Bourdain’s famous restaurant, Les Halles, is 2 blocks from my family’s house in NYC. So I’ve always kept an eye on his rising career as an author and on TV. Bourdain was in Beirut when the most recent fighting broke out and wrote about his experience in Salon.com.
We walked along the road leading to a cordoned-off area by the St. George Hotel, where Bardot, Monroe and Kim Philby had once played — back when Beirut was called the “Paris of the Orient” without a hint of irony. The buildings in the area were still in ruins, a roof torn off, the old hotel — under construction when the targeted blast that killed Hariri occurred — still empty. The Phoenician, across the street, which had also been destroyed, had recently been completely rebuilt. A modern hotel like any other, but they were proud of that too. Because, like Beirut, it was still there. It was back.
Then, in the blink of an eye, everything went sideways: Relaxed smiles froze and disappeared. Suddenly, there was the sound of automatic weapons firing randomly in the air from a nearby neighborhood. And fireworks. Then cars — a few of them — teenage kids, women and adults, some leaning out the windows and waving Hezbollah flags and flashing the “V” for victory sign, celebrating what we were told, after a few quick cellphone calls, was the grabbing of two Israeli soldiers. Our fixer, a Sunni; Ali, a Shiite; and “Marwan,” a Christian, who’d just minutes ago been pointing proudly at the mural — all three looked down in embarrassment, a look of sorrow, shame and then resignation on their faces. Someone muttered “assholes” bitterly. They knew — right away — what was going to happen next.