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Beirut is mad! It is thoroughly insane. And that is not an insult. The inhabitants of this Middle Eastern metropolis are proud of their own lunacy. They wear it as a coat-of-arms, as their identity.
"Do you like Beirut?"
"Yes. But it is mad," you reply.
"Yes!!!" They grin at you with delight. It means, you understand, and you are part of them.
My life has been connected to this city for exactly five years. I don't live here always, but at least for a substantial amount of time. Like everyone who resides here, I love Beirut, and I hate it, too. Passionately, how else? I feel intrigued by it, insulted and outraged by it, sometimes enamored, often disgusted.
Of course, Beirut does not give a damn what I feel, what we feel, what anyone feels. It is above all us all, selfish, capricious, outrageous. It suffers from a maddening complex of superiority. It is convinced that it is "Paris of the Middle East" (or perhaps that Paris is the "Beirut of Europe") and the only city in the region which at least has some brain, style and talent.
It had been invaded, bombed to the ground, battered by wars and conflicts; it had been divided by religions, overwhelmed by immigrants; it collapsed economically and socially, got into unserviceable debt, periodically covered itself with garbage as if it was a duvet, screwed its people by electricity and water shortages, paralyzed its streets with traffic jams, and yet, yet it is still standing here, confident and some would say arrogant, but standing with confidence and beauty, never defeated and always proud. Yes, even when on its knees proud.
Beirut is like no other city in the Middle East. Like no other city in the world. This is no criticism and no compliment; it is simply a fact.
So, let me try to define this incredible place. Let me pay a tribute to its madness.
Apart from the Gulf countries and Indonesia, I don't know of any other place on earth which is so religiously capitalist, selfish, obsessed with profits and wealth-flashing.
The pretentiousness of Beirut is so extreme that it can even somehow not be taken seriously: it appears grotesque and surreal. Here, some miserable slums can be found rubbing shoulders with Achrafieh or Verdun, neighborhoods so affluent that they put many centers of the European capitals to shame.
In Beirut, a dinner that would cost 14 euros in Paris sells for 50 dollars, while a Lacoste polo can easily set you back $220.
Money does not matter. Those who have it, are hardly working for the salary. Lebanon's rich thrive on the banking sector, on plundering the natural resources of West Africa, on the production of narcotics in Beqaa Valley, and on remittances. The Lebanese diaspora is tremendous: many more Lebanese people live abroad (in South and North America, Europe, Australia, Gulf and elsewhere) than in Lebanon itself. Just in Brazil alone, 5-7 million Lebanese have made it their new home.