45 kilometers south of my hometown, Beirut, is an ancient city, a city born 2800 years before Christ, the first of the great Phoenician’s array of proud cities, the older sister of Byblos, Arwad and Tripoli. It is a sunny, sea-side city, almost 500 years old, youthful and vibrant, radiating with history, pride and a love for life with every breath and beat of heart. A city where the old souks are paved with worn out cobble stone and a six year old boy runs down the middle of the narrow street, gleefully splashing from puddle to puddle and swirling a bright ready cherry lollipop on his lips. Behind the chipped wood store entrance four teenage boys, jeans hanging loosely at their hips and hair slick with gel, play online games and compare smart phone apps.
The salty Mediterranean air brushes against your skin, warm with the bright December sun, and carries with it the sweet smells from a few meters down the souk. An old man, proud and humble, smiles the widest toothless smile you have ever seen, and he welcomes you heartily into his shop, traditional pastries and sweets displayed deliciously outside for all to stare with a watering mouth, before deciding to ditch their diet and try these gorgeous treats, dripping with sugary syrup. He prepares your order, the smile never leaving his lips, and he does not stop talking. In those two minutes it takes to prepare your order, he has already told you ten stories, and with your order securely in a brand less, plain paper bag, he reaches into a small drawer and pulls out a stack of old pictures and he shows them to you, pictures with faded colors and tattered edges, pictures of him, his wide smile unmistakable, with local celebrities and pseudo-celebrities. He invites you to have a bite at his restaurant, two plastic tables and four straw chairs, but he still calls it a restaurant. You politely say you wish but you have to go, but he insists, and his argument “how could you say no when Faten Hamama is on TV,” and he points to the tiny screen behind you. 15 inches, broken antenna, blurred black and white screen and an Egyptian classic playing on mute.
Saida… Sidon, named for the son of Canaan, the grandson of Noah, a city inhabited since early in prehistory, praised by Homer for the skill of its craftsmen and women and in it, Hellenistic games were held, attracting and welcoming the greatest athletes to participate.
It is only 45 kilometers away, a 30 minute drive in traffic, sometimes the most beautiful adventures are just around the corner.
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