Ece Temelkuran’s Beyrut

Writer-journalist Ece Temelkuran takes up Beirut, which she terms ‘the subconscious of the Middle East’, in her latest book, Muz Sesleri (The Sounds of Bananas). We asked her about the city she loves.

When did you get to know Beirut?
It was in 2006. During the war. I went as far as the border of South Lebanon with my photojournalist colleague, Yurttaş Tümer, to report on the war. There were unexploded bombs along the roads and everything was shrouded in dust and smoke. But for some reason I found Beirut very captivating even then.  That it was embroiled in war and yet indifferent to it - that craziness turned me on.

What is it that makes Beirut different?
Its magical atmosphere. And nothing will change that, no matter where you go in the world or who you meet. If two people who meet and get acquainted both know Beirut, if they have lived there, then they won’t talk about anything else. Beirut will always be the subject of conversation. I’ve experienced this with dozens of people all over the world. That’s Beirut. The impression lasts.

For you Beirut means sounds. What sounds are they?
The Sounds of Bananas! Beirut means sound in any case. The sound of construction work, the sound of weapons, the sound of fireworks, the sound of automobile horns. There’s almost never a time when you don’t hear them. And most of all the human sounds. Some people may not like the sound of Arabic, but Beirut Arabic is one of the sounds I like best.

The local cuisine is very rich. What should a person eat in Beirut?
Everything! My favorites are tabbouleh, fattoush, shankleesh, kibbeh, kibbe nayeh (raw meatballs), pickles… I could go on forever.  But if you mean ‘deep’ Beirut cuisine, then raw liver! It doesn’t taste the way you think it will. In a strange way it’s not that different from the cooked variety. But don’t ask what the white thing is that they serve with it. If I tell you, you won’t eat it. Take a little of that, and a little liver, top it with a fresh mint leaf and stuff it inside some Arab pitta bread and you’ll be so amazed at how much you like the taste that it’ll scare you.