Thursday, February 22, 2018

Beirut is where Michele (pronounced mi-SHEL) lives.

Street Art in Gemmayzeh
"What's he doing?"


"They look like spikes."

Angela and I are in Beirut. It's our first time in the city. 

We wanted to see each other. The current blockade makes it extremely difficult to visit each other as she lives in Dubai and I in Doha. We were looking for nearby destinations. The flights to Beirut looked good to travel on staff rebate. 

So here we are, a day after Valentine's, exploring a city both of us have read about in books and in recent news.  

We see an old man hunched over a low work bench. He's sitting in a deep chair with armrests with his back to the street, his hands are busy polishing what look like brass spikes.

We carry on walking.

"What do you think he's making?" asks Angela.

"No idea." I confess. "Perhaps he's cleaning them."

Our thoughts linger on the hunched over old man in his grayish bluish coat, peering through his glasses, steadily polishing golden rods (about 6-8 inches long) without looking up, for a few minutes before our eyes spot something interesting-- an achingly old building with a fading facade that hides tales of eras past. 

A few hours later, tired but excited about being in Beirut, we decide to head back. Without intention or design, we find ourselves on the same road, in Gemmayzeh. The old man's hands are still busy. This time I spot a table laden with jewellery pieces. I am almost tempted. It's getting late and there's always tomorrow. We hail a taxi and leave.
Next morning, we decide to start our exploration from the other end of Beirut (Hamra). The map, which till yesterday had looked like a puzzle, behaves like a friendly guide.  A longish coffee stop and lots of walking later, we find ourselves looking at the old man's table full of  jewellery in Gemmayzeh. It's late afternoon and lunch is on our minds.

"These look good." I declare.

In the freshness of a new day and the familiarity of day two in a new city, the area around the table covered in red cloth reveals more of itself. The table is set out on the front pavement of an old Antique Shop. There is a bright light trying to peep through the cloudy glass of the half open doors. The old man is wearing a brassy ring on his left thumb and using a tool with his right when he looks up and smiles.

"Do you make these?" I ask.

"Yes." His voice is clear and warm, like a glass of fresh milk: soothing and full of life. "I make these."

He walks the short distance from the far corner where his low work bench sits, laden with tools and a twisted brassy sheet, over to us and slides the ring off his thumb.

"It says 'my light' (or did he say 'my love'--I'm not 100 % sure) in Arabic." He says in perfect English and holds the ring up so we can see the light enter the calligraphic carvings on the ring.

"You did this?" Angela and I ask him in unison.

"Yes. You can come and make with me if you want." he offers.

I'm not sure I've heard him correctly. Maybe he doesn't mean that. Maybe he wants to say he'll make one for us just like this one.

I'm doubtful. Surely, he's not going to spend his time teaching us! Surely, he's expecting us to buy something. Odd, how easily cynicism overtakes trust. Why are we programmed to veer towards mistrust as our first instinct?  Is it evolution (survival of the fittest) or just the way the world has come to be?

"What's your name?" we ask.

"Michele." He smiles and disarms my canons of cynicism with his grin.  "And I'm ninety years old." He beams. 

"No!" we almost shriek like teenagers. "Ninety?"

His eyes twinkle a little more brightly. I ask if I can click his picture. Michele obliges like a true gentleman and even poses.
"What's yours?"


"Like the angel." He says and takes Angela's hand while I continue to take  pictures. Angela melts in front of me.
Michele looks up and I give him my name.

He squints quizzically at me.

"Like Art with an I...Arti." I offer an explanation.

He nods and smiles and when he finds out that Angela is from England, he mentions Teresa May.

"This world needs more women really. Women are smart."

Who would've thought we'd run into a ninety year old male feminist on the streets of Beirut!

"I was watching a programme on TV about ancient Indian architecture recently, it's so good." adds Michele exuberantly when I mention to him that I'm of Indian stock.

"Yes, India is full of amazing art and architecture." I add and nod. 

It feels part surreal and  part normal to bump into Michele. Human connections such as these is the reason why I love travelling. No monument or museum can live up to simply connecting with another soul. Unless, of course, I'm walking alone in the hills, then I'm happy to be all by myself.

My conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, is that Michele is the most interesting man I've met on my travels in a while. We could've talked the afternoon away, if we wanted to. 

"What were you making yesterday?" Asks Angela. "those spike like things..."

"Come inside the shop, I'll show you..." says Michele and wanders towards the glass door. 

Loud music is blasting  from a corner of the shop. There is stuff everywhere. 

"I haven't had the time to clear up..." he offers an apology and sounds like I do when friends drop in and my house hasn't been dusted! "This is what I made with the spikes..." he points to the light and stands next to it with such a big grin that he looks like a six year old who's just got a 10/10 in his math quiz--absolutely delighted with his work.
"You made this?" We sound like we don't really believe him.

"Yes, and I'm making these to send to my son in Canada. He will use them to make another light like this one." Michele points out the spikes we'd seen him with the previous evening.
If I ever reach ninety, please God, let me be like Michele--working with my hands, open to strangers, warm and kind and curious like a two year old.

I spot a pair of swirly earrings on the table when we step out of his shop. I consider getting them for a friend but decide to wait till I explore a bit more and perhaps come back the next day.

"We should buy a cake for him and go see him again." suggests Angela as we polish off our vegan lunch at the Sursock museum cafe a couple of hours later. 

We haven't stopped talking about Michele. It's been a while since we said bye to him and carried on with our exploration. 

Imagine the stories he'd have to tell. 

What all must he have seen in his life.

He must've put the music that loud so he could hear it outside.

How amazing for us to come across someone like him...

 and on and on.

The one regret I have is that we decided to postpone our cake with Michele idea to the next day. 

Rain and wind and grey skies welcomed us the next morning. We went to the shop. It was shut. It was our last day in Beirut. Our flights back were in the evening.

Sometimes, cakes should be bought and shared as soon as the idea enters our hearts--for one never knows if there will be another tomorrow.

I don't have Michele's number or address. But if anyone in Beirut is reading this and knows him, please give him our love and heartfelt thanks for infusing our weekend trip with his generous smile.

Facades cover buildings, like faces cover souls--what is that old saying again? Never judge a book by its cover.

Better still, never judge.

There were many such kind and helpful humans in Beirut who we encountered in restaurants, shops and even at the farmers market selling their delicious vegan wares. If you're thinking of going to Beirut, I'd say, if you can, then just go. 

Leaving you with a few eclectic shots of facades that caught my eye on the day after Valentine's in the city of Beirut.

 This reminder of 'James and the Giant Peach' (as Angela pointed out) is an old movie theater.

The oft-photographed colourful steps on Armenia Street of Beirut
Wishing you all a colourful, warm, creative, chilled-out kinda weekend. 
May you take notice of every moment of today and tomorrow and 
may you smile when you do. 


  1. What a wonderful journey. Michele has the face and heart of an angel. The street art is incredible! Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you for stopping by Toni. I'm glad you enjoyed the post:)

  2. very happy to see you here after a long time! And thank you for taking me back to the soulful Beirut. Love the place and people and food and sights.....!

    So true....never postpone a good deed.

  3. What a read! The best one as I start my weekend. Your powerful words bring all the objects to life. Felt like I personally met and greeted Michele with you two lovelies. Looking forward to read another one soon. Love from Canada.

    1. Oh! How lovely to read your comment as I start my week. Thank you for your love all the way from Canada Pinkz. xx

  4. Wonderful, warm read, Arti! Several sentences and phrases resonated in my heart and soul.
    " easily cynicism overtakes trust." Now there's a sad nugget of truth!
    " never knows if there will be another tomorrow." Walking through these recent months with my husband as cardiac disease made its presence known, has made this truth an every day reality.
    Bring on the colour!
    Hugs xxx

    1. Thank you for visiting April. Hope you are finding your life's rhythm while working through the challenges you are facing.
      It's Holi--the festival of colour, today.
      Sending you a rainbow of love. xx

  5. I have the most wonderful adventures every time I stop by here!
    Thank you.

    1. And I love the fact that you do. xx

  6. I came here thinking I would quickly catch up with you (before busying myself in the kitchen, preparing supper!) but I realize now I'll need WAY more time than just 15 minutes to look at (& read) so much beauty. I just went through a bit of this post and thought: "omg, this post deserves SO much more of my time. MICHELE deserves more of my time!". So I'll come back later, with a delicious mint tea and I'll catch up properly. Hope you've been well Arti. We're getting a snow storm here today. Big hugs from Canada. xo

    1. Hey Pauline. How have you been? You've had a lot of snow this year. Hope spring is round the corner for you now. We're in our growing season in Doha, so I'm out in the garden all day long:) So, blogging becomes very very sporadic.
      Hugs to you my dear blogger friend. xx

  7. Love the way you bring us along as if you are telling us the story while sitting next to us. Michele's spikes became a beautiful creation! I will try to remember to buy cake when the thought hits me. Do not let the moment pass. Thanks Arti! As always, I love your writing.

    1. Thank you for visiting Emily:)
      I'm toying with the idea of another A to Z this year. Will you be participating?


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