I had to take these photos quickly. A few days earlier, a policeman told me I could be arrested–or more specifically “taken away” if I photographed this two story home on Clemenceau street:
But the next day, the police kiosk (above right) was empty so I was able to get some quick shots.
Such low-rises are becoming a rarity in Beirut. Developers eyes probably light up when they see them; they can be torn down and replaced with dozens of floors of sea-view luxury apartments and tens of millions of dollars in profits if not more.
While I was taking photos, a was woman sitting in traffic watching me asked if I knew who the house belonged to. When I shook my head, she said it was owned by Beatrice Levy, now in her 80s or 90s living in Paris.
The woman knew this because she said she lived just down the street and the two were neighbors.
Of course this fascinated me because I’ve written extensively about the Lebanese Jewish community, which now lives largely in exile.
To my surprise the woman had seen a piece I did for Al Jazeera on the topic (which I’m now adapting into a documentary film). She said all her neighbors and friends were Jewish when she was a kid and lamented their departure.
The Lebanese Jewish community is often thought to have been concentrated in the Jewish quarter of Wadi Abu Jamil and thus relatively isolated there. But the suggestion that many Jews lived among other Beirut communities in Clemenceau challenges that.
While talking to the woman in the middle of traffic, I noticed a police officer had appeared at the kiosk again.
I sensed he was not as bothered by my picture taking as the officer I encountered the previous day, so I continued:
What I’ve always loved about old Beirut buildings is the amount of craftsmanship that went into their stone and iron work.
From the gate designs to the grooves in the walls to the stone carved trim around windows…
It seemed contractors and architects prided themselves on these small details that would make every building unique.
Notice the column work on the first floor balcony:
The officer watched me taking photos. Did you know this house belonged to a Jewish family, I asked.
“Why not,” he said. “Many Jews lived throughout this neighborhood, even up the road,” he added pointing toward Kantari.
Like many old Beirut homes, the would-be Levy house — or Beit Levy in Arabic– is overgrown with brush; its gardens have probably gone untrimmed for decades.
I hope to learn more about Beit Levy from the woman I met in the street, who I plan to see again.
And if anyone can confirm or deny her account, or provide details about the building’s age, style or history, feel free to comment below or get in touch and I’ll update the post.