Blissful on Bliss Street

Where else could I satisfy these cravings but on Bliss Street, Hamra?

Ever have one of those late night urges? You know, the ones that creep up on you seemingly out of nowhere and simply won’t budge until you acknowledge and tend to them? Kind of like the kooky uncle you hadn’t invited to your birthday party but who shows up anyway…with a bad gift? Last night, such an unwanted guest gave me a visit: an intense hankering for chocolate that hit me at exactly the stroke of midnight.

Where else could I satisfy these cravings but on Bliss Street, Hamra? Think of it as the late-night street food haven of Beirut. With dozens of hole-in-the-wall shops, markets, kiosks that serve up anything from chicken Shawarma to Kinder-Snickers crepes into the wee hours of the morning. 

There I was, out of PJ’s and into ripped jeans braving Bliss’ (as we Lebanese endearingly call it for short), looking for a blissful start to my Friday (you see I had convinced myself that any meal after 00.01 would be considered breakfast. No guilt. Check.). As I hunted for my chocolate fare, I couldn’t help but linger on the smells, the bright lights, the loud chatter, all blending in in exactly the right proportions to create a strangely harmonious symphony. (Look, I hadn’t consumed any chocolate by then yet. In other words, I was not high on sugar when I drew a parallel between the sounds of Bliss Street and a Beethoven Sonata).

Though mesmerized by the energy, I nonetheless managed to spot my prey at Urbanista. My brief excitement was soon overshadowed by apprehension as I noted the dim lights, the empty space and the slow shuffling of waiters, warriors returning from battle, calmly lining up their arsenal for the next day ((if you’ve ever been a waiter in Beirut, you’ll understand why I consider them true warriors of our society. There should be a mental fitness requirement upon hiring: the madness they encounter in “the field” is not for the faint-hearted).

A glimmer of hope in the form of a half-open door. Armed by my sweet saber (tooth that is), I venture in with an a-priori pleading gaze and the most charming smile I could summon.

“Are you closed?...........You’re closing, right?” Objection your honor. Leading the witness. I should have stopped at the first question. Dumb.

“ Yes, I’m so sorry we’re closing”

“Oh”. Chocolate dreams melting away.

The waitress must have guessed my inner tragedy because no sooner had she uttered her apology that she followed with:

“What is it you would like? A coffee? A dessert?”

A DESSERT. Yes! a de-sserrrrrrrt!

“Just a dessert please. To go”, calmly, disguising the giddiness within.

Suddenly, the place lit up as if by magic. My words must have triggered an open- sesame chain reaction to this Ali Baba coffee cave of wonders. It’s all a blur twelve hours later but I remember a swarm of waiters appearing behind the counter; knives flying from the shelves, pieces of cake making their way into pretty little boxes, the pitter patter of little feet dancing to the beat of my own drum and the smell of cocoa floating through the air. I felt like Cinderella at the ball.  My knight in shining armor handed me the carefully crafted goodie bag- infinitely more precious than any glass slipper could ever be- and proceeded to checkout. Any other waiter would have rushed the order and hurried home. Not this one. Not in Beirut.

He insisted I get some cream to go with my angel food cake (so I got an extra dessert for the road. Sue me) and when he noticed they were out of plastic cutlery, he summoned one of his generals to get one from a nearby neighbor. Truly. I take no artistic license here; I am telling it like it is.

I politely declined -there’s nothing a fork can do that my hands can’t- and left with a bag full of chocolate and a heart full of more than I had bargained for: A renewed faith in the beauty of my city, its energy, and the generosity and sweetness of its people. That’s Lebanon for you: just when you’re about to throw in the towel, it reminds you why you fell in love with it in the first place.

 

 

 

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