Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Pilgrimage to Lady of Lebanon

As always in the month of May, many Lebanese Christians try to visit the Lady of Lebanon church which has a huge statue of the Virgin Mary. May is dedicated to Mary, apparently as a strategic move to incorporate non-Christian events that took place.

Tradition prescribes to walk all the way up to the church. This is a steep climb of around 10 kilometer in length and it leads from sea level up to 600 meter high, so it’s not for the untrained. Try to walk at your local gym for 10 km at an incline of 6% and you'll know the challenge.

Still, a lot of people were walking up yesterday when we visited the church, a practical example of the strength religion provides :-) Because of Brigitte’s pregnancy, we relied on the power of our car instead and we went up driving. The church itself can only be described as a huge concrete monstrosity, but the view from up above is gorgeous. You can see all over the Bay of Jounieh and because of the height, there was a pleasantly cool breeze.

It’s very difficult to say, but it seems that more people than last year were visiting. Perhaps it is the result of the increasing religious divide in Lebanon, or perhaps it was just a nice day yesterday to undertake the trip. Who knows, but busy it was. You can climb up all the way on the statue of Virgin Mary along a small staircase, but that would take a long time with so many people. Instead, we walked around a bit and said our prayers in the various chapels.

After the visit, we decided to have lunch on one of the little eateries alongside the road leading to the church. Big mistake since Janine was having diary all night long and also Brigitte was having a bad case of food poisoning. Most likely it was the tabbouleh, the typical Lebanese salad. I didn’t have any of it and had no problems afterwards. Tip for next time: stick to the traditional food on this mountain road: the sage. These are little pancakes with either cheese or zaatar, a popular mix of spices.

Despite the bad food, which tasted great actually, there were plenty of things to enjoy. First of all the view, which was simply gorgeous. Second would be the table next to us, with a huge family having lunch. There were two little kids who were playing outside, much to the dismay of their father because they were close to the road. First, he went outside and, with much brouhaha (shouting, giving tough sounding orders, acting as if he’s fully in control), he ordered the kids back into the restaurant. His prestige as a father was saved when the kids reluctantly returned inside, only to be lost a few minutes later when they sneaked out again.

So what to do next? Well, his answer was simple: he picked up the two kids and put them back into the restaurant and then simply locked the door and took the keys! No one could enter or leave anymore, including the two kids who as soon as their father put them down on the ground, sprinted towards the door, only to find it solidly locked.

A few minutes later, new guests arrived. It could have been a Candid Camera episode to see the faces of the group when they tried the door and it was locked. The restaurant owner didn’t know what happened so he was also perplexed: someone has locked up his restaurant!

So after a bit of shouting back and forth (“who has the key to my place?”), the father went to the door and opened it again…with two little kids in his footsteps who took the opening of the door as a signal that they could play outside again. At that point, the father did what fathers do best under these circumstances: give up and let the maid watch over the kids.