It was now very hot and almost uncomfortable. I arrived to the Manara again, the Riveria hotel by the sea, one of the other prewar landmarks with its yellow cabins and salted water pool in the middle of the sea around which men were sun bathing. I stared at all this and at the sea, at the deep blueness of the sea; I wanted these images printed in my mind, I wanted them to impregnate me, become part of an internal landscape.

It might be the hyperbolic effects of the endorphins, I nevertheless had a thought. I thought that this place, this 6 Km stretch was unique, unique in the world, not only because of its beautifulness by a sunny day, but because it’s one of these rare places where different people, Christians and Muslims, rich and poor, genuinely coexist, peacefully, respectfully of each other. Is it the beauty of the sea and the mountains that distract them from their differences and past hatreds? Is it the concentration on the exercise, the walk, the run or the cycling? Is it the presence of children playing, unconscious of the past and future differences? Whatever the reason, as I speeded up in the last 500 meters before my goal, before the fresh bottle of water waiting for me, I told myself that this sea promenade should be a place of celebration of the utopian concept of “living together”.

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