Being talkative and sociable by nature, it is very easy for me to engage in a conversation with someone particularly if the person seems to be approachable. On my way back to Beirut from Paris, I met Riccardo who is a UN Electoral Team Communication expert. We chatted for a couple of hours when I would rather not be forced to listen to the macho douche bags sitting next to me whom are coming up with lame jokes. The next day, I had the pleasure to meet up with him again and have a walk in the small streets of Hamra and a short visit of the AUB campus. He said, “I love old buildings” while looking up at the rusted balcony balustrade of some old tired buildings in the commercial neighborhood at the corner of Bliss Street. I was surprised to hear this coming from a foreigner. I mean I always wondered what it would feel like for a foreigner to come to Lebanon—well okay we are not arguing about the having fun part—and have no exquisite architecture for the eyes to see and delight. Besides the high new modern buildings in Beirut, there is the old and badly maintained buildings or the far more polished Beirut Souks that was recently built with a nostalgic twist to Lebanese architecture. There is nothing more beautiful than the marble and stone structure of the buildings in New York City and even the many architectural style eras that has witnessed Paris from the Romanesque style of the Church in Saint-Germain-des-Pres to the Gothic Cathedrale-de-Notre-Dame and the 20th century Louvre’s glass pyramids. I am thinking about these old buildings in Hamra or around Beirut city… not old enough to be called a monument if it had potential. Perhaps, this was torn down by the civil war long time ago. I am not speaking of the age-old Roman Hippodrome or the Roman bath relics either... Just old buildings but not thaat old.
Why old buildings are beautiful? I was perplexed. I asked, “You don’t think that old buildings are… “Ugly”? “No…” “But look at the infrastructure it’s even really bad”, I said pointing towards the electricity cable hanging from the balcony. Riccardo’s answer was pretty much convincing; he said, “I like old buildings because I see potential for renovation. And renovation is beautiful, you fix something that is broken or tired and you give it back value … progress is continuous it is not a process that stops... a city that has perfect new buildings does not mean it reached a high position and it stops there.”
On the next day, I chose to walk back from my bank to my house in Jounieh—and that was a walk of about 20-30 minutes. I did not let the cab wait for me (my car was at the garage). I enjoyed this walk, it was as if I was still strolling around in NYC or Paris, and I gazed over the old residential buildings with a new perspective. I thought “old buildings are beautiful”. There is nothing shameful in old buildings in fact, they are just like wilted flowers waiting to be watered and revived again.