I've been attracted to Beirut for a long time. In the 1970's, the city was referred to as "the Paris of the Middle East" - it seemed like an oasis, basking in the sunny Mediterranean. So I had these fantasies of this tropical paradise, a French city right next to white sandy beaches, with scantily-clad babes drinking cocktails.
So when I met a group of students from Alba, the animation school based in Beirut, they were big fans and they invited me to come visit their school, I jumped at the opportunity to realize my "oasis" fantasy. After three years of delays due to scheduling conflicts, my visit to Lebanon became a reality.
Upon arrival in Beirut, I noticed a lot of soldiers guarding the airport. The civil war that took place during the 80's and 90's really changed the place. The power was intermittent, traffic was clogged, the water supply was limited (I was forced to put used toilet paper in cans beside the toilet) and there were mountains of garbage all over the city. And I never did find that perfect beach beside the city.
YET, I was totally charmed by the kindness and positive attitude of the people. Even though the government is powerless and corrupt (so they say), the city survives, with a wonderful democratic belief that the future will be better.
I did two screenings at the wonderful Metropolis Cinema, where I greeted a packed house of enthusiastic animators and fans. Then I also did a class at the wonderful school, ALBA, which is the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts. The students were magnificent, so eager and talented - their work was equal to that of any art school students in NYC.
We did a delightful excursion to an ancient coastal town called Byblos, where we watched boats go in and out of the harbor while we had a delightful 3-hour lunch of fantastic Lebanese food. To top it all off, I got to go swimming in the crystal clear Mediterranean. But alas, no cocktail-sipping bikini girls.
I want to thank Neyla and all of the wonderful people at ALBA and Metropolis Cinema, who showed me such a great time in Beirut. I hope to return to Beirut when it's reverted to its normal state.