Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Published in Time Out London an Time Out Mumbai

This is an extended version of the piece I wrote for Time Out London that is in the London edition this week and also in Time Out Mumbai. I wrote this last Thursday. Holding tight here.

On Wednesday evening I was out at the opening of Beirut’s latest trendy rooftop nightclub. Sky Bar, a sort of Miami beach/Fashion TV club next to the Beirut port filled with the beautiful people of Lebanon, rocking as the champagne flowed and women in the latest Italian fashions were seeing and being seen.
At the bar I, as half British half Lebanese commentator living in Beirut, was being interviewed by celebrity New York chef Anthony Bourdain who was in Lebanon filming his massively popular Discovery Channel TV show ‘No Reservations’. We talked about the resilience of a nation that will not give in to any foreign power attacking or occupying its territory, that constantly rebuilds itself and that had now in 2006 had come through the darkest of years to emerge as a capital city of culture and life, art and history, style and East-meets-West panache.
A Time Out city in fact. A city laying down its mark as a destination of cool.
It was just another night in the hedonistic, eclectic and cultured scene that is the Lebanese capital.
As Israeli fighter jets began to circle the city the beautiful people ignored it. The eternal Beiruti attitude, honed during years of brutal Civil War, prevailed: if we don’t know whether we will be here tomorrow we sure as hell will live for today.
On Thursday morning I awoke to the news that Beirut International Airport had been bombed by the Israeli airforce and Israeli gunboats were patrolling Lebanese seas blocking off all sea and air routes in and out of the country in response to a kidnapping by the militant political party Hezbollah on the border to the south.
In the words of Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lt-Gen Dan Halutz Israel would ‘turn back the clock in Lebanon by 20 years’ and sure enough Halutz was true to his words.
The mood in the city on Thursday was tense. People were fleeing to the mountains in fear of more Israeli attacks. Hundreds of tourists from the Gulf countries and the West who were here to celebrate another legendary summer with international concerts and DJs took to the Damascus Road heading for Syria, the only way still to get out of the country. By 6pm Thursday evening that route was also closed as Israeli fighter jets bombed the Bekaa Valley and the highway to Syria.
The bars and clubs were quiet but they weren’t wholly empty Thursday night. One club - The Basement - sent its usual SMS flyers out reading: ‘Boom Selecta! Minimal Dancing is still on tonight with DJ Jade. Free drinks till 11pm. It’s safer underground.’
The feel was of a calm before the storm. An escalation like this has not been seen in years but even tonight the hardcore partiers refused to be closed down. The city would continue.
Four months ago we launched Time Out Beirut and since we began there has not been a disappointed reader in sight. Giving the people of the capital an intelligent and witty guide to their city, encouraging local talent and creating innovative magazine content we have gone from an 80 page publication in April to 116 pages in July and our August issue was set to break boundaries with hard hitting celebrity interviews, an insight into Beirut culture and the all the ways to get the best out of the city during the hottest month of the year.
Today the people of Beirut feel like their Time Out London brethren, the citizens of the Big Smoke on that fateful day, 7/7/2005, when confronted with unconscionable actions of terror.
As the people of London refused to bow to terror then, the people of Beirut refuse to bow to terror today. As the people of Mumbai, another Time Out city refuse to bow terror, the people of Beirut refuse to bow to terror. And Time Out Beirut like the people it represents will refuse to bow to terror.
Our August issue will be titled simply ‘Beirut, Our City’ featuring the people - the artists, writers, musicians, actors, architects, curators who make this city what it is, who give it the edge and make it the only Middle East capital to be in.
Beirutis will never give up. Neither will Time Out.

Ramsay Short is Editor of Time Out Beirut

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