July 2005

Street names, addresses, and directions. A very different thing in Beirut than back in the States. In the US, we are very reliant on street addresses. How would you ever mail anything, find a business, or give directions without street names and numbers?

If I told someone here that I lived at 37 Yamout Street between between Mahatma Gandhi St and Yafet St (and I am not sure that the 37 slapped onto the front of our building is even official-you almost never see numbers on buildings), that would be absolutely meaningless, even to many people who live on this street. If you told someone this when asked where you live, he/she would think you were crazy.

The Lebanese way to explain where we live is:
In Hamra (neighborhood), near Ristretto (restaurant) and the Al-Rifai nut shop, Sidani Building.

Our building is just an apartment building with about 10 or 12 apartments in it, it doesn’t say “Sidani” on it, one would have to ask around to figure out which building it is.

Under the same system in Brooklyn, if you asked for directions to Pam’s place, you would not get “In Ft Greene, 73 South Oxford apt 4, corner of Lafayette Ave”, but “In Ft Greene, near Moe’s Bar and Meat Corp, in the Fisher building.”

I bring this up because I just read an article in the Daily Star about a Lebanese guy who has lived abroad for many years who is making a detailed street map of Beirut. That’s right, there isn’t one. The process he has gone through is pretty interesting.

It’s also kind of interesting to show maps to people here. Often it is as if they have no idea what they are looking at. They no doubt know the way to Broumanna like the back of their hand, but that map is just a bunch of lines and shapes that doesn’t correspond to the spatial representation that they have about the place.

Chatila isn’t on the Beirut map that we have (an attempt to pretend it doesn’t exist or is temporary), so when I showed the map to some directors in the organization with which I am working, they pored over it for some time, but couldn’t place it precisely.

Of course, though we will probably buy the map, I don’t really see much chance of other people suddenly memorizing a bunch of street names and actually using it. At this point, Ethan and I have pretty much stopped using street names anyhow. I had to re-look up the ones that our street intersects to make this post.

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