Michael Totten: The Latest from Beirut

Who to talk to, who not to talk to:
If strangers talk to you at a bar, at a cafĂ©, at a party, at a club, in a hotel lobby, in the countryside, or in a village, they almost certainly are normal people who are just being friendly. On the street in the city, though, chances are they want something from you. Maybe they just want directions. And that’s fine. Twice people have asked me for directions. I guess I look like I know where I’m going. But if someone doesn’t instantly tell you exactly, precisely, what they want, get away from them immediately.

“Americans have to learn this the hard way,” my friend told me. He’s right. I know he is. I had already half learned my lesson. I tried half measures yesterday and it wasn’t enough. ...

Flak jacket optional:
When I asked my brother if this place is what he expected he said “After listening to you talk about it and reading you write about it, it is exactly what I expected.”

My mom, though, is in a constant state of amazement.

Their first night out we went to Brooke’s restaurant in Gemmayze, a classy bohemian joint run by a British expat friend from the English countryside. The floor is wall-to-wall hardwood. Each chair is handsomely carved and stained dark like mahogany. A candle burns in a glass in the center of every table. I introduced mom and my brother to the bartender Elie and asked him to bring us a bottle of Bordeaux. The DJ played cool contemporary rock music over the sound system. The ambience, somehow, is pitch perfect. Brooke's, like so many haunts in Beirut, has an X Factor.

“This is surreal,” mom said. “What a great place!” We hadn’t even ordered yet. “I know you told me there are great restaurants in Beirut, but I never expected anything like this.”

Hardly anyone ever does. ...

Read it all at the links.