Sunday, December 12, 2010

It was a dark and stormy night. And day.

It wasn’t until I left that I could describe completely how I had felt in Tripoli. Three letters. S-A-D. I walked its ancient streets and ran down the list of people who had lived here. Phoenicians. Seleucids. Romans. Byzantines. Ummayads. Abbasids. Fatimids. Crusaders. Mamluks. Ottomans. Temples became churches became mosques, each built on top of what was already there, making for some interesting architecture. The city was truly a gem in times past.

Now it’s a cool, cruel wreck of a city. Not that it hasn’t been wrecked before. It was pretty much wrecked by each one of those peoples when they sacked it. The worst was probably when the Mamluk sultan Qalaun massacred most of the population and razed the old town in 1289. He rebuilt it and much of the old city is covered with the black and white style of Mamluk architecture. Some of it is in marvelous condition for being seven hundred years old, likely thanks to the Ottomans, who had a healthy respect for building maintenance when they weren't destroying churches. The Ottomans were big into recycling buildings, turning churches they liked into mosques, schools into mosques, castles into mosques, mosques into mosques...

These kind of sieges feel like they are made for history books and blockbuster Hollywood movies, but they are real, and they continue. Though Tripoli didn’t see as much damage as South Lebanon during the civil war, they were still trying to slaughter each other up there, and the city was wrecked again as late as 2007 when Fatah al-Islam briefly took over the city before the Lebanese Armed Forces fought them back to the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr el Bared just 16 km from the city center. At that time the apartment of one of the taxi drivers I rode with was blown up by a jihadi bastard who is rotting in hell with the rest of the suicide bombers these and the rest of days.

Stupid War. So sad. Tripoli could be a beautiful town, but it probably never will be, because I'm quite certain that thousands of years of being under siege is not over. Someone else will come in and be possessed by the sea or whatever it is that makes people in this part of the world crazy. They'll come in and destroy the new high rises and cafes and restaurants that are popping up everywhere. They'll destroy the orange trees and lemon trees and palm trees that line the city streets and are found as commonly as a maple tree in an Ohio yard. They'll destroy the odd sense of calm that one finds in Tripoli after being in the cosmopolitan insanity of Beirut.

It poured. It poured the entire sea into the streets, creating rapid rivers with pavement for beds. We drove over a bridge with a foot of water on it and I wondered how long before the bridge collapsed and all of the cars with their stupid drivers who created a monstrosity of a traffic jam with their self-centered vehicular navigation plunged onto the concrete below. As the car moved slowly along the seaside through half a foot of water, the Mediterranean swells tossed a fish into the air and onto the walkway where feet would travel on a sunny day. I couldn't help but laugh at the sight of the silvery fish flapping around like a deranged bird. The storm seemed to travel in circles, pouring, brightening, pouring, brightening, dripping, flooding, flash, flash, boom.

I'll have to go back when the sun is shining and my shoes aren't soaking wet. I have a video of photos but don't have a fast enough internet connection to upload it.

No comments:

Post a Comment