Once called the Paris of the East, these days Beirut may remind more of Berlin, with its glaring contrasts, open wounds and vibrant energy. Divided and laid to waste during fifteen years of civil war, since 1990 the city is seeing reconstruction and development on an epic scale. Slick towers now crowd around the carcass of the Holiday Inn (strategic stronghold and symbol of the city war), while the themepark-picturesque downtown-to-be rubs up against the Green Line (the former no man's land separating west and east).
As an introduction to this churning vat of contradictions, 'Beyroutes' is not your average guidebook. With hand-scribbled maps, inside stories, essays, poems and tips like "Don't panic when you hear firearms, it just means the speech is over!" (in the section 'How to Survive in Dahiya'), the book delights in irreverently decoding the city's symbol-ridden and fragmented cultural identity.
Beyroutes presents an exploded view of a city which lives so many double lives and figures in so many truths, myths and historical falsifications. Visiting the city with this intimate book as your guide makes you feel disoriented, appreciative, judgmental and perhaps eventually reconciliatory.
Published as a supplement to Volume (formerly Archis), 'Beyroutes' might well set a new standard for urban exploration, with multiple critical perspectives and a tone of being guided by well-informed friends. Just too bad none of it is available online.