While Beirut burns, skiing and style survive
THROUGH 12 years of civil war, Michel Edde has refused to tape the arched windows on the side of his home that offer a panoramic view of west Beirut. On three occasions, incoming shells pulverized the glass to lethal shards that knifed through furniture in the living room and bedrooms. Each time, Mr. Edde, a devout Maronite Christian, thanked God that no one was hurt. Then he replaced the panes and furniture and carried on. Tape would have prevented most of the destruction, he acknowledges, but he never considered applying it.Skip to next paragraph
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``I will not tape them,'' he says disdainfully. ``It looks ugly.''
Refusing to tape the windows is a curious act of faith for Edde, whose mansion has the misfortune of rising from a wooded hillside only a stone's throw from the Lebanese Defense Ministry. The ministry has often been targeted by warring Lebanese militias, Syrian and Palestinian forces. Edde's stubborn determination to act as though life is normal is typical of those wealthy Christians who have chosen to stay in Lebanon despite the horrors the war has inflicted on them, their families, and their friends.
``The front is everywhere. It is in your home. It is snipers and car bombs and kidnappings.'' Does he despair of its ever ending? ``It is God's will,'' says Edde, a man who says he would like someday to be president. ``It is not our problem.''
The Maronites and other Christians who live on the east side of this divided capital cope by viewing the present and the future with a strange mixture of fatalism and optimism.
``We decided to stay in this country, so we decided not to wait for the situation to settle down and to make the best of life,'' says Raphael Debbane, the wealthy owner of an agricultural products company.
Mr. Debbane spoke in the living room of his chalet, which he built less than a year ago in Faqra, a private ski resort an hour's drive north of Beirut. The chalet is worth several hundred thousand dollars and is impeccably decorated. Debbane, his wife, and three daughters now spend most of their weekends at Faqra, where, this year, the skiing is good.
``Faqra, cross fingers, is far away from the trouble,'' says Debbane, a thoughtful man who speaks softly. ``You can come here and really forget about it all on a weekend.'' He shakes his head when asked about the wisdom of making so large an investment in a nation that has all but formally disintegrated.
The mountain, he says, is the traditional Maronite stronghold and will never be invaded. Besides, he tried moving his family out of Lebanon three times as the war dragged on. They lived a year each in London; Athens; and Cannes, France.
``In each place, we lived in a very nice situation,'' Debbane says. ``But there is nowhere like here. We felt like refugees everywhere else. We have so many problems here, but our aim is to stay. So we solve the problems day to day.''
Debbane and several other Christians interviewed said that the bombs and gunmen that are a part of life in east Beirut disturb them less than their growing conviction that Lebanon will never again function as a united, democratic state the way it did before civil war erupted in 1975.
Years of war have fractured the country along ``confessional'' lines and deepened hostility between communities, to the point, perhaps, of no return. (Under confessionalism, the distribution of government posts on the basis of religion, Maronites have had a dominant role.)
``My kids feel that Muslim kids are different,'' says Nadim, a Greek Orthodox Christian who owns a chalet near Debbane's. ``They think that the Muslims are the enemies. My wife and I grew up with Muslims; we have Muslim friends. But these kids have never seen a Muslim.