Questioning Lebanon: The Critical Lens of My Vacation Overseas

I’ve been away for some time now. To my faithful readers, I apologize for the disappearing act, which also spread to my Instagram account. It seems even enjoyable hobbies like blogging require an annual leave!

The truth is I spent three weeks in the US and returned to Beirut only this Sunday. It’d been a year and a half since my previous American voyage and precisely one year since I last embraced my parents and brothers—at my wedding, in fact. A vacation and reunion were unquestionably overdue.



Providence, Rhode Island


In all frankness, my excitement to get away from Lebanon was sky-high. Life in these parts has gotten profusely challenging, especially in light of the rubbish debacle plaguing our country coupled with a stranglehold over Beirut, constant rioting, and a dismal outlook in general. I was eager to escape.

So escape we did.

Our running grounds were Southern California, specifically my hometown of Riverside as a base, with scenic day outings to Hollywood, LA, Newport, Laguna Beach, Temecula (the bastion of Native American casinos), and the historic downtown. The beauty of SoCal is undeniably in its year-round sunny weather, relaxed lifestyle, and upbeat character. Vehicular infrastructure is at its finest, with wide paved roads, huge freeway shoulders, and endless HOV lanes.



Look at those clear blue skies overhead!


What immediately struck me was how clean the air was relative to Beirut’s. For those who don’t know, Southern California is not particularly well-known for its pristine, smog-free air. Either air quality has vastly improved in the last decade, or Beirut’s is starkly polluted in comparison. I felt like my head opened up with the abundance of oxygen.



Perfect swimming season, and you can bet I relished my morning dips at home


Also evident was the soothing calm all around me. Driving is effortless. No one jumps abruptly in front of you. No one cuts you off. Rarely do you hear honking. And you will never, ever see smog spewing from vehicle exhausts. Wondrous.

Sure, there were a few undesirable effects of this utopia. One is that people can be paralyzed to a robotic freak when it comes to rules and protocols. They follow them to a T. 

For example, one Friday evening, we were stranded on an outbound train from LA for three treacherous hours when a train in front of us collided with a pedestrian. The incident left rail management at a benumbing loss as to what to do, as police cordoned off the crime scene for thorough investigation. After three hours, the train simply retreated to its origin, and it took rail officers another hour and half to sort passengers into private taxis and send them home. No doubt it was a total financial fail and unwarranted waste of time. That’s one sour aftertaste of corporate, bureaucratic America.

Apart from this, I can’t begin to relay how comforting it was never having to worry about water, electricity, garbage, internet speed, phone usage, and the like. The USA can be summed up by these two words: high value. You absolutely get what you pay for. Phone plans are dizzyingly generous. Internet upload and download rates are astronomically fast. Retail sales are ubiquitous, which makes shopping so much more pleasurable and accessible. Oh, and dining out? Cheaper by gargantuan strides than Lebanon's restaurant scene.



An X-large (18") veggie pizza in Southern California: behold the fluffy sourdough crust


$3 margaritas on Taco Tuesday at downtown Riverside pub Lake Alice

Additionally, we spent a week in Boston, where my younger brother is slaving over his PhD. There we hunted down Reuben and pastrami sandwiches, Boston cream pie, bread pudding, clam chowder, and roast beef. We walked our hearts out, pausing briefly in idyllic Boston Common and the seaport district to catch our breath and take in the sights. Aside from the nippy weather, we had a ball. It was surreal being back in the charming, quaint city that is Boston, complete with its confusing roads, insensible traffic lights, and jaywalk-loving pedestrians.



Fresh Pond in North Cambridge, Boston


The Jumbo Reuben sandwich at Sam LaGrassa's in Boston


Chipotle Pastrami sandwich at Sam LaGrassa's


The modern Boston cream pie at Flour Café + Bakery in Cambridge


Berry bread pudding at Flour Café + Bakery: I much prefer bread pudding to pain perdu

A couple of days in Las Vegas afforded us a taste of Gordon Ramsay’s acclaimed BURGR joint. The burgers are juicy and delicious, but I’d be brash to call them life-changing. The truffle Parmesan fries with accompanying dips, however, are unmatched.



The Euro Burger at Gordon Ramsay's BURGR in Las Vegas:
  truffle aioli, goat cheese, arugula, oven-roasted tomato


Clockwise from top: Beer-Battered Maui Onion Rings, Truffle Parmesan Fries,
and Sweet Potato Fries

On our second evening in the glitzy city, we treated ourselves to one of Vegas' must-see shows, Cirque du Soleil: Mystère. The acrobatics and theatrics of this grand performance are beyond describable. I found myself on seat's edge for the entire duration of the spectacle.


Cirque du Soleil Mystère at Las Vegas' Treasure Island

The long journey back to Beirut was by no means facile, neither on mind nor body. I hated to part with my family, and I had fallen into step with the laidback, stress-free living. It had even translated to a clear complexion and restful, uninterrupted sleep.

Lebanon, you’re going to need to make a valiant effort to bewitch me all over again, from the pothole-ridden ground up. Remind me why I made the move here, willfully against the grain, to be part of your curious composition. Remind me why I consciously left the modernity and organization of the West for your volatile and backward state. Remind me wherein lies your unique beauty.

Because at the moment, I’m fighting fiercely to suppress my inner demons. 



Comments

  1. Being from SoCal too, I can relate to this big time. Being away always gives you a lot of perspective. On another note, THAT FOOD LOOKS INCREDIBLE.

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    1. You're also from SoCal?! I had no idea! Truth be told, there is some good food to be had in the US. Been following your adventures in Spain in pictures. Enjoy every minute.

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    2. Yup, Orange County :) I'm doing my best! There's just way too much eating hahaha

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  2. Lebanon has a lot of convincing to do when it comes to vacationing let alone living. I'm so happy you got to enjoy your family reunion. You've been missed. Hoping for a quick solution to this garbage crisis

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Christele. The garbage situation is stagnant. There are still tons of trash on the streets in many areas. Lebanon exudes filthy.

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  3. Welcome back! Reading your blog made me bitter and even more skeptical at the time being wasted here. You reminded me of the time i went back to Ottawa, and how the deafening calm, fresh air, scenery and order made me feel. What we love about this country is completely subjective and nostalgic; it is as far away from reason as can be. For those of us who are obliged to stay out of family obligation and circumstance, we have to make due and look forward for those brief sprints of vacation time in Europe or North America. But for those of us who are able to make the decision, here or there, I think its obviously made.

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    Replies
    1. So eloquently put, Serene. The Lebanon of our dreams and of our parents' nostalgic remembrances is non-existent. It is purely a memory retrieved through rosy-tinted glasses or an idyll we paint on the canvas of our imaginations. Let's hope those conduits to the outside world always remain open.

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    1. Thank you Patyl--I miss you! Catch-up sesh soon xxx

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  5. Love the post! It's always depressing when you come back, I know exactly what you mean. Even when you get used to Lebanon and all its (literal) shit, you still don't do so completely. Really enjoyed the roundup of your US trip, and the fooooood omg. I think I should order lunch, this post has made me hungrier haha

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    1. Haha, yeah the food's quite incredible. You can't imagine the slew of other edibles that were beyond scrumptious--I should have taken more photos, but alas, vacation mode :)

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