Festival Fun

Last week, Lebanon hosted a variety of festivals, from the well-received Vinifest featuring Lebanese winemakers; Oktoberfest, a sad attempt at the famous Bavarian shindig; and the Beirut International Film Festival, a showcase of new talent on the Lebanese scene. For better or worse, I attended all three.

Vinifest, in its fifth year, was a smashing success. I could hardly contain my excitement when I arrived to the Hippodrome, an outdoor equestrian arena that had been transformed into lovely picnic grounds. Arranged in a vast semi-circle were at least 30 tents, each exhibiting a different winery with the full range of its products. And let me tell you, several had more than simply wine! One of my favorites was Chateau Najm, from the Chabtine valley in Batroun, which offered tasters red wine, the anise-flavored potion arak (similar to French Pastis and Greek Ouzo), and olive oil. I was surprised to see a Syrian winery, Bargylus, among the mix, as I had no idea Syria was fruitful in viticulture! Bargylus also offered tasty brown bread and chunks of bright orange mimolette cheese. Nothing says wine like fromage francais! After a few hours of making our way from tent to tent, we collapsed around the furnished plastic tables, laid bare our brie, coulommiers, and emmental acquisitions, and succumbed to the soporific effects of the wine. It was a perfect night!

Oktoberfest may as well have been called Sajj & Crepe Night, as the scanty few stands set up for the occasion mostly featured Lebanese flatbread and its French counterpart. How TimeOut Beirut magazine came up with this description of Oktoberfest confounds me, but it was surely no "Bavarian bacchanal." We did notice Frankfurter, the red hot dog stand that can be found anywhere and everywhere in Lebanon, but no one try to convince me that their sad wiener-and-bun qualifies as proper German fare. One stand featured fried potato slices on a stick seasoned with your choice of paprika or fajita spices--nope, not German either. In the way of beer, our very own Lebanese Almaza could be had aplenty, but there were no German labels. We finally stumbled upon a tent called "Maison Zeder," which translates to "House of Cedar" in the non-existent Franco-Germanic language. After inspecting their veal sausages, we decided those were the closest things to German we'd be having for the night, so we bought a few. The French bread, a bit tough to bite through, was a poor choice of a bun, but we hardly had the luxury of being picky, so we wolfed them down. Turns out Maison Zeder is a small catering company run out of the home of a man and his wife, and they cook meals to order. We jotted down their number in case the craving for bratwurst and sauerkraut ever arose. One never knows.

I was tempted to go to the Beirut Film Fest because a friend from LA was screening his production, "Runaway." The movie, about 20 minutes, was clustered with three others of similar length, so we were obliged to remain throughout the session, against our better judgment. "Runaway" was easily the more interesting, comprehensible, and put-together piece of the four, as it spoke of a Lebanese family struggling with the notion of culture preservation in the US. The other films fit the artsy-fartsy genre and got progressively (or is it regressively?) worse. One was about happy-go-lucky Nour who wears vision-inverting goggles and skips through fields until she bequeaths them to little Ayman. Another was about an adolescent boy who finds reason to live again when a girl says hi to him in front of a store window. The last movie troubled me beyond hysteria, as it lacked a plot altogether and merely videoed construction and destruction in Beirut over the span of 40 minutes. I walked out of the theater before the film ended, but apparently I missed the action, because a fanatic in the audience cried out in despair when the credits were cut short.

Lesson learned. Next year, hold the booze and flics: I'm heading straight to the wine fest. Multi-day pass, anyone?

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