2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage

2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage
VIVA CUENCA

VIVA CUENCA!

My mission in publishing this blog is first to provide a living history of my settlement and life in Cuenca, and to provide myself and the reader with a journal account delineating my reasons for why I have chosen to settle in Cuenca. Second, the posts are my way of staying in contact with family and friends back in the states, and to provide them with an understanding of a country and culture that most North Americans have little knowledge and awareness. Third, the blog is open to one and all who wish to compare and contrast the experiences of expat bloggers living in Cuenca, so that you can determine whether or not from your perspective Cuenca is an appropriate move for you. Fourth, my blog provides another example of how expats view and interpret life in Cuenca. Ecuadorians and Cuencanos who may read this blog are especially invited to post comments that may enhance all expats understanding and appreciation of Cuneca and its people, or to correct any misinterpretations in my assumptions and perceptions of Cuencano culture. Finally, I hope I can convey the feeling of love and appreciation that grows within me each passing day for this heavenly city nestled in the Andes and its very special people.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

BEIRUT: PART IV: DOWNTOWN AND MEDITERRANEAN BEACH RESORT

MOHAMMAD AL-MIN MOSQUE

A walk from my residency to downtown Beirut took about thirty minutes.  On the edge of approaching the downtown from my direction is the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque, adorned with its blue dome and four minarets; which was built in the Ottoman Empire's grandiose style, and therefore, exhibits Turkish rather than Lebanese architectural style. The mosque was completed in 2005, and dedicated in 2008. 

The mosque was financed by Rafik al-Hariri, a billionaire and former prime minister who was assassinated ironically in the same year the mosque was completed. The Syrians were accused of the assassination, which over a four year period almost engulfed Lebanon in another civil war, this time between Shia and Sunni Muslims. The incident did lead to Syria withdrawing its troops from both Lebanon and Beirut after a thirty year occupation. However, Syria still exerts much influence through its Shia proxy Hezbollah, which controls southern Lebanon.  The political influence of the Christian groups in Lebanon is even less now than it was in 2005.

On this day, I had joined my son and his two friends, who were relatively new to Beirut as we began our day visiting this Sunni Mosque.




Usually in most Islamic countries, infidels are not permitted inside the mosques.  Therefore, I was surprised that we were not only allowed inside, but also very warmly welcomed.  We removed our shoes and toured about at leisure. 



The mosque was exquisitely beautiful.



In this particular mosque, the floor is covered in wall-to-wall carpeting.  Each of the dark spaces is where the believer bows prostrate to the floor in prayer.

Notice that each spot for the the supplicant is like the space in an Islamic-styled archway of pillars.
                                          


























One of the amazing things about Beirut is the fact that in the above and below photos, there is basically a shared-campus of the Mohammad Al-Min Mosque and St. George Maronite Catholic Cathedral (seen from two different sides of the building). Some see this as a metaphor for the coexistence between Muslims and Christians. 

However, critics say the building of the mosque, sends an imposing message of Islamic dominance, which dwarfs both the cathedral and everything else in the area. The Maronite Catholics are the single largest group of Christians in Lebanon.  

At the same time, in this day and age, for the moment; nothing like this level of Christian and Muslim coexistence any longer exists in any other area of the Middle East.  

                                                                                                                                                                   Attributed to Lebnen 18


The interior of the St. George Maronite Cathedral (below).



Below is the entrance to the Soulks in Downtown Beirut, which is known as the Central Business District (CBD), an area of a very spacious shopping mall of high end retail. What you see below is called Iman Ouzai Square.



 
Above is an interior shot upon entering one area of the ABC Mall, the most exclusive of a number of upscale malls in Beirut.  

Below, is the Soulk El Akel street food market with all kinds of delicacies and incredible assortment of all types of Middle Eastern foods from which to eat...


and eat we did.

At one point, while the guys were doing whatever they were doing, I ducked into a entrance hallway to get out from under the hot sun. I never could tell what time the Islamic "Call to Prayer" would take place.  It seemed to happen at odd minutes like twenty-three minutes after the hour.  I no sooner entered my area of respite from the sun, as the "Call to Prayer" began to resonate.  I have no idea if it was coming from the Mohammad Al-Min Mosque nearby, or if it was blasting from loud speakers that sounded like they were on the other side of the concrete wall from where I was standing. Wherever the call was coming from, it reverberated with such a blast that I scurried out into the sun again to escape from the unrelenting ear-piercing echo. 
                                     





Above is what has become iconic in many major cities.  "I love Beirut!"

We walked down to the area you see below heading toward the Place (Plaza) de l'Etoile where you can see the Hamidiyi Clock Tower in the distance. This area, where East met West, was considered one of the most luxurious places in the world before the Lebanese Civil War .

It suffered much destruction during the war, and has recently been meticulously renovated to appear as it did prior to the war.


The area above where is still in need of retail tenets.  The restaurants here were not really attracting many customers on the two afternoons when I visited the area, although (below) closer to the clock tower (Nejmeh Plaza), restaurants with their sidewalk cafes were serving a steady stream of customers. Having visited Paris upon leaving Beirut, this area is very reminiscent of Paris.  At the Nejmeh plaza a number of avenues converge from about five different directions.  There are some upper-end shops; but overall, the area is somewhat like a ghost town.

I understand that if you have an easy four million dollars lying around, you can purchase yourself a condo in this neighborhood.


While not the only city in the world to sport ruins right smack-dab in the heart of the city. Beirut literally has excavated ruins right smack-dab in the center of downtown, along with everything else that down town has to offer.


Yes, those Romans were truly everywhere, and here are the excavated ruins of Roman baths to prove it.  Not exactly as well intact nor as somewhat rebuilt as the Roman baths in Bath, England, which I so enjoyed last summer.  Nonetheless, it was a surprise for me to see these ruins as if they suddenly popped out of nowhere in the heart of the city's business district.




My son and I visited the Corniche district on the Mediterranean where the Pigeon Rocks are located.  This is a must.  I very much enjoyed them.  Below reminds me "of the little old lady who lived in a shoe, and had so many children, she didn't know what to do".


Spot the speed boat below to give yourself some idea of how big pigeon rock is. 













HANNA METRI ICE CREAM


Writers for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal proclaimed the Hanni Metri Ice Cream shop to have the best ice cream in the world.  


There definitely was a steady stream of customers in this run-down building still covered with shrapnel from the civil war, yet incredibly located in what is Beirut's most posh neighborhood. Hanni Mitri Moussa opened the store in 1949, and claims to have kept it open all through the civil war even when bombs were going off.  His car was annihilated as it sat on the street in front of the business, and all of the glass in the business's windows shattered. The family just cleaned-up the mess, and continued to make and serve ice cream.  The oven, which is used to bake pastries during the holiday seasons, still contains shrapnel. There is little room for the customers on the interior.  It is simply a carry-out business.







The ice cream is not anything like American ice cream--not as sweet or as creamy.  This Lebanese ice cream is as best as I can describe it as a cross between Italian ice, but smoother and not as grainy, but not quite exactly Italian gelato either. About a dozen different flavors are served. The owner uses a small paddle to pack the ice cream into the cup, and I had about three flavors in one cup. Definitely refreshing, but I'll leave it to you to visit Beirut to determine if you think it is the world's best ice cream.  It's hard to imagine anyone in Beirut who hasn't heard of Hanni Mitri.




Hanni Mitri Moussa died in 2012.  His son took over the business in 2011,  Above you see his son packing the ice cream in a cup.  It was afternoon, and I wondered how long he had been doing the same repetitive process that day.


Below is a photo of his father and founder in the background:






BEACH RESORTS


There are a lot of fabulous beach resorts along the Mediterranean shore line running out of Beirut. We went to one of the private clubs one weekend.





I like design, so I like the way this simple ceiling was designed below, and how the ceiling reflects on the ground, with the planter in the center.  A great deal of attention was paid to the design of the resort, which offered everything from accommodations, to restaurants, to swimming pools, to first class chair mattresses for lying out on the beach, to shops, to spas, etc.








Not since 2012 while on the Ecuadorian coast have I had an opportunity to enjoy lying on a beach and enjoy the sound of the waves, and the thrill of the water.  I've always loved beaches and the water--a love I learned from my father.





Saifi Village


Marc encouraged me to seek out Saifi Village one day on one my walks while he was working.  It has been renovated, is quite attractive, and a nice tranquil place to walk around. There is still a need for many retail tenets and further expansion of the restaurant offerings, but there are a few good restaurants available.  





Below is the Catholic Armenian Church of St. Elie.





I began this post with the Mohammad Al-Min Mosque, and I end it with a church flooded in lights against the evening landscape of darkness. 

I could not help but think about the transitory nature of life, and wondered how successful Beirut would be in dodging through the mine fields of sectarian differences and Middle East conflicts; particularly after the hopefulness of so much rebuilding efforts since the civil war, and with a number of Beirutis who have lived abroad for decades, who now find themselves returning to begin life anew in the land from which they once fled.



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