Tuesday, February 17, 2009


The scent of freshly ground roasted coffee wafts through the cabin. “Why would anyone take coffee back from Amman to Beirut?” I pondered briefly, noticing that the stash was in the compartment directly overhead. A stewardess closes the compartment, sealing off the smell, and my mind wanders to other observations.

A pair of young ladies, displeased with their separate seating, feebly attempt to negotiate a seat swap. Not possible yet, sadly… I hear a click, and that warm scent of fresh coffee returns, carrying me to my morning with Jumana, Jabal Lweibdeh, walking casually from one art gallery to the next, enchanted with the smell of coffee being roasted in a large brass bin. The smell makes us look up from our path, out of our conversation, and I suddenly notice the bare tiny store boasting the shiny brass container in its window… a meticulously turbaned sheikh with a sweet Santa-like beard inspecting the vegetables that are lined in the back of a truck, fresh for purchase… a lady’s voice in mid-phonecall comes from one of the balconies, its bars coyly lined with cloth to allow for some privacy from the street… An area Jumana likes, she describes it as ‘real’, and I would have to agree. Interestingly, this tiny street carries the contrast of simply lived lives with the ‘pushing the boundaries’ art on display in the galleries we were visiting. I was fascinated by how inclusive this little area was to host such extremes, and wondered where these two pedestrian gallery visitors fell along that spectrum.

The fully booked flight has carry-on laden passengers struggling with overhead cabin space, moving up and down the aisle inspecting all of the compartments. The one overhead opens and shuts, and that beautiful coffee smell rhythmically pours out like lackadaisical waves lapping on a soft sandy shore. Each wave carries me somewhere else… to the peaceful mornings with my coffee mug in Jumana’s closed kitchen balcony… huddling on an armchair in a coffee shop with Nizar as we try to catch up on the past 22 years… the empty shaded tea garden at Darat al Funoon, completely unchanged from the day I took that picture of Mona on our first visit there, as we sat to recover from our spiraling route up the hill to its entrance (the picture still sits on my shelf)… the afternoon at Nisreen’s, our saviour with the coffee machine, where the long-desired cups of coffee set off an energized impromptu dance session…

We are instructed to fasten our seatbelts, and the scent is sealed off once and for all. The trip starts, putting an end to my meanderings.

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