Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Man in a VW Van

It’s so easy to judge a city by its outward appearance, by its reputation, and Beirut is no different. It is dirty and crowded. It was raining when our plane touched down, so our first walk through the streets involved murky water, muddy sidewalks and dripping awnings.

And Beirut’s reputation isn’t the best, either. People cautioned us to be careful when we bought our tickets. Tripadvisor warned us of the safety concerns and even the Department of State urged us to avoid all travel to Lebanon.

But the amazing thing about Beirut is that the city recognizes its reputation - its outward appearance - and is trying to combat it. The area we walked was teeming with examples of the citizens trying to beautify their city. The staircases were painted a myriad of colors and patterns. Every space that wasn’t a building or path was full of trees, bushes and vines. Art studios and museums peeked out between industrial warehouses. With just a few steps down an alley, I was transported from a grimy street to a gorgeous path full of shops, restaurants and bars.

In fact, Beirut is kind of like an optical illusion.

You could look at the walls of ripped posters and torn advertisements and see trash, litter, ugly or you could look again and see artistic endeavors, concerts, ideas, attempts to make the walls more striking.

You could look at the shutters on a closed shop and see peeling paint and fading color or you could look again and see someone’s attempt to brighten an empty building.

Graffiti fills the staircases, warehouse doors and alleyways. You could look at it and shake your head, disgusted that someone would write their thoughts on a wall or you could stop and read the thoughts and laugh or sigh at how poignant they are and think “isn’t that just the perfect line to stumble across, on my walk, right now?”

I definitely experienced the beautiful Beirut as I walked the streets. I saw a place trying to remake itself, a place trying to show its true colors.

I heard “bon jour” as I wandered down an alley and whispered it back, feeling very European. I was teased by a group of old men who sat in front of a shop smoking and scolded me “to buy things to treat myself”. I felt beautiful when people smiled at me and included when people waved. I felt a part of the city and it was totally unexpected.

The best moment, though, was after I had climbed one of the many painted staircases and ended up on a narrow, crowded, totally congested street. I lifted my camera, thinking I had to get a shot of the traffic in Beirut, as it is the craziest I have ever seen, and as I took off my lens cap, I saw a VW van, my dream car, a few cars back in the line.

I thought, “How perfect. I’ll get a shot of that van in the traffic.” But the cars started to move right then and I wasn’t focused. I sighed, thinking that I had missed the shot, but then realized the van wasn’t moving. The cars in front of it were gone, but it still sat there, in the middle of the street, waiting for me to photograph it. So I did, obviously.

I laughed to myself, not really knowing why the van hadn't moved, but feeling very fortunate. As I started to walk, the van cruised by, with the driver’s window rolled down. I looked at the driver, an old bearded man smoking a cigarette, and I smiled. He winked at me. I knew at that moment, that he had waited for me to take the photo. He had known what I wanted.

I felt so lucky, so in sync with the world. A man in a van stopped to let me take his photo and it totally made my day.


  1. Your photography is absolutely amazing!!!

    xoxo The Lifer Blog

    1. Thanks! I am really trying to work on shots and angles, so this makes my day! xo.

  2. it actually looks really cool, love the photos!

    xx danielle // shades of danielle

    1. Thank you! Your blog is so cute! All that snow makes me wish I had another weekend to escape. xo.