CEL - Chemin de Fer de l'Etat Libanais
Lebanese State Railways
Anbarah Salam al-Khalidi
Excerpts translated by Toufoul Abou-Hodeib
Towards the end of the previous century and the beginning of this one, a considerable amount of Muslim families used to spend their summer vacation in Ouzai by the Imam's tomb. I remember once spending the summer there as a child. We stayed in something like a small apartment in an old building in the neighborhood of related families. The men used to gather together in the evening. The women would also gather around at the beach to listen to one of them play the oud or another sing in a beautiful voice while the children played around them, bathing or building sand castles with the sand from the beautiful white beach.
Afterwards we began spending summer vacations in the mountain. Although my father was very desirous of spending the summer vacation with his children in the moutains, he would only join us at the end of the week and spend the rest of the days in the Beirut heat alone. I can imagine now the difficulties he had to endure when we spent our vacation in `Aynab or Mansuriyah next to Bhamdun. He used to take the train from Beirut uphill and from Bhamdun or `Alay station downhill and then he would rent a carriage to his destination. So, we used to greet him with glee Thursday evening at the head of the village rode, only to seem him leave to his work in Beirut Monday morning. I tell this story to show the difficulty of transportation in those days.
Means of Transport and New Inventions
Our vacations in Sawfar were less troublesome because one needed only use the train as a means of transport. But the greatest difficulty arose when my older brothers decided to spend the summer in Bludan to be in proximity to hunting quail, which existed in abundance in those parts. I remember spending the greater part of the day in the train from Beirut to Zabadani. From there, we rode mules which took us uphill to Bludan. The mule owners had been waiting at the station platform and competing over passengers, the same way taxis today wait for passengers outside airports or in front of train stations in big cities. I am truly amazed when I think of the development in means of transport during my lifetime. I remember how my grandmother muttered incessant prayers out of fear and awe from the moment she got unto a carriage and until she reached her destination, one would think she was riding a rocket. The train was our only means of traveling long distances and its only line in Lebanon stretches from Beirut to Damascus. It used to stop almost at each station in every village where sellers would rush to the windows producing baskets full of summer fruits, thin bread (marquq), and labneh. Young children would also rush waving some newspapers, magazines, and translated novels, mostly Sherlock Holmes. I got to know those for the first time in the train and my siblings and I would indulge in them with such voracious appetite that we would finish them before the journey came to an end.
The farthest I had been to was on a trip to Baalbak with my mother and one of my brothers. It was a really exciting visit. At Riyaq station we changed from the Damascus train to the train going to Aleppo. We stayed in Baalbak for days as guests at one of my father's relatives, who was a prominent employee there. It was considered improper for veiled women to stay at hotels (and I do not know if there were hotels in Baalbak at that time). We began to go back and forth between Ras al-`Ayn and the suburbs and to the homes of the Haydar family and others. Then we went to visit the temple, which had been the reason behind our visit to Baalbak in the first place. We were completely amazed by the grandeur and immensity of what we saw and the vibrant history which was recounted to use by one of the tourists guides. I am not sure how much of what he said was facts and how much of it was exaggeration. I think he took advantage of our amazement and inserted into his lecture tales of miracles at the hands of jinns in building and destroying the temple.
I remember another trip by train from Sawfar to Zahlah, where I accompanied my father to spend the day and visit the exhibition for products and manufacture imported by big merchants. I believe it was the first exhibition of its kind in Lebanon and it was in the summer of 1910*. I remember my amazement at the sight of the flowing water of the Bardawni river and its numerous cafés. We had lunch in its only hotel (Qadri Hotel, which was my first visit to a hotel).
When we sometimes went to Sayda to spend a few days in the Spring, as many of the inhabitants of Beirut did a the time, we used to rent a small house between the orange orchards to enjoy the smell of orange flower and the delicious taste of ekidinya, both of which Sayda was famous for. We used to go to Sayda in a big carriage, similar to what is called today a station (wagon), which the family rented especially for the journey. We would stop in Sa`diyat where all travelers from and to Sayda stopped. There, the horses would rest and the travelers would have their lunch.
(Translator's note: 1909. Source. al-Hasna', Volume I (1909), 92-94.)
(For more on Anbarah Salam see this interview.)