Majidiye (central) Beirut, Lebanon
The first time I saw The Souk in Beirut, it was pointed out to me by a taxi driver who didn't speak much English, so I assumed he was telling me the wrong thing. What I saw was a brand new shopping district with all the high end stores I was accustomed to seeing at the fancy malls back home in California, or in Dubai. What I had expected was something old with soft looking aged walls, traditional shops and traditional flair.
Despite my seeming constant assumption that I know more than the local cabbies, which I never do, my guy spoke the truth. As with many things in Beirut, The Souk was destroyed during the wars of last century. Specifically in 1975, there was a period of two months where the civil war waged its battle in and among the shops and lanes of the souk, which by that time had become a no man's land.
Now it is the most dense area of shopping in the city, and as seen acts as a bit of a catwalk and playground. Parents brought their children to be watched by the nanny as they road their bikes around through the open air lane of the souk. Groups of ladies gathered at cafe's that look out over the preservered ruins of buildings that had been preserved from centuries past. If it were not for the relics that you stumble upon in various locations throughout the shopping arcade, it would have felt like the history-less shopping areas I have come to expect from my own homeland.
That is the nutty thing about Beirut: even though it is a city that currently continues to be plagued with unpredictable death through car bombing (that has been violence method of choice at least lately), life goes on as usual. They have rebuilt this fancy and beautiful community area that is important culturually and, really, emotionally. To be able to get dressed up, go out to see and be seen. To carry on with life even with uncertainty. Isn't that a challenge we all face?