(My Middle East)

77 days with a journalist, Lebanon, and a list of non sequiturs

Posts Tagged ‘Beirut

There will be bagels. In Beirut?

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This, is a bagel

This, is a bagel

There are bagels in Beirut. Well just a few of them. By my calculation just over 100 a day.

I got assigned to do this story about a new bagel shop in Beirut. A run of the mill sort of quick story, and not one I’m particularly proud of (slash I’m hesitant to even link it). But while researching bagel shops in Beirut I found they are a bit of a rarity here. Theres actually a fascinating story of how before the Civil War there used to be lots of bagels in Beirut that were made by the Jewish population. The Civil War starts the Jews leave and so do the bagels. What bagels are left, according to Robert Fisk in his book Pity the Nation, are poor quality. And what I found was that is still the case today. The bagels are either very bread like, or hard as a brick. I also found, slightly surprisingly, that many people here were not aware of the Jewish Bagel connection. And those that are, are hesitant to talk about it.

Unfortunately I was on deadline and couldn’t find any sources on this for the article (I was told calling up a Jewish person and asking them how the bagels are is offensive). So it had to go without mention in the story. But maybe one day I will write a heart wrenching 2000 word feature on Bagels in Beirut in some trendy magazine. (Maybe erinn connor will write it and make people cry)

Some more info on each bagel shop:

Tribeca: Decent place to go and study or read a newspaper, quiet atmosphere. Try the fresh apple juice. A little pricey

Bread Circle: Its like a bagel shop in a phone booth. This place is TINY. But go in and sit down and eat, its cramped quarters but its makes for a great place to meet people, especially the owner Carla. Ask for the fresh watermelon juice.

Euro Deli: One of the top hang-out spots on Bliss street for western locals, students, and tourists. The “specials” are pretty decent prices and the free wireless is clutch when traveling.

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Written by stephenddockery

June 15, 2009 at 7:40 pm

Samir Kassir award & election time

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Here is the Samir Kassir award story I was talking about yesterday. Not a whole lot, more fun to cover really. It ran at the top of page 3. Some background:

St George Hotel, Beirut

St George Hotel, Beirut

The bombed out St George hotel that I reference in my story was destroyed by the bomb that killed Rafik Hariri, another anti-Syrian occupation figure.

In other news, I started working on a story about the students who are volunteering to observe the elections. I’m not sure if it will happen, but we will see.

Also, the newspaper is planning to cover the elections. Things are going to be spread pretty thin, theres a lot to cover for a small staff. I think I will be taking photos and doing reporting, I’m not sure in what district yet though.

I had to give my two head shots to the secretary to get my election press pass, but then she needed one more for my Daily Star press pass. Seeing as I didn’t have another I had to give her my American University of Cairo student ID to scan from last summer… when I had a beard. So it looks nothing like me now. I’m just hoping it will give me some pull when I go for my Hezbollah interviews…

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June 3, 2009 at 4:04 pm

So much journalism!

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Full of  journalism today: My story on Sawt Ashabab, the youth media outlet ran today in the paper. Page 3, Lebanon section in the upper right.

University students launch independent media outlet

Sawt Ashababs logo

Sawt Ashabab's logo

BEIRUT: Around 100 students from eight universities in Lebanon are coming together to create an independent youth media outlet just seven days before the parliamentary elections….[the rest]

Unfortunately the copy desk put in 1 error. The paper will be published once, on Thursday. Not once per week, on Thursday. Oh well.

More news on the journalism front I covered the Samir Kassir award for free speech today at the Phonecia Intercontinental Hotel. The Phonecia is the 6 star hotel in Beirut, it has  marble stair cases, royal sitting areas and amazing service.

Samir Kassirs funeral

Samir Kassir's funeral

Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian journalism won for best Opinion article and Carole Kerbage, a Lebanese journalist won for best investigative report.

The award was in honor of Samir Kassir who was assassinated in 2005. Kassir was a liberal intellectual and journalist and strong proponent of Lebanese democracy, without Western interference . His killing was one of many assassinations of opponents of the Syrian occupation in Lebanon. You can read more about Kassir on his foundations website. And I’ll post my story tomorrow, when it will be in the newspaper.

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June 2, 2009 at 6:36 pm

Whats on a Ray’s hot dog?

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Franks Hot Dog

So on my way home from work today I stopped off at a road side stand called Rays Hot Dogs, theres a few of them all over Beirut. I figured it would be worth a shot. I ordered the “Special Hot Dog.” Heres the steps that go into preparing Ray’s special dog.

1) A choice of pork or beef (religious compromise at its best)

2) Pop open a jar, yes jar, of hot dogs. I guess these are pickled? and only need to be warmed. The hot dog is then placed on those hot rollers, the kind you see at 7-11

3) Remove bun from bun warmer

4) Spoon on a layer of yellow corn into the bun

5) Sprinkle corn with small potato chip slivers

6) Add small pickle slivers

7) Dress pickles, chips and corn with mustard and ketchup

8 ) Remove hot dog from rollers and place on bed of pickles chips corn mustard and ketchup

9) Dress hot dog (again) with mayonnaise mustard and ketchup

The end result is pretty delicious, and impressive.I wouldn’t have believed you could have cramed that much into one bun.

Needless to say this may be one of those Beirut treats that I only have once. (Like the Tawouk which included mayonnaise French fries chicken and ketchup in a wrap)

Anyways I took the long way home from work today and walked by the Gran Serail, the roman bath house, the shot up (literally) 50 or so floor vacant Holiday Inn. The abandoned Synagogue (complete with star of david), Saad Hariri’s house, more roman ruins, The Ministry of Information and Hamra Street. It takes about 10 minutes longer but is much more scenic and has a lot fewer cars.

Also, I have a story showing up in the paper tomorrow about Sawt Ashabab (Youth Voice) a new organization ran by students targeted at young people that will be distributed in the 2 big daily newspapers, An-Nahar and Al-Akhbar, before the elections. It was a fun story to do and might get decent play in tomorrows paper.

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May 31, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Got my first story

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Lets go!*

I went into work today and first thing got an assignment to cover a lecture at AUB. The lecture was at 4 and it was already 2:30 so I had to quickly finish my job of pulling together the wire stories for the specialty page (which was on women).

Right as I was about to leave, the power went out (which, I should note, is not that unusual a thing in Lebanon, the power grid is apparently very old and overworked so the power goes out almost everyday, sometimes for as much as 3 hours). But for a newspaper, to have the power go out regularly has to be impossible. I’m sure they must have a generator , but one didn’t come on today and the news staff started off talking about which pages they would cut.

Power in Beirut is something to look into and I’m sure would be a fascinating enterprise piece. From the structural inadequacies of the system to the corruption that leeches off of it (as it does in about everything in government in Lebanon, or so I’m told), it would make for something big story wise.

Anyways I caught a service to AUB (blog post forthcoming on taxis in Beirut) and covered the business lecture.  Nothing wild, but pretty good getting a by-line on the second day of the job.

I finished up the evening hanging out in the blb cafe, drinking an almaza and writing my story, and the watching the Champions league match.

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May 27, 2009 at 7:16 pm

1st day at the The Daily Star

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Today was my first day at work and as expected and despite apprehension, it was decidedly anti-climactic. I was fortunately surprised to find a kind taxi driver (or ‘servíce‘ because we picked up other passengers) who didn’t try and hustle me for money, and I got to The Daily Star on time.

Offices at The Daily Star (not my picture)

Offices at The Daily Star (not my picture)

The Daily Star itself was almost exactly what I had expected. The offices are slightly dark and run down and maybe a little cramped, but the news room had a great atmosphere and was full of activity. In particular there was Osama, an older man who spoke English French and Arabic who has an interesting sense of humor and looked to be in charge of the news room or something close to that.

After getting a brief tour, I was introduced to Mirella Hodeib who I will be working for for the time being. Mirella is in charge of the themed page, page 6, which runs AP briefs on a different topic each day. Tomorrow’s is science and technology, so I scavenged an aggregator called manslink, which pulled together the latest news wire stories based on search word. After 3 hours I pulled together 5-6 stories for tomorrows page, which included: the largest ever international space station, a 4 million year old sloth found and something about genetics hair-loss and mice. Not exactly thrilling, but its work, and I get the feeling that things will get more exciting as I go on. And hey it’s just the first day. Mirella told me tomorrow I might get a story for the business section which could be good.

I wrote this from a cafe called Spoon right across from The Daily Star. Spoon serves American and Italian cuisine like most of the cafes in Gemayze. Theres much more French spoken over here as well. So today I eat a turkey sandwich and a basket of fries (hows that for middle eastern food?). I’m still trying to figure out the food, but I’ve found in general its difficult to eat really cheap, 12.50 for a turkey sandwich, fries and a coke is pretty much the same as american prices. I’m going to have to start trying more restaurants in Hamra to compare, and find something economical.

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May 26, 2009 at 5:25 pm

So much to ignore

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It’s easy to get distracted by whats flashy in Beirut, the fast expensive cars, the attractive women, the French and English speaking ‘cosmopolitans’. More than that, its easy to surround yourself in it, in whats familiar and appealing. I found myself doing it on the first days I was here. I would associate with friends in the city and friends of friends, who were mostly English speaking and affluent, I rarely used Arabic.

With so many different types of people crammed into such a small space, I figured it would be impossible to isolate yourself to whats going on next to you. But it seems as if, thats part of ‘the problem*’, how easy it is to tune out the different ethnicities, languages, and social classes. In Nicholas Blandford’s book Killing Mr Lebanon (which I highly recommend for trying to understand the current political situation in Lebanon) he quotes a Lebanese official on how it was Rafik Hariri’s death and accompanying political rally that brought people to the streets out of all areas of Beirut ,even the French speaking Achrafieh. If it takes the death of one of, if not the largest players in Lebanon to get people to cross the street, think of the social misunderstanding and miscommunication that can occur on a regular basis. I feel if I write more I will make some absurd platitude with no basis, so I will stop there for now.

On the subject of conflict, on a walking tour with an AUB medical school student Ranni, I spoke with him about the nature of the divided city and what the fault lines are in the city. He seems to think it is now as much a social class disparity rather just specifically a religious one, which seems to mesh with what I’m reading.How that plays with the March 14 Sunni, Druze, Christian Alliance and the March 8th Shiite Christian alliance I’m still figuring out.

Until next time

*and by the problem, I don’t mean I’m here as an emissary of righteousnesses, looking to diagnose and heal this state in my two months here. This is just the musings of a journalist trying to understand … and looking for a job.

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May 24, 2009 at 7:32 pm