I haven’t written about my trip to Lebanon in June. (What a year — that I could have whole trips I haven’t yet had time to reflect on. I continue to be ridiculously grateful). I could tell about so many things : the Jerusalem – Beirut journey that is 141 miles as the crow flies, but took me nine hours, required a second passport and wasn’t easy to discuss with my Israeli friends. The strange clash of decadence and high fashion (“babes from Beirut”) and bombed out buildings. The mystery of why no Beiruti taxi drivers have a clue where they are going. Impressive ruins, an amazing museum, fabulous wine.
But what stands out in my memory is walking around the gigantic archeological park in Tyre, taking pictures of snails, lizards and flowers.
Tourism seems to be way down in Lebanon, and parts of the country are not really ready (or not still set up?) for prime time. So these ruins in Tyre had only minimal explanations. We bought a guidebook that committed the opposite error: too much incremental detail about every civilization to pass through Tyre (and there have been a lot). So while my family members puzzled over the book and wondered about the historical purpose of all the rocks, I took my opportunity to just go for a walk.
I don’t want to sound anti-intellectual. I love history. But on this day, what moved me was climbing over and onto and even into rock formations. It’s fun to have total physical access to antiquity. Old tombs were piled high, and a riot of grasses and wildflowers bloomed in and around them: new life from old.
And there are even tiny snails clinging to the rock face in these gargantuan ruins, built to impress. I kept thinking of Annie Dillard: It is that simple. What you see is what you get.