Living

Landmarks link Lebanon’s literary legends

BSHARRI/BASKINTA, Lebanon: It might seem a coincidence that so many of Lebanon’s renowned authors hail from the same area. But a few moments in the dramatically beautiful mountains of Baskinta, Bsharri and the surrounding villages quickly explain how these men were inspired.

“Looking down the mountain, I could hardly believe I had risen so high. The lower end of the slope was no longer in sight. While the summit seemed almost within reach,” wrote the mystic writer Mikhail Naimy in his classic “The Book of Mirdad.”

“By nightfall I came to a group of rocks forming a kind of grotto. Although the grotto overhung an abyss whose bottom heaved with dreary, dark shadows, I decided to make it my lodging for the night.”

A number of landmarks connect the past to the present and pay tribute to Lebanon’s literary legends, showing visitors where they spent time writing and sometimes displaying their work. Consider Khalil Gibran’s house and museum in Bsharri, a bust sculpture commemorating author Maroun Abboud that stands at the entrance to the city of Jbeil, and the plethora of streets throughout the country named for famous scribes.

Nevertheless, the museums and statues are relatively simple and do not overshadow the natural beauty that is by far the area”s biggest draw.

The best known of these destinations is Bsharri, home to world-famous author Gibran, reputedly the most read writer after playwright William Shakespeare and ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi. During his time in the United States, where he spent most of his career, Gibran led a renaissance movement of Arabic literature, wrote several works in English, and inspired a generation of writers.

In this town high in the mountains above Tripoli, the writer’s house appears modest but charming, while the museum dedicated to his life and work showcases his books, some of his artwork and items from his office.

Some visitors have found the displays unremarkable. But what consistently resonates with people is Bsharri’s stunning landscape, including mountains that remain snow-capped well into the springtime, a glistening waterfall on the main road, and lush greenery all around. Reinforcing the notion that one has entered Arcadia is the hospitality of the people as well as tranquility a world away from the crowded and congested cities of Lebanon’s coast.

In his celebrated book “The Prophet,” Gibran writes, “When you part from your friend, you grieve not; For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.”

In Baskinta, the Abdallah Ghanem Cultural Center two floors with books and other relics of his day. The top floor includes comfortable chairs and tables as well as a breathtaking view of the verdant mountains.

It is said that writers in the area would sit on the rocks and contemplate all manner of things in order to find inspiration. Some of the rocks are marked for the authors who supposedly sat on them.

Winding through Baskinta and the neighboring villages of Ain al-Qabou, Boqaatat Kenaan, Kfar Aqab, and Wadi al-Karm, is a 24-kilometer trail that links the area’s 22 literary landmarks.

As part of the Lebanon Mountain Trail, which spans the length of the country, the Baskinta Literary Trail, inaugurated four years ago, highlights the legacy of the area’s renowned authors. They include Mikhail Naimy, Amin Maalouf, Abdallah Ghanem, Suleiman Kettaneh, Rachid Ayoub and Georges Ghanem.

Joseph Karam, who founded the LMT and who hails from Baskinta, believes that these landmarks are essential for those who want to understand Lebanese authors from the area.

“Literary landmarks are places we can visit to learn about an author (the Abdallah Ghanem Cultural Center), a story they told (the site where the patriarch was ambushed in Amine Maalouf’s “The Rock of Tanios”), or a place they described (the Ain al-Qabou Spring),” he explains.

“They serve to commemorate these authors, see the places where they lived, worked and played, and see, hear and smell what inspired them and what they described so vividly in their own way.”

In the Metn town of Freikeh, near Bikfaya, a museum commemorates the life and work of Ameen Rihani. His niece, May, works to keep his legacy alive. She believes that locals’ high level of education and open culture, combined with the gorgeous natural beauty of their region, inspired countless Lebanese authors.

“Lebanon always had and continues to have relatively more intellectual freedoms than [its neighbors], and despite what happened and is happening politically, the Lebanese recognize and value diversity as Lebanon’s raison d’etre,” she observes. In addition, there is “the amazing and inspiring beauty of Lebanese nature.”

May thinks that, when these factors become combined, the resulting alchemy “enables the mind to be more creative, the soul more reflective, and the spirit more innovative. Possibly, this is why so many great authors have come from Lebanon.”

 
This article was amended on Thursday, June 07 2012

This article was amended to correct the name of the Abdallah Ghanem Cultural Center.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 07, 2012, on page 5.

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