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Lightness, kitsch, operatic ostentation, easy money—all these things were regarded as virtues by the other image of itself that Beirut was keen to promote during this same period: for Arabs, a playground by the sea; for Westerners, the nearest part of Arabia. All the levantineries that exasperated Colonel Lawrence in his search for “pure” Arabs—the exoticism in miniature, the pleasures of luxury (or its pastiche), the simplification of oriental complexities made possible by the natives’ fluency in Western languages and customs—combined to make Beirut a convenient stopover on the road to the romance of the East, far enough from home that travelers could claim to have penetrated a remote world, but one that at the same time was agreeable enough to dissuade them from pressing on into the interior.
To breathe life—so near to death. Twice, in November 1976 and then in October 1982, Beirut believed that reunification was possible. Plans were drawn up for reconstructing the center of the city. But in each case the lull in the fighting turned out to be only an interlude, lasting scarcely more than a year and a half at most; in the meantime the war contin- The Eyes of the Mind 23 ued elsewhere, and the line of demarcation eventually came to be reinstated. The violence ceased on other occasions as well, more briefly but not less hopefully.
Tintin, the hero of Hergé’s famous comic books, did not seek adventure in Beirut any more than James Bond did. But the boy detective made a stopover there at least once, en route to the imaginary Arab emirate of Khemed in Coke en stock (1958). As a good reporter who follows a story wherever it may lead, Tintin prefers the arid expanses of the desert to the city. Beirut appeared to be no more than the antechamber to these expanses, a place where nothing was destined to happen apart from secret machinations and dark plotting; a place where soldiers fighting in nearby theaters of war came for rest and relaxation and where grand dukes stopped to visit on their tours; a place where newspaper correspondents could eavesdrop on the conversations of diplomats and gather information that would help them to understand the societies of the Near East.