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Day before the August 15th bombing we were invited to a restaurant to celebrate the Eve of St. Mary’s Day, which is one the most important Christian holidays in Lebanon. This, I learned, also serves as a sort of name day for all Marys, Maries and Marias. And Maris too.
Here we are cutting the cake. I’m kind of crashing on cousin Maria’s cake — we are cutting the first piece like a married couple. St. Mary's Day in LebanonThe restaurant was a typical outdoor-type restaurant up on the mountain. Lebanese outings usually consists of several smaller dishes served at once, along with arak (an ouzo type anise-flavored drink) and wine, followed by different barbecued meats, and desserts (typically fruit and some pastries).

St. Mary’s Day itself didn’t begin that well for me as I was again not feeling that wonderful. In fact, most of the trip I was like a walking advertisement for Pepto-Bismol — need I say more?

During the day we drove up the mountain to a church we visited last time for St. Mary’s Day as well. The Greek Orthodox churches are always very beautifully decorated and unlike the Russian orthodox, they don’t have those onion-shaped domes I grew up associating with orthodox churches.

Greek orthodox church in LebanonAfter ringing the bells (yes, kids and adults can pull on ropes to ring the bells!), we headed to a restaurant which was a beautiful open-air place up in the mountains. I even tasted something new: Frogs. They do taste and feel like chicken, not ‘froggy’ at all.

Below: Whole frogs (not legs only!) top left; Lebanese Almaza beer top right; baba ganoush and local cheese bottom left; a camouflaged crazy frog (no wait, it’s me again) bottom right. St. Mary's Day foodsThe food and the view in this restaurant were amazing.

Below: Some local olives and pickles top left; the view from our table (see the opposite mountain chain in the distance, across the valley) top right; the inside of the restaurant bottom left; hummous bottom right.Lebanese foodAfter lunch, we went to visit my father-in-law’s beautifully renovated office. It literally blew my non-existent socks away: I was expecting to see some new furniture and a bit of new paint but the entire place was transformed! Wow! It looked incredibly good!

After the office visit, we headed back up the mountain to Imad’s aunt’s house, which was where we were chomping birthday cake when we heard the sound of the explosion from Beirut. The bombing killed 20 people and injured 120, and utterly destroyed the nearby buildings, trapping many inside.St Mary's Day in LebanonNow, images such as the news photographs of the bombing are what we usually see of Lebanon; a reality that is sadly very true. Many Lebanese are surprised to hear that most people don’t know anything else about the country than the images of the shattered buildings, bloody victims and armed soldiers. The image of Lebanon still largely that of the civil war. When I write about our trip and the nice things we experienced, it sometimes feels wrong because this too is the reality of Lebanon: Beirut has areas that house extreme poverty. There are Syrian refugee women who beg on the streets along with their hardly 2-year-old children. There’s garbage. The traffic alone, combined with the heat can be almost unbearable. Yet, I didn’t take photos of any of this mostly because I think we have seen quite a lot of it. The image and the realities of Lebanon go from one extreme to the next, and somehow I just felt that putting these pictures up along with what has happening just a few kilometers away with us, shows perfectly the scarred beauty of Lebanon. Neither side is more ‘real’ than the other.

Yesterday, two new bombs exploded in the Northern city of Tripoli. It’s not quite war yet, but it’s definitely not peace either.

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