East of Paris Bookstore

Monday, November 29, 2010


An hour and a half from Beirut in the heart of the Beqaa Valley stand the ruins of the enormous Roman temple of Jupiter in Baalbeck. We were there on a cool clear day and our group had the Heliopolis complex virtually to ourselves.   
There were no roped off areas, so it was delightful to be a nose length from the many architectural elements literally littering the area.
 Trying to avoid sunburn ...
 Mr. Wonderful focuses on safety ...
 A classic view ...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Beirut is Back on the Map

The theme of "Beirut is Back" seemed to pop out everywhere we went in this 24/7 lively city.
Four Seasons Beirut tower
We walked to the Four Seasons Hotel  for lunch and experienced the hair-raising traffic, where traffic lights offer mere suggestions, the luxe shops, the yachts at anchor, and busy student life at the American University with obligatory graffiti. 

Levant: Splendor and Catastrophe on the MediterraneanHaving just read Philip Mansel's Levant: Splendor and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean, which details the histroy of Beirut and two other Mediterranean cities, I had expected to see more of the destruction from the tragic civil war that Lebanon endured from 1975-90.  

Instead we saw luxury high rises along the corniche -- a bit reminiscent of Miami Beach and construction everywhere. 

Then there was the opportunity to buy our much-missed American style coffee at McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts.

 We also enjoyed traditional Turkish coffee at the very grand Phoenicia Intercontinental Hotel, where we booked spa appointments for a quiet afternoon.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Samovars IV

Could not resist photographing old samovars that we came across in Syria and Lebanon.

At the small, beautiful, newly opened Afnan Hotel in old Damascus:

 At the Al Azem Palacein Damascus:
And in the reception room of the Our Lady of Balamond Patriarchal Monastery  near Tripoli, Lebanon:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Shopping in the Souk

Walking through the Souk al-Hamidiyeh in Damascus is a treat.  It is smaller and more accessible than the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and it takes less time to literally see everything. 

"Everything" includes jewelry, fruits, candies, spices, nuts, rose petals and more.  

Shopping can be hungry work ... pomegranates and corn can help.

Mr. Wonderful abhors shopping of any kind, so I was on my own with some ladies from our pilgrimage group and spent a blissful few hours exploring and indulging.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cedars of Lebanon

Located at the Al Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve on the slopes of Barouk mountain, are the famous Cedars of Lebanon. The young saplings look like Christmas trees. Older ones [4000 years old or more] are the majestic tree whose model is on the flag of Lebanon. 

The nature preserve is at an elevation of some 6000 feet and the air is cool and tangy ...  refreshing. 

Amazing to think that some of the trees we walked among were young when King Solomon was building his temple.

Some of the trees have died due to a disease that has now been arrested with the help of French scientists.  Powerful sculptures have been carved into some the dead trees.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

St. Nektarios

(icon taken from:http://vatopaidi.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/ag-nektarios-agiografeio-monis-vatopaidiou1.jpg)

I am moved to write about St. Nektarios of Aegina because, a week ago, while in Aleppo, Syria, we venerated a relic of his in a women's monastery temporarily housed on the grounds of the Cathedral of Elias the Prophet.  Seeing his relic in Aleppo was as completely unexpected as the first time we heard of him during a trip to Greece.

While cruising the Greek Islands some years ago, Mr. Wonderful and I learned about the Beaufort Scale.  Essentially, when the reading on the Beaufort Scale gets high enough, you are advised not to leave port.  But even with the boat tied to the dock, the things can be rough and bouncy.  After night of rain, wind, waves and unease, we were greeted by a clear sparkling day and a complete change of destination.  Our new course took us to Aegina and to the Holy Trinity Convent.

Before his death, St. Nektarios lived as a monk at the Holy Trinity Convent on Aegina.  Now one can visit the Convent and see the small room where he lived and the book-filled study next to it.  His white marble tomb is also on the grounds of the Convent.  As with many monastic sights, while visitors are welcome proper dress is a must. Knowing that tourists are often unprepared, the nuns provide scarves and skirts for women and long trousers for men.  

November 9 [October 27 on the Julian Calendar] is the feast day of St. Nektarios (1846-1920).  He was a simple man of deep intellect and piety.  He became a bishop and after his death has become known as a healer.  He is also a composer of a beautiful non-litugical hymn called Agni Parthene [Virgin Pure, Unwedded Bride]. I have now heard it sung (to the same melody) in Greek, Serbian, Russian and Arabic.  Whatever the language, the hymn is hauntingly beautiful.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Umayyad Mosque

Locations in old Damascus that are rich in history include the site of the Umayyad Mosque, previously the Church of St. John the Baptist and prior to that a Roman temple ... this spot has been considered sacred ground of 3000 years.  A visit now has several rules:  no shoes and a rather full cover-up for women.  If you forgot your burqa, there are extras conveniently available in a dressing room near the entrance.
While just plain stone walls on the outside, the beauty of the Umayyid Mosque is breathtakingly apparent starting with the vast inner courtyard.  The marble floor shimmers like a clean shallow pond while the colorful mosaics reminded me of the Church of St. Apollinaris in Ravenna, which seems appropriate since Apollinaris was a Syrian saint.

Inside there is an enormous open space covered in carpet whose design is a repeat of small prayer rug sections, all pointing toward Mecca. This space is  important for Orthodox and other Christians since contains a small chapel-like structure holding the head of John the Baptist.  
Peaking inside the "chapel" one sees a sacophagus drapped in green silk and lit with greenish lights.  Muslims also pray at this chapel and push money through a small opening.
In addition, in a room off of the center of the mosque, there is another small structure believed to contain either the remains of Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, or of Hussein, the son of Imam Ali, who was the son-in-law of Mohammed by the latter's daughter Fatima.  Observant Muslims also pray here as push money through a side opening.
The mosque also has a famous minaret called the Jesus Minaret and, according to Muslim belief, is the spot where Jesus is to appear on the Day of Judgment.

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