|This T-shirt is now in my collection.|
On our drive, we passed a cigar store called "Fidel" which I assume is a reference to Castro & Cuban cigars, but I think it also has a nice double entrendre if someone asked you where you got it: "In fidel!" We also ended up following a canary yellow Ferrari, but I couldn't get a good picture of it. Stuff like that kind of jumps out at you without trying, and I probably would have noticed it anywhere else I've been. But then there are the things that jump out at you as unusual because of training (and maybe a few too many action movies), like when a black motorcycle with a helmet box on the back pulled up on the driver's side of our car at a red light just before we were about to go under an overpass (ie, a "choke point"). I saw it, my driver saw it, and we subtly took the off ramp detour instead of putting ourselves into a possibly bad position. It was probably nothing to worry about, just a dude on his way to work, but this place gets a 25% danger pay differential for a reason. It wasn't until after we reached the Embassy that the driver turned around and , looking straight at me, said "Welcome to Beirut." Seriously, that's like something out of a movie script.
The streets remind me of the laissez a faire suburbs you might find in Paris, with decaying shabby chic, graffiti, relatively clean yet dusty. The people I saw on the streets had an unrushed urgency that reminded me a little of our trips to Greece. Somewhere along the way, I saw a massive cedar growing up in the gutter where the road and side walk had cracked. If you didn't already know, the cedar is the national symbol of Lebanon.
|The flag of Lebanon|
When I arrived at my lodging location, there was no one manning the check-in desk, so the restaurant chef ended up being the one who gave me the key to my room. I took the key, dropped my stuff off, and called the D.C. desk officer who was also in town. We ate dinner while watching the sun set over the Med. It was blindingly bright, but I suppose that serves me right for picking the seat that faced into the setting sun.
There were three power outages today, followed by heavy rain at night. The drama du jour: Post informed us that the Ambassador's house wasn't getting the water that it normally does, so they wanted to know if OBO's project was tapping into an unauthorized water supply. The only water-based activity we had active involved shotcrete, which is kind of like spraying concrete paste...not really water intensive, but we looked into it anyways. Turns out, yes, the contractor had tapped into another supply: The gardener's tanks. It was for a convenience hose to keep the dust down, and while it was drawing maybe a dozen gallons over the course of the day, we told the contractor to stop using it immediately because it wasn't coming from the metered supply. Post verified that, in fact, there was no physical way our project could have caused the original problem with the Ambassador's residence. But OBO engineers are somewhat used to having any problems at a given post getting blamed on the OBO project, since "it was working before you came here." As you might have guessed, there is a lot of relationship management in my job.
The most interesting bit of knowledge I gained today was about a process related to using Cyclopean masonry. It's basically putting in a layer of concrete, then some large rocks, and filling over those rocks with more concrete to finish the layer. Repeat as needed. Simple and much more cost effective for the right applications than more modern techniques.
|Image Source: www.nzdl.org|
Trying to get work done on my primary project by connecting remotely to the Jeddah network from the Beirut network is proving to be less than productive. As you can imagine, not everywhere in the world has 100% reliable internet (or the constant electrical supply needed to keep the internet up). But when you need two occasionally unreliable networks to both be up at the same time, the odds are increasingly against you. To explain why, just look at the following chart:
|Network 1 Up||Network 1 Down|
|Network 2 Up|
|Network 2 Down|
I forget who gave me this assessment of today's progress as "Too many chiefs, not enough Indians," The twist here was that the speaker was being quite literal and referring to the actual nationality of the predominantly South Asian labor force rather than Native Americans.
During lunch, I watched over the workers from a nearby balcony, with the smell of the sea-salt air mixing with grilled food and the cacophony of construction occasionally punctuated by the chirping of birds. The air is cool and damp, but just a bit dusty from all the activity to keep on schedule. For dinner, it was pizza and a local Lebanese Almaza pilsner, which is a little brighter and lighter than Heineken while watching the sun set.
I came into to work to learn that the excavator operator was in the hospital (for some stomach bug or something). But that delayed the removal of some rubble in the path of a delivery truck carrying engineered fill that needs to be in place before crane operations begin next week. So something totally unrelated to the primary task has now become the primary task. Gotta stay flexible in your priorities but keep the goal in sight at all times.
For dinner, I watched the sun set yet again. The red-orange ball of fire sank slowly into the gray blue water, burning a path across the surface of the glimmering sea to where I sat absorbing the scene. Across this blaze, I watched the silhouette of a massive freighter make its way into the port. After the sun disappeared from sight, the vermilion sky gave way to blue-gray hues reflecting off the now gray-blue sea, and the golden lights of the city to my left lay like a delicate necklace over the city skyline. To my right, the pure white lights on the nearly invisible fishing boats made it look like a constellation of stars had lost its way and settled down to rest on the ever-darkening waves.
|Not my photo, but this is what ithe sunset looked like. (Source)|
After packing my bags out of my room, I waited for the desk staff to come in to check me out. While waiting, I got into a conversation with a colleague I'd met while checking in on Sunday. Come to find out, one of the things she does during her spare time is camp planning for Burning Man. How cool is that?
I know what you're thinking (besides "This has nothing at all to do with Beirut!"): Burning Man is a totally Mad-Max meets Alice-in-Wonderland experience free from most social order beyond the 10 Principles where things just happen. But when I look at the picture below, all I can see is a lot of planning and concentric layers of support to make the festival be the experience it's known for. I think my colleague said that the organizers are there about a week before and a week after, but planning activity is already in full swing even though the event is in August.
|Burning Man, not Beirut|
|An aerial view shows the war-ravaged and deserted former Holiday Inn hotel|
(the tall building on the left), next to the Phoenicia hotel in 2011. (Cynthia Karam/Reuters/Landov)
|Retro chic: The flipside of my ticket|
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