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A week in Beirut: Monday

Some years ago, when we lived in a converted chapel in a little English village, I wrote this:

When I got home after work I found the first fat bee struggling in the middle of the living room floor. I know there will be more, like there were this time last year. Or perhaps it is just the same determined bee, coming back again and again to be rescued.

Before even closing the front door I got the dustpan and brush and swept up the relentless bee, heavy with sleep and spring, and threw him out into the sunshine, where he landed on his feet.

On Monday evening in Beirut, it was a bird not a bee that needed rescuing, a little rust coloured pigeon stuck in our kitchen. I wish I could have scooped him up with a dustpan and brush, but he wasn’t sleepy like the bee, and his wings, and my heart, were too quick with fear.

In the end we called the concierge’s brother-in-law (replacing him while he visits Syria), who came to the rescue, albeit slightly bewildered by the foreigners afraid of birds. When he picked up the pigeon in both hands, he held it out to us, eyebrows up as if to ask Do you want to keep it? Or cook it? eyeing the pot of boiling water waiting (and waiting for the pasta) on the stove.

He couldn’t quite believe that we just wanted him to set it free. What a waste of a bird! he seemed to say with his shrug as he threw it out of the window into the sunshine, where it landed, lightly, on its wings.


Home (another one)

We’ve just come back from two weeks away.

I started this post the afternoon before leaving but never got a chance to finish it.

Back then I was wondering what it would feel like to wake up to this view


and what it would feel like, for the very first time in my life, to sleep in a house that I actually own.

Now I know.

It feels like the end of one story and the beginning of another.

It feels ordinary and extraordinary and just right.

It feels like home.


Tomorrow we are taking another trip, this time back to the UK for three weeks. While I’m away, and with the help of some grandma time, I hope to finish and publish some draft posts  that I started a long time ago. I will think of them as postcards- sent from the past- arriving late and so not quite up-to-date, but capturing things I want to keep.

I hope they arrive safely!

Happy Valentine’s Day to my husbands!

No Valentine’s cards were exchanged between me and my husband today, just these emails, which made me laugh and remember why I love him.

My email, written at 4.30pm, after a day spent with friends whose husbands also work for international organisations:

Ciao amore, there might not be many taxis today as it’s a pubic holiday, so maybe it’s best to leave a bit earlier if you can… p.s. all the other husbands are already home! 🙂

His response:

Ok, I will do my best.  I look forward to coming home and meeting your other husbands 😉


Back in 5…

If my blog was a shop I would put a sign on the door saying ‘Back in 5’ .

Today we fly to Europe and won’t be back for 5 weeks.  My internet access will be intermittent and I don’t plan to publish any posts, but I’m hoping to use this offline time to do some essential blog maintenance- a sort of early spring clean-so you may see some changes here and there, like little snow-drops poking their heads up through the winter ground.

But until we meet again I send my end of year wishes for whatever your heart wishes.

This house

This house has been our home for a year now. We arrived when I was 8 months pregnant and could only carry a pot plant and my bulging belly. Now our baby is more than 10 months old and as heavy as 6 big bottles of water.

This house has chocolate brown shutters outside and ice cream coloured walls inside- the bedrooms are pistachio and lemon, the living room is old fashioned vanilla. And the bathroom is tiled top to toe in candy pink and baby blue making me think of the song about two toothbrushes in those colours. Now there are three toothbrushes in the mug above the sink and I’m teaching my daughter how to use hers for her four baby teeth.

This house has a terrace that wraps itself along one long and one short side, like a crooked arm cradling us. When we arrived it was in fragrant full bloom- jasmine, gardenia, frangipani- and over the year we have added to the collection of plants in pots- more roses, more basil, an inherited fern and lopsided Christmas tree and a purple leaved plant that came from a cutting from our cleaner (who I think secretly would much rather be a gardener than a cleaner).

This house is next to a construction site, as are many houses in Beirut. When we came they were digging the foundations and it felt as though they were drilling deep down into me as I tried to practice my breathing and relaxation techniques in preparation for giving birth. Now it is nearly a 12 storey building and the shudders and judders and bangs and clangs it makes have become a familiar lullaby, almost a necessity for baby naps. 

Happy 1st Birthday house- thank you for being our home.

Io sono Ambra e questo e’ un muro

Today I’ve started three posts about lunch and air conditioning and the concierge’s plates. But I haven’t finished one of them.

Today was an uncertain day. It started with a text message about an incident in a nearby neighbourhood, which turned out to be a false alarm, but it was a little too close for comfort- on the same page as us in the Zawarib map. 

And in the south and the north the alarms aren’t false.

And all I can think about is the green hill in Sardinia, where you can smell the trees and see the sea and hear the land take deep steady breaths. Where the house is, and where the little girl next door, 2 years old with dark chocolate eyes, stood by me in the front garden under the jasmine and said

Io sono Ambra e questo é un muro

I’m Amber and this is a wall.

She knew who she was and what was in front of her. And that was all that mattered.

Oh Lebanon. I wish you peace. I wish you calm. I wish you Amber’s certainty that everything will be alright.


We sit side by side on the bench at the table on our terrace

and watch the huge gold coin of full moon

rise majestically from behind the bombed out shell of the Holiday Inn Hotel.


I think how many other times I have seen the same moon,

under other skies,

between other buildings,

over other mountains.

Sometimes crooked. Sometimes upside down. But the always the same moon.

And to me the same slight image inside, two people dancing, holding out their hands to each other in delight. 

Cake and a candle

This morning the concierge’s eldest daughter knocked on the door unexpectedly with a plate of cake, three fat slices of sponge with a smooth ruby of jam in each. Just before she knocked I had been preparing a bag of no longer needed baby clothes and bottles for her littlest sister, born 2 months ago. I went to the door with bag in hand and so we made an unplanned exchange, which left me feeling sweeter and lighter.  It wasn’t so much the cake (which I couldn’t eat as I had an upset stomach) but the fact that the ‘thank you’ arrived together with the gift. A cause and an effect wrapped up in the same moment of generosity. It reminds me of the words of a wise Buddhist woman who says that most people consider a smile the result of happiness while it is in fact the cause for happiness.

Shortly after the cake episode, and still feeling smiley, I went to the bakery with the baby in my arms rather than her buggy. She was also very smiley, happy to be up on our eye level, and succeeded in charming the whole shop. When we left 5 minutes later I had a loaf of bread and the baby had a big pink lipstick kiss on her elbow from the shop assistant and a birthday cake candle in the shape of a number one from a customer. He had wanted to buy her a sticky skewer of donuts but when I said she was still too young he bought her the candle instead, determined not to leave her empty handed. 

Later I think about the cake and the candle we were given today and wonder whose birthday it is? 

Maybe it is a reminder that any day is as good as another to celebrate, to begin afresh, to start by smiling.


Music to your ears

The clank of metal from the construction site

The whisk beating eggs in the bowl

The water sloshing in its plastic bottle

They all make you smile, and lift your arms up, keeping time, as though you are conducting an invisible orchestra playing your very own city symphony.