Sitting sipping espresso. The coffee could be from anywhere; it gives nothing away. If you arrive here by car, you’ll have to relinquish the keys to a valet parking man who’ll wedge it in between others in a game of car tetris. And the cars they are flashy. This is a place to be seen. Looking out through the palm trees there lies a loud noisy road that takes balls – or a long wait – to cross. Beyond it is the corniche – a promenade that comes alive in the evenings. Everybody’s here: strolling, skating, biking, exercising children, or dogs, or themselves (often by the popular hip-wiggle of ‘speed’ walking), dating, fishing, begging and selling. Old and young, loose-haired and headscarfed. Everybody’s here. Beyond the corniche lies the Mediterranean sea. It is a dark, gloomy blue in the late evening, almost matching the colour in the sky. On its horizon lies a thick haze of smog in faded yellow. Silhouettes of tanks, soldiers and rifles are visible marking the entrance to the port. I don’t think I’ve gone more than 3 hours in the last couple days without passing a soldier armed with a rifle, and it doesn’t stop unnerving me.
The coffee’s the same. Even the menu is, bar the Arabic translations. I don’t think I would have guessed it: Starbucks in Beirut.