Strange dream last night. I was in a cathedral in Lebanon somewhere. There was a mighty throng present and I was standing at the back in front of the great door. Suddenly it was flung open and I was blinded by the light, out of which a familiar rich voice said, “Excuse me Richard”, and there in full mitre and cope was Simon Hill, our erstwhile incumbent at Cockfield. Today he is priest at Chevington, but who knows what this dream may presage? ……’and some have greatness thrust upon them’!
Woken around 4.00 by the call of the muezzin, beautiful and haunting it nevertheless felt at that time of night like the revenge of Islam for the crusader conquest of Beirut in 1187. ‘Oh Sunni , how I love you, how I love you, my dear old Sunni.’ But of course it could be Shia, Druze, Alawite, etc. As this is a multi-faith and multi- sect city.
An interesting shower which flooded the whole bathroom and soaked my pyjamas which I had foolishly left on the floor. The water has persisted and so we paddle in and out and have to go naked from the waist down if we want to use the loo. In Africa thus would be described as ‘a challenge’!
Great breakfast with delicious olives and cheese. Coffee and croissants and a type of small pizza with sesame seeds and herbs called zaarta I think.
Then we walked to the Near East School of Theology, about 20 minutes away for a couple of fascinating lectures. The first was on the growth and development of the Christian church in the East. This was a 4 month course brilliantly reduced to a 40 minute talk. I won’t go into it all here, but believe me when I say it is incredibly complicated – one could say Byzantine (which would be partly true in one sense and completely true in another!). We were glad of coffee and some wonderful cakes called Kaiks which were delicious. Then it was back in for a second talk by Peter Ford, an American and also a leading expert on Christian/Muslim relations. From the meeting of Christians with Mohammed in 630 he brought us via the Crusades and the Ottomans to the present day and some hopeful signs.
The group then divided and 5 of us yomped off to see the Pigeon Rocks, a couple of limestone sea stacks with an arch punched through one of them.
The sea looked very inviting, but alas inaccessible. Instead we took solace in a very expensive cafe overlooking the rocks where we enjoyed ice cold lemonade with mint and some ‘Saj’, which we think means snacks. However time was running out ax we had to be back at the hotel by 1.00 to leave by 1.30. We were already late when we set off. I never like retracing steps so had found another route, but unfortunately we had to drop down and then back up again and we got lost. Bloody Geographers! Anyway we eventually made it back at 1.30 on the dot.
We then headed to Sidon, which is a beautiful harbour with a Crusader Castle in the middle of it, it’s beauty only spoils by the large scrap metal yard and quayside just along side it. The castle was partly ruined, but one of the main keeps still stood and was a magnificent construction.
Then we entered the Souk – a warren of alleyways and shops from about the C13th. We bought Turkish Delight having been tempted to taste some that was made in the shop. At the end of the souk was a Museum of Soap Making or Saponification. This was a beautiful old stone factory now turned into a superb museum taking you through the whole process. It is not made there now, but the gift shop stocked soap made locally. I’ll come clean, we spent more money in there.
Back through the souk and we were out on the coast again, but a sharp turn to our right brought us into the Franks Caravanserais, a large quadrangle on two levels. On the ground floor the camel trains would unload their goods and merchants would sell their wares. Off to one side the camels would be stabled for the night. Up above were the merchants’ quarters. It was well preserved and beautiful in the late afternoon light.
Too late now to go to Betteidin, the C19th Ottoman Palac, but apparently it can be squeezed in tomorrow as long as we leave by 8.30, which of course we will. Instead we headed up into the Chouf mountains to a village where reputedly Mary waited in a cave for her son Jesus while he visited Sidon. There is an enormous Catholic Basilica, and a small chapel, heavy with icons in a cave below it.
A massive statue of Mary holding Jesus stands to one side overlooking the whole of Sidon and the mountains behind. Huw and I went up and were rewarded with staggering views over the town and a valley up into the Chouf. On returning to the bus I found Christine splayed out on the backseat, being attended by other members of the group. She had fallen over and grazed her knee, poor thing. A pair of trousers ruined, a deep gash in her flesh and some loss of dignity, but nothing worse thank goodness. We are now taking it in turns to fall in a variety of countries around the world. We shall be publishing a guidebook, ‘Countries we have fallen for’, …..probably be a Rough Guide!
We headed back to Beirut along the coast road catching the sun sinking beautifully into the Med. as we passed by.
Our shower has been repaired in our absence – not completely, but a fair attempt. Dinner was delicious, but Mother Agnes , a nun from Syria who was coming to speak to us, did not arrive. So we are now tucked up in bed and ready for sleep. Tomorrow is another busy day!