Beirut
The Magic Triangle

Choubassi introduces us into his magic triangle: Le Prague, Wimpy's and Le Barometre. Three famous meeting places in the Hamra neighborhood, a lively, artistic square mile in the West of town. If he is not at work teaching arts at the university, this is where he spends his afternoons and evenings. Choubassi seems an archetypical Beiruti: in love with his city, fed up with shocks and changes, quietly addicted to his comfortable routine. The afternoon is for Prague: a large, softly lit and loungy cafe, with newspapers and a wireless network. This is where you take your laptop if you have a deadline to meet and don't feel like writing: there will always be somebody to distract you with the new gossip and ambitious plans for some time later. Then, around six, the local intelligentsia drifts to Wimpy's: the legendary sandwich bar on Hamra Street, brightly lit and definitely uncosy, with formica tables and stern waiters. The high windows look out on the bustle of the shopping audience, and when the weather is good you can sit on the sidewalk. To someone from Western Europe, where the Wimpy chain gave way to MacDonald's decades ago, it's puzzling why professors and intellectuals would choose this place for pre-dinner coffee. But the pictures on the wall tell the story: this place is a myth. Yussef Bazzi describes the episode in Yasser Arafat looked at me and smiled. Diary of a fighter, his tough little memoirs of a kid soldier: 'That day, Mahmoud was at the corner of the Modca Cafe and Kifah at the door of the Piccadilly when Khaled walked up the sidewalk facing the Wimpy Cafe and fired his infamous shots at the Israeli officer and the two soldiers accompanying him. This incident became known as the first act of national resistance and marks the date of the start of the national resistance movement against the Israeli occupation.' That was 1982: loyalty to one of the defining moments in the Beirut war carries a long way.

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Finally, when it's time for food and drinks, the artist crowd moves a few blocks down to Le Barometre, a tiny bar hidden underneath some conrete office buildings. On the wall a fading tourist poster tells us to 'Visit Palestine', showing an artist's impression of Jerusalem. The cook is Palestinian, his choice of small dishes is incredibly tasty. In the course of the evening, while the music flows from Feiruz to Bob Marley to Oum Kalsoum, the place gets packed. When everyone is finally in, with city thinker Tony Chakar playing card games on the cashier's computer, the music is turned up high and people are dancing between the tables to the Arab megastars.

Barometre



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