Sunday, October 21, 2007

Beirut churches

This morning my wife went to Mass in her old village. Despite the fact than most of the former Christian population have now moved elsewhere many still return every Sunday to the church which has been restored after being badly damaged during the 1975-90 civil war.

Actually there's three churches in the village of which one other has also been restored. The largest church is still a work in progress. Look closely at the column on the left. Yes, those are bullet holes.

And the local Muslim population quite happily send their kids to the local convent school. My wife thinks these are signs of hope. I see them as evidence that people of different races and faiths can live together only until cynical and evil leaders exploit these differences for their own ends - which unfortunately happens all too easily.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Last night we flew from London to Beirut where we're visiting Marie's relatives.

The drive from the airport to my father-in-law's house provided a personal snapshot of Lebanon's troubled history since it passes through the 'village' (suburb) of Mreijeh in west Beirut where my wife lived as a child.

During the 1975-90 civil war west Beirut became the Muslim sector and Christian families like my wife's were almost entirely driven out in fear of their lives. To make sure they didn't come back the houses were usually destroyed. This is what happened to my wife's home which had been moved by my wife's grandfather stone by stone from its original site a few kilometres away when Beirut airport was built in the 1950's. I saw the ruins of the house on my first trip to Beirut in 1993. My father-in-law still owns the land but it's now a petrol station.

So I really hope that there's a special place in hell for people responsible for ethnic cleansing.

My father-in-law was elected mayor of the village in 1967 and remained so by default until 1998 (since the Lebanese were too busy killing each other to hold elections). Interestingly he was re-elected in 1998 by a population which by then was overwhelmingly Shiite! He retired in 2005 only to be replaced by his former deputy who of course is also Christian. Who said Lebanese politics is confusing?

After a quick nap this morning (the flight last night was too short to get much sleep) my wife's youngest sister showed us her new apartment which at the moment is a construction site, but it should be fantastic once it's finished. As you can see from the photos, it's in one of the older neighbourhoods of Beirut.

In the afternoon we visited one of Lebanon's most famous Christian shrines at Harissa (Our Lady of Lebanon). I was surprised to discover a significant number of Muslim visitors. I discovered that they were there because Mary is also venerated in Islam which I didn't know.

The shrine is located at the top of a steep hillside overlooking Jounieh bay north of Beirut. This area became a stronghold of Lebanon’s Christian community during the civil war as they were driven out of mixed communities like the one my wife grew up in.

As this shot shows, the mountains rise quite steeply from the sea which is a key part of Lebanon’s natural beauty.

Beirut like most cities in developing countries is not so nice (lots of traffic, smog and general grime), but the suburbs and villages in the mountains are quite lovely.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

English weather

Today was spent driving from Cornwall back to London. For those accustomed as I am to the distances and wide open spaces of Australia and the US, driving from one side of the country to the other in a few hours is an interesting experience. Not much to see today apart from lots of typical English weather – overcast and damp! I shouldn't complain since we were blessed with beautiful weather the past two days.

Monday, October 15, 2007

King Arthur was here...

...or so legend says. Here being Tintagel in Cornwall, legendary birthplace of King Arthur.

More likely it was the stronghold of a Cornish king who came to be celebrated by the Celts for holding out against the Anglo-Saxons.

Tonight we’re at Land's End, the most westerly point in England. We're staying at the historic hotel.

Dinner and breakfast are included with the room and the food and service are great and the hotel has lots of charm, but it's a little tired and ready for someone to do a major renovation and turn it into something really special.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Oh, to be in England*

Today we arrived in England. The 8 hour 30 minute flight between Denver and London with British Airways seemed quite easy compared with regular 14 hour flights to Australia.

You might notice that my previous post on 30 September was titled "Back home" so, yes, we only spent two weeks at home before heading overseas again. It's not all work this time though. I’m attending a conference in London later in the week so we decided to spend the next two days visiting Cornwall and next week I'll be taking some vacation and we'll be heading to Beirut to visit Marie's dad and sister (and a whole bunch of aunts, uncles and cousins).

Since we only arrived earlier this afternoon we travelled only as far as Dorset today. We’re spending the night in Charmouth, a lovely little seaside village filled with old buildings, narrow streets and cosy pubs including The George where we had a delicious treacle pudding for dinner (we don't usually eat just desert for dinner, but with the time zone changes your eating patterns get all messed up - that's my excuse anyway!)

* Home Thoughts, From Abroad (Robert Browning)

Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray's edge—
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower
—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!