Jihad el Khazen, Al-Hayat, I will continue to write about Beirut today, about what has changed and what has remained the same. If I didn’t recognize the southern suburbs that I knew as a child and young man, the Ramlet al-Baida Corniche is the same as I knew it until I left Lebanon in 1975.I visited my old friend Dr. Abdel-Aziz Khoja, the ambassador of Saudi Arabia, in his apartment looking over the Corniche one morning, to have coffee. It was an opportunity to give my Eid al-Adha holiday greetings a week before the Eid. In journalism, this is called a "scoop."
We stood on the balcony of his apartment; in front of us was the road that heads down parallel to the sea. I told him about when Israeli terrorists, including the "moderate" Ehud Barak, dressed as a woman, killed three Palestinian leaders in Ras Beirut on 10 April 1973. I rushed to the apartment of Kamal Adwan, which was on the other side of the field where my old apartment was. After I checked to make sure that his wife, Maha Adwan al-Jayyusi, a dear friend, was okay, I headed out with a colleague to pick up the trail of the Israeli killers. We reached the Ramlet al-Baida road, where we saw two parked cars. I put my hand on the hood of one of them, like they do in crime dramas, and found it hot, i.e. it had been running recently.

My colleague and I stopped to think about what to do. Then, a number of Lebanese soldiers came at us from behind a short palm tree in the middle of the road, carrying rifles. They told us that the Israelis had fled in a small speedboat and pointed to the Israeli warship that was waiting for them, a few hundred meters away. They said that they didn’t fire because the ship trained its artillery and heavy guns toward the area.
I recorded all of this at the time, and went over it with the ambassador, as a part of Beirut’s past, or my history in this city. From 1975 to 2005 the dangers remain for Lebanon and its people, but what has changed is the source.
I’ll go on to another change. There were visitors from many Arab countries, especially the Gulf, although their numbers were certainly lower in recent years.
Perhaps the best measure of the climate of fear of the unknown is that the leading Lebanese singers went to Cairo for the holidays, while the big Egyptian group of artists that I’d seen in Beirut in recent years has disappeared, preferring to remain in Cairo.
Perhaps God is with the Lebanese, and 2006 will be better than earlier years. It won’t be worse. All of the Arabs will return to Lebanon, their second home. Along with the nice weather, which continues to remain, there are services that aren’t available in any other country in the world. Lebanon is the country of services, from international banks to local restaurants, and everything in between.
I used to order things from room service that weren’t on the menu, from sandwiches with labneh, olive and mint, to sandwiches with custard apple with honey. The only answer I’d hear was "coming right up."
Lebanese service once reached me and took care of me before I arrived. A month ago I was on my way from Riyadh to Beirut, and was I sitting with some people in the VIP room, waiting for take-off. We spoke about Saudi politics and regional politics with enthusiasm, and I forgot the departure time.
My colleague Mohammed Farhat, the editorial director, telephoned me, while he was in Riyadh, to tell me that the captain of a Lebanese airplane, who was a friend of his, called him on his mobile phone. The captain asked Mohammed to call me and tell me that the plane was waiting for me, since all the passengers had embarked. I apologized and hurried toward the plane, where I apologized to the captain and cabin crew.
In Lebanon and other countries we are in places everybody knows everyone else. If I had been late for a plane at Heathrow, they would have taken my luggage out and I would have been searching for another plane, on another day.
There is a Lebanese secret that hasn’t changed since my pre-adolescent days, which is the secret of the fishermen on the Corniche Ras Beirut. Since the 1950s and 1960s, until last week, I’ve never seen one of them catch a fish, not even a sardine. But they’re always there, morning and night, and all they do is scare me. When one of them thrusts his pole backward, before plunging it toward the water, I cover my eyes, afraid that a hook might catch one of them.
At the beginning of the year, there’s another tradition that doesn’t change. I found three or four men who went into the sea at the American University of Beirut swimming area. There are swimmers every year, whatever the weather. This year they had better luck than earlier years who went into the sea when it was raining or stormy; this tradition remains a challenge against nature.
The rocks of the AUB swimming area are the same; they haven’t changed to me. When we were little we’d buy a pack of cigarettes (Lucky Strikes, or "Lucky" as we called them), divide them and smoke them while hiding, all in one go. I didn’t like cigarettes, and didn’t get addicted. There are friends of mine who still smoke today. A dear friend of mine from those days, who worked with me in Beirut and Washington, died of lung cancer a few years ago. I hope every reader who smokes can give up this harmful habit.
A week later I returned to London, to find the weather ugly and angry, like I left it. However, I found something Arab that reminded me of the homeland. I saw a small truck in front of me, upon which it was written: "Edward William Enterprise." Then, below that, it was written In the name of God the merciful, in Arabic and English. And then, in Arabic, it was written "Life without a smile isn’t worth living." And: "There’s nothing nicer than a smile." It reminded me of what I read on Arab trucks in all countries.
London is an Arab capital, too, but without the nice weather.