We had champagne on a roof yesterday, on wicker chairs under orange trees, at the very heart of Ashrafieh and rush hour, in a world out of time and place.
We had walked up the Rue du Liban to the point where it meets Abdel Wahab El Inglizi. The cars and their irritated, cursing drivers were loud. So was the setting sun, still. We smelled of Beirut: thick perfume and fumes and someone in the neighborhood brewing coffee. We stopped for a time, for our breaths and the shade, at 137 Abdel Wahab. There we saw it, stopped in time: a mansion behind an intricate little garden and iron gate.
We looked closer; it was a hotel. A gem of a little hotel. We were not dressed for elegant hotels; we were sweaty and sticky, mildly smelly, quite thirsty, more sidewalk café than café society. But we were curious and it looked so beautiful against the grime of Wednesday and the city, that we pushed the gate open nonetheless, crossed the garden, hesitated, then walked in.
The door behind us closed, and suddenly, quiet. Lush red velvet drapes and chandeliers. Romantics on the walls and Classicists sculpted in white marble in the lobby. The traffic outside could still be heard somewhat, muffled, but it had no place in here, amid the strings of pearls and soft conversation, walls lined with thick Persian tapestries.
We did not fit in here either but the concierge did not seem to notice. He welcomed us warmly and held the old and red lift door open for us. We stepped in. We tucked our stomachs in and held our backs straight as the wooden cabin cruised up, in no hurry at all until it stopped leisurely at the seventh and highest floor it could. From there, through the bar and library and scent of oak paneling, whiskey, and books, we went up two more flights of winding stairs… to the most beautiful garden, on a roof.
The orange trees and wicker chairs, and little candles strewn around. To the left, a newly built glass and steel skyscraper. To the right, a building bullet ridden from the war. Below, there was traffic we could not hear, the very same that had been deafening. Above the orange leaves, we could now actually see a blue sky darkening imperceptibly. To the East behind us, the mountains slowly lighting up. Across the sea, the setting sun. And in that garden, at that very moment, Beirut, soaked in peach, rose, and gold.
We looked nice too, in that soft light, in the present. Serotinal poetry. Perhaps there was music. There must have been music. The quiet kind that lets you talk. Or not. Or sway in your seat, or not. Or get up and ask your partner for a dance. We did.
We danced, then looked around at this place out of time, no ordinary garden and Wednesday, spotted a waiter in a red bowtie,
and asked him for champagne.
Four glasses, chilled, contents bubbling perfectly as they touched one another lightly. We brought them to our lips. Champagne sparkled up our noses. Beirut scintillated below.
The world is full of gardens on roofs and seven billion other people like us. History is full of charming but recurring sunsets and autumns and Wednesdays. On that particular one, yesterday, we had nothing remarkable to toast. No achievement to celebrate, no milestone to commemorate, no big announcement to make. No reason for champagne, but we had some anyway, glasses raised over the mundane.
It was delicious. To be here, in a garden on a roof, was reason enough.
For you, M. A belated birthday – sorry, Wednesday – present.
I love you.