Summertime… And the living is easy Even in Lebanon…

Friday 07/08/2015

Beirut - A sluggish economy combined with a dysfunctional gov­ernment, a massive Syrian refugee crisis, volatile security and poor infra­structure, including power outages, water shortages and a recent gar­bage crisis, did not slow Lebanon’s myriad summer festivities, be they in the mountain villages or on the Mediterranean coast.
Against all odds, the country is attracting world-renowned artists, including pop singers Johnny Hal­lyday and Enrique Iglesias, French idols Charles Aznavour and Mireille Mathieu as well as singer Gloria Gaynor, to its festivals.
In addition to the famous international festivals, such as Baal­beck, which is set in the ruins of the Ro­man metropolis in east Lebanon, or Beiteddine, held in a magnificent 200-year-old palace in the Chouf mountains, or Byblos, located by the port of the ancient Phoenician city, villages and towns across the country are also organising events.
In the picturesque village of Eh­den in north Lebanon, what started in 2004 as a local summer event encouraging traditional handicrafts and heritage and featuring local artists, has metamorphosed into an international festival, Ehdeni­yat, bringing in performers from around the world.
“Ehden is already a famous sum­mer resort and touristic centre but the festival, which became inter­national in 2011, has made it even a more attractive summer destina­tion to both residents and visitors,” said Lina Lahoud, from Ehdeniyat’s organising committee. With several hotels opening in the past five years to cater to growing numbers of visi­tors, Ehdeniyat helped boost the region’s economy, Lahoud added.
South of Ehden, another sum­mer resort, Dhour El Choueir, is also putting on its own festival. Nes­tled in Mount Leba­non’s Upper Metn pine land, Dhour El Choueir becomes an open art and music platform during the festival period stretch­ing more than a month in July and August.
The village, which is almost deserted during winter, is the place to be in summer, according to municipality officials and festival organisers. Special events are planned for the large numbers of expatriates who flock to Dhour El Choueir in summertime to im­merse in traditional cuisine, music and pa­triotic songs of Leba­nese diva Fairuz interpreted by local artists, a munici­pality of­ficial said. “It is the time when the village comes alive after winter tor­por,” the official, who preferred not to be named, added.
Coastal cities have their share of festivals as beaches come alive with swimmers, sunbathers and water sports lovers.
Lebanon Water Festival, an annu­al event celebrating activities such as diving, water skiing, swimming, sailing, windsurfing and boating, was initiated to promote and revive the Lebanese coastline as a tourist and sports site. Established in 2012 by former world champion water skier Simon Khoury and his daugh­ter Annette, the festival “aims at recreating activities around the coastline from north to south and restructure water sports”, Annette Khoury said.
From July to September, the coastline is animated with compe­titions, shows and water activities. Locations are selected according to their suitability for different water sports.
“In Tripoli, it is kite boarding because all year round you have great winds, while Enfeh is the ideal place for apnoea (free diving) and Batroun is the place to be for wind surfing,” Annette Khoury ex­plained. “Jet ski competitions are held in different spots, including the Bay of Jounieh, Sidon and Tyre, whereas the underwater photogra­phy contest takes place in the shal­low waters of Tyre coast.”
With more than 300 participants, the festival is drawing contestants from overseas, including interna­tional athletes. “It has been grow­ing every year, with more and more people coming for one event or an­other depending on their passion,” she said.
When summer is back, people are back, days grow longer, nights grow louder and forests regain their vibrancy, includ­ing Lebanon’s millen­nium cedar forest in the village of Bsharri, where an international festival dating to 1964 was relaunched August 1st, after being interrupted for almost half a century.
“The revival of this festival, which played a significant role in displaying Lebanon’s civilised, cul­tural and artistic image in the past, is aimed at revitalising the area as a tourist destination,” said Joseph Geagea, head of the Tourism Coun­cil of Bsharri, at a recent news con­ference.
In addition to the mythical Arz el Rab (“The Godly Cedars”) forest, the Bsharri area in north Lebanon, hosts a number of cultural, reli­gious and natural tourist destina­tions, including the sacred Qadisha valley and the home of famous poet Gibran Khalil Gibran.
Although it is overshadowed by mountain sanctuaries and beach resorts, Beirut also strives to at­tract partygoers and music lovers through its summer festivals — Bei­rut & Beyond and Beirut Holidays.
Held in the heart of Beirut Souks, Beirut & Beyond and Beirut Holi­days seek to promote young music talents from the Arab world and beyond and celebrate diverse musi­cal genres, including folk, jazz and acoustic. Showcasing local artists and international performers, the festivals aim to mix various genres and styles, as well as promote the capital as a destination for enter­tainment, arts and culture.
Dance lovers are well-served with the third Lebanon Internation­al Dance Festival. It is the biggest dance festival in the Middle East and takes place in late August in the ancient city of Byblos. Over three days, couples from Lebanon and abroad, compete for titles in Latin dance contests and enjoy pool par­ties with international disc jockeys on the deck.
War is a million miles away when the Lebanese begin to party. The economy, sectarian enmity and the spillover from Syria often make news headlines but the country has proved supremely resilient.
“Despite everything that is hap­pening around us, the people in Lebanon love life and like to enjoy themselves… And there is no better [way] than music for joy especially in summertime,” Lahoud said.