Thursday, 13 March 2008

Despatches from Lebanon - Part 1

One of my friends is on his first trip to Lebanon. Here's his first communication from that most Europe-like country.
It has been a week in Beirut without a side trip out to some interesting camp site or scene of a massive shootout. I was supposed to go to Tyre near the Israeli border last Thursday but due to some other arrangements this has been postponed.

My spare time has been used walking around Beirut taking interesting photos of buildings that were attempted to be demolished by small arms fire. Quite a feat when you look at how many rounds it takes to chip away at concrete. Some of the more industrious demolishers used rocket propelled grenades to hack off larger hunks. A much more efficient method of destruction. Most of these buildings are owned by developers waiting for the right time to develop and reconstruct their investment.

Beirut is quite an attractive city, in some ways it could be any European city set on the water at the foothills of a mountain range. Given the strong French influence it has some advantages, especially the food. But also the French leave a distinct disadvantage - their engineering. The French are definitely outside their skill sets when not in the kitchen or the winery. The roads and buildings are distinctly French. Great aesthetically but crap when it comes to functionality. The road system leaves a lot to be desired but this is only exacerbated by the skill of the Lebanese drivers. They drive like starlings or large schools of fish weaving in all directions rather than going straight. Watching traffic is a spectator sport that was once reserved for those with blood lust. Needless to say that the road toll is significant.

The other blight here is that everyone smokes, including newborns. The only advantage of this is that they do not have to invest in aged care. Mr Marlboro and Mr Kent will ensure that the life expectancy of the locals does not cause an aged care issue. Apparently aged care is not a current issue probably as a result of most of the locals having an aversion to oxygen and preferring to get their air intake filtered through a haze of smoke.

Last week there was cause for celebration when a provincial member of parliament gave some speech. The local tribesmen get very enthusiastic when their representative has something to say in public. The occasion was supported by fireworks of the traditional kind with the aid of machine guns and other small arms fire. This doesn't normally cause concern but the local paper reported on the event and included comments from the police that the locals should refrain from using celebratory grenades at these celebrations. Probably a reasonable request. I don't think that the small arms fire really causes anyone to take notice so perhaps the use of the occasional celebratory grenade will help the celebrations along.

Having been down to the site of the explosion that took out the late Rafik Hariri it is interesting to see how much damage a two ton truck bomb can do. If you are in the glass replacement business such acts are good for business as they can remove the glass for at least two city blocks. Probably a share price sensitive activity for the glass companies.

I was informed that when it happened a group of doctors some 2 kilometres away heard a loud noise. Unsure of what it was they were heartened by one of their Bosnian colleagues who informed them without raising an eyebrow that it was a two ton truck bomb. He continued working without any further thought. It is always good to have someone with good environmental knowledge on the team. One wonders what his experiences included.

This weekend will have more meetings with interesting people and intelligence reports inform me that the 8 March will bring interesting times. Also 11 March and 14 March should bring more interesting events. Can't wait.
(Nothing Follows)

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