The deepest and most enduring fiction about the country of Lebanon is that people there know what they are doing. This became more and more evident to me as we encountered an increasing number of roadblocks and checkpoints on the outskirts of Beirut.
I learned that there are clearly established distinctions between a roadblock and a checkpoint. There are only two types of roadblocks: Where you slow down so the military can look you over. It is very important that you do not come to a complete stop at a slow-down roadblock. This alarms the military. They immediately assume you are a terrorist so they automatically shoot you with their automatics; and Where you come to a full stop so the military can look you over. It is equally important at a full-stop roadblock that you come to a full stop. To slow down again alarms the military, and they make the same assumption about your terrorist tendencies and shoot you.The most interesting part about roadblocks in Lebanon is how to distinguish one from the other. You can't!
Checkpoints are all the same. You always come to a complete stop. You remain in the car and hand over your passport. Your luggage is opened and examined. I often could hear my battery-powered electric razor being used and my after-shave being splashed about. My passport contained a stamped visa permit to the country of Nepal. This seemed to fascinate the two or three officers I encountered. They were curious to know if I had climbed Mt. Everest. They seemed to register a certain disgust for me when I told them through an interpreter I had only been trekking near the base of the mountain. No one seemed to be the least bit amused in reading from my Lebanese visa that my purpose in visiting Lebanon was to promote tourism. It could safely be stated that there was not much in the way of light-hearted humor at any of the checkpoints I passed through. I picked up on this morose mood at one of the last checkpoints. Someone had painted a small sign and leaned it against an oil drum. It read, "Kill Them All. Let God Sort It Out!"
As we entered what was left of the city of Beirut, I remembered the letter my friend from the American Embassy in Israel had given to me. It was to be used as a letter of introduction if I should find myself in any trouble. She attached a note to tell me not to miss the National Museum on the Rue Damascus in Beirut. I made a note to tell her the building was completely bricked up and surrounded by armed military personnel and Soviet-made T-54 tanks. She also suggested I stay at the St. Georges Hotel on the beach front. The hotel was nothing more than a burned shell. The swimming pool was still open and the pool-side restaurant was crowded with military personnel and civilians. The restaurant served only hamburgers and Turkish coffee. No one seemed to be bothered by the limited selection on the menu or the presence of some serious military hardware at almost every table. There were Soviet AK-4Ts, Spanish Astra 9 mm automatic pistols, Smith and Wesson .38 revolvers, old British Enfield rifles and several Beretta over and under shotguns.
As I drove around Beirut I was surprised at how many sections of the city showed very few effects of the war. The heavy fighting appeared to be concentrated in Beirut's south suburbs. There had been extensive street fighting in this area early in the war. Small arms and sniper fire had left perfectly detailed havoc on all the building fronts. Every inch appeared to be painstakingly bullet nibbled. The fire power of mortars, howitzers and rocket-propelled grenades had left the interior of the buildings in rubble. There was just enough that remained of these old buildings to give them a peculiar theatrical grandeur.
Piled partially beneath the broken fragments of one building I noticed a yellow cast-iron Lebanese mailbox marked "Boite aux Lettres." It was still very much intact. For some unexplained reason, I decided to drop several post cards I had been carrying for days into the box.
A month later I was surprised to learn from my friends that every card had been delivered. The stamp on each card was cancelled with three block ink hand written words, "Long Live Lebanon."