The Return to Beirut
By Diane Schutz, Segment Producer
By now, you may already know – we first attempted to shoot a NO RESERVATIONS episode in Lebanon in 2006 – and wound up in the middle of a war [as my snarky friend Brian said: "Who would have thought such a thing could happen... IN BEIRUT?"]. I’m still a little bitter that we lost that Emmy to Ted Koppel, but I digress…
We’d fallen in love with the country before war struck.
We’d had two days of meeting people who were proud of their country, who wanted to share their homes and their food and their culture with us. After experiencing wartime Lebanon, we were determined to go back at some point to experience fun, happy, proud Lebanon.
Finally – May 2010 – in the week preceding the shoot, the news wasn’t all that encouraging – so-and-so stating that war between Lebanon and Israel this summer was “imminent” (I decided to share that factoid with my mother after the shoot). But we were determined to go – after all when has political turmoil stopped us before? (see: Uzbekistan, Thailand, Liberia…).
I was thrilled to return, and when we landed, I was brimming with excitement… and yet, I had this lingering feeling that history could indeed repeat itself. I felt a sense of, how could something NOT go wrong (this was a departure from my usual Polyanna MO)?
On our first shoot day, we retraced our steps from the first day of 2006: a walk with local theater producer Joe Kodeih near the site of Hariri’s assassination. Another perfectly sunny day, with a clear blue sky, just like in July 2006. And yet … I still waited for some sign of impending doom. And none came. Whew.
Just like last time, we followed the walk with a visit to the wonderful, humble restaurant Le Chef – and enjoyed the same hospitality, the same boisterous welcome by owner Charbel, the same wonderful food (It’s a happy place – I strongly suggest you make that your first stop next time you go to Beirut – and you should go).
That same day, we visited the hotel where we spent our week waiting out the war the last time – The Royal. Very, very surreal, making the drive up to Jouneih in broad daylight – the last time we drove that route it was 3am and we were convinced we were going to a “safe house” to avoid the bombing downtown. Back then, we spent many hours watching the bombing over downtown, trying to gather as much word-of-mouth intel as possible. This time? Our greatest concern was ensuring that our beers stay chilled in the Mediterranean heat. My worries finally began to dissipate.
As the week continued, we were consistently welcomed into homes, vineyards, mom and pop restaurants, a farmers’ market, Roman ruins. Over and over, people told us how thrilled they were that we were showing a positive side of the country. There’s a reason people stay, and why ex-pats keep returning year after year, despite the political turmoil. We got it.