It's not British You Know: On my final night in Beirut, we went out to dinner at a restaurant that specialises in Chocolate dishes. If your sole intake of chocolate for three months has been Ferrero Rocher, then you are to endorphins what insomnia is to sleep - utterly deprived.
So we ordered a chocolate fondue and dipped and dabbed our way to heaven. Inevitably I was the first to break with Fondue etiquette, when my marshmallow became a chocolate submarine and I thrashed about in a cauldron of boiling coco trying to retrieve it, as the elegant Lebanese looked on pityingly. This was however only my first mistake, another soon followed.
A pint of lager is not a traditional accompaniment to chocolate fondue granted, but I ordered one all the same. I was asked by the waiter if I would like a Mexican beer, and feeling windswept and handsome, and by now an international traveller of some note, I grabbed at the chance - not any old beer I thought, a Mexican one! So they bought my beer in a bottle, and a glass that was half filled with something yellow, and was encrusted with about an inch of frosting on the lip. I am reminded of the old joke about why the Mexican took his wife to the edge of a cliff, 'tequila' - and now I was faced with the prospect of drinking a pint of sour salty ale, washed down with chocolate, in the company of people who can speak five languages. Well I don't mind telling you I felt a complete arse. In between desperate attempts to save various bits of fruit from drowning I gagged and wretched my way through half a pint of vomit inducing nectar, until finally, embarrassed and beaten I gave in.
There is nothing clever about mixing your alcohol with salt and lemon amigo, and to do it on an industrial scale is just nerveless crap!
Lebanese food is slightly more seductive than an Afghan offering!
How Much: I carry five different currencies in my pocket, it can be a confusing place. I have always calculated in sterling, but in fact most of the world works in dollars. Any work I have done here has been quoted and paid in dollars, and I now know the dollar conversion for most currencies, but not the sterling. I know the conversion between dollar and sterling so if I cared or bothered enough I could work it all out, but as no one uses sterling there is no point.
There are 45 Afghanis to the Dollar for example, and any taxi trip in Kabul costs 250 Afs, so about $5. I know the same conversion in UAE Dirhams, and so on. Well, I felt like George Soros speculating billions on the currency markets in Lebanon. Each meal involved large shipments of unmarked bills, delivered by Security Vans, their back axels slumped and creaking under the weight of money required to buy me just one salad. If Sherpa Tensing was still alive I would have recruited him to carry the bags of cash around I needed simply to purchase a Latte. To discover that you have just sold your car to buy a Heineken is a hit you are only so willing to absorb. And then I came to paying my hotel bill. I was already doing mathematical gymnastics in my mind days before I had to pay-up, I had made daily trips to the ATM and stockpiled enough cash in my bedroom to buy Monaco.
I had a team of porters help me carry it all to reception, and a kindly woman with a Cray Computer did the calculation. Six nights, with internet, the lights dimmed in central Beirut as the computation drained the national grid, and in the distance children cried. And then it spat out a winning ticket just like those fortune telling machines at old fairgrounds. "Well Sir, you might wish to sit. Do you have next of kin we could inform, how old did you say your children were, how are you planning to secure this debt?" They handed me a piece of paper, and as I unfolded it the true cost of life was revealed:
TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTY THOUSAND
'*$@*^$@ hell' I smiled.
That's 260,000 Lebanese Pounds, which is $190, which is, hang on £140 for six nights in central Beirut with Internet and mosquitos - that's daylight robbery, except I am the thief. I tipped them an extra 50,000, only right, and legged it, banging my shin on the way out.
And their coastline has a certain sophisticated appeal!