What’s Going On In… Beirut, Lebanon

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Photo by Charles Roffey.

Situated on a peninsula extending into the Eastern Mediterranean in a series of scenic cliffs and sandy beaches with mountains rising to the east, Beirut has been tucked away for 5,000 years and often called “the Paris of the Middle East.” Since the end of civil war, Beirut has recreated itself as a diverse and vibrant urban center bursting with creative pursuits, evolving ideals, and endless open-air cafés at which to discuss them.


Mike Massy is an indie sensation in his native Beirut, and gaining international recognition. Trained in classical piano, traditional oriental and Arabic vocal arts, drama, dance, and Arabic opera, audiences at his live shows can never quite anticipate what he will do next. Watch the music video for award-winning “Khalasna Ba’a,” here, with English subtitles.

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The Lebanese Rocket Society is the newest film by adored festival-circuit duo Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige. This documentary revives the all-but-forgotten story of a group of students, scientists, and military professionals who, in the early 1960s, caught space-race fever and decided to launch a rocket from the hills outside of Beirut. Check out the trailer here.


Alexandra Chreiteh’s 2012 debut novel Always Coca-Cola, translated by Michelle Hartman, employs unflinching realism to bounce between the everyday comical absurdities, small triumphs, and range of tragedies in the lives of three 20-something women navigating modern-day Beirut. In contrast to common themes of sectarian violence and war explored by many contemporary Lebanese novels, Chreiteh delves into the conflicting ideals of femininity offered by Beirut’s commercial globalization, with its abundance of scantily-clad billboard models, and traditional conservatism, and the resulting chaos of what it means to be a Lebanese woman. Read a review with excerpts here.


Manouche, a type of fresh and healthy Lebanese pizza often eaten for breakfast, is common street fare in Beirut. It consists of a thin flatbread base layered with za’atar (a common Middle Eastern spice mix of roasted sesame, sumac, thyme, oregano and coarse salt), fresh mint, and veggies, and sometimes topped with labneh, a mouth-watering salty soft cheese spread. Check out recipes for each snack here and here.


A maze of old narrow streets with historic French-style architecture, Gemmayze mixes residential, restaurants and cafés, pubs and dive bars, and art galleries in the city’s bohemian arts district. L’Escalier de Saint-Nicolas is Gemmayze’s famous 500-meter, 125-step public stairway, where a huge outdoor arts festival is held each year.

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