I watched last night the season finale of CNN’s Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain which was shot in Beirut, and I hated every single bit of it except for the short interview with Joumana Haddad. I really had high expectations for that episode, but I lowered my expectations after seeing the comments on Facebook and it turned to be even worse than I thought it would be and did not reflect the words Bourdain used to describe our capital. In fact, if I didn’t know Bourdain, I would have thought he’s some clueless foreign reporter who’s visiting Beirut for the first time and still thinks we are at war. All he talked about for nearly 45 minutes was Syrian & Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, ISIS, Hezbollah, bombings, ISIS, 2006 war, recent suicide bombings, ISIS, the 1975-1990 civil war and more ISIS.
Let me just start by telling Bourdain that ISIS is far from Lebanon and its borders, and the map (shown above) does not reflect ISIS control in Syria, nor its threat to Lebanon. The Lebanese Army and Hezbollah are not even fighting ISIS on the borders but Jobhat el Nousra.
Moving on to the full episode, I went through it minute by minute and took notes along the way. The episode kicked off with the cliché mosque and church contrasts, and then of course showing veiled women walking next to lingerie shops or billboards. We are proud of this co-existence of course but it gets boring when someone mentions it 10 times in the episode and randomly shows pictures of the Virgin Mary or Jesus or a mosque.
Bourdain then took a ride with the Harley Davidson Lebanon chapter and they visited a snack shop in Beirut (Broasted Rizk) which I’ve never heard of before. They barely mentioned the food there and talked for about five minutes about the civil war, the war of the hotels back in the 1970s, thee Holiday Inn and other war-related stories.
Afterwards, Bourdain kept talking for few minutes about explosions and the civil war before he got to Burj el Brajneh camp in Beirut and continued his war talks by covering Syria, Palestinians, ISIS and wars in the region. He visited poor families and children and had Syrian food inside the camp. They also showed gruesome pictures of war victims which weren’t really necessary.
Bourdain moved back to Raouche, showing people dancing the Dabke and then ISIS fighters somewhere in Iraq or Syria I don’t know. He then mentioned that you can swim and ski on the same day in Lebanon, and headed to Ras Beirut to have lunch with his security guard in Beirut, who thinks that Lebanon looks a lot like 2006 now (Don’t ask me how). In fact, all they talked about over lunch was war, explosions and the terrifying ISIS. Of course after lunch, we got another cliché church-mosque-night club constrast.
Radio Beirut was next on Bourdain’s to-do list and it was a short but fun act. He met with Chino and Lebanese Rapper Hussein Charafeddine who was once arrested and mistaken for a suicide bomber.
Moving on, Bourdain then had dinner somewhere in Beirut’s suburbs in a Hezbollah area. Food looked nice but the guy had a machine gun in the kitchen for some reason along with Hezbollah posters all around. Needless to say, everything they talked about was the 2006 war and ISIS and of course Hezbollah.
Bourdain was meeting Lebanese Journalist and activist Joumana Haddad but he made sure to include more cliché pictures of sexy Lebanese women, then a Virgin statue, a Chanel store and the reflection of a mosque, because Lebanon is the only country in the world where you will find conservative religious women, women in bikinis, a chanel store and a mosque (ma hek?).
Joumana’s three-minute interview was by far the best part in this episode and Joumana impressed as always with her opinions and take on things. She explained to Bourdain that it’s not “awesome not to have a president for a year”, and that the chaos that we are living in is not something you’d want to experience for over a year and she’s right.
I then skipped the part with Elefteriadis because I don’t think he’s the right person to talk to about Lebanon or Beirut as a whole. I love Music Hall and I admire the things he has done to improve nightlife in Lebanon but he’s a self-proclaimed emperor who lives in an imaginary kingdom. That’s all I have to say here. Bourdain finished the episode by visiting a cafe which I haven’t heard of as well and that is managed by Syrians and Lebanese.
All in all, “Parts Unknown” is an American travel and food show where Anthony Bourdain is supposed to go around the world and uncover lesser known places and explore cultures and cuisine. That said, coming to Beirut and visiting camps and war-torn areas is definitely not the right way to explore cuisine and culture and the way he portrayed Beirut to the whole world was a rather negative one. It’s as if we are living in constant fear of a new civil war or of ISIS invading the country which is far from the truth. We trust and believe in our Lebanese Army and we’ve always stood as one against terrorism and hopefully always will.
There are so many things that Bourdain missed out on and that could have made this episode a much better one:
– Uruguay Street, Gemmayze, Mar Mikhael, Badaro and Hamra’s nightlife.
– Beirut’s rooftops and open venues.
– Authentic Lebanese snacks and restaurants in Beirut. Since when is broasted chicken part of our culture?
– Zaitunay Bay, Beirut Souks and Solidere as a whole.
– Beirut’s beautiful graffiti murals and art scene.
– The dozens of cultural and artistic festivals happening in Beirut.
– Shawarma, Falafel, Manakish, Knefe, Lebanese sweets, etc …
– A walk around in old Achrafieh and Hamra streets.
– A close look at certain NGOs and their awesome work (ex: LiveLoveBeirut ).
I’m just talking about things to do in Beirut here and I’m sure there is tons of other stuff as well. If Bourdain wanted to see how Lebanese are reacting to ISIS threats, he should have visited Tripoli and seen how vibrant and peaceful the city is right now. We are not living in denial, we know we have a lot of issues to deal with, but that doesn’t mean we need to live in constant fear of war and stop enjoying our everyday life.
That’s what Bourdain should have focused on instead of reviving the civil war and the 2006 war in his report.