The Curtain Maker of Beirut: Conversations with the Lebanese

Extract from The Curtain Maker of Beirut: Conversations with the Lebanese
Chapter Two
A Walk in the Qadisha Valley
Northern Lebanon

I sit on a ledge of rock beside a fast-flowing stream, on the cusp of darkness and light, watching the place where the tree shadows end. The sound of rushing water fills my head. Above the torrent, clusters of leaves shine lemon yellow and sap green in the pure light.

Deirdre's haversack lies a few feet away: she is exploring by herself and will come back for me soon. We are down on the floor of the Qadisha gorge, somewhere between the Maronite Christian monasteries of Mar Elisha and Deer as Salib. Behind the trees, a dark pink cliff rises a thousand metres into the sky.
I reach for Deirdre's bag and pull out the bottle of water she has carried from our hotel in Becharre. For me it's too hot to walk much further and my belly is aching down in the pit, alarming me. I lean back, resting against warm stone. Inches away, a grey-green lizard stops, quivers, listens. The water races on. I hear footsteps from the left; but no-one comes.
At half past twelve Deirdre re-appears.
"I've found a better place for you to sit," she says, "Just a bit further on." She holds out her hand and pulls me to my feet.

We sling our bags over our shoulders and climb back up to the wide track that runs along this side of the valley. For the first few hundred metres it is over-hung by trees and we walk steadily, our sticks tapping softly on the dry earth. Then the track climbs up and swings round, leaving the river-bed far below. The trees thin out, the earth turns to sand, young shrubs and thistles grow on the verges and the air vibrates with the humming of crickets. The full heat of the sun confronts us.
"Not far now," Deirdre promises. "You'll like it when we get there. And I'll go on for a while, see if I can find Qanoubian." She walks beside me without a hat, her fair curls lifting and dropping on the back of her neck. Her arms are turning a gingery brown.

I pull the brim of my hat over my eyes and walk slowly. In the distance a couple of old cars are parked across the track. On the far side of the valley, perched above the river, I see the square stone forms of ancient buildings. As we pass the cars, we hear voices. The track dips down and there, ahead of us, is a large Coca-Cola sign fixed to the wall of a little house. Beside it, I read the words "Restaurant Abu Josef". A group of children watch three men who stoop over shovels, digging a trench at the side of the house. A woman sits at a table in the shade, preparing food. The men straighten up as we appear.
"Itfaddalu!" they cry, Welcome! pointing to the flat roof of the house which is crowded with tables and chairs under a cloth awning. I wave to Deirdre and stagger up the outside steps.

I choose a table in the shade, enjoying the slight breeze that rises from the river. The leaves of a grape vine trail from the metal frame that supports the awning, making patterns of light and dark on the concrete parapet. The other tables are deserted apart from a couple who are getting up to go. The man has an expensive-looking camera and I guess they are French. We greet each other and I add, stating the obvious,
"Il fait chaud, hein?" Pilgrims, I wonder, or just casual tourists?
"Bof, pas tellement," the man brushes away my remark. This heat is nothing to a Frenchman. He strides to the edge of the roof, screws up his eyes and focusses the camera.

The Curtain Maker of Beirut: Conversations with the Lebanese

firefox Format: paperback
Publisher: Berkshire Academic Press
Publication date: January 2011
Category: travel / politics