(Title is quoted from Khalil Gibran's poem Sand and Foam.)
A reproduction of "The Divine World" alongside the roads of Bcharre, "one of the Gibranean visions (1908-1914)"
The second to last adventures Morgana and I made was to Bcharre in the Qadisha valleys. Although I have not read the Bible in a long time, the reputation of the cedar trees seems to precede even the country's capital. (In Boston, I see Lebanese products that use the cedar symbol as well.) So that was my main interest in visiting the place. Morgana was also read The Prophet, so the birthplace of Khalil Gibran also interested her.
“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.”
We scheduled to meet each other in the Armenian neighborhood of Beirut to take the long distance bus. I didn't have a phone or internet access and the area had no clear meeting point. Neither of us had been here before. I was a bit agitated since we might not be in the same place and there would be no way of contacting the other. I asked a taxi driver and a policeman where the bus would be. They both pointed in the same direction. While I was walking in a different direction than what they said, just to make sure that it wasn't the right direction (gotta test things out!), Morgana called my name and I saw her. We greeted each other with much excitement. The policeman also corrected us in regards to the actual bus loading site and we went towards that way. While getting in the bus, I was a bit surprised we didn't have to buy tickets beforehand. The journey lasted for three hours. The driver played some music by Fairuz played in between. Many people came and left the bus. We ate Manaooshes I bought from the Hamra bakery (furon). The road was very dangerous and windy. The architecture was exclusively Christian. It is so hard to believe that this area is closer to Tripoli geographically than it is to Beirut. I became concerned as we pass through the fog and small towns since this was not my familiar terrain. Luckily Morgana knew; she was more worried about the driving since she survived an accident ion a similar windy mountain road. I was a bit dizzy when we left the bus but I didn't know it would get worse later on.
I bought some yogurt once we arrived in Bcharre. The store owner, a woman with glasses, who looked around 38 years old, was discussing about a piece of paper. It took her some time to come attend to us. Later she said apologetically she had just got married. I realized the paper was probably the marriage certificate and I congratulated her. "Mubarak." (Not sure if it was the right Arabic word) There was another wedding ceremony going on in the village as well, with much loud and joyous music. We were even eager to join the party but the specific location was less public than the music. We walked uphill to find our hostel where we made a reservation for the night. Morgana wisely took more breaks than I did. In the mean time we also stopped at a beautiful cathedral to take photos. I finished some salad given to me by Bayt Haleb when I bought Knafeh.
The hostel check in experience was quite odd. The female head of the household was not sure which reservation we had and later asked for our passports and information in quite a brusque manner. We were more than happy to leave the place to explore.
After we dropped our stuff at the hostel, Morgana and I went to a cute cafe: Morgana wanted eat some proper food. (In this area and perhaps beyond people served almonds and a special kind of nuts as appetizers). I was not hungry and just had cappuccino.
There were also some tourists from Beijing at the cafe. It was the one and only time I heard Chinese people speak in Chinese during my one month in Lebanon. But since it was customary to ignore one another, we did not greet. The view was amazing and we took turns taking photos. I exclaimed that I never have been to a mountainous area that had such wealth. It doesn't seem that the young people leave for the cities either. There's a lot of social activity and they are caught up with the, latest trends. Morgana also said that the stones used here are quite expensive.
We rushed to the Gibran museum because we were worried it might close. We were so surprised that it was high up in the mountains. I double checked with a man who was sitting at the gas station whether it was uphill or not. He seemed quite entertained that these two foreigners were going to go all the way up.
We had one hour and successfully toured the museum in due time. Most of the rooms displayed Gibran's paintings that engaged with deep and heavy themes. Both Morgana and I loved the paintings, which we did not know about before hand. He also drew portraits of his friends and acquaintances, which included Tagore and Carl Jung. I could see a lot of connections with psychoanalysis in his paintings. I would never have thought he would be from such a quaint and simple town given his engagement with rather dark and moody themes. The guide of the museum said it much better than I did: some men were born in caves but have minds of castles. It is quite interesting to think about how he bolsters or prevents the construction of a uniform Lebanese identity.
Gibran never lived at the site of the museum but he was buried here. His family members fulfilled his wishes despite initial difficulties from the religious order that owned the property. We spent some contemplative time in the thoughtful grave room that almost resembles a religious site for communion. Gibran's quote was also written in prominence in Arabic, French and English. Other Lebanese visitors were less inclined to be close to the dead.
Just before we left the museum, it dawned on me that I was suffering from high altitude sickness. I was nauseous and couldn't walk fast. I regretted drinking coffee. I sat for some time and ate almonds offered to me by one lady who socialized in the museum. Morgana, who has lived in the highest city in the world (El Pasco) and thus had no problems at 1500 meters, took care of me for the rest of the day. We walked arm in arm to a nice restaurant by the waterfall and ate some mezzes (snack dishes) for dinner. We discussed some of the friend group competition we experience as ambitious young people.
While walking back to the hotel, we passed through a lot of people who were also having dinner. It was so odd to be so close to people's houses. One young man even said hello from the inside of his house.
When we got back to the town center, were lucky enough to see the wedding fireworks shoot up in the sky amidst the old towny buildings. I made a nice video unexpectedly. While we were in awe of the fireworks, someone drove past us and shouted: "Bcharre! You welcome!" It took me a minute to realize he was saying you are welcome to Bcharre. It was a nice sentiment with some surprise. Looking back, we probably would have missed it if I wasn't slowed down by the high altitude sickness.
here are two short videos I made of the fireworks
We memorized some Arabic verbs and went to sleep. Luckily we were the only two in the room. Unluckily, in between 3am and 8am, the insomniac who also stayed at the hostel went in and out of our rooms just to talk a walk. The female householder also chain smoked throughout the night. But our spirits were still high when we set out for the cedars the next day.
To be continued...