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‘Call Me a Dreamer.’ A Shattered Beirut Neighborhood Rebuilds

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BEIRUT, Lebanon — After the August port explosion that disfigured much of Beirut, many compared the city to a phoenix that would rise again.

“We are staying,” read some signs in the famous nightlife district of Mar Mikhael, one of the worst-hit neighborhoods. Down the main thoroughfare in Gemmayzeh, another badly damaged area whose graceful old buildings housed storied families and Beirut newcomers alike, it was the same: Residents vowed to return, and banners on buildings promised to rebuild.

Two months later, some businesses have begun to reopen, and teams of volunteer engineers and architects are working to save heritage buildings. But even the bullish say they do not believe a full recovery is possible, pointing to the lack of government leadership and resources, combined with an imploding economy that has put even basic repairs beyond the wallets of many residents.

If Beirut is a phoenix, it has already endured too much, they say: civil war; war with Israel; incompetent and corrupt governments; huge protests, the coronavirus and now this.

Though they were traditionally Christian neighborhoods, Mar Mikhael, Gemmayzeh and the surrounding areas attracted young Lebanese of different religious backgrounds, as well as foreigners and tourists, to its bars, cafes and art galleries.Gay, lesbian and transgender people felt safe. Entrepreneurs and designers moved in. Dusty hardware stores sat a few doors down from trendy coffee shops.

The explosion has threatened that unique social fabric, locals say.

And not all are ready to return. It would feel like erasing what happened, a few said — like walking blithely over a grave.

At the edge of Gemmayzeh, between a church and an antique chandelier shop, a narrow street darts up the hill at odd angles. Locals call it Thieves’ Lane, from long ago, when it was a quick getaway route from the authorities.

Over the last year, antigovernment protesters dodging tear gas have often sprinted the same way and ducked into Demo, a bar with pleasantly worn wooden benches and experimental music thrumming from the D.J. booth.

Its owner, Tarek Mourad, 38, opened Demo with a partner a decade ago, and it became a Beirut classic. The bar’s glass front was smashed in the explosion, and Mr. Mourad turned to GoFundMe to replace it.

“When you spend years planting something,” he said, “and suddenly there’s something that cuts the plant down, you hope the roots are there.”

But he was not sure whether everything that made Demo what it had been would return — the small shops and bakeries nearby that gave the street life, neighbors who stopped in for coffee or a beer.

“Everyone that works at Demo, or lives around it, needs to get back and get their lives back,” he said. “But it’s not just Demo, it’s a whole neighborhood. For years, I walked through Gemmayzeh daily. Now it’s not there anymore. What form it’ll take, I don’t know.”

Fadlo Dagher’s family began building their pale-blue villa on the main street of Gemmayzeh in 1820. To him, the houses in the neighborhood — and throughout Beirut — represent the tolerant, diverse, sophisticated country Lebanon was meant to be.

“This is the image of openness,” he said, “the image of a cosmopolitan culture.”

The houses — generally wide dwellings a few stories high, with red tiled roofs and tall, street-facing triple-arched windows opening onto a central hall — began appearing in Beirut by the mid-1800s, after the city grew into a hub for trade between Damascus, Syria, and the Mediterranean.

The style blended architectural ideas from Iran, Venice and Istanbul. While the new houses’ walls were of Lebanese sandstone, their marble floors and columns were imported from Italy, roof tiles from Marseille, France, and cedar timbers from Turkey.

Despite war, neglect and a 20th-century fashion for high-rises, many of the old houses stood untouched in Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael until the explosion, which seriously damaged about 360 structures built between 1860 and 1930.

To abandon them, Mr. Dagher said, would be to jettison one of the few shared legacies of a perpetually fractured country.

“I’d like to imagine that what is happening here, this diversity, this mixed city, that it still exists, that maybe it can reflourish,” he said. “Is it mission impossible? I don’t know. But, OK, call me a dreamer. This is what I want it to be.”

Habib Abdel Massih, his wife and son were in the small corner convenience store he owns in Gemmayzeh when the neighborhood blew apart, injuring all three. He has spent his whole life in the neighborhood, watching it change from quiet residential area to cultural destination.

“Suddenly, everything changed,” he said. “Most of the people I used to know have left.”

He worried that rebuilding would prove too expensive, that neither original residents nor newcomers would come back.

A few weeks after the blast, Mr. Abdel Massih, 55, was preparing to reopen his store. A cast sheathed his foot. He was selling water and coffee, he said. Not much else.

Sursock is the name of the neighborhood up the hill from Gemmayzeh. It is also the name of the area’s main street, the museum on that street, the palace a few doors down and the family that lives in that palace. All are now damaged.

Lady Yvonne Sursock Cochrane grew up in the palace, which was built by her forebears in the mid-1800s. She spent decades protecting it — first from Lebanon’s 15-year civil war (by staying put), and then from overdevelopment (by buying up neighboring properties). She was injured in the Aug. 4 explosion as she sat on her terrace, debris falling in a neat border around her chair. She died on Aug. 31, aged 98.

Her last look at the house showed this: roof partly caved in; frescoed ceilings more holes than plaster; marble statues shattered; Ottoman-era furniture splintered; antique tapestries torn; intricately latticed windows blown in.

Her son and daughter-in-law, Roderick and Mary Cochrane, are rebuilding. They do not yet know the price, only that it will be astronomical.

“You restore things because it’s part of the history,” said Ms. Cochrane, an American. She was hospitalized after the explosion but recovered. “We take care of it for future generations.”

Mr. Cochrane added: “Mar Mikhael and Gemmayzeh should remain a place for Lebanese, for small designers, small shops, small business owners. Without these, there’d be no Beirut. We’d be a city like Dubai.”

Just off the main drag of Mar Mikhael — where the sound of laughter, clinking glasses and pounding car stereos once floated up from the pubs to the balconies nearly every night — sit Butcher’s BBQ and, nearby, a cocktail bar, Tenno. The main street is dark and quiet now; many homes remain uninhabitable.

But Tenno is open.

Bashir Wardini and his partners raised about $15,000 through GoFundMe, and in mid-September muted their doubts and reopened to host a friend’s birthday drinks. They had not been sure customers were ready to return. They were not sure they were ready, either.

“Many of us, and our customers, said, ‘No, you have to reopen, you have to move on, because the street needs to feel some kind of life again,’” Mr. Wardini said.

Tenno looks itself again, but the rest of the neighborhood feels wrong. Mr. Wardini said still he avoids going there, unless he has to.

“It takes a few drinks too many to forget the surroundings,” he said.

By: Vivian Yee
Title: ‘Call Me a Dreamer.’ A Shattered Beirut Neighborhood Rebuilds
Sourced From: www.nytimes.com/2020/10/11/world/middleeast/lebanon-beirut-explosion.html
Published Date: Sun, 11 Oct 2020 14:43:32 +0000

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Witnessing Peru’s Enduring, if Altered, Snow Star Festival

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Stubbornly unfazed by warnings of “soroche,” or altitude sickness, I swung my legs up onto a donkey and began to ascend the steep trails. After trekking for a few dizzying hours alongside hundreds of others, I approached a glacial basin. The scene began to unfold before us: an immense valley flooded with so many pilgrims that it seemed to be covered in confetti, each tiny speck representing a huddled collection of tents and people.

The altitude sickness began to overtake every inch of my body. Even my eyeballs ached. But, undeterred, I slowly navigated through the throngs of people trying to take in every sight and sound.

Each year in late May or early June, thousands of pilgrims trek for hours on foot and horseback through Peru’s Andean highlands — slowly snaking their way up the mountainous terrain — for the religious celebrations of Qoyllur Rit’i, held some 50 miles east of Cusco, once the capital of the Incan empire.

Practiced annually for hundreds of years, the celebrations mark the start of the harvest season, when the Pleiades, a prominent cluster of stars, return to the night sky in the Southern Hemisphere. The syncretic festival, which is on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, interweaves Indigenous and Incan customs with Catholic traditions introduced by Spanish colonizers, who sought to undermine Andean cosmology.

Celebrations were suspended this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, with the route to the valley completely blocked off. But when I attended in 2013, the crowds were remarkably dense.

The festival takes place in the Sinakara Valley, a glacial basin that sits around 16,000 feet above sea level. Celebrants swarm in colorful droves with costumes, enormous flags, instruments and provisions in tow.

The festivities begin with the arrival of a statue of the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i, transported from the nearby town of Mahuayani, to the valley’s small chapel. For three days, from morning until night, amid the nonstop sounds of drums, flutes, whistles, accordions, cymbals and electric keyboards, the air is filled with billowing clouds of dust kicked up from twirling dancers; it settles on the sequins, neon scarves, ribbons, tassels and feathers that adorn people’s traditional costumes and attire.

Pilgrims here are divided into “nations,” which correspond to their place of origin. Most belong to the Quechua-speaking agricultural regions to the northwest, or to the Aymara-speaking regions to the southeast. The delegation from Paucartambo has been making the pilgrimage for longer than any other.

“It’s important to maintain this tradition, because we have a lot of faith,” said a young Paucartambo pilgrim dressed as an ukuku, a mythical half-man and half-bear creature. Costumed in red, white and black alpaca robes, the ukukus are responsible for ensuring the safety of the pilgrims; they act as intermediaries between the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i and the people.

Other participants include the ch’unchus, who wear headdresses and represent Indigenous communities from the Amazon; the qhapaq qollas, who wear knitted masks and represent inhabitants from the southern Altiplano region; and the machulas, who wear long coats over fake humpbacks and represent the mythological people to first populate the Andes.

Hundreds of ceremonies are held throughout the three-day festival. But the long-awaited main event is carried out by the ukukus in the early morning hours of the last day. Carrying towering crosses and candles, ukukus from each nation ascend the Qullqipunku mountain toward a nearby glacier, regarded as alive and sentient. (The snow-capped mountains circling the valley are also believed to be mountain gods, or Apus, that provide protection.)

According to oral traditions, the ukukus, after scaling the icy slopes, once partook in ritualistic battles that were eventually prohibited by the Catholic Church.

Another tradition was also recently put to rest, this time by Mother Nature.

Up until only a few years ago, ukukus would carve slabs of ice from the glacier, whose melted water is revered as medicinal. Pilgrims would eagerly await the ukukus, backs bent from the weight of the ice, who would place the blocks along the pathway to the temple, to be used as holy water. Sometimes the ice was even transported to Cusco’s main square where, as Qoyllur Rit’i draws to a close, Corpus Christi celebrations kick off with comparable religious zeal.

Many believed that carrying the ice was a penance for sins, and that fulfilling this ritual meant the Apus would offer blessings.

But because much of the glacier has melted, significantly reducing its size, the tradition of carrying chunks of sacred ice down the mountain has been banned.

Climate scientists say that glaciers in the tropical Andes have been reduced by nearly a quarter in the last 40 years. Some scientists predict that such glaciers could disappear entirely by 2070.

These changes have not only affected agricultural practices in the Andes, but also, as witnessed by Qoyllur Rit’i pilgrims, cultural ones, too.

Although the ukukus now carry only wooden crosses back down the mountain, they’re still met with great jubilation — a testament to human resilience in the face of destruction caused by climate change.

By: Danielle Villasana
Title: Witnessing Peru’s Enduring, if Altered, Snow Star Festival
Sourced From: www.nytimes.com/2020/10/26/travel/qoyllur-riti-snow-star-festival-peru.html
Published Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2020 09:00:33 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://vistagaze.com/vacation/british-airways-updates-interim-catering-with-gasp-hot-food-2/

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British Airways updates interim catering with – gasp! – hot food

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British Airways have been offering an extremely abbreviated on board service during the pandemic. Only passengers in first class received hot meals, with everyone else relegated to cold food. The interim catering has received a mixed reaction, especially as other airlines continue to offer full on board service.

All of this was wrapped in the safety banner, to reduce touch points and protect people. While perhaps admirable in its intention, frequent flyers have pointed the finger squarely at cost cutting, due to various inconsistencies in the approach. Either way, things are now moving back towards normality.

Updated Interim Catering

Hot food is back on British Airways long-haul services. First class continue to have theirs, and now everyone else on the plane gets to experience it too. That means business class passengers flying Club World, premium economy World Traveller Plus and economy World Traveller people can all chow down on something a little more fitting.

The Club World meal will be hot and served on a meal tray with a table cloth, with the second service a chilled item delivered the same way. The second service will come in a box as it does now on some return catered flights.



Those at the back of the bus will also get a hot meal, served on a half tray for the interim catering period. The second service will be chilled and be issued in a box or bag, depending on how lucky you are.

What About European Flights?

There are no changes to the current interim catering for European flights. This means that Club Europe continue to get a meal in a box or bag, and EuroTraveller customers receive a small complimentary on board snack.



The previous buy on board menu from M&S won’t be coming back, as the agreement expired this year and is not being renewed. A replacement British retailer is in the process of being recruited, so we will see a totally new buy on board menu on BA in due course.

Overall Thoughts

It is great to see some changes in the long-haul interim catering offering at British Airways. Not too soon either! Emirates return to their usual pre-Covid service on board from 1 November for example, so competition is afoot.

No doubt we will see further changes from BA as time passes on. Until the catering changes, I see no value in booking a flight with BA in a premium cabin. All my future travel is booked in economy with BA, as the value proposition for me in the higher classes has a lot to do with the food and drinks, which anyone who has read a flight review of mine will well know.

What say you? Are you happy with the improvements to the interim catering at British Airways? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

To never miss a post, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
All my flight and lounge reviews are indexed here so check them out!

Featured image by Rafael Luiz Canossa on Flickr via Wikimedia Commons.
With thanks to Inflight With James.

By: The Flight Detective
Title: British Airways updates interim catering with – gasp! – hot food
Sourced From: travelupdate.com/british-airways-interim-catering/
Published Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2020 13:03:17 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://vistagaze.com/vacation/4-top-stargazing-places-to-visit-in-2020-2/

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4 Top Stargazing Places to Visit in 2020

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Dark skies, bright stars are every stargazer’s main attraction spots. All around the world, people travel to experience the best spot the world has to offer. To most city dwellers, their experience with stargazing is bumping into the latest celebrity at the mall or grocery store checkout line thanks to air pollution and the city lights.

But there is nothing as magical as looking up into the dark skies dotted with constellations, planets, and shooting stars. The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) recognizes over 130 spots that preserve the most star-filled skies. UNESCO recognizes several starlight reserves on its Astronomical Heritage sites list. These spectacular spots offer stargazers an opportunity to reconnect with the planet and learn more about the universe.

We believe you deserve to know the top spots that will give you the most magical experience, yet.  Here are 4 top places to visit in 2020 for stargazing.

The Best Stargazing Places to Visit

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Located in the remote Lake Powell of Utah, Natural Bridges was the first to be certified by the IDA as the international dark sky park. The IDA is the leading organization in combating light pollution, it is a big deal. The designation recognizes areas with some of the darkest and clearest skies in the world. It acknowledged darkness as a resource worthy of conservation and protection and appreciates the efforts extended to achieve this. The main attraction of the dark skies of Natural Bridges is a phenomenon that rises over the natural rock formation of Owachomo Bridge creating one of the most spectacular Milky Way you have ever seen. The bridge forms some sort of a window to the sky by beautifully framing thousands of stars, all of which are visible with the naked eye.

Plan to camp here overnight to have the full experience. Night photographers do get some of the most marvelous shots at the Natural Bridges National Monument, but always remember artificial sources of light for photography are prohibited.

Mauna Kea, Hawaii, United States

Located about 2,500 miles Southwest of California, Hawaii has evolved to be one of the leading astronomy destinations. The high volcanic peaks offer some of the most spectacular sceneries around the world.

Mauna Kea Summit is perhaps the most popular stargazing spots in Hawaii.

13,803 feet above the town of Hilo and close to Mauna Kea is the Mauna Kea Observatory, the largest of its kind in the world. It is a major astronomy hub.

What’s more, is that it is one of the few places on earth you can drive nearly 14,000 above sea level. Just make sure you check-in at the Visitors Station to acclimatize. You don’t want to experience altitude sickness. Still, the journey is magical with starry rewards. Make sure to bring the best telescopes as from this spot you get to see the celestial wonders of the Northern Hemisphere from bands of Jupiter to the constellations of Orion. Also because Mauna Kea is close to the equator, the stars of the Southern Hemisphere are visible, too. This means that over 80% of the earth’s stars can be seen from Mauna Kea.

Photographers have been known to capture the rare lunar rainbow from Mauna Kea. Lunar rainbows are essentially lit by the moon and not the sun, and occur under precise conditions.

Pic du Midi, France

Located in the Pyrénées Mountains of France, Pic Ddu Midi is good enough of a spot for NASA to take photos of the moon surface in preparation for their missions; it’s good enough for you.

A cable car from the La Mongie will get you to the summit, where an observatory is perched right above the clouds.

Also, the reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a major French national park. Plan to book an overnight stay to experience an unforgettable night under the stars.

Los Angeles, California

It is primarily known for another kind of star, the Hollywood star, and smog that is ever-present. To many, Lost Angeles does not come off as an ideal place to go stargazing. But those that have visited the iconic Griffith Observatory will tell you otherwise. Perched atop Mount Hollywood, it is one of the most astronomically intriguing places to visit. Depending on the time of the year, from Griffith Observatory you can observe assorted double stars, nebulae, Jupiter, and Venus. And with powerful telescopes, the incredibly detailed view of the Moon’s craggy surface can be visible.

The stars are accessible from most places and to everyone but some locations can get you the most from a night sky. Add these spots to your bucket list and start ticking. Once you do, you’ll be treated to an amazing view few people will even get to see.

The post 4 Top Stargazing Places to Visit in 2020 appeared first on Travel Experta – Family Travel Blog.

By: Marina Villatoro
Title: 4 Top Stargazing Places to Visit in 2020
Sourced From: feedproxy.google.com/~r/TheTravelExperta/~3/uLPw0ytsHf8/4-top-stargazing-places-visit-2020.html
Published Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2020 15:30:03 +0000

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