Spent most of Sunday hiking in the Lebanese mountains near Bhamdoum, a town that lies on the main road from Beirut to Damascus. Groves of pine trees, fields of wildflowers and snow-capped peaks. It was, in a word, lovely.
And yet there were a few moments when it felt a bit ponderous because I had spent a class session earlier in the week hearing from a student about the ethnic cleansing that took place in this very area during the civil war that raged across Lebanon from the mid-1970s until the end of the 1980s. Nearly everyone in her village had been killed or fled.
As we trekked first along small trails, then eventually where there were no trails at all, with only our scrambling in a direction that seemed about right, we paused for snacks at one abandoned monastery, and then for lunch at another one further along. They were not ancient ruins but recent relics from the war. Indeed, many of the town’s once thriving hotels remain abandoned. (Others are slowly coming back to life by serving the summertime flood of Gulf Arabs.)
Ironically, the valley where we walked was named Lamartine, after the French poet and politician Alphonse de Lamartine, known for helping France get rid of the death penalty and his stance as a pacifist.