Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lebanon, Truly the Paris of the Middle East

The Republic of Lebanon is located in the Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Syria and Israel. It is a small country of approximately 10,400 sq km with a Mediterranean climate characterized by wet winters and hot dry summers. Mostly remembered by its geo-political issues with its Syrian neighbors and tensions with Iraq, Palestine and Libya, Lebanon is a cultural and linguistically rich country with an important tourism industry and vast economic enterprises.

The official language of the country is Arabic, however due to France’s mandate of the country after World War I, close to half of the population speaks French. A dialect called Lebanese-Arabic is spoken by most of its people and other languages such as Greek, Armenian and Assyrian are used mainly by immigrants of these nationalities.

The famous Lebanese-American author and poet Khalil Gibran was born in the region of Bsharri in what is now known as Lebanon. In his youth his family emigrated to Boston’s South End where he learned the English language and later developed into an artist, writing books such as The Prophet (which is one of America’s bestselling books only after The Bible) and the Madman which have had great success and have influenced many authors and artists throughout the years. Former President John F. Kennedy quoted and paraphrased Gibran’s work in The New Frontier in his inaugural address when he stated “are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country?"

Regarded as “The Paris of the Middle East” Lebanon is an important tourist destination with a diversity of attractions such as, ecotourism, museums and archeological sites like Baalbek, An jar and the Medieval city of Byblos. Its capital city Beirut is known for its vibrant night life and the diverse Lebanese cuisine. A spotlight on these two areas of Lebanon were provided by the 2006 episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations, however while filming, the Lebanese-Israeli conflict broke out and the cast and crew ended up filming their experiences in evacuating the conflict area. This episode was nominated for an Emmy Award. Bourdain traveled back to Lebanon in 2010 to showcase the positive aspects of the country and shine a brighter light towards the beauties of Lebanon.

Lebanese are known for their love of music and the arts as demonstrated by their influence in the entertainment business, some of the most famous celebrities of Lebanese descent are the Lebanese-Colombian singer Shakira, Lebanese-Mexican actress Salma Hayek and Lebanese-Americans such as singer Paula Anka; former lead vocalist for Van Halen, Sammy Haggar; actor, composer, singer and entertainer Neil Sedaka; actor Tony Shalhoub and legendary rocker Frank Zappa.

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