Summertime… And the living is easy Even in Lebanon…
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.