Beirut is the first stop in my Middle Eastern gallivant. Never been here before. By late November, insha’allah, I will have added Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia to the list of countries I’ve visited. 82 down, lots to go. Exactly how many I don’t feel like counting just yet because I suspect I’m not even halfway through the tally and I don’t want to face the prospect that the passage of time is outpacing my ability to cope with the rigours of travel.

Incidentally, I have always loved the sound of Arabic and I intend to tart up my blog with whatever words and phrases I fancy. Nobody minds their language being culturally appropriated anyway, no matter what the woke folk say.

This is my old uni chum Ray Wilson, who it turns out was planning a jaunt to this neck of the woods at about the same time as me. We tweaked our respective itineraries a bit so we could do Lebanon together. Ray left Australia before I did and has already been to Jordan and, to the deep suspicion of the Israeli border authorities, the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Hebron in the occupied West Bank. Why would anyone want to go THERE as a tourist? they wanted to know. Anyway, here he is near the cafe/bar/restaurant to which we have repaired for wining, dining and fun on each of the three nights we’ve been in Beirut, which probably accounts for why I’m so late in starting my blog.

Our hotel – seen above at night – is down the end of the lane. You can just make out the Elysee sign behind Ray in the previous pic.

This is Fahdi. I blame him as well as Ray and the cafe for the late blog start. Fahdi’s one of those brilliant, larger-than-life, room-filling, boisterous opinionated characters who just draws people to him. He’s fluent in several languages, worked as a translator at the UN, studied Russian in Moscow, runs a website devoted to language trivia and comes out with the most hilarious utterances, eg. Fahdi: ‘I hate myself. I’m a self-hater. ‘ Me: ‘Don’t say that. How can you say that?’ Fahdi: ‘It’s a hobby.’

He lives at the Elysee and sharpens his considerable wit on our gentle, serious-minded host Muhaddin, seen here with one of the staff whose name I didn’t catch.

The hotel gave us a free dinner last night to make up for a minor mix-up over the bill, since sorted. The food wasn’t as good as the fare at Our Cafe, and there was no wine on offer to accompany it, but you know, a freebie’s a freebie and the best part was that Fahdi spotted us and invited himself to join us, bringing along most of a bottle of good Lebanese red which made his company even more welcome. Such fun. Especially when Fahdi found out I had a smattering of Russian and demanded I sing a Russian song. As you know, I need no encouragement and between us we got through two verses of ‘Midnight in Moscow’ – in Russian of course – at considerable volume in the excellent acoustics of the dining-room.

I’ll get back to the subject of Lebanon next post, I promise. We’ve arrived right at the peak of the protest campaign. The pic at the top shows the human chain which ended up stretching the entire 100 km or so length of the country.