By Samir Kassir
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Extra resources for Beirut
Twice, in November 1976 and then in October 1982, Beirut believed that reunification was possible. Plans were drawn up for reconstructing the center of the city. But in each case the lull in the fighting turned out to be only an interlude, lasting scarcely more than a year and a half at most; in the meantime the war contin- The Eyes of the Mind 23 ued elsewhere, and the line of demarcation eventually came to be reinstated. The violence ceased on other occasions as well, more briefly but not less hopefully.
Beirut appeared to be no more than the antechamber to these expanses, a place where nothing was destined to happen apart from secret machinations and dark plotting; a place where soldiers fighting in nearby theaters of war came for rest and relaxation and where grand dukes stopped to visit on their tours; a place where newspaper correspondents could eavesdrop on the conversations of diplomats and gather information that would help them to understand the societies of the Near East. The first step to understanding, for a correspondent passing through Beirut, was to ignore his immediate environment.
Among these newcomers, however, there was no Lawrence Durrell to write about it—still less a Michael Curtiz to set a legendary film there. Elements of the city’s magic are perceptible in the Arabic literature of which Beirut was then the publishing capital, but following the appearance of Pierre Benoît’s La châtelaine du Liban (1924), under the French Mandate, Western appreciations of Beirut were few, apart from a small number of unmemorable action movies—as if the exoticism of the place had become too prosaic, too ordinary to stimulate the imagination.
Beirut by Samir Kassir